Ian Rankin: The Impossible Dead

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Ian Rankin The Impossible Dead
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    The Impossible Dead
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The Impossible Dead

Ian Rankin



‘He’s not here,’ the desk sergeant said.

‘So where is he?’

‘Out on a call.’

Fox stared hard at the man, knowing it wouldn’t do any good. The sergeant was one of those old-timers who reckoned they’d seen it all and faced most of it down. Fox glanced at the next name on his list.


‘Sick leave.’


‘Out on the call with DI Scholes.’

Tony Kaye was standing just behind Fox’s left shoulder. An instant before the words were out of his mouth, Fox knew what his colleague was going to say.

‘This is taking the piss.’

Fox turned to give Kaye a look. News would now travel through the station: job done. The Complaints had come to town, found no one home, and had let their annoyance show. The desk sergeant shifted his weight from one foot to the other, trying not to seem too satisfied at this turn of events.

Fox took a moment to study his surroundings. The notices pinned to the walls were the usual stuff. It was a modern police station, meaning it could just as easily have been the reception area of a doctors’ surgery or DSS office, as long as you disregarded the sign warning that the Alert Status had been lifted from LOW to MODERATE. Nothing to do with Fox and his men: there’d been reports of a blast in woodland outside Lockerbie. Kids, probably, and a good long way from Kirkcaldy. Nevertheless, every police station in the country would have been notified.

The button on the counter had a hand written sign next to it saying Press For Attention – which was what Fox had done three or four minutes ago. There was a two-way mirror behind the counter, and the desk sergeant had almost certainly been watching the three arrivals – Inspector Malcolm Fox, Sergeant Tony Kaye and Constable Joe Naysmith. The station had been told they were coming. Interviews had been arranged with DI Scholes, and DSs Haldane and Michaelson.

‘Think this is the first time we’ve had this stunt pulled on us?’ Kaye was asking the desk sergeant. ‘Maybe we’ll start the interviews with you instead.’

Fox flipped to the second sheet of paper in his folder. ‘How about your boss – Superintendent Pitkethly?’

‘She’s not in yet.’

Kaye made a show of checking his watch.

‘Meeting at HQ,’ the desk sergeant explained. Joe Naysmith, standing to Fox’s right, seemed more interested in the leaflets on the counter. Fox liked that: it spoke of easy confidence, the confidence that these officers would be interviewed, that delaying tactics were nothing new to the Complaints.

The Complaints: the term was already outdated, even though Fox and his team couldn’t help using it, at least among themselves. Complaints and Conduct had been their official title until recently. Now they were supposed to be Professional Ethics and Standards. Next year they’d be something else again: the name Standards and Values had been mooted, to nobody’s liking. They were The Complaints, the cops who investigated other cops. Which was why those other cops were never happy to see them.

And seldom entirely cooperative.

‘HQ means Glenrothes?’ Fox checked with the desk sergeant.

‘That’s right.’

‘How long to drive there – twenty minutes?’

‘Provided you don’t get lost.’

The phone on the desk behind the sergeant started to ring. ‘You can always wait,’ he said, turning to lift the receiver, keeping his back to Fox as he started a muffled conversation.

Joe Naysmith was holding a pamphlet about home security. He plonked himself on one of the chairs by the window and started reading. Fox and Kaye shared a look.

‘What do you reckon?’ Kaye asked at last. ‘Whole town’s out there waiting to be explored…’

Kirkcaldy: a coastal town in Fife. Kaye had driven them there in his car. Forty minutes from Edinburgh, most of them spent in the outside lane. As they had crossed the Forth Road Bridge, they’d discussed the long queue of traffic on the opposite carriageway, heading into the capital at the start of another working day.

‘Coming over here, stealing our jobs,’ Kaye had joked, sounding his horn and giving a wave. Naysmith seemed to be the one with the local knowledge.

‘Linoleum,’ he’d said. ‘Used to be what Kirkcaldy was famous for. And Adam Smith.’

‘Who did he play for?’ Kaye had asked.

‘He was an economist.’

‘What about Gordon Brown?’ Fox had added.

‘Kirkcaldy,’ Naysmith had confirmed, nodding slowly.

Now, standing in the police station’s reception area, Fox weighed up his options. They could sit and wait, growing restless. Or he could phone his boss in Edinburgh with a complaint of his own. His boss would then call Fife HQ and eventually something would happen – the equivalent of a wee boy running to his daddy when the big kid’s done something.


Fox looked at Kaye again. Kaye smiled and batted Naysmith’s leaflet with the back of his hand.

‘Break out the pith helmets, young Joe,’ he said. ‘We’re heading into the wild.’

They parked the car on the seafront and stood for a few moments staring out across the Firth of Forth towards Edinburgh.

‘Looks sunny over there,’ Kaye complained, buttoning his coat. ‘Bet you wish you’d worn more than a donkey jacket.’

Joe Naysmith had become inured to comments about his latest designer buy, but he did turn the collar up. There was a fierce wind blowing in from the North Sea. The water was choppy, and puddles along the promenade offered evidence that the tide was prone to break over the sea wall. The gulls overhead looked to be working hard at staying airborne. There was something odd about the design of this waterfront: almost no use had been made of it. Buildings tended to face away from the view and towards the town centre. Fox had noted this elsewhere in Scotland: from Fort William to Dundee, the planners seemed to deny the existence of any shoreline. He’d never understood it, but doubted Kaye and Naysmith would be able to help.

Joe Naysmith’s suggestion had been a beach walk, but Tony Kaye was already heading for one of the wynds leading uphill towards Kirkcaldy’s shops and cafes, leaving Naysmith to dig out eighty-five pence in change for the parking. The narrow main street had roadworks on it. Kaye crossed to the other side and kept climbing.

‘Where’s he going?’ Naysmith complained.

‘Tony has a nose,’ Fox explained. ‘Not just any old cafe will do.’

Kaye had stopped at a doorway, made sure they could see him, then headed inside. The Pancake Place was light and spacious and not too busy. They took a corner table and tried to look like regulars. Fox often wondered if it was true that cops the world over tended to act the same. He liked corner tables, where he could see everything that was happening or might be about to happen. Naysmith hadn’t quite learned that lesson yet and seemed happy enough to sit with his back to the door. Fox had squeezed in next to Kaye, eyes scanning the room, finding only women intent on their conversations, past being interested in the three new arrivals. They studied their menus in silence, placed an order, and waited a few minutes for the waitress to return with a tray.

‘Good-looking scone,’ Naysmith commented, getting to work with his knife and the pat of low-fat spread.

Fox had brought the folder with him. ‘Don’t want you getting too comfortable,’ he said, emptying its contents on to the table. ‘While the tea’s cooling, you can be refreshing your memories.’

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