Читать онлайн "Beggars Banquet" автора Rankin Ian - RuLit - Страница 4

 
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Rebus called his headache two seven-letter words before beginning to climb the stairs.

He gave careful scrutiny to each stair as he climbed, and to the walls either side of each stair. The carpet itself was fairly new, with a thickish pile. The wallpaper was old, and showed a hunting scene, horse-riders and dogs with a fox panting and worried in the distance. As Patience Aitken had said, there were no scrapes or claw-marks on the paper itself. What’s more, there were no loose edges of carpet. The whole thing had been tacked down with a professional’s skill. Nothing for George Gallagher to trip over, no threads or untacked sections; and no smooth threadbare patches for him to slip on.

He gave special attention to where the upstairs landing met the stairs. George Gallagher probably fell from here, from this height. Further down the stairs, his chances of survival would have been much greater. Yes, it was a steep and narrow staircase all right. A trip and a tumble would certainly have caused bruising. Immediate death at the foot of the stairs would doubtless have arrested much of the bruising, the blood stilling in the veins and arteries, but bruising there would have been. The post-mortem would be specific; so far Rebus was trading on speculation, and well he knew it.

Four doors led off the landing: a large cupboard (what Rebus as a child would have called a ‘press’), filled with sheets, blankets, two ancient suitcases, a black-and-white television lying on its side; a musty spare bedroom, its single bed made up ready for the visitor who never came; the bathroom, with a battery-operated razor lying on the cistern, never to be used again by its owner; and the bedroom. Nothing interested Rebus in either the spare bedroom or the bathroom, so he slipped into the main bedroom, closing the door behind him, then opening it again, since to be discovered behind a closed door would be so much more suspicious than to be found inside an open one.

The sheets, blanket and quilt had been pulled back from the bed, and three pillows had been placed on their ends against the headboard so that one person could sit up in bed. He’d seen a breakfast tray in the kitchen, still boasting the remnants of a morning meaclass="underline" cups, toast crumbs on a greasy plate, an old coffee jar now holding the remains of some home-made jam. Beside the bed stood a walking-frame. Patience Aitken had said that George Gallagher usually wouldn’t walk half a dozen steps without his walking-frame (a Zimmer she’d called it, but to Rebus Zimmer was the German for ‘room’…). Of course, if Grace were helping him, he could walk without it, leaning on her the way he’d lean his weight on a stick. Rebus visualised Grace Gallagher coaxing her husband from his bed, telling him he wouldn’t be needing his walking-frame, she’d help him down the stairs. He could lean on her…

On the bed rested a newspaper, dotted with tacky spots of jam. It was today’s paper, and it was open at the racing pages. A blue pen had been used to ring some of the runners – Gypsy Pearl, Gazumpin, Lot ’s Wife, Castle Mallet, Blondie – five in total, enough for a super yankee. The blue pen was sitting on a bedside table, beside a glass half filled with water, some tablets (the label made out to Mr G. Gallagher), a pair of reading spectacles in their case, and a paperback cowboy novel – large print – borrowed from the local library. Rebus sat on the edge of the bed and flipped through the newspaper. His eyes came to rest on a particular page, the letters and cartoons page. At bottom right was a crossword, a completed crossword at that. The pen used to fill in the squares seemed different to that used for the racing form further on in the paper, and the hand seemed different too: more delicate, more feminine. Thin faint marks rather than the robust lines used to circle the day’s favoured horses. Rebus enjoyed the occasional crossword, and, impressed to find this one completed, was more impressed to find that the answers were those to the cryptic clues rather than the quick clues most people favoured. He began to read, until at some point in his reading his brow furrowed, and he blinked a couple of times before closing the paper, folding it twice, and rolling it into his jacket pocket. A second or two’s reflection later, he rose from the bed and walked slowly to the bedroom door, out on to the landing where, taking careful hold of the banister, he started downstairs.

He stood in the kitchen with his whisky, pondering the situation. Faces came and went. A man would finish his drink with a sigh or a clearing of the throat.

‘Ay well,’ he’d say, ‘I suppose I’d better…’ And with these words, and a bow of the head, he would move out of the kitchen, timidly opening the living-room door so as to say a few words to the widow before leaving. Rebus heard Grace Gallagher’s voice, a high, wavering howclass="underline" ‘Thanks for coming. It was good of you. Cheerio.’

The women came and went, too. Sandwiches appeared from somewhere and were shared out in the kitchen. Tongue, corned beef, salmon paste. White ‘half-pan’ bread sliced in halves. Despite his diet, Rebus ate his fill, saying nothing. Though he only half knew it, he was biding his time, not wishing to create a disturbance. He waited as the kitchen emptied. Once or twice someone had attempted to engage him in conversation, thinking they knew him from a neighbouring street or from the public bar of the local. Rebus just shook his head, the friend of a friend, and the enquiries usually ended there.

Even his guide left, again patting Rebus’s arm and giving him a nod and a wink. It was a day for universal gestures, so Rebus winked back. Then, the kitchen vacant now, muggy with the smell of cheap cigarettes, whisky and body odour, Rebus rinsed out his glass and stood it end-up on the draining board. He walked into the hallway, paused, then knocked and pushed open the living-room door.

As he had suspected, Grace Gallagher, as frail-looking as he’d thought, dabbing behind her fifties-style spectacles, was seated in an armchair. On the arm of the chair sat a woman in her forties, heavy-bodied but not without presence. The other chairs were vacant. Teacups sat on a dining table, alongside an unfinished plate of sandwiches, empty sherry glasses, the bottle itself, and, curiously, a pack of playing cards, laid out as though someone had broken off halfway through a game of patience.

Opposite the television set sat another sunken armchair, looking as if it had not been sat in this whole afternoon. Rebus could guess why: the deceased’s chair, the throne to his tiny kingdom. He smiled towards the two women. Grace Gallagher only half looked towards him.

‘Thanks for dropping by,’ she said, her voice slightly revived from earlier. ‘It was good of you. Cheerio.’

‘Actually, Mrs Gallagher,’ said Rebus, stepping into the room, ‘I’m a police officer, Detective Inspector Rebus. Dr Aitken asked me to look in.’

‘Oh.’ Grace Gallagher looked at him now. Pretty eyes sinking into crinkly white skin. A dab of natural colour on each cheek. Her silvery hair hadn’t seen a perm in quite a while, but someone had combed it, perhaps to enable her to face the rigours of the afternoon. The daughter-in-law – or so Rebus supposed the woman on the arm of the chair to be – was rising.

‘Would you like me to…?’

Rebus nodded towards her. ‘I don’t think this’ll take long. Just routine really, when there’s been an accident.’ He looked at Grace, then at the daughter-in-law. ‘Maybe if you could go into the kitchen for five minutes or so?’

She nodded keenly, perhaps a little too keenly. Rebus hadn’t seen her all evening, and so supposed she’d felt duty bound to stay cooped up in here with her mother-in-law. She seemed to relish the prospect of movement.

     

 

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