Читать онлайн "Beggars Banquet" автора Rankin Ian - RuLit - Страница 5

 
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‘I’ll pop the kettle on,’ she said, brushing past Rebus. He watched the door close, waited as she padded down the short hallway, listened until he heard water running, the sounds of dishes being tidied. Then he turned back to Grace Gallagher, took a deep breath, and walked over towards her, dragging a stiff-backed dining chair with him. This he sat on, only a foot or two from her. He could feel her growing uneasy. She writhed a little in the armchair, then tried to disguise the reaction by reaching for another paper hankie from a box on the floor beside her.

‘This must be a very difficult time for you, Mrs Gallagher,’ Rebus began. He wanted to keep things short and clear cut. He had no evidence, had nothing to play with but a little bit of psychology and the woman’s own state of mind. It might not be enough; he wasn’t sure whether or not he wanted it to be enough. He found himself shifting on the chair. His arm touched the newspaper in his pocket. It felt like a talisman.

‘Dr Aitken told me,’ he continued, ‘that you’d looked after your husband for quite a few years. It can’t have been easy.’

‘I’d be lying if I said that it was.’

Rebus tried to find the requisite amount of iron in her words. Tried but failed.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I believe your husband was, well, a bit difficult at times.’

‘I won’t deny that either. He could be a real bugger when he wanted to.’ She smiled, as if in memory of the fact. ‘But I’ll miss him. Aye, I’ll miss him.’

‘I’m sure you will, Mrs Gallagher.’

He looked at her, and her eyes fixed on to his, challenging him. He cleared his throat again. ‘There’s something I’m not absolutely sure about, concerning the accident. I wonder if maybe you can help me?’

‘I can try.’

Rebus smiled his appreciation. ‘It’s just this,’ he said. ‘Eleven o’clock was a bit early for your husband to be coming downstairs. What’s more, he seemed to be trying to come down without his walking-frame, which is still beside the bed.’ Rebus’s voice was becoming firmer, his conviction growing. ‘What’s more, he seems to have fallen with a fair amount of force.’

She interrupted him with a snap. ‘How do you mean?’

‘I mean he fell straight down the stairs. He didn’t just slip and fall, or stumble and roll down them. He went flying off the top step and didn’t hit anything till he hit the ground.’ Her eyes were filling again. Hating himself, Rebus pressed on. ‘He didn’t fall, Mrs Gallagher. He was helped to the top of the stairs, and then he was helped down them with a push in the back, a pretty vigorous push at that.’ His voice grew less severe, less judgmental. ‘I’m not saying you meant to kill him. Maybe you just wanted him hospitalised, so you could have a rest from looking after him. Was that it?’

She was blowing her nose, her small shoulders squeezed inwards towards a brittle neck. The shoulders twitched with sobs. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. You think I… How could you? Why would you say anything like that? No, I don’t believe you. Get out of my house.’ But there was no power to any of her words, no real enthusiasm for the fight. Rebus reached into his pocket and brought out the newspaper.

‘I notice you do crosswords, Mrs Gallagher.’

She glanced up at him, startled by this twist in the conversation. ‘What?’

He motioned with the paper. ‘I like crosswords myself. That’s why I was interested when I saw you’d completed today’s puzzle. Very impressive. When did you do that?’

‘This morning,’ she said through another handkerchief. ‘In the park. I always do the crossword after I’ve bought the paper. Then I bring it home so George can look at his horses.’

Rebus nodded, and studied the crossword again. ‘You must have been preoccupied with something this morning then,’ he said.

‘What do you mean?’

‘It’s quite an easy one, really. I mean, easy for someone who does crosswords like this and finishes them. Where is it now?’ Rebus seemed to be searching the grid. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Nineteen across. You’ve got the down solutions, so that means the answer to nineteen across must be something R something P. Now, what’s the clue?’ He looked for it, found it. ‘Here it is, Mrs Gallagher. “Perhaps deadly in part.” Four letters. Something R something P. Something deadly. Or deadly in part. And you’ve put TRIP. ‘What were you thinking about, I wonder? I mean, when you wrote that? I wonder what your mind was on?’

‘But it’s the right answer,’ said Grace Gallagher, her face creasing in puzzlement. Rebus was shaking his head.

‘No,’ he said. ‘I don’t think so. I think the “in part” means the letters of “part” make up the word you want. The answer’s TRAP, Mrs Gallagher. “Perhaps deadly in part”: TRAP. Do you see? But you were thinking of something else when you filled in the answer. You were thinking about how if your husband tripped down the stairs you might be rid of him. Isn’t that right, Grace?’

She was silent for a moment, the silence broken only by the ticking of the mantelpiece clock and the clank of dishes being washed in the kitchen. Then she spoke, quite calmly.

‘ Myra ’s a good lass. It was terrible when Billy died. She’s been like a daughter to me ever since.’ Another pause, then her eyes met Rebus’s again. He was thinking of his own mother, of how old she’d be today had she lived. Much the same age as this woman in front of him. He took another deep breath, but stayed silent, waiting.

‘You know, son,’ she said, ‘if you look after an invalid, people think you’re a martyr. I was a martyr all right, but only because I put up with him for forty years.’ Her eyes strayed to the empty armchair, and focused on it as though her husband were sitting there and hearing the truth for the very first time. ‘He was a sweet talker back then, and he had all the right moves. None of that once Billy came along. None of that ever again.’ Her voice, which had been growing softer, now began hardening again. ‘They shut the pit, so he got work at the bottle factory. Then they shut that, and all he could get was part-time chalking up the winners at the bookie’s. A man gets gey bitter, Inspector. But he didn’t have to take it out on me, did he?’ She moved her eyes from the chair to Rebus. ‘Will they lock me up?’ She didn’t sound particularly interested in his answer.

‘That’s not for me to say, Grace. Juries decide that sort of thing.’

She smiled. ‘I thought I’d done the crossword in record time. Trust me to get one wrong.’ And she shook her head slowly, the smile falling from her face as the tears came again, and her mouth opened in a near-silent bawl.

The door swung open, the daughter-in-law entering with a tray full of crockery.

‘There now,’ she called. ‘We can all have a nice cup of-’ She saw the look on Grace Gallagher’s face, and she froze.

‘What have you done?’ she cried accusingly. Rebus stood up.

‘Mrs Gallagher,’ he said to her, ‘I’m afraid I’ve got a bit of bad news…’

She had known of course. The daughter-in-law had known. Not that Grace had said anything, but there had been a special bond between them. Myra ’s parting words to Rebus’s retreating back had been a vicious ‘That bugger deserved all he got!’ Net curtains had twitched; faces had appeared at darkened windows. Her words had echoed along the street and up into the smoky night air.

Maybe she was right at that. Rebus couldn’t judge. All he could be was fair. So why was it that he felt so guilty? So ashamed? He could have shrugged it off, could have reported back to Patience that there was no substance to her fears. Grace Gallagher had suffered; would continue to suffer. Wasn’t that enough? OK, so the law demanded more, but without Rebus there was no case, was there?

He felt right, felt vindicated, and at the same time felt a complete and utter bastard. More than that, he felt as though he’d just sentenced his own mother. He stopped at a late-night store and stocked up on beer and cigarettes. As an afterthought, he bought six assorted packets of crisps and a couple of bars of chocolate. This was no time to diet. Back home, he could conduct his own post-mortem, could hold his own private wake. On his way out of the shop, he bought the final edition of the evening paper, and was reminded that this was 30 April. Tomorrow morning, before dawn, crowds of people would climb up Arthur’s Seat and, at the hill’s summit, would celebrate the rising of the sun and the coming of May. Some would dab their faces with dew, the old story being that it would make them more beautiful, more handsome. What exactly was it they were celebrating, all the hungover students and the druids and the curious? Rebus wasn’t sure any more. Perhaps he had never known in the first place.

     

 

2011 - 2018