Edinburgh, November 1977
Tina French needed to get home. She buttoned up her woollen coat and picked up the pace, ice crunching underfoot. The sense of unease trickled down her spine, causing her steps to hasten.
The pub she worked in was on the outskirts of the housing estate. Normally, she’d cut around the scheme to get home, but not with the thick blanket of fog that crept in. Maybe it was the chill that seeped through her jacket and made smoke out of her breath – or the man who had been in earlier. Adrenaline ran through her veins, and she shivered, thinking about him sitting at a table near the bar, staring at her with that look on his face. A look she had seen all too often from her husband before he died. Resentment. Disgust.
She had asked around, but no one remembered the man. He was a bit younger than most of the men in the pub, with a bushy moustache and thick glasses you got on the NHS when you couldn’t afford any. A couple of times she nearly went up to him, to ask him what the problem was but then he drained his glass and walked out fifteen minutes before her shift ended.
She looked around again; most of the houses were in darkness, with their curtains drawn. Most people would be in bed. She would’ve been if she didn’t need to work. Candles flickered on the window ledge of one house. Her heart palpitated, and her stomach twitched as she slipped another glance behind her. The street was deserted, as it normally was at this time of night. Just rows of pebble-dashed council houses on both sides. Her palms were clammy, and her handbag slipped in her grasp. The kids would be waiting up for her. They would’ve expected her in by now. A twig snapped near her, and it sounded like someone clicking their fingers.
Footsteps echoed behind her and she risked a glimpse over her shoulder – a man, head down, hands in his pockets. Tina crossed the road and started to run, her skirt pulling her knees together. She stumbled a couple of times. When she looked back round again, she couldn’t see his face and his hair was hidden under a hood.
Turning the corner, she lurched and crashed into the chest of another man who reached out and caught her arm, stopping her from tripping over.
‘I’m sorry.’ She spluttered and wiggled her arm free, her cheeks burning red.
‘Are you alright?’ He looked at her with big brown eyes and smiled. ‘It’s dangerous out here at this time of night. Let me walk you home.’
‘It’s okay.’ Tina held her bag to her chest and started to walk as fast as she could. ‘It’s not far.’ She slipped a glance at his left hand.
He must’ve noticed because he wiggled his fingers and said, ‘My wife died of cancer, but I don’t think she’d be happy if I left you to walk these streets alone. Don’t you read the papers?’
Tina didn’t answer. She read them. A couple of prostitutes had been murdered and dumped on waste land, but that was miles away and she wasn’t a prostitute. The police didn’t seem to be solving that case.
‘You’ll be doing me a favour, anyway. My children are at a party overnight, and I don’t know what to do with myself. It’s their first time…’ He walked along beside her.
‘How many do you have?’ she asked.
‘Just the two.’ He casually slipped out a pair of black gloves from his pocket. ‘I’m freezing.’
She could feel his eyes on her. ‘What’s your name, by the way?’
‘Colin,’ he replied with a nod. Sweat glistened on his pink forehead. ‘That’s a lovely necklace.’
‘Thanks.’ She instinctively touched it.
The quickest way out of the estate was a path lined with trees. Presumably, it had been a railway line at some point. Beyond this path, the bus stop was across the road. She slipped another glance over her shoulder; no one behind them. She listened to his breath quicken. They got half-way along the path when he spoke again.
‘I saw you in the pub earlier. You weren’t in last week, though. I was getting worried.’ He gave her a wet-lipped smile.
Her heart thumped in her chest. ‘I had the flu. Why were you worried?’
‘I didn’t want you to leave after all my planning.’
He grabbed her before she could scream. Then, he pulled her around, ripped the necklace from her throat and shoved her down onto the concrete. Pain shot up her legs and spine.
Recognition dawned as he stared at her, enjoying himself. It was the man from the pub, just without those glasses and moustache. Why was he doing this to her? What has she done to deserve this? A sob burst from her throat.
A moment later, the knife silenced her.
‘Is it a good idea?’
‘I don’t know.’ Moira McKenzie shrugged and pulled away. She rubbed the condensation from her glass as a classical record spun on the turntable. Most of the sound was being drowned out by the heavy rain that pounded off the windows. She swallowed hard to push back the words that wanted to spill from her. ‘I think Reggie suspects,’ she finally said. ‘I’m sure he does.’ She could feel the familiar burn at the back of her eyes. Reggie’s words echoed in her ears. Worthless. No one would ever want you. Mutton dressed as lamb. Pathetic. Each one like a punch to the stomach.
‘It’s in his eyes.’ She paused to think. ‘The way he looks at me. It’s hard to explain.’ She shivered thinking about his moods and how quick they could change.
‘A man like Reggie.’ He grimaced. ‘He would do something if he really suspected. No,’ he reached out and squeezed her hand, ‘that’s just the guilt talking. You’re just feeling guilty because you’re finally happy.’
Moira shrugged and looked at the chandelier that hung above them. She never imagined herself in a lovely house like this, with big bay windows and garden, on the other side of Edinburgh.
‘I can’t do this.’ She put her glass down on the coffee table. ‘I need to go home.’
‘Don’t.’ He looked at her wide-eyed. ‘I don’t understand—’
She dragged the heel of her hand down her face. ‘We’re both married. This will end badly.’ Moira stood up and grabbed her jacket from the coat stand. ‘What happens when your wife is back from her mother’s?’ Her eyes pleading with his, willing him to say the words that she wanted to hear. Say something to stop her going home. She swallowed back the painful lump in her throat. ‘When your wife gets back, I’ll be forgotten about.’
He lowered the volume on the record player and stared at her. ‘That’s not true. I just don’t want to tell her about us until she gets better. It would knock her back… We’ve been through all this.’
‘Do you even think she’ll get better?’ Moira asked, leaning forward. ‘You didn’t think so before.’
He shook his head slowly and stepped towards her, arms outstretched. ‘Don’t be like that. I can’t just walk away from her now.’
‘I should leave.’
His cool fingers brushed against her hand. ‘Will I drop you home, then?’ He frowned. ‘We can meet for dinner next week. We could go to Aperitif again?’
She looked away from him. What was she thinking, a good-looking, educated man – what the hell would he see in her? This was like a dream and all dreams end when you wake up to reality. She nodded and slipped her mac on. ‘Drop me home.’ She kept her gaze on the red carpet and blinked back tears; not wanting to look at the wedding photographs that adorned the mantelpiece and the pictures of his wife that always seemed to be staring at her.
‘If that’s what you really want.’ He picked up his keys from the coffee table. ‘I wish you would stay, though.’
Moira twisted the wedding band on her finger. ‘I can’t. I should be home waiting for Reggie.’
‘After all the things you’ve told me he’s done to you? All the bruises I’ve seen?’
‘I’m married. What else am I meant to do?’
‘Do as I say. Let me protect you.’
‘He’ll never let me leave.’
‘Then let me help.’ He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand.
‘No,’ she pulled away. ‘You can’t. Take me home.’
Moira got out the car a few streets away from the house, despite his protests that it wasn’t safe. Reggie was right, anyway. She sobbed. No one would want her. She reached into her pocket for her tissues and dabbed at the mascara that trailed down her face. Reggie would probably still be at the pub, so there would be enough time to get cleaned up before he got home. He was always there on a Friday night before he’d come home pissed and overly friendly. It was the only time that he would be nice to her. Shivering, she wrapped her arms around her body. Rain seeped through her trousers and trickled down her spine. She sniffled and look over her shoulder. She was enclosed by council flats on both sides of the street; only a few lights were on and the lampposts flickered. The sudden screaming howl of a fox filled the silence and she whipped around but couldn’t see anything. She walked faster towards home. Her stomach twitched when she looked up at her flat and saw the bathroom light on.
Moira closed the front door softly. The sound of rushing water and banging pipes trailed from the bathroom. The door was ajar. She saw Reggie hunched over the sink scrubbing at his arms with a pink towel. Strange, as she couldn’t remember them having any pink towels. The sleeves of his white shirt rolled up to just underneath his elbows and his brown hair flopped over his forehead. She stood at the gap in the doorway. The sink was stained red, it was only then Moira realised that it wasn’t a pink towel. It was a bloodstained towel! His head snapped towards her. Moira gasped and stumbled backwards.
‘Why are you back? I thought your mother was sick,’ he snarled.
‘Are you hurt?’ Moira mustered, feeling the bile rise in her throat, as the metallic smell drifted up her nostrils. There was something about the sight of blood that just made her want heave.
Reggie shook his head. ‘It’s just a cut.’
‘You dinnae want to know,’ he spat and threw a towel at her. ‘Wash this.’
‘Reggie,’ she sobbed. ‘You promised.’
‘Someone jumped me when I left the pub.’
‘Where are you bleeding from? You need to go to the hospital. Have you called the police?’
‘Am I on Mastermind?’ He clenched his jaw. ‘Just dae as you’re telt before I lose my rag.’
After she had cleaned the bathroom, Moira peeled her jacket from her shoulders and slumped down into the armchair. Reggie had cleaned himself up and gone to bed. She closed her eyes and heard the soft mumbles of his snores. How could he sleep after what she had just cleaned up? She couldn’t follow him to bed, that was for sure. She climbed up from the seat and grabbed a half-empty can of Tartan from the dresser. She downed the warm lager in one gulp, and her eyes fell to the Evening News that lay next to it.
Picture House Murder Solved.
They don’t solve the ones that matter, though, do they?
She needed another drink. Crushing the can in her hand, she stood up and staggered through to the kitchen. Her temples throbbed, and even though the blood was gone, she could still smell it, taste it, every time she swallowed. She envied Reggie. The way he never had trouble sleeping, never seemed to have trouble forcing any of the horrible things from his mind. Her only escape was a drink. She picked up another one of Reggie’s Tartans from the worktop and sat down, glancing at a couple of books she got from the library which were lying on the centre of the table.
Reggie cleared his throat behind her. She had her back to him but could imagine the look on his face if she’d woken him up. From the corner of her eye, she could see him take a step forward.
‘What are you doing up?’ he asked.
He placed his hand on her shoulder. ‘It’s no’ good for you.’
‘I’ll go in a minute.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he muttered. ‘I shouldn’t have been so…’
Moira straightened. ‘It’s fine.’
He grimaced as he sat down opposite her and rubbed his side.
Moira glanced at him. He looked like he was thinking of what to say next. She made a move to stand but he stopped her.
‘Wait.’ He put his hand over hers. ‘Let’s start again. I got into a fight because I was so upset about your affair.’
‘Don’t. I saw you.’
‘What are you going to do?’
‘Nothing – if everything stops.’ He reached into his dressing gown pocket and pulled out a little gold chain with a cross. ‘I got you this.’
Moira made no move to take the thin necklace. She wasn’t even religious, nor was Reggie. They’d only got married because she’d fallen pregnant, and it was the done thing.
‘Everything that happened tonight is your fault. I wouldn’t have got into that fight otherwise. I wouldn’t have been so angry…’
‘You’re always sorry. Ah’ve had enough of this.’ He stood up and walked over to the window, keeping his back to her. ‘I try so hard to make you happy. Given you everything.’
She saw the peeling wallpaper, along with the space in the kitchen where the washing machine used to be. ‘I made a mistake, Reggie. It won’t happen again.’
‘Why have you always got tae annoy me, Moira?’ Reggie picked up the photo of their son on the windowsill, brushing dust off the silver frame with his thumb. ‘We had everything then, eh?’ He put the photo back.
‘I miss him too, Reggie. Not a day goes by—’
‘Nah!’ He scoffed and shrugged his shoulders. ‘It doesnae matter now, does it? He’s dead, nothing’s going to change that.’
He turned to face her and looked her up and down, a sneer curling his top lip.
‘Reggie, please. Let’s just have a quiet night.’
Reggie scoffed and grabbed one of her books from the table. He flung it against the wall where it landed with a thud in the sink. Smiling, he picked up the glass of wine from the worktop and emptied it onto her lap.
‘Sorry, Reggie. I didn’t mean it.’ The wine seeped through her denim skirt and soaked her legs. ‘I’m so sorry,’ she sobbed.
Reggie had his hand braced to slap her.
‘I’m sorry, Reggie. I’m clumsy.’ She shook and swallowed back tears. ‘I’ve been drinking too much. I didn’t mean to make you angry. I’ll stop and do anything you want. Just don’t…’
‘Ah ken,’ he snarled and knelt in front of her, putting his hand on her shoulder on top of the bruise, ‘you just know how to wind me up. You’re trying to play games with me.’
She bit down on her lip. Ready for the familiar sting.
‘You’re always daeing ma heid in.’ He squeezed her shoulder as he stood back up. Her eyes were shiny from tears.
The dog in the flat below was barking wildly.
‘Do you want me to get you a drink, Reggie?’
‘A drink? That’s your answer to bloody everything’ He shook his head and rubbed a hand through his perm of black hair. ‘You ken I dinnae like you drinking, but you do it anyway.’
‘It was just an idea, Reggie.’
‘You always have to have an idea, don’t you? You cannae have a bloody good one, though, can you?’ he spat.
‘I’m sorry.’ Moira clambered up and moved towards the sink. He followed her. She put the glass in the basin and ran the dishcloth under the tap to clean her skirt. The maroon stain wouldn’t budge.
‘I didnae mean to say that you dinnae have good ideas. It’s just been bad at work. The production’s no’ where it’s needed, and now we’ve lost another contract.’
She nodded and dabbed her skirt. ‘But you’ve lost contracts before and we’ve got by. The company has always got by. Indestructible – that’s what you said. We always get by somehow. We can ask my mum and dad for some money to tide us over.’
‘Why? What hiv you been saying to them?’
‘Nothing.’ Moira shuddered.
‘You better keep it that way.’ He stabbed a finger into the small of her back. ‘I’ll find the money fae somewhere. We’re no’ doing that again, I ken you dinnae understand all of this but it’s different this time. It really is.’