Auld Reekie . . . Edinburgh . . . brewers’ town, stinking of beer, whisky, tweeness, gentility, hypocrisy, corruption . . .
DS Rebus awoke with a start, his hand still clutching a can of lager. He’d been asleep in his chair, as usual. He rarely went to bed. Bed was for sober people. The phone was still ringing, so stumbling over LP sleeves, full ashtrays and empty bottles, he picked up the receiver, greasy from last night’s fry-up.
‘It’s Siobhan,’ his colleague DI Clarke announced herself. ‘A new case has popped up.’ Rebus massaged his brow with an Irn-Bru can and grunted.
‘An old case, I mean,’ Siobhan corrected herself. ‘Thirty years old. But linked, possibly, to a new one, with some nasty masonic business thrown in.’
‘So when do the fun and games begin?’ asked Rebus.
‘Right after a page of smart-arse but amusing dialogue,’ retorted Siobhan, hanging up and biting into a tuna sandwich.
‘There’s going to be an awful lot of delving into the past in this story,’ Rebus’s boss warned him.
‘Yes, sir,’ agreed Rebus, ‘I have already detected some ingeniously woven threads involving murder, police corruption, the Scottish referendum, drugs and more.’
‘Aye, and the main part neatly bookended by an example of your own uncompromising ways.’
Rebus suppressed a smile at the thought of his brutal but surely justified handling of a very old case.
Siobhan met Rebus for an update at the Cambridge. He hauled a barrel of Laphroaig beside their table and took a wee nip, while she sipped a crab-apple smoothie she’d smuggled in.
‘So what’s new?’ she asked.
Rebus took a deep breath. ‘A guy from down south is involved in this story, a businessman with violent tendencies, but at least not upper-class like that moron Timothy Balliol-Eton.’
Siobhan frowned her lack of comprehension.
‘A transfer we had a few years ago. They helicoptered him up from London. We were discussing a case, and when I said we’d have to “ca’ canny” he said, “Why, what can she do?”’ He took another slug of whisky. ‘Christ, what a prick.’
Siobhan had to suppress a smile at Rebus’s fuming contempt.
Rebus was having a pint with Bill Scroggie, a former colleague. They reminisced about their dodgy tactics in the past.
‘We kept the worst of the scum off the street, eh John?’ Bill reminded him. He watched Rebus nod.
As she walked down Saughton Brae, Siobhan reflected that John Rebus was good still, but not as sharp as he once had been. She realised she was missing the more compact plot lines, the frequent, robust repartee, the dynamism of the younger Rebus. Yet he was still fairly reliable.
In tribute to her colleague, she threw away her lemongrass and quinoa wrap and bought a steak pie instead. She bit into it. God it was good.