The girl screamed once, only the once, but it was enough. By the
time the middle-aged couple arrived at the foot of Raeburn Wynd,
she was kneeling on the ground, hands over her face, shoulders
heaving with sobs. The man studied the corpse for a moment, then
tried shielding his wife's eyes, but she had already turned away.
He took out his phone and called the emergency number. It was ten
minutes before the police car arrived, during which time the girl
tried to leave, the man explaining calmly that she should wait, his
hand rubbing her shoulder. His wife was seated curbside, despite
the nighttime chill. November in Edinburgh, not quite cold enough
for a frost but heading that way. King's Stables Road wasn't the
busiest of thoroughfares. A No Entry sign prevented vehicles using
it as a route from the Grassmarket to Lothian Road. At night it
could be a lonely spot, with not much more than a multistory car
park on one side, Castle Rock and a cemetery on the other. The
street lighting seemed underpowered, and pedestrians kept their
wits about them. The middle-aged couple had been to a carol service
in St. Cuthbert's Church, helping raise money for the city's
children's hospital. The woman had bought a holly wreath, which now
lay on the ground to the left of the corpse. Her husband couldn't
help thinking: a minute either way and we might not have heard,
might be heading home in the car, the wreath on the back seat and
Classic FM on the radio.
"I want to go home," the girl was complaining between sobs. She
was standing, knees grazed. Her skirt was too short, the man felt,
and her denim jacket was unlikely to keep out the cold. She looked
familiar to him. He had considered — briefly considered
— lending her his coat. Instead, he reminded her again that
she needed to stay put. Suddenly their faces turned blue. The
police car was arriving, lights flashing.
"Here they come," the man said, placing his arm around her
shoulders as if to comfort her, removing it again when he saw his
wife was watching.
Even after the patrol car drew to a halt, its roof light stayed
on, engine left running. Two uniformed officers emerged, not
bothering with their caps. One of them carried a large black torch.
Raeburn Wynd was steep and led to a series of mews conversions
above garages that would once have housed the monarch's carriages
and horses. It would be treacherous when icy.
"Maybe he slipped and banged his head," the man offered. "Or he
was sleeping rough, or had had a few too many . . ."
"Thank you, sir," one of the officers said, meaning the
opposite. His colleague had switched the torch on, and the
middle-aged man realized that there was blood on the ground, blood
on the slumped body's hands and clothes. The face and hair were
clotted with it.
"Or someone smashed him to a pulp," the first officer commented.
"Unless, of course, he slipped repeatedly against a cheese
His young colleague winced. He'd been crouching down, the better
to shine light onto the body, but he rose to his feet again. "Whose
is the wreath?" he asked.
"My wife's," the man stated, wondering afterwards why he hadn't
just said "mine."
"Jack Palance," Detective Inspector John Rebus said.
"I keep telling you, I don't know him."
"Big film star."
"So name me a film."
"His obituary's in the Scotsman."
"Then you should be clued up enough to tell me what I've seen
him in." Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke got out of the car and
slammed shut the door.
"He was the bad guy in a lot of Westerns," Rebus persisted.
Clarke showed her warrant card to one of the uniforms and took a
proffered torch from the younger of the two. The Scene of Crime
Unit was on its way. Spectators had started gathering, drawn to the
scene by the patrol car's blue beacon. Rebus and Clarke had been
working late at Gayfield Square police station, hammering out a
theory — but no prime suspect — in an unsolved
investigation. Both had been glad of the break provided by the
summons. They'd arrived in Rebus's wheezing Saab 900, from the boot
of which he was now fetching polythene overshoes and latex gloves.
It took him half a dozen noisy attempts to slam shut the lid.
"Need to trade it in," he muttered.
"Who'd want it?" Clarke asked, pulling on the gloves. Then, when
he didn't answer: "Were those hiking boots I glimpsed?"
"As old as the car," Rebus stated, heading towards the corpse.
The two detectives fell silent, studying the figure and its
"Someone's done a job on him," Rebus eventually commented. He
turned towards the younger constable. "What's your name, son?"
"Goodyear, sir . . . Todd Goodyear."
"Mum's maiden name, sir," Goodyear explained.
"Ever heard of Jack Palance, Todd?"
"Wasn't he in Shane?"
"You're wasted in uniform."
Goodyear's colleague chuckled. "Give young Todd here half a
chance, and it's you he'll be grilling rather than any
"How's that?" Clarke asked.
The constable — at least fifteen years older than his
partner and maybe three times the girth — nodded towards
Goodyear. "I'm not good enough for Todd," he explained. "Got his
eyes set on CID."
Goodyear ignored this. He had his notebook in his hand. "Want us
to start taking details?" he asked. Rebus looked towards the
pavement. A middle-aged couple were seated curbside, holding hands.
Then there was the teenage girl, arms wrapped around herself as she
shivered against a wall. Beyond her the crowd of onlookers was
starting to shuffle forward again, warnings forgotten.
"Best thing you can do," Rebus offered, "is hold that lot back
till we can secure the scene. Doctor should be here in a couple of
"He's not got a pulse," Goodyear said. "I checked."
Rebus glowered at him.
"Told you they wouldn't like it," Goodyear's partner said with
"Contaminates the locus," Clarke told the young constable,
showing him her gloved hands and overshoes. He looked
"Doctor still has to confirm death," Rebus added. "Meantime, you
can start persuading that rabble to get themselves home."
"Glorified bouncers, that's us," the older cop told his partner
as they moved off.
"Which would make this the VIP enclosure," Clarke said quietly.
She was checking the corpse again. "He's well enough dressed,
probably not homeless."
"Want to look for ID?"
She took a couple of steps forward and crouched beside the body,
pressing a gloved hand against the man's trouser and jacket
pockets. "Can't feel anything," she said.
"Not even sympathy?"
She glanced up at Rebus. "Does the suit of armor come off when
you collect the gold watch?"
Rebus managed to mouth the word "ouch." Reason they'd been
staying late at the office so often —ebus only ten days from
retirement, wanting loose ends tied.
"A mugging gone wrong?" Clarke suggested into the silence.
Rebus just shrugged, meaning he didn't think so. He asked Clarke
to shine the torch down the body: black leather jacket, an
open-necked patterned shirt that had probably started out blue,
faded denims held up with a black leather belt, black suede shoes.
As far as Rebus could tell, the man's face was lined, the hair
graying. Early fifties? Around five feet nine or ten. No jewelry,
no wristwatch. Bringing Rebus's personal body count to . . . what?
Maybe thirty or forty over the course of his three-decades-plus on
the force. Another ten days, and this poor wretch would have been
somebody else's problem — and still could be. For weeks now
he'd been feeling Siobhan Clarke's tension: part of her, maybe the
best part of her, wanted Rebus gone. It was the only way she could
start to prove herself. Her eyes were on him now, as if she knew
what he was thinking. He offered a sly smile.
"I'm not dead yet," he said, as the Scene of Crime van slowed to
a halt on the roadway.
The duty doctor had duly declared death. The SOCOs had taped off
Raeburn Wynd at top and bottom. Lights had been erected, a sheet
pinned up so that onlookers no longer had a view of anything except
the shadows on the other side. Rebus and Clarke were suited up in
the same white hooded disposable overalls as the SOCOs. A camera
team had just arrived, and the mortuary van was standing by.
Beakers of tea had materialized from somewhere, wisps of steam
rising from them. In the distance: sirens headed elsewhere; drunken
yelps from nearby Princes Street; maybe even the hooting of an owl
from the churchyard. Preliminary statements had been taken from the
teenage girl and the middle-aged couple, and Rebus was flicking
through these, flanked by the two constables, the elder of whom, he
now knew, was called Bill Dyson.
"Rumor is," Dyson said, "you've finally got your jotters."
"Weekend after next," Rebus confirmed. "Can't be too far away
"Seven months and counting. Nice wee taxi job lined up for
afterwards. Don't know how Todd will cope without me."
"I'll try to maintain my composure," Goodyear drawled.
"That's one thing you're good at," Dyson was saying, as Rebus
went back to his reading. The girl who had found the body was
called Nancy Sievewright. She was seventeen and on her way home
from a friend's house. The friend lived in Great Stuart Street and
Nancy in Blair Street, just off the Cowgate. She had already left
school and was unemployed, though hoping to get into college some
day to study as a dental assistant. Goodyear had done the
interview, and Rebus was impressed: neat handwriting and plenty of
detail. Turning to Dyson's notebook was like turning from hope to
despair — a mess of hastily scrawled hieroglyphs. Those seven
months couldn't pass quickly enough for PC Bill Dyson. Through
guesswork, Rebus reckoned the middle-aged couple were Roger and
Elizabeth Anderson and that they lived in Frogston Road West, on
the southern edge of the city. There was a phone number, but no
hint of their ages or occupations. Instead, Rebus could make out
the words "just passing" and "called it in." He handed the
notebooks back without comment. All three would be interviewed
again later. Rebus checked his watch, wondering when the
pathologist would arrive. Not much else to be done in the
"Tell them they can go."
"Girl's still a bit shaky," Goodyear said. "Reckon we should
drop her home?"
Rebus nodded and turned his attention to Dyson. "How about the
"Their car's parked in the Grassmarket."
"Spot of late-night shopping?"
Dyson shook his head. "Carol concert at St. Cuthbert's."
"A conversation we could have saved ourselves," Rebus told him,
"if you'd bothered to write any of it down." As his eyes drilled
into the constable's, he could sense the question Dyson wanted to
ask: What would be the bloody point of that? Luckily, the
old-timer knew better than to utter anything of the kind out loud .
. . not until the other old-timer was well out of earshot.
Rebus caught up with Clarke at the Scene of Crime van, where she
was quizzing the team leader. His name was Thomas Banks —
"Tam" to those who knew him. He gave a nod of greeting and asked if
his name was on the guest list for Rebus's retirement do.
"How come you're all so keen to witness my demise?"
"Don't be surprised," Tam said, "if the suits from HQ come with
stakes and mallets, just to be on the safe side." He winked towards
Clarke. "Siobhan here tells me you've wangled it so your last
shift's a Saturday. Is that so we're all at home watching telly
while you take the long walk?"
"Just the way it fell, Tam," Rebus assured him. "Any tea
"You turned your nose up at it," Tam chided him.
"That was half an hour ago."
"No second chances here, John."
"I was asking," Clarke interrupted, "if Tam's team had anything
"I'm guessing he said to be patient."
"That's about the size of it," Tam confirmed, checking a text
message on his mobile phone. "Stabbing outside a pub at Haymarket,"
he informed them.
"Busy night," Clarke offered. Then, to Rebus: "Doctor reckons
our man was bludgeoned and maybe even kicked to death. He's betting
blunt force trauma at the autopsy."
"He's not going to get any odds from me," Rebus told her.
"Nor me," Tam added, rubbing a finger across the bridge of his
nose. He turned to Rebus: "Know who that young copper was?" He
nodded towards the patrol car. Todd Goodyear was helping Nancy
Sievewright into the back seat, Bill Dyson drumming his fingers
against the steering wheel.
"Never seen him before," Rebus admitted.
"You maybe knew his granddad, though . . ." Tam left it at that,
wanting Rebus to do the work. It didn't take long.
"Not Harry Goodyear?"
Tam was nodding in confirmation, leaving Clarke to ask who Harry
"Ancient history," Rebus informed her.
Which, typically, left her none the wiser.
Excerpted from EXIT MUSIC © Copyright 2011 by Ian Rankin.
Reprinted with permission by Little, Brown and Company. All rights