Darkness was falling as Rebus accepted the yellow hard hat from
'This will be the admin block, we think,' the man said. His name
was David Gilfillan. He worked for Historic Scotland and was
coordinating the archaeological survey of Queensberry House. 'The
original building is later seventeenth century. Lord Hatton was its
original owner. It was extended at the end if the century, after
coming into the ownership of the first Duke of Queensberry. It
would have been one of the grandest houses on Canongate, and only a
stone's throw from Holyrood.'
All around them, demolition work was taking place. Queensberry
House itself would be saved, but the more recent additions either
side of it were going. Workmen crouched on roofs, removing slates,
tying them into bundles which were lowered by rope to waiting
skips. There were enough broken slates underfoot to show that the
process was imperfect. Rebus adjusted his hard hat and tried to
look interested in what Gilfillan was saying.
Everyone told him that this was a sign, that he was here because
the chiefs at the Big House had plans for him. But Rebus knew
better. He knew his boss, Detective Superintendent 'Farmer' Watson,
had put his name forward because he was hoping to keep Rebus out of
trouble and out of his hair. It was as simple as that. And if -- if
--Rebus accepted without complaining and saw the assignment
through, than maybe --maybe--the Farmer would receive a chastened
Rebus back into the fold.
Four o'clock on a December afternoon in Edinburgh; John Rebus with
his hands in his raincoat pockets, water seeping up through the
leather soles of his shoes. Gilfillan was wearing green wellies.
Rebus noticed that DI Derek Linford was wearing an almost identical
pair. He'd probably phoned beforehand, checked with the
archaeologist what the season's fashion was. Linford was Fettes
fast-stream, headed for big things at Lothuan and Borders Police
HQ. Late twenties, practically deskbound, and glowing from the love
of his job. Already there were CID officers--mostly older than
him--who were saying it didn't do to get on the wrong side of Derek
Linford. Maybe he'd have a long memory; maybe one day he'd be
looking down on them all from Room 279 in the Big House.
The Big House: Police HQ on Fettes Avenue; 279: the Chief
Linford had his notebook out, pen clenched between his teeth. He
was listening to the lecture. He was listening.
'Forty noblemen, seven judges, generals, doctors, bankers...'
Gilfillan was letting his tour group know how important Cannongate
had been at one time in the city's history. In doing so, he was
pointing toward the near future. The brewery next door to
Queensberry House was due for demolition the following spring. The
parliament building itself would be built on the cleared site,
directly across the road from Holyrood House, the Queen's Edinburgh
residence. On the other side of Holyrood Road, facing Queensberry
House, work was progressing on Dynamic Earth, a natural history
theme park. Next to it, a new HQ for the city's daily newspaper was
at present a giant monkey-puzzle of steel girders. And across the
road from that, another sire was being cleared in preparation for
the construction of a hotel and 'prestige apartment block.' Rebus
was standing in the midst of one of the biggest building sites in
'You'll probably all know Queensberry House as a hospital,'
Gilfillan was saying. Derek Linford was nodding, but then he nodded
agreement with almost everything the archaeologist said. 'Where
we're standing now was used for car parking.' Rebus looked around
at the mud-colored lorries, each one bearing the simple word
DEMOLITION. 'But before it was a hospital it was used as a
barracks. This area was the parade ground. It was probably filled
in to make the parade ground.'
In what light was left, Rebus looked at Queensberry House. Its grey
harled walls looked unloved. There was grass growing from its
gutters. It was huge, yet he couldn't remember having seen it
before, though he'd driven past it probably several hundred times
in his life.
'My wife used to work here,' another of the group said, 'when it
was a hospital.' The informant was Detective Sergeant Joseph
Dickie, who was based at Grayfield Square. He's successfully
contrived to miss two out of the first four meetings of the PPLC --
the Policing of Parliament Liaison Committee. By some arcane law of
bureaucratic semantics, the PPLC was actually a subcommittee, one
of many which had been set up to advise on security matters
pertaining to the Scottish Parliament. There were eight members of
the PPLC, including one Scottish Office official and a shadowy
figure who claimed to be from Scotland Yard, though when Rebus had
phoned the Met in London, he'd been unable to trace him. Rebus's
bet was that the man -- Alec Carmoodie -- was MI5. Carmoodie wasn't
here today, and neither was Peter Brent, the sharp-faced and
sharper-suited Scottish Office representative. Brent, for his sins,
sat on several of the subcommittees, and had begged off today's
tour with the compelling excuse that he'd been through it twice
before when accompanying visiting dignitaries.
Making up the party today were the three final members of the PPLC.
DS Ellen Wylie was from C Division HQ in Torphichen Place. It
didn't seem to bother her that she was the only woman on the team.
She treated it like any other task, raising good points at the
meetings and asking questions to which no one seemed to have any
answers. DC Grant Hood was from Rebus's own station, St. Leonard's.
Two of them, because St. Leonard's was the closest station to the
Holyrood site, and the parliament would be part of their beat.
Though Rebus worked in the same office as Hood, he didn't know him
well. They'd not often shared the same shift. But Rebus did know
the last member of the PPLC, DI Bobby Hogan from D Division in
Leith. At the first meeting, Hogan had pulled Rebus to one
'What the hell are we doing here?'
'I'm serving time,' Rebus answered. 'What about you?'
Hogan was scoping out the room. 'Christ, man, look at them. We're
Old Testament by comparison.'
Smiling now at the memory, Rebus caught Hogan's eye and winked.
Hogan shook his head almost imperceptibly. Rebus knew what he was
thinking: waste of time. Almost everything was a waste of time for
'If you'll follow me,' Gilfillan was saying, 'we can take a look
Which, to Rebus's mind, really was a waste of time. The committee
having been set up, things had to be found for them to do. So here
they were wandering though the dank interior of Queensberry House,
their way lit irregularly by unsafe-looking strip lights and the
torch carried by Gilfillan. As they climbed the stairwell -- nobody
wanted to use the lift -- Rebus found himself paired with Joe
Dickie, who asked a question he'd asked before.
'Put in your exes yet?' By which he meant the claim for
'No,' Rebus admitted.
'Sooner you do, sooner they'll cough up.'
Dickie seemed to spend half his time at their meeting totting up
figures on his pad of paper. Rebus had never seen the man write
down anything as mundane as a phrase or sentence. Dickie as late
thirties, big-framed with a head like an artillery shell stood on
end. His black hair was cropped close to the skull and his eyes
were as small and rounded as a china doll's. Rebus had tried the
comparison out on Bobby Hogan, who'd commented that any doll
resembling Joe Dickie would 'give a bairn nightmares.'
'I'm a grown-up,' Hogan had continued, 'and he still scares
Climbing the stairs, Rebus smiled again. Yes, he was glad to have
Bobby Hogan around.
'When people think of archaeology,' Gilfillan was saying, 'they
almost always see it in terms of digging down, but one of our most
exciting finds here was in the attic. A new roof was built over the
original one, and there are traces of what looks like a tower. We'd
have to climb a ladder to get to it, but if anyone's
'Thank you,' a voice said. Derek Linford: Rebus knew its nasal
quality only too well by now.
'Creep,' another voice close to Rebus whispered. It was Bobby
Hogan, bringing up the rear. A head turned: Ellen Wylie. She'd
heard, and now gave what looked like the hint of a smile. Rebus
looked to Hogan, who shrugged, letting him know he thought Wylie
was all right.
'How will Queensberry House be linked to the parliament building?
Will there be covered walkways?' The question came from Linford
again. He was out in front with Gilfillan. The pair of them had
rounded a corner of the stairs, so that Rebus had to strain to hear
Gilfillan's hesitant reply.
'I don't know.'
His tone said it all: he was an archaeologist, not an architect. He
was here to investigate the site's past rather than its future. He
wasn't sure himself why he was giving this tour, except that it had
been asked of him. Hogan screwed up his face, letting everyone in
the vicinity know his own feelings.
'When will the building be ready?' Grant Hood asked. An easy one:
they'd all been briefed. Rebus say what Hood was doing -- trying to
console Gilfillan by putting a question he could
'Construction begins in the summer,' Gilfillan obliged. 'Everything
should be up and running here by the autumn of 2001.' They were
coming out on to a landing. Around them stood open doorways,
through which could be glimpsed the old hospital wards. Walls had
been gouged at, floor removed: checks on the fabric of the
building. Rebus stared out of a window. Most of the workers looked
to be packing up: dangerously dark now to be scrambling over roofs.
There was a summer house down there. It was due to be demolished,
too. And a tree, drooping forlornly, surrounded by rubble. It had
been planted by the Queen. No way it could be moved or felled until
she'd given her permission. According to Gilfillan, permission had
now been granted; the tree would go. Maybe formal gardens would be
recreated down there, or maybe it would be a staff car park. Nobody
knew, 2001 seemed a ways off. Until this site was ready, the
parliament would sit in the Church of Scotland Assembly Hall near
the top of The Mound. The committee had already been on two tours
of the Assembly Halland its immediate vicinity. Office buildings
were being turned over to the parliament, so that the MSP's could
have somewhere to work. Bobby Hogan had asked at one meeting why
they couldn't just wait for the Holyrood site to be ready before,
in his words, 'setting up shop'. Peter Brent, the civil servant,
had stared at him aghast.
'Because Scotland needs a parliament now.'
'Funny, we've done without one for three hundred years...'
Brent had been about to object, but Rebus had butted in. 'Bobby, at
least they are not trying to rush the job.'
Hogan had smiled, knowing he as talking about the newly opened
Museum of Scotland. The Queen had come north for the official
opening of the unfinished building. They'd had to hide the
scaffolding and paint tins till she's gone.
Gilfillan was standing beside a retractable ladder, pointing
upwards towards a hatch in the ceiling.
'The original roof is just up there,' he said. Derek Linford
already had both feet on the ladder's bottom rung. 'You don't need
to go all the way,' Gilfillan continued as Linford climbed. 'If I
shine the torch up...'
But Linford had disappeared into the roof space.
'Lock the hatch and let's make a run for it,' Bobby Hogan said,
smiling so they'd assume he was joking.
Ellen Wylie hunched her shoulders. 'There's a real ... atmosphere
in here, isn't there?'
'My wife saw a ghost,' Joe Dickie said. 'Lots of people who worked
here did. A woman, she was crying. Used to sit on the end of one of
'Maybe she was a patient who died here,' Grant Hood offered.
Gilfillan turned towards them. I've heard that story, too. She was
the mother of one of the servants. Her son was working here the
night the Act of Union was signed. Poor chap got himself
Linford called down that he thought he could see where the steps to
the tower had been, but nobody was listening.
'Murdered?' Ellen Wylie said.
Gilfillan nodded. His torch threw weird shadows across the walls,
illuminating the slow movements of cobwebs. Linford was trying to
read some graffiti on the wall.
'There's a year written here ... 1870, I think.'
'You know Queensberry was the architect of the Act of Union?'
Gilfillan was saying. He could see that he had an audience now, for
the first time since the tour had begun in the brewery car park
next door. 'Back in 1707. This,' he scratched a shoe over the bare
floorboards, 'is where Great Britain was invented. And the night of
the signing, one of the young servants was working in the kitchen.
The Duke of Queensberry was Secretary of State. It was his job to
lead the negotiations. But he had a son, James Douglas, Earl of
Drumlanrig. The story goes, James was off his head ...'
Gilfillan looked up through the open hatch. 'All right up there?'
'Fine. Anyone else what to take a look?'
They ignored him. Ellen Wylie repeated her question.
'He ran the servant through with a sword,' Gilfillan said, 'then
roasted him in one of the kitchen fireplaces. James was sitting
munching away when he was found.'
'Dear God,' Ellen Wylie said.
'You believe this?' Bobby Hogan slid his hands into his
Gilfillan shrugged. 'It's a matter of record.'
A blast of cold air seemed to rush at them from the roof space.
Then a rubber-soled wellington appeared on the ladder, and Derek
Linford began his slow, dusty decent. At the bottom, he removed the
pen from between his teeth.
'Interesting up there,' he said. 'You really should try it. Could
be your first and last chance.'
'Why's that then?' Bobby Hogan asked.
'I very much doubt we'll be letting tourists in here, Bobby,'
Linford said. 'Imagine what that would do for security.'
Hogan stepped forward so swiftly that Linford flinched. But all
Hogan did was lift a cobweb from the young man's shoulder.
'Can't have you heading back to the Big House in less than showroom
condition, can we, son?' Hogan said. Linford ignored him, probably
feeling that he could well afford to ignore relics like Bobby
Hogan, just as Hogan knew he had nothing to fear from Linford: he's
be heading for retirement long before the younger man gained any
position of real power and prominence.
'I can't see it as the powerhouse of government,' Ellen Wylie said,
examining the water stains on the walls, the flaking plaster.
'Wouldn't they have been better off knocking it down and starting
'It's a listed building,' Gilfillan censured her. Wylie just
shrugged. Rebus knew that nevertheless she had accomplished her
objective, by deflecting attention away from Linford and Hogan.
Gilfillan was off again, delving into the history of the area: the
series of wells which had been found beneath the brewery; the
slaughterhouse which used to stand nearby. As they headed back down
the stairs, Hogan held back, tapping his watch, then cupping a hand
to his mouth. Rebus nodded: good idea. A drink afterwards. Jenny
Ha's was a short stroll away, or there was the Holyrood Tavern on
the way back to St. Leonard's. As if mind-reading, Gilfillan began
talking about the Younger's Brewery.
'Covered twenty-seven acres at one time, produced a quarter of all
the beer in Scotland. Mind you, there's been an abbey at Holyrood
since early in the twelfth century. Chances are they weren't just
Through a landing window, Rebus could see that outside night had
fallen prematurely. Scotland in winter: it was dark when you came
to work, and dark when you went home again. Well, they'd had their
little outing, gleaned nothing from it, and would now be released
back to their various stations until the next meeting. It felt like
a penance because Rebus's boss had planned it as such. Farmer
Watson was on a committee himself: Strategies for Policing in the
New Scotland. Everyone called it SPINS. Committee upon committee
... it felt to Rebus as if they were building a paper tower, enough
'Policy Agendas', 'Reports' and 'Occasional Papers' to completely
fill Queensberry House. And the more they talked, the more that got
written, the further away from reality they seemed to move.
Queensberry House was unreal to him, the idea of a parliament
itself a dream of some mad god: 'But Edinburgh is a mad god's
dream/Fitful and dark ...' He'd found the words at the opening to a
book about the city. They were from a poem by Hugh MacDiarmid. THe
book itself had been part of his recent education, trying to
understand this home of his.
He took off his hard hat, rubbed his fingers through his hair,
wondering just how much protection the yellow plastic would give
against a projectile falling several storeys. Gilfillan asked him
to put the hat back on until they were back at the site
'You might not get into trouble,' the archaeologist said, 'but I
Rebus put the helmet back on, while Hogan tutted and wagged a
finger. They were back at the ground level, in what Rebus guessed
must have been the hospital's reception area. There wasn't much to
it. Spools of electric cable sat near the door: the offices would
need rewiring. They were going to close the Holyrood/St. Mary's
junction to facilitate underground cabling. Rebus, who used the
route often, wasn't looking forward to the diversions. Too often
these days the city seemed nothing but roadwork.
'Well,' Gilfillan's was saying, opening his arms, 'that's about it.
It there are any questions, I'll do what I can.'
Bobby Hogan coughed into the silence. Rebus saw it as a warning to
Linford. When someone had come up from London to address the group
on security issues in the Houses of Parliament, Linford has asked
so many questions the poor sod had missed his train south. Hogan
knew this because he'd been the one who'd driven the Londoner at
breakneck speed back to Waverley Station, then had had to entertain
him for the rest of the evening before depositing him on the
Linford consulted his notebook, six pairs of eyes drilling into
him, fingers touching wristwatches.
'Well, in that case,' Gilfillan began.
'Hey! Mr. Gilfillan! Are you up there?' The voice was coming from
below. Gilfillan walked over to a doorway, called down a flight of
'What is it, Marlene?'
'Come take a look.'
Gilfillan turned to look at his reluctant group. 'Shall we?' He was
already heading down. They couldn't very well leave without him. It
was stay here, with a bare lightbulb for company, or head down into
the basement. Derek Linford led the way.
The came out into a narrow hallway, rooms off to both sides, and
other rooms seeming to lead from those. Rebus thought he caught a
glimpse of an electrical generator somewhere in the gloom. Voices
up ahead and the shadowplay of torches. They walked out of the
hallway and into a room lit by a single arc lamp. It was pointing
towards a long wall, the bottom half of which had been lined with
wooden tongue-and-groove- painted the selfsame institutional cream
as the plaster walls. Floorboards had been ripped up so that for
the most part they were walking on the exposed joists, beneath
which sat bare earth. The whole room smelt of damp and mould.
Gilfillan and the other archaeologist, the one he'd called Marlene,
were crouched in the front of this wall, examining the stonework
beneath the wood paneling. Two long curves of hewn stone, forming
what seemed to Rebus like railway arches in miniature. Gilfillan
turned round, looking excited for the first time that day.
'Fireplaces,' he said. 'Two of them. This must have been the
kitchen.' He stood up, taking a couple of paces back. 'The floor
level's been raised at some point. We're only seeing the top half
of them.' He half-turned towards the group, reluctant to take his
eyes off the discovery. 'Wonder which one the servant was roasted
One of the fireplaces was open, the other closed off by a couple of
sections of brown corroding metal.
'What an extraordinary find,' Gilfillan said, beaming at his young
co-worker. She grinned back at him. It was nice to see young people
so happy with their work. Digging up the past, uncovering secrets
... it struck Rebus that they weren't so unlike detectives.
'Any chance of rustling us up a meal then?' Bobby Hogan said,
producing a snort of laughter from Ellen Wylie. But Gilfillan
wasn't paying any heed. He was standing by the closed fireplace,
prying with his fingers at the space between stonework and metal.
The sheet came away easily, Marlene helping him to lift if off and
place it carefully on the floor.
'Wonder when they blocked it off?' Grant Hood asked.
Hogan tapped the metal sheet. 'Doesn't look exactly prehistoric.'
Gilfillan and Marlene had lifted away the second sheet. Now
everyone was staring at the revealed fireplace. Gilfillan thrust
his torch towards it, though the arc lamp gave enough light.
There could be no mistaking the desiccated corpse for anything
other than what it was.
Excerpted from SET IN DARKNESS © Copyright 2000 by Ian
Rankin. Reprinted with permission by St. Martin's Press. All rights