Chapter Seven, concluded (“Where Lies the Heart”)
Balnellan Road was a quiet wooded street, a short right turn off the A93 dotted with nice homes and graced with a small enclosed city park. The station itself was almost a bungalow—glass and stone, small but attractive, close to the park. And hallelujah, judging by the vehicle outside, their man was on duty.Alex grinned when he saw the blue-and-yellow-checked Land Rover parked without regard to the marked lane, and Kenneth Drummond’s older model just as illegally sitting alongside at a rakish angle. No one would ever believe the Scot was the civilian and Alex the cop.
He waved briefly at Rory, who was standing in the park with Thistle, both of them no doubt needing a piss and a drink of water.
He parked carefully between the designated lines and solemnly locked Rory’s Jeep, taking his time, letting his high emotions settle into a normal hum. Coming off the mountain into this valley was the kind of “high” he rarely experienced, and he still felt it—an exuberance, a heightening of his senses, a tingle of expectation.
Alex waited at the front door, watching Rory tie their girl to the door handle of the Rover where she would serve as a silver Cerberus at the gate of Hell, guarding his father’s precious vehicle.
Rory met him with a squeeze to his upper arm and a sexy tilt of mustache. “I willnae kiss ye in the shadow of St. Andrew, lad, but ’tis nice to see ye.”
He returned the smile, loving the exaggerated burr, wondering what his mate meant by that, but impatient to talk with the constable on duty and get on with the business at hand.
He pulled open the heavy glass door and entered. The constable on duty was easy to see, being the only human among a clutter of bulletins and computer downloads. A forty-ish man with a full head of salt-and-pepper hair was running one hand through it, helping it stand on end. Cradling a landline telephone on his shoulder, he spoke into it and with his free hand gestured for them to take a seat.
Alex wondered whether every Police Scotland office held chipped straight-back chairs and ugly-as-anthills scarred wooden desks. In spite of the newness of the Braemar Station, the two desks were obvious hand-me-downs from someone’s attic, or from a skid row “policeman’s office supply depot.”
“…just getting started this morning, Mr. Downey, but yes, I’ll put my best man on that for you. Yes, sir. What number can I reach you at? Um, good, good. You’ll hear from me. Thank you, and g’day.”
The placard on his desks read, “SC Angus Connell.” He set the handset carefully back as if to ward off another call, eyeballing it into silence, before looking up at his visitors with a smile.
“How can I help you, gentlemen?”
Alex stood and reached over the desk to shake Connell’s hand. “Alex Dominguez, sir. Inspector Finley sent us to see you—”
The constable rose immediately, shook his hand, and stretched out his own to Rory.
“By god, you’re manna from heaven. My only other man is out indefinitely. Some kind of terrible bug going around. I’m thinking of hiring a part time parrot to handle my calls. Now what can I do to help you?”
“Sergeant Constable, we—”
“Och, Alex, please call me Gus.”
“Okay, Gus. Rory and I are deputized to help find one of the local residents. Andrew MacCallum has been missing, we think, for more than a week.”
“Yes, I remember. Finley asked me to put out a bulletin on his car. A red Justy. Without a force to help, I’ve been asking local residents to keep a sharp eye.” He shrugged. “Sorry. A rural cop’s lot is not a happy one, as they say.”
“Were you aware of his constable background?”
“Nae. I really like Dand, but he listens more than he talks, if you understand my meaning. That’s a cop trait, so I shouldn’t be surprised, right? I only know he handles the property of some pooh-bah in Angus, the old tower building near the Glen Lochsie Burn.” Suppressing a smile, Alex flicked a glance at Rory. His mate seemed vastly amused.
“Yes, sir. Would you happen to know his friends and associates? The church he attends? Maybe a pub or two he likes? Any information is better than what we have.”
“Which is none,” Rory offered.
“When I see Dand, it’s usually at a festive gathering, where he likes to play his pipes. I never have seen him mingle with anyone in particular. Church? I go to St. Andrew’s, but I’ve never seen him there. As for pubs… I’m not a drinking man myself, so…”
Alex leaned toward him, trying not to frown. “If you had to start somewhere, Gus, where would it be?”
Again he ruffled his hair while gazing at the ceiling. And then the phone rang again. Ignoring it, he pursed his lips and finally said three words: “Gleann Cu Spittal.”
“He lives there?”
“He once lived there, while the Glenshee Spittal was being rebuilt. You know, after the fire.”
“Ah, yes. The fire.” Rory stood and waved toward the phone. “We’ll wait, lad. Don’t let us keep you from your duty.”
“…And afterward, I never did know where he lived. Must be close by, Rory. You could also try the Glenshee Spittal. He lived there for a long time.” Even as he spoke to Rory, he lifted the phone and continued to speak. “One or the other. Or both, is where I’d start. Braemar Police Scotland, Sergeant Constable Connell, how can I serve you?”
Turning his head away from the officer, Rory rolled his eyes and hid his smile behind a twitch of mustache. Alex heard his silent mocking words: “Or both, is where I’d start.”
That’s why there are two of us. So we can look in two places at once.
When Gus at last hung up the phone, Rory leaned on his desk and smiled his best disarming grin. “If ye was hungry, lad, where would ye tip your brogans?”
“Ah, that’s easy, Rory. Two minutes from here. Gordan’s Tearoom. Great scones, eggs, butter, lots of food. Not expensive.”
Rory waggled his brows, and Gus laughed, understanding the need for directions.. “Back toward the A93, except cross the bridge on Mar and…”
They waited for his monologue to end and afterward politely entered the PS Braemar number into their phones. Alex punched his own number and then Rory’s into the constable’s personal cell, thinking they might have a very long wait for an answer, if they ever called this hard-working and long-talking civil servant.
At the restaurant, they conversed sparingly until after they had wolfed down three servings of toast and scrambled eggs with a dozen extra scones and a full carafe of coffee.
“Rory, I think the Spittals of Glenshee and Gleann Cu are near each other, right?”
”Aye, lad. Both in a crook of a rabbit’s hind foot. The Cu is just a jump away.”
“We know our man lived for a long time in Glenshee. Do you mind questioning them at the Spittal, while I go to the Cu? We’ll cut our time in half, and compare notes later. Say, at your father’s tower house. Which is also close, I think.”
“Och, I’m surprised you let me loose to do it. What if I foog it up?”
Alex was startled to see the edge of panic in the big man’s eyes.
“There’s only one thing you’ll foog today, Rory. And it’s not a routine constable inquiry.” He couldn’t help smiling at his lover, especially when he saw the fire kindle in his eyes.
“I’m serious, Alex.”
“Okay. Since you’re still a rookie cop, we’ll do it together. Be sure to take notes on my technique.”
“I feel better already.”
He covered the Scot’s hand with his own. “Where lies the heart, love?”
Rory looked puzzled for a moment before answering slowly. “My own? There, Alejo. Inside that bloody sheepskin vest of yours. I’m surprised you ask.”
He hadn’t meant the words to come out the way they did. He knew well enough that Rory loved him, in spite of the months it had taken the Scot to say it outright. He expressed it several times a day, in a thousand different ways.
“And I love you too, Rory. Very much. What I mean is this—where lies the heart, there lies the head. If we find where MacCallum loved best to be, that’s probably where we’ll find him, or find where he vanished from. When we talk to the folks at the Spittals, we’ll see if we can discover any place he most liked to go. A pub, a restaurant, a fishing hole, a person—who knows?”
Rory squeezed his hand. “I want to be a cop like you when I grow up, Alejo.”
“Such a fine morning! Is there anything more I can bring you lovely lads?”
They both smiled up into the face of an aged lady wearing a lace cap, spitcurls wreathing her ample forehead.
Rory answered for both of them. “We were just leaving. Thank you for a wonderful breakfast.”
“Please come back.”
It was just a feeling, but Alex already knew the answer. “I think we will.”