A little snippet for a Wednesday from the latest work in progress Major Weir’s Dark Legacy which will be the fourth Robert Young of Newbiggin Mystery
she dragged open the door an inch to peer around it at the figure who stood in the narrow corridor outside. When she recognised the man standing there she pulled the door open a little wider sending up a dreadful screech as the wood dragged across uneven floorboards and she scowled both at the din and at her caller.
“MacIan! Whit brings the likes o’ you tae ma door?” she spat as she examined him through narrowed eyes but opened the door wider and stepped back to allow him entry. “If ye’ve come tae murder a poor auld biddy in her bed, ye’ll needs come back later as I’m no’ near ready tae be turning in for the night!” With a thumb she gestured him to take a seat while she lifted two chipped class tumblers from a low shelf, spat in them and then wiped them out with the worn apron around her waist. A small stoneware bottle appeared from a drawer and two short measures were poured into the glasses. Without a word she handed one to the tall sergeant and then tossed the raw contents of her own glass down her throat without thought.
MacIan did likewise and even for an old hand at drinking all manner of foul concoctions he felt his throat burn at the rawness of the cheap gin and blinked rapidly to clear his stinging eyes.
With a fresh scowl at his reaction Agnes poured herself another measure but did not offer to refill MacIan’s glass. Standing before the fire with her glass held daintily in hand she looked down at the seated figure with her lips pursed tightly before finally she relaxed enough to toss her drink over her throat and only then did she speak. “Well Angus MacIan, ye’ve no’ come to seduce me or steal my best gin after all! Ye had best tell me whit it is that has brought ye then?”
MacIan set the glass on a wooden chest beside his seat and nodded towards her in thanks for the drink. “Lise Newell! She lists here as her home, is that correct?”
“Ma niece? Aye, Lise bides here right enough MacIan”. Agnes set her own glass aside on the thin mantlepiece. “What interest dae ye ha’e in the poor bairn?”
“I just want to speak to her Mrs Newell, that is all”
Agnes scoffed and waved a hand dismissively. “Whenever your kind start calling the likes o’ me Mrs Newell, I ken fine well that something is amiss! What has the daft lassie done noo? Has she gotten hersel’ intae another fight when some laddie hasnae kent when tae keep his haunds tae hissel? It’ll no’ be the first time!” With another scowl and shake of her grey haired head she poured herself another shot and almost as an afterthought offered the bottle towards MacIan who shook his head. Even the thought of drinking any more of the rotgut was enough to turn his stomach.
“No, Mrs New…Agnes, yon Lise hasnae been fighting…” A puzzled look crossed his face. “She’s your niece? Really?”
Agnes shrugged. “She’s ma sister’s grand-daughter. I dinnae ken what else I’d cry her but niece, do you?” MacIan shrugged in reply. “Aye, maybe the right name should be grand-niece or something o’ the kind, but who’s got the time tae be saying a mouthful like that eh? Noo, are ye gonnae tell me what ye want wi’ her?”
“I will do in a minute Agnes, but first let me tell ye this. If it wasn’t for the fact that you are a good friend of Robert Young and he’s a good friend of my young captain I wouldn’t have come tae see you first about the lassie, I’d ha’e lifted her from her work and ha’e her locked in the Tolbooth before she had time to blink!”
The mask of indifference instantly fell from Agnes’ face along with her scowl to be replaced with a shocked look of genuine concern. “The Tolbooth! Are ye mad man! The Tolbooth! What in the name o’ God are ye havering aboot?”
MacIan waved her to her seat which she gratefully took and from where she stared at him as though he had suddenly sprouted a second head. “Take a deep breath Agnes,” he said gently. “I need to know where the lassie was last night, tell me honestly for I know the truth but I want to hear t from you so I know I did the right thing in coming here first and no’ just clapping her in irons!”
Agnes chewed her bottom lip nervously. A lifetime’s habit of lying to anyone in authority at every turn was a hard habit to shake off but with a sinking feeling in her stomach she knew that the grizzled sergeant was trying to help her niece in some way. “Ochone sergeant, what do you want me to say?”
“The truth Agnes, nae more and nae less than just that!”
Her eyes stared deep into his as the flames created dancing shadows across both old and heavily lined face. She could detect no sign of duplicity in him and with a dreadful sigh she finally said quietly, “I don’t know where she was last night, or the night before it or any other night if you want the whole truth Angus”. She raised a hand to cut off his objection. “Ye wanted the truth ye auld goat so sit quiet and listen tae me! I don’t know where she was because I was out myself with Jenny Clews until our money was spent!” She laughed without humour. “I’ve seen the day we could cadge drinks off the laddies but there’s no’ many that’ll put their hand in their pooch for us these days… Aye, anyway, about Lise! She was always sitting in the same chair as you are filling with your fat backside right now when I went out. When I came back as far as I know she was wrapped up in her blankets and sleeping on that mattress laid out afore the fire. I didn’t want tae disturb the bairn so I let her sleep and took myself off tae ma own bed”.
“So what you’re telling me is you were coming home drunk and there could ha’e been a squadron o’ dragoons sleeping on yer floor and ye wouldn’t ha’e been any the wiser?”
“Ye said ye wanted the truth!” she snapped back. “There ye are then! Ye have it!” She took a great breath and released it slowly in an endless sigh. “I’m sorry Angus, I didn’t mean it to sound like that…”
“Aye, ye did” he smiled, “but it’s fine, I understand. So she was definitely here when you went out and was likely sleeping soundly when you got home? That’s fair enough Agnes, and you have my thanks for being honest”.
“Aye, fine sergeant! Now will ye tell me what trouble the daft lassie has got herself into?”
MacIan pointed a finger of caution towards her. “Don’t go flying off the handle at me Agnes but I ha’e a horrible suspicion that your niece is responsible for a series o’ thefts over the last couple of weeks”
“Thefts?” Agnes exclaimed. “Thefts? Why in God’s good name would be stealing when she’s got a good wage coming in from a respectable job Angus? Och man, ye have to be mistaken! The lassie couldn’t steal forty winks when she was tired!”