Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 5: Into the Toom

‘I’m sorry, Mackintosh – but what are we doing here?’

Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 5: Into the Toom.  Illustration: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane
Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 5: Into the Toom. Illustration: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane

Sergeant Wilson was meant to be home by this time in the evening, but Mackintosh of the Detective had summoned him to a rickety wooden bridge at Semple Street. The detective looked around them. It was getting dark now, but looking down, he could still see the filthy waters in the canal below. He pointed at the debris in the water: ‘His body was found near here, I think.’

Sergeant Wilson sighed, tipped back his stovepipe hat and scratched his mutton-chop side-whiskers: ‘Ah, sir – I might have known – the death of George Meikle Kemp. Ye don’t let things go easy, do you sir…’

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They stood there in the gloaming. Mackintosh shuffled on his feet: ‘There may be new information here, sergeant.’

Wilson laughed: ‘You mean the wee Russian fella that came in the other day?’

‘He claims to have murdered Kemp…’

‘What a lot of rubbish, sir. That wee Russian backle…he’s so wee, he would need to have climbed a painter’s ladder before he could have punched Kemp in the face, sir…’

‘Still, we have to follow all leads…’

Their conversation was interrupted by the passing of two youths, both of whom had been rough and rowdy in the approach to the bridge, but were now conspicuously quiet on seeing police officer Sergeant Wilson in his stovepipe helmet and brass-buttoned jacket.

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As they passed, Wilson produced a heavy wooden baton from his belt and, without warning, struck one of the boys on the arm.

‘Ow!!! What was that for?’

The policeman growled at the lad: ‘You KNOW what you did, son. Now get away wi’ ye..’

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The boys hurried on, one nursing his throbbing arm.

Mackintosh turned to Wilson: ‘What did he do, Sergeant?’

The policeman shook his head: ‘Nothing yet, sir. But I know his type, he’ll do something later….’

Mackintosh stared at the rubbish on the surface of the canal, rising and falling in the gloom. Wilson looked down: ‘I was there that night, sir…’

‘I know. That’s why I called you here, sergeant. To see what you remember.’

The officer scratched his mutton-chop whiskers. ’Ha! What was it? Seven, eight years ago? I had only just got my stripes, like. And I only caught the end of it. Kemp’s wife said he hadn’t come home. Then we found the walking stick. Then somebody saw a hat bobbing up and doon in the water. Attached to a coat. And that’s where they found the body. Down in The Toom…’

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Wilson and Mackintosh looked down into the filthy flotsam. ’Where the folk just ‘toom’ all their rubbish, sir.’

Mackintosh rubbed his chin: ‘The question is: how did Scotland’s most famous architect end up as floating body among the stoor?’

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‘You’ve seen these crossings after dark, sir. He would have lost his footing…’

‘On familiar routes?’

Sergeant Wilson smiled: ‘Or he maybe had taken…’ he cupped his hand and shook it under his lips, ‘…a wee bit of a dram, sir.’

Mackintosh shook his head: ‘The family say that he was not a drinker.’

‘Aye - well the family say more than their prayers, Mackintosh. George Meikle Kemp was a drinker alright. It’s just that he only drank the good stuff. I mind that we used to attend at the building site at the monument and he’d be there wi’ his cronies moaning that they had run out of the Glenlivet.’

The detective stood, considering this. Wilson continued:

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‘Of course, if you walk these parts at night, inspector, you’ll always meet bad lads li- ke that boy I just skelped.’ He waved his baton in the direction of the departed youths: ‘These lads are aye hanging aboot here looking for mischief. They maybe set aboot Kemp, took his money, then lifted him up and toomed him o’er the fence into the canal. Is that no’ maybe it? But for my money, sir, he just had too much to drink and he took a wrong turn. And no wonder. I remember that night. The fog, sir. So thick, I could hardly see my hand in front of my face.’

Mackintosh stood in silence. Sergeant Wilson put the baton back in his belt: ‘I know what you’re thinking: could that wee Russian fella have took on Kemp in a fair fight?’ He stated to walk away: ‘If I was you, I’d get out your Russian dictionary and ask him direct: ‘Do you own a pair of stilts?’’

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On Monday: No Smoke Without Fire