Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 7: Good for the Soul

The Police Office at the side of St Giles Cathedral.

Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 7: Good for the Soul ILLUSTRATION: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane
Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 7: Good for the Soul ILLUSTRATION: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane

‘And you know precisely why you are here, sir?’


‘I would appreciate it if you would speak English, since we are, after all, in Edinburgh.’

‘‘Yes’, then.’

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There was a palpable feeling of tension in the interview room as the parties sat there carrying out their duties. Mackintosh of the Detective, notebook open before him on the table, Edward Kane, Advocate, then the confessor’s solicitor, Richard Barrowman – a tall, thin and nervous man – and, at the centre of the interview, Mikhail Lermontov – self-professed murderer.

The detective leaned forward and studied the figure before him. Across the table, self-declared suspect, Lermontov, had a little flaming red face that seemed to glow in the gloom. Mackintosh had the fleeting vision of a podgy marshmallow being toasted. The detective continued: ’Then you will appreciate that you are being interviewed under caution.’

The Russian tilted his head back and rolled his eyes: ‘I came to you - not you to me.’

‘And you claim to have killed George Meikle Kemp.’

The Russian nodded: ‘Da…yes.’

Mackintosh licked the end of his stubby pencil and placed the lead point onto his little notebook: ‘Would you care to tell us what happened, sir?’

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Lermontov folded his hands: ‘I had never met your so-called ‘architect’, Kemp socially, you understand. He was a peasant, after all. Kemp was of low birth and I am what you, in your country, might call a ‘noble-man’. It was, oh, eight years ago. I was in Scotland to search…my…my…’ancestor-hood’…I think it is called’

Barrowman, his solicitor, intervened and addressed the room: ‘He means ‘ancestry’, gentlemen.’

The Russian nodded and repeated the word: ‘Da…my family ann-sess-tree…’

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The detective looked over: ‘Your ancestry, sir?’

Barrowman interrupted again: ‘The Lermontovs are originally from Scotland, inspector. When the ‘Learmont’ family moved to Russia, they were assimilated as ‘Lermontovs’.

‘Da…yes, is true.’

Mackintosh shook his head and sighed: ‘My goodness. Every day is a school day. Please continue.’

‘Your Walter Scott – a writer of genius…’

The detective looked up: ‘You have read our Walter Scott, sir?’

The Russian nodded: ‘Da – but in French, of course…’

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Mackintosh sighed: ‘Of course. And what of Kemp?’

Lermontov scowled: ‘I had heard of your great ‘architect’ – George Meikle Kemp – and he appears…he appears out of nowhere. And then I saw the plans. The plans for your..how you say…ah - ‘celebrated’ design for the monument. Clearly…an insult and an act of theft.’

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‘In what sense, sir?’

The Russian sighed: ‘Why do I tell my story again and again…’

It struck Edward Kane at this point that this might prove to be a long consultation. His mind began to wander. Even if he were to be paid in roubles, then how many roubles to the pound? But the mention of his own name brought him back to the surface.

‘My…how you say… ‘attorney’…’

‘‘Advocate’, Mr Lermontov…’ corrected his solicitor.

‘My Advocate, Mr Kane here - he has seen evidence…’

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Kane now felt all eyes on him. He spoke up: ‘I…um…Mr Lermontov has furnished us with some designs.’ He turned to his instructing solicitor: ‘I think that Mr Barrowman has….’

Barrowman, solicitor, anticipating this part of the consultation, had already taken the plans for Antwerp Cathedral out of his case and he now began spreading them over the table. Once secured and visible, the Russian considered the drawings, gave a sneer and swept his hand over the document: ‘Need I say more, gentlemen? ‘The case’, as you would say, ‘is closed’, is it not? Need I say more?’

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Mackintosh squinted at the drawing. He moved his lips as he noted down the unfamiliar writing on the scroll: ‘You’ll need more than this, Mr Lermontov. You claim that you took the life of another man and your evidence appears to consist entirely of this drawing - plans of an old church.’

The Russian flared up: ‘‘An old church?’ Do you not see, sir, that this is an exact copy of the design that Kemp claimed to be his own? The man was a thief.’

The detective pointed down at the plans: ‘I don’t see the relevance of this, sir. Whether Kemp stole it or not - that was a matter for the judges of the competition, was it not?’

The Russian was almost shouting now: ‘But I tell you, I am guilty of a crime, sir’

Mackintosh groaned and stopped writing: ‘I agree, sir. Wasting police time. That’s a crime. I think that we have heard enough.’

Lermontov was insistent. He grabbed the document from the table and began to roll it up again. ’I took this map - this very map in my hand - and I struck him on the face with it. As my ann-sess-tree would strike a man in the face with a glove give challenge to a duel. I cried: ‘You are a thief, sir – a peasant and a thief’.’

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Mackintosh began writing again: ‘And what did Kemp say?’

‘Nothing! He said nothing. Proof of his guilt. No answer to the truth.’

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The detective sat back in his chair, puffed up his cheeks then blew out the air. He sighed and leaned forward: ‘And what happened then?’

A wild look in Lermontov’s eyes now, as his grasp of English started to fragment: ‘Then, sir, then Kemp stood back and…he start to get…start to get…what’s is the word…’ The Russian was rapidly clenching and unclenching his fingers as if to catch an invisible fly. ’…he start to get ‘un-dressed’…’

Tomorrow in The Scotsman: A Sharp Lookout