Having lain in wait for their victim for almost an hour, manservant Mr Horse, knife grinder, Frank Stone and dog, Scraps, now had him firmly in their sights. Frank Stone had pretended to pass him by, but had then greeted him.
The question now was whether Joe Blakemore (if indeed it was the real Joe Blakemore who had returned) would recognise an old drinking buddy from his time in Madras. So far, the signs were not promising.
The accosted Blakemore studied the knife grinder’s face: ‘You’ll excuse me, sir. My memory is not what it was. I had an accident when I was overseas…’
Stone nodded: ‘I ken, buddy - I was there when it happened.’
Blakemore smiled: ‘Of course…of course…Frank…Frank Stone…’
The knife grinder smiled: ‘The one and only. How’s it hanging with you, buddy? And how’s that wee bit of jam you were married to?’
‘She is…she is…’
‘Women problems, eh? Same old Joe.’
He frowned: ‘No…I think I’m different now…’
At this point, the fox terrier adopted a plaintive little look, padded up and licked Blakemore’s hand. He withdrew it with a start. Stone laughed: ‘Don’t mind my wee Scraps there. He disnae bite. I’m surprised he’s taken to you. He disnae really like folk.’
Blakemore knelt down and stroked the dog’s head. ’Maybe he just doesn’t trust people.’
‘Never remember you being a dog lover, Joe.’
‘Well - people change, Frank.’
Stone introduced his old friend Joe Blakemore to his new friend, Mr Horse - ‘Wery pleased to make your acquaintance, sir.’ - and the conversation turned to general reminiscence. After a time, Blakemore took out his watch from his waistcoat pocket: ‘My word, is that the time?’
Stone, sensing that this might be an overture to an attempted departure, cut in: ’Right, Joe – me and Horse are just on our way to one of thae wee snugs in the Old Town – and you are coming with us, boy.’
Blakemore raised his hand in resistance, but the knife grinder’s tone took on a certain sharpness now: ‘What’s the matter wi’ you, Joe? You think because you’ve got a top hat on now, you’re too good to have a wee dram wi us?’
The top-hatted figure stood genuinely conflicted. Stone could sense the old friend softening: ‘Come on, buddy. Like we used to sing thae News Years when we were thegither in Tamil Nadu – ‘We’ll tak’ a cup of kindness yet – for auld lang syne….’’
A pause. Then a nod of resigned agreement. Then, four figures – a knife-grinder, a manservant, a potential fraudster and a dog – made their way towards the Old Town.
‘I do not understand the question, sir.’
Edward Kane leaned forward: ‘it’s not a trick, Mr Lermontov. All I am asking is: after you had dumped the body of George Meikle Kemp into the river, what did you do immediately afterwards?’
The Russian thought for a moment, then: ‘I remember clearly. I could see his body floating on the water. And the hat. And the coat. And I looked up to the sky. The clear, blue starry sky. And the moon. The full moon. Smiling down on me. Smiling because justice had been done.’
Kane noted this down. This nocturnal observation hadn’t appeared in the Russian’s previous account (but why should it?). Mr Barrowman, Lermontov’s solicitor took a black notebook out of his case and placed it on the table. ’Gentlemen, this is Mr Lermontov’s personal notebook. An occasional diary of sorts. He informs me that the relevant information – date and time etc. – is contained within. Although, I should inform you that it is entirely in his native language of Russian.’
Mackintosh lifted up the notebook and examined the contents. Some of the lines were short, like poetry. ‘You understand that it will take us a few days to have this looked at, sir.’
The solicitor smiled: ‘Of course, he understands that. Our client is satisfied that you will find the contents satisfactory. He will present himself for arrest at your office this coming Friday and you may charge him then. He will put his affairs in order in the meantime. Until then, I have arranged a set of rooms for him at The New Club and you may find him there. Any more questions?’
‘Come on Joe – rack those brains, boy! The name of that doctor. You mind – in the hospital – the fat one…’
Joseph Blakemore may or may not have realised it, but he was being mined for information to confirm (or otherwise) that he was the real McCoy. He paused for a moment, then: ‘Yes. The big fellow. Dr Wiggins…’
‘And we used to call him?’
‘Of course – ‘Piggy Wiggins’. How could I forget…’
The pub was noisy and the rum was strong. Mr Horse – no stranger to intake of hard liquor – watched carefully as his friend, Frank Stone gulped down his fourth glass, while their gang-pressed friend was still sipping at his first.
Stone pointed to the glass: ‘And look at ye – you’re a proper gentleman now – but you’re drinking like a lady. Get that down ye!’
Blakemore shook his head again: ‘Honestly, I must be go i ng…’
Stone adopted an offended tone: ‘But I’ve not finished my story yet. I was just telling my pal, Horse, here aboot our time in Madras. Ye remember thone time when we ate that thing we said we’d never eat? And we said we’d tell nobody. Remember, buddy?’
Blakemore gave a rueful smile and shook his head. Stone had already told Mr Horse that he and his friend, while in Madras, had feasted on monkey flesh. They had kept that fact to themselves. Surely this bizarre dish was something that Blakemore could not have forgotten. The knife-grinder insisted: ‘Ye mind, Joe, ye mind? It was the same time – the camp had ran out of food – and we shot and ate thone rats…’
Blakemore, who was sipping his rum, put down his glass and raised the index finger of his right hand: ‘Yes – of course – the rats. Disgusting…’
Stone frowned: ‘You said they were delicious…’
His friend started to get up: ‘Well, needs must. Now, I really ought to…’
Frank Stone placed a hard hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down onto his seat. Not gently. ‘You’re going nowhere, buddy. My friend here thinks that you’re a fake. So, come on – what was that thing that you and me ate and we swore we’d never tell anybody?’
Blakemore sighed and stared at the floor.
Tomorrow in The Scotsman: Four Months to Live