WELCOME to our regular feature showcasing the talents of the nation’s best writers. This week, an extract from Chris Brookmyre’s Black Widow
There was a low background hiss as the courtroom awaited the playback, the volume on the speakers jacked up so much that Parlabane was bracing himself, expecting the soundfile to be booming and distorted. Instead it was surprisingly clear, particularly at the police end. He could hear the dispatcher’s fag-ravaged breathing during pauses, the rattle of a keyboard in the background.
Nobody knows where to look when they’re listening to a recording. Parlabane glanced around to see how people were responding. Most were looking at the floor, the walls or any fixed point that didn’t have a face on it. Others were more pruriently taking the opportunity to look at the accused.
Diana Jager had her gaze locked, staring into a future only she could see.
The jury mostly had their heads bowed, like they were in church, or as though they were afraid they’d get into trouble with the judge if they were caught paying less than maximum attention. They were filtering out distraction, concentrating only on the words booming out around the court, anxious not to miss a crucial detail.
They couldn’t know it yet, but they were listening out for the wrong thing.
‘I think I’ve just seen an accident.’
‘Are you injured, madam?’
‘No. But I think a car might have gone off the road.’
‘Can you tell me your name, madam?’
‘Yes, it’s Sheena. Sheena Matheson. Missus.’
‘And are you in your own vehicle now? Is it off the carriageway?’
‘No. Yes. I mean, I’m out of my car. It’s parked. I’m trying to see where he went.’
‘Where are you, Mrs Matheson?’
‘I’m not sure. Maybe a couple of miles west of Ordskirk. I’m on the Kingsburgh Road.’
‘And can you describe what happened? Is someone injured?’
‘I don’t know. This car was coming around the bend towards me as I approached it. It was going way too fast. I think it was a BMW. It swerved on to my side of the road because of the curve, then swerved back again when I thought it was going to hit me. I jumped on the brakes because I got such a fright, and I looked in my rear-view. It swerved again like he was trying to get it back under control, but then it disappeared. I think it went off the road altogether.’
‘The Kingsburgh Road, you said?’
‘I’m going to see if I can get some officers out there as soon as possible. You’ve parked your car, that’s good. If you can wait beside it but not in it . . .’
‘No, that’s the thing. I can’t stay here. I’ve a ten-year-old at home alone. She woke up with a temperature and we had run out of Calpol. I told her I’d nip out to the garage for some. I said I’d only be away half an hour. My husband’s on nights.’
‘Okay. Can you give me a wee bit more detail about where you are, then?’
‘Sure, but I need to warn you: the battery’s almost dead on this thing.’
‘Tell us whatever you can. Anything you might have passed that our drivers could look out for.’
‘There’s a signpost right here. It says Uidh Dubh viewpoint and picnic area half a mile. The car disappeared just past the sign. I’m crossing the road now, in case I can see anything over the other side.’
‘Please be careful, Mrs Matheson.’
‘There are skid marks on the tarmac. I think I can see tyre tracks on the grass. It slopes away after that, and it’s too dark to see down the slope.’
‘No. Stay back from the edge. Our officers will look into it.’
‘I can’t see any lights. I’m worried it might have gone into the river.’
• Chris Brookmyre is an award-winning crime writer, best known for his books about the journalist Jack Parlabane. Black Widow is published by Little, Brown, £18.99