Fourth in the Best Defence Series
It was the court case of the year; the decade. In fact, as we were only a few years in, the millennium: Lawrence ‘Larry’ Kirkslap, Scotland's most flamboyant entrepreneur, standing trial for the murder of Violet Hepburn; a good time gal who, according to all the evidence, had met with a very bad end.
It's always a good start to any murder defence if the alleged victim's body cannot be found; however, over the previous four weeks, the Crown had laid before the jury a gilt-edged prosecution case, studded with gems of circumstantial evidence. A circumstantial case is often likened to the making of a rope, where strands of evidence are gathered to form a cord strong enough to support a conviction. By all accounts, if you weaved together the strands of evidence against Larry Kirkslap, you could have made a noose to hang an elephant.
And yet, to watch Kirkslap stride out through the big bronze doors of Edinburgh High Court and onto the Royal Mile, you would never have thought he'd been sitting in the dock for over a month. Florid-faced and smiling, he waved to photographers, joked with the journalists, and there, by his side, jogging to keep up, his lawyer: Andy bleeding Imray.
I punched a cushion.
‘Oh, stop it, Robbie.’ Jill flopped down on the sofa beside me. ‘It's your own fault, you've said it often enough: if you'd stayed with Caldwell & Craig, you'd be dealing with all the rich clients too.’
‘Yes, but Andy? Dealing with a case like that? What does he know about anything?’ If my old firm, Caldwell and Craig, was an albatross in the world of legal seagulls, Andy was a barely-hatched chick.
‘You should be happy for him,’ Jill said. ‘I'm sure it’ll be fine. After all, you taught him everything you know.’
‘Don't say it.’
She did. ‘Not that it would have taken very long.’
After I'd watched the news report and struck Jill on the head with a cushion, I was flicking through the Wednesday night channels, looking for the second half of a Champions League match, when ordered to halt. Jill was an ardent fan of U.S. medical soaps. In the one I'd inadvertently stumbled across, a patient was busy having a heart attack. White-coated actors charged about with crash-carts, wielding heart defibrillator paddles and shouting, ‘clear!’ It was all very glossy and highly dramatic. There was probably a U.K. version in which a bored NHS 24 call-centre operator told someone it was only indigestion.
After a momentary pause, during which, at the third attempt, the patient was shocked back into the land of the living, I continued onwards through the adverts in search of football, until Jill snatched the TV controls from me and held them above her head.
‘My house, my remote,’ she said.
‘I see. Then by that law, it's your house and these are all your plants.’ I wafted a careless hand at the various pot plants scattered about. ‘They're going to be very thirsty when you come back from Switzerland in six weeks’ time.’
‘You wouldn't really let my plants die?’
Some single women kept cats. Jill had a room full of house plants with names I'd never heard of before, all, apparently, in need of frequent TLC and lashings of H2O while she was away on business.
‘You've been to my office,’ I said.
Jill shuddered. She was thinking of my umbrella plant. ‘Is that thing even alive?’
The answer to that was: barely and purely out of spite. The only moisture the plant ever received was the bottom of a cup of coffee, the only mineral sustenance, the ash of smoker-clients whom I made stub their cigarettes out in the pot of rock hard soil. And yet the umbrella plant remained; even, occasionally, sprouting a tiny, defiant green leaf. Its survival was an inspiration to us all at Munro & Co; an encouragement to keep on going, no matter how tough things became. Secretly, I admired its tenacity to endure despite life's many hardships. Mostly I just ignored it. That was what worried Jill.
‘You'd better not neglect my plants when I'm away. I want you through here regularly. Just follow the instructions I gave you. That's not going to be a problem is it?’
I vaguely recalled a piece of paper Jill had given to me a few days earlier, containing descriptions and locations of various plants as well as some stuff about dead-heading, watering from the base up and other confusing horticultural terminology.
‘Depends,’ I said.
I reached up and grabbed the remote from her hand. ‘On whether you let me watch the football in peace.’
Jill curled an arm around my neck. Nippy to sweetie in under fifteen seconds. ‘Watch football?’ she said, her lips close to my ear, making me shiver, but in a good way. ‘Is that really what you want to do on the last evening before I fly off for a month and a half?’ She put her other hand inside the neck of my shirt and stoked my chest. She stood, took my hand, pulled me from the couch and tried, successfully as it happened, to drag me off in the direction of the bedroom. Suddenly, I realised how close we'd become over the few months we'd been together, how much I'd miss Jill when she was away. The football I could catch up with later on the highlights programme.
‘Will you miss me when I’m not here?’ she asked.
I switched off the telly and threw the remote onto a nearby armchair.
‘Oh, probably,’ I said.