Series by William McIntyre

No Problem

Chapter One

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Chapter 1

‘You see, this is the problem I’m up against, Robbie.’

It was the middle of January; around about the time people in Scotland stopped wishing each other happy new year and started getting in supplies for next Hogmanay. One person who wouldn’t be singing Auld Lang Syne next lap of the sun was Fraser Tait. He was lying sunny-side up on a slab in Edinburgh City Mortuary. The Crown postmortem examination had been carried out a few days earlier, and I’d arrived just as Professor Edward Bradley was commencing the defence autopsy.

‘What a mess she’s made of this one,’ Prof. B said. I couldn’t see any difference between Tait’s autopsied body and that of others I’d been unfortunate enough to witness over the years. ‘This is the Pipsqueak’s work. I wouldn’t mind, but it reflects badly on me.’

Prof. B or, to give him his full title, which he very much preferred people did, Edward Hillary Bradley, Regius Professor - Emeritus, the University of Edinburgh, was in the huff with his former student Dr Yasmin Ashmat, also known, to him and only to him, as ‘the Pipsqueak’.

Prof. B’s real problem was that he didn’t much like assisting the defence. Yes, he’d accept instructions for a defence autopsy, but considered it taking the back seat on a tandem and was always keen to poke a stick between the spokes of any possible line of defence. The only reason I ever instructed him was because, if you did manage to get him on your side, there was no more impressive a witness in the world of forensic medicine. Not in Scotland at any rate.

‘They say Yasmin is the future of forensic pathology,’ I said, stirring it a little. ‘Getting a lot of work from the Crown these days.’

‘Could be because she’s been hobnobbing with the First Minister,’ Prof. B said. ‘I heard the Pipsqueak was invited up to Bute House for some kind of book club with the FM. The Lord Advocate was there too, and that crime author. You know the one who has serial killers running about murdering the local townsfolk in ever more ingenious ways and leaving puzzles for the police to solve? Not like your criminals, Robbie. No, your clients think stabbing, shooting or beating folk to death and then running away is good enough. They’re needing to up their game.’

I felt a little aggrieved at this. Was I not, that very afternoon, presenting Prof. B. with a death by chopping off fingers? How much more interesting did he want?

‘The fingers were not chopped off,’ Prof. B said, with a sigh. ‘They were, what we forensic pathologists like to term as, squashed.’

‘By an iron bar or similar instrument?’ I asked. ‘That’s what the charge says.’

‘Sounds like they’ve got it about right then. Most certainly a blunt object, and, yes, a metal rod or bar of some kind seems most likely. It would take a few strikes to cause that kind of damage. I’d say three or four at least. Anyway, back to what I was saying about the Pipsqueak. It’s clear to me that, where the Crown is concerned, knowledge and experience mean nothing. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’

‘Was it ever any different?’ I said.

‘No-one asks me up to Bute House,’ he grumbled. ‘And look at the state of this. I hardly know where to begin.’

‘Try anyway,’ I said. Which he did, eventually and accompanied by a lot more grumbling. I mucked about on my phone for a while, letting him get on with it.

‘So, what do you think?’ I asked, when he’d finished poking through the remains and was peeling off his gloves.

‘Always so impatient, Robbie.’ He dropped the gloves in a bin. ‘You’ll have my report in due course.’

Forensic medics and scientists love to prepare reports; the lengthier the better for charging a fortune. The bulk of their reports are cut-and-paste jobs. Page after page setting out their credentials, and wads of superfluous scientific definitions that everyone knows already or can’t be bothered to read if they don’t. I intercepted him as he made for the sink. ‘I don’t need all the usual guff. If I want to know the weight of his kidneys or whether his arteries were furry I’ll get that from the Crown report. All I’m looking for is a summary.’

Prof. B shouldered me aside, washed his hands and dried them with a lorry load of paper towels. He pulled a digital recorder from the pocket of the tweed jacket that was hanging on a hook by the door alongside his immense gaberdine greatcoat. Recorder stuffed into his beard where his mouth must have been, he began to pace up and down beside the body, dictating as he went, pausing occasionally to glance at a pad on which he’d jotted down some notes.

‘The body is that of a fit middle-to-elderly white male of medium build, weighing 77 kg and measuring 178 cm in height equating to a BMI of 24.3 kg/m2. There is grey hair on the head measuring up to 1 cm in length. Similar coloured stubble is present over the beard and moustache areas of the face. The eyes are light brown/grey, the pupils midpoint and symmetrical measuring 0.7 cm across. No petechial haemorrhages are seen in the tarsal plates, conjunctivae or face. The face does show obvious signs of blunt force trauma. Natural dentition, in reasonable condition, is present in the upper and lower jaw. Some drying change is noticeable over the inner mucosal aspect of the lips. Greying brown hair is present on the chest, abdomen and lower back. Brown pubic hair is present. The—’

‘Can you cut to it?’ I asked, no pun intended.

Ignoring me, something he was well practised at, the Professor strolled on, continuing his dictation. ‘The external genitalia and anus are uninjured—’

‘Oh, come on. I’m not interested in genitals and anuses—’

‘It’s ani.’

‘Whatever, spare me the details. I’ve not had my lunch yet,’ I said. ‘Write up your report later. I came here to ask your opinion on something, not listen to you do your homework.’

Bradley lowered the recorder to his side for a moment. ‘Shut up for a minute will you, Robbie? There’s a good chap.’ He put the machine back to his mouth. ‘In summary…’

I’d heard Prof. Bradley’s summaries before. He could summarise for hours.

I put my hand on his arm and lowered it and the dictation machine. ‘If I promise to pay your fee on time will you give me the Ladybird book version now? I can read your full report later.’

Bradley switched off the recorder. ‘You’d like me to explain the cause of death so that even a defence solicitor would understand?’

‘If you don’t mind.’

‘Okay then, let me see. The deceased, that’s the dead guy to you…’ He lifted one of the cadaver’s arms. ‘Someone smashed three of the poor bastard’s fingers, shortly after, I presume, punching him several times in the face quite hard. He died from sudden cardiac arrest. Anything else? Or can I carry on with my work?’

‘Just one more thing,’ I said.

‘Let me hazard a guess as to what that might be,’ said the man who’d put the super into cilious. ‘You want to know if the deceased’s injuries could have come about in the course of a violent struggle in which your client was innocently defending himself?’

He knew me so well.

‘No, Robbie. They couldn’t. Enjoy your lunch.’

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