First in the Best Defence Series
He’d been stabbed through the brain.
‘Via the eye or the ear would have been the professional’s choice,’ said the man in green scrubs. ‘This is clumsy work.’
Sometimes I suspected that much of Professor Edward Bradley’s non-clinical research was Hollywood-based. I’d have thought that by now the aging pathologist would have come to realise there were very few professional hitmen around, certainly in Central Scotland. From my experience, most murders were not committed by highly-trained assassins, were not even premeditated, but were spur of the moment acts involving young men with too few functioning brain cells in their heads, the result of too many pints of beer in their stomachs.
‘Yes, very clumsy.’ The Professor, scratched the wiry grey hair under his scrub cap. ‘But, I suppose, showing a certain degree of amateur enthusiasm.’
He tilted the dead man’s head towards me. ‘You’ll notice that the wounds are all through the left sphenoid bone. That tends to suggest the deceased was lying on his right side. The close grouping indicates a rapid succession of blows. Takes a fair bit of force to do that.’ He shoved a shiny metal probe through one of the holes. ‘And, of course, a good quality screwdriver.’
My stomach heaved. It was too soon after lunch for a defence autopsy. I should have sent Andy. It was the sort of thing young legal trainees enjoyed.
I swallowed the wad of mucus that had gathered in my throat and was threatening to choke me. ‘What makes you so sure it was a screwdriver?’
The Professor pointed a slimy, blue, latex finger at a patch of flesh, swollen and suffused with dark blood.
I couldn’t see anything of note.
He lifted the flap of skin and cartilage that had once been the face of Police Constable Callum Galbraith to reveal the underside, a thin, creamy layer of adipose tissue and some puncture wounds, small but clearly visible. ‘Your woman must have been running out of steam. Some of the blows haven’t penetrated full-thickness.’
He was talking about my client, Isla Galbraith: a Highland lass, pretty, docile and prime suspect for the vicious, cold-blooded murder of her policeman husband.
Using the probe, the Professor indicated some more of the round marks under the skin. He was quite correct; a few of the blows hadn’t penetrated far and one or two had left distinct cross patterns at the hair-line.
‘A Phillips type,’ he said. ‘Small gauge, long-stemmed. The sort of screwdriver watch repairers use. Like so.’ The Professor mimed a series of fast jabs.
‘No, not really. He wouldn’t have known much about it. For all intents and purposes he was a goner after what I presume was the initial blow, received to the back of his head.’
‘Consistent with an axe?’
That more or less summed up the Crown’s position. Callum Galbraith was in bed, sleeping, when he was clunked over the head with an axe. If you assembled all the items under Britain’s beds, kept handy in case of that late-night intruder, you’d have an immense armoury of pokers, hammers, rolling pins and other deadly weapons. Callum Galbraith had kept a tomahawk; a souvenir from a trip to the States. I’d already examined it through the thick plastic of a Crown production bag and recalled a cheap replica with a brass axe-head and an eagle painted on the heavily-lacquered handle. Goodness knows how he’d got it through customs. The force of the blow must have broken it, as it was now in three pieces. A tomahawk; it was a strange choice. You’d have thought a cop would have kept a truncheon.
The consensus was that, after being knocked senseless, Galbraith’s wife had finished him off with a series of frenzied and rather unnecessary blows with a screwdriver, smashing through what I’d have called the temple, but which Professor Bradley and the Crown post-mortem report referred to as the sphenoid bone of the skull. Both attacks had caused serious and irreparable damage to the brain.
‘Anything else you can tell me?’ I asked, hoping that, if there was, he could relay it quickly so I could get back out into the fresh air.
The Professor replaced the flaps of skin and shaved scalp that he’d peeled back from the top of the head. The brain was missing and in a glass jar or somewhere.
‘I’d say we can draw two conclusions from this examination,’ he said, scrunching up a few pages from a Daily Record and packing them into the head cavity before fitting the lid of the skull back into place. ‘Firstly, he’s definitely dead and, secondly, whoever did it to him was seriously pissed off about something.’
‘And you’re definitely ruling out suicide?’
Professor Bradley tore off his gloves, crossed the room and dropped them into a bucket. ‘You’re a funny man, Robbie. About as funny as your client’s life sentence is going to be.’
‘Unusual, though, don’t you think?’ I said, following him to the sink. ‘A ferocious attack like that, by a woman?’
‘It’s certainly unladylike, if that’s what you mean.’
‘Unladylike? Is that the best you can give me?’
The Professor turned on a tap with an elbow and shoved his hands under the stream of water. ‘What do you want me to give you? Your client is found covered in her dead husband’s blood, clutching the weapon that killed him and then she confesses everything to the police. I’m not a lawyer, but it sounds like guilty to me.’
The whole blood, murder-weapon, confession thing was a chain of evidence that hadn’t escaped my finely-tuned legal brain, and yet from the look of my client I couldn’t imagine her having a cross word with a fly far less harming one.
The Professor squeezed soap from a dispenser and began to lather his hands. ‘So, if you’re expecting me to come up with a crazy theory to provide you with the basis for some kind of a defence—’
‘I’d be eternally grateful.’
‘Sorry. No can do.’ He rinsed his soapy hands and ripped a bunch of green paper towels from a box on the wall. ‘I don’t know about harming flies...’ The Professor squashed the paper towels into a ball and missed the bucket by a mile. ‘But your girl did a hell of a good job of swatting her husband.’