A Tangled Web, Excerpt Two: Dornoch
'As you say this is the Cathedral Green, I assume that must be the cathedral,' said Callum. 'I saw it earlier but thought it was just another church. It's beautiful.'
'It is,' said Carol, who had arrived exactly on time. 'It's been in use since 1239. Technically, there's no such thing as a cathedral in the Church of Scotland, but there are a couple of outstanding churches that are so venerated that they include the word in their name. Dornoch Cathedral is one of them. Let's take a walk around the graveyard.'
She led the way towards the main door of the church before turning right and leading Callum into the walled area to the east of the cathedral.
'You said on your note that you wanted to talk,' said Callum.
'Yes. After Jenny telephoned him last night, Martin said you were a friend of hers who she's asked to look into Iain's death, and that you are a policeman in London.'
'That's right,' said Callum. 'You probably know as well as everyone else that Jenny doesn't believe the official explanation that his death was suicide. Logically, given the circumstances, if it wasn't suicide then it's pretty certain it was murder.'
'Was Martin helpful?'
'Yes. I learned a lot about the background to Iain's work at the partnership. I also talked to him about how often Iain stayed in the apartment because I'm trying to get a sense of how he divided his time, and at the moment the bits don't seem to add up. Martin's arranging for me to talk to Sandra O'Leary to learn more about that, and to let me have a list of Iain's active clients at the time of his death.'
'Before I say anything, can I ask for your assurance that it won't get back to Martin that I've talked to you? That includes your being very cautious not to reveal anything I say that could only have come from me.'
'Yes, I promise. Did Martin get off all right?'
'He did. He's due back from Gatwick mid-afternoon tomorrow. To be honest he sometimes acts like one of the kids, so things will be a little quieter with him away.'
'What was it you wanted to talk to me about?'
'I'm guessing that Martin didn't suggest that you talk to Monica Elphinstone?'
'Who's Monica Elphinstone?' asked Callum.
'I thought as much. There are a few things you need to know about Iain Mackay that I suspect no one will have told you yet.'
'Martin told me the four of you saw a fair bit of one another when you all lived in Inverness.'
'Yes, I'd never have called Jenny a close friend. But when she had time between her medical training and looking after the girls, I would see her sometimes, perhaps to go shopping in the city. I write children's books for a living, so could arrange my schedule more flexibly.
'Anyway, Iain always seemed very keen on the idea of living out a rural idyll, and when the girls were ten or eleven, Jenny managed to get a GP job in Kinlochbervie. Off they all went, and I've seen her no more than a handful of times in the however-many years since then. When we moved to Dornoch I asked Martin to invite them over a few times, and he said he'd passed on the invitations. They never came and they never asked us to visit them, which the kids would have loved. Perhaps I should have picked up the phone myself, but I knew how busy Jenny must be.
'Then I heard an odd story, not from Martin, I hasten to add, that a member of the clerical staff had made a complaint about Iain being over-familiar at an office Christmas party. It would have been in 2019, the Christmas after Iain's father died and before Covid arrived. Martin had become the other partner by then. As I heard it, Iain tried quite hard to get this young woman to go back to the apartment with him. All I can say is that within a week she had left the firm. I assume she was paid off to keep her quiet.
'Then, one day in the spring of last year, perhaps five or six months before Iain died, I'd driven into Inverness for a wander around the shops. The complex the apartment is in has got an underground car park and I've always used the space allocated to the apartment to park in when visiting the city because it's so convenient for the centre. As the apartment is usually only used for overnight accommodation that's never caused a conflict. Not until then, anyway.
'On that morning, though, there was a car in the space, a green Range Rover. I reversed into another space on the far side of the garage and sat there with my engine stopped, trying to decide whether to pick a random parking spot and hope it didn't cause a problem or take my chances in one of the normal city centre car parks.'
'What did you decide?' asked Callum.
'I was about to restart the car and leave when the door into the garage from the lifts opened. Through it came Iain Mackay, arm-in-arm with one of the accountants from the practice, Monica Elphinstone. She's in her late twenties and had been with the firm a year or two at that point. They had no idea anyone else was in the garage and their behaviour was unguarded, to say the least. It was obvious what they'd been doing in the apartment. To be honest, I thought for a moment they were going to do it again, accompanied by lots of laughing and giggling, against the side of Iain's car. They didn't, as it turned out. Instead, they got into his car and left.'
'What did you do then?'
'I parked in the correct space. But that wasn't what you wanted to know, was it?'
'Not really,' said Callum.
'I told Martin what had happened. I told him that if I'd been anyone else, then there would have been a real threat of behaviour like that damaging the firm's reputation. We never discussed it again, but I did hear indirectly that Iain and Monica had continued their relationship. What worried me most at the time was why Martin didn't seem to take the situation more seriously. I'd have expected him to insist the threat to the firm's reputation was ended immediately, but I don't think he did that and I don't know why not.
'Anyway, last night, after Jenny had rung, Martin made a call from his mobile. The kids were in their rooms and I was watching TV in the lounge. He went through to the dining room and closed the connecting door. I'd place a large bet he was ringing Monica Elphinstone to tell her to stay away from the office today because of you.'
They'd reached the far side of the graveyard, where Callum's attention was caught by a metal sign at the head of a heavily moss-covered gravestone laying flat on the ground. 'According to that, they held fairs and markets here from medieval times.'
'That's right,' said Carol. 'The "Plaiden Ell" that sign talks about is a measure they used to make sure that sellers of cloth weren't cheating their customers. The actual length is shown by the two metal lugs you can see poking out of the moss on top of the stone. Think of it as an early check on trading standards.'
'I am very grateful to you for talking to me, Carol. I'm not sure what to make of what you've told me, though.'
'It may not be a direct help in the murder versus suicide debate, Callum, unless it introduces the possibility of a jealous husband or two into the picture. But to my mind, it reveals quite a lot about the man that poor Jenny Mackay was married to. If you want to know what I really think, it's that he manoeuvred her into relocating to Kinlochbervie so that he had the option, when he felt inclined, of playing happy families with her and the girls. Meanwhile, he found reasons to spend as much of his time as possible in Inverness, where he could relive his bachelor days. To make that work, he had to ensure as little contact between one side of his life and the other as possible. I'm certain my invites to them to stay with us in Dornoch were simply never passed on by Iain. As I said, I wish I'd picked up the phone myself and contacted her directly.'
'You still could, you know,' said Callum. 'She could do with a friend like you.'
'I know. I think that's why I've told you all this. It means I'm not going to have to tell her myself. A man who behaves like that doesn't change his spots. I'm certain I'm not going to be the only person to tell you this sort of thing about Iain. After you've reported back what you've found, Jenny isn't going to need me to tell her what sort of man she was married to.'