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Death of a Nurse
By M. C. Beaton
Read by Graeme Malcolm
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On the appointed evening, Hamish waits for Gloria at the restaurant. And waits. Gloria never shows up. Four days later, Gloria’s body washes up on the beach near Braikie. Now without a date and without his former policeman Dick Fraser (who left the force to buy a bakery), Hamish must find out who killed the beautiful new resident of Sutherland, and why, before the murderer strikes again….
I wish I loved the Human Race;
I wish I loved its silly face;
I wish I liked the way it walks;
I wish I liked the way it talks:
And when I’m introduced to one
I wish I thought What Jolly Fun!
—Sir Walter A. Raleigh
Police Sergeant Hamish Macbeth was in a sour mood, despite the sunny, windy weather. His new sidekick, policeman Charlie Carter, was giving him claustrophobia. Admittedly, Charlie was kind and amiable and worked hard. But he was big, very big. Hamish was tall but Charlie was taller and broader, and he was clumsy. He fell over the furniture, he broke china and glass, and when Hamish shouted at him, he looked so miserable that Hamish immediately felt guilty.
Hamish’s odd-looking dog called Lugs walked at his heels as did his wild cat, Sonsie. Wild cats are an endangered species and Hamish was always afraid that Sonsie would be taken away. As if sensing his master’s bad mood, Lugs looked up at Hamish with his strange blue eyes.
The breeze sent sunny ripples dancing across the sea loch. The village of Lochdubh in Sutherland looked like a picture postcard with its row of small eighteenth-century whitewashed cottages facing the sea loch. Hamish was leaning on the seawall, thinking dark thoughts about getting Charlie transferred back to Strathbane, that ghastly town full of drugs and crime.
He turned away from the wall, and that was when he saw a vision. A nurse came tripping along with a shopping basket over her arm. From her jaunty cap to her candy-striped dress and her black stockings, she looked like a fantasy nurse. She went into Patel’s grocery store and Hamish followed. He waited outside until she emerged with a basket full of groceries over her arm. He swept off his cap. “May I carry your messages for you?”
She smiled up at him from a perfect oval of a face. Her large eyes were grey and fringed with heavy lashes. Her hair, under the cap, was fair and glossy.
“Thank you,” she said. “But my car is right there.”
“I’ll put them in the boot for you,” said Hamish. “Do you work near here?”
“Yes, I am a private nurse. I take care of old Mr. Harrison.”
“He lives in that old hunting lodge out on the Braikie road,” said Hamish. “But he had a nurse, a Miss Macduff.”
She laughed. “He fired her and employed me. So you’re the local copper.”
“Hamish Macbeth. And you are?”
He put her basket in the boot. She bent over the boot to arrange something and the frisky wind lifted the skirt of her dress, revealing that those stockings were held up with lacy suspenders.
“I’ll follow you,” said Hamish. “I haven’t said hullo to Mr. Harrison.” He had actually visited the old man, ignoring the fact that Mr. Harrison had said sourly that he did not want visitors. But he was determined to further his acquaintance with Gloria.
Charlie Carter knew in his bones that Hamish wanted rid of him. He could not bear the idea of leaving Lochdubh. He was trying to make a cup of tea without breaking or spilling anything when there was a knock at the door. When he opened it, he found Priscilla Halburton-Smythe smiling at him.
“I’m afraid Hamish is out,” said Charlie. “I’m about to make tea. Like some?”
“Yes, please.” Priscilla sat down at the kitchen table. Various pieces of china, recently mended, stood on a piece of newspaper. “Have you been breaking much?” she asked sympathetically.
“Hamish gets so mad at me,” said Charlie. “And that makes me worse. Fact is, it is a wee station and we’re two big men.” He poured tea carefully and then sat down gingerly opposite her. Even sitting down, his head was near the low ceiling. The kitchen chair creaked alarmingly under his weight. His normally pleasant face looked so miserable that Priscilla was touched. Because of her beauty, until Charlie came along, Priscilla had never been able to have a male friend.
“I’ve just remembered something,” she said. “In the basement at the castle, there’s a little apartment which used to be the butler’s place before we turned it into a hotel. It has high ceilings.”
Charlie brightened and then his face fell. “I’m supposed to live in police accommodation.”
“Nobody would know, apart from me and Hamish. Oh, maybe the villagers, but they won’t talk. Let’s go now and have a look.”
Hamish, as he followed Gloria into the dark hall of the hunting lodge, remembered again that Mr. Harrison was a nasty old man who had sneered at him when Hamish had visited. He carried the shopping basket into a cavernous kitchen. “Just put the basket on the table,” said Gloria, “and come through to the drawing room and say hullo.”
“Isn’t there a housekeeper to do the shopping?” asked Hamish.
“Yes, but this stuff is for me. Mr. Harrison has a Latvian couple to look after him, Juris and Inga Janson. I prefer to cook my own food. Must look after my figure.”
Oh, let me look after it for you, thought Hamish dreamily.
“Come along,” she said briskly.
As he followed her through a dark stone-flagged passage and across the shadowy hall where only weak light filtered through the mullioned windows, Hamish reflected that the hunting box had probably been built at the end of the nineteenth century when there was a craze for Gothic architecture. Stuffed animals’ heads looked down from the thick stone walls. A stone staircase with a stone banister led upwards.
Gloria pushed open a heavy oak door, stood aside, and called, “Here is our local bobby to see you, Mr. Harrison.”
An old man with his knees covered in a tartan rug was seated in a wheelchair by a French window overlooking a terrace where a few dead leaves skittered along in the breeze.
He swung his chair round. “He’s already said hullo. Where the hell are the Jansons? I want a drink.”
“I’ll get it,” said Gloria. “Your usual whisky and soda? What about you, Hamish?”
“Too early for me,” said Hamish.
“Sanctimonious prick,” commented Mr. Harrison.
He had a thick head of hair and bushy eyebrows. His eyes were small and black.
“You see this copper here, Gloria?” he demanded. “This is just the sort of chap you want to avoid. If he had any guts or ambition, he would have risen in the ranks instead of being stuck in the back of nowhere.”
“Like you,” said Hamish.
“Here’s your drink, my dear,” said Gloria soothingly. “Aren’t we a bit cross this morning?”
Mr. Harrison took the glass from her and his face softened. “What would I do without you? Push off, copper.”
Hamish smiled. “If you ever need my help, forget it.”
“I’ll see you out,” said Gloria.
Hamish hesitated at the front door. “Any chance of taking you out for dinner one evening? There’s a very good restaurant in Lochdubh.”
“I’m allowed a day off a week. Every Sunday. Maybe that would be nice.”
“What about next Sunday? I’ll drive so you can have a drink.”
“If Mr. Harrison saw you, I don’t think he would approve. I’ll get Juris to run me there. What time?”
“Say eight o’clock?”
“You’re not going to bring those creepy animals with you, are you?”
“No, not at all,” said Hamish, her attractions dimming a little like a faulty lightbulb. “See you there.”
He climbed into the police Land Rover. Sonsie was in the passenger seat and Lugs in the back. “You’re not creepy, are you?” he said. Sonsie gave a rumbling purr.
At the police station, he was met by local fisherman Archie Maclean, carrying two mackerel. “Make you a nice wee dinner,” he said, handing them over. “I saw you chasing after that flirty nurse.”
“Why do you call her flirty?”
“Herself gets the Sundays off and aye gangs up tae the bar at the hotel and sits there till some fellow invites her for dinner.”
“Aye. As sure as I’m standing here. If you’re looking for Charlie, he’s gone off with Priscilla.”
“Why?” demanded Hamish.
“I dinnae ken. Take the fish.”
Hamish went slowly into the police station, where he put the fish in the fridge. He was envious of Charlie’s easy-going friendship with Priscilla. He wondered sourly whether Charlie was gay. He had shown no sexual interest in any female so far. But then one of his own best friends was Angela Brodie, the doctor’s wife, and he could not ever remember lusting after her.
Curiosity overcame him. He told his animals to stay and went back out to his vehicle and sped off to the hotel.
The manager, Mr. Johnson, said they were down in the basement but he didn’t know what they were doing. Hamish made his way down.
“This’ll just be grand,” he heard Charlie saying. “But maybe Hamish won’t like it.”
The voices were coming from the far end of the basement where a door stood open.
“Hamish won’t like what?” he called.
There was a short silence and then Priscilla called, “In here.”
Hamish walked in. He found himself in what seemed to have been a small apartment.
“What d’ye think?” cried Charlie. “Priscilla says I could move in here and you’d have more room at the station.”
“What is this place?” asked Hamish.
“It used to be a wee apartment for the butler,” said Charlie. The Tommel Castle Hotel had once been the Halburton-Smythes’ private residence. When Colonel Halburton-Smythe had fallen on hard times, Hamish had persuaded him to turn the place into a hotel.
Hamish looked round. There was a small living room, furnished simply with a dusty gate-leg table and two hard chairs. By the side of the living room was a small kitchen with a tiny Belling cooker on a counter and some cups and plates covered with dust on the draining board beside a sink.
“The bedroom’s through here,” said Charlie eagerly. “Priscilla says that the butler, old Mr. Sweeney, was a great tall man.”
The bedroom held a long single bed covered in an old mattress stuffed with ticking, flanked by two small chests of drawers.
“How do I square it wi’ Strathbane?” asked Hamish.
“They don’t need to know,” said Priscilla.
Hamish suddenly realised that this could mean he would get his station back, all to himself. Perhaps he could even persuade one pretty nurse to join him there. He went off into a rosy dream.
Priscilla looked with some irritation at the tall sergeant with the flaming-red hair.
“Hamish! Wake up!”
“Oh, aye, grand,” said Hamish quickly. “But make sure your phone works down here, Charlie. And God forbid we should have any more major crime, but if we do, you’ll need to move back to the station.”
“A home of my own!” cried Charlie, sitting down on one of the hard chairs, which promptly splintered under his weight. He turned scarlet as he scrambled to his feet. “I’ll repair that, Priscilla. I promise.”
“Charlie, it was riddled with woodworm. There’s plenty of furniture in the basement for you to choose from. I’ll get a couple of the maids to help you.”
“No,” said Charlie firmly. “I’ll do it all myself. I just need some cleaning stuff.”
There were some cupboards under the sink. Priscilla bent down and looked into them.
“Well! Look at this. Our old butler seems to have nicked some of the best wines. And here’s a bottle of vintage champagne. We’ll have a glass each to celebrate.”
“You mean the butler was a thief?” asked Charlie.
“It’s called butler’s privilege. He’s dead anyway. I’ve found some glasses. I’ll just rinse them out.”
Hamish collected three sturdy chairs from an area of the basement outside, crowded with discarded furniture. Priscilla had just opened the bottle and was pouring out three glasses of champagne when Detective Jimmy Anderson walked into the apartment.
“What’s this?” he demanded. “I was on my road to see you, Hamish, when I saw your Land Rover in the hotel car park. You know what I feel about drinking on duty. Got any whisky, Priscilla?”
Priscilla went to the cupboard and brought out a bottle of twelve-year-old malt.
Jimmy’s blue eyes gleamed in his foxy face. “Pour it out, lassie.”
“What brings you?” asked Hamish.
“Strathbane prison, that’s what. I’m rounding up manpower. The search starts this afternoon. The number of weapons, drugs, and mobile phones has doubled in Scottish prisons.”
“You could have phoned me,” said Hamish.
“Och, I wanted a trip out. Blair is in charge and he’s shouting and bullying already. We’ve got mobile phone detection equipment and drug dogs, so the main search will be for weapons.” Detective Chief Inspector Blair was the bane of Hamish Macbeth’s life, always trying to get him transferred to Strathbane.
“You should be looking for bent screws,” said Charlie. “If it’s weapons, then the prison officers must be getting paid to sneak them in.”
“Hard going,” said Jimmy. “They all cover for each other.”
His phone rang. He looked gloomily at the dial. “Blair,” he said. “We’d best get going. Man, this whisky is heaven.” He slipped the bottle in his pocket.
“You can stay,” whispered Hamish to Charlie. “I’ll get Jimmy to say you couldnae leave the station unmanned. But collect Sonsie and Lugs. I don’t want them left alone too long.”
As they approached Strathbane, the skies darkened and a smear of drizzle clouded Hamish’s windscreen before he switched the wipers on and looked down the long road to where what he thought of as a boil on the Highlands appeared in the distance.
It had once been a thriving fishing port, but the fishing stock had declined and with it any heavy industry, leaving the town a sink of crime and drugs. The prison was a Victorian one, built to the same design as Wormwood Scrubs.
As they drove up to the entrance, the rain had become a torrent and the wind was rising, moaning in the turrets of the old prison. After they had been through security, a wooden-faced prison officer told them to report to the governor’s office.
The governor, Bella Ogilvie, was a small, plump woman. Beside her was a tall woman in police inspector’s uniform. She had high Slavic cheekbones, cold grey eyes, and a thin mouth.
“Where have you been, Anderson?” she snapped.
“Collecting reinforcements, ma’am,” said Jimmy. “You are…?”
“Fiona Herring. And no cracks about red herrings. I’ve heard them all. Who’s this?”
“Sergeant Hamish Macbeth, ma’am.”
“Heard of you. The pair of you get over to C Wing and search all the cells.”
“Where is Mr. Blair?” asked Jimmy.
“Mr. Blair is in hospital.”
Her eyes lit up and she suppressed a laugh. “The detective inspector insulted a police dog called Fred. He told the dog it was a mangy, useless-looking cur and tried to kick it. Fred took offence and bit him in the arse. I have been called in from Inverness to take charge. Off with you.”
As Hamish followed Jimmy to C Wing, he reflected that when she had nearly laughed, Fiona had suddenly appeared a very attractive woman.
At the end of a long dreary afternoon, they took their finds back to the governor’s office: five knives, one replica gun, and a packet of Ecstasy tablets. The governor told them to take their contraband to the conference room.
Laid out on the long table was a depressing selection of drugs, phones, and weapons. The weapons consisted of knives, sharpened toothbrushes, shivs, and five guns.
“I have a list of the names and addresses of all the prison guards,” said Inspector Fiona Herring. “I will allocate names to each officer. I want their backgrounds checked thoroughly. What is it, Governor?”
Mrs. Ogilvie looked like a frightened rabbit. “The guards have gone on strike,” she wailed.
“Who is in charge of the union?”
“I want him here. Now!”
The governor hurried off.
When it came Hamish’s turn, Fiona said, “I think you may go back to your station, Sergeant. You have a large area to cover.”
Lovely woman, thought Hamish. The first person in authority to realise the extent of my beat. No rings. Wonder if there’s a man in her life.
When Hamish returned to his police station, he found Charlie loading up his old station wagon with his belongings. “You’d better come here every day and report for duty,” said Hamish. “I’ll miss your company in the evenings but not your big feet. You and Priscilla getting along all right?”
“She’s great. Just like a sister.”
Hamish pushed back his cap and scratched his red hair as he watched Charlie drive off. What man could survey the beauty that was Priscilla and look on her as a sister?
After Charlie had left, Hamish decided to drive to Braikie. His previous constable, Dick Fraser, had left to buy a bakery shop with a Polish woman called Anka. Anka was glamorous. Hamish had tried several times to get her out on a date but without success. Surely she and tubby Dick could not be romantically involved.
The shop had just closed for the night when he arrived. He noticed a shiny, brand-new BMW parked outside. If it was Dick’s, business must be very good indeed.
He rang the bell to the flat over the shop. Anka Bajorak answered the door. My world is beginning to be peopled by beautiful unavailable women, thought Hamish. But maybe Gloria is available. Anka walked ahead of him up the stairs, her auburn hair tied back in a ponytail and her long legs encased in tight jeans, giving one highland police sergeant a stab of lust.
Dick had slimmed down. But with his grey hair and small figure, he certainly did not look like the type of man to capture the affections of such as Anka. He was comfortably ensconced in an armchair by the peat fire.
“It’s yourself, Hamish,” cried Dick. “Like a dram?”
“Tea will be fine.”
“I’ll get it,” said Anka.
Hamish told Dick about the visit to the prison and then said, “There’s a newcomer in the neighbourhood.”
“That’ll be the wee nurse,” said Dick. “Talk o’ the place. Say she dresses like a nurse out o’ one o’ thae Carry On movies. They say she’s after the auld man’s money.”
“The things people say!” complained Hamish. “I’ve met her. She’s charming.”
“Oh aye? Got a date?”
“Well, she wouldn’t be going out wi’ you if she was after money,” said Dick.
Anka came back with a cup of tea for Hamish and two cakes. “How’s business?” asked Hamish.
“Booming,” said Anka. “We thought of opening another shop, but we decided to start a business on the Internet. It’s called BapsareUs. We send parcels of baps all over Britain.”
“I’m not surprised,” said Hamish. One of the usual Scottish laments was that it was almost impossible to get a decent bap, those large breakfast rolls. Anka’s baps were famous.
“We’ve had to build a new place to cope with all the baking and take on lots of staff,” said Anka. “Several of the big companies have tried to buy us over.”
Hamish told them about Charlie moving out. “Won’t you be lonely?” asked Dick.
“No, I’m delighted to get my station back. Charlie is great but he’s so clumsy, he’s a walking disaster.”
“I would like to meet him,” said Anka. “Bring him with you next time.”
“Will do,” said Hamish. “I’d better get back.”
When Hamish returned to the station, he found a note on the kitchen table from Charlie. “I’ve taken Sonsie and Lugs up to the castle. They were mooching at the Italian restaurant and we don’t want them getting fat. I’ll drop them back later.”
The wind had risen, moaning around the police station. Hamish fought off a sudden feeling of loneliness. But then he had a vision of the pretty Gloria, living with him at the police station. Three days to Sunday and then he would see her again.
Listen! You hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then begin again,
With the tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Colonel Halburton-Smythe arrived back at the Tommel Castle Hotel in a bad mood. He and his wife had been visiting Lord and Lady Fortross over near Oban. Unfortunately, their room had been directly above the bedchamber of their hosts and the fireplace chimney acted as a splendid conduit of sound.
So on the first night, as he was getting ready for bed, he heard Lord Fortross’s high complaining voice. “Why did you invite that boring little colonel? I can’t abide retired military men who insist on keeping their titles. And the man’s a damn stereotype.”
The colonel had backed away from the fireplace as if before a snake and had told his startled wife to pack up. They were leaving in the morning.
He was an insecure little man, product of an ambitious father who had made his fortune with a chain of popular shoe shops. Using his fortune, his father had sent him to Eton and then on to Sandhurst Military Academy. The colonel had quickly adopted a personality to fit what he fondly believed was required. He worked hard and, with his father’s money, entertained lavishly. He rose rapidly up the ranks and married Philomena Halburton, who hailed from an aristocratic family and had joined the name of Smythe to that of Halburton.
His happiest day was when he quit the army and bought the castle and estates, only to go nearly bankrupt after being tricked into bad investments. Hamish Macbeth saved the day with the hotel idea. Because of excellent fishing and shooting and a first-class manager, the hotel quickly prospered.
- "The latest appearance by the charming Scot...provides all the quirky characters and striking Highlands scenery you could want, along with one of Beaton's most successful mysteries."—Kirkus on Death of a Liar
- "Macbeth, when roused to action, is very canny at solving mysteries, and the Highlands setting is always satisfying. A fine mix of eccentric characters, vivid landscape, and engaging mystery." —Booklist on Death of a Liar
- "Longing for escape? Tired of waiting for Brigadoon to materialize? Time for a trip to Lochdubh, the scenic, if somnolent, village in the Scottish Highlands where M. C. Beaton sets her beguiling whodunits featuring Constable Hamish Macbeth."—New York Times Book Review
- "Hamish Macbeth is that most unusual character, one to whom the reader returns because of his charming flaws. May he never get promoted."—New York Journal of Books
- "With residents and a constable so authentic, it won't be long before tourists will be seeking Lochdubh and believing in the reality of Hamish Macbeth as surely as they believed in Sherlock Holmes."—Denver Rocky Mountain News
- "Macbeth is the sort of character who slyly grows on you."—Chicago Sun-Times
- "The latest appearance by the charming Scot...provides all the quirky characters and striking Highlands scenery you could want, along with one of Beaton's most successful mysteries."—Kirkus
- "Macbeth, when roused to action, is very canny at solving mysteries, and the Highlands setting is always satisfying. A fine mix of eccentric characters, vivid landscape, and engaging mystery." —Booklist
- On Sale
- Feb 23, 2016
- Hachette Audio