By M. C. Beaton
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DEATH of a
The Hamish Macbeth series
Death of a Gossip
Death of a Cad
Death of an Outsider
Death of a Perfect Wife
Death of a Hussy
Death of a Snob
Death of a Prankster
Death of a Glutton
Death of a Travelling Man
Death of a Charming Man
Death of a Nag
Death of a Macho Man
Death of a Dentist
Death of a Scriptwriter
Death of an Addict
A Highland Christmas
Death of a Dustman
Death of a Celebrity
Death of a Village
Death of a Poison Pen
Death of a Bore
Death of a Dreamer
Death of a Maid
Death of a Gentle Lady
Death of a Witch
DEATH of a
A Hamish Macbeth Murder Mystery
M. C. BEATON
Constable & Robinson Ltd
3 The Lanchesters
162 Fulham Palace Road
London W6 9ER
First published in the USA by The Mysterious Press, Warner Books, Inc.
This edition published by Robinson, an imprint of Constable & Robinson, 2009
Copyright © M. C. Beaton 1996, 2009
The right of M. C. Beaton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in Publication data is available from the British Library
UK ISBN: 978-1-84529-907-1
Printed and bound in the EU
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To Domenico ‘Pico’ Giannarelli
Hamish Macbeth fans share their
reviews . . .
‘Treat yourself to an adventure in the Highlands; remember your coffee and scones – for you’ll want to stay a while!’
‘I do believe I am in love with Hamish.’
‘M. C. Beaton’s stories are absolutely excellent . . . Hamish is a pure delight!’
‘A highly entertaining read that will have me hunting out the others in the series.’
‘A new Hamish Macbeth novel is always a treat.’
‘Once I read the first mystery I was hooked . . . I love her characters.’
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. . . When two strong men stand face to face,
Though they come from the ends of the earth.
– Rudyard Kipling
Randy Duggan was called the Macho Man in the village of Lochdubh in the Scottish Highlands and he seemed to live up to his nickname. He was a huge man, over six feet tall, with powerful shoulders, tattoos and a low forehead. His legs were disproportionally short for his body and his hair was greasy and worn long and curly on his collar. He wore leather jackets with long fringes. He sported odd glasses with slats like venetian blinds, and brightly coloured hats. The locals gathered in the Lochdubh bar just to see him crush beer cans in one of his great fists. His voice had an American twang. He said he had been a wrestler in America.
In fact, to the admiring locals, it seemed as if Randy had been everywhere, seen everything, done everything. He had been attacked by muggers in Florida, shot them dead, and had been commended by the police for his bravery. He had been a lumberjack in Canada and he had shot bear in Alaska. He was the most well-travelled man Lochdubh had ever seen.
It was all too easy to create a sensation in Lochdubh. It was a sleepy Highland village in Sutherland, which is as far north as you can go on the mainland of the British Isles. Tourists came and went in the summer season, but not many, most of them only getting as far north as Inverness.
Perhaps, in the easygoing way of the Highlanders, they would have accepted Randy at face value, and being prime liars and tall storytellers themselves, were not given to picking holes in anyone’s anecdotes, least of all their own. And if Randy had never been faced with any criticism or competition, things might have gone on the way they were and not turned nasty.
Of course, the weather contributed to the edginess that was created in the Lochdubh bar one day when Randy, as usual, was holding forth. The other reason for his admiring audience was that Randy was free with his money, and fisherman Archie Maclean, one of Randy’s best listeners, had been barely sober since the big man had arrived in the village, such was Randy’s generosity to this, his best admirer.
It was another day of irritating rain and drizzle. Long trails of rain dragged in from the Atlantic and up the sea loch outside the bar. Midges, those maddening Highland mosquitoes, were out in black clouds, no rain seeming to deter them. The atmosphere was muggy and close. It was the tenth day of rain and the damp permeated everything and clothes stuck to the body, and where the clothes did not stick, the midges stung with savage fury. Patel’s, the general store, had run out of midge repellent only that day.
Randy had geographically moved to the Middle East in his tales. Little Geordie Mackenzie, a retired schoolteacher, brightened up. He was normally shy and retiring. He had recently moved to Lochdubh and had not yet made any friends. When Randy paused in an account of dining in a Bedouin tent to take another swig of beer, Geordie piped up in a reedy voice, ‘I was out in Libya during my National Service, and a very odd thing happened to me when we were out on manoeuvres in the desert . . .’
But no one was destined to hear what had happened to Geordie in the desert, for the Macho Man glared at the schoolteacher and raised his voice. No one could tell him anything about adventures in the Middle East. He had eaten sheep’s eyes and run an illegal still in Saudi Arabia and had been thrown in prison in Riyadh, escaping his jailers the day before his hand was due to get chopped off.
Geordie looked crushed and put down. Archie Maclean began to feel irritated with Randy. The big man could have let wee Geordie have his say. The air of the bar was stuffy with cigarette smoke, his wife was a mighty washer and cleaner and the collar of his starched shirt was rubbing against the mosquito bites on his neck. He saw Geordie creeping out of the bar and followed him.
‘Don’t pay him nae heed,’ said Archie, catching up with Geordie. ‘He likes his crack.’
‘He’s a braggart and a liar,’ said Geordie primly. ‘I don’t believe any of his stories.’
‘I’m getting pretty tired o’ him mysel’,’ said Archie. ‘We used to all sit around and have a wee bit o’ a gossip. Now we all hae tae listen tae that big tumshie, blethering on and on and on. Damn thae midges. They’ve got the teeth of them like razors this year. Oh, here’s our local bobby. D’ye ken Macbeth?’
‘I have seen the constable about the village but have not yet spoken to him,’ said Geordie.
‘Hey, Macbeth!’ called Archie. ‘Come and meet the latest incomer.’
They had reached the harbour, where fishing boats rose and fell at anchor on an oily swell. It was Sunday, the Lord’s day, which meant the bar might be open but taking a fishing boat out was flying in the face of Providence.
Hamish Macbeth, Lochdubh’s police constable, was ambling along the waterfront towards them. He was a tall, lanky Highlander with flaming red hair, a thin, sensitive face and hazel eyes. Geordie judged him to be in his mid-thirties.
‘This here is Geordie Mackenzie,’ said Archie. ‘He’s just moved in tae Lochdubh.’
‘Aye, I know,’ said Hamish. His voice had a Highland lilt. ‘You’ve taken thon cottage up the hill a bit behind the Curries. Where did you come from?’
‘Inverness, Mr Macbeth.’
‘Hamish,’ said the policeman. ‘I’m called Hamish.’
He gave a gentle smile and the lonely Geordie felt warmed by it. ‘Hamish, it is. I’ve just left the bar over there, Hamish, because I cannot stand the lies and bragging of that Randy Duggan any more.’
‘No harm in a few lies,’ said Hamish easily. He told quite a lot himself. ‘You don’t have to listen.’
‘Oh, but I do!’ said Geordie, burning with resentment all over again. ‘His voice fair dominates the bar.’
‘Aye, I suppose it does. But so long as he’s paying for the drinks,’ said Hamish, ‘there’ll always be folk to listen. Isn’t that right, Archie?’
‘Och, weel.’ Archie shuffled his feet. ‘It was a wee bit o’ fun at first, but now it’s too much, but ye can hardly tell a fellow o’ that size tae shut up.’
‘Now that’s where you’re wrong,’ said Geordie eagerly. He was emboldened by this friendly conversation. ‘He hasn’t often come up against an educated man before, of that I am certain.’
Hamish looked amused. ‘We are not all village peasants, Geordie.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Geordie quickly, ‘I didn’t mean to be rude. But someone should stand up to him.’
‘Och, be careful, man,’ cautioned Hamish. ‘The further away a man gets from his last fight, the braver he gets. I have a feeling in my bones that thon Randy could be a nasty customer.’
‘I think he’s all wind and bluster,’ said Geordie.
Hamish studied the little man thoughtfully. Geordie, he thought, must be in his late sixties and had probably never been in a fight since he was a schoolboy. Hamish was lazy. He smelt trouble coming but was reluctant to make any effort to stop it. Randy Duggan had appeared out of the blue a few weeks ago. He had tried to book into the Tommel Castle Hotel, but Colonel Halburton-Smythe, the owner, had taken one horrified look at him and said there were no vacancies. Randy had rented a holiday cottage up on the hill near Geordie’s. The colonel had reported various spiteful attacks of vandalism; fences cut, the back wall of the hotel spray-painted with a large four-letter word, and the windows of the gift shop broken. Hamish wondered whether Duggan, the Macho Man, was taking his spite out on the colonel but, as yet, he had no proof. Hamish was beginning to think that the big man was a phoney. In his cups, his accent slipped and became more Scottish than American. But until he found something to drive Duggan out of Lochdubh or some proof so that he could arrest him for vandalism, all he could think to do was to try to defuse what he was rapidly beginning to see as an explosive situation.
‘It would maybe be the best thing to take Randy Duggan’s audience away from him,’ said Hamish.
‘Drink somewhere else?’ Archie looked at the policeman in surprise. ‘There isnae anywhere else to drink.’
‘There’s that bar at the Tommel Castle Hotel,’ said Hamish. ‘That’s open to nonresidents.’
‘That’s posh,’ said Archie. ‘Come on, Hamish. Ye cannae see a bunch o’ fisherman and forestry workers up there. The colonel would be spittin’ blood.’
‘Think about it,’ said Hamish. ‘It would only be for a wee bit.’
‘I’m game,’ said Geordie eagerly.
Hamish pushed his cap back on his fiery hair. ‘It’s a quiet season. The colonel should be right glad o’ the trade.’
Priscilla Halburton-Smythe, the cool and stately blonde daughter of Colonel Halburton-Smythe, had recently returned from London and was once more running the gift shop. She had at one time been briefly and unofficially engaged to Hamish Macbeth, and since the end of their romance had kept out of his way. She therefore found it irritating when her father summoned her and suggested she call on Hamish to ask for help.
‘More vandalism?’ asked Priscilla. ‘You can deal with that yourself, Daddy.’
‘I have tried to deal with this, but Macbeth won’t listen to me. Have you been in the hotel bar in the evenings?’
‘No, what’s going on?’
‘The place is full every night with all the low life from Lochdubh.’
‘Lochdubh doesn’t have any low life.’
‘Don’t be deliberately obtuse. I’m talking about the men off the fishing boats and the forestry people.’
‘What’s up with them? You’re a snob.’
‘I’m a more practical businessman than I was when I started this venture,’ said the colonel wearily. When he had run into debt, Hamish had suggested that he turn his family home into a hotel. The colonel had done this and the venture was successful, although he never gave Hamish any credit for having had the good idea in the first place. ‘I’m not a snob,’ said the colonel, ‘but most of our guests are, and that you must admit. They come here to fish and shoot and play lords of the manor. They get dressed up to the nines in the evening. They go into the bar for a drink before dinner. The last thing they want is a lot of the local peasantry blocking off the heat from the fire. They even come in wearing wet clothes and steam in front of it like dogs. Have a word with Hamish Macbeth. He’ll think of something.’
Priscilla decided to have a look at what the bar was like that evening before consulting Hamish. Most of the guests were English and not only did not smoke but, because they were middle-aged, had given up smoking at one time and had all the virulence of the reformed smoker. They were clustered at the bar, pointedly coughing and choking and waving their hands while the locals, grouped in front of the log fire, rolled cigarettes and lit them up, filling the air with pungent smoke. Priscilla realized her father was right. It was no use offending paying guests. They had a business to run.
On her way down to Lochdubh, she felt a little apprehensive at seeing Hamish again. They had been very close. It had been Hamish who had ended their relationship, becoming tired of Priscilla’s ambitions to move him up to the CID in Strathbane and make him successful. Also she had never seemed to have any time for love-making. Why this was the case, Hamish had never been able to find out, and as for Priscilla, her mind clamped down tight shut on the subject.
She parked at the side of the police station and went round to the kitchen door. Hamish answered it and stood looking at her in surprise and then said, ‘Come in, Priscilla. I heard you were back from London.’
Priscilla followed him into the narrow kitchen. Despite the warmth of the evening, Hamish had the wood-burning stove lit, a horrible old thing which Priscilla had once unsuccessfully tried to replace with a new electric cooker. There was an old-fashioned oil-lamp in the middle of the table. ‘What’s that for?’ asked Priscilla. ‘Has the electricity been cut off?’
‘I like oil-lamps,’ said Hamish. ‘It saves on electricity and it gives a bonny light. Coffee? Or do you want a drink? I’ve got some whisky.’
‘I don’t want anything.’ Priscilla sat down at the kitchen table and shrugged off her tweed jacket. Raindrops glistened in her fair hair. She looked as smooth, contained and elegant as ever. ‘What I do want,’ said Priscilla, ‘is a bit of help, or rather, my father needs help.’
‘Must be bad for the auld scunner to send you.’
‘He’s got a point, for once. The locals have given up the Lochdubh bar and are frequenting the hotel bar, smoking like chimneys, chattering away and hogging the fire. The guests are getting restless. We offer them elegant country house accommodation.’
‘You’d think they would enjoy a bit of local colour.’
‘Hamish, the fumes from their nasty cigarettes are so strong that they can hardly see anything, let alone local colour. What’s the reason for it?’
‘Have you been hearing about the Macho Man?’
‘I’ve heard some great ape is enthralling the village with his adventures.’
‘His name is Randy Duggan. He says he is American but becomes Scottish when he’s drunk. He holds forth in the Lochdubh bar and the locals are beginning to find out that although he buys them a lot of drinks, they can’t really get a chance to say much themselves. I merely suggested that if they moved up to the hotel bar for a wee bit, he might move on. That sort of person needs an audience.’
‘Oh, Hamish, I might have guessed you were behind it. So why didn’t this Randy just follow them to the hotel?’
‘You’ve been away. Your father wouldnae let him stay at the hotel. So he took one of the holiday cottages up the back. Then there came these acts of vandalism. You heard of those?’
‘Yes, and you suspect him?’
‘Aye, but I havenae the proof.’
‘So the problem remains. How do we get the locals out of the hotel?’
‘I’ll think o’ something.’
The next day, Hamish made his way to the Lochdubh bar. It was empty of customers, not even Randy was there. The barman, a newcomer from Inverness, Pete Queen, was moodily polishing glasses.
‘Quiet the day,’ said Hamish.
‘It’ll be even mair quiet if the boss closes this place doon. Whit did I do wrong? The drinks here are cheaper than up at the castle.’
‘Maybe they wanted a wee change,’ said Hamish soothingly. ‘It’ll be easy enough to get them back.’
‘It’s a good bit out o’ the village, the hotel is, and they have to take their cars. I’ll start checking them for drunk driving. Then if you were to have a happy hour, just for the one week, drinks at half price, they’d soon come back.’
Pete’s narrow face brightened. ‘I’ll try anything. It’s very good of you, Hamish. Have one on the house.’
‘Too early for me,’ said Hamish. ‘Don’t worry. Have you seen Duggan?’
‘The big man? He was in here last night saying as how he was getting bored and he was thinking of moving on.’
‘Let’s hope he does.’ Hamish sauntered out.
Hamish was no longer a favourite with the locals in the next two days. They found they were being breathalyzed in the hotel car park, their car keys taken away from them, and so they had to walk home and then were faced with the same long walk the next day to collect their cars. And outside the Lochdubh bar was a new sign advertising the happy hour. And so they were lured back.
But so was Randy Duggan, the Macho Man.
It was unfortunate for Geordie Mackenzie that while they had all been at the hotel, he had found new friends among the locals and an audience for his stories. He could not bear to sink back to obscurity. His resentment against Randy had been building up. The second evening after the locals had returned to the Lochdubh bar was a stormy one. Gales lashed rain against the steamed-up windows of the bar. The fishing boats would not be going out and so the bar was full.
Randy was bragging about how he had been a champion wrestler, when Geordie, who had drunk more than he was used to, piped up, ‘I don’t believe a word you say.’
His voice, although reedy, was perfectly clear and precise. Randy stopped in mid-sentence and glared at the retired schoolteacher. ‘What did you say?’ he roared. He was wearing a Stetson hat, pushed to the back of his head, and he flipped open the slats of his ridiculous glasses.
‘I think you’re a phoney,’ said Geordie. ‘That daft story about eating sheep’s eyes. Every phoney who’s been to the Middle East, or who pretends to have been in the Middle East, tells that story. It’s a myth. It was a folk story which got around after a British army prank when some chap was told he had to eat sheep’s eyes. No Arab actually eats them.’
Randy strutted over to Geordie. ‘Are you calling me a liar?’
‘Yes,’ said Geordie, frightened but defiant.
‘Then,’ said Duggan with a nasty grin, ‘it’s time you cooled your head.’
He picked up Geordie by the scruff of the neck and carried him outside. Geordie kicked and wriggled and shouted for help. Everyone crowded outside the bar as Randy walked to the edge of the harbour and held the shrieking Geordie out over the water.
Hamish Macbeth came running up. ‘Stop it. Stop it now!’ he shouted.
Randy dropped Geordie contemptuously on to the quay and faced Hamish.
‘You’re a brave enough man when you’re in uniform,’ he sneered. ‘You wouldn’t dare stand up to me if you weren’t a copper.’
Hamish looked at him with sudden hate. He loathed bullies. He knew how humiliated little Geordie was. He flared up. ‘The day after tomorrow’s my day off. I won’t be in uniform then.’
‘Then I’ll meet you here after closing time at half past eleven at night,’ said Randy, and sticking his thumbs in his belt, he strolled back into the bar. Hamish was cursing himself before he even reached the police station. Randy would make mincemeat of him. If word of it got back to Strathbane, he might lose his job, lose his cosy billet in the village. But he knew there was no way of getting out of the fight now.
The next day, the village was alive with gossip about the great fight to come and the gossip spread over the surrounding moorland and mountains to other towns and villages. Bets were being laid, and most of them in favour of Duggan.
On the morning of the day of the fight, gloomy Hamish was beginning to wonder if he would still be alive at the end of it. Although he knew he had no feeling left for Priscilla, or so he told himself, he wanted to talk to someone about what a fool he had been, and Priscilla was the only person he could think of.
He found Priscilla in the gift shop. She was looking quite animated as she talked to a customer, a distinguished-looking middle-aged man. ‘Morning, Hamish,’ she said when she saw him. ‘Let me introduce Mr John Glover to you. He’s a banker from Glasgow who’s staying at the hotel. Mr Glover, this is our local bobby.’
The two men shook hands. John Glover was tanned and handsome with thick black hair, greying a little at the sides. He was of medium height, impeccably groomed and tailored, making Hamish conscious that his uniform trousers were shiny and that his hair needed cutting. And to Hamish’s dismay, he felt a stab of jealousy. ‘I want to talk to you about something serious,’ said Hamish.
But Priscilla looked reluctant to break off her conversation with John. ‘Go to my rooms in the castle,’ she said, ‘and wait for me. I won’t be long.’
Hamish slouched out moodily. In Priscilla’s apartment at the top of the castle, he paced nervously up and down, and then, to take his mind off his troubles, he switched on the television set. Priscilla had satellite television. Hamish flicked the buttons on the remote control through pop singers and quiz shows, and then stopped and stared at the set in amazement, thinking he was looking at Duggan. It was a wrestling programme. There was the same figure, the same slatted glasses, the same fringed leather clothes and colourful hat. But the announcer was saying, ‘And here is Randy Savage, the Macho Man, heavyweight wrestling champion.’
Hamish leaned forward. Could it be the same man? But no, this one was better shaped, finer built, the only similarity was in the dress. Who, now, thought Hamish, had given Randy Duggan the nickname of the Macho Man? Surely Randy himself. He had said he had been a wrestler in America. Therefore it followed that he had taken the nickname and adopted the dress of one of America’s wrestling heroes. But had he been a wrestler? Was anything he said true? Look how he claimed to be American and yet in his cups his accent thickened into a Scottish one, and a Lowland Scottish one at that.
His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of Priscilla. He switched off the set. ‘Well, Hamish,’ she demanded briskly, ‘what can I do for you?’
She was wearing a black wool dress with a white collar. Her hair was smooth and turned in at the ends. A shaft of sunlight shone on it.
- On Sale
- Aug 1, 1997
- Page Count
- 240 pages
- Grand Central Publishing