As I stepped off the path, Denny Hinck­ley ma­te­ri­alised from be­hind the trees

Ice­ho­tel: Episode 33

The Courier & Advertiser (Dundee Edition) - - SERIAL - By Ha­nia Allen

Imade to go, but he put out an arm, bar­ring my way. I was sur­prised at the ges­ture. “You say you’ve been speak­ing to Mar­cel­lus?” There was a hint of men­ace in lawyer Aaron Van­den­berg’s voice. I stepped back. “That’s right.” “May I ask about what?” I was tempted to tell him to mind his own busi­ness. “Small-talk, mainly. He told me about his work with the Bibby Foun­da­tion. And Wil­son’s schools’ pro­gramme.”

The man re­laxed vis­i­bly.

“Why are you so con­cerned about my con­ver­sa­tion with Mar­cel­lus, Mr Van­den­berg?”

His com­po­sure had re­turned. “I’m not con­cerned.” He spoke lazily. “If I sounded con­cerned, it was for Mar­cel­lus’s well­be­ing. He’s had a nasty shock. He was close to his fa­ther.”

“Have you known Mar­cel­lus long?”

“Long enough.” He dis­missed me with a look of in­dif­fer­ence. “En­joy your walk.”

In­ter­est­ing. Aaron Van­den­berg might be con­cerned for Mar­cel­lus’s wel­fare, but he was more con­cerned about the na­ture of his con­ver­sa­tions. What se­crets did he think Mar­cel­lus was go­ing to spill? Some­thing was rat­tling the fam­ily lawyer.

I trudged down the path be­tween the ice stat­ues, leav­ing him stand­ing, a statue him­self.

Sur­prise

I took the path by the chapel and made for the bank. The sun was climb­ing into the sky and the dis­tant river was a dark scar on a white face.

As I stepped off the path, Denny Hinck­ley ma­te­ri­alised from be­hind the trees. He parked him­self be­side the bra­zier and warmed his hands as though he’d been there for hours.

“Well, hello there,” he said, in mock sur­prise. I was in no mood for po­lite­ness. “Not again, Mr Hinck­ley.” I took in the thick white snow­suit, the hood up, fur fram­ing his face. “Are you in cam­ou­flage so you can lie in wait for peo­ple?”

“Look, Mag­gie, we got off on the wrong foot –” “It’s Mag­gie now? You seem to be taking a lot for granted.”

“Give me a break, love. I was try­ing to put you at your ease.” He pro­duced a packet of cig­a­rettes and shook one loose. “All I’m af­ter is some de­tail of the room. Wil­son Bibby’s. Then I’ll leave you alone.”

“Is this the only tune in your reper­toire?” I said sadly. He ges­tured to the Ice­ho­tel, its blue colour bleached white in the sun­light. “No one can get in. It’s like Fort bloody Knox.”

“I bet you could if you wanted to,” I said care­lessly. “There are no locks to pick. The han­dles are taped, but it wouldn’t take much to cut through them.”

He sneered, light­ing his cig­a­rette. “You think I’d try a caper like that? Have you seen the A-list de­tec­tive run­ning this case? He’s marked my cards.” “Don’t tell me you tried to in­ter­view him.” Denny drew his head back and blew smoke into the air. “We all did. We won’t get much change out of him. He’s is­su­ing press state­ments but noth­ing else. And there’s not much there.”

He chewed his lip. “Please, Mag­gie, you’re my only hope. Give me some­thing. I need a break. My boss has got me by the short and curlies.”

The man was a walk­ing cliché. “You’re wast­ing your time,” I said. “I don’t know what Wil­son’s room looks like.”

“But you were in the one next to his.”

“That doesn’t mean I went in.”

“What about the morn­ing his body was dis­cov­ered? Was it you who found him dead?”

In­for­ma­tion

“It was the girls who bring the drinks.” I felt a twinge of guilt; he’d be pes­ter­ing Karin and Marita now. He dropped his cig­a­rette and be­gan to scrib­ble fu­ri­ously. “Go on.”

“There’s noth­ing more to tell. Harry and I saw a lit­tle way into the room, that’s all.”

“That’s Harry Auchin­leck?”

I was no longer sur­prised at the ex­tent of Denny’s knowl­edge. “I sup­pose you’ve al­ready pumped him for in­for­ma­tion.”

“Fat chance, love. We’ve locked horns in the past.” “Locked horns?”

“I’ve seen him in court.”

“Ah, yes. Harry’s been an ex­pert wit­ness many times.”

“That’s as may be, dar­ling, but me and the boys never get any­thing from him. Zippo. Zippo. Zippo.” I grinned. “Why am I not sur­prised?”

“Th­ese pro­fes­sors are all the same. They think they’re anointed rather than ap­pointed. I’m sure he’s got a funny hand­shake, if you catch my drift. My pa­per of­fered him top whack for a story and he turned us down. You’d think, from the way he dresses, he could use the dough.”

“You may find this hard to be­lieve, but it’s not money that floats Harry’s boat.”

“He can’t be a car­bon-based life form, then.” Denny paused. “So what about it, love? I’ll give you an ex­clu­sive.”

“Look, Mr Hinck­ley –” “Denny.”

“Denny, there were loads of peo­ple around when Wil­son’s body was dis­cov­ered. Why don’t you go and ha­rangue some­one else? And here’s some ad­vice – it might be help­ful not to rush in with both guns blaz­ing.”

“I’ve tried ev­ery­one. No one can re­mem­ber a thing,” he said, in dis­gust. “As soon as I ap­pear, it’s a case of gal­lop­ing am­ne­sia. And my edi­tor won’t let me of­fer money.” He added quickly, “You were go­ing to be the ex­cep­tion, of course.”

I laughed. “Well, with­out money, you’re go­ing to have to rely on that win­ning per­son­al­ity.”

He stared at the Ice­ho­tel. “If this god­for­saken place weren’t on the edge of the known world, I might have got here be­fore they’d taped it off.” He scratched his nose. “I sup­pose I could ask Mr Hoity Toity De­tec­tive to send an of­fi­cer in with me.”

Sud­den shift

“For­get it, Denny. You’ll spend all your time fill­ing out forms in trip­li­cate.”

“Why? The place isn’t a crime scene.” A gleam came into his eye. “In my line of work, it’s eas­ier to be granted for­give­ness than per­mis­sion. Maybe I should break in af­ter all.”

“Do that, and stuff’s go­ing to hap­pen.” I paused. “You know, I don’t make you as the type to go look­ing for trou­ble.”

He spoke with feel­ing. “Oh, I don’t need to. I know where it is.” His face sagged. “Lis­ten, Mag­gie, I have to find a big story. I can’t af­ford to let the grass grow un­der my feet. There are young guys com­ing up be­hind me, if you catch my drift.”

I was start­ing to feel sorry for him. Some­thing about his look of des­o­la­tion made me ask: “Do you have fam­ily, Denny?” He seemed sur­prised at the sud­den shift in the con­ver­sa­tion.

“My ex re­mar­ried so we don’t see each other no more. Maybe just as well. I don’t have to con­tinue with the pay­ments. She likes the high life.”

“Any chil­dren?”

His eyes filmed over with sad­ness. “I thought we were try­ing for kids till I dis­cov­ered she’d been taking the pill. Se­cretly like, be­hind my back. So no. No kids.”

I had a sud­den de­sire to help him.

More on Mon­day.

Ice­ho­tel, avail­able on Ama­zon Kin­dle, is Ha­nia Allen’s de­but novel. Her sec­ond book, The Pol­ish De­tec­tive (Con­sta­ble, £8.99), is the first in her new se­ries fea­tur­ing DS Da­nia Gorska and is set in Dundee.

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