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Moonseed

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год

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But when she went just a little further north she entered industrial areas. The Dixie Chemical Company, the Graver Tank & Mfg Co. Inc., and so on. Further on still, on the Bay Area Boulevard, there were a lot of space-related industrial concerns: Lockheed Martin, Honeywell Space Systems, IBM, Hughes Aircraft, on roads called Moon Rock Drive and Saturn Road. Symbols that space wasn’t yet quite dead, a sepia-tinted memory, an impossible dream of the generation of Heinlein and von Braun.

It was like coming back to the present, she thought, from a dismal descent into the dead past. She opened her window to let fresh air into the car, and turned the radio to a rock channel.

9

Constable Morag Decker swung her patrol car into Viewcraig Gardens and immediately ran into a jam.

She counted three sets of roadworks, a scene of wooden separators and flashing yellow lamps and hard hats and jack-hammers. There were vans belonging to the gas company and British Telecom, and another from a private contractor that looked as if it was responsible for cable repairs, bumped up onto the kerb on both sides of the road. The traffic wasn’t too heavy, in the middle of this Monday morning, with the sun rising high above Arthur’s Seat. But the tailbacks already stretched hundreds of yards to either side.

Maybe she should call the station.

It was unusual for more than one crew to be vandalizing the road surface at any one time. For now, the traffic was moving okay, but she could see the signs of frustration in the way the drivers edged closer together and glared at the crews as they passed. One accident, even something trivial, and the road would be blocked.

Today was April 1st. She wondered if this congestion was the result of some misbegotten joke.

She frowned as she thought it over.

At twenty-five, Morag had had her uniform for just a year. At her last appraisal her sergeant’s most cutting comment had been about the way she refused to take responsibility on the ground. She was always too willing to pass the buck up the line, so he said.

She didn’t entirely agree. She thought reporting up the line was generally pretty responsible, in fact; information to support good decision-making had to be the key to any reasoned response. So she’d been trained, and so she believed.

But her sergeant was of an older school, toughened in the English inner city riots of the early 1980s, when the police were essentially at war with a hostile public. I remember my community policing training. A video shot through the back of a riot shield in Toxteth. My God, the looks on the faces of those yobs …

Her own presence, gliding through here in the marked police car, was having a visibly calming effect. Maybe a copper on the spot wouldn’t be a bad idea during the rush hour, later in the day.

She deferred the decision.

In the meantime she had a more immediate problem: nowhere to park.

She was in luck. Ted Dundas was out in front of his house, prodding vigorously at a garden verge. When she pulled alongside she opened her window and leaned out.

Ted straightened up, leaned on his hoe and nodded. ‘Morag. Come to see me?’

‘No such luck. But I need to get this beastie off the road. Can I –’

‘Use the drive?’ He dropped his hoe and, with an alacrity that belied his years and beer gut, he hopped over a low wall and opened the wrought-iron gate.

That was Ted for you: helpful without pressure or hassle. He’d been one of the most helpful elements in the station when she’d joined last year; she genuinely regretted his retirement from the force.

She briskly reversed the car into the drive. She climbed out, carrying her peaked cap.

On impulse, she looked east, towards Arthur’s Seat. The air was – odd. She thought she could smell ozone, like at the coast, or maybe before a storm. But the clouds were high and thin. And the light above the Seat seemed strange. Yellowish.

Morag reached out to lock her car. As her fingers approached the handle, a blue spark leapt from her fingertips to the metal; there was a tiny snap, and her fingertips burned sharply.

She snatched her hand back, involuntarily. ‘Shit.’

‘Language, Constable,’ Ted said. ‘I’ve been doing that all morning.’

‘Storm weather, you think?’

‘Maybe. What are you up to here?’

‘A call from a Mrs Clark. Lost her cat. Insisted on a personal call.’

Ted nodded. ‘Two doors down. Ruth’s a widow. Be kind to her, Morag.’

‘I will.’ He calls her Ruth. Interesting. Gossip for the station canteen later.

She locked the car without any further static shocks, nodded to Ted, and walked down the road.

Ruth Clark, Ted Dundas’s neighbour, was a slim, intense woman on the upper margin of middle age; evidently the cat meant a great deal to her.

Morag took the cat’s description: a tabby, five years old, female. Unusually intelligent and sensitive. (Right.)

She looked around the boundary of Mrs Clark’s fairly shabby suburban garden. There was no sign of cat droppings – but then, said Mrs Clark, Tammie was too smart to do her business in her own garden and she always used the neighbours’, oh, yes.

On the other hand, there was no sign that anything amiss had happened to Tammie. No rat poison put down by a pissed-off neighbour, for instance.

Missing cats weren’t a police priority. There wasn’t anything Morag could do but assure Mrs Clark that they would circulate the details of the cat, and suggest that she do her own searching – circulate notices to the neighbours, for instance – and then she endured a little routine vitriol at the general incompetence and apathy of the police.

‘Even my phone’s been off since I got up. I had to walk down the road to the public phone box and you wouldn’t believe the filth …’

Morag got out as quickly as she could, reported into the station, and walked back up the road to Ted Dundas’s.

She sat in his kitchen – warm, smelling so thickly of bacon she could feel her arteries furring up just sitting here – and let him make her a mug of strong tea. He boiled up a pan on a battered camping stove, propped up on his gas hob.

‘The gas is off,’ Ted explained. ‘You saw the repair crew in the road. Bunch of bloody cowboys,’ he said amiably. ‘I heard old Dougie at number fifteen complaining about it, and he said he’d heard someone else had called them in to look at a leak. Dougie heard that because they’d come to borrow his mobile phone; their phone was out.’

Mrs Clark’s phone had been cut too. ‘Ted, what about your phone line?’

‘Snafu. But I have a mobile. But you can hang the bloody phone; what bothers me is the cable TV. I was watching the baseball from Japan. Got to the fourth innings before it cut out.’

‘Um.’ Cable and phone lines and gas lines, all out. Morag turned over the possibilities. Was it possible one of those cack-handed crews, doing some innocent repairs, had cut through the other service lines? It wouldn’t be the first time. Or what about deliberate vandalism?

‘You own a cat, don’t you, Ted?’

‘The cat owns me, more like.’

‘I just can’t see what people like about the bloody creatures.’

‘Aye, well, cats are unpleasant and unnecessarily cruel predators. And it’s soggy and sentimental to think anything else.’

‘But you keep one anyhow.’

‘I told you. I think Willis keeps me.’ He poured her more tea. ‘We have a partnership of equals, me and that animal.’

‘Where is he now?’

He eyed her. ‘Not here.’

The house shuddered gently.

Concentric ripples on the meniscus of her tea, like a tube train passing far beneath the foundations. Except there was no metro in Edinburgh. Or maybe like a heavy lorry rolling by, shaking the ground.

But Viewcraig Street was a cul-de-sac.

She glanced up at Ted. He was watching her carefully.

‘Funny weather,’ he said.

‘Yeah.’

‘Listen, do you have a couple of minutes? There’s something I’d like you to take a look at.’

They walked out to the back of Ted’s house, towards Arthur’s Seat. They headed up the slope towards St Anthony’s Chapel. Soon they were off the path and climbing over a rising rocky slope; the grass slithered under Morag’s polished shoes. Once they’d risen twenty yards or so above the level of the road, the Edinburgh wind started to cut into her.

‘I’m not equipped for a hike,’ she said.
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