Clarice closed the curtains against the inroads of a terrible night. Hidden from view, its sounds pursued her as she went about her preparations. She pulled on a black cat suit she had bought a year ago in Paris to celebrate the completion of a particularly complex job. Its soft, luxurious fabric moulded to her curves. It emphasised her spectacular figure, honed now to aerobic fitness, but also allowed her necessary freedom of movement. Clarice smiled at her reflection in the dusty mirror. With her hair piled up, and her makeup carefully applied, she might have been going to dinner. She took off her glasses and popped in her contacts. She had very poor vision and glasses sluiced by rain would be worse than useless.
The damp cold of the cottage and the draft of the wind through the loose windows made her shiver and she quickly pulled on her black waterproof jacket and balaclava. She checked her watch, the luminous dial glowing at her in the dim light of the fading fire. Four a.m. The last of the partygoers would have left the ball and by the time she got to the big house they should be fast asleep. She took a brisk slug of whisky. Warmed against the storm, she closed the door and walked out into the night. The full force of the storm hit her as she moved out of the lee of the cottage. She turned to go back and lock the door and stopped herself in her tracks, laughing at the prospect.
There was no crime in Scarabus. An island off the West Coast of Scotland, the worst that happened was the odd bit of poaching on the Laird’s estate. That is what the tenant farmer had told her on the phone as she agreed to rent one of his cottages for a week. She needed a break, she said, away from the stresses of urban life. As she had hoped, he recommended Scarabus Cottage. It was remote, but not too isolated. The Laird’s big house was just a mile away. You could see its lights shining across the moor at night. There they were now, subdued but still visible through the lashing rain.
Clarice had walked this route morning and night for the past five days, getting the lay of the land. Such preparations were important. The moor was riddled with peat bogs and hidden streams. You could sink in up to your waist, or twist an ankle if you were not sure footed and vigilant. She prepared meticulously for all her jobs. They each had their own particular lures and challenges.
The lure in this one was simple and unique. The Udaipur Rubies.
Clarice had been on their trail for three years, since she’d first seen them sparkling with promise on a black velvet tray at Christie’s. She had watched, mesmerised, as the bidding rose to four million dollars, the tense silence shattered by the dull thud of the auctioneer’ gavel and excited clapping as they were knocked down to a Mr Nelson Partinkle of New Jersey.
Clarice was a freelance journalist, specialising in high-end jewellery auctions and the properties of the super-rich. She wrote for a number of different publications, none of which had ever met her, nor had any clue what she looked like. The convenient anonymity of email, the joy of a job that gave her the perfect cover. A license to snoop both on the jewels she would go on to sell to The Collector, and on the houses where their owners lived, holidayed or visited. She relied upon ego and vanity. Few owners could resist having their trophy homes featured in a glossy publication by a fawning journalist.
The added joy of her job was social infiltration. By a mixture of guile and charm, Clarice always managed to secure invitations to the smartest parties, or even better, house parties thrown by her subjects. Once you were in, you were in. She was the daughter of a diplomat, raised around the globe, multilingual and charming in every language, verbal and non-verbal. She soon became a fixture on the social circuit and it was here that she did her in-depth research. Who owned which jewels, who would be wearing them where and when.
She found out six months ago that the Laird of Scarabus, Archie Stormont, would be hosting a dance to celebrate his fiftieth birthday. She knew from international gossip that Mr and Mrs Partinkle, and the Udaipur rubies would be on the list of invitees. It had been easy to secure a commission to write an article on Scarabus House for Homes of Distinction Magazine. The cash-strapped Stormont rented out his house for four months of the year, so a glossy article in a renowned magazine was good for business. Clarice was given a detailed tour of the house and was encouraged to take as many photographs as she liked.
She’d sported a fake tan, a shoulder-length black bob and brown contacts for her visit. She’d finished the look with black leather trousers and biker boots topped off with an Arran jersey. Each look she perfected was a package and she knew by long experience that most people tended to see the package rather than the person beneath. Archie Stormont was no exception. He’d looked lingeringly at the package. She’d looked lingeringly back. Stormont was a good looking man, young-looking for his age, and fit, but Clarice had tamped down temptation. Taking Stormont as a lover would have been reckless and her hidden life was reckless enough.
She gloried in identifying a target, selling the idea to The Collector, negotiating her price, and most of all, she relished the painstaking hunt.
Now the rubies were within her reach, at Scarabus House, thirty minutes away across the desolate hill. With the lights of the big house as her beacon, Clarice followed the route that she had so carefully planned.
There was a faint path, but it was difficult to stick to in the hurly burly of the storm. With the torrents of rain the bog seemed to have swelled, encroaching on Clarice’s path, seeking almost to draw her into its bubbling depths. Clarice squirmed and wrenched her foot out of the clinging bog which belched indignantly as her foot came free. Her eyes strained
against the darkness and the rain which ran like rivers down her face, saturating the wool of her balaclava. Her ears shrank from the roar of the wind as it tore in from the sea and hurled across the narrow stretch of land before returning to torment the waves into a fury on the far side of the island.
After thirty five minutes, breathing hard, she stopped at the barbed wire fence that ran round the northern side of the gardens of the big house. Three foot high, it was designed to keep the sheep out, and offered little resistance to Clarice, who cleared it with an elegant scissors-like motion of her long legs. Moving forward with all the stealth of a hunting cat, she stole from bush to bush till she neared the shining edifice of the front door. The light which had glowed so weakly from across the hill shone with brilliance upon her as she straightened up, and with the confidence of belonging, she turned the cold iron handle.
During her feature for Homes of Distinction she had learned that the best guest room was Marco Polo. She also knew that the cash-strapped Archie was trying to sell off a piece of the Scarabus estate to Nelson Partinkle, who, she reasoned, he would try to impress by placing him in the best room.
With the plan of the house etched in her mind, Clarice pushed open the
heavy oak door. An empty hall stretched before her, the only sound the faint crackling
of the banked fire. She shut the door quietly behind her and walked across the bare stone, the cushioned soles of her walking boots silencing her progress. She walked up the spiral stairs, and turned left along a gloomy carpeted landing, lit only by one small lamp standing on a far console table. Passing four doors, she stopped at the fifth.
Holding her breath, she put her ear against the aged wood and listened. Her ears still hissed with the roar of the storm, but she was able to make out the rhapsody of a snore. This was the Marco Polo room and if her calculations were correct, the snorer would be Mr
Nelson Partinkle himself.
With expert fingers, Clarice opened the door and paused, adrenalin pulsing, on the threshold. The snorer continued. Clarice tiptoed over the worn carpet and gazed down at the bed. Entwined but unmistakeable, were Mr and Mrs Nelson Partinkle. Clarice marvelled that Mrs P was able to sleep through the racket but reasoned she was probably deaf to it by now and soothed by the excellent wines which she had no doubt drank over dinner.
Clarice turned silently from the sleepers. There was no time for contemplation of their sleeping habits. Ruthlessly focused, she screwed up her eyes and raked through the darkness, looking for the warm glow that she knew she would find somewhere in that room. Her eyes came to rest on the dressing table. There were the rubies, lying in careless abandon on its surface.
Clarice floated across the floor on a cloud of euphoria and stretched out her arm toward the rubies. A snorted grunt made her freeze. She swivelled her eyes across the room. Nelson Partinkle seemed to be hovering on the cusp of waking, but then with another alarming grunt, the rhythmic snoring resumed. Clarice let out a silent sigh and closed her fingers around the coiled cluster of stones. She drew them to her, fingers marvelling at their opulent smoothness. With a triumphant smile at the sleeping bodies, she pocketed the rubies and was out of the room in seconds. Hair on the back of her neck rising, she hurried down the corridor.
As she turned the corner to descend the stairs a man loomed out of the darkness.
* * *
Archie Stormont gasped at the balaclavaed figure before him and reached out his hand to grasp the shoulder that turned before him in an attempt to flee. His hand flailed on the wet slipperiness of the anorak, then with a lithe twist, the intruder span round, leapt down ten stairs, landed solidly, then leapt down the next flight of ten.
Springing to life himself, albeit somewhat slower than normal after an evening’s worth of champagne and best Scarabus whisky, Stormont ran down the stairs, took a quick detour down a passage way to the right to put on boots, a coat and to summon his dogs. With an Irish wolfhound on each side, he ran out into the storm.
In the powerful welcome lights which beamed from the door, he could just make out the darting figure of the intruder, leaping over the barbed wire fence about five hundred yards away. He and his dogs took up pursuit.
* * *
Clarice heard the tear of fabric then felt the barbed wire score into her as she leapt the fence, not cleanly this time. The storm raged around her and it was impossible to hear if she were being pursued.
The surprised face of Archie Stormont loomed in her mind. Had he recognised her eyes, she wondered. She was wearing clear contacts this time and her eyes were a distinctive green gold, but he’d only seen her face for a second.
She ran out into the bog, finding her faint path. She saw in the distance the light of her cottage and ran for it as fast as she could. After a few minutes, through the searing gulps of her breath, she heard the baying of dogs. Her stomach spasmed in terror. Dogs, the only things she truly feared, after a childhood attack that left her right shin badly scarred. Plastic surgery had removed the evidence, but not the fear.
Almost blinded by terror, Clarice stumbled into a stream. A voice of logic screamed in the mayhem for her to stay in it, to follow its course downstream so the dogs would lose her scent and she would be safe. She splashed in the water for several hundred yards, before slipping on a stone and falling face down into the water. Struggling up, she heard the
dogs and the pounding footsteps of her pursuer. He must have been twenty yards away. All she could do was lie still, and hope that they would pass.
She lay in the body of the stream, her head stuck up above the water, the rest of her body submerged. The water quickly insinuated itself through her anorak, filled it and penetrated her catsuit, till she could feel its clammy hands cover the entirety of her skin, until it felt as if the coldness had taken possession of her bones. She lay still, hearing her hunter swear as he stumbled across the stream. If he caught her, then what? She couldn’t fight him and his dogs. Dishonour and prison would follow.
But as she lay still, Stormont’s footsteps faded and the baying of the wolfhounds receded. In the noise of the storm it was impossible to tell how far away they had gone. Taking no chances, Clarice lay submerged in her watery prison. It was not long before a tremor entered her body, soon turning into a petrified shaking as convulsions of cold wracked her. She found herself fantasising about wearing the rubies in a steaming bath, a glass of whisky by her side. She though of the heat filling the void of cold that her insides had become.
When she felt her consciousness beginning to blink on and off, Clarice struggled upright, cascades of water streaking down her body, and picked her way out of the stream. She heard no sounds of pursuit.
Archie and his dogs must have returned to the warmth of the big house. Then a thought struck her. Perhaps he’d call in the police or round up his guests to hunt her down.
She would have to hurry. Struggling against the convulsions that still wracked her, Clarice forced one foot in front of the other and somehow got herself back to the cottage. Leaving great muddy footprints behind her, she made for the bathroom and opened the taps to a torrent of boiling water. She shed her sodden anorak and balaclava and unzipped her catsuit.
Bending down to haul it off, the naked right cheek of her frozen buttocks met the vertical pipe of the bathroom heater. Clarice struggled to pull of her socks, oblivious to the scalding heat.
After a few seconds the messages of pain surfaced through the cold and screamed out at her. Leaping into the air as if she had been stabbed, Clarice’s hand went to the wounded part. Surveying herself in the steamy mirror through a haze of pain, Clarice saw a weal of red begin to form. Within a few seconds it had risen from the rest of her skin in tortured protest. Buffeted by the pain and her hypothermia, she nearly passed out.
She didn’t have time for this. She had to make the early morning ferry that sailed for the Scottish mainland at 6AM. She glanced at her watch. 4AM. She’d be hard pushed to make it at the best of times. Lying in the stream had cost her precious time.
Now her survival mechanism kicked in. She could not go into the hot bath, she would scald the burn even more. Instead she dressed in dry thermal layers, bundled up her torn jacket and the few clothes she had brought with her, hid the rubies in the middle of the bundle and stuffed it into an oversized backpack.
Her eyes felt like someone had emptied a sack of grit into them, exhaustion would do that, so she blinked out her lenses, flushed them down the loo – DNA – and put on glasses. She pulled on a hair net –DNA – and covered that with a thick beanie.
She wolfed down a protein bar and a cup of tea and then she took the bleach and the rubber gloves she had brought with her and systematically cleaned every surface of the cottage that she had touched. Next she bundled the towels and the tea towels, the sheets, pillow cases and duvet cover she had used into the washing machine and set it on Hot Deep Clean. That would remove all DNA.
That had taken twenty minutes. Time to go. She shouldered her backpack, unwrapped another protein bar and still shivering, set off into the night. There were no torches bobbing on the hill, no dogs barking. Stormont had probably gone back for reinforcements she reckoned, but the hunt would start up again soon, maybe already had.
Walking quickly to warm up, to get away and to get to the ferry in time, she hurried through the encroaching dawn. Every step she took resulted in skeins of pain from her seared bottom.
Down to the small fishing harbour. She was on her last legs now. She was beyond exhausted. Only fear and adrenaline pushed her on. Waves of dizziness swept over her and she bit her lip to quell them. She could see the ferry rising and falling with the stormy sea that even pummeled the harbour. It was a little boat, covered over with large windows for sightseeing. She dreaded to think what the open water was like and how the little boat would cope with it. Gusts of wind were blowing a thousand white horses on the waves out to sea. God, please make the ferry sail. Cancellation would result in her certain capture.
She pasted on a smile, tried to make herself as ordinary as possible and walked up to the dock. The same ferryman who had brought her was on deck but he showed no sign of recognising her. Clarice was like a chameleon at the best of times and these were the worst of times.
She was a Jolie Laide. She could look beautiful and she could also look ugly. The beanie and the glasses put her in the ugly camp and it suited her just fine. People didn’t remember the ugly, unless they were too conspicuous.
‘You are sailing aren’t you?’ She said to the man, channelling a Welsh accent.
‘Oh Aye. We’ll be the first and last of the day though. Weather’s getting worse. Hop in.’ He reached out his brawny hand, grasped hers and hauled her across the gaping maw of the water. She sank down awkwardly on the seat and squealed, shooting back up as her burn blazed with pain.
‘You need to sit down, lass,’ said the skipper. ‘It’s rough out beyond the breakwater and you’ll be tossed like a cork.’
A bearded man in glasses and a sou’wester was watching her with an expression of mild curiosity. What the hell was she supposed to do? She squatted down, leaning heavily on the left side, her right buttock raised off the seat.
She turned and gazed out of the window, pulse beating in her temple, half expecting to see Stormont’s Land Rover’s storming towards her bristling with police. But there was nothing, just the slow movement of sheep grazing.
The seconds ticked by agonisingly. Finally, after an almost unbearable five minutes, the Harbour Master threw off the rope and the Captain motored them out through the harbour into the open sea. No other passengers had boarded. It was just her, the bearded man and the Captain. She kept sitting in her lopsided position, staring out through the glass. As she had feared, the sea was rough. She had four hours of this ahead. She burrowed down inside herself. She’d endured far worse. She fell back on her old mantra: this too will pass.
She placed both hands on either side of her in an attempt to brace herself but inevitably the pitch and toss threw her onto her right buttock. She winced with pain and a small groan escaped her lips. The bearded man was again looking at her. Clenching her gloved fists against the pain, she looked away, braced herself on her left side again.
The next thing she knew she was lying on the floor of the ferry. The bearded man was kneeling beside her his face close to hers.
‘You passed out,’ he said gently. ‘Do need to return to Scarabus? I can ask the Captain to take you back.’
Clarice pushed herself upon her forearms and shook her head violently. ‘No’, she said. I need to get back to the mainland.’
‘What’s wrong?’ asked the man. ‘You are obviously in a lot of pain. I’m a doctor. I can help you if you let me.’
Clarice pushed up into an upright kneeling position, keeping her bottom well above her heels. Through the haze of pain and dizziness, she studied the man. He looked kind. He had a doctorly air. The clincher was the old-fashioned doctor’s bag on the seat. That and the waves of burning pain now pumping through her body. If the burn got infected she’d be in a bad way. She found herself nodding.
‘I burned myself.’ She paused, looked away. ‘It’s a bit embarrassing.’
‘Your bottom,’ he asked. She turned back to him, nodded.
‘I’ve seen a few bottoms. I’ve seen a few burns. Make with it,’ he added with a wry smile. ‘I’m going forward to let Graeme know. He sees me bent over your bare bottom he might get the wrong idea.’
Clarice managed to laugh.
Grimacing, she pulled down pants, thermals and jeans, gasping with pain as scalded flesh tore away. Kneeling there, arms braced on the seat in front of her, she awaited the doctor’s return.
‘No wonder you didn’t want to sit down,’ he said when he reappeared a minute later. He opened his medical bag and pulled on a pair of thin rubber gloves. Clarice looked away. She didn’t want to see any more tools of the doctor’s trade. Whatever he did she knew it was going to be painful.
‘I’m Dr Martin, by the way,’ he said amidst the tearing of plastic and the swishing sound of a liquid. ‘Are you ready? First I’m going to give you an injection for the pain and another injection with antibiotics. Then I’m going to clean and dress your burn. It will be painful, I cannot pretend otherwise.’
‘Thanks,’ Clarice said without irony. She preferred doctors who told the truth rather than sugar the pill. Ten minutes later it was all done. The Doctor fetched a blanket from the captain, lay it on the floor of the ferry. ‘I’d have a lie down on your stomach. Get some sleep. I don’t know what you’ve been doing young lady, but you look exhausted.’
Clarice nodded. ‘I am. Thank you,’ she had to push the words out. Her jaw was still clenched with pain.
‘Now that it’s dealt with, I would like to know how the devil you did that,’ murmured the doctor as she lay down.
Clarice had been expecting this question, and had her answer ready. ‘I’m a runner,’ she said. ‘I run a lot. I take cold baths. The water on the island in the coldest I’ve ever run from the tap. I think I lay in it too long. I was numb, then when I got out I bent over, and my bottom touched the downward bar of the radiator. I just didn’t feel it till the damage was done.’
‘Yes, that would do it. The chill numbs the pain reflex. It’s a bad burn. You’ll be scarred most likely. Get some rest now.’
Clarice closed her eyes.
Four hours later, she and the doctor were standing on the dock at Kerracraig. She’d slept all the way and was woken only by the call of the seagulls as they neared port.
‘Get the dressing changed when you get home,’ said the Doctor, ‘wherever home is. You’re obviously a visitor to the island.’
Clarice nodded. ‘Bird spotter,’ she said. She pulled off her glove, shook the doctor’s hand. ‘Thank you so much, Dr Martin, for treating me, for not lying about the pain.’
He laughed. ‘You’re a good patient as patients go, Miss…’
‘Birdy. Birdy Stevens,’ said Clarice after a miniscule hesitation, choosing the first name that popped into her head.
The doctor gave her a strange look.
‘How much do I owe you?’ asked Clarice.
The Doctor shook his head. ‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘Best you be on your way.’ He nodded curtly then walked off.
Clarice could tell he knew she’d lied about her name. It was a shoddy way to treat him, but what choice did she have? She watched him walk away and only when he had disappeared from sight did she walk to her rental car, slip into the driver’s seat, and, wincing again, began the long drive back to London.
* * *
Back on the island, at Scarabus House, there was mayhem. Mr and Mrs Nelson Partinkle had woken late. With a scream, Mrs Partinkle realised that her rubies were not where she had left them. She and her husband had both been drinking the night before so the first thing they did was scour the room. Half an hour later when they had found no trace of the rubies, they dressed and hurried downstairs to find Archie Stormont.
‘You seen any rubies?’ asked Mr Partinkle. ‘Mrs Partinkle’s rubies seem to have disappeared. I desperately hope she took them off and left them down here somewhere.’
Archie Stormont was shaking his head. He’d hoped the thief had fled empty-handed. Now his worst fears were realised.
‘No’, he said. ‘I’m terribly sorry to tell you that I encountered an intruder last night. I have to conclude he or she took your rubies.’
There was hell to pay. There was mayhem. There were threats and shouts and curses and amidst all this, Archie Stormont rang the police station on the mainland.
Detective Sergeant Kirkness listened thoughtfully, sipping his milky coffee. ‘The intruder escaped, you say. You don’t know if it’s a man or woman.’
‘I’d hazard a guess it was a woman. Slight of build. It just doesn’t seem like anything a woman would do.’
There was a bark of laughter. ‘You’ve led a sheltered life if you don’t mind my saying, Mr Stormont. You’d be surprised what women can do. A description at all?’
‘Strange eyes. Cat’s eyes.’
‘What would be useful would be if you could get over here and start investigating.’
‘No one is getting onto or off the island in this weather.’ There was a pause. ‘I doubt the ferry ran this morning, but if it did it would have docked half an hour ago. I’ll go and talk to Graeme, see if he had anyone on board. As I said, no-one’s going anywhere so you’ll have your house guests a bit longer Mr Stormont. I’ll be across when the weather clears.’
Stormont spluttered into the phone. ‘That could be days!’
‘So it could. Sit tight.’
Detective Sgt Kirkness hurried through the squalling winds to the quayside where he found Graeme the ferry captain sluicing out his boat.
‘You sailed in this?’ he asked.
The Captain looked up. ‘I did. Stuck here now.’
The policeman nodded. ‘Passengers?’
The Captain wrung out his clean looking cloth and draped it over the side of his bucket. He gave the policeman a quizzical look. Detective Sgt Kirkness sighed. The fisherman was tight with everything and that included information. A trade needed to be done.
‘There was a theft at the big house. Ruby necklace. Worth four million dollars.’
The captain gasped. ‘Four million dollars! Who’d spend that on some stones?’ He asked, outraged.
‘That’s not exactly the point, is it?’ retorted the policeman. ‘The point is someone stole them and it’s my job to find out who. Now, did you have any passengers?’
‘Two.’ The captain paused a moment and scratched his long grey beard. This was his moment and he wasn’t to be rushed. ‘Dr Martin returning to his home after a weekend in his holiday cottage and a woman.’
‘And? What did she look like? What did she say?’
‘Welsh. Didn’t say much. Not much to look at. Scrawny, pinched looking thing. Wearing a black woolly hat and glasses. Bit shapeless.’
The policeman spluttered. ‘Everyone’s shapeless in this weather,’ he said, but he looked thoughtful. His suspect alarm was gently ringing. ‘Where’d she go?’
‘I don’t know, do I? She just shouldered her rucksack and lumbered off with the doctor.’
Rucksack didn’t sound like high end ruby thief but he’d best try and get some prints off the boat.
He groaned. ‘May I ask why you are sluicing down your boat?’
The captain pulled a strangely squeamish face. ‘The doctor did some sort of doctoring on her. In pain, she was. He asked me to give them some privacy. All I saw was a bit of a bloody cloth,’ he pulled a face. ‘I don’t like blood…’
Now the policeman pulled a face. Graeme was the only clean freak sailor he knew. ‘Just started cleaning?’ he asked hopefully.
The policeman shook his head. There’d be no prints. ‘She was wearing gloves was she?’ The captain gave him a scathing look. ‘Everyone wears gloves don’t they, weather like this,’ he answered, parroting the policeman’s earlier remark.
Dr Martin was a close observer of human nature, and when Detective Sgt Kirkness tracked him down three hours later, explaining the reason behind this visit, he nodded thoughtfully.
‘She might be the thief. She was certainly hiding something when I asked her name. She hesitated, just a fraction but I knew she was lying and what’s more she knew that I knew.’
‘So what can you tell me about her? So far I have cats’ eyes, shapeless build, not much to look at, and a rucksack carrying type.’
The doctor laughed. ‘Not at all shapeless. But then I did get a privileged view. I doubt she was looking at her best too.’ So he told the policeman about the woman, about the birdwatcher, Birdie Stevens, and about the burn that bisected her right buttock.
The policeman left. When he finally managed to take the ferry to Scarabus twenty four hours later, he reckoned he had the prime suspect, but first he and two colleagues interrogated Stormont and all his twenty eight guests, including the outraged Partinkles. They searched the house and all its guests. They interrogated everyone on the island, which consisted of thirty four other people, including the tenant farmer who had let his cottage out to a woman he’d never met, just spoken to on the telephone. He had assumed she was a middle-aged women. Her voice sounded middle-aged and she said she didn’t do electronic funds transfers or email for any such and that she would like to pay him for the rental in advance, in cash which she would mail to him.
No paper trail. No DNA in the cottage except that of the tenant farmer’s wife who had cleaned it before the rental woman arrived. The absence of the paper trail, the absence of any new DNA gave the police their chief suspect.
The police had already decided that Stormont was not the thief. Apart from the fact that his wife had been in bed with him and given him an alibi, he’d had known Stormont for many years and trusted the man. Not with his wife, it must be understood, but certainly with a set of rubies.
* * *
Stormont rubbed his face as he listened to the policeman’s summing up of his enquiries on the island. He hadn’t slept since the fateful night.
‘Seems all we have,’ Stormont said, ‘is a suspect we know nothing about apart from the fact that she is female, probably middle-aged and has cats’ eyes.’
The policeman shook his head. ‘I know a lot more than that. She’s not middle-aged. She’s probably in her twenties. She’s described as plain of face but shapely of bottom.’
Stormont exploded. ‘Shapely of bottom! What are you talking about man?’
‘A shapely bottom with a livid red burn down the right cheek,’ the policeman added.
Over the next six months, Archie Stormont developed an obsession with the shapely bottomed woman. She was, in every sense, the one that got away. The police failed to find her. They had no DNA, and as Detective Sgt Kirkness said, what could they do? Round up all women of a certain age and ask them to bare their bottoms?
Stormont was wracked by guilt, the theft had happened in his house, he had been responsible for the welfare of his guests and he had failed them. He’d had the thief in his hand, but she’d fought free.
Mr and Mrs Partinkle had departed in a rage, spluttering that Scarabus was worse than Manhattan and that they were never going to buy any bit of this Goddam swamp.
All because of the catburgler.
Stormont continued with his work. He was an insurance broker, specialising in art and jewellery. That was how he’d met Mr Partinkle in the first place. He had insured the fateful rubies. It was an interesting job that took him all over the world.
It had brought him now to Dubai. There was an ultra high-end jewellery auction taking place and he was on the hunt for new clients. The company he worked for had booked him into a five-star hotel and he was making the most of the luxury.
He was taking a swim in the pool. He swam a few lengths of front crawl, back and forth at a furious pace. The pool, at seven in the morning, was almost deserted, except for him and a serious swimmer with a plastic cap and thick goggles, who swam lap after lap of front crawl, doing racing turns at each end, never pausing for breath.
After twenty lengths he took a break at one end and saw that the other swimmer had stopped and was stretching long arms luxuriously above her head. As she stretched the curve of her breasts rose, the nipples standing up in the cold of the water. His interest peaked, Stormont watched her move through the water towards the side of the pool. As she stepped up the stairs, her close fitting swimsuit rode up between her legs to reveal most of her shapely buttocks.
Stormont gasped. On the right buttock there was a line that might have been drawn by a red lipstick.
Walking away from him at the other end of the pool was the Scar of Scarabus.
Linda Davies asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work