Authors: Millie Gray
This book is dedicated to my sister Mary Gillon, who has been such an important person in my life.
Special thanks to Iain Grant in Australia for sharing all his colonial police stories with me, and to the team at my publishers Black & White and, in particular, Karyn Millar for her painstaking editing and John Richardson for his ever-willing assistance.
The highly polished storm door of the guest house in Seaview Terrace opened and Sally stepped out. As her eyes scanned the horizon she deeply breathed in the salt-sprayed fresh air.
Since she had arrived here three years ago, at the start of the 1970s, she had never tired of this panorama. Today the sun was rising on an ebb tide and the small ripples on the blue sea danced like diamonds in its rays. Inhaling again, she was delighted that she could see the ships lying at anchor in the Forth Estuary and also straight across to the green hills of Fife. She shrugged before admitting there were also days when because of the dreich Scottish weather you couldn’t even see over to the bus stop on the other side of the street, never mind over to the Fair Kingdom.
, she smiled as she thought,
it isn’t like that today.
Maggie, who had surreptitiously come to stand behind her, broke into her thoughts by saying, ‘You’re getting a lovely day for your trip.’
Sally half turned. Maggie, traitor Maggie, whom, against her better judgement, she’d hired as a cleaner three years ago for her recently acquired bed and breakfast, was in a jubilant mood. ‘Aye,’ was all Sally murmured in reply because she was thinking back. Thinking back to five years ago when feckless Maggie had tried to commit suicide. This desperate act had come about because Sally’s cheating ex-husband Harry had dumped poor Maggie for a younger model. And if that hadn’t been enough to caw the feet from her, had she not then found herself sectioned and imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital? Too soon Maggie realised that getting herself committed into the asylum was difficult but much easier than getting herself out. After weeks of begging and imploring to be set free she was eventually released but her troubles were far from over. Yes, not only did she require to be dealing with the ignominy of her earlier betrayal of Sally and her later attempted suicide, but she had also to accept how difficult it was to secure employment when employers, biased against any type of mental illness, were convinced you were some sort of lunatic. All this resulted in her begging Sally, the only true friend she had ever had, to take her on in one of the two public houses Sally had the tenancy for. Sally at first resisted Maggie’s pleas to hire her but then she thought,
would it not be poetic justice for me to hire Maggie as the scrubber in my newly acquired guest house? Bonus of that would be that I could then swan about in my finery whilst passing the time of day with the guests!
Maggie was unaware that Sally was thinking back to the time when she had stolen her husband, good-for-nothing Harry, from her. This act of treachery had left Sally financially crippled which meant she had to find a full-time job to keep herself and her three bairns. However, if Sally was being truthful, which she didn’t like to be whilst dealing with Maggie, Harry deserting her and the children had been the best thing to happen to Sally in her troubled life. Some ten years on she was now financially secure, an acknowledged Leith businesswoman who had helped to clean up the Jungle pubs. She was also a valued member of the Licensed Trade Association Committee and the owner of both this guest house, to which the Scottish Tourist Board had awarded a ‘Highly Commended’, a luxury holiday flat in Menorca and the brand-new car sitting at her door.
Her meanderings, however, were halted when Maggie, who was not as submissive as she had been when Sally had given in and hired her, pointedly said, ‘I know the car is brand new so it shouldn’t break down – but with you only passing your driving test last week, do you not think it’s being
a wee bit irresponsible
to be driving all the way to Peterhead and back so soon? And know something else, Sally, I’d really miss you if you got yourself killed.’
The catty backchat from Maggie put Sally’s back up. She had to restrain herself from sending her packing there and then. Fortunately one of Sally’s assets was common sense and when it came to her rescue yet again she reluctantly conceded that she had now become dependent on Maggie to run the bed and breakfast. This allowed her the freedom to attend to all the problems that arose in the pubs and within her family. This was all true but she also acknowledged that every day Maggie was growing stronger in her self-confidence to the point where she was now questioning Sally’s judgements and in a way that became more recalcitrant as time went by.
Sally knew she should shove Maggie right back into her shell where she belonged, and she was more than capable of doing that, but not today. Today she had to get to Peterhead Prison. Her brother Luke was coming back home on leave from the Hong Kong Police Service. A letter from him had arrived three weeks ago and in it he had begged her to go and visit Joe Kelly, or Irish, as Luke had nicknamed him. Sally knew Irish was the lad Luke had befriended when he was a raw recruit police constable on the Shore beat in Leith. Poor Irish was now doing a life term in Peterhead Prison for the murder of his prostitute wife. From the start Luke had truly believed Irish was innocent and now he was asking Sally to visit him and get him to talk about what he knew about the murder of his wife, Marie.
Luke always had the wanderlust. He literally wanted to see the world. However, he had come home to Leith from Australia because there were family matters he was convinced he had to get retribution for. Now, after accepting how wrong he was, the desire for revenge from Sally was laid to rest. Recently, however, he had become restless. Promotion took years and years to achieve in Edinburgh and another factor for his discontent was the fact that annual leave in Edinburgh City Police was predetermined and dictated by your collar number so that last year Luke had been awarded his summer holidays at the end of October when winter had decided to put in a ferocious early appearance.
Sally did all she could to persuade Luke not to recklessly throw away his career; nonetheless she did concede that one of the older guys, who had served thirty years as a cop and twenty of them on the Easter Road beat, could be a good enough reason for Luke to move on. Allowing herself a tongue-in-cheek chuckle she remembered Luke’s exact words about Jack Green. ‘Jesus, Sally,’ he had expounded with blown-out cheeks, ‘just imagine it – if I don’t move on I could end up like old Jack with the only wonders of the world I’d ever seen being the colourful life on the Leith Shore beat and what ends up in Johansson’s Junk Yard.’
‘So you think Jock has wasted his life?’ Sally had replied.
‘No. No. That was fine for him. He’s content with a full police pension and his memories of Easter Road and the Hibs football games he’s seen for nought – but I want more. And I’ve worked it out that the best way to get seeing the world on the cheap is to use my police experience, and the fact that I have now come first in the Scottish promotional exams gives me a shout. Okay not a loud one but at least I should get a hearing.’
Sally smiled. Her hunched shoulders dropped.
Common sense has dawned at last on my brother,
The following Sunday Luke was scanning through the
newspaper when he saw an advert from the Colonial Police Service requesting applications for trainee police inspectors on a three-year contract and all you required to rise to that rank were good passes in the police promotional exams! Passing the newspaper to Sally he said with a wink, ‘That’s for me. But what do you think?’
‘Hmmm,’ she mused before adding, ‘Good passes – well – do you think coming first in the Scottish Police exams will equate to anything in England?’
‘Dinnae be daft,’ he sneered, pulling the paper back from her. ‘When they see I’m frae Scotland they’ll be begging me to join them. Everybody kens Scottish brains make English ones look like they’re made o’ mince.’ He chuckled as he noted the other conditions of employment were that the successful applicants would be paid 25 per cent of their total salary as a gratuity at the end of the tour and four and a half months’ paid leave. Laying the paper down he said to Sally, ‘See they conditions, Sally, they’re the clincher. I mean I would be earning one thousand five hundred a year – a year mark you. And I could be paid off with as much as a two thousand pounds gratuity that I’d stick right in my back pocket.’ He breathed in deeply before adding, ‘Know something, the likes of Elizabeth Taylor would fall at my feet for that kind of dough.’
Sally shook her head. She knew there was no point in arguing with him now he had divorced reality.
Luke wasn’t surprised, but Sally was, when he was invited to London for an interview. Trying to create the right impression he had a shower in the King’s Cross railway station lavatory when he alighted from the overnight Edinburgh to London sleeper.
Once he had brushed down his suit for the fourth time, adopting an air of nonchalance, but actually quaking inside, he headed for the Consulate. All the Colonial Police forces were supervised and run from London and the decision as to whether Luke would be accepted for any of the forces would be made there.
When he entered the grand and lavish building he became a bit downcast to see that there were numerous candidates. Taking a seat, Luke patted his chest to reassure himself he still had the written references from his Sergeant and, more importantly, his Chief Superintendent. Glancing despondently at the throng of hopefuls again he sighed.
, he thought,
if I don’t measure up here there is still last week’s offer of a two-year secondment from Edinburgh City Police to America’s Los Angeles Police Department lying on the table.
He had also been promised that if he took the assignment, on his return he would be made up to Detective Sergeant.
After what seemed like ages to Luke, but was only an hour, he was called forward for what he thought was a very cursory interview. The questions he was asked also amazed him, especially the one as to whether or not he thought he could shoot someone. Luke was past caring by now so he answered, ‘That’s a rather hypothetical question but I imagine if it was him or me to take a bullet, I could.’
He was then sent on to Harley Street for a medical which was even more superficial than the interview – Luke was sure that the doctor, a right Billy Bunter look-a-like whose loud bright-red braces matched his face, only counted his limbs and fingers before announcing he was medically fit.
Leaving Harley Street Luke felt his visit to London had all been a waste of time. Shrugging his shoulders he accepted that there was nothing else for it now but to head straight back to Auld Reekie on the overnight train.
Striding out for the station he philosophically thought,
I might have not managed to get myself recruited for Hong Kong or Bermuda but there is one plus in the whole sorry affair. Oh aye, with me having been dragged up in Leith, when I was given sufficient finance to be able to stay two nights in an upmarket hotel in London I just booked the overnight train backwards and forward – so I’m thirty pounds in pocket!
A few days later it was now his turn to be surprised when a letter arrived to say he had been appointed to the Hong Kong Police.
, he thought,
and won’t this appointment broaden my horizons!
He scanned the letter again, his shoulders slumped and a look of utter terror crossed his face. ‘What is it?’ Sally almost screeched.