A Measure of Trouble
The paperwork would have to wait. Detective Chief Inspector Alex Warren had honoured his good intentions and arrived early to clear out his trays but it was all for nothing. He'd barely started the task before his plan was interrupted. He replaced the receiver on the rest and sighed audibly.
He needed to think clearly but he couldn't get the old joke out of his mind, `Man dies in a distillery, his body was a mess, but you should have seen the smile on his face.' This was no time for jokes though. Within the last few minutes, a man had been found lying face down on the floor of the cask room at the Benlochy Distillery. There was collapsed shelving and upset casks lying around him together with broken glass spread over the general area. The description was unusually clear for a reported incident, but the reason was obvious as it came from the security man and he was a retired policeman. Now Alex needed to get himself and his team thirty miles up the road post haste and, ideally, before the blood had time to dry.
Alex opened the door of his private office and peered across the dimly lit expanse of the open-plan area. Although his view was partly impeded by the baffle screens, he was aware of Detective Constable Donnie McAvoy at the far side of the room and he was the only officer at his desk. Donnie was coming towards the end of his nightshift and his space was the only one with its overhead light switched on; the rest of the office was in darkness. Alex instructed Donnie to alert the `scene of crime' team and to phone round each of the day shift officers to call them in early or to send them straight to the distillery. He considered asking Donnie to work on but then thought better of it. Donnie was only a few months off retirement and he was an old-school type of cop. Alex wasn't confident how safe it would be to leave Donnie alone with one bottle, let alone set him loose in a whisky manufacturing plant. Instead, he would have the support of Sergeant Sanjay Guptar and Constable Philip Morrison. Being Moslem, Sanjay was teetotal, and whilst Phil didn't come close to a life of abstinence, he was dependable. Alex would have preferred to have his other Sergeant, Sandra Mackinnon, but he knew that would be impossible as it was her day off and she already had a full day's activity scheduled flat-hunting. Alex was acutely aware of Sandra's plans as they'd spent most of the previous evening talking about them.
It had been just a few weeks now, but Alex and Sandra were becoming an item. They were still keen to keep their blossoming relationship a secret, but it was increasingly difficult. Both were ambitious and loved their jobs and they knew it was impractical and contrary to policy for them to be a couple working in the same team.
Alex donned his scarf and gloves and pulled his Crombie-style wool coat tightly round him before exiting the building and braving the cold spring morning. The sky was already bright and blue with only a light scattering of clouds, but the icy breeze took his breath away.
Alex walked briskly round the corner to where he'd left his Santa Fe. He removed his coat but kept on the scarf and gloves waiting until the car warmed up. He first turned the ignition then boosted the temperature on the climate control and flicked on the switch for his heated seat.
Within a couple of minutes, he reached the motorway on-ramp at Charing Cross and already he felt warm and comfortable, his legs and back starting to tingle from the infused heat. Accelerating onto the M8, he turned the thermostat down.
Although familiar with the area and knowing its location, Alex had never been to the distillery before. Still early morning, most traffic was heading towards the city. Vehicle flow was unimpeded coming out of town, and Alex made steady progress first along the M8 motorway then cutting off along the A80 dual carriageway towards Stirling. His speed had to be curtailed on the narrower country roads. Besides being smaller in size, the surfaces were uneven and he had to manoeuvre around the frequent potholes. Alex had his windscreen wipers on intermittent to clear away the smurry spray thrown up by other vehicles, a result of the remains of the previous night's downpour which hadn't already seeped or drained into the adjacent fields. Even so, he arrived less than forty minutes after receiving the phone call.
Seeing the buildings in the distance, Alex pulled off the road and snaked his way along the winding avenue, lined with Scots pine trees, and through the tall wrought iron gates. He held up his warrant card as he drove past the security booth then followed the signs for the visitors' parking area, sliding into a space alongside a squad car. He alighted from his vehicle and strode across the cobbled courtyard towards the office reception, his lengthy gait covering the distance in seconds.
After scanning his identification, a young lady escorted him back out of the building and across a walkway. In front was a large plain wall about sixty feet in length and twenty feet tall, roughcast and freshly painted stark white. On top, a red tiled roof sloped upwards. Towards the rear was a substantial timber entranceway large enough for a commercial vehicle to enter but sunk within the large door was a standard-sized door for pedestrian traffic. Constable Winters was true to his name; his skin had a blue tinge from the cold and he was standing, shivering in the doorway where he'd been stationed to ensure the area was kept secure.
“Glad to see you, Sir. I've had a hell of a job trying to keep everyone out.” Winters pushed the door open to give Alex access and followed him through. Inside was a large hallway lined with racks, each neatly labelled and holding large barrels spread at regular intervals. The lighting was dim but Alex could clearly see a broken rack about halfway down the room with several barrels lying askew on the ground. A prostrate body was set in their midst, otherwise the room was empty.
“They all wanted to come and see what's happened and some of the bosses are used to having their own way. I've been manning this door and Bert Ferguson, my partner's trying to keep everyone else together in the board room. Sandy Johnston's been a good help. He's head of security and he found the body. He was a sergeant in Central constabulary until he retired about eight years ago.”
“What did you find when you arrived?” Alex enquired.
“Bert and I arrived at the same time as the ambulance. We were shown to this room and the body was lying there just as it is now.”