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Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Vol. 102, No. 4 & 5. Whole No. 618 & 619, October 1993-Charles Ardai,William Bankier,George Chesbro,Ed Gorman,Reginald Hill,Edward Hoch,Paul Horgan,Janet Hutchings,M. James,Suzanne Jones,Donald Olson,Barbara Owens,Ian Rankin,James Ritchie,Betty Rowlands,Mauricio-Jose Schwarz,Bennie Sinclair,Stephen Wasylyk,Simon Winchester

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Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Vol. 102, No. 4 & 5. Whole No. 618 & 619, October 1993

      Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Vol. 102, No. 4 & 5. Whole No. 618 & 619, October 1993

      Castle Dangerous

      by Ian Rankin

      © 1993 by Ian Rankin

      Good news for fans of Ian Rankin’s Inspector John Rebus: the latest Rebus novel, Strip Jack, will soon be available in the U.S. from St. Martin’s Press. Here’s an outing for Rebus that the author says “takes a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at the relationship between American tourists and their British hosts...”

      Sir Walter Scott was dead.

      He’d been found at the top of his namesake’s monument in Princes Street Gardens, dead of a heart attack and with a new and powerful pair of binoculars hanging around his slender, mottled neck.

      Sir Walter had been one of Edinburgh’s most revered QCs until his retirement a year ago. Detective Inspector John Rebus, climbing the hundreds (surely it must be hundreds) of spiralling steps up to the top of the Scott Monument, paused for a moment to recall one or two of his run-ins with Sir Walter, both in and out of the courtrooms on the Royal Mile. He had been a formidable character, shrewd, devious, and subtle. Law to him had been a challenge rather than an obligation. To John Rebus, it was just a day’s work.

      Rebus ached as he reached the last incline. The steps here were narrower than ever, the spiral tighter. Room for one person only, really. At the height of its summer popularity, with a throng of tourists squeezing through it like toothpaste from a tube, Rebus reckoned the Scott Monument might be very scary indeed.

      He breathed hard and loud bursting through the small doorway at the top, and stood there for a moment, catching his breath. The panorama before him was, quite simply, the best view in Edinburgh. The castle close behind him, the New Town spread out in front of him, sloping down towards the Firth of Forth, with Fife, Rebus’s birthplace, visible in the distance. Calton Hill... Leith... Arthur’s Seat... and round to the castle again. It was breathtaking, or would have been had the breath not already been taken from him by the climb.

      The parapet upon which he stood was incredibly narrow; again, there was hardly room enough to squeeze past someone. How crowded did it get in the summer? Dangerously crowded? It seemed dangerously crowded just now, with only four people up here. He looked over the edge upon the sheer drop to the gardens below, where a massing of tourists, growing restless at being barred from the monument, stared up at him. Rebus shivered.

      Not that it was cold. It was early June. Spring was finally late-blooming into summer, but that cold wind never left the city, that wind which never seemed to be warmed by the sun. It bit into Rebus now, reminding him that he lived in a northern climate. He looked down and saw Sir Walter’s slumped body, reminding him why he was here.

      “I thought we were going to have another corpse on our hands there for a minute.” The speaker was Detective Sergeant Brian Holmes. He had been in conversation with the police doctor, who himself was crouching over the corpse.

      “Just getting my breath back,” Rebus explained.

      “You should take up squash.”

      “It’s squashed enough up here.” The wind was nipping Rebus’s ears. He began to wish he hadn’t had that haircut at the weekend. “What have we got?”

      “Heart attack. The doctor reckons he was due for one anyway. A climb like that in an excited state. One of the witnesses says he just doubled over. Didn’t cry out, didn’t seem in pain...”

      “Old mortality, eh?” Rebus looked wistfully at the corpse. “But why do you say he was excited?”

      Holmes grinned. “Think I’d bring you up here for the good of your health? Here.” He handed a polythene bag to Rebus. Inside the bag was a badly typed note. “It was found in the binocular case.”

      Rebus read the note through its clear polythene window: GO TO TOP OF SCOTT MONUMENT. TUESDAY MIDDAY. I’LL BE THERE. LOOK FOR THE GUN.

      “The gun?” Rebus asked, frowning.

      There was a sudden explosion. Rebus started, but Holmes just looked at his watch, then corrected its hands. One o’clock. The noise had come from the blank charge fired every day from the castle walls at precisely one o’clock.

      “The gun,” Rebus repeated, except now it was a statement. Sir Walter’s binoculars were lying beside him. Rebus lifted them — “He wouldn’t mind, would he?” — and fixed them on the castle. Tourists could be seen walking around. Some peered over the walls. A few fixed their own binoculars on Rebus. One, an elderly Asian, grinned and waved. Rebus lowered the binoculars. He examined them. “These look brand new.”

      “Bought for the purpose, I’d say, sir.”

      “But what exactly was the purpose, Brian? What was he supposed to be looking at?” Rebus waited for an answer. None was forthcoming. “Whatever it was,” Rebus went on, “it as good as killed him. I suggest we take a look for oursfelves.”

      “Where, sir?”

      Rebus nodded towards the castle. “Over there, Brian. Come on.”

      “Er, Inspector...?” Rebus looked towards the doctor, who was upright now, but pointing downwards with one finger. “How are we going to get him down?”

      Rebus stared at Sir Walter. Yes, he could see the problem. It would be hard graft taking him all the way back down the spiral stairs. What’s more, damage to the body would be unavoidable. He supposed they could always use a winch and lower him straight to the ground... Well, it was a job for ambulancemen or undertakers, not the police. Rebus patted the doctor’s shoulder.

      “You’re in charge, Doc,” he said, exiting through the door before the doctor could summon up a protest. Holmes shrugged apologetically, smiled, and followed Rebus into the dark. The doctor looked at the body, then over the edge, then back to the body again. He reached into his pocket for a mint, popped it into his mouth, and began to crunch on it. Then he, too, made for the door.

      Splendour was falling on the castle walls. Wrong poet, Rebus mused, but right image. He tried to recall if he’d ever read any Scott, but drew a blank. He thought he might have picked up Waverley once. As a colleague at the time had said, “Imagine calling a book after the station.” Rebus hadn’t bothered to explain; and hadn’t read the book either, or if he had it had left no impression...

      He stood now on the ramparts, looking across to the Gothic exaggeration of the Scott Monument. A cannon was almost immediately behind him. Anyone wanting to be seen from the top of the monument would probably have been standing right on this spot. People did not linger here though. They might wander along the walls, take a few photographs, or pose for a few, but they would not stand in the one spot for longer than a minute or two.

      Which meant, of course, that if someone had been standing here longer, they would be conspicuous. The problem was twofold: first, conspicuous to whom? Everyone else would be in motion, would not notice that someone was lingering. Second, all the potential witnesses would by now have gone their separate ways, in tour buses or on foot, down the Royal Mile or onto Princes Street, along George the Fourth Bridge to look at Greyfriars Bobby... The people milling around just now represented a fresh intake, new water flowing down the same old stream.

      Someone wanted to be seen by Sir Walter, and Sir Walter wanted to see him — hence the binoculars. No conversation was needed, just the sighting. Why? Rebus couldn’t think of a single reason. He turned away from the wall and saw Holmes approaching. Meeting his eyes, Holmes shrugged his shoulders.

      “I’ve talked to the guards on the gate. They don’t remember seeing anyone suspicious. As one of them said, ‘All these bloody tourists look the same to me.’ ”

      Rebus smiled at this, but then someone was tugging at his sleeve, a small handbagged woman with sunglasses and thick lipstick.

      “Sorry, could

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