By My Side - Six

‘Amy!’


Amy looked up as Moria made her way through the crowd at the Belle. It was miserable outside but cosy in the wee pub, and Amy was glad she’d managed to bag a table at the back. She stood up to greet her former boss and old friend and was immediately gathered into a bone-crunching bear hug.


‘Good tae see you doll!’ Moria bellowed, holding Amy at arm’s length so she could look her up and down. ‘See you and your books, it’s pure amazing, loads of people are reading them, will you be going on that Big Scottish Book Club thingmy? Everyone that comes in the cafe, I tell them about how you worked for me and you were shite with the sandwiches but I knew you were destined for big things.’


‘I wasn’t that bad at making sandwiches.’


‘Aye you were, but no wonder when you were on the case of a real-life serial killer! Tae think I made him coffee every day for years. I’d have put arsenic in it if I’d known. Honest to God, I would have.


‘It’s like something out of a film —‘ Moria barrelled on before Amy could respond. ‘They should make a film out of it, so they should. Have you asked anybody about that?’


‘Well, my publishers —‘


‘There’s a wee guy comes in for his breakfast on a Saturday while his daughter is at ballet. He works on River City. I’ll ask him who to speak to.’


Moria finally paused to draw breath, and Amy tried hard not to notice that everyone at the surrounding tables was staring at them. Moria would never know just how much her unfailingly cheerful company got Amy through those early, nightmarish months when her husband was newly on death row in Texas, and Amy had just discovered that his childhood friends and partners-in-murder were still at large. Amy had tracked Alec McAvoy to Moira’s cafe on Dumbarton Road. He would have a quiet coffee there, at the crack of dawn each morning, before walking to his Blythswood Square office.


Now, Stuart and Liam were dead. Alec had languished in the prison hospital for years, awaiting the day he would finally be considered fit to stand trial. The trial had been scheduled for last winter, then abruptly cancelled, and all had been quiet for months. For a long time, Amy had thought she wouldn’t find peace until Alec was declared guilty and locked away for good. As time went on, though, she came to realise that she was at peace.


There hadn’t been a single trigger or lightbulb moment. She just woke up one day and noticed that she was at peace and had been for a long time. Alec would be found guilty in due course, but in the meantime, Amy wouldn’t waste another instant of her life consumed by her former husband and his evil pals.


That didn’t mean she would let the matter rest, she thought grimly. But she was no longer putting her life on hold. A tiny little flutter of happiness washed over her as she remembered the night before.


‘You’ve got a man!’ Moria crowed in delight.


‘Away, Moira. And gonnae keep your voice down?’


‘She’s got a man,’ Moira announced to Kevin, who had just returned bearing two pints and an armful of crisps.


‘Does she?’ he asked, tearing open a packet of salt and vinegar and laying it in the middle of the table. Amy inspected his haul and went for the fancy sweet chilli ones.


‘No, she doesn’t,’ she said firmly, which was true. It was much too soon for her to call Nick anything like her man. Two dates were nothing. Well, two and a half if you counted yesterday when they ran into each other on Byres Road and stood blethering for the best part of an hour, barely noticing when the drizzle started.


‘Well, if I’m no’ gettin’ the gory details, I’ll leave you to it,’ Moira huffed cheerfully. ‘Come in for a cuppa soon, okay doll?’


Amy agreed, and with another warmly smothering hug, Moira rejoined her friends.


‘Have you actually got a man?’ Kevin asked, taking a healthy gulp of his pint.


‘I‘ll tell you when there’s anything to tell.’


‘Have it your way. Listen, I wanted to get your take on something.’ Kevin frowned, and Amy recognised that troubled look all too well.


‘Something to do with Alec?’ she asked quickly.


He shook his head. ‘No. I heard a rumour his health took a turn, and also that there was an issue with some new evidence, but I’ve not heard anything in a while. This is something else. Do you remember those two victims found in ponds a year or two back in park ponds?’


Amy nodded. ‘Rings a bell. One in Victoria Park, one in Kelvingrove, right? Were they ever confirmed to be connected?’


‘Never conclusively. The first victim, Maggie McGlinty was strangled, and the second, Rosie Morgan, died from a blow to the head,’ Kevin said. ‘The fact that both were found in ponds could have been a coincidence or a copycat. Maggie was a personal trainer and one of those social media influencer people, so her death attracted a bit of media interest. Second killer could have read about it.’


‘Has something happened?’


‘A victim was found in a pond this morning. Alexandra Park. She hasn’t been identified yet. No ID on her, and nobody matching her description has been reported missing. We’re waiting on DNA coming back.’


‘A year and a half is a long resting period for a serial killer.’


‘We once thought Alec McAvoy rested for five years.’


‘Turned out he wasn’t resting, though.’


Kevin contemplated his pint, his shoulders slumped. ‘I always felt we had missed something about those first two cases. I don’t know what, just a nagging feeling, you know? Like when you walk into a room, and the reason you’re there dances just out of reach. I've just got this feeling we let Rosie and Maggie down.'


‘It's fairly typical to feel that way about any unsolved case,' Amy said gently. 'It’s not unknown for dedicated detectives to feel responsible for missing something when there was nothing to miss.’


‘Ach, I’m not that dedicated,’ Kevin shrugged with a rueful smile.


‘I know I felt that way for a long time about Stuart. I wasted years of my life wracking my brain for the signs I should have picked upon. Tortured myself with the idea that if I’d just asked him the right question about one of his trips, he would have confessed, and some of his victims could have been saved.


‘Once, he was away on his birthday, and I toyed with the idea of flying out to surprise him. I didn’t, in the end, and during the trial, it came out that he and Alec murdered someone that night. He told her he was alone on his birthday, and she bought him a drink because she felt sorry for him. I used to fantasise that I had gone through with my surprise plan. That I had caught them before they hurt her, helped her escape, called the police.


‘But in the end, you have to accept that you couldn't have done differently with the information you had at the time. Sometimes there’s nothing you could have done, full stop.’


‘Aye, maybe,’ Kevin said slowly.


‘See what this investigation turns up,’ Amy said. ‘Keep an open mind, and maybe a connection will reveal itself.’

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