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Read an extract from 1989 by Val McDermid


Finally the weather turned. He only realised how tense his shoulders had been when he felt them relax. He’d had just a week’s holiday, and as the days flew past bringing more Atlantic gales, he’d thought he was going to have to abort his plan. But at last, on the fourth day, the wind dropped enough to make sailing a proposition. He slipped anchor from Tobermory Bay on a cold blue morning and motored out into the main channel heading north- west.

The wind was from the south- west, around a force four, he reckoned. It wasn’t perfect, but he set his sails to catch the wind to his best advantage and settled down for what he calculated would be around a four- hour sail out past Coll to Ranaig. And ‘sail’ was the operative word. He wanted to use the motor as little as possible so nobody would be able to estimate how far he’d travelled.

The boat he’d hired for the week in Tobermory was a bit of a tub but she didn’t take much getting used to and she was well suited to single- handed sailing. There was a muscular swell on the sea that would have made most people feel queasy. But he’d learned his sailing off the coast of North Wales, braving the Irish Sea in all weathers. Sailing solo on a small boat in fair weather held no terrors for him.

The wind whistled in the sails and the water hissed along the hull yet they were no distractions from his thoughts. He’d been working out how to kill Wallace Lockhart for months, evolving and discarding plans one after the other till his researches had eventually led him to this. It matched his existing skills, it embraced elements of poetic justice, and it had the added beauty of not requiring an alibi. A man would die, but the timing was impossible to predict. Whenever it happened, his avenging angel would be far away. The only downside was that, as he lay dying, he would not know which of his inhumanities he was dying for.

It was early afternoon when he lowered the sails and motored into the bay on the Atlantic coast of Ranaig. There was a small wooden jetty, exposed to the elements beyond the tidal barrage that provided power to the island, and he tied up his craft securely to the iron stanchions. He grabbed his tall rucksack and climbed ashore. He stood on dry land and took a long deep breath. The air smelled of salt and seaweed, and that was all. He was alone on the island; he knew the housekeeper and the bodyguard were only in residence when its owner was due. And he was giving evidence to a Parliamentary committee this week. When he wasn’t being questioned himself, he’d be watching his rivals closely.

There would be nobody standing between the intruder and his intended goal.

There was a faint track up from the bay which joined a tarmacked path that ran between the helipad and the house. It was easily wide enough for the golf buggy that sat under a carport at the back of the house, protected on three sides from the weather by log cabin timbers. He crossed the path and approached at an angle, the machair springy beneath his feet, treacherous pockets of wet peat ready to suck the boots off him.

From the shelter of the carport, he checked out the positions of the security cameras. The island’s lord and master clearly thought there was little risk on Ranaig. The cameras at the back of the house were fixed and they covered a wide arc including the path. But the corners weren’t within their scope.

Nevertheless, he took a balaclava from his pack and pulled it on. Gloves next. Then a folding aluminium ladder just long enough to put him in reach of the guttering. It was cast iron and firmly secured to the stonework and the fascia board with heavy bolts, designed to withstand the wild weather that would blow in from the ocean. Finally, a lumpy plastic bag whose handle he slipped over his wrist.

With little fuss, he unfolded the ladder and propped it against the wall. He took off his boots, scaled the ladder and pulled himself on to the roof, grunting at the effort. He crawled up the roof till he reached the first of the long dormer windows. He clenched his fist and drove it hard into the window. The glass crazed and he hit it again. This time it broke, the hole large enough for him to reach inside and unfasten the catch. The window swung abruptly open, carried by the wind, and he rolled over the sill and into a bedroom.

Stepping carefully over the broken glass, the man opened the carrier bag and emptied the dead seagull on to the carpet. He’d picked it up off the beach the day before. By the time Lockhart’s people arrived, the obvious conclusion would be that the gull had crashed into the window in a storm. It happened. Occasionally, it was true. But it happened.

This was obviously a guest bedroom. Well appointed, but impersonal. He emerged on the landing and tried the next door. Another guest bedroom. He crossed the landing and as soon as he opened the door, he knew this was the master suite. Vast picture windows looked out across the sea to a distant vista of small islands and big mountains. It would be a treat to wake up to this, he thought.

It wasn’t the bedroom he was interested in but the bathroom. The plan he’d finally settled on had been formed after reading an interview with the island’s owner in Condé Nast’s Traveller magazine. There was a sidebar on Travel Essentials – What I Never Leave Home Without. Among his target’s necessities were his vitamin capsules. ‘Individually tailored to his needs by a top Swiss naturopath.’ And a photograph of a scatter of dark green capsules, their overlap obvious even at that small scale. Two cylinders with open ends, one nesting tightly inside the end of the other.

The bathroom was roughly the size of the intruder’s living room. A bath that would comfortably contain a very large man and plenty of water; a separate double shower cubicle. A toilet, a bidet and a pair of sinks. Why one man needed two sinks was beyond him, but what did he know of a life of luxury like this? He opened the bathroom cabinet and there, among the toiletries and assorted medications – it pleased him inordinately to see three preparations for easing haemorrhoids – he found what he was looking for.

He unscrewed the jar and took out a capsule. They were dark green, he’d read, so they wouldn’t deteriorate in sunlight. From his pocket, he took out a small vial of white powder. With infinite care, he separated the two halves of the capsule and tipped the contents down the nearest sink. Then he replaced the vitamins with the white powder and reassembled the capsule. He compared it with a couple of others from the jar, and was satisfied. He closed the jar and put it back in exactly the same place. He ran the tap briefly to wash away any trace of the vitamins then retraced his steps.

Across the bedroom, across the hall, through the window. Closing the catch was more tricky but he managed it. Inching down the roof to the ladder, then feet in boots and back to the boat. Back aboard, he stripped off his gloves and balaclava. He’d drop them overboard somewhere on the way back, along with his folding ladder.

At last, he allowed himself to relax. He had a half- litre bottle of good Polish vodka in his rucksack and he poured himself a small measure. He raised a silent toast, threw it down in one and plotted his course back to Tobermory.

He didn’t know when the cyanide would catch up with its intended victim. But it was only a matter of time.

1989 by Val McDermid is out now in ebook and out in paperback on 2nd February 2023. Get your copy here.