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Knots and Crosses (Detective John Rebus Novels)by Ian Rankin
On the steps of the Great London Road police station in Edinburgh, John Rebus lit his last legitimate cigarette of the day before pushing open the imposing door and stepping inside.
The station was old, its floor dark and marbled. It had about it the fading grandeur of a dead aristocracy. It had character.
Rebus waved to the duty sergeant, who was tearing old pictures from the notice-board and pinning up new ones in their place. He climbed the great curving staircase to his office. Campbell was just leaving.
McGregor Campbell, a Detective Sergeant like Rebus, was donning coat and hat.
'What's the word, Mac? Is it going to be a busy night?' Rebus began checking the messages on his desk.
'I don't know about that, John, but I can tell you that it's been pandemonium in here today. There's a letter there for you from the man himself.'
'Oh yes?' Rebus seemed preoccupied with another letter which he had just opened.
'Yes, John. Brace yourself. I think you're going to be transferred to that abduction case. Good luck to you. Well, I'm off to the pub. I want to catch the boxing on the BBC. I should be in time.' Campbell checked his watch. 'Yes, plenty of time. Is anything wrong, John?'
Rebus waved the now empty envelope at him.
'Who brought this in, Mac?'
'I haven't the faintest, John. What is it?'
'Another crank letter.'
'Oh yes?' Campbell sidled over to Rebus' shoulder. He examined the typed note. 'Looks like the same block, doesn't it?'
'Clever of you to notice that, Mac seeing as it's the exact same message.'
'What about the string?'
'Oh, it's here too.' Rebus lifted a small piece of string from his desk. There was a simple knot tied in its middle.
'Queer bloody business.' Campbell walked to the doorway. 'See you tomorrow, John.'
'Yes, yes, see you Mac.' Rebus paused until his friend had made his exit. 'Oh, Mac!' Campbell came back into the doorway.
'Maxwell won the big fight,' said Rebus, smiling.
'God, you're a bastard, Rebus.' Gritting his teeth, Campbell stalked out of the station.
'One of the old school,' Rebus said to himself. 'Now, what possible enemies could I have?''
He studied the letter again, then checked the envelope. It was blank, save for his own name, unevenly typed. The note had been handed in, just like the other one. It was a queer bloody business right enough.
He walked back downstairs and headed for the desk.
'Have you seen this?' He showed the envelope to the desk sergeant.
'That?' The sergeant wrinkled not only his brow but, it seemed to Rebus, his whole face. Only forty years in the force could do that to a man, forty years of questions and puzzles and crosses to bear. 'It must have been put through the door, John. I found it myself on the floor just there.' He pointed vaguely in the direction of the station's front door. 'Is anything up?'
'Oh no, it's nothing really. Thanks, Jimmy.'
But Rebus knew that he would be niggled all night by the arrival of this note, only days after he had received the first anonymous message. He studied the two letters at his desk. The work of an old typewriter, probably portable. The letter S about a millimetre higher than any of the other letters. The paper cheap, no water-mark. The piece of string, tied in the middle, cut with a sharp knife or scissors. The message. The same typewritten message:
THERE ARE CLUES EVERYWHERE.
Fair enough; perhaps there were. It was the work of a crank, a kind of practical joke. But why him? It made no sense. Then the phone rang.
'Detective Sergeant Rebus?'
'Rebus, it's Chief Inspector Anderson here. Have you received my note?'
Anderson. Bloody Anderson. That was all he needed. From one crank to another.
'Yes, sir,' said Rebus, holding the receiver under his chin and tearing open the letter on his desk.
'Good. Can you be here in twenty minutes? The briefing will be in the Waverley Incident Room.'
'I'll be there, sir.'
The phone went dead on Rebus as he read. It was true then, it was official. He was being transferred to the abduction case. God, what a life. He pushed the messages, envelopes and string into his jacket pocket, looking around the office in frustration. Who was kidding who? It would take an act of God to get him to Waverley Road inside of half an hour. And when was he supposed to get round to finishing all his work? He had three cases coming to court and another dozen or so faded entirely. That would be nice, actually, nice to just erase the lot of them. Wipe-out. He closed his eyes. He opened them again. The paperwork was still there, large as life. Useless. Always incomplete. No sooner had he finished with a case than another two or three appeared in its place. What was the name of the creature? The Hydra, was it? That was what he was fighting. Every time he cut off a head, more popped into his in-tray. Coming back from a holiday was a nightmare.
And now they were giving him rocks to push up hill as well.
He looked to the ceiling.
'With God's grace,' he whispered. Then he headed out to his car.
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