Published by Black & White Publishing
Ayrshire tolerated pretentious self-aggrandising in much the same way as a pack of dogs tolerated the suggestion that butcher meat was for sharing. A remark extolling the lavish extent of a mortgage or a proclamation of an exalted family lineage was likely to be greeted with the same disdain as a public proclivity for coprophilia. There were some things best left unsaid in certain company.
There were those who traded Range Rover purchases like football stickers, they carried a great wad of swaps to taunt the rest of the playground with their purchase power, but to the vast majority they were seen for what they were: shallow puddles of vapidity and deeply deserving of censure.
There was always more kudos attached to behind-the-fan remarks about a fur coat and nae knickers or – a favourite the detective reserved for parvenus – ‘I kent him when he had holes in his gutties’.
You didn’t talk yourself up in the town of Ayr, or its surrounds, without ending up being talked about. There was no real benefit to getting ahead, getting away from the pack, because the pack always followed wherever you went. There was no escaping yourself, no pretending, because if you inflated the balloon of pomposity you could be guaranteed that a prick was waiting nearby to burst it.
So people played themselves down; all but the most guileless and moronic made a virtue out of self-deprecation.
Sons who got to university were lucky; well-earned promotion was to a job you wouldn’t be thanked for; and a hard-won foreign holiday was for the wife or the weans, because it just wouldn’t be the done thing to be seen basking in your own success.
As Valentine stood with the car keys poised before the door, he watched the builders unloading the sand and bricks into his neighbour’s drive. Something told him his wife had known about this already but hadn’t mentioned it for the obvious reason that she wanted to wait until the work began.
With the builders on site, her remarks would carry more clout, because a constant visual and aural reminder just wasn’t enough. The fact that his own home had become more cramped now – the girls sharing a room to accommodate his father – would make Clare’s onslaught seem even worthy. It wasn’t an option for them, though: he couldn’t afford it on a public servant’s wage – it was as simple as that.
‘Hello, Bob,’ his neighbour Brian called out as he navigated the building materials that sat between his lawn and his car.
Valentine nodded. ‘Looks like a bit of work for you.’
Brian reached the wall and flagged a desultory hand towards the goings. ‘Aye, we’re opening up the space above the garage to give us a wee bit more room.’
It was a double garage, and judging by the hordes of materials the building work would be extensive, but at least Brian had the good grace to look almost embarrassed about his conspicuous consumption. Valentine knew Brian’s wife would not be so modest, and it would be from her that Clare garnered all the details she would be firing in her salvos of envy later.
‘It’ll be nice to have more room.’ He found himself glancing desolately towards his own front door, as he spoke his words trailed off into a forlorn organ peal. ‘We could do with more space…’
As if sensing his neighbour’s discomfiture, Brian changed the subject as abruptly as a hand-brake turn. ‘You were a bit of a celebrity down at the Chestnuts last night; they had you on the late news again.’
The change of tone from glum resignation to chipper pontification seemed out of character for Brian until Valentine caught sight of the jocular wink on the end.
Brian went on: ‘Yeah, it was some kind of case round-up.’ He fanned his fingertips either side of his mouth for emphasis. ‘A special investigation, no less!’
Valentine didn’t know whether or not to be glad that he had missed the programme, sometimes it was better not knowing, but then it was also good to be forearmed when dealing with CS Marion Martin.
‘I must have missed it.’
The neighbour leaned forward, balancing a hand on the wall. ‘This second victim, he seemed a piece of work.’
The detective directed the key towards the door of the car and opened up. ‘I can’t talk about it, Brian.’ As he uttered the words he wished they were retractable; his neighbour wasn’t officious, just curious, just making conversation.
Valentine caught Brian’s expression change: his face lost its animated, interested look and became glum, and he glanced towards the builders reversing into his driveway. It was as if he was inferring with his eyes that the sharpness of Valentine’s tone was to do with the extension more than anything.
‘Look, I don’t mean to sound short with you, Brian, but this case is… Well, you can imagine it’s at a pretty sensitive juncture.’ He scrunched his brows. He was on edge, resorting to management speak before he’d left his own driveway.
Brian waved him off. ‘No need to explain… I’ll try and keep this disruption to a minimum.’