Private Investigations - Quintin Jardine


I’ve never felt more positive than I did when I left home that day for the start of my working week; I was the new Bob Skinner, new career, new attitude, new life; I’d turned a corner.

A couple of months before, I’d been in a proper mess, in such a confused state of mind that I’d taken myself off to Spain to sort myself out, and to try to shape a new life plan.

One exciting road trip with a friend was all it had taken. A different environment, a new challenge, and a satisfactory solution to a seemingly insoluble problem, and I felt that I was back in shape. When our journey was over, I had made a clear decision to walk away from the police service, for good. I even had a new job, part-time, one that was ideally suited to a man of my talents and experience.

Best of all, for the first time in years I had a secure and happy home life. I was reunited with my ex-wife Sarah, the mother of two of my five kids. Although she still had her own house in Edinburgh, we were spending more and more time en famille in Gullane.

Okay, my oldest son was a few months into a prison sentence, and his mother was about to marry a gangster, but isn’t it true that perfection can lead too easily to complacency?

I had set out that morning to spend some time in my office. The new employment? I am a director of a Spanish company, InterMedia, of which my friend Xavi Aislado is chief executive. It owns the Saltire newspaper in Edinburgh, but that’s only a small piece of its portfolio of online and printed newspaper titles, plus radio and TV stations, across Spain and Italy. It’s a real job; I have independent oversight of all group investigative activity, and I instruct young journalists on developing relationships with police that do not rely on brown envelopes changing hands.

Contractually it’s on a one day a week basis, but in practice I contribute more than that. I have a base in the Saltire building in Fountainbridge, and I share a secretary with June Crampsey, the managing editor.

That’s where I was headed on the Monday it all kicked off. I planned to spend the morning finalising a training manual I’d written, preparing it for translation into Spanish, Catalan and Italian, before moving on to a working lunch with an old acquaintance.

He had contacted me a couple of weeks earlier, asking for my help with what he had described only as ‘a certain situation’. It had taken that long for him to find time to meet me, so I assumed that whatever it was, it couldn’t be too pressing.

Before she left for work that morning, Sarah asked me to do her a favour. ‘Honey, I have a sudden, uncontrollable craving,’ she confessed, ‘for Marks and Spencer lemon drizzle cake. I woke up with it this morning; it must be the effect of reading Mary Clark’s book. I don’t have time to pick one up on the way in, and I’m not sure when I’ll be finished, so . . . would you be a love and call in there on the way to the office?’

What Sarah wants Sarah gets . . . it wasn’t always that way, I confess . . . although I was still wondering about ‘uncontrollable cravings’ as I cruised into the Fort Kinnaird shopping mall, and parked as close as I could to M&S.

Its food store is always busy, even at nine fifteen on a Monday morning: when I reached in and grabbed the last lemon drizzle cake from the rack, I beat a blue-rinse matron to the punch by less than a second. She glared at me, as if she expected me to hand it over. I smiled and shook my head.

‘Sorry,’ I said, ‘but my future happiness may depend on this.’

She sniffed, and gave me another long look. It told me wordlessly that if I died in utter misery she wouldn’t give a damn, and allowed me to go to the quick checkout without a single fragment of guilt.

I paid and went back to my car, laying the precious confection, in its five-penny bag, on the front passenger seat. Before starting the engine, I called Sarah via Bluetooth.

‘Got it,’ I told her, ‘although I had to fight for it.’

‘I’ll bet,’ she chuckled. ‘Those cakes go like crazy.’

‘So, this craving of yours . . .’ I ventured. ‘Should I read