Rain. Not ordinary rain. Hebridean rain, the wettest rain on Earth. Even the clouds can’t get rid of it fast enough. It is a bloodbath of rain – but transparent blood that isn’t very sticky and comes from no body because no one has been murdered. Yet. Living on these remote, windswept islands is just as if you woke and breakfasted and showered and then yanked the shower out of the wall and carried it around with you all day, set to cold. Cold and wet and windswept, if showers had such a setting. Such is life on these remote, wet, and surprisingly murder-y islands. The island, being cold, uncompromising, and composed of many natural as well as questionable elements, was just like a frozen marag-dhubh. The weak, white-ish sun glowed in the grey sky like a white pudding. Detective Johnmurdo Murdojohn Macleod was somewhat unusual, not really popular, and though everyone had heard of him and seen him around, they were cautious to approach him; in other words, he was like a fruit pudding. But no one ever saw a fruit pudding strolling down Cromwell Street, as the Detective was doing right now. He pulled his Harris Tweed fedora down low and wished he were at home tucking into his breakfast – porridge, kippers, red herrings, he didn’t mind – instead of wondering where today’s murder would take place.
Macleod’s radio crackled to life. ‘Issat yourshelf, Tshonmurdo?’
‘It is, Eeshbal. What’s the crack the day?’
‘Antshee Smith from Valtos rang in with an anonimuss tip.’
‘She reckons the peepil who bot the house next door as a holiday let are causing ack-tshoo-ill cardeeack ee-vents with the prices they’re tsharthseeng.’
Macleod sighed. Not an ordinary sigh. A Hebridean sigh. The deep, long sigh that comes from being part of a proud nation of warriors and warm-hearted people ruled by London elitists who couldn’t point to the Hebrides on a map. Of the Hebrides.
‘Holiday-let-price-related deaths, roger,’ he acknowledged then turned the dial on his radio back to Radio nan Gaidheal, where the only murders that took place were cover versions of RunRig tracks.
He resumed his saunter through the Narrows. People, leaning against the wind, scuttled into the Baltic to ask if the papers were in yet. Seagulls wheeled overhead. The wind pushed at him like a drunk resisting arrest. The rain spat at him like a drunk resisting arrest. The cold bit into him like – well, like a drunk resisting arrest. If only, thought Macleod, I could arrest the weather. But you couldn’t do that, or you’d be up on a charge of abuse of power. And where would that get you? In a prison cell. But at least the weather couldn’t get at you there.
Yes, Macleod was one of those brooding, existential detectives who anticipated a whole shelf of books about his adventures, all of them the same, and a tv series, too, in which the landscape became atmospheric wallpaper, the kind of atmospheric wallpaper that convinced people that rain and murders took place here and therefore they should book a holiday on these islands.
Suddenly his profound philosophising was interrupted. A seagull was screeching, ‘Oh, murt! Thursh been a dee-kap-it-tayshun.’
Odd, thought Macleod, seagulls steal chips. Stain the shoulders of people’s jackets. They don’t report murders.
‘We don’t need you seagulls reporting murders,’ he shouted at the sky. ‘That’s why drones were invented. Stupid birds.’
‘Over hee-ur!’ the seagull called again, but this time Macleod could see a woman waving to him from outside An Lanntair, and her mouth was moving and words were coming out of it. Macleod – who had been to Tuliallan Police College – reasoned that it was the woman, not a seagull, who was yelling. ‘Sumwon has been dee-kap-it-tayteed at the fingur.’
He ambled at a steady pace over to the woman, who was crouched on the ground, holding a finger in her hand, a finger that wasn’t hers. Unless she had eleven fingers, and one was detachable. Which didn’t seem likely.
‘Pull yourself together, a ghraidh, like an accordion when the accordionist is playing whatever kind of note they play when they push both ends of the accordion towards each other,’ said Detective Macleod, bending down beside her, ‘you’re confusing the seagulls. Now tell me what happened. Who and where is the person who should be attached to that finger?’
The woman was crying now, ceaseless tears, like rain. Not just any rain. Hebridean rain. Because these were the tears of a Hebridean cailleach. She held up the finger.
‘Where’s the rest?’ muttered Detective Macleod, grimacing. But the woman kept wailing. Macleod took the finger in his hands. ‘This is one smart criminal,’ he said. ‘We can’t get fingerprints to identify the victim.’ He raised himself to his full height of five foot one and looked towards the white-pudding-y sun so the pale light would make him look good when the tv version came out. ‘But,’ he proclaimed, ‘we can get fingerprint.’
Detective Macleod and his boss, Alluring Senior Detective Anna Feisty-MacInnes, examined the finger. They were at the Callanish Stones, leaning against the wind and rain.
‘No nail varnish. And no ring.,’ said Detective Macleod. ‘It’s calloused here, like a guitarist’s. I believe it’s a man’s ring finger from the left hand’.
‘Yes,’ said Alluring Senior Detective Anna Feisty-MacInnes, ‘but why the hell did you take me to the Callanish Stones to tell me this?’
‘Because,’ said Macleod, holding the finger up to a Callanish Stone a few metres away so that it looked the same size because of distance and how we perceive things, ‘because it looks like a Callanish Stone, which will give the tv director some interesting shots, and because the Stones are famously photogenic, and because, like the Stones, the finger itself is mysterious, perplexing, and may or may not, but probably does not, have something to do with human sacrifice.’
‘True,’ said Anna Feisty-MacInnes, nodding thoughtfully. ‘Maybe we could crowbar a whole pile of exposition in here about the Callanish Stones.’
‘Maybe, in the novel,’ conceded Macleod, ‘but right now we have only eight minutes.’
Both detectives brooded existentially in a bleakly picturesque way for a few moments, while the wind and rain blustered around them and the Standing Stones…well, stood. But enigmatically.
‘Besides,’ announced Macleod. ‘I’ve solved it.’
‘What?’ said Anna Feisty-MacInnes. ‘Was that it for me, a little cameo role? I’m beginning to feel like a token female character. I’m senior to you. I deserve more.’
‘You’re better looking, too,’ said Macleod. Which wasn’t the right thing to say at all. So he added. ‘This was no murder.’
Anna Feisty-MacInnes frowned.
Macleod said, ‘This finger took its own life.’
Anna Feisty-MacInnes gasped.
‘This is how I solved it,’ said Macleod. ‘As I walked with the finger to the Police Station from An Lanntair I was listening on my radio to local guitar legend Slash Gordon playing a live set on Radio nan Gaidheal. But something wasn’t right. He, a renowned shredder, was missing notes on the fast solos. The notes that should have been played by this’ – he held up the finger – ‘finger.’
Macleod, staring at the finger, narrowed his eyes. ‘If this finger could talk it would confess right now.’
‘But why?’ asked his boss. ‘What was the motive for finger-cide?’
‘Exhaustion. Slash Gordon, being the best guitarist around, is in eight local bands, and he always writes superfast guitar solos. That finger just couldn’t give any more. It gave up. The finger tore itself off Slash Gordon’s hand and jumped out the window.’
‘Would it be satisfyingly symbolic if we buried the finger here at the Callanish Stones? Maybe in an “up yours” gesture aimed towards Stonehenge?’
‘Bury it? No, that’s just what they want.’
‘I don’t know. The viewers, the readers. The druids.’
‘What, then?’ asked Alluring Senior Detective Anna Feisty-MacInnes.
‘We go visit its rightful owner, who lives in that house there, conveniently and photogenically beside the Stones.’ He used the finger to point to a house.
‘And we sew the finger back on. Forcibly, if necessary.’
‘That’s not legal. Plus, the finger would have needed to be preserved…’
‘You forget, Slash Gordon is my first cousin. I know how impetuous he is. He and his solos will be missing that finger badly by now. And the wind here is so cold on these cold, salty, windswept islands that the weather has preserved his finger perfectly.’
He looked up at the sky, and shouted: ‘Alright, weather. You win this time. For once, you were useful. But I’m coming for you.’ And then, off Alluring Senior Detective Anna Feisty-MacInnes’s facial expression, he explained, ‘I intend to put the weather in jail,’ but that only made her give him a still more concerned look.
The two detectives made their way towards Slash Gordon’s house, with Alluring Senior Detective Anna Feisty-MacInnes muttering to Macleod, ‘Since my stupid little cameo role was as crappy as that, you’re doing the finger sewing. Also, you made a big deal about getting the fingerprint off the finger, but you never even did that.’
But Macleod wasn’t listening. He wasn’t interested in plot-holes. He was brooding on the next murder, and contemplating a black pudding supper, and wondering whether it might make a good addition to the series to see him, eventually, snap, perhaps by going meta and murdering a crime novelist in the name of entertainment. So thinking, Macleod, standing in front of Slash Gordon’s house, pressed the doorbell with Slash Gordon’s ring finger.