top of page

A Warming Death - Chapter 1 + Extracts

1- The Murder of Chalmers


 In the town of Oban on the west coast of Scotland the local authority buildings stand just a little away from the town centre on a small elevation set back from the sea. They are clustered around the old town council offices which are now made humble by the growth of new additions. The old building is a mock baronial Victorian structure which was never distinguished and whose red sandstone ornamentation is beginning to give ground to the salt wind of over a century. Restoration is an act for which the council are not inspired to find the money. Yet in a world in which they contrive to interfere in every minor building alteration and slap innumerable restrictions on tampering with anything of the least antiquity, neither do they dare to tear it down and rebuild. That they do not restore it is not from a true appreciation of its lack of architectural merit, for such sensibilities are mostly beyond them, but arises from a feeling of total alienation from its ornamentation and stained glass. These windows contain things long gone from municipal fashion like the varied coats of arms and assorted classical links appearing in them.  Such things also adorn the frieze of carved stone around the waist of the building. The Latin and Old French contained in them mean nothing to all but a few of the present elected representatives of the people and not very many of them can read and truly understood even the occasional example in Gaelic. The creators of this place evidently moved in a vastly different world from those present today.

Inside, it is and always was, a gloomy place of extensive varnished wood and further over ornamentation. The Council Chamber itself has some formal mock-gothic grandeur but the council has not done much to change it and what they have done is for the worse. The representatives of the people take all too readily to an adherence to the partially understood best taste of the age. Thus carpets have appeared where once polished floorboards were and these carpets are of the best. In a little while they will be ripped up and abandoned and the boards will be planed and polished again at some expense as the middle class taste changes. Tables, lecterns, a throne like central construction and lesser seating have been ordered without thought to cost but the style is a strange modern interpretation of half Nordic, half Celtic design and the wood is some pale hardwood which is at odds with the dark panelling and roof beams.

In the surrounding areas it has also suffered from the cac-handedness of all actions planned by committee. The place is full of fire extinguishers and hand rails, large notices direct everywhere and proscribe and advise the most stupid on many topics. Random doors have been replaced by an assortment of modern styles through recent decades and odd sections of corridor have had panelling removed and replaced by plasterboard which has soon become cracked and worn.  Their floors have been covered in thick non slip plastic of some sort which also has prematurely aged. Self-congratulatory declarations of selective achievements and mission statements together with quality standard awards - each with the council logo and slogan (a stylised castle in five vertical black stripes over a stylised sea in four wavy horizontal blue stripes all under a stylised mountain in three receding triangles of purple and “Together for the Future” in the two languages) - are also prominently set before the visitor. There is everywhere the disguised but still tangible sense that this place is one with the whole tarnished realm of bus stations, hospital emergency areas and citizen’s advice centres.

It is a Friday lunch time on a warm day in July and the place is almost deserted. The breeze is in the east and uninterrupted sunshine beams in through open windows on workplaces with P.C.s , keyboards and monitors. Each place is adorned with personal accessories of small soft toys, postcards and an occasional potted plant. A scattering of secretaries and junior clerks sit around with their sandwiches while most are away at the canteen having their subsidised Thai-style chicken curry and chips. A significant contingent of financial controllers, I.T. operatives and planning officers of assorted rank are having a bar lunch in various nearby pubs before an afternoon of doing nothing. A mild air moves through deserted passageways and staircases from the open windows. It gently disturbs loose posters on the walls and causes a faulty fire door to knock softly and intermittently against its frame.


In a large office off a deserted corridor on the top floor of the newest part of this agglomeration of buildings is a tall and gaunt man seemingly in his late fifties and dressed in a smart but rather dated suit and still with the jacket on despite the warmth. He is pacing the room all alone and has the look of a narrow and harsh schoolmaster of an earlier age. His hair is almost completely grey but hardly thinning at all and his face is colourless without the weather beaten tan of the outdoor man or the incipient rubicund blotching of the indoor drinking man. It is narrow with a long thin nose and small blue eyes which are anything but mirrors of the soul but stare blankly outwards at all times defying those who meet their gaze to guess anything about what is going on just behind them. He is perfectly at home in this world, this is Mr Colin Chalmers, head of the not-for-profit institution, Sustainable Development. His position combines power and a lack of responsibility for it in a ratio rarely exceeded in history. He has assumed, as a right, the access to this office as he knows its present occupant. He has borrowed it when he knows it will be vacant to make a call on his mobile for which he needs privacy. Its usual occupant, the present head of the council, a councillor McHardy, is in the Campbell Arms having a formal lunch in the dining room away from the professional employees in the lounge bar and while they guzzle their bar lunches and beer he is having seafood and white wine with a certain contact. It is no matter to Chalmers for he knows exactly who the Chief Executive is lunching with and has a very good idea of what they are discussing. It is a Dutchman who owns a hotel below a hill where they are thinking of building a lot of windmills. McHardy knows this but the Dutchman doesn’t and they are quietly circling each other over the compulsory purchase which should emerge in a year’s time. Chalmers has always made a point of knowing such things. The door is slightly ajar and the window is open. The curtain waves in the breeze and beyond is a sunlit view over the roofs and out across the bay to the distant mountains of the Isles. An incoming ferry is manoeuvring to take the quay and the noise of activity at the fish dock and the traffic round the harbour only slightly intrude up here on the sixth floor. Chalmers continues to pace back and forward between the window and the desk and is dictating into his mobile rather than having any kind of conversation. He pauses at the window and then moves back towards the desk before turning to the window again and gazing blankly at the scene outside. He is impatiently bringing the call to a senior Civil Servant in Edinburgh to an end.

“The site at Ardbreaknish that Anderson Industries are buying will shortly be classified for housing or we can find some excuse for making it a preservation area – find an iron age burial or decide it is home to some bird or flower – McHardy will see to that.”

He pauses and the person he is speaking to gets in with some expression of doubt but it is instantly quashed.

“Because he will. You don’t have to worry why – he just will – that’s all OK? He just will and that leaves you to help with where Anderson will turn next. So in anticipation of him turning to Edinburgh and trying to get round all this you must do what’s required.”

He is talking with restrained politeness and pauses again and seems to be going to go on in the same tone but before the other end can come in again he shrieks into the ‘phone,

“Just do it – just damn well do it!”

Without waiting for any come back he cuts the call off and replaces the mobile in his inside pocket.

He pauses just an instant longer at the window and his little blue eyes look up and over the scene like a CCTV surveying an underground car park. He turns with new impatience to leave in pursuit of the absent McHardy.  The quick swivel on his heels brings the little eyes around the room and directly on to a man rushing towards him.  A man, whom Chalmers dully reflects must have been keeping very quiet till now.  He had thought that and only just started with why he should be running towards him like this without uttering a sound when the man contacts his chest with outstretched fists. His thoughts go to who this man is and although he seems familiar to Chalmers, his exact identity he can’t recall. The impact of the pushing fists propel him violently backwards and he contemplates the look of simple functional resolve on the man’s face as the window sill painfully contacts the back of his thighs and he begins to rotate through the opening. Only now, in an accelerating rush of thought, does he realise what is happening and recognises the terrible intent. He tries to reach out for the frame but by the time his hands extend that far he is almost upside down in space and his heels are just dragging free of the sill. He sees quite clearly that he has gone in one long drastically decelerating second from a moment of normality to one where the end is just under him and but a few more slow seconds away. The slowing of time continues as he starts a measured spin downwards and experiences true weightlessness and the accelerating air past his face. There is a brief effort to go back that second and to recall exactly who this man is. The “why” is instinctively but only generically understood and does not surface for further consideration, and even this is only half formed and cannot proceed to the “who” before it is displaced by an incredible kaleidoscopic deluge of half formed fragments of his life over a background of terror which boils up from panic then vaporises into pure insanity and …. but there is only so much that can be crammed into a space of a few seconds even when the internal clock has cranked up to this incredible pace in its efforts to compensate, and in normal time, the physics proceed, and he lands in a municipal rockery and fatally displaces most internal organs, breaks several major bones and sprays his brains over the litter among the miniature rhododendrons and heathers when his skull instantly decelerates against a large piece of ornamental quartz and spits wide open.

Sample Extracts 

1McIvor negotiated the poor clumps of grass between patches of bare ground with a scattering of abandoned electric-soup bottles and high octane lager cans. The tent was over against a high gable end of a block from which much of the roughcasting had fallen away. He paused and looked in through the flap of the tent, past a couple of white-suited forensics, for a glimpse of its contents. It now seemed quite natural in these surroundings to see a young thug bled white through many stab wounds and looking only pathetic, it had become no more odd than a corpse perceived in the chaos of a battlefield. He knew the man and woman in the white suits but only asked if there was anything obvious to report. He knew and they knew that there would be nothing unusual here but he had to ask. He knew and they knew that the victim had been dispatched almost casually with a blade, the form and depth of which, thousands in the city would match. Which vital organ or artery it had penetrated to complete its work would be carefully determined but would not matter. In the real world corpses are never poisoned in suburbia then multiply perforated as an afterthought and transported to Scumland for the improbably obscure reasons which make crime novels possible.

2 At that point there was a soft knock at his door. McIvor spun round and sat himself upright at his desk in time to see a very young woman (to his eyes) come hesitantly into the room. In a very quiet English accent that McIvor could not place, she announced that she was D.C Susan Lee and that Milne had sent her. She was tall and graceful and had a round face that was both ingenuous but also bright with a spark of intelligence. She had very carefully arranged hair and wore a suit which McIvor thought would have to go if she was to work effectively for him. McIvor indicated the guest chair on the other side of the desk. She sat down in slow and hesitant way.  McIvor stared at her for a moment. The impatience of maturity for the novice and a prejudice against English officers pursuing lifestyle postings in the more scenic parts of Scotland formed his instant reaction to the pretty but silent, expectant and almost eager face which seemed to look back at him. It nevertheless had an independence and self-assurance behind the eyes which surprised McIvor.

“Has Milne told you why you are wanted then?” , McIvor boomed at her with a forced familiarity which contained a slightly patronising hint in its tone which he instantly regretted allowing to creep in. D.C. Lee replied in her quiet but not mumbled way, something that was too quiet for McIvor to hear.

“Speak up”, McIvor almost roared at her yet with a trace of smile on his face.

“You won’t get far in the Polis these days if you can’t talk long and loud about all sorts of crap. You need to know all the latest sociological angles and health and safety and risk-assessment and gender issues and all the such likes.”

3 The seventies were a long time ago but that was when Chalmers had his development, and it is very important to consider his beginnings. Now the sixties went on long into the seventies and even the eighties, especially in spots far removed from metropolitan influence. The memory of the times is distorted and made more vivid but much less true by the endless repetition and amplification of their overbearing image. Those who believed in the rapidly manufactured mythology of the time have since prospered in the media and will not cease from endlessly referencing the period and persist in picking it over and discovering significance under significance that has previously escaped the most de-constructional analysts of the modern type.

The seventies are also far enough away to be judged according to the uniquely enlightened views of our time, which same fate has engulfed every other more antiquated time. The fears and hopes common at the time are often distorted and emphasised or ignored according as they give significance to entirely present day obsessions. It was a time of great anxiety which co-existed with a desperate but essentially woolly optimism for the future. They were contradictory but that was how it was and they co-existed simply because nobody could see with certainty five minutes into the future any more than they would have been able to do so at any other time in human history.

4 The next day it emerged that his planning had gone perfectly and Mr Arnold’s car had left the road and tumbled down an embankment to land on the sea shore. He had been pulled out and taken to Glasgow with multiple but not life-threatening injuries; it would be sometime before he returned to school. Chalmers was not relieved at this but merely satisfied that his desired level of retribution had come about. The police later paid no attention to the maths teacher’s claims of poor brake response and a loss of control on the corner for the pipes were still connected but the brake line had been crushed and severed and the main brake cylinder damaged by the smash. Chalmers put the whole incident out of his mind after raising mightily his assessment of what he was capable of realising successfully. But little Charlie Duncanson did not put it out of his mind. He had been emerging from the back of the school and an evening meeting of the poetry club with which he was briefly toying after an enthralment by beat poets. He had paused to zip up against the damp and glanced around to see a figure kneeling by a car at the far end of the car park.

5  After five or six vodkas there was some nudging and whispering between them before they invited him for the afternoon.

“D’ye fancy cumin back to Joyce’s place for the efternin - her Maw’s oot and we’ll huv the place tae oorsells”

Chalmers naively asked what was Maggie going to do and this sent them into further fits of  giggling.

“Ahm cumin tae. We’ll make sure ye huv a great time tae yersell!”

 They all went off up Buchanan Street and Chalmers had to be prompted to buy a bottle of vodka and some cans in an off-licence and the need for this prompting occasioned the only shadow of dissatisfaction which was to pass briefly over the girls that afternoon. They went on and up into the very mean streets where Chalmers had bought his porn earlier. As they entered a close Chalmers let them go on ahead and quietly reached into the inside pocket and dumped it in the street then followed them on in. They entered an untidy, poorly furnished flat which smelt badly. Chalmers was pushed back onto the couch, and the Joyce quickly dispensed more drink. They sat thus briefly, the two of them making no attempt to conceal what the miniskirts were not designed to conceal, and Chalmers was for once a little frightened but lustful at the prospect of what was apparently going to happen to him. He did not know which one to approach first, but they solved that by simultaneously starting to kiss him and let their hands wander. They all went next door to an unmade bed.

 In all that followed, Chalmers was repeatedly running through in his mind the acres of porn he had consumed. He remembered how clothes and underclothes seemed to be removed and contrasted it with how much more awkwardly but infinitely more pleasurable it was to remove the real thing. He had all the many and varied and near perfect images of the nakedness of women erased forever by the sight of these two - one slightly sagging and plump and the other a bit thin and sparse - but real and smooth to touch and tasting of vodka and tobacco and moving to him as he sought them. He discovered that the anticipatory wetness he had read of was indeed a real phenomena. He noted how the threesomes he had seen enacted seemed harmonious affairs, and noted the contrasting petulance which Joyce or Maggie at times showed when demanding that it was surely their turn.

After instinct had guided him through the first entry with infinitely more grace than he deserved, he was thrusting at Joyce mindful of his pleasure alone while Maggie was in close attendance seeing to her own stimulation. Seeing a look of enquiry on his face that was not in fact there, Maggie reassured him.

“Just go ahead - we’re baith oan the pill.”

Joyce wrapped her legs more tightly around him and gasped,

“Aye, jist go ahead and gie it to me.”

Chalmers obliged. And Chalmers obliged as many times again that afternoon as seemed required of him.

6 In Soho they sniggered at the few sex shops left. They were then overwhelmed, as Soho was being overwhelmed, by the flood of modish boutiques and avant-garde agencies. They started a competition to see which one of them could spot, from the many that were available, the most self-regarding, humourless seeming character who had to be sporting some outlandish fashion item. Once they had crossed Regent Street, they amused themselves with all the traits of exclusiveness; the very expensive cars, the huge brass plates at doors with only street numbers and the manicured pots of plants or tiny gardenettes being trimmed by a jobbing gardener operating from a van which proclaiming his trade as if he were a famous couturier or an exclusive caterer. They then decided that they would try to spot the next exclusive gardener and when, on turning the next corner they both at once pointed to one such van, but then saw that it did in fact belong to just such a preposterously expensive caterer. They both had a fit of silly and irrational laughter at their error. London was still new to him and he saw it as an outsider and was surprised and mystified by much that he came across and so he laughed, without bitterness, because it was his nature to do so. She laughed because he brought her new eyes to see what she had been familiar with all her life but also because her life had been almost devoid of laughter for the last few years and she longed for the old drunken days after school which at least had been a riot most of the time. They had a lunch of burgers and beer in the park, sat in the sun for a while and all the time were overwhelmed by a relentless and joyful chattering. They anticipated each other’s replies and laughed as they did so.

7 The friend was but a distant former friend in truth and could not work out how Emily had come to this state as she had heard that she had become married to a coming man. She was confused and saw the impossibility of going about any attempt to help in a strange company and began to think how she could get Emily on her own without making too much fuss and provoking her again. Emily was ignoring any such notions and had paused a long time to be offered a drink. When this did not happen she reached over to another vacant table and took a dirty glass and reached for one of the bottles on the table, filled it to the top and began gulping it. The friend watched this and thought of trying to get the glass away for her but thought it would cause yet more protests and waited until she was done. Emily at once reached for the bottles again but the others snatched them away and kept a hold of them. The friend then tried to convince Emily outside for a talk with clichéd words that are all that come to many of us in such circumstances,

 “Emily, this is not the answer to anything”, although she had no idea what had happened to Emily.

Emily got to her feet swaying as she did so and had but one thought which was to get to another bar.  She uncertainly avoided tables and drinkers and made her way out into the small street. The friend rushed after her and tried to hold her back. She wanted to try to find out what had caused all this. The restraining hand on her shoulder drove Emily from an all-consuming quiet desperation to find a pub and back to hysterics; this was Chalmers’ hand again. She broke free and ran erratically down the little lane that connected this street to Upper Street. The friend ran after her and was there to see Emily run straight into the road in front of a truck that was speeding to catch a green light. She bounced off it obliquely towards the other side of the road and in that tiny window of time it was already apparent that the object she had instantly become was a part of the inanimate world. The process was completed when she was accepted under a bus coming the other way which had just swept through the same traffic lights. It ran over her with front and back wheels mangling the corpse and extruding parts of the innards up through her nose and mouth and down though her vagina and rectum.   

bottom of page