BY DAVID MCVEY
The stairway smelt of spilt wine, bleach and sweat.
They went through a door into the first-floor corridor. A murmur of voices emerged from the rooms along with recorded music and voices on too-loud TVs. Nearby the lift whirred, heading for one of the upper floors.
‘Bloody students,’ said Abercromby. Mitchell said nothing. They found the door of Flat 1/4 and knocked.
The girl had light-brown hair tugged into a rough ponytail. She wore a brown sweater, a long green skirt that came over her knees, and fluffy slippers. Abercromby, who was used to assessing young women, classed her as a good-looking girl who had chosen, for whatever reason, to dress like Amy from The Big Bang Theory.
‘Rebekah McLeod?’ said Mitchell, softly. The girl nodded. ‘I’m Inspector Mitchell and this is Sergeant Abercromby.’ The girl looked blankly at the younger man. ‘Chief Inspector McKillop’s office told you we were coming?’ Again she nodded, and stood slightly aside, a signal for them to come in.
It was hardly a typical student room. Yes, there were books - rows and rows of them - as well as a laptop sitting on a coffee table, a cheap sofa piled with cushions and some posters of scenic views. But all was neat and tidy, even a little austere. There was even what looked like a Bible sitting by the laptop, and Mitchell noticed that there were scripture texts on the posters. And that smell—it was lavender wasn’t it? Rebekah McLeod was 19, but her flat smelt like your granny’s.
Rebekah McLeod tried to smile but, largely, failed. She was standing up but gave the impression rather of hanging listlessly.
‘Can we sit down?’ said Mitchell.
‘I’m sorry. Yes.’ Her voice seemed to come from another room. She dragged a pair of plastic stacking chairs from the kitchen area and then sat awkwardly, facing the policemen, on the arm of the sofa.
‘You contacted Mr McKillop?’ said Mitchell.
‘Yes. I’ve… I’ve spoken to him before about… things.’
‘And this time you spoke to him about the Carson case?’
‘I called him to say I’d seen something, yes. Mr McKillop is from the same island as me. He went to the same church.’
‘What are your studying?’ Abernethy broke in.
‘The study of the Bible, of the ways of God, in Christianity,’ said Mitchell, patiently.
‘Oh, right. So you’re gonnae be a minister?’
This time she actually did smile. ‘Oh, no. Our church doesn’t have women ministers. I hope to serve as a missionary, go overseas and spread the gospel.’
Abercromby whistled silently.
‘I didn’t know anything about this Carson,’ the girl continued, ‘but I saw something, and I thought I had better tell Mr McKillop.’
‘Thank you for doing that, Miss McLeod,’ said Mitchell. ‘Sergeant Abercromby and I are part of the team investigating the Carson case. We’re very grateful that you’ve offered to help.’
‘Seems funny,’ broke in Abercromby, ‘that you’re right intae all this religion stuff, but you also go for that, eh…’
At last the girl showed fire and spirit. ‘Go for what, Sergeant Abercromby? Witchcraft? Sorcery?’
‘Naw, I just mean…’
‘I’m not a witch, Sergeant. I’m not a psychic or a medium. I’ve just received a gift. What we call in the islands the Second Sight. I often wish the Lord had given me other, more usual, gifts instead.’ She stopped speaking and brought her right hand, balled into a fist, to her mouth.
‘I’m sorry if we’ve upset you,’ said Mitchell, with a caustic glare at Abercromby. ‘We don’t intend to belittle your beliefs in any way. We understand you see things other people can’t? That’s what Mr McKillop told me.’
The girl managed to smile. ‘The Bible tells us “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” Well, I’m a young woman, but I see visions, if you can call them that. It’s usually like a light goes on and I see…just a picture, a photograph, or a series of them, switching on and off in my head.’
‘And that’s what happened this time?’
‘Could you tell us about it? But please take your time.’ Mitchell nodded to Abercromby who pulled out a notebook and pencil.
‘I was visiting another student, in Flat 2/3, one floor up. Jessica is from the islands but not a believer. The radio was on, the news. They were talking about some man - it must have been this Carson - who had been accused of abducting a missing child. I suddenly felt faint, and I had to sit down. But then I saw this picture - in my head - of a child. A young child, a girl, perhaps seven. She was fair-haired and had a round face. She was smiling…’
‘Can you remember anything else about the news report?’
‘They said something about there not being much evidence against the man and he’d likely be released.’
‘So… this would be yesterday evening?’
‘Yes. Yes it was. I called the number Mr Mckillop gave me if ever I was able to give any help again after… the last time.’
Mitchell pulled an A4 ring binder out of his briefcase. ‘I’m going to ask you to look through this folder, Miss McLeod. Pictures of children, head and shoulders. If you come to a picture of a child that reminds you of the one you, er, saw, just tell me, will you?’
The girl settled deeper into the sofa and began to flick through the pages. Mitchell had hastily assembled the folder that day, adding to the photo of the missing child pictures of the children of various colleagues, other missing children and a few pictures lifted from the web. He had included one of his own Ceilidh.
Ceilidh. When you had a seven-year-old daughter of your own, you were quite happy to try anything in the Carson case, even hocus-pocus.
Somewhere a clock ticked. Rebekah McLeod turned another page. Abercromby, his note-taking done, shoved his hands in his pockets and scowled. A loud blast of Katy Perry came from a nearby flat, and was soon countered by something noisier and better - the Arctic Monkeys, Abercromby thought.
And then Rebekah McLeod paled, pointed at a page, and said, ‘That’s her. That’s the girl I saw.’
Mitchell looked. Yes, that was the missing girl. It wasn’t the picture that had been released to the press; he’d been careful to avoid that error. But it was her, all right, the honey-coloured hair, the round smiling face…
He took the folder from Rebekah and returned it to his briefcase. ‘Thank you so much for your help, Miss McLeod. I do hope this hasn’t been too disturbing for you.’ They all rose. The girl smiled again, but it wasn’t convincing. She still looked pale.
Abercromby smiled at the girl. Yes, she was mental and she didn’t know how to dress, but he would all right. Though, what with the religion and all that, she probably wouldn’t be up for it.
The door closed behind them and the faint scent of lavender was replaced by the staleness of the corridor. They walked for the stairs.
‘Waste of bloody time,’ said Abercromby. ‘She’s as mad as a bag full of really mad things.’
‘She’s been right before,’ said Mitchell.
As they came outside the building, Mitchell looked up at the gleaming grid pattern of windows and tried to identify Rebekah’s. A movement drew his attention; there she was, looking out at them, at the street, at the car, sad-eyed and unsmiling. Then she turned and was gone, like a fleeting, unhappy thought.
Abercromby waited at the driver’s seat, Facebooking on his phone. Mitchell settled into the passenger seat and called the office. ‘Aye, Mitchell here. We’ve spoken to her. Don’t release him. He took her all right. Put the pressure on.’
Abercromby rolled his eyes, pocketed his phone and prepared to start the car.
‘She could have seen the child’s face anywhere, chief; on the telly, on the web, in the papers, anywhere.’
He started the car. They had gone a couple of streets before Mitchell spoke again. ‘Rebekah’s in a church where they don’t watch television. They view it as worldly. Same with papers, magazines, the media. I expect she uses the web for study and devotion and all that, but she won’t go to news sites. Only wholesome and upbuilding places. She’s never seen any pictures of the child before.’
Abercromby silently clicked his tongue. He hadn’t joined the force to get involved with this kind of mumbo-jumbo. At least there was that new lassie in the canteen. He’d try to get talking to her when he went in for lunch.
© Rebekah's Vision, 2023, David McVey
David McVey lectures at New College Lanarkshire. He has published over 120 short stories, a great deal of non-fiction that focuses on history and the outdoors and some poems. He enjoys hillwalking, visiting historic sites, reading, watching telly, and supporting his home-town football team, Kirkintilloch Rob Roy FC.