The quiet of the valley was perfect. The river burbled into pools, the fish flipped and swam, and gratifyingly took bait. McPherson and McGregor caught several fish quickly, but Elliot had none.
Elliot didn’t care. The point of fishing, he’d decided long ago, was to wait in cold water up to the knees and watch the eddies swirl by, the line dangle, and shadows move and dance. Fishing meant standing with a friend in silence with nothing needing to be said.
He saw no sign and felt no sensation of a watcher in the woods. Stacy wasn’t there. Perhaps he’d given up and gone. Or perhaps Elliot was mistaken, and Stacy had never been there in the first place.
Elliot knew he had been, though.
“Who the devil is that?” McPherson’s voice rang out over the water and the fish darted for cover.
McPherson was shading his eyes against the intense morning sun to watch a man walk down the hill toward them. The visitor wore a frock coat, trousers, and a stovepipe hat, a costume more suited to strolling about a city park than tramping through the wilds of Scotland.
“Dear God,” McGregor said. “It’s that Dull Pimple chap. Haven’t we had enough of them?”
“I didn’t invite him,” McPherson said.
“Ye don’t think I did, do ye? Here, you.” McGregor cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted across the river. “Go away. Ye’re upsetting the fish.”
Ignoring McGregor, Mr. Dalrymple slipped and slid down to the bank and around a clump of trees to make straight for Elliot.
“Mr. McBride?” the man asked. “So pleased to make your acquaintance. George Dalrymple. Your boy said I might find you here.”
Hamish. Well, the lad wasn’t to know.
“I have something to discuss with you,” Dalrymple said.
The man had a Scottish name, but he sounded as though he’d tried very hard to erase anything Scottish about him. Elliot resisted the temptation to speak to him in Gaelic for the humor of it, but he did let his Scots accent become broad.
“Do ye now?”
“Yes, and I think we both know what it is.”
“I cannae think what.”
McGregor and McPherson watched from across the river, standing side by side, but Elliot signaled them to stay where they were. He’d either send Dalrymple home or push him into the water, he hadn’t decided which yet.
Dalrymple gave Elliot a pained smile. “My wife told me you seemed a rather simple man. And, by the way, you must excuse her for yesterday. She does get rather upset. We were both so fond of Mr. Stacy, you know.”
“He never mentioned ye,” Elliot said. “So he must nae have been fond of you.”
“We became rather more attached to him when you…ah…disappeared. He was quite worried about you.” Mr. Dalrymple’s smile remained, but his eyes were hard. “I realize you claim not to remember anything about Stacy’s death, but we are prepared to tell the police that you killed him.”
“You’re right. I don’t remember.”
“Nonetheless, we have ascertained that this is what happened. As my wife promised, we have begun an investigation.”
Elliot cast his line into the water again, gently flicking his wrist just right…just right. The fish were nowhere in sight.
“Very civil-minded of ye,” he said to Dalrymple.
“I understand, of course, dear fellow. You weren’t right in the head at the time. There’s speculation you still aren’t, though you seem much better.”
“And all this must be upsetting for your wife, who is from one of Edinburgh’s most respectable families, I hear.”
“She is, aye.”
“I know you would like to spare her undue distress.”
Elliot took his gaze from the gently bobbing line and looked fully at Dalrymple. The man’s pale face was beaded with sweat in the sunshine, his features too perfect and delicate for this climate. If he’d been in India as he claimed, time had erased whatever effects the sunshine there had made on him.
“Be clear about what you’re saying,” Elliot said. “I’m interested.”
Dalrymple smiled. “We’re both men of the world, Mr. McBride. We’ve seen privation, and we’ve seen wealth, the extremes of each, haven’t we?”
“I know that you…acquired…quite a bit of wealth for yourself. Hence your purchase of an estate in the Highlands.”
“Aye.” Elliot did not like the implication that he’d gained his fortune by anything other than backbreaking work, but he let it go. Not worth the bother.
“If you wish me to be plain, then I will be.” Dalrymple cast a glance across the river at McPherson and McGregor, and lowered his voice. “You are unwell, and your wife is a pretty creature, and quite respectable. I’m certain that for a sum we can agree upon, the investigation into Mr. Stacy’s death can lead nowhere in particular, or be withdrawn altogether.”
Elliot looked at Dalrymple for a heartbeat, then he drew back his fishing rod and sent the line over the river again.
“No,” he said.
Dalrymple blinked. “Pardon?”
“I said no. You’re not getting a penny.”
Dalrymple blinked a few more times, as though surprised Elliot hadn’t quickly begged the man to take all his money and leave him alone.
Dalrymple wet his thin lips. “Mr. McBride, your position is precarious. You killed a man and fled here to safety. You abducted his daughter and brought her with you. Now, while I agree that Mr. Stacy could be a hard man, and his daughter likely would have starved and died in India alone, I doubt you want this story to come out.”