by Alan A. Grant
It was Dougie and Morag who found the body.
The first snow of the year had fallen during the night, covering Moniaive and the glens in a deep white blanket. As soon as breakfast was finished, Dougie pulled on his anorak and boots and headed for the front door. The two dogs were already waiting, impatient for their morning walk. Morag followed, a lot less enthusiastic.
The village was uncharacteristically quiet as they tramped down Ayr Street, thick wet snow muffling their footsteps. Fraser Dykes stood beside one of his lorries, frowning and shaking his head.
“Nice morning,” Dougie nodded as they passed.
“Aye,” Fraser replied, “if you’re a bloody Eskimo.”
They passed the Craigdarroch and then the George as they headed for the foot of Dunreggan Brae.
Dougie loved the Tynron road, loved to turn around at the top of the first shoulder and see the village spread out beneath him. Like one of the postcards Paul and Sharon sold in the Post Office. And when it snowed…well, it just made everything prettier.
They’d just reached the last rise before the road started its long descent when they saw a pair of buzzards wheeling low over the hill. Their eerie screech always gave Dougie a wee thrill of pleasure; it was the lonely cry of the wild places.
“They must have seen something.” Morag was glad of the pause. “A sheep..?”
Dougie squinted his eyes against the bright sun that glittered on the pristine snow. “There’s no sheep I’ve seen that wears clothes,” he said at last. “We’d better go look.”
He climbed over the dyke into the field and strode off through the snow, the dogs romping beside him.
The body was lying face down in the snow on the top of the hill.
“Maybe he fell,” Morag suggested, but Dougie shook his head.
“Folk usually fall down a hill, not up,” he pointed out. “And if he did fall, it was onto that…”
Dougie pointed, and Morag’s heart pounded as she followed the gesture. For the first time she noticed the stain of dark red that spread half-under the body. And the knife that was plunged up to the hilt in the man’s chest.
Dougie ran to the nearest farm and phoned the police in Thornhill. By the time they arrived, almost an hour later, everybody in Moniaive knew about the murder.
The two uniformed policemen could only secure the area and take preliminary statements while they waited for the detectives to arrive from Dumfries. It was obvious they had doubts about Dougie and Morag’s story.
“The only tracks leading to the body are yours,” the bluff, red-faced sergeant pointed out. “How do you explain that?”
“You’re the polisman,” Dougie told him. “Explanations are your job.”
The sergeant pulled the man’s wallet out of his pocket. His driving license revealed he was Gunter Tragg, of Berlin, Germany. There was almost £300 in Scottish banknotes, and several German credit cards.
“It would seem robbery was not the motive, then,” the sergeant announced.
“I could’ve told you that,” said Dougie. “You’d be a long time on top of this hill if you were waiting for somebody to mug.”
By the time the police had finished questioning them, it was late afternoon.
They headed straight for the Craig, where it seemed half the village was waiting to hear the inside story. Dougie and Morag held court in front of the roaring fire, plied with free drink as they listened to the wild and wonderful stories that were circulating.
“As if foot and mouth disease wasn’t bad enough,” a woman who ran holiday cottages said. “I’m telling you, it’s a conspiracy by VisitScotland to finish us all off!”
“Could be a boon,” somebody put in. “A lot of folk like to see where dirty deeds were done.”
“Maybe he was a spy,” John Arnold suggested. Satisfied he’d done his bit, he went back to nursing his pint.
“Aye – taking photos of the top-secret Moniaive nuclear facilities,” Hugh Taylor scoffed.
“He was staying at the George,” Dougie said, reaching to accept another free pint. “The polis searched his room.” He paused for effect as every voice in the room quietened, and every eye turned towards him. “Seems they found a dozen illegal immigrants hiding in the wardrobe. Senga’s got them working in the kitchen right now!”
Dougie chortled at the chorus of groans that ran round the room.
The session went on till midnight. But nobody walked home alone… just in case.
The police were stumped. No fingerprints on the knife. The murder took only one blow; whoever committed it knew exactly what they were doing. Obviously the death had taken place before the snow fell. But by the time it thawed, any leads that lay in the grass underneath would have gone cold.
Herr Tragg had spent the previous evening in the bar. The few people who’d spoken to him reported he seemed cheery and in holiday mood. He’d had a phone call from his wife, who was spending a few days in Biggar, shopping, before joining him for the rest of their vacation. It was after that call Tragg had gone for his fateful walk.
“It’s a mystery all right,” Dougie said over breakfast next day.
“The biggest mystery,” Morag told him, “is why Mrs Tragg would be spending three days shopping in Biggar.” Dougie looked at her blankly, and she went on: “She comes from Berlin &endash; Germany’s greatest city. She’s within an hour of both Edinburgh and Glasgow… yet she decides to go shopping in Biggar.”
“So?” Dougie shrugged, and forked a rasher of bacon into his mouth. “She’s a woman. She’ll shop anywhere.”
“You mark my words,” Morag said darkly. “She’s involved in this, all right!”
When Dougie got back from work that night, Morag greeted him with a huge grin.
“Eureka!” she said triumphantly.
“What do you expect?” Dougie frowned. “I’ve been working hard all day.”
“Idiot,” Morag chastised him. “I mean – I’ve got it. I know why Gunter Tragg was killed.” She rushed on without giving Dougie a chance to reply: “Mrs Tragg was having an affair. Her husband refused to divorce her, so she hired a hitman to kill him. But to make it harder for the police, she arranged to have it done on holiday. Shopping in Biggar gave her an alibi. She phoned her husband, and lured him out to where the assassin was waiting. After the deed was done, the killer went back to Germany.”
“Morag, you’re a genius!” Dougie was impressed. “But… how did you figure all that out?”
Morag grinned impishly as she threw the evening paper down on the table. The headline blared: POLICE SOLVE MURDER RIDDLE. In smaller letters underneath, Dougie read: “Mrs Tragg Arrested In Berlin”.
“So,” Dougie said, “shopping really is the key to all life’s mysteries.”
“It is,” Morag assured him. “Now – can we go to Dumfries on Saturday? There’s a new shop at Cuckoo Bridge I want to investigate…”
Dougie groaned. He hated shopping. “Do I have to come?”
“No,” Morag said brightly. “But it would be helpful if your wallet could!”