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Excerpt: 'The Complaints'

The Complaints by Ian Rankin


There was a smattering of applause as Malcolm Fox entered the room.

"Don't strain yourselves," he said, placing his scuffed briefcase on the desk nearest the door. There were two other Complaints in the office. They were already getting back to work as Fox slipped out of his overcoat. Three inches of snow had fallen overnight in Edinburgh. A similar amount had stopped London dead a week ago, but Fox had managed to get into work and so, by the look of it, had everyone else. The world outside felt temporarily cleansed. There had been tracks in Fox's garden — he knew there was a family of foxes somewhere near his estate; the houses backed onto a municipal golf course. His nickname at Police HQ was "Foxy," but he didn't think of himself that way. "A bear of a man" — that was the way one of his previous bosses had described him. Slow but steady, and only occasionally to be feared.

Tony Kaye, a bulging folder tucked beneath one arm, walked past the desk and managed to squeeze Fox's shoulder without dropping anything.

"Nice one all the same," he said.

"Thanks, Tony," Fox said.

Lothian and Borders Police HQ was on Fettes Avenue. From some windows there was a view toward Fettes College. A few of the officers in the Complaints had been to private schools, but none to Fettes. Fox himself had been educated largely free of charge — Boroughmuir, then Heriot Watt. Supported Hearts FC though seldom managed even a home fixture these days. Had no interest in rugby, even when his city played host to the Six Nations. February was Six Nations month, meaning there'd be hordes of the Welsh in town this weekend, dressed up as dragons and toting oversized inflatable leeks. Fox reckoned he would watch the match on TV, might even rouse himself to go down the pub. Five years now he'd been off the drink, but for the past two he'd trusted himself with occasional visits. Only when he was in the right frame of mind though; only when the willpower was strong.

He hung up his coat and decided he could lose the suit jacket, too. Some of his colleagues at HQ reckoned the suspenders were an affectation, but he'd lost ten pounds or so and didn't like belts. The suspenders weren't the shouty kind — dark blue against a plain light-blue shirt. His tie today was a deep dark red. He draped his jacket over the back of his chair, smoothed it at the shoulders, and sat down, sliding the locks of the briefcase open, easing out the paperwork on Glen Heaton. Heaton was the reason the Complaints had summoned up the brief round of applause. Heaton was a result. It had taken Fox and his team the best part of a year to compile their case. That case had now been accepted by the Procurator Fiscal's office, and Heaton, having been cautioned and interviewed, would go to trial.

Glen Heaton — fifteen years on the force, eleven of them in CID. And for most of those eleven, he'd been bending the rules to his own advantage. But he'd stepped too far over the line, leaking information not only to his pals in the media but to the criminals themselves. And that had brought him once more to the attention of the Complaints.

The PSU was sometimes referred to as the Dark Side. They sniffed out racism and corruption. They looked at bribes received and blind eyes turned. They were quiet and serious and determined, and had as much power as they needed in order to do the job. Fox and his team were PSU.

Complaints and Conduct, to give the office its full title. They were the cops who investigated other cops. They were the "Soft Shoe Brigade," the "Rubber Heels." Within Complaints and Conduct was another smaller grouping — the Professional Standards Unit. While Complaints and Conduct worked the meat-and-potatoes stuff — grievances about patrol cars parked in disabled bays or cop neighbors who played their music too loud — the PSU was sometimes referred to as the Dark Side. They sniffed out racism and corruption. They looked at bribes received and blind eyes turned. They were quiet and serious and determined, and had as much power as they needed in order to do the job. Fox and his team were PSU. Their office was on a different floor from Complaints and Conduct, and a quarter of the size. Heaton had been under surveillance for months, his home phone tapped, mobile phone records scrutinized, computer checked and checked again — all without his knowledge. He'd been tailed and photographed until Fox had known more about the man than his own wife did, right down to the lap-dancer he'd been dating and the son from a previous relationship.

A lot of cops asked the Complaints the same question: How can you do it? How can you spit on your own kind? These were officers you'd worked with, or might work with in future. These were, it was often said, "the good guys." But that was the problem right there — what did it mean to be "good"? Fox had puzzled over that one himself, staring into the mirror behind the bar as he nursed another soft drink.

It's us and them, Foxy. . . . You need to cut corners sometimes or nothing ever gets done. . . . Have you never done it yourself? Whiter than white, are you? The pure driven?

Not the pure driven, no. Sometimes he felt swept along — swept into PSU without really wanting it. Swept into relationships . . . and then out again not too long after. He'd opened his bedroom curtains this morning and stared at the snow, wondering about phoning in, saying he was stuck. But then a neighbor's car had crawled past and the lie had melted away. He had come to work because that was what he did. He came to work and he investigated cops.

Heaton was under suspension now, albeit on full pay. The paperwork had been passed along to the Procurator Fiscal.

"That's that, then?" Fox's other colleague was standing in front of the desk, hands bunched as usual in trouser pockets, easing back on his heels. Joe Naysmith, six months in, still keen. He was twenty-eight, which was young for the Complaints. Tony Kaye's notion was that Naysmith saw the job as a quick route toward management. The youngster flicked his head, trying to do something about the floppy fringe he was always being teased about.

"So far, so good," Malcolm Fox said. He'd pulled a handkerchief from his trouser pocket and was blowing his nose.

"Drinks on you tonight, then?"

Over at his own desk, Tony Kaye had been listening. He leaned back in his chair, establishing eye contact with Fox.

"Mind it's nothing stronger than a milkshake for the wean. He'll be after long trousers next."

Naysmith turned and lifted a hand from its pocket just long enough to give Kaye the finger. Kaye puckered his lips and went back to his reading.

"You're not in the bloody playground," a fresh voice growled from the doorway. Chief Inspector Bob McEwan was standing there. He sauntered in and grazed his knuckles against Naysmith's forehead.

"Haircut, young Joseph — what've I told you?"

"Sir," Naysmith mumbled, heading back to his desk. McEwan was studying his wristwatch.

"Two bloody hours I was in that meeting."

"I'm sure a lot got done, Bob."

McEwan looked at Fox. "Chief thinks there's the whiff of something septic up in Aberdeen."

"Any details?"

"You're not in the bloody playground," a fresh voice growled from the doorway. Chief Inspector Bob McEwan was standing there. He sauntered in and grazed his knuckles against Naysmith's forehead.

"Not yet. Can't say I've any enthusiasm to see it in my in-tray."

"You've friends in Grampian?"

"I've friends nowhere, Foxy, and that's just the way I like it."

The Chief Inspector paused, seeming to remember something. "Heaton?" he inquired, watching Fox nod slowly. "Good, good."

The way he said it, Fox knew the Boss had qualms. Back in the mists of time, he'd worked alongside Glen Heaton. McEwan's take was that the man had done solid work, earned any advancement that came his way. A good officer, for the most part . . .

"Good," McEwan said again, even more distantly. He roused himself with a roll of the shoulders. "So what else have you got on today?"

"Odds and ends." Fox was blowing his nose again.

"Have you not shifted that cold yet?"

"It seems to like me."

McEwan took another look at his watch. "It's already gone lunchtime. Why not knock off early?"


"Friday afternoon, Foxy. Might have something new starting Monday, so best get those batteries recharged." McEwan could see what Fox was thinking. "Not Aberdeen," he stated.

"What then?"

"Could well peter out over the weekend." McEwan offered a shrug. "We'll talk Monday." He made to move away, but hesitated.

"What did Heaton say?"

"He just gave me one of those looks of his."

"I've seen men run for the hills when he does that."

"Not me, Bob."

"No, not you." McEwan's face creased into a smile as he made for the far corner of the room and his own desk.

Tony Kaye had tipped back in his chair again. The man had ears as sharp as any bit of electronic kit. "If you're heading off home, leave me that tenner."

"What for?"

"Those drinks you owe us — couple of pints for me and a milkshake for the bairn."

Joe Naysmith checked that the Boss wasn't watching, then gave Kaye the finger again.

Excepted from The Complaints by Ian Rankin as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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Ian Rankin