She looked at her neighbour, a frail figure curled like a child. Her cream blouse had come loose from the thin belt fastened round her waist. Costello resisted the temptation to tuck it back in. Vera's nostrils were flaring, the blood still oozing from a cut on the back of her head. She had got dressed and done her hair, but hadn't got as far as putting on her face powder. Costello noticed that her neighbour was in the habit of painting her eyebrows on; it wasn't just blood loss that was giving her this pallor.
She heard the door behind her open further, a thin reedy voice that she could hardly hear. 'Oh, my dear goodness, oh my God.'
'Can you wait downstairs, please? For the ambulance?' asked Costello again. 'Get your coat first. It's cold out there.'
When Colin Anderson came downstairs, he was showered, dressed, iPad in hand, ready for his breakfast and a quick walk with the dog before work. Then he noticed that Nesbit the Staffie did not get out of his basket; his favourite dry food lay untouched in a bowl. The dog's ears and eyes tracked Anderson's movement, but the contents of the food bowl remained uneaten. Anderson poured some water into his cupped hand and knelt down beside the dog bed, proffering him some fluid. Nesbit didn't even raise his head.
And that was when he knew.
He debated whether to stay or to sneak out to work and leave Brenda to deal with this, use Aasha Ariti as his excuse, but the thought was gone before it took traction. He called the incident room and asked Patterson to brief the team on the discovery of Aasha Ariti's body. He'd already submitted a brief report in the early hours. The evidence was pointing increasingly to Anthony Poole being the man who had killed her. There was a public appeal for any dashcam footage around the Robertson Street/Broomielaw junction in Glasgow recorded between one and two o'clock on Sunday morning, looking for the taxi that Poole claimed Aasha had got into. That was a job he could leave to Costello.
He got off his mobile, hoping that Nesbit had eaten something, but he was still in his basket, ears twitching occasionally at the frantic footsteps high above him. The girls were leaving for Tyndrum this morning, though from the excitement it might have been Las Vegas. When Anderson offered the dog more water, the brown eyes barely responded.
He didn't want Claire's holiday spoiled, or her concentration to be affected because of the death of the much-loved family dog. Driving with tear-filled eyes was no good for anybody. Equally, he didn't want Nesbit's last minutes on earth being stressed by two over-excited teenagers running around trying to find their mobile phone chargers. He had lived the nightmare of the packing drama every day since Claire and her friend had decided to do a charity challenge in Malawi, which lockdown had transformed into a cabin in Tyndrum.
Anderson felt it was good for them to get away after twelve weeks of forced togetherness: Peter gaming, Claire painting, Paige constantly dyeing her hair, Brenda trying to do the garden, and everybody taking a turn with Moses. He was only too happy for them to take over the holiday let. Paige had even got a job in the Real Food Café which was doing takeaways; Claire was working in the Green Welly and doing some painting.
He listened to the chaos above as he stroked the velvet head of his dog. His dog. Always his. He was the one who had brought Nesbit back from the police station—what, ten, twelve years ago? It was supposed to be just an overnight until he could be taken to the rescue centre. Of course, as soon as the kids saw him, that had been it: wee Nesbit had his paws well and truly under the table. He was going nowhere. He had been a great family dog, never a minute's trouble. Mischief here and there, but his high spirits were naughty, never malicious. He had looked after the children, protected Brenda, but he had always been Colin's dog. Always his wee pal, always three inches away from his master's heel.
There was loud footfall on the stairs. Moses, his biological grandson, now adopted son, started screaming, and then Brenda said, not unkindly, 'Oh, for God's sake, you two, be quiet. You've woken up Moses,' and then Peter's voice shouted from behind his bedroom door, 'And you've woken me up as well.' Then Claire was screaming back that it was only zoomers who were asleep at this time of the morning, and Peter screamed back that... Anderson had had enough and picked the dog up, wrapped his blanket around him and carried him out to the car.
The vet's surgery was only a five-minute drive from the house, but it was the longest five minutes of his life, aware that Nesbit was already slipping away from him. He was a very old dog, who started life as bait for dog fighting, but what a grand wee pet he had turned out to be.
And the vet, a bearded young man whom Anderson had not met before, made all the right noises. 'He has lived a long and happy life. Look how he ended up!' Then he had caressed Nesbit's velveteen ears and muttered the terrible words. 'It's the best thing you can do for him now.'
The conversation made Anderson want to bolt for the door, but he had to stay there and cuddle Nesbit as the vet prepared the needle. He nuzzled the dog's head, saying his name over and over, hoping that there was enough awareness in there to know that he wasn't alone, that they were still together. The vet was talking again, now saying that there was no real neurological response and he was going to pass away either later today or tomorrow. It was kinder to put him to sleep right now.
He hoped, really hoped, Nesbit knew that he had not left him to die in the arms of a stranger. The ears that turned more in response to the noise of a gingernut being snapped than they ever responded to his name gave a little flicker. The dark-brown eyes had opened, rolled up to look at him; he was saying thank you. It took very little time for his friend to be gone.