Anna entered Kelvingrove Park by its northern entrance at the foot of Gibson Street, leaving behind the streetlights and their reassuring sodium glow. She’d often walked through the park as a child, though only a handful of times after dark, and always with friends. During daylight hours, people walked their dogs in it, whiled away their lunch hours on the park benches, and in the summer months, even indulged in the odd stint of sunbathing on those rare sunny days. After dark, however, it was a different story. Even as a schoolgirl, word had reached her tender ears that it was the stomping ground of rent-boys and their clients, and over the years, it had been host to several violent attacks, muggings and sexual assaults.
Which was precisely what had made her throw caution to the wind and risk her own neck. If she opened the papers the following morning to discover some poor soul had been assaulted while she and Zoe were skipping up the Kelvin Way, nonchalantly discussing trivialities, she’d never forgive herself. She slipped a hand into her coat pocket and gripped her keys, the longest protruding between her clenched fingers like a knuckle-duster.
At first, she could barely see her own feet, but after a few moments, her eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, and she was able to make out the shapes of the snow-flocked trees and the wrought iron fencing that flanked the footpath. It was less dark in the park than it had seemed from the street. True, the clusters of trees on either side of her were as black as charcoal, but the terrain itself was readily visible, the snow a dull purplish grey.
The ground began to slope steadily downwards. Using the torch on her phone, she picked her way south, following the winding trail towards the centre of the park, where all paths converged at the Stewart Memorial Fountain. Up ahead, she could just make out the imposing shape of the monument to the Highland Light Infantry, beyond which lay the stone bridge that straddled the River Kelvin.
She was perhaps four hundred metres from the fountain when she heard it – a shrill, clear wail of anguish, coming from beyond a thicket of trees up ahead and to her left. She stopped dead. There was no doubt about it. Whoever – or whatever – had made that noise was also the source of the cry she and Zoe had heard on the Kelvin Way.
She remained stock still and listened but heard nothing more. She took a few more faltering steps, then stopped once again. What she saw caused her blood to turn to ice.
Less than fifty metres away, a shape was moving among the trees. As she watched, it emerged from the thicket and stumbled onto the footpath – a man, bent over almost double and clutching his stomach. He tottered unsteadily, turning this way and that, as if trying to work out where he was.
She drew herself up to her full height – an admittedly underwhelming five foot two – directing the beam from her phone onto him. His shirt was untucked; his belt hung loosely from his waistband, the buckle trailing behind him. It crossed her mind that she might have inadvertently broken up a transaction between a client and one of the nocturnal denizens of the park who plied their trade within its confines. She began to feel slightly foolish. In fact, she was on the verge of actually apologising when she saw it.
Large quantities of blood, trickling from a wound in his lower abdomen, covering his groin area, his shirttails and the legs of his trousers. He was doing his best to stem the flow with one hand, but it was leaking between his fingers like water from a punctured hose.
She heard herself gasping. He must have heard her too, for he turned in her direction and looked directly at her. Light from her phone picked out the contours of his face.
Her breath caught in her throat. She knew him. Gone was the cocky smile, replaced by a contorted, painful grimace, but every other aspect of that face was instantly recognisable. The strong jawline, the high-bridged nose…
Seemingly galvanised by her appearance, he began to stagger in an uneven line towards her. She found herself reversing, shuffling backwards, the beam of her phone’s torch trembling as she trained it on him.
It was barely a whisper, but the air was so still, Anna heard it with crystal clarity.
She couldn’t move. Her legs refused to obey her brain, which was screaming, Help him, help him, help him over and over. He took a few more faltering steps towards her. Her phone and keys fell from her trembling hands.
He tottered, his legs giving way under him. He fell against her, clawing madly at her, clutching the hem of her coat. She recoiled instinctively, trying to push him off, but his weight bore down on her, and it was all she could do to prevent her own knees from buckling. She found herself supporting him in her arms, each ragged breath he took reverberating through her own body.
With a last effort, he lifted his head. Their eyes met, and she knew she was looking at a dead man.
And he knew it too.
His lips trembled. He opened his mouth, but instead of words, a thin trickle of blood oozed from the corner of his lips. He was choking. His grip on her tightened, then loosened.
Andrew Foley went limp and sank to the ground, leaving twin vertical streaks of blood on either side of her coat. He landed face-down in the unblemished snow and lay still.