He was dead. It was announced in his own newspaper, the Glasgow Gazette. Instead of the usual crime column, there was a brief editorial. It described the tragic death of their chief crime reporter and staunchly defended him against the unproven charge of murder. It was a brave stance to take, given the public outcry and the weight of evidence against him.
Finally and conclusively, his death was confirmed in the tear-streaked faces of the women by the fresh-dug grave. It was spelled out in chiselled letters on the headstone, glistening oil-black in the drizzle:
Born 25 January 1912
Died 26 June 1947
‘A man’s a man for a’ that.’
In the circumstances there were only four mourners: two women and two men. Of the black-garbed women, the taller held an umbrella aloft in two hands. Only the tufts of blond hair on a pale neck showed beneath the hat and veil. She sheltered her smaller companion: a veiled and stooped figure clutching a bible and dabbing at her face with a lace hankie. Alongside was a human water feature: one man clutching the handles of a wheelchair while rain cascaded off his hat on to the rubberised cape of the man in the chair.
Bit players lurked off stage. A man and a boy leaning on their shovels in a wooden bothy, staring despondently at the mound of earth as it grew heavier and more glutinous by the minute. Further down the green slope, a man in the dog collar of the Church of Scotland, scuttling for home, dreaming of a hot toddy after his desultory oration by the graveside. It had taken some persuasion even to get Douglas Brodie consigned to this cemetery. There had been an embarrassed debate with the kirk and Kilmarnock corporation about using a Christian burial site for the interment of a man who’d committed two mortal sins: murder and suicide. But Agnes Brodie’s quiet insistence was not easily denied.
The two women had had enough. They turned and started to shuffle their way back down the path towards the metal gate in the high sandstone wall. They clutched each other for support on the wet gravel. The standing man birled the wheelchair round and fell in behind the women. Pusher and passenger struggled with brake and shoe leather to keep the chair straight and stop it careering down the slope. Behind them the straight rows of stones marched towards the horizon of lush green Ayrshire hills.
Their transport was waiting, chugging out a pall of grey smoke into the dank air, wipers thumping back and forth like a metronome. For the needs of the mourners, they’d hired a converted Bedford van, painted black, with windows and two rows of facing seats. It took a while and considerable manoeuvring to get the four ensconced on the benches and the chair crammed into the rear. Once seated, they were off into the steady downpour. They closed the window between themselves and the driver and were free to talk.