Read The Beat Goes On: The Complete Rebus Stories (Rebus Collection) Online

Authors: Ian Rankin

Tags: #Crime and Mystery Fiction

The Beat Goes On: The Complete Rebus Stories (Rebus Collection)

Title Page






















A few words about these stories.

‘Dead and Buried’, which opens this collection, is one of the most recent stories I’ve written. We’ve placed it at the very start because it takes place in the mid-1980s, when Rebus was learning the ropes at Summerhall police station (as featured in my novel
Saints of the Shadow Bible
). There then follow the twelve stories from my collection
A Good
Hanging and Other Stories
. These were written to comprise a chronological year in Rebus’s life, so ‘Playback’ is set in March, ‘A Good Hanging’ in August (while the Festival Fringe is in full swing – as it were), and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ in December. After this come seven stories from
Beggars Banquet
along with the novella ‘Death is Not the End’ (part of which ended up ‘cannibalised’ in my novel
Dead Souls
). Additionally, we’ve included six uncollected stories – these were mostly written for magazines and newspapers, sometimes for the Christmas edition, which is why the festive season crops up. Then there are two brand new stories – ‘The Passenger’ and ‘A Three-Pint Problem’. The final story in the collection, ‘The Very Last Drop’, is set immediately after Rebus’s retirement at the end of
Exit Music
and was written to be read aloud at a charity night at Edinburgh’s Caledonian Brewery – you’ll see why when you reach it.

I hope you get as much fun reading these stories as I had writing them.



Ian Rankin










Dead and Buried






‘Colder than an ex-wife’s kiss,’ Detective Inspector Stefan Gilmour muttered, shuffling his feet and rubbing his hands.

‘I wouldn’t know,’ Rebus replied. His own hands were pushed deep into the pockets of his coat. It was 3 p.m. on a winter afternoon, and the lights in the prison yard had already been switched on. Faces sometimes appeared at the barred windows, accompanied by curious looks and gestures. The mechanical digger was making slow progress, workmen with pickaxes standing ready.

‘I keep forgetting you’re still married,’ Gilmour commented. ‘That’ll be for the sake of your daughter, eh?’

Rebus glowered at him, but Gilmour was focusing his attention on the unmarked grave. They were in an unused corner of the grounds of
Saughton, close by its high sheer walls. The guards who had brought them to the spot had vanished indoors again sharpish. In place of a hearse, the undertaker had provided a pale blue van pockmarked with rust. It carried a cheap, plain coffin, since nobody reckoned much would remain of the original. Twenty years back Joseph Blay had been hanged not fifty yards away, one of the last men to be executed in Scotland. Rebus had been shown the hanging shed on a previous visit to the prison. It was still, he’d been informed, in full working order should capital punishment make a comeback.

The digger scraped at the ground again, and this time threw up some long splinters of wood. One of the workmen gestured for the driver to lift the arm away, before climbing into the hole, accompanied – with some apparent reluctance – by his younger colleague. As they worked with their pickaxes, more of the coffin was revealed, some sections intact. There was no smell at all, not that Rebus could pick up. The first he saw of Joseph Blay was a shank of hair with the skull below. The fresh coffin had been produced from the back of the van. Nobody was here to loiter. Blay wore a dark suit. Rebus didn’t know what he’d expected from the exhumation: worms emerging from eye sockets maybe, or the stench of putrefaction. He had been steeling himself all morning, forgoing breakfast and lunch so there’d be nothing for him to bring up. But all he was looking at was a skeleton in a cheap suit, resembling the prop from some medical students’ prank.

‘Afternoon, Joe,’ Gilmour said, giving a little salute.

After a few more minutes, the workmen were ready to lift the body. Blay’s trousers and suit jacket seemed stuck to the ground beneath, but eventually came free. The remains were treated with neither great reverence nor any disrespect. The deceased was a job, and that job would be carried out with brisk efficiency before any of the living participants froze to death.

‘What’s that?’ Rebus asked, nodding towards the hole. Gilmour narrowed his eyes, then clambered into the trench, crouching to pick up a pocket watch on a chain.

‘Probably in his jacket,’ he said, offering his free hand to Rebus so he could be helped back up. The lid had already been placed on the new coffin and it was being loaded into the van.

‘Where will he end up?’ Rebus asked.

Gilmour shrugged. ‘Nowhere worse than this,’ he offered, returning the sombre stare of one of the old lags at a second-storey window.

‘Hard to disagree,’ Rebus said. The digger’s engine had started up again. There was a hole to be refilled.


At a pub near Haymarket Station, Gilmour ordered Irish coffees. The coffee was instant and the cream
, but with an extra slug of Grouse in each mug it might just do the job. There was no fire as such, but radiator pipes hissed away under the row of bench seats, so they sat side by side and slurped. Rebus had lit a cigarette and could feel his whole face tingling as he began to thaw.

‘Remind me,’ he said eventually. ‘What the hell just happened?’

‘It’s how they did it back then,’ Gilmour obliged. ‘When you were hanged, you went to a grave inside the prison grounds. Joseph Blay killed a man who owed him money. Went to his house and stabbed him. Found guilty and sentenced to the scaffold.’

‘And this was in ’63?’

Gilmour nodded. ‘Twenty years back. Charlie Cruikshank was in charge of the case. He’s dead now, too – heart attack a couple of years ago.’

‘I’ve heard of him.’

‘Taught me everything I know. Man was a legend in the Edinburgh Police.’

‘Did he attend the execution?’

Gilmour nodded again. ‘He always did. When he used to talk about them, you could tell he thought we’d made a big mistake doing away with them. Not that he thought it was a deterrent. I’ve not met many killers who paused beforehand to consider the consequences.’

‘So for him it was what? A vengeance sort of thing.’

‘Well, it stopped them getting into any more bother, didn’t it? And saved all of us the cost of their upkeep in the nick.’

‘I suppose.’

Gilmour drained his glass and told Rebus it was his round.

‘Same again?’

‘Aye, but without the coffee and the cream,’ Gilmour responded with a wink.

When Rebus returned from the bar with their whiskies, he saw that Gilmour was playing with the pocket watch, trying to prise it open.

‘I thought you handed it over,’ Rebus commented.

‘You think he’ll miss it?’

‘All the same …’

‘Hell’s teeth, John, it’s not like it’s worth anything. Case looks like pewter. Here, you have a go.’ He handed the watch to Rebus and went to ask the barman for a knife. The timepiece had very little weight to it and no markings that Rebus could see. He worked at it with his thumbnail without success. Meantime, the barman had offered up a small screwdriver. Gilmour took back the watch and eventually got it open. The glass was opaque, the face discoloured and water damaged. The hands had stopped at quarter past six.

‘No inscription,’ Gilmour said.

‘Must have had sentimental value at least,’ Rebus offered. ‘For him to be buried with it. His dad’s maybe, or even his granddad’s?’

Gilmour rubbed his thumb across the glass, turning the watch in his hand. Then he got busy with the screwdriver again, until the mechanism came free from its casing. An inch-long cardboard rectangle was stuck there. It came apart in the process, adhering to both the workings of the watch and the inner case. If there had been any writing on it, the words had long faded.

‘What do you reckon?’ Gilmour asked.

‘Is there something I’m not seeing here, Stefan?’ Rebus asked in return.

‘You’re the detective, John.’ Gilmour placed the watch on the table between them. ‘You tell me.’



The watch sat on Gilmour’s desk at Summerhall police station for the rest of the week. The old building felt like it might not survive till spring. Two of the windows in the
office wouldn’t shut properly, and strips of newspaper had been stuffed into the gaps. An unlagged water pipe in the roof space had burst a fortnight back, bringing down part of the ceiling in a storeroom. Rebus had only been stationed there for a month and a half, but the mood of the place had managed to seep into his bones. He felt he was still being tested by his new colleagues, and that somehow the pocket watch was part of it.
Dod Blantyre had offered to have it looked at by a watchmaker of his acquaintance, but Gilmour had shaken his head. There was a photo one day in the
, showing the construction work at
Saughton. New workshops were being built – the reason for Joseph Blay’s exhumation. It still wasn’t clear to Rebus why Gilmour had taken him there – or even why Gilmour himself had felt the need to be present. He hadn’t joined the force until ’65, two years after Blay’s execution. When Rebus found himself alone in the office with Dod Blantyre, he asked if Blantyre had known Charlie Cruikshank.

‘Oh aye,’ Blantyre said with a chuckle. ‘Some boy, Charlie.’

‘He seems to have taken Stefan under his wing.’

Blantyre nodded. ‘They were close,’ he agreed. ‘But then Charlie wasn’t someone you wanted to get on the wrong side of.’

‘Did he work at Summerhall?’

Blantyre shook his head. ‘Leith – that was Stefan’s first posting. Pair of them used to go to watch Hearts play. And here’s the thing: Stefan grew up supporting
. Could never admit as much to Charlie though. Had to keep gritting his teeth and joining in whenever a goal was scored.’

‘Would it have meant a falling out between them if Cruikshank had found out?’

‘You planning on writing Stefan’s biography, John? What’s with all the questions anyway?’

‘Just curious.’

‘I tend to find that’s a dangerous trait in
. You might want to get shot of it.’ There was an edge to Blantyre’s voice. For the rest of the afternoon, Rebus could feel the man’s eyes on him, the mood lightening only when, at quarter past five, Stefan Gilmour announced that he could hear the siren call of the local bar. As the group left Summerhall, however, Rebus realised he had left his pools coupon in the office.

‘I’ll catch you up,’ he said.

The coupon was in his desk drawer, filled out and ready to be handed in at the pub. He’d often asked himself what he would do if he ever did get a big win. Retire to warmer climes? He doubted his wife would want to give up her job. Nor, for that matter, would he. Pausing by Gilmour’s desk, he scooped up the watch and turned it in his hand, the chain dangling. It was easier to open now, the mechanism sliding onto his palm. But it still wasn’t about to tell him anything.


‘Sixty-three?’ the clerk said. ‘That counts as recent history.’

The man was bald and cadaverous, his glasses horn-rimmed and greasy. The warehouse in Granton was his fiefdom, and he obviously knew every inch of it.

‘How far back do records go?’ Rebus inquired.

‘I’ve got some dating from the 1940s – they’re not complete sets though.’

‘You sound disappointed.’

The man peered at him, then gestured towards a desk. ‘You can wait here while I fetch what you need.’

‘Thanks.’ Rebus sat down and, seeing an ashtray, decided to get a cigarette lit. It was nine in the morning and he’d warned the office he had a dentist’s appointment. Running his tongue around his mouth, he realised he really should make an appointment, having cancelled the last one. It was five minutes before the clerk returned. He placed a manila folder in front of Rebus, then produced a notebook from his pocket.

‘Just need to sign you in,’ he said. ‘Warrant card, please.’

Rebus handed it over and watched as the man began to enter his details onto a page.

‘You always do that?’ Rebus asked.

‘It’s important to keep a record.’

‘Anyone else requested this file recently?’

The clerk offered a thin smile. ‘I wondered if you’d twig.’

‘I’m guessing it was a DI called Gilmour.’

The clerk nodded. ‘Just three weeks back. Our hanged man is suddenly a popular figure …’


Frazer Spence was the only one in the office when Rebus returned to Summerhall.

‘Must have been quite a procedure,’ he said.

‘What do you mean?’

Spence patted his cheek with a finger. ‘The dentist. I’m usually in and out in half an hour.’

‘That’s because you brush your teeth.’

‘Twice a day,’ Spence confirmed.

‘How’s your bike, by the way?’ Spence had come off his motorcycle the previous weekend.

‘Garage says it’ll take a week or so.’

‘You need to be more careful on that thing.’

Spence just shrugged. ‘Hit a patch of oil. Could have happened to anyone.’

‘Still, sliding along a road on your backside at fifty miles an hour – maybe a lesson there, eh?’

‘My leathers bore the brunt.’

‘All the same.’ Rebus paused and looked around the office. ‘Where are the others?’

‘Meeting one of Stefan’s snitches. He might have something on the hold-up at that jeweller’s on George Street.’

‘Bit of progress would be welcome.’


Rebus was standing next to Gilmour’s desk. The watch was no longer sitting there, so he opened the drawer. It lay on top of a stack of betting slips. Rebus lifted it out and slipped it into his pocket. ‘I’m off out again,’ he told Spence.

‘So what do I tell Stefan when he gets back?’

‘Tell him he’s not the only cop in town with informants to keep sweet.’

‘So which pub can he find you in if he needs you?’

Rebus pressed a finger to his lips and gave a wink.


‘What’s on your mind, John?’

It was mid-evening. A park bench next to Bruntsfield Links. Rebus had been waiting twenty minutes for Stefan Gilmour to arrive. Gilmour sat down, hands in coat pockets, legs splayed. Rebus had just stubbed a cigarette out under his heel and was resisting the urge to light another.

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