The Crow Trap

Ann Cleeves | 8 mins

Chapter Two

THE COTTAGE, WHICH HAD COME TO be known as Baikie’s, was bought from the farm soon after the war by Constance Baikie. She had been a naturalist and illustrator, a spinster. Once she had walked the hills in search of inspiration but obesity soon restricted her ramblings. She had taken to sitting in an armchair and only drawing the birds, plants and insects she could see from her window. This was her most prolific period. The original plates from her books sold for surprisingly large sums. A London gallery took her up and organized an annual exhibition. No one knew exactly what she did with all her money, she lived very frugally. For diversion she wrote spitefully funny letters to learned magazines ridiculing the research of her colleagues.

Dougie, still fit and active then, brought all her supplies from Kimmerston once a week in his Land Rover. She never offered to pay him for this service but each year at Christmas she gave him a sketch of the farm or the surrounding hills. Later Bella found them stacked in a pile in the drawer of his desk and had them framed. Miss Baikie wasn’t lonely. She received visitors graciously but expected them to bring gifts – cream cakes, biscuits and bottles of whisky.

In 1980 Miss Baikie died suddenly. Dougie, calling one morning with the milk, found her sitting by the window. She had been there all night. In her will she launched a charitable trust to encourage environmental education and research, and donated the cottage to that. She stipulated that the trust should not benefit anyone under eighteen. She had always disliked children. Undergraduates used Baikie’s as a base for their fieldwork. Rachael had spent the previous spring there to complete her MSc. When the committee decided they needed new blood she was elected a trustee.

The cottage was much as Constance had left it. The furniture had all been hers. Fanciful students imagined that they saw her ghost, late at night.

‘Not if it was moving,’ said a lecturer who’d known her. ‘If it moved it couldn’t have been Connie. So far as I remember she never did. Not while I knew her.’

Rachael didn’t believe in ghosts.

That’s what she told Anne and Grace the next day when they fussed over her. Rachael had planned to start work immediately on the mapping but she was made to go over it all again. It was her first time as team leader and in one sense she resented the distraction. As it was she was nervous about taking charge. They were at Baikie’s for the survey and not to chat, but when Anne and Grace turned up to start work she had to tell them what had happened to Bella.

Anne was a local woman and Rachael had worked with her before. She was older than Rachael, very confident, and Rachael wasn’t sure how she’d take to being told what to do. Grace had come highly recommended, but Rachael had never met her before. She’d had no say in the zoologist’s appointment, which still rankled. Grace was pale and thin and news of the suicide seemed to drain her of the little colour she had. It seemed an overreaction. Bella, after all, had been a stranger.

Anne wanted to know all the details, however.

‘How dreadful!’ she said, when the tale of the discovery of the body had been told. ‘What did you do then?’

‘I went back to Black Law and used the phone.’ She’d gone in quietly, not wanting to scare Dougie, though realizing he’d probably expect Bella to be banging around. She’d been unnerved to hear voices coming from upstairs and wondered for a moment if she’d imagined the whole thing. She’d crept up the stairs thinking: God, I’ll look a real fool if Bella comes out and catches me. Then there’d been a loud blast of music and she’d realized that the voices were coming from the television in Dougie’s room.

‘I don’t think I’d know who to call in the event of a suicide.’ Anne’s voice was sympathetic but slightly amused which annoyed Rachael. Christ, she thought, I hope we’re not going to get on each other’s nerves already.

‘I dialled 999. I didn’t know what else to do. The operator put me through to the police and they arranged for a doctor to come. I should have thought Dougie would need one anyway.’

The doctor’s name was Wilson. She’d worried that he would get lost on the way but he’d visited Dougie before and anyway he knew the area. He was driving a Range Rover and wore walking boots and breeches, and looked like a vet.

‘He said Bella’d been dead for at least two hours,’ she said, ‘then a policeman turned up. They arranged for an undertaker to come out from Kimmerston.’

She’d offered to drive out to the fork in the track to show the undertaker the way. Mr Drummond had been very sweet considering the dreadful drive and the time of night. He had a round cherubic face and specs and said that suicides were always very upsetting. Then the doctor had to send for an ambulance to take Dougie away. He couldn’t stay in Black Law with no one to look after him. Perhaps the doctor was waiting for her to volunteer but she couldn’t face that, even for a day. She thought it would almost have been nicer for Dougie to go out with Mr Drummond and Bella, but she could hardly suggest it.

‘How was Mr Furness?’ Anne asked. ‘Did you have to tell him?’

Rachael thought Anne was enjoying the drama. She’d always been a bit of a drama queen.

‘Of course,’ she said. That was what Bella had wanted.

‘Did he understand?’

‘Oh yes.’

‘How did he take it?’

‘He cried.’

‘Did you tell him that she’d killed herself?’

‘No. Just that she was dead.’

She and the doctor had stood outside the farmhouse in the freshly scraped yard, watching the ambulance drivers lift Dougie out on the trolley. The doctor was shivering though she had stopped feeling cold.

‘I suppose it was the strain,’ Wilson had said. ‘Living all the way out here. Keeping the farm going and caring for Mr Furness. It’s not as if she was born to it. I suppose something just snapped.’

‘No,’ she’d said firmly. ‘Really. It couldn’t have been like that. Bella loved Black Law. She enjoyed every minute of her time here.’

Then he gave her a pitying look, because he thought she couldn’t face up to the reality of the situation. For the first time she wondered what Bella had meant by not being able to take any more.

When the ambulance, the doctor and the undertaker had driven away in convoy she was left with the young policeman. He watched the tail lights of the other vehicles disappear into the darkness with a sort of wistfulness, as if he were being abandoned, then he said:

‘Do you know if there’s any booze in the house?’ She could tell he was eager to get inside, but that didn’t seem very professional even when he added: ‘I expect you could do with a drink.’

She found a bottle of whisky in the cupboard in the living room. They sat in the kitchen where it was warmer. He poured himself a drink without waiting to be asked and passed the bottle to her.

‘What are you doing all the way out here?’


‘You work for the Furnesses?’

‘No, for an environmental agency. Peter Kemp Associates. We’re doing an Environmental Impact Assessment. We’ve been given permission to use the cottage down the track as a base.’

He looked blank.

‘You’ve heard about the proposed quarry in the National Park?’

‘Yes.’ But his voice was uncertain. He sounded like a boy, optimistically trying to bluff his way through an unlearned lesson, so she told him. About the quarry, the planning application, the legal requirement for a survey to assess damage.

‘We’ve been hired to do the survey and the report.’

‘You stay all the way out here on your own?’

‘Only tonight. My colleagues arrive tomorrow.’ She looked out of the window at the lightening sky. ‘Today.’

‘That’ll be Peter Kemp.’

‘No. Peter doesn’t do much casework now. Anne Preece is a botanist. Grace Fullwell’s a mammal expert.’

‘Three lasses?’

‘Three women.’

‘Oh aye.’ He paused. ‘And you have to go out in the hills. Counting things?’

‘Something like that. There’s a recognized methodology.’

‘Isn’t it dangerous?’

‘For women you mean?’

‘Well, for anyone.’

‘We leave a record of our route and the time we expect to be back at base. If there’s a problem the others can organize a search.’

‘I’d not want to be out there without a radio.’ He shuddered as if he felt suddenly cold. ‘I’d not want to be out there at all.’

She saw that he was prolonging the conversation so he didn’t have to set off up the track alone in the dark.

‘You’re not a country boy,’ she said.

‘Does it show?’ He grinned. ‘No. Newcastle born and bred. But Jan, the wife, thought the country would be a better place to bring up the bairn so I put in for transfer. Best thing I ever did.’

Though now, here in the wilds, he didn’t seem so sure. She’d guessed he was married. It wasn’t only the ring. He had a well cared for, pampered look.

‘Shouldn’t you be getting back to them?’ she said. ‘They’ll be wondering where you are.’

‘No, Jan’s taken the bairn to visit his grandma. They’ll not be back until after the weekend.’

She felt jealous of this woman she’d never met. He so obviously missed her. And it wasn’t only the freshly ironed shirts and the meals. It was the empty bed and no one to chat to when he got home after work.

‘You don’t mind answering some questions about Mrs Furness? Now, I mean. It must have been a shock but I’ll need a statement sometime.’

‘No,’ she said. ‘I’d rather get it over, then I can get some sleep before the others get here. What do you want to know?’

‘Everything you can tell me about her.’

I wonder if you’d say that, she thought, if your wife was at home. But she talked to him anyway, because she wanted to tell someone about Bella and what good friends they were. It was like a fairy story, she said. Bella coming out to the farm to look after Dougie’s mother and falling in love with it all, with Dougie and Black Law and the hills. They’d married and they really had lived happily ever after, even after Dougie’s stroke.

‘Why’d she kill herself then?’

She hadn’t been sure he’d been listening. It was the question which had been lying at the back of her mind all evening. ‘I don’t know.’

‘But the note was her writing?’

‘Oh yes. And not just the handwriting. The way the words were put together. It was like Bella talking.’

‘When did you last see her?’

‘November last year.’

‘Well, that’s it then. Anything can happen in four months.’

‘I suppose it can.’ Though she had not thought Bella would ever change. And Bella would realize that she’d not be able to leave it at that. She’d know Rachael would have questions, that she’d not be able to settle until she found out what lay behind it. So why hadn’t she left her more to go on?

‘I don’t like to leave you on your own. Is there anyone you can go and stay with?’

So I can keep you company, she thought, on the drive to the road.

‘I’ll wait until the others arrive, then I might go to my mother’s, in Kimmerston.’

She said it to get rid of him so he would realize she had family. Someone to look after her. Afterwards she thought she might go home for a few hours. She’d sort out Anne and Grace in the cottage then she’d go to see Edie. Not for comfort though. Edie wasn’t that sort of mother.