Claire leaned against her pale blue Hudson, a cigarette half forgotten between her fingers. It was well past midnight, her trench’s collar turned up against the unforgiving chill of the night. She needed to get ahead of the police, and for that, she needed what they knew to be going on with.
Her contact had sent word they’d meet her at their usual rendezvous. They were late though, and that made Claire more than a little antsy. She absently took a quick puff of her cigarette and glanced at her wristwatch - 12:34am. What’s taking you so bloody long? she thought irritably. She took one last puff and stomped out the cigarette under her heel. The night’s stillness finally broke as she heard the rumble of a car engine making it’s way toward her. Looking up, she saw dull headlights shine through the haze of fog and smoke. The car came to stop a few metres from her.
“Standing alone, in the dark, in some dingy corner for an hour, isn’t my idea of a well spent evening,” she said without preamble as her contact stepped out of their car.
“There have been some developments since last we spoke, Dr. Beauchamp,” he said, pulling his coat tighter about him.
“Don’t call me that. What’s happened?”
“Someone called the police claiming to have spotted Fraser heading north, deeper into the Highlands. We’ve been scrambling to get all roads leading out of Inverness cordoned off.”
“And was it? Fraser, I mean,” she said, pushing off her car, fear inexplicably shooting through her.
Seeing the cigarette butt on the ground by her feet, he said, “Thought you quit?”
“I did - have. Stop stalling, Grey, and just tell me what you know,” she said impatiently.
He sighed, running a hand through his already disheveled hair. “Well, there’s only so much ‘Saw that big red-heided fecker on the news skulking aboot me ma’s bed ‘n breakfast. Dinna ken where he was going, but seemed right fashed, I’ll tell ye!’ gets you. We sent a couple of units to investigate, but came up with nothing. If he was there, he’d long been gone by the time we’d arrived.”
She smiled. By all accounts, Fraser was intelligent, he wouldn’t linger too long in one place. He also knew these lands like the back of his hand, cordoning off the roads would only slow him down, not stop him. “You know, John, for someone who’s lived in Scotland as long as you have, your attempt at a Scottish accent’s rather atrocious,” she said lightly.
“Yes well, I wouldn’t attempt it in a room full of them, that’s for sure,” he replied with a self-deprecating chuckle. He looked at her then, concern lining his face. “How’d you get involved in this, Dr- Claire? This isn’t your usual type of case by any means.”
She leaned back against her car and he slowly came to lean beside her. “His uncle came to see me this morning. I can’t quite explain it, but there’s something odd about this one, John. I believed his uncle when he said Fraser wouldn’t do this. I believed it even more when I saw the crime scene -” Grey looked indignant as he took a breath to say something, she quickly cut him off and continued, “- I know what you’re going to say, you don’t need to say it, dammit! But Fraser couldn’t have done this, John.”
She slowly told him everything she’d observed in the study earlier that night, explaining the blood splatter patterns, the angles and directionality. Grey patiently listened, taking in all she said, but doubt still flitted across his half hidden features.
“All that is plausible, and certainly the coroner’s report noted the acute angle of Randall’s initial wound, but… Perhaps Fraser was crouched before Randall and struck upwards in a backhanded motion. Could explain the patterns you saw?” He said watching her.
“Perhaps…” she said, “but here -” she said pulling at his sleeve so he stood in front of her. He was a few inches taller than her, just tall enough for what she needed to show him. She leaned in and pulled out her torch from the glove compartment of her car and handed it to him. “Here. Say you’re Fraser, and you’re coming up at Randall from a crouched position,” Grey looking at her dubiously, but complied and crouched before her. “Ok, now swing the torch at me, backhanded as you suggest.” Grey did as he was told, and the torch slowly came up and gently touched her just under the left side of her jaw. Grey looked surprised. “I’m willing to bet Randall’s head wound was around his temple, was it not?” He nodded. She took the torch from him and took him by the shoulders, straightening him up in front of her. “Now,” she said, a little too excited for Grey’s liking. “Say the assailant was shorter and right handed, as I suspect,” she brought the torch in a wide arc towards Grey’s head, the tip touching his temple, then gently pushing his head, extending the torch’s arc into a full swing. With her arm still outstretched, she looked at Grey who followed the path her arm had taken and knew he saw it more or less matched the angle of the blood on the Manse’s walls. “When someone whose heart is racing - adrenaline pumping through their system - gets a head wound of any sort, it bleeds far more than you’d believe. Even a small wound can look worse than it really is. And judging by the bedlam that’d broken loose in that study, Randall’s heart was definitely pumping. A well placed blow, even from a weaker assailant, could and did cause enough damage to turn the tide in their favor.”
Grey stood a moment, processing. “Why’d he run though? If Fraser had nothing to do with this. His fingerprints were on the murder weapon, for Christ’s sake!”
“I don’t know,” she admitted, “but that’s why I have to get to him before anyone else does! He needs someone who’ll truly listen to him, and not just shoot and ask questions later.”
“Fraser doesn’t strike me as the type to come quietly. He will fight back, no matter who goes after him” Grey said darkly.
“He has his reasons,” Claire countered.
“You speak as if you know him,” Grey said, curiously. He could tell from the look on her face, her own adamance surprised her. “If you’re right, we’re hunting an innocent man.”
“I am. And you are,” she said.
“The Frasers once owned an estate somewhere not too far from Inverness,” he said quietly. Lallybroch, she thought immediately, the name floated to the surface of her memory, Fraser’s uncle had told her about it. “We’re working on the assumption Fraser is perhaps looking to go hide out in the ruins. Finding the location is our number 1 priority. I suggest you work faster.”
Grey made to move towards his car when she asked, “Do you have the name of the estate, by any chance?”
“Castle Leoch, according to local records. Belonged to his mother’s ancestors.”
Leoch? “To the north is it?” she said a little too casually.
“Yes,” Grey said, watching her. “Whatever you’ve just figured out, Beauchamp, work quickly. It won’t be long until we figure it out too.” He looked at her a moment longer, a sadness flitting across his face before he sighed and said, “Why do you always do this? Get attached so?”
“If I didn’t get attached, John, Hal would be dead,” she said, unable to meet his eye.
“And you’d still be a doctor,” he countered softly.
He made to get back into his car, when a thought occurred to her, “John,” she called and he half turned, jerking his chin at her. “Did you manage to question the eyewitness? The one who saw Fraser near the B&B?”
He shook his head, “No. We couldn’t find them and the innkeeper claimed her son to be working down in Newcastle.”
Claire turned so he wouldn’t see the smile that split her face. Sneaky bastard.
Claire drove furiously through the night. Murtagh had given her the directions she needed to get to Lallybroch within a few of hours, perhaps it’d be enough to reach Fraser before the police figured out he wasn’t heading north. And with Fraser’s diversion - for she had no doubt he was the one who made the call that sent the police scurrying north, while he ran south - she may have the head start she needed.
The sun had barely began to touch the horizon as she caught her first glimpse of the derelict Manor. Seeing it gave Claire her first stab of uncertainty. What if Fraser wasn’t here? What if she’d grossly miscalculated, misjudged the man she thought Fraser to be?
“The lad’s had his problems, but his dream ever since he was a wean, has always been to renovate his family’s estate,” she heard his Godfather say in memory. “His mother once painted Lallybroch as it once was and the lad has never been able to get the image out of his mind. Unfortunately, the only way he’d ever have the money to fix it up as he dreamed, would be to sell the property.”
“Catch 22,” Claire had said with a sad smile.
“Aye,” he’d replied quietly. “He’d go there, whenever he needed time away. Time to himself. He didna tell anyone save me and his Da. Sleeping in the ruins, picturing what it could be.” He’d looked at her then and sighed, “he isna a violent lad, he’s a hopeful one.”
The estate’s ruins came into full view as she crested up the finally corner, the dim grey light of dawn cast it in eerie, foggy shadows. Her car came to an unnaturally loud, grinding to a stop just feet from the stairs that led inside. Her fingers twitched towards her flip knife as she slowly got out of the car. If she was right about Fraser, she wouldn’t need it. Get a bloody grip, Beauchamp, there’s nothing to fear!
She was immediately swallowed by a dusty, dank darkness the moment she stepped inside. “Mr. Fraser,” she called tentatively moving gingerly further into the house. There was no answer, no sound but her crunching footfalls on the ages worth of debris. “Fraser,” she said more forcefully, as an unease began to settle in her bones. She felt, rather than saw, a swift rush of movement to her left, moments before a grimy hand clamped down hard on her mouth, yanking her head back and stifling the scream that caught in her throat, while another slowly, carefully, pushed sharp, bitingly cold steel to her exposed neck.
“I dinna ken who ye are,” a deep Scottish brogue hissed in her ear, “but ye’ve made one grave mistake coming here.”