Chapter One...

A cold, unforgiving she-wolf of a city.

Not the parts the tourists saw, though in some places the two worlds coexisted, like the vaults, where population pressure had caused the Old Town builders to dig as far below the earth as they had raised their rickety structures above it. Guides took visitors down there—to gawp at grinding poverty safely set two hundred years in the past, though McBride knew men and women who lived there still.

McBride knew his city. He made his way in the grip of a bitter elation down the cobbled wynds that led between the Grassmarket and Cowgate. The back streets were icy, but he did not slip or fall. He knew the glitter side: Holyrood and the Tattoo, the peerless art galleries and science museums of the Enlightenment. He knew the squatting dwellers of the vaults, the tramps and gangs of disaffected kids who scratched out a troglodyte existence there. Even with a skinful of scotch, he knew how to place his feet on the cobbles to be steady and quiet and sure.

The city was his: he had conquered it. McBride knew the underworld network of clubs that threaded the Grassmarket. Some were for the tourists, a bit of spice and vice to titillate the lads on their stag weekends. And some were much worse. McBride, undercover as Archie Bayne, alcoholic and gambling addict, was a paid-up member of the worst of them. Oh, he knew Auld Reekie, who stank high enough to live up to her name behind these elegant, crumbling Georgian facades. McBride knew—almost—from which of the underworld dens Sim Carlyle was trading in the lives of Romanian women and kids.

Fifteen years on Edinburgh's streets, from constable to DI. Many of them happy, while he was pulling off his act as a heterosexual family man well enough. Team years, those had been, shouldering the harness beside Libby, ticking over like clockwork in his Harle Street squad. Then came his promotion. Better pay, plain clothes and the beginning of working alone. Of thinking too much and drinking too much to drown the thoughts; learning too well how to vanish undercover into night. Of Libby growing tired of playing mistress to a man now married to his job.

McBride emerged from the wynds and onto Castle Street. He snatched a surfacing breath. Leave all that mess down in the murk with Sim Carlyle. There was his city: a river of lights pouring down over the Royal Mile ridge, and above it all, brooding, visible only by its darkness, the root of the ancient volcano. Six days before Christmas, the cold had come down from the hollow sky at dusk, ringing, reverberant, making McBride's blood sing. His pockets were fat with cash from his poker winnings, his mind alight with all the things he knew. He was better off without his team—without a partner.

Without a family. The courts had granted Libby custody of their ten-year-old daughter, Grace. That was natural and good. McBride had not contested it. He had his girl for weekends and holidays, and that was enough. What kind of life could he give her? If McBride still really cared for anyone, it was the brat. She was staying with him on Christmas night. The money rustling in his pockets was destined, of course, for the police treasury—most of it, anyway; McBride was not as particular as he once had been concerning such niceties. All he was thinking as he turned the corner into Usher Close, was whether an iPod or that absurd Swarovski crystal necklace would go down best as an extravagant, unnecessary stocking filler. Both, maybe, though that would piss off Libby something cruel.

"Hoi, Archie!"