BROKEN HARBOUR, by Tana French
Let’s get one thing straight: I was the perfect man for this case. You’d be amazed how many of the lads would have run a mile, given the choice – and I had a choice, at least at the start. A couple of them said it to my face: Sooner you than me, man. It didn’t bother me, not for a second. All I felt was sorry for them.
Some of them aren’t wild about the high-profile gigs, the high-stakes ones – too much media crap, they say, and too much fallout if you don’t get a solve. I don’t do that kind of negativity. If you put your energy into thinking about how much the fall would hurt, you’re already halfway down. I focus on the positive, and there’s plenty of positive there: you can pretend you’re above this stuff, but everyone knows the big cases are the ones that bring the big promotions. Give me the headline-grabbers and you can keep your drug-dealer stabbings. If you can’t take the heat, stay in uniform.
Some of the lads can’t handle kids, which would be fair enough except that, forgive me for asking, if you can’t cope with nasty murders then what the hell are you doing on the Murder Squad? I bet Intellectual Property Rights would love to have your sensitive arse on board. I’ve handled babies, drownings, rape-murders and a shotgun decapitation that left lumps of brain crusted all over the walls, and I sleep just fine, as long as the job gets done. Someone has to do it. If that’s me, then at least it’s getting done right.
Because let’s get another thing clear, while we’re at it: I am bloody good at my job. I still believe that. I’ve been on the Murder Squad for ten years, and for seven of those, ever since I found my feet, I’ve had the highest solve rate in the place. This year I’m down to second, but the top guy got a run of slam-dunks, domestics where the suspect practically slapped the cuffs on his own wrists and served himself up on a plate with applesauce. I pulled the tough ones, the nobody-seen-nothing junkie-on-junkie drudgery, and I still scored. If our superintendent had had one doubt, one single doubt, he could have pulled me off the case any time he wanted. He never did.
Here’s what I’m trying to tell you: this case should have gone like clockwork. It should have ended up in the textbooks as a shining example of how to get everything right. By every rule in the book, this should have been the dream case.
The second it hit the floor, I knew from the sound that it was a big one. All of us did. Your basic murder comes straight to the squad room and goes to whoever’s next in the rota, or, if he’s out, to whoever happens to be around; only the big ones, the sensitive ones that need the right pair of hands, go through the Super so he can pick his man. So when Superintendent O’Kelly stuck his head around the door of the squad room, pointed at me, snapped, ‘Kennedy, my office,’ and vanished, we knew.
I flipped my jacket off the back of my chair and pulled it on. My heartbeat had picked up. It had been a long time, too long, since one of these had come my way. ‘Don’t go anywhere,’ I said to Richie, my partner.
‘Oooo,’ Quigley called from his desk, mock-horrified, shaking a pudgy hand. ‘Is Scorcher in the shit again? I never thought we’d see the day.’
‘Feast your eyes, old son.’ I made sure my tie was straight. Quigley was being a little bitch because he was next up in the rota. If he hadn’t been a waste of space, O’Kelly might have let the case go to him.
‘What’ve you done?’
‘Shagged your sister. I brought my own paper bags.’
The lads snickered, which made Quigley purse up his lips like an old woman.
‘That’s not funny.’
‘Too close to the bone?’
Richie was open-mouthed and practically hopping off his chair with curiosity. I flipped my comb out of my pocket and gave it a quick run through my hair. ‘Am I good?’
‘Lick-arse,’ Quigley said, through his sulk. I ignored him.
‘Yeah,’ Richie said. ‘You’re grand. What . . . ?’
‘Don’t go anywhere,’ I repeated, and went after O’Kelly.
My second hint: he was up behind his desk, with his hands in his trouser pockets, rolling up and down on the balls of his feet. This case had pumped up his adrenaline enough that he wouldn’t fit in his chair. ‘You took your time.’
He stayed where he was, sucking his teeth and rereading the call sheet on his desk. ‘How’s the Mullen file coming along?’
I had spent the last few weeks putting together a file for the Director of Public Prosecutions on one of those tricky drug-dealer messes, making sure the little bastard didn’t have a single crack to slime through. Some detectives think their job’s done the second the charges are filed, but I take it personally when one of my catches wriggles off the hook, which they seldom do. ‘Good to go. Give or take.’
‘Could someone else finish it up?’
‘Not a problem.’
He nodded and kept reading. O’Kelly likes you to ask – it shows you know who’s boss – and since he is in fact my boss, I have no problem rolling over like a good little doggie when it makes things run more smoothly. ‘Did something come in, sir?’
‘Do you know Brianstown?’
‘Haven’t heard of it.’
‘Neither had I. It’s one of those new places; up the coast, past Balbriggan. Used to be called Broken Bay, something.’
‘Broken Harbour,’ I said. ‘Yeah. I know Broken Harbour.’
‘It’s Brianstown now. And by tonight the whole country’ll have heard of it.’
I said, ‘This is a bad one.’
O’Kelly laid one heavy palm on the call sheet, like he was holding it down. He said, ‘Husband, wife and two kids, stabbed in their own home. The wife’s headed for hospital; it’s touch and go. The rest are dead.’
We left that for a moment, listening to the small tremors it sent through the air. I said, ‘How did it come in?’
‘The wife’s sister. They talk every morning, but today she couldn’t get through. That got her het up enough that she got in her car and headed out to Brianstown. Car’s in the driveway, lights are on in broad daylight, no one’s answering the door, she rings the uniforms. They break the door down and surprise, surprise.’
‘Who’s on scene?’
‘Just the uniforms. They took one look and figured they were out of their depth, called it straight in.’
‘Beautiful,’ I said. There are plenty of morons out there who would have spent hours playing detective and churning the whole case to shit, before they admitted defeat and called in the real thing. It looked like we had lucked into a pair with functioning brains.
‘I want you on this. Can you take it?’
‘I’d be honoured.’
‘If you can’t drop everything else, tell me now and I’ll put Flaherty on this one. This takes priority.’ Flaherty is the guy with the slam-dunks and the top solve rate.
I said, ‘That won’t be necessary, sir. I can take it.’
‘Good,’ O’Kelly said, but he didn’t hand over the call sheet. He tilted it to the light, inspecting it and rubbing a thumb along his jawline. ‘Curran,’ he said. ‘Is he able for this?’
Young Richie had been on the squad all of two weeks. A lot of the lads don’t like training in the new boys, so I do it. If you know your job, you have a responsibility to pass the knowledge on. ‘He will be,’ I said.
‘I can stick him somewhere else for a while, give you someone who knows what he’s at.’
‘If Curran can’t take the heat, we might as well find out now.’ I didn’t want someone who knew what he was at. The bonus of newbie-wrangling is that it saves you a load of hassle: all of us who’ve been around a while have our own ways of doing things, and too many cooks etcetera. A rookie, if you know how to handle him, slows you down a lot less than another old hand. I couldn’t afford to waste time playing after-you-no-after-you, not on this one.
‘You’d be the lead man, either way.’
‘Trust me, sir. Curran can handle it.’
‘It’s a risk.’
Rookies spend their first year or so on probation. It’s not official, but that doesn’t make it any less serious. If Richie made a mistake straight out of the gate, in a spotlight this bright, he might as well start clearing out his desk. I said, ‘He’ll do fine. I’ll make sure he does.’
O’Kelly said, ‘Not just for Curran. How long since you had a big one?’
His eyes were on me, small and sharp. My last high-profile one went wrong. Not my fault – I got played by someone I thought was a friend, dropped in the shit and left there – but still, people remember. I said, ‘Almost two years.’
‘That’s right. Clear this one, and you’re back on track.’
He left the other half unspoken, something dense and heavy on the desk between us. I said, ‘I’ll clear it.’
O’Kelly nodded. ‘That’s what I thought. Keep me posted.’ He leaned forward, across the desk, and passed me the call sheet.
‘Thank you, sir. I won’t let you down.’
‘Cooper and the Tech Bureau are on their way.’ Cooper is the pathologist. ‘You’ll need manpower; I’ll have the General Unit send you out a bunch of floaters. Six do you, for now?’
‘Six sounds good. If I need more, I’ll call in.’
O’Kelly added, as I was leaving, ‘And for Jesus’ sake do something about Curran’s gear.’
‘I had a word last week.’
‘Have another. Was that a bloody hoodie he had on him yesterday?’
‘I’ve got him out of trainers. One step at a time.’
‘If he wants to stay on this case, he’d better manage a few giant steps before you hit the scene. The media’ll be all over this like flies on shite. At least make him keep his coat on, cover up his tracksuit or whatever he’s honoured us with today.’
‘I’ve got a spare tie in my desk. He’ll be fine.’ O’Kelly muttered something sour about a pig in a tuxedo.
On my way back to the squad room I skimmed the call sheet: just what O’Kelly had already told me. The victims were Patrick Spain, his wife Jennifer, and their kids, Emma and Jack. The sister who had called it in was Fiona Rafferty. Under her name the dispatcher had added, in warning capitals, NB: OFFICER ADVISES CALLER IS HYSTERICAL.
Richie was up out of his seat, bobbing from foot to foot like he had springs in his knees. ‘What . . . ?'
‘Get your gear. We’re going out.’
‘I told you,’ Quigley said to Richie.
Richie gave him the wide-eyed innocents. ‘Did you, yeah? Sorry, man, wasn’t paying attention. Other stuff on my mind, know what I mean?’
‘I’m trying to do you a favour here, Curran. You can take it or leave it.’ Quigley’s wounded look was still on.
I threw my coat on and started checking my briefcase. ‘Sounds like a fascinating chat you two were having. Care to share?’
‘Nothing,’ Richie said promptly. ‘Shooting the breeze.’
‘I was just letting young Richie know,’ Quigley told me, self-righteously. ‘Not a good sign, the Super calling you in on your own. Giving you the info behind our Richie’s back. What does that say about where he stands on the squad? I thought he might want to have a little think about that.’
Quigley loves playing Haze the Newbie, just like he loves leaning on suspects one notch too hard; we’ve all done it, but he gets more out of it than most of us do. Usually, though, he has the brains to leave my boys alone. Richie had pissed him off somehow. I said, ‘He’s going to have plenty to think about, over the next while. He can’t afford to get distracted by pointless crap. Detective Curran, are we good to go?’
‘Well,’ Quigley said, tucking his chins into each other. ‘Don’t mind me.’
‘I never do, chum.’ I slid the tie out of my drawer and into my coat pocket under cover of the desk: no need to give Quigley ammo. ‘Ready, Detective Curran? Let’s roll.’
‘See you ’round,’ Quigley said to Richie, not pleasantly, on our way out. Richie blew him a kiss, but I wasn’t supposed to see it, so I didn’t.
It was October, a thick, cold, grey Tuesday morning, sulky and tantrumy as March. I got my favourite silver Beemer out of the car pool – officially it’s first come first served, but in practice no Domestic Violence kid is going to go near a Murder D’s best ride, so the seat stays where I like it and no one throws burger wrappers on the floor. I would have bet I could still navigate to Broken Harbour in my sleep, but this wasn’t the day to find out I was wrong, so I set the satnav. It didn’t know where Broken Harbour was. It wanted to go to Brianstown.
Richie had spent his first two weeks on the squad helping me work up the file on the Mullen case and re-interview the odd witness; this was the first real Murder action he’d seen, and he was practically shooting out of his shoes with excitement. He managed to hold it in till we got moving. Then he burst out with, ‘Are we on a case?’
‘What kind of case?’
‘A murder case.’ I stopped at a red, pulled out the tie and passed it over. We were in luck: he was wearing a shirt, even if it was a cheapo white thing so thin I could see where his chest hair should have been, and a pair of grey trousers that would have been almost OK if they hadn’t been a full size too big. ‘Put that on.’
He looked at it like he had never seen one before. ‘Yeah?’
For a moment I thought I was going to have to pull over and do it for him – the last time he had worn one had probably been for his confirmation – but he managed it in the end, give or take. He tilted the sun-visor mirror to check himself out. ‘Looking sharp, yeah?’
‘Better,’ I said. O’Kelly had a point: the tie made bugger-all difference. It was a nice one, maroon silk with a subtle stripe in the weave, but some people can wear the good stuff and some just can’t. Richie is five foot nine on his best day, all elbows and skinny legs and narrow shoulders – he looks about fourteen, although his file says he’s thirty-one – and call me prejudiced, but after one glance I could have told you exactly what kind of neighbourhood he comes from. It’s all there: that too-short no-colour hair, those sharp features, that springy, restless walk like he’s got one eye out for trouble and the other one out for anything unlocked. On him, the tie just looked nicked.
He gave it an experimental rub with one finger. ‘’S nice. I’ll get it back to you.’
‘Hang on to it. And pick up a few of your own, when you get a chance.’
He glanced across at me and for a second I thought he was going to say something, but he stopped himself. ‘Thanks,’ he said, instead.
We had hit the quays and were heading towards the M1. The wind was blasting up the Liffey from the sea, making the pedestrians lean into it heads-first. When the traffic jammed up – some wanker in a 4x4 who hadn’t noticed, or cared, that he wouldn’t make it through the intersection – I found my BlackBerry and texted my sister Geraldine. Geri, URGENT favour. Can you go get Dina from work ASAP? If she gives out about losing her hours, tell her I’ll cover the money. Don’t worry, she’s fine as far as I know, but she should stay with you for a couple of days. Will ring you later. Thanks. The Super was right: I had maybe a couple of hours before the media were all over Broken Harbour, and vice versa. Dina is the baby; Geri and I still look out for her. When she heard this story, she needed to be somewhere safe.
Richie ignored the texting, which was good, and watched the satnav instead. He said, ‘Out of town, yeah?’
‘Brianstown. Heard of it?’
He shook his head. ‘Name like that, it’s got to be one of those new estates.’
‘Right. Up the coast. It used to be a village called Broken Harbour, but it sounds like someone’s developed it since.’ The wanker in the 4x4 had managed to get out of everyone’s way, and the traffic was moving again. One of the upsides of the recession: now that half the cars are off the roads, those of us who still have somewhere to go can actually get there. ‘Tell me something. What’s the worst thing you’ve seen on the job?’
Richie shrugged. ‘I worked traffic for ages, before Motor Vehicles. I saw some pretty bad stuff. Accidents.’
All of them think that. I’m sure I thought it too, once upon a time. ‘No, old son. You didn’t. That tells me just how innocent you are. It’s no fun seeing a kid with his head split open because some moron took a bend too fast, but it’s nothing compared to seeing a kid with his head split open because some prick deliberately smacked him off a wall till he stopped breathing. So far, you’ve only seen what bad luck can do to people. You’re about to take your first good look at what people can do to each other. Believe me: not the same thing.’
Richie asked, ‘Is this a kid? That we’re going to?’
‘It’s a family. Father, mother and two kids. The wife might make it. The rest are gone.’
His hands had gone motionless on his knees. It was the first time I’d seen him absolutely still. ‘Ah, sweet Jaysus. What age kids?’
‘We don’t know yet.’
‘What happened to them?’
‘It looks like they were stabbed. In their home, probably sometime last night.’
‘That’s rotten, that is. That’s only bloody rotten.’ Richie’s face was pulled into a grimace.
‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘it is. And by the time we get to the scene, you need to be over that. Rule Number One, and you can write this down: no emotions on scene. Count to ten, say the rosary, make sick jokes, do whatever you need to do. If you need a few tips on coping, ask me now.’
‘I’m all right.’
‘You’d better be. The wife’s sister is out there, and she’s not interested in how much you care. She just needs to know you’re on top of this.’
‘I am on top of it.’
‘Good. Have a read.’
I passed him the call sheet and gave him thirty seconds to skim it. His face changed when he concentrated: he looked older, and smarter. ‘When we get out there,’ I said, once his time was up, ‘what’s the first question you’re going to want to ask the uniforms?’
‘The weapon. Has it been found at the scene?’
‘Why not “Any signs of forced entry?”’
‘Someone could fake those.’
I said, ‘Let’s not beat around the bush. By “someone”, you mean Patrick or Jennifer Spain.’ The wince was small enough that I could have missed it, if I hadn’t been watching for it.
‘Anyone who had access. A relative, or a mate. Anyone they’d let in.’
‘That’s not what you had in mind, though, was it? You were thinking of the Spains.’
‘Yeah. I guess.’
‘It happens, old son. No point pretending it doesn’t. The fact that Jennifer Spain survived puts her front and centre. On the other hand, when it plays out like this, it’s usually the father: a woman just takes out the kids and herself, a man goes for the whole family. Either way, though, they don’t normally bother to fake forced entry.They’re way past caring about that.’
‘Still. I figure we can decide that for ourselves, once the Bureau gets there; we won’t be taking the uniforms’ word for it. The weapon, though: I’d want to know about that straightaway.’
‘Good man. That’s top of the list for the uniforms, all right. And what’s the first thing you’ll want to ask the sister?’
‘Whether anyone had anything against Jennifer Spain. Or Patrick Spain.’
‘Well, sure, but that’s something we’re going to ask everyone we can find. What do you want to ask Fiona Rafferty, specifically?’
He shook his head.
‘No? Personally, I’d be very interested to hear what she’s doing there.’
‘It says—’ Richie held up the call sheet. ‘The two of them talked every day. She couldn’t get through.’
‘So? Think about the timing, Richie. Let’s say they normally talk at, what, nine o’clock, once the hubbies are off to work and the kids are off to school—’
‘Or once they’re in work themselves, the women. They could have jobs.’
‘Jennifer Spain didn’t, or the sister’s problem would have been “She’s not in work”, not “I couldn’t get through”. So Fiona rings Jennifer at nine-ish, maybe half-eight at the earliest – up until then, they’d still be busy getting their day underway. And at ten thirty-six’ – I tapped the call sheet – ‘she’s in Brianstown calling the uniforms. I don’t know where Fiona Rafferty lives, or where she works, but I do know Brianstown is a good hour’s drive away from just about anything. In other words, when Jennifer’s an hour late for their morning chat – and that’s an hour maximum, it could be a lot less – Fiona gets panicked enough to drop everything and haul her arse out to the back of beyond. That sounds a lot like overreacting to me. I don’t know about you, my man, but I’d love to know what had her knickers in such a twist.’
‘She mightn’t be an hour away. Maybe she lives next door, just called round to see what the story was.’
‘Then why drive? If she’s too far away to walk, then she’s far enough away that her going over there is odd. And here’s Rule Number Two: when someone’s behaviour is odd, that’s a little present just for you, and you don’t let go of it till you’ve got it unwrapped. This isn’t Motor Vehicles, Richie. In this gig, you don’t get to say, “Ah, sure, it’s probably not important, she was just in a funny mood that day, let’s forget it.” Ever.’
There was the kind of silence that meant the conversation wasn’t over. Finally Richie said, ‘I’m a good detective.’
‘I’m pretty sure you’re going to be an excellent detective, someday. But right now, you’ve still got just about everything left to learn.’
‘Whether I wear ties or not.’
I said, ‘You’re not fifteen, chum. Dressing like a mugger doesn’t make you a big daring threat to the Establishment; it just makes you a prat.’
Richie fingered the thin cloth of his shirt front. He said, picking his words carefully, ‘I know the Murder lads aren’t usually from where I’m from. Everyone else comes from farmers, yeah? Or from teachers. I’m not what anyone expects. I understand that.’
His eyes in the rear-view mirror were green and level. I said, ‘It doesn’t matter where you come from. There’s nothing you can do about it, so don’t waste your energy thinking about it. What matters is where you’re going. And that, mate, is something you can control.’
‘I know that. I’m here, amn’t I?’
‘And it’s my job to help you get further. One of the ways you take charge of where you’re going is by acting like you’re already there. Do you follow me?’
He looked blank.
‘Put it this way. Why do you think we’re driving a Beemer?’
Richie shrugged. ‘Figured you liked the car.’
I took a hand off the wheel to point a finger at him. ‘You figured my ego liked the car, you mean. Don’t fool yourself: it’s not that simple. These aren’t shoplifters we’re going after, Richie. Murderers are the big fish in this pond. What they do is a big deal. If we tool up to the scene in a beat-up ’95 Toyota, it looks disrespectful; like we don’t think the victims deserve our best. That puts people’s backs up. Is that how you want to start off?’
‘No, it’s not. And, on top of that, a beat-up old Toyota would make us look like a pair of losers. That matters, my man. Not just to my ego. If the bad guys see a pair of losers, they feel like their balls are bigger than ours, and that makes it harder to break them down. If the good guys see a pair of losers, they figure we’ll never solve this case, so why should they bother trying to help us? And if we see a pair of losers every time we look in the mirror, what do you think happens to our odds of winning?’
‘They go down. I guess.’
‘Bingo. If you want to come out a success, Richie, you cannot go in smelling of failure. Do you get what I’m saying here?’
He touched the knot in his new tie. ‘Dress better. Basically.’
‘Except that it’s not basic, old son. There’s nothing basic about it. The rules are there for a reason. Before you go breaking them, you might want to have a think about what that reason might be.’
I hit the M1 and opened up wide, letting the Beemer do her thing. Richie glanced at the speedometer, but I knew without looking that I was bang on the limit, not a single mile over, and he kept his mouth shut. Probably he was thinking what a boring bollix I was. Plenty of people think the same thing. All of them are teenagers, mentally if not physically. Only teenagers think boring is bad. Adults, grown men and women who’ve been around the block a few times, know that boring is a gift straight from God. Life has more than enough excitement up its sleeve, ready to hit you with as soon as you’re not looking, without you adding to the drama. If Richie didn’t know that already, he was about to find out.
I’m a big believer in development – blame the property developers and their tame bankers and politicians for this recession if you want, but the fact is, if it wasn’t for them thinking big, we’d never have got out of the last one. I’d rather see an apartment block any day, all charged up with people who go out to work every morning and keep this country buzzing and then come home to the nice little places they’ve earned, than a field doing bugger-all good to anyone except a couple of cows. Places are like people are like sharks: if they stop moving, they die. But everyone has one place that they like to think is never going to change.
I used to know Broken Harbour like the back of my hand, when I was a skinny little guy with home-cut hair and mended jeans. Kids nowadays grew up on sun holidays during the boom, two weeks in the Costa del Sol is their bare minimum. But I’m forty-two and our generation had low expectations. A few days by the Irish Sea in a rented caravan put you ahead of the pack.
Broken Harbour was nowhere, back then. A dozen scattered houses full of families named Whelan or Lynch who’d been there since evolution began, a shop called Lynch’s and a pub called Whelan’s, and a handful of caravan spaces, just a fast barefoot run over slipping sand dunes and between tufts of marram grass to the cream-coloured sweep of beach. We got two weeks there every June, in a rusty four-bunker that my dad booked a year in advance. Geri and I got the top bunks; Dina got stuck on the bottom, opposite my parents. Geri got first pick because she was the oldest, but she always wanted the land-facing side so she could see the ponies in the field behind us. That meant I got to open my eyes every morning on white lines of sea-foam and leggy birds dashing along the sand, all of it glinting in the early light.
The three of us were up and out at daybreak with a slice of bread and sugar in each hand. We had all-day games of pirates with the kids from the other caravans, went freckly and peeling from salt and windburn and the odd hour of sunshine. For tea my mother would fry up eggs and sausages on a camping stove, and afterwards my father would send us to Lynch’s for ice creams. We’d come back to find my mum sitting on his lap, leaning her head into the curve of his neck and smiling dreamily out at the water; he’d wind her hair around his free hand, so the sea breeze wouldn’t whip it into her ice cream. I waited all year to see them look like that.
Once I got the Beemer off the main roads I started remembering the route, like I had known I would, just a faded sketch at the back of my head: past this clump of trees – taller, now – left at that kink in the stone wall. Right where the water should have risen into view over a low green hill, though, the estate came charging up out of nowhere and blocked our way like a barricade: rows of slate roofs and white gables stretching for what looked like miles in either direction, behind a high breeze- block wall. The signboard at the entrance said, in flamboyant curly lettering the size of my head, WELCOME TO OCEAN VIEW, BRIANSTOWN. A NEW REVELATION IN PREMIER LIVING. LUXURY HOUSES NOW VIEWING. Someone had spray-painted a big red cock and balls over it.
At first glance, Ocean View looked pretty tasty: big detached houses that gave you something substantial for your money, trim strips of green, quaint signposts pointing you towards LITTLE GEMS CHILDCARE and DIAMONDCUT LEISURE CENTRE. Second glance, the grass needed weeding and there were gaps in the foot-paths. Third glance, something was wrong.
The houses were too much alike. Even on the ones where a triumphant red-and-blue sign yelled SOLD, no one had painted the front door a crap colour, put flowerpots on the windowsills or tossed plastic kiddie toys on the lawn. There was a scattering of parked cars, but most of the driveways were empty, and not in a way that said everyone was out powering the economy. You could look straight through three out of four houses, to bare rear windows and grey patches of sky. A heavyset girl in a red anorak was shoving a buggy along a footpath, wind grabbing at her hair. She and her moon-faced kid could have been the only people within miles.
‘Jaysus,’ Richie said; in the silence his voice was loud enough that both of us jumped. ‘The village of the damned.’
The call sheet said 9 Ocean View Rise, which would have made more sense if the Irish Sea had been an ocean or even if it had been visible, but I guess you make the most of whatever you’ve got. The satnav was getting out of its depth: it took us down Ocean View Drive, dead-ended us down Ocean View Grove – which hit the trifecta by having no trees anywhere in sight – and informed us, ‘You have reached your destination. Goodbye.’
I did a U-turn and went looking. As we got deeper into the estate, the houses got sketchier, like watching a film in reverse. Pretty soon they were random collections of walls and scaffolding, with the odd gaping hole for a window; where the house-fronts were missing the rooms were littered with broken ladders, lengths of pipe, rotting cement bags. Every time we turned a corner I expected to see a swarm of builders at work, but the nearest we got was a battered yellow digger in a vacant lot, listing sideways among churned-up mud and scattered mounds of dirt.
No one lived here. I tried to aim us back in the general direction of the entrance, but the estate was built like one of those old hedge-mazes, all cul-de-sacs and hairpin turns, and almost straightaway we were lost. A tiny dart of panic shot through me. I’ve never liked losing my bearings.
I pulled up at an intersection – reflex: it wasn’t like anyone was going to dash out in front of me – and in the quiet where the noise of the motor had been, we heard the deep boom of the sea. Then Richie’s head went up. He said, ‘What’s that?’
It was a short, raw, ripped-open shriek, repeating over and over, so regular it sounded mechanical. It spread out across mud and concrete and bounced off unfinished walls till it could have come from anywhere, or everywhere. As far as I could tell, that and the sea were the only sounds on the estate.
I said, ‘I’m going to bet that’s the sister.’
He gave me a look like he thought I was yanking his chain. ‘That’s a fox or something. Run over, maybe.’
‘And here I thought you were Mr Streetwise who knew just how bad this was going to be. You’re going to need to brace yourself, Richie. Big-time.’
I rolled down a window and followed the sound. The echoes led me off-course a few times, but we knew it when we saw it. One side of Ocean View Rise was pristine, bay-windowed white semi-ds lined up in pairs, neat as dominoes; the other side was scaffolding and rubble. Between the dominoes, over the estate wall, slivers of grey sea moved. A couple of the houses had a car or two in front of them, but one house had three: a white Volvo hatchback that had Family written all over it, a yellow Fiat Seicento that had seen better days, and a marked car. There was blue-and-white crime-scene tape along the low garden wall.
I meant what I said to Richie: in this job everything matters, down to the way you open your car door. Long before I say Word One to a witness, or a suspect, he needs to know that Mick Kennedy is in the house and that I’ve got this case by the balls. Some of it is luck – I’ve got height, I’ve got a full head of hair and it’s still ninety-nine per cent dark brown, I’ve got decent looks if I say so myself, and all those things help – but I’ve put practice and treadmill time into the rest. I kept up my speed till the last second, braked hard, swung myself and my briefcase out of the car in one smooth move and headed for the house at a swift, efficient pace. Richie would learn to keep up.
One of the uniforms was squatting awkwardly by his car, patting at someone in the back seat who was pretty clearly the source of the screaming. The other one was pacing in front of the gate, too fast, with his hands clasped behind his back. The air smelled fresh, sweet and salty: sea and fields. It was colder out there than it had been in Dublin. Wind whistled half-heartedly through scaffolding and exposed beams.
The guy who was pacing was my age, with a paunch and a sandbagged look: he had obviously made it through twenty years on the force without seeing anything like this, and had been hoping to make it through twenty more. He said, ‘Garda Wall. That’s Garda Mallon, by the car.’
Richie was sticking out a hand. It was like having a puppy. I said, before he could start buddying up, ‘Detective Sergeant Kennedy and Detective Garda Curran.You’ve been in the house?’
‘Only when we got here first. As soon as we could, we got out and rang ye.’
‘Good call. Tell me exactly what you did, entrance to exit.’
The uniform’s eyes went to the house, like he could hardly believe it was the same place he had arrived at only a couple of hours earlier. He said, ‘We were called in for a welfare check – the occupant’s sister was worried. We reached the premises just after eleven o’clock and attempted to make contact with the residents by ringing the doorbell and by phone, but got no response. We saw no signs of forced entry, but when we looked in the front window, the lights on the ground floor were on and the sitting room appeared to be in some disorder. The walls—’
‘We’ll see the disorder for ourselves in a minute. Carry on.’ Never let anyone describe the details before you get on the scene, or you’ll see what they saw.
‘Right.’ The uniform blinked, pulled himself back on track. ‘Anyhow. We attempted to go around to the back of the house, but you can see for yourselves, sure – a child couldn’t get through there.’ He was right: the gap between the houses was just wide enough for the side wall. ‘We felt that the disorder and the sister’s concerns warranted forcing entry through the front door. We found . . .’
He was shifting on his feet, trying to angle the conversation so that he could see the house, like it was a coiled animal that might pounce at any second. ‘We entered the sitting room, found nothing to speak of – the disorder, but...We then proceeded to the kitchen, where we found a male and a female on the floor. Both stabbed, by the looks of it. One wound, on the female’s face, was clearly visible to myself and Garda Mallon. It appeared to be a knife wound. It—’
‘The doctors’ll decide that. What did you do next?’
‘We thought they were both dead. We were certain. There’s a load of blood. Loads of . . .’ He gestured vaguely towards his own body, a shapeless pecking movement. There’s a reason why some guys stay in uniform. ‘Garda Mallon checked their pulses all the same, just in case. The female, she was right up against the male, like curled up against him – she had her head, her head was on his arm, like she was asleep . . . When Garda Mallon checked, she had a pulse. He got the shock of his life. We never expected . . . He couldn’t believe it, not till he put down his head and heard her breathing. Then we called for the ambulance.’
‘And while you waited?’
‘Garda Mallon stayed with the woman. Talked to her. She was unconscious, but . . . just telling her it was all right, we were the Guards, there was an ambulance coming and for her to hang on . . . I went upstairs. In the back bedrooms . . . There’s two little children there, Detective. A young boy and a young girl, in their beds. I tried CPR. They’re – they were cold, stiff, but I tried anyway. After what had happened with the mother, I thought, you never know, maybe they could still . . .’ He rubbed his hands down the front of his jacket, unconsciously, like he was trying to wipe away the feel. I didn’t give him a bollocking for wrecking evidence: he had only done what came naturally. ‘No joy. Once I knew for definite, I rejoined Garda Mallon in the kitchen and we called for ye and the rest.’
I asked, ‘Did the woman come to? Say anything?’
He shook his head. ‘She didn’t move. We kept thinking she was after dying on us, had to keep checking to make sure she was still . . .’ He wiped his hands again.
‘Do we have anyone at the hospital with her?’
‘We called in to the station, had them send someone. Maybe one of us should have gone with her, but with the scene to be secured, and the sister – she was . . . Sure, you can hear.’
‘You broke the news,’ I said. I do the notification myself, any time I can. You can tell a lot from that first reaction.
The uniform said defensively, ‘We told her to stay put, before we went in, but we’d no one to stay with her. She waited a good while, but then she came in. Into the house. We were with the victim, we were waiting for ye; the sister was at the kitchen door before we saw her. She started screaming. I got her outside again, but she was fighting . . . I had to tell her, Detective. It was the only way I could stop her trying to get back in, short of handcuffing her.’
‘Right. We won’t cry over spilt milk. What next?’
‘I stayed outside with the sister. Garda Mallon waited with the victim until the ambulance arrived. Then he left the house.’
‘Without doing a search?’
‘I went back in, once he came out to stay with the sister. Garda Mallon, sir, he’s all over blood; he didn’t want to track it around the house. I performed a basic security search, just to confirm that there was no one on the premises. No one alive, like. We left the in-depth search for ye and the Bureau.’
‘That’s what I like to hear.’ I flicked an eyebrow at Richie. The kid was paying attention: he asked, promptly, ‘Did you find a weapon?’
The uniform shook his head. ‘But it could be in there. Under the man’s body, or . . . anywhere. Like I said, we tried not to disturb the scene any more than we had to.’
‘How about a note?’
I nodded towards the marked car. ‘How’s the sister been doing?’ ‘We’ve been getting her calmed down a bit, off and on, but every time . . .’ The uniform threw a harassed look over his shoulder at the car. ‘The paramedics wanted to give her a sedative, but she wouldn’t take it. We can get them back, if—’
‘Keep trying. I don’t want her sedated if we can help it, not till we’ve talked to her. We’re going to take a look around the scene. The rest of the team are on their way: if the pathologist arrives, you can have him wait here, but make sure the morgue boys and the Tech Bureau keep their distance till we’ve had a go at the sister – one look at them and she’ll flip out for real. Apart from that, keep her where she is, keep the neighbours where they are, and if anyone happens to wander up, keep him where he is too. Clear?’
‘Grand,’ said the uniform. He would have done the chicken dance if I’d told him to, he was so relieved that someone was taking this thing off his hands. I could see him itching to get down to his local and throw back a double whiskey in one gulp.
I didn’t want to be anywhere except inside that house. ‘Gloves,’ I said to Richie. ‘Shoe covers.’ I was already flipping mine out of my pocket. He fumbled for his, and we started up the drive. The long boom and shush of the sea rushed up and met us head-on, like a welcome or a challenge. Behind us, those shrieks were still coming down like hammer-blows.