Police At The Station And They Don’t Look Friendly
Police at the station and they don’t look friendly,
Police at the station and they don’t look friendly to me. . .
Tom Waits, “Cold Water” 1992
It only takes two facing mirrors to construct a labyrinth.
Jorge Luis Borges, Seven Nights, 1977
Prologue: You Can’t Trust A Special Like The Old Time Coppers
Blue dark, red dark, yellow dark.
Snow glinting in the hollows. The Great Bear and the Pole Star visible between zoetroping tree limbs.
The wood is an ancient one, a relic of the vast Holocene forest that once covered all of Ireland but which now has almost completely gone. Huge oaks half a millennium old; tangled, many-limbed hawthorns; red barked horse chestnuts.
“I don’t like it,” the man behind the man with gun says.
“Just put up with it, my feet are getting wet too,” the man with the gun replies.
“It’s not just that. It’s these bloody trees. I can hardly see anything. I don’t like it. It’s spooky, so it is.”
“Ach, ya great girl ya, pull yourself together.”
But it is indeed spooky out here, in the hulking shadows of these venerable oaks, four hours after midnight, in the middle of nowhere, while Ireland sleeps, while Ireland dreams. . .
The little rise is a deceptively steep incline that takes my breath away and I can see that I am going to need my new inhaler if it keeps up. The inhaler, of course, is back in the glove compartment of the car because I haven’t yet acquired the habit of taking it with me everywhere. Not that it will make any difference in a few minutes anyway. A bullet in the head will fix an incipient asthma attack every time.
“Hurry up there,” the man with the gun growls and for emphasis pokes the ugly snub nose of the revolver hard into my back.
I say nothing and continue to trudge at the same pace through the nettle banks and ferns and over huge, lichen-covered yew roots.
We walk in silence for the next few minutes. Victim. Gunman. Gunman’s assistants. It is a cliché. This exact scene has played out at least a thousand times since 1968 all over rural Ulster. I myself have been the responding officer on half a dozen bodies found face down in a sheugh, buried in a shallow grave or dumped in a slurry pit on the high bog. The victims always show ligature marks on the wrists where they have been cuffed or tied and the bullet is always a headshot behind the left or right ear usually from less than a metre away and almost always from above.
Trudge, trudge, trudge we go up the hill following a narrow forest trail.
If I was so inclined I could believe in the inherent malevolence of this place: moonlight distorting the winter branches into scarecrows, the smell of rotting bog timber, and just beyond the path, in the leaf litter on the forest floor, those high pitched unsettling sounds that must be the life-and-death skirmishes of small nocturnal animals. But the pathetic fallacy has never been my cup of tea and I’m no romantic either. Neither God, nor nature, nor St Michael The Archangel, the patron saint of policemen, is coming to save me. I have to save me. These men are going to kill me unless I can talk or fight my way out of it.
A fire-break in the forest.
Is the blue a little lighter in the east? Maybe it’s later than I thought. The interrogation didn’t seem to go on too long but you lose track of time when you’re tied to a chair with a hood on your head. Could it be five in the morning? Five thirty? They’ve taken my watch so I can’t know for sure but wasps and bluebottles are beginning to stir and if you listen you can hear the first hints of the morning chorus: blackbirds, robins, wood pigeon. Too early in the year for cuckoos, of course.
Who is going to teach Emma about the birds and their calls when they shoot me? Will Beth still drive out to Donegal so Emma can spend time with her grandparents? Probably not. Probably Beth will move to England after this.
Maybe that would be for the best anyway.
There’s no future in this country.
The future belongs to the men behind me with the guns. They’re welcome to it. Over these last fifteen years I’ve done my best to fight entropy and carve out a little local order in a sea of chaos. I have failed. And now I’m going to pay the price of that failure.
“Come on Duffy, no slacking now,” the man with the gun says.
We cross the firebreak and enter the wood again.
Just ahead of us on the trail a large old crow flaps from a hawthorn branch and alerts all the other crows that we are blundering towards them.
Caw, caw, caw!
Always liked crows. They’re smart. As smart as the cleverest dog breeds. Crows can recall human faces for decades. They know the good humans and the bad humans. When these thugs forget what they’ve done to me this morning the crows will remember.
Comforting that. My father taught me the calls and the collective nouns of birds before I even knew my numbers. Murder of crows, unkindness of ravens, kit of wood pigeon, quarrel of—
“Don’t dilly-dally, get a move on there, Duffy! I see what you’re about! Keep bloody walking,” the man with the gun says.
“It’s the slope,” I tell him and look back into his balaclava covered face.
“Don’t turn your head, keep walking,” he says and pokes me in the back with the revolver again. If my hands weren’t cuffed I could use one of those pokes to disarm him the way that Jock army sergeant taught us in self defence class back in 1980. When you feel the gun in your back you suddenly twist your whole body perpendicular to the gunman presenting only air as your hands whip around and grab his weapon hand. After that it’s up to you - break the wrist and grab the gun or kick him in the nuts and grab the gun. The Jock sergeant said that you’ve got about a 75 per cent chance of successfully disarming your opponent if you’re fast enough. Lightning turn, speedy grab, no hesitation. We all knew that the sergeant had pulled those statistics right out of his arse but even if it was only one chance in ten it was better than being shot like a dog.
Moot point this morning though. My hands are behind my back in police handcuffs. Even if I do spin round fast enough I can’t grab the gun and if I suddenly made a break for it I am sure to fall over or get shot in the back.
No, my best chance will be if I can talk to them, try to persuade them; or if that doesn’t work (and it almost certainly won’t) then I’ll have to try something when they uncuff me and give me the shovel to dig my own grave. I will certainly be going into a grave. If they just wanted to kill a copper, they would have shot me at the safe house and dumped my body on a B road and called the BBC. But not me, me they have been told to disappear. Hence this walk in the woods, hence the man behind the man with the gun carrying a shovel. The question is why? Why does Duffy have to disappear when killing a peeler would be a perfect morale boost for the cause at this time?
There can only be one reason why. Because if my body actually shows up it’ll bring heat on Harry Selden and Harry Selden, despite his professions of innocence, does not want heat.
The gradient increases and I try to calm my breathing.
Easy does it now, Sean, easy does it.
I walk around a huge fallen oak lying there like a dead god.
The earth around the oak is soft and I slip on a big patch of lichen and nearly go down.
“Cut that out!” the man with the gun growls as if I’ve done it on purpose.
I right myself somehow and keep walking.
Don’t dilly-dally, he said earlier.
You don’t hear that expression much anymore. He must be an older man. Older than he sounds. I might be able to talk to a man like that. . .
Out of nowhere a song comes back to me, played 4/4 time by my grand-father on the concertina:
My old man said "Foller the van, and don't dilly dally on the way".
Off went the van wiv me 'ome packed in it, I followed on wiv me old cock linnet.
But I dillied and dallied. Dallied and dillied,
Now you can't trust a special like the old time coppers,
When you’re lost and broke and on your uppers. . .
The concertina playing is note perfect but the singing. . .my grandfather who was from a very well-to-do street in Foxrock, Dublin can’t do a Cockney accent to save his life.
Isn’t that strange though? The whole song, lurking there in my memory these twenty five years.
Oh yes, concertinas look fiendishly complicated, Sean, but they’re easy when you get the hang of them.
Sure. Have a go, let me show you how to—
“Jesus will you hurry up you peeler scum!” the man with the gun says. “You think you have nothing to lose? We don’t have to make this quick, you know. We don’t have to be easy on you.”
“This is you going easy?”
“We’ve let you keep your bollocks, haven’t we?”
“I’m going as fast as I can. You try walking through this lot with your hands cuffed behind your back. Maybe if you undid these handcuffs which you’ve put on far too tight anyway.”
“Shut up! No one told you to speak. Shut up and keep bloody moving.”
Trudge, trudge, trudge up the hill.
The slope increases again and the forest is thinning out. At the edge of it I can see sheep fields and hills and perhaps to the north that dark smudge is the Atlantic Ocean. We are only a forty five minute drive from Belfast, but we are in another world completely, far from planes and machines, far from the visible face of the war. Another Ireland, another age. And yes, the stars are definitely less clear now, the constellations fading into the eggshell sky. Dawn is coming, but dawn won’t save me. I’ll be dead before sun-up if they are even half way competent, which I think they are.
“What is the matter with them?” the man with the gun mutters to himself. “Hurry up you two!” he yells to the others.
I’ve been told not to look back, but this confirms what I’ve suspected. Of the five men who lifted me, one is waiting back at the car, one is waiting at the bottom of the trail to be a look-out and the other three are going to do the deed itself.
“All right, no one told you to stop, keep going, Duffy!” the man with the gun says.
I shake my head. “I need to catch my breath. I’m asthmatic,” I reply. “I’m having trouble breathing.”
“There’s nothing wrong with you!”
“I’m asthmatic. They diagnosed it at my physical.”
“My police physical. I thought it was just too much smoking but the doctor said I had developed asthma. I’ve got an inhaler.”
“Did you bring your inhaler?”
“Nope. It’s back in the glove compartment of my car.”
“What’s going on? Are we going to top him here?” one of the two others asks, catching us up. The one complaining about the spooky trees. The one with the shovel.
“He claims he’s got asthma. He says he can’t breathe,” the man with the gun says.
“Aye, cold morning like that will give it to you. Our Jack has asthma,” this second man says. Younger than the man with the gun, he’s wearing a denim jacket, tight bleached jeans and white sneakers. The shovel is an old model: heavy wooden handle, cast-iron blade, low centre of gravity . . .
“I don’t believe in asthma. Asthma’s a modern invention. Fresh air is all you need,” the man with the gun says.
“Well you can talk to our Jack’s mum, she’s been to the best doctors on the Waterside so she has.”
The third man reaches us. He’s smaller than the others. He’s wearing a brown balaclava and a flying jacket.
No, not he. It’s a woman. She didn’t speak during the car ride but if I’d been smarter I would have twigged that that smell in the back was her perfume. Thought it was the car’s air freshener. She also is carrying a gun. An old .45. Look at that gun. US Army issue. 1930’s model ACP. That’s been in somebody’s shoebox since the GIs were here in WW2. There wouldn’t be any suffering with a weapon like that. Wouldn’t even hear the shot. An instantaneous obliteration of consciousness. Wouldn’t feel anything. Sentience into darkness just like that. And then, if Father McGuigan is correct, an imperceptible passage of time followed by the resurrection of the body at the End of Days. . .
“Is this it? Is this the spot?” she asks.
“No we’ve a wee bit to go yet,” the man with the revolver says.
“Can we just do it here, we’re miles from everybody,” shovel man wonders.
“We do it where we’re told to do it,” the leader insists. “It’s not far now anyway. Here, let me show you.”
He unfolds a home made map on thick, coarse paper. It’s like no cartography I have ever seen, filled with esoteric symbols and pictograms and mysterious crisscrossing paths and lines. The guy’s an eccentric who makes his own maps. In other circumstances entirely we’d probably get on like a house on fire.
“What is this? Some new thing from the Ordnance Survey?” the woman asks.
“No! God no. ‘Ordnance Survey’ she says.”
“What is it?”
“Each one of us should make a surveyor’s map of his lost fields and meadows. Our own map. With our own scale and legend,” the man with the gun says.
“What do you mean ‘our lost fields’?” the woman says irritably.
“He’s quoting Gaston Bachelard,” I say.
“Who asked you? Shut up!” the man with the gun snaps.
“Gaston who?” the man with the shovel wonders.
“Look him up. There’s more to life than the pub, the bookies and the dole office you know. Asthma my arse! There is no asthma. Have you noticed that none of us have fallen? Have you noticed how quickly our feet have become accustomed to the ground?” the man with the gun says.
“Not really,” the woman replies.
“For the last half hour our eyes have been secreting rhodopsin. We’re adapting to the dark. That’s why you have to get outside, away from artificial illumination. Good for the eyes, good for the soul.”
“Rhodopsin?” the woman asks.
“It’s a protein receptor in the retina. It’s the chemical that rods use to absorb photons and perceive light. The key to night vision.”
“What on Earth are you talking about, Tommy?” the woman says.
“Ach what does it matter if we use our names. Sure he’s going to be dead soon anyway,” the man with the shovel says.
“Doesn’t matter if he’s going to be dead or not. It’s the protocol! No names. Did youse ever listen during the briefings? Bloody kids!” Tommy mutters and folds away his map in a huff.
“Is it much further?” the woman asks.
“Come on let’s get moving,” Tommy shouts, pointing the gun at me again.
Trudge, trudge, trudge up the hill, but, it must be said that I have learned much in this little interaction. The man with the gun is about 45 or 50. A school biology teacher? All that stuff about protein receptors. . .No, he probably read all that in New Scientist magazine and remembered it. Not biology. Doesn’t seem like the type who was smart enough to get a pure science degree. Geography maybe. Bit of a hippy, probably a lefty radical, and that was definitely a Derry accent. We almost certainly went to the same rallies in the early 70’s. Definitely a Catholic too which would mean he’s probably a teacher St Columb’s, St Joseph’s or St Malachy’s. That’s a lot to work with. And he’s the leader, a couple of decades older than the other two. If I can turn him the rest will snap into line.
A big if.
“Rhodopsin my foot. I fell,” shovel man says passing the woman the water bottle. “Twice. And it’s going to be worse going down hill. Mark my words. We’ll all be going arse over tit. You’ll see.”
The woods are thinning out a bit now and in the far west I can see headlights on a road. Ten miles way though and going the other direction. No help from there.
A gust of clear, elemental wind blows down from the hilltop. I’m only wearing jeans and a t shirt and my DM’s. At least it’s my lucky Che Guevara T shirt hand printed and signed by Jim Fitzpatrick himself. If a dog walker or random hiker finds my body a few years hence and the t shirt hasn’t decayed maybe they’ll be able to identify me from that.
“Careful on this bit!” Tommy says. “Its mucky as anything. There’s a bog hole over there. Dead ewe in it. But once we’re through that, we’re there.”
We wade through a slew of black trees roots and damp earth and finally arrive at a dell in the wood that must be the designated execution spot.
It’s a good place to kill someone. The ring of trees will muffle the gun shots and the overhanging branches will protect the killers from potential spying eyes in helicopters and satellites.
“We’re here,” Tommy says, looking at his map again.
“There must have been a better way to come than this,” shovel man says, exhausted. “Look at my trainers. These were brand new gutties! Nikes. They are soaked through to the socks.”
“That’s all you can say? Look at my gutties! Complain, complain, complain. Do you have no sense of decorum? This is a serious business. Do you realise we’re taking a man’s life this morning?” Tommy says.
“I realise it. But why we have to do it in the middle of nowhere half way up a bloody mountain I have no idea.”
“And here’s me thinking you’d appreciate the gravity of the task or even a wee bit of nature. Do you even know even what these are?” Tommy asks pointing at the branches overhead.
“Elm trees! For all we know maybe the last elm trees in Ireland.”
“Elm trees my arse.”
“Aye, as if you know trees. You’re from West Belfast,” Tommy snarls.
“There are trees in Belfast. Trees all over the shop! You don’t have to live in a forest to know what a bloody tree is. You know who lives in the woods? Escaped mental patients. Place is full of them. And cultists. Ever see The Wicker Man? And big cats. Panthers. The Sunday World has a photograph of—”
“Gentlemen, please,” the woman says reaching us. “Are we finally here or what?”
“We’re here,” Tommy mutters.
“Well let’s get this over with then,” she says.
“Uncuff him and give him the spade,” Tommy says.
Shovel man uncuffs me and leaves the shovel on the ground next to me. All three of them stand way back to give me room.
“You know what to do, Duffy,” Tommy says.
“You’re making a big mistake,” I say to him, looking into his brown eyes behind the balaclava. “You don’t realise what you’re doing. You’re being used. You’re—”
Tommy points the revolver at my crotch.
“I’ll shoot you in the bollocks if you say one more word. I’ll make you dig with no nuts. Now, shut up and get to work.”
I rub my wrists for a moment, pick up the shovel and start to dig. The ground is damp and soft and forgiving. It won’t take me ten minutes to dig a shallow grave through this stuff.
Everyone is staying well out of shovel swinging range. They may be new at this but they’re not stupid.
“I’ll be glad when this is over,” the woman whispers to the younger man. “I’m dying for a cup a tea.”
“And I could do with a ciggie. Can’t believe I left them back at the farm,” he replies.
“Tea and cigarettes is all they can think about when we’re taking a man’s life,” Tommy growls to himself.
“It’s easy for you, you don’t smoke I. . .”
I turn down the volume so they’re nothing more than background noise
I think of Beth and Emma as I dig through a surprising line of chalk in all this peat. Chalk.
Emma’s smile, Beth’s green eyes.
Let that be the last thing in my consciousness. Not the babel of these misguided fools.
Always knew that death was a strong possibility in my line of work but it was absurd that that banal case of the dead drug dealer in Carrickfergus could have led to this. As standard a homicide as you’re ever likely to see in Ulster. Ridiculous.
Gasping for. . .
Having trouble breathing again.
They think I’m faking it.
I have taxed their patience.
Someone pushes me and I go down.
Spreadeagled on my back in the black peat.
“Let’s just top him now,” a voice says from a thousand miles away.
“Yeah, all right.”
Above me tree-tops, crows, sky.
And the yellow dark, the red dark, and the deep blue dark. . .
Chapter 1 No Hay Banda
County Donegal is certainly not the wettest place on planet Earth; 130 inches of rain a year in Donegal may be a typical average high, but that’s nothing compared to, say, Mawsynram in India where over 400 inches of rain can fall in a calendar year. Crucially, however, that rain comes during the monsoon and the monsoon only lasts for about ten weeks. The rest of the year in Mawsynram is probably rather pleasant. One can imagine walking in the foothills of the Himalayas or perhaps taking a guided excursion to the tea plantations of Barduar. Donegal may not have the sheer amount of precipitation as Mawsynram but it makes up for this in the dogged persistence of its rain. Rain has been measured in some parts of Donegal on 300 days out of the year and if you add in the days of mist, mizzle and snow you could be looking at a fortnight in which some form of moisture does not fall to earth.
It is somewhat of a paradox then that until the arrival of cheap packet flights to Spain, Donegal was the preferred holiday destination for many people in Northern Ireland. All my childhood holidays were taken in Donegal at a succession of bleak caravan sites on windswept, cold, rainy beaches. Scores of parents wrapped in thick woollen jumpers and Sou’westers could be seen up and down these beaches driving their small, shivering children into the Atlantic Ocean with the injunction that they could not come out until they had enjoyed themselves.
My memories of Donegal had never been particularly good ones and when my father took early retirement and my parents moved to a cottage near Glencolumbkille I was a reluctant visitor.
Things had changed, of course, with the birth of Emma. My folks demanded to see their grand-daughter and Beth and I had driven out there for Christmas and now here we were again in the early spring. Glencolumbkille is in the Gaeltacht, with almost everyone in these parts speaking the quaint Donegal version of Irish. It is a little white-washed place straight out of The Quiet Man with a spirit grocer, a post office, a pub, a chapel, a golf course, a small hotel, a beach and a cliff-path. A pleasant enough spot if you didn’t mind rain or boredom or the hordes of embedded high school students from Dublin practicing their Irish on you. One of these kids stopped me when I was out getting the milk. “Excuse me, sir. An gabh tu pios caca?”
“No I would not like any cake, thank you.”
He tried again, this time apparently asking for the way to the bandstand.
I explained in slow, patient Irish that there was neither a bandstand nor a band in Glencolumbkille.
He cocked his head to one side, puzzled.
“There is no bandstand. There is no band. No hay banda, il n’est pas une orchestra.”
“Oh, I see,” he said in English. “No I was looking for the way to the beach hut, we’re supposed to meet at the beach hut.”
“It’s just over there on the beach. And the word you’re looking for is bothán trá.”
“Thanks very much, pops,” he said and sauntered off.
“Pops indeed,” I muttered as I bought the milk and a local paper and I was still muttering as I walked back to the house where mum and Beth were talking about books.
My mother, Mary, had taken immediately to Beth despite her being a Protestant, monolingual, well off, younger and, worst of all, not a fan of Dolly Parton.
“Don’t you even like ‘Little Sparrow’?” she had asked on hearing about this calamity.
“I’m so sorry Mrs Duffy, it’s just not my cup of tea. But I’ll listen again if you want me to,” Beth had said conciliatingly.
This morning they were talking about Beth’s master’s thesis which she was trying to do on Philip K Dick, something the stuffy English department at Queens were none too happy about. My mother’s sympathies lay with Queens, as, secretly did mine.
“But Mr Dick, apparently, is only just deceased. You can’t tell if a writer’s any good or not until they’re dead a generation, at least,” mum was saying.
Beth looked at me for support but there was no way I stepping into that minefield.
“Milk,” I said, putting the carton on the kitchen table. “And I’ve brought dad his paper,” I added quickly before nimbly exiting and leaving them to it.
My father also had taken to Beth and he discovered that he enjoyed the company of his daughter-in-law and grand-daughter so much that while we were here he even, temporarily, lost all interest in his beloved golf and bird-watching. At night he would talk to us in low tones about Emma’s prodigious achievements in ambulation, speech and the manipulation of wooden blocks.
“Talking at six months! And almost walking. You can see it. She wants to walk. Standing there, thinking about it. She said ‘grand-pa’! I heard her. That girl is a genius. I’m serious, Sean. You should start speaking to her in French and Irish. She’ll be fluent by the time she’s one. And you should have seen her make that Lego tower. Incredible. . .”
My parents’ cottage faced the ocean and at the far end of the house there was a little sound proof library with a big double glazed plate-glass window that looked west. Dad’s record player was over twenty years old and his speakers were shite but his collection was eclectic and pretty good. Since moving to Donegal he had discovered the works of the English composer Arnold Bax who had spent much of the 1920’s in Glencolumbkille.
I walked down to the library, found a comfy chair to look through the local newspaper and put on Bax’s really quite charming ‘November Woods’. Dad came in just after the strange, muted climax which was so reminiscent of the instrumental music of the early Michael Powell films.
“Hello, Sean, am I bothering you?”
“No, da, not at all. Just listening to one of your records. Arnold Bax isn’t bad is he?”
“No you’re right there. He’s wonderful. There’s a lightness of touch but it’s not insubstantial or frivolous. His heyday was the same time as that of Bix Beiderbecke. It’s a pity they couldn’t of played together. Bax and Bix. You know?”
“Yes dad,” I said, stifling a groan.
He sat down in the easy chair next to me. He was sixty five now, but with a full head of white hair and a ruddy sun-tanned face from all the birding and golfing he looked healthy and good. He could have passed for an aging French flaneur if he hadn’t been dressed in brown slacks, brown sandals (with white socks) and a ‘Christmas’ jumper with reindeers on it.
He handed me the Irish Times crossword and a thesaurus. I gave him the thesaurus back. “That’s cheating,” I said. “What clue is bothering you?”
“Nine down: ‘Melons once rotten will drop off branches.’ It’s somnolence, dad. It’s an anagram of melons once.”
“Oh, I see. This is the world's worst thesaurus anyway. Not only is it terrible, it's terrible,” he said and began to chuckle with such suppressed mirth that I thought he was going to do himself a mischief.
“Are you still on for tomorrow?” he asked. “I’ve been sensing that you don’t want to do it, son.”
My father’s senses were completely correct. I didn’t want to do it. Tomorrow we were driving to Lough Derg, about fifteen minutes inland from here, where we were going to get the boat over to Station Island for the St Patrick’s Purgatory pilgrimage. You could do the pilgrimage twice a year: in the summer (which is when nearly everyone did it) or during Lent. The whole thing had got started 1500 years earlier when, to encourage St Patrick with his mission among the Godless Irish, Jesus Christ had come down from heaven and shown St Patrick a cave on Station Island that led all the way down to Purgatory. Ever since then it had been an important place of pilgrimage for devout Catholics from all over Europe. My father had never been a devout Catholic but his interest in Lough Derg had been kindled by Seamus Heaney’s new book-length poem ‘Station Island’ about his own pilgrimage to Lough Derg. Heaney’s poem and his slew of amiable interviews all over Irish TV and radio had made the place sound spiritually and philosophically fascinating and in a moment of weakness I had agreed to my father’s request to accompany him; but now, of course, that we were on the eve of our journey I was not bloody keen at all. The idea of spending three days fasting and praying with my dad while walking barefoot around a damp, miserable island with a bunch of God bothering weirdoes didn’t sound like my idea of fun.
“Oh Sean, I’m glad you’re still enthusiastic. It’ll be good for all of us. Beth, Mary and Emma will get some quality time together and you and I will get closer. Maybe even closer to God too.”
“I thought you didn’t believe in God. That’s what you told Father Cleary.”
“Well, Sean, when you get to my age, you think to yourself that there’s more things in Heaven and Earth. . .you know?”
I didn’t know if I believed in God either but I believed in St Michael the patron saint of policemen and I owed my thanks to The Blessed Virgin, who, I reckoned, had helped change Beth’s mind about the abortion in Liverpool nearly a year ago.
“Wouldn’t you rather do the pilgrimage in the summer like normal people?” I asked.
“Nope. The Pope says that if you do a pilgrimage to one of the traditional sites during Lent it’ll be particularly blessed, so it will.”
“Hark onto Alfred Duffy quoting the Pope. Alfred Duffy who forced Dr McGuinness to teach us about Darwin. What’s happened to you, da? Did you get hit in the head with a golf ball or something?”
He grinned and leaned back in the chair, his watery blue eyes twinkling. “Oh, I just remembered what I wanted to ask you. You’re on for the quiz tonight? We’ve never won yet but with you on our team I think we have a good chance of beating the GAA.”
“Will it be in English? If Beth wants to come?”
Dad smiled at the mention of Beth’s name. “Ah, you got a good one there. You know it doesn’t bother us that she’s a, you know. . .”
“Is she a Prod? I hadn’t noticed. Well that explains everything.”
“All you have to do now is marry her and your mother will be in clover.”
“A wedding? Come on, da. All our lot down one side of the church, them lot down the other?” I said, not mentioning the fact that Beth had told me never to even think about proposing to her. “And Beth’s father isn’t exactly a fan of mine,” I added.
“What does he do again?”
“He works with his hands. I like that.”
“Like Gwendolyn Fairfax I doubt very much if he’s ever seen a spade. He got the firm from his father. All he seems to do is sit in his office and think up the street names for all his new developments.”
“What does he name them?”
“Mostly after obscure members of the royal family. Some Bible stuff. I only met the man twice and if I hadn’t been armed with my Glock I think he would have tried to beat me to death with one of his golf clubs.”
“Ah, golfer is he? He can’t be all bad. What’s his handicap?”
“Handicap? Well, he’s got an eighteenth century mind-set, he’s stinking rich and for recreation he golfs at Down Royal or sails about on his bloody great yacht. Is that handicap enough?”
“Yes you’ve said she comes from money. Down Royal though. I’d love to play that course. You couldn’t possibly ask if I—”
“No, I couldn’t! I’ve told you, he’s not my biggest fan.”
“Maybe if you made what they used to call ‘an honest woman’ of his daughter he wouldn’t be so hostile.”
“Dad, trust me a wedding is not in the cards.”
“Well, I’m not going to try to force you. Every time I’ve tried to force you to do anything it hasn’t worked. Backfired in me face so it has. I still regret sending you off to that bird watching camp on Tory Island. You cried and cried and I don’t think you ever picked up a birding book again after that.”
“Damn right. To this day I can’t tell the difference between a woodcock and a bog snipe,” I said and my father, who was easily pleased, erupted into gales of laughter (for, of course, as I’m sure you know, a woodcock and a bog snipe are the same thing).
Dinner that night was a high spirited affair. One of dad’s neighbours had caught a massive sea bass and mum had cooked it in a white wine sauce with scallops and potatoes while Beth and I took Emma down the beach to throw stones at the breakers.
We sat in the dining room under the portraits of JFK and the Derby winning horse Shergar (both assassinated in their prime) while a turf fire burned in the range and rain lashed the windows.
Beth, Emma and mum stayed at home while dad and I trudged to The Lost Fisherman for the village’s big event of the week if you didn’t count mass on Sunday (and fewer and fewer people did with each fresh week bringing a fresh church scandal). Dad introduced me to all his golfing cronies and told them that with me on the team we were sure to crush those arrogant bastards from the GAA.
In the event the GAA performed poorly and by the final general knowledge round it was between the golf club and the bowling club for the prize pool of fifty quid. Marty O’Reilly said that there would be a tie break question.
“This is the question and I want you to be very precise with your answer. No shouting out from any of the other teams. All right, here goes. What were the very first words spoken from the Apollo 11 astronauts on the surface of the moon? Everybody get that? Good. As usual write your answers on the card and bring them up. I’ll give you two minutes to think about it. Stop that! No whispering from any of the other teams!”
“The very first words from the moon?” Davy Smith said in a panic but I knew there was no need to worry because my dad was grinning to himself.
“Never fret, Alfred knows,” I said.
“Do you know right enough, Alfred?” Big Paul McBride asked.
“Look over there at them bowling boys. They think they know the answer but they don’t!” Dad said almost rubbing his hands with glee.
“What’s that supposed to mean, da?”
“A lot of people think the first words spoken on the surface of the moon are ‘That’s one small step for man – that’s one giant leap for mankind.’ But it’s not. It’s not even ‘that’s one small step for a man’ which Armstrong claims he says. That’s what Armstrong said when he first stepped off the bottom rung of the ladder the lunar lander but him and Aldrin had been talking in there for an hour by then.”
“What is it then?” Jeanie Coulhouln asked on the edge of her seat.
“I’ll tell you what else it’s not, it’s not ‘Houston, the eagle has landed’ either. Everyone thinks it’s that, but it’s not that,” Dad insisted.
“Ok that’s what it’s not. What’s the right answer?” Jeanie asked.
“Well,” my father began, smiling at us beatifically like the Venerable Bede. “Not many people know this but as the lunar lander, the Lem, as it was called, was touching down on the moon they had a little light to let them know when they’d actually touched down. It was the contact light and as soon as they touched down on the surface Buzz Aldrin had to tell Armstrong that the contact light was on so he could turn off the engines. So they touch down and the light comes on and Aldrin says ‘contact light,’ ergo the very first words spoken on the moon were ‘contact light’.”
“Are you sure now, Alfred?” Big Paul said, poised with this pen. “This’ll be the first time we’ve ever won out right.”
“I’m sure,” Dad insisted.
We wrote our answer on the card. The bowling club wrote down their answer and we both handed the cards up to Marty.
Marty grabbed the microphone and dramatically shook his pinched, aged face from side to side. “Ladies and gentlemen, you are not going to believe it! Both teams got the wrong answer! Both teams go it wrong so this week there’s no clear winner and we’re going to divide the pot. The bowlers wrote ‘that’s one small step for man’ and the golf club lost their heads completely and wrote ‘contact light’ but the right answer, is, of course: ‘Houston, the Eagle has landed’!”
When we got home the rain had stopped so Beth, Emma and mum met us at the beach at the end of the lane.
“How did it go? Did youse win?” Mum asked.
“I don’t think dad wants to talk about it, there’s was a bit of a shouting match at the end there, let’s just get inside and change the subject,” I said quickly.
Dad who was still red in the face said nothing and marched down to the library where we heard discordant and angry music that might well have been Bax and Bix.
The next morning I packed for the pilgrimage to Station Island with sleet and hail hammering the windows. It was the first week of March but we were still firmly in the grip of winter. I sat on the window ledge and caught my breath. For the last few weeks I’d been having trouble catching my breath in the mornings. If I wasn’t worried about a diagnosis of cancer or emphysema I would have gone to the doctor before this. I’d cut way down on the smokes, maybe it was time to cut them out completely?
“How are you doing, Sean?” Beth asked and before I could answer added: “You shouldn’t look so gloomy, I think this will be great for you and your dad.”
“You really want to know how I feel?”
“Is it going to be something positive?”
“I have nothing positive to say. Will you take two negatives?”
“Jesus Beth, I really don’t want to go on this bloody trip. I only agreed because I thought he’d forget all about it.”
“Sean! Phone!” My mum shouted from the living room.
I walked down the hall and picked up the receiver. “Hello?”
“Sean, I’m really sorry to bother you on your holiday.”
It was Detective Sergeant McCrabban. I’d recognised his dour, sibilant Ballymena intake of breath before he’d said a word.
“That’s ok Crabbie old son. It’s always a pleasure to hear from you.”
“How’s your trip going?”
“It’s all right, Crabbie. It’s pouring, but, you know, that’s to be anticipated in Donegal. Everything ok there?”
“Yeah, everything’s fine.”
“So to what do I owe the pleasure of this call?”
“Well you told me to call you if anything interesting came up.”
“And has something interesting come up?” I asked expectantly.
“There’s been a murder.”
“What sort of a murder?”
“Someone killed a drug dealer.”
“Doesn’t sound so interesting.”
“No, but they killed him with an arrow. Shot him in the back with an arrow, so they did.”
“Well. . .”
“Or that miscreant from Sherwood Forest who gives the local law enforcement agencies so much difficulty?”
“Here’s the bit that I thought might get you intrigued. This is the second drug dealer that’s been shot with an arrow in as many days.”
“Two drug dealers. Both of them shot with arrows?”
“If you want to be technical about it – and I know you do – they were actually crossbow bolts.”
“From the same crossbow?”
“We haven’t removed the bolt from the second victim yet. We’ve only just discovered him.”
“I see. And this first guy?”
“Well that’s good. I suppose. Where was he shot?”
“In the back like victim number two.”
“Did he happen to see who shot him?”
“Maybe, but it’s the usual thing. He’s not telling us anything.”
“Of course not.”
“So do you want to come back for it? Or do you want me and Lawson to handle it? Up to you, Sean, but I thought I’d let you know. Our first murder in nearly a year and a weird one at that. . .”
I lowered my voice. “Crabbie, just between us you’re a total lifesaver, mate. Have you heard of a thing called St Patrick’s Purgatory?”
“No why would ya, you big Proddy heretic.”
I quickly explained the nature of the pilgrimage and what my dad wanted us to do.
“So you see Crabbie if I have to rush back to Carrickfergus to help solve this crossbow-wielding-vigilante-potential serial-killer case I won’t have to go to that bloody island and get verrucae, mildew and trench foot.”
Crabbie, however, was not one to shirk off religious obligations lightly. “No,” he said reflectively. “I think you should do that thing with your father. It sounds very holy, so it does.”
“Crabbie listen, I’m coming back. Saint Patrick and all the sinners in purgatory can wait.”
“All right, I won’t let anyone disturb the crime scene till you get there. When do you think that would be?”
“It’s a one and a half hour drive back to Carrickfergus. If the baby wasn’t in the car with me I’d be there in an hour, but as it is I’ll have to leave the wife and kids off first and take it easy on the roads. Be there in an hour and a half. Maybe eighty eight minutes, ok? Anything else going on?”
“Did you hear about John Strong?”
“What about him?”
“He’s moving on.”
“To the choir invisible?”
“To Assistant Chief Constable.”
“Same thing really. Finally someone we almost like up at command level.”
“Aye. And listen what do you know about Bulgaria?”
“Uhm decent defence and midfield, lacks imagination up front. Why?”
“I’ll explain when you get here. 15 Mountbatten Terrace in Sunnylands Estate,” Crabbie said.
“Sunnylands Estate – why am I not surprised? All right take it easy, mate.”
I hung up the phone and went into the kitchen with a downcast look on my face.
“What’s the matter, Sean?”
“Mum, Dad, I’m really sorry but I have to go back to Carrickfergus. There’s been a murder. Suspected serial killer. Maybe even a vigilante. It’s action stations at Carrickfergus RUC. Top brass have been on the phone. The BBC. You know how it is.”
“What does this all mean, Sean?” Dad asked.
“I’ve got to get back. It’s all hands on deck. We’ll have to do Saint Patrick’s Purgatory another time.”
I could see the look of relief flit across dad’s face. “Oh dear. Dear oh dear. I’m disappointed, son. I really wanted to go,” he lied like a trooper.
“I know dad. I wanted to do it too. We’ll just have to go in the summer when the weather’s better. Or next year.”
“Yes! When the weather’s better.”
“A murder, Sean? You haven’t had one of those for a while,” Mum said.
“Nope. This is the first this year. Some drug dealer shot in the back with an arrow.”
“Like Saint Sebastian,” Mum said sadly.
“Saint Sebastian was shot in the front, love. Several times. You remember the painting by Botticelli,” Dad prompted.
“So who am I thinking of that was shot in the back?”
“Jimmy Stewart in Broken Arrow? He was shot in the back. He survived but poor Debra Paget, his beautiful Apache wife, she died,” Dad explained.
“Debra Paget,” Mum said thoughtfully.
“She was shot by Will Geer who, of course, went on to play grandpa Walton,” Dad explained.
This was the heading the way of all their conversations so I knew I had to nip it in the bud. I pointed at my watch. “Really sorry about the pilgrimage, dad. I was so looking forward to it. But someone has to keep the streets safe,” I said but neither of them was really listening to me.
“Is Jimmy Stewart still alive?” Mum asked.
“He is too! And in fine fettle. He was on Gay Byrne just last year,” Dad insisted.
“Debra Paget, I know that name,” Mum said.
“Of course you know Debra Paget!” Dad insisted. “She was Elvis’s girlfriend in Love Me Tender and she married Chang Kai-shek’s nephew. In real life that is, not in Love Me Tender.”
“Oh yes, that’s right. I remember, now,” Mum said, satisfied.
I pointed at my watch again. “Listen guys, it’s been great, but duty calls.”
We packed our bags, gave hugs all round and ran outside into the rain.
I looked underneath the BMW for bombs, secured Emma in her car seat and got Beth comfy in the front.
I got in the driver’s side, turned the key in the ignition and we both grinned as the Beemer’s throaty, fuel-injected six cylinder engine roared into life.
Eighty-eight minutes later I was at the crime scene.
Chapter 2 Just Another Dead Drug Dealer
A smallish crowd had gathered in front of 15 Mountbatten Terrace in Sunnylands Estate. No doubt the crowd would have been bigger if it hadn’t been raining and this wasn’t a Monday. Monday was one of the two signing on days at the DHSS and more or less everyone in this particular street was either unemployed or on disability and therefore needed to sign on. This had not always been the case. When the Sunnylands Estate had been built in the early 1960s Carrickfergus had 3 major textile plants and the shipyards in nearby Belfast employed over twenty thousand people. Now the factories had all been closed, the shipyards were down to a rump of 300 men at Harland and Wolff and every scheme the government had tried to bring employment to Northern Ireland had failed miserably. Emigration or joining the police or civil service were your only legitimate options these days. But illegitimate options were to be had joining the paramilitaries and running protection rackets or if you were a very brave soul you could try your hand at drug dealing.
Independent drug dealers were few and far between because the Protestant and Catholic paramilitaries liked to make an example of them from time to time to show the civilian population that they, not the police, were the ones who could be trusted to “keep the streets safe for the kids.” Of course everyone east of Boston, Massachusetts understood that this was hypocrisy. In a series of agreements worked out at the very highest levels in the mid 1980s the paramilitaries from all sides had effectively divided up Belfast between themselves for the dealing of hash, heroin and speed and the two newest (and most lucrative) drugs in Ireland: ecstasy and crack cocaine.
Such independent drug dealers that there were had to be very discreet or pay through the nose if they didn’t want to get killed. Obviously this particular dead drug dealer hadn’t been discreet or hadn’t paid the local paramilitary chieftain his cut. I’d been thinking about the crossbow bolt in the car. Guns were to be had aplenty for the paramilitaries but a private citizen might have difficulty getting one, which you made you think that maybe some kid has a heroin overdose and his dad goes out looking for justice. He can’t get a firearm but you get could bows and crossbows at a sports good shop . . .Something like that, perhaps?
I parked the BMW and got out of the vehicle. It was a grim little street and it must be truly hell around here in the summer when the only distractions to be had were hassling single women at the bus stop and building bonfires. Frank Sinatra’s upbeat Come Fly with Me was playing from an open living room window but the crowd of about twenty people was sullen and malevolent. I could almost smell the stench of cheap ciggies, unwashed armpits, solvents, lighter fluid and Special Brew. They were mostly unemployed young men who had been drawn away from wanking over page 3 by a murder on their doorsteps. I hated to leave my shiny new BMW 535i sport on a street like this but what choice did I have?
Several wee muckers came over and began touching the paintwork.
“Get your hands off that,” I said.
“Are you a policeman?” a very little girl asked.
“Where’s your gun, then?”
I patted my shoulder holster.
“What type of gun is it?”
“A Glock. A man called Chekov sold it to me. I figure I’ll use it at some point.” Pearls before swine but hey it’s these little things that keep you going. I tried a different one on the girl: “Why don’t blind people skydive?”
“Because it scares the crap out of their dogs.”
No smiles at all. I was going to have to go slapstick with this lot and it was too early in the morning for Buster bloody Keaton.
“Is that your car mister or did you knock it?” a tall particularly sinister looking child asked with an unsettling lisp.
“Why aren’t you in school, sonny?”
“I got a note from the Royal. I get these terrible headaches. I only go to school when I want to go now,” he explained.
“What’s your name, son?”
“Stevie, Stevie Unwin,” he said and I filed the name away for the future when the thing in his brain that was giving him the headaches would drive him to the top of a tower with a rifle.
“Mind the car, Stevie, don’t let anyone put their paws on it,” I said, giving him the customary fiver and began walking towards the crowd “Step aside there, step aside,” I said. The crowd parted reluctantly and with hostility, people muttering highly original things like “bloody peelers” and “bloody cops”.
Like Jules Maigret I arrived at the scène du crime thoroughly existentially jaded. But lucky old Jules never had a scene like this. The dead drug dealer was lying face down in his front yard, half way up the garden path. He had orange hair and was wearing a sleeveless denim jacket that said “Slayer” on it in rivets. Under the denim jacket was a bright blue motorcycle jacket. To complete the ensemble he was wearing bleached white jeans and cowboy boots. The crossbow bolt was sticking out of his back near his left shoulder.
I was surprised to find that the body had not been cordoned off and there was no evidence of forensic men or forensic activity. Indeed the crowd were so close to the corpse that their cigarette ash was blowing onto the deceased, contaminating the crime scene.
My blood began to boil. In another police force you would have called this chaos. One didn’t employ words like ‘chaos’ or ‘fiasco’ to the fine boys of Carrick CID, at least not in my presence, but if this wasn’t chaos it could certainly do chaos’s job until the real chaos came along in the shape of Ballyclare RUC or Larne RUC or those fuckheads from over the water.
“Everyone get back!” I said physically pushing some of the onlookers away from the body. “Back there, onto the pavement and put those cigarettes out!”
Where were the forensic officers? And why weren’t there uniformed officers on crowd control?
What the hell was happening?
Was this some kind of ambush? No, the spectators would be a lot more cautious if there was about to be a hit. A forensic officer tea-break perhaps? That was more likely given their strange ways but they’d never have buggered off leaving a bunch of eejits dropping cigarette ash over their corpse.
The crowd was nudging up again behind me. “Get back I said. There’s nothing to see here, he won’t be doing any tricks, he’s not friggin Lazarus.”
I examined the victim while the crowd watched me expectantly and Sinatra sang ‘Chicago’ which he did on the British but not the US version of this album. I could take or leave Sinatra, mostly leave, and the record was getting on my nerves. “And somebody turn that effing stereo off!” I yelled and almost immediately the record got yanked with a vinyl scraping zzzzzipppp!
Now all was silence but for the wind among the crisp packets and shopping bags and the braying of a goat attached by a brick to a piece of rope in the overgrown yard of the house next door that was attempting to reach over said fence and eat the victim’s shoelaces. It wasn’t getting close but it too was slobbering all over the crime scene.
“And somebody move that goat!” I said.
“And who might you be when you’re at home?” a woman asked with an East Belfast accent that sound like broken glass under a DM boot.
I reached in my pocket for my warrant card but it was back with my bags at Coronation Road.
“Detective Inspector Duffy, Carrick CID,” I said flashing my video club membership card in lieu of my police ID.
Suitably impressed the crowd moved back a little.
I pointed at a likely lad whose Liverpool FC scarf was a sign of above average intelligence.
“Sonny, do me a favour and move that goat away from the fence,” I said.
“What’ll I do with it?
“See that shopping trolley over there filled with bricks? Tie it to that. Here’s a quid for a good job,” I said.
“See that shopping trolley over there filled with bricks? Tie it to that. Here’s a quid for a good job,” I said.
He grabbed the rope went next door and tugged the goat away from the body.
“Right! What happened here? Where did the other police officers go?” I asked the crowd but now everyone was staring at their shoes and saying nowt. The ever present/ever tedious Belfast rule: whatever you say, say nothing had come into effect.
“There were other police officers here this morning, where are they now?”
The rain increased a fraction and a mist began rolling down the north road from the Antrim Hills. A man on all fours, perhaps with species dysphoria, was attempting to communicate with the goat.
Christ this was depressing. It didn’t help when an ice-cream van pulled up, parked itself at the end of the street and began playing a selection of television themes. Its haunting version of Eastenders brought a few punters over.
This police/honest citizen liaison was getting me nowhere. I lit a ciggie and went inside the house where I was met by a distracted and visibly upset Detective Constable Lawson coming down the stairs.
“Oh, sir, thank God you’ve got here at last!”
“What’s going on Lawson? Why isn’t my crime scene secured? Where’s forensic?”
“I’m so sorry, sir, it’s been a bit of a crazy morning. I was just on the phone, I was just trying to call them, I wasn’t sure what number, I. . .”
“Surely they were notified by dispatch?”
“Yes, sir. They’ve been and gone, sir.”
“Yes, sir. They’ve been and gone, sir.”
“Yes sir,” Lawson said, his lip trembling and his bright blue-green eyes on the verge of tears.
“Are they finished?”
“No. They didn’t even get started. Chief Inspector McCann said it was an unsafe work environment. He said it was union regulations.”
“What union? What are they. . .Why isn’t the victim even covered with a police blanket? He’s getting rained on, ashed on and there’s little kids staring at him.”
“I’m so sorry, sir. I did ask for permission but Inspector Dalziel sort of dismissed my request.”
“He got promoted while you were away, sir.”
“Let me get this straight Inspector Dalziel arrived from the station and took over the crime scene?”
“And wouldn’t let you put a police blanket over the victim?”
“He said, the goat would probably eat it and ruin police property. He may have been being sarcastic sir I wasn’t sure. . .”
“Why didn’t you control the goat, Lawson?”
“I mentioned that as well, sir. I said that the goat was slobbering over the fence potentially contaminating the crime scene.”
“And what did Dalziel say to that?”
“He said that that was forensics’ problem. And then he said that the goat was on someone else’s property and we’d need permission to enter the house next door to take the goat away from the fence.”
“We’re the Old Bill we can do whatever the fuck we want, son!” I said, really angry now.
I noticed that my fists were clenched and my face must have been bright red. Kenny Dalziel had the same effect on everyone he worked with and the bastard was not going to give me a heart attack. I forced myself to take a couple of deep breaths and calm down.
“I’m sorry sir,” Lawson said all trembly voiced.
“It’s not your fault, son. Where the fuck is Sergeant McCrabban? He’s supposed to be in charge of—”
“That’s what I mean by crazy. I thought you knew, sir. Oh gosh I thought someone had told you!”
“Told me what?”
“Deauville’s wife, sir – Deauville’s the victim, sir – she stabbed Sergeant McCrabban when he tried to get her off the body so the forensic officers could do their work.”
“Holy shit! Crabbie was stabbed! Why didn’t you tell me that straight away!”
“I thought you knew, sir.”
“How would I know? I only just got here. What happened? How is he?”
“Uhm, I was just on the phone with him. Apparently he’s fine, sir. No stitches, just a tetanus shot. She stabbed him with a fork. He didn’t want to go to the hospital in the first place but—”
“Mrs Deauville was very upset. Sergeant McCrabban tried to move her away from the body and she stabbed him in the shoulder with a fork. She’s a foreigner I think. We had to report the stabbing, of course, and, uhm, Inspector Dalziel showed up. He ordered Mrs Deauville placed in custody and he ordered Sergeant McCrabban to report himself to the Royal Victoria Hospital as per the injury-at-work regulations.”
“Christ! And then what?”
“And then the forensic team left saying it was an unsafe work environment.”
“And the forensic officer is this McCann fellow, eh? Don’t know him. Ok. Then what happened?”
“And then I tried to secure the crime scene. . .and the goat. . .and Inspector Dalziel. . .”
I bit my tongue. It wouldn’t do to let young Lawson hear my full profanity laden tirade against a superior officer. “And then Inspector Dalziel left with Mrs Deauville?” I asked.
“Probably the first arrest he’s made in years,” I couldn’t help but mutter.
“Unfortunately Inspector Dalziel took both constables off crowd control to restrain Mrs Deauville in the back of the Land Rover so that just me left here, sir.”
“Are forensic coming back or what?”
Lawson flipped open his notebook. “Chief Inspector McCann said that with ‘police officers being stabbed and with a hostile crowd in front of the house this was not a safe crime scene for his men to do their work’ so they were withdrawing until the crime scene was secured.”
“Withdrawing to the nearest pub I’ll bet.”
“I wouldn’t know about that sir.”
“So Dalziel left just you to control the crowd, canvas witnesses and conduct an entire murder investigation?”
“Yes sir. I’m sorry about all this, sir,” he said correctly interpreting the look of horror on my face. For this was a nearly perfect fuck up - all we needed now was a newspaper reporter or a random inspection by the Chief Constable.
“All right Lawson we’ve got to move fast before the press or a local councillor gets here. Go upstairs get a clean bed sheet if you can find one and cover up the victim’s body. I’ve already taken care of the goat. Once you’ve done that, get the crowd back onto the pavement and if you are able please urge them to go indoors.”
“But how, sir?”
“Shoot one of them in the kneecaps every five minutes until the rest get the message?” I suggested.
“Just use your natural authority. I’ll call the Royal check in on Crabbie, call forensic and get a new team down here pronto. Now, go!”
Lawson found a clean sheet in a linen closet and I called the Royal Victoria Hospital. They looked for Crabbie in Casualty but he had already discharged himself and was on his way back to Carrick, which was typical of him. Crabbie was one of the good guys: solid, dour, competent, hard working, uncomplaining – a thousand men like him and you could do anything: feed the world, build a bridge across the Bering Straits, terraform Mars. There wasn’t another like him in Carrick RUC and I’ll bet at the Royal he didn’t even ask the nurses for high dose opiates which is what I would have done. I hung up and called my old mate Frank Payne from forensic and told him about the behaviour of CI McCann to which he was suitably outraged.
“Kids today, eh, Francis?”
“You can say that again.”
“So you’ll send a team down pronto?”
“Aye. I’ll scratch your back and you scratch my back.”
“If you mean I’ll owe you a favour, yes. But I’m not going near that hairy back of yours, it’s like Mirkwood in there.”
“Just hold the fort there Duffy and I’ll have a team down there in half an hour. Sunnylands Estate?”
“Fucking nightmare there is it?”
“Not as bad as some of the estates in these parts. To describe it as a UVF ridden shithole filled with whores, druggies and scumbags would be ungenerous.”
“Aye well, do me a favour and don’t let the crime scene get contaminated, eh? I’m just back from an arson in Larne and them boys from Larne RUC were tramping size tens all over the shop.”
“Typical. You know what they say, Frank? What's the difference between Larne and a yoghurt?”
“You leave them both alone for 60 years and the yoghurt will grow a culture.”
“Hilarious, Duffy, don’t give up the day job.”
I hung up with Frank and next I called my boss, Chief Inspector McArthur, explaining to him that we needed half a dozen constables for witness canvassing and crowd management. It was a relatively slow day at Carrick RUC so he said that that shouldn’t be a problem as long as it didn’t involve over-time.
“I don’t think over-time will be necessary, sir. I’d be surprised if anyone saw anything at all sir. Not anything they’ll admit to us. We should have the canvassing done in an hour or two.”
“And how’s Sergeant McCrabban? I heard he was attacked?”
“He’s already discharged himself, sir.”
“I hope he doesn’t put a claim in.”
“He won’t sir. This is John McCrabban we’re talking about here.”
Another police officer might have taken three months off on disability or even sued the station for compensation but Crabbie wouldn’t do either of those things.
“I’m relieved to hear it.”
“Sir, I’m also pretty sure Sergeant McCrabban won’t be pressing charges so could you please have Mrs Deauville released from the cells and brought up to the CID Incident Room? Maybe have a WPC give her a cup of tea?”
“That’s not going to be possible, Duffy.”
“Why’s that, sir?”
“Inspector Dalziel sent her up to Castlereagh Holding Centre for processing.”
“Castlereagh? For a stabbing?”
“Stabbing a police officer.”
Dalziel was no doubt cock a hoop over his arrest but this wouldn’t do at all. If Mrs Deauville was processed at Castlereagh we wouldn’t get to interview her for two or three days and as every tedious fuck will tell you the first 48 hours are the most important in any criminal investigation.
“Sir, can you do me a favour and patch me into Kelly at the switchboard?”
“Of course Duffy, see you later.”
“. . .Switchboard, this is Kelly.”
“Kelly, this is Sean Duffy, listen to me, someone’s off in a Land Rover taking a Mrs Deauville to Castlereagh Holding Centre. I want you to find out who it is and tell them to come back to Carrick RUC. Ok?”
“Yes that’s right, Sean, constable Pollock’s driving her up to Castlereagh.”
“You get on the blower to Pollock and tell him to turn the Land Rover around and come back to Carrick.”
“Sean, this is Inspector Dalziel’s arrest,” Kelly said dubiously.
“That’s ok, I’ll deal with Inspector Dalziel. Just get that Land Rover to turn round and return to the barracks.”
“Ok, Sean, I’ll do it but I don’t want Inspector Dalziel giving me a hard time.”
“He won’t. Patch me through to his office will you Kelly?”
A short pause. . .
“Inspector Kenneth Dalziel, admin, Carrickfergus RUC.”
“Dalziel, it’s Duffy.”
“You finally showed up did you? I have to tell you Inspector Duffy that the competence of your department leaves a lot to be desired. I found a scene of total disarray when I got there,” was his opening sally. Dalziel was the son in law of a prominent high court judge but that didn’t bother me as you knew his father in law probably couldn’t stand him either.
“Listen to me, Kenny, if you interfere in any future CID investigations or boss around any of my men ever again I am going to come round your house and take that gnome you have with the fishing pole in your front garden and shove gnome and pole up your arse until the wee red hat comes out your bloody throat. Savvy?”
“You can’t talk to me that way, Duffy, I’ve been promoted to—”
“I’ll talk to you anyway I fucking please, you useless ballbag fuck. Now I’m having Mrs Deauville brought back to Carrick to be questioned and I don’t want you to interfere, ok?”
“I’m sending her to Castlereagh to be processed. In my opinion she is a category 1 offender who needs to be centrally processed: a dead drug dealer’s wife who assaulted a police officer. . .”
“The facts aren’t in but don’t let that stop you giving your opinion.”
“If that Land Rover shows up here, Duffy, and I’m sending it back to Castlereagh.”
“I dare you. I fucking dare you to do that, Dalziel!” I said and slammed the phone down.
I took a few deep breaths and went back outside.
The body had been covered with a sheet, the goat was being held back by a kid but the crowd was even bigger now as we found ourselves in that unhappy window between people returning from their morning dole appointments and daytime TV kicking in. The sky was overcast and drizzling but what I wouldn’t give for a short thunder shower to send these gawkers indoors.
Lawson had gone out onto the street and was now locked in a battle of wills with the ice-cream van driver who had pulled his truck right up in front of the victim’s house in the exact place where the forensic team would want to park their Land Rovers. Sensing his youth and low rank the van driver and the crowd were hassling Lawson with invective extravagant even by the somewhat elevated standards of Sunnylands Estate.
It would never do. I pushed my way through the unwashed mob and told the ice cream van driver to fuck off before I arrested him for obstruction.
He could see the fury behind my eyes and like a sensible chap he fucked off back to the end of the street again. Some of the crowd went with him and satisfied with this momentum I turned to the others.
“This is a police matter. Get back inside your houses or I’ll lift the bloody lot of you!” I said, seething.
A heavy-set red faced man with a minister’s collar got in my face. “I’m the Reverend William McFaul, I’m chairman of the residents association. How dare you speak to us like that! This is our street and our concern.”
“Reverend McFaul please tell your friends and parishioners to get back inside their homes. There’s nothing to see here. These people are obstructing police officers at their work and contaminating a crime scene,” I replied.
“We have a right to see what the RUC is doing on our street!” McFaul said, trembling with rage.
“You bloody don’t.”
“I’m a God fearing man. I’m not used to such language,” McFaul said.
“Language? You mean ‘bloody’? Do you also clutch your pearls and occasionally get the vapours? Come on now, move along,” I said pushing him away from the house.
“I’ll report you!”
“That’s fine but just make sure you do it from the other side of the street,” I said giving him another shove.
“You are an extremely rude young man. What is your name? I am going to call your supervisor,” McFaul said taking a diary and a pencil out of his overcoat pocket.
“My name is Inspector Kenneth Dalziel of Carrickfergus RUC. My supervisor is Chief Inspector McArthur. Report me all you want,” I said giving him a last push and walking back to the crime scene with a feeling of immense satisfaction.
Lawson had found some “RUC CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS” tape and was stretching it in front of the house.
“Forensic are on their way,” I told him. “Should be here in twenty minutes.”
Before Lawson could reply an old lady in full old lady rig popped out of the throng and began jabbing her finger in my chest. “Is this what it takes for the police to finally come? A murder? I call and call and youse take half the night to get here. It’s a disgrace. The kids racing up and down the street, joyriding. Drinking at all hours. Smoking them funny cigarettes. Bad manners to the old folks. The whole country is going to the dogs.”
“I quite agree, madam. What’s your name?”
“Ivy McAleese,” she said.
“Well Mrs McAleese, Constable Lawson here will take your statement,” I said. Lawson flipped open his notebook and began writing down the woman’s litany of complaints. I listened with interest: kids, drugs, loud music. The old bird didn’t know how lucky she had it. She and all the good people of Belfast and the north Belfast suburbs: lucky. These were the good days. Couldn’t they see the future? Entropy maximising. Neighbour against neighbour. Blood feud. The disintegration of this lost lonely province into warring camps. The falcon cannot hear the falconer. . .And good luck getting the cops then, love. Call 999 and it’ll just ring and ring and ring.
But we’re not quite down that shit hole yet are we?
When the old lady had given Lawson a pageful I thanked her for her cooperation and ducked under the police tape with my young colleague and lifted the sheet from the body.
The crossbow bolt had hit the victim close to his left shoulder. There was very little bleeding on the denim jacket around the wound but there was a lot of dried blood on either side of his stomach. . .ergo he’d been shot in the chest first and he’d managed to make a run for it. Run almost up to his front door before they’d shot him again in the back.
“What do you know about what happened, Lawson?”
“Until forensic conclude their inquiries we don’t really know anything, sir.”
“Who found the body?”
“Mrs Deauville, this morning.”
“Where was she last night?”
“In the house, I believe, husband never came home so she went to bed.”
I touched the victim’s hand. Ice cold. Rigor. Dead about nine or ten hours.
“So he’s been here all night too?”
“So I gather, sir, although forensic will confirm that.”
“Sergeant McCrabban said on the phone that he was a known drug dealer.”
“We ran the victim’s ID through the computer and half a dozen arrests came for drugs and drug possession in Bangor and before that London. He’s from here originally but he’s lived mostly in London if his charge sheet is to be believed.”
“That’s why I’d never heard of him. When did he move to Carrick?”
“According to the local residents about four weeks ago.”
“Ah so he was the new drug dealer on the block.”
“What type of drugs?”
“Sergeant McCrabban had Sergeant Mulvenny go through the house with his canine team.”
“Sniffer dogs. Good thinking that. What did they come up with?”
“Nothing, although Sergeant Mulvenny says Felix got excited.”
“He’s the heroin dog.”
“Did you find any heroin?”
“No but Sergeant Mulvenny thinks there may have been some in a couple of empty paint tins at the back of the house.”
“So he’s moved the drugs off site.”
“We’ll have to look into that.”
“All right now. Our victim. What do you see in front of you? We don’t always have to let forensic tell us everything. We can make a few deductions on our own can’t we?”
“Yes, sir. Uhm, well, the victim’s boots are clearly very expensive so he must have been making a lot of money.”
I clocked the boots and yes they did look expensive. Snakeskin cowboy boots with flat soles. Slippery flat stoles that must have been a bugger to run in. If he’d been wearing sneakers the poor bastard might have lived.
“What else do you see, Lawson?” I asked looking into his eager blue eyes. He was still a junior detective but Lawson wasn’t like the usual time wasters they gave you to fill out your CID team. Lawson was smart and he had peeler wisdom beyond his years. Sooner or later some git from Belfast would spot his talent and promote him to detective sergeant and poach him away to the fraud squad or Special Branch. Five years from now – if I was still alive – I’d probably be working for him.
“Not much bleeding from the crossbow bolt is there?” he said.
“No. There isn’t. So what does that tell you?”
“It wasn’t the primary wound?”
“Oh I see, sir. There’s blood under the body. So he was shot in the front first, he turned, ran, and then they shot him again in the back?”
“That would certainly be my take. He must be lying on the first bolt which is in his stomach or chest. You can’t really hide a crossbow behind your back as you’re walking towards someone so I’d guess that the assailant was in a vehicle. And unless it was a driveby (and I’ve never heard of a crossbow driveby) Mr Deauville was probably approaching the vehicle offering to sell them drugs.”
Lawson nodded in agreement.
“What else do you see? Tell me about the leather jacket. Where would you get a fancy jacket like that, Lawson?” I asked feeling the jacket’s soft leather sleeve.
Lawson also felt the sleeve. “From Slater and Sons in Glasgow, sir. Three hundred and fifty quid. He liked the style so much he brought two of them. Got a fifty quid discount.”
“How did you do that? Some kind of latent paranormal ability?”
“Uh, no, sir, there’s a stack of receipts on a spike in his dining room. Had a look through them while we were waiting for you.”
“What else did the receipts tell you?”
“Mostly receipts for furniture, white goods and dishware. Stuff you need for moving house.”
“What kind of a name is Deauville?”
“Tell me everything you got on him.”
“According to the rent bill from the housing executive he only moved in on January 15th – that’s why we hadn’t heard of him yet in Carrick CID, although he has a charge sheet as long as your arm. Robberies, burglaries and it looks like for the last year or two he’s been dealing drugs.”
“Sergeant Mulvenny’s dog thinks so.”
“How does a brand new drug dealer suddenly break into the heroin trade?”
“Don’t know so, sir.”
“He’s not a known player so I imagine the local paramilitaries here weren’t too happy with someone muscling in on their territory. And taking the temperature of the local residents – Mrs McAleese and the minister there – apparently Mr Deauville hadn’t gone out of his way to make friends.”
“At least his missus was upset at his demise. What did she tell you before she was carted off?”
“Not much, sir.”
“Hates the cops, eh?”
“English isn’t her mother tongue.”
“No need to bring her mother’s tongue into the discussion, little too early in the morning for that sort of talk.”
“What? Sir I wasn’t trying—”
“I know,” I said wearily. “Where’s she from?”
“Bulgaria. We couldn’t understand anything.”
“How did those two love birds meet?”
“He went on a package trip to the Bulgarian Riviera, sir.”
“There’s a Bulgarian Riviera?”
“Yes sir, on the Black Sea coast.”
“Didn’t know that. Holiday romance?”
“Apparently so, sir. She came back with him last year and they married in September. This according to Bangor RUC.”
“And she doesn’t speak any English?”
“Not any that she’s used with us. How’s your Bulgarian, sir?”
“Rusty I’ve got to admit. Although it’s one of the Romance languages I think.”
“No sir. You’re thinking of Romanian which has a Latin root. It’s a Slavic language.”
“Ok. Well without wishing to slight the intellectual capacities of the station I have a feeling we don’t have a Slavic speaker on the staff.”
“We don’t. Already checked, sir.”
“So did she say anything about what happened?”
“She said plenty. I wrote some of it down.”
Lawson flipped open his notebook. “When we arrived she was hugging the body and screaming obícham te! obícham te! over and over.”
“What do you think that means? Is that his name in Bulgarian do you think?”
Lawson gave me one of those looks that young people reserve for older people when they wish to convey their patience with the oldster’s folly.
“Te is probably the tu form in Bulgarian, wouldn’t you say, sir?”
“Oh. . .yes, I’m sure your right. So she’s saying what to happened to you or I love you, or something like that.”
“I imagine so, sir.”
“Good looking woman?”
Lawson coloured. “Uhm, I don’t know. I suppose if you like that sort of thing, uhm. . .”
“No one is going to accuse you of a lack of gallantry, Lawson. Is she young?”
“Mid twenties, sir.”
“Yes, good contact to have if you’re dealing heroin. Young, reasonably attractive woman with a Bulgarian passport. Bulgaria is right next Turkey I believe where the emerald fields of marijuana and the scarlet fields of poppy grow in the plentiful Mediterranean sunshine. And of course there’s the— Oh shit, that bloody goat again.”
The goat was tied to a shopping trolley that had been filled with bricks. There were about thirty bricks in the shopping trolley which probably weighed about forty pounds. If sufficiently motivated the goat could in fact have pulled the shopping trolley behind it and made an admittedly slow escape through the estate. The goat however, being a goat, was smarter than that and had decided to eat the rope with which it had been tied to the trolley. It had been munching on this rope since we had arrived and presumably for much of the previous couple of days. Escape was now imminent.
“That goat is our only eyewitness, Lawson. Get the tow rope from my car and tie it up properly and when you’ve done that— Oh my God here comes our old friend, back from the wars!” I said getting to my feet.
Detective Sergeant McCrabban was getting out of a Land Rover that he’d driven back here himself from the hospital.
I ran over and give the big galoot a hug, which, of course, horrified him— Crabbie not being the biggest fan of outward shows of affection or human contact.
“Crabbie! It’s so bloody good to see you. Jesus, can’t I leave you alone for two days without someone trying to kill you?” I said pumping his hand.
“No one tried to kill me, Sean. Mrs Deauville was just a little upset that I asked her to keep away from the body until the forensic officers came. Where are they by the way?”
“Came and went mate like the pack of wankers they are,” I said. “Lawson, the goat, please! So how’s your shoulder, mate?”
“It’s completely fine. No stitches, just a plaster and a tetanus shot. No hard feelings on my part - the woman was clearly distressed. Where is Mrs Deauville the way?” Crabbie asked.
I filled him in on the whole sorry business, leaving out my observations on Kenny Dalziel’s competence “. . .so she’s back in Carrick now but we’ll need a Bulgarian speaker if we’re going to interrogate her,” I said.
“That’s going to be tricky, Sean. I’ve checked. There is no Bulgarian consulate in Northern Ireland. I called up Queens and they don’t have anyone on staff who speaks the language – they suggested that we contact the school of Slavic languages in London or the Bulgarian Embassy in Dublin.”
“Then that’s what we’ll do. What about this first victim who you said got shot by this crossbow maniac? What’s his name and where’s he?”
“Morrison is his name. Unpleasant wee toe-rag. He’s down in Larne hospital. A dozen stitches, lost a bit of blood but he’s fine.”
“He see anything?”
“He told me he didn’t see who shot him and has no idea why anyone would target him.”
“But he’s definitely a drug dealer too?”
“Oh yes. 11 convictions for possession over the last five years and he’s in the files as a current dealer.”
“Was he shot from a car?”
“He quote didn’t see anything unquote. And quote, even if I had, I’m no bloody grass, unquote.”
“I’ll talk to him tomorrow. Him and Mrs Deauville if we can get a Bulgarian speaker.”
Two Land Rovers pulled up and a team of forensic officers got out led by the grim lardy face of Chief Inspector Payne.
I shook his hand and he shook the hands of Lawson and McCrabban who he remembered from the sad case of Lily Bigelow.
“Good to see you, Sean. You’re looking well. . .for someone twice your age. Is your man going to lynch that goat, Duffy? It looks like a nasty piece of work,” Payne said, lighting a ciggie and smoking it with the kind of determination you seldom saw anymore in cops under fifty.
“This goat will not be harmed on my watch. He reminds me of me: determined, obstinate, omnivorous. Take him round the back of the house and tie him up Lawson,” I said.
When Lawson had gone Crabbie said in an undertone “It’s not a ‘he’, it’s a nanny goat, Sean,” which brought a hideous cackle from Payne.
“Duffy thinks of himself as she-goat. Hilarious!” Payne said.
“Don’t you have work to do, mate?”
“Aye I suppose I better get cracking. You lads need to see how a professional does his job.”
The crowd control officers from the police station finally arrived and I gave them a mini seminar on how to canvas for witness statements: no leading questions, keep everything as general as possible and the old who, what, when, where, how. Incredibly and depressingly this was news to most of them.
I let them all get to work and went inside to make some phone calls.
The Bulgarian Embassy in Dublin was very cooperative and said that they would send up a translator and consular representative first thing in the morning.
Payne found me reading the first completely unhelpful statements from Mr Deauville’s neighbours in the living room.
“I determined the cause of death,” he announced.
“Yes, well, that one didn’t exactly take Dr Gideon Fell.”
“What did you find out?”
“You plods in CID won’t have realised it but your victim was actually shot twice!” He said with unconcealed triumph. “He was shot in the back, of course, but it was a cross bow bolt in the stomach that killed him. It nicked what I believe to be the superior mesenteric vein and he bled to death. Even if he’d made it inside here he would have died.”
“Tell me about these crossbow bolts.”
“Well I’m no expert on that, but they look normal to me. Barbed crossbow bolts for target shooting or hunting. I’ve got the shoulder one in an evidence bag for you. The pathologist will need to remove the other one.”
“Time of death?”
“About one this morning. I’m not going to be more specific than that. The last time we had a case together the medical examiner gave me an awful bollocking for being too specific about the time of death,” he said, again recalling the Lily Bigelow case.
“Very good, Francis,” I said shaking his hand again.
“The boys from the morgue are here if you want to give them the nod.”
I went outside and gave permission for the body to be removed as I read the last of the witness statements. None of Deauville’s neighbours would admit to anything. They didn’t really know the deceased, he had kept to himself, they didn’t know any of his acquaintances, had never heard of any threats to his life or person.
This was also the bog standard response to pretty much any murder in Northern Ireland, especially a murder that seemed to have a paramilitary connection. For what seemed like the millionth time in my career I had encountered Belfast’s code of omerta that babes must learn at their mother’s knee.
I looked at the crossbow bolt in the evidence bag. Didn’t seem remarkable but I’d find out more about it.
I put Lawson in charge of a couple of constables to thoroughly search the Deauville residence before Crabbie and I returned to the station in my mercifully unfucked with Beemer.
Mrs Deauville had been returned to Carrick CID. She was literally spitting with fury and they had put her back in the cells rather than Interview Room 1 where she couldn’t wreck the two way mirror and video recording equipment. She wasn’t bad looking if you didn’t mind chain smoking peroxide blondes.
Crabbie and I tried a few questions but she appeared to have only a few stock phrases in English:
“You fucking shit. . .Six pack beer. . .Move your arse grandma. . .Your clothes shite. . .” which were probably enough to get you through six months of life in Northern Ireland but wouldn’t really do in a murder inquiry.
Her name was Elena and even after tea and biscuits she was visibly upset so I sent down a brave WPC to comfort her with a blanket and more tea and biscuits.
“How do we know she didn’t do it?” I asked Crabbie. “She has a temper.”
“No sign of a crossbow in the house.”
“She shoots her husband and throws the murder weapon in the sea?”
“And leaves his body outside the house all night?”
“She was drunk when she did it. Wakes up this morning. Oh my God what have I done? Calls the cops, gets the waterworks going.”
“Why would she do it?”
“They had a fight? He was having an affair?”
“She seemed genuinely upset to me.”
“Maybe,” Crabbie conceded. “But we didn’t find a receipt for a crossbow in the house.”
“Who keeps receipts? Oh wait, he does. Still, lets bring a picture of Deauville and his wife to every shop selling crossbows in Ulster. If the shopkeeps recognise either of them we probably are dealing with a domestic,” I said.
“You could be right. But then there’s the other case.”
“The other case, yes, damn it.”
I made some more phone calls. Special Branch informed me that there was indeed a vigilante group called Direct Action Against Drug Dealers (DAADD) who occasionally killed drug dealers in Belfast and environs. DAADD, of course, was just one of many cover names for the IRA and its offshoots and splinter groups.
“If this was a DAADD killing they probably would have already claimed it so they could make the evening news. They’re very media savvy,” Trevor Finlay from Special Branch intel informed me.
“We haven’t had any claims of responsibility, yet,” I told him.
“Might not be DAADD. Unlikely they would drive all the way up to Carrickfergus anyway. If I was to guess, Sean, I’d say that this was something else.”
I called up Roy Taylor in statistics and he told me that there had been twelve deaths by crossbow in the last thirty years, all of them manslaughters or non prosecutable accidents.
I found out that there were two shops in Northern Ireland that sold crossbows. Both in Belfast. I called both and was told the rather disheartening information that they had sold over two hundred crossbows each in the last year. The shops were not legally obliged to keep the names and addresses of their buyers and none had. I gave them the make and serial number of the bolt in the evidence bag and unfortunately this was the most common type of crossbow bolt. Tens of thousands of them were sold in Europe every year.
Around five o’clock Lawson came back with the PC’s from the house and area search. The house, rubbish bins, Mill Stream and skip search had revealed no dumped crossbow. The house search had revealed no more drugs or useful enemies list or even more useful address book but Lawson had found about a thousand quid in a paper bag under the oven and an old .455 Webley semi automatic pistol that had to be 50 years old if it was a day.
“This thing’s an antique,” Crabbie said, impressed.
“It looks like he never cleaned the mechanism, I doubt it would even fire,” I replied.
“Should we take it to the range and find out?” Lawson suggested eagerly.
Crabbie and I shook our heads together. The dodgy looking old thing would probably explode in our hands and Carrick CID had suffered enough today.
“Oh go on, sir,” Lawson pleaded.
“We take that down the range, it misfires and gets me right in the kisser.”
“You’re a glass half empty kind of guy, sir, aren’t you?”
“I don’t even acknowledge the existence of the glass, son.”
Crabbie nodded at the forbidding wisdom of this remark.
I yawned. “It’s getting late. Case conference tomorrow morning, you lads can go home. First order of business on the morrow will be to question the wife,” I said.
I typed up a brief summary of all that we knew and closed my eyes for a bit in my recliner. I must have gone straight out because I heard a voice from deep deep in the well ask “Is he asleep do you think? Can we nudge him?”
“Speak Lord! Thy servant heareth!” I said and opened my eyes on Constables Collins and Fletcher. “Oh it’s you two. What do you want?”
“The Chief Inspector wants a progress—”
“Tell him I’ll be there in two minutes. Just enough time for him to get the good whisky out of its hiding place in the bottom shelf of his filing cabinet.”
I gathered my thoughts, ran a hand through my hair and went into the Chief Inspector’s office to give him my formal summary of the day’s events.
Chief Inspector McArthur had been our gaffer for three years now and the disappointment was beginning to show on all sides. A Scot who’d been trained at the police college in Hendon he was a high flyer who’d probably expected to be done with his rotation in Carrickfergus RUC in about eighteen months before getting a promotion to Superintendent and a move to somewhere more interesting. It hadn’t happened and I sometimes wondered if he blamed me and my bad voodoo for his career doldrums.
“Ah Duffy, have a seat. Whisky?”
For a while the Chief Inspector and I had been on collegial first name terms but now it was mysteriously back to “Duffy.” Had I done something wrong? Already? I’d only been back from my hols a few hours.
“No thank you, sir, Beth hates it when I come home from duty with whisky on my breath,” I said.
“Yes, she’s right, I suppose we all should cut down on—”
“But if you insist, sir, just two fingers of that 16 year old Jura would hit the spot about now.”
He made me a Jura and poured a Johnny Walker and soda for himself and I sat down opposite. He read my report while I examined him. He was a boyish looking 35 or 36 with no grey hair that I could see in his elegantly parted locks. I dug his Top Man black suit too. Nice cut, nice lines and if I’d been 15 years younger and liked suits or him I’d of asked him about it.
“Before we begin I should let you know, Duffy, that Inspector Dalziel is thinking of writing up a formal complaint about you.”
“Is he now? ”
“Yes. I tried to talk him out of it, but he’s pretty adamant. Says you were rude to him over the phone. Make it go away, Duffy, eh? Apologise to him, ok?”
“Yes, sir, I’ll take care of it, sir.”
“Changing the subject: your team did all those blood tests we asked for last week didn’t they?”
“Yes sir. For the annual fitness thing? Is that coming up soon, sir?”
“I shouldn’t really say, Duffy, but I can tell you that we’re doing things very differently this year. We’re taking officer fitness much more seriously.”
“I know. I’m always telling the men that, sir. My crew is as fit as a fiddle and I’m a model of health myself, sir. I’m just back from Donegal; you know what it’s like out there: walking on the beach, hiking in the woods, mountain climbing, swimming.”
He lowered his voice and leaned forward conspiratorially. “Hmmm, yes, well, make sure you and all your team are here at the station tomorrow, I’ve heard a rumour that Chief Superintendent Strong is coming in.”
“Really? So it is tomorrow is it? The fitness test thing?”
“You didn’t hear that from me but just make sure you and all your team are at the station in the morning and they don’t go on the piss tonight.”
“Crack of dawn, we’ll be here.”
“Good,” McArthur said finally skimming through the report. “So you’ve gotten a murder case, Duffy?”
“In Sunnylands Estate it says here. I went there once. Its distinguishing features seemed to be religious bigotry, cockfighting and despair.”
“So I imagine, or perhaps dog fighting. Unsavoury place. Residents looked deranged and desperate to escape. Afraid to drive my Merc through it and I certainly wouldn’t park it there.”
He slid the report back across the desk. “All seems to be in order here, Duffy. I take it you are not going to ask for additional resources on this one or God-forbid over-time.”
“Too early to say, sir. The case could go in any number of directions.”
He frowned. “Well there’s no point going overboard is there?”
“Why’s that, sir?”
“It’s just another dead drug dealer isn’t it? No family, wife’s a foreigner, he’s a bloody repeat offender. You know what everyone’s going to say around here: good riddance. Pardon my language, Duffy, but who’s going to give a damn about him?”
I looked at the Chief Inspector for an uncomfortable five seconds. This kind of talk annoyed me no end.
“I am going to give a damn about him, sir. My men are going to give a damn about him. Carrick CID is going to give a damn about him,” I said and with the rule of threes ringing in his skull I finished the whisky, set the glass down on his desk, and exited the office with enough fizzy melodrama to have made the heart of the octogenarian Bette Davis in far off California skip a beat.
I was still grinning when I made it back to Coronation Road ten minutes later.