The Trespasser By Tana French: Book Review
DS Antoinette Conway is not long promoted to the Dublin Murder Squad when she and her partner, Steve Moran, find themselves dumped with yet another "domestic".
On the face of it, the murder of glamorous Aislinn Murray is a cut and dried case of "the boyfriend done it", but Conway and Moran are convinced there's something darker afoot.
That far from being the high-maintenance girl about town she seems, Aislinn is way out of her depth in Dublin's underworld.
Lauded by Gillian Flynn and Stephen King, Tana French has been winning awards for her evocative, spine-tingling writing since her first novel In The Woods was published nearly ten years ago.
If you haven't encountered her, The Trespasser guarantees you a brand new addiction.
The Trespasser By Tana French: Book Extract
My ma used to tell me stories about my da. The first one I remember, he was an Egyptian prince who wanted to marry her and stay in Ireland forever, only his family made him go home to marry an Arabian princess. She told a good story, my ma. Amethyst rings on his long fingers, the two of them dancing under turning lights, his smell like spices and pine. Me, spreadeagled under my bedsheet, coated in sweat like I’d been dipped – it was winter, but the Corpo set the heating for the whole block of flats, and the windows on the high floors didn’t open – I crammed that story into me as deep as I could, and kept it there. I was only little. That story held my chin high for years, till I was eight and told it to my best friend Lisa, who broke her shite laughing.
A couple of months later, once the sting had faded, I marched into the kitchen one afternoon, stuck my fists on my hips and demanded the truth. My ma didn’t miss a beat: squirted Fairy liquid and told me he was a medical student, over from Saudi Arabia. She met him because she was studying nursing – lots of nice details there, the long shifts and the tired laughs and the two of them saving some kid who’d been hit by a car. By the time she found out I was on the way, he was gone, back to Saudi, without leaving an address. She dropped out of nursing college and had me.
That one kept me going for another while. I liked it; I even started making secret plans to be the first person from my school ever to become a doctor, seeing as it was in my blood and all. That lasted till I was twelve and got detention for something, and got an earful from my ma about how she wasn’t having me end up like her, with no Leaving Cert and no hope of anything but minimum-wage cleaning jobs for the rest of her life. I’d heard it all a thousand times before, but that day it occurred to me that you need a Leaving Cert to study nursing.
On my thirteenth birthday I sat across the cake from her and told her this time I wasn’t messing, I wanted to know. She sighed, said I was old enough to know the truth and told me he was a Brazilian guitarist she’d gone out with for a couple of months, till one night at his flat he beat the shite out of her.When he fell asleep, she robbed his car keys and drove home like a bat out of hell, the dark roads rained empty and her eye throbbing in time with the wipers. When he rang sobbing and apologising, she might even have taken him back – she was twenty – only by then she knew about me. She hung up on him.
That was the day I decided I was going to be a cop when I left school. Not because I wanted to go Catwoman on all the abusers out there, but because my ma can’t drive. I knew the cop training college was somewhere down the country. It was the fastest way I could think of to get out of my ma’s flat without taking that dead-end cleaning job.
My birth cert says Unknown, but there are ways. Old friends, DNA databases. And there are ways I could have kept pushing my ma, turning up the pressure every time, till I got something near enough to true that I could work from it.
I never asked her again.When I was thirteen it was because I hated her guts, for all the time I’d spent moulding my life around her bullshit stories. By the time I was older, by the time I made it into training college, it was because I thought maybe I knew what she had been doing, and I knew she had been right.
The case comes in, or anyway it comes in to us, on a frozen dawn in the kind of closed-down January that makes you think the sun’s never going to drag itself back above the horizon. Me and my partner are finishing up another night shift, the kind I used to think wouldn’t exist on the Murder squad: a massive scoop of boring and a bigger one of stupid, topped off with an avalanche of paperwork.Two scumbags decided to round off their Saturday night out by using another scumbag’s head as a dance mat, for reasons that are clear to no one including them; we turned up six witnesses, every one of whom was banjoed drunk, every one of whom told a different story from the other five, and every one of whom wanted us to forget the murder case and investigate why he had been thrown out of the pub/sold bad skunk/ditched by his girlfriend. By the time Witness Number 6 ordered me to find out why the dole had cut him off, I was ready to tell him it was because he was too stupid to legally qualify as a human being and kick all their arses out onto the street, but my partner does patience better than I do, which is one of the main reasons I keep him around.We eventually managed to get four of the witness statements matching not only each other but the evidence, meaning now we can charge one of the scumbags with murder and the other one with assault, which presumably means we’ve saved the world from evil in some way that I can’t be arsed figuring out.
We’ve signed over the scumbags for processing and we’re typing up our reports, making sure they’ll be on the gaffer’s desk all nice and tidy when he comes in. Across from me Steve is whistling, which out of most people would make me want to do damage, but he’s doing it right: some old trad tune that I quarter-remember from sing-songs when I was a kid, low and absent and contented, breaking off when he needs to concentrate and coming back with easy trills and flourishes when the report starts going right again.
Him, and the whispery hum of the computers, and the winter wind idling around the windows: just those, and silence. Murder works out of the grounds of Dublin Castle, smack in the heart of town, but our building is tucked away a few corners from the fancy stuff the tourists come to see, and our walls are thick; even the early-morning traffic out on Dame Street only makes it through to us as a soft undemanding hum. The jumbles of paperwork and photos and scribbled notes left on people’s desks look like they’re charging up, thrumming with action waiting to happen. Outside the tall sash windows the night is thinning towards a chilled grey; the room smells of coffee and hot radiators. At that hour, if I could overlook all the ways the night shift blows, I could love the squad room.
Me and Steve know all the official reasons we get loaded down with night shifts. We’re both single, no wives or husbands or kids waiting at home; we’re the youngest on the squad, we can take the fatigue better than the guys looking at retirement; we’re the newbies – even me, two years in – so suck it up, bitches. Which we do. This isn’t uniform, where if your boss is a big bad meanie you can put in a request for reassignment.There’s no other Murder squad to transfer to; this is the one and only. If you want it, and both of us do, you take whatever it throws at you.
Some people actually work in the Murder squad I set my sights on, way back when: the one where you spend your day playing knife-edge mind-games with psychopathic geniuses, knowing that one wrong blink could mean the difference between victory and another dead body down the line. Me and Steve, we get to rubberneck at the cunning psychopaths when the other lads walk them past the interview room where we’re bashing our heads against yet another Spouse of the Year from our neverending run of domestics, which the gaffer throws our way because he knows they piss me right off. The head-dancing morons at least made a change.
Steve hits Print, and the printer in the corner starts its rickety wheeze. ‘You done?’ he asks.
‘Just about.’ I’m scanning my report for typos, making sure the gaffer’s got no excuse to give me hassle.
He links his fingers over his head and stretches backwards, setting his chair creaking. ‘Pint? The early houses’ll be opening.’
‘You must be joking.’
Steve, God help me, also does positivity better than I do. I give him a stare that should nip that in the bud. ‘Celebrate what?’
He grins. Steve is thirty-three, a year older than me, but he looks younger: maybe the schoolboy build, all gangly legs and skinny shoulders; maybe the orange hair that sticks up in the wrong places; or maybe the relentless godawful cheerfulness. ‘We got them, did you not notice?’
‘Your granny could’ve got those two.’
‘Probably. And she’d’ve gone for a pint after.’
‘She was an alco, yeah?’
‘Total lush. I’m just trying to live up to her standards.’ He heads for the printer and starts sorting pages. ‘Come on.’
‘Nah. Another time.’ I don’t have it in me. I want to go home, go for a run, stick something in the microwave and fry my brain with shite telly, and then get some sleep before I have to do it all over again.
The door bangs open and O’Kelly, our superintendent, sticks his head in, early as usual to see if he can catch anyone asleep. Mostly he arrives all rosy and shiny, smelling of shower and fry-up, every line of his combover in place – I can’t prove it’s to rub it in to the tired bastards stinking of night shift and stale Spar danishes, but it would be in character. This morning, at least he looks ragged around the edges – eyebags, tea-stain on his shirt – which I figure is probably my bit of satisfaction for the day used up right there.
‘Moran. Conway,’ he says, eyeing us suspiciously. ‘Anything good come in?’
‘Street fight,’ I say. ‘One victim.’ Forget the hit to your social life: the real reason everyone hates night shift is that nothing good ever comes in. The high-profile murders with complex back-stories and fascinating motives might happen at night, sometimes, but they don’t get discovered till morning. The only murders that get noticed at night are by drunk arseholes whose motive is that they’re drunk arseholes. ‘We’ll have the reports for you now.’
‘Kept you busy, anyway.You sort it?’
‘Give or take.We’ll tie up the loose ends tonight.’
‘Good,’ O’Kelly says. ‘Then you’re free to work this.’ And he holds up a call sheet.
Just for a second, like a fool, I get my hopes up. If a case comes in through the gaffer, instead of through our admin straight to the squad room, it’s because it’s something special. Something that’s going to be so high-profile, or so tough, or so delicate, it can’t just go to whoever’s next on the rota; it needs the right people. One straight from the gaffer hums through the squad room, makes the lads sit up and take notice. One straight from the gaffer would mean me and Steve have finally, finally, worked our way clear of the losers’ corner of the playground: we’re in.
I have to close my fist to stop my hand reaching out for that sheet. ‘What is it?’
O’Kelly snorts. ‘You can take that feeding-time look off your face, Conway. I picked it up on my way in, said I’d bring it upstairs to save Bernadette the hassle. Uniforms on the scene say it looks like a slam-dunk domestic.’ He throws the call sheet on my desk. ‘I said you’ll tell them what it looks like, thanks very much.You never know, you could be in luck: it might be a serial killer.’
To save the admin the hassle, my arse. O’Kelly brought up that call sheet so he could enjoy the look on my face. I leave it where it is. ‘The day shift’ll be in any minute.’
‘And you’re in now. If you’ve got a hot date to get to, then you’d better hurry up and get this solved.’
‘We’re working on our reports.’
‘Jesus, Conway, they don’t need to be James bloody Joyce. Just give me what you’ve got. You’d want to get a move on: this yoke’s in Stoneybatter, and they’re digging up the quays again.’
After a second I hit Print. Steve, the little lickarse, is already wrapping his scarf around his neck.
The gaffer has wandered over to the roster whiteboard and is squinting at it. He says, ‘You’ll need backup on this one.’
I can feel Steve willing me to keep the head. ‘We can handle a slam-dunk domestic on our own,’ I say. ‘We’ve worked enough of them.’
‘And someone with a bit of experience might teach you how to work them right. How long did ye take to clear that Romanian young one? Five weeks? With two witnesses who saw her fella stab her, and the press and the equality shower yelling about racism and if it was an Irish girl we’d have made an arrest by now—’
‘The witnesses wouldn’t talk to us.’ Steve’s eye says Shut up, Antoinette, too late. I’ve bitten, just like O’Kelly knew I would.
‘Exactly. And if the witnesses won’t talk to you today, I want an old hand around to make them.’ O’Kelly taps the whiteboard. ‘Breslin’s due in. Have him. He’s good with witnesses.’
I say, ‘Breslin’s a busy man. I’d say he’s got better things to do with his valuable time than hand-holding the likes of us.’
‘He has, yeah, but he’s stuck with ye. So you’d better not waste his valuable time.’
Steve is nodding away, thinking at me at the top of his lungs, Shut your gob, could be a lot worse. Which it could be. I bite down the next argument. ‘I’ll ring him on the way,’ I say, picking up the call sheet and stuffing it in my jacket pocket. ‘He can meet us there.’
‘Make sure you do. Bernadette’s getting onto the techs and the pathologist, and I’ll have her find you a few floaters; you won’t need the world and his wife for this.’ O’Kelly heads for the door, scooping up the printer pages on his way. ‘And if you don’t want Breslin making a show of the pair of ye, get some coffee into you. You both look like shite.’ Next chapter
In the Castle grounds the streetlamps are still on, but the city is lightening, barely, into something sort of like morning. It’s not raining – which is good: somewhere across the river there could be shoeprints waiting for us, or cigarette butts with DNA on them – but it’s freezing and damp, a fine haze haloing the lamps, the kind of damp that soaks in and settles till you feel like your bones are colder than the air around you. The early cafés are opening; the air smells of frying sausages and bus fumes. ‘You need to stop for coffee?’ I ask Steve.
He’s wrapping his scarf tighter. ‘Jaysus, no. The faster we get down there . . .’
He doesn’t finish, doesn’t have to. The faster we get to the scene, the more time we have before teacher’s best boy pops up to show us poor thick eejits how it’s done. I’m not even sure why I care, at this point, but it’s some kind of comfort to know Steve does too.We both have long legs, we both walk fast, and we concentrate on walking.
We’re headed for the car pool. It would be quicker to take my car or Steve’s, but you don’t do that, ever. Some neighbourhoods don’t like cops, and anyone who bottles my Audi TT is gonna lose a limb. And there are cases – you can never tell what ones in advance, not for definite – where driving up in your own car would mean giving a gang of lunatic thugs your home address. Next thing you know, your cat’s been tied to a brick, set on fire and thrown through your window.
I mostly drive. I’m a better driver than Steve, and a way worse passenger; me driving gets us both where we’re going in a much happier mood. In the car pool, I pick out the keys to a scraped-up white Opel Kadett. Stoneybatter is old Dublin, working class and never-worked class, mixed with handfuls of yuppies and artists who bought there during the boom because it was so wonderfully authentic, meaning because they couldn’t afford anywhere fancier. Sometimes you want a car that’s going to turn heads. Not this time.
‘Ah, shite,’ I say, swinging out of the garage and turning up the heat in the car. ‘I can’t ring Breslin now. Gotta drive.’
That gets Steve grinning. ‘Hate that. And I’ve got to read the call sheet. No point us arriving on the scene without a clue.’
I floor it through a yellow light, pull the call sheet out of my pocket and toss it to him. ‘Go on. Let’s hear the good news.’
He scans. ‘Call came in to Stoneybatter station at six minutes past five. Caller was a male, wouldn’t give his name. Private number.’ Meaning an amateur, if he thinks that’ll do him any good. The network will have that number for us within hours. ‘He said there was a woman injured at Number 26 Viking Gardens. The station officer asked what kind of injury, he said she’d fallen and hit her head. The station officer asked was she breathing; he said he didn’t know, but she looked bad. The uniform started telling him how to check her vitals, but he said, “Get an ambulance down there, fast,” and hung up.’
‘Can’t wait to meet him,’ I say. ‘Bet he was gone before anyone showed up, yeah?’
‘Oh yeah. When the ambulance got there, the door was locked, no one answering. Uniforms arrived and broke it in, found a woman in the sitting room. Head injuries. Paramedics confirmed she was dead. No one else home, no sign of forced entry, no sign of burglary.’
‘If the guy wanted an ambulance, why’d he ring Stoneybatter station? Why not 999?’
‘Maybe he thought 999 would be able to track down his phone number, but a cop shop wouldn’t have the technology.’
‘So he’s a bloody idiot,’ I say. ‘Great.’ O’Kelly was right about the quays: the Department for Digging Up Random Shit is going at one lane with a jackhammer, the other one’s turned into a snarl that makes me wish for a vaporiser gun. ‘Let’s have the lights.’
Steve scoops the blue flasher out from under his seat, leans out the window and slaps it on the roof. I hit the siren. Not a lot happens. People helpfully edge over an inch or two, which is as far as they can go.
‘Jesus Christ,’ I say. I’m in no humour for this. ‘So how come the uniforms think it’s a domestic? Anyone else live there? Husband, partner?’
Steve scans again. ‘Doesn’t say.’ Hopeful sideways glance at me: ‘Maybe they got it wrong, yeah? Could be something good after all.’ ‘No, it’s fucking not. It’s another fucking domestic, or else it’s not even murder, she died from a fucking fall just like the caller said, because if there was a snowball’s chance in hell that it was anything halfway decent, O’Kelly would’ve waited till the morning shift got in and given it to Breslin and McCann or some other pair of smarmy little— Jesus!’ I slam my fist down on my horn. ‘Do I have to go out there and arrest someone?’ Some idiot up at the front of the traffic jam suddenly notices he’s in a car and starts moving; the rest get out of my way and I floor it, round onto the bridge and across the Liffey to the north side.
The sudden semi-quiet, away from the quays and the workmen, feels huge. The long runs of tall red-brick buildings and shop signs shrink and split into clusters of houses, give the light room to widen across the sky, turning the low layer of clouds grey and pale yellow. I kill the siren; Steve reaches out the window and gets the flasher back in. He keeps it in his hands: scrapes a smear of muck off the glass, tilts it to make sure it’s clean. Doesn’t go back to reading.
Me and Steve have known each other eight months, been partnered up for four. We met working another case, back when he was on Cold Cases. At first I didn’t like him – everyone else did, and I don’t trust people who everyone likes, plus he smiled too much – but that changed fast. By the time we got the solve, I liked him enough to use my five minutes in O’Kelly’s good books putting in a word for Steve. It was good timing – I wouldn’t have been in the market for a partner off my own bat, I liked going it alone, but O’Kelly had been getting louder about how clueless newbies didn’t fly solo on his squad – and I don’t regret it, even if Steve is a chirpy little bollix. He feels right, across from me when I glance up in the squad room, shoulder to shoulder with me at crime scenes, next to me at the interview table. Our solve rate is up there, whatever O’Kelly says, and more often than not we go for that pint to celebrate. Steve feels like a friend, or something on the edge of it. But we’re still getting the hang of each other; we still have no guarantees.
I have the hang of him enough to know when he wants to say something, anyway. I say, ‘What.’
‘Don’t let the gaffer get to you.’
I glance across: Steve is watching me, steady-eyed. ‘You telling me I’m being oversensitive? Seriously?’
‘It’s not the end of the world if he thinks we need to get better with witnesses.’
I whip down a side street at double the speed limit, but Steve knows my driving well enough that he doesn’t tense up. I’m the one gritting my teeth. ‘Yeah, it bloody well is. Oversensitive would be if I cared what Breslin or whoever thinks of our witness technique, which I don’t give a damn about. But if O’Kelly thinks we can’t handle ourselves, then we’re going to keep getting these bullshit nothing cases, and we’re going to keep having some tosser looking over our shoulders.You don’t have a problem with that?’
Steve shrugs. ‘Breslin’s just backup. It’s still our case.’
‘We don’t need backup.We need to be left the fuck alone to do our job.’
‘We will be. Sooner or later.’
Steve doesn’t answer that, obviously. I slow down – the Kadett handles like a shopping trolley. Stoneybatter is getting its Sunday morning underway: runners pounding along the footpaths, pissed-off teenagers dragging dogs and brooding over the unfairness of it all, a girl in clubbing gear wandering home with goosebumps on her legs and her shoes in her hand.
I say, ‘I’m not gonna take this much longer.’
Burnout happens. It happens more in the squads like Vice and Drugs, where the same vile shite keeps coming at you every day and nothing you do makes any difference: you burst your bollix making your case and the same girls keep on getting pimped out, just by a new scumbag; the same junkies keep on buying the same gear, just from a new drug lord.You plug one hole, the shite bursts through in a new place and just keeps on pouring. That gets to people. In Murder, if you put someone away, anyone else he would’ve killed stays alive. You’re fighting one killer at a time, instead of the whole worst side of human nature, and you can beat one killer. People last, in Murder. Last their whole careers.
In any squad, people last a lot longer than two years.
My two years have been special. The cases aren’t a problem – I could take back-to-back cannibals and kid-killers, never miss a wink of sleep. Like I said, you can beat one killer. Beating your own squad is a whole other thing.
Steve has the hang of me enough to know when I’m not just blowing off steam. After a second he asks, ‘What would you do instead? Transfer back to Missing Persons?’
‘Nah. Fuck that.’ I don’t go backwards. ‘One of my mates from school, he’s a partner in a security agency.The big stuff, bodyguards for high flyers, international; not nabbing shoplifters at Penney’s. He says, any time I want a job . . .’
I’m not looking at Steve, but I can feel him motionless and watching me. I can’t tell what’s in his head. Steve’s a good guy, but he’s a people-pleaser. With me gone, he could fit right into the squad, if he felt like it. One of the lads, working the decent cases and having a laugh, easy as that.
‘The money’s great,’ I say. ‘And in there, being a woman would actually be a plus.That’s what a lot of these guys want for their wives, daughters: women bodyguards. For themselves, too. Less obvious.’
Steve says, ‘Are you gonna ring him?’
I pull up at the top of Viking Gardens. The cloud’s broken up enough that light leaks through, a thin skin of it coating the slate roofs, the leaning lamppost. It’s the most sunlight we’ve seen all week.
I say, ‘I don’t know.’ Next chapter
I already know Viking Gardens. I live a ten-minute walk away – because I like Stoneybatter, not because I can’t afford anything fancier – and one of the routes I use for my run goes past the top of the road. It’s less exciting than it sounds: a scruffy cul-de-sac, lined with Victorian terraced cottages fronting straight onto patched-up pavements. Low slate roofs, net curtains, bright-painted doors. The street is narrow enough that the parked cars all have two tyres on the kerb.
This is about as long as we can get away with not ringing Breslin, before he shows up at work and the gaffer wants to know what he’s doing there. Before we get out of the car, I ring his voicemail – which may or may not buy us a few extra minutes, but at least it saves me making chitchat – and leave a message. I make the case sound boring as shite, which doesn’t take much, but I know that won’t slow him down. Breslin likes thinking he’s Mr Indispensable; he’ll show up just as fast for a shitty domestic as he would for a skin-stripping serial killer, because he knows the poor victim is bollixed until he gets there to save the day. ‘Let’s move,’ I say, swinging my satchel over my shoulder.
Number 26 is the one down the far end of the road, with the crime-scene tape and the marked car and the white Technical Bureau van. A cluster of kids hanging about by the tape scatter when they see us coming (‘Ahhh! Run!’ ‘Here, missus, get him, he robs Toffypops out of the shop—’ ‘Shut the fuck up, you!’) but we still get watched all the way down the road. Behind the net curtains, the windows are popping questions like popcorn.
‘I want to wave,’ Steve says, under his breath. ‘Can I wave, yeah?’
‘Act your age, you.’ But the shot of adrenaline is hitting me, too, no matter how I fight it. Even when you know trained chimps could do your job that day, the walk to the scene gets you: turns you into a gladiator walking towards the arena, a few heartbeats away from a fight that’ll make emperors chant your name.Then you take a look at the scene, your arena and your emperor go up in smoke, and you feel shittier than ever.
The uniform at the door is just a kid, long wobbly-looking neck and big ears holding up a too-big hat. ‘Detectives,’ he says, snapping upright and trying to work out whether to salute. ‘Garda JP Dooley.’ Or something. His accent needs subtitles.
‘Detective Conway,’ I say, finding gloves and shoe covers in my bag. ‘And that’s Detective Moran. Seen anyone hanging around who shouldn’t be?’
‘Just them kids, like.’ The kids will need talking to, and so will their parents. The thing about old neighbourhoods: people still mind each other’s business. It doesn’t suit everyone, but it suits us. ‘We didn’t do any door-to-door yet; we thought ye might want it done your own way, like.’
‘Good call,’ Steve says, pulling on his gloves. ‘We’ll get someone onto it.What was that like when you got here?’
He nods at the cottage door, which is a harmless shade of blue, splintered where the uniforms bashed it in. ‘Closed,’ the uniform says promptly.
‘Well, yeah, I got that,’ Steve says, but with a grin that makes it a shared joke, not the smackdown I would have pulled out. ‘Closed how? Bolted, double-locked, on the latch?’
‘Oh, right, sorry, I—’ The uniform’s gone red. ‘There’s a Chubb lock and a Yale. ’Twasn’t double-locked, but. On the latch, only.’
Meaning if the killer left this way, he just pulled the door closed behind him; he didn’t need a key. ‘Alarm going off?’
‘No. Like, there is an alarm system, like’ – the uniform points at the box on the wall above us – ‘but it wasn’t set. It didn’t go off when we went in, even.’
‘Thanks,’ Steve says, giving him another grin. ‘That’s great.’ The uniform goes scarlet. Stevie has a fan.
The door swings open, and Sophie Miller sticks her head out. Sophie has big brown eyes and a ballerina build and makes a hooded white boiler suit look some kind of elegant, so a lot of people try to give her shit, but they only try once. She’s one of the best crime- scene techs we’ve got, plus the two of us like each other. Seeing her is more of a relief than it should be.
‘Hey,’ she says. ‘About time.’
‘Roadworks,’ I say. ‘Howya. What’ve we got?’
‘Looks like another lovers’ tiff to me. Have you called dibs on them, or what?’
‘Better than gangsters,’ I say. I feel Steve’s quick startled glance, throw him a cold one back: he knows me and Sophie are mates, but he should also know I’m not gonna go crying on my mate’s shoulder about squad business. ‘At least on domestics, you get the odd witness who’ll talk. Let’s have a look.’
The cottage is small: we walk straight into the sitting-slash-dining room.Three doors off it, and I already know which is what: bedroom off to the left, kitchen straight ahead, shower room to the right of that – the layout is the same as my place. The decor is nothing like, though. Purple rug on the laminate flooring, heavy purple curtains trying to look expensive, purple throw artistically arranged on the white leather sofa, forgettable canvas prints of purple flowers: the room looks like it was bought through some Decorate Your Home app where you plug in your budget and your favourite colours and the whole thing arrives in a van the next day.
In there it’s still last night. The curtains are closed; the overhead lights are off, but standing lamps are on in odd corners. Sophie’s techs – one kneeling by the sofa picking up fibres with Sellotape, one dusting a side table for prints, one doing a slow sweep with a video camera – have their head-lamps on. The room is stifling hot and stinks of cooked meat and scented candle. The tech by the sofa is fanning the front of his boiler suit, trying to get some air in there.
The gas fire is on, fake coals glowing, flames flickering away manically at the overheated room. The fireplace is cut stone, fake-rustic to go with the adorable little artisan cottage.The woman’s head is resting on the corner of the hearth.
She’s on her back, knock-kneed, like someone threw her there. One arm is by her side; the other is up over her head, bent at an awkward angle. She’s maybe five seven, skinny, wearing spike heels, plenty of fake tan, a tight-fitting cobalt-blue dress and a chunky fake- gold necklace. Her face is covered by blond hair, straightened and sprayed so ferociously that even murder hasn’t managed to mess it up. She looks like Dead Barbie.
‘We got an ID?’ I ask.
Sophie lifts her chin at a table by the door: a few letters, a small neat stack of bills. ‘Odds are she’s Aislinn Gwendolyn Murray. She owns the place – there’s a property-tax statement in there.’
Steve flips bills. ‘No other names,’ he says to me. ‘Looks like it was just her.’
One look at the room, though, and I can see why everyone figures this for boy-beats-girl. The small round table in the dining area is covered in a purple tablecloth; two places laid out, white cloth napkins in fancy folds, the gas flames twinkling in china and polished silver. Open bottle of red, two glasses – clean – a tall candlestick.The candle is burned down to nothing, drips of wax stalactited on the candlestick and spotting the tablecloth.
There’s a wide splotch of blood on the fireplace surround, spreading from under her head, dark and sticky. None anywhere else, as far as I can see. No one bothered to lift her after she went down, hold her, try and shake her awake. Just got the hell out of Dodge.
Fell and hit her head, the caller said. Either it’s true, and Lover Boy panicked and did a legger – it happens, good little citizens so petrified of getting in trouble that they act squirrelly as serial killers – or he helped her fall.
‘Cooper been yet?’ I ask. Cooper is the pathologist. He likes me better than he likes most people, but he still wouldn’t have stuck around: if you’re not at the scene when Cooper shows up to do the preliminary, that counts as your problem, not his.
‘Just left,’ Sophie says. She has one watchful eye on her techs. ‘He says she’s dead, just in case we missed that. Her being right next to the fire messed with the rate of cooling and the onset of rigor, so time of death is dodgy: anywhere between six and eleven yesterday evening.’
Steve nods at the table. ‘Probably before half-eight, nine. Any later, they’d’ve started eating.’
‘Unless one of them works an odd shift,’ I say. Steve puts that in his notebook: something for the floaters to check out, once we have an ID on the dinner guest. ‘The call came in as injuries from a fall. Did Cooper say whether that’d fit?’
Sophie snorts. ‘Yeah, right. The special kind of fall. The back of her head’s smashed in, and the injury looks to match the corner of the fireplace; Cooper’s basically sure that’s what killed her, but he won’t say so till the post-mortem, just in case Peruvian arrow poison or whatever. But she’s also got abrasions and a major haematoma on the left side of her jaw, a couple of cracked teeth – probably a cracked jawbone too, but Cooper won’t swear till he gets her on the table. She didn’t fall on the fireplace from two angles at once.’
I say, ‘Someone hit her in the face. She went over backwards, smacked her head on the fireplace.’
‘You’re the detectives, but that’s what it sounds like to me.’
The woman’s nails are long and cobalt blue, to match her dress, and perfect: not one broken, not one even chipped. The pretty photography books on the coffee table are still nicely lined up; so are the pretty glass whatsits and the vase of purple flowers on the mantelpiece. There’s been no struggle in here. She never got a chance to fight back.
‘Cooper have any clue what he hit her with?’ I ask.
‘Going by the bruise pattern,’ Sophie says, ‘his fist. Meaning he’s right-handed.’
Meaning no weapon, meaning nothing that can be fingerprinted or linked to a suspect. Steve says, ‘A punch hard enough to crack her teeth, it’s got to have banged up his knuckles. He won’t be able to hide that. And if we’re really in luck, he’s split a knuckle, left DNA on her face.’
‘That’s if his hands were bare,’ I say. ‘A night like last night, chances are he was wearing gloves.’
I nod at the table. ‘She never got as far as pouring the wine. He hadn’t been here long.’
‘Hey,’ Steve says, mock-cheery. ‘At least it’s murder. Here you were worried we’d been hauled out for someone’s granny who tripped over the cat.’
‘Great,’ I say. ‘I’ll save the happy dance for later. Cooper say anything else?’
‘No defensive injuries,’ Sophie says. ‘Her clothing’s all in place, there’s no sign of recent intercourse and no semen showed up on any of her swabs, so you can forget sexual assault.’
Steve says, ‘Unless our fella tried it on, she said no, and he gave her a punch to subdue her. Then when he realised what was after happening, he got spooked and did a legger.’
‘Whatever. You can forget completed sexual assault, anyway; is that better?’ Sophie’s only met Steve the once. She hasn’t decided whether she likes him yet.
I say, ‘Attempted doesn’t play either. What, he walks in the door and shoves his hand straight up her skirt? Doesn’t even wait till they’ve had a glass of wine and his chances are better?’
Steve shrugs. ‘Fair enough. Maybe not.’ This isn’t him diving into a sulk, the way a lot of Ds would if their partner contradicted them, specially in front of someone who looks like Sophie; he means it. It’s not that Steve has no ego – all Ds do – just that his isn’t tied to being Mr Big Balls all the time. It’s tied to getting stuff done, which is good, and to people liking him, which comes in useful and which I watch like hell.
‘Her phone show up?’ I ask.
‘Yeah. Over on that side table.’ Sophie points with her pen. ‘It’s been fingerprinted. If you want to play with it, go ahead.’
Before we check out the rest of the cottage, I squat down by the body and carefully, one-fingered, hook her hair back from her face. Steve moves in beside me.
Every Murder D I’ve ever known does it: takes one long look at the victim’s face. It doesn’t make sense, not to civilians. If we just wanted a mental image of the vic, to keep us reminded who we’re working for, any phone selfie would do a better job. If we needed a shot of outrage to get our hearts pumping, the wounds do that better than the face. But we do it, even with the bad ones who barely have a face left to see; a week outdoors in summer, a drowning, we go face-to- face with them just the same. The biggest douchebags on the squad, the guys who would rate this woman’s tits out of ten while she lay there getting colder, they would still give her that respect.
She’s somewhere under thirty. She was pretty, before someone decided to turn the left side of her jaw into a bloody purple lump; no stunner, but pretty enough, and she worked hard at it. She has on a truckload of makeup, the full works and done right; her nose and her chin would be little-girl cute, only they have that jutting look that comes with long-term low-level starvation. Her mouth – hanging open, showing small bleached teeth and clotted blood – is good: soft and full, with a droop to the bottom lip that looks witless now but was probably appealing yesterday. Under the three blended shades of eyeshadow her eyes are a slit open, staring up into a corner of the ceiling.
I say, ‘I’ve seen her before.’
Steve’s head comes up fast. ‘Yeah? Where?’
‘Not sure.’ I’ve got a good memory. Steve calls it photographic; I don’t, because I’d sound like a tosser, but I know when I’ve seen someone before, and I’ve seen this woman.
She looked different then. Younger, but that could have been because she had more weight on her – not fat, exactly, but soft – and a lot less makeup: careful foundation a shade darker than her skin, thin mascara, the end. Her hair was brown and wavy, done up in a clumsy twist. Navy skirt-suit, a touch too tight, high heels that made her ankles wobble: grown-up clothes, for some big occasion. But the face, the gentle snub nose and the soft droop of the bottom lip, those were the same.
She was standing in sunlight, swaying forward towards me, palms coming up. High voice with a tremble in it, But but please I really need— Me blank-faced, leg twitching with impatience, thinking Pathetic.
She wanted something from me. Help, money, a lift, advice? I wanted her gone.
‘Could’ve been.’ The blank face took willpower; on my own time, I would’ve just told her to get lost.
‘We’ll run her through the system, soon as we get back to HQ. If she came in with a domestic violence complaint . . .’
‘I never worked DV. Would’ve had to be back when I was in uniform. And I don’t . . .’ I shake my head. The searchlight sweeps of the techs’ headlamps turn the room sizeless and menacing, make us into crouching targets. ‘I don’t remember anything like that.’
I wouldn’t have been itching to get rid of her, not if she’d been getting the slaps. The slit-open eyes give her face a sly look, like a kid cheating at hide-and-seek.
Steve straightens up, leaving me to take whatever time I need. He raises his eyebrows at Sophie and points to the rectangle of light coming through the kitchen door. ‘Can I . . . ?’
‘Knock yourself out.We’ve videoed in there, but we haven’t fingerprinted yet, so don’t go polishing anything.’ Next chapter
Steve picks his way past the techs, into the kitchen. The ceilings are low enough that he practically has to duck, going through the doorway. ‘How’s that going?’ Sophie asks, nodding after him.
‘All right. He’s the least of my problems.’ I let the vic’s hair fall back over her face and stand up. I want to move; if I walked fast and far enough, I could catch up to the memory. If I start pacing around her crime scene, Sophie will kick my arse out the door, lead D or no.
‘Sounds like a blast,’ Sophie says. ‘Now that you’ve seen the place the way we found it, can we turn on the bloody lights and stop fucking about in the dark?’
‘Go for it,’ I say. One of the techs turns on the overhead light, which makes the place even more depressing; at least the headlamps gave it some kind of personality, even if it was a creepy one. I pick my way between yellow evidence markers to the bedroom.
It’s small and it’s spotless. The dressing table – curly white-and-gold yoke with a foofy skirt, like something an eight-year-old would pick out for her princess room – has none of that makeup left scattered on it, just another scented candle and two perfume bottles that are for looks, not use. No tried-and-ditched outfits strewn across the bed; the daisy-pattern duvet is pulled straight and symmetrical, neatly dotted with four of those scatter cushions I’ll never figure out. Aislinn tidied up, when she finished getting ready: hid away every bit of evidence, in case God forbid Lover Boy should figure out she didn’t naturally look like something he’d picked out of a catalogue. He didn’t get this far, but she was expecting him to.
I have a look in the fitted wardrobe. Plenty of clothes, mostly skirt suits and going-out dresses, all of it mid-range block-colour stuff with one sparkly detail, the type of stuff that gets showcased on morning talk shows alongside blood-type diets and skin-resurfacing treatments. Have a look in the curly white-and-gold bookcase: load of romances, load of old kids’ books, load of that godawful shite where the author enlightens you on the meaning of life through the story of a slum kid who learns to fly, few books about crime in Ireland – missing persons, gangland crime, murder; the irony – some urban fantasy stuff that actually looks OK. I flip through the books: the enlightenment shite and the true crime are covered with underlining, but no he-dun-it note falls out. I have a look in the bedside table: daisy-patterned box of tissues, laptop, chargers; six-pack of condoms, unopened. A look in the bin: nothing. A look under the bed: not even a dustball.
The vic’s home is your shot at getting a handle on this person you’re never going to meet. Even for their friends, people filter and spin, and then the friends filter all over again: they don’t want to speak ill of the dead, or they’re feeling maudlin about their poor lost pal, or they don’t want you to misunderstand that little quirk of his. But behind the door of home, those filters fall away.You go through that door and you go looking for what’s not deliberate: what would have been tidied up before anyone called round, what smells weird and what’s down the back of the sofa cushions.The slip-ups that the victim never wanted anyone to see.
This place is giving me nothing. Aislinn Murray is a picture in a glossy magazine. Everything in here is managed as carefully as if she was expecting some candid-camera show to burst in and splash her private life across the internet.
Paranoid? Control freak? Genuinely superhumanly boring?
But please couldn’t you just, don’t you understand how I—
She let more slip and was more vivid in that one moment than in every detail of her home. There was no way I could’ve known, not like she was wearing a sign that said Future Vic, but still: for once I looked a live murder victim in the eye, and I blew her off.
Once the techs finish up we’ll do a serious search, which might give us more, but from the looks of things, Aislinn’s personality – assuming she had one somewhere – doesn’t actually matter. If we can ID Lover Boy and make a solid case against him, we don’t need to give a damn who Aislinn was. It leaves me edgy all the same, hearing that high little-girl voice where there should be nothing.
‘Anything?’ Steve asks, in the doorway.
‘Bugger-all. If she wasn’t lying out there, I’d think she never actually existed. How about the kitchen?’
‘Couple of interesting things. Come look.’
‘Thank Jaysus,’ I say, following him. I’m expecting the kitchen to be chrome and fake granite, Celtic Tiger trendy done on the cheap; instead it’s over-carved pine, pink gingham oilcloth, framed prints of chickens wearing pink gingham aprons. Everything I find out about this woman leaves me with less of a handle on her. Out the back window is the same walled miniature patio I have, except Aislinn put a curly wooden bench on hers, so she could sit out there and enjoy the view of her wall. I check the back door: locked.
‘First thing,’ Steve says. He tugs the oven open, carefully, hooking a gloved finger into the door crack instead of touching the handle.
Two roasting tins, full of food shrivelled into crispy brown wads: what looks like potatoes, and something in pastry. He pulls down the half-open door of the grill: two blackish lumps that started out as either stuffed mushrooms or cowpats.
I say, ‘So?’
‘So it’s all cooked to leather, but it hasn’t actually burned. Because the knobs are still turned on, but the actual cooker’s been switched off at the wall. And look.’
Plate full of vegetables – green beans, peas – on the counter. Pan half-full of water on one of the cooker rings. The knob for the ring is turned on high.
‘Soph,’ I call. ‘Anyone turn off the cooker? You guys, or the uniforms?’
‘We didn’t,’ Sophie yells back. ‘And I said to the uniforms: anything you touched, you tell me now. I’m pretty sure I put the fear of God into them. If they’d been fucking about with the cooker, they’d have ’fessed up.’
‘So?’ I say, to Steve. ‘Maybe Lover Boy was late, Aislinn turned off the cooker.’
Steve shakes his head. ‘The grill, maybe. But would you turn the oven off, or leave it on low and stick all the food in there to keep warm? And would you let the water for the veg get cold, or would you keep it boiling?’
‘I don’t cook. I microwave.’
‘I cook.You wouldn’t switch off the whole thing, specially not if your boyfriend was running late.You’d keep the water simmering, so you could throw in the veg the second he arrived.’
I say, ‘Our guy turned it off.’
‘Looks like. He didn’t want the smoke alarm going off.’
‘Soph. Can you print the wall switch of the cooker for me?’
‘You check for footprints in here?’
‘No, I let you two walk all over it first, to make my life more interesting,’ Sophie calls. ‘Footprints were the first thing we did. It rained off and on last night, so anyone who came in would’ve had wet shoes, but any prints dried up a long time ago – the heat in here – and they didn’t leave any decent residue. We got a few bits of dried mud, in here and in there; but those could’ve come from the uniforms clearing the scene, and there wasn’t enough for identifiable prints anyway.’
Lover Boy is changing, in my mind. I had him down as some snivelling little gobshite who threw a punch that went wrong and who was probably back in his flat shitting himself and waiting for us to show up so he could spill his guts and explain how it was all her fault. But that guy would have been halfway home before Aislinn’s body hit the floor. He would never have been able to make himself stand still and think strategy.
I say, ‘He’s got a cool head.’
‘Oh yeah,’ Steve says. There’s a leap in his voice, like when you smell good food and you’re suddenly hungry. ‘He’s just punched out his girlfriend. He probably doesn’t even know whether she’s alive or dead, but he’s steady enough to think about smoke alarms and what’s in the cooker. If he’s a first-timer, he’s a natural.’
The smoke alarm is above our heads. I say, ‘Why not go ahead and let the food set off the alarm, but? If the place burns down, it’s gonna take a lot of evidence with it. If you get lucky, the body might even be too destroyed for us to tell it was murder.’
‘Something to do with his alibi, maybe. If the smoke alarm had gone off, someone would’ve been out here a lot sooner. Maybe he figured the longer it took us to find her, the less we could narrow down the time of death – and for whatever reason, he doesn’t want it narrowed down.’
‘Then why call it in, this morning? She could’ve stayed here another day, maybe more, before anyone came looking. By then, time of death would’ve been bollixed; we’d’ve been lucky to pin it down within twelve hours.’
Steve is rubbing rhythmically at the back of his head, rucking up the red hair in clumps. ‘Maybe he panicked.’
I make an unconvinced noise. Lover Boy is flicking back and forth like a hologram: pathetic wimp, cold thinker, wimp again. ‘He’s cool as ice at the actual scene, but a few hours later he’s freaking out? Badly enough to call us in?’
‘People are mad.’ Steve reaches up and pokes the tester button on the smoke alarm with the tip of his Biro. It beeps: working. ‘Or else the call wasn’t him.’
I try that on for size. ‘He runs to someone else: a mate, a brother, maybe his da. Tells him what’s after happening. The mate’s got a conscience: he doesn’t want to leave Aislinn lying here, when she might be still alive and doctors might be able to save her. Soon as he gets a moment on his own, he rings it in.’
‘If it’s that,’ Steve says, ‘we need the mate.’
‘Yeah.’ I’m already pulling my notebook out of my jacket pocket: Suspect KAs ASAP. As soon as we get an ID on Lover Boy, we’re gonna need a list of his known associates. A mate with a conscience is one of every detective’s favourite things.
‘Here’s the other thing,’ Steve says. ‘She hadn’t put the veg in to cook, hadn’t poured out the wine. Like we said before, he’d only just walked in the door.’
I shove my notebook back in my pocket and move around the kitchen. Cupboard full of delft with pretty pink flowers on, fridge empty except for low-fat yoghurt and pre-chopped carrot sticks and a twin-pack of M&S fruit tarts for dessert. Some people keep most of their personality in their kitchens, but not Aislinn. ‘Right. So?’
‘So how’d they have time to get in an argument? This isn’t a married couple who’ve been bickering for years, he forgets the milk and it blows up into a massive row. These two, they’re still at the fancy-dinner-date stage, everyone’s on their best behaviour.What are they going to fight about, the second he walks in?’
‘You think it wasn’t an argument? This was his plan all along?’ I flip open the bin: M&S packaging and an empty yoghurt carton. ‘Nah. The only way that plays is if he’s a stone-cold sadist, picks out a victim and kills her just for kicks. And that guy isn’t gonna be done after one punch.’
‘I’m not saying he came over here to kill her. Not necessarily. I’m just saying . . .’ Steve shrugs, narrowing his eyes at a china cat with a pink gingham bow that’s giving us a schizoid stare from the windowsill. ‘I’m just saying it’s weird.’
‘We should be so lucky.’ Little pink notepad stuck to a cupboard: Dry cleaning, toilet roll, lettuce. ‘The argument might’ve started before he arrived.Where’s that phone?’
I bring Aislinn’s mobile back into the kitchen, out of the techs’ way. Steve moves in to read over my shoulder, which is another thing that most people can’t do without pissing me off. Steve manages not to breathe in my ear.
It’s a smartphone, but Aislinn has the screen lock set on swipe, no code. She’s got two unread texts, but I go through her contacts first. Nothing under Mum or Dad or any variation, but she does have an ICE contact: Lucy Riordan, and a mobile number. I write it down in my notebook, for later – lucky Lucy is gonna make the formal ID. Then I go into Aislinn’s text messages and start piecing together the dinner-guest story. Next chapter
Lover Boy’s name is Rory Fallon and he was due over at eight o’clock yesterday evening. He first shows up on Aislinn’s phone seven weeks ago, in the second week of December. Great to meet you – hope you had a wonderful evening. Would you be free for a drink on Friday?
Aislinn made him work for it. I’m busy that night, might be able to do Thursday, and then when he took a few hours to get back to her, Oops just made plans for Thursday! She had him jump through hoops coming up with days, times, places, till finally she decided he’d done enough and they went for a drink in town. He rang her the next day, she didn’t answer the phone till the third call. He begged her into graciously letting him buy her dinner in a pricey restaurant – she messed him around on that too, cancelled on the morning of the date (Really sorry, something’s come up tonight!) and made him reschedule. Somewhere in this house we’re gonna find a copy of The Rules.
I’ve got no time for women who play games, or for men who play along. That shite is for teenagers, not for grown adults. And when it goes wrong, it goes way wrong.The first few games, you have a blast, get your guy panting along after you like a puppy chasing his chew toy. Then you play one game too many, and you’ve got a houseful of Murder Ds.
In between Aislinn’s little games is the rest of her thrilling life: reminder for a dentist appointment; a few texts back and forth with Lucy Riordan about Game of Thrones; a week-old voice message from what sounds like someone from work, freaking out because his e-mail account’s been hacked and can Aislinn tell him how to reset his password? No wonder she needed to make a restaurant meal into a major drama.
The invite for home-cooked dinner must have gone out in person or in a phone call – the call log shows a bunch of those from Rory, some answered, some not, none from Aislinn to him – but he confirmed by text. Wednesday evening: Hi Aislinn, just checking if we’re still on for 8 on Saturday?What wine will I bring?
She let him wait till the next day before she got back to him. Yes 8 on Saturday! No need to bring anything, just yourself :-)
‘If he showed up without a dozen red roses,’ I say, ‘he’d’ve been in deep shite.’
‘Maybe he didn’t know that,’ Steve says. ‘No flowers anywhere.’
We’ve both seen murders that boiled up out of dumber reasons. ‘That could explain how it happened so fast. He arrives, she sees he’s brought nothing . . .’
Steve is shaking his head. ‘And what? Going by the stuff on here, she’s not the type who’d tell him to fuck off and come back with a bouquet. She’d play it passive-aggressive: freeze up, let him go mental trying to figure out what he’d done wrong.’
The problem with Steve taking contradiction so nicely is that I feel like I have to live up to him. ‘True enough. No wonder she got herself killed.’ Sometimes I worry that if I work with Steve for too long, I’m gonna turn into a sweetheart.
With her pal Lucy, though, Aislinn dropped the hard-to-get act. Yesterday evening, 6.49:
Omigod I’m so excited it’s ridiculous!!! Getting ready singing into corkscrew like teenager w hairbrush. Am I pathetic or wha??
Lucy came back to her straightaway. Depends what you’re singing
Could be worse ...tell me it’s not Put a ring on it
Nooo!!! Run the world!
Ah well then you’re golden. Just don’t feed him on celery and ryvita, you don’t want him fainting from hunger before you can have your wicked way with him :-D
Ha ha so funny. Making beef wellington
Ooo get you!! Gordon ramsay
Hello it’s just from Marks & Sparks!
Ah gotcha. Have loads of fun. And be careful ok?
Stop worrying!! Tell you everything tomorrow xxx
That one went out at 7.13. Just time for Aislinn to put on the last
layer of makeup, the last layer of hairspray, stick her M&S dinner into the cooker, swap Beyoncé for mood music and light the scented candle, before the doorbell rang.
‘“Be careful,”’ Steve says.
When we talk to Lucy, she’ll explain why she was worried: how Rory got aggressive that time in the pub when he thought Aislinn was looking at another guy, or how he made her keep her coat on in the restaurant because her dress showed her cleavage, or how he used to go out with a friend of a friend and the word was he had slapped her around but Aislinn figured it was exaggerated and he was a lovely guy and all he needed was someone who treated him properly. ‘Same old story,’ I say. ‘Next time my ma asks me why I’m still single, I’m gonna tell her about this case. Or the last one. Or the one before that.’
Slam-dunk lovers’ tiff, just like the uniforms figured. Our boy Rory practically lay down on a platter and stuck an apple in his mouth for us. I’ve known this was coming since back in the squad room, but some thicko part of me still feels it like a kick in the teeth.
Domestics are mostly slam-dunks; the question isn’t whether you can arrest your guy, or girl, it’s whether you can build a case that’ll hold up in court. A lot of people love that – it pretties up your solve rate, looks good to the brass – but not me: it means domestics get you fuck-all respect from the squad, where I could do with it, because everyone knows the solve came easy. Which is also the other reason they piss me off: they’ve got a whole special level of idiotic all to themselves.You take out your wife or your husband or your Shag of the Day, what the fuck do you think is gonna happen? We’re gonna be standing there with our mouths open, scratching our heads at the mind-blowing mystery of it all, Duh, I dunno, musta been the Mafia? Surprise: we’re gonna go straight for you, the evidence is gonna pile up way over your head, and you’re gonna wind up with a life sentence. If you want to kill someone, have enough respect for my time to make it someone, anyone, other than the most gobsmackingly obvious person in the world.
One thing on that phone, though, doesn’t fit on that rock-bottom level of stupid. After the happy-clappy texts with Lucy, nothing in or out for almost an hour. Then, at 8.09 p.m., a text from Rory: Hi Aislinn, just checking that I’ve got the right address? I’m outside 26 Viking Gardens but no one’s answering the door. Am I in the right place?
The text’s flagged as unread.
Steve taps the time stamp. ‘He wasn’t running late, anyway. No reason for her to turn off the cooker.’
8.15 p.m., Rory rang Aislinn. She didn’t pick up.
He rang her again at 8.25. At 8.32 he texted her: Hi Aislinn, wondering if I’ve got the weeks mixed up? I thought I was due over for dinner tonight but it seems like you’re not around. Let me know the story whenever you get the chance? Unread again.
‘Yeah, right,’ I say. ‘He knows damn well he hasn’t got the weeks mixed up. If he needed to double-check, the appointment’s right there in his messages.’
Steve says, ‘He’s trying to make it sound like, whatever’s gone wrong, it has to be his fault. He doesn’t want to piss Aislinn off.’
‘Or else he knows we’ll be reading these, and he wants to get it through to us loud and clear that he’s a meek little nice guy who could never do anything like punch his date in the face even if he was in the house which obviously he never was, swear to God, Officer, just look at his phone, see all these messages?’
A lot of domestics try to get smart like that: take one look at what they’ve done, and start setting up a story. Sometimes it even works – not on us, but on a jury. Rory Fallon pitched it nicely: enough messages to show he was really trying to get hold of Aislinn, honest, but nothing after the 8.32 text, so he doesn’t come across like a stalker. Again, not rock-bottom stupid.
‘Narrows down time of death, either way,’ Steve says. ‘She was texting Lucy at thirteen minutes past seven. By ten past eight, she was down.’
‘Either way?’ That makes me look up from the phone. ‘What, you think these could be legit?’
Steve does something noncommittal with his chin. ‘Probably not.’
‘Come on. Someone just happened to walk in looking to kill her, at the exact moment when Rory was due to arrive for his beef Wellington? Seriously?’
‘I said probably not. Just . . . we’ve got a couple of weird things, now. I’m keeping an open mind.’
Oh, Jesus. Little Stevie, bless his heart, is trying to convince us both that we’ve landed ourselves something special, so that our day will brighten up and I’ll turn that frown upside down and quit talking about my mate’s security firm and we’ll all live happily ever after. I can’t wait for this case to be over.
‘Let’s go pick up Rory Fallon and find out,’ I say. If we’re in luck and the pathetic-wimp version of Rory is the right one, he might even spill his guts in time for me to get in a run and some food before I crash out.
That gets Steve’s attention. ‘You want to go straight for him?’ ‘Yeah. Why not?’
‘I was thinking the vic’s best friend – Lucy. If she knows anything, it’d be good to have it before we start on Rory. Go in there with all the ammo we can get.’
Which would be the perfect way to work this if it was a proper murder case, with one of those cunning psychopaths lurking in the shadows daring us to take our best shot, instead of some gobshite who got his knickers in a twist and threw a tantrum at his girlfriend and who deserves every short cut we can find. But Steve is giving me the hopeful puppy-dog eyes, and I figure what the hell: he’ll have his own burnout soon enough, no point dragging him down into mine. ‘Why not,’ I say. I lock Aislinn’s phone and drop it back into its evidence bag. ‘Let’s go talk to Lucy Riordan.’
Steve slams the oven door. The waft of air shoots through the kitchen, charred and rich with meat about to rot.
Sophie is squatting beside the fireplace, swabbing the bloodstain. ‘We’re getting out of your hair,’ I tell her. ‘You find anything we should know about, give us a bell.’
‘Will do. No surprises so far. Your vic did a pretty serious clean-up for her little dinner date – practically every surface in here’s been wiped – which is nice: if your guy left prints, we can show they hadn’t been there long. So far we’re getting bugger-all, though; looks like you could be right about him having his gloves on. Keep your fingers crossed.’
‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘Just so you know: Don Breslin’s gonna show up any minute.’
‘Oh, great. Be still, my beating heart.’ Sophie drops a swab into a test tube. ‘What do you want him for?’
‘The gaffer thinks we could use someone who’s good with witnesses.’ That brings Sophie’s head up to look at me. I shrug. ‘Or some shit like that, I don’t know. So Breslin’s coming in with us on this one.’
‘Well, isn’t that special,’ Sophie says. She caps the test tube and starts labelling it.
I say, ‘He’s just backup. Anything you find comes straight to me or Moran. If you can’t get hold of us, keep trying till you do. Yeah?’
One of the reasons it took me and Steve so long to close the Romanian domestic, the reason we’re not about to tell O’Kelly, is that when a witness finally got up the guts to ring in, we never heard about the call. It was another two weeks before the witness tried again – fair play to him; a lot of people would have figured forget it – and got me. He said his first call had been put through to a guy, Irish accent – which narrows it down to anyone on the squad except me – who had promised to pass on the message. I don’t think it was Breslin, but I’m nowhere near sure enough to bet my case on it.
‘Not a problem.’ Sophie glances back and forth between her techs. ‘Conway, Moran or no one. Everyone clear on that?’
The techs nod. Techs don’t give a damn about Ds and our relationship problems – most of them think we’re a bunch of prima donnas who should try doing some real solid work for a change – but they’re loyal as hell to Sophie. Breslin will get nothing out of them.
‘The same for her phone and her laptop,’ I say. ‘When they get into her e-mail, Facebook, whatever, I want it coming straight to us.’
‘Sure. There’s this one computer guy who actually listens when people talk; I’ll make sure it goes to him.’ She drops the test tube into an evidence bag. ‘We’ll keep you updated.’
I take one last look at Aislinn, on my way out. Sophie’s hooked back her hair to take swabs, hoping for DNA from that punch. Death is starting to take over her face, starting to pull her lips back from her teeth, sink hollows under her eyes. Even through that, she hits me with that pulse of memory. Please I just need please— And me, barely bothering to hide the satisfaction: Sorry. Can’t help you there.
‘She pissed me off,’ I say. ‘When I met her before.’
‘Something she did?’ Steve asks. ‘Something she said?’
‘Don’t remember. Something.’
‘Or nothing. Doesn’t take a lot to piss you off, when you’re in the humour.’
‘Fuck off, you.’
‘I like him,’ Sophie tells me. ‘You can keep him.’
Half my head is on where I’ve seen the vic before. My guard is down. I duck under the tape, a voice recorder practically takes my eye out and a noise like an attack dog goes off in my face. I leap before I can stop myself, fists coming up, and hear the burst of fake shutter-clicks from a phone camera.
‘Detective Conway do you have a suspect was this a serial killer was the victim sexually assaulted—’
Mostly journalists are a good thing. We all have our special relationships – you throw your guy early tipoffs, he leaks whatever you want leaked and passes you anything you should know – but even with the rest, we usually get on grand: we all know the boundaries, no one oversteps, everyone’s happy. Louis Crowley is the exception. Crowley is a little snot-drip who works for a red-top rag called the Courier, which specialises in printing just a few too many details about rape cases, for readers who want more buzz of outrage or whatever else than they can get off the normal papers. His look is Poet Meets Pervert – floppy shirts and a dandruffy mac, wavy dark ponytail groomed over a big oily bald spot – and his face is permanently set on Righteous Offence. I’d rather brush my teeth with a chainsaw than tip off Crowley.
‘Did the killer stalk his victim should women in the area be taking precautions our readers deserve to know—’
Voice recorder in my face, phone clicking away in his other hand, waft of foul patchouli pomade off his hair – Crowley just about comes up to my nose. I manage not to shoulder the little bollix in the gob on my way past him; can’t be arsed with the paperwork. Behind me I hear Steve say cheerily, ‘No comment. No comment on the no comment. No comment on the no comment on the no comment.’
The cluster of kids scattering again, open-mouthed. The lace curtains vibrating. The hard chill of the air, after that overheated house. Crowley jerks his voice recorder back just in time, before I slam the car door on it. I reverse out into the road without looking behind me.
‘That little git,’ Steve says, shaking his jacket sleeves like Crowley dandruffed him. ‘That was quick. In time for the afternoon edition, and all.’
‘“Detectives Refuse to Deny Stalker Rumours. Detectives Baffled by Possible Serial Killer. Detectives: No Comment on LocalWomen’s Terror.”’ I don’t even know where we’re going, we don’t have Lucy Riordan’s address, but I’m driving like we’re in a chase. ‘“Detectives Punch Shitty Excuse for Journalist in the Fucking Teeth.”’
Over the last few months Crowley has been turning up at too many of my scenes, too fast. We have history – last year, he was trying to browbeat a quote out of a teenager who’d seen her drug-dealer da take two in the back of the head, I told him if he didn’t fuck off I’d arrest him for hindering my investigation, he flounced off making offended noises about police brutality and freedom of the press and Nelson Mandela – but it’s not like that puts me in a minority: half the force has told Crowley to fuck off, one way or another. There’s no reason he should pick me out for revenge, specially not all this time later. And even if his tiny mind has decided to fixate on me, that doesn’t explain how he’s finding out about my cases as soon as I do.
Journalists have ways they don’t tell us about, obviously. Crowley probably has a scanner that he tunes to police frequencies when he’s on duty, and uses to look for couples having phone sex the rest of the time. But still: I have to wonder.
You don’t make the Murder squad without having a world-class gift for finding creative ways to get under someone’s skin and wriggle around in there till they’d rip themselves open to get rid of you; without being ready and happy to do it, even if the witness you’re working on is a devastated kid sobbing her heart out for her da. I’m not the exception – and neither is Steve, much as he’d love to think he is. It’s not like I was shocked, the first time I realised that not all the lads save that talent for interviews. It gets to feel right on you, like the gun at your hip that leaves you lopsided when it’s not there. Some of the lads can’t put it down. They use it to get anything they happen to want, or to get past anyone who happens to be in their way. Or to break anyone they want broken.
Steve is keeping his trap shut, which is a good call. Without noticing, I’ve got us deep into Phoenix Park, probably because it’s the only place around where I can drive without getting snarled up in traffic and idiots. The roads are straight, between wide gentle meadows and rows of huge old trees, and I’m going like the clappers. The Kadett is about ready to have a fit of the vapours.
I slow down. Pull over, nice and neat, signalling well in advance and keeping one eye on my rear-view mirror.
‘We need Lucy Riordan’s address,’ I say. ‘I’ve got her mobile number.’
We pull out our phones. Steve dials his contact at one of the mobile networks and hits speaker; we listen to the even buzz of the ring. Deer watch us from under bare spreading branches. I realise I’m still wearing my shoe-covers – I’m lucky they didn’t slide on the pedals and crash the car. I take them off and toss them in the back seat. The sunlight is still thin and warmthless; it still feels like dawn.