Read an Excerpt
Praise for Broken Harbor and Tana French
About the Author
An Excerpt from THE SECRET PLACE
Let’s get one thing straight: I was the perfect man for this case. You’d be amazed how many of the lads would have run a mile, given the choice—and I had a choice, at least at the start. A couple of them said it to my face: Sooner you than me, man. It didn’t bother me, not for a second. All I felt was sorry for them.
Some of them aren’t wild about the high-profile gigs, the high-stakes ones—too much media crap, they say, and too much fallout if you don’t get a solve. I don’t do that kind of negativity. If you put your energy into thinking about how much the fall would hurt, you’re already halfway down. I focus on the positive, and there’s plenty of positive there: you can pretend you’re above this stuff, but everyone knows the big cases are the ones that bring the big promotions. Give me the headline-grabbers and you can keep your drug-dealer stabbings. If you can’t take the heat, stay in uniform.
Some of the lads can’t handle kids, which would be fair enough except that, forgive me for asking, if you can’t cope with nasty murders then what the hell are you doing on the Murder Squad? I bet Intellectual Property Rights would love to have your sensitive arse onboard. I’ve handled babies, drownings, rape-murders and a shotgun decapitation that left lumps of brain crusted all over the walls, and I sleep just fine, as long as the job gets done. Someone has to do it. If that’s me, then at least it’s getting done right.
Because let’s get another thing clear, while we’re at it: I am bloody good at my job. I still believe that. I’ve been on the Murder Squad for ten years, and for seven of those, ever since I found my feet, I’ve had the highest solve rate in the place. This year I’m down to second, but the top guy got a run of slam dunks, domestics where the suspect practically slapped the cuffs on his own wrists and served himself up on a plate with applesauce. I pulled the tough ones, the nobody-seen-nothing junkie-on-junkie drudgery, and I still scored. If our superintendent had had one doubt, one single doubt, he could have pulled me off the case any time he wanted. He never did.
Here’s what I’m trying to tell you: this case should have gone like clockwork. It should have ended up in the textbooks as a shining example of how to get everything right. By every rule in the book, this should have been the dream case.
* * *
The second it hit the floor, I knew from the sound that it was a big one. All of us did. Your basic murder comes straight to the squad room and goes to whoever’s next in the rota, or, if he’s out, to whoever happens to be around; only the big ones, the sensitive ones that need the right pair of hands, go through the Super so he can pick his man. So when Superintendent O’Kelly stuck his head around the door of the squad room, pointed at me, snapped, “Kennedy, my office,” and vanished, we knew.
I flipped my jacket off the back of my chair and pulled it on. My heartbeat had picked up. It had been a long time, too long, since one of these had come my way. “Don’t go anywhere,” I said to Richie, my partner.
“Oooo,” Quigley called from his desk, mock horrified, shaking a pudgy hand. “Is Scorcher in the shit again? I never thought we’d see the day.”
“Feast your eyes, old son.” I made sure my tie was straight. Quigley was being a little bitch because he was next up in the rota. If he hadn’t been a waste of space, O’Kelly might have let the case go to him.
“What’ve you done?”
“Shagged your sister. I brought my own paper bags.”
The lads snickered, which made Quigley purse up his lips like an old woman. “That’s not funny.”
“Too close to the bone?”
Richie was openmouthed and practically hopping off his chair with curiosity. I flipped my comb out of my pocket and gave it a quick run through my hair. “Am I good?”
“Lick-arse,” Quigley said, through his sulk. I ignored him.
“Yeah,” Richie said. “You’re grand. What . . . ?”
“Don’t go anywhere,” I repeated, and went after O’Kelly.
My second hint: he was up behind his desk, with his hands in his trouser pockets, rolling up and down on the balls of his feet. This case had pumped up his adrenaline enough that he wouldn’t fit in his chair. “You took your time.”
He stayed where he was, sucking his teeth and rereading the call sheet on his desk. “How’s the Mullen file coming along?”
I had spent the last few weeks putting together a file for the Director of Public Prosecutions on one of those tricky drug dealer messes, making sure the little bastard didn’t have a single crack to slime through. Some detectives think their job’s done the second the charges are filed, but I take it personally when one of my catches wriggles off the hook, which they seldom do. “Good to go. Give or take.”
“Could someone else finish it up?”
“Not a problem.”
He nodded and kept reading. O’Kelly likes you to ask—it shows you know who’s boss—and since he is in fact my boss, I have no problem rolling over like a good little doggie when it makes things run more smoothly. “Did something come in, sir?”
“Do you know Brianstown?”
“Haven’t heard of it.”
“Neither had I. It’s one of those new places; up the coast, past Balbriggan. Used to be called Broken Bay, something.”
“Broken Harbor,” I said. “Yeah. I know Broken Harbor.”
“It’s Brianstown now. And by tonight the whole country’ll have heard of it.”
I said, “This is a bad one.”
O’Kelly laid one heavy palm on the call sheet, like he was holding it down. He said, “Husband, wife and two kids, stabbed in their own home. The wife’s headed for hospital; it’s touch and go. The rest are dead.”
We left that for a moment, listening to the small tremors it sent through the air. I said, “How did it come in?”
“The wife’s sister. They talk every morning, but today she couldn’t get through. That got her het up enough that she got in her car and headed out to Brianstown. Car’s in the driveway, lights are on in broad daylight, no one’s answering the door, she rings the uniforms. They break the door down and surprise, surprise.”
“Who’s on scene?”
“Just the uniforms. They took one look and figured they were out of their depth, called it straight in.”
“Beautiful,” I said. There are plenty of morons out there who would have spent hours playing detective and churning the whole case to shit, before they admitted defeat and called in the real thing. It looked like we had lucked into a pair with functioning brains.
“I want you on this. Can you take it?”
“I’d be honored.”
“If you can’t drop everything else, tell me now and I’ll put Flaherty on this one. This takes priority.”
Flaherty is the guy with the slam dunks and the top solve rate. I said, “That won’t be necessary, sir. I can take it.”
“Good,” O’Kelly said, but he didn’t hand over the call sheet. He tilted it to the light, inspecting it and rubbing a thumb along his jawline. “Curran,” he said. “Is he able for this?”
Young Richie had been on the squad all of two weeks. A lot of the lads don’t like training in the new boys, so I do it. If you know your job, you have a responsibility to pass the knowledge on. “He will be,” I said.
“I can stick him somewhere else for a while, give you someone who knows what he’s at.”
“If Curran can’t take the heat, we might as well find out now.” I didn’t want someone who knew what he was at. The bonus of newbie wrangling is that it saves you a load of hassle: all of us who’ve been around a while have our own ways of doing things, and too many cooks etcetera. A rookie, if you know how to handle him, slows you down a lot less than another old hand. I couldn’t afford to waste time playing after-you-no-after-you, not on this one.
“You’d be the lead man, either way.”
“Trust me, sir. Curran can handle it.”
“It’s a risk.”
Rookies spend their first year or so on probation. It’s not official, but that doesn’t make it any less serious. If Richie made a mistake straight out of the gate, in a spotlight this bright, he might as well start clearing out his desk. I said, “He’ll do fine. I’ll make sure he does.”
O’Kelly said, “Not just for Curran. How long since you had a big one?”
His eyes were on me, small and sharp. My last high-profile one went wrong. Not my fault—I got played by someone I thought was a friend, dropped in the shit and left there—but still, people remember. I said, “Almost two years.”
“That’s right. Clear this one, and you’re back on track.”
He left the other half unspoken, something dense and heavy on the desk between us. I said, “I’ll clear it.”
O’Kelly nodded. “That’s what I thought. Keep me posted.” He leaned forward, across the desk, and passed me the call sheet.
“Thank you, sir. I won’t let you down.”
“Cooper and the Tech Bureau are on their way.” Cooper is the pathologist. “You’ll need manpower; I’ll have the General Unit send you out a bunch of floaters. Six do you, for now?”
“Six sounds good. If I need more, I’ll call in.”
O’Kelly added, as I was leaving, “And for Jesus’ sake do something about Curran’s gear.”
“I had a word last week.”
“Have another. Was that a bloody hoodie he had on him yesterday?”
“I’ve got him out of runners. One step at a time.”
“If he wants to stay on this case, he’d better manage a few giant steps before you hit the scene. The media’ll be all over this like flies on shite. At least make him keep his coat on, cover up his tracksuit or whatever he’s honored us with today.”
“I’ve got a spare tie in my desk. He’ll be fine.” O’Kelly muttered something sour about a pig in a tuxedo.
On my way back to the squad room I skimmed the call sheet: just what O’Kelly had already told me. The victims were Patrick Spain, his wife, Jennifer, and their kids, Emma and Jack. The sister who had called it in was Fiona Rafferty. Under her name the dispatcher had added, in warning capitals, NB: OFFICER ADVISES CALLER IS HYSTERICAL.
* * *
Richie was up out of his seat, bobbing from foot to foot like he had springs in his knees. “What . . . ?”
“Get your gear. We’re going out.”
“I told you,” Quigley said to Richie.
Richie gave him the wide-eyed innocents. “Did you, yeah? Sorry, man, wasn’t paying attention. Other stuff on my mind, know what I mean?”
“I’m trying to do you a favor here, Curran. You can take it or leave it.” Quigley’s wounded look was still on.
I threw my coat on and started checking my briefcase. “Sounds like a fascinating chat you two were having. Care to share?”
“Nothing,” Richie said promptly. “Shooting the breeze.”
“I was just letting young Richie know,” Quigley told me, self-righteously. “Not a good sign, the Super calling you in on your own. Giving you the info behind our Richie’s back. What does that say about where he stands on the squad? I thought he might want to have a little think about that.”
Quigley loves playing Haze the Newbie, just like he loves leaning on suspects one notch too hard; we’ve all done it, but he gets more out of it than most of us do. Usually, though, he has the brains to leave my boys alone. Richie had pissed him off somehow. I said, “He’s going to have plenty to think about, over the next while. He can’t afford to get distracted by pointless crap. Detective Curran, are we good to go?”
“Well,” Quigley said, tucking his chins into each other. “Don’t mind me.”
“I never do, chum.” I slid the tie out of my drawer and into my coat pocket under cover of the desk: no need to give Quigley ammo. “Ready, Detective Curran? Let’s roll.”
“See you ’round,” Quigley said to Richie, not pleasantly, on our way out. Richie blew him a kiss, but I wasn’t supposed to see it, so I didn’t.
It was October, a thick, cold, gray Tuesday morning, sulky and tantrumy as March. I got my favorite silver Beemer out of the car pool—officially it’s first come first served, but in practice no Domestic Violence kid is going to go near a Murder D’s best ride, so the seat stays where I like it and no one throws burger wrappers on the floor. I would have bet I could still navigate to Broken Harbor in my sleep, but this wasn’t the day to find out I was wrong, so I set the GPS. It didn’t know where Broken Harbor was. It wanted to go to Brianstown.
Richie had spent his first two weeks on the squad helping me work up the file on the Mullen case and re-interview the odd witness; this was the first real Murder action he’d seen, and he was practically shooting out of his shoes with excitement. He managed to hold it in till we got moving. Then he burst out with, “Are we on a case?”
“What kind of case?”
“A murder case.” I stopped at a red, pulled out the tie and passed it over. We were in luck: he was wearing a shirt, even if it was a cheapo white thing so thin I could see where his chest hair should have been, and a pair of gray trousers that would have been almost OK if they hadn’t been a full size too big. “Put that on.”
He looked at it like he had never seen one before. “Yeah?”
For a moment I thought I was going to have to pull over and do it for him—the last time he had worn one had probably been for his confirmation—but he managed it in the end, give or take. He tilted the sun-visor mirror to check himself out. “Looking sharp, yeah?”
“Better,” I said. O’Kelly had a point: the tie made bugger-all difference. It was a nice one, maroon silk with a subtle stripe in the weave, but some people can wear the good stuff and some just can’t. Richie is five foot nine on his best day, all elbows and skinny legs and narrow shoulders—he looks about fourteen, although his file says he’s thirty-one—and call me prejudiced, but after one glance I could have told you exactly what kind of neighborhood he comes from. It’s all there: that too-short no-color hair, those sharp features, that springy, restless walk like he’s got one eye out for trouble and the other one out for anything unlocked. On him, the tie just looked nicked.
He gave it an experimental rub with one finger. “’S nice. I’ll get it back to you.”
“Hang on to it. And pick up a few of your own, when you get a chance.”
He glanced across at me and for a second I thought he was going to say something, but he stopped himself. “Thanks,” he said, instead.
We had hit the quays and were heading towards the M1. The wind was blasting up the Liffey from the sea, making the pedestrians lean into it heads first. When the traffic jammed up—some wanker in a 4x4 who hadn’t noticed, or cared, that he wouldn’t make it through the intersection—I found my BlackBerry and texted my sister Geraldine. Geri, URGENT favor. Can you go get Dina from work ASAP? If she gives out about losing her hours, tell her I’ll cover the money. Don’t worry, she’s fine as far as I know, but she should stay with you for a couple of days. Will ring you later. Thanks. The Super was right: I had maybe a couple of hours before the media were all over Broken Harbor, and vice versa. Dina is the baby; Geri and I still look out for her. When she heard this story, she needed to be somewhere safe.
Richie ignored the texting, which was good, and watched the GPS instead. He said, “Out of town, yeah?”
“Brianstown. Heard of it?”
He shook his head. “Name like that, it’s got to be one of those new estates.”
“Right. Up the coast. It used to be a village called Broken Harbor, but it sounds like someone’s developed it since.” The wanker in the 4x4 had managed to get out of everyone’s way, and the traffic was moving again. One of the upsides of the recession: now that half the cars are off the roads, those of us who still have somewhere to go can actually get there. “Tell me something. What’s the worst thing you’ve seen on the job?”
Richie shrugged. “I worked traffic for ages, before Motor Vehicles. I saw some pretty bad stuff. Accidents.”
All of them think that. I’m sure I thought it too, once upon a time. “No, old son. You didn’t. That tells me just how innocent you are. It’s no fun seeing a kid with his head split open because some moron took a bend too fast, but it’s nothing compared to seeing a kid with his head split open because some prick deliberately smacked him off a wall till he stopped breathing. So far, you’ve only seen what bad luck can do to people. You’re about to take your first good look at what people can do to each other. Believe me: not the same thing.”
Richie asked, “Is this a kid? That we’re going to?”
“It’s a family. Father, mother and two kids. The wife might make it. The rest are gone.”
His hands had gone motionless on his knees. It was the first time I’d seen him absolutely still. “Ah, sweet Jaysus. What age kids?”
“We don’t know yet.”
“What happened to them?”
“It looks like they were stabbed. In their home, probably sometime last night.”
“That’s rotten, that is. That’s only bloody rotten.” Richie’s face was pulled into a grimace.
“Yeah,” I said, “it is. And by the time we get to the scene, you need to be over that. Rule Number One, and you can write this down: no emotions on scene. Count to ten, say the rosary, make sick jokes, do whatever you need to do. If you need a few tips on coping, ask me now.”
“I’m all right.”
“You’d better be. The wife’s sister is out there, and she’s not interested in how much you care. She just needs to know you’re on top of this.”
“I am on top of it.”
“Good. Have a read.”
I passed him the call sheet and gave him thirty seconds to skim it. His face changed when he concentrated: he looked older, and smarter. “When we get out there,” I said, once his time was up, “what’s the first question you’re going to want to ask the uniforms?”
“The weapon. Has it been found at the scene?”
“Why not ‘Any signs of forced entry?’”
“Someone could fake those.”
I said, “Let’s not beat around the bush. By ‘someone,’ you mean Patrick or Jennifer Spain.”
The wince was small enough that I could have missed it, if I hadn’t been watching for it. “Anyone who had access. A relative, or a mate. Anyone they’d let in.”
“That’s not what you had in mind, though, was it? You were thinking of the Spains.”
“Yeah. I guess.”
“It happens, old son. No point pretending it doesn’t. The fact that Jennifer Spain survived puts her front and center. On the other hand, when it plays out like this, it’s usually the father: a woman just takes out the kids and herself, a man goes for the whole family. Either way, though, they don’t normally bother to fake forced entry. They’re way past caring about that.”
“Still. I figure we can decide that for ourselves, once the Bureau gets there; we won’t be taking the uniforms’ word for it. The weapon, though: I’d want to know about that straightaway.”
“Good man. That’s top of the list for the uniforms, all right. And what’s the first thing you’ll want to ask the sister?”
“Whether anyone had anything against Jennifer Spain. Or Patrick Spain.”
“Well, sure, but that’s something we’re going to ask everyone we can find. What do you want to ask Fiona Rafferty, specifically?”
He shook his head.
“No? Personally, I’d be very interested to hear what she’s doing there.”
“It says—” Richie held up the call sheet. “The two of them talked every day. She couldn’t get through.”
“So? Think about the timing, Richie. Let’s say they normally talk at, what, nine o’clock, once the hubbies are off to work and the kids are off to school—”
“Or once they’re in work themselves, the women. They could have jobs.”
“Jennifer Spain didn’t, or the sister’s problem would have been ‘She’s not in work,’ not ‘I couldn’t get through.’ So Fiona rings Jennifer at nine-ish, maybe half past eight at the earliest—up until then, they’d still be busy getting their day underway. And at ten thirty-six”—I tapped the call sheet—“she’s in Brianstown calling the uniforms. I don’t know where Fiona Rafferty lives, or where she works, but I do know Brianstown is a good hour’s drive away from just about anything. In other words, when Jennifer’s an hour late for their morning chat—and that’s an hour maximum, it could be a lot less—Fiona gets panicked enough to drop everything and haul her arse out to the back of beyond. That sounds a lot like overreacting to me. I don’t know about you, my man, but I’d love to know what had her knickers in such a twist.”
“She mightn’t be an hour away. Maybe she lives next door, just called round to see what the story was.”
“Then why drive? If she’s too far away to walk, then she’s far enough away that her going over there is odd. And here’s Rule Number Two: when someone’s behavior is odd, that’s a little present just for you, and you don’t let go of it till you’ve got it unwrapped. This isn’t Motor Vehicles, Richie. In this gig, you don’t get to say, ‘Ah, sure, it’s probably not important, she was just in a funny mood that day, let’s forget it.’ Ever.”
There was the kind of silence that meant the conversation wasn’t over. Finally Richie said, “I’m a good detective.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re going to be an excellent detective, someday. But right now, you’ve still got just about everything left to learn.”
“Whether I wear ties or not.”
I said, “You’re not fifteen, chum. Dressing like a mugger doesn’t make you a big daring threat to the Establishment; it just makes you a prat.”
Richie fingered the thin cloth of his shirt front. He said, picking his words carefully, “I know the Murder lads aren’t usually from where I’m from. Everyone else comes from farmers, yeah? Or from teachers. I’m not what anyone expects. I understand that.”
His eyes, when I glanced across, were green and level. I said, “It doesn’t matter where you come from. There’s nothing you can do about it, so don’t waste your energy thinking about it. What matters is where you’re going. And that, mate, is something you can control.”
“I know that. I’m here, amn’t I?”
“And it’s my job to help you get further. One of the ways you take charge of where you’re going is by acting like you’re already there. Do you follow me?”
He looked blank.
“Put it this way. Why do you think we’re driving a Beemer?”
Richie shrugged. “Figured you liked the car.”
I took a hand off the wheel to point a finger at him. “You figured my ego liked the car, you mean. Don’t fool yourself: it’s not that simple. These aren’t shoplifters we’re going after, Richie. Murderers are the big fish in this pond. What they do is a big deal. If we tool up to the scene in a beat-up ’95 Toyota, it looks disrespectful; like we don’t think the victims deserve our best. That puts people’s backs up. Is that how you want to start off?”
“No, it’s not. And, on top of that, a beat-up old Toyota would make us look like a pair of losers. That matters, my man. Not just to my ego. If the bad guys see a pair of losers, they feel like their balls are bigger than ours, and that makes it harder to break them down. If the good guys see a pair of losers, they figure we’ll never solve this case, so why should they bother trying to help us? And if we see a pair of losers every time we look in the mirror, what do you think happens to our odds of winning?”
“They go down. I guess.”
“Bingo. If you want to come out a success, Richie, you cannot go in smelling of failure. Do you get what I’m saying here?”
He touched the knot in his new tie. “Dress better. Basically.”
“Except that it’s not basic, old son. There’s nothing basic about it. The rules are there for a reason. Before you go breaking them, you might want to have a think about what that reason might be.”
I hit the M1 and opened up wide, letting the Beemer do her thing. Richie glanced at the speedometer, but I knew without looking that I was bang on the limit, not a single mile over, and he kept his mouth shut. Probably he was thinking what a boring bollix I was. Plenty of people think the same thing. All of them are teenagers, mentally if not physically. Only teenagers think boring is bad. Adults, grown men and women who’ve been around the block a few times, know that boring is a gift straight from God. Life has more than enough excitement up its sleeve, ready to hit you with as soon as you’re not looking, without you adding to the drama. If Richie didn’t know that already, he was about to find out.
* * *
I’m a big believer in development—blame the property developers and their tame bankers and politicians for this recession if you want, but the fact is, if it wasn’t for them thinking big, we’d never have got out of the last one. I’d rather see an apartment block any day, all charged up with people who go out to work every morning and keep this country buzzing and then come home to the nice little places they’ve earned, than a field doing bugger-all good to anyone except a couple of cows. Places are like people are like sharks: if they stop moving, they die. But everyone has one place that they like to think is never going to change.
I used to know Broken Harbor like the back of my hand, when I was a skinny little guy with home-cut hair and mended jeans. Kids nowadays grew up on sun holidays during the boom, two weeks in the Costa del Sol is their bare minimum. But I’m forty-two and our generation had low expectations. A few days by the Irish Sea in a rented caravan put you ahead of the pack.
Broken Harbor was nowhere, back then. A dozen scattered houses full of families named Whelan or Lynch who’d been there since evolution began, a shop called Lynch’s and a pub called Whelan’s, and a handful of caravan spaces, just a fast barefoot run over slipping sand dunes and between tufts of marram grass to the cream-colored sweep of beach. We got two weeks there every June, in a rusty four-bunker that my dad booked a year in advance. Geri and I got the top bunks; Dina got stuck on the bottom, opposite my parents. Geri got first pick because she was the oldest, but she always wanted the land-facing side so she could see the ponies in the field behind us. That meant I got to open my eyes every morning on white lines of sea foam and leggy birds dashing along the sand, all of it glinting in the early light.
The three of us were up and out at daybreak with a slice of bread and sugar in each hand. We had all-day games of pirates with the kids from the other caravans, went freckly and peeling from salt and windburn and the odd hour of sunshine. For tea my mother would fry up eggs and sausages on a camping stove, and afterwards my father would send us to Lynch’s for ice creams. We’d come back to find my mum sitting on his lap, leaning her head into the curve of his neck and smiling dreamily out at the water; he’d wind her hair around his free hand, so the sea breeze wouldn’t whip it into her ice cream. I waited all year to see them look like that.
Once I got the Beemer off the main roads I started remembering the route, like I had known I would, just a faded sketch at the back of my head: past this clump of trees—taller, now—left at that kink in the stone wall. Right where the water should have risen into view over a low green hill, though, the estate came charging up out of nowhere and blocked our way like a barricade: rows of slate roofs and white gables stretching for what looked like miles in either direction, behind a high breeze-block wall. The signboard at the entrance said, in flamboyant curly lettering the size of my head, WELCOME TO OCEAN VIEW, BRIANSTOWN. A NEW REVELATION IN PREMIER LIVING. LUXURY HOUSES NOW VIEWING. Someone had spray painted a big red cock and balls over it.
At first glance, Ocean View looked pretty tasty: big detached houses that gave you something substantial for your money, trim strips of green, quaint signposts pointing you towards LITTLE GEMS CHILDCARE and DIAMONDCUT LEISURE CENTER. Second glance, the grass needed weeding and there were gaps in the footpaths. Third glance, something was wrong.
The houses were too much alike. Even on the ones where a triumphant red-and-blue sign yelled SOLD, no one had painted the front door a crap color, put flowerpots on the windowsills or tossed plastic kiddie toys on the lawn. There was a scattering of parked cars, but most of the driveways were empty, and not in a way that said everyone was out powering the economy. You could look straight through three out of four houses, to bare rear windows and gray patches of sky. A heavyset girl in a red anorak was shoving a buggy along a footpath, wind grabbing at her hair. She and her moon-faced kid could have been the only people within miles.
“Jaysus,” Richie said; in the silence his voice was loud enough that both of us jumped. “The village of the damned.”
The call sheet said 9 Ocean View Rise, which would have made more sense if the Irish Sea had been an ocean or even if it had been visible, but I guess you make the most of whatever you’ve got. The GPS was getting out of its depth: it took us down Ocean View Drive, dead-ended us down Ocean View Grove—which hit the trifecta by having no trees anywhere in sight—and informed us, “You have reached your destination. Good-bye.”
I did a U-turn and went looking. As we got deeper into the estate, the houses got sketchier, like watching a film in reverse. Pretty soon they were random collections of walls and scaffolding, with the odd gaping hole for a window; where the housefronts were missing the rooms were littered with broken ladders, lengths of pipe, rotting cement bags. Every time we turned a corner I expected to see a swarm of builders at work, but the nearest we got was a battered yellow digger in a vacant lot, listing sideways among churned-up mud and scattered mounds of dirt.
No one lived here. I tried to aim us back in the general direction of the entrance, but the estate was built like one of those old hedge mazes, all cul-de-sacs and hairpin turns, and almost straightaway we were lost. A tiny dart of panic shot through me. I’ve never liked losing my bearings.
I pulled up at an intersection—reflex: it wasn’t like anyone was going to dash out in front of me—and in the quiet where the noise of the motor had been, we heard the deep boom of the sea. Then Richie’s head went up. He said, “What’s that?”
It was a short, raw, ripped-open shriek, repeating over and over, so regular it sounded mechanical. It spread out across mud and concrete and bounced off unfinished walls till it could have come from anywhere, or everywhere. As far as I could tell, that and the sea were the only sounds on the estate.
I said, “I’m going to bet that’s the sister.”
He gave me a look like he thought I was yanking his chain. “That’s a fox or something. Run over, maybe.”
“And here I thought you were Mr. Streetwise who knew just how bad this was going to be. You’re going to need to brace yourself, Richie. Big time.”
I rolled down a window and followed the sound. The echoes led me off course a few times, but we knew it when we saw it. One side of Ocean View Rise was pristine, bay-windowed white semi-ds lined up in pairs, neat as dominoes; the other side was scaffolding and rubble. Between the dominoes, over the estate wall, slivers of gray sea moved. A couple of the houses had a car or two in front of them, but one house had three: a white Volvo hatchback that had Family written all over it, a yellow Fiat Seicento that had seen better days, and a marked car. There was blue-and-white crime-scene tape along the low garden wall.
I meant what I said to Richie: in this job everything matters, down to the way you open your car door. Long before I say Word One to a witness, or a suspect, he needs to know that Mick Kennedy is in the house and that I’ve got this case by the balls. Some of it is luck—I’ve got height, I’ve got a full head of hair and it’s still ninety-nine percent dark brown, I’ve got decent looks if I say so myself, and all those things help—but I’ve put practice and treadmill time into the rest. I kept up my speed till the last second, braked hard, swung myself and my briefcase out of the car in one smooth move and headed for the house at a swift, efficient pace. Richie would learn to keep up.
One of the uniforms was squatting awkwardly by his car, patting at someone in the back seat who was pretty clearly the source of the screaming. The other one was pacing in front of the gate, too fast, with his hands clasped behind his back. The air smelled fresh, sweet and salty: sea and fields. It was colder out there than it had been in Dublin. Wind whistled halfheartedly through scaffolding and exposed beams.
The guy who was pacing was my age, with a paunch and a sandbagged look: he had obviously made it through twenty years on the force without seeing anything like this, and had been hoping to make it through twenty more. He said, “Garda Wall. That’s Garda Mallon, by the car.”
Richie was sticking out a hand. It was like having a puppy. I said, before he could start buddying up, “Detective Sergeant Kennedy and Detective Garda Curran. You’ve been in the house?”
“Only when we got here first. As soon as we could, we got out and rang ye.”
“Good call. Tell me exactly what you did, entrance to exit.”
The uniform’s eyes went to the house, like he could hardly believe it was the same place he had arrived at only a couple of hours earlier. He said, “We were called in for a welfare check—the occupant’s sister was worried. We reached the premises just after eleven o’clock and attempted to make contact with the residents by ringing the doorbell and by phone, but got no response. We saw no signs of forced entry, but when we looked in the front window, the lights on the ground floor were on and the sitting room appeared to be in some disorder. The walls—”
“We’ll see the disorder for ourselves in a minute. Carry on.” Never let anyone describe the details before you get on the scene, or you’ll see what they saw.
“Right.” The uniform blinked, pulled himself back on track. “Anyhow. We attempted to go around to the back of the house, but you can see for yourselves, sure—a child couldn’t get through there.” He was right: the gap between the houses was just wide enough for the side wall. “We felt that the disorder and the sister’s concerns warranted forcing entry through the front door. We found . . .”
He was shifting on his feet, trying to angle the conversation so that he could see the house, like it was a coiled animal that might pounce at any second. “We entered the sitting room, found nothing to speak of—the disorder, but . . . We then proceeded to the kitchen, where we found a male and a female on the floor. Both stabbed, by the looks of it. One wound, on the female’s face, was clearly visible to myself and Garda Mallon. It appeared to be a knife wound. It—”
“The doctors’ll decide that. What did you do next?”
“We thought they were both dead. We were certain. There’s a load of blood. Loads of . . .” He gestured vaguely towards his own body, a shapeless pecking movement. There’s a reason why some guys stay in uniform. “Garda Mallon checked their pulses all the same, just in case. The female, she was right up against the male, like curled up against him—she had her head, her head was on his arm, like she was asleep . . . When Garda Mallon checked, she had a pulse. He got the shock of his life. We never expected . . . He couldn’t believe it, not till he put down his head and heard her breathing. Then we called for the ambulance.”
“And while you waited?”
“Garda Mallon stayed with the woman. Talked to her. She was unconscious, but . . . just telling her it was all right, we were the Guards, there was an ambulance coming and for her to hang on . . . I went upstairs. In the back bedrooms . . . There’s two little children there, Detective. A young boy and a young girl, in their beds. I tried CPR. They’re—they were cold, stiff, but I tried anyway. After what had happened with the mother, I thought, you never know, maybe they could still . . .” He rubbed his hands down the front of his jacket, unconsciously, like he was trying to wipe away the feel. I didn’t give him a bollocking for wrecking evidence: he had only done what came naturally. “No joy. Once I knew for definite, I rejoined Garda Mallon in the kitchen and we called for ye and the rest.”
I asked, “Did the woman come to? Say anything?”
He shook his head. “She didn’t move. We kept thinking she was after dying on us, had to keep checking to make sure she was still . . .” He wiped his hands again.
“Do we have anyone at the hospital with her?”
“We called in to the station, had them send someone. Maybe one of us should have gone with her, but with the scene to be secured, and the sister—she was . . . Sure, you can hear.”
“You broke the news,” I said. I do the notification myself, any time I can. You can tell a lot from that first reaction.
The uniform said defensively, “We told her to stay put, before we went in, but we’d no one to stay with her. She waited a good while, but then she came in. Into the house. We were with the victim, we were waiting for ye; the sister was at the kitchen door before we saw her. She started screaming. I got her outside again, but she was fighting . . . I had to tell her, Detective. It was the only way I could stop her trying to get back in, short of handcuffing her.”
“Right. We won’t cry over spilled milk. What next?”
“I stayed outside with the sister. Garda Mallon waited with the victim until the ambulance arrived. Then he left the house.”
“Without doing a search?”
“I went back in, once he came out to stay with the sister. Garda Mallon, sir, he’s all over blood; he didn’t want to track it around the house. I performed a basic security search, just to confirm that there was no one on the premises. No one alive, like. We left the in-depth search for ye and the Bureau.”
“That’s what I like to hear.” I flicked an eyebrow at Richie. The kid was paying attention: he asked, promptly, “Did you find a weapon?”
The uniform shook his head. “But it could be in there. Under the man’s body, or . . . anywhere. Like I said, we tried not to disturb the scene any more than we had to.”
“How about a note?”
I nodded towards the marked car. “How’s the sister been doing?”
“We’ve been getting her calmed down a bit, off and on, but every time . . .” The uniform threw a harassed look over his shoulder at the car. “The paramedics wanted to give her a sedative, but she wouldn’t take it. We can get them back, if—”
“Keep trying. I don’t want her sedated if we can help it, not till we’ve talked to her. We’re going to take a look around the scene. The rest of the team are on their way: if the pathologist arrives, you can have him wait here, but make sure the morgue boys and the Tech Bureau keep their distance till we’ve had a go at the sister—one look at them and she’ll flip out for real. Apart from that, keep her where she is, keep the neighbors where they are, and if anyone happens to wander up, keep him where he is too. Clear?”
“Grand,” said the uniform. He would have done the chicken dance if I’d told him to, he was so relieved that someone was taking this thing off his hands. I could see him itching to get down to his local and throw back a double whiskey in one gulp.
I didn’t want to be anywhere except inside that house. “Gloves,” I said to Richie. “Shoe covers.” I was already flipping mine out of my pocket. He fumbled for his, and we started up the drive. The long boom and shush of the sea rushed up and met us head-on, like a welcome or a challenge. Behind us, those shrieks were still coming down like hammer blows.
We don’t get crime scenes to ourselves. They’re off-limits, even to us, till the Bureau techs give the all clear. Until then, there are always other things that need doing—witnesses who need interviewing, survivors who need notifying—and you do those, check your watch every thirty seconds and force yourself to ignore the fierce pull from behind that crime-scene tape. This one was different. The uniforms and the paramedics had already trampled over every inch of the Spains’ house; Richie and I weren’t going to make anything worse by taking a quick look.
It was convenient—if Richie couldn’t hack the bad stuff, it would be nice to find out without an audience—but it was more than that. When you get a chance to see a scene that way, you take it. What waits for you there is the crime itself, every screaming second of it, trapped and held for you in amber. It doesn’t matter if someone’s cleaned up, hidden evidence, tried to fake a suicide: the amber holds all that too. Once the processing starts, that’s gone for good; all that’s left is your own people swarming over the scene, busily dismantling it print by print and fiber by fiber. This chance felt like a gift, on this case where I needed it most; like a good omen. I set my phone on silent. Plenty of people were going to want to get hold of me, over the next while. All of them could wait till I had walked my scene.
The door of the house was a few inches open, swaying gently when the breeze caught it. When it was in one piece it had looked like solid oak, but where the uniforms had splintered it away from the lock you could see the powdery reconstituted crap underneath. It had probably taken them one shove. Through the crack: a geometric black-and-white rug, high-trend with a high price tag to match.
I said to Richie, “This is just a preliminary walk-through. The serious stuff can wait till the Bureau lads have the scene on record. For now, we don’t touch anything, we try not to stand on anything, we try not to breathe on anything, we get a basic sense of what we’re dealing with and we get out. Ready?”
He nodded. I pushed the door open with one fingertip on the splintered edge.
My first thought was that if this was what Garda Whatever called disorder, he had OCD issues. The hallway was dim and perfect: sparkling mirror, organized coatrack, smell of lemon room freshener. The walls were clean. On one of them was a watercolor, something green and peaceful with cows.
My second thought: the Spains had had an alarm system. The panel was a fancy modern one, discreetly tucked away behind the door. The OFF light was a steady yellow.
Then I saw the hole in the wall. Someone had moved the phone table in front of it, but it was big enough that a jagged half-moon still poked out. That was when I felt it: that needle-fine vibration, starting in my temples and moving down the bones into my eardrums. Some detectives feel it in the backs of their necks, some get it in the hair on their arms—I know one poor sap who gets it in the bladder, which can be inconvenient—but all the good ones feel it somewhere. It gets me in the skull bones. Call it what you want—social deviance, psychological disturbance, the animal within, evil if you believe in that: it’s the thing we spend our lives chasing. All the training in the world won’t give you that warning when it comes close. You get it or you don’t.
I took a quick look at Richie: grimacing and licking his lips, like an animal that’s tasted something putrid. He got it in his mouth, which he would need to learn to hide, but at least he got it.
Off to our left was a half-open door: sitting room. Straight ahead, the stairs and the kitchen.
Someone had put time into doing up the sitting room. Brown leather sofas, sleek chrome-and-glass coffee table, one wall painted butter yellow for one of those reasons that only women and interior designers understand. For the lived-in look, there was a good big telly, a Wii, a scattering of glossy gadgets, a little shelf for paperbacks and another one for DVDs and games, candles and blond photos on the mantelpiece of the gas fire. It should have felt welcoming, but damp had buckled the flooring and blotched a wall, and the low ceiling and the just-wrong proportions were stubborn. They outweighed all that loving care and turned the room cramped and dim, a place where no one could feel comfortable for long.
Curtains almost drawn, just the crack that the uniforms had looked through. Standing lamps on. Whatever had happened, it had happened at night, or someone wanted me to think it had.
Above the gas fire was another hole in the wall, about the size of a dinner plate. There was a bigger one by the sofa. Pipes and straggling wires half showed from the dark inside.
Beside me Richie was trying to keep the fidgeting down to a minimum, but I could feel one knee jiggling. He wanted the bad moments over and done with. I said, “Kitchen.”
It was hard to believe that the same guy who had designed the sitting room had come up with this. It was a kitchen-cum-dining-room-cum-playroom, running the whole length of the back of the house, and it was mostly made of glass. Outside the day was still gray, but the light in that room was full and dazzling enough to make you blink, with a lift and a clarity that told you the sea was very near. I’ve never been able to see why it’s supposed to be a plus if your neighbors can check out what you’re having for breakfast—give me net-curtain privacy any day, trendy or not—but that light almost made me understand.
Behind the trim little garden there were two more rows of half-built houses, crowding stark and ugly against the sky, a long banner of plastic flapping hard from a bare beam. Behind them was the estate wall, and then as the land fell away there it was, through the raw angles of wood and concrete: the view my eyes had been waiting for all day long, ever since I heard myself say Broken Harbor. The rounded curve of the bay, neat as the C of your hand; the low hills cupping it at each end; the soft gray sand, the marram grass bending away from the clean wind, the little birds scattered along the waterline. And the sea, high today, raising itself up at me green and muscled. The weight of what was in the kitchen with us tilted the world, sent the water rocking upwards like it was going to come crashing through all that bright glass.
That same care that had trendified the sitting room had gone into making this room cheerful and homey. Long table in pale wood, sunflower yellow chairs; a computer on a wooden desk painted yellow to match; colored plastic kid stuff, beanbags, a chalkboard. There were crayon drawings framed on the walls. The room was neat, especially for a place where kids played. Someone had tidied up, as the four of them moved onto the furthest edge of their last day. They had made it that far.
The room was an estate agent’s dream, except that it was impossible to imagine anyone living there, ever again. Some frantic struggle had thrown the table over, slamming one corner into a window and cracking a great star across the glass. More holes in the walls: one high above the table, a big one behind an overturned Lego castle. A beanbag had burst open and spilled tiny white pellets everywhere; a trail of cookbooks fanned out across the floor, shards of glass glinted where a picture frame had smashed. The blood was everywhere: fans of spatter flying up the walls, crazy trails of drips and footprints crisscrossing the tile floor, wide smears on the windows, thick clumps soaked into the yellow fabric of the chairs. A few inches from my feet was one ripped half of a height chart, big beanstalk leaves and a climbing cartoon kid, Emma 17/06/09 almost obliterated by clotting red.
Patrick Spain was at the far end of the room, in what had been the kids’ play area, among the beanbags and crayons and picture books. He was in his pajamas—navy top, navy-and-white-striped bottoms splotched with dark crusts. He was facedown on the floor, one arm bent under him, the other stretched out over his head, like right up until the last second he had been trying to crawl. His head was towards us: trying to reach his kids, maybe, for whichever reason you choose. He had been fair-haired, a tall guy with broad shoulders; the build said maybe rugby, way back when, going to seed now. You would have wanted to be pretty strong, pretty angry or pretty crazy to take him on. Blood had turned sticky and dark in a puddle spreading from under his chest. It was smeared all around with a godawful tangle of swipes, handprints, drag marks; a snarl of mixed footprints came out of the mess and headed towards us, fading to nothing halfway across the tiles, like the bloodstained walkers had dissolved into thin air.
To his left the pool of blood spread wider, thicker, with a rich gloss to it. We would have to double-check with the uniforms, but it was a pretty safe bet that that was where they had found Jennifer Spain. Either she had dragged herself over to die curled up against her husband, or he had stayed close after he was done with her, or someone had let them do this last thing together.
I stayed in the doorway longer than I needed to. It takes a while to wrap your head around a scene like that, the first time. Your inner world snaps itself away from the outside one, for protection: your eyes are wide open, but all that reaches your mind is streaks of red and an error message. No one was watching us; Richie could take all the time he needed. I kept my eyes off him.
A gust of wind crashed into the back of the house and kept coming straight through some crack, flooded around us like cold water. “Jaysus,” Richie said. The gust had made him jump, and he was a shade paler than usual, but his voice was steady enough. He was doing fine, so far. “Feel that. What’s this gaff made of? Newspapers?”
“Don’t knock it. The thinner the walls, the more likely the neighbors heard something.”
“If there’s neighbors.”
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed. Ready to move on?”
He nodded. We left Patrick Spain in his bright kitchen, with the thin streams of wind swirling around him, and went upstairs.
The top floor was dark. I flipped open my briefcase and found my torch—the uniforms had probably smeared their fat paws all over everything, but still, you never touch light switches: someone else could have wanted that light on or off. I turned on the torch and nudged the nearest door open with a toe.
The message had got garbled somewhere along the way, because no one had stabbed Jack Spain. After the congealing red mess downstairs, this room was almost restful. Nothing was bloody; nothing had been broken or wrenched over. Jack Spain had a snub nose and blond hair, left to grow into curls. He was on his back, arms thrown up above his head, face turned to the ceiling, like he had collapsed asleep after a long day of football. You would almost have listened to hear him breathing, except something in his face told you. He had the secret calm that only dead children have, paper-thin eyelids sealed tight as unborn babies’, as if when the world goes killer they turn inwards and backwards, back to that first safe place.
Richie made a small noise like a cat with a hairball. I trailed the torch around the room, to give him time to pull it together. There were a couple of cracks in the walls, but no holes, unless they were hidden by the posters—Jack had been into Manchester United. “Got kids?” I asked.
“No. Not yet.”
He was keeping his voice down, like he could still wake Jack Spain, or give him bad dreams. I said, “Neither do I. Days like this, that’s a good thing. Kids make you soft. You get a detective who’s tough as nails, can watch a post-mortem and order a rare steak for lunch; then his wife pops out a sprog and next thing you know he’s losing the plot if a victim’s under eighteen. I’ve seen it a dozen times. Every time, I thank God for contraception.”
I turned the torch back to the bed. My sister Geri has kids, and I spend enough time with them that I could take a rough guess at Jack Spain’s age: around four, maybe three if he had been on the big side. The duvet was pulled back where the uniform had tried his useless CPR: red pajamas twisted up, delicate rib cage underneath. I could even see the dent where the CPR, or I hoped it was the CPR, had snapped a rib or two.
There was blue around his lips. Richie said, “Suffocated?”
He was working hard at keeping his voice under control. I said, “We’ll have to wait for the post-mortem, but it looks possible. If that’s what we’ve got, it points towards the parents. A lot of the time they go for something gentle. If that’s the word I’m looking for.”
I still wasn’t looking at him, but I felt him tighten to hold back a wince. I said, “Let’s go find the daughter.”
No holes in the walls here either, no struggle. The uniform had pulled Emma Spain’s pink duvet back up over her, when he gave up—preserving her modesty, because she was a girl. She had the same snub nose as her brother, but her curls were a sandy ginger and she had a faceful of freckles, standing out against the blue-white underneath. She was the older one, six, seven: her mouth was a touch open, and I could see the gap where a front tooth was gone. The room was princess pink, full of frills and flounces; the bed was heaped with embroidered pillows, huge-eyed kittens and puppies staring up at us. Springing out of darkness in the torchlight, next to that small empty face, they looked like scavengers.
I didn’t look at Richie till we were back out on the landing. Then I asked, “Notice anything odd about both rooms?”
Even in that light he looked like he had a bad case of food poisoning. He had to swallow extra spit twice before he could say, “No blood.”
“Bingo.” I nudged the bathroom door open with my torch. Color-coordinated towels, plastic bath toys, the usual shampoos and shower gels, sparkling white fixtures. If someone had washed up in here, they had known how to be careful. “We’ll get the Bureau to hit this floor with Luminol, check for traces, but unless we’re missing something, either there was more than one killer or he went after the kids first. No one came from that mess”—I nodded downwards at the kitchen—“and touched anything up here.”
Richie said, “It’s looking like an inside job, isn’t it?”
“If I’m some psycho that wants to wipe out a whole family, I’m not going to start with the kids. What if one of the parents hears something, comes in to check on them while I’m in the middle of doing the job? Next thing I know, I’ve got the ma and the da both beating the shite out of me. Nah: I’m going to wait till everyone’s well asleep, and then I’m going to start by taking out the biggest threats. The only reason I’d start here”—his mouth twitched, but he kept it together—“is if I know I’m not gonna get interrupted. That means one of the parents.”
I said, “Right. It’s far from definitive, but on first glance, that’s how it looks. Did you notice the other thing pointing the same way?”
He shook his head. I said, “The front door. It’s got two locks, a Chubb and a Yale, and before the uniforms forced entry, both of them were on. That door wasn’t just pulled closed as someone left; it was locked with a key. And I haven’t seen any windows open or broken. So if someone got in from outside, or the Spains let someone in, how did he get back out? Again, it’s not definitive—one of the windows could be unlocked, the keys could have been taken, a friend or associate could have a set; we’ll have to check out all of those. But it’s indicative. On the other hand . . .” I pointed with the torch: another hole, maybe the size of a paperback book, low over the skirting board on the landing. “How would your walls end up with this kind of damage?”
“A fight. After the . . .” Richie rubbed at his mouth again. “After the kids, or they’d have woken up. Looks to me like someone put up a good old struggle.”
“Someone probably did, but that’s not what wrecked the walls. Get your head clear and look again. That damage wasn’t done last night. Want to tell me why?”
Slowly, the green look started to get replaced by that concentration I had seen in the car. After a moment Richie said, “No blood around the holes. And no bits of plaster underneath. No dust, even. Someone’s tidied up.”
“Right you are. It’s possible that the killer or killers stuck around to give the place a good hoover, for reasons of his own; but unless we find something to say that happened, the most likely explanation is that the holes were made at least a couple of days ago, could be a lot more. Got any ideas on where they might have come from?”
He looked better now that he was working. “Structural problems? Damp, subsidence, maybe someone working on faulty wiring . . . There’s damp in the sitting room—did you see the floorboards, yeah, and the patch on the wall?—and there’s cracks all over the place; wouldn’t be surprised if the wiring’s banjaxed too. The whole estate’s a tip.”
“Maybe. We’ll get a building inspector to come down and take a look. But let’s be honest, it’d take a pretty crap electrician to leave the place in this state. Any other explanations you can think of?”
Richie sucked on his teeth and gave the hole a long thoughtful stare. “If I was just going off the top of my head,” he said, “I’d say someone was looking for something.”
“So would I. That could mean guns or valuables, but usually it’s the old reliables: drugs or cash. We’ll have the Bureau check for drug residue.”
“But,” Richie said. He jerked his chin at the door of Emma’s room. “The kids. The parents were holding something that could get them killed? With the kids in the house?”
“I thought the Spains were top of your suspect list.”
“That’s different. People snap, do mad things. That can happen to anyone. A K of smack behind the wallpaper, where your kids could find it: that doesn’t just happen.”
There was a creak below us and we both spun around, but it was just the front door swaying in a snatch of wind. I said, “Come on, old son. I’ve seen it a hundred times. I’m betting you have too.”
“Not with people like this.”
I raised my eyebrows. “I wouldn’t have taken you for a snob.”
“Nah, I’m not talking about class. I mean these people tried. Look at the place: everything’s right, know what I mean? It’s all clean; even down behind the jacks is clean. All the stuff matches. Even the spices in the rack, they’re in date, all the ones where I could see the best-by. This family tried to get everything right. Messing about with the dodgy stuff . . . It just doesn’t seem like their style.”
I said, “It doesn’t seem like it right now, no. But keep in mind, right now we know bugger-all about these people. They kept their house in good nick, at least occasionally, and they got killed. I’m telling you the second one means a lot more than the first. Anyone can hoover. Not everyone gets murdered.”
Richie, bless his innocent heart, was giving me a look that was pure skepticism with a touch of moral outrage thrown in. “Loads of murder victims never did anything dangerous in their lives.”
“Some didn’t, no. But loads? Here’s the dirty secret about your new job, Richie my friend. Here’s the part you never saw in interviews or documentaries, because we keep it to ourselves. Most victims went looking for exactly what they got.”
His mouth started to open. I said, “Obviously not kids. The kids aren’t what we’re discussing here. But adults . . . If you try to sell smack on some other scumbag’s turf, or if you go ahead and marry Prince Charming after he puts you in the ICU four times running, or if you stab some guy because his brother stabbed your friend for stabbing his cousin, then forgive me if this is politically incorrect, but you’re just begging for exactly what you’re eventually going to get. I know this isn’t what we get taught on the detective course, but out here in the real world, my man, you would be amazed at how seldom murder has to break into people’s lives. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it gets there because they open the door and invite it in.”
Richie shifted his feet—the draft was sweeping up the stairs to eddy round our ankles, rattle the handle of Emma’s door. He said, “I’m not seeing how anyone could ask for this.”
“Neither am I, at least not yet. But if the Spains were living like the Waltons, then who bashed their walls in? And why didn’t they just call someone and get the place fixed—unless they didn’t want anyone knowing what they were involved with? Or what one of them was involved with, at least.”
He shrugged. I said, “You’re right: this could be the one in a hundred. We’ll keep an open mind. And if it is, that’s just another reason why we can’t get it wrong.”
Patrick and Jennifer Spain’s room was picture-perfect, just like the rest of the house. It had been done up in flowery pink and cream and gold to look olde-fashionede. No blood, no signs of struggle, not a speck of dust anywhere. One small hole, where the wall met the ceiling above the bed.
Two things stuck out. First thing: the duvet and sheets were rumpled and thrown back, like someone had just jumped up. The rest of the house said that bed didn’t get left unmade for long. At least one of them had been all tucked up, when it began.
Second thing: the bedside tables. Each of them had a little lamp with a tasselly cream shade; both the lamps were off. On the far table were a couple of girly-looking jars, face cream or whatever, a pink mobile phone and a book with a pink cover and kooky lettering. The near one was crammed with gadgets: what looked like two white walkie-talkies and two silver mobiles, all standing docked on chargers, and three empty chargers, all silver. I wasn’t sure where the walkie-talkies came in, but the only people who have five mobiles are high-flying stockbrokers and drug dealers, and this didn’t look like a stockbroker’s pad to me. For a second there, I thought things were starting to come together.
Then: “Jaysus,” Richie said, eyebrows going up. “They went a bit over the top, didn’t they?”
“The baby monitors.” He nodded at Patrick’s bedside table.
“That’s what those are?”
“Yeah. My sister’s got kids. Those white ones, that’s the bit you listen to. The ones that look like phones, those are video. Watch the kid sleep.”
“Big Brother style.” I moved the torch beam over the gadgets: white ones on, screens faintly backlit; silver ones off. “How many do people normally have? One per kid?”
“Dunno about most people. My sister’s got three kids and just the one monitor. It’s in the baby’s room, for when he’s asleep. When the girls were small she just had the audio, like those”—the walkie-talkies—“but the little fella was premature, so she got the video, keep an eye on him.”
“So the Spains were on the overprotective side. A monitor in every room.” Where I should have spotted them. It was one thing for Richie to get distracted by the big stuff and miss the details, but I was no virgin.
Richie shook his head. “Why, but? They were big enough to come get their ma if they needed her. And it’s not like this is a massive huge mansion: if they hurt themselves, you’d hear them yelling.”
I said, “Would you know the other halves of those things if you saw them?”
“Good. Then let’s go find them.”
On Emma’s pink chest of drawers was a round white thing like a clock radio, which according to Richie was an audio monitor: “She’s a little old for it, but the parents could’ve been heavy sleepers, wanted to be sure they’d hear her if she called . . .” The other audio monitor was on Jack’s chest of drawers. No sign of the video cameras; not until we got back out onto the landing again. I said, “We’ll want the Bureau to check the attic, in case whoever was looking for—” and then I swung the torch beam up to the ceiling and stopped talking.
The hatch for the attic was there, all right. It was open onto blackness—the light caught the cover, propped up against something, and a flash of exposed roof beam high above. Someone had nailed wire mesh over the opening, from below, without worrying too much about aesthetics: ragged edges of wire, big nail heads sticking out at violent angles. In the opposite corner of the landing, high on the wall, was something silver and badly mounted that I didn’t need Richie to tell me was a video monitor. The camera was pointing straight at the hatch.
I said, “What the holy hell?”
“Rats? The holes—”
“You don’t set up bloody surveillance on rats. You keep the hatch down and call the exterminators.”
“I don’t know. A trap, maybe, in case whoever bashed in the walls came back looking for Round Two. The Bureau are going to want to be careful up there.” I held the torch high and moved it around, trying to get a glimpse of what was in the attic. Cardboard boxes, a dusty black suitcase. “Let’s see if the rest of the cameras give us any hints.”
The second camera was in the sitting room, on a little chrome-and-glass table beside the sofa. It was aimed at the hole over the fireplace, and a little red light said it was switched on. The third one had rolled into a corner of the kitchen, where it was surrounded by beanbag pellets and pointing at the floor, but it was still plugged in: it had been up and running. There was a viewer half under the cooker—I had clocked it the first time round, taken it for a phone—and another under the kitchen table. No sign of the last one, or of the other two cameras.
I said, “We’ll give the Bureau a heads-up, have them keep an eye out. Anything you want another look at, before we bring them in?”
Richie looked unsure. I said, “It’s not a trick question, old son.”
“Oh. Right. Then no: I’m grand.”
“So am I. Let’s go.”
Another gust of wind grabbed the house, and this time both of us jumped. I would have done a lot of things sooner than let young Richie see this, but the place was starting to get to me. It wasn’t the kids, or the blood—like I said, I can handle both of those, no problem. Something about the holes in the wall, maybe, or the unblinking cameras; or about all that glass, all those skeleton houses staring in at us, like famine animals circled around the warmth of a fire. I reminded myself that I had dealt with worse scenes and never broken a sweat, but that shimmer moving through my skull bones said: This is different.
Unromantic little secret: half of being a Murder D is managerial skills. Trainees picture the lone wolf heading off into the wild after shadowy hunches, but in practice, guys who don’t play well with others wind up in Undercover. Even a small investigation—and this wasn’t going to be small—involves floaters, media liaisons, the Tech Bureau and the pathologist and the world and his auntie, and you need to make sure that at any given second all of them are keeping you up to speed, no one’s getting in anyone’s way and everyone is working to your big plan, because the buck stops with you. That slow-motion silence inside the amber was over: the second we stepped out of the house, before we even stopped walking quietly, it was time to start people-wrangling.
Cooper, the pathologist, was outside the gate, tapping his fingers on his case and not looking happy. Not that he would have anyway: at his best Cooper is a negative little bastard, and he’s not at his best around me. I’ve never done anything to him, but for some reason all his own he doesn’t like me, and when an arrogant bollix like Cooper doesn’t like you, he does it right. One typo on a request form and he sends it back and makes me start over, and forget putting a rush on anything: my stuff waits its turn, urgent or not. “Detective Kennedy,” he said, flaring his nostrils like I smelled. “May I ask whether I resemble a waiter?”
“Not at all. Dr. Cooper, this is Detective Curran, my partner.”
He ignored Richie. “I am relieved to hear it. In that case, why am I waiting?”
He must have spent the delay coming up with that one. “I apologize,” I said. “There must have been some misunderstanding. Obviously I’d never waste your time. We’ll leave you to it.”
Cooper gave me a withering look that said he wasn’t falling for it. “We can only hope,” he said, “that you have managed not to contaminate the scene too extensively,” and he brushed past me, tugging his gloves more firmly into place, into the house.
No sign of my floaters yet. One of the uniforms was still hovering around the car and the sister. The other one was at the top of the road, talking to a handful of guys between two white vans: Tech Bureau, morgue. I said to Richie, “What do we do now?”
As soon as we got outside he had started jiggling again: whipping his head back and forth to check out the road, the sky, the other houses, drumming a little two-fingered tattoo on his thighs. The question stopped him. “Send the Bureau in?”
“Sure, but what are you planning on doing while they work? If we hang around asking ‘Are we there yet?’ we’ll just be wasting their time and ours.”
Richie nodded. “If it was up to me, I’d talk to the sister.”
“You don’t want to go see if Jenny Spain can tell us anything?”
“I figured it’s gonna be a while before she can talk to us. Even if . . .”
“Even if she makes it. You’re probably right, but we can’t take that for granted. We need to keep on top of it.”
I was already dialing my phone. The reception felt like we were in Outer Mongolia—we had to head down to the bottom of the road, clear of the houses, so I could get a signal—and it took a bunch of complicated back-and-forth calls before I got hold of the doctor who had admitted Jennifer Spain and got him convinced I wasn’t a reporter. He sounded young and viciously tired. “She’s still alive, anyway, but I can’t promise anything. She’s in surgery now. If she makes it through that, we’ll have a better idea.”
I hit speakerphone so Richie could get this. “Can you give me a description of her injuries?”
“I only examined her briefly. I can’t be sure—”
The sea wind whipped his voice away; Richie and I had to bend close over the phone. I said, “I’m just looking for a preliminary overview. Our own doctor will be examining her later, one way or the other. For now, all I need is a general idea of whether she was shot, strangled, drowned, you tell me.”
Sigh. “You understand this is provisional. I could be wrong.”
“OK. Basically, she was lucky to make it this far. She has four abdominal injuries that look like knife wounds to me, but that’s for your doctor to decide. Two of them are deep, but they must have missed all the major organs and arteries, or she’d have bled out before she got here. There’s another injury to her right cheek, looks like a knife slash, straight through into the mouth—if she makes it, she’ll need considerable amounts of plastic surgery. There’s also some kind of blunt trauma to the back of the skull. X-ray showed a hairline fracture and a subdural hematoma, but judging by her reflexes there’s a decent chance she’s escaped without brain damage. Again, she was very lucky.”
Which was probably the last time anyone would ever use that word about Jennifer Spain. “Anything else?”
I could hear him swigging something, probably coffee, and swallowing a huge yawn. “Sorry. There could be minor injuries—I wasn’t looking for anything like that, my priority was getting her into surgery before we lost her, and the blood could have covered some cuts and contusions. There’s nothing else major, though.”
“Any signs of sexual assault?”
“Like I said, that wasn’t top priority. For what it’s worth, I didn’t see anything that would point that way.”
“What was she wearing?”
An instant of silence, while he wondered whether he had got it wrong and I was some specialized kind of pervert. “Yellow pajamas. Nothing else.”
“There should be an officer at the hospital. I’d like you to put her pajamas in a paper bag and hand them over to him. Make a note of anyone who touched them, if you can.” I had chalked up two more points for Jennifer Spain being a victim. Women don’t wreck their faces, and they sure as hell don’t go in their pajamas. They put on their best dresses, take time over their mascara and pick a method that they believe—and they’re almost always wrong—will leave them quiet and graceful, all the pain washed away and nothing left but cool pale peace. Somewhere in what’s left of their crumbling minds, they think that being found looking less than their best will upset them. Most suicides don’t really believe that death is all the way. Maybe none of us do.
“We gave him the pajamas. I’ll make the list as soon as I get a chance.”
“Did she recover consciousness at any stage?”
“No. Like I said, there’s a fair chance she never will. We’ll know more after the surgery.”
“If she makes it, when do you think we’d be able to talk to her?”
Sigh. “Your guess is as good as mine. With head wounds, nothing’s predictable.”
“Thanks, Doctor. Can you let me know straightaway if anything changes?”
“I’ll do my best. If you’ll excuse me, I have to—”
And he was gone. I put in a quick call to Bernadette, the squad admin, to let her know that I needed someone to get started on pulling the Spains’ financials and phone records, and put a rush on it. I was hanging up when my phone buzzed: three new voice messages, from calls that hadn’t got through the shitty reception. O’Kelly, letting me know he had wangled me a couple of extra floaters; a journalist contact, begging for a scoop he wasn’t going to get this time; and Geri. Only patches of the voice mail came through: “. . . can’t, Mick . . . sick every five minutes . . . can’t leave the house, even for . . . everything OK? Give me a ring when . . .”
“Shit,” I said, before I could bite it back. Dina works in town, in a deli. I tried to calculate how many hours it would be before I got anywhere near town again, and what the odds were of her making it that long without someone switching on a radio.
Richie cocked his head, questioning. “Nothing,” I said. There was no point in ringing Dina—she hates phones—and there was no one else to ring. I took a fast breath and tamped it down at the back of my mind. “Let’s go. We’ve kept the Bureau boys waiting long enough.”
Richie nodded. I put my phone away, and we headed up to the top of the road to talk to the men in white.
The Super had come through for me: he had got the Tech Bureau to send out Larry Boyle, with a photographer and a scene mapper and a couple of others in tow. Boyle is a round, pancake-faced little oddball who gives you the impression that he has a room at home packed with disturbing magazines, neatly alphabetized, but he runs a scene impeccably and he’s the best we’ve got on blood spatter. I was going to need both of those.
“Well, about time,” he told me. He was already in his white hooded boiler suit, with his gloves and overshoes hanging ready from one hand. “Who’s this we’ve got here?”
“My new partner, Richie Curran. Richie, this is Larry Boyle from the Bureau. Be nice to him. We like him.”
“Stop that carry-on till we see if I’m any use to you,” Larry said, batting a hand at me. “What’s in there?”
“Father and two kids, dead. The mother’s gone to hospital. The kids were upstairs and it looks like suffocation, the adults were downstairs and it looks like stabbing. We’ve got enough blood spatter to keep you happy for weeks.”
“Don’t say I never did anything for you. Apart from the usual, I’m looking for whatever you can tell me about the progression of events—who was attacked first, where, how much moving around they did afterwards, what the struggle might have looked like. As far as we could see, there’s no blood upstairs, which could be significant. Can you check for us?”
“No problem to me. Any more special requests?”
I said, “There was something very weird going on in that house, and I’m talking about well before last night. We’ve got a bunch of holes in the walls, and no clue who made them or why—if you can find us any indications, fingerprints or anything, we’d be very grateful. We’ve also got a load of baby monitors—at least two audio and five video, going by the chargers on the bedside table, but there could be more. We’re not sure what they were for yet, and we’ve only located three of the cameras: upstairs landing, sitting-room side table, kitchen floor. I’d like photos of all of them in situ. And we need to find the other two cameras, or however many there are. Same for the viewers: we’ve got two charging, two on the kitchen floor, so we’re short at least one.”
“Mmm,” Larry said, with relish. “In-teresting. Thank God for you, Scorcher. One more bedsit overdose and I think I’d have died of boredom.”
“I’m thinking we could have a drug connection here, actually. Nothing definite, but I’d love to know if there are drugs in that house, or if there used to be.”
“Oh, God, not drugs again. We’ll swab anything that looks promising, but I’ll be only delighted if it turns up negative.”
“I need their mobiles, I need any financial paperwork you run across, and there’s a computer in the kitchen that’ll need going over. And give the attic a good once-over for me, will you? We haven’t been up there, but whatever was weird, it involved the attic somehow. You’ll see what I mean.”
“Now that’s more like it,” Larry said happily. “I love a bit of weird. Shall we?”
I said, “That’s the injured woman’s sister, in the uniforms’ car. We’re about to go have a chat with her. Can you hold off another minute, until we’ve got her out of view? I don’t want her seeing you guys heading in, just in case she loses the plot.”
“I have that effect on women. Not a bother; we’ll hang on here till you give us the nod. Have fun, boys.” He waved us good-bye with his overshoes.
Richie said grimly, as we headed back down the road towards the sister, “He won’t be so cheerful once he’s been inside that house.”
I said, “He will, though, old son. He will.”
* * *
I don’t feel sorry for anyone I run across via work. Pity is fun, it lets you have a great wank about what a wonderful guy you are, but it does bugger-all good to the people you’re feeling sorry for. The second you start getting gooey about what they’ve been through, your eye comes off the ball. You get weak. Next thing you know, you can’t get out of bed in the morning because you can’t face going in to work, and I have trouble seeing how that does anyone any good. I put my time and energy into bringing answers, not hugs and hot chocolate.
If I was going to feel sorry for someone, though, it would be the vics’ families. Like I said to Richie, ninety-nine percent of the vics have nothing to complain about: they got exactly what they went looking for. The families, about the same percentage of the time, never asked for anything like this kind of hell. I don’t buy the idea that it’s all Mummy’s fault if Little Jimmy turns into a junkie smack dealer dumb enough to rip off his own supplier. Maybe she didn’t exactly help him self-actualize, but my childhood left me with a few issues too, and did I wind up taking two in the back of the head from a pissed-off drug lord? I spent a couple of years seeing a counselor, to make sure those issues weren’t going to hold me back, and meanwhile I got on with things, because I’m a grown man now and that means my life is up to me. If I turn up one morning with my face blown off, that’s all mine. And my family, for no good reason in the world, would be left picking out shrapnel.
I watch myself hardest of all around the families. Nothing can trip you up like compassion.
When she left home that morning, Fiona Rafferty had probably been a good-looking girl—I like them taller and a lot more groomed, myself, but there was a fine pair of legs in those faded jeans, and she had a good head of glossy hair, even if she hadn’t taken the trouble to straighten it or to color it something snazzier than plain mouse brown. Now, though, she was a mess. Her face was red and swollen and covered in great streaks of snot and mascara, her eyes had turned piggy from crying and she had been wiping her face on the sleeves of her red duffle coat. At least she had stopped screaming, for the moment anyway.
The uniform was starting to look frayed around the edges, too. I said, “We need a word with Ms. Rafferty. Why don’t you get onto your station, have them send someone out to take her to the hospital when we’re done?” He nodded and backed away. I heard the sigh of relief.
Richie went down on one knee beside the car. “Ms. Rafferty?” he said gently. The kid had bedside manner. Maybe a little too much: his knee was smack in a muddy rut and he was going to be spending the rest of the day looking like he had fallen over his own feet, but he didn’t seem to notice.
Fiona Rafferty’s head came up, slowly and wavering. She looked blind.
“I’m very sorry for your trouble.”
After a moment her chin tilted down, a tiny nod.
“Can we get you anything? Water?”
“I need to ring my mam. How do I— Oh, God, the babies, I can’t tell her—”
I said, “We’re getting someone to accompany you to the hospital. They’ll let your mother know to meet you there, and they’ll help you talk to her.”
She didn’t hear me; her mind had already flinched off that and ricocheted somewhere else. “Is Jenny OK? She’s going to be OK, right?”
“We’re hoping so. We’ll let you know as soon as we hear anything.”
“The ambulance, they wouldn’t let me go with her—I need to be with her, what if she, I need to—”
Richie said, “I know. The doctors are looking after her, though. They know what they’re at, those lads. You’d only get in their way. You don’t want that, no?”
Her head rocked from side to side: no.
“No. And anyway, we need you to help us out here. We’ll need to ask you some questions. Would you be able for that now, do you think?”
Her mouth fell open and she gasped for air. “No. Questions, Jesus, I can’t— I want to go home. I want my mam. Oh, God, I want—”
She was on the verge of breaking down again. I saw Richie start to draw back, hands going up reassuringly. I said smoothly, before he threw her away, “Ms. Rafferty, if you need to go home for a little while and come back to us later on, we won’t stop you. It’s your choice. But for every minute we lose, our chances of finding the person who did this go down another notch. Evidence gets destroyed, witnesses’ memories get blurry, maybe the killer gets farther away. I think you should know that, before you make your decision.”
Fiona’s eyes were starting to focus. “If I . . . You could lose him? If I come back to you later, he could be gone?”
I moved Richie out of her eye line with a hard grip on his shoulder and leaned against the car door. “That’s right. Like I said, it’s your choice, but personally I wouldn’t want to live with that.”
Her face contorted and for a moment I thought she was gone, but she bit down hard on the inside of her cheek and pulled it together. “OK. OK. I can . . . OK. I just . . . Can I just take two minutes and have a cigarette? Then I’ll answer whatever you want.”
“I think you’ve made the right decision there. You take your time, Ms. Rafferty. We’ll be here.”
She pulled herself out of the car—clumsily, like someone standing up for the first time after surgery—and staggered off across the road, between the skeleton houses. I kept an eye on her. She found a half-built wall to sit on and managed to light her smoke.
Her back was to us, more or less. I gave Larry the thumbs-up. He waved cheerfully and came trundling towards the house, pulling his gloves on, with the rest of the techs trailing after him.
Richie’s crappy jacket wasn’t made for country weather; he was bouncing up and down with his hands in his armpits, trying not to look frozen. I said, keeping my voice down, “You were about to send her home. Weren’t you?”
He whipped his head around, startled and wary. “I was, yeah. I thought—”
“You don’t think. Not about something like that. Whether to cut a witness loose is my call, not yours. Do you understand?”
“She looked like she was about to lose it.”
“So? That’s not a reason to let her leave, Detective Curran. That’s a reason to make her pull it together. You almost threw away an interview that we can’t afford to lose.”
“I was trying not to throw it away. Better get it in a few hours’ time than upset her so bad we might not get her back till tomorrow.”
“That’s not how it works. If you need a witness to talk, you find a way to make her do it, end of story. You don’t send her home to have a bloody cup of tea and a biscuit and come back when it suits her.”
“I figured I should give her the choice. She just lost—”
“Did you see me putting handcuffs on the girl? Give her all the choice in the world. Just make damn sure she chooses the way you want her to. Rule Number Three, and Four and Five and about a dozen more: you do not go with the flow in this job. You make the flow go with you. Do I make myself clear?”
After a moment Richie said, “Yeah. I’m sorry, Detective. Sir.”
Probably he hated me right then, but I could live with that. I don’t care if my rookies take home photos of me to throw darts at, as long as when the dust settles they haven’t done any damage, either to the case or to their careers. “It won’t happen again. Am I right?”
“No. I mean, yeah, you’re right: it won’t.”
“Good. Then let’s go get that interview.”
Richie tucked his chin into his jacket collar and eyed Fiona Rafferty doubtfully. She was sagging on her wall, head almost between her knees, cigarette hanging forgotten from one hand. At that distance she looked like something discarded, just a crumple of scarlet cloth tossed away in the rubble. “You think she can take it?”
“I haven’t a clue. Not our problem, as long as she has the nervous breakdown on her own time. Now come on.”
I headed across the road without looking back to see if he was coming. After a moment I heard his shoes crunching on dirt and gravel, hurrying up behind me.
Fiona was a little more together: the occasional shudder still slammed through her, but her hands had stopped shaking and she had wiped the mascara off her face, even if it was with her shirt front. I moved her into one of the half-built houses, out of the stiff wind and out of view of whatever Larry and his buddies did next, found her a nice pile of breeze blocks to sit on and gave her another cigarette—I don’t smoke, never have, but I keep a pack in my briefcase: smokers are like any other addicts, the best way to get them on side is with their own currency. I sat next to her on the breeze blocks; Richie found himself a windowsill at my shoulder, where he could watch and learn and take notes without making a big deal of it. It wasn’t the ideal interview situation, but I’ve worked in worse.
“Now,” I said, when I’d lit her cigarette. “Is there anything else we can get you? An extra jumper? A drink of water?”
Fiona was staring at the cigarette, jiggling it between her fingers and dragging it down in fast little gasps. Every muscle in her body was clenched; by the end of the day she was going to feel like she’d run a marathon. “I’m fine. Could we just get this over with? Please?”
“No problem, Ms. Rafferty. We understand. Why don’t you start by telling me about Jennifer?”
“Jenny. She doesn’t like Jennifer—she says it’s prissy or something . . . It’s always been Jenny. Since we were little.”
“Her. I’m twenty-seven, she’s twenty-nine.”
I had figured Fiona for younger than that. Partly it was physical—she was on the short side, slight, with a pointed face and small irregular features under all the mess—but partly it was the gear, all that student-type scruffiness. Back when I was young, girls used to dress that way even after college, but nowadays they mostly put on a better show. Going by the house, I was willing to bet that Jenny had made more of an effort. I said, “What does she do?”
“She’s in PR. I mean, she was, up until Jack was born. Since then she stays home with the kids.”
“Fair play to her. She doesn’t miss working?”
Something that could have been a head-shake, except Fiona was so rigid it looked more like a spasm. “I don’t think so. She liked her job, but she’s not super-ambitious, or anything. She knew she wouldn’t be able to go back if they had another baby—two sets of child care, she’d have been working for, like, twenty euros a week—but they still went for Jack.”
“Any problems at work? Anyone she didn’t get on with?”
“No. The other girls in the company sounded like total bitches to me—all these snide comments if one of them didn’t top up her fake tan for a few days, and when Jenny was pregnant they were calling her Titanic and telling her she should be on a diet, for God’s sake—but Jenny didn’t think it was a big deal. She . . . Jenny doesn’t like putting her foot down, you know? She’d rather go with the flow. She always figures . . .” A hiss of breath between her teeth, like physical pain had hit her. “She always figures things work out OK in the end.”
“What about Patrick? How does he get on with people?” Keep them moving, keep them jumping from topic to topic, don’t give them time to look down. If they fall, you might not be able to get them on their feet again.
Her face jerked towards me, swollen gray-blue eyes wide. “Pat’s—Jesus, you don’t think he did this! Pat would never, he would never—”
“I know. Tell me—”
“How do you know?”
“Ms. Rafferty,” I said, putting some stern into my voice. “Do you want to help us here?”
“Of course I—”
“Good. Then you need to focus on the questions we’re asking. The sooner we get some answers, the sooner you get some answers. OK?”
Fiona looked around wildly, like the room would vanish any second and she would wake up. It was bare concrete and sloppy mortar, with a couple of wooden beams propped against one wall like they were holding it up. A stack of fake-oak banisters covered in a thick coating of grime, flattened Styrofoam cups on the floor, a muddy blue sweatshirt balled up in one corner: it looked like an archaeological site frozen in the moment when the inhabitants had dropped everything and fled, from some natural disaster or some invading force. Fiona couldn’t see the place now, but it was going to be stamped on her mind for the rest of her life. This is one of the little extras murder throws at the families: long after you lose hold of the victim’s face or the last words she said to you, you remember every detail of the nightmare limbo where this thing came clawing into your life.
“Ms. Rafferty,” I said. “We can’t afford to waste time.”
“Yeah. I’m OK.” She jammed out her cigarette on the breeze blocks and stared at the butt like it had materialized in her hand out of nowhere. Richie leaned forward, holding out a foam cup, and said quietly, “Here.” Fiona nodded jerkily; she dropped in her cigarette and kept hold of the cup, gripping it with both hands.
I asked, “So what’s Patrick like?”
“He’s lovely.” Defiant flash of red-rimmed eyes. Under the wreckage was plenty of stubborn. “We’ve known him forever—we’re all from Monkstown, we always hung out with the same crowd, ever since we were kids. Him and Jenny, they’ve been together since they were sixteen.”
“What kind of relationship was it?”
“They were mad about each other. The rest of the gang, we thought it was a big deal if we went out with someone for more than a few weeks, but Pat and Jenny were . . .” Fiona caught a deep breath and jerked her head back, staring up through the empty stairwell and the haphazard beams at the gray sky. “They knew straightaway that this was it. It used to make them seem older; grown-up. The rest of us were just messing about, just playing, you know? Pat and Jenny were doing the real thing. Love.”
The real thing has got more people killed than practically anything else I can think of. “When did they get engaged?”
“When they were nineteen. Valentine’s Day.”
“That’s pretty young, these days. What did your parents think?”
“They were delighted! They love Pat too. They just said to wait till they finished college, and Pat and Jenny were fine with that. They got married when they were twenty-two. Jenny said there wasn’t any point in putting it off any longer, it wasn’t like they were going to change their minds.”
“And how did it work out?”
“It’s worked out great. Pat, the way he treats Jenny—he still lights up when he finds out there’s something she wants, because he can’t wait to get it for her. Back when I was a teenager, I used to pray that I’d meet someone who’d love me the way Pat loves Jenny. OK?”
The present tense takes a long time to wear off. My mother died way back when I was a teenager, but every now and then Dina still talks about what perfume Mummy wears or what kind of ice cream she likes. It drives Geri crazy. I asked, not too skeptically, “No arguments? In thirteen years?”
“That’s not what I said. Everyone has arguments. But theirs aren’t a big deal.”
“What do they argue about?”
Fiona was looking at me now, a thin layer of wariness solidifying over all the rest. “Same as any couple. Stuff like, back when we were kids, Pat would get upset if some other guy fancied Jenny. Or when they were saving up towards the house, Pat wanted to go on holiday and Jenny thought everything should go into the savings. They always sort it out, though. Like I said, no big deal.”
Money: the only thing that kills more people than love. “What does Patrick do?”
“He’s in recruitment—was. He worked for Nolan and Roberts—they find people for financial services. They let him go in February.”
“Any particular reason?”
Fiona’s shoulders were starting to tense up again. “It wasn’t anything he did. They let a few people go at the same time, not just him. Financial services companies aren’t exactly recruiting these days, you know? The recession . . . ”
“Did he have any problems at work? Any bad blood when he left?”
“No! You keep trying to make it sound like, like Pat and Jenny have all these enemies everywhere, they’re fighting all the time— They’re not like that.”
She was reared back away from me, the cup thrust out in two clenched hands like a shield. I said soothingly, “Now, that’s the kind of information I need. I don’t know Pat and Jenny; I’m just trying to get an idea of them.”
“They’re lovely. People like them. They love each other. They love the kids. OK? Does that give you enough of an idea?”
Actually that gave me shag-all idea about anything, but it was obviously the best I was going to get. “Absolutely,” I said. “I appreciate it. Does Patrick’s family still live in Monkstown?”
“His parents are dead—his dad was back when we were kids, his mum was a few years ago. He’s got a little brother, Ian, he’s in Chicago— Ring Ian. Ask him about Pat and Jenny. He’ll tell you the exact same thing.”
“I’m sure he will. Did Pat and Jenny keep any valuables in the house? Cash, jewelry, anything like that?”
Fiona’s shoulders came down again, a little, while she considered that. “Jenny’s engagement ring—Pat paid a couple of grand for that—and this emerald ring that our granny left to Emma. And Pat has a computer; it’s pretty new, he got it with his redundancy money, it might still be worth something . . . All that stuff, is it still there? Or did it get taken?”
“We’ll check. That’s it for valuables?”
“They don’t have anything valuable. They used to have this big SUV, but they had to give it back; they couldn’t make the repayments. And I guess there’s Jenny’s clothes—she used to spend a load on them, till Pat lost his job—but who’s going to do this for a bunch of secondhand clothes?”
There are people who would do it for a lot less, but I didn’t get the feeling that was what we were looking at. “When did you last see them?”
She had to think about that. “I met up with Jenny in Dublin, for coffee. This summer, maybe three or four months ago? I haven’t seen Pat in ages—April, I guess. God, I don’t know how it got to be that long—”
“What about the children?”
“April, the same as Pat. I was out here for Emma’s birthday—she was turning six.”
“Did you notice anything out of the ordinary?”
Head up, chin out, straight onto the defensive. I said, “Anything at all. A guest who seemed out of place, maybe. A conversation that sounded odd.”
“No. Nothing was odd. There were a bunch of kids from Emma’s class, and Jenny got a bouncy castle— Oh, God, Emma and Jack . . . Both of them, are you sure they’re both . . .? Could one of them not be just hurt, just, just . . . ”
“Ms. Rafferty,” I said, in my best gentle-but-firm, “I’m pretty sure they’re not just hurt. We’ll let you know straightaway if anything changes, but right now I need you to stay with me. Every second counts, remember?”
Fiona pressed a hand over her mouth and swallowed hard. “Yeah.”
“Well done.” I held out another cigarette and clicked the lighter. “When did you last speak to Jenny?”
“Yesterday morning.” She didn’t have to think about that one. “I ring her every morning at half past eight, once I’m in work. We have our coffee and check in, just for a few minutes. Like a start to the day, you know?”
“It sounds nice. How was she yesterday?”
“Normal! She was completely normal! There was nothing, I swear to God, I’ve gone over it in my head and there was nothing—”
“I’m sure there wasn’t,” I said soothingly. “What did you talk about?”
“Just stuff, I don’t know. One of my flatmates plays bass, her band has a gig coming up, I told Jenny about that; she was telling me how she was looking online for a toy stegosaurus, because Jack had brought home some friend from preschool on Friday and they went hunting a stegosaurus in the garden . . . She sounded fine. Totally fine.”
“Would she have told you if there was anything wrong?”
“Yeah, I think so. She would. I’m sure she would.”
Which didn’t sound sure. I asked, “Are you two close?”
Fiona said, “There’s just the two of us.” She heard herself and realized that wasn’t an answer. “Yeah. We’re close. I mean, we were closer when we were younger, teenagers—we sort of went in different directions after that. And it’s not as easy now that Jenny’s out here.”
“How long has that been?”
“They bought the house like three years ago.” 2006: the height of the boom. Whatever they had paid, these days the gaff was worth half of that. “There was nothing here then, though, just fields; they bought off the plans. I thought they were mental, but Jenny was over the moon, she was so excited—their own place . . .” Fiona’s mouth contorted, but she got it back together. “They moved out here maybe a year later. As soon as the house was finished.”
I asked, “And what about you? Where do you live?”
“In Dublin. Ranelagh.”
“You said you share a flat?”
“Yeah. Me and two other girls.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a photographer. I’m trying to get an exhibition together, but meanwhile I work at Studio Pierre—you know, Pierre, he was on that TV show about elite Irish weddings? I mostly do the baby shoots, or if Keith—Pierre—gets two weddings on the same day, I do one of them.”
“Were you doing a baby shoot this morning?”
She had to work to remember, it was so far away. “No. I was going through shots, these shots from last week—the mother’s coming in today to pick the album.”
“What time did you leave?”
“Like quarter past nine. One of the guys said he’d sort out the album for me.”
“Where’s Studio Pierre?”
“By Phoenix Park.”
An hour from Broken Harbor, minimum, in morning traffic and in that shitty little car. I asked, “Had you been worried about Jenny?”
That electric-shock head-shake.
“Are you sure? That’s an awful lot of hassle to go to because someone doesn’t answer her phone.”
A tense shrug. Fiona balanced the foam cup carefully beside her, tapped ash. “I wanted to make sure she was OK.”
“Why wouldn’t she have been?”
“Because. We always talk. Every day, for years. And I was right, wasn’t I? She wasn’t OK.”
Her chin wobbled. I leaned in close to give her a tissue, didn’t lean back. “Ms. Rafferty,” I said. “We both know there was more to it than that. You don’t ditch work, possibly annoy a client, and drive for an hour, just because your sister’s out of touch for forty-five minutes. You could have assumed that she’d gone to bed with a migraine, or that she’d lost her phone, or that the kids had come down with the flu, or any one of several hundred things, all of them a lot more likely than this. Instead, you jumped straight to the conclusion that something was wrong. You need to tell me why.”
Fiona bit down on her bottom lip. The air stank of cigarette smoke and singed wool—she had dropped hot ash on her coat, somewhere in there—and there was a dank, bitter smell coming off her, spreading on her breath and seeping out of her pores. Interesting fact from the front lines: raw grief smells like ripped leaves and splintered branches, a jagged green shriek.
“It wasn’t anything,” she said, finally. “It was ages ago—months. I’d practically forgotten about it, till . . .”
“It was just . . . She rang me one evening. She said someone had been in the house.”
I felt Richie snap to attention at my shoulder, like a terrier ready to dash off after his stick. “Did she report this?” I asked.
Fiona rubbed out her cigarette and dropped the butt into the cup. “It wasn’t like that. There was nothing to report. There wasn’t, like, a window broken or the lock smashed or whatever, and there wasn’t anything taken.”
“Then what made her think someone had been in the house?”
The shrug again, even tenser this time. Her head had gone down. “She just thought. I don’t know.”
I said, letting the firm start to edge out the gentle, “This could be important, Ms. Rafferty. What did she say, exactly?”
Fiona took a deep, shuddering breath and pushed hair behind her ear. “OK,” she said. “OK. OK. So Jenny rings me, right, and she’s like, ‘Did you make a copy of our keys?’ I had their keys for about two seconds last winter, Jenny and Pat took the kids to the Canaries for a week and they wanted to know someone could get in if there was a fire or whatever. So I say no, course not—”
“Did you?” Richie asked. “Make a copy?” He pulled it off—he managed to sound just plain interested, not the slightest bit accusing. Which was nice: it meant I wouldn’t have to give him shit, or at least not too big a helping of it, for talking out of turn.
“No! Why would I?”
She had shot upright. Richie shrugged, gave her a deprecating little smile. “Just checking. I’ve got to ask, you know?”
Fiona slumped back. “Yeah. I guess.”
“And no one else could have made copies, that week? You didn’t leave the keys where your flatmates could have taken them, or someone at work—nothing like that? Like I said, we have to ask.”
“I had them on my key ring. They weren’t in a safe or anything—when I’m in work I have my keys in my bag, and when I’m home they’re on a hook in the kitchen. But it’s not like anyone would’ve known what they were, even if they cared. I don’t think I even told anyone that I had them.”
Her flatmates and her workmates were going to be having in-depth chats all the same, not to mention background checks. “Let’s get back to the phone conversation,” I said. “You told Jenny you hadn’t copied her keys . . .”
“Yeah. Jenny says, ‘Well, someone’s got them, and you’re the only person we gave them to.’ It takes me like half an hour to convince her I don’t have a clue what she’s on about, so she’ll even tell me what’s the story. Finally she says her and the kids were out for the afternoon, at the shops or somewhere, and when she got back someone had been through the house.” Fiona had started picking the tissue to shreds, white wisps floating down on the red of her coat. She had small hands, slim-fingered, with bitten nails. “I ask her how she knows, and at first she won’t say, but finally I get it out of her: the curtains are hooked back all wrong, and she’s missing half a packet of ham and the pen she keeps by the fridge for making shopping lists. I’m like, ‘You have got to be joking,’ and she nearly hangs up on me. So I talk her down, and once she stops giving me hassle, she sounds really freaked out, you know? Really scared. And Jenny isn’t a wimp.”
This was one of the reasons I had come down hard on Richie for trying to postpone this interview. If you get someone talking right after his world ends, there’s a decent chance he won’t be able to stop. Wait till the next day and he’ll already be starting to rebuild his pulverized defenses—people work fast, when the stakes are that high—but catch him straight after the mushroom cloud unfurls and he’ll spill anything from his tastes in porn to his secret nickname for the boss. “Natural enough,” I said. “That’d be pretty unsettling.”
“It was ham slices and a pen! If her jewelry was gone, or half her underwear or something, then yeah, sure, lose the head. But this stuff . . . I said to her, ‘OK, let’s say somehow someone for some weird reason got in, he wasn’t exactly Hannibal Lecter, was he?’”
I asked, before it could hit her what she had just said, “What did Jenny think of that?”
“She got furious with me again. She said the big deal wasn’t what he’d actually done; it was all the stuff she couldn’t be sure about. Like if he’d been in the kids’ rooms, gone through their stuff—Jenny said if they could afford it she’d throw away everything the kids had, start over, just in case. What he’d touched—she said everything looked like it was out of place all of a sudden, just an inch, or like it was smudged. How he got in. Why he got in—that was really getting to her. She kept saying, ‘Why us? What did he want off us? Do we look like a target? What?’”
Fiona shivered, a sudden jerk that almost doubled her over. I said easily, “It’s a good question. They have an alarm system; do you know if it was set that day?”
She shook her head. “I asked. Jenny said no. She never used to bother, not during the day—I think they’d set it at night, when they went to bed, but that was because the local kids throw parties and stuff in the empty houses, they can get pretty out of control sometimes. Jenny said the estate was basically dead during the day—well, you can see for yourselves—so she hadn’t been bothering. But she said she was going to start. She said, ‘If you’ve got those keys, you’d better not use them. I’m changing the alarm code now and after this it stays on, day and night, end of story.’ Like I said, she sounded really scared.”
But when the uniforms had broken down the door and the four of us had gone tramping all over Jenny’s precious house, the alarm had been off. The obvious explanation was that, if anyone had come in from outside, the Spains had opened the door themselves; that Jenny, scared as she was, hadn’t been scared of this person. “Did she change the locks?”
“I asked that, too—was she going to. She went back and forth, but in the end she said no, probably not, it’d be a couple of hundred quid and the budget couldn’t stretch to that. The alarm would be enough. She said, ‘I don’t even mind that much if he tries to get in again. I’d almost rather he did. At least then we’d know.’ I told you: she’s not a wimp.”
“Where had Pat been that day? Was this before he lost his job?”
“No, after. He’d gone down to Athlone, for a job interview—this was back when him and Jenny still had the two cars.”
“What did he think about the possible break-in?”
“I don’t know. She never said. I thought . . . to be honest, I thought she hadn’t told him. She was keeping her voice right down, on the phone—that could’ve been just because the kids were asleep, but in a house that size? And she kept saying ‘I’—‘I’m changing the alarm code, I couldn’t fit that in the budget, I’ll sort the guy if I get him.’ Not ‘we.’”
And there it was again: the little thing out of place, the gift I had told Richie to keep his eyes peeled for. “Why wouldn’t she tell Pat? Shouldn’t that be the first thing she did, if she thought they’d had intruders?”