Responding to a late night-call, Paddy Meehan arrives at an elegant villa, where a calm blonde with blood running from her mouth answers the door. She has already convinced the police to leave and soon Paddy realizes how: she slips 50 bucks into Paddy's hands and begs her to keep the incident, whatever it is, out of the press.
The next morning Paddy sees the lead news story: The blonde woman has been murdered, and far from the spoiled trophy wife Paddy assumed her to be, the victim turns out to be a prosecution lawyer with a social conscience.
Bewildered why the woman didn't take the chance to leave the house when she could, Paddy begins to make connections no one else has seen. When she witnesses the body of a suicide victim being pulled from the river shortly afterward, Paddy suspects links between the two deaths and follows her idea to its shocking and deadly conclusion.
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The Dead HourA Novel
By Denise Mina
LITTLE, BROWNCopyright © 2006 Denise Mina
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNOT LIKE US 1984
"Nice time?" "Two weeks with the wife and a six-month-old wean," sneered Tam. "You work it out."
He was the same age as Paddy, in his early twenties, but monkeyed the genuine melancholy of the older officers.
"So." She took her notebook out of her pocket. "What brought you out here?" She'd heard the call on the police radio in the car: the neighbors were complaining about a disturbance. It wasn't a neighborhood that would tolerate much nightlife.
Tam rolled his eyes. "Noise complaint: cars screeching, front door slamming, shouting."
Paddy raised her eyebrows. Noise complaints took two minutes: the household opened the door, promised to keep it down, and everyone went home.
Tam glanced at the door. "There's a woman inside with blood on her face."
"Did he hit her?" "I suppose. Either that or she's been punching herself in the mouth." Tam chuckled at his joke but Paddy had the feeling he'd made it before. Or heard it from someone else. She didn't smile back.
"Not really the right neighborhood for a noisy party on a Tuesday night."
Tam huffed. "Seen the motors?" He nodded to two shiny BMWs parked in the shadows around the back of the tall house. One was a big imposing car, the other asports car, but they matched somehow, like his-and-hers wedding rings. Paddy didn't know much about cars but she knew that the price of one of them would pay her family's rent for three years.
Together they looked at the man. "Is Dan going to lift him?" "Nah," said Tam, "the woman wants us to leave it. Vhari Burnett. She's a lawyer. One of us."
Paddy was surprised. "She's prosecution?" "Aye." He pointed at the police officer at the door. "Dan there knows her from the high court. Says she's decent but, you know, why doesn't she want him charged?"
Paddy thought it was pretty obvious why a woman wouldn't want to bring a criminal prosecution against any man who had a key to her front door. Her oldest sister, Caroline, regularly turned up at the house with big bruises on her arms and went mad when anyone mentioned them. The family were Catholic; leaving wasn't always an option. Paddy could have corrected Tam but it was two a.m. and she heard the same lazy, simple-minded shit from officers attending domestic incidents every night. She depended on them for stories and couldn't call them on it. Despite her courting them and never contradicting, the night shift guys still sensed her distance and went behind her back, feeding the best stories to other journalists, guys they watched football with or drank near. Banishing thoughts of her fading career, Paddy turned toward the house.
The first thing she noticed about the dark-haired man was his mouth-watering figure: tall with long legs and slim hips. He stood with his weight on one foot, hips to one side, tolerating Dan's chat. His lashes were long and dark and he kept his eyes a little shut, as though the weight of his lashes forced him to look languid. The conservative white shirt had a thin salmon-pink stripe. Over it he wore black suspenders with shiny steel buckles, and he had on expensive black shoes and suit trousers. His outfit looked like a work uniform. His face was calm and smiling, although his fingers fidgeted nervously on the door handle behind him. He was beautiful.
Paddy sauntered slowly over to the door, staying near the house, keeping in the shadows. Dan, the questioning officer, nodded at his notebook as the man spoke.
"... Dan, it won't happen again." He seemed quite casual and Paddy could see that Dan had no intention of taking him in, not even just to lock him in the cells for a couple of hours and teach him a lesson about being a snotty shite. She had seen Dan and Tam at many midnight disturbances and they weren't known for their tolerance. Dan was a fit man, for all he was thin and older. She'd seen him being cheeked-up, and using his wiry frame to introduce a couple of faces to the side of his squad car.
Dan dropped his eyes and scratched something into his pad with a stubby pencil. Thinking himself unobserved, the man dropped his guard and Paddy saw a twitch of excitement as his hands tensed over the handle.
"Okay," said Dan, "you'll need to keep it down. If we get another call we'll have no option but to take some sort of action." "Sure. Don't worry about it."
Dan shut his notebook and backed off the step. "Maybe you should get her seen to."
"Definitely." He seemed to relax for a moment. Paddy stepped into the circle of yellow light in front of the door. "Hello. I'm Paddy Meehan from the Scottish Daily News. Could I talk to you about the police being called here?"
The man glared at Dan, who shrugged a little and backed away to the panda car. Up close his eyes were Paul Newman blue and his lips pink, fleshy. She wanted to touch them with her fingertips. His eyes read Paddy's secondhand green leather coat, the spiky dark hair, beige suede pixie boots, and her large gold hoops. She saw him notice the red enamel thumb ring on her right hand. It was cheap, bought from a hippie shop, and the blue inserts were crumbling and falling out.
"Like your look," he said. He smiled but she could tell he was lying.
"Thanks. Your look's a bit 'business,' isn't it?" He swept his shirtfront straight and tucked a thumb under his suspender. "Like it?" He shifted his weight, drawing her attention to his hips. It was a bit too explicit, too overt to be casually flirtatious. She didn't like it.
"So, have you been beating your wife?" "Excuse me ..." He held his left hand up, and showed her his bare third finger in defense. He wasn't married.
"Do you know Dan?" He looked her square in the face, eyes clouded over. "I don't know Dan."
She frowned and raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Dan?" The familiarity of the first name gave their relationship away more than his manner toward the policeman.
He shrugged as if he didn't care whether she believed him or not, and ran his fingers through his black hair. She could hear the crisp crumple of the fine starched linen on his shirtsleeve. The door fell open a foot behind him. Paddy saw an imposing Victorian hall stand, dark oak with hooks for hats, a place on the arm for umbrellas and walking sticks. In the middle of the dark wood frame was a large mirror and reflected in the glass she saw a woman's frightened face.
The pretty blonde was standing in the door that led to the living room, listening. She was slim necked and fine featured, the tips of her bob stained pink with blood. As she watched Paddy through the mirror her slender fingers cartwheeled the curtain of hair behind her ear, revealing a bloody jaw. A thin slash of scarlet ran from the side of her mouth to her chin, down her neck and over her collarbone, soaking into the wide Lady Di lace ruff on her white blouse.
For a slither of a moment their eyes met and Paddy saw the vacant expression she'd seen many times at car crashes and fights, a look saturated with shock and pain. She raised her eyebrows at the blonde, asking if she wanted help, but the woman gave a half shake of the head and broke off eye contact, sliding backward in the doorway and out of the mirror.
The man saw Paddy looking and pulled the door closed at his back. "We're fine, really." He smiled warmly and nodded, as if thanking Paddy for coming to a nice party. The porchway light was weak and yellow but she saw it suddenly: blood on his own neck, in among the short black hairs. They were spots, flecks from spray. He smiled at her. She could see the glint of flint in his eyes.
"Have you beaten her before?" He was getting irritated but only a little bit. He glanced over at Tam and Dan by the squad car and Paddy followed his gaze. Dan shook his head, giving the man an answer, sending a signal Paddy didn't understand. The man took a tired breath. "Won't you wait for a moment, please?"
Opening the door less than half a foot, he slipped inside. For a moment, as the door fell toward the jamb, Paddy thought he had done the sensible thing and shut her out, but he came back smiling a second later.
He leaned forward and put something in Paddy's hand. "I can't stress enough how important it is that this doesn't get in the paper." It was a fifty-pound note. "Please?"
The note was damp and pink with blood.
Paddy glanced around. Both officers were standing by their panda car with their backs to her. The windows in the house across the nearest hedge were black and blank and empty. Her cold fingers closed over the note.
"Good night." He slipped back into the house and shut the door firmly but quietly.
Paddy looked at the grain of the oak door, worn yellow where habitual hands felt for the handle or fitted a key. The large brass handle was smeared with blood. She had fifty quid in her hand. She squeezed it just to be sure it was there and the wetness of the blood chilled her. A little excited, she crammed her fist into her coat pocket, turning stiffly and crunching back down the perfect driveway. The wind ruffled her hair. Somewhere in the far distance a car rumbled down a road, pausing to change gear.
At the police car, Tam shrugged. "It's important to them. She's a lawyer," he said, inadvertently letting her know that they'd been paid off too.
Dan slapped the back of Tam's head and tutted. As she passed she overheard Tam defend himself in an undertone, "It's only wee Meehan."
They climbed into the police car and started the engine, Dan backing carefully out of the driveway, reversing past Paddy at the side of the calls car.
As she opened the passenger door she glanced back at the brightly lit window of the big house. For an instant she saw a movement behind the net curtains, a swirl of light and motion. She blinked and when she looked back the room was still.
Billy watched her fall into the backseat in the rearview mirror and took a draw on his cigarette. He had seen her take the money, she was sure of it. She could have offered to share it but she didn't know what the etiquette was, she'd never been bribed before. Besides, fifty quid could solve a host of problems.
Billy reversed out of the drive but her eyes lingered on the house. In the coming weeks and months she would recall the skirl of light she had witnessed at the window, how glad she was to be back in the warm car, and how thrilling the note had felt in her pocket.
In the time to come she would burn with shame when she remembered her absolute conviction that the bloodied woman in the mirror was nothing whatever to do with her.
Billy drove in silence down the black glistening road toward the city, listening to the pip and crackle of the police radio. Paddy could hardly look at him in the mirror.
Even if Billy had seen her take the money she knew he wouldn't ask her about it. They were careful what they asked each other because the truth was difficult. Injudicious questions had told her that Billy and his wife were fighting all the time, that he didn't like his son much since he had become a teenager. She had told him that she felt disgusting and fat, that her unemployed family resented living off her wages and the unnatural power it gave her in the house.
Billy and Paddy had never developed a workmates' rapport of comforting lies. The police radio was on all the time, forming a wall of white noise that stopped them talking in anything more than staccato bursts. They never spoke long enough to let Billy hint that his son was basically a genius who hadn't found his niche or Paddy suggest that her weight was a bit hormonal. All that lay between them was a raw stretch of truth. At least they were kind to each other. It would have been unbearable otherwise.
"Hey, you'll like this one," Billy said, turning the radio down for a second. "What's a domestic altercation?" "I don't know, Billy, what is a domestic altercation?"
"A fight in a hoose in Bearsden." He turned the radio back up and smiled at her in the mirror, telling her it was okay.
She looked sadly down at her hand as it uncurled in her lap. Her palm had blood on it. "You're right, Billy, I do like that one."
She needed the money. Her father had been unemployed for two years. There were four children living at home and she was the only one bringing in a wage. She was the youngest and now the major earner. It gave her an unspoken veto in family decisions; her mother told her how much every item in the shopping cost and emphasized her frugality with food. It left Paddy with nothing for herself and she couldn't fathom how to rectify the power imbalance at home. Still, the Meehans were relatively well off: one in three adults was unemployed in many parts of the city. Her mother wouldn't notice the blood on the note as long as she left it to dry and brown.
Excerpted from The Dead Hour by Denise Mina Copyright © 2006 by Denise Mina. Excerpted by permission.
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