Authors: Brian McGilloway
For my parents, Laurence and Katrina
Also by Brian McGilloway
The Inspector Devlin Series
Bleed a River Deep
The Nameless Dead
The DS Black Series
Little Girl Lost
Constable & Robinson Ltd
55–56 Russell Square
London WC1B 4HP
First published in the UK by C&R Crime,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2013
Copyright © Brian McGilloway, 2013
The right of Brian McGilloway to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not be reproduced in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or hereafter invented, without written permission from the publisher and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in
Publication data is available from the British Library
ISBN 978-1-47211-979-5 (hardback)
ISBN 978-1-47211-114-2 (paperback)
ISBN 978-1-47211-115-9 (ebook)
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Printed and bound in the UK
Cover design & stairs image ©
; Girl in foreground: © Alamy
The one benefit with getting a school picture taken was that it took so long you missed an entire lesson. Especially when all the other girls in the class were taking forever, fixing their hair, nipping out to the toilet to put on make-up they weren’t even meant to have in school. Her mother forbid her using it. ‘Fourteen is too young for make-up,’ she’d said. Not that make-up would have made much difference, Annie thought.
Annie Marsden stood, watching the group in front of her, their conversation soundtracked by the music leaking from her headphones. If they were aware of her standing behind them, none showed it.
A flash to their left. Up on the stage an old guy, white haired, slightly stooped, was standing at the camera while Nuala Dean preened herself, angling a little in front of the canvas image of a library of leather-bound books, their spines mixtures of red and blue and green. Showing her good side. At least she had a good side, Annie thought.
The line in front of her shuffled forward a space and she moved to fill the gap.
She glanced up only to catch the eye of her physics teacher. He was standing, his arms folded, watching her. Without unfolding his arms, he gestured towards his own ear then waggled his finger at her.
She obligingly pulled out her earphones and pocketed them. The group ahead of her had moved onto the steps of the stage now, their conversation reduced to a murmur as each prepared themselves for their shot.
‘Move up, will you!’ someone behind her said, and Annie shuffled forward again, pulling her cardigan sleeves further down, gripping their cuffs in her hands. The floor was yellow, she noticed. Assembly hall floors always are. Yellow because that’s the only colour of light they can’t absorb. Or it’s the only one they can absorb. She couldn’t remember which.
‘Give me a beautiful smile,’ she heard the old man say. The girl on the stool in front of him obliged.
‘Button up your top button, Annie,’ someone said. The physics teacher was standing next to her now. ‘Look like you have some pride in your uniform.’
Annie blushed slightly, murmured an apology as the girls behind her tittered at the comment. She struggled to bring the collars close enough together to clasp, in the end gave up and tightened the knot of her tie nearer her throat. She’d told her mum she needed a new shirt in September. Four months later and she was still waiting. Either that or she’d put on too much weight.
‘Aren’t you just lovely?’ the old man said, earning the reward of a smile from Sally McLaughlin.
Annie made her way up the steps, stood, next in line, for the shot, her stomach churning. Sally got up, flicked her hair over her shoulder and strode across and down the set of steps on the other end of the stage.
‘Sit yourself down, love,’ the old man said.
Annie came across to the stool, edged herself onto it, picked a spot above the photographer’s head to look at, waited. He was busying himself with the flash, adjusting the angle.
Hurry up, Annie thought. She was aware that her skirt was pulled up on her thighs a little, revealing the whitened scar of the ladder in her black school tights. She shifted in the seat, pulling at the hem.
‘Right, look at the camera, please,’ the old man said.
Annie, despite herself, did. She saw a distorted version of herself reflected in the concave of the lens.
‘Haven’t you the prettiest eyes?’ the old man said.
Annie instinctively glanced at the floor, just as the flash brightened the stage.
The wood was yellow.
He’d just got a pint in when the aura started. A quick flickering of iridescence on the periphery of his vision that already made his stomach turn. He shut his eyes in the hope that perhaps it was a trick of the light, overtiredness from the night before. The last thing Harry needed was another late evening, but then he’d promised the missus this for months. A bit of dinner, a few glasses of wine, then down to the pub after for an hour. The tentative re-beginnings of a relationship which had sprung leaks years earlier, but whose gaping holes only became apparent with the departure of their only son to university.
‘Empty nest syndrome,’ one of the drivers had told him that day as he’d mentioned during break that he had to go out. They’d all been out the night before on a work do; John-Joe Carlin’s leaving party. He’d been driving the Belfast–Derry train for thirty-three years, through all kinds of shit. And now, this evening, he was bringing his last train home.
Harry glanced at his watch, could just make out the time beyond the growing intensity of the flickering, his whole field of vision now haloed with shifting ripples of light. John-Joe would be on the final stretch of his final drive, passing Bellarena.
He stumbled back to the table where his wife, Marie, sat, glancing around her, smiling mildly at the other drinkers.
‘I need to go home,’ Harry said. ‘I’ve another bloody migraine starting.’
Marie tried to hide her disappointment, a little. ‘Have you none of those tablets?’
Harry shook his head. ‘They’re in my work uniform. I left them in the station.’
She tutted, turning and picking up her coat, the fizzing soda water untouched on the table where Harry had set it fifteen minutes earlier. ‘Come on, then. I knew it was too good to be true.’
The shimmering had thickened now into a perfect circle of tightly packed strands of light that seemed to encircle his pupil. Harry felt his stomach lurch, swallowed hard to keep down his meal. It really would be a wasted night if he brought that back up.
His phone started vibrating a second before he heard the opening notes of ‘The Gypsy Rover’, his ringtone. He stared at the screen, trying to make out the caller ID.
‘John-Joe,’ he said, answering the phone. ‘You’re done early.’
‘Earlier than I’d planned. Something’s happened. The train’s just died.’
‘Where are you?’
‘Just past Gransha. Coming in on the final stretch.’
That was less than two kilometres from the station. The train would already have been slowing, rounding the curve at St Columb’s Park, then the last few hundred metres in past the Peace Bridge.
‘What happened?’ Harry asked, shifting the phone to his other ear.
‘I don’t know. We just lost power. Everything. Can you check it out?’
Harry glanced up at where Marie stood, the keys in her hand, the hoop of the key ring hanging off her wedding finger.
‘I’ll be right down,’ he said.
As he moved onto the tracks, away from the brightness of the station, Harry was grateful for the silence after all he’d listened to in the car. The darkness actually helped ease his building headache a little. The aura had stopped as they’d pulled into the station, though that was perhaps because his attention was diverted into trying to placate Marie. After all, he was well enough, she suggested, to work, but not to take her out for the night. How could he explain that it was John-Joe’s final night? That the man needed to get his train home, one last time? She wouldn’t understand it. He could see her now, sitting in the car, the heater turned up full, arms folded, tight lipped, her expression pinched.
He could feel the migraine proper begin to build. He tried focusing on the bobbing of the torch he held as he walked the line. He glanced ahead a distance, to his right, at the looming shapes of the trees separating the train line from St Columb’s Park.
Power cables ran along the track side, heavy copper, sheathed in plastic. It was to these that Harry turned his attention, for undoubtedly that was the reason for the train stopping. Sure enough, only ten yards ahead, just beneath the Peace Bridge, the lines had been cut.
He dialled through to the train.
‘John-Joe? Sorry, man. You’re not going to be bringing this one in for a while. The lines have been cut just outside of the station. We’ll need to get the passengers bused out. Have you many on board?’
‘One. And he’s sleeping off a session.’
It wasn’t unusual. The Belfast to Derry train was so slow a journey most people took the bus. The line had been promised an upgrade for years. They were still waiting. Maybe, Harry reflected, the cost of replacing the broken lines would be the latest excuse for not doing it.
‘Maybe just a taxi, then.’
‘How much cable is missing?’ John-Joe asked.
‘I’m still walking it,’ Harry said. ‘It’s gone until at least St Columb’s Park,’ he added, shining his torch along the side of the tracks, noting the absence of the thick cabling.
He was moving away from the light thrown off from the street lamps of estates up to his right now, and heading below St Columb’s Park itself. The moon hung low over the tops of the thick-limbed sycamores above him. To his left, the lights of the city seemed to wink at their own reflection off the river’s surface. Harry could smell the sharpness of the mudflats he knew to be just a few feet away from him, a sudden drop down from the tracks to the river’s edge.
Suddenly, ahead of him, he saw something.
‘Shit, I think one of them is still here,’ he whispered, lifting the mobile to his mouth again.
‘Get out of there. Call the cops,’ John-Joe said.
Harry squinted up ahead. His headache had gathered now behind his right eye. He felt a wave of nausea, felt the sweat pop on his forehead. He could make out a figure who seemed to be lying on the ground, as if hiding, perhaps hoping that, in so doing, he wouldn’t have noticed them.
‘Oi! You!’ Harry shouted. He tried training the torch beam on the spot where the figure was lying, but even so, his headache had grown in intensity to the point that he found it hard to make out what exactly he was looking at.
‘Get up off the tracks,’ he shouted as he stumbled up the tracks, his foot catching on one of the sleepers beneath, his hands taking the main force of the impact on the sharp-edged grey gravel between the tracks as he fell.
Cursing, he stood again, retrieved his torch and stumbled onwards. It was clear now that the figure was lying on the train line. It looked like a girl, for the hair was long, brown, hanging over her face. She was lying face down on the tracks, her throat resting on the side closest to the river, her legs supported by the other side, her body sagging into the space between them.
‘Jesus, get up,’ he shouted. ‘You’ll be killed.’
It seemed a pointless thing to say. The train wasn’t going anywhere because of the cables. Besides, lying where she was, she was obviously trying to kill herself anyway. Not brave enough to throw herself in front of the train, she was lying on the tracks, waiting for it to come. She’d picked a spot on the curve so the driver wouldn’t have time to brake by the time he’d seen her. In fact, he might not even realize he’d hit anyone at all, until the body was found.
‘Come on! Get up, love,’ Harry shouted, as he covered the last hundred yards. He wondered if she’d be pleased or sad to find out that the train wouldn’t have made it as far as her. Maybe God was looking out for the girl when he sent whoever out to steal the cabling. Mysterious ways and all that.
‘Are you all right?’ he asked, approaching the girl now. He couldn’t tell her age, but she was dressed young: flowered leggings and a hoodie. He noticed one of her baseball boots was lying on the gravel off to one side.
He crouched down beside her, placed a hand on her shoulder. ‘You need to get up, love.’
He left the torch on the ground and, using both hands, gripped her shoulders harder, struggled to turn her over. Finally, she fell onto her back, though in doing so, he knocked the torch onto its side, its beam spilling out onto the river.
At first, he couldn’t quite comprehend what had happened. Her head lay unnaturally tilted back, though in the weakening gradations of light thrown from the torch, he couldn’t quite see why. It was only when he shifted the torchlight towards her that he saw the gaping wound severing her throat.
Harry struggled to his feet but only managed a few yards before he finally brought his meal back up.
A flash of lightning bloomed inside the thunderheads far to the east as DS Lucy Black, trailing a step behind her boss, DI Tom Fleming, picked her way along the train tracks towards the arc of light thrown off from the crime scene beyond. A sharp, earthy smell carried off the River Foyle, which was slate grey and choppy in the rising breeze. From the canopy of the trees bordering St Columb’s Park, to their right, the crows shifted uneasily on the branches, curious as to the disruption to their night roost.
As they approached the crime scene tape, Fleming flashed his badge at the uniformed sergeant standing at the cordon.
‘And Sergeant Lucy Black, also Public Protection Unit,’ Fleming added as the man wrote the names on the clipboard he held.
Lucy glanced to her left; the lights of Derry City winked in the shivering water of the river next to the train line as a breeze shuddered down the Foyle valley. The embankment across the water had been pedestrianized and newly refurbished. The increased street lighting meant Lucy could make out the figures gathered across there, watching over at them.
Fleming stood back, holding up the tape for Lucy to duck under it.
‘It’s a mess up there, Sergeant,’ the officer at the tape said.
‘I’ll manage,’ Lucy commented, noting that he had not offered the same advice to Fleming.
As they made their way along the edge of the train tracks, the first thick drops of rain raised dusty plops from the wooden sleepers the tracks dissected. Lucy recognized the figure coming towards them as Tara Gallagher, a DS from CID.
‘Hey you,’ Tara said, smiling warmly when she saw her. ‘I didn’t know you’d been called.’
‘DI Fleming suggested we should ID Karen. Is it her?’
Tara nodded. ‘We think so. She fits the description, anyway. I’ll get the boss down.’
Tara lifted her radio. ‘Inspector Fleming and DS Black from the Public Protection Unit are here, sir,’ she said.
Lucy glanced up to the scene, saw one of the suited figures put away his radio and turn towards them. He lumbered down the tracks. Lucy assumed this to be the new CID Superintendent, Mark Burns, who had been recently appointed as the replacement for the late Chief Superintendent Travers.
Burns had been fast-tracked up through the ranks though and was a very different creature from the late Chief Super, by all accounts. He’d only taken up the post a week or two earlier, following the last round of promotions.
‘What’s he like?’ Lucy asked Tara, nodding towards the approaching figure.
The girl shrugged. ‘All right, so far.
,’ she added, in a manner that meant Lucy couldn’t tell if it was intended as a compliment or a pejorative.
‘Chief Superintendent Burns,’ the man said, approaching them, gloved hand outstretched. ‘Tom, I’ve met before. You must be Lucy Black. I’ve heard a lot about you.’ His eyes twinkled above the paper mouth mask he wore. Lucy wondered just how much he could have heard in a fortnight.
‘Lucy can ID the body,’ Fleming said. ‘She’d been heading up the search for the girl. She knew her a bit.’
‘Great,’ Burns said. ‘Of course. Come with me.’
He held out his hand, gesturing that Lucy should lead the way. ‘I’m sorry for the loss. Did you know her well?’
‘I’d met her in one of the care homes a few times,’ Lucy said. ‘Her mother’s an alcoholic; Karen would be taken in anytime her mother went on a particularly long bender. She was a nice girl.’ Lucy’s placement with the Public Protection Unit of the PSNI meant that she primarily worked cases involving vulnerable persons and children. As a result, she spent quite a bit of time in the city’s Social Services residential units, in one of which Karen Hughes had been an occasional inhabitant.
‘How do you like the PPU?’ he asked, as they walked. ‘It’s a strange posting for a young DS. I’d have thought CID would have been the obvious place for someone like you.’
What did he mean,
someone like me
? Lucy thought. Young? Female? Catholic? All of the above?
‘I’d rather work with the living than the dead,’ Lucy said a little tritely, though she knew it was not entirely true even as she said it. The dead motivated her as much as the quick. More perhaps.
Burns nodded. ‘I’m afraid in this case that will prove a little difficult. There’s no doubting which she is.’
They had reached the body now, which lay across the tracks so that the girl’s neck was supported by one of the metal rails. It could easily have been mistaken for a suicide attempt, had it not been for the knife wound that had severed her windpipe. A handful of SOCO officers continued to work the immediate scene. One documented the area with a hand-held video, while a second used a digital camera to take still shots.
The girl lay on her back. Her clothes were as described in the Missing Person’s alert that Lucy had released just three days earlier. She wore a white hooded top, too long for her, over flower-patterned leggings. The top was soaked in blood now, but the material near the hem still retained the original white.
Lucy couldn’t really see the face too clearly. Part of it was smeared in the girl’s own blood, the rest covered by the loose straggles of her hair. She could make out, on one side, the soft swell of her cheek, still carrying puppy fat. A smattering of freckles was more vivid now, against the pallor of her skin.
Her hair had also become stuck to the blood that was already congealing at the edges of the wound at her throat. Lucy didn’t look too closely at it. No doubt she’d be treated to all manner of post-mortem pictures over the coming days without having to look at it here, too. She resisted an urge to push Karen’s hair back from her face, instead gently touched it with the tips of her gloved fingers. ‘Jesus,’ she said, softly.
She tried to dissociate the memories of Karen alive from the scene before her as she examined the body. ‘She used to wear a cross and chain around her neck,’ Lucy said. ‘It might have been lost when her throat was cut.’
‘Any other identifying features?’ Burns asked. ‘Or do you want to wait until she’s cleaned up?’
Lucy lifted the girl’s left hand. She noticed that the tips of each of her fingers were scored with deep gashes.
‘Defence wounds,’ Burns said, watching her. ‘She must have tried to grab the knife as he was slitting her throat.’
‘Most likely,’ Burns said.
Lucy turned the dead girl’s arm. She wore a number of leather wristbands and friendship bracelets. Lucy recognized them. She pushed them up the girl’s arm, exposing the skin of the wrist, finding what she was looking for: a series of criss-crossing scars in broken lines traversed the girl’s lower arm.
‘That’s Karen Hughes, all right,’ Lucy said, tenderly laying the girl’s hand back onto the grey gravel.
Burns walked back up the tracks with them to Lucy’s car. The breeze off the river had risen now, bringing with it further flecks of rain and a sudden chill that heralded the first grumble of thunder overhead.
‘We’ll need to get her covered before the rain hits,’ Burns said. ‘So, what’s the story with the girl, then?’
‘She’s been in and out of care for years now,’ Lucy said. ‘She’d be in the residential unit for a few months at a time, then out home again.’
‘What are the home circumstances?’
‘As I said, the mother is an alcoholic. Every time she’d be taken in to dry out, Karen ended up in care. Plus, occasionally, Karen would be hospitalized for self-harming and would be kept in care until her mood stabilized.’
Burns nodded. ‘And I don’t need to ask about the father.’
The element of the story the media had focused on, despite Lucy’s best attempts to keep it all about the girl, was the fact that her father was Eoghan Harkin, a man coming to the end of a twelve-year stretch for murder. He’d been part of an armed gang that had robbed a local bank in a tiger kidnapping which had left the bank’s manager dead.
He’d done his time in Magherberry, in Antrim, only to get moved closer to home a few months earlier, to Magilligan Prison in Coleraine. He currently resided in the Foyleview unit there, which prepared offenders for release. As the girl had used her mother’s surname, it hadn’t been an issue when Lucy had drafted the first press release on Friday expressing concern for Karen. By Sunday, one of the trashier papers had somehow made the connection and ran a front-page story under the heading ‘Killer’s Girl Goes Missing’.
‘Who found her?’
‘A poor sod working for the railways,’ Burns said. ‘He was called in because someone stole cabling. The late train is stuck down at Gransha. Lucky really. The bend she was on, the train would have been straight into her before the driver would have seen her.’
‘Was that the point? Lay her on the tracks so that, when she gets hit by the train, the damage it’d do would hide the wound to the throat?’
‘Make it look like suicide,’ Burns agreed. ‘We’d have thought nothing of it with her having been in care and that.’
‘Whoever did it knew she was in care then,’ Lucy ventured.
His face mask down now, Lucy could get a better look at Burns. He was stocky, his features soft, his jawline a little lacking in definition. But his eyes still shone in the flickering blue of the ambulance lights.
‘Maybe.’ He huffed out his cheeks. ‘Look, I appreciate you coming to ID the remains, folks. We’ll be another few hours here at least and we’ll have the PM in the morning. Maybe you could call to the CID suite about noon and we’ll take it from there.’
‘Of course, sir,’ she said.
Burns pantomimed a winch. ‘And a second favour. Seeing as how you already know them, perhaps you’d inform the next of kin.’
They stopped first at Gransha, the local psychiatric hospital, where Karen’s mother, Marian, was being held while she dried out after her latest two-week session. She’d be in no fit state to talk to them for some time. At that moment, they were informed, she was insensible.
As they left the ward to return to the car, Lucy glanced across to the secure accommodation where her own father was a permanent resident. The block was in darkness now, low and squat. Her father had once been a policeman too, but had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for the past few years. Lucy’s estranged mother, the ACC of the division, had sanctioned the man’s incarceration in the secure unit following the events in Prehen woods a year earlier.
‘Will we get the prison officers to break the news to the grieving father? Or do you fancy a drive to Magilligan?’ Fleming asked.
‘We’d best tell him ourselves, sir,’ Lucy said, deliberately turning up the heat in the car.
It had the desired effect. By the time they were passing the road off for Maydown station, on their way to Coleraine, Fleming was already swaying gently asleep in the front seat. Lucy flicked on a CD of the Low Anthem, turned it up enough to hear without wakening the DI beside her, and let her mind wander.
Their voices echoed in the emptiness of the visiting room. Eoghan Harkin had been brought in, dressed in his own clothes, evidence of the relaxed regime in Foyleview wing. As he took his seat opposite Lucy and Fleming, he’d already guessed the nature of their visit.
‘She’s dead, isn’t she?’
‘I’m afraid so, Mr Harkin,’ Lucy said. ‘I’ve just left her.’
He wiped at his nose with his hand, sniffing once as he did so, glancing at Tom Fleming. He raised his chin interrogatively. ‘Who’s he?’
‘This is DI Fleming, Mr Harkin,’ Lucy said. ‘He’s my superior officer.’
Fleming stared at him steadily. ‘I’m sorry for your loss, Mr Harkin.’
Harkin accepted the sympathies with a curt nod. ‘Where’s her mother? Has she been told yet?’
‘Not yet. She’s in Gransha at the moment. They felt she might not be receptive to the news until morning.’
Harkin accepted this, likewise, with a terse nod. ‘So what happened to her? Did she cut herself again?’
‘No. We believe she was murdered,’ Lucy said.
Harkin initially seemed unaffected by the news then, at once, reached out to grip the back of the chair nearest him. He missed and the prison guard, Lucy and Fleming had to grapple with him to pull him back onto the chair from the floor.
‘I’ll get him a drink,’ the guard said and, crossing to the wall, lifted the receiver of the phone attached there and passed the request along. A moment later, someone knocked at the door and, opening it, the guard accepted a clear plastic cup of water and brought it across.
Harkin accepted it and sipped. ‘Sorry, George,’ he said to the man, his head bowed. His back curved as he inhaled deeply, then he straightened himself, puffing out his cheeks as he released the breath. Finally, he looked up to Lucy. ‘How?’
Lucy moved and sat in the seat next to him. ‘The postmortem won’t be till the morning, sir, but it appears she died from a knife wound.’
‘Not quite,’ Lucy said.
Harkin processed this piece of information, considering all the alternatives. Finally, he settled on the right one, for his face darkened.
‘Who did it?’
‘It’s a little early—’ Fleming began.
‘You must have some fucking ideas,’ Harkin spat, rising from his seat in a manner which caused George to immediately stand to attention again. Aware of his reaction, Harkin raised a placatory hand then slowly lowered himself into his seat again. ‘You’ve been looking for her since Thursday. Where did you find her?’
‘On the railway line. At St Columb’s Park.’
Harkin stared at the tabletop, his breath heavy and nasal. ‘Was it me?’ he asked finally.
‘Was it because of me?’
Lucy shook her head. ‘We’ve no reason to believe so, Mr Harkin. Your daughter hasn’t shared your name since she was a child.’
‘She still was a child,’ he retorted, though without rancour. He sat a moment in silence, before speaking again. ‘That trash rag ran the story about her today. About her and me. If I thought it was done because of me, I’d ... You read all this shit in here, educating you.
and that. You know, the daughters die because of who the father was. You start ... you know, you can’t help ...’ He stared at them, his mouth working dryly, though producing no sound.
Lucy shook her head, but did not express her own thoughts. The girl was missing until the papers ran with the connection to Harkin. Suddenly, she turned up with her throat cut, set up to look like she killed herself on the train line. Except the train never came. They couldn’t discount the idea that her death was connected with her father, even if she didn’t believe the two things to be related.
‘Can you think of anyone who
want to get back at you, Mr Harkin?’
‘You mean apart from the family of the poor sod I shot?’
‘Anyone else?’ Lucy continued, silently considering the possibility as one she’d need to mention to Burns.
If there was, Harkin wasn’t going to share the information with them.
‘When did you last see Karen, Mr Harkin?’ Fleming asked.
Harkin looked up at him, then dipped his head again. ‘About a fortnight ago. She’d started visiting after I wrote to her a while back. She was here three times, I think.’
‘Did she mention anything to you during any of her visits? Anything that suggested she might have been in trouble?’
‘She barely knew me. She was four when I went inside.’
His expression darkened suddenly, his eyes hooded by his brows where they gathered. Lucy felt Fleming’s hand rest on her arm on the desk. She glanced at him and he shook his head lightly. They would get nothing further of use from Harkin.
‘Is there any thing we can do for you, Mr Harkin?’ Lucy asked, standing to indicate to the prison officer that they were concluding their visit.
‘I’m out of here next Saturday. If you find out who it was, give me half an hour with whoever killed her.’
‘Careful, Eoghan,’ George called from the corner. ‘I’m sorry for your news, but we don’t want you back in here again too soon, now do we?’
‘Half an hour,’ Harkin repeated to Lucy.
* * *
The prison officer, George, walked them back out to the main reception area where they returned their visitors’ badges, crunching on an apple as he walked with them.
‘You found her on the train line?’ he asked, clearly having overheard.
‘Just at St Columb’s Park. There’s a dark bend on the line.’
‘Oh, I know it surely,’ the man said. ‘I’m from Londonderry myself. I get that train in the evenings if I’m doing the day shift. When did you find her?’
‘Sometime before midnight,’ Lucy said. ‘A little before that, maybe.’
‘The body can’t have been there too long then.’
‘There’s a train that leaves Coleraine about 9.10 p.m. I aim to make that if my shift finishes on time. It gets into the city for just shy of 10. If I miss that, I have to get the late train, hanging around Coleraine till 10.40. It makes it in for 11.30. If the body had been lying for a bit, the 10 o’ clock train would have run over it. Whoever put it there must have done so between 10 and 11.30.’
‘What about trains coming out of Derry?’ Lucy asked.
‘The last Londonderry train is at 8.30,’ the man replied. ‘There’s none after that.’
He took another chunk off the apple, chewing happily as he said. ‘If you need me to solve the whole case for you, just let me know.’
The smoke was so dense, Lucy could barely see in front of her. She felt the burning in her lungs, the need to take a breath, but she knew she had to resist. Somewhere, below her, the heat was rising, its presence marked by a vague yellow glow from the living room, the splintering of wood as the door cracked.
To her left she saw Catherine Quigg’s closed door. The woman bolted it from the inside; Lucy remembered that. She reached for the door, tried to open it. Locked. Raising her boot, she kicked at the spot below the handle where she knew the sliding bolt inside had been screwed. Once, twice, a third boot at it before it too splintered and she tumbled through the doorway into the room. Empty. She didn’t stop to think how an empty room might be locked from the inside; didn’t find it strange.
Where was Mary’s room? Ahead of her, at the end of the corridor. She looked up. Cunningham had fitted a brass bolt on Mary’s door too, but on the outside so he could lock her and her brother Joseph into the room when he stayed over with their mother. She fumbled with the bolt. It wouldn’t shift. She felt across its length with her fingers, then found the heavy padlock attached to it.
From inside the room, she could hear the muffled cries of the baby, the sounds indistinct. She knew this was because Mary had wrapped towels around the child’s head to protect him. She’d used all the towels on him, left none for herself. Lucy hammered on the door.
‘Mary? Mary? Can you hear me?’
She heard a reciprocal light thumping from the other side.
‘Mary?’ she screamed.
She heard the alarm ringing. Finally she thought. After all this smoke and it’s only starting to ring. Maybe help would come.
The thumping from the other side seemed to intensify in frequency, though not strength.
‘Mary, I’m here,’ Lucy cried, tears streaming down her face now.
Suddenly, the thumping stopped.
‘Help me,’ Mary whispered in her ear.
Lucy looked down to her arms, where she held the baby, Joseph, his swaddling clothes frayed towels, singed and black with soot.
The alarm grew louder, pulling her away from the door.
‘Help me,’ the child repeated.
Lucy jolted awake, almost falling off the sofa where she’d lain down when she finally got home after 4 a.m. She put her hands to her face, felt the wetness of her cheeks. The tears, at least, were real.
She sat up, glanced across at the clock on the mantelpiece; it was already gone 7 a.m. The sky beyond was beginning to lighten behind the miasma of rain misting the windows.
The house was quiet, save for the creaking of the floorboards upstairs and the occasional rattling cough of the water pipes when the timer switched on the central heating at 7.45. Lucy had yet to redecorate, had yet to see this as her own home, rather than her father’s home in which she was staying. She showered, then clattered about in the kitchen, pouring herself out cereal, eating it in front of the TV, watching the news.
She thought again on what Harkin had said, about Sophocles and his being to blame for Karen’s death. It seemed unlikely somehow. The man had not been a feature of the girl’s life. Indeed, she had jettisoned his surname at the first opportunity, just as Lucy had retained her father’s name after her mother reverted to her maiden name, Wilson. Even when Lucy had met Karen, in the months before when she was still in care, she’d never once named her father. It had struck Lucy more than once that they had that disowning of a parent in common. It was, perhaps, why Lucy had been drawn to the girl. That coupled with the fact that, as her mother had quite correctly commented, Lucy had an affinity for the vulnerable, for all the little lost girls she encountered. None more so than Mary Quigg, the girl about whom she had recurrent dreams who had died along with her mother the year previous.
The mother’s partner, Alan Cunningham, had been a low level recidivist who the PSNI had arrested erroneously for child abduction. Lucy had managed to prove the man innocent. Upon release, however, Cunningham had gone on the run, but not before ransacking his partner’s home, stealing all he could sell from it, then setting the house alight with his partner and her children still sleeping inside. The only survivor was the baby of the family, Joe.
Lucy was at the City Cemetery as the gates opened at nine o’clock. The council worker in the high visibility jacket who unlocked them waved her in, before opening the second gate back.
Lucy drove up the incline to the very top of the cemetery. She knew where the plot was, knew well enough the handiest place to park. She got out of the car, stood and stared down at the river below and across to Prehen, the houses of the estate emerging from the ancient woodland which surrounded them. It was a breathtaking view, even on so bracing a morning.
Locking up the car, she climbed the last hundred yards of the incline to the row where Mary Quigg was buried. Even before she reached the grave she could tell something was wrong. The graveside railings that Lucy had had set around the grave were missing, the only evidence of their absence a thin trench in the soil, a few centimetres wide. The gravestone itself was still intact, fine black marble, with the names of the mother and daughter. However, the bunch of flowers that Lucy had laid there a week earlier were crushed, as if underfoot. The small teddy bear she’d placed on the grave for Mary lay dirtied now, its face pressed against the clay. Lucy could see the muddied ridges of a boot mark on the sodden fur.
She must have been visibly upset by the time she found the man who had opened the gates for her, for his first instinct was to place his arm awkwardly on her shoulder.
‘We didn’t know who to contact, love. I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘We found it like that yesterday. They came in the night before and took the wee railings off a couple of graves.’
The man shrugged. ‘God knows. They took the lead flashing off the roof of the church that same night. It was probably the same people. The cops told us there’s a gang going about, lifting metal. Its price has rocketed with the recession and that. It’s being investigated, but you know the police; God knows if they’ll ever get them.’
Lucy shuddered with a mixture of anger and the effort she needed to suppress her tears.
‘Look, love. I’ll get the grave tidied up for you,’ the man said, his hand still on her shoulder. ‘Don’t be upsetting yourself. I know it seems it, but it’s not personal. These things never are.’
Lucy stared at him.
‘Of course it’s personal,’ she said.
The Public Protection Unit, in which Lucy was a sergeant, had a wide remit, taking responsibility for cases involving domestic abuse, children, missing persons and vulnerable adults, frequently working closely with Social Services. It operated from Maydown PSNI station in the Waterside of Derry City. Maydown was actually a compound rather than a simple station: a range of buildings stretched across a site of about ten acres, housing many of the PSNI units for the city, as well as a branch of the training college. It was surrounded by twelve-inch thick corrugated metal fencing, a vestige of the Troubles that had yet to be replaced. This was not the only visible impact the Troubles had had on the design of the place. Rather than consisting of one large building, which would have proved an easy target for potential rocket attacks, even those requiring a degree of pot luck in the targeting due to the height of the perimeter fencing, the compound was divided up into a number of small blocks, squatting at various points around the station area.
The PPU was Block 5. Lucy parked just outside and went up to the front door of the block to punch in her access code. As she did so, she regarded herself in the reflective foil coating on the door itself. She had cut her hair a few weeks earlier and was still undecided. She’d worn her hair in a ponytail for as long as she could remember until recently; during an altercation with a drunken father whose wife had had enough and locked him out of the house, the man had grabbed Lucy by the hair, pulling her down to the ground and managing a kick that glanced off the side of her head before the uniforms accompanying her had managed to subdue him with pepper spray. She’d lost weight and that, combined with the haircut, made her features thinner than she realized. For a moment, she saw her mother reflected back at her. She turned away quickly, pulling open the door.
Once inside, she headed up to Fleming’s office first, but it was empty; having not got home himself until 3.30, Lucy figured he’d slept in. She crossed the corridor to the open area where interviews were conducted. Generally, the people interviewed here were children, so the room was spacious, with plastic crates of toys and a worn red cloth sofa. Two mismatched bookcases sat against the wall, holding a variety of kids’ books of all shapes and sizes. To the immediate left of the bookcases sat a video camera on a tripod, which was used for recording the interviews as unobtrusively as possible.