Authors: Rob Kitchin
The barracks had been built by the British. Completed in 1806, it was one of a set of strongholds strung out along a military road that snaked across the
. It had been constructed to keep the rebel Irish in line, though it was defunct almost as soon as it was built following the defeat of France,
’s ally, and the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815. From 1858 until 1940, it had been St Kevin’s
, an isolated site in which to transform orphans and problem children into model citizens. After the Second World War it had been used until 1950 by the Irish Red Cross as a refugee centre for starving German and Polish children, before falling into dereliction. The peace centre had started to restore the building in the mid-1970s. More a prison than a place for children, McEvoy reflected. Then again, for nearly 100 years, it had been a prison for children.
He turned his attention to the office walls, which were covered in framed photos of Ms Smyth standing next to leading politicians from all persuasions, drawn from across
, the Republic, the
. Ian Paisley, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern, John Hume, David Trimble, Gerry Adams, and others beamed down at him. Finally he broke the silence. ‘You put through a call at just after ten this morning, was it you that found the body?’
‘No,’ Ms Smyth said tersely in a Northern accent, turning to face him. ‘It was Andy. He was cleaning the rooms. He thought hers was empty so he let himself in. He got a hell of a shock.’
‘He came to you?’
‘He rang me using an internal phone. I went over to check it out, then I rang you.’
‘Did you know the girl?’
‘No. She was part of the group staying here.’
‘So you don’t know who she was?’ McEvoy pressed.
‘Laura. The group said she was called Laura. I hadn’t met her.’ She softened her voice. ‘I can’t believe this happened here. People come here to feel safe.’
‘Do you have an idea who might have killed her?’ McEvoy asked, failing to warm to her, trying to keep the interview on track.
‘No.’ Her voice hardened again. ‘As I said, I didn’t know her and I didn’t know the group.’
‘And the group were?’ McEvoy prompted.
‘Some homeless kids from
. The Dublin Homeless Co-operative brings a group out every year. They do workshops and try to help them out. It’s so isolated up here they can’t really disappear – it’s four miles to the nearest village.’
‘And do you have details about the group? The names of those staying here? We’re going to have to try and round up those that have scarpered.’
‘All we have are their first names and what rooms they were allocated to. The book is in the reception area. Even if I did have details, I’m afraid I couldn’t give them to you; they’re confidential.’ Janine Smyth saw McEvoy’s face harden slightly and offered an explanation before being prompted. ‘We’re a peace and reconciliation centre, Superintendent. People come here to discuss things; to work through problems. We offer them an anonymous space in which to do that – no names, no cameras. We’ve had everyone through here, paramilitaries, politicians, ex-prisoners, you name it.’
McEvoy leaned forward slightly in his chair. ‘Look, Ms Smyth, with all due respect, I don’t care who you’ve had through here or what you’ve promised them. If it doesn’t look like the murderer is part of the homeless party or your staff we’re going to have to look at who’s stayed here previously. That will mean looking through your records.’
‘I’ve told you, they’re confidential,’ Smyth said firmly.
‘Don’t worry, I’ll get a search warrant if necessary,’ McEvoy threatened. ‘But I
going to catch this killer. The job will be a lot easier if you work with us rather than putting obstacles in our way.’
‘Any obstacle is there for good reason, Superintendent. Confidentiality is part of the deal; part of the peace process.’
McEvoy sighed audibly. ‘Look, I know you do great work here, but let’s try and get a little perspective, shall we? The girl’s murder takes priority over everything, including the peace process. And don’t give me any “we have friends in high places” nonsense either.’ He gestured at the walls. ‘Nobody’s going to prioritise ex-prisoners over the murder of a young girl.’
The centre’s director stared back at him coldly, but said nothing.
McEvoy stood up and headed for the door. He turned at the entrance. ‘I’m going to need a list of all the staff working here, with those here between six last night and ten this morning highlighted. One of my colleagues will come and collect it shortly. I’d appreciate your co-operation.’
Barney Plunkett stood in the reception area of the low building bordering the east part of the square. He was talking to a tall, thin woman in her late twenties, with long, dark hair, who was clearly distressed.
McEvoy exited an office a couple of yards down the corridor and made his way to them. ‘Sorry to interrupt, Barney. Can I have a word?’ He moved over to one side.
‘Just give me a minute,’ Plunkett said to the woman apologetically. He followed McEvoy.
‘The director’s going to be a pain to deal with,’ McEvoy started. ‘She’s more concerned with her centre and the peace process than this murder.’ He shook his head in frustration. ‘I’m going to need to talk to the person who found the body.’
‘He’s in an office just here,’ Plunkett pointed to a door two down from the director’s. ‘Kelly’s with him.’
‘Okay, good. Who’s your one?’ he nodded towards the woman Plunkett had been talking to.
‘Angie Jenkins. She’s from the
. She was in charge of the group. She says the girl’s name was Laura. She doesn’t seem to know much about her except she was from
and that she kept herself to herself. She’d been on the street a few months. She thinks she used to hit the bottle rather than drugs. Might have done a bit of on-street prostitution, but that’s only speculation. She thinks she was about 19 or 20.’
‘Okay, good. See if you can find someone who knew her a bit better.’ His mobile phone rang and he held up a hand of apology. ‘McEvoy.’
‘What’s your verdict, Colm?’ Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Bishop asked without introduction.
‘Just give me a second, Sir.’
McEvoy headed back to the reception and left the building. A garda car coasted into the car park, an unhappy looking teenager sitting in the back seat; one of the homeless kids who’d fled after the discovery of Laura’s body.
McEvoy spoke into the phone again. ‘Sorry about that – too many people around. The victim’s a young girl who was forced to swallow a sword. No obvious sign of a struggle or sexual assault, but we can’t be sure until the pathologist’s had a look. It looks like it was some kind of sacrifice. The crime scene people are in there now, we’re interviewing staff and guests.’
‘Any obvious line of enquiry?’
McEvoy imagined Bishop pacing his office, nervously rubbing his short red hair. ‘Not yet,’ he replied evenly. ‘Looks like he was careful.’
‘He’ll have made a mistake. They always do. Just make sure you find it. You probably already know,’ he said changing tack, ‘but the press have found out about the killing. Nobody’s to talk to them until I say so, okay? We’re just going to issue a holding statement for now. Peter O’Reilly can deliver it. It can be his little moment of fame,’ he added dismissively.
‘I’ll let him know.’ McEvoy shook his head at Bishop’s spitefulness. ‘Any news on Elaine Jones?’ he asked, referring to the state pathologist.
‘Hannah Fallon’s already been on. Hopefully she’ll be out to you in the next hour or so. She’s been tied up with a house fire. Two young kids died.’
‘Jesus,’ McEvoy said, exhaling. ‘What …’ he stopped, realising that Bishop had ended the call. He pocketed the phone and entered the building again. The reception area was empty. He knocked once on the office door and entered without waiting for an answer. A man was sitting with his back to him, facing Kelly Stringer. Behind her a window provided a view down the Glencree valley to the conical peak of the Sugar Loaf.
Stringer was dressed in a plain white blouse, covered by a grey cardigan with a ruffled collar that extended down along the buttons, a royal blue, knee length skirt and black, flat shoes. Her dark brown hair was pulled into a tight plait and a pale blue silk scarf was wrapped round her neck. The look made her appear nearer 40 than 28.
McEvoy nodded a greeting, rounded the man and stood next to her, gazing down at the seated figure.
The man’s brown hair was long, greasy and uncombed, his face unshaved and scarred with acne. He wore a pale grey The Strokes t-shirt over a long-sleeved black top, blue jeans, and dirty white running shoes.
‘Sorry to interrupt,’ McEvoy said, breaking the silence. ‘My name’s Detective Superintendent Colm McEvoy. I’m in charge of the investigation into the young woman’s death. You’re Andy?’
The man nodded, briefly holding McEvoy’s eyes before lowering his own.
‘I know you probably don’t feel like answering any more questions, Andy, but I need to ask you a few. Okay?’
The man shrugged, acknowledging that he didn’t really have a choice.
‘You found the body this morning?’ McEvoy asked.
‘I was on cleaning duty,’ Andy replied in an American accent. ‘I thought the room was empty so I let myself in.’ He paused. ‘I practically jumped out of my skin. She was just lying there, the sword pinning her to the bed,’ he said flatly, shaking his head, trying to dislodge the memory.
‘Did you enter the room at all?’
‘No, no.’ He raised his hands to emphasise the point. ‘I got the hell out of there and called Janine from the phone in the stairwell.’
‘So you didn’t touch anything or take anything from the room?’
‘And did you know the girl at all?’
‘I’d seen her around, y’know, in the last couple of days. She was with the group, but I hadn’t spoken with her. She seemed kind of withdrawn.’
‘So this morning was the first time you’d been in her room since she arrived?’
‘Yeah. We only clean the rooms on the days that people leave.’ Andy looked up, alarmed. ‘You don’t think I did it, do you?’
‘I don’t know, Andy. Did you?’ McEvoy asked, returning the question, his eyebrows raised.
‘No, of course I didn’t!’ the American protested, his body language becoming defensive. ‘I didn’t even know her.’
‘So do you have any idea who might have killed her or why?’
‘No! It was as if she’d swallowed the sword, y’know,’ he muttered, his eyes glazing over. ‘Just … swallowed it.’
McEvoy re-read the note through the clear evidence bag, aware that his blood pressure was rising. It had been found nestling at the bottom of the brown shoulder-bag left in Laura’s room.
Chapter One M: Choosing a victim R
“The vast majority of killers know their victims. A select few choose to kill people of whom they had no previous knowledge; they simply had the right profile and were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Such killers are much more difficult to identify because there is seemingly no motive, and no means to link them to the victim beyond the crime.”