Authors: Rob Kitchin
‘He’s a bad author?’
‘Everything else though is so clinical – the cleaning of the body and room; the laying out of the cards. Having too many coincidences would be sloppy. It’s a manual on how not to get caught. You’d have thought he would have thought it all the way through. At least for the first killing while he’s got time and space to plan things.’
‘So you’re saying we should leave him be?’
‘No, I’m saying we should check him out fully, but don’t rush in thinking it’s definitely him. We need to keep an open mind. Let’s pull together what we can and see where that leaves us. We also need to check out whether there’s a link between Laura Schmidt and the Schmidt in the cemetery. Were they family or do they just share the same name?’
Dr David Hennessey strolled along the lime tree avenue at the rear of
approaching a ten-foot-tall crucifix adorned with the body of Christ. The crucifix stood at the head of a row of ancient yew trees lining a little laneway to the seminary’s cemetery. The sky was fading fast toward twilight, a cold wind blowing in from the east. The lights surrounding the seminary flickered into life, illuminating the long, dark walls with an orange glow, accentuating its Gothic look. The spire of the church reached up into the sky, a murder of crows circulating round the bell eaves.
He started to zip up his navy blue coat. His greying hair kept being lifted by the breeze and falling in odd ways. He tried to pat it down along the parting, but it was immediately ruffled again.
A figure was walking towards him along the path. He took little notice – the circuit was used by people from the town in the absence of a park, and also by staff and students from the university and the priests and their trainees from the seminary. He’d already passed four people on his first loop round the grounds.
The person had a baseball cap pulled down low across his brow. His head was scrunched into his shoulders, the collar on his weatherproof jacket turned up, a thin grey scarf buried underneath trying to keep the wind out; faded jeans covered the top of blue hiking boots, his hands sheathed in black leather gloves.
As the walker came within a few feet, Hennessey nodded an acknowledgement. ‘Chilly night,’ he said as a way of greeting.
The walker didn’t reply, simply lowering his head so the cap covered his whole face.
Hennessey shrugged to himself.
As the person drew level, the blow hit the lower left side of his head just at the base of the skull. His brain exploded into light and pain, immediately cancelled out by darkness and unconsciousness. He hit the ground hard, his head thudding into the broken tarmac, his glasses spilling forwards.
The assailant pulled a surgical face mask up from under the scarf, placing it over his mouth and nose, and dropped down to his haunches. He rolled the lifeless Hennessey onto his back, grabbed him under the arms, and dragged him quickly in under the nearest yew tree. He looked out along the path, checking for witnesses, but nobody was in sight.
Happy he was alone he drew a plastic bag from a coat pocket, shook it out and slipped it over Hennessey’s head, tying the handles round his neck. He moved to the end of the body and dragged it underneath the branches, out onto the path between the yew trees, and then along it toward the silent cemetery.
The graveyard was dark and silent. McEvoy was not surprised to find he was the only occupant given that the gates had been locked earlier in the evening. He stared down at Maggie’s grave. He could barely make out the inscription in the poor light. He knew it by heart in any case. ‘Margaret McEvoy. 1965-2007. Loving wife of Colm and mother of Gemma.’
‘Jesus, Maggie,’ McEvoy stated slowly, ‘where do I start? It’s been a hell of day. We found a girl who’d had a sword thrust through her head. Can you believe the things people do to each other?’ He spent the next 20 minutes reciting his day, gently puffing on his plastic cigarette, craving to replace it with a real one.
Eventually he started to bring his monologue to a close. ‘I guess I’d better get going. I haven’t been home yet. I need to see Gemma. Our Gemma. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?’ He waited momentarily for an answer, then reluctantly headed for the gate and his car, wondering if the pain and grief of Maggie’s death would ever dissipate, knowing he’d have a fitful night after the day’s events.
Tuesday, April 15
Gemma was sitting at the kitchen table dressed in her dark green school uniform. Her long, brown hair fell over her shoulders, her left hand held a book open, her right spooned Rice Krispies from a bowl to her mouth. She looked up as she heard the door opening. ‘You can’t go like that,’ she said, mock horror in her voice.
‘Like what?’ McEvoy asked, looking down. A dark blue suit hung loosely from his shoulders, slightly rumpled. A poorly knotted tie fell over a creased, light blue shirt. As he looked up a wisp of tissue broke free from a shaving cut and fell onto his tie. He swatted it away.
‘Like that.’ Gemma pointed at him with her spoon.
‘This is my best suit.’ McEvoy poured water from a filter jug into a kettle. He had slept fitfully and felt tired and washed out.
‘But look at the state of it,’ Gemma cried. ‘It’s all crumpled. And your shirt’s all wrinkled.’
‘It’ll be fine,’ McEvoy said half-heartedly. ‘The cameras will be on the chief super. I’m just wallpaper. Have you got everything ready for school?’
‘Yeah,’ Gemma intoned as if McEvoy had asked a stupid question. ‘At least my stuff is ironed.’
‘I’ll have my jacket on, no one will see.’ McEvoy placed two pieces of bread into the toaster and glanced at his watch.
‘It’ll be better if your shirt is ironed and you don’t wear a jacket.’ She dropped the spoon into a near-empty bowl and let the book fold shut. ‘Come on, give me the shirt and I’ll iron it for you.’
‘You’re not ironing my shirt. We’ll be late.’ McEvoy took the butter from the fridge.
‘You can’t appear on television dressed like that! That suit’s too big for you.’
‘No one’s going to notice the suit. They’re there to hear about the murder I’m investigating.’
‘They’ll judge you on appearances. Everyone’s judged on appearances. It’s the age we live in. Come on, take it off.’ Gemma pulled at her father’s suit. ‘It’ll only take a minute.’
‘Gemma, we don’t have time for this,’ McEvoy protested, thinking, where the hell does she get this stuff – ‘the age we live in.’ ‘Did you do your homework?’ he asked, trying to deflect the conversation.
‘We didn’t have any.’ She pushed him away. ‘I’m going to go and get one of your other shirts from the wardrobe.’ She headed for the door. ‘Mam wouldn’t have let you go out like that!’
The kitchen door closed shut.
McEvoy went to shout after her but stopped. He took a deep breath and then trailed after her. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs. ‘Be careful with that iron, okay? And remember to unplug it.’
‘I know what I’m doing,’ Gemma shouted back. ‘Go and finish your breakfast, we don’t want to be late. Next Saturday we’re going to buy you two new suits. Nice ones.’
McEvoy headed back into the kitchen. He dropped a tea bag into a cup and filled it with boiling water. Then he plucked his toast from the toaster and dropped it onto a plate. He started to butter each slice. He was being looked after by his soon-to-be 12-year-old daughter. ‘Jesus,’ he muttered to himself, ‘I need to get my feckin’ act together.’
McEvoy stared out at the line of traffic snaking out in front of him, sucking on his plastic cigarette. ‘For God’s sake,’ he muttered to himself. In recent years the city had, for periods of the day, become a giant car park. He remembered a traffic cop who’d told him that
was officially the slowest moving city in
. The average speed was around five miles an hour. That’s what happened if, in the space of a few years, a couple of hundred thousand people moved to the city and you doubled the number of cars using an old road system without building new roads or vastly increasing public transport provision. He glanced at the time on his mobile phone and then tapped in a number. After five rings it was answered.
‘Hannah, it’s Colm,’ he said into the hands-free system. ‘Any progress?’
‘Not really. There’s nothing on the sword. No prints, no hairs, no anything. There probably was a maker’s mark but it’s been carefully polished off. We’ve been trying to find a way of recovering it, but nothing so far. To tell you the truth, it’s remarkable in its plainness. No decorations or obvious identifying features.’
‘Any chance I can take it to the press conference? Be better to show it than a photo. Someone might have sold it or had it stolen.’
‘Shouldn’t be a problem. We’ve nothing else to go on. The bag was free of prints, as was the note. It was printed on a laser jet of some kind. We might be able to match it to a specific machine, but not unless we find it. We’re waiting for the other samples to come back from the lab.’
‘How about the cards?’ McEvoy edged his car forward 10 yards.
‘Probably home-made. You could appeal to see if anyone produced them for him.’
‘I think we’ll keep them to ourselves for now. We don’t want to start a panic. Anything else from the centre?’
‘No. My feeling is, whoever killed her almost certainly didn’t hang around. He killed the girl, cleaned up, and then snuck out into the night. The rest of the team are already on their way back out there. They’re going to work through the rooms more thoroughly. I’ll be heading there shortly, I’ve got to tidy a few things up here first.’
‘Can you check out the room of Dermot Brady for me,’ McEvoy instructed. ‘I want to make sure he’s clean.’
‘You think he did it?’ Hannah asked.
‘I’ve no idea,’ McEvoy replied. ‘I doubt it, but we’d better make sure.’
McEvoy walked down the short, magnolia-painted corridor towards Elaine Jones’ office in the Department of Forensic Medicine in
. A brass plate outside a door announced ‘The Office of the State Pathologist’. He walked past it, bypassing the secretary, and knocked on a heavy wooden door.
‘Come in,’ the pathologist instructed.
He gently pushed open the door and poked his head through the gap. ‘You ready for me, Elaine?’ he asked.
‘As ready as I’m going to be,’ she replied, tiredness in her voice. She was sitting behind a large, mahogany desk, inlaid with green leather. Three piles of neatly stacked papers were lined up on one edge, a laptop was open in front of her, her fingers hovering over the keys. She was wearing a tight black, full sleeve top, black trousers and black flat shoes. An amber necklace was draped round her neck, dipping into her cleavage. ‘It was a long night and another early start. Come in. Stop hovering.’ She beckoned him into the office.
McEvoy pushed open the door and crossed the room towards her, extending a hand across the desk. ‘I’ll try not to keep you long, I’m needed up at garda headquarters for a press conference.’
She slid her hand into his and shook it limply. ‘When are we going to become continental and do the whole cheek kissing thing? We’re embracing everything else European.’ Her eyes sparkled, but she couldn’t quite shake the exhaustion from her voice.
‘What would the nuns think of that?’ McEvoy replied. ‘The guilt would crush us.’
‘The nuns should lighten up. Only the Irish would invent a style of dancing where you keep your arms by your side and you don’t touch anyone. And don’t give me “it’s a catholic thing” answer. The Spanish are catholic and they practically sleep with each other when they dance.’
‘If you want to start a campaign, Elaine, then I’ll sign your petition,’ McEvoy offered.
‘I want you to kiss me on the cheeks each time we meet, not sign a petition. Come on, you can start now.’ She pushed herself up off the chair and leant forward across the desk.
McEvoy shifted awkwardly on his feet, unsure of whether this was part of the banter or whether she was being serious.
‘Come on,’ she goaded. ‘I’m not going to bite. It’s a social greeting, not an infidelity.’
McEvoy reluctantly arched his frame across the table, feeling like an idiot, his frame dwarfing hers. He gently kissed each cheek, as she did his. He stood back and sat heavily into a chair.
‘And I expect the same every time I see you,’ she said to him.
‘Er, right,’ McEvoy said, blushing, uncertain of how to deal with the way the conversation was unfolding. ‘What can you tell me about Laura’s death?’ he asked, trying to get things into a familiar frame of reference.
‘Well, we did the full autopsy out at Loughlinstown late last night. The body’s still there. It’ll take a while for some of the tests to come back from the lab, but my estimate is she died around
, give or take an hour either side. And it was the sword that killed her. It punctured the back of the throat, cutting off her tonsils and severing her spinal cord just below the base of the skull before exiting. She was almost certainly conscious at the time, but would have been killed instantly.
‘The rest of the body wasn’t touched. She had a few small bruises and a couple of cuts but they were old, certainly from a couple of days before she was killed. And there’s no evidence of sexual activity, although she was naked when she was killed. There were a few small droplets of blood on her body that the killer hadn’t cleaned off fully. They wouldn’t have splattered the way they did if she’d been clothed or if they were dripped on later.’
‘So he must have persuaded her to undress,’ McEvoy added.
‘That would be my conclusion. There doesn’t appear to have been any struggle. We don’t have the clothes to know whether he ripped them off her, but if he did, that would have probably left some marks. And there’s no skin or blood under the fingernails. She probably removed them herself under the threat of the sword.’
McEvoy shook his head, disgusted at the world. A final humiliation, probably knowing that she was about to die or be raped.
‘The killer had done a pretty good job of cleaning the body,’ Professor Jones continued. ‘It was probably more than she’d done for herself for a while. I doubt her hair had been washed for a few weeks. Maybe longer.’
‘Probably had nowhere to wash,’ McEvoy said. ‘It’s not like the corporation provide facilities to the homeless.’
‘But the homeless organisations, hostels and halfway houses do,’ Professor Jones countered. ‘She obviously chose to steer clear of them. She either wanted to avoid too much contact with others or she was past caring about her appearance or health. My guess is the latter. And she was staying in a room with an en-suite shower for heaven’s sake, yet she’d ignored it. My reading is that she was beyond caring; given up on life. She only weighed 42 kilos – 6½ stone in old money – which for someone her height and bone structure is massively underweight. She either couldn’t find enough to eat, or didn’t have the will to eat.
‘She could find the will to drink though. She was drunk when she died. And from the look of her liver, I’d say she’s been getting drunk almost every night for a good while. Drinking to get paralytic drinking, not a social tipple. She probably had little comprehension of what was going on.’
‘But enough to know to strip off and do what the killer wanted,’ McEvoy noted. ‘The sword must have sobered her up. Most drunk people wouldn’t have been so compliant; they would have needed coaxing into understanding the situation. In my experience, drink tends to make people a bit thick. He would have had to push her around and threaten her to get her to do what he wanted. She’d have probably fought back.’
‘Well, she seemed to have, her faculties about her,’ Professor Jones replied. ‘Maybe it’s from living on the street? You get drunk to keep the cold out and forget, but you have enough of an instinct to be alert to any danger? Or she might have just given up. Resigned herself to death. Did what she was told and waited for the world to end.’