Authors: Rob Kitchin
‘Possibly. That or she knew whoever her attacker was. Knew that it was best to comply or maybe she trusted them.’
‘Would you trust someone who was carrying a sword and asking you to take your clothes off?’ Elaine raised her eyebrows signalling sarcasm.
‘No, but if she was drunk …’ McEvoy stopped, his head dropping. ‘None of it makes any sense. The killer’s note says this was a random act to a random person. But the person he killed shouldn’t have been there, she put up no resistance, and her namesake is in the cemetery where the business cards were found. It just doesn’t add up.’
‘Her namesake?’ Elaine asked.
‘There was a Walter Schmidt buried in the cemetery.’
‘Could be just a coincidence,’ she reasoned.
‘That was my feeling, but … look,’ he said, changing his tone, becoming more business-like. ‘I’d better get on and get to this press conference. When you get the rest of the test results in let me know if there’s anything interesting in them.’ He pushed himself up off the chair.
‘You’ll be the first to know,’ she promised. ‘Look, I hope you don’t mind me saying this, Colm, but you could do with a good feed yourself. And a good night’s sleep as well. You don’t look your usual self and that suit’s hanging off you.’
‘Don’t you start as well, Elaine. I’ve already had this conversation with Gemma this morning.’ He opened the door.
‘It’s only because we care about you. You need to look after yourself. You’ll be no use to anyone if you go off work sick.’
McEvoy ignored Elaine’s concern and let the door close behind him. He made his way out of the building onto a drizzle soaked
. Elaine was right. He looked terrible. And what’s more he felt it. He hadn’t eaten or slept properly in months, from well before Maggie’s death. He just couldn’t muster an appetite and insomnia regularly kept him awake until the early hours. He seemed to stagger round in a tired stupor he couldn’t shake off. He fished his plastic cigarette from a pocket and wedged it in his mouth, checked his mobile for the time and messages and picked up the pace to his car. He hoped the worst of the traffic had passed or he was going to be late.
McEvoy stared across the top of the 20 or so journalists and cameramen at a fire extinguisher at the far end of the room, tuning out the statement Chief Superintendent Bishop was reading. He felt out of place on the podium; he was a street cop not a television presenter. He’d been on the media training course, but all it had done was confirm his suspicions that the press wanted a good story, not the truth. They wanted to become partners in the investigation. To nose around and do their own detective work, often messing up lines of police enquiry at the same time and tainting the possibility of getting an impartial jury. They would offer friendship, but were quite happy to stab you in the back if things didn’t work out well, pointing out the failures in the investigation, critiquing the approach taken, and telling you how it should have been done with the benefit of hindsight.
Movement to his left caught his eye and he swivelled his head to see the press liaison officer pull the sword from a bag. The officer held it out, balanced between his two palms. Cameras clicked and flash bulbs popped. Several of the photographers moved position, trying to get a better shot.
‘Please, ladies and gentlemen,’ Bishop said. ‘We can set up a blue screen afterwards so you can get a better shot. Please settle down.’ He waited for the room to quieten a little. ‘We need help in tracing this sword. We need to know who it belonged to. As you can see it is quite plain and any distinguishing features have been erased. Is it a family heirloom? Was it sold recently? Or was it stolen? Any information can be given in confidence to our officers on our hotline.’
Bishop paused, waiting for the majority of journalists to stop scribbling. ‘Well, that’s it for now. Any questions? Yes, Claire.’ He pointed to a short, thin woman in her mid-thirties.
‘Do you have any idea who the girl was? Or why she was killed?’
‘The girl went by the name of Laura. She was homeless and living on the streets of
. Once the family have formally identified the body we’ll be releasing full details. We’ll need help in trying to retrace her last few days.’
‘Do you know why she was killed?’ asked a balding and overweight man, who sat on the right of the room.
‘It’s not very clear at present,’ Bishop replied. ‘It could be simply that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.’
‘So she was a random victim?’ the man continued.
‘We don’t yet know that. We don’t know if the victim knew her killer. It’s part of the investigation.’
A tall thin man, with short black hair and a goatee beard, stood up at the back of the room. ‘My sources are telling me that there was a note left at the scene, along with several business cards, that state that this girl’s murder is the first in a set of killings.’
Bishop and McEvoy shared a look, trying to decide how to deal with the question.
‘We do have a note and some business cards,’ Bishop said hesitantly, ‘but at this stage there is no indication of their veracity. They might simply be a decoy to confuse our investigation.’
‘Does that mean that you think this is a one-off murder?’ the journalist continued. ‘Perhaps by a family member or someone she knew?’
‘It means we have an open mind on things while we sift through the evidence. It’s too early to jump to any conclusions.’
‘But what if it was the first of a set? What are you doing to protect the public?’
‘We’re trying to catch the killer,’ Bishop hissed a little more harshly than he intended. He changed his tone. ‘I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, that’s it for now. Barry here,’ he motioned to the press liaison officer, ‘will set up the blue screen for photos of the sword. He also has copies of the statement and can arrange for you to receive further statements via email.’
‘Can you tell us what the note said,’ the journalist called out, starting to make his way to the front of the room.
Bishop stood and walked behind McEvoy, down the couple of steps from the podium and out the door. McEvoy retrieved his jacket from the back of his chair and trailed after him.
Bishop stopped a few feet down along the corridor and turned, his face flushed red. ‘I’m going to kill the stupid bastard who told that fecker about the note and cards. I want his name, okay?’
‘There’s 80 to 100 men working the case between our lot and the locals. Gossip travels through the ranks and into the pubs. It’s just the way it is,’ McEvoy tried to reason.
‘Well, it’s time that changed,’ Bishop snapped. ‘Come on, let me walk you to your car and you can fill me in further on where you’re at.’ He turned and set off again without waiting for a reply.
McEvoy rolled his eyes and sighed silently, then took off after Bishop, falling into step at his side.
McEvoy leant against the door of his blue Mondeo, Tony Bishop standing on the other side of the wing mirror, his gold braided cap wedged under his arm.
‘So what are you going to do now?’ Bishop asked, his face still flushed red.
‘I’m going to get hold of Barney Plunkett and see how things are progressing. Then I’m going to go and find Laura’s homeless friend, Karen, and see what she knows.’
‘Whatever resources you need, just ask, okay? If he starts a killing spree then we’re going to come under a lot of pressure – from the public, the media, and from the politicians. I’ll do my best to protect you, but you have to play the game my way.’
‘What’s that mean exactly?’ McEvoy asked cautiously.
‘It means that you keep me in the loop on everything. You ask my advice on anything sensitive or any key decisions. You leave the press work to me, which is something that you probably want to avoid in any case. And you bring me in when you need to talk to anyone important or you’ve snared the bastard. In return I’ll watch your back and give you the resources you need.’
McEvoy nodded, but stayed silent. What Bishop meant was he’d do all the donkey work, be the brunt of any criticism, and the chief super would get the limelight and a share of the glory at the end. If he messed up, he’d be cut loose to fend for himself.
This was why he was never going to make chief super. He just didn’t have the political ambition to play institutional politics and climb the greasy pole. He was more interested in the job than the career. At least Bishop was being open. Half the time the bargain was assumed but left unsaid, meaning you never really knew what was going on or who to trust.
‘Well?’ Bishop prompted.
‘Sounds fine to me,’ McEvoy said, feeling like a cheap fool. He needed a cigarette. His hand played with the still sealed packet in his jacket pocket.
‘Good,’ Bishop said. ‘I’ll let you get on.’ He turned on his heels and headed back to the building without looking back.
McEvoy opened the door and sank into the driver’s seat. He sat for a few moments trying to collect his thoughts and calm himself a little before taking his mobile phone from his pocket. He pulled up a number.
It was answered on the third ring. ‘Plunkett.’
‘Barney, it’s me. How are things?’
‘Slow. Very slow.’
‘Anything significant to report?’
‘Not really. We’re still trying to piece together everyone who’s stayed here who has a violent, criminal record. So far it’s got 18 names on it. I hate to think how long that list is going to get. Half the republican and loyalist prisoners must have been through this place on reconciliation courses. My guess is it’s going to be a who’s who of The Troubles. Plus they’ve had victim support meetings up here – some of Mountjoy’s finest have wandered through.
‘It doesn’t help that a good portion just used their first name to register. We’ve managed to fill in some of the blanks by cross-checking the register with the centre’s paperwork – sometimes there’s a manifest for the group. Their filing though is all over the place. Sometimes there’s material to match the register, other times not. We’ve started to use the accounts files to contact some of the organisations that brought people here to see if they have records. Many of them are in the North and they’re not the keenest to help out. In fact, most of them have told us to get lost.
‘Jesus,’ McEvoy muttered. ‘Just do the best you can. Maybe try and narrow it to people who have killed in cold blood and at close range, or have seriously injured someone. Maybe with a knife or gun, rather than those that have set off bombs.’
‘Okay,’ Plunkett replied, uncertainty in his voice, ‘we’ll do our best, but there’s still going to be loads of them. With the amount of punishment beatings in the North, there’s bound to be a whole bunch of them that fit that profile.’
‘I know, but whoever killed Laura has probably killed before and he was familiar with that centre. If nothing else we have to try and eliminate them from the enquiry.’ McEvoy paused and stared out at the grey sky. ‘That bastard really knew what he was doing, didn’t he? He knew we were going to have to sift through all the lowlifes and scumbags that went through that place.’
‘We’ll get him, don’t worry,’ Plunkett replied firmly. ‘He’ll have made a mistake; then we can reel him in.’
‘I hope so, Barney. If we don’t catch him and he carries out several murders we’re going to be in all the history books for all the wrong reasons. Have we found our missing four homeless people yet?’ McEvoy asked, changing tack.
‘We’ve got one more. I reckon the other three have headed out of town. We’ve done a few sweeps at this stage.’
‘Keep trying. We need to find them. How about our friend, Dermot Brady?’
‘He’s been out helping some of our lot trying to find those missing three. He dropped into the
centre this morning, but that’s it. Nothing out of the ordinary.’