Authors: Graham Masterton
For my darling Wiescka
17 April 1946 – 27 April 2011
Always adored, never forgotten
Is milis dá ól é ach is searbh dá íoc é
Irish saying: ‘It is sweet to drink but bitter to pay for’
At first he thought it was a black plastic garbage bag that some Traveller had tossed into the river, full of dirty nappies or strangled puppies. ‘
,’ he said, under his breath.
He reeled in his line and then he started to wade through the shallows towards it, his rod tilted over his shoulder. As far as he was concerned, the Blackwater was sacred. His father had first brought him here to fish for spring salmon when he was eight years old, and he had been fishing here every year since. It was Ireland’s finest river and you didn’t throw your old rubbish into it.
‘Denis!’ called Kieran. ‘Where are you off to, boy? You won’t catch a cold over there, let alone a kelt!’ His voice echoed across the glassy surface of the water, so that it sounded as if he were shouting in a huge concert hall. The wind blew through the trees on the opposite bank and softly applauded him.
Denis didn’t answer. As he approached the black plastic garbage bag it was becoming increasingly apparent that it wasn’t a black plastic garbage bag at all. When he reached it, he realized that it was a man’s body, dressed head to foot in black. A priest’s soutane, by the look of it.
‘Jesus,’ he breathed, and carefully rested his rod on the riverbank.
The man was lying on his side on a narrow spit of shingle, with his legs half immersed in the water. His hands appeared to be fastened behind his back and his knees and his ankles were tied together. His face was turned away, but Denis could see by his thinning silver hair that he was probably in his late fifties or early sixties. He looked bulky, but Denis remembered that when his father had died, his body had sat in his basement flat in Togher for almost a week before anybody had found him, and how immensely bloated he had become, a pale green Michelin Man.
‘Kieran!’ he shouted. ‘Come and take a sconce at this! There’s a dead fella here!’
Kieran reeled in his line and came splashing through the shallows. He was red-faced, with fiery curls and freckles and close-together eyes so intensely blue that he looked almost mad. He was Denis’s brother-in-law, eight years younger than Denis, and they had nothing at all in common except their devotion to salmon fishing, but as far as Denis was concerned that was perfect. Salmon fishing required intense concentration, and silence.
Salmon fishing brought a man closer to God than any prayer.
‘Holy Mother of God,’ said Kieran, joining Denis beside the body and crossing himself. ‘He’s a priest, I’d say.’ He paused and then he said, ‘He
dead, isn’t he?’
‘Oh no, he’s just having forty winks in the river. Of course he’s dead, you eejit.’
‘We’d best call the guards,’ said Kieran, taking out his mobile phone. He was about to punch out 112 when he hesitated, his finger poised over the keypad. ‘Hey... they won’t think that
killed him, will they?’
‘Just call them,’ Denis told him. ‘If
’d have done it, we wouldn’t be hanging around here like a couple of tools, would we?’
‘No, you’re right. We’d have hopped off long since.’
While Kieran called the Garda, Denis circled cautiously around the body, his waders crunching on the shingle. The man’s eyes were open, and he was staring at the water as if he couldn’t understand what he was doing there, but there was absolutely no doubt that he was dead. Denis hunkered down beside him and stared at him intently. He looked familiar, although Denis couldn’t immediately think why. It was those tangled white eyebrows and those broken maroon veins in his cheeks, and most of all that distinctive cleft in the tip of his bulbous nose. His lower lip was split open as if somebody had punched him, very hard.
‘The cops are on their way,’ said Kieran, holding up his mobile phone. ‘They said not to mess with anything.’
‘Oh, I will, yeah! You should come round this side. He’s starting to hum already.’
‘I just had my sandwiches, thanks. Tuna and tomato.’
The two of them stood beside the body, not really knowing what they ought to do next. It seemed disrespectful to go back to their fishing, even though now and again, out of the corner of his eye, Denis caught the quick flashing of silver in the water. He had hoped to catch his first springer today, and the conditions were perfect.
‘Who killed him then, do you think?’ said Kieran. ‘Whoever it was, they gave him a good old lash in the kisser before they did.’
Denis tilted his head sideways so that he could take another look at the man’s face. ‘Do you know something? I’m sure I reck him. He’s a lot older than when I last saw him, if it’s him, but then he would be, because it was fifteen years ago, at least.’
‘So who do you think it is?’
‘I think it’s Father Heaney. In fact, I’m almost sure of it. His eyebrows used to be black in those days. I always thought they looked like two of them big black hairy spiders. You know, them tarantulas. He’s not wearing his glasses, but I’d know that gonker anywhere.’
‘Where did you know him from?’
‘School. He used to teach music. He was a right whacker, and no mistake. There wasn’t a single lesson went by that he wouldn’t give you a smack around the earhole for something and nothing at all. He said I sang like a creaky door.’
Kieran sniffed and wiped his nose with the back of his sleeve. ‘Looks like somebody smacked
, for a change.’
Denis didn’t answer, but standing in the river next to Father Heaney’s dead body with the wind whispering in the trees all around him made him feel as if he had been taken back in time. He could almost hear the school choir singing the ‘
’ in their sweet, piercing voices, and the sound of stampeding feet along the corridor, and Father Heaney’s voice barking out, ‘
, O’Connor! You won’t get to heaven any quicker by running!’
Katie opened her eyes to see John standing by the bedroom window, one hand dividing the rose-patterned curtains, staring at the fields outside.
The early morning sunlight illuminated his naked body so that he looked like a painting of a medieval saint, especially since he had grown his dark curly hair longer after he and Katie had first met, and he had a dark crucifix of hair on his chest. He was thinner, too, and much more muscular, from a year and a half of working on the farm.
‘You’re looking very pensive there,’ said Katie, propping herself up on one elbow.
John turned his head and gave her the faintest of smiles. The sunlight turned his brown eyes into shining agates. ‘I was looking at the spring barley, that’s all.’
‘And thinking what, exactly?’
He let the curtain fall back and came towards the bed. He stood beside her as if he wanted to tell her something important, but when she looked up at him he said nothing at all, but kept on smiling down at her.
She reached her up and cupped him in her left hand, gently stroking his penis with the tip of her right index finger. ‘
fruit’s beginning to look ripe already,’ she teased him. ‘Why don’t you let me have a taste of it?’
He grunted in amusement. But then he leaned forward and kissed the top of her head, and sat down next to her. She kept on stroking him for a while, but he gently took hold of her wrist and stopped her.
‘There’s something I have to tell you, Katie,’ he said. ‘I was going to tell you last night, but we were having such a great time.’
Katie frowned at him. ‘What is it? Come on, John, you’ve got me worried now. It’s not your mother, is it?’
‘No, no. Mam’s fine for now. The doctors even said that she might be able to come home in a week or two.’
He was just about to answer her when her mobile phone played the first three bars of ‘The Fields of Athenry’. ‘Hold on a second,’ she said, and reached across to the bedside table to pick it up. ‘Superintendent Maguire here. Who is this?’
‘Detective O’Sullivan, ma’am. Sorry to be disturbing you, like. But we were called out to Ballyhooly because these two fisher fellas found a body in the river.’
‘What does it look like? Accident or suicide or homicide?’
‘Homicide, not a doubt about it. He was all trussed up like a turkey and strangulated.’
‘Who’s in charge up there?’
‘Sergeant O’Rourke for the moment, ma’am. But he thinks you need to come and see this for yourself.’
‘Oh, for God’s sake, can’t
handle it? This is my day off. In fact this is the first day off I’ve had in weeks.’
‘Sergeant O’Rourke really thinks you need to see this, ma’am. And we need somebody to talk to the media about it, too. We’ve got RTÉ News up here already, and Dan Keane from the
, and even some girl from the
Katie picked up her wristwatch and peered at it. ‘All right, Paddy. Give me fifteen minutes.’
She snapped her mobile phone shut and swung her legs out of bed.
‘What is it?’ asked John.
‘The call of duty, what do you think? Somebody’s found a body in the Blackwater. For some reason, Jimmy O’Rourke wants me to come and take a look at it first-hand.’
She stepped into the white satin panties that she had left on the wheelback chair beside the bed, and then fastened her bra. John said, ‘You want me to drive you?’
She pulled on her dark green polo-neck sweater so that her short coppery hair stuck out like a cockerel’s comb. ‘No, thanks. I could be there for hours. But I’ll call you as soon as I can. By the way, what was it you were going to tell me?’
John shook his head. ‘Don’t worry. It can wait until later.’
She buttoned the flies of her tight black jeans and zipped up her high-heeled boots. Then she went through to the bathroom and stared at her reflection in the mirror over the washbasin. ‘Jesus, look at these bags under my eyes! Anybody would think I spent all night at an orgy.’
‘You did,’ said John. He watched her as she put on her eye make-up and pale pink lip gloss. He always thought that she looked as if she were distantly related to the elves, with her green eyes and her high cheekbones and her slightly pouting mouth. She was only five feet five, but she had such personality. He didn’t find it difficult to understand how she had managed to become Cork’s first-ever female detective superintendent. He also knew why he had fallen so inextricably in love with her.
She came out of the bathroom and gave him a kiss. ‘How about Luigi Malone’s this evening, if I don’t finish too late? I’m dying for some of their mussels.’
‘I don’t know. Maybe.’ But then he thought:
Over dinner, that could be the right time to tell her.
He wrapped himself in his dark blue towelling bathrobe and followed her barefooted to the front door. She turned and kissed him one more time. ‘You take extra good care,’ he told her, like he always did. Then he watched her walk across the steeply angled farmyard, with his tan and white collie Aoife trotting after her. She climbed into her Honda and blew him a quick final kiss before she drove off.