Authors: Mark Roberts
HIS LIFE WAS DEVOTED TO ART
HIS DEATH WAS A MASTERPIECE
Leonard Lawson was a respected professor of medieval art. He lived a quiet life in a suburb of Liverpool with his grown-up daughter. As far as anyone knew, he had no enemies.
Louise Lawson watched her father die. Before she blacked out, she saw his body mutilated and deformed, twisted into a hellish parody of the artworks he loved.
Investigating a killer bringing medieval horror to Merseyside, DCI Eve Clay must overcome her own demons to unpick the dark symbolism of the crime scene. A fifty-year silence has been broken – with a message written in blood…
For Kath and Ted, John, Deborah and Chris.
Look back over the past with its changing empires that rise and fall, and you can foresee the future too.
‘Eve, thank you very much for coming to see me,’ gushed Mrs Tripp. She smiled from behind her desk as Eve stood her ground at the door of the office.
Breathless, having run from the garden where she had been playing football with the big lads, Eve said, ‘You’re welcome, Mrs Tripp.’
The pleasantness of Mrs Tripp’s manner caused Eve to look down and perform a simple trick to check she wasn’t dreaming. She looked at the black trainers on her feet and told herself,
Squeeze your toes
. She squeezed her toes and confirmed. She was wide awake and it was all real.
‘Come and take a seat, child,’ encouraged Mrs Tripp, her newly permed hair crowned with an outsized yellow ribbon.
You’re too old and fat
, thought Eve,
to even try and look like that Madonna one.
As she walked to the chair across from Mrs Tripp’s desk, Eve smiled at the boss of St Michael’s Catholic Care Home for Children, her feet firmly on the ground, her eyes locked on to the fat lady’s gaze, and sat down.
‘I like your Everton kit, Eve.’
She glanced down. Blue socks bunched at the ankles, soil-and grass-stained shins from the sliding tackle she had put in a few minutes earlier, white shorts and blue-and-white top.
‘So do I,’ said Eve. ‘I just wish they weren’t sponsored by Hafnia.’
‘Why’s that, Eve?’
‘Hafnia’s a canned-meat company. In Denmark. Ham. It’s dead sly on the animals.’
‘Oh, Eve, how many times have we had this out?’ Mrs Tripp chuckled, smiling with her face but not with her eyes. ‘You’re a growing girl and you need to eat meat as part of a balanced diet.’
‘As soon as I’m big enough—’
‘Yes, I know! I know...’
Silence descended. Mrs Tripp looked as far into the distance as the four walls of her office would allow. Eve looked out of the window behind Mrs Tripp. In the sky above the River Mersey there were two horizontal red lines, as if a giant had drawn two bloody fingers across the grey autumnal clouds.
‘My, how you’ve grown, Eve. I remember the first time you sat on that very chair across from my desk.’
‘So do I.’ Eve smiled.
It was bloody awful
. ‘You’re a very busy woman, Mrs Tripp. All those kids. All them staff. How can I help you?’
Mrs Tripp clapped her hands and laughed too loudly. ‘It’s not a question of how
; it’s a question of how
From the corner of the office came a solitary sigh. Eve looked and a tall, thin man with snow-white hair, dressed all in black except for a white dog collar, stepped out of the shadows into the muddy light of the room.
As he walked towards the desk, he closed the cover of a card file bulging with papers, a file Eve recognised as the one
. Behind his left ear she saw a thin hand-rolled cigarette. She looked back at his face, his unsmiling eyes fixed on her. She stared back but stood up as the priest advanced slowly, observing, thinking, nodding.
He placed the file down on Mrs Tripp’s desk and, with the strangest sensation in her head that she had lived through this exact moment at another point in her life, Eve read the letters of her name in black felt-tip pen: ‘EVETTE CLAY’.
‘This is Father Anthony Murphy. Father Murphy, this is Evette Clay.’
Father Murphy placed the hand-rolled cigarette between his lips, flicked his thumbnail against the red tip of a match and lit the loose strands of tobacco. He took in a huge lungful of smoke and blew it out in a thin stream.
‘Hello, Eve.’ His voice rumbled, his speech posher than a TV newsreader.
‘Good afternoon, Father Murphy.’ She sat down again and Father Murphy remained standing.
‘How old are you, Eve?’ asked the priest.
‘As old as the hills.’ She laughed, alone.
‘So I gather.’
‘Seven and a half, if it’s numbers you’re after, Father.’ She guessed the next question. ‘And I’ve lived here for just over
‘Up until when, you lived in St Claire’s with Sister Philomena?’
‘Yes.’ Her exuberance deserted her. ‘Did you know Sister Philomena, Father?’
‘No.’ A strand of hope, a connection, faded. ‘Does that disappoint you, Eve?’
‘Just because you’re a priest, it doesn’t mean you know all the nuns in the world. I was just wondering if—’
‘Father Murphy isn’t just a priest, as if that on its own isn’t enough responsibility,’ Mrs Tripp railroaded over her. ‘He’s a fully qualified doctor.’
‘Oh!’ said Eve, mustering as much enthusiasm as she could.
‘I’ve come to see you, Eve.’ Ash dropped on to Mrs Tripp’s desk.
But I’m not ill
, she thought, yet said nothing.
‘It’s fair to say, isn’t it, Eve, there have been one or two episodes of odd behaviour,’ said Mrs Tripp. Eve knew what was coming next. ‘When you set off the fire alarm.’
‘That was an accident. Jimmy Peace was there. He vouched for me.’
Mrs Tripp turned to Father Murphy. ‘She’s very popular with all the staff and the children. People make exceptions for her.’
‘No they don’t, they tell the truth,’ said Eve.
‘Christmas morning. You refused to get out of bed and open your presents.’
‘I was sad because I couldn’t stop thinking about Philomena. I did get up by lunchtime. And I’d opened my presents by tea. And then I just did what I do most days. I accepted that she’s dead. And just got on with it. What else can I do?’ The ball of tears behind her eyes threatened to break, but the voice inside her shouted, ‘
Don’t you dare don’t you dare don’t you dare!’
And with that, a surge of anger and a beam of light. The memory of the toughest girl she’d ever met in the care system, Natasha Seventeen, and the last piece of advice she’d given her before she left St Michael’s: ‘
Don’t act depressed, kid, or they’ll cart you off to the funny farm!’