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Authors: Graham Masterton

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BOOK: Taken for Dead (Kate Maguire)
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Mary Crounan nodded, and continued to nod, as if she had known all along that her husband had gone. At the same time, though, tears rolled down her cheeks and dropped on to her purple jumper, like a sparkly necklace. She clasped her hands in her lap, twisting her wedding ring around and around.

‘Did he suffer?’ she asked. ‘They said they would hurt him. Please God, tell me that they didn’t hurt him.’

‘We don’t know yet exactly how he died, Mary. But who was it who said that they were going to hurt him?’

‘I can’t tell you that. I can’t.’

‘Where has he been this past week? Did somebody abduct him?’

Mary Crounan stopped nodding and shook her head instead, very emphatically. ‘I shouldn’t even have said “they”. There is no “they”.’

‘Mary,’ said Katie, ‘Micky didn’t kill himself. Somebody did it and we need to find out who it was, and as quick as we can, in case they try to do it to somebody else.’

‘When did you last see Micky?’ asked Detective Sergeant Ni Nuallán. She was standing by the window, looking out. She had grown her blonde hair recently and braided it into a coronet, so that she looked almost Eastern European, especially since her grey overcoat was so square-shouldered.

‘Last Friday morning,’ said Mary Crounan. She took out a scrunched-up tissue and wiped her eyes. ‘He was going to the bakery first and then for lunch with Donal Neely from the tourism committee. He went to the shop all right but about half past one Donal rang up and asked me where he was. He thought he might have forgotten their appointment, but Micky never forgot anything. He even remembered my mother’s birthday, God bless him.’

‘You must have tried ringing him yourself,’ said Detective Sergeant Ni Nuallán.

‘I did, of course. But his phone was switched off. I couldn’t understand it. He never switched his phone off, ever.’

‘So when did they call and tell you what had happened to him?’

Katie stayed quiet while Detective Sergeant Ni Nuallán questioned Mary. Kyna had such a quiet, persuasive voice, and a natural instinct for what people needed to say, even when they were reluctant to talk. She was taking Mary Crounan back in her mind to relive the moment when she had been told that her husband had been kidnapped.

‘They said he was safe but they wanted a hundred thousand euros to let him go.’

‘Did they let you talk to him?’

Mary Crounan nodded again, and fresh tears welled up in her eyes. ‘He said that everything was grand and I shouldn’t worry. But I shouldn’t tell anybody, and not the cops most of all. If I did, they would hurt him.’

‘How long did they give you to get the money together?’ asked Katie.

‘Three days, they said. A hundred thousand euros, in cash.’

‘So where were you going to get that from? Business hasn’t been going too well, has it? Come to that, it hasn’t been going too well for anybody in Cork these days, except for the pay-day moneylenders.’

‘Business has been a disaster for the past three years,’ said Mary Crounan. ‘Micky kept on smiling but we’ve been getting deeper and deeper in debt. We had to take Keela out of Regina Mundi and if Micky’s father hadn’t died and left us an inheritance I don’t know what we would have done. Micky always used to make a joke about him being a baker and starving while everybody else was eating his bread. “Let me eat cake,” he used to say. But it wasn’t too far from the truth.’

‘Did you raise the hundred thousand?’

‘I managed to raise eighty-seven six hundred. I went down to the Patrick’s Quay car park and found Micky’s Mercedes and sold it. I sold all of my jewellery, too, even my eternity ring. We didn’t have any savings left, and I couldn’t cash in any more of Micky’s pension.’

‘Did you hand the money over?’ Katie asked her.

Mary Crounan whispered, ‘Yes.’

‘Where? And who did you hand it to?’

‘I shouldn’t tell you. They promised that all kinds of terrible things would happen to me and my children if I told you.’

‘Mary, your husband has been murdered. We have to catch the people who did it. Until we do, we can protect you. I mean that. We can make absolutely sure that you and your children are safe. But you
have
to help us. We can’t let killers and extortionists go free.’

At that moment, the living-room door opened and Mary Crounan’s daughter put her head around it and said, ‘Ma? Is everything all right?’

‘Yes, darling. I won’t be very long and then I’ll make you some lunch.’

‘Can me and Donny have a biscuit?’

‘Yes, of course you can. Take two each, if you want to.’

The door closed again and Mary Crounan looked at Katie with such an expression of grief that Katie went over and sat on the couch next to her and took hold of her hands. There was nothing she could say that would comfort her. Katie had experienced grief herself, more than once, and she knew that the pain was too great to be shared by anybody else.

Detective Sergeant Ni Nuallán turned away from the window and said, ‘You left the money somewhere? Is that it?’

‘Yes,’ said Mary Crounan. ‘I wrapped it in a shopping bag and left it under one of the settles in the Blair Inn at Cloghroe, on the way to Blarney. They had told me to buy myself a drink and sit there for ten minutes, so I wouldn’t look suspicious to the bar staff. When I’d finished my drink I went directly back home and waited for a call, but it never came.’

‘You didn’t see anybody outside when you left the pub?’

‘Only three or four cars parked there, that’s all.’

‘And that was the last you heard?’ asked Detective Sergeant Ni Nuallán. ‘They didn’t even ring you and tell you that it wasn’t enough?’

‘They never rang me again. I didn’t know what to do. I shut up the shop and when anybody called for Micky I just told them that he was visiting his mother in Galway.’

She let go of Katie’s hands and wiped her eyes again. ‘Can I see him?’ she asked.

Katie looked across at Detective Sergeant Ni Nuallan. How was she going to tell Mary Crounan that all they had retrieved of her husband’s body so far was his head, and that had been discovered in a wedding cake? Not only that, his head could only have reached such an advanced stage of decomposition if his abductors had killed him days ago. They had probably done it soon after he had last talked to her on the phone. No matter how much money she might have been able to raise, she would never have seen him alive again.

‘I’m afraid the state pathologist will have to conduct a post-mortem first,’ said Katie. ‘But as soon as that’s over …’

‘What are you not telling me?’ Mary Crounan demanded. ‘There’s something you’re not telling me, isn’t there?’

‘Please, Mary. When somebody is murdered, we have to examine their remains very thoroughly, to see if we can establish the cause of death, and if there’s any chance of working out who might have done it.’

‘His body’s in a state, isn’t it? What did they do to him?’

‘We simply don’t know yet, and that’s the truth.’

Mary Crounan stood up. ‘You really can protect us? You swear it?’

Katie said, ‘We can find you somewhere to stay far away from here, where nobody will know who you are, and you’ll have officers to keep an eye on you twenty-four hours a day.’

Mary Crounan turned round and stared at herself in the mirror for almost twenty seconds, saying nothing. It looked as if she were consulting her mirror image about what she should do.

‘You see that woman there?’ she said to Katie, nodding at her reflection. ‘She’s a widow.’

Katie didn’t answer, but waited for what she was going to say next.

‘The fellow who spoke to me and demanded the money said that he was one of the High Kings of Erin. Don’t ask me what he meant by that. He said that the High Kings of Erin had taken Micky because he was one of the businessmen who have brought ruin and shame on Ireland, and he had to be punished.’

‘The High Kings of Erin? Was that all? They didn’t give you any other names?’

‘No,’ said Mary Crounan. ‘The High Kings of Erin. That was all. I hope they end up in hell.’

***

They stayed with Mary Crounan for over two hours while Katie comforted her and Detective Sergeant Ni Nuallán called the station to arrange for transport. There was a house in Redwood Park in Clonakilty which the Garda frequently used for witness protection; it was small and private and screened from the road, and nobody could approach it without being seen.

Once that had been arranged, Mary Crounan packed two suitcases for herself and the children and waited in her overcoat by the living-room window for the unmarked people carrier to arrive to take them away.

‘Who could have imagined this, only a week ago?’ she said. ‘Our whole lives broken into pieces.’

‘I’m so sorry for you,’ said Katie.

‘You will let me know as soon as I can see Micky, won’t you? I have to set eyes on him just once more, before he’s laid to rest.’

Katie nodded. She didn’t know what she could say. Just then, though, Detective Sergeant Ni Nuallán came in from the hallway and said, ‘They’re here. I’ll give you a hand with your cases.’

Mary Crounan held both of Katie’s hands tight. ‘You’ll catch them, won’t you? Promise me you’ll catch them. I want to spit in their faces.’

On their way back to Anglesea Street, Detective Sergeant Ni Nuallán said, ‘The High Kings of Erin? Strange thing to call themselves. We learned a bit about the High Kings of Erin in school. Some of them were real, weren’t they, but most of the stories about them … well, they’re just legends, with witches and fortune-tellers and talking trees and all that kind of nonsense?’

‘That’s right,’ said Katie. ‘But I remember our history teacher telling us that the High Kings were always fighting each other, and they were always cutting each other’s heads off. They reckoned that if a fellow didn’t have a head, he couldn’t wear a crown.’

‘Well, fair play to them, you have to admire their logic,’ said Detective Sergeant Ni Nuallán. ‘You think there might be a connection with Micky Crounan having his head cut off like that?’

‘I have no idea. Maybe it was just simple extortion by somebody with a very warped sense of humour. Maybe somebody had a serious grudge against him. If you can get Horgan and Dooley on to that aspect of things – get them to dig into his past and find out if anybody hated him enough to kill him. Even pillars of the community like Micky Crounan can have their shady secrets. Look at that bank manager, what was his name? Martin O’Shea. Having sex with his own daughters like that. No wonder they poured petrol through his letter box.’

‘And then, of course, there’s Michael Gerrety,’ said Detective Sergeant Ni Nuallán.

‘I detest any man who thinks he has a right to take advantage of vulnerable girls like that. It wouldn’t be their heads I’d be cutting off first.’

6

Back at the station, Katie called Dr O’Brien at the state pathologist’s office in Dublin to arrange for a post-mortem examination of Micky Crounan’s remains. Dr O’Brien was one of Ireland’s two deputy pathologists, and Katie liked working with him. He was very rigorous, but he would often come up with a highly creative theory as to how and why the corpse he was examining had met its end.

Instead, she was put through to the state pathologist himself, Dr Owen Reidy.

‘Oh, it’s you, Detective Superintendent,’ he said, grumpily. ‘Can it not wait until later? I have a meeting with the commissioner in five minutes and I don’t want to be gasping for breath when I get there.’

‘Actually, I wanted to talk to Dr O’Brien if he’s there,’ said Katie.

‘Dr O’Brien is in Horseleap, in Offaly. A woman’s body has been dug out of a bog. She’s almost perfectly preserved, so she could have been there for six months or sixteen hundred years, like Old Croghan Man.’

‘That’s interesting.’

‘Interesting? It’s highly annoying, I’ll say that. Examining bog bodies is time-consuming and very expensive, as you’re well aware, especially if we have to bring in a forensic archaeologist. It’s only October and my budget is stretched to the limit already. But what did you want?’

‘We have the severed head of a homicide victim here which needs examining.’

‘Only the head? What about the rest of him?’

‘The rest of him hasn’t been found yet.’

‘In that case, why don’t you send us the head by courier? If you do that, I could have Dr Sanjay looking at it by tomorrow morning at the latest.’

Katie thought about Mary Crounan, tearfully pleading to see her husband one more time before his interment, and then thought about Micky Crounan’s head being driven to Dublin in a cooler box by First Direct, and it was both absurd and tragic at the same time. But she needed every scrap of evidence that the pathologists could find.

‘All right,’ she said. ‘I’ll arrange it. You can expect it later today.’

***

Katie spent most of the afternoon with her five-strong drugs team, led by Detective Niall Brannigan, who was stocky and brown-haired and bristled like a bull terrier that has scented a hedgehog. He was planning a series of coordinated raids against premises in Blackpool and Farranree.

For the past three weeks the clubs and pubs in Cork had been flooded with crack cocaine and other controlled drugs like ecgonine and crystal meth. Recent tip-offs suggested high-quality rocks were being cooked up in almost industrial quantities in a house on Rathpeacon Road and a flat over a shop in Bóthar Chúrsa an Uisce.

Katie’s detectives had discovered that there was a new and highly organized gang behind this new drug operation. What interested her was that they appeared to be Belgians, rather than the usual suspects from Lithuania or Romania or Somalia.

‘So far as we can find out, the fellow behind it calls himself Necker, and he comes from Antwerp,’ said Detective Brannigan. ‘I checked with the cops there, though, and they laughed at me. They didn’t know of any drug dealer by that name, and Necker just means “devil” in their language.’

‘I don’t care if he calls himself Santa Claus,’ said Katie. ‘Let’s find him and stop him before half the young people in the city get addicted – the half that aren’t addicted already.’

***

She went home early that evening – or what was early for her. It had started to rain by the time she parked outside her house in Cobh, a fine chilly rain that was almost a mist. In spite of that, she still had to take Barney for his walk, although she didn’t go as far as she usually did, only up the hill to Rushbrooke Lawn Tennis Club and back.

BOOK: Taken for Dead (Kate Maguire)
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