Authors: Catriona King
Tags: #Fiction & Literature
The Careless Word
Copyright © 2014 by Catriona King
Artwork: Crooked Cat
Editor: Andrew Angel
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or Crooked Cat Publishing except for brief quotations used for promotion or in reviews. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
First Black Line Edition, Crooked Cat Publishing Ltd. 2014
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About the Author
Catriona King trained as a doctor and a police Forensic Medical examiner in London, where she worked for many years. She worked closely with the Metropolitan Police on several occasions. In recent years, she has returned to live in Belfast.
She has written since childhood; fiction, fact and reporting. ‘The Careless Word’ is the eighth novel in the Craig Crime Series. Book nine in the Craig Crime Series, ‘The History Suite’, will be released in spring 2015, book ten, ‘The Sixth Estate’ is currently in edits.
My thanks to Northern Ireland for providing the inspiration for my books.
I would like to thank Crooked Cat Publishing for being so unfailingly supportive and cheerful.
My thanks to Andrew Angel as editor, and thanks to Leondra Clarke, owner of ‘Forever Bridal’, Belfast.
And I would like to thank all of the police officers that I have ever worked with, anywhere, for their unfailing professionalism, wit and compassion.
Belfast, November 2014
Also by Catriona King
The Craig Crime Series
A Limited Justice
The Grass Tattoo
The Waiting Room
The Broken Shore
The Slowest Cut
The Coercion Key
The Careless Word
The History Suite
The Sixth Estate
Discover more at:
where the author can be contacted to engage about her books.
The Careless Word
Belfast. Thursday 17th July 2014. 2 p.m.
The smoke cleared as the young man gazed around him, stunned in the near silence and caged-in by the debris that was all that remained of the small, quaint shop. Only a faint ringing in his ears and the ache in his head made it seem real.
Once-tall wooden shelves lay splintered on the floor and the books they’d held hid shredded and singed in what remained of corners, or floated as solitary pages across his view. In his shock the boy reached out to grasp one. He checked himself, dropping his hand to his side and shaking his head hard. Not to relieve the dull, high cadences of tinnitus, but in disbelief that he was still alive.
Surrounding him were bodies with their limbs heat-charred and locked forever in a pose, or lying feet from their owner beside the remnants of some other corpse. A dying man’s voice gasped one word; “Why?” His eyes begging for an answer to the destruction before it stole his life.
The young man gazed down vaguely, wiping blood from a cut on his hand. He turned the question over in his mind. “Why?” Why indeed? But his was a different why. Not why had this happened but why had he survived?
Docklands Coordinated Crime Unit. The Murder Squad. 3.30 p.m.
“Of course, you realise what this means?”
Liam Cullen threw his question across the squad-room expecting immediate attention and was sadly disappointed by the lack of reply. He cast a disgusted look around, seeking proof that he was being deliberately ignored. Except that he wasn’t. Only the team’s analyst, Davy Walsh, was present and he was busy; tapping at his computer, hunched over it like a man half his size and three times his age. Liam clambered to his feet and strode across to stand beside the young Emo, then he repeated the question again in his booming bass.
Davy recoiled from the noise, pressing both hands against his ears. “Ow! W…What the hell, Liam?”
“What the hell what, son? Don’t you mean where the hell? As in, where the hell are all the people who’re supposed to work in this place?”
Davy leapt to his feet in a mock-challenge. He stood half-a-head shorter than Liam’s six-feet-six frame and fifty percent lighter, but the fifty percent that was left was solid, lean muscle, built up by his marathon training with the local head pathologist, John Winter. Liam snorted at the younger man’s display of bravado and waved a hand around the room.
“So? Where are they then?”
“Nicky and Annette took a long lunch to s…shop for w…wedding outfits. Jake’s at the dentist and the boss is…”
Davy turned to scan the room, so fast that his long dark mane whipped round and caught Liam across the face. As Liam spat out a mouthful of hair and began a ‘short back and sides’ lecture, the double-doors of the squad-room slid open and the tall shape of Marc Craig strolled onto the floor. Davy pointed and finished his sentence as if Liam hadn’t interrupted. “…there.”
He sat down triumphantly and tossed his hair deliberately to display its length, knowing that it irritated the hell out of the old-style cop. It was one reason why he would never join the police, that and his desire to stay alive. Craig smiled at the interaction as he wandered across the room. He grabbed a chair beside Davy’s desk and beckoned Liam to sit, then he unbuttoned his well-cut jacket and shot them both a grin.
“OK, let me guess. Liam, you’re bored and looking for attention, and Davy, you’re deliberately not playing ball?”
Liam pretended to be offended. “Don’t take me for granted, boss. You don’t know everything that makes me tick.”
Craig’s grin widened. “And you learned that phrase from Danni.”
Liam was about to launch into a speech about what a good husband he was to the mother of his two children when Craig continued. “OK, Nicky and Annette will be back at four; they’re buying their outfits for John’s wedding.” He scanned the other men’s faces. “That just leaves us three, so I’m going to give you a choice.”
“Of w…what?” Davy’s light stammer on ‘s’ and ‘w’ had the effect of making his every sentence sound excited or vulnerable, and the vulnerability was fading with the years.
“Of whether we take a case or not.”
Liam raised an eyebrow sceptically. “Yeh, right. Like you’re ever going to walk away from a case.”
Craig shrugged. “We’re flying to Barbados for John and Natalie’s wedding on the 30th, so taking on a case that we mightn’t have time to finish would be a bad idea.”
“And letting a perp get away would be a worse one.” Liam leaned forward eagerly. “What’s the story?”
Craig frowned for a moment before he spoke. “It’s a strange one; and yes, before you say it, I know that they all are. But this one really is. I’m not even sure that it’s a case for us, but…”
Liam opened his mouth to speak but Davy interjected before he could. “But s…something in your gut’s telling you that it is.”
Liam threw him a look of chagrin as Craig nodded. “That’s exactly it. It mightn’t be targeted murder per se, but I think it is. I’d like to wait until Annette and Nicky get back before I outline things. Meanwhile…” He turned to Liam. “What happened to that new constable you promised me?”
“You mean Delia Anderson?” Liam shook his head. “She decided to do her Masters in Criminology instead. Fancies herself as a future Chief Constable.”
“Good for her. So who does that leave us with?”
Liam shrugged. “No-one, unless you want to cast the net wider? I could speak to Andy White in Portstewart and see if anyone up there fancies a move to the big smoke. And there’s always Vice; they might have someone who wants out of the swamp of porn and drugs.”
Craig laughed. “As opposed to the blood and corpses of murder.” He thought for a moment and then nodded. “Actually, that’s not a bad idea, Liam. Have a word with Andy, and Aidan Hughes down in Vice. I’ll try Counterterrorism.”
The sound of high heels clicking and female laughter in the corridor alerted them to the fact that Nicky Morris, Craig’s P.A., and Annette McElroy, the team’s Detective Inspector, were back. Craig gave a wry smile as he noticed Liam straighten up and smooth back his short, sandy hair, knowing that it was for Nicky’s benefit. Their long-running office flirtation was the source of many jokes. They were both married and it would never come to anything but it gave everyone else a laugh.
He gave a second smile as he saw the number of shopping bags that the women were carrying. After ten minutes of displaying the day’s purchases Craig interrupted the party mood.
“Sorry, everyone, but we need to get back to work.”
Annette was instantly alert. “Who and where, sir?”
Craig beckoned them to gather round then he perched on a desk while Nicky busied herself making coffee before joining them with her notepad and pen.
“OK. A bomb exploded this afternoon in the centre of Belfast.”
Liam lurched forward. “Dissidents!”
Craig waved him back. “Was that a question or an assertion?” He continued without waiting for a reply. “Whichever it was, they haven’t claimed it and we know that the dissidents usually do.” His lip curled in disgust. “God forbid someone else might steal their glory.”
Annette interrupted. “They might still claim it. What time did it happen? “
“Two o’clock this afternoon. And you’re right, Annette, they might, but my instinct says not.”
It was said in a husky voice and everyone turned towards Nicky. Liam scanned her pencil skirt, starched white shirt and patent heels with a smile. Her fashion choices were always eclectic but today’s outfit was a triumph of 1950s office chic.
“You been watching ‘Mad Men’ again, Nicky?”
Nicky tossed her pony-tail haughtily and Craig saw the beginnings of a blush on Liam’s cheek; firmly put in his place with a glance. Craig waved her on.
“Well, I was just wondering… what was blown up? It could tell us who did it.”
Craig smiled. “Well done. That’s exactly the right question. It was a shop, a bookshop in Smithfield to be precise.”
Liam snorted. “Porn-shop then.”
Annette shot him a look of disgust and Craig raised a warning eyebrow, knowing that Liam’s mouth had no filter. But he knew where he was coming from. Smithfield was one of Belfast’s oldest areas and its reputation in the 19th and 20th Centuries had been mixed to say the least. Filled with colourful characters; the poverty and over populated tenements had bred disorder. The Smithfield of nowadays was different. Urban living had become the vogue and apartments and hotels ruled the city-centre. Smithfield’s thriving market had bred some of the city’s most successful entrepreneurs, but Liam was right; ‘adult’ shops were still a very real feature there.
“It was a rare bookshop called Papyrus. Mostly rare books and first editions, with the occasional modern prize-winner thrown in.”
“You mean like that Snooker prize?”
Craig laughed so hard he almost choked. “You mean the Booker Prize, Liam, and yes, exactly like that.”
Davy interrupted the exchange. “But w…why would dissidents blow up a bookshop, chief? It’s hardly their usual target.”
“That’s why I don’t think it was dissidents, Davy. They haven’t claimed it and it’s not their usual fare.”
Annette cut in quietly. “Who was killed? Someone must have been or we wouldn’t be discussing it.”
Craig nodded. “More than one, unfortunately. At least three people were in the shop when the bomb exploded. Only one survived, a young man; he’s injured.”
“At least three?”
“The amount of human debris points to more.”
Nicky shuddered. “A bookshop…”
Craig turned, waiting for her to continue. She crossed her legs primly at the ankle, completing the picture of ’50s glam.
“Well, it’s just… Why would someone target a bookshop? Because the owner owed them money?”
“OK, good, let’s carry through Nicky’s theme. What do we have in the way of motives?”
Davy interjected. “Revenge.”
Craig dragged a flip-chart across to the group, writing up the words as they were shouted out. After two minutes the page was covered with ideas; money, love, revenge, fraud, religion and more, including the inevitable reference to the bomb’s timing, during Northern Ireland’s traditionally loyalist ‘Twelfth fortnight’. Dissident republican involvement seemed a real possibility.
Craig squinted at the chart and then wrote the ages of the known dead in one corner. Both the identifiable victims were men; one over sixty and one in his forties. The only survivor was a twenty-year-old, identified as Fintan Delaney by his credit card. Craig tapped his marker against Delaney’s age.
“Why was he there?”
Liam was puzzled by the question. “I don’t understand, boss. Why not? It’s a free country; anyone any age can visit a bookshop.” He snorted. “Mind you, I don’t understand it myself. Boring places.”
Annette rolled her eyes. “You prefer comics, I suppose.”
Liam reared up. “They’re called graphic novels and there’s no…”
Craig waved them to be quiet. “OK, perhaps a better question would have been, why did the boy survive? But before we get to that, we need to decide if we’re taking the case. We’re flying out on the 30th, so we’ll need to have it wrapped up by then. I want a show of hands. All in favour of taking it…”
Every hand in the group rose. Annette’s quickly, displaying her eagerness and ambition, and Nicky raised her pen elegantly adjusting her fake horn-rimmed glasses on the way past. Liam raised one finger casually, as befitted a jaded man of the world, with Davy mimicking him in a display of hero-worship. Craig had noticed that the displays were smaller and shorter now compared to when Davy had first joined the team. Their little boy was growing up.
“OK. That’s settled then, we’ll take it. I’ll OK it with Counter-Terrorism. Right, the division of labour. Depending on how many people died there may have been five or six victims in the explosion.”
“Here, you just said …”
“However many people were there plus the shop. We have to treat the shop itself as a target. Someone could have wanted it destroyed, perhaps even the owner for the insurance money.”
Annette leaned forward. “Or planning permission, sir. Maybe the shop was in someone’s way. There are lots of new housing developments in the city-centre, and now we’re coming out of recession the building trade is picking up again.”
Craig nodded. “Everyone; that’s exactly the way I want you to think. Look at every possible angle for each of the victims.” He tapped the list of men’s ages for emphasis and then threw his marker onto a desk. “Right, I’m off to the lab to see if John can help us with the I.D.s. Liam; you, Annette and I will split the victims between us until Jake’s back. I’ll take the survivor. Davy, I want you to start digging into background on the shop. Everything you can find; history, past owners, finance, insurance. Look at the area around it and see if there’s anything there as well.”
Liam cut in. “Aidan Hughes can help with what’s what in Smithfield. Vice knows the place like the back of their hands, especially the gentlemen’s clubs.”
He guffawed loudly and Craig shot him another warning look. Liam made a show of being ashamed, remembering that he was a D.C.I. now and supposed to be politically correct, but Craig knew the jokes would ramp up as soon as he was out the door.
He nodded at the flipchart. “Nicky, type that up and get it to everyone, please, then call bomb disposal and say we’ll meet them at the shop after five.” He turned towards the doors then changed his mind and turned back again. “Liam, you’re with me.”
Then he was across the floor and in the lift with Liam scrambling to keep up.