Authors: Gerard O'Donovan
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General
was born in Cork and raised in Dublin. After a brief career in the Irish civil service, he travelled widely, working as a
barman, bookseller, gherkin-bottler, philosophy tutor and English teacher before settling down to make a living as a journalist
and critic for, among others,
The Sunday Times
. In 2007 he was short-listed for the Crime Writers’ Association’s prestigious Debut Dagger competition.
Visit his website at
Published by Hachette Digital
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2010 by Gerard O’Donovan
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London, EC4Y 0DY
for Muds and Angela
Henceforth let no man be troublesome to me,
for I bear the marks of the Lord Jesus on my body.
St Paul, Letter to the Galatians, 6:17
as it luck, really? Some might call it fate. Others the manifest presence of God’s guiding hand. He almost missed her. Between
the dark and the trees and the cars parked up on the grass verge, his headlights caught a flash of white top and the gleam
of something gold. He’d never have seen her if he hadn’t been in the van, sitting high up. By the time it hit him full on,
he’d driven past. But he knew the road well, the quiet residential estates behind laid out in a grid. He took the next left,
then three rights, and he was back out on the main road again – behind her now, taking it slowly.
She’d got barely thirty yards further, sauntering along like all of them did, like there was no tomorrow. He glanced in the
rear-view mirror. Nothing. Scanned ahead. Not a ghost in sight but her. No need even to stop and ask. As he passed her again,
he tried to get a better look but a lamp post was in the way and he only caught a glimpse. It was enough, though. He gave
it fifty yards or so, then pulled up on the verge, nice and easy, cut the engine and lights. Then
it was just a matter of slipping into the back, checking the gauge on the cylinder and making sure everything was in place.
Watching her through the square tinted windows at the back, he could tell she hadn’t noticed him stopping. Wasn’t noticing
much by the look of it. Excitement gripped his breath as each step brought her closer, slowly, until he got his first clear
look at her. Dark hair, shoulder-length and glossy, a white crop top flattening out her chest, a slash of bare belly, a tiny
slip of skirt only just covering her. The gleam of precious metal on her neck. Typical.
He struggled to keep his breathing slow, forced himself to relax using the technique the doctor taught him. Concentrating,
making sure he got it right this time. He’d practised it over and over in his head but experience had taught him to make allowances
for the unpredictable in these matters and be prepared to react accordingly. Only the last few yards now. He closed his eyes,
blessed himself and began counting down. It was easier that way. Left hand holding the sack, right hand gripping the handle
of the side panel door. He’d spent hours getting the sliding action smooth. Then he was out, landing perfectly, just a couple
of feet in front of her, and his right hand was a fist now, flying like a missile straight at her face, so startled she didn’t
have time to take a step back – or even be frightened.
xcuse me?’ The receptionist in Emergency frowned at Mulcahy and leaned forward a fraction.
‘Mul-cah-hee,’ he repeated, drawing out the syllables, each a fraction longer than the last. Automatic. Forgot for a minute
where he was. That surname had been the bane of his life while he was abroad, every conceivable pronunciation except the right
one. But here in Dublin? The woman scowled like she thought he was winding her up. He fished in his jacket pocket and flipped
open his Garda warrant card for her.
Mulcahy,’ he emphasised. ‘I was told I’d find Inspector Brogan here.’
‘Oh,’ she said. As people so often did, transfixed by the card. ‘Right, Inspector, just a second.’
While she was on the phone Mulcahy checked out the shabby reception area. Very quiet. A few disconsolate patients scattered
here and there on the ranks of orange plastic chairs. A pair of pensioners, grey, enfeebled, resigned to waiting. A pregnant
woman in the front row, her milk-faced husband
leaning into her, one arm around her shoulders, the other hand stroking the rotund mass of her belly, whispering. All the
rest looked to be the usual sport and DIY crowd, hobbling around in unlaced football boots or cradling nail-gunned fingers.
A typical summer Sunday at St Vincent’s Hospital, he reckoned, annoyed he had to be there to witness it.
In the car, on the way over to the hospital, he’d glared up at the fine blue sky, cursing Superintendent Brendan Healy for
calling him in on his day off. It wasn’t so much that he was having trouble taking orders after being, more or less, his own
boss for so long over in Spain. He was a cop, orders came with the territory. And though deference never came naturally to
him, he’d developed over the years his own ways of dealing with hierarchy – chiefly by doing everything in his power to move
up in it. But he was finding it hard settling back in Dublin. Everyone he’d known from before seemed to be swamped in kids
and other lives now. So the prospect of an afternoon’s hard sailing with a bunch of lads from the boat club in Dun Laoghaire,
getting the tang of salt air in his lungs, working the knots out of his muscles, having a laugh over a few beers in the bar
afterwards… Bollocks, just another fifteen minutes and they’d have been away.
‘It’s not like you’re being given an option here, Mike,’ Healy had spat down the phone at him when he questioned his suitability
for the task. ‘The Minister’s having a fit about it already. If we’re in a position to do something to cover our arses, then
we’re sure as hell going to do it.’
‘Well,’ the receptionist said, putting down the phone. ‘Your colleagues
up in St Catherine’s Ward but there’s no sign of them there now.’
He was about to ask her for directions to the ward anyway when he spotted two figures, a man and a woman, standing by the
vending machines at the far end of the waiting area. Sipping from plastic cups, hawk-eyed over the rims, something unmistakably
hard and reserved in their features. Apart from the old couple, they were the only ones wearing coats. Cops, for sure.
‘That’s okay,’ he said. ‘I think that might be them over there.’
As he headed towards them he tried to figure out which was more likely to be the ranking officer. Healy had only said ‘Brogan
will brief you when you get there.’ Of the two it was the woman who had the air of authority about her. She was taller by
at least a couple of inches – younger and better turned out, too. Ambitious, definitely. Her wavy red hair was tied back in
some kind of complicated plait and her face was attractive, helped by a tint of warm colour on her lips.
Apart from his height, which must have only just scraped five-nine, the guy was more your stereotype plain-clothes man: squat,
muscular, watchful, with a flat, flushed bogman’s face, the black hair cropped short and flecked with grey. Under his tan
car coat was a crumpled grey suit that, together with the creased cream shirt and brown tie, didn’t
show much in the way of aspiration. What settled it for Mulcahy was that it was the guy, not the woman, who clocked his approach
and coughed her a heads-up. Clearly, she was the one who had more important things to think about.
‘Inspector Brogan?’ Mulcahy asked.
The woman turned towards him and looked him up and down before replying. Up close, he could see now that she was much the
younger of the two. Early thirties, tops. And her green eyes full of intelligence. A fast-tracker, most likely. Degrees up
to her eyeballs but short on the hard stuff, the street stuff – maybe.
‘Inspector Mulcahy?’ she said, her tone flat, an echo of somewhere southern in the accent. Waterford, at a guess.
‘That’s me,’ he said, nodding once. Wouldn’t want her to think he was pleased to be here. Still, he added ‘Mike’ for good measure
while extending his hand.
‘Claire Brogan.’ Her smile was as tight and professional as her handshake. ‘And this is Detective Sergeant Andy Cassidy.’
The sergeant acknowledged him with a jut of his chin, an ingrained sullenness in his expression.
‘Superintendent Healy said you needed some help?’ Mulcahy began.
‘Well, a translator anyway,’ Brogan replied. ‘Our usual woman’s sick and her backup’s buggered off for the weekend. Uncontactable.
Healy said you were our best bet, in the circs.’
‘Is that right?’ Mulcahy wondered at the prickliness in her voice. ‘Well, I’m no translator but I am reasonably fluent. I’ll
give it a go if it’s as urgent as Healy says.’
‘He said you were in Spain with Europol. Drugs, was it?’
‘Until recently, yeah,’ Mulcahy said. ‘With the Narcotics Intelligence Unit in Madrid. Until they moved the main operation
over to Lisbon, when they set up the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre last September.’
‘And they didn’t move you with it?’
Again he thought he caught a hint of aggression in the question. But maybe she’d just put it badly. There was no way she could
know anything about his personal circumstances and he was damned if he was going to discuss the ups and downs of his career
‘Other fish to fry,’ he said, half smiling, not giving anything away.
Her eyes showed interest but the corners of her mouth stayed turned down, as if she was determined not to indulge her curiosity.
‘Madrid’s nice,’ she said. ‘I was over there myself for a few days last year, doing a course. Europol information exchange
on paedophiles – it was good.’
‘Speaking of which…’ he said, recalling now that Healy had said something about her being with Sex Crimes. He glanced meaningfully
around the waiting room.‘ Shouldn’t we be getting on with it? It’s an assault, on a Spanish kid, right?’
‘A girl, yeah, but not…’ Brogan paused. ‘Is that
Healy told you?’
‘He didn’t go into it. Said you’d brief me yourself. Is there a problem?’
‘Not at all.’ She broke off again and turned to Cassidy. ‘Andy, run up to the ward, will you, and make sure they’re ready. We’ll
be along as soon as I’ve brought the inspector here up to speed.’
Cassidy grunted, threw his empty coffee cup on top of an already overflowing bin and headed towards the double doors. Brogan
waited until they whumped shut behind him.
‘Okay, Inspector, you’d better—’
‘Just Mike will do,’ he interrupted.
She looked at him, eyes narrowed. ‘Right, uh, Mike,’ she continued. ‘You’d better be aware that this is a bit of a tricky
one. A serious assault on a teenage girl, sixteen years old, with really nasty elements of sexual violence. But there are
other factors in play – which is what Healy’s up in a heap about.’
‘What factors?’ Mulcahy asked, his curiosity aroused instinctively.
‘Christ, he really didn’t tell you, did he?’
Mulcahy shook his head, wishing she’d get on with it. ‘He mentioned something about the Minister taking an interest but I
assumed that was just to get me over here quicker.’
‘Oh, the Minister’s taking an interest alright, yeah.’ Her laugh betrayed more nervousness than humour. ‘A
interest. The victim’s the daughter of a Spanish politician.’
‘Oh?’ That would explain the urgency in Healy’s voice, the Minister’s supposed panic. Mulcahy felt the curiosity
like a cold spring welling up inside him. ‘Which politician would that be, then?’
Brogan drew her breath in sharply. ‘Does it matter?’
He watched her high cheekbones take on a faint bloom of red, wondering if she was being arsy or just naive. The latter seemed