Authors: Rob Kitchin
‘No surprise there, I guess. Anything from the questionnaires or the search round the centre?’
‘A lot of noise from the questionnaires. Several different cars parked on the side of the road near to the centre over the past few days. Red this, and white that, with no registration details beyond county identification. Probably all hikers wandering about on the moorland. Nothing from the search. If he dumped the stuff from the room, he did it a long way from the centre.’
‘How about the Schmidt connection?’
‘I’ve had someone checking things out with the German embassy, but it’s going to take a few days to try and work out the family tree of Walter Schmidt. It might prove impossible – Schmidt’s a really common name. Plus the loss of records during the war and the post-war upheaval isn’t going to help things.’
‘Jesus! We’ve got bugger all!’ McEvoy snapped, frustrated with his morning – the traffic, the press conference, the lack of progress, Bishop’s pact. ‘For Christ’s sake!’ He tipped his head back against the headrest and stared up at the car’s roof.
‘Something’ll turn up,’ Barney tried to reassure. ‘How did it go with the media circus?’
‘I think I was the clown. The usual stuff. Someone had told one of the reporters about the note and business cards; Bishop saw red. We’ll see if it does any good beyond generating noise. Look, keep plugging away at your end and I’ll ring you later this afternoon.’
‘Okay, I’ll speak to you later.’ The call was disconnected.
McEvoy pulled the packet of cigarettes from his pocket and ripped off the cellophane wrapper. He flipped open the lid, teased a cigarette from the pack and jammed it between his lips. He fished a lighter from his pocket, lit it, and sucked down the smoke.
He blew it out slowly, savouring it and regretting it at the same time. He closed his eyes, listening to the rain starting to patter against the windscreen and roof. He took another drag and popped smoke rings, his mind sifting through the past 24 hours trying to find a fresh angle on the case.
McEvoy pulled the car to the kerb and looked across the road at the red brick, terrace housing. The properties looked tired, battered doors, paint peeling from window frames, and litter spread across the wet pavement. One of them had its windows boarded-up, a large padlock hung below the door handle. It had probably been bought by a property developer buying up stock for future re-investment. A couple years’ time and the whole area would be gentrified, a different set of people mixing with and pushing the older residents out.
He crossed the road to the boarded-up house, pulling up the collar of his suit jacket as if that would stop the light drizzle. There was no obvious way in. He headed right to where an alleyway led in past the end terrace. It was the smell, rather than the boards, that told him when he’d reached the right spot – the stench of rotting rubbish heavy in the air.
The dark green, wooden gate had been wedged shut. He pushed on it, testing its strength and then gave it a hard shove. It creaked open a few inches, enough to let him squeeze past into a yard piled high in household waste, some of it bagged, some of it thrown loose. A rough path had been kicked from the gate to the back door and he crept his way along it.
He grabbed the handle and let himself into a kitchen that looked as if a bomb had exploded in it. He waded through the debris and into a hallway. There were two doorways and a set of stairs leading upward. He opened the first doorway and stuck his head through the gap. In the dull light he could see a man of indeterminate age lying on a tatty, blue sleeping bag on top of bare floorboards across which were scattered beer cans and cigarette butts. In one corner of the room were a handful of used syringes, jutting at odd angles.
‘Fuck off,’ the man spat.
‘Where’s Karen?’ McEvoy demanded.
‘Who am I, her fuckin’ keeper? Upstairs.’
McEvoy closed the door and headed up the stairs, two at a time. There were three doors open off the landing. One led into a stinking bathroom. The door opposite the top of the stairs was slightly ajar. He pushed it open. The room was dully lit, the boarded-up window blocking out the sunlight.
A skinny woman was sitting on top of dirty blankets, her back wedged into the corner facing the door, her knees drawn up to her chest. Her thin face was drained of colour, strands of her long, black hair hung across it, her eyes downcast looking at his shadow. She was wearing a purple vest and grey jogging pants. Her arms were bare and she was shivering. Even in the poor light, McEvoy could see the tracks and bruising along the inside of her arms.
‘I don’t have it,’ she muttered, barely audible.
‘You don’t have what?’ McEvoy asked.
‘I don’t have your fuckin’ money,’ she hissed. ‘I’ll owe you. I’ll do whatever you want, but you’ve got to give me some. You’ve got to.’
‘I need to know about Laura.’
‘What?’ She looked up. ‘Who the fuck are you?’ she asked, her voice changing tone.
‘Detective Superintendent Colm McEvoy. You’re Karen?’
‘What d’ya want?’ she replied, ignoring his question, her body language becoming both anxious and defiant at the same time.
‘I need to know about Laura,’ he repeated.
‘I don’t know a Laura.’ She drew her knees tighter to her body, lowering her eyes again.
‘That’s not what I’ve heard. We found Laura’s body yesterday morning. Someone had rammed a sword through her head.’
Karen flicked her eyes up at him and then closed them. ‘I told you, I don’t know a Laura.’
‘We need to catch him, Karen. He’s going to kill again.’
‘Go fuck yourself,’ she murmured.
‘I know you knew her, Karen. She thought you were her friend.’ McEvoy threw a cigarette onto the bedding.
She grabbed at it, digging a lighter from between the folds in the blanket. She lit the cigarette and inhaled deeply.
‘Tell me about Laura,’ McEvoy asked evenly.
Karen stayed silent, letting the smoke trail from her nostrils.
‘Karen?’ McEvoy prompted.
‘Like what?’ she answered sharply.
‘What was she like?’
Karen shrugged. ‘She kept herself to herself.’
‘But you were friends?’ McEvoy pressed.
‘I hardly knew her. Nobody did.’
‘Where was she living? She must have been sleeping somewhere. Here?’
‘No, no. She wouldn’t come here. Didn’t trust the others. She was a loner.’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Come on Karen, where?’ McEvoy said, frustration in his voice.
‘I don’t know,’ she spat. ‘She never told me; didn’t tell me anything.’ She sucked greedily on the cigarette.
‘On the street? In a hideaway? Another squat? On a derelict site?’
‘I don’t know,’ she hissed. ‘I told you, I hardly knew her.’
‘Well, who did? Did she hang around with anyone? Did you see her with anyone else?’
‘No. She was always on her own. I never saw her with nobody. I need to go.’
‘Did she talk about anybody?’ McEvoy continued. ‘She talk about any friends?’
‘I told you, she didn’t say anything. She was just some lost kid.’
‘How about drugs?’ McEvoy pressed. ‘She take them?’
‘Never saw her. She just used to sup her vodka or gin. She could sink a bottle, no problem. She fuckin’ loved the stuff.’
‘Where’d she get the money for that?’
‘Begging. She used to hang round Connolly Station or sometimes
. Just sat on the pavement holding out a cup.’ She shifted her body. ‘That’s all she did. Just fuckin’ sat there.’
‘She do anything else, maybe a bit of prostitution?’
Karen stayed silent, drawing on the cigarette.
‘Karen?’ McEvoy pressed again.
‘I don’t know.’
‘But she might have done?’
‘You’d have to ask her.’ Karen crossed her arms and hugged herself. ‘I ain’t her keeper.’
‘I would, Karen, but she’s dead. Someone put a sword through her head,’ McEvoy said matter-of-fact.
Karen didn’t respond, trying to look strong, but appearing more like a petulant child. She sucked in another lungful of smoke and stared at the blanket.
McEvoy pushed himself off the windowsill and headed for the door. ‘I hope you’re not hiding the killer from me, Karen. You never know, you could be next.’
She stared up at him with defiant eyes, trying not to shiver.
He closed the door and headed back down the stairs. He shook his head at the squalor, kicking aside junk. How did anyone end up in such a mess? Shooting up shit; trying to block out the world; living like shadows. He thought of Gemma and vowed to find some quality time with her. He slipped out through the kitchen and back into the dull light and drizzle.
The man jerked his head back out of sight and then eased it forward slowly, peering through the dense foliage at McEvoy’s tall, lean figure emerging from the alley. It hadn’t taken the superintendent long to make his way to the squat. Perhaps he should have taken Laura last not first, but there was no point worrying about that now. What was important was to make sure
The Rule Book
was published in full.
He watched McEvoy ease himself into his car and a few moments later pull away from the kerb, heading away from him. It had been stupid to follow him – against all the rules. He was putting himself at unnecessary risk, yet he’d felt compelled to see what was happening – to judge how well the guards were getting on; to see that everything was still going to plan; to try and control and shape things. He knew he needed to back away and let things unfold as they should.
At the minute the guards still seemed to be concentrating on Laura, the body in Maynooth not yet discovered. Instinctively he glanced at his watch. He hoped he wasn’t going to have to give them a pointer; it wouldn’t do for the third chapter to be released before the second. The second body would also send them into a flatspin, dividing their attention and resources. He headed back to his dark blue Ford Fiesta and trailed after McEvoy, driving slowly past the squat, staring up at the boarded-up windows.
The second killing had almost been a textbook affair. The victim had known nothing of the attack except for the brief millisecond between the satisfying, hollow thwack to the skull and unconsciousness. The only worry had been controlling his anger as he had approached Hennessey. It bloomed as a bright red sun, threatening to boil over and consume him. It had taken all of his self-control to keep it in check, to manage and harness it, rather than be engulfed by it.
He was now its master, not the other way round. Not like when he was a child when he would fly into fits of uncontainable, blind rage-driven tantrums. As he’d grown older, become a teenager, he’d learnt to manage his anger, found ways to vent it in controlled ways, although occasionally it welled up and exploded into violence. Now he knew how to cultivate and harness it, draw strength from it.
Once the figure had hit the tarmac he’d easily suppressed his fury. After that it had been easy, slipping the bag over the bloody and lifeless head and pulling the dead weight down through the yew trees to the cemetery wall.
As he stripped the clothes from the body he’d felt as he imagined a pathologist or funeral director would do when they worked with the dead – cold, distanced, measured. He felt nothing for the victim; seemingly felt nothing at all.