Authors: KC Acton
A few hours later, a man joined the locals, who were enjoying some cool beers at the pub. The heatwave had taken hold and the holiday atmosphere was in full flow. Inside, the pub was packed with those who’d had enough of the heat, while outside, tourists sat at the tables and chairs, soaking up the evening sunshine. Spirits were high; everyone was grateful for a respite from the turbulent moods of a typical Irish summer.
The man chatted and drank with the tourists and locals, but his mind was elsewhere. He had spotted the family in the town a few days before and had watched them wandering about the shops, eating ice cream, smiling, and chatting: the perfect family. He had had that once, but he had lost it all. He had watched them get into the Mercedes, and at a safe distance, had followed them.
Resentment coursed through him; he couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt loved, or had any real connection with someone. But he had wiped the smug smiles off their faces. They hadn’t seen him coming. More people needed to know what it was like to be alone. He smirked, wondering what people would say if they knew what he was thinking.
He sat outside, basking in the warmth of the sun, reliving what he had done. People needed a good fright every once in a while. In future, maybe more happy families would stay at home, behind closed doors, so he wouldn’t have to look at their smug faces while he sat on the outside looking in.
His temper simmered as a wailing child broke through his thoughts. He glanced around, convinced that people were talking about him. He stood up and flung a few euros on the table. Idiots, it was their own fault for provoking him to such violence. Why couldn’t they keep their smug, happy clappy lives to themselves?
He would show everyone the fine line between happiness and devastation. Soon, the whole town would know what it was like to lose everything and be left alone in the world. He had the power to reduce these people to nothing. Of course, he’d make sure to be there to help pick up the pieces. One way or another, he’d be the centre of their worlds, someone to be admired or feared, they could choose.
“I don’t want to go to school,” cried Faith. “I want to stay at home with you.”
“But you’re a big girl now,” said her mother, “big girls don’t stay at home with their Mummy and baby brother.”
“I don’t want to go,” she whimpered, clinging to her mother, knowing that everything would change when her father returned home that evening. She loved having her mother all to herself, knowing that for a few days at least there wouldn’t be any shouting or crying. Her father had always had a quick temper, but he used to be fun. He used to play games and tumble about with her, but lately, he only ever seemed to be in a bad mood, and got a sick kick out of upsetting her. No amount of gifts could ease the dread she felt in his presence.
“I thought you loved school,” said her mother, helping her into her coat, which was two sizes too big. “Think about all the fun you’ll have with your friends today.”
“Okay.” The little girl shrugged, but she couldn’t shake the sense of foreboding.
She dragged herself onto the school bus and waved a tearful goodbye to her mother. The bus bumped along the narrow country lanes. It was stiflingly hot, and even with the windows down, Faith felt sick. She squirmed in her seat, trying to get rid of the panicky feeling.
A driver overtook them, blowing the horn. He pointed frantically at the back of the bus. Someone screamed, and that’s when Faith saw the flames and thick black smoke. Soon all forty children on the bus were crying and shouting. The driver screeched to a halt, sending the children flying out of their seats as flames billowed from the back row. He ushered everyone off the bus as the heat and smoke enveloped them. Faith felt that the screaming would never end. She flung herself on the grass outside the bus and closed her eyes.
Suddenly, she remembered the stray puppy that had goto get utten stuck in a barrel at their house. When she had heard his frightened yelps she had called her parents for help. Dad had gone to see what all the commotion was about, but instead of freeing the puppy, he had poured petrol on him and had thrown his burning cigarette at him. The memory of the puppy’s agonised squeals blended with her screams in the present. She could still hear her father’s mocking laugh. She coughed and spluttered in the midst of the smoke and chaos, thinking she was about to die, just like the poor stray puppy.
As everything turned black, part of her wanted to die too, but she forced herself up and started running. Everything was a blur as she ran through fields and past trees, almost blinded by her tears. She had to get home to her mother.
“Mummy! Mummy!” she cried out.
Her mother appeared at the front door, aghast. “Faith! What happened?”
Through breathless sobs, she told her mother about the fire on the bus. “You’re okay now, darling. You’re safe.” One look at her daughter’s tear-streaked face and the smell of smoke from her clothes, and she knew Faith was telling the truth. She fell into a fitful sleep in her mother’s arms. When she woke up she tried to pretend that the fire had never happened, just as she had blocked the memory of the puppy from her mind, but she would never forget the sense of warning she had felt.
“It’s good to see you again, Faith,” said Dr Crowley, a dishevelled man with serene features and a grey beard. His black hair was streaked with silver.
Faith hovered at the door uncertainly. “I can’t say I feel the same way, Doc.” She smiled weakly.
“Please, have a seat.” He indicated the soft leather reclining chair on the other side of his desk. He adjusted the framed photograph of his wife and turned it towards Faith, knowing that it often helped a nervous female patient to see another woman’s face.
Faith perched at the edge of the chair. Part of her wanted to get up and run away, but she knew she needed help. “How’s your wife?”
“She’s good.” He looked fondly at the photo. Faith couldn’t help noticing that his wife’s smile didn’t reach her eyes.
“Have you had any more flashbacks?” The doctor observed her kindly over the rim of his glasses.
“Some. They’re increasing lately, especially at night. I’m never sure if they’re nightmares, or if they really happened.”
“That’s the nature of repressed memory,” Dr Crowley explained. “It’s one of the most haunting concepts in psychology. The mind pushes a shocking event into the darkest recesses of the unconscious. Years later, the memories can re-emerge.”
“Why now, over thirty years later? It doesn’t make sense.”
“Your repressed memories are associated with a high level of trauma. Your brain shut down that part of your memory as a coping mechanism, not to reduce your suffering but to promote your survival. Initially, traumatic memories are retrieved as dissociate mental imprints, more commonly known as flashbacks.”
Faith nodded, trying to make sense of everything he was saying. “But I’ve made my peace with that part of my life. It was so long ago. I don’t want to rehash it.”
“Your trauma is deep-seated, and it will most likely continue to influence your relationships and your view on life until you deal with it. I’ve read the diary you gave me during your last session. You say you wrote it when you were fifteen?”
“It’s interesting that you wrote the diary in the third person; referring to yourself as ‘the little girl’ and ‘Faith’. Even back then, you were trying to maintain a distance from the trauma in your life.”
“I liked writing stories,” said Faith, “I found it cathartic. Writing helped me get the emotions out of my head and onto paper. In a sense, it was a release. I didn’t have anyone to confide in. I had trust issues back then–I still have.”
“Understandable, considering the two people who were supposed to protect you, didn’t.”
Faith gazed out the window at the breath-taking scenery of Ladies’ View, which was one of the most sought-after real-estate areas in Killarney and a popular tourist attraction. In 1861, Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting stopped on their trip around the Ring of Kerry to admire the panoramic landscape, which is where the name “Ladies’ View” originated.
Mist descended across the valley from the mountains in the distance. Absently, Faith watched the small boat moored at the end of the garden as the water gently buffeted it against the wooden jetty. Faith was used to the terrifying side of life. She knew, first-hand, what lingering despair and isolation did to the soul. However, no one knew anything about the sinister black emptiness inside her that refused to be filled no matter what she tried. Food didn’t work, shopping didn’t help, sometimes, a new relationship distracted her for a while, but eventually the dark emptiness overpowered any joy she felt. She looked into Dr Crowley’s eyes. Unaware of the locks and nails of her secrecy, he expected her honesty. Deep down, she knew that being completely honest with him would mean facing her biggest demon, and she didn’t know if she was ready for that yet.
“Despite the horrors of your childhood, Faith,” said Dr Crowley, “you have choices. Now, you’re discovering the light in the midst of the darkness. One step at a time, one choice at a time, you are breaking the chains of your past.”
“So how do I get past my past and start living a normal life?”
“There is a treatment,” he continued hesitantly. “It’s recovered-memory therapy. It’s controversial because it uses hypnosis and guided-imagery techniques. Hypnosis, if done correctly, is a great therapeutic tool. Rigorously controlled studies have shown that hypnosis reduces pain and can control blood pressure, but because we don’t fully understand how it works, most doctors are sceptical of its power. Hypnotic trance opens a window to the imagination, where we can glimpse how the mind differentiates between dreaming and reality. Imagination can alter perception, but consciously we’re not aware of it. Hypnosis breaks down that distinction, allowing the body and the mind to tap into hidden reserves of strength. There’s no doubt that hypnosis is a controversial treatment, but I believe that it can help you.”
Faith raised her eyebrows. “I’m not sure. Hypnosis makes me think of mind control and loss of consciousness.”
“The opposite is true,” said Dr Crowley. “Hypnosis induces an alert state in which the patient’s focus is heightened. If done correctly, it’s a powerful technique that can help a patient with smoking cessation, weight issues, and stress-related problems, to name but a few. Medical hypnosis is nothing like stage hypnosis. As a formal procedure, medical hypnosis takes training and experience. Both the British and American medical associations recognise it as a legitimate treatment.”
“I’m not sure. How long will it take to get a result?” asked Faith.
“If it’s going to work, it will be effective within a few sessions. What do you have to lose? There’s no need for pills or gadgets. All I need is your permission to let me guide you into a hypnotic state.”
She rubbed her tired eyes and stared at the ceiling for divine inspiration.
“Faith, you’re not alone.” Dr Crowley watched her thoughts flicker across her expressive face. “Remember, we are only as sick as out secrets.”
“I’m melting,” said Detective Janet Byrne, as she fanned her flushed face with a CD case. “And I’m about to suffocate from the amount of cologne Plunkett’s wearing.”
“I can go
next time, if you prefer,” Plunkett retaliated, “maybe you prefer the smell of sweaty armpits.”
Byrne rolled her eyes.
“Now, now children,” said Faith, cranking down the window. “I’ve been meaning to get the air-con fixed for weeks. There’s always something going wrong with the old girl.” She patted the steering wheel of her Jeep affectionately.
“Might be time for a trade-in, boss,” said Byrne.
“I wouldn’t trade her for the world. She and I have history.”
Byrne glanced at her quizzically.
“She belonged to my grandmother,” Faith explained. “There’s plenty of life in her yet.”
“If you say so.” Byrne stuck her head out the window, grateful for the breeze as they sped up the motorway towards Dublin.
“Everything alright back there?” Faith eyed Detective Martin Plunkett in the rear-view mirror. He looked more like a male model than a murder detective with his coiffed hair and designer stubble.
“I’m grand, just reading the morning headlines,” Plunkett replied, glancing up from his iPad.
“Hoping they’ll solve the case for us?” teased Byrne.
“If only it were that easy,” he grinned. “They’re just rehashing what little we know.”
“I hope our meeting with the family will shed more light on what happened,” said Faith. She stared out the windscreen, dreading confirming to Daniel Gleeson’s parents that their son and daughter-in-law were dead. Although she had spoken with bereaved families many times, delivering the devastating news to a loved-one didn’t get any easier.
Three hours later, the green fields of the countryside faded into the distance behind them as Dublin City loomed into view. Faith sighed; she hated traffic, and there was nothing worse than rush-hour traffic in the capital city. She blew the horn, tempted to put the siren on.
“We’ve got at least another half hour of this, boss,” said Byrne. “There are roadworks for the next few miles up ahead.”
“To hell with this,” said Faith. She leaned out the window and stuck the siren on the roof. Immediately, the traffic parted, and she drove through, taking the first exit off the motorway towards Clontarf: a coastal suburb, located two miles from Dublin’s city centre.
Ten minutes later, they pulled up outside a red-bricked Georgian house, overlooking Dublin Bay. The news crews were already there. Photographers and journalists were standing by, waiting to pounce on any titbit of information. Faith ignored their questions and camera flashes as she pushed open the gate at the end of the garden. Plunkett and Byrne were hot on her heels. Faith rang the doorbell and steeled herself.
“Who is it?” demanded a voice from inside.
“DCI Faith Whyte. I’d like to speak with Conor and Mary Gleeson, please.”
The door opened a crack. Faith flashed her badge.
“Come in.” The door opened a little wider, and the officers entered a dark hallway. “I’m Conor Gleeson.” He gripped Faith’s hand firmly. “What’s going on?” He was a short man in his late sixties, with thinning grey hair and intense brown eyes.
“Is your wife home?” asked Faith, looking away.
“Yes, she’s in the kitchen. This way.”
They followed him down the hallway to a room at the back of the house. The kitchen was bright and airy and led out to a stunning garden that was in full bloom. A plump woman with white hair and glasses stood by the oven. She was pale beneath her tanned face.
“The police are here, love,” said Conor, putting an arm around her. “This is Mary, my wife.”
“I think you should sit down,” said Faith.
“Just tell us, please,” said Mary, “is it them?”
“I regret to inform you that the bodies of your son and daughter-in-law were found last Sunday in Killarney,” said Faith. Her voice cracked as she delivered the devastating news.
Mary shook her head, not wanting to believe it. “Are you sure it’s them?”
“I’m afraid so. Your son’s driving licence was in the car.”
“What about the girls?” asked Conor.
“Lucy is in Killarney hospital, and Megan is temporarily in the care of Social Services.”
They nodded, struggling to take it in.
“What happened?” asked Mary.
“We believe they were murdered.”
“Murdered? Who would want to kill them? They were ordinary people.” Mary put her head in her hands.
“Did they have any enemies?” asked Plunkett, all business with his notebook and pen poised.
Mary raised her head and glanced at her husband. She started to say something when he silenced her with an almost imperceptible shake of his head.
“As my wife said, they were ordinary people. My son’s a lecturer, and Amira works part-time as an interpreter and translator. They don’t have any enemies.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” said Faith, hating the banal words, “but I have to ask you some questions.”
“‘Sorry’ won’t bring them back, will it?” snapped Conor.
Faith looked away. She didn’t know where to put herself. The police had called to her door once, many years before, so she understood his hostility.
“We’ll need you to identify the bodies, sir,” said Plunkett, coming to her rescue.
“We must get the girls,” interrupted Mary. “My God, our poor babies. They must be frightened out of their minds.” She jumped up and grabbed her handbag off the kitchen counter. “How could we have let this happen?”
“None of this is your fault,” said Faith, “before you go anywhere, Mrs. Gleeson, I do
need to ask you both some questions.”
Mary replaced her handbag on the counter. “I’ll make tea,” she said. Her hands shook as she took cups and saucers from the cupboard.
“I’ll do that,” said Byrne, gently taking the cups from her, and leading her back to the table. “You should sit down.”
“Thank you.” Mary smiled gratefully.
Faith leaned across the table and squeezed the older woman’s hand. “I want you to know that we’ll find who did this, no matter what it takes.”