Authors: KC Acton
“Tell me about Rodger Ian Price,” prompted Dr Crowley.
“I took an instant dislike to him,” said Faith, frowning at the memory. “He was a short, dumpy little man with dyed brown hair and a comb over. His front teeth were crossed and the open pores on his skin were like craters. He wore his jeans hitched up too high and his shirt tucked into his jeans, which emphasised his pot belly. At first, he tried too hard to be nice, but he came across as smarmy and patronising. I hated his stupid jokes, his high-pitched laugh, his old-fashioned clothes, and everything about him. I didn’t want to get to know him. I didn’t want anyone to replace my father.
“Mum said he was just a friend, but when she stayed over at his place a few nights a week, I realised that he was more than that. Granny wasn’t too impressed with him either, but she said he was better than my father. I tried to hide my feelings from my mother. I wanted her to be happy, but I couldn’t handle any more upheaval in my life.
“I was devastated when mum announced that we were going to live with Rodger on his farm in Galway, miles away from Granny. Mum barely knew him. I’d only just accepted that she and Dad weren’t getting back together. I couldn’t understand why she settled for the first man she’d dated after Dad. Timmy was too young to understand, but he didn’t want to leave Granny either. It was all too much for me: my parents’ separation, moving countries, and now moving again to live with a man who I didn’t know and didn’t like.
“Rodger lived in a poky little farmhouse. There wasn’t enough room for all four of us. I had to share a room with Timmy. Rodger and Mum’s bedroom was only big enough for a bed and a wardrobe. The sitting room had an old television and an ancient sofa shoved against the window. The kitchen was small and old-fashioned. I’ll never forget our first night at his house; dirty dishes were piled in the sink, and flies buzzed around on the counter.
“My temper tantrums didn’t work. Telling Rodger and my mother that I hated them and that I’d run away didn’t work either, so my only option was to try and make this new living arrangement work. Not long after we went to live with him, Rodger’s true colours emerged. He was petty, short-tempered and often made snide remarks to my mother about how he was such a martyr for taking us in. I felt like yelling at him that we weren’t homeless before Mum met him, but I didn’t bother; it would have only caused more trouble.
“I caught myself watching what I said and did so I wouldn’t trigger one of his outbursts. Anything could set him off, depending on his mood, and if I gave him cheek, he ended up taking his anger out on my mother. Part of me was disgusted with her for her weakness; the more domineering Rodger became, the more helpless she was. I knew she was afraid of him.
“Pandering to his moods only made him worse. Granny tried talking to me about him a few times, but I didn’t know what to say.
“I felt alone and isolated on the farm, miles away from Granny and the life I had settled into in Killarney. Mum spent most of her days at work, and in the evenings helped Rodger on the farm. She stopped attending my school plays and games, and showed little interest in my schoolwork. I didn’t fit in with her new life. I spent most of my time alone in my room, venting in my diary, wishing I was older so I could move away.”
“What did your father think about this new man?” asked Dr Crowley.
“He couldn’t have cared less; he was too busy with his own life.” Faith leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes.
“What are you thinking about?”
“I’m thinking about the time my father told me he could get away with murder.”
“Tell me about it.”
Faith kept her eyes closed as she spoke. “’I know how to get away with murder,’ said Dad. He kept his eyes fixed on the road ahead, one hand on the steering wheel, the other dangling out the open window.
“I stared at him open-mouthed as the words of Bowie’s ‘Dancing in the Street’ blasted from the radio.
“‘I know how to kill someone and not get caught,’ he said, enunciating every word, as if I couldn’t understand him.
“I looked away and glanced over my shoulder at Timmy who was strapped into the back seat. For the first time, I noticed the detective magazines strewn across the floor. My stomach clenched and my thoughts raced as I tried to think of something to say.
“‘You’re hilarious, Dad.’ I forced a laugh I didn’t feel. I would have said anything to cover the awkward silence.
“‘I’m not joking.’ His face was serious when he turned to look at me.
“‘Ok, so how would you do it?’ Time seemed to slow down as I waited for his reply.
“‘The trick is not to leave any fingerprints behind,’ he replied. ‘I’d change my shoes, and maybe wear a smaller size, so that the police would think it’s someone else.’
“I wiped the cold sweat from my forehead as I scanned the countryside, searching for a landmark that would show we weren’t far from home. In the distance, I saw the spire of the cathedral. It was all I could do not to let out a sigh of relief.
“‘Not everything is as it seems,’ he said.
“My stomach flipped. I knew something was wrong. I sank into the seat, wishing I could disappear. ‘What is it, Dad?’ I whispered, when the silence became unbearable.
“‘It doesn’t matter, darling.’ He kept his eyes on the road ahead, ‘I shouldn’t have said anything.’
“I watched him, wondering what he wanted to tell me. Part of me had to know. ‘Tell me, Dad. What were you going to say?’
“‘You’d just tell the police,’ he said.
“I wasn’t expecting that. Everything slowed down, and I felt like I was in a horror movie, not knowing what would happen next. ‘What have you done?’ I couldn’t help myself; my morbid curiosity got the better of me. I held my breath as I waited for him to reply.
“‘I have to tell someone. I can’t keep this to myself any longer. Faith, I’m not who you think I am.’
“‘Dad, stop the car. I’m going to throw up.’
“The car screeched to a halt, and I jumped out. The cool breeze felt good against my burning cheeks. I sat down on the grass, feeling weak. Eventually, I took a deep breath and got back into the passenger seat. He was singing along to the radio as if nothing had happened.
“‘Feeling better?’ he asked as we drove along.
“‘Yes,’ I lied. I couldn’t wait to get out of the car, and far away from him.”
“Did your father mention anything else about killing people?” asked Dr Crowley.
“One night, just after dinner, he called me. He didn’t call often, so I wondered if something was wrong. He sounded panicky on the phone, and he was talking fast. I asked him what was wrong.
“‘I wish I was dead, Faith,’ he said, ‘I’m going to kill myself. I can’t take this life anymore.’
“My heart pounded, and my mouth went dry. ‘Why would you say that?’ I asked, “what about us? We need you.’
“‘It’s not about you,’ he snapped. I started crying. It never was about me. That was the last time I ever heard from him. Two weeks later he was dead.”
“Did your father molest you?” asked Dr Crowley. His kind brown eyes bored into hers.
Faith looked away, her cheeks burning. She pulled her knees up to her chest, struggling to hold back the tears. “No, but he made me feel uncomfortable. I remember trying to talk to him about sex because my mother refused to discuss anything with me. She lived in her own little world, and she changed the subject or walked away if I asked her anything real. I couldn’t help being curious. But my father took it to the other extreme; he said I should do whatever feels good. He was disrespectful of himself and women. He told me intimate details about the women he dated and teased me about my interest in boys. I didn’t know how to respond.” She glanced at Dr Crowley, wondering if he could sense her shame.
“What sort of things did he tell you?”
“He talked about their bodies and what they did together.” Her voice was almost a whisper as she described the graphic details of what her father had told her.
“Are you sure he didn’t hurt you, Faith?”
“I’m positive.” The long-buried feelings of shame washed over her and she wished she had said nothing. She’d never told anyone. “What’s the point of talking about the past?” she demanded, slamming her fist on the chair. “When I needed help back then, no one was there. Now I’m a grown woman, I can deal with it myself.” Her eyes blazed as she glared at the doctor.
“Are you dealing with it?” he asked.
She crumpled and cried for the family she’d loved and lost and for the lonely little girl who hadn’t known where to turn.
“Shall we finish for today?” he asked, once her tears had subsided.
“No. I want to get better. I need to let go of my past and move on.” She sniffed and wiped her tears away.
“Tell me about your first boyfriend,” said Dr Crowley.
“His name was Adam. He was a little taller than me. He was skinny with a thick mop of curly brown hair. I met him at school. He was clever and made me laugh. We became friends and spent more and more time together after school. Being with Adam was the first time in a long time that I felt happy and safe. Life at home was going from bad to worse; Mum and Rodger were always bickering. Adam was a welcome escape for a while.” Faith gazed unseeing out the window, oblivious to the burnt oranges and crimson reds of late autumn.
“What happened?” Dr Crowley prompted.
“Adam raped me.” The colour drained from her face. It was the first time she’d told anyone. The words hung in the air for a while as she spiralled back to that day. She closed her eyes and saw the face of the boy who she thought she loved, turn into a monster in front of her as he pushed her down and ignored her screams. “I couldn’t make him stop. He wouldn’t listen. It was like he was someone else. Afterwards, I went home and sat in the bath for hours, trying to wash the smell of him away.” Her stomach heaved at the memory.
“Did you report him?”
“No. I never told a soul. My mother would have been disgusted. I didn’t want to be the talk of the school, so I kept it to myself. Adam tried to tell me he was sorry. He thought everything could go back to normal. Not for me; two months later I found out I was pregnant.”
“Why didn’t you tell your family?”
“There were two rules in our house: don’t mention anything uncomfortable and don’t ask why. Besides, I thought no one would believe me. I was too ashamed. I felt it was my fault; I should have known better.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“It’s all my fault. I should have listened to my intuition. I should have listened to the warning voice in my head that told me to stay away from Adam.”
“What happened to your baby?”
“I left her at a church.” Faith touched the locket at her neck.
Dr Crowley sat up straight in his chair. “Do you know what happened to her?”
Faith shook her head. “I watched from a distance until someone came for her. The priest took her in. It was the best thing for her.”
“Did no one notice your pregnancy?”
“I was sick with worry and fear; I didn’t gain much weight. I wore baggy clothes. Mum was too caught up with Rodger to notice or care. I tried telling her once, but she didn’t want to know. It was a living nightmare. I thought about killing myself; it was the only way out that I could see.”
“What stopped you?”
She took a deep breath. “I prayed like I had never prayed before. It was the only consolation I had. Somehow, I got the strength to keep going. One day led into the next. Then it was over.”
“Have you ever tried to find your daughter?”
“No. She’s better off without me.” She scrubbed at her eyes with a crumpled tissue. “But not a day goes by that I don’t think about her.”
“What was your daughter’s name?”
“Rachel. I named her Rachel.”
“It is my firm belief that the perpetrator of the Gleeson murders is a master hitman,” said Dr Nicholas Morgan, addressing the packed incident room. He was a large man, dressed head to toe in black, and his shoulders were hunched from spending too much time at his desk. “The master hitman is seldom caught; we only see the aftermath of their hit. Sometimes, they leave the bullets or gun behind because they will never be connected to them, which is presumably why the Gleesons’ killer left the bullet casings at the scene. As long as the gun kills the target and cannot be connected to him, the hitman is happy. In my opinion, the hit on the Gleesons was carefully co-ordinated.”
“I don’t agree with you there,” Kelly piped up. “The hit on the Gleesons was messy; one child was left to die at the scene, and the other was hidden inside the car. If the hitman was such a master, he wouldn’t have left anyone alive. He would have known who was in the car and wouldn’t have taken the risk of a tourist happening upon the scene.”
Dr Morgan smiled patiently. “Several hits that my team and I studied had multiple witnesses. Hits are often carried out in public places. Few hits take place in seedy bars or clubs, out of sight. Hiring a hitman sounds like something from an action film, but to anyone observing, it looks like two people having a business meeting. More often than not, the murder occurs close to the target’s home. However, a high percentage of hitmen don’t fulfil the contract; they either mess up the job or don’t go through with it at the last minute. Often, the hit is about one person. It is unusual for an entire family to be targeted. The contract typically involves one person at a specific time. We shouldn’t presume that the killer knew how many people were going to the Black Valley that day. Maybe the hitman only expected Mr Gleeson to be there, which makes it even more surprising that he overcame the disadvantage the children being there, and still carried out the hit. If you think about it, the hit was a success because we have no concrete intelligence; all we have is local gossip. It’s unlikely that the killer is from the area, making it all the more difficult to catch him. He committed the hit and left unnoticed.”
“So what were the Gleesons doing in that part of the Black Valley?” asked Plunkett. “It’s off the usual tourist path and is mostly used by hillwalkers or forest workers. There’s nothing much to do or see there.”
“I believe the Gleesons were lured there by the killer,” continued Dr Morgan. “The hit was always going to take place at that spot. The hit was carefully co-ordinated, which is typical of a master hitman at work. On the surface, it could be argued that the killings were accidental, but I have studied many hits over the years, in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and often there is a complicated backstory to getting the victim to the hitman’s planned location. It’s possible that the Gleesons were chased by an accomplice so they would unwittingly drive to the location where the hitman was already waiting, which might explain why the children were there.”
“Another psycho on the loose.” Byrne sighed.
“Quite the contrary. Most hitmen are not psychopathic. They are motivated by money. The motivation is seldom personal. They are hired to do a job. Often their background is firearms-related.”
“If the Black Valley murders are the work of a professional killer, who was the killer working for?” asked Faith as she stood by the whiteboard.
“Right now, all we know is that there was more than likely one killer,” said Dr Morgan. “He’s experienced in stressful situations, and he receives minimal information from his employer. After the hit, he disappears back to his nondescript life, where he doesn’t say or do anything remarkable. No one notices him. He’s every man and no man. He’s a ghost.”
Faith stared at the myriad photos covering the whiteboard. Everything was a blur except for the circled RIP in the centre. “RIP,” she muttered. “How the hell do we find a ghost?”
“That, I’m afraid, I can’t tell you,” said Dr Morgan.
“Do we have any more information on the man who was arguing with Mr Gleeson the day before the murders?” asked Faith.
“Witnesses have said he looked Eastern European, but we haven’t been able to track him down,” said Kelly.
“Makes sense,” said Dr Morgan. “Many expert contract killers are from the former Yugoslavia or Albania: people in need of hard cash, who learned deadly combat skills during the Bosnia and Kosovo war.”
“Let’s begin at the beginning. Let’s say I have a grudge against the Gleesons. Where would I go if I wanted them killed?” asked Faith.
“There are several international websites offering hitmen for hire,” said Plunkett, glancing at his computer as he typed in the search. “Costs begin at four hundred euro for a ‘light shake-down’, and increase in cost and severity up to murder. Options include death from apparently natural causes, an accident, a random murder, or an arranged hit.”
“We’re searching for a needle in a bloody haystack, boss,” said Byrne. “Whoever had them killed is once removed from the victims. It’s like they have their own personal firewall.”
“Stating the obvious won’t get us anywhere,” muttered Kelly.
“Do you have any ideas, Einstein?” snapped Byrne, rounding on him. Her cheeks flushed.
“Now, now, children,” interrupted Faith. “Bickering among ourselves won’t get us anywhere.”
“What was that you said about a firewall?” asked Plunkett, tapping his pen against his forehead.
“The killer’s like a computer firewall, or security system, because he’s protecting the person with the motive — the real killer.”
“Have we turned up anything yet from the Gleesons’ emails?” asked Faith, following Plunkett’s train of thought.
“We’re still going through them,” said Nora.
“We can’t rule out the possibility that either Daniel or Amira Gleeson hired the hitman,” said Faith. “There has to be something in those emails.”