The sixth book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, 2016
My ma used to tell me stories about my da. The first one I remember, he was an Egyptian prince who wanted to marry her and stay in Ireland forever, only his family made him go home to marry an Arabian princess. She told a good story, my ma. Amethyst rings on his long fingers, the two of them dancing under turning lights, his smell like spices and pine. Me, spreadeagled under my bedsheet, coated in sweat like I’d been dipped – it was winter, but the Corpo set the heating for the whole block of flats, and the windows on the high floors didn’t open – I crammed that story into me as deep as I could, and kept it there. I was only little. That story held my chin high for years, till I was eight and told it to my best friend Lisa, who broke her shite laughing.
A couple of months later, once the sting had faded, I marched into the kitchen one afternoon, stuck my fists on my hips and demanded the truth. My ma didn’t miss a beat: squirted Fairy liquid and told me he was a medical student, over from Saudi Arabia. She met him because she was studying nursing – lots of nice details there, the long shifts and the tired laughs and the two of them saving some kid who’d been hit by a car. By the time she found out I was on the way, he was gone, back to Saudi, without leaving an address. She dropped out of nursing college and had me.
That one kept me going for another while. I liked it; I even started making secret plans to be the first person from my school ever to become a doctor, seeing as it was in my blood and all. That lasted till I was twelve and got detention for something, and got an earful from my ma about how she wasn’t having me end up like her, with no Leaving Cert and no hope of anything but minimum-wage cleaning jobs for the rest of her life. I’d heard it all a thousand times before, but that day it occurred to me that you need a Leaving Cert to study nursing.
On my thirteenth birthday I sat across the cake from her and told her this time I wasn’t messing, I wanted to know. She sighed, said I was old enough to know the truth and told me he was a Brazilian guitarist she’d gone out with for a couple of months, till one night at his flat he beat the shite out of her. When he fell asleep, she robbed his car keys and drove home like a bat out of hell, the dark roads rained empty and her eye throbbing in time with the wipers. When he rang sobbing and apologising, she might even have taken him back – she was twenty – only by then she knew about me. She hung up on him.
That was the day I decided I was going to be a cop when I left school. Not because I wanted to go Catwoman on all the abusers out there, but because my ma can’t drive. I knew the cop training college was somewhere down the country. It was the fastest way I could think of to get out of my ma’s flat without taking that dead-end cleaning job.
My birth cert says
I never asked her again. When I was thirteen it was because I hated her guts, for all the time I’d spent moulding my life around her bullshit stories. By the time I was older, by the time I made it into training college, it was because I thought maybe I knew what she had been doing, and I knew she had been right.
The case comes in, or anyway it comes in to us, on a frozen dawn in the kind of closed-down January that makes you think the sun’s never going to drag itself back above the horizon. Me and my partner are finishing up another night shift, the kind I used to think wouldn’t exist on the Murder squad: a massive scoop of boring and a bigger one of stupid, topped off with an avalanche of paperwork. Two scumbags decided to round off their Saturday night out by using another scumbag’s head as a dance mat, for reasons that are clear to no one including them; we turned up six witnesses, every one of whom was banjoed drunk, every one of whom told a different story from the other five, and every one of whom wanted us to forget the murder case and investigate why he had been thrown out of the pub/sold bad skunk/ditched by his girlfriend. By the time Witness Number 6 ordered me to find out why the dole had cut him off, I was ready to tell him it was because he was too stupid to legally qualify as a human being and kick all their arses out onto the street, but my partner does patience better than I do, which is one of the main reasons I keep him around. We eventually managed to get four of the witness statements matching not only each other but the evidence, meaning now we can charge one of the scumbags with murder and the other one with assault, which presumably means we’ve saved the world from evil in some way that I can’t be arsed figuring out.
We’ve signed over the scumbags for processing and we’re typing up our reports, making sure they’ll be on the gaffer’s desk all nice and tidy when he comes in. Across from me Steve is whistling, which out of most people would make me want to do damage, but he’s doing it right: some old trad tune that I quarter-remember from sing-songs when I was a kid, low and absent and contented, breaking off when he needs to concentrate and coming back with easy trills and flourishes when the report starts going right again.
Him, and the whispery hum of the computers, and the winter wind idling around the windows: just those, and silence. Murder works out of the grounds of Dublin Castle, smack in the heart of town, but our building is tucked away a few corners from the fancy stuff the tourists come to see, and our walls are thick; even the early-morning traffic out on Dame Street only makes it through to us as a soft undemanding hum. The jumbles of paperwork and photos and scribbled notes left on people’s desks look like they’re charging up, thrumming with action waiting to happen. Outside the tall sash windows the night is thinning towards a chilled grey; the room smells of coffee and hot radiators. At that hour, if I could overlook all the ways the night shift blows, I could love the squad room.
Me and Steve know all the official reasons we get loaded down with night shifts. We’re both single, no wives or husbands or kids waiting at home; we’re the youngest on the squad, we can take the fatigue better than the guys looking at retirement; we’re the newbies – even me, two years in – so suck it up, bitches. Which we do. This isn’t uniform, where if your boss is a big bad meanie you can put in a request for reassignment. There’s no other Murder squad to transfer to; this is the one and only. If you want it, and both of us do, you take whatever it throws at you.
Some people actually work in the Murder squad I set my sights on, way back when: the one where you spend your day playing knife-edge mind-games with psychopathic geniuses, knowing that one wrong blink could mean the difference between victory and another dead body down the line. Me and Steve, we get to rubberneck at the cunning psychopaths when the other lads walk them past the interview room where we’re bashing our heads against yet another Spouse of the Year from our neverending run of domestics, which the gaffer throws our way because he knows they piss me right off. The head-dancing morons at least made a change.
Steve hits Print, and the printer in the corner starts its rickety wheeze. ‘You done?’ he asks.
‘Just about.’ I’m scanning my report for typos, making sure the gaffer’s got no excuse to give me hassle.
He links his fingers over his head and stretches backwards, setting his chair creaking. ‘Pint? The early houses’ll be opening.’
‘You must be joking.’
Steve, God help me, also does positivity better than I do. I give him a stare that should nip that in the bud. ‘Celebrate what?’
He grins. Steve is thirty-three, a year older than me, but he looks younger: maybe the schoolboy build, all gangly legs and skinny shoulders; maybe the orange hair that sticks up in the wrong places; or maybe the relentless godawful cheerfulness. ‘We got them, did you not notice?’
‘Your granny could’ve got those two.’
‘Probably. And she’d’ve gone for a pint after.’
‘She was an alco, yeah?’
‘Total lush. I’m just trying to live up to her standards.’ He heads for the printer and starts sorting pages. ‘Come on.’
‘Nah. Another time.’ I don’t have it in me. I want to go home, go for a run, stick something in the microwave and fry my brain with shite telly, and then get some sleep before I have to do it all over again.
The door bangs open and O’Kelly, our superintendent, sticks his head in, early as usual to see if he can catch anyone asleep. Mostly he arrives all rosy and shiny, smelling of shower and fry-up, every line of his combover in place – I can’t prove it’s to rub it in to the tired bastards stinking of night shift and stale Spar danishes, but it would be in character. This morning, at least he looks ragged around the edges – eyebags, tea-stain on his shirt – which I figure is probably my bit of satisfaction for the day used up right there.
‘Moran. Conway,’ he says, eyeing us sus ...