Humiliation, unhappiness, discord
are the ancient foods of heroes.
Borges, On Blindness, 1983
The Most Famous Man In The World
ven the fulminating racists on the
far side of the police barriers were temporarily awed into silence by their
first sight of the Champ as he stepped nimbly – lepidopterously – from
the bus on to the pavement in front of Belfast City Hall. He was bigger than
ordinary men, physically, of course, but there was an aura about him too. Ten
years past his prime, heavier, greyer and with what was rumoured to be early
onset Parkinson’s, this was still the most famous man on the face of the Earth.
He was wearing Adidas trainers, a red tracksuit and sunglasses. He was flanked
by two Nation of Islam handlers in dark jackets and bow ties and a pace behind
them was the Reverend Jesse Jackson, a celebrity in America, but a largely
unknown figure here.
The Champ ascended the dais and the
crowds surged forward to get a better look. And in cop think: the better for
some nutter to get a bead on him – to throw a bottle or a brick, or to line up
a concealed pistol. He was loved, yes, but he was hated too and he had sown
equal parts enmity and adoration since his first title fight against the
hapless Sonny Liston. Over the years the enmity had diminished but it still
lingered here and there in the hearts of those made vulnerable by the diseases
of racism, patriotism and religious fervour.
Champ took off his sunglasses, tapped the microphone, took a step back and
shadow-boxed. Cheers rippled through the crowd. This was what they had come to
see. ‘Look at his feet!’ someone said in front of me – a sage and
pugilistically astute observation. The Champ danced like a kid, like the skinny
kid who had outfoxed Zbigniew Pietrzykowski at the Rome Olympics.
He had the crowd in the palm of his
hand and he hadn’t even spoken yet.
It was a cold, clear day and it
couldn’t have been shot better by Nestor Almendros: sunlight illuminating the
Baroque revival columns behind the Champ’s head and the clouds parting to
reveal an indigo sky the likes of which were frequently to be found loitering
over the Champ’s hometown in a meander of the Ohio River, but which seldom
troubled the heavens over this muddy estuary of the Lagan.
stopped boxing, grinned and an aide gave him a towel to wipe his forehead. He
attempted to unzip his tracksuit an inch or two, but his hand was unsteady on
the zipper and the aide had to help him. But then the Champ smiled again,
strode confidently forward, grabbed the microphone stand and said: ‘Hello Ireland! I’m so happy to be here in
beautiful Belfast at last!’
audience was momentarily baffled by the statement. None of them had ever
previously considered the notion that Belfast could be beautiful or that anyone
would have come here voluntarily and upon arrival, would have been happy with
this as their choice of final destination. Yet here was the most famous man on
Earth saying exactly that. Belfast’s default demotic was sarcasm and everyone
liked a good joke so perhaps the Champ was only kidding?
‘Yes, sir, it’s a lovely winter day
and it’s wonderful to be here in beautiful Belfast, Northern Ireland!’ the
Champ reiterated and this time there was no doubt about his sincerity. The
crowd, oddly moved, found itself roaring its approval.
He had shadow-boxed, he had waved,
he had lied and told them their city was aesthetically pleasing. He could have
run for mayor on a Nation of Islam ticket and won on a first-round voice vote
of the council.
The other policemen began to relax a
little but I wasn’t so easily taken in. I was up on a raised platform with half
a dozen other cops, the better for us to keep an eye on the small group of
National Front skinheads yelling abuse from the protest-pen that had been
rigged up for them next to Marks and Spencer. No more than twenty of them in
total but with a wig or a hat they could easily have infiltrated the crowd –
although that level of ingenuity was probably beyond their mental capacity.
Another quite separate protest group
was the Reverend Ian Paisley’s elderly band of evangelical parishioners far
down on Royal Avenue, who were not happy about the appearance of a famous Muslim
spokesman in the capital city of Ulster, God’s true Promised Land. They could
be heard singing their discontent in dour Presbyterian hymnals and determinedly
joyless psalmody. Wherever Paisley went there was always an element of
unselfconscious surrealism and today he had brought with him a gospel choir, a
gaggle of schoolgirl accordionists and a moon-faced kid on a donkey shaking a
Champ ducked from a phantom left hook and then took the microphone stand again.
Grady, my great-grandfather walked from Ennis, County Clare, to Belfast in
1860. In Belfast, he took ship to America. He crossed the Atlantic Ocean and
found a country in the midst of Civil War. A land where my other great-grandparents
were slaves. We’ve all come a long way since then and it’s great to be
More roaring from the crowd.
I heard, I heard that some folks here aren’t happy that I came here to Belfast
to see you today? Is that true?’
Cries of ‘No!’
‘No, I see ’em. I see ’em over
cheers from the National Front contingent below us.
‘I see ’em. Look at them! Oh man,
they so ugly, when they look in a mirror the reflection ducks.’
‘They so ugly that when they go into
a haunted house they come out with an application!’
so ugly that when they go into the bank, the bank turns off the security
howl of laughter and cheers.
The Champ let it die away until
there was only silence.
‘Now they’re quiet, huh? I don’t
hear them. Oh boy, they think they can outwit me? I’m so pretty. I'm so fast!
I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and
I was in bed before the room was dark!’
‘He’s doing all the old classics,’ a
sergeant grumbled next to me.
‘If you even dream of beating me you’d
better wake up and apologise!’ the Champ said and took a step back to do some
more shadow-boxing. The crowd was deliriously pleased.
The Champ wiped his forehead again
and waved. Jesse Jackson waved. The Lord Mayor waved and, pushing his way to
the front like an eager schoolboy in Cuban heels, Bono waved.
The Champ talked some more about his
Irish roots and his grandmother and great-grandmother. He talked about growing
up in Kentucky in the era of Jim Crow. He got serious.
‘Service to others is the rent you
pay for your room here on Earth. The fight is won or lost far away from
witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before
I dance under those lights. Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated
can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of
power it takes to win when the match is even…Now I know you got problems here in
Belfast. I know it. But believe me, there’s no problem that can’t be solved by
the human spirit. You got to work together. You gotta work hard! We’re all
brothers and sisters, no matter our creed or colour. Someday this will be a
peaceful island! And that day is going to come because of people like you!
Thank you, Belfast and God bless you all!’
‘Ali! Ali! Ali! Ali!’ the crowd
chanted and cheered. The Champ acknowledged them and waved goodbye. He turned
and an aide put the towel around his shoulders and began guiding him towards
‘Is that it?’ the copper next to me
‘I think so,’ I said.
I was glad. The riot gear was making
me sweat and already my boxer shorts were drenched. I’d be happy to get it all
off, put in my overtime claim and go home to Carrick.
then as he was making his way between the crash barriers towards the bus the
Champ suddenly stopped in his tracks, shook his head, turned and walked back on
to the stage. He peered out over the audience and then walked down the steps at
the front of the stage into the adoring crowd.
He’s gone walkabout!’ I barked into the radio.
know!’ a dozen voices yelled back into my earpiece
crowd surged towards the Champ. Thousands of them. Young, old, Catholic,
Protestant … His two handlers were swamped immediately. Swept away.
lost him! I can’t see him!’ desperate voices yelled into radio mikes.
an uneasy thirty seconds we wondered if he had been trampled, if maybe we
should fire in a couple of tear-gas canisters or baton rounds … but then we all
spotted him again, just across the street from us.
was slowly shaking hands and making his way towards my position.
coming to Donegall Place,’ I said into the radio.
is this?’ a voice asked in the earpiece.
coming towards you?’
him back on the bloody bus, Duffy!’
reply was lost in a blizzard of static.
Champ moved through the crowd, ‘like a cinder through the snow,’ the peeler
next to me said. Fame was his protection. He wasn’t a politician or an actor,
but he was sporting royalty and people gave way before him. Arms reached out to
touch him, others were holding out notebooks and scraps of paper which he
signed with Pharonic detachment.
‘This is DI Duffy, we’ll need more
uniforms at the east side of Donegall Place. Could be trouble. He’s heading
straight for the National Front demonstrators behind the crash barriers.’
‘Roger that, Duffy, I can send you
half a dozen men.’
‘We’ll need more than that!’
Confused radio traffic now. Panic.
‘He’s going to get into it with the
bloody National Front!’
‘They’re going to lynch him!’
‘We need reinforcements!’
the Champ had handlers with him at all times, to prevent lunatics throwing
sucker punches in the hope that they could acquire infamy by coldcocking the
great Muhammad Ali.
now, without handlers or aides or policemen, he was walking right up to the
racist NF protestors outside Marks and Spencer.
is no black in the Union Jack!’ the National Front were chanting – nervously –
as the crowd followed the Champ towards them.
on Earth was he doing? Did he think he could reason with them? Ali’s spiel
wasn’t going to play with this lot. Ali’s spiel worked on the postmodern ear.
Ulster had barely entered the twentieth century.
still he advanced.
I could see a couple of RUC Land Rovers heading towards us, bringing the much-needed
reinforcements, but they were going to be too late – the Champ was going to get
to the National Front protestors before they did.
on,’ I said to the
sergeant. ‘We’ve got to go down there.’
pointed to the Inspector’s pips on my shoulder. ‘Says me.’
going to get us both killed … sir.’
climbed down off the platform just as the Champ reached the crash barriers.
dozen seething skinheads in parkas, skinny jeans and DM boots were yelling at
Ali-like caged laboratory animals. Ireland – the land of Charles Stewart
Parnell and Daniel O’Connell – had been brought to this happy state whereby Ian
Paisley and a skitter of foul-mouthed skinheads were the spokespeople for the
Champ found the skinhead leader, fixed him with his eye and waved his hand for
crowd hushed and held its breath.
‘Listen to me! Listen to me,’ the
Champ began. ‘I took an easy shot. I called you ugly and I made everyone laugh.
You riled me up. I heard the war music. But then I remembered to be humble in
the face of mine enemies and to trust in the mercy of Allah. I’m here in the
spirit of peace and brotherhood.’
The skinhead stared at him,
The Champ leaned over the crash
barrier and put out his hand.
big right hand.
big right hand that had floored Foreman in the eighth.
big hand right that was shaking with Parkinson’s.
The skinhead froze. His mouth opened
and closed. And then his arm began to raise. He couldn’t help himself. It was
magnetism. It was kinetic. His eyes were wild. He turned desperately to his
friends. I can’t stop myself … I mean, don’t you see who this is? Sure you can talk about Gene Tunney or Joe Louis
or Jack Dempsey but this is The Greatest!
His arm lifted. His fist unclenched.
He shook hands with the Champ.
shaking hands with Muhammad Ali.
is it you don’t like about black folks?’ the Champ asked.
skinhead was tongue-tied.
on, answer me like a man!’
I … I … You shouldn’t be in our … this is our …”’
the Champ said, ‘if all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail…’
you could see it in the skinhead’s eyes.
was it. Saul to Paul. Right now. Instantly. This wasn’t Donegall Place, this
was the royal road to Damascus.
Champ destroyed the National Front contingent with a handshake and a grin. We’d
never seen anything like it.
‘Never seen anything like it,’ the Sergeant
said. This was the opposite of what happened when the Kennedys came. The
Kennedys brought bad voodoo, Ali brought good.
are you still there?’ the radio voice asked.
got the bus around to Royal Avenue, get him down to Castle Street.’
Sergeant and I escorted the Champ to his bus which had moved to the junction of
Royal Avenue and Castle Street. He was exhausted now. But he took the time to
thank me and the Sergeant.
He shook our hands. And his
grip was strong. The Sergeant got an autograph but I was too star-struck to
think of that.
I walked back to Queen Street police
barracks where I’d parked my Beemer and said hey to some grizzled old cops who
looked like rejects from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.
I got in my car and drove along the
A2 to Carrick Police Station.
Everyone was more or less gone
except for Lawson up in the CID room and the Chief Inspector lurking in his
office. I decided that I would avoid both of them. I put in my overtime claim
and quickly looked at the duty logs. It had been a busy day. Muhammad Ali had
come to Belfast, robbing the station of half its staff and back in
Carrickfergus the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland had been showing
visiting dignitaries around the old ICI factory in Kilroot. The big-wigs were
from Sweden, the rumours being that either Volvo or Saab were going to set up a
car plant. It was pro forma stuff. Every new Secretary of State pretended he
was going to ‘save Northern Ireland’ by encouraging investment, but in fact the
new investment always went to marginal electoral constituencies in England.
Outside to my Beemer. Home to Coronation
Road in Victoria Estate.
I parked the BMW in front of my
house: #113, a three-bedroom former council
house that sat in the middle of the terrace.
‘Hello, Mr Duffy.’
It was Janette Campbell, the
jailbait daughter of the thirty-something, chain-smoking, dangerously good-looking
redhead next door. Janette was wearing Daisy Dukes and a T-shirt that said
Duran Duran on it. She was smoking Benson and Hedges in a way that would have
cheered the heart of the head of marketing at Philip Morris.
‘Did you see Muhammad Ali right
‘Yes, I did,’ I said, wondering how
she knew where I’d been today.
‘Me boyfriend Jackie says Tyson
could take him easy.’
boyfriend is an idiot, Janette.’
nodded sadly and offered me a ciggie. I declined and went inside my house.
was the smell of cooking from the kitchen and there were three suitcases in the
was in the living room, coiled on the sofa like some exotic cat, an ocelot,
perhaps, reading Fanny Burney’s Letters.
the Fanny Burney?’
burny fanny’s much better, thanks. You know, since I started taking the
antibiotics,’ she said, with a grin.
gag must be fifty years old,’ I said and sat beside her on the sofa.
a brand new one, Janette next door told it to me: why do French chefs make
omelettes with only one egg?’
‘Because one egg is un oeuf.’
I put my face in my hands and let
the riot helmet drop to the carpet. Beth poked me between the folds of my body
‘Well?’ she said.
‘Well, did you meet him?’
‘The Champ – as you’ve been
annoyingly calling him all week.’
‘It wasn’t really about meeting him.
I was just there to do a job is all.’
‘Ha!’ she said, with obvious
disdain. ‘As if you didn’t pull every string you could. You said ‘Ali’ in your
sleep last night.’
‘Did not,’ I said, blushing.
‘How was his speech?’ Beth asked,
handing me a still-cold can of Bass.
‘Speech was fine. What’s with the
‘You’re moving out?’
‘Tomorrow morning. Rhonda’s
brother’s coming for me.’
‘We’ve discussed this, Sean.’
‘You’ve known all along that this
was only temporary. I have to be near the university, my classes. And this,
frankly, is probably the least interesting street in the least interesting town
in the world.’
‘It’s had its moments in the last
few years. Trust me.’
‘Yeah, well, it’s not for me.’
I drank the rest of the beer and
took the book gently out of her hands. Beth and I had been going out for nearly
seven months and she’d been living here for the last few weeks. Sure, there was
an age gap but I wasn’t dead yet and I made her laugh and we got on well. We’d
met at the Stone Roses concert at the Ulster Hall, but apart from an affinity
for Manchester bands we had little in common. She was a Prod from a wealthy
family, who, after working for her da for a few years, was now doing a master’s
degree in English at Queens. Short red hair, slender, pretty, with a boyish
androgynous body, which, if you know me at all, shouldn’t surprise you. Her
legs were long and strong and there was something about her deep green eyes.
‘I thought we had a good thing going
‘Do you ever listen to me? I mean,
ever? I told you this was just until Rhonda got the wee house on Cairo Street.’
‘I thought that fell through.’
‘No. It didn’t.’
‘So that’s it? We’re … what?
‘Come on, Sean. Has the weed
destroyed what’s left of your noggin? We talked this over two weeks ago.’
‘Yeah, but I thought things had
changed, you know? I thought you might want to stay. We’ve been getting on so
‘There’s no future for us, Sean. In
a couple of years you’ll be forty.’
‘You’ll be thirty!’
‘It’s not the same. Look, we’ll
still be friends. We’ll always be friends, won’t we?’
She put her arms round me and kissed
me on the cheek. ‘Come on, Sean. You didn’t think I was staying here
‘Actually, I sorta did.’
‘Oh Sean, sweetie … Look, you must
be starving, let me give you your dinner. I made it special, so I did. A last
Cooking was not one of Beth’s
talents, but it didn’t matter. It was hot and it would have taken a culinary
genius to screw up an Ulster fry.
‘How do you like it?’ she asked,
watching me eat.
‘You don’t think the potato bread is
‘That’s the way I like it.’
She leaned over and kissed me again.
‘You say all the right things.’
I put down the fork. ‘Stay. Stay
here with me. You won’t regret it.’
She shook her head and got a beer
from the fridge. ‘Come on, let’s watch the news and see if we can spot you in
Ali’s Northern Ireland peace
initiative was the lead story. He was 46 years old, but he was made for the
telly, standing out like a black Achilles among the pasty, blue-white Micks.
my God! There’s you!’ Beth screamed delightedly and it was me, coming
down from the platform with the Sergeant.
were on the TV! I don’t believe it! You’re famous.’
‘Yup. I’m famous.’
‘Now get in there famous man and do
the washing-up while I finish off me packing.’
I did the dishes and went out to the
garden shed. I rolled a fat joint with a leaf of sweet Virginia tobacco and a
healthy flake of Turkish black cannabis resin.
I’d smoked half of it when I saw
that it was snowing. Sunshine in Belfast in the afternoon, snow in
Carrickfergus in the evening. That was Northern Ireland for you. I finished the
weed and when I went back in Beth had added two toiletry bags to the three
suitcases in the hall.
it?’ I asked.
all of it.’
‘Let me lend you some records.
Rhonda probably doesn’t have much and I’ve seen your collection.’
it’s OK, Sean, I’m not into that stuff.’
stuff. Elvis and crap like that.’
‘Bloody hell, have I taught you
nothing? Lemme play something for you.’
She groaned as I put on my rare
bootleg of the From Elvis in Memphis sessions, where hit followed hit in
the King’s last great flowering. You know the stuff I mean: ‘In The Ghetto’,
‘Suspicious Minds’, ‘Kentucky Rain’…
‘And to think that this was recorded
in the same month as Let it Be, the last Beatles album – it’s crazy, we’ve
got the end of the fifties and the end of the sixties recording at exactly the
same time,’ I said.
sighed, shook her head and smiled that lovely Beth smile. ‘I’m going to miss
you, Sean Duffy.’
that night I lay there in the double bed, looking at her pale cheeks in the
blue light of the paraffin heater.
I’m going to miss you, too,’ I said.
The Theft That Wasn’t
hone. Early. Its insistent ring
through a fog of post-pot lethargy.
see? This is why I have to move in with Rhonda. No one ever calls her. Ever.’
sounds like the life of the party.’
you want me to get it?’
obviously for you, Sean.’
it’s some kind of emergency with your da?’
a nice thought. Go and get it. Your beeper’s going as well.’
I would have wrapped the duvet about me and burrowed into it and gone
downstairs like a Russian soldier in Stalingrad, but I couldn’t take the blanket from her, so, shivering in my
pyjama bottoms, I jogged along the landing and down the chilly staircase to
where the phone was ringing madly in the hall.
I picked up the receiver. ‘Hello.’
‘Sir, it’s me.’
‘What time is it?’
just after six-thirty, sir.’
didn’t feel like six-thirty, but when I opened the front door, sure enough
there was a band of light in the eastern sky and the milkman had been and left
two bottles of silver top. It was a chilly morning and there was frost in the
front garden and a sprinkling of snow on the Knockagh. I brought in the milk
and closed the front door.
this early morning phone call about a case, or are you just in the mood to
yes, sir, I wouldn’t have –’
I’ll go into the kitchen. Wait a minute.’
carried the phone into the kitchen, turned on the radio and put two pieces of
bread in the toaster. ‘Gimme Shelter’ was getting its millionth play on
Atlantic 252, but because they were pirates broadcasting from a boat in the
Irish Sea they didn’t have to pay the Stones anything, which made you feel a
little better about it.
I attempted to turn on the shiny new
kettle. The one Beth had bought. A really fancy job whose element looked like
something from the engineering deck on Star Trek. Beth came from money.
Not exactly Scrooge McDuck swimming through the gold coins in his vault
money, but pretty comfortable. I looked at the clever piece of equipment and
remembered Beth’s words. ‘It couldn’t be
simpler, Sean. You push the blue button and then the red button and the light
goes green and the water boils.’ But when I pushed the blue button nothing
happened and nothing happened when I pushed the red button either and there
didn’t appear to be a green light anywhere on the infernal device.
gave up on the kettle, lit a ciggie and buttered and marmaladed the toast. ‘Tell
me about the case, Lawson.’
‘Well sir, there’s been a theft at
the Coast Road Hotel.’
‘No. A wallet went missing from a
guest hotel room.’
‘Was there violence?’
‘How much money?’
‘Approximately twenty pounds and
‘Is this the real Detective
Constable Alexander Lawson, or is this perhaps some other detective constable,
a constable who is new to the ways of Carrickfergus CID?’
‘It’s me, sir.’
‘It must an imposter. Because
there’s no way the real DC Alexander Lawson would ever have woken me up on a
Sunday morning to deal with the theft of twenty quid from a room in the Coast
Road Hotel. Where is he? What have you done with the real Lawson, you fiends!’
‘Sir, it is the real me!’
‘And you’ve called me up because you
are an unable to handle a petty larceny?’
‘I’m sorry, sir.’
Beth had come downstairs now and was
looking at me from the hall. ‘Give me a minute,’ I said to Lawson and put my hand
over the receiver.
‘Who is it?’ Beth asked.
‘Is he the one who looks like he
puts on latex and gets spanked?’
it must be a good case for this hour of the morning,’ she said.
a theft. I’m not going.’
should go and then I can be safely gone when you get back,’ she said.
no need for you to leave this early. You’ve got all day. Relax. Have some
breakfast. Put the kettle on for us.’
folded her arms and shook her head.
help you move,’ I said.
‘No. You won’t.’
‘Seriously, there’s no rush, honey.
Some of your stuff’s in the wash. And I shelved your records alphabetically in
our … my … the collection,’ I said.
the clothes, keep the records, I’m switching to CDs anyway.’
are a fad.’
are a fad.’
does that mean?’
Sean, we’re over, OK?’
like the Roman Empire’s over, or over like Graeme Souness and Liverpool are
Graeme Souness? Actually, it doesn’t matter. Go to your case, Sean. Better for
both of us,’ she said.
please … You’ll be contributing to a stereotype which from your literary theory
essays I know you hate. The policeman with dependency issues and girlfriend trouble. Come on, cliché
city,’ I said.
isn’t always about you,’ she said, kissed me on the cheek, took one of my
slices of toast and went back upstairs.
least show me how to work the kettle!’ I shouted after her. I took my hand off
the receiver. ‘It looks like I’ll be there in ten minutes, Lawson,’ I said.
I dressed in jeans, black polo neck,
black leather jacket, got my gun and went outside to the BMW. I checked
underneath it for mercury tilt switch bombs, didn’t find any. I was about to
get in the car when I remembered that I needed to get the riot gear
spray-cleaned at the station, to get the whiff off it. I went back inside, got
my riot gear, put it in the back seat of the car, locked it and returned a
‘I’m leaving,’ I shouted upstairs.
‘Look after yourself, Sean,’ she
I closed the front door, checked
under the Beemer, got inside and drove down Coronation Road and along Taylor’s
‘Beth! Jesus! How can you do this to
me? What went wrong?’ I said to the good-luck Snoopy she had stuck on the
dashboard. Snoopy kept his own counsel and I was still nonplussed when I parked
in front of the Coast Road, Carrickfergus’s only hotel.
Lawson was standing outside, waiting
‘I’m very sorry about this, sir,
only the Chief Inspector told me to call you,’ he said, as soon as I got out of
‘The Chief Inspector is here?’ I
asked, surprised. He occasionally showed up when there was a murder. But a
‘Yes, sir. And Chief Superintendent
McBain and you just missed Superintendent Strong.’
‘Oh shit. What the hell’s going on,
‘Perhaps you should come inside,
We went inside the rather smart seaside
hotel that would have been thriving but for the fact that this was bloody
Carrick and bloody Carrick during the bloody Troubles.
‘I noticed the riot gear in the back
seat of your car, sir,’ Lawson said.
‘I heard you were on crowd duty at
the Ali event yesterday?’
I gave him a hard look. Was he
taking the piss? His eyes were steady and there was no trace of a grin.
Probably wasn’t trying to mess with
me. He was a good lad, Lawson. Handsome if you liked cadaverous and pale (and
if you did, I could sell you a morgue pass for a tenner). He was tall and blue-eyed,
with dyed blonde hair that he had gelled into a series of gravity-defying
peaks. Sergeant McCrabban and myself had ordered the gel out ages ago but he
had been surreptitiously sneaking it back in over the last couple of months.
Today he was wearing a sober, well-tailored dark blue suit with brown oxfords
and a dark grey raincoat. He was observant, too. The riot gear. Damn it.I should have put it in the boot. As
a detective, I considered myself above such things as crowd control and I
encouraged the other detectives in Carrickfergus CID to think likewise: ‘esprit
d’corps, boys, we’re a special breed, selected not for our muscle, but for our
nous’. Very fine talk and yet I had begged Superintendent Strong for the
Ali detail and now Lawson had caught me red-handed.
‘Yes I was up at the Ali event. It
was a favour for Strong, he wanted an experienced hand.’
‘Of course, sir,’ Lawson said,
Inside the hotel we were met by an
exhausted-looking Chief Inspector McArthur and a rosy-cheeked, ginger-haired
The Chief Inspector shook my hand.
He was a trim, blue-eyed, dark-haired Scot, younger than me, something of a
high-flyer, but still very much in the adjustment phase to war-torn Ulster.
‘Thank God they found you, Duffy.
It’s action stations here,’ McArthur said.
‘What’s happening, sir?’
‘Someone lifted a wallet from one of
the guest rooms.’
I looked at Lawson. Had everyone in
the world gone completely mad?
‘A wallet, sir?’
‘It must have been one of the
cleaning staff or something,’ McArthur muttered. ‘Chief Superintendent McBain
is upstairs with them now, trying to calm things down. It’s a very volatile
‘I don’t think I’m really getting
this, sir. We’re talking about an ordinary wallet here, are we? Not a magical
wallet that dispenses wishes?’
‘It was nicked from Mr Laakso’s
room! It’s the dignitaries, Duffy,’ McArthur said, lowering his voice to a
panicky stage whisper.
‘From the factory visit?’
‘Yes! That’s why me and you and the
Chief Super are all here at this unholy hour! What did you think was going on?’
‘I don’t know. Some kind of Masonic
‘Masonic – This is a serious matter,
‘I thought it was Swedes, sir. Volvo, Saab
that kind of thing,’ I said.
‘No. Not Swedes. Finns, Duffy.
Phones not cars.’
‘Why are these VIPs staying in Carrickfergus,
‘They’re going out to the old
Courtaulds plant tomorrow. I suppose it’s convenient,’ McArthur explained.
Carrickfergus had an embarrassment of
abandoned factories that had been set up in the optimistic sixties, closed in
the pessimistic seventies and were on the verge of ruin, now that we were in
the apocalyptic mid-eighties.
The concierge interposed himself
between us, looking miffed. ‘It’s not about convenience, gentlemen. This is one
of the best hotels in Northern Ireland. We had the England Football Team here
two summers ago, so we did,’ he insisted in a broad, camp West Belfast accent
so grating that it could be banned under several of the Geneva Protocols. ‘And
may I just add, gents, that the possibility of a wallet being stolen from one
of the hotel rooms by one of my staff is very, very unlikely indeed, so it is.’
‘Why is that?’ I asked him.
‘We’re a small establishment, sir.
At this time of the morning, it’s just myself and the night porter. Just us.
The cleaning and breakfast staff have only just arrived now. And I didn’t take the wallet and Joe has
been at the front door the whole night.’
‘What’s your name?’ I asked him.
‘It’s Kevin, Inspector. Kevin
Donnolly. Kev, if you want.’
‘OK, Kevin and you’re the concierge,
‘I’m the manager!’
‘Are you quite sure that there are
no other employees on the premises at this time of the night? What if someone’s
hungry or something?’
‘We do it all. There’s only Joe and
myself until the breakfast staff come in.’
‘Hmmm. How many rooms are there here
in the hotel?’
‘Nine on the first floor and six on
the floor above. Mr Laakso’s room was on the first floor. The Castle View
‘Who else has the master key to the
‘It’s not keys in the suites. We’ve
made those very classy, so we have. All the suite rooms have been converted to
key cards and the only person with the override card to all the suite rooms is
‘Was Mr Laakso sleeping alone?’
‘Could he possibly have had a guest?
A young lady perhaps?’
‘Mr Laakso is an, uhm, elderly
gentleman. He did not sign in a guest.’
‘And no one was sent up to his room?’
‘Definitely not! That sort of thing
doesn’t happen in this establishment.’
‘Does Mr Laakso’s room connect with
any other rooms?’
‘Oh yes, there are two rooms on
either side of him, both occupied by members of his staff.’
‘So if the wallet wasn’t taken by
the hotel staff, it’s either been mislaid or it’s been taken by another member
of the delegation?’ I suggested.
‘Almost certainly mislaid, Inspector.
Happens all the time. Once or twice a week. Of course not everybody’s so quick
to yell ‘thief!’ and call out half the police force at ungodly hours of the day
and night,’ Kevin said.
We could see Chief Superintendent
John Edward ‘Ed’ McBain coming down the stairs now. He was a twitchy, lanky,
stork-like man with a defiant early-seventies-style comb-over. He was the
operational Commander over all the police stations in East Antrim and one of
the few brass hats that I got on quite well with. I always let him beat me at
snooker at the police club and once Sergeant McCrabban and I had actually found
his missing pooch before it either got itself run over, or, as his wife, Jo,
had predicted, ‘fell into the clutches of those Satan worshippers you read about
in The News of the World’. Ever since
then, big Ed McBain had been eternally grateful to Carrick CID.
He shook my hand in a sweaty,
uncharacteristically hesitant grip. He was pale and looked deeply
‘Good to see you, Duffy,’ he
‘You too, sir.’
‘Heard you met Muhammad Ali,
‘Word gets around doesn’t it, sir?’
‘Overrated. All mouth. A fighter not
‘If you say so, sir.’
‘I do say so, Duffy.’
He stared at me, Lawson, Kevin and
the Chief Inspector for a moment.
I very deliberately examined my
watch. ‘Maybe I should go up and inspect the crime scene, sir?’
‘Good idea.’ He pointed upstairs and
lowered his voice to a whisper. ‘They want us to pull out all the stops. Is
‘Finns here to save the country’s
bacon. You wouldn’t have thought we won the war, eh?’
‘Weren’t they, uhm, on our side,
sir?’ I asked.
‘No they weren’t! Not at first,
anyway. Come on, let’s go up.’
‘It’s a crime scene, sir,’ I said to
McBain, nodding my head towards the Chief Inspector.
McBain got the drift. He put his
hand on McArthur’s shoulder. ‘You’ll have to wait down here, Pete. This is CID
business,’ he said.
McArthur looked upset. ‘Oh. Is it?
Oh … All right. I’ll just take a seat then, shall I?’
‘That would be best,’ McBain said.
I wasn’t just trying to fuck with the Chief Inspector … upstairs was a de facto crime scene and we didn’t
need any well-meaning amateurs poking around in it.
McBain led Lawson and myself up the wide,
elegant staircase, past prints, watercolours and various framed cartographic
representations of Carrickfergus from the previous eight centuries.
‘No technical ability, Duffy. That’s
‘The Chief Inspector, sir?’
‘Ali. A brawler. A puncher. A big
‘What about his feet, sir? Surely –’
‘His feet! His feet you say? Well,
yes … His feet. Good point, Duffy. Very good point. He could dance couldn’t he?’
‘Must have been quite something to
see him in the flesh. And we got him in and out alive, which is more than you
can say for the Memphis Police Department with Martin Luther King.’
‘OK, here we are, Duffy. Now, when
you’re with the Finns I want no lip from you, OK? What’s past is past.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘The wife’s father was on the
Murmansk convoys. You just have to bite your tongue, don’t you? Do the full
Basil Fawlty, OK?’
‘The Basil –’
‘Don’t mention the war.’
‘Sir, I wouldn’t dream of –’
‘Course you wouldn’t, you’re a
professional. Now, you, what’s your name, son?’
’You likewise. I want the pair of
you to appear to take this very seriously indeed. Tell them we’ll be turning
over every stone, eh?’
We both nodded.
At the top of the stairs we were met
by four men and a woman.
The woman was a tiny, bird-like
thing, very pretty. She said that she was Miss Jones and explained that she was
a liaison official from the Foreign Office. She introduced us to the
delegation. A small, stooped, 60-year-old bald man in black pyjamas was Mr
Laakso. He was standing next to a tall, trim, hollow-cheeked, grey- faced, blue-eyed
man with dyed black hair, also about 60, or perhaps a little older. This apparently
was Mr ‘Elk’. The final two men appeared to be identical twins: slim blonde-haired
youths of about 19 or 20. One of them was wearing a pink kimono-style silk robe
that would have gotten him stoned to death as a ‘poof’ if he’d stepped outside
I shook both the older men’s hands.
‘Mr Laakso, nice to meet you, Mr,
uhm, Elk was it?’
‘Ek,’ the grey-faced man corrected
me, shaking my hand like he wanted to break it.
‘Ek,’ I said.
‘It means oak in Swedish,’ he said.
‘Swedish? Now I’m confused, I
thought you were all Finns,’ I said, cheerfully.
‘We are,’ Ek said, intensely annoyed
by what clearly was some kind of faux pas.
He was a geezer, but he had shaken my
hand with the grip of an ex-service-man – a shit-kicking drill sergeant
‘And may I present Nicolas and
Stefan Lennätin?’ Miss Jones said. Close
up, the boys were pale, willowy, handsome, with dark brown rather unintelligent
‘What can you tell me about the
particulars of the incident?’ I asked Mr Laakso.
‘Mr Laakso left his wallet by his
bathroom sink last night before he went to bed. This morning it was gone,’ Ek
said, before Laakso could open his gob.
‘What time did he go to bed?’ I
‘Mr Laakso went to bed at some time
after 11 pm and woke this morning just after five, alerting me,’ Ek replied for
‘Make a note of that, Lawson,’ I
Lawson flipped open his notebook and
wrote this information down.
‘I’d like to see the crime scene if
I may,’ I said to Mr Laakso.
‘I would expect so,’ Ek said,
Lawson and I followed Ek past half a
dozen guests who had come out of their rooms to see what all the commotion was.
We entered Mr Laakso’s bedroom, a large, tastefully decorated suite with a
rather impressive view of Carrickfergus Castle to the south and County Down and
the Galloway coast of Scotland to the north-east. We were trailed into the room
by a worried-looking Chief Super and the rest of the delegation.
Nicolas and Stefan had begun to
giggle and were whispering confidences to one another. I nudged Lawson, so that
he would take a note of that, too.
Ek led us into the large bathroom
which was luxurious by Northern Ireland standards: marble bath, marble sink,
shower, bidet, Italian-tiled floor and walls.
‘This is where the wallet went
missing,’ Ek said. ‘Now, if you will excuse me, I have more pressing concerns
to attend to.’
‘Of course. Observations, Lawson?’ I
asked my junior colleague.
‘Water spill on the floor. Soap
scuds on the mirror. It doesn’t look like the cleaning lady’s been through, not
that they were supposed to be in this early, anyway.’
‘What about the sink? What do you
notice about that?’
Lawson peered into the sink.
‘Uhm, there are shaving hairs in the
sink. No one has cleaned this sink since yesterday.’
The Chief Super peered into the sink
and nodded. ‘I’ll bet you this sink was designed by a woman or a man with a
beard. Look how flat the bottom is. You’d be hard pressed to wash your stubble
away after shaving. And, uhm, yes, as you say, it hasn’t been cleaned today,’
I turned to Mr Laakso. ‘Where
exactly did you leave the wallet?’
He pointed to a little shelf near to
the toothbrush holder. Definitely no wallet.
‘And when did you last see the
wallet?’ I asked.
‘Last night before I went to bed,’
Mr Laakso said, in perfectly serviceable English.
‘And you didn’t hear any intruders?’
‘I heard nothing.’
‘And the door to your room was
‘It was locked,’ Mr Laakso agreed.
‘And the adjoining rooms?’ I asked.
‘Locked, I believe.’
‘Who was staying in these rooms?’
‘Nicolas and Stefan.’
Was that another smirk on Nicolas’s
face? He was staring at his twin brother, both of them on the verge of giggles.
I walked to the first adjoining door. It was unlocked. I walked across the room
and tried the second adjoining door. It also was unlocked.
‘I’d like permission to search these
rooms, if I may?’ I said to Mr Laakso.
He looked at Nicolas and Stefan. A
rapid conversation in Finnish followed between the three men. When it concluded,
Mr Laakso said something to Miss Jones who scowled at me. ‘Is there a problem?’
I asked her.
‘Mr Laakso resents greatly the
implication that any of the delegation are somehow connected with the theft of
Mr Laakso’s wallet. Mr Laakso rejects this idea as preposterous. Mr Laakso
wishes you to restrict your investigation to his room, which the thief undoubtedly
entered using a passcard,’ she said.
‘Can you tell me who the rooms
belong to?’ I asked.
‘The one over there is my room, that
one is Nicolas’s room,’ Stefan explained.
I gave him a long look. The smirk was widening
on Nicolas’s face.
I had had just about enough of this
‘Perhaps, then, if you could all
leave and give us space to search Mr Laakso’s rooms thoroughly?’ I
Laakso said. When they were gone I looked under the bed and in the drawers and
in the cupboard. When this superficial examination failed to undercover
anything Lawson and I divided the room up between us and did a thorough shakedown,
but that also failed to turn up the wallet. ‘That settles it then,’ I said.
‘It was Nicolas.’
‘Why? Some kind of practical joke?’
‘Who the fuck knows? Come on, let’s
get out of here,’ I said. ‘There’s been enough wasting of police time for one
We went back outside the room where
Mr Laakso was waiting with the two boys, Miss Jones and the Chief Super. Ek had
buggered off, but half the landing was out trying to see what was going on. This would be the time to sneak into a room
and steal somebody’s wallet, I thought. Hovering nearby was an attractive
young woman ominously holding a notebook. She had a black bob, very pale cheeks
and lovely green eyes; even though she was wearing a scruffy black T-shirt and
unflattering flannel pyjama bottoms you could tell right away that she was a
stylish foreigner, not a frumpy Mick.
‘Reporter at six o’clock,’ I
muttered to Lawson.
‘Where … oh yes.’
‘Right gentlemen, Miss Jones, I
think that concludes the preliminary inquiry. I am going to leave you in the
capable hands of Constable Lawson here, who will take statements while I coordinate
the rest of this case from the station. You can return to your rooms after the
statements have been made and hopefully we’ll get this resolved as soon as
The Finns seemed happy enough with
‘Of course I could call a forensic
team down from Belfast and we could take fingerprints of the area around your
sink, Mr Laakso. The thief might have inadvertently left a print,’ I said,
looking at Nicolas.
Mr Laakso stole a nervous glance at
Stefan and Nicolas. Now he, too, understood what had happened with the wallet.
He winced. Calling the police had clearly been a mistake. The dynamic was
obvious in the little group. Laakso was the head of the delegation but Stefan
and Nicolas were the sons or grandsons of the powers that be back in Finland
and were thus pretty much unassailable. I stifled a yawn. I had seen shit like
this before a million times. None of it was remotely interesting.
‘I do not think that will be
necessary. I have full faith in your abilities,’ Mr Laakso said.
Of course you do. I nodded to Chief Superintendent McBain. ‘I’ll take my leave, sir,’ I
‘Very good,’ McBain said.
The woman in the black T-shirt
stopped me at the top of the stairs.
‘I heard all the commotion. What’s
going on?’ she asked, in a lovely Home Counties accent reminiscent of Anna Ford
off the TV news.
‘Are you a reporter?’ I asked.
‘How can you tell?’ she wondered.
‘The notebook and the pencil are a bit
of a giveaway.’
‘Lily Bigelow, The Financial Times,’ she said, offering me her hand.
I shook it. ‘What’s a nice girl from
…’ I began.
‘Woking, doing in a place like this?’
‘I’m covering the Finnish trade
mission to Northern Ireland. I suppose for the week I’m the FT’s Northern Ireland correspondent.’
‘So what happened?’ she asked,
gesturing back down the corridor.
‘Mr Laakso misplaced his wallet.
It’ll show up,’ I said.
She bit her pencil. ‘So you’re
saying that it’s not a story.’
‘Either that or I’m part of a
sinister cover up.’
folded up her notebook and put her pencil in her pyjama pant pocket, which is
what I wanted. This was a non-story and Carrick CID didn’t need to get a
mention in any of the English papers.
you, eh? Editor comes over and says, “Lily we’ve got a foreign assignment for
you,” and you’re thinking Hong Kong, New York, Paris and you end up in bloody
Belfast,’ I said.
‘I actually asked for this job. But
I’m used to privation. You know what happened to Woking, don’t you?’ she said,
with a tragic look on her face.
‘No,’ I said.
‘Totally wiped out by the Martians
in the War of the Worlds.’
I grinned. Pretty and funny. I wouldn’t forget Beth in a
hurry, but a drink or two with an attractive English journo wouldn’t hurt.
‘And they’ve rebuilt it since then,
have they?’ I asked.
‘Got rid of all that red weed?’
‘They had to pull it all up, the
kids were smoking it.’
‘What are you doing later?’ I asked,
chancing my arm.
‘Visiting the Courtaulds factory
with the delegation.’
‘I’ve been out there. Lovely place.
Watch out for the septuagenarian security guard with the shotgun and the itchy
‘What are you doing after the factory visit?’
‘That’s exciting, too. And after the
‘And after the typing?’
She shrugged. I gave her one of my
cards, scored out the work phone and wrote my home phone number. ‘If you want
to go for a drink or something?’
She smiled. ‘Kind of unlikely, I’m
on a story.’
‘But if the story doesn’t pan out,
or you get it done?’
I’ll take a maybe, I thought and as I was rummaging in my brain for something funny or
charming to say as a parting sally, Ed McBain stuck his big face in.
‘Ah, I take it you’re the reporter?
Among other duties I’m the senior press liaison officer here, Chief
Superintendent McBain,’ he said.
I left them to it and went
downstairs feeling depressed. Chief Inspector McArthur was still there sitting
glumly on the leather sofa by Reception.
‘Did you find the wallet, Duffy?’ he
‘Not yet sir,’ I said. ‘Lawson’s
I called Kevin over.
‘Does anyone on your staff have a
theft conviction?’ I asked him.
‘No! I’ve read all the CVs myself.
Nothing like that. Unemployment’s so high in Carrick we have our pick of the
‘That’s what I thought.’
The Chief Inspector looked at me
anxiously. ‘Do you think you’ll find the wallet, Duffy? The Chief Super is
quite worried about the impression we’re giving off here.’
I concealed another yawn. ‘The arc
of the universe is long, sir, but it bends towards justice.’
‘Does it, really Duffy?’
‘So they say, sir.’
haven’t been to Northern Ireland though, have they?’
‘No, sir. Well, I must be off.’
I went outside. The sun was well up
over the blue line of Scotland. I walked to the Beemer and looked underneath it
for bombs. There weren’t any, so I unlocked the driver’s side door. I was about
to get inside when I saw another BMW pull in behind me. New one. Black.
Personalised plate: ‘McIlroy1’.
Out of the Beemer stepped Tony
McIlroy, late of the RUC and now of Scotland Yard. Tony was my age but he
didn’t look it. He was tanned and fit and his clothes hung well on him even at
this ungodly hour. His hair was wavy and black without a trace of grey and his
eyes were clear and bright as always. He was wearing a sharp tailored midnight
blue suit, fancy brogues and a really expensive-looking shirt. His watch was
gold. Life across the water clearly agreed with him. He’d been a Chief
Inspector in the RUC Special Branch, but Northern Ireland hadn’t been a big
enough stage for his talents and he’d moved over the water to join the Old Bill.
We’d met up and had a drink in London during the Lizzie Fitzpatrick case, just
before my rendezvous with destiny and a couple of kilos of Semtex in Brighton …
Always ambitious was Tony, but a real character, somebody who left an
impression, not like all the other boring-as-shit peelers around here.
‘Well if it isn’t Sean Duffy!’ he
‘What in the name of God are you
doing here?’ I asked, genuinely pleased to see him.
‘I could say the say the same, mate,’
he said, shaking my hand.
‘Well this is my manor,’ I said.
‘Still?’ he asked, surprised.
‘Yeah,’ I replied defensively.
‘Jesus, Sean, I thought you’d be a
Chief Super in Belfast by now,’ he said.
‘Nope still a humble Detective Inspector.
Tip of the spear. I like it,’ I said, trying to sound like I believed it.
He nodded dubiously. ‘Come on, Sean
… You can tell me,’ he said and gave me a little dig on the shoulder.
I sighed. ‘It’s been a tough few
years, mate. Problems with the boys upstairs, you know how it is.’
He shook his head, took a silver
cigarette case out of his jacket and offered me a ciggie.
‘Nope. Trying to cut down,’ I said.
‘Let me guess. You’re going out with
‘Just trying to cut down. Bad for
you. Yul Brynner, you know?’
‘Sad,’ he agreed lighting up. ‘So
you’re still a Detective Inspector. Well, well, well. And you were the best of
us. This bloody country. They don’t know talent when they see it. You should be
running the CID, for heaven’s sake.’
‘What about you, mate? Still in the
Met? I suppose you are a Chief Super
‘You didn’t hear?’
Tony shook his head. ‘I resigned.
I’m off the force completely. I’m running a private security firm now. Back
over here for now. Private security is where the money is. Lot of contracts
with American firms, the government, that kind of thing,’ he said.
‘Resigned from the Met? Jesus, I
didn’t hear that.’
‘Six months now.’
‘And you’re back living over here?
What about Liddy? I thought she hated it over here.’
‘Liddy and I went splitsville,’ he
‘Bloody hell. I’m shocked. You
always seemed to get on so well,’ I said and I was surprised, for although Tony was a notorious ladies’ man, Liddy
came from money and her father was a well-connected Tory MP who could have
advanced Tony’s career in the Met all the way up to Commander, or even higher.
Obviously, the sweet, long-suffering Liddy had finally had enough of his
shenanigans, or possibly caught him more or less in flagrante. The rest wasn’t
difficult to compute: bitter divorce/angry father-in-law/gloomy portents about
Tony’s future with the Yard/no possibility of a transfer back to the jilted
RUC/ergo the private sector …
Now it was Tony’s turn to sigh. ‘Liddy?
Yeah, sometimes people just grow apart don’t they, mate?’
‘Private security, eh? Is there
money in that?’ I asked, looking at the new Beemer.
‘Like you wouldn’t believe, son. That’s
why I’m here this morning. Apparently one of my clients has been robbed. This
place was supposed to be safe.’
‘Mr Laakso? I’ve just been dealing
‘My firm’s in charge of security for
the whole delegation. Here, take a look at this,’ he said, handing me a card.
McIlroy Security Services
The #1 Northern Irish Private
‘We Never Sleep.’
Founder Anthony McIlroy, ex Det
Chief Inspector Scotland Yard
Tel. Belfast 336 456
‘Nice,’ I said, giving him the card
He shook his head. ‘Keep it, we’re
always looking for people, Sean. Someone like you? We’d jump at the chance to
have you. What are you earning now?’
It was a vulgar question and he saw
the disgusted look on my face.
‘No don’t tell me, I can guess. We
could pay you twenty per cent more, plus bonuses.’
‘How many people do you have working
for you?’ I asked, pocketing the card. Anthony might be a good man to know if
the RUC’s bullshit finally forced me to resign. Again.
‘We’re new, Sean. Just a start-up.
Half a dozen, all told. But we’re going to double in size by the end of
spring. Double again by the end of the
year. And we’re hoping to open a Derry office in July. Security is the one
growth industry in these troubled times. You can’t make an omelette without
shoving some eggs in the back of a van and smacking them around, eh?’
‘I like the Pinkerton quote on the
Tony grinned. ‘Bit cheeky, eh?’
‘I like the car even more.’
‘Oh yeah. She’s a beaut. The 535i. ’87
model. 3.4 litre 6-cylinder engine.’
‘What’s your top speed?’
‘I’ve had her up to 125.’
‘I’ve done a ton and fifteen in mine
and I thought I was flying.’
‘I took her apart and put her back
together. Engineering degree comes in a bit more handy than your … what was the
wanky thing you studied, philosophy?’
Tony looked at his watch. ‘Well, I
suppose I’d better get upstairs and find this wallet.’
‘Already cracked that case, mate. My
psychology training. Check in Nicolas
Lennätin’s room. Some sort of joke, it seems.’
‘Oh really? Great.’
‘Hey, let’s go for a drink later,
catch up, eh?’
He sucked his teeth. ‘I can’t this
week. Security for the delegation and then I’m flying to London.’
‘Sort of. Signing the papers on the
old D-I-V-O-R-C-E. Glad to get it behind me at last. Shit you’ve no idea, Sean.
Liddy’s da’s lawyers … But I’ll call you, OK?’ he said.
‘Yeah, mate,’ I agreed and we warmly
shook hands again.
He waved and ran inside the hotel.
Nice to see Tony after all these years, but I didn’t envy him his life. At
least a real cop occasionally got to push around the great and the good, but a
private dick had to be polite to every arsehole in the room. Who’d want that?
I’d stand him a round, though, Tony was an old friend and those were hard to
I drove back to Coronation Road and
went inside the disturbingly empty house.
I went upstairs. Her stuff was gone
from the wardrobes and there was a note on the bed. I unfolded it.
This is my number: Belfast 347 350. Please don’t call. I’m not coming
anyone rings up looking for me, please pass on the number and my new
address: 13 Cairo Street, Belfast. These last few months have been lovely, Sean
and you’re a nice man and I’m sure you’ll find someone your own age to settle
down with. All my love, Beth.
As these things go, it wasn’t a
terrible note. A terrible note was ‘Fuck You Sean Duffy’ attached to a half
brick that gets thrown through your BMW windscreen.
The ‘someone your age’ crack hurt,
though. It was a ten-year gap, which was pretty much insurmountable, except if
you were those lovebirds Charles and Diana or Van Morrison and the reigning
Miss Ireland, Olivia Tracey. But I was no Van Morrison, or a prince of Wales.
avoided pouring whisky into my coffee but I did go out to the shed and have a
puff or two. At nine o’clock the phone rang.
‘Sir, it’s me.’
‘What is it, Lawson?’
‘The cleaners found the wallet, sir.
Nothing was missing.’
‘Where was it?’
‘It was under the bed in Mr Laakso’s
‘We looked under the bed, didn’t we,
‘There was no wallet under the bed,
Lawson, was there?’
‘All right. Case closed. Type up the
report and give it to the Chief Inspector.’
‘Mention your suspicions of young Mr
Lennätin in the report?’
‘No I don’t think so. That would be
a potential charge of wasting police time and we want this to go away, don’t
‘Yes, sir. What about your friend,
‘Mr McIlroy, sir.’
‘He’s at the station, is he?’
‘Yes, sir. What should I tell him,
‘Oh you can tell him everything. He’s
a good copper. Or was, anyway. Don’t let him recruit you, Lawson, by the way.
You’re young, you’ve got your whole career ahead of you. You’re not washed up
like me and him.’
‘And remember this is my day off,
Lawson. If anything else happens call Sergeant McCrabban.’
‘He told me not to call him. He said
it was lambing season.’
‘Its always bloody lambing season
with that one. Call him. He’s duty officer.’
mean you can handle it all, yes?’
sir … Except you know, with the Chief Super hanging around …’
long silence down the phone.
I really going to have to come in on my off day?’
sir, I … But, well, he makes everyone nervous.’
right, all right, let me have a long nap and a shower and I’ll come in after
hung up. An Extra edition of The Belfast Telegraph flopped through the
letterbox. On page 2 there was a picture of me escorting Muhammad Ali on to his
bus. I called up the Tele photo editor and ordered an 8x10. I’d frame it
and put it up in the kitchen and if anyone ever asked me what I’d done with my
life I’d say, ‘Come here and take a look at this, mate, look it’s me and the
with that happy thought I broke out the Bowmore, smoothest of the Islays, got a
blanket and settled down on the sofa in front of the record player as Ella Fitzgerald
decanted some of that old-time religion and lulled me over into a well-earned
Lizzie Fitzpatrick Redux?
woke up around one in the afternoon and called
Beth at her new number.
Beth, I just wanted –’
you read the note? I told you not to
call me! Jesus.’
‘You forgot your extra-sensitive
toothpaste. You know how upset that makes it.’
I could hear her grinning, but she
still hung up.
rang again. ‘Beth, listen, I just want to see if you’re OK.’
fucksake I’m fine. Don’t call again. Please,
Sean. You’re making it hard for both of us.’
slam. OK, I get the message.
showered, dressed, skipped lunch and went into the station.
Chief Super was still lurking there and everyone was on edge. But he was happy to see me. He shook my hand. ‘Good
work, Duffy, your team cracked the case.’
took him into my office and poured him a Glenfiddich and soda, which I knew was
his tipple of choice.
fellow McIlroy was hanging around after you left. Do you know him?’
did, sir, when he worked for us.’
‘He said he knew you. He said he was
a friend of yours.’
sir. Although I haven’t seen him in a few years.’
remember him too. High-flyer. He left us, went across the water to join the
Met, didn’t he?’
work out though did it? Divorce and a scandal is what I’ve heard. Now he’s back
here and set up business for himself, eh? As if we don’t have enough problems
without private bloody detectives and private bloody security firms. I don’t
approve of that sort, Duffy. I don’t want him poaching my tax-payer-trained
‘No, sir. I already told young
Lawson that we –’
‘The VIPs will be gone tomorrow and
once they are gone, we’ll give Tony McIlroy and the likes of Tony McIlroy short
shrift. You hear me, Duffy? Friend or no friend.’
‘If you say, so, sir.’
‘I do say so, Duffy.’
He finished the Glenfiddich and got
to his feet.
‘Well, everything seems to be in
hand here. I’m having a coffee with that reporter – I’ll tell her we’ve cracked
the case and then I’ll head back to the old homestead in Glenoe, Duffy. I
expect I’ll run into you at the police club.’
‘Yes, sir. At some point, sir.’
‘See you, Duffy.’
‘I’ll see you soon, sir,’ I said as
he left my office, not knowing, of course, that I would never see the poor
It was a dreary day at the station.
Nothing was on the board and Lawson and I caught up with the paperwork until it
was quitting time.
Kenny Dalziel wanted to see me, so I
called him on the internal line.
‘How do you keep an idiot in
suspense?’ I asked and hung up.
Childish, I know. The temperature
dropped and it began to sleet as I drove back to the sad, cold, empty house on
I lit the paraffin heater and put on
Maybe this was for the best. Beth with someone of her own age. Me with someone
my own age. Try to mind-flip it. An opportunity to grow for both of us.
Everybody wins. I remembered an old and typically dark Harland and Wolff joke: ‘Life
is all about perspective. The sinking of the Titanic was a frigging miracle to the lobsters in the ship’s
The mind flip didn’t work and I found
myself lurking around the telephone waiting for the cute reporter, Lily, to
call; but, unsurprisingly, she didn’t.
Beans on toast. The inane void that
was the BBC 1 TV schedule. A Question of
Sport. Beans on toast and A Question
of Sport – hardly the examined life.
A Valium and a vodka gimlet.
Paraffin fumes. Death-sleep and then:
Another early morning call. Burrow
down the stairs, wrapped in my duvet. Snow falling outside again today.
I picked up the phone, dropped it,
picked it up again. ‘Yes?’ I said trying to convey in that one syllable as much
world-weariness as I possibly could.
‘I don’t believe it! It can’t
possibly be you again, Lawson. Not two days in a bloody row.’
‘Sir, there’s been a, well, I
suppose it’s a suicide, or an accident, or possibly a murder, hard to say at
this stage … Suicide, if you had to pin me down.’
duty detective today am I? I know I definitely was not duty detective yesterday.’
sir, I’m very sorry. It is you. I wouldn’t have called you, otherwise.’
know it’s snowing outside?’
see that, sir.’
is the crime scene?’
I won’t have any trouble finding it. Forensics on their way?’
they indeed? What time is it, Lawson?’
waited until seven before I called you, sir.’
you for your compassion. Who found the body?’
caretaker found the body just after six and called us.’
know there was a castle caretaker.’
‘There is. He has a cottage inside
the castle. Mr Underhill. He lives there.’
‘And what was he doing up at six in
does a full inspection of the castle first thing before opening the doors at
body was found inside the castle?’
a second, I’m carrying you into the kitchen.’
put two slices of bread in the toaster and two scoops of Nescafé in my
Liverpool FC mug. I faced down the sinister-looking kettle and attacked its
gender of the victim?’
you have a cause of death, or do the forensic boys need more time?’
don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but the cause of death seems pretty
toaster popped and I lifted out a slice of toast.
keep me in suspense, Lawson.’
force trauma. It looks like she jumped off the roof of the castle keep into the
big a drop is that?’
uhm, a hundred feet?’
body was found, exactly where?’
the central courtyard just in front of the keep itself. Do you know where that
been inside Carrickfergus Castle briefly once, but that once was enough to get
the gist of the place. ‘Yeah I know where that is. How long has she been lying
a rather interesting question, sir. The caretaker gets everyone out at five to
six and locks the front gate. Then he does a full check of the castle to make
sure all the visitors are out and accounted for. Then he does another quick
check of the building at ten, before he goes to bed.’
she wasn’t lying there in the courtyard at ten?’
inspects the entire castle before he locks the doors at six?’
timeline is important, sir. He gets all the visitors out, inspecting the castle
for stragglers and then he locks the front gate.’
the front gate is locked from when until when?’
front door is locked from 6 pm until 7 am’
kind of a door?’
there any other way in?’
‘Over the external walls, but
‘They’re sixty feet high … and six
‘And the entire castle is
illuminated by spotlights all night, so anyone putting up a sixty-foot ladder …’
‘Secret tunnels, secret doors?’
‘No secret tunnels, no secret doors.
The castle is built on the bedrock. No one’s tunnelling through that. I’ve
checked with the caretaker about that, anyway, the only way in is through the
front door which was locked.’
buttered my toast and when the kettle decided to boil of its own accord I
poured my coffee. My head was beginning to perk up now and I was visualising
the situation clearly in my mind’s eye.
calls time, he does an inspection to check that all the visitors have gone and
locks the gate. And then he does another lookeyloo before he goes to bed and
everything seems fine. Yet when he wakes up this morning, a little over an hour
ago, he finds a woman’s body in the central courtyard, in front of the keep,
with her skull smashed in.’
does he think she got there?’
has no idea, sir.’
just found her sprawled there in the castle courtyard?’
would certainly be one explanation.’
what would the others be?’
haven’t thought of any others yet.’
finished the toast and took another swig of coffee.
I had a sudden and rather unpleasant
flashback to the summer of 1984 and the Lizzie Fitzpatrick case. Similar set-up
happening to the same CID detective twice?
Never in a million years. This kind of lightning did not strike twice.
‘Can you think of any other
‘Uhm, off the top of my head … a
stowaway clinging to the undercarriage of a plane falls out when it’s coming in
to land at Belfast?’
‘I suppose that’s not impossible,
‘All right, I’ll admit that you’ve piqued my
interest, Lawson. I’ll be over in fifteen minutes.’
I showered, shaved, put on a suit
and tie and looked out my heavy wool coat. I checked under the Beemer for
bombs. There were no bombs but my battery was dead because I’d left the lights
on. I phoned the Automobile Association and they said they’d send someone out. I
called Carrick Cabs and the taxi arrived a couple of minutes later.
The driver had on Radio 1, which was
giving us Kylie Minogue’s I Should Be So Lucky. Within a few seconds
Miss Minogue’s sunny Antipodean vocals and the chirpy lyrics had brought out my
dark, misanthropic side. By the song’s second verse I was already longing for
an IRA ambush and by the second chorus I was dreaming of a rogue comet strike
that would reset the entire evolutionary clock à la the KT boundary extinction event.
Castle was in front of us now, with the lough on the left-hand side and the
lights of Belfast behind. There were a couple of dirty cargo boats out on the
water, a big Soviet tanker and two army Gazelle helicopters hovering over West
Funny that in my nearly six years in
Carrickfergus I’d only been in the castle that one time for fifteen minutes and
that had been on my first day here, to satisfy my curiosity. I’d never really
thought about it since. It was always just something that was there. A
grey-black castle that had been the centre of Anglo-Norman power in Ulster for
nearly seven hundred years, until the rise of Belfast in the nineteenth
I paid the cabbie and Lawson met me
at the car park entrance with one of the trainee detective constables they were
always sending to us because Carrick was a relatively safe posting for a trainee
and they were unlikely to get killed in the first few weeks on the job –
something which was always bad for morale.
trainees were usually rubbish and I was glad to see the back of them when they
rotated them out after a few weeks. Lawson, however, was good. He had passed
for Sergeant and if there hadn’t been a glut of RUC detective sergeants, he
would have been promoted long ago. Across the water he’d probably be a Detective
Inspector already, although perhaps his incorruptibility would have held him
He handed me a hot beverage in an
insulated paper cup.
‘Thanks. What’s this?’ I asked.
‘You made it?’
He shook his head. ‘The forensics
team brought flasks of tea and coffee down from Belfast with them. And
doughnuts and buns and Danish pastries.’
‘That’s very well organised and
together of them.’
‘They’re a very well organised and
together bunch, sir.’
‘Are they? Just because they bring
baked goods doesn’t necessarily mean they know what they’re doing. Mr Kipling
makes mistakes doesn’t he? Battenberg cake for example. Nobody likes marzipan.’
I looked at the skinny, spotty
trainee wearing a suit jacket miles too big for him. ‘And you are?’
Constable Young,’ the trainee said and added, ‘Uhm, sir.’
we met before?’
long are you here for?’
here until Friday, sir.’
looked at Lawson. ‘What’s the point of that? He won’t have time to pick up
you like Battenberg cake?’
probably just agreeing with you, sir. I’ll bet if you’d said you didn’t like
Bakewell tart he would have said he didn’t like that, either.’
looked into Young’s naïve, baleful, trusting face. ‘Do you like Bakewell tart?’
yes, sir! It’s one of my favourites,’ he said.
likes Bakewell tart, Lawson. Well, Trainee Detective Constable Young,
why don’t you tell me about the crime scene as we walk over there?’
about it, sir?’
victim is in her, uhm, twenties. Or thirties. Maybe forties. Maybe fifties?
Cause of death seems to be the fall from the roof of the big bit in the middle.’
else occur to you, Constable Young?’
shook his nervy face from side to side.
sir, if your aeroplane theory doesn’t work, I think the central puzzle here,
sir, is how she got into the castle to kill herself, if indeed it was a
suicide. And if it was murder you have to ask yourself how the murderer managed
to escape. So I looked for a ladder leaning up against the castle walls or
perhaps concealed nearby.’
did you find one?’
have to canvass for witnesses to discover if anyone saw anything untoward,’ I
said. ‘Young, there’s a big cargo boat tied up in the harbour. Get on board and
see if anyone saw anything last night. They usually have someone on watch all
night in those boats.’
‘And when you’re done with that, go
to every shop and flat along the seafront and ask them if they saw
anything unusual. Write everything down in your notebook. Legibly.’
‘Yes, sir,’ he said and stood there.
Young jogged off in the direction of
I yawned. ‘Most of that will be a
waste of time, but it’ll keep him out of our hair,’ I said. ‘Now tell me about
the CCTV footage. The Castle must have some and there’s definitely a camera
overlooking the harbour.’
Because of the Troubles, CCTV
cameras had become commonplace in Northern Ireland over the last few years. It
was a boon for the RUC: one of our few advantages over forces from other parts
‘The castle does not have CCTV. It’s a listed
building and they weren’t allowed to put any up. There is a CCTV camera
on the roof of the harbour-master’s office that faces the harbour and,
crucially for us, the castle. I already have a constable over there looking at
the footage. Nothing so far, I’m afraid.’
‘No one tumbling out of the sky?’
‘If someone did put a ladder up
against the walls it’ll be on the tape.’
‘Yes, sir. The harbour master says
that the camera covers the entire south side of the castle.’
‘And the north side?’
‘Well the castle is roughly oval shaped and the entire north side juts into the sea …’
‘So not only would you need a sixty-foot
ladder, but you’d need a sixty-foot ladder on a boat.’
‘In the full glare of the spotlights
and exposed to the traffic on the Marine Highway and anyone walking along the
‘I wonder if the cameras at the
police station and those at the Northern Bank would cover the north side of the
castle?’ I mused.
‘I’ll have someone check it out,
‘But the easiest way is still
through the front gate. Pick the front gate lock and there’s no need for a
ladder at all. The Northern Bank camera would cover that, too, wouldn’t it?’
‘Yes, sir. But as, uhm, you’ll see,
that wouldn’t really help.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Better to show you, sir, when we
What else, Lawson?’
‘No sign of a sexual assault on a cursory
look at the victim.’
‘Forensics wouldn’t let you have
more than a cursory look?’
‘So what makes you think that she
wasn’t sexually assaulted?’
‘She was fully clothed, sir.’
‘Stylishly dressed. As far as I’m
able to judge. Black skirt, black tights, wool sweater, pricey-looking shoes, nice
green scarf, very expensive-looking leather bomber jacket, black with red
stylishly dressed for these parts?’
don’t think she’s a working girl, sir. Although you can never tell.’
a handbag, but it was partially under the victim’s stomach and forensics
wouldn’t let me move her to get a look inside.’
jumped holding her handbag? Why would she do that, do you think?’
that we could identify her? It’s not uncommon for jumpers to jump with their
suicide note and their ID on hand. Or maybe she threw the handbag down first
and then jumped and landed on it.’
there a suicide note?’
looked at Lawson thoughtfully. ‘You seem pretty convinced that she jumped,
I think so, sir.’
‘On the phone you said that if you
were pushed you would say that we were looking at a suicide rather than an accident.
must have caused her a lot of trouble to get into the castle. If she didn’t go
in over the walls somehow she must have slipped off a tour yesterday and hidden
when Mr Underhill was doing his rounds. She goes to all that trouble, goes to
the top of the keep and then accidentally falls off the roof? Unlikely.’
why not a murder?’
has anyone left since you arrived?’
not. And I’ve had someone on the gate since we got here.’
seem like the murdering type.’
had reached the massive castle gatehouse now. A WPC was standing there, behind
a POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS tape. I finished the coffee and threw it in the
rubbish bin near the entrance. I straightened my collar and ran a hand through
right,’ I said. ‘Let’s go and check out this crime scene, shall we?
e couldn’t get through the gate
because a big forensic officer was dusting the lock for fingerprints. He was
wearing a white boiler suit and he was so bloody enormous that he was like a
cloud with feet. But before I could hit Lawson with this cloud-with-feet observation, the kid had taken out a map and was
shoving it in my face.
‘Sir, we’re here. As you can see,
this is the front entrance of the castle and the only way in and out,’ Lawson
‘Yes, I see,’ I replied and tapped
the big forensic officer on the shoulder.
Duffy, Carrick RUC, can we just take a look at this lock for a second?’ I asked
big forensic officer nodded. ‘Be my guest, pal, but don’t touch anything.’
prints on the gate so far?’
only about a million.’
Lawson and I examined the lock on
the front door of the castle. It was an enormous, old-fashioned cast-iron job
that you couldn’t pick with conventional tools as the tumblers were just too
big; but like every lock in the world, with the right equipment, it could
‘Give me a couple of days to think
about it and I reckon I could make a skeleton key to turn this,’ I said.
Lawson looked at the lock. ‘But it
would be easier just to steal the real key and make a clay impression of it.’
‘Where does the caretaker keep his
‘On a hook in the ticket office.’
‘And he can’t be in there all the
time, can he?’
‘So maybe we don’t need those sixty-foot
ladders after all.’
‘Or maybe the caretaker’s just a
liar. Not necessarily a murderer. How about this: he has some girl over, is
showing off the roof of the castle, there’s an accident, invents this “mystery”
to cover his tracks.’
‘He seems pretty credible to me,
sir, but obviously a full interrogation is warranted,’ Lawson said.
We walked through the castle
gatehouse and under the spiked iron portcullis into the castle proper.
‘Sir, this is what I was talking
about, sir, the portcullis,’ Lawson said.
I looked up. ‘Fascinating.’
In front of us, I could see half a
dozen white-boiler-suited forensic officers going about their business deeper
in the courtyard.
‘About the portcullis, sir –’
the lead FO today?’ I asked.
Chief Inspector Payne, sir?’
Frank Payne. As fine an example of nominative determinism as you’ll ever get,
Lawson smiled. ‘I get it sir,’ he
said. Yeah of course he got it but I wouldn’t have thrown the nominative
determinism crack to Crabbie, or anyone else in Carrick RUC.
‘He’s one of the good guys, Lawson,
but, uhm, a bit prickly. Best not poach on Payne’s turf, or go asking him
stupid questions. I’ll interview the caretaker while we let them finish their
went inside the caretaker’s cottage which lay just behind the castle’s ticket
booth. Cosy little one-bedroom bungalow with all mod cons.
The caretaker’s name was Clarke
Underhill – a sprightly enough old chap in his late sixties. Ex-Royal Navy.
Scottish. Grey hair. Slight frame. Unmarried. Been in this job for a decade. I
introduced myself and ran all of Lawson’s questions by him again.
‘When did you find the victim?’
‘The first thing this morning when I
went for a walk around the castle.’
‘What’s your usual morning routine,
Mr Underhill?’ I asked.
‘I usually wake up at 5.30, or a wee
bit later and make a cup of tea. Normally I go for a wee walk around the
courtyard and the battlements. Then I open the gate, bring in the milk, lock
the gate, get the ticket booth ready and then open up properly at 7.00.’
‘Very early for tourists.’
‘It’s the way we’ve always done it.
Sometimes a coach will stop at 7.30 on its way up to the Giant’s Causeway.’
‘And this morning? Anything strange?
Any noises during the night?’
‘No. My alarm clock woke me up and I
listened to the World Service while I made my tea and I went for my wee walk
and then I saw her.’
‘No. I didnae go near her. To be
honest I thought that maybe …’
His voice trailed away.
I looked at Lawson. He
‘You thought what, exactly, Mr
Underhill?’ I asked.
‘Well I wasnae sure if she wasn’t
maybe, you know … a wraith.’
‘What’s a wraith?’
‘A spectre. A banshee.’
‘You thought the dead girl might be
‘Aye. I did.’
‘A ghost in a leather jacket?’
‘This building’s been here for eight
centuries and the well was a site of pilgrimage for eight afore that. I’ve seen
and heard of some very strange things here in my time,’ he said, his voice
assuming a kind of defensive John Laurie cadence.
‘Anything like this before?’
‘No, but the caretaker afore me, old
Mr Dobbin, he saw Buttoncap by the well.’
‘A soldier. A red coat. Hanged at
the Gallows Green in 1798.’
‘Last night no strange sightings or
noises?’ I asked.
‘No. Nothing out of the ordinary.’
‘No sign this morning that someone
had tried to break into your cottage?’
‘Nothing like that.’
‘And the key was on its usual hook?’
‘At what point this morning did you
determine that the deceased was not a supernatural being?’
‘Fairly soon thereafter. She didnae
speak when I spoke to her and she didnae move and I soon kenned that she was
deed. So I went in and called the poliss.’
‘Are you sure the castle was empty
when you locked up at six o’clock last night?’
‘Are you sure the castle was
completely empty when you did your final inspection at 10 pm?’
‘And this morning the gate was
‘In that case, how on Earth could do
you think someone could have got into the castle between ten and six this morning?’
‘Mr Underhill, are you sure you
didn’t invite the young lady to spend the night with you in the castle last
night? Show her the dungeons, secret passages, things like that?’
‘My days of entertaining young
ladies are long behind me, Inspector Duffy,’ he said, with a steady eye.
‘See?’ Lawson said, with a nod and I had to admit that Mr Underhill was pretty convincing.
Still I’d make him do a written statement and then I’d let McCrabban have a few
hours with him in Interview Room #1 later on today.
‘Is the front gate the only way in
and out?’ I asked.
‘And who has the key to the front
‘There is a spare key –’
‘Aha!’ I said, looking at Lawson.
‘In the National Trust head office
in London,’ Underhill continued.
‘On, er, my own initiative I checked
with the night security people in the monuments department at the National
Trust HQ and apparently the key to Carrickfergus Castle is still in the
monuments office. Hanging there on its hook. But as Mr Underhill will explain
the key isn’t really an issue anyway,’ Lawson said, proud of himself for
following this particular evidentiary rabbit down into its burrow.
‘That’s a pretty stupid system,
don’t you think? What if you had a heart attack in here at night when it was
locked up? How would the emergency services get in to rescue you?’ I asked
‘They wouldn’t. I’d be deed,’ Underhill
said, with grim satisfaction. ‘You couldn’t even get through the door with
fireman’s axes. It’s two-foot-thick oak. Four- hundred-year-old oak. Designed
to resist a siege. It would take them half a day to get through that with axes.
Not that it would do them any good, anyway. At night I lower the portcullis to
keep it in working trim. Lower it every night. Raise it every morning.’
‘The portcullis? That iron spikey
thing?’ I asked.
‘That’s what I was going to tell
you, sir,’ Lawson said. ‘The portcullis makes the issue of the key and the lock
‘Can you show me, Mr Underhill?’
Lawson and I walked back into the gatehouse
which was a rectangular structure about fifteen feet by ten. It was walled on
two sides with the big oak door at the front and the portcullis in the rear.
The Cumulus-like forensic officer had moved on, giving us a clear picture of
‘Stay there gents!’ Underhill
Underhill lowered the heavy cast-iron
portcullis behind us with a long chain that wound round a capstan.
‘Christ! How much does that thing
weigh?’ I asked, when the enormous portcullis reached the ground.
‘Two and a half tons.’
‘What’s it made of?’
‘You lowered it last night like
‘And you can’t lift it up from
I tried pushing it up with my hands,
but there was no bloody way.
I turned to Lawson. ‘Well, this is a
pretty picture isn’t it?’
Lawson nodded. ‘You pick the lock or
steal the key to the front gate. You get into the gatehouse, but that’s as far
as you can get, because there’s a portcullis in the way.’
‘A two-and-a-half-ton portcullis.’
‘With spikes at the bottom.’
I examined the portcullis. It had
been freshly painted in the last month or two and there were no strange
markings where someone had tried to lift it up with a hydraulic jack, or break
through with welding gear.
‘You think you could wriggle
underneath those spikes?’ I asked Lawson but he could tell I was only being
‘You see in the old days the enemy
army would break down the front gate of the castle, but then they’d be trapped
here in the gatehouse and from above – see that little hole in the ceiling –
they shoot arrows or fire muskets or drop boiling oil down on them,’ Mr
‘Hole in the ceiling?’
‘Up there, look. The murder hole.’
Twenty-five feet above us there was
a trap door in the ceiling. Lawson raised his eyebrows and gave me a nod. Could
be the way our killer and our victim got into the castle. Pick the front lock
and bring a ladder and go up through the murder hole.
‘Can we take a look at this “murder
hole”?’ I asked.
‘Certainly,’ Mr Underhill said.
He raised the portcullis again and
we walked back into the castle proper.
‘This way,’ he said and led us up a
spiral staircase to the room above the gatehouse – a dank, cold, stone-walled
‘If you brought a ladder, maybe you could get
up to the murder hole and into the castle this way?’ I asked.
Underhill shook his head. ‘Well, I
suppose in a previous time you could have done that but that trapdoor to the
murderhole has been sealed for decades. Welded shut for safety reasons. Kids
kept falling through it and breaking their legs.’
I looked at the welds on the cast-iron
hinges and Underhill was right – they were solid and they hadn’t been tampered
‘Could you make it through the arrow
slots?’ Lawson asked, pointing out several smaller rectangular holes in the
floor for firing crossbow bolts and arrows.
Underhill shook his head and put his
arm through, to show that his shoulder would get stuck. Even an anorexic
contortionist couldn’t get through the arrow slots. At their widest they were
barely six inches across.
‘What do you think of those welds on
the murder hole trapdoor, Lawson?’ I asked him.
He examined the welds and shook his
‘Secure and not recently messed
around with,’ he said.
‘Make sure forensics take a
photograph of those welds and the lowered portcullis.’
‘Will do, sir,’ Lawson said. ‘It
more or less eliminates foul play from the inquiry, doesn’t it, sir?’
I turned to Underhill ‘OK, so they
didn’t come through the gate. How else could someone get in here?’ I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. ‘I
wouldn’t have the foggiest.’
‘Lawson, any suggestions – as
bizarre as you’d like.’
‘Your plane theory sir, uhm, hot air
balloon? Hang glider? Helicopter? Microlight?’
‘One of those pneumatic grappling
hooks they used at Pont Du Hoc on D-Day?’ Underhill contributed.
‘And our old friend the sixty-foot
ladder,’ Lawson said. ‘But all that would show up on the CCTV from the roof of
the harbour-master’s hut, wouldn’t it, sir?’
‘Or the CCTV at the Northern Bank
and the copshop.’
I lit a fag, took two deep puffs and tossed
it. ‘No more cigarettes for me this morning, Lawson. Remind me.’
‘I will, sir.’
I rubbed my chin. ‘How do you get
your murder victim to get on the hang-glider with you?’
‘And how would the murderer escape,
sir? Getting out’s going to be much more difficult than getting in. You can slip
in with the crowd of regular tourists and perhaps hide from Mr Underhill on his
nightly inspection, but how do you get out?’
‘It all depends on how secure the
front gate has been since the portcullis was lifted this morning,’ I said,
looking at Underhill and Lawson.
Lawson saw where I was coming from.
‘Mr Underhill, what did you do after
you found the body and called the police?’
‘I covered her up, of course!’
‘And after that?’
‘I said a wee prayer and I waited by
her body until the police came.’
‘And how long was that, Mr Underhill?’ Lawson
‘Oh, it wasnae too long. Ten
‘And then when DC Lawson arrived you
opened the gate?’ I asked.
‘Aye. I raised the portcullis and
opened the front gate to let youse in.’
‘You didn’t open the portcullis and
the gate before we came, are you sure about that?’ Lawson asked.
‘What about getting the milk?’
didn’t get the milk this morning. It’s still out there.’
the portcullis be lowered from the gatehouse or outside the castle?’ I asked
shook his head. ‘No, it can’t.’
I turned to Lawson. ‘What time did
you get here?’
‘About six-fifteen, sir.’
‘And what did you do exactly?’
‘I met Mr Underhill and went to look
at the body.’
‘And the front gate?’ I asked him.
He smiled at me and I sighed with
He hadn’t fucked it up.
‘I’ve had WPC Warren on the front
gate since the moment we got here. No one has left the building without going
I patted him on the shoulder. ‘Well
‘When Mr Underhill gave me the
particulars over the phone I knew we were looking at a weird one, sir. Anyone
would have done the same thing,’ Lawson said giving me a significant look.
Did he know about Lizzie Fitzpatrick? No. It was before his time.
McCrabban had helped me on that case, but Crabbie never told anybody anything.
Lizzie had been murdered in the
Henry Joy McCracken pub in Antrim – a pub that was locked and bolted from the
inside. Or so we had been led to think. It was a very unusual case anywhere,
but especially unusual in Ulster during the Troubles, where murder was never
that baroque or complicated.
I was no expert in the statistical
analysis of the type of cases to be expected by a Northern Irish homicide
detective, but surely it would be stretching the confidence limits to suggest
that an incident like that could ever occur again to the same peeler. I was not
the brilliant but exceptionally statistically unlucky Dr Gideon Fell, nor was I
the equally unlucky Hercule Poirot, no I was the plodding, ordinary, Detective Inspector Sean Duffy of the humdrum RUC. And we
dour-faced RUC men didn’t go in for weird statistical quirks or coincidences,
which meant that unless someone was deliberately messing with us, this had to
be an ordinary suicide in a rather
I shook myself from the reverie. ‘Right,
Lawson, let’s get moving, we’ll call Sergeant McCrabban at home and tell him to
get down here with as many people as possible. Any warm body will do. And if
Sergeant Mulvenny isn’t at the station we’ll call him at home too. We’ll need
the K9 unit.’
Mr Underhill was looking at us,
‘What’s going on?’ he asked.
‘The thing is, Mr Underhill, if this
was a murder and not a suicide then the murderer is still inside the building,’
‘But I searched the place last
night,’ Underhill protested.
Underhill, unless something strange shows up on the external video footage, you
obviously missed at least one person on your search. Possibly two,’ I
‘I had a friend who spent the night
with his girlfriend in the Great Pyramid in Giza,’ Lawson said. ‘That’s how
they did it. Snuck in, hid from the security guard locking the place down,
spent a terrifying night in there, came out in the morning when the place was
filling up with tourists again. You bunk off the tour and hide from security.
Easy as pie.’
‘Is it possible someone did that?’ I
asked the caretaker.
Underhill rubbed his chin. ‘Aye, I
suppose …’ he conceded.
‘And since Detective Constable
Lawson has had someone watching the front gate since just after you lifted the
portcullis, then a murderer can’t possibly have escaped can he?’
‘No!’ Mr Underhill agreed excitedly.
‘Hence the K9 unit,’ I said. ‘If
there is a murderer lurking in here we’ll find him. And if not, well, I’m
afraid either you did it or it’s almost certainly a suicide.’
Mr Underhill nodded sadly. ‘Her ghost
will be a troubled spirit, no matter how she died. She’ll haunt the place for
decades, maybe centuries.’
‘Fortunately for us, troubled
spirits, wraiths and banshees are not within the jurisdiction of Carrickfergus
CID,’ I said.
Strange Suicide of Lily Bigelow
awson and I went outside the castle
to question WPC Warren. She was a new recruit and not a detective, but she was
not one of those time-serving eejits from the part-time reserve either, so
hopefully she had her shit together.
‘WPC Warren, I’m Detective Inspector Duffy, I
don’t think we’ve formally met, yet,’ I said and gave her what I hoped was a
sir, I don’t think so,’ she said, in a pleasing South Belfast accent.
was very young, with a pert blonde bob under her kepi. She seemed alert enough.
you cold?’ I asked.
fine, sir, I’ve got my gloves and scarf. I’ve heard it’s going to snow again
looked at the darkening sky. ‘I wouldn’t be surprised. Now listen to me, Warren,
you’ve been on duty here since 6.15 this morning?’
here at the entrance to the castle?’
haven’t slipped away for a toilet break, or a cup of coffee or a wee smoke or
anything? I won’t be cross with you if you did any of those things, I just need
been right there, sir, I haven’t moved!’ she said, indignantly.
Now has anyone come out of the castle in the time you’ve been standing here?’
sir … Well, apart from you and DC Lawson, sir. And two men from the forensic
from police officers has anyone else
entered or left the castle?’ I reiterated.
sir,’ she said.
you quite sure?’
very good, Warren. Now we’re going to conduct a thorough search of the building
with sniffer dogs and until that search is over, no one is to leave the castle
without my express permission. Is that understood?’
work, Warren, keep it up.’
and I walked down to the police Land Rover in the castle car park.
‘Was I sufficiently encouraging with
her, Lawson? I take my pedagogical role seriously, at least I do after I’ve had
‘You were very encouraging, sir. I’m
sure Warren was inspired,’ Lawson replied. I looked for satirical intent behind
those blonde eyebrows, but he was stony-faced, the cheeky bastard.
We called the barracks and ordered
in the K9 unit and as many as PCs as the Duty Sergeant would let us have
without endangering the station’s security. Then I got Sandra on the desk to
call McCrabban and tell him to get down here pronto. It was well after seven
now, so he’d be done milking the pigs, or plucking the cows, or shagging the
sheep, or whatever it was one did on a farm.
the hour McCrabban appeared, along with Sergeant Mulvenny and his dogs and a
dozen PCs who’d had nothing to do back at the station. I split us into three
teams, with a detective leading each team. We went back into the castle, found
Mr Underhill and told him our plan of conducting an exhaustive search of every
conceivable nook and cranny in the place.
produced an archaeological map and explained the layout of the place in detail.
It was not a particularly large structure: a courtyard, a ruined ‘curtain’
wall, two sets of dungeons, cannon emplacements complete with half a dozen
large nineteenth-century cannons. The
main building was the twelfth-century Norman castle keep from which presumably
our Jane Doe had fallen or jumped. We went through all the floors in the keep,
the spiral staircase and its flat roof. The keep was packed full of local
history stuff: Carrickfergus’s first fire engine, prehistoric pottery found in
the area, medieval tapestries and so on. There was a military museum on the top
floor which had uniforms and weapons from across the centuries. An old well on
the lower level would have been a terrific place for a psychopath to hide, but
the well was covered with thick impenetrable Perspex that hadn’t been tampered
about secret tunnels? Priests holes? Hidden rooms? You’re always hearing about
secret tunnels in places like this,’ I asked Mr Underhill.
I was telling Detective Lawson, there are no secret tunnels in this castle.
We’re built over black basalt. No one’s tunnelling through that. No one was
able to tunnel through that in eight centuries of sieges. I doubt very much
someone managed to do it last night,’ he said definitively.
rooms that someone with insider knowledge might know about?’
are no secret rooms. There have been half a dozen archaeological digs in the
castle and nothing like that has ever been found.’
Sergeant Mulvenny and his dogs
discovered no one hiding anywhere in the castle: not in the dungeons, not the
keep, not the courtyard, not the gatehouse.
‘Sorry Duffy. There’s no killer in
this place. We’ve looked all over. She must have done herself in,’ Mulvenny
said, in a Scouse accent so dense and incomprehensible that I made a mental note
to suggest him for the post of Media Relations and Civilian Liaison Officer.
you think your dogs could tell me where she spent the night, at least? She must
have been hiding somewhere?’
Mike Mulvenny scratched his brown beard and nodded.
‘Maybe, Duffy, maybe. I’ll see what
I can do.’
this search was continuing and the forensic team continued to work, I had
McCrabban and Lawson review the CCTV footage from the harbour-master’s office
and the rear entrance to the Northern Bank.
hour later, Detective Sergeant McCrabban’s dour visage told me that this
exercise had borne little fruit.
one came in over the walls,’ he said, with certainty.
you sure?’ I asked. ‘This is probably going to be very important at the
McCrabban explained that the castle had
clearly been illuminated all night by spotlights. During this time, there had
been no ladders leaned up against the wall, no balloon landings, no UFOs, no
microlights, nothing out of the ordinary at all.
‘A couple of seagulls came and went.
And I think I saw an owl at one point,’ Crabbie said.
‘A massive human-sized owl?’ Lawson
Crabbie shook his head. ‘Nope. An
owl-sized owl. No human being came over the walls into Carrickfergus Castle last
night,’ he said, confidently.
‘What about the bank’s footage,
Lawson?’ I asked.
The CCTV from the Northern Bank
apparently told a similar story on the seaward side and at the front gate.
‘After Mr Underhill locked up last
night, no one came near the front gate until I showed up this morning,’ Lawson
looked at both of them. ‘And Mike Mulvenny’s K9 teams found no one hiding in
the castle, which means, gentlemen, that she must have done what Lawson’s
friend did: slipped off one of the tours, hid in the castle somewhere last
night and jumped off the keep roof sometime between 10 pm and 6 am.’
and McCrabban both concurred.
the actual jump show up on the CCTV footage?’ I asked.
angle’s wrong for the harbour-master’s camera,’ Crabbie said. ‘If she’d come to
the south part of the keep I would have seen her but if she just went up there
and jumped off the north wall the camera wouldn’t have caught her.’
check the footage again, sir, but I don’t think the Northern Bank’s cameras are
positioned high enough to cover the roof of the keep. Didn’t notice on a
preliminary view, anyway,’ Lawson said.
going to have to go through all the footage from last night again and again,
until we’re satisfied,’ I said.
there any actual eyewitnesses?’ McCrabban asked.
fine trainee detectives are canvassing the area, but there’s none so far,’ I
‘I suppose we’ll also have to go to the
keep roof then and have a thorough look round there, eh?’ I said.
‘I’m not a big fan of heights,’
Lawson said nervously.
‘Me neither, actually,’ I agreed and
Crabbie looked at us if we were a big bunch of jessies.
‘I’ll lead you up there,’ Mr
Underhill said. ‘The thirteenth step in the spiral staircase is a trip step.’
We climbed the narrow medieval
spiral staircase inside the keep. It was lit by electric lights, but even so,
without Mr Underhill’s help we would have been caught out by the trip step,
which was half as big as the other steps.
‘What’s the purpose of the trip
step?’ Lawson asked, as stubbing his toe.
‘To trip up invading knights running
up the stairs,’ Underhill explained. ‘The
Normans did it in nearly all of their castles.’
avoided coming a cropper on the trip step and reached the keep roof just as the
snow began to fall again.
freezing,’ I said, buttoning up my coat.
some view though, eh?’ Crabbie said, turning up the collar on hiswool trenchcoat.
it was. Despite the snow clouds you could see clearly down the chilly lough all
the way to Scotland across the even chillier Irish Sea. Belfast lay to the
south and east and beyond the city were the foothills of the Mourne Mountains.
the view, let’s look for some evidence,’ I said. ‘Let’s line-walk the roof. Mr
Underhill do you want to help?’
I’ll help,’ he said.
form a line and slowly pace out the roof in sections. Walk next to Sergeant
McCrabban and if you spot anything which isn’t birdshit, let us know.’
line-walked the roof and found nothing. It was extremely windy up here and the
roof had been blown clean of snow, cigarettes and potential suicide notes.
‘If she’d left a note it would have
blown away,’ McCrabban observed.
I walked to the north wall of the
keep and looked down into the courtyard where the forensic officers were
continuing their work.
must have jumped from here,’ I said, gingerly peering over the four-foot-high
keep wall. I looked for cigarette butts, a pen, ash, chewing gum, anything at
all, but there were no clues.
I asked Lawson and McCrabban.
probably didn’t hang about. No cigarettes or matches or anything. She came
straight up and just jumped,’ Lawson said.
shrugged. ‘We don’t actually know that. She might have been up for hours
thinking about it. Like I say, we’re in a CCTV blindspot on this side of the
she was up here for a while pacing, thinking about it, could she possibly have
slipped into a frame or two?’ I asked.
lit his pipe. ‘As you say, we’ll have to go through the footage carefully, but
I didn’t notice her at all.’
spiral staircase exited near the north wall of the keep, so she could have come
up and jumped without its being captured by either CCTV camera at the harbour-master’s
office or the Northern Bank.
looked down into the courtyard again.
So easy just to slip over the edge.
End all your bloody problems in an instant. Girlfriend trouble. Career trouble.
Drink problems. Give Chief Inspector Payne a story to tell for years: ‘Here I
was, investigating a bloody jumper and fucking Duffy – always an odd fucking
fish and no mistake – jumps from the castle keep almost bloody braining me …’
get down from here, lads, we’ll send up an FO to see if they can get prints
from this wall,’ I said, with a shiver.
in the courtyard none of the search teams turned up any hidden suspects,
clothes or murder weapons, so I had no choice but to send them all back to the
Sergeant Mulvenny had at least some
interesting news from the dungeons.
Duffy, don’t make me swear on it, but it’s possible that your Jane Doe spent
the night in the dungeon near the gatehouse.’
‘Oh yes?’ I said.
‘Don’t get your hopes up too high.
If she did spend the night, there wasn’t any physical evidence, but one of the
dogs seemed to get quite excited down there.’
‘Well, I asked the FO – Chief Inspector
Payne – if I could let Moira, my best bitch, sniff the body and he said OK, cos
he was nearly finished and Moira got the scent and I took her all over the
castle again. Sometimes it’s better in the snow, you wouldn’t think it, but
there something’s about a scent carrying in the snow.’
‘Well, anyway, Moira had the lass’s
scent and she was calm until we got down to the dungeon, but down there she
barked and whined a bit.’
‘She barked and whined?’
‘And that’s proof the dead girl was
down there at some point?’
‘No. I wouldn’t say that that was
proof that the lass was in the dungeon at some point last night, but she might
‘Can you show me where you’re
Mulvenny took McCrabban, Lawson and
myself to the dungeon near the gatehouse. It was a dank little hole, 20 feet by
10 feet, in a hollowed-out fissure in the bedrock. There were iron rings
hammered into the wall, where, presumably, the prisoners had been chained.
Formerly, there had been a door that locked the dungeon from the outside, but
this door had been removed and concrete steps added, to provide easier access
for tourists. The dungeon was slick with moss and had the revolting sulphur
stench of centuries of urine.
‘Are you sure Moira could smell
anything over this stink of piss?’ I asked Mulvenny.
Mulvenny shrugged. ‘I think so.’
‘Maybe she smelt another dog, or one
of the visitors?’ McCrabban asked sceptically.
‘I can’t imagine spending the night
down here,’ McCrabban said.
‘And don’t forget Mr Underhill says
he checked down here,’ Lawson added.
‘Checked how, I wonder?’ I said. ‘A
quick shoofty with a torch or a real solid look around the room?’
‘I think we should ask him,’
‘Well, thanks mate. Good work,’ I
said shaking Mulvenny’s hand. We traipsed back to Mr Underhill’s cottage, where
he was in the middle of giving a formal statement to a PC. We took a smoke
break outside until it was done. Lawson wasn’t a smoker so he pulled out a
Walkman and clicked in a cassette while Crabbie relit his pipe and I lit
‘Sir, you told me to watch the
cigarette count,’ Lawson said.
‘Oh yeah,’ I said stubbing the
ciggie out and putting it back in the box. ‘Watcha listening to on your machine?’
I asked, for a distraction.
‘The new U2 album,’ he said,
I rolled my eyes.
Lawson saw the eye roll. ‘Just
because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s not good,’ he protested.
‘What’s the record called?’
‘It’s really ace. You wanna listen
‘What's the difference between listening
to U2 and shitting yourself? … If you shit yourself you’ll smell but you can
deal with the self-loathing,’ I said.
‘Oh, sir, that’s just a recycled
Depeche Mode joke!’ he protested.
I coughed and shook my head
ruefully. I used to have better material. Crabbie noticed the cough and took me
to one side. ‘You look a bit rough. Are you OK, Sean?’ he asked, in what for
him was a bold venture into the realm of the personal. I could never tell with
these crazy Presbyterians whether he was just being polite or whether this was
an opening for me to spill all my troubles.
‘Didn’t sleep well, mate. Beth’s
‘Is she the young one?’ Crabbie
‘Well, I’m not surprised,’ he
‘Neither am I … well actually, I am
surprised. I thought things were going OK.’
‘She was quite a bit younger than
you, wasn’t she?’
‘Ten years – is that a lot?’
Crabbie considered it. ‘Insurmountable,
I would have thought.’
The PC finished taking Underhill’s initial
statement and we went inside the cottage and sat opposite the old man at his
kitchen table. He looked quite tuckered out now by the interviews and the
questions and the hike up and down the stairs. But still he got up and offered
us a cup of tea. ‘Really it’s no
trouble. It’s good tea. It’s from Yorkshire,’ he insisted.
We assented to the tea and Crabbie
lit his pipe. ‘Didn’t know you could grow tea in Yorkshire,’ Lawson said to
himself. Crabbie was flipping through his notebook as he smoked. ‘Could someone
have raised the portcullis last night without Mr Underhill noticing?’ he asked.
‘We’ve been through all that. It
makes quite a racket, Crabbie and, more importantly, it can only be raised and
lowered from the inside. This morning Mr Underhill found it exactly where he
left it last night.’
Mr Underhill brought our tea and
biscuits and I went through his written statement. It wasn’t different from
what he had already told us.
‘Mr Underhill, I wonder if you would
mind showing us exactly how you carried out your search last night. Grab your
torch and show us exactly your routine, please,’ I said.
We went outside into the now-strengthening
We followed him through the
courtyard and the gatehouse and the keep. Without commenting we watched him go
down the steps into the dungeons. He flicked the torch around both dungeons and
then walked back up to the courtyard again.
‘You searched the dungeons every
night exactly like that?’ I asked.
‘That was pretty fast, Mr Underhill.
If someone had been hiding in the left-hand corner there do you think you would
have seen them?’
‘Aye, I think so. I know this place
backwards and forwards, anything out of place and I’ll ken it. That’s why
Buttoncap doesnae try his tricks with me,’ Mr Underhill said.
‘Who’s Buttoncap?’ McCrabban asked.
‘The castle ghost,’ Lawson
‘Why do you check the castle twice
before going to bed? Surely once would be enough, no?’ I asked.
‘It’s always been that way. Old Mr
Dobbins did it that way and Mr Farnham afore him and afore that it was the army
way. An inspection at six and one at ten. It’s always been done and I’m no
going to buck tradition.’
‘This second inspection. Do you go
up to the keep roof for that one?’
Mr Underhill shook his head. ‘No,
not usually. I do check the dungeons, though and the courtyard!’
‘And last night, did you go up on to
the keep roof?’
‘No I cannae say that I did.’
‘But you checked the courtyard and
just to reiterate there was nothing unusual?’
‘Thank you Mr Underhill.’
I waited until he had walked back to
his cottage before turning to the lads.
‘Well?’ I said to Lawson and
‘Aye she could have been hiding in
the dungeon. Up against that back left-hand wall. He wouldn’t have seen her,’
Lawson nodded. ‘I agree with that.’
‘And that’s what the dogs think,
too,’ McCrabban reiterated. ‘She bought a ticket, hid in the dungeon, waited
until the coast was clear and then went up to the keep roof.’
‘And at some point after ten she
jumped,’ I said.
‘We know where she hid, where she
jumped, we just don’t know why she did it,’ Lawson said.
When we got back to the courtyard I
could see that the forensic boys were finally done. They’d stripped off their
boiler suits but were still unmistakeable as cops because of their good teeth
and bad haircuts – RUC men got free dental and somehow, invariably, always
ended up at the worst barber in town. Interestingly, terrorists also had bad
haircuts, but that was because their fashion sense had been frozen around 1973
– the era of the Che screen print and the Red Army Faction wanted poster.Chief Inspector Payne, the big bald 50-something
forensic officer, had lit himself a cigarette and was taking off his boiler
suit with controlled aggression. He put his hand out to catch the snowflakes,
as if noticing them for the first time.
‘I suppose we’d better have a chat to
Frank Payne,’ I said, reluctantly.
‘Nothing else for it,’ Crabbie
looked up when we approached.
‘Ah Duffy,’ he said, without any
‘Long time, Frank,’ I replied. ‘These
are my colleagues. I think you’ve met Detective Sergeant McCrabban and this is
young Detective Constable Lawson.’
Payne gave a curt nod to McCrabban
and Lawson. ‘Nice day, eh? Fucking freezing, so I am. Calling us out at this
time of the day, in a blizzard, no less. Your men should have covered the whole
crime scene with tarpaulin. Sloppy work, Duffy.’
‘Hardly a blizzard, Frank, a –’
‘Did you send one of my boys up to
the roof of the keep, Duffy?’ he asked, narrowing his eyes.
‘Aye, to see if there were any
prints on the ledge where she jumped. Or, you know, anything that we might have
missed. You guys in forensics are always a bit sharper than us regular CID,’ I
‘Don’t try to butter me up, Duffy.
If you want one of my men to do something, you ask me first, OK?’
He spat on to the cobbles and took
another draw on his ciggie. A Gallagher’s long, by the nasty pong off it.
‘I heard you went to see Ali
yesterday,’ he said to me.
‘Christ, you’d think there’d be some
other gossip in the RUC besides me doing a routine bit of crowd-control duty.’
‘What the hell was Ali doing over
‘He was on a peace mission with the
Reverend Jesse Jackson.’
‘Bloody hell. Muhammad Ali and the
Reverend Jesse Jackson bring peace to Northern Ireland! PR stunt. That’s all it
was, Duffy. Jackson’s running for President. Did you know that? Needs the Irish
vote, that’s what they said in the paper.’
‘If it’s in the paper it must be
‘Ali’s overrated, anyway.’
‘You think Muhammad Ali is overrated
as a boxer?’ McCrabban asked, incredulously.
‘He was OK, McCrabban. Just OK. Look
at Tyson. Now there’s a brawler for you. He’s got the hunger. Murder ya for a
Cup-A-Soup, so he would.’
‘I don’t think they have Cup-A-Soup
in America,’ Lawson said.
‘No Cup-A-Soup indeed. Who doesn’t
like soup in a cup? Jesus. The point is, Ali talked his opponents to death.
Tyson just knocks ’em out,’ Payne said.
‘That’s what made Ali so great. He
used psychology,’ McCrabban protested, but Payne cut him off with a snort.
‘Psychology! Listen to him!
Psychology, he says.’
was the kind of rubbish peelers talked about when they didn’t have a case to
focus their attention, but I’d had enough of this blather. ‘Time’s pressing,
Frank, do you want to walk us through the crime scene?’ I asked.
‘If you insist,’ he said, reluctant
to leave the shelter of the overhanging battlement.
Payne, Lawson, McCrabban and I
walked over to the body. It had been covered by a grey forensic blanket, which
would have to serve as protection until they came to take her away for the
‘…that’s why they call it the sweet
science. You have to get in your opponent’s head. It’s never been about who
hits the hardest …’ I heard McCrabban muttering to Lawson as we crossed the
Payne bent down and took the blanket
from the dead woman’s body.
She was face down, her head was half
smashed in. She was wearing a rather chic black leather jacket and underneath
that a black wool sweater, a white blouse with a green cotton scarf. Black
skirt, black tights, a single slip-on court shoe and thin black leather gloves
completed the ensemble.
‘Where’s the jacket from?’ I asked.
‘The label said “Dolce & Gabbana
– Milano”. Never heard of them,’ Payne said.
‘Me neither,’ I confessed. ‘But
things ain’t cheap in Milan, are they?’
I looked at the shoe. It had a half
inch heel on it, so it wasn’t completely impractical, but there was something
about it I didn’t like.
‘How come both her shoes didn’t come
off? Those are slip-ons, right? Wouldn’t the impact smack both of them off?’
‘Not necessarily. The force shook
one shoe off, but not the other. That’s not so uncommon if she belly-flopped.
More proof it was a suicide, actually. If she’d changed her mind she might have
tried to land feet first.’
‘Death would have been
instantaneous?’ I asked.
‘Absolutely. She busted open like an
egg. She wouldn’t have felt a thing.’
‘No sign of foul play?’
no blood trail anywhere. We searched with the UV, so I’m fairly confident in
saying that this is where she jumped and the body has not been moved.’
‘Tox report off already. Medical Examinerwill have to tell you about sexual activity.’
‘Everything we found is off to the
lab, nothing out of the ordinary.’
‘Signs of domestic abuse, drugs,
anything like that?’
‘No, but again the MEwill give you a fuller picture.’
‘Time of death?’
‘Tough to estimate body cooling
because of the low ambient temperature, but one of my men inserted a rectal thermometer
when we first got here and it gave a reading of 32.7 degrees.’
I did the calculation in my head. A
dead body normally lost about 1.5 degrees centigrade per hour from a base level
of 37 degrees centigrade. A loss of 4.3 degrees would put death at roughly
around midnight, or just a little after.
‘So death about twelve o’clock?’
I sighed and looked at the dead
girl. ‘So what do you reckon, Frank?’ I asked.
‘She topped herself. Why, I don’t
know. That’s for you to find out, if you can.’
‘If we can,’ I agreed.
‘How many suicides do you get a
year, Duffy?’ he asked.
‘A few,’ I conceded.
‘You ever find out why they do it?’
‘The last three suicides we dealt
with were all peelers. Blew their brains out with their side arms. Of course we
had to write them all up as “death by accidental discharge of a firearm.”’
‘Pressure from the union?’ Payne
‘Aye and from upstairs. Suicide
invalidates life-insurance policies and it’s bad for morale.’
‘That it is,’ Payne agreed.
I looked up at the keep roof. ‘If
you were going to kill yourself, would you jump from here, Frank?’
‘It’s the tallest building in Carrick
that the general public has access to,’ he said.
‘And she would have been certain to
‘Doing a bit of mental arithmetic … after
90 feet of free fall, your maximum velocity at the pavement would be about 76
feet per second, uhm, that’s about 52 mph. Maybe take off one mile an hour for
wind resistance because she was belly-flopping … A person weighing a hundred
pounds hitting the ground at, say, 50 mph would experience a force of about a
ton exerted on their body for about a tenth of a second. That’s certain death,
‘I expect you’re right.’
‘Aye, Duffy, she knew what she was
doing and she picked a good spot to do it. Away from prying eyes or people
trying to talk her out of it.’
‘No chance she fell from the
wheel-well of a passing plane?’
‘No. She would have sprayed all over
‘Lovely image. Anything else you can
tell me, Frank?’
‘Do you want to know the victim’s
know her name?’
me,’ he said and led us back to the overhang and a portable table and chairs where
her bag and effects had been laid out. He handed me a set of latex gloves. I
put them on and he gave me an evidence bag which contained a purse. Inside were
a couple of credit cards, a driving licence and a photo ID for the Financial Times.
Emma Bigelow,’ I read off the ID and, shocked, handed it to Lawson.
he said, stunned. ‘We met her, didn’t we boss? Your woman from yesterday!’
I explained the context in which we had met
Lily Bigelow to McCrabban and Chief Inspector Payne.
didn’t seem depressed to me,’ Lawson said.
me,’ I agreed.
was very good looking,’ Lawson added.
any more,’ Payne said with a malicious cackle that turned into a coughing fit
so severe it almost made you believe in karma. When he’d recovered he said
goodbye and he was followed out of the castle by the rest of the forensic team.
bag contained nothing else of note. A few tissues, a pencil. I put the evidence
carefully back in the bags and we walked up the steps to the battlements to
survey the crime scene. No new insight from up here.
notebook among her effects,’ I said to Lawson and McCrabban.
back in her hotel room,’ Lawson said.
have to check for that. That’s probably where she left the suicide note, if
this wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment job.’
was English?’ Crabbie asked.
‘She was. A journalist with that
delegation visiting Carrick. Speaking of which … Shit! We’ll need to question
all of them before they leave town. Where’s my head today? Lawson, run up to
the Coast Road Hotel and tell the manager that no one’s to leave until they’ve
given a statement about their whereabouts last night.’
their knowledge of the whereabouts of Lily Bigelow?’
‘Yeah, that too. For as much of
yesterday as they can remember. Take as many reservists as you need to write
down statements. On my authority. We’ll need to get all the statements now. If
they’re all going back to Finland we might not get another chance.’
‘And make sure no one goes into her
hotel room until I get there.’
‘Of course, sir,’ he said and
scurried out of the castle.
I sat down on the cold steps and looked
at McCrabban ‘Is someone coming to take the body away, or is she just going to
lie there all morning?’ I asked him.
go see, Sean,’ he said.
came back a minute later. ‘They’ll be here in half an hour to take her up to
Belfast for autopsy,’ he said.
stared down at the body again. There was something not quite right about this
crime scene, something that I was missing but try as I might I couldn’t figure
out what it was. Had Beth’s departure frazzled me or was it just thirteen long
years of this exhausting profession in this exhausting land?
The snow was getting heavier. Crabbie’s lips
were turning blue.
‘I’ll watch over the body until they
come for her. You best run along, mate.’
‘What do you want me to do?’
‘Log the evidence. Secure the CC
footage. Find that bloody trainee detective constable whose name I’ve
forgotten. Later we’ll search Lily’s room for a note. Women are more likely to
leave a note than men in cases like this. And then help Lawson get those
statements in. Make sure no one leaves the Coast Road Hotel until we get
statements from them. Statements and phone numbers and addresses, even if
they’re in bloody Finland. Notification of the family, if you get the time. The
FT will have her next of kin on file,
no doubt. Oh and can you send someone with a Land Rover to wait for me outside?
I had to get a taxi here, my car’s banjaxed.’
happened?’ McCrabban asked.
nodded sadly. ‘It’s not your day is it? Broken-down car, girlfriend leaving
coughed a nasty smoker’s cough and sputtered. ‘At least I’ve got my health.’
smiled. ‘I’ll send a Land Rover and we’ll see you later.’
turned to go and then looked back at me. He didn’t say anything.
know what you’re thinking about,’ he said.
am I thinking about, Crabbie?’
thinking about the Lizzie Fitzpatrick case.’
nodded. ‘I was, earlier.’
can talk about it or not talk about it. It’s entirely up to you, Sean.’
it’s not a suicide we may need to talk, but I think it is a suicide, isn’t it?’
that way,’ he agreed. He brushed the snow off his lapel. ‘I’ll head off, then,’
Crabbie had gone, I rummaged in my inside pocket for that old roach I knew was
in there. About an inch left in the spliff which would be good enough. I lit it
and drew in the Turkish black.
something inherently cinematic about snow falling in an enclosed space. And
this was snow falling into the enclosed space of the courtyard of an 800- year-old
castle. Snow tumbling from an early February sky on to the covered form of a
beautiful, dead English girl who had jumped to her death. Poor lass. I looked
at the thin little blanket covering Lily’s body. Her feet were sticking out,
one foot in the little black shoe, one foot bare. There was, I thought,
surprisingly little blood around the body. Payne was surely right, though. She
didn’t die from internal bleeding. Death would have been instantaneous.
Snow was accumulating on the blanket
then, quite suddenly, I was crying.
Sobbing for all the lost daughters and
‘Shit,’ I said and let the joint
drop to the flagstones with a hiss. It lay there in the courtyard with all the
other rubbish from our presence this morning. Snow drifting down on to
cigarette ends, latex gloves, plastic coffee cups, yellow photographic film
wrappers, dog shit from the K9 unit.
I stood up and came down the steps
and walked over to the body.
did you do it, honey? You had it all going for you …’
I lifted the blanket to look at her.
Her dark hair, her pretty face smashed
on the left side and strangely untouched on the right. Her arms were by her
sides. Her left eye was open: no longer emerald it was blind, bloodshot but
transfigured by the Mystery. A snowflake drifted on to her lip, another
into her half-opened mouth. Strange that she hadn’t put her hands up to protect
her face. Even the most determined suicide generally protected their face – it
was instinct, you just couldn’t help it. But maybe that’s why she had jumped at
night. In the dark she wouldn’t have seen the ground coming.
That had to be it. Because this couldn’t be anything else but suicide.
let the blanket fall again and checked that no one was looking. ‘Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis
peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen,’ I said quickly and
made the sign of the cross. If she was Catholic it would help and if she wasn’t
it wouldn’t do any harm.
saw the men arrive from the Belfast morgue. I waved to them. They were young
guys whom I didn’t know.
the stiff?’ one of them asked, a greasy-haired character with long sideburns
that he probably thought made him look like Elvis.
is the victim, yes. Her name was Lily Bigelow. I knew her. So, you know, be
careful with her, OK?’
always are, boss, always are,’ the young man lied and to feel better about
things, I chose to believe him.
6: The One Shoe
nodded to WPC Warren, still protecting the
crime scene and walked down to the car park, where a Land Rover was waiting for
‘I’m Constable Stewart, sir. Your
lift, sir,’ a chubby young constable said, while attempting to hide a cigarette
behind his back.
‘Thanks,’ I said getting into the
Stewart tossed the ciggie, missed
first gear twice but eventually got us going up along the seafront towards the
Coast Road Hotel.
is you, sir,’ he said, pulling up in front of the Coast Road. I was about to
get out when a sudden thought hit me.
I said and jumped back into the Land Rover’s cab.
to the castle, son and step on it and stick the bloody siren on!’
shift over, I’ll drive.’
swapped seats and I put the siren on and got the Land Rover up to 70 mph on the
short run back to Carrick Castle. I parked it right outside and ran past WPC
Warren into the courtyard.
men from the morgue had just loaded Lily’s body on to a gurney, but hadn’t
begun wheeling her outside to their van just yet. I lifted the blanket and
looked at her feet. One shoe was still on, the other off and inside an evidence
bag. I examined the shoe in the bag and the one remaining on her foot.
knew something was up with those bloody shoes. Look!’ I said pointing at her
the matter?’ Elvis Sideburns asked.
put her left shoe on her right foot!’ I said, showing them the shoe in the bag.
wasn’t thinking straight. She was topping herself,’ Elvis Sideburns said.
his mate agreed.
looked at Stewart.
He shrugged. ‘Your mind’s not in the
right place when you’re killing yourself is it, sir?’ he said.
and relieve WPC Warren at the gate and tell her to come over here. And don’t
let anyone leave the castle without my say so,’ I said.
arrived a minute later.
explained the situation to her. ‘You ever put the wrong shoes on the wrong
feet?’ I asked her.
I said and looked triumphantly at Elvis and his mate.
She looked up at the top of the keep. ‘How did
she get up there?’ she asked.
way up is the spiral staircase.’
bit her lip.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘If I had to walk up to the top of
the keep in heels like these, I probably would have taken my shoes off,’ she
climb up the stairs? The heels aren’t that big.’
been up that staircase. You can’t climb it in any kind of dress-shoe heels. So
you take them off. Stands to reason. That trip step thing they have. You’d take
your heels off.’
she takes them off for the staircase and then when she puts them on again she
puts them on the wrong feet? I don’t buy that,’ I said.
‘Maybe she kept them off until she
walked across the keep roof and then she put them on before she jumped. She
wanted to her look her best, didn’t she? I’d wear me good shoes if I was
topping myself,’ Elvis said.
asked you? Come on Warren, follow me up the stairs.’
walked back up the spiral staircase on to the keep roof, where the snow had
made conditions quite treacherous.
do you think now, Constable Warren?’
did she jump from?’ Warren asked.
here,’ I said. ‘Don’t go near the edge. It’s very slippy. We don’t need another
don’t know, sir,’ Warren said. ‘It’s possible that she kept her shoes off, held
them in her hand and just slipped them on before she jumped. She sat there on
the edge with her legs dangling over the side thinking about it … I really
could she have put them on the wrong feet?’
began to have doubts myself. How could anyone else have put Lily’s shoes on,
apart from Lily herself?
suppose it was dark. And if she didn’t actually walk in the shoes … and she was
in a highly emotional state, wasn’t she?’ I muttered, as much to myself as to
your shoes off and put them on the wrong feet and tell me what it feels like.’
Warren put her shoes on the wrong feet.
feel different, sir, but if your mind was disordered …’
sat down on the roof and tucked my coat underneath me. I closed my eyes, took
my DMs off and put them on the wrong feet. I stood up and walked around for a
bit. It was an odd sensation but perhaps not as odd as I’d been expecting. Was
that good or bad? Did I want this to be a murder?
put the shoes on at all? Why not just toss them over?’ I asked.
don’t know, sir … How did one of the shoes come off?’ Warren asked.
says the force of the impact blasted one shoe off, but the way she landed the
other one stayed on,’ I explained.
nodded. I opened my notebook. ‘Just to be clear, Warren, you think it’s
possible that she could have mistaken
one shoe for the other in the dark?’
… I suppose so, yes it’s possible. If she wasn’t walking in them.’
nodded and let the information sink in.
if someone else put those shoes on Lily Bigelow’s feet, well, then this is
probably a murder.’
looked at her for a good ten seconds, but she didn’t answer.
the expert on women’s feet and women’s shoes up here.’
don’t know, sir … I suppose, yes, the most likely explanation is that she took
the shoes off to come up the stairs and kept them off until just before she jumped
and didn’t notice or didn’t care.’
right. Fair enough,’ I said – my voice a curious mixture of relief and
I was born and grew up in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. After studying philosophy at Oxford University I emigrated to New York City where I lived in Harlem for seven years working in bars, bookstores, building sites and finally the basement stacks of the Columbia University Medical School Library in Washington Heights. In 2000 I moved to Denver, Colorado where I taught high school English and started writing fiction in earnest. My first full length novel Dead I Well May Be was shortlisted for the 2004 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award and was picked by Booklist as one of the 10 best crime novels of the year. In 2008 I moved to St. Kilda, Melbourne, Australia with my wife and kids and started writing full time.
I'm probably best known for my Sean Duffy books. The first Sean Duffy novel, The Cold Cold Ground, won the 2013 Spinetingler Award and was picked as one of the best crime novels of the year by The Times.
The second Sean Duffy novel, I Hear The Sirens In The Street, won the 2014 Barry Award for best paperback original crime novel.
In The Morning I'll Be Gone (Sean Duffy #3) won the 2014 Ned Kelly Award for best novel and was picked as one of the top 10 crime novels of 2014 by the American Library Association, The Daily Mail & The Toronto Star.
Gun Street Girl (Duffy #4) was shortlisted for the 2016 Edgar Award, the 2015 Ned Kelly Award, The 2016 Anthony Award and was picked as one of the best books of 2015 by The Boston Globe and by The Irish Times.
Sean Duffy #5, Rain Dogs, was a Boston Globe best novel of 2016 and anIrish Timesbest crime novel of the year; it won the 2017 Edgar Award in best paperback original category.
"If Raymond Chandler had grown up in Northern Ireland he would have written The Cold Cold Ground."
"Hardboiled charm, evocative dialogue, an acute sense of place and a sardonic sense of humour make McKinty one of our greatest crime fiction writers."
"A literary thriller that is as concerned with exploring the poisonously claustrophobic demi-monde of Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and the self-sabotaging contradictions of its place and time, as it is with providing the genre’s conventional thrills and spills. The result is a masterpiece of Troubles crime fiction: had David Peace, Eoin McNamee and Brian Moore sat down to brew up the great Troubles novel, they would have been very pleased indeed to have written The Cold Cold Ground."
---The Irish Times
"McKinty is a gifted man with poetry coursing through his veins and thrilling writing dripping from his fingertips."
---The Sunday Independent
"Adrian McKinty is fast gaining a reputation as the finest of the new generation of Irish crime writers, and it's easy to see why on the evidence of The Cold Cold Ground."
---The Glasgow Herald
"McKinty is a storyteller with the kind of style and panache that blur the line between genre and mainstream."
"McKinty's literate expertly crafted crime novel confirms his place as one of his generation's leading talents."
"McKinty crackles with raw talent. His dialogue is superb, his characters rich and his plotting tight and seemless. He writes with a wonderful and wonderfully humorous flair for language raising his work above most crime genre offerings and bumping it right up against literature."
---The San Francisco Chronicle
"The first of McKinty's Forsythe novels, "Dead I Well May Be," was intense, focused and entirely brilliant. This one is looser-limbed, funnier...so, I imagine, is the middle book, "The Dead Yard," which I haven't read but which Publishers Weekly included on its list of the 12 best novels of 2006, along with works by Peter Abrahams, Richard Ford, Cormac McCarthy and George Pelecanos."
---The Washington Post
"McKinty, who grew up in Northern Ireland, has an ear for language and a taste for violence, and he serves up a terrifically gory, swiftly paced thriller."
---The Miami Herald
"There's nothing like an Irish tough guy. And we're not talking about Gentleman Gerry Cooney here. No, we mean the new breed of bare-knuckle Irish writers like Adrian McKinty, Ken Bruen and John Connolly who are bringing fresh life to the crime fiction genre."
---The Philadelphia Inquirer
"McKinty's writing is dark and witty with gritty realism, spot on dialogue, and fascinating characters."
---The Chicago Sun-Times
"If you like your noir staples such as beautiful women, betrayal, murder, mixed with a heavy dose of blood, crunched bones, body parts flying around served up with some throwaway humour, you need look no further, McKinty delivers all of this with the added bonus that the writing is pitch perfect."
---The Barcelona Review
"I really enjoyed combination of toughness and a striking literary style."
"This is a terrific read. McKinty gives us a strong non stop story with attractive characters and fine writing."
---The Morning Star
"[McKinty] draws us close and relates a fantastic tale of murder and revenge in low, wry tones, as if from the next barstool...he drops out of conversational mode to throw in a few breathtaking fever-dream sequences for flavor. And then he springs an ending so right and satisfying it leaves us numb with delight and ready to pop for another round. Start the cliche machine: This is a profoundly satisfying book from a major new talent and one of the best crime fiction debuts of the year."
"The story is soaked in the holy trinity of the noir thriller: betrayal, money and murder, but seen through with a panache and political awareness that give McKinty a keen edge over his rivals."
---The Big Issue
"A darkly humorous cross between a hard-boiled mystery and a Beat novel."
---The St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"A roller coaster of highs and lows, light humour and dark deeds, the powerful undercurrent of McKinty's talent will swiftly drag you away. Let's hope the author does not slow down anytime soon."
---The Irish Examiner
"A virtual carnival of slaughter."
---The Wall Street Journal
"McKinty has once again harnassed the power of poetry, violence, lust and revenge to forge another terrific novel."
---The Irish Post
"A pacey, violent caper in which McKinty vividly portrays [Belfast's] sleazy, still-menacing underbelly."
---The Sunday Times
"McKinty writes with the soul of a poet; his prose dances off the pages with Old World grace and haunting intensity. It's crime fiction on the level of Michael Connolly with the conviction of James Hall."
---The Jackson Clarion-Ledger
"The Bloomsday Dead is the explosive final installment in a trilogy of kinetic thrillers."
---The New York Times
"McKinty's Dead Trilogy has been praised by critics, who call it "intense," "masterful" and "loaded with action." If your reading pleasure leans toward thrillers offering suspense, close calls, wry wit, sharp dialogue, local color and sudden mayhem, you wont do better."
---The Sacramento Bee
"Le Fleuve caché d'Adrian McKinty impressionne par la richesse et la diversité de son ton et de son écriture, passant avec aisance du lyrisme ample de la nostalgie de l'amour perdu au rythme saccadé du narrateur sous l'emprise de l'héroïne. Ce livre rare et maîtrisé est une réussite bien digne de la Série noire."
"McKinty - that guy is a friggin genius."
"McKinty is a cross between Mickey Spillane and Damon Runyan, the toughest, the best."
"Adrian McKinty is one of the great new crime writers emerging from Ireland."