Authors: Catriona King
Tags: #Fiction & Literature
A Limited Justice
by Catriona King
“a fantastic achievement... There is a new star on the scene... Belfast needs its own detective - and in DCI Marc Craig it now has one”
Andy Angel, Ebookwyrm Reviews
“this is what crime books should be like; realistic, believable and slightly unnerving”
Page Central Book-Shelf Reviews
“totally gripping...fast moving, modern and intriguing.”
Amazon Reader Review
“A great crime thriller which I didn't want to put down....the ultimate test of a good book and passed with flying colours.”
Amazon Reader Review
Copyright © 2012 by Catriona King
Photography: Chuck Szmurlo, David Baird and Gareth Savage
Artwork: Crooked Cat
Editor: Sue McCaskill
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or Crooked Cat Publishing except for brief quotations used for promotion or in reviews. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Printed by Crooked Cat Publishing at Smashwords
First Black Line Edition, Crooked Cat Publishing Ltd. 2012
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To my mother,
the best person I have ever known.
I would like to thank Crooked Cat Publishing for being so supportive, and Rose McClelland, author of ‘The Break-Up Test’ and ‘How To Look Like You’, without whom I would never have met Crooked Cat.
I would like to thank my parents and brothers for growing up in an atmosphere of love and security.
And I would like to thank all of the police officers that I have ever worked with, anywhere, for their unfailing professionalism, wit and compassion.
Belfast, August 2012
About the Author
Catriona King trained as a Doctor, and as a Police Forensic Medical Examiner in London where she worked for many years. She worked closely with the Metropolitan Police on many occasions. In recent years, she has returned to live in Belfast.
Catriona has written since childhood; fiction, fact and reporting.
‘A Limited Justice’ is her first novel. It follows Detective Chief Inspector Marc Craig and his team, through the streets of Belfast and Northern Ireland, in the hunt for the killer of three people.
A second novel in the D.C.I. Craig series is nearing completion.
A Limited Justice
October 2012. The Lower Bann River. Portglenone, Northern Ireland
The river ran clear and fast past Maria’s feet, and the morning sun made the day feel more like June than October. She pulled off her jacket and rolled-up her t-shirt sleeves as she walked, shaking her long hair loose from its braid.
The houses on the bank opposite were quiet but they would soon be awake, and she dreamed of living there someday, laughing aloud at the fantasy. She loved her job but it certainly wasn’t for the money.
She gazed dreamily at the water as she strolled on, free to ignore her surroundings for one more work-free day. It would be her last ever.
Belfast. Wednesday afternoon.
D.C.I. Marc Craig considered the man at his feet. There was no question about it, he was dead. His shocked face was bloated and pale, and a ring of fresh black bruising etched out his mouth. Golden oil covered every part of him, soaking into his hair like some exotic pomade. More of it ran across the petrol-station’s concourse, filling the gutter by their feet, the fumes stinging Craig’s eyes.
“Rough way to go, boss, even by my standards.”
Liam Cullen stood so close that his loud voice vibrated Craig’s ears painfully, and he moved away, motioning the crime scene investigators to start their work. If Liam had noticed the shift he didn’t comment; they’d known each other too long to be offended now.
The dead man lay face-up, staring at the sky in the Belfast terraced street, a petrol pump projecting vertically - from his mouth. It had been rammed between his tonsils so hard that the uvula’s inch-thick projection acted as a deadlock. A young C.S.I. was feverishly trying to extract it, without destroying evidence. Around them, the petrol’s fumes combined with the smell of burnt flesh, to make a perfume that would never find a market.
The man was somewhere in middle age, strong but overweight, his skin showing the wear from an outdoor life. His hands were open in supplication, their palms torn from small pieces of gravel embedded in the worn fat. And his lower limbs had already contracted into the boxer’s pose so typical of burns. His half-open green eyes held a look of complete surprise.
“Do we have a name yet?”
Before Liam could answer, a C.S.I. overheard and handed him something.
“These might help, Inspector.”
It was the contents of the man’s unburnt jacket pocket, but there was little to tell his story. Just a laminated driving licence curling up from the heat, and a basic model Nokia, several years old. Ian McCandless, fifty-six and a resident of the Rogreen Council estate in East Belfast. Not resident anywhere now.
“I wonder who he annoyed enough to warrant this. Hardly accidental was it?”
Craig didn’t answer, just squinted up at the dimming winter sky, shielding his dark eyes with a hand.
“Who’s the medical examiner?”
They both smiled. No matter how many Docs there were, that only meant one. John Winter. He was brilliant and strange. Craig remembered him the same at twelve, thirty years before, at their boys’ integrated grammar. He would give them quick answers.
Craig looked around the petrol station where they stood. It was so derelict that there were imaginary tumbleweeds blowing across the forecourt. Even the ‘closed’ sign looked tired, as if it wasn’t a new state of affairs. A bin half-full of rubbish lay overturned by the door of a one-storied shop, its contents scattered and drifting across their view.
He walked over and lifted a slim, brown envelope from the adjacent ground, turning it over in his sterile hand. It bore yesterday’s postmark, and its single sheet of contents was hanging half-out. He scanned the shop entrance thoughtfully.
“Liam, call the Met office and check what the wind has been like. This bin went over today and I don’t think it blew over. It’s far too mild.”
“How do you know it was today?”
Craig pointed to a ‘Belfast Chronicle’ lying on the ground, its pages strewn across the shop’s entrance. “That’s yesterday’s newspaper.” He looked down at the envelope as he spoke.
“And this has yesterday’s postmark and this address, so it arrived here this morning. I’m betting McCandless came into the shop, lifted the post, and was opening it when he was attacked. He didn’t even get it out of the envelope. The bin fell in the struggle.”
Liam nodded slowly, not fully understanding but waiting for the rest. Craig continued evenly. “If the bin had been over when he arrived, he’d have lifted it on the way in, rather than let rubbish blow all over the forecourt.”
“Unless he was a real slob?”
Craig shook his head.
“Not even you’re that bad. It’s weighted, so it would take a hell of a wind to topple it, or a very sharp push. My money’s on the push. Either McCandless knocked it over, or whoever killed him did. Get it printed please.”
Suddenly Liam jumped; the Nokia in his hand was vibrating. Its screen showed an incoming number. He looked at Craig and answered on his nod, keeping his deep voice neutral.
“Hello, can I help you?”
A hesitant female voice came down the line, slightly slurred, as if she was very tired. It was a middle-class accent from somewhere out of town, and he narrowed it to west of the Bann.
“Oh yes...thank you. Can I speak to Mr McCandless please?”
The woman hesitated, and for one moment, Liam thought she was going to hang up. All sorts of nefarious reasons flashing through his head if she did. After a moment’s silence, she continued, speaking so softly that he strained to hear her words.
“My name’s Monica Gibson. I’m calling about the car that’s for sale.”
He shot a look around and spotted a row of old cars with lurid green price stickers, half-hidden behind the shop wall. He walked over to them quickly, peering at them as he talked. They were battered and scraped and the youngest was at least five years old, although the prices didn’t reflect it half as much as they should have done. McCandless had obviously been a Del-Boy.
They supported her reason for ringing but he kept her talking anyway, while he thought of quick ways to extract more information.
“Which car were you interested in?”
“I was told there’s a red Ford Focus that’s in good condition?”
Her voice rose hopefully and he looked at the only red car sceptically. ‘Good’ wouldn’t have been his word for it, but it gave him an opening.
“Have you viewed it yet?”
“Oh...no. Not yet.”
He noticed that her voice got quieter at the end of every sentence, no matter how short. It was as if she ran out of breath, or energy, and he felt vaguely sorry for her. As much as his suspicious ‘new-case’ mind allowed him to feel sorry for anyone.
“That’s why I was calling. I was hoping to arrange a viewing?”
Her voice rose so hopefully that he thought it was fairer to reveal himself. If she hung-up they had her details for a trace anyway.
“I’m sorry Ms Gibson, but that won’t be possible. I’m afraid there’s been an accident at the garage. I’m a member of the emergency services helping out. Mr McCandless can’t get to the phone at the moment.” It was the understatement of the year.
She gave a sharp intake of breath, reacting as all nice people would. Her next comment belonged to a script that Liam had heard often.
“Oh dear, I hope no one’s hurt. I’m sorry; I’ll ring him back another time.”
Good luck with that, it’ll be a quiet conversation. But he didn’t need to upset a stranger, so instead he acquiesced kindly. “You do that Madam, goodbye.”
Craig watched the exchange comfortably, knowing that Liam would prise every grain of information from the encounter. It was his forte, that and being politically incorrect. Just then, a liveried Skoda pulled up to the kerb, and the small, brown-haired figure of Detective Sergeant Annette McElroy got out.
She walked briskly across the forecourt, joining Craig outside the shop. One glance at the smouldering corpse convincing her that it was quite enough; she’d catch the movie later. Liam loped his 6ft 6 frame across from the cars, and the three of them walked past a kneeling C.S.I. into the neon-lit shop interior.
“What was that about, Liam?”
“Some wee woman who’s just had a narrow escape. She almost bought the worst car this side of the Bann, and he was asking 4 K for the heap of crap too. Her miss was her mercy.” He smiled, pleased with himself, like a man who had just done his good deed for the decade.