Father Confessor (J McNee series)

Father Confessor
a J McNee novel

Russel D McLean

Five Leaves Publications

www.fiveleaves.co.uk

Father Confessor

by Russel D McLean

Published in 2012 in paperback and ebook formats

by Five Leaves Publications, PO Box 8786, Nottingham NG1 9AW

www.fiveleaves.co.uk

© Russel D McLean, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-907869-71-6

Five Leaves acknowledges financial support from Arts Council England

Cover design: Four Sheets Design and Print

This one’s for Jon, Ruth, Jen and Paul Jordan
who welcomed a beardy Scot with open arms
(and who know that pork is good)

I wasn’t there.

If I had been, things might have turned out different.

I’d like to believe that.

Some would argue, of course, that I’d only have fucked things up.

For months afterward, I would spend the hours past midnight – the hours when I couldn’t sleep, when the guilt of the past always seemed at its strongest and when I felt at my most powerless and insignificant – thinking about what had happened that evening.

Seeing events through his eyes.

Trying to imagine what it must have been like. Trying to think about the chain of events that ended in a moment of blood and fear and pain.

As I tried to imagine how he felt, my heart would pound as his must have. A surge of adrenaline. An expectation.

He must have known that he was going to die.

One way or the other. He must have known how things would end.

Maybe he had come to terms with that idea.

Looking back over his last few months, talking to friends and colleagues, I think they all knew that something was wrong with him. They had sensed his growing unease. They had noticed that he was more tense than usual. Most put this down to pre-retirement nerves. After all, he was due to quit the force in the next year. And like any good copper, he had a lot of unfinished business.

So I can imagine how he felt that night.

Walking into the warehouse, he might have called out. Perhaps listened to the echo of his own voice, heard it come back to him. A ghost-like echo. As though he was already dead. His own footsteps – polished shoes striking hard concrete – would have bounced and echoed around the wide space and made it appear as though there were others walking alongside him.

Those for whom he was responsible.

Maybe he was thinking about why he was here. The reasons he was alone in this warehouse, meeting a man he must have known could kill him.

He would be thinking about his career. And his daughter.

His daughter who was under investigation for possible criminal conspiracy. His daughter who had always been the centre of his world, who had idolised her father so much she followed him into the force.

I would wonder what he was thinking.

How he felt.

And I could never know for sure. But I had to pretend, to try and gain some insight the hard facts could never uncover.

I do know that he took the stairs to the mezzanine slowly. His shoes clanking off the metal grille, his hand running up the banister. A feather touch. More for reassurance than balance.

But then, maybe his grip was tighter than usual. He was afraid of falling away. Of losing his grip.

Maybe he came knowing that he faced death.

He would do that on his own terms.

The idea makes me feel better in a way.

There had been no signs of a struggle when the coppers arrived on the scene. He did not fight back. He did not try to run.

On the metal walkway high above the main floor, he would have been confronted by the man with the shotgun.

Did they speak?

Did he understand why the man was there to kill him?

I don’t know. I wasn’t there.

And I wish I had been.

Some nights I wish it had been me and not him.

The impact of the shot knocked him over the safety rails. Did he have time to register what was happening?

Did he say a prayer as he fell?

I wonder about his final thoughts. What he saw. What was revealed to him as he lay crooked on the floor of the abandoned mill, his blood pooling around his head, his limbs twisted.

Did he think of his killer?

Of his daughter?

I would have been the furthest thing from his mind. But if he felt a small twinge of disappointment, perhaps he was remembering me and the last time we spoke, the things I said to him.

But I don’t know any of that.

I just believe that I could sleep easier if I knew what he was really thinking in those last moments.

ONE

DI George Lindsay stood in the close. Unshaven. Suit and shirt wrinkled. Bags under his eyes. His high forehead jutted, tiny eyes glaring out malevolently from underneath.

He said, “I need to talk to your girlfriend.”

Complete sentence. No swear words. Whatever he was here to talk about, it was important.

I said, “She isn’t here.” All bravado, but my heart was jacking in my chest. Nausea kept rising in waves and I had to fight to keep from puking all over the DI’s shoes.

Not that it would have made much difference to his image that morning.

Call it guilt.

The fear of being caught in a lie.

We’d been waiting months for an official decision. It couldn’t come like this. But then, as I knew, life has a way of knocking you on your arse when you least expect it.

Lindsay said, “It’s official business.”

Was this it, then?

Susan had been under investigation since covering up a murder nearly sixteen months earlier. She took the rap for a killing that would otherwise have implicated a terrified fifteen-year-old girl. She did this to protect the girl.

And me.

That was the worst part. We’d agreed that Mary Furst hadn’t been in her right mind when she thrust an axe into the spine of the man who had, ten minutes earlier, beaten her mother’s skull open. We’d agreed that I would take the blame, claim it as a case of self-defence.

And then Susan stepped forward, claimed she was the one who killed the man we knew only as Wickes.

Putting herself on the line. Personally and professionally.

I said, “Is she being formally charged?”

Lindsay shook his head. “Fuck that,” he said. He had been her partner in the CID during her first year as a DS.

He cared for her in his way. I don’t think he wanted the investigation to uncover any wrongdoing on Susan’s part.

All the same, he held anyone in the job to high standards, and I thought that if she was found guilty, he’d be the first to turn his back.

As a matter of pride.

“It’s her dad. Ernie. The poor bugger’s been murdered.”

###

I knew where to find Susan.

Didn’t tell Lindsay that, of course. Figuring the burden lay with me. It seemed right that I should tell her.

Nothing to do with the antagonism between me and a certain DI who could have been mistaken for a missing link in the wrong light. Or even the right light.

I drove to Riverside. Walked east along the curve of the river with the dark water silent on one side and the rush of cars along the dual carriageway on the other.

Found her taking a breather, leaning on the stone dyke that stood between the unwary pedestrian and a watery grave. There was a light sheen of sweat on her forehead. She was flushed from the run, grinning from the adrenaline high.

Susan sucked down water from a plastic bottle, nodded as I approached. It was a cool day, the skies overcast, but she was still sweating, soaked through her grey cotton T-shirt.

She said, “You’re not out for the exercise.” Gave me a grin. The kind of grin that said she knew something was wrong, didn’t want it to intrude.

I like to think I have what they call a poker face. It never works with Susan. She’s one of only two people who’ve ever been able to read me.

I leaned on the stone beside her, facing out to the river. She mirrored me. Neither of us looked at the other. Just at the splintered reflection of the early morning sky in the water.

I said, “You need to call Lindsay.”

“You forget I’m suspended. He can’t even ask me for help wiping his nose.”

“It’s not about the investigation.”

When I’d been a copper, the job I hated most was delivering bad news to families, loved ones, friends. Telling someone that a person they’d known for years was dead used to get passed out amongst attending officers like a lottery. Except no-one wanted the winning ticket.

But the worst was delivering the news to the family of a fellow copper. I knew some life-long police who’d rather take early retirement than face that situation.

“It’s your dad. He’s dead.” Flat. Laying it out there. Figuring she’d understand. She’d appreciate the honesty.

Figured I owed her enough to dial down the drama.

She was silent. I twisted my neck and looked towards her. Her expression was set neutral and her eyes remained locked on the water.

She said, “Dead?” as though she was saying the word for the first time, realising how it sounded coming from her lips.

I told her what I knew. She didn’t interrupt. Didn’t ask questions.

She didn’t cry.

She wouldn’t until I was gone.

###

I took her to FHQ. While she was in there with fellow detectives, I hung around outside in the drizzle. Called Cameron Connelly at the
Dundee Herald
.

“What’s up?”

“Off the record,” I said. “You heard anything about a copper getting killed?”

“There’s rumblings,” he said. “We’ve got Laura Thomas heading over now to ask questions. What have you got?”

“I’d rather not say. Conjecture. Rumours. Nothing concrete.”

“Piss up a drainpipe. You know something, McNee.”

“I learn anything more, I’ll let you know.”

“Good. I’ll do the same, you know. It’s what friends do.”

I got the feeling there was something else behind what he was saying. He still felt burned after I failed to keep him in the loop on the Furst case several months earlier. “Tell me, McNee,” Cameron said, “they done investigating your girlfriend yet?”

I hung up on him.

TWO

Sixteen months earlier, I had been in FHQ, sitting in a windowless room, watching the cameras in the corners and trying not to look guilty.

It’s a hard thing to do, of course, when you know you’re being watched.

My father had been Catholic, lapsed by the time I was born. He told me the worst part about being raised in the faith was the idea that God was always watching. He told me how he’d been a nervous child because no matter what he did, God could see it. The idea horrified him. He told me one of his friends at school had suffered from constipation because of the fear. “The day I stopped believing,” he told me, “was the day I felt free.” He escaped the all-seeing eye.

I guess, sitting in that room, I knew how he’d felt as a child.

There would be someone watching, I knew. They’d be watching me to see if I acted like a guilty man. They’d be watching me and analysing everything I did in that room. And that in turn made me start analysing myself, second-guessing every movement I made, even the involuntary ones that most of the time I wouldn’t even think about.

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