Authors: Declan Hughes
Tags: #Private Investigators, #Mystery & Detective, #Hard-Boiled, #General, #Dublin (Ireland), #Fiction
After twenty years in Los Angeles, Ed Loy has come home to bury his mother. But hers is only the first dead body he encounters after crossing an ocean.
The city Loy once knew is an unrecognizable place, filled with gangsters, seducers, hucksters, and crazies, each with a scheme and an angle. But he can’t refuse the sexy former schoolmate who asks him to find her missing husband — or the old pal turned small-time criminal who shows up on Loy’s doorstep with a hard-luck story and a recently fired gun. Suddenly, a tragic homecoming could prove fatal for the grieving investigator, as an unexplained photograph of his long-vanished father, a murky property deal, and a corpse discovered in the foundations of town hall combine to turn a curious case into a dark obsession — dragging Ed Loy into a violent underworld of drugs, extortion, and murder… and through his own haunted past where the dead will never rest.
To Kathy Strachan
THE LAST TIME, THEY’D PRESSED THE SHARPENED POINTS
of their sheath knives into the flesh of their thumbs, and let their blood mingle, and smeared it on each other’s foreheads till it looked like burning embers. They were brothers for sure then, bound fast as any natural-born siblings. But embers turn to ashes, and blood doesn’t always take.
And look at them now. One is still alive, but barely; the other wishes he had never been born. And look at all that blood. Planning a murder in advance doesn’t guarantee that you cut down on blood, although it can help. But when it just happens, in the heat of rage and with the available means to hand — a wrench that can smash a mouthful of teeth, open up an eye socket, splinter a cheekbone; a screwdriver that will gouge through gristle and nerve, puncture liver and spleen, sluice blood from a torn throat — when murder just happens, you wouldn’t believe how much blood there can be.
The forensic scientists classify bloodstains under six separate headings: drops, splashes, spurts, trails, smears, and pools. And they’re all here: drops on the stone floor, splashes on the walls, spurts on the striplight and across the ceiling, trails as the dying man tries to evade his killer, smears on the car hood and the garage door, and at the end of it all, the wine-dark pool of blood seeping out beneath the dead man.
The murderer cries, weeps at what he has done: involuntary tears, a spasm, not of remorse, but of shock, of relief, of exhilaration at the brave new world he has wrought, a world with one man fewer living in it. He wipes the tears with the backs of his hands, the sweat from his brow, the snot from his streaming nose. His breath still comes in sharp, shuddering gusts, like sobs. He sinks to his knees, leans his head back, shuts his eyes..
Look at him now. Look at his face: blood matted around his hairline, in his eyebrows, in his mustache; blood collecting in the folds of his neck and in his ears; blood anointing him the chosen one, the first murderer, his brother’s killer. Look at the happy savage, who’s discovered the fatal flaw in God’s creation: If Cain could rise up against Abel and slay him, what’s to stop the rest of us?
What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.
THE NIGHT OF MY MOTHER’S FUNERAL, LINDA DAWSON
cried on my shoulder, put her tongue in my mouth and asked me to find her husband. Now she was lying dead on her living room floor, and the howl of a police siren echoed through the surrounding hills. Linda had been strangled: a froth of blood brimmed from her mouth, and her bloodshot eyes bulged. The marks around her neck were barely perceptible, suggesting the murder weapon had been a scarf or a silk tie. Cyanosis had given her already livid skin a bluish tone, deepest at the lips and ears, and on the fingernails of her hands, which were clenched into small fists. They lay stiff in her lap, and her eyes gaped unseeingly through the glass wall toward the sky; her corpse looked like some grotesque parody of the undertaker’s art.
The siren’s howl reached a deafening crescendo and then stopped. As the car doors slammed, as the Guards stomped up the drive and began to pound on the front door, my eyes looked out past Linda’s, out at the gray morning sky, then down along the cliffside, down between the stands of spruce and pine, down among the great Georgian houses, the Victorian castles and modern villas of Castlehill, down to where this all began, barely a week ago.
We were standing on the terrace of the Bayview Hotel, watching a bloated old moon hoist itself slowly above the sea. Out in Dublin Bay, the city lights flickered in the haze. Across the road, framed by gorse-thatched cliffs and a scrubby pebble beach, the railway station stood deserted, the signal stuck on red. Everyone else who had been at the funeral had gone home, and I was waiting for Linda to finish her drink so I could drive her home. But Linda didn’t want to go home. She untied her hair and shook it down, then back from her face. She narrowed her dark eyes, forced her brow into a frown and set her red lips in a small pout, as if, all things considered, she definitely agreed with what she was about to say.
“I can’t take it,” she said. “I can’t take another night on my own in that house.”
Something in my eyes must have warned her that now was not necessarily the best time to be making her problems my problems.
“Oh, Ed, I’m sorry,” she said. “Tonight of all nights, this is the last thing you need.” She began to cry suddenly, deflatedly, like a lost child too sad to panic. I took her in my arms and lent her my shoulder. The sea was silver gray beneath the moon, and it glistened like wet granite. The railway signal changed from red to amber. A mild breeze blew the clean balm of eucalyptus up from the hotel garden below. I could feel Linda’s cold cheek brush my neck, and then her warm lips were on mine, and she was kissing me. I kissed her back, and then moved her cheek alongside mine and held her. Her body went rigid for a moment, then she tapped me twice on the back, like a wrestler ready to submit. We separated, and she finished her drink, dabbed her eyes and lit a cigarette.
“No need to apologize.”
“It’s just… I’m really worried about Peter.”
Peter Dawson was Linda’s husband. I’d been at school with Linda; her husband had been a child of three when I left Ireland. I hadn’t seen either of them for over twenty years. Kissing another man was an unorthodox way of expressing concern for your husband, but then Linda had been known for doing exactly as she pleased, and nothing I could see in her face or figure suggested much had changed, in that regard at least.
“You said he was away on business.”
“I don’t know where he is. He’s been gone four days now. He hasn’t called me, they haven’t heard from him at work.”
“Have you told the police?”
“No, we… I didn’t want to.”
“I suppose… I suppose I thought the police would make the whole thing more real, somehow. And I’ve been half expecting Peter to just walk back in the house as if nothing had happened.”
A fresh drink suddenly materialized in Linda’s hand; she must have snagged a waitress by means I didn’t notice, or understand. I gave in, ordered a large Jameson from the girl and lit one of Linda’s cigarettes.
“You say that as if it’s happened before. Has Peter disappeared like this in the past?”
“Not for four days. But occasionally… well, we do have the odd row. And Peter’s favorite response has always been to storm out. You know how marriage is. Or do you? It’s been so long, I don’t know if you… I don’t really know very much about your life, Edward Loy.”
“I was married, yes.”
“It didn’t take.”
“Were there children?”
“A little girl.”
“I suppose she’s with her mother. You must miss her. But of course you do, what a stupid thing to say.”
An express train crashed out of the cliffside tunnel and blazed through the station. The carriages were brightly lit, and crammed with passengers. I wished I was one of them, and that I was on that train now, hurtling into the night.
My whiskey arrived. I splashed some water into it and knocked half of it back.
Linda was still talking.
“Tommy Owens was saying he visited you out there.”
“I wouldn’t have thought you kept up with Tommy Owens.”
“I saw him in Hennessy’s the other night. And no, I don’t go there much either, just when I’m feeling… even more trapped than usual.”
“Hennessy’s. Is it still the same dump?”
“Whatever you want, you can get it in Hennessy’s. God knows how they never closed the place.”
“We used to think Hennessy had a friend high up in the cops.”
“If he has a friend. Anyway, Tommy said you found people who were missing. You helped a family locate their daughter.”
“I did some work for a guy who traced missing persons.”
“Well, I just thought… and I know you must be in bits with your mum and everything, but if you could even have a think about it, Ed, I’d really, really appreciate it.”
In case I didn’t understand just how she might show her appreciation, Linda moistened her lips with her tongue, and wrinkled her button nose a little, and threaded an arm around my waist. Her breath smelled yeasty and sweet, and her scent was all grapefruit and smoke and summer sweat. I wanted to kiss her again, and was just about to when her drink slipped from her hand and smashed. It left a jagged, gleaming scrawl on the terrace flagstones. With the charmed timing of the accomplished drinker, Linda turned, caught the waitress’s eye and, flashing a wry smile of expiation, summoned a replacement. I quickly waved some semaphore of my own, and began to persuade Linda that it was about time to bring the day to a close. She was still very thirsty, and took some persuading, so I had to remind her that it had been my mother we had buried that morning, and she began to cry again, and apologize, but finally I got her down the front steps of the hotel. We crunched along the gravel drive, past rows of palm and yucca. Eucalyptus loomed at either side, and fat sumacs squatted on the lawn. There wasn’t a native tree in sight. Linda sat into the passenger seat of my rental car, and we drove in silence along the coast road past Bayview village. The coconut musk of gorse was thick in the warm night air. It smelled like incense, and I had a flash of the church that morning, of the seething thurible glinting in the light, of the coffin and the cross and the faces in the pews, faces I half remembered but knew I must know.
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
I turned inland by the Martello tower, cut through the old pine forest, and began the climb up Castlehill Road. Near the top, Linda juddered into sudden life.
“Next left here, Ed.”
Just before we reached Castlehill village, I swung the car down a granite-walled slip road and halted in front of a set of black security gates. Linda ran her window down and pressed some digits on a credit-card-sized keypad she took from her purse. The gates swung open and she pointed to the furthest of the five new detached white houses in the development. I parked in front of the deco-style property, which had curved exterior walls, a carport, a large back garden and a view reaching from the mountains to the bay. The barred gates swung slowly shut behind us.
“Nice,” I said.
“Peter’s father built them.”
“Must feel safe up here.”
“Sometimes I wonder whether the gates are to keep intruders out, or to keep us in.”
“It’s hard being rich.”
Linda smiled. “I wasn’t complaining. But the last thing you feel is safe.”
Her smile, which hadn’t reached her eyes, vanished. She looked frightened, and the moonlight flooding through the windscreen showed the lines in her tired face.
“About Peter… and I know this is not the right time, Ed—”
“Tell me what makes you so worried about him. What do you think has happened?”
“I don’t know. I… come in for a drink, will you? Or a coffee.”
“No thanks. Tell me about your husband.”
A silver Persian cat had emerged from the dark, and was padding from house to house, setting a searchlight off on each front lawn as he went. He looked like he was doing it on purpose, out of badness.
“Peter’s been in trouble for a while now. I think he’s being blackmailed.”
“I don’t know. There’ve been phone calls. People hanging up when I answer.”
Linda shook her head.
“I’m pretty sure it’s a money thing. A business thing.”
“How is the business?”
“Are you kidding? Have you not heard about our great property boom?”
“Just a little. Prices have shot up, right?”