This book contains adult language
THERE HADN'T BEEN a suicide note. The victim remains resolutely tight-lipped, stone-cold silent; the best and the worst witness of her end. A note would allow mourners to hold on to something. Assert blame. Be angry at what's written. Tear the fucking thing up if they wanted. Without it, there is nothing. Grief battles alone. Even so, I imagine I see a ghost of a smile at the corners of her swollen mouth, the kind of smile that speaks of secrets. Secrets she'll take
to the grave.
The narrow-faced pathologist begins the autopsy. She walks the length of the victim's body, reporting her findings in clipped, clinical tones.
"Time of death: approximately 20:00, 19 October 2011. Cause: suspected asphyxiation by hanging. Manner of death: pending. Victim: thirty-nine years old, female. Autopsy performed by Dr. Abigail James; also present, Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan and Assistant Commissioner Jack Clancy."
We are in Whitehall. Dublin city's state-of-the-art supermortuary. The viewing area is fondly nicknamed "the Waiting Room," a sour reminder that there's a good chance of ending up on some pathologist's chopping block one day.
I look down on the doc. She's peering into the victim's mouth, a penlight in her hand. She's another unfamiliar face—the doc. Another adjustment. Although change is fair game when you've been away for months, it makes me feel cheated.
Jack Clancy stays focused on the victim below. He sticks his hands in his pockets, rocks on his heels. "Still as sharp as ever, I see. I hope your detective skills aren't as diabolical as your observation skills, Sheehan."
"See that?" I point to a half-drunk cup of coffee, smiling. "Unfinished. No lip till that mug's empty. What happened to the last guy?"
"He fecked off to Australia, like the rest of the bloody country," he says.
"Back at the office."
"I thought he'd moved to Special?"
"What happened? Couldn't keep away?" I flash a smile at him.
A cloud of worry grows behind Clancy's eyes. When he speaks, every part of his face joins in: His eyebrows punch up, down; his mouth flattens, puckers; and the skin trembles over his jawline.
"We had to move some staff around, Frankie. Your team, intimidated as they are, turn out to be as loyal as beaten dogs, but we don't have another detective at your level to work with you."
"I prefer to work alone," I reply.
The remainder of my coffee is a cold sludge of half-dissolved sugar, about as welcoming as the day began and as predictable as it would continue.
I bring the subject back to terra firma. "What are we doing here for this fluff then? We're a bit much for an open-and-shut suicide."
The expression on his face tells me he doesn't think I'm much for anything at the moment. I straighten. Meet his eyes.
"The coroner had an uneasy feeling about this one," he answers. He raises an eyebrow at the phrase "uneasy feeling." "The commissioner is twitchy."
He doesn't answer.
Silence. There is a tang of bile at the back of my tongue.
"Fuck 'em." I glance sideways at him, hoping to see some agreement in his face, but his mouth remains a hard line, his eyes forward.
After a while, he speaks: "What are you thinking then?"
"Of the victim?"
He sighs. "The suspect."
"Now that's a philosophical question." A tight grin. "You obviously don't think this is simply a plain old 'I'm checking out of this shit hole by myself' job?"
His shoulders shift beneath his jacket. "There is always that."