Last Goodbye – Arlene Hunt

They were easy to follow undetected through the congested streets. She was wearing a bright-red jacket and perky bobble hat; he wore a cashmere overcoat with a pale-blue scarf tossed artfully around his neck. They were a distinctive couple, happy, good-looking, the kind of pairing that turned heads. Outside the Brown Thomas department store they stopped and stood gazing in at the festive display. That year the windows were decked in crystals and giant snow-globes, white Arctic foxes and a life-size polar bear wearing a bow tie. The snooty-looking mannequins sat in a sleigh pulled by white owls. The woman pointed to something, and as she did so she leaned her head against the man’s shoulder. In response, he wrapped his arm around her, pulling her tightly to him. He kissed the top of her head. It was such a simple gesture, the wolf thought, grinding his back teeth; so affectionate and loving, at least to the casual observer. But he knew better than that, he knew what the kiss signified: it was a possessive marking of territory, a display of social dominance. She’s mine, the kiss said. All mine. The wolf would enjoy proving him wrong. ‘Have you got any spare change?’ The wolf turned his head.

A man with a blue sleeping bag draped over his shoulders was next to him, standing a little too close for comfort. The wolf wrinkled his nose at the smell coming from the bag; it was filthy and covered in stains. He took a single step to his left. ‘I only want a bit of change for a hostel, bud.’ The man held out a paper cup and shook it forlornly. ‘Ah, c’mon, it’s nearly Christmas, have a heart.’ ‘I don’t have any change,’ the wolf replied. The man considered this for a moment. ‘I take notes.’ The wolf’s eyes widened incredulously.

Something in his expression caused the man to rethink his approach. ‘All right, relax, I was only asking.’ He stepped away into the crowd and vanished. Across the street, the couple were on the move again, strolling along hand in hand, oblivious to anyone except themselves. This time the wolf let them go, unconcerned with their destination. He knew where they lived. He knew where they worked. He knew everything about them. Their fates were already sealed. A light drizzle began.

The wolf turned his collar up, shoved his hands into his pockets and set off in the opposite direction, passing beneath the sparkling Christmas lights and on towards St Stephen’s Green. No one paid any attention to him, and even if they had, no one could possibly have guessed the depths of his depravity. But they would, he thought, increasing his pace, eager to get home and prepare. Soon his manifesto would become legend, and Dublin would quake at the mere mention of his name. He would make sure of it. CHAPTER TWO From a single glimpse of the man’s face, Eli Quinn knew whatever waited for him inside the double-fronted red-brick cottage was going to be bad. Nobody could fake a look of sheer uncomprehending horror like that; nobody. ‘Sir, I’m Detective Inspector Eli Quinn.’ He stepped forward and offered his hand. The man didn’t so much as blink.

He just stood with his arms hanging by his sides, blank-faced in the flashing emergency lights, mouth agape. ‘Sir?’ ‘I think we should have a medic take a look at him. He’s in shock.’ Detective Sergeant Miranda Lynn stepped past Quinn and gently caught hold of the man by his elbow. ‘I’ll need a statement,’ Quinn reminded her as she guided the man towards one of the waiting paramedics. Quinn continued up the path. The front door was partially open, and through it he spied Detective Inspector Adam Johnson from Forensics talking to one of his team. Quinn raised his hand and pushed the door open a little further. There was a Christmas wreath hanging from the knocker, one of the fancier kinds, sprayed silver, lit with LED lights. Johnson noticed he was there and came to greet him.

‘Quinn.’ ‘In the flesh. What have we got?’ ‘Double homicide, male and female. If I had to guess, I’d say mid twenties on her, late twenties on him.’ ‘ID?’ ‘Not so far, but we’ve only been here a few minutes.’ ‘Dispatch said you asked for me personally?’ Johnson pushed his rimless glasses up his nose with his index finger. He was a pastyfaced man with faded blue eyes that were too close together. His brown hair was sparse, so he wore it in a side parting to cover his scalp. ‘There’s something odd about the scene. I thought you’d be a good fit.

’ ‘Show me.’ ‘You can come in if you promise not to touch anything. The pathologist is on her way and you know what she’s like.’ ‘Scout’s honour.’ Quinn snapped on a pair of blue gloves and followed Johnson inside. Halfway down the hall, they turned right and entered a brightly lit living room. Quinn paused at the door to look around, taking it all in. It was a nice room, robustly middle-class. There was a large Christmas tree blinking in the bay window, chic furniture, bookshelves, healthy-looking houseplants, even a kilim rug. There was nothing fancy or dramatically unusual apart from the dead man sitting on a blood-drenched sofa.

He was upright, fully clothed, both hands resting neatly on his lap. Were it not for the blood and the unnatural angle of his head, he might simply have been resting. ‘I think the assailant attacked him from behind,’ Johnson said. ‘Using some sort of large blade – a machete, or possibly a sword.’ ‘A sword?’ Quinn raised an eyebrow in surprise. ‘Where the hell would someone get their hands on a sword?’ ‘Specialist shop, internet, take your pick.’ Johnson moved behind the sofa and raised his hands over his head. ‘Right to left at an angle of approximately one hundred and twenty degrees. Severed most of the neck before embedding into the clavicle right here.’ He pointed over the victim’s shoulder.

‘Spinal cord is intact, though.’ ‘Would that have taken a lot of strength?’ ‘Depends on how sharp the blade was. It’s a single blow, so I’m thinking it was pretty sharp.’ ‘No defence wounds?’ Quinn peered a little closer at the corpse. ‘No other wounds at all.’ ‘None that I can see, but the pathologist might have a different story. Judging from the positioning of the body and the pattern of the blood, he didn’t struggle. My guess is he died right here.’ ‘Would you let someone walk behind you with a sword?’ ‘I would not.’ ‘Right, so I doubt this guy sat here like a cabbage waiting to be attacked.

’ Quinn frowned. ‘You said there were two; where’s the woman?’ ‘Master bedroom at the back of the house.’ They left the living room, passed two technicians dusting for prints and entered the bedroom to the rear of the cottage. Again Quinn paused at the door and looked around. Like the living room, it was tastefully appointed: good-quality furniture, shuttered windows and high ceilings, the kind of room decorators called restful. The woman’s body lay on top of the bed covers. She was dressed in an ivory-coloured baby-doll nightie pulled demurely over her thighs. Her legs and feet were bare and her hair had been neatly brushed and fanned out across the pillows in a golden halo. Her face was turned away from the door, towards the window; her hands were folded over each other on her stomach. Quinn walked around to the other side of the bed.

Unlike the body in the living room, there was no sign of injury or violence that he could see. The woman’s face was fully made up: blue eyeshadow, blusher, her lips slick with pink frosted lipstick. Her eyes were open, staring past him, forever sightless. They were cornflower blue; pretty, like her. ‘What happened to her?’ Johnson scratched the back of his head. ‘My guess is it was an overdose. If you look closer, you can see traces of vomit on the corner of her mouth. Someone cleaned her up, but they didn’t get it all.’ Quinn bent down and saw Johnson was right. ‘So this lipstick was applied after she was dead?’ ‘That would be my guess.

’ ‘Interesting. Have you found the lipstick?’ ‘We’re collecting samples from her make-up.’ Quinn gave the room a cursory once-over, but nothing tickled his antennae. Back in the living room, Miranda Lynn was standing by the fireplace making notes in her electronic notebook – or EN, as everyone in the force called them. She glanced up when Quinn entered the room and gestured to the body on the couch. ‘The man we met outside is the father of our victim. He’s Sean Kilbride, aged twentyseven.’ ‘There’s a second body in the bedroom, a woman.’ ‘That will be Lorraine Dell, twenty-five.’ ‘What were they? Boyfriend and girlfriend?’ ‘Recently engaged.

’ ‘How recent?’ ‘Less than four weeks ago.’ Quinn thought about Lorraine Dell’s hands folded on her stomach; her fingers had been completely bare. ‘Find out if there was an engagement ring, will you?’ ‘Sure thing.’ ‘What else did the father tell you?’ ‘Not much. The victims were supposed to meet up with Sean’s family earlier this evening for pre-Christmas drinks. Mr Kilbride became concerned when he couldn’t reach his son and called in here on his way home.’ ‘What time was that?’ ‘Eight thirty.’ ‘When did he last talk to his son?’ ‘He reckons around six or seven yesterday evening.’ ‘He didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary?’ ‘Not that he can remember.’ Quinn looked at his watch.

‘It’s Saturday and this is a residential street, so there’s bound to have been people floating around all day. I want door-to-door enquiries, talk to the neighbours, the friends. Find out if anyone saw either of the victims between yesterday and today. Find out if they had any visitors, deliveries, you know the drill.’ ‘Got it.’ Johnson poked his head into the room. ‘Just a heads-up. Edwina’s pulled up outside.’ Edwina King was the state pathologist. She had more than once made it clear that she d i d n o t appreciate detectives tramping about at the crime scene before her initial examination.

Quinn watched another of Johnson’s technicians exit the room opposite the living room carrying a hand-held recorder at hip height. ‘You done?’ ‘It’s all yours.’ He crossed the hall and entered a modern dual-aspect kitchen. It had dove-grey walls and bespoke cabinets. There was a dining area within the confines of the bay window overlooking the street. The way it had been set caught Quinn’s attention. Champagne glasses, ornate candlesticks, a bouquet of yellow roses in a green vase, and next to them, an ice bucket with an open bottle resting in it. He glanced in: the ice had melted. ‘Miranda,’ he called. The DS came and stood beside him.

‘Check this out.’ ‘A romantic dinner for two.’ ‘Little strange, don’t you think?’ Quinn said. ‘Why?’ ‘You told me they were supposed to meet family this evening. This dinner for two suggests otherwise.’ ‘Maybe they changed their minds.’ ‘Maybe.’ Using the tip of his gloved little finger, Quinn eased the bottle upright so he could read it. ‘Krug.’ ‘Expensive.

’ A lock of Miranda’s hair fell over her forehead as she bent forward and stared at the tableau. Quinn watched her. She was five years his junior, sharp as a tack, a no-nonsense type. ‘The candles are burned all the way down.’ ‘So champagne, candles, flowers … but no sign of any food.’ Quinn looked behind him towards the spotless kitchen. ‘And no sign of any food prep. I don’t think they changed their minds.’ ‘You think this was staged by the killer,’ Miranda said, as if she were reading his thoughts. ‘Yup.

’ Quinn studied the roses. They were a dazzling jazzy yellow, the petals tightly bunched together. Fresh. He rummaged through the stems and found a small white envelope buried in the centre. With extreme care he plucked it out, opened it and removed a card from within. It was good-quality paper, thick, with gilded edges. One side was blank, but when he turned it over, the other contained a glittery red heart, torn in two. He held the card up between two fingers, letting Miranda see what was printed on it. ‘A broken heart,’ she said. Quinn put the card back inside the envelope, placed the envelope on the table.

‘Maybe our killer was unhappy about the recent engagement.’ ‘Ex-lover, maybe,’ Miranda said. ‘I’ll get cracking on a list of ex-boyfriends and girlfriends.’ Quinn looked out of the window towards the street, watching the emergency lights of the ambulance flashing for a moment, thinking. His head told him one thing, his heart another; but Quinn was a long time working the streets, and he listened to his gut. Right now, his gut was telling him this case was not the work of a disgruntled ex-lover. Worse than that, his gut was telling him this case was only the beginning.

 

Roxy Malloy woke to the sound of multiple dogs barking. She waited until she heard the main dog howl (she could tell them apart at this stage) before she leaned over and hit the off button. When they’d lived together, her ex, David, regularly complained about her choice of alarm, declaring it ‘aural violence’, and for a while – and mostly to avoid argument– she had set the clock to deliver the sounds of babbling brooks and birdsong: stupid, soothing noise she regularly slept through.

When David moved out, she went straight back to the dogs and hadn’t overslept since. On that freezing January morning, Roxy was twenty-seven years old, almost twentyeight, though she looked younger. Her hair was dark, short and, despite her best efforts, perpetually unruly. It framed a narrow face; not ugly, she knew that, but it was definitely not the kind of face men wrote songs about, not that she gave a damn about that. Her eyes were green, the same colour as her father’s. At five foot eight, she carried enough weight to escape being described as emaciated, though it was a fine margin. Her body was lean and covered in old scars, faded by time to silver threads. Like her face, it wasn’t perfect, but it knew how to tackle a fifteen-stone man and wrestle him to the floor, and she could outrun the average civilian, something most of her colleagues hadn’t a hope of doing. After a shower, she opened her wardrobe, took out her neatly pressed uniform and ran her hands over it. She was one week into a six-month probationary period as a detective sergeant, one of the youngest to ever reach that position.

When she was dressed, she used the fingerprint of her right index finger to unlock the wall safe next to her nightstand, and selected the weapons she would take with her that day. She picked a Trojan smart gun, a T-Prod Taser 900, and a lightweight baton with retractable steel shaft and rubber grip, which she’d privately christened ‘Old Faithful’. To finish, she snapped a pair of electronic hand clips to her belt, tightening it an extra notch to offset the weight of her equipment. Done. Breakfast was a banana and a cup of black coffee, which she drank standing at the kitchen sink to save time. She rinsed the cup and reprogrammed the coffee machine to coincide with her flatmate’s eventual rise. Boy worked as a barman in a nightclub called Oasis in the city centre. He kept odd hours, and as a result she rarely saw him. The arrangement suited her fine. Before Boy, she’d rented the guest room to a good-natured, chatty girl from Cork who liked romantic comedies and scented candles.

That had not worked out. She collected her car from the building’s underground car park. It had come with the promotion and she was still a little unused to it, though she liked how quiet and efficient the electric engine was. She drove the six miles to South Circular Road. The station had once been home to an old cigarette factory until a compulsory land purchase ceded it to the Department of Justice. These days it was the central hub of the Garda Síochána Nua, the New Guardians of the Peace (the old Garda Síochána had been more or less disbanded before Roxy’s time due to overwhelming corruption from the top down. It had taken two separate elections and some heavy-handed action from the Irish government, but eventually the GSN had emerged as a bright shining beacon of hope). A loner by nature, Roxy preferred the capital in the pre-dawn hours. The streets were clean and there was hardly any traffic apart from a few cabs travelling in the specialised public-service lanes that spanned the city. Private cars were no longer allowed within the city limits, and most of the one million citizens travelled by the Luas light-rail system, or the newly built STT (sub-terrain transport).

It was impossible to fathom how Dublin had ever functioned before the new laws were put into place. She couldn’t imagine travelling on streets so congested even short journeys were next to impossible. As far as Roxy was concerned, this was further evidence, if evidence was required, that the new order was a vast improvement on the old. She flashed her badge at the armed security detail, drove down the ramp and parked the vehicle neatly in its designated space. At the lift, she waited, tapping her foot impatiently, until her index fingerprint was scanned. When the doors opened, she got in and said, clearly and distinctly: ‘L3.’ The lift rose to the third floor, Homicide Division. Roxy exited and made her way through a sea of cubicles until she reached her own, tucked away in the corner opposite one of three emergency fire exits. Her partner, Garda Officer Cora Simmons, was already at her desk. Over her shoulder Roxy noticed Cora was reading a gossip site on her computer and cleared her throat as warning.

Cora clicked it off, spun in her chair and offered her a wonderfully innocent smile. ‘Good morning, Sergeant.’ ‘Yes,’ Roxy said, and after a moment, ‘Good morning.’ With promotion, all sergeants were assigned a junior officer to partner with. Given a choice, Roxy would have preferred to work alone, but protocol didn’t allow it and so here she was, saddled with a colleague. Cora was twenty-six and married to an electrician called Joe. She had no children or pets. She was five foot six and slightly plump, which was odd since she seemed to be permanently on a diet. Her hair was shoulder length and mid brown with some blonde highlights. She liked dark chocolate and always tried to see the best in people, something Roxy found perplexing given the nature of their occupation.

‘Did you do anything on the weekend?’ Cora cocked her head to one side. Roxy removed her jacket and hung it on the back of her chair, taking care to avoid wrinkles. She tried not to let her irritation show. Had she done anything on the weekend? It was a loaded question. Of course she had done things and they were none of anyone’s business. On the other hand, Cora could be persistent, so it was better in the long run to toss something out. ‘I went to the gun range.’ ‘Oh … that sounds like fun.’ Roxy considered a response to that. ‘I shot very well.

’ ‘Great, great.’ Roxy adjusted her chair until it was exactly how she liked it and sat down. Reaching for her computer, she realised Cora was still looking at her expectantly. ‘Er … and how about you, did you do … things?’ ‘Funny you should ask. I had to be a referee.’ ‘For a game of some kind?’ ‘No, not that kind.’ Cora laughed. ‘A family referee.’ Roxy was silent. Cora took this to mean further explanation was required.

‘You know my sister Katie, yeah? Well, she told her young fella she had tickets for Funderland and she’d bring him, but then Theresa found out and she said they wanted to go as well and …’ Roxy feigned polite interest as Cora rambled on. In the few days they had been working together, she had learned that Cora came from a large, rambunctious family of seemingly countless siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles. To Roxy, who did not, it sounded positively exhausting. When Cora’s story ended, Roxy took her chance and activated her computer. She logged into the interdepartmental system, registered her ID and began to read the day’s assignments. Almost immediately a small yellow hazard sign flashed in the upper corner of the screen. She clicked on the icon: a Priority 1 link opened, revealing a message from Dispatch. ‘RDS Malloy.’ A computerised head spoke. ‘For the attention of RDS Malloy, badge number 1887.

See the Code 6 at Riverside View Apartments, Dundrum. For primary contact, see … Inspector Morrissey, badge number 550.’ It repeated the message once more and vanished off screen with a tiny but audible pop. Cora was staring at her, brown eyes shining with excitement. ‘Did that thing say what I think it said?’ ‘Yes,’ Roxy replied, typing furiously to register their acceptance of the case. ‘Which one is Morrissey again?’ Roxy hesitated. ‘I don’t know exactly.’ ‘Doesn’t matter, does it? Sure, we’ll meet him at the scene.’ Cora whipped out her personal mobile phone and held it aloft. ‘Code 6! Our very first homicide.

This is so exciting.’ ‘What are you doing?’ ‘Taking a picture, of course. This is for posterity, so smile!’ Roxy scowled; Cora rolled her eyes and took the photo anyway. ‘Do not put that on social media.’ ‘Hashtag homicide!’ Cora said, ignoring her. Roxy put her jacket on and wondered again how she was going to get through the next six months without strangling Cora.

.

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