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Authors: Russel D. McLean

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BOOK: 04-Mothers of the Disappeared
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‘Mr Moorehead,’ I said. ‘It’s good to hear from you.’

‘Not good to be calling you. I called the fat bugger in charge of the investigation. He doesn’t like you too much.’

‘I have that effect on people.’

‘I gathered. That why you’re no longer police?’

‘That and a few other things.’

‘He talked me round. I didn’t tell him you had a small part in that. But figured you’d like to know.’

‘I’m glad,’ I said.

‘If it wasn’t for you,’ he said, ‘none of this would have happened. No, that’s not true. If it wasn’t for your client … I’d like to meet her … to …’

‘No,’ I said. ‘Client confidentiality. I can’t …’

‘Of course,’ he said. ‘Of course. I do hope that this brings her answers. And peace.’

There was an edge to his voice. Maybe he didn’t quite believe what he was saying. Battling second thoughts and guesses.

It was three days.

Three days before the phone rang again and I heard Wemyss’s voice on the other end of the line.

‘Fuck you, Dr Freud.’

I couldn’t figure what was happening. It was 6 a.m. and I wasn’t quite awake yet.

‘Fuck you, Dr Freud,’ he said again, each word cold and clear. ‘What is it with you? Are you jinxed?’

I couldn’t follow what he was saying.

‘Alex Moorehead is dead,’ he said. ‘And it’s all your fucking fault, you sanctimonious wee bawbag.’

I met him at the same place we’d had breakfast a few weeks earlier. Despite the bad news, his appetite was unaffected. All I could do was look at my bacon roll and feel nauseous.

‘Hung himself with bed sheets. Dead before we had a chance to do anything. All these years, he’s never been on suicide watch. Living in absolute solitary. Happy enough that way, too. Aye, and then you finally persuade dear old Dad to visit …’

‘So what happened?’

‘They talked.’

‘About?’

‘What the fuck do you think?’

‘Did it affect him, I mean, at the time?’

Wemyss laughed. ‘What do you think?’

‘Did he show outward signs? Of being affected? Of anything?’

‘What do you care?’

‘Why’d you ask me here?’

He sighed. ‘I did some digging. Old pal of mine was the one vouched for you. Said that you were a pain in the arse, but you could get results. And that you usually knew more than you let on.’

I couldn’t think of anyone who’d say that about me on the force. Not these days.

‘Know who it was? Know why I took them at their word?’

I shook my head.

‘George Lindsay. He’s your guardian bastard angel.’

I wanted to laugh. Covered it by sipping at my sour-tasting coffee.

‘Most other people told me that you only fucked things up. Have to say, right now, I’m thinking they were right. And that George’s head had been all fucked up by being in that coma. Aye, the one you helped him get into.’

I wondered why he asked me here.

‘You talked to the father,’ Wemyss said. ‘Persuaded him to have a wee chat with Alex. After all these years, all it took was one visit from you and Dad’s suddenly ready to reach a reconciliation.’

‘I don’t think that was me.’

‘Then tell me, McNee, what the fuck was it? What changed?’

‘I wish I could tell you.’

I really did. When I first showed up at Jonathan Moorehead’s door, he’d been unwilling to talk. No danger he’d even embrace the idea of opening those old wounds. And then suddenly he was dashing up north for a father and son reunion. That ended with the death of his son.

Aye, it seemed odd right enough.

But then the case had always felt odd to me. Even back at the beginning, I’d had my doubts. Only I hadn’t really expressed them, still looking up at my senior officer with the kind of starry-eyed hero-worship normally reserved for awestruck teens. I couldn’t contradict him. He knew what he was talking about. I, on the other hand, was still learning.

What would have happened if I’d held my ground?

‘I didn’t do anything special,’ I said. ‘Beyond appealing to Moorehead’s father to do the right thing.’

‘Did you tell him about your client?’

‘As much as I told you.’

‘I know who your client was.’

‘You’d be dumb if you didn’t work it out. But Moorehead senior wouldn’t have a reason to figure out who it was. There’s a long list to work through.’

There was silence for a moment. Around us, the world continued. People’s lives stepped forward at the same pace they always did.

But for us, there was a moment. A second.

One where we realized that our lives were on the same trajectory, heading in the same direction. We were locked together.

It wasn’t fate. It was who we were.

Wemyss was a good cop. He wanted answers. More than that, he wanted the world to order itself according to principles that most people would agree were fair and just.

And I was simply a stubborn bastard.

Wemyss said, ‘Right. Fair enough. I want you to look at the tape, McNee.’

‘Why?’

‘Just look. Tell me what you see. Prove to me that that old bugger Lindsay isn’t losing his mind by saying I could trust you.’

FIFTEEN

W
atch enough TV, you might think that the world is filled with technology; smartphones, flat screens, hi-def, LED, LCD, HDMI magic. The guys on
CSI
might as well be working on the bridge of the USS
Enterprise
.

But in the places where such technology might matter, you find that the world is not quite where we’re led to believe it’s at. While the public drool and salivate over increasingly sophisticated technology, and believe that behind closed doors all the government and authority figures have even cooler toys, the truth is that what you see in the gleaming police stations on your flat-screen 40inch is pure fantasy.
CSI
never has to deal with budget cuts, backlogs, cost-cutting and red tape.

Which is why I was in a room that looked like it hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint since the late seventies, watching a grainy video feed on a great big grey box that had never known what the future would bring and could barely spell HD if you gave it a subscription to Sky One.

The telly was wheeled in from another room. It was likely it was the only one in the building. Maybe they’d sold the rest to pay for dry-cleaning uniforms. With the current government, you never could tell.

I sat forward on the foldaway. The screen became my world. Overhead angle, high corner of the room. As per the agreements reached after hours of negotiations with both parties, there was no sound, no one else in the room. It was the only way Alex would agree to talk with his father.

They sat at opposite sides of the table. Someone had observed the video feed the whole time. If they got too close, moved around the table, or even attempted to touch, the interview was over. This was Wemyss’s part of the bargain. He was already taking a chance. He wanted them to know that he wasn’t going to suffer either party taking advantage of the situation.

Either Jonathan Moorehead had taken Wemyss’s warnings seriously, or his intentions were exactly as advertised. Because he obeyed the rules at all times. When he entered the room, he hesitated with the door still open, and for a moment it looked as though he was ready to turn on his heels and get the fuck out of there. An understandable reaction. It’s easy to believe you can go through with something right up until the moment it becomes real. He had not seen his son since the trial. He’d only been able to come to any kind of terms with Alex’s crimes because it’s easy to push something out of your head when you don’t have to see a reminder of it every day.

But when he walked into that room, you saw it in his posture. The video may have been grainy, the frame-rate poor so that you felt like the action was jumping rather than flowing smoothly, but Jonathan Moorehead’s body-language played to the back row. He saw his son, and it was like someone wired him up to the mains.

After he sat down, the two men said nothing for a long time. They simply looked at each other across the table.

At first it seemed like Alex was relaxed. At least, more than his father. He sat back in his chair, where good old Dad leaned forward.

It was Dad did all the talking. All the gesturing.

Alex remained sitting back in his chair.

But a closer look, and I realized he wasn’t relaxed. This wasn’t a killer playing it cool or some late-blooming attempt at the kind of rebellion only teenagers can muster.

This was fear.

He was stiff. Sitting back as far as he could to escape the older man’s judgement. That was why he wasn’t moving. He had nowhere to go.

I paused the video. Stood up. Paced.

Thinking that I was reading things into the images that might not be there. As though Elizabeth Farnham’s absolute belief in her son’s killer’s innocence was infectious.

I was looking for evidence of his innocence. Grabbing at the smallest signs I could. Almost desperate to find something.

Perhaps because I believed his suicide told me something I didn’t know before.

Innocent men kill themselves the same as guilty men. Maybe more so.

Alex Moorehead told us he had killed Justin Farnham. He admitted it in a moment of intensity that stood at odds with his later calm.

But what if he had lied?

What if he took the crime on his shoulders for other reasons?

After a few minutes of pacing, clearing my brain, I sat down again on the folding chair, watched the rest of the conversation. After several minutes of Dad talking, it was Alex’s turn. He spoke, facing away from his dad, like he couldn’t look the other man in the eyes. Still that whole sulky teenager vibe to the way he sat and the way he communicated. A completely different person to the one I’d talked to only a few days earlier.

When Alex’s father left the room, the timer read 19.20.

Nineteen minutes. Twenty seconds.

And a few hours later, Alex Moorehead would be dead, his father missing. A new mystery, one more frustrating than the one that preceded it, because this time there was no one left who could give us the answers.

 

‘Well?’

‘It’s hard to say.’

‘You see the point where he snapped?’

We were in the incident room. Drinking weak coffee from polystyrene cups. The Mothers of the Disappeared – and the Disappeared themselves – stared from their assigned places on the pinboards and wall space.

‘The second he saw his father,’ I said. ‘It’s subtle, but it’s there. I thought he was relaxed. I thought he was cool. But he was petrified.’

‘Strange, isn’t it?’ Wemyss said. ‘That the old man spends all these years avoiding his son and yet he’s here like a shot when someone suggests the possibility of Alex’s innocence.’

‘Maybe we finally gave him hope?’

‘I talked to him,’ Wemyss said. ‘Before I put them in the room. The old man didn’t believe in his son’s innocence. That wasn’t why he was here.’

‘Then why?’

Wemyss stayed quiet.

I could figure it out. It wasn’t hard to see what had happened. During their discussion, Jonathan Moorehead had convinced his son to take his own life.

The question then became, why?

Is this what he had been waiting for? Is this why he came all this way? Thinking maybe if he got his son to kill himself, then he wouldn’t have to do it himself? Could clear himself of any guilt?

‘Have you talked to Jonathan Moorehead since Alex’s death?’ I asked.

Wemyss shook his head. ‘By the time we found out what had happened, he was checked out of his hotel. On his way back down to the border. At least I assume that’s where he was heading.’

‘You’ve tried calling him?’

Wemyss bristled. Looked ready to lamp me one. I couldn’t really blame him. I was here because he asked me, and now I was questioning his professional competence.

So I answered my own question. ‘You tried and he didn’t answer.’

‘Nothing from the mobile or the landline. There’s a couple of local lads down that way owe me a favour. They’ve been waiting for hours now. No sign of him. The journey from here to Moorehead’s house only takes about four hours if you know what you’re doing.’

‘So where is he?’

‘Fucked if I know.’ Wemyss hesitated. He was tense, and I knew he wanted to lash out. All that energy buzzing just beneath his skin, the muscles trembling, the heart tripping to its own beat.

‘Are you glad he’s dead?’ Meaning Alex.

‘No. The prick took innocent children with him. We’ll never find their bodies.’

But an unanswered sentence was left unsaid.
If he even killed those kids in the first place.

SIXTEEN

B
ack in the days when everything was simple, when the world made sense, Ernie Bright was everything I wanted to be. He had seen policing at its best and worst, coming through the other side with a strong sense of morality, highly attuned to the realities of the world.

Even if I had managed to partially redeem his memory, there were still unanswered questions about his actual loyalties. I had found a paper trail that led from his bank account to the laundered money of one of Dundee’s biggest criminals. And I still didn’t understand why. What was their relationship? Who was Ernie Bright to David Burns?

But back in the good old days, none of that mattered.

We used to drink at the Phoenix on the Perth Road. Not a copper’s boozer, but more a second home for its regulars, who came from all walks of life. Back in those days, the landlord used to be behind the bar every time we walked in; a larger than life figure who liked to try and have a bit of fun with his punters.

‘What can I get you, gents?’

I was on the Deuchars, but Ernie wasn’t willing to get more than a Coke, which earned him a ribbing. Truth was, he’d done his back in chasing a suspect who decided he didn’t want to be interviewed. Ernie liked to keep his head on straight, and the idea of mixing painkillers and alcohol wasn’t one that filled him with joy. Mind you, when we retired to one of the corners, he said it might have been better than putting up with the landlord’s jokes.

‘You wanted to talk?’

‘Aye,’ I said. Feeling daft, like this whole chat was a bad idea.

BOOK: 04-Mothers of the Disappeared
12.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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