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Authors: Russel D. McLean

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BOOK: 04-Mothers of the Disappeared
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As an investigator, you become whatever you need to be to get the job done. You develop personality traits to suit the situation, to get whatever it is you need for someone else. Similar in some ways to being a cop. I joined the force when I was nineteen, became what I thought was the model copper. And then when I quit, moved almost immediately into the investigation business. Why? Because it was the only thing that suited the skills I had, because it allowed me to do the only thing I knew how to do and yet still remove myself from everything that was slowly driving me insane.

Had I lost something of myself because of all that?

Become a reflection for other people’s emotions?

Except that Griggs hit it right about a couple of things. A few years ago, even if it had meant harming myself, I would have done anything to take down Burns. He was the Enemy, the one I had chosen to represent everything that was wrong in the world.

And at the same time, he chose me as some twisted reflection of himself.

I’d never understood that. But maybe now I could.

What had changed in me over the years? Why was I now unwilling to sacrifice myself for what I saw as a greater good? It wasn’t just about the pretence of working with a scumbag like Burns. No, it was deeper than that.

My life had changed.

I had changed.

I was rebuilding myself. Becoming a whole person. Picking up the pieces years after the accident had shattered me. I had forced myself to become more than simply a mirror for other people’s worst emotions. If Griggs persuaded me to go undercover, then it would feel as though I had lost all of the progress I had made. As though I was losing the part of myself that finally felt human.

Griggs was asking me to sacrifice the peace of mind I had finally achieved for the sake of bringing down one man. And no matter what Burns had done, I wasn’t sure I could sacrifice all of that any more.

Because if I went back that way again, I don’t know if I could come back.

I shook my head. ‘Either way, I’m screwed. And if you were so confident that I was the right man for the job, you wouldn’t be trying to blackmail me.’

Griggs said, ‘It’s not blackmail.’

‘What is it, then?’

‘You need to know we’re serious.’

‘I can’t do it.’

‘You said it yourself: you’re fucked either way.’

‘Aye,’ I said. ‘There’s that.’

‘The charges make for the best cover story.’

‘I’d serve time. Even when I got out, I couldn’t just pick up from where I’d left off.’

‘We’d do our best to help—’

I shook my head. ‘Do it or don’t do it,’ I said. ‘Don’t waste my time or patience.’

‘You know what Burns does. What he did to your friend, Ernie Bright.’

‘Aye,’ I said, ‘exactly what you’re doing to me.’ I stood up, signalling that I wanted him out of my office. ‘I used to respect you. Everyone on the force looked up to you. You were one of the good guys. You’d battled your demons, become a decent man. I remember when they tried to hang an excessive force on you, and you beat it because you had the support and respect of everyone around you. Think they’d still feel the same knowing what you were doing here?’

‘This is a bigger picture, McNee.’

‘Bigger picture my arse,’ I said. ‘Get out. Tell Kellen to file her charges if it makes you feel better to screw with someone’s life. Even if I have to serve time, I’m not doing this. I’m not your guy, Griggs.’

‘You’ll change your mind,’ Griggs said.

I didn’t say anything.

He got the hint, finally, and walked out.

I watched out the window, saw him cross the street and walk to the car park at the rear of the Overgate Centre.

When he was out of sight, I grabbed a coffee mug from my desk and flung it against the wall.

Watching it shatter didn’t make me feel any better.

NINETEEN

J
onathan Moorehead did not return home.

Four days and counting.

I had seen something in his face when I talked to him. Something that told me I had awoken old ghosts.

The questions that seized him the first time we talked were understandable:

Why me? Was there something I could have done?

Normal questions. The kind any normal person might have if their son had done such monstrous things.

I wonder if he had managed to come to terms with them over the years, or at least forget them. And if my visit opened up those old wounds, made them fresh once more.

The one thing I knew was the one thing he could not listen to.

Monsters do not always beget monsters. The father is not always responsible for the son.

As human beings we make our own way in life. Other people can give us a nudge along the way, but sometimes we are just made to be a certain way and nothing anyone does can push us off that path.

But I was also beginning to suspect that Alex Moorehead was not the man or the monster we had painted him to be.

The man I met all those years ago, and again just a few weeks earlier, was not a cold, vicious, calculating sociopath. He was a man who had retreated into himself. I suspect that if he felt he could have talked about what happened to all those other victims, he would have.

But something was preventing him from doing that. And no one seemed to be able to work out what that something was. For years now, no one had been able to understand what was going on inside his head.

Thinking about it, with a little distance, knowing what I did about what finally happened to him, I was beginning to realize what it might be.

Fear.

Not of being found out. It was too late for that.

No, there had been something else in Alex Moorehead’s attitude. Something deeper and more primal than the fear of secrets yet to be uncovered.

I called an old friend who worked in archives, asked her to pull files on Moorehead. ‘The ones Ernie submitted.’

‘I can’t,’ she told me over the line. ‘They’re sealed and confidential.’

‘Alex Moorehead is dead. I was one of the original investigating officers.’

‘They’re not for release to private citizens.’

‘Why?’

She hesitated. ‘Normally, I guess I’d consider it a favour … but given all the shite you’ve brought down on this department recently …’

‘I assisted Ernie on the original investigation. Besides, he’s dead. He’s not going to care—’

‘I’m putting my neck out for you. You understand that?’

‘I know,’ I said. Feeling a lump in my throat. A hesitancy, knowing what I had to say to her. ‘But you’ve got kids, Aileen. Can you imagine what it would feel like to lose them?’

‘Don’t you bloody dare …’

‘I was asked to look into this by a woman whose child was taken from her. A woman who doesn’t know what happened to her child, but who believed that Alex Moorehead had all the answers.’

‘You’re a bastard, McNee.’

Someday, I’ll write a book:
How to Lose Friends and Alienate People
.

But not today.

There are times when you have to pull out dirty tricks, distasteful as that can be. Even when you’re dealing with someone you like and respect. But you have to know that the tricks will work. You have to have no other choice. I was walking a fine line with Aileen. The wrong tone, even for a second, and I’d lose her completely.

‘Please,’ I said. ‘No one will know.’

She was quiet on the other end of the line. I had to swallow, tried not to make a noise as I did so.

‘I’ll see what I can do,’ she said. ‘But if anyone asks, you and I haven’t talked in years.’

‘Fair enough,’ I said. ‘You’re doing the right thing.’

She didn’t respond to that. All she did was hang up.

The copied files came encrypted, forwarded from a temporary and anonymous email address. Aileen wasn’t taking any chances. I couldn’t blame her.

As for the consequences if any leaks came back to me, hell, if Griggs was serious with his threats, then it didn’t matter what I did any more. Compared to a manslaughter charge – they wouldn’t get me on murder; I was confident about that, at least – this was chicken feed.

I transferred the files across to an older machine, disconnected it from the network. Feeling oddly paranoid about the whole affair. Perhaps Griggs really did have me rattled, no matter what I told him or myself. Maybe he was watching my every move, looking to compound error with error. So, sure, I wanted to give him the middle finger, but I didn’t want to look sloppy doing it.

15/09/06

 

DI ERNIE BRIGHT: Tell me how it felt to kill him. To kill Justin.

ALEX MOOREHEAD: It didn’t feel good.

EB: How didn’t it feel good? I need specifics, Alex. We need to talk about this. If you talk about this, you’ll feel better.

AM: Confession is good for the soul?

EB: I thought we were past this. The tough talk, I mean. The attitude. You’ve confessed, Alex. What we need to do now is help you to put your side of the story across.

AM: I mean that … I mean, I didn’t mean to …

EB: The wounds were deliberate, Alex. The medical experts confirmed that much. You knew what you were doing to Justin.

AM: No, it was a moment … a moment … I didn’t think … it just … like a switch went off in my brain … Like …

EB: They said that you could have conceivably killed a boy before. I don’t doubt the truth of what they told me, Alex.

AM: No, that’s not … No, it was an accident. I didn’t mean to …

EB: Did you fantasize about that, Alex? About killing a boy? The images we found on your computer, they weren’t innocent art. They weren’t downloaded by accident. They were the kind of images you would have to look for. Doesn’t matter what the
Daily Mail
says, you don’t just stumble across images of abuse on the internet. And you certainly don’t accidentally download them and hide them on your hard drive.

AM: Oh God … (sobs)

 

17/09/06

 

EB: How are you feeling today, Alex?

AM: Fuck you.

EB: OK, so we had a little falling out last time we talked. Please, Alex, I’m just trying to get a full picture here. Because the story you tell us doesn’t entirely match the facts.

AM: Where’s my solicitor?

EB: You want your solicitor now? It’s a little late. You’ve already admitted to killing Justin. You’re not coming back from that. You can’t.

AM: I told you, I …

EB: I know, Alex. I know. You’ve played the same tune over and over again. But you and I both know the truth. Because you always hit the same bum notes.

AM: No, no …

EB: Is it something you think about? Do you dream about it, Alex? Is that what it is?

AM: (muffled)

EB: Was it something you couldn’t control? With Justin, I mean. Like when you can’t stop yourself reaching for another glass of wine in the evening?

AM: Don’t …

EB: Don’t what?

AM: Do that.

EB: Do what? Cheapen what you do? Children aren’t like glasses of wine, are they? They’re special, every one of them. Unique. Snowflakes. All of those kids in those pictures, there was no one else like them, was there?

AM: Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!

[sounds of a struggle.]

EB: Suspect restrained and detained. Interview terminated at 14.22 hours.

 

By this point in the investigation, I was on medical leave following the accident that would lead to my leaving the force. DCI Wood had stepped into my role. The last thing on my mind was Alex Moorehead.

I had never looked at the transcripts before.

You could feel Ernie’s frustration building with each interview. And Wood never seemed to say a word, even if he was present in the room every time. No wonder Ernie finally palmed the case off on Wemyss. Alex Moorehead didn’t want to talk about what he’d done, almost as though he was deliberately misleading himself about the history of the case. It came across as though he was in denial of his own confession. Like he wanted to take it back, but was too afraid to come out and say so.

I had to wonder if this self-deception was what would lead him to deny the other murders. The only other explanation was that his initial confession had been a lie. One that he was regretting but did not know how to back away from.

Newspaper reports would claim in later years that he showed a distinct lack of remorse. Cod-psychologists and true-crime writers would refer to his own ‘supreme’ delusions or the fact that he seemed to be trying to distance himself from what he’d done.

Nobody harboured any doubt that in some fashion he was responsible for so many deaths and disappearances. This, even though Amityville had only ever produced circumstantial evidence at best, which is why it was running now on one lonely cop and a dwindling budget.

All the same, for Alex Moorehead, one admission had opened up a lifetime of possible charges.

Reading the transcripts, I began to wonder if Alex truly believed himself to be innocent despite what he appeared to be saying. Why admit one killing and not the others? Even Peter Tobin, Scotland’s most prolific serial murderer, boasted of at least forty-eight murders, while perhaps not admitting to their full details. But Alex Moorehead denied every charge Amityville brought before him, save Justin’s murder, while simultaneously failing to provide any explanation for his innocence.

After a couple of hours locked up inside with only transcripts for company, I left the offices, took a walk down the road to the Howff Cemetery. The Cemetery is an old part of the city, built over the site of an abbey that burned down in 1548, and there is a sense when you walk among the old stones that here is a place that will remain untouched by the ever-changing city around it. Dundee is a city that sometimes seems in danger of losing its own identity through a series of ‘modernization’ initiatives from the sixties onwards, but in the Howff, the world seems calm and still, not resistant to change so much as immune to it.

I sat down on a bench beneath the overhanging branches of an old tree that seemed to cradle the graves around it, protecting them from the world at large.

I thought about what I was doing.

BOOK: 04-Mothers of the Disappeared
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