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Authors: Russel D. McLean

04-Mothers of the Disappeared (9 page)

BOOK: 04-Mothers of the Disappeared
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Maybe I wasn’t.

I wanted to help her. No question about that. But I didn’t want to dredge up this old case again. All those years ago, Ernie had been convinced the right man paid the price for murdering Elizabeth Farnham’s son. The investigation had been long and tiring.

I had thought to myself when it was over that at least this monster was behind bars. At least he was paying for what he had done. There was justice in that. For Elizabeth Farnham. For her son. And later, I’d realize, for a lot of other parents whose children had met this bastard, this near-silent psychopath who refused to acknowledge the cost of his actions.

I said, ‘I’ll find another way.’

‘I know you will.’

When I was finished with the call, I pulled out my mobile and looked at the message from Sandy again.

Read it three times. Then deleted it completely.

Fuck him.

 

‘I try not to judge people, even those my fellow officers tell me are utter pricks.’ Wemyss, on the other end of the line, was trying to remain calm. I could picture him sitting at his desk, knuckles white from gripping the receiver, round face cherry red. Heart probably working overtime, too. ‘But the fact is, McNee, you’re every bit as much of an arse as your reputation suggests.’

‘You want an end to this operation as much as I do.’

‘The father fucking hates him, McNee. He did then, and I see no reason why that’s changed just because you’ve whispered a few sweet nothings into his ancient lugholes.’

‘He didn’t do it before because everything he did then was under media surveillance. He was judged every time he took a breath. That kind of scrutiny can paralyse a person, make them doubt what they’re doing. Even if what they’re doing is the right thing. He couldn’t have taken a shite without the red tops wondering what it all meant. He wanted to put as much distance between himself and his son as he could. And he didn’t see why he needed to help us, because as far as he was concerned, we had our man and could do what the fuck we liked with him.’

‘I know you think you’re doing the right thing, McNee. But Mrs Farnham, she’s cracked. You know that as well as me. You’ve talked to her. The years haven’t been kind. She’s round the bend. It was always going to happen. And what really makes me sick is that a parasite like you is taking her money. When you know better than anyone what she went through.’

‘If it wasn’t me, it would be someone else. I never promised her the answers she wanted. I promised her that I would do my best. That one way or the other I would try to see if her own suspicions had any basis in reality. She’s not cracked. She’s confused. As anyone would be. I’m doing this because I remember what the death of her son did to her, and I want her to finally have some sense of closure. I’m doing this to help her.’

‘Jesus! You sound like you believe your own hype.’

‘Believe what you like, Wemyss.’

‘If he comes forward, I’ll let him talk to his son. But don’t think you’re getting any credit. Word’s spreading, McNee. Bad enough you managed to get one of our own falsely accused of perverting justice, but now it’s sounding to me like you’ve got a real history. Lock the doors, pal. They’re coming for you.’

He was talking about the charges. The ones that Griggs had re-opened. Looked like my friends at the SCDEA were willing to make my life difficult until I did what they wanted. A little friendly extortion among professionals never hurt anyone.

Made me wonder how desperate Griggs was.

Whether his own job was hanging in the balance.

When Wemyss hung up, I held the receiver for a few moments, listened to the tone.

I was physically exhausted. The reminder of the charges I was facing had made me nauseous.

In the back of my mind, there was the worry that maybe I had done something wrong, that there really was a better choice I could have made that evening.

I went to the bathroom, splashed my face with cold water. A slap in the face, enough to make me focus. Looking at myself in the mirror, I wondered what I would do if they made the charges official. Was there any way to deny what had happened?

I had done the right thing that night. I knew that in my heart. Would stand by my actions. Wouldn’t change a thing. The two men in the Necropolis all those years ago had been killers. Their history spoke volumes. I had seen their handiwork close up only a few days before I killed one of them. They deserved everything they got.

Sometimes there is a difference between justice and due process. At the time, I’d figured that perhaps the universe realized that, too. That I’d got a lucky break. Karma, perhaps. The kind of thing you consider even if you don’t believe, because it makes you feel good to impose that kind of narrative on events.

But you can’t kill someone – no matter how honourable your intentions – and expect nothing to happen.

I heard a buzz from my office. I dried my face with the hand towel, hit the intercom button. Dot said, ‘There’s a Detective Sergeant Kellen to see you.’

I opened the door to reception. DS Kellen stood by Dot’s desk. Kellen was in her late thirties, with a severe face and blonde hair scraped back from her forehead. Off duty, she could have been attractive. But it was hard to tell when she wore her professional attitude like the uniform she’d once worn on the beat.

She came over to me, didn’t offer her hand. ‘Mr McNee,’ she said. ‘We need to talk.’

‘About?’

‘I think you know.’

Was this was the moment I had been dreading?

I let her in to my office. Closed the door.

THIRTEEN

‘A
re there official charges to be made?’

‘I’m not here to arrest you.’

‘Good.’

‘I don’t think you pose a flight risk.’

‘Good.’

‘I do think you’re guilty.’

There was no response to that.

‘I’ve been looking at your history. Good cop. Bright future. Could have been running CID by now, maybe taking a shot at a more political role.’

Kellen kept looking at me, as though to check that she was getting through, making her point. She knew me on paper, but any good cop will tell you that a file only tells partial stories. How you get a feel for someone, it’s all about the way they react when you have them across the table. ‘But that’s not your style. Never was. You were “hands on”, right? It’s OK, I understand. You like to feel you’re making a difference. Hard to do that when all you see are reports and numbers and statistics.’

‘Some people do just fine.’

‘Not people like you.’ She was testing the waters. Seeing how I reacted to what she said. ‘I’ve read the reports on your departure from the force. You blamed yourself as much as you blamed DI Lindsay.’ She hesitated. ‘How is he, by the way? I believe the two of you are talking again?’

I didn’t give her a response.

‘Doesn’t matter,’ she said. ‘I’ll be calling on him later. He wrote the initial report on the shooting incident. Given your … antagonistic … relationship, I think he was generous regarding your involvement. And your motives.’

I wondered how much she really knew. My sessions with the psychologist – the ones I’d been forced to attend after the accident – were confidential; a way of helping me cope with what had happened. But she was making it sound like she knew what was in the man’s files. A good trick, of course. One I’d used myself. It was easy to make assumptions if you had any idea about how human psychology worked, no matter how broadly. It’s the same kind of trickery that so-called psychics use to convince people they’re speaking to dead friends and relatives.

But I knew the tricks.

Wasn’t about to give her anything.

All the same, I had to ask: ‘Did you know Kevin Wood?’

She shook her head. ‘I transferred in after … the incident.’

‘The incident?’ I tried not to laugh. Innuendo gets me that way. Her way of not mentioning that the man who had nearly been put in charge of Tayside Police had been a drug-dealing scumbag who hung a decent copper out to dry. You wanted to investigate someone’s past cases, why not look at his? Because no one really wanted him to be the bad guy, no matter how strong the evidence was. And while no one could deny the truth, they could at least not talk about it.

Complicity through silence?

Denial, certainly.

And who could blame anyone for doing that? The thing about being a copper is the sense of family. If one of us lets the side down, we feel like everyone has. Our first instinct is to back each other up.

Kellen regarded me for a moment. Her eyes were perfectly still. The frozen-over surface of a river in winter. ‘There is no conspiracy here, Mr McNee. No one looking to get revenge over you taking down one of our own. Truth be told, if you were anyone else, I think they’d be celebrating what you did. But when you add what happened to the long list of your fuck-ups? Well, I can see why you’d be paranoid.’

There was no deception in the way she spoke. Her body language was formal but relaxed. She had nothing to hide from me. She was here out of professional courtesy. Like touching gloves before the opening round of a boxing match.

‘This is an informal chat, Mr McNee. We’ll be bringing charges against you. One way or the other.’

‘Then do it,’ I said.

‘Where did you get the gun?’

‘What gun?’

‘The third gun.’

‘You read the report. One of them had a second weapon.’

‘How did you get hold of it?’

‘It was four years ago. I can barely remember what I had for breakfast today.’

‘Your memory isn’t good. You fudged your story even on the night of the incident. There are one or two things that just didn’t add up.’

‘I was in a stressful situation. Frightened for my life.’

‘And the lives of others?’

‘My client.’

‘Mr James Robertson. Who tried to kill himself a few days later.’

‘Because of the guilt he felt over killing his own brother.’

‘Yes.’ She took a deep breath. Her eyes remained focused on me. Waiting for the tell; that moment of weakness she could exploit.

‘You were a professional witness at James Robertson’s trial.’

‘Yes.’

‘You confronted him over the matter of his brother’s murder shortly before he tried to kill himself.’

‘Yes.’

‘Yet you never came forward until after Mr Robertson attempted to kill himself?’

I had been a different person then. My own anger had burned hard and fierce. I was looking for destruction. If not my own, then someone else’s. When I confronted Robertson about his brother’s death, I made it clear that the best option he had was to take his own life.

No one would be sorry.

Except the attempt went horribly wrong.

I remember seeing Robertson in court, confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. A deep shame had built in my chest; a blockage that threatened to choke me. It was the first time I realized the absolute consequences of my own actions.

Or inactions.

‘I figured he’d do the right thing. I wasn’t a copper then. I couldn’t arrest him.’

‘You figured he’d do the right thing? Can you tell me what the right thing would have been?’

‘To turn himself in, admit his complicity in the death of his brother.’

Even now, the lie came easily. Enough I could have believed it was the honest truth.

‘That’s what you were thinking?’

‘That’s what I remember. It was a bad judgement call, yes. But you can hardly—’

‘You’re a good liar, Mr McNee.’

I didn’t rise to that one. No point. Would only have weakened my position. But I was exposed and vulnerable. She wasn’t going to give me a chance. DS Kellen was after my blood.

I don’t know why. We’d never met before. Figured she must be a new transfer. Maybe trying to prove herself. But she’d hinted earlier at her opinion of me. On paper, I probably looked like a bastard. My involvement in at least three high-profile cases over the last few years, and unanswered questions about my motivations and actions, would have raised my own doubts if I’d been charged to investigate them.

But the timing was bad. Kellen coming after me so hard made Griggs’s offer that much more appealing. If I was going down, it’d be wise to take the soft route and use all of this to my advantage.

Kellen had called me paranoid earlier. Maybe I was. I don’t doubt that Griggs planned this; opening the file in the first place to try and smoke me out. I wondered if he knew it would land on Kellen’s desk. Did they know each other? Or did he just decide she would be the right person for the job?

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly tempted by Griggs’s offer. Taking down Burns would not only be a personal achievement, but it would honour the now tainted memory of my friend and mentor, Ernie Bright.

But I didn’t want to do it like this.

‘Is there anything else?’ I was calm and composed on the outside.

Kellen smiled, lips pressed tight together. She shook her head. ‘Just getting to know you, McNee. Trying to clear up a few details is all.’

‘When can I expect to hear from you?’

‘Soon,’ she said. ‘So if there’s anything you need to do. To prepare, I mean. Then I’d do it fast.’

She stood up. I mirrored her, and then offered my hand.

She didn’t take it.

I never expected her to.

I spent the next hour composing an email to Susan.

Explaining to her what had happened.

Telling her that I missed her.

The mail was long, heartfelt, rambling and honest. The most honest I’d been with myself or anyone else in a long time. I read it over again, hovered the mouse over the ‘send’ button, before my hand slipped and I sent all of those words to the wastebasket. I deleted the message permanently. No more temptation.

What the hell use was there in sending that email?

What could Susan do halfway across the world, still dealing with her own problems?

FOURTEEN

‘M
r McNee?’

I recognized the voice on the other end of the line. Jonathan Moorehead. Sounding uncertain, hesitant even.

It was eight o’clock. I was settling in with a takeout I’d grabbed from Beiderbeckes on the way home. I could smell the coconut-infused sauce before I even opened the container.

BOOK: 04-Mothers of the Disappeared
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