Authors: Laura Jane Cassidy
Laura Jane Cassidy was born in 1986 in County Kildare in Ireland and has taken time out from her Drama studies at Trinity College Dublin to write full-time. She dislikes it when people use the Internet to cheat at table quizzes, but likes it when they use it to visit her popular blog,
, where she talks about book-related matters, as well as playlists, fashion and lots of other stuff.
is her first novel.
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London
First published 2011
Copyright © Laura Jane Cassidy, 2011
All rights reserved
The moral right of the author has been asserted
Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
To Jean, Joe and Liam,
The number of wings on a wasp
The number of chambers in the heart
The number of strings on a violin
The number of photographs he gave me
I sang and strummed over the whispered chatter of the crowded audience. Playing in this intimate Kilkenny club was a welcome break from the harsh tone of the Dublin circuit. I noticed a man coming in late, alone. He sat at the back but looked a little out of place; he was too neatly dressed, in a charcoal suit that matched his thinning hair. He held a large brown envelope in his left hand. I guessed who he was. In a way, I’d been expecting him.
When I’d finished my set he stood up and approached me. I slipped my guitar into its leather case and turned to face him.
I nodded. I could see his features clearly now. The edges of his brown eyes and his thin lips were creased with wrinkles.
‘Can I speak to you outside?’ he said.
I followed him to the smoking area outdoors where the cold night air hit me with force. The sky was studded with tiny sparkling stars. The centre of the courtyard was crowded with people huddling round gas heaters so we stood in a vacant corner. I was sorry I hadn’t taken my coat out with me as goose
bumps were appearing on my arms. My black lace dress was no barrier against the chill.
‘My name is Detective Sergeant Matt Lawlor.’ He held out his hand. The skin felt coarse, but his handshake was firm. ‘I’m a member of a team working on Operation Trail, investigating the disappearance of a number of Irish women over the last ten years … We’re concentrating on four cases at present.’ He paused as if expecting a response. When all I offered was silence, he continued: ‘I hoped you might be able to help, Jacki. Would you be prepared to help us?’
I’d guessed he was going to ask me this, but I couldn’t answer straight away. I avoided his gaze and stared at the envelope in his hand. I wanted to help if I could … Well, help the victims and their families more than the police. But it was complicated. I felt completely torn. Last year hadn’t been easy … I wasn’t sure if I could go through it all again.
‘I’ll have to think about it,’ I said. ‘Can I get back to you?’
‘Of course.’ He held out the envelope. The top had been sealed with a strip of clear tape. I took it from him reluctantly.
‘I’d appreciate it if you could give me a decision by the end of the week.’
He took a small white card from his inside pocket and gave it to me. His mobile number was scribbled on it in pencil. Just as I’d suspected, there was nothing official about our meeting.
That night I lay on the lumpy mattress of the hostel bed with the brown envelope hidden under my pillow. I tried to sleep but couldn’t. Just before 3 a.m. I decided to tear the envelope open. Inside were four photographs. Four photographs of young
women, each one prettier than the last. I felt my stomach knotting with tension.
Word had travelled from the Garda station in County Leitrim. Sergeant Lawlor had heard about my experiences in Avarna last summer. And now I had an important decision to make, but I didn’t know if I could go through it all again.
I watched the funeral pass by from the window of our cluttered caravan. The renovation of our new cottage was not yet complete, so that summer we were living in a little caravan at the top of our lane, overlooking the winding country road. My mum was among the cluster of darkly clad mourners headed to the graveyard. The body in the coffin was that of Jim Cullen. He was a popular man who had lived in a stone cottage about ten minutes’ walk from the village of Avarna. Jim had died suddenly of a heart attack aged seventy-two. He was survived by his wife, Lily, and two children. I’d never met him.
We had been living there only two weeks. Mum had met him several times when she’d been house hunting in Avarna the previous year. It was Jim Cullen who had told her about one particular house that would be coming on the market, as its eccentric owner, a farrier named Alf, was moving to an island off the south coast. The moment she saw it Mum put in an offer and set about selling our house in Dublin. Thanks to the late Jim Cullen she had her idyllic country residence. I’d begged Mum not to accept the job, not to move. I really didn’t want to live in the country. I’d screamed and cried and pleaded with her not to make me leave Dublin, but it was no use. She’d never
understand just how hard it was for me to leave my friends, my school, my band, everything that was important to me.
When I protested about going to Jim’s funeral she presumed it was because I was still mad at her. That was true, but there was another reason. I really disliked funerals. I’d always found myself sensitive to other people’s suffering; I seemed to soak up their grief like a sponge. I already felt unwell that day; I had a headache and just knew I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I watched until the large crowd passed and then went back to strumming my guitar.
Mum didn’t go to the Cullen house for tea afterwards because she only vaguely knew Jim’s relatives and didn’t want to intrude. I noticed how her eyelids were red when she dozed off later. No doubt she felt just like me: the day’s events had reminded her of my dad’s funeral. He’d died of a brain tumour when I was nine and even after six years I could still recall the small details of that day. The navy woollen tights that made my legs itch, the smell of the white lilies laid out on the coffin and the grip of my mum’s hand on my own small trembling one. He’d been sick for a while, but then suddenly he was gone and the funeral was the first time I began to accept this. Mum and I had learned to cope since then, but we still thought about him all the time. We liked to remember the happy times, how he’d always made us laugh … and the way he used to sing along really badly to the radio.
The caravan was a poor replacement for our suburban terraced house, but Mum had assured me that soon we would have a beautifully refurbished cottage, a home unblemished by memories, a fresh start. I missed Dublin so much that I couldn’t really appreciate this. I was still coming to terms with
the fact that I would have to move to a new school in September, make new friends, find a new band, basically rebuild all these vital parts of my life. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to that. I was looking forward to moving into the house though. The caravan was unbelievably cramped, which didn’t make things easy between me and Mum when we both needed our own space.
I’d thought living in a caravan would be great fun, kind of like living on a tour bus. And it had been fun … for about ten minutes. Mum had rented it online and somehow it looked massive in the images, but in reality it was more like one from an episode of
– except nobody was laughing when it was delivered and we saw how tiny it was. My head almost reached the roof, and I’m only five foot five. At one end there were two single couch beds with some very compact storage space underneath, and there was a table in between them that you could have either up or down. At the other end of the caravan there was a counter top with a hob and a kettle and two cupboards underneath. And in the middle, beside the tiny space that joined the ‘bedroom and kitchen’ (as the website had put it), was an even tinier bathroom. My bed was the most uncomfortable thing on the planet and I dreaded
getting into it.