I didn’t hang around. Instead, I hurriedly picked up my hire car from a nearby street, headed back to the hotel and hoped to hell I wasn’t being followed. Several hours passed without anything untoward happening before I began to wind down the tension just a touch. I seemed to have got away with it, but that night I slept even more uneasily than usual.
I lay awake for some time turning over in my mind what I would do next. I’d learned little of real value about Penny’s present whereabouts from Rourke, and even less from the Blue Taboo club so where did I go from here? After some reflection, I decided one line of investigation looked promising but highly dangerous, and it stemmed from something Rourke had let slip.
“It got back to Felan that Hamilton was asking for him and the word on the street this morning is that Felan isn’t at all happy. He thinks your lady friend was trying to put the finger on him. He thinks there’s something going on between Hamilton and ourselves.”
It was a lead I could not afford to ignore. Despite the warnings Penny had given me about Felan, I decided to take the plunge and contact him. Dangerous? Of course, but I had no better ideas.
Next morning I drove south into County Down in what was, in all probability, a damned foolhardy attempt to try to find him. It was pure guesswork that I might hit on something in one of the big towns. I had a feeling that there were two things Felan might be able to set me straight on: what part Christine Fisher played in Marie’s killing, and what happened to Penny? But I had no idea where to start looking for him, just a growing certainty that I had to find him. That’s when my problems compounded. How do you track down an unsavoury character like that when all you have to go on is a name and the likelihood that the guy doesn’t take kindly to casual callers?
Following up on that sort of lead isn’t easy and, at the end of the day, it’s often pure chance that makes the difference between success and failure. I couldn’t afford to wait around for chance to lend a hand so I drove into a market town and made my way to the offices of the local free newspaper. It was the only way I could figure out how to bend the odds in my favour.
I left the car in a backstreet parking lot and found the newspaper office, right next door to a funeral director, which probably added to the authenticity of the In Memoriam column. The woman at the reception desk smiled sweetly as I walked in. I guessed that the sickly sweet greeting probably meant she thought I had some business to place their way. I tried to play the whole thing brisk, before she got wind of my lack of credentials.
“Hi, I’m Henry Bodine of the Los Angeles Courier. Any chance of talking to the boss?”
“The boss?” The smile was quickly replaced by a suspicious frown. Her hand reached out and hovered over a telephone on her desk.
“The editor. Just a few words is all I need.”
“You’ll have to tell me what this is all about, Mr Bodine. The editor is a very busy man.”
“Just tell him I’m here on a story and I need a few minutes of his time.” I gave her what I thought was a reasonably honest expression.
She grimaced, made up her mind and picked up the phone. “Mr Cusack? There’s an American gentleman from Los Angeles out here asking to speak with you. He says he’s here on a story.”
I didn’t catch the boss’s reply but the woman looked up at me and said, “He won’t be a minute,” as she replaced the receiver. I guessed that I’d struck lucky.
“Mr Bodine.” Fred Cusack was a tall, wiry man with thinning hair, a bemused expression and rimless spectacles. The visual essence of a lifetime dedicated towards writing. He offered his hand cautiously as he approached me. “From Los Angeles?”
“That’s right. The LA Courier.” It was a pretty safe bet he’d never heard of the paper but I mentally crossed my fingers anyway.
“Oh yes? You’re a long way from home.”
“Over here on a story, Mr Cusack. Thought you might be able to give me a lead or two.”
“Really?” He made no attempt to usher me towards his office and I guessed this was going to be a short interview. He perched himself on the side of the receptionist’s desk and folded his arms, leaving me standing. “What sort of story?”
“Narcotics. The American involvement in the Irish drugs scene. My editor thinks it’s likely to go down well at home, what with the moves towards a cease fire over here. He wants me to slant it along the lines of the local paramilitary Mafia gangs replacing guns with drugs.”
Cusack eyed me suspiciously. “Really?” His expression told me my explanation didn’t exactly ring true with him.
“Sure. The way we see it, there are people here making a mint out of supplying arms to terrorists and if peace breaks out they’ll need to find a new line of business.”
He removed his spectacles and wiped them with a gesture that said he’d heard it all before. “And what do you want from me?”
“I need to talk to the people on the inside. People like…” I make a casual gesture. “People like this guy Joe Felan. We know he’s big in the narcotics business. I figured that someone like you could point me in the right direction.”
His face took on a look of displeasure. The glasses went back on with a heavy hand. “I’m an editor, Mr Bodine, not a drug pusher. Go to the police and ask them to help you.”
“You’re joking. The police? Look, Mr Cusack, we help your British reporters when they come to LA so all I’m asking is a bit of friendly co-operation. A man like you must know what’s going on at ground level.”
He gave me a look that said I was close to losing the game. “I could take that in several ways, Mr Bodine.”
“Hell, now don’t get me wrong. I just figured you’d know more than most people about what’s really happening out there on the streets. I just need you to give me a lead.”
“And watch you getting your head blown off? You know who Joe Felan is?”
“Sure, I’m a journalist, like you. I know who the guy is and what he does. But how do I make contact with him?”
“In a word, you don’t. No one makes direct contact with Felan. You’re on a losing streak this time.” He stood up and shoved his hands into his trouser pockets like he was about to walk off.
I’d heard the words before, seen the gesture before, but I decided to persist. “Just tell me where he lives, I’ll do the rest.”
He shook his head sadly, “Mr Bodine, you’re an innocent abroad and you’re likely to end up stone cold dead if you carry on like this.” He took a step away from me and then seemed to think better of it. He withdrew his hands, removed his glasses once again and bit on one of the ear struts while he considered his next words. “What exactly do you want with Felan?”
I was almost pleading now. Desperate. “An interview with him. Off the record, of course. Come on now, Mr Cusack, it needn’t go any farther than us. Just a single lead.”
He shook his head sadly and replaced the spectacles with an air of precision before he replied. “There’s a council housing estate just outside the town called Paragon Farm. Ask there for a man called Milligan—”
I jerked myself upright. “Milligan? The IRA brigade leader?”
“You’ve heard of him?”
“If it’s the same man, yeah. I met him in Belfast.”
“You’ve met him? That could work for you or against you. I’m sorry; it’s all I’m prepared to do for you, Mr Bodine. After this it’s your own funeral.” He turned away without so much as a farewell, but I offered my thanks to his back anyway.
The town sat at the base of a hill and one of its three main streets crawled up that hill to where a well-fortified police station looked down over the town centre. The fortifications reminded me of a UNPROFOR base in Bosnia. From the higher ground above the building, you can see the Mourne Mountains, rising up from a distant horizon like a purple watercolour backcloth. Just like the hills around Sarajevo. Several roads led out of the town towards the coast. One headed north towards Belfast and another veered inland along a route which twisted and turned until it skirted the Paragon Farm housing estate. This was where the local council practiced its policy of containing all its bad eggs in one basket. New housing mixed with old bigotries. A display of IRA graffiti adorned the walls of the houses here like some travesty of a garden display, the green shoots of hatred and bigotry in full bloom across once clean brickwork.
I decided to leave the car in the town parking lot and make my way on foot. Taking a hire car into Felan’s territory could no nothing for the looks of the car and I would have need of it again. So I walked until I found a small general purpose store close to the edge of the estate, the sort of store that, back home, would be the centre of local knowledge. This one was so well fortified you’d think it was guarding the Fort Knox gold. Once again I used an element of bluster and pure ignorance to get what I wanted.
“Hi there!” I gave an overly cheery greeting to a tarty-looking woman behind the cash till.
She glowered back at me through small, rat-like eyes. “What-do-you-want?”
“I’m looking for Mr Milligan.”
The woman turned up her nose and then ignored me with a pointed shake of her bulbous head.
I tried again. “Milligan. It’s important I talk to him. How do I find him?”
“Feck off!” A short pause and then, “How important?”
I took a gamble. “Felan himself won’t be happy with anyone who stands in my way.”
“Jeez! If you’re pissin’ me around you’ll not get outa here alive.”
“You’d better believe me. If you know what’s good for you.”
“First street on the estate, so ’tis. Two doors down on the left hand side. Now get out of here.”
I got out while the going was good and quickly found the house at the end of a short terrace. Even from a distance, it stood out as the sort of place you didn’t go near unless you had to. I mean, really had to. Not that the rest of the estate was much better, but this place had an air about it which you couldn’t pin down to anything more than plain evil. Although the whole estate couldn’t have been more than ten years or so built, it was littered with the usual gable end murals, the usual Provisional IRA graffiti and the usual air of neglect which I’d learned to expect after that first visit to The Divis. Milligan’s house added to the overall effect with a display of broken windows, overgrown front garden, IRA and Sinn Fein posters, and an Irish tricolor over the front door. Enough to scare away any Loyalist who happened to stumble on the place by mistake.
I should have known better than approach the house straight away. I was spotted before I got anywhere near the front door. Milligan himself opened the door before I reached it and he stared at me with some sort of open-mouth disbelief.
“What the hell do you want here?”
“Hi, there!” I laid on more bluster, good and thick, and hoped he was as gullible as the woman in the store. “Glad I found the right place. Mr Milligan, ain’t it? Mind if I come inside?”
By some miracle it worked and he was too taken aback to do any more than stand aside while I strode on into his house. My heart was rattling round inside my chest like a loose bell clapper so I clenched my fists to keep myself under control. Inside it was a hovel, totally in keeping with the exterior appearance. It smelled so bad that even a down-at-heel pig would have hesitated to go in there.
“You’re the Yank who was at the Woman’s Aid Centre!”
“Right first time. Where do I find Felan?”
That sure shook him. His face turned to thunder. “What do you want with Felan?”
“Business. Important business.” I leaned towards him, smelling the foul cocktail of alcohol and cigarette smoke on his clothes. “Just tell me how I can find him.”
“You’re a fool, Yank, comin’ here like this.”
“So how do I find this guy?”
Milligan was in a quandary, unused to this sort of approach, and his face registered his dilemma. I was growing confident that he was only a pawn in the larger game, and a pretty unintelligent pawn at that. I prodded him further, “Go on, Milligan, tell me how to contact Felan!”
He screwed up his face and then snorted. “Okay, okay. You’d better wait here. Don’t try anything stupid.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
Milligan dashed off into the depths of the estate and came scampering back about thirty minutes later, scowling miserably. He was breathing heavily as he let himself into the house. “Joe says he wants to talk to you. You’d better come with me. He don’t like bein’ kept waitin’.”
The impetus was, in those few words, transferred from me to Felan. Not a good omen. I followed Milligan out into the street and through a series of alleyways until we came to a house with somewhat less ‘tat’ crawling over it than most on the estate. Someone of local influence lived here.
Milligan led me inside.
From the hallway, we went into what was, seemingly, originally planned as a dining room although it had probably never been used as such. The first thing I saw as I came into the room was a girl. She was totally naked, huddled in one corner of the room with her arms strapped behind her back and her legs bound at the ankles. She was young, probably in her early or mid-twenties, and had light blonde hair which fell in tresses about her bare shoulders. Her mouth was gagged with sticking plaster, but her eyes were free to stare at me with the sort of desperate panic that could only come from the certain knowledge of what was going to happen to her.
A Black & Decker electric drill lay ominously on the dining table, the flex draped across the girl to reach the wall plug. Most of the drill was caked in the dark brown stains of dried blood.
Milligan stopped to kick at the girl’s legs. “Not bad looking, is she?”
“What have you done to her?”
“Nuthin’ yet.” He grinned, exposing an uneven row of heavily stained teeth. “Felan wants to do this one himself.”
“Who is she?”
“British army. Thought she could drink in one of our bars with her army boyfriend. Stupid bastards should have known better. The boyfriend didn’t last long.”
“You killed him.”
He sniffed. “They expect it if they get caught. But he talked first. Tried to save himself by tellin’ us all about their operations. You can’t have any respect for bastards who squeal, can you?”
He pushed me on through the dining room into a squalid little living room which looked like it was being used as a junk store. One person was in the room waiting for us.
“This is him, boss. The bloody American.” Milligan hung back as he pushed me into the room, as if he was edging into the presence of the Almighty.
Joe Felan sat back in an old, torn, pseudo-leather arm chair, one hand rubbing across his thick, rubbery lips as he mused over my predicament. His narrow, piercing eyes bored into me, eyes which were at the same time both penetrating and yet devoid of any emotion. His heavy black eyebrows sat like awnings above those piercing eyes, adding to a growth of black stubble and giving his face an exaggerated angry look. His bulging stomach seemed to weigh heavily on his legs, even though he was seated, so that his knees splayed out on either side at uncomfortably acute angles.
Eventually he spoke, forming the words slowly with a deep, quavering voice. “What th’ fookin hell d’you want here?”
“An interview. I’m a reporter—”
“Don’t piss me about Bodine. You’re fookin’ Hamilton’s fookin’ boyfriend. The one who’s fookin’ sister got herself blown up. We know fookin’ well who you are.”
I felt my confidence suddenly slip away. “So you know why I’m here. Tell me about what happened to the girls.”
“All of them. My sister, Christine Fisher, Penny Hamilton.”
“You must think I’m fookin’ stupid or something’.” He pulled a cigarette from his shirt pocket and lit up. “You know what it’s like to lose your fookin’ knee caps with a Black an’ Decker?”
This wasn’t going to be easy. Would my military training hold out against these guys? I pictured the girl in the next room and had my doubts. “Look, if I thought I was any sort of threat to you, I wouldn’t have come. All I want is to find out what happened. And I’ll even forego anything you can tell me about the other two girls if you’ll help me find Penny Hamilton.”
“Good fookin’ screw, is she?” He pulled deep on the cigarette and then exhaled. It smelled suspiciously unlike nicotine. Maybe Felan wasn’t so averse to using his own product line. “I heard she’s a damn fookin’ good screw.”
“Help me find her and I’ll not bother you again.”
Felan suddenly jerked forward, dropped his cigarette on the floor and stamped one foot loudly onto it. “You’re just fookin’ me about. What the hell should I do with you, Yank?”
“Nothing. Tell me where to find Penny, let me walk away from here and I’ll say no more about all this.”
“Fook that. You’ve been sayin’ too much already. God save us, but you’re a persistent fookin’ bastard. I’ll say that fer you.”
“They breed them that way where I come from.” Nothing would be gained by being weak-kneed with this character. He had to be confronted face-on. “Look, you tell me where I can find Penny Hamilton and I’ll promise to forget all about this place. I’ll swear I’ve never heard of Joe Felan or Paragon Farm. How does that grab you?”
His eyes bored even deeper. “Like a fookin’ big hand on me goolies. No, there’s nuthin’ in that fer me. Except the risk of you openin’ yer fookin’ gob once too often.”
“So make me a better offer.”
“That’s your problem, so it is. There’s nuthin’ I want from you.” He grunted, leaned back and lit up another cigarette. “You’ve been asking fookin’ awkward questions about Hamilton all over the place, so they tell me. Is that right?”
“I want to find her, that’s all.”
“And yer fookin’ sister? They tell me you’re asking fookin’ awkward questions about what happened to yer fookin’ sister all over the fookin’ shop.”
“You know what happened to her?”
“I might, and then again I might not. You’d be surprised what I know, Yank. But what worries me is the possibility that you might go shootin’ yer fookin’ mouth off too much when you leave here. If you fookin’ well leave here, that is.”
“There’s a choice?”
“Yeah, my fookin’ choice. Seems like I hold all the fookin’ cards, don’t it?” He eased his bulk forward in the arm chair. “My hand on your fookin’ goolies, so to speak.”
A cold feeling wrapped itself around my spine. I tried to look unconcerned but it wasn’t that easy. Maybe it was time to insert a little pressure. “There’s a guy up in Belfast called Rourke. Chief Inspector Rourke. He’s working on what happened to my sister. Who killed her and why. You get my drift?”
“No.” At least the man was honest on that score.
I tried again. “The RUC know all about me and why I’m here. They’re not too happy with me for the same reasons as you. Don’t like me asking about what happened to Marie. So they’re watching every move I make. Almost certainly they know I’ve made contact with you. Think about it. If anything nasty happens to me, they’ll know whose shoulder to come tapping on.” I let that sink in before I added, “Could be an international incident.”
“Ah, that’s just a load o’ fookin’ horse crap, so ’tis.” His brow furrowed deeply nevertheless. “What does this fookin’ RUC pig, Rourke, know about what happened to yer sister?”
“More than he’s telling me, that’s for sure.”
“Which ain’t fookin’ much, is it?” He was getting agitated now. Something of my desperate swagger had hit home. The trouble was, I was firing blind and I didn’t know exactly where the soft underbelly lay. I decided to try another blind shot.
“What do you know about Christine Fisher’s American connection?”
His face blackened suddenly. “What d’you know about it?”
I answered slowly, measuring his response against my words. I was getting near a vulnerable spot. “I know she was wanted by the New York Police Department. She was running narcotics across the Atlantic. She was also involved in some sort of Irish American link with the IRA. And she was quite a good ringer for my sister.”
He dragged deep on the cigarette. “Ah fook! I know all that.”
“You know it, Mr Felan, I know it and this guy Rourke knows it. Rourke also knows I’m following up on the lead. Now, imagine what’s going to go through his mind if I don’t come bounding out of this house like a lamb in spring.”
“You fookin’ told him that you were coming here?”
“Might have. That’s something you’ll need to worry about, isn’t it? One thing I do know is that he’s having me tailed.”
Felan went silent again, wedged back into his seat so that his legs were unable to splay out to their full extent. He was thinking deeply and didn’t seem to care if I knew it. After some minutes he shook his head sadly. “You’d better fook off out o’ here, Yank. While you’ve still got yer fookin’ goolies intact.”
I hide my deep feeling of relief. “If you say so.”
“And when you find Hamilton, tell the fookin’ little whore to mind her own fookin’ business and not to come looking fer Joe Felan again. You got that? And you can fookin’ well tell her that if she knows what’s good fer her she’d better lie low fer a while. You know what I mean?”
“Sure. But first I need to find her.”
He sniffed loudly. “Try the Blue Taboo Club. Fookin’ Loyalist dive, so ’tis. Sure as hell, that’s where you’ll find the fookin’ little bitch. You know the place?”
“Yeah, I know it. I already tried there.”
“So fookin’ well try it again! That’s where they always go to ground; them sort. You know; the fookin’ Proddy strippers. Tell them that Joe Felan knows all about what goes on there, and then see what happens.”
Knowing my hide was still intact, I began to grin. “Thanks for the information.”
“So what are you fookin’ well waitin’ for?”
I gave him a quick nod and turned towards Milligan who had been standing silently by the door throughout the interview. He led me back out through the dining room where two other brutes were holding the blonde girl flat on the floor, one sitting astride her legs and grasping her knees. They had a rubber mat spread out on the floor beneath her, presumably to contain the expected flow of blood. The girl looked up at me and I recognised the signs of intense of fear, but I could do nothing to help her, not until I was clear of the Paragon Farm estate.
“Felan wants to do this one himself,” Milligan said again. “You’d better get outside before he starts. You don’t want to know about this.”
“He enjoys inflicting pain, does he?”
“He learned it inside Long Kesh. That’s one thing the British did for Joe.”
We went on outside the house. Behind us, someone was revving up the Black and Decker.
Milligan led me to the edge of the estate and pointed me towards the town. Then he left me without another word. Nearby, a group of shifty-looking jerks in denims and sneakers smoked incessantly as they shambled along the road behind me, watching my every move.
Fifteen minutes later I had recovered the car and was heading out of the town, thankful to have escaped with my body still in one piece. I was certain I was being tailed as I drove back towards Belfast, the driver of a blue Ford Escort was making no attempt to disguise what he was doing. I was less sure about who was following me. Felan’s men or Rourke’s. Probably Felan’s men, I decided, and knew I had to keep going and not stop to phone the police.
The sun was setting as I entered the city so I went straight to the hotel and immediately telephoned the police confidential hot line from my room. I told them about the girl and where to find her, but I guessed that, in all likelihood, they’d do little or nothing. Mount a raid at Paragon Farm and they’d have a bloody riot on their hands, with the risk of a shoot-out. They’d find nothing they didn’t already know about, and they’d be too late to save the girl. Her dead body would be found on some lonely hillside with no evidence of who killed her, and the rest of the world would go on its way, unconcerned because one more police officer died in Northern Ireland.
Then I had a late dinner.
Later that evening, I phoned dad. He sounded glad to hear from me but he let slip that mom was worried about me because I hadn’t been in touch. That pricked my conscience somewhat so I spent the next ten minutes talking to mom and reassuring her with all sorts of blatant lies. When I got back to dad he told me that Chief Hanson had been round at the house asking after me.
It was still late afternoon over there so when I had finished talking to mom and dad I called Hanson at his office. I was lucky to catch him in.
“So, you’re still alive, are you?” His voice was devoid of all emotion, as if he was just reading the words straight from a page.
“What does it sound like, Chief?” I tried to instil some degree of confidence into my reply. “How’re you keeping?”
“Better for hearing your voice, you stupid bastard. You found out any more about what happened to Marie?”
“No, but I now know a damn sight more than I did at the start. Look, Chief, I phoned dad and he said you were round there asking about me. You shouldn’t be bothering my folks, you know. They’ve had it hard enough already.”
“Didn’t mean to spook them, Henry. Thought they might know how I could contact you. That’s all I wanted to find out. How to contact you.”
“A bit of information came my way. Could be useful. Concerns your adventures with that Irish woman, McDolan.”
“What about her?”
I could tell from the way that he paused and then began talking slowly that he was in a quandary, probably didn’t know how to interpret whatever information he had access to. “Well, it’s not her, exactly. The thing is, she introduced you to a Catholic priest called O’Hagan.”
“How do you know all this, Chief?” I’d never told him about O’Hagan.
“It’s my job. Now, listen here, Henry. O’Hagan is in Belfast right now, working with that Irish American Woman’s Aid Centre you were asking about.”
“I already know he’s over here, Chief.”
“You been in touch with him?” There was a note of hesitation in his voice.
“Not yet. Went visiting the Irish American Woman’s Aid Centre. He wasn’t at home.”
“A word in your ear, Henry. Try again. See what he’s up to. Could be he’s got more on his plate than just giving aid to poor Irish girls.”
“Is that a nod and a wink sort of suggestion?”
He didn’t reply immediately. When he did his voice was hard. “Take it whatever way you want.”
“Thanks, Chief. I’ll give it a go. I thought you wanted me to keep out of trouble.”
“I did, but it’s too late for that now” He paused and then loosened up. “Just want to help if I can.”
“Well, thanks anyway.”
“Keep in touch, Henry.”
Next morning I had a late breakfast, protracting the meal over the morning newspaper. It had an intriguing leader article on the growing hopes for peace in Ireland. Once again they’d missed the point that the hope was for a cease fire, not peace. But the writer caught my imagination with his analysis of the degree of co-operation and effort required to bring about a cease fire. The IRA and the UVF, he postulated, would be getting their acts together in a common goal, along with the IRA paymasters overseas. And the biggest source of IRA overseas funding came from the United States. If peace was to break out in Ireland, the American fund-raisers would have to be on-side.
I searched the inside pages for something on the girl at Paragon Farm, but I found nothing. I doubted if she was still alive. In the meantime it was up to me to act on Chief Hanson’s advice.
Later that morning, I made my way back to the Irish American Woman’s Aid Centre. This time the place looked more alive, at least a dozen women milled around inside and several sat in counsel at tables spread about the outer room. I seemed to have arrived during a counselling surgery and I stood out like a sore thumb. A lone male in a woman’s world.
One of the women, who had been standing smoking near the entrance door, approached me with an enquiring look. “Can I help you?”
“Yeah.” I continued looking round the room for a familiar face. “I’m here to see Father O’Hagan. Is he about?”
She didn’t seem at all surprised by my opener, just stubbed out her cigarette and said, “Well, he’s busy at the moment. Hold on and I’ll speak to him.” She hurried off into the small back room and appeared a few minutes later with the priest close behind her. His brow was creased with a deep frown as he crossed the room towards me.
“‘Morning, Father. How are you?”
“So, we meet again, Mr Bodine.” He pulled at his face as he confronted me. His eyes were a fixed mask, hiding what he really thought about me walking in on him in the middle of Belfast.
“Nice to meet you again, Father. Obviously you remember me.”
“Of course I remember you, Mr Bodine. I seem to recall I told you that no good would come of you getting involved in things you don’t understand.”
“So help me to understand.”
He shook his head and clicked his tongue with a sense of exasperation. “Come with me.” He led me into the small back room and shut the door so that we could be alone. “Now, tell me. What the hell are you doing here?”
“Looking for answers, just like before. I heard you were here and I figured that you might be able to give me a few of those answers, Father. You were here in Belfast when my sister was killed, weren’t you?”
“Tell me about it.”
“What’s to tell?” He sat down but declined to offer me a seat. “I was staying with my good friend, Father Philamore. It was he who was called out to administer the last rites to the girl who was killed.”
“At the scene of the bomb?”
“No, at the police mortuary. I went there with him.”
I felt my face muscles go tight. “You saw her?”
“Jeez!” I tried desperately to marshal my thoughts. Something important was buried here and I had to find the right questions to dig it out. “What about the other girl who was killed that night?”
“What about her?”
“You saw her also?”
“Yes, they were both there in the same mortuary. Side by side, on adjacent slabs.” He looked up at me with no sign of malice but a deep sense of sadness. “We said a few prayers for the other girl out of common humanity.”
“I see. So, tell me this, Father, how did you know which was my sister and which was Christine Fisher? There wasn’t much of Marie left to recognise.”
He shrugged. “We relied on what the police told us. I remembered her from having seen her once before here at the Woman’s Aid Centre.”
“You spoke to her on that occasion?” I was getting nearer the truth now, but what truth?
“No. I only saw her but I remembered her flame red hair.”
“Father, both those girls had flame red hair!”
That was it! They both had flaming red hair, they died the same night and—the clinching point—they had been together, side-by-side, in the same mortuary.
Now I knew what had happened, but I still had to find out why.