The case comes in, or anyway it comes in to us, on a frozen dawn in the kind of closed-down January that makes you think the sun’s never going to drag itself back above the horizon. Me and my partner are fi nishing up another night shift, the kind I used to think wouldn’t exist on the Murder squad: a massive scoop of boring and a bigger one of stupid, topped off with an avalanche of paperwork. Two scumbags decided to round off their Saturday night out by using another scumbag’s head as a dance mat, for reasons that are clear to no one including them; we turned up six witnesses, every one of whom was banjoed drunk, every one of whom told a different story from the other fi ve, and every one of whom wanted us to forget the murder case and investigate why he had been thrown out of the pub/sold bad skunk/ditched by his girlfriend. By the time Witness Number 6 ordered me to fi nd out why the dole had cut him off, I was ready to tell him it was because he was too stupid to legally qualify as a human being and kick all their arses out onto the street, but my partner does patience better than I do, which is one of the main reasons I keep him around. We eventually managed to get four of the witness statements matching not only each other but the evidence, meaning now we can charge one of the scumbags with murder and the other one with assault, which presumably means we’ve saved the world from evil in some way that I can’t be arsed figuring out.
Outside the tall sash windows the night is thinning towards a chilled grey; the room smells of coffee and hot radiators.
We’ve signed over the scumbags for processing and we’re typing up our reports, making sure they’ll be on the gaffer’s desk all nice and tidy when he comes in. Across from me Steve is whistling, which out of most people would make me want to do damage, but he’s doing it right: some old trad tune that I quarter-remember from sing-songs when I was a kid, low and absent and contented, breaking off when he needs to concentrate and coming back with easy trills and flourishes when the report starts going right again.
Him, and the whispery hum of the computers, and the winter wind idling around the windows: just those, and silence. Murder works out of the grounds of Dublin Castle, smack in the heart of town, but our building is tucked away a few corners from the fancy stuff the tourists come to see, and our walls are thick; even the early-morning traffic out on Dame Street only makes it through to us as a soft undemanding hum. The jumbles of paperwork and photos and scribbled notes left on people’s desks look like they’re charging up, thrumming with action waiting to happen. Outside the tall sash windows the night is thinning towards a chilled grey; the room smells of coffee and hot radiators. At that hour, if I could overlook all the ways the night shift blows, I could love the squad room.
Me and Steve know all the official reasons we get loaded down with night shifts. We’re both single, no wives or husbands or kids waiting at home; we’re the youngest on the squad, we can take the fatigue better than the guys looking at retirement; we’re the newbies – even me, two years in – so suck it up, bitches. Which we do. This isn’t uniform, where if your boss is a big bad meanie you can put in a request for reassignment. There’s no other Murder squad to transfer to; this is the one and only. If you want it, and both of us do, you take whatever it throws at you.
Some people actually work in the Murder squad I set my sights on, way back when: the one where you spend your day playing knifeedge mind-games with psychopathic geniuses, knowing that one wrong blink could mean the difference between victory and another dead body down the line. Me and Steve, we get to rubberneck at the cunning psychopaths when the other lads walk them past the interview room where we’re bashing our heads against yet another Spouse of the Year from our neverending run of domestics, which the gaffer throws our way because he knows they piss me right off. The headdancing morons at least made a change.
Steve hits Print, and the printer in the corner starts its rickety wheeze. ‘You done?’ he asks.
‘Just about.’ I’m scanning my report for typos, making sure the gaffer’s got no excuse to give me hassle.
He links his fingers over his head and stretches backwards, setting his chair creaking. ‘Pint? The early houses’ll be opening.’
‘You must be joking.’
Steve, God help me, also does positivity better than I do. I give him a stare that should nip that in the bud. ‘Celebrate what?’
Forget the hit to your social life: the real reason everyone hates night shift is that nothing good ever comes in.
He grins. Steve is thirty-three, a year older than me, but he looks younger: maybe the schoolboy build, all gangly legs and skinny shoulders; maybe the orange hair that sticks up in the wrong places; or maybe the relentless godawful cheerfulness. ‘We got them, did you not notice?’
‘Your granny could’ve got those two.’
‘Probably. And she’d’ve gone for a pint after.’
‘She was an alco, yeah?’
‘Total lush. I’m just trying to live up to her standards.’ He heads for the printer and starts sorting pages. ‘Come on.’
‘Nah. Another time.’ I don’t have it in me. I want to go home, go for a run, stick something in the microwave and fry my brain with sh*te telly, and then get some sleep before I have to do it all over again.
The door bangs open and O’Kelly, our superintendent, sticks his head in, early as usual to see if he can catch anyone asleep. Mostly he arrives all rosy and shiny, smelling of shower and fry-up, every line of his combover in place – I can’t prove it’s to rub it in to the tired bastards stinking of night shift and stale Spar danishes, but it would be in character. This morning, at least he looks ragged around the edges – eyebags, tea-stain on his shirt – which I figure is probably my bit of satisfaction for the day used up right there.
‘Moran. Conway,’ he says, eyeing us suspiciously. ‘Anything good come in?’
‘Street fight,’ I say. ‘One victim.’ Forget the hit to your social life: the real reason everyone hates night shift is that nothing good ever comes in. The high-profi le murders with complex back-stories and fascinating motives might happen at night, sometimes, but they don’t get discovered till morning. The only murders that get noticed at night are by drunk arseholes whose motive is that they’re drunk arseholes.
‘We’ll have the reports for you now.’
‘Kept you busy, anyway. You sort it?’
‘Give or take. We’ll tie up the loose ends tonight.’
‘Good,’ O’Kelly says. ‘Then you’re free to work this.’ And he holds up a call sheet.
Just for a second, like a fool, I get my hopes up. If a case comes in through the gaffer, instead of through our admin straight to the squad room, it’s because it’s something special. Something that’s going to be so high-profile, or so tough, or so delicate, it can’t just go to whoever’s next on the rota; it needs the right people. One straight from the gaffer hums through the squad room, makes the lads sit up and take notice. One straight from the gaffer would mean me and Steve have finally, finally, worked our way clear of the losers’ corner of the playground: we’re in.
I can feel Steve willing me to keep the head.
I have to close my fist to stop my hand reaching out for that sheet. ‘What is it?’
O’Kelly snorts. ‘You can take that feeding-time look off your face, Conway. I picked it up on my way in, said I’d bring it upstairs to save Bernadette the hassle. Uniforms on the scene say it looks like a slamdunk domestic.’ He throws the call sheet on my desk. ‘I said you’ll tell them what it looks like, thanks very much. You never know, you could be in luck: it might be a serial killer.’
To save the admin the hassle, my arse. O’Kelly brought up that call sheet so he could enjoy the look on my face. I leave it where it is. ‘The day shift’ll be in any minute.’
‘And you’re in now. If you’ve got a hot date to get to, then you’d better hurry up and get this solved.’
‘We’re working on our reports.’
‘Jesus, Conway, they don’t need to be James bloody Joyce. Just give me what you’ve got. You’d want to get a move on: this yoke’s in Stoneybatter, and they’re digging up the quays again.’
After a second I hit Print. Steve, the little lickarse, is already wrapping his scarf around his neck.
The gaffer has wandered over to the roster whiteboard and is squinting at it. He says, ‘You’ll need backup on this one.’
I can feel Steve willing me to keep the head. ‘We can handle a slam-dunk domestic on our own,’ I say. ‘We’ve worked enough of them.’
‘And someone with a bit of experience might teach you how to work them right. How long did ye take to clear that Romanian young one? Five weeks? With two witnesses who saw her fella stab her, and the press and the equality shower yelling about racism and if it was an Irish girl we’d have made an arrest by now—’
‘The witnesses wouldn’t talk to us.’ Steve’s eye says Shut up, Antoinette, too late. I’ve bitten, just like O’Kelly knew I would.
‘Exactly. And if the witnesses won’t talk to you today, I want an old hand around to make them.’ O’Kelly taps the whiteboard. ‘Breslin’s due in. Have him. He’s good with witnesses.’
I say, ‘Breslin’s a busy man. I’d say he’s got better things to do with his valuable time than hand-holding the likes of us.’
‘He has, yeah, but he’s stuck with ye. So you’d better not waste his valuable time.’
Steve is nodding away, thinking at me at the top of his lungs, Shut your gob, could be a lot worse. Which it could be. I bite down the next argument. ‘I’ll ring him on the way,’ I say, picking up the call sheet and stuffing it in my jacket pocket. ‘He can meet us there.’
‘Make sure you do. Bernadette’s getting onto the techs and the pathologist, and I’ll have her find you a few floaters; you won’t need the world and his wife for this.’ O’Kelly heads for the door, scooping up the printer pages on his way. ‘And if you don’t want Breslin making a show of the pair of ye, get some coffee into you. You both look like sh*te.’
Please note that offers and prices differ between our Highstreet, Travel and Online stores. The Richard and Judy Buy One Get One Free offer is valid in stores only, subject to availability.