The call comes at ten in the morning. I’m in the middle of signing off on an investigation that has ended well for me and my partner, Dan. Without breaking a beat, I reach over and put the phone on speaker while, one-handed, I continue to type the final paragraph. ‘Detective Sergeant Lucy Golden.’
‘Lucy, it’s William.’
I stop typing. The DI wouldn’t call unless something was up.
‘Hi, Cig, I’m listening.’ Across the desk, Dan looks over, eyebrows raised.
‘I want you and Dan to get on down to the bog at Doogort, there’s been a body found.’
‘Doogort’s bog, Achill Island?’
‘Yes ‒ you’re local, they’ll talk to you. We think it’s that missing girl, Lisa Moran.’
I’d heard of Lisa Moran, not because she’d been a high-profile missing person but because my mother had told me. I’d got in from work three days ago and she’d met me at the door almost bursting with the news. I’d barely got my coat off by the time I’d been given all the details. I hadn’t taken much notice because Achill Island, my home place, was a nowhere land where nothing much ever happened. There had been a murder once, over twenty years ago, when I’d been stationed in Dublin, but apart from that, the island was a speck in the Atlantic Ocean, joined
to the mainland by a bridge, whose sole purpose was to make it easier for tourists to come in the summer.
‘Can you give us some background, Cig?’ Dan asks, as we pull on our jackets.
‘They’ll fill you in at Achill Island garda station – they’re clearing a space for you now – but what I can gather is that Lisa Moran, twenty-five, disappeared three days ago while walking home from her job in a primary school on the island. She had no drug issues that we can find, no depression or other mental-health issues. In short, according to the regular lads who investigated the case, there was no reason for Lisa Moran to want to disappear.’
‘CCTV?’ I ask.
‘Some, but nothing from where she vanished. Get on down here. Joe Palmer and I are on the scene and I want you and Dan as part of the investigation. The super has appointed me SIO.’
‘Okay, thanks.’ I disconnect, and watch as Dan gulps the dregs of his coffee. He jokes that it’s the detective in him, the habit of never leaving anything unfinished.
‘So, Achill Island garda station, here we come,’ Dan says, as we head out of our own station in Westport, which is fifty kilometres from Achill, to pick up our standard-issue Hyundai i40.
Dan has got his jacket on upside down and is trying to wrestle his sleeve free.
‘A homecoming for you,’ he jokes.
I make a face and he laughs, but in all seriousness, I seem to have spent my whole working life trying to escape the place and it keeps dragging me back.
Achill Island is approximately 150 kilometres square and is nearly 90 per cent peat bog. Scenic and wild, it has several small towns dotted around it. I was born forty-one years ago just outside Keem, near the far end of the island, proud boaster of one glorious
beach and the highest cliffs in Europe, accessible only on foot. As a teenager, I couldn’t wait to leave. I thought I’d drown in this all-seeing place where the views of the neighbours held
such power. I had managed to escape the island to work in Dublin and I’d succeeded in becoming a detective garda, but thirteen years ago, I’d been sent back west, demoted to a regular uniform.
I’ve spent the last decade clawing my way back up the ranks, proving myself over and over, and that was hard in a place where nothing really happens. I’d finally landed a promotion of sorts to Westport, but now it looked as if I was heading home once more.
The only good thing to come out of the demotion from Dublin was that Luc, my son, benefited from being near my mother, and in that respect, I think sometimes it was worth it.
Fifty minutes later, I’m driving across the bridge from the mainland to the island. I drive through Achill Sound, taking the road that leads to the bog.
‘Jesus Christ,’ Dan mutters. ‘Would you look at that fella!’
‘That fella’ is Eddie. Once a university professor, he’d had a breakdown and now he spends his days shambling along the roads of Achill, thumbing lifts, his trademark brown coat flapping out behind him.
‘He must be freezing,’ Dan says, as we zip by him. ‘What happened to his shoes?’
‘He thinks someone is poisoning him through the soles of his feet. My mother says he’s going about telling everyone to watch themselves.’
‘Is there no family?’
‘A sister. She makes no pass on him.’
‘Aw, Jesus,’ Dan says.
The sister is old-school, under the impression that if she ignores his behaviour, if she brushes it under the carpet, no one will notice and it will go away. Far better to do that than admit to any sort of mental illness in the family. The west is full of such people.
‘Give Achill garda station a ring. Ask them to contact Sylvia O’Shea – they’ll know who you mean. Tell them Eddie is barefoot near Bunacurry.’
Dan nods and spends a few moments talking to one of the regular guys on the desk about Eddie as I drive the final few miles towards where the body was found. As we near the site, I can see a crowd gathered. ‘Damn,’ I mutter.
‘At least the media aren’t here yet,’ Dan says, just as we’re overtaken by an RTÉ truck that pulls past and comes to a stop in front of us with a bit of a skid. Before I can react with a beep of my horn, Jayne Lowe, the western reporter for RTÉ, hops down from the vehicle. How did she get here so quickly?
‘They nearly took out the side of our car,’ I snap.
I watch Jayne beckon the TV crew to follow her with a flick of a finger. There’s no point in rolling down the window and giving her earache about her driving because she’d use the footage, probably to show how stressed we are or something.
‘Let’s see if we can find the Cig and see what Joe has for us,’ I mutter to Dan.
‘The joy of it all.’
We’re both a little scared of Joe, the deputy state pathologist.
His reputation goes before him, like the heat from a furnace. It burns if you don’t take care.
I park our car right behind the RTÉ van so that they’re blocked in and Dan chuckles. We climb out and start to make our way towards the entrance to the woods.
Jayne Lowe spots us.
‘Detectives! Detectives,’ she calls. I notice that she’s cleared a little patch for herself and is now surrounded by awestruck onlookers. She looks like an exotic species compared to the locals, all flamboyant colours and bracelets. ‘Can you tell us anything about the body found? Any idea who it is?’
Dan and I don’t answer and she didn’t expect us to but the camera gets a shot of us passing under the tape, suitably grimfaced.
We hear Jayne saying to camera, ‘As you can see the detectives have arrived.’
‘If I gave her the two fingers do you think she’d say, “As you can see, the detective has just given me the two fingers”?’ I copy her husky serious voice.
‘She would,’ Dan nods. Then, ‘Who the hell is that fella?’
I stare in the direction he points. A shambling doughy man, with a large face and big features is panning the crowd with a mobile phone. He’s about twenty-five, but looks older.
‘That’s Lugs,’ I say. ‘The local vlogger. And I mean “the”. Apparently, he has loads of followers. Luc gets a great laugh out of him. His vlog is called, wait for it, “My Boring as Shit Life”.’
Dan chortles then says, ‘I’ll put in a request for one of the regulars to get that footage from him.’
We watch Lugs for a second more as he talks into his phone.
‘I’d like to give him and that RTÉ wan a kick in the hole,’ Dan says.
Me too. There they are, turning the scene of a murder into entertainment.
Though no doubt they’d both claim that the public have a right to know the details. And, to be fair, it’s probably the most exciting thing to happen here, ever.