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Borderlands

Brian McGilloway

Chapter One

Saturday, 21st December 2002

It was not beyond reason that Angela Cashell's final resting place should straddle the border. Presumably, neither those who dumped her corpse, nor, indeed, those who had created the border between the North and South of Ireland in 1920, could understand the vagaries that meant that her body lay half in one country and half in another, in an area known as the borderlands.

The peculiarities of the Irish border are famous. Eighty years ago it was drawn through fields, farms and rivers by civil servants who knew little more about the area than that which they'd learnt from a map. Now, people live with the consequences, owning houses where TV licences are bought in the North and the electricity needed to run them is paid for in the South.

When a crime occurs in an area not clearly in one jurisdiction or another, both the Irish Republic's An Garda Siochana and the Police Service of Northern Ireland work together, each offering all the practical help and advice they can, the lead detective determined generally by either the location of the body or the nationality of the victim.

Consequently then, I stood with my colleagues from An Garda facing our northern counterparts through the snow-heavy wind which came running up the river. The sky above us, bruised purple and yellow in the dying sun, promised no reprieve.

We shook hands, exchanged greetings and moved to where the girl lay, prone but for one hand, which was turned towards the sky. The medical examiner, a local doctor named John Mulrooney, was kneeling beside the girl's naked body, testing her muscles for signs of rigor mortis. Her head rested at his knees. Her hair was blonde at the ends, but honey-coloured closer to her scalp, her skin white and clean except for thin scratches across her back and legs caused by the brambles through which her body had fallen. A SOCO leaned in close to her, examining the cuts as the medical examiner pointed them out, and took photographs.

We watched as three or four Gardai moved in to help turn her over. I stepped back and stared across the water to the northern side, where the arthritic limbs of the trees stretched towards the snow clouds, the black branches rattling in the winter wind.

"Do you recognize her, sir?" one of the northerners asked, and I turned back to the girl, whose face was now exposed. My vision blurred momentarily as a breeze shivered across the river's surface. Then my sight cleared and I moved over and knelt beside her, suppressing the urge to take off my jacket and cover her with it, at least until the Scene of Crime Officers were finished.

"That's Johnny Cashell's girl," a uniformed Garda said, "from Clipton Place."

I nodded my agreement. "He's right," I said, turning to the northern Inspector, a man called Jim Hendry, whose rank was the same as mine but whose experience was vastly greater. "She's ours, I'm afraid."

He nodded without looking at me. Hendry was at least a head taller than me, well over six feet, with a wiry frame and dirty, fair hair. He sported a thin, sandy moustache at which he tugged when under stress; he did so now. "Poor girl," he said.

Her face was fresh and young; she was fifteen or sixteen at most. She wore make-up in a way that reminded me of my own daughter, Penny, when she played at being a grown-up with my wife's cosmetics. The blue eye-shadow was too heavily applied, contrasting with the redness of her eyes where the veins had burst in her final moments. Her whole face had assumed a light-blue hue. Her mouth was partially opened in a rictus of pain; the bright red lipstick she had so carefully applied was smeared across her face in streaks.

Her small breasts carried purple bruises the size and shape of a man's hands. One bruise, smaller and darker than the others, resembled a love bite. Snowflakes settled on her body as gently as kisses and did not melt.

Her trunk and thighs were ivory white, though her arms and the lower parts of her legs were tanned with cosmetics, the streaks and misapplication clear now against her pallor. A pinkish colour was forming on her legs and chest. She wore plain white cotton pants which were inside out.

"Well, Doc?" I asked the ME, "What do you think?"

He stood up and peeled off the rubber gloves he had been wearing. Then he stepped away from the body and took a cigarette offered to him by a Garda officer. "Hard to say. The body is fairly stiff, but it was a cold night so I can't really give you time of death. More than six hours, no more than twelve. You'll know better when the autopsy's done. Cause of death – I can't be totally sure either, but I'd say the bruising on her chest is significant. That blue tinting of the face is caused by smothering or crushing of the chest. That, and the chest bruising, would suggest suffocation, but that's an educated guess. Lividity indicates she was moved after she died, though you hardly need me to tell you that. Naked women don't just appear in the middle of fields."

"Signs of struggle?" Hendry asked.

"Signs of something. Her fingernails are bitten so close I doubt you'll get anything from under them. Sorry I can't be more help, Ben," he said to me. "I can tell you that she's dead, and that someone killed her and dumped her here, so it's over to you now. The state pathologist will be here as soon as possible."

"Presumably this was sexual," I said.

"Don't know for sure. The pathologist will take swabs as a matter of course. Personally, I'd say fairly likely. Good luck, Ben. Take it easy." With that he dropped the gloves into his case, lifted it and walked up the embankment to his car, barely looking at the body as he passed it.

I looked again at the girl. Her hands rested on the leaves beneath her, the bright red nail polish a little incongruous on fingers so small and on nails bitten so near to the quick. There was a little dirt around her nails, and soon enough a SOCO wrapped her hands in plastic bags which he secured at her wrist. I noticed that, on her right hand, she wore a gold ring set with some type of stone. It looked too old-fashioned for a girl of her age; a family heirloom, a gift from a parent or grandparent, perhaps. The stone was tinted green, like a moonstone, and surrounded by diamonds. I asked the photographer to take a shot of it. As he did so, the flash illuminated an engraving on the band.

"Looks like something's written on it, sir," he said, crouching right down and holding the camera in one hand as he angled her hand slightly with his other. Then he focused the camera tight on the ring. "I think it says AC, sir: her initials."

I nodded for no particular reason and turned again to the group of northerners.

"Shitty enough one to get the week before Christmas, Devlin. Good luck to you," Hendry said, nipping off the end of his cigarette, then putting the butt in his pocket so as not to contaminate the crime scene. That was a bit of a joke. Our resources in the arse- end of Donegal are hardly FBI quality and, besides a dozen or so policemen and the waiting ambulance crew and the group of poachers who had discovered the body, God only knew how many other people had tramped back and forth past the body and along the roadway where those who dumped it must have stopped.

We would look for distinctive tyre treads, footprints, and so on, and try to find whatever forensics we could, but the spot where this body had been abandoned, though secluded, was only a few hundred yards behind the local Cineplex. On weekend nights this whole stretch of lane was lined with cars, each respecting the other's space, obeying an unspoken rule of privacy to which I had myself subscribed when younger, when I was finally allowed to take my father's car to collect my girlfriend. The makes of cars had changed since then – and I tell myself, in moments of righteous indignation (though I accept that it's probably not true), that the kind of activities in which the couples engage has probably changed too. However, the place remained the same – as dark and furtive as any of the clumsy embraces which take place on back seats there at night. Indeed, it was possible that Angela Cashell had met her death in such a car.

     

 

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