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Denise Mina

The Dead Hour

The second book in the Paddy Meehan series, 2006

To Owen,

who knows how to make an entrance

ONE. NOT LIKE US

1984

I

Paddy Meehan was comfortable in the back of the car. The white noise from the police radio filled the wordless space between herself and Billy, her driver. She had only just warmed up after a bitter half hour standing in sheet rain at a car accident and didn’t want to step out into the cold February night, but a handsome man in an expensive striped shirt and a ten-quid haircut was standing in the doorway of the elegant villa, holding the door shut behind him. There was a story here. No doubt about it.

They were in Bearsden, a wealthy suburb to the north of the city, all leafy roads and large houses with grass moats to keep the neighbors distant. After five months on the nightly calls car shift it was only the second incident Paddy had been called to in the area, the other being when a night bus had staved a roundabout and burst a wheel.

The address was off a side road of old houses behind high hedges. Driving through two granite gateposts, Billy followed the gravel driveway up a sharp bit of hill. A police car was badly parked in front of the house, hogging the space. Billy pulled the car hard over to the lawn, the front wheel dipping into the carved canal between grass and gravel.

They looked up to the door. A policeman had his back to them but Paddy still recognized him. The dead-of-night shift was a small community. Dan McGregor was standing under a stone porchway jotting notes as he questioned the householder. The man was in his office shirt, his sleeves carefully folded up to his elbows. He must have been cold. He kept his hands on the doorknob behind his back, holding the door closed as he smiled patiently at the ground, arguing for the police officer to go away.

Cursing the cold and the night and the feckless man, Paddy opened the car door and stepped out onto the gravel, conscious that the glorious warmth in the cabin was being diluted with cold. She shut the door quickly and pulled the collar of her green leather up against the rain.

Back inside her car, Billy half opened his window and reached for the dashboard. Paddy and Billy spent five hours a night together, five nights a week, and she knew his every gesture. Now he’d flick his finger on the backside of the disposable lighter tucked into the cellophane wrapper, pull it out, and, in a single gesture, flip the carton lid up, take a cigarette out, and light it. She paused long enough to see the burst of warm orange flame at his window, wishing herself back inside as she turned toward the house.

Across the slippery, rain-logged lawn the Victorian villa had a pleasing symmetry. Large oriel windows on either side of the front door were dressed in old-fashioned frilly net curtains and heavy chintz curtains, still open. The window on the right of the door was dark but the left-hand window was brightly lit, spilling out onto the gravel, bright as the ugly lights in the dying half hour of a disco.

Paddy smiled when she saw Tam Gourlay, the other police officer, hanging by the squad car, blowing on his hands and stamping his feet. When they were called to the rough estates on the outskirts of town, one of the officers always stayed back to guard the patrol car from angry residents, but it was hardly necessary here. Paddy imagined an unruly gang of doctors running up the driveway, ripping the wing mirrors off and smashing the windshield. She giggled aloud and caught herself. She was acting odd again. She had been on nights for five months.

Long-term sleep deprivation. It was like a fever, shifting the turn of her eye, moving everything slightly sideways. The bizarre nature of the stories the shift threw up appealed to her but the news editors didn’t want surprising, surreal vignettes. They wanted flat, dull news stories, the who, what, and when, rarely the why or the guess-what. Her exhaustion colored everything. She found herself a foot in the wrong direction to meet anyone’s eye, her own lonely heart alone in the universe, a beat out of step with everyone else.

Tam watched her approach the panda car.

“Meehan,” he said.

“All right, Tam? Is that you back from your holidays?”

“Aye.”

“Nice time?”

“Two weeks with the wife and a six-month-old wean,” sneered Tam. “You work it out.”

He was the same age as Paddy, in his early twenties, but monkeyed the genuine melancholy of the older officers.

“So.” She took her notebook out of her pocket. “What brought you out here?” She’d heard the call on the police radio in the car: the neighbors were complaining about a disturbance. It wasn’t a neighborhood that would tolerate much nightlife.

Tam rolled his eyes. “Noise complaint: cars screeching, front door slamming, shouting.”

Paddy raised her eyebrows. Noise complaints took two minutes: the household opened the door, promised to keep it down, and everyone went home.

Tam glanced at the door. “There’s a woman inside with blood on her face.”

“Did he hit her?”

“I suppose. Either that or she’s been punching herself in the mouth.” Tam chuckled at his joke but Paddy had the feeling he’d made it before. Or heard it from someone else. She didn’t smile back.

“Not really the right neighborhood for a noisy party on a Tuesday night.”

Tam huffed. “Seen the motors?” He nodded to two shiny BMWs parked in the shadows around the back of the tall house. One was a big imposing car, the other a sports car, but they matched somehow, like his-and-hers wedding rings. Paddy didn’t know much about cars but she knew that the price of one of them would pay her family’s rent for three years.

Together they looked at the man. “Is Dan going to lift him?”

“Nah,” said Tam, “the woman wants us to leave it. Vhari Burnett. She’s a lawyer. One of us.”

Paddy was surprised. “She’s prosecution?”

“Aye.” He pointed at the police officer at the door. “Dan there knows her from the high court. Says she’s decent but, you know, why doesn’t she want him charged?”

Paddy thought it was pretty obvious why a woman wouldn’t want to bring a criminal prosecution against any man who had a key to her front door. Her oldest sister, Caroline, regularly turned up at the house with big bruises on her arms and went mad when anyone mentioned them. The family were Catholic; leaving wasn’t always an option. Paddy could have corrected Tam but it was two a.m. and she heard the same lazy, simple-minded shit from officers attending domestic incidents every night. She depended on them for stories and couldn’t call them on it. Despite her courting them and never contradicting, the night shift guys still sensed her distance and went behind her back, feeding the best stories to other journalists, guys they watched football with or drank near. Banishing thoughts of her fading career, Paddy turned toward the house.

The first thing she noticed about the dark-haired man was his mouth-watering figure: tall with long legs and slim hips. He stood with his weight on one foot, hips to one side, tolerating Dan’s chat. His lashes were long and dark and he kept his eyes a little shut, as though the weight of his lashes forced him to look languid. The conservative white shirt had a thin salmon-pink stripe. Over it he wore black suspenders with shiny steel buckles, and he had on expensive black shoes and suit trousers. His outfit looked like a work uniform. His face was calm and smiling, although his fingers fidgeted ner-vously on the door handle behind him. He was beautiful.

Paddy sauntered slowly over to the door, staying near the house, keeping in the shadows. Dan, the questioning officer, nodded at his notebook as the man spoke.

“… Dan, it won’t happen again.” He seemed quite casual and Paddy could see that Dan had no intention of taking him in, not even just to lock him in the cells for a couple of hours and teach him a lesson about being a snotty shite. She had seen Dan and Tam at many midnight disturbances and they weren’t known for their tolerance. Dan was a fit man, for all he was thin and older. She’d seen him being cheeked-up, and using his wiry frame to introduce a couple of faces to the side of his squad car.

     

 

2011 - 2018