Why She Ran
"This is a gritty and gripping read from the first page to the very last, is brilliantly plotted, action packed and has a great mix of diverse and realistic characters… Another fabulous novel, the second in this already brilliant series and I certainly look forward to more in future." ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐NetGalley Reviewer
‘Rachel. They must have made a mistake. A mother would know?’ She let her words pour into the emptiness of the kitchen. She began to shiver. ‘I can’t feel anything,’ she said softly and rocked back and forth, as if she was a huge child, seeking solace in the simple gesture.
When young, pretty nurse Rachel McDermott is found murdered in the harsh lights of the hospital kitchen where she works, her mother can’t accept the news, and the small Irish town of Corbally reels in disbelief. Rushing to the scene, Detective Iris Locke vows to find the sick killer, whatever it takes.
Iris quickly discovers Rachel’s friend, Eleanor Marshall, was spotted fleeing the scene of the crime, and sends a search party to the icy-cold woods near the Comeragh mountains. All the evidence points to Eleanor, but Iris feels drawn to descriptions of this sweet but troubled young woman, estranged from her family, and can’t shake the feeling Eleanor shouldn’t be a suspect.
But then Eleanor’s sister is found dead in the area Eleanor is hiding.
Desperate to find the truth, Iris works round the clock to uncover the strange, shadowy figure Rachel met the night before she died, and is convinced she must get to Eleanor before the killer finds her. But as she sets out for the woods alone, what if it’s Iris whose life is in terrible danger?
An absolutely gripping mystery thriller, perfect for fans of Carol Wyer, Robert Dugoni and LJ Ross.
Release date: December 19, 2019
Print pages: 294
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Why She Ran
Eleanor Marshall sighed, blowing out an almost perfect smoke ring from the last cigarette in the packet. Friday night and this was all she had, an empty packet of cigarettes and an early night in a bed that might as well have been in a cell. It hadn’t always been like this. Far from it: before her father had insisted she come to this happy-clappy, lovey-dovey crazy house, Eleanor had lived a privileged existence. The daughter of one of Ireland’s wealthiest men, with designer clothes in her wardrobe and more freedom than perhaps was good for her, she’d rebelled early and with the trademark style of one keen to set an example for the sister coming behind. That was before they’d sent her here to Curlew Hall.
Such a stupid name to call this place. For one thing, they were miles from the seaside and so the chance of having curlews anywhere near were slim to nil. For another, the hall had been razed to the ground almost a hundred years ago. There was no hall here now – only a fancy counselling centre, built for kids with parents rich enough to pass on their responsibilities to someone else. Well, not for much longer. In a few months’ time, she’d be sixteen and old enough to sign herself out of here and do whatever she wanted, and there wasn’t a damn thing anyone could do about it.
She looked across the courtyard, the light fading fast behind clouds too domineering to reveal what sunshine remained with any great vigour. There were two units, one of them empty for now, the other housed four girls. She spotted one of them pass by a window. Bitch. Suz Mullins – a hard nut, here only because the state couldn’t find anywhere else to take her, so the tax man coughed up the exorbitant fees to keep her in luxury that was far too good for her in Eleanor’s opinion.
Jealousy, that was Suz’s problem, even if – in Eleanor’s opinion, again – she didn’t have that much to be jealous of at all. True, Eleanor’s father owned a quarter of county Limerick – the good quarter. She had a family, for what that was worth. She’d had a home before… this. Although, sometimes it felt as if home was moving further away, blurred with time and antidepressants; perhaps she was better off here, even if she’d never actually belong.
Tonight, she was tired. One of the hippy counsellors, a woman called Ava, considered it her personal mission to run their addictions out of them. Eleanor figured it wouldn’t matter if you were here with an eating disorder or a case of schizophrenia, Ava would have you trotting through the woods to clear your head and sort out all of your worries. Ten miles today – and her feet hurt like hell. It wasn’t the distance, the problem was she’d stuck to her guns and refused to wear her proper shoes, so now the expensive boots she’d bought in Harvey Nicks a year earlier were ruined and she had the blisters to prove she’d walked every single mile.
‘You ready for bed, love?’ Rachel asked as she put her head around the door and smiled kindly. It was that kind of place – you got to move around, but you were never really alone; with Eleanor’s history of self-harm and damage to property, there was always someone close by. Rachel was lovely. She probably wouldn’t last much longer. They never did. ‘You can stay out a little more, if you’d like, just don’t get cold.’ She walked over with a large faded blanket and placed it over Eleanor’s shoulders like a tarpaulin. Eleanor was barely five-feet tall, so it covered her skeletal frame in a fabric-softener infused whirl of well-washed cotton. Rachel reached across and pulled the hair from Eleanor’s eyes, then she looked at her, perhaps they were both tired. It had been a very long day.
‘Good evening, Princess.’ Nate Hegarty was standing at the door, filling up the height of the frame, his skinny arm stretched across the opening. He smelled of cigarettes and cheap aftershave and something much too dark for Eleanor to put a name on. He was wearing his usual uniform of hoodie and tracksuit bottoms, with trainers that had to be a couple of sizes too large. His dark and greasy hair fell across one eye and he shoved it back with the heel of his hand to reveal cruel eyes and a taunting mouth. How long had he been there? She knew he was not watching her. He was watching Rachel – he always did, as if it was some game they played.
Eleanor wondered if they’d done it. She couldn’t imagine anyone sleeping with Nate Hegarty, but then Rachel was a funny sort of girl. She’d started at Curlew Hall only months earlier. She was the kindest of all the staff, but there was something about her, as if she had been apologising all her life. And there was no reason – she was that elusive blend of all good qualities as far as Eleanor could see, smart, funny, thoughtful and, yes, even pretty. Eleanor could never quite put her finger on it, but it was almost as if Rachel was grateful to Nate. And that just made no sense to Eleanor. Nate Hegarty never did anything for anyone that didn’t involve some return for himself. Eleanor had thought idly once, if they were doing it – having sex – here, she could get him sacked. The only problem was it would also mean getting Rachel sacked and Eleanor wouldn’t want that for the world.
‘How’s my girl tonight? It’s me, you and Rachel here.’ He waited for some sign of recognition from Rachel. Nothing doing, and Eleanor smirked, only because she saw how much it unnerved him, as if she knew all his secrets even though she didn’t. ‘Hi, Rachel.’ He smiled with yellow teeth and eyes that didn’t crease.
‘You’re not meant to be hanging about here, Nate, you know that. Go and get a cup of coffee for yourself and we’ll join you in a while,’ Rachel said icily. Nate was meant to be working security – this was an all-girls rehab centre, no need for male staff here.
‘God, get a grip will you?’ He sniffed. ‘It’s not like she cares.’ He turned on his heel, heading off to the kitchen.
‘Sorry, love, don’t be heeding him – when he’s finished his tea, we’ll snuggle down with a movie, how’s that?’ Rachel said softly. It meant something, Eleanor figured, the fact that she counted her as something more than just a case number. ‘Now, you just pop into your jammies and we’ll see about a nice hot drink for both of us.’
Eleanor shuffled into her pyjamas. Then hot chocolate before bed, her favourite time of the day. Hot chocolate alone was a panacea in a world lacking any real joy. Sleep arrived easily. With epilepsy there is no need for extreme sports, with her heavy medication there’s no need for anything stronger than warm milk. She’d be asleep within minutes – usually.
When she arrived in the day room, Nate was spread over two hard chairs, his head bent forward. Eleanor sat on the couch and burrowed beneath a fleecy throw.
‘She’s quiet tonight – ye give her something?’ He slurped coffee, blowing before each noisy mouthful.
‘She’s had a good day. Her appointment with the psychiatrist went well and then we had a game of rounders in the courtyard, the kids versus the staff.’ Rachel was removing the keys from the fastening attached to her belt.
‘Very nice,’ he said sarcastically.
‘Hmm.’ She began to count out the meds for handover, a low whisper of Irish numbers following her fingers, which moved each pill across the table as it was counted.
‘Any changes to her tablets?’ Nate had always been interested in the medication cabinet. Eleanor had noticed it and she was sure everyone else must have too.
‘Give it a rest, will you?’ Rachel handed him the stock book to sign, confirming that he had witnessed the count. It was the same each night, every single tablet counted out and then locked away until the following day. Nate signed slowly, making her wait.
‘Suppose she’s wrecked now?’ He didn’t sound like he cared either way. Wrecked or not, it was all the same to Nate.
‘Aye, she’ll sleep tonight.’ Rachel’s voice was soft. Perhaps she was tired too.
Eleanor got up from the sofa, pulling the fleece throw with her. It was good to see Nate flinch as he reacted to the sudden movement. The few steps to the kitchen were enough. She stood with her back to the door. Nate, if he was looking, could see nothing. It was all too easy. She had done it before; she’d do it properly this time. Didn’t they ever learn? The tablets were there for the taking. She gathered them quickly, slid them silently into her pyjama pocket, and left the rest. It was done in seconds. She heard a noise behind her, but saw no one. She placed her cup in the dishwasher. Someone was coming.
‘Almost nine o’clock, Eleanor,’ Rachel said softly. She took down the small container with two tablets, one to lessen the effects of her epilepsy, the other an antidepressant. Rachel handed them to her and waited while she swallowed them.
There was still the hint of light behind the now fast-moving clouds when Eleanor looked out her window that night and something on the air – if not promise, certainly the feeling of change. She was tempted to stand there a little longer, consider the day just gone, but her eyes were heavy and the alarm clock would ring at the usual hour the following morning regardless of what time she turned in. She slid between the bed covers, which were cool and freshly laundered – perfect. She turned towards the window, glad she’d left the curtains open. Clouds skidded across a velvet sky.
Soon there was the click of the heating thermostat, kicking into a lower temperature for the night; it hummed noisily, rattling out its age along the cooling pipes. The pipes were ancient, thick copper, running the length of this unit and off into the others, until they arrived back, eventually, where they began. These bungalows (as they called them) were probably as old as the house that once stood here; a square of adjoining stables that had been converted into self-contained units facing onto a courtyard. Eleanor snorted; basically, her father had paid a small fortune for her to stay in a horse shed. At least she didn’t have to share. Suz Mullins had seen to that when she set the other girls against her so now Eleanor looked across at them from her single-occupancy expensive jail. Sometimes she imagined what life was like in the unit opposite, with four girls who couldn’t be more different to each other, and it reminded her of how much she missed having Karena nearby, if only for company.
Next was the sound of Rachel. She would start preparing tomorrow’s dinner, and then disinfect the bathroom and long corridor, heaving the mop over and back, crashing into the bedroom doors and muttering her apologies to no one in particular. Then she’d sit and drink some juice and maybe leaf through a magazine or waste an hour on her phone, but by then, Eleanor would be fast asleep.
Later, Eleanor woke to the sound of voices. Familiar, loud, in the kitchen, their words were indistinct, but there was no mistaking their intent – an argument. She listened for a short time, then, just as she was about to go and investigate, she heard a noise that caught her breath. A crash, something had been thrown. She jumped from the bed and opened her door a fraction, enough to catch the conversation that had been muffled noise before.
Now there was no mistaking what had happened. There was a small thud, insubstantial for someone so important. She hadn’t even washed the floor, Eleanor found herself thinking foolishly. Then, she remembered, she was alone here now, she needed to get away, before it was too late. It was now or never. Eleanor pulled on trousers up to the hem of a faded sweatshirt and rifled for shoes, picking up wellingtons instead. She cursed silently as the door creaked, then, coast clear, she pulled it back. It would close slowly behind her. Eleanor picked up a can of air freshener from the hall table – it was as close as she could see to a weapon – she was ready for flight or fight.
Rachel was lying in the kitchen, awkwardly; her head angled between sweeping brush and oven, unseeing eyes bulging in that once so pretty face. She was dead and Eleanor had a feeling if she didn’t move quickly, the same fate could befall her.
Eleanor couldn’t halt. She wouldn’t stop, not now. The door code was easy. She’d watched them, every time, wondering if they really thought she didn’t know it. Survival had made her an opportunist. Part of her had wanted to get away since the day she arrived, but she couldn’t just walk out the door. She’d had all the time in the world to watch and wait. She punched in the numbers easily, her hands steady, her mind thinking only as far as getting through the door then onto what would happen next.
Never look back. Simple, easy. She was out. Eleanor Marshall was free at last. She moved slowly, carefully, her newly awakened senses gluttonously drinking in the night. No one was going to miss her yet. It didn’t matter where she went. Her haul of tablets slid silently into the pocket of her soft trousers – she had enough to keep her epilepsy at bay for a few days, and if she took some when it got bright she’d have quite a few hours to roam at liberty.
Then they could bring her back and do their worst.
Iris Locke woke with a start. It was the same nightmare, over and over – how many times can you dream the same thing and still wake up shivering with fear? She wasn’t sure which she hated more: understanding that it was a bad dream or the slow, cold recognition that the reality was even worse. She lay in the darkness, listening to the sounds of the boarding house whispering its own night-time code. It was a tuneless, grating melody of creaking wood, weary pipes and a constant background fizzle of electrics emitted by residents’ overcharged phones and an emergency system that lit up the endless narrow corridors with green night lights and a low buzz of irritation.
It was a stopgap, this place. Mrs Leddy ran a clean, if somewhat shabby, boarding house – three square meals a day, if you wanted feeding, and walls so flimsy they might fold if you leaned against them. It was somewhere to stay while she tried to get a grip on life; she was nowhere near ready to put her world back together, she wasn’t sure if she ever could. Her apartment – on the other side of town, the better side of Limerick – had finally yielded all it could to the crime-scene boys. A week ago they’d handed her over a set of keys, as if she could just trot back to that other world of white sofas, exposed stone and reclaimed-oak floors. If only it was that simple.
At least she was here. In Limerick. Iris knew that while she had craved the big smoke of Dublin, this was where she now belonged. It was where she’d grown up and even if it was Ireland’s most dangerous city, it was also, in her opinion, its best. There was nowhere like it, with King John’s Castle crouching on the mouth of the Shannon, holding back centuries of disquiet, rumblings, wars and treaties. This city of clans and tribes, of history and modernity was home – and Corbally station, and the Murder Team were where she belonged, she could see that now.
It was shocking what a couple of weeks could do to a person – what a couple of hours could do. Iris had spent a lifetime believing her whole future had been dictated by the detective blood inherited from her father, a lifetime longing to be on the Murder Team, and it turned out that none of it had been what she believed. Coleman Grady had persuaded her to return to Corbally station; he had been her inspector when she joined the Murder Team. Now he had gone – shipped off on secondment for the foreseeable – and she was left, and while she felt emptied out of emotions, she recognised, occasionally, a sliver of aching sadness that he’d had to go.
And so she lay, in this uncomfortable bed, surrounded by furniture picked out long ago by Mrs Leddy in auction rooms all about the city. It was a medium-size room that would never grow into the heavy furniture squeezed into it. The ensuite, tiny and dated, was a faded apricot room with mildew that had stuck in stubbornly. None of it mattered anymore – not to Iris. She was operating in a kind of middle world, as if stepping forward was too much to contemplate and there was no going back.
Theodora Locke, the woman Iris had called mother, had been discharged to a convalescent home a week ago. Smoke inhalation – that was what her medical records would say. The truth was, the results of the fire that had killed her husband and destroyed the family home went far deeper than smoke inhalation. Iris tried not to think of it at night-time, but some things are impossible to block out. Iris hadn’t told her about the boarding house. She couldn’t face the idea of Theodora just turning up, transferring a lifetime of neediness that her husband had kept in safe harbour over to Iris.
Five bells. They rang out, jeering at her across the rooftops. Funny, she had lived most of her life in Limerick and until these past few weeks she’d never noticed church bells during the night. The two possible offenders sat snugly on the other side of the river, the distance protecting them from any possible insane attempt to silence them with the Sig Sauer semi-automatic she kept locked in her dressing table when she wasn’t on duty. Either St Mary’s cathedral or St John the Baptist’s church could be to blame for the melodious company she’d been keeping of late. Please stop the clocks. That wasn’t right either. There was no turning back time, she knew, as she twisted awkwardly in the too-narrow bed.
When had she gone off the sound of chiming clocks? She had loved them before. She wasn’t sure if it was because they managed to keep her awake now, like just about everything else in life. She suspected it was the clamour of time that they balefully announced. It was no longer just the ticking of minutes, the background music of her life – suddenly it was a booming orchestra. Her whole world had changed utterly, and every second was taking her further away from everything that had been familiar and the tantalising whisper of a connection that might have made a difference, if only she had known the truth before it was too late.
Damn it anyway, there would be no sleep tonight. She threw back the covers, walked to the window. Limerick brooded in the moonlight. Far off, she knew there would be sirens, Gardai walking the streets, the sound of their shoe leather imposing some sense of security in a city that was driven apart by gangs and held together by tribalism. She turned back to the room. She was on duty in three hours, but in the meantime, all she had was this space.
She’d booked into Mrs Leddy’s boarding house after her apartment had become a crime scene. She couldn’t face going back there again and so she was living like a first-year college student: room and board and no access to the kitchen or the garden. Sometimes, she thought of Woodburn, the generous Georgian country house she’d grown up in – it was only a dozen miles away, but it was a million years from the way her life had turned out. It was no good thinking of that life now.
She walked into the small ensuite and splashed cold water on her face. These days, catching her reflection in the mirror always made her start. It seemed she was looking at a faded version of herself: gone was the confident smile, the full cheeks, the clever green eyes. Now she wore her hair neat; there was no need to style it when you just scraped it back in a ponytail. Her eyes, once dancing, held a grim determination. Slattery would have said ‘haunted’ – but then, that was the poetic licence of a drinker for you. Ben Slattery. She smiled now as she thought of the rumpled grouching sergeant that she’d warmed to in spite of herself. She had a suspicion the feeling was mutual; they were oil and water and yet somehow their weaknesses bonded them in a way that defied her explanation.
Her skin was bare of make-up – she just scrubbed it clean these days – and she wouldn’t know where to put her hand on a dangly earring if lives depended on it. She was smaller too, everything in her wardrobe looked as if it had been handed down to her from an older sister, or maybe a well-fed aunt. The expensive suits and perfumes were left behind in her old apartment; they were part of a life that was no longer hers, it seemed. She’d have to sort through all of it, but she wasn’t ready for that yet. She had three T-shirts and a couple of blouses on strict rotation. She was on first-name terms with Alesha in the nearby launderette, and couldn’t remember the last time she’d stepped inside the dry cleaner’s.
She pulled on her running gear, then let herself out of the boarding house as silently as she could. Soon she was running along Athlunkard Street, her breathing the only sound in her ears, elevated to a universal rhythm in the darkness of her thoughts.
Iris knew that no matter how hard she ran, there was no getting away from the reality of it all, but still, the pain in her chest, the burning up of her muscles, even the hunger pangs in her stomach distracted her from the memories that lingered always at the back of her mind.
She turned into the People’s Park. This was a nice part of the city, overlooked by grand houses that nodded to times long gone. Because the weather had not yet turned too cold, one or two of Limerick’s poorest had chosen to spend their nights sprawled across the benches and she made every effort to sprint as noiselessly as she could past them. There was no justice in this city; she had learned that the hard way. It was dispiriting, having spent her life wanting to be a detective, to realise that maybe, no matter what you did, it might not make any difference in the end. She drew herself up at that thought, her feet in harmony with her soul, pulled to a stop and then walked slowly towards one of the old trees, leaned against it while she doubled over. She wanted to cast it out of her – this despair needed somewhere else to be and she knew it. It could not reside within her for much longer before causing her some real sickness.
Overhead, ominous clouds were rolling into each other, giving off some hint of light beyond them. Perhaps, if she walked slowly back to the boarding house there might be a hint of dawn to redeem this unsociable hour. Mrs Leddy had stopped asking her how she’d slept – perhaps she feared it reflected badly on her hospitality. Instead, she looked at her with an assessing eye, as if she could tell one way or the other how the night had gone.
Just as she walked through the North Gate, her phone rang.
‘You in the scratcher?’ It was Slattery, sounding rough. Slattery was an old-fashioned Irish garda through and through, the notion of being a cop or even a detective sat unevenly in his cynical eyes. Pick any time, day or night, and his voice was gravelly, his stare unnerving and his brown eyes inscrutable in that clear face.
‘I should be so lucky. No, I’m not sleeping much these nights.’ Time was, she’d have taken his grumpy tone personally. Now she wondered if perhaps he was just irritated by the whole world or if he used it to cover up his own self-loathing. Jack Locke had said the drink does that to every alcoholic. It wa. . .
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