Laurena Catherine McRaney
Born 17th August,1993
Died 21st November, 2011 aged 18 years
A sister and daughter brutally taken from this life
Early afternoon. The sun is out, yet the granite remains conspicuously chill. Already thin fingers of mist trail the grassy mound as if they belong to my sister’s spirit.
My older sister, Bridget, rests a hand on my shoulder and I rise to my feet. Her face is unaccustomedly ashen. She shivers and tightens her coat about herself. With concern, I enquire if she’s okay.
“Not really. I had a bad shift last night. I came here because you asked me to. I’m guessing this is the first time you’ve visited Laurie’s grave.”
“You know it is. I couldn’t bring myself to come before. It hurts, y’know? I mean, she was so…” I am unable to finish my sentence.
Brid nods sympathetically. “That’s why you asked me?”
I attempt a smile I’m far from feeling. After the episode with Cartright it takes little to make me feel physically sick. Yet somehow I am compelled to visit my sister’s grave, brutally raped and murdered by Stephen Fitzwalter a year ago.
“A right wuss, huh?”
“Not at all. Not everyone can bring themselves to visit a loved ones grave.”
Changing the subject, I asked, “Are you working nights now?”
“It looks that way.” she answered curtly. “As a ward sister I chose to.”
“You look like shit, Sis.”
She makes a face at my less than complimentary observation. “Sure. You too could look like shit if you had the night I have.”
I am almost prompted to suggest that it couldn’t have been any worse than mine. I refrained however, content to allow my sister to moan. “I’m on the men’s ward. Although I prefer that to neurotic women bitching all the time. Then I go home and listen to bloody roadworks after taking Sammy and Mark to school.”
“The perils of being a nurse, I guess. You don’t have to do nights all the time do you?”
“I do. I put in for it.”
“Why, if you look like that?”
“I don’t want to discuss it, Aidan. Let’s go shall we?” She swipes a tissue across her eyes. I’m in time to witness tears in them. My sister Bridget. True to her faith. When she’s not at work she spends a lot of her time at the Church of St Assumpta. Attending Mass while her brothers lapse by the wayside in all things Catholic. Graves and deaths appear to hold no apprehension for Bridget Collier. Today, however, she seems ostensibly contrary to her erstwhile beliefs. Doubtless the death, and the brutal capacity of Laurie’s death, has upset us all.
“She’s dead, Aidan. Nothing can bring her back.” She shivers once more. I slip an arm about her shoulders, while I’m unable to avoid my consternation that something is radically amiss with my sister.
“I hear you’re going to live in Esher.” She changes the subject quickly.
“It seems so.”
“Judy going off to California with Rafe and leaving Patrick with you. That’s pretty generous of your ex isn’t it?”
“Guess she and Rafe will be too busy with their plastic clinic to worry about a ten year old boy. Now, let’s get out of here and you can tell me what ‘s bothering you, ‘cos I know something is.”
With my arm remaining about her shoulder, we move in the direction of our waiting vehicles. Reaching my Cabriolet, I pause to lean against the car to roll a smoke. Brid requests a cigarette. I remind her that she’s given up.
“Och I know that, but too much has happened. Oh Aidan…” My name is uttered on an oddly disconsolate tone. I can’t help regard her with a frown.
“Oh come on, Sis, out with it. You’ve looked like shit since you’ve arrived. I know that cemeteries don’t usually bother you. Not being the churchy woman that y’are.”
“A young man was brought into the hospital last night. He was about your age. I’ve never actually seen anything like it. Although I had heard enough when….” Her hesitation is almost palpable. “When Dad…”
“What are you trying to say, Brid?”
“This young man,” She expels a prolonged sigh, “had been tarred and feathered.”
“What?” The cigarette almost slips from my fingers. “What happened? Is he dead?”
“He’s barely clinging onto life. It’s probably because he’s young. Hot tar had been poured over him, even…” she pauses to swallow hard, “his genitals.”
“He looked as if he had been rolled in feathers. At first we thought he was one of those crazy people who covered themselves in feathers and believe they can fly. Only his face was left exposed. His head had been shaved. The tar had been poured onto the back of his head, and his scalp covered in feathers. Och, Aidan, sure if it didn’t remind me of the Troubles. What they did in the Province when I was growing up. What the ‘Rah did to the women who slept with the Brit soldiers. How these women had their heads shaved and covered in tar and feathers.”
I attempt to placate her that it scarcely touched our lives when we lived in Dublin.
“It was on the news every night. Some wee bastards been tarred and feathered in the Province, Dad used to greet me with that when I came home from school . I reckon Dad was on the side of the ‘Rah, him being Catholic and all.”
“So this guy. Who is he? Do you know?”
“Dr Welch said his name was Jason. I was at the Nurses Station when he was brought in. He’s on my ward. Of course he has a private room. He’s assigned to me. Apparently he was found by this guy’s dog sniffing him out in the bushes,not far from the hospital as it turned out. Jason was unconscious when he was brought in…” She falters again. I imagine she is about to burst into tears, and I hug her close.
It isn’t often that my sister discusses her job at the Blackheath General. She loves nursing. While she invariably takes things, no matter how bad they are with accident victims and the like, in her stride. After all, that’s what she claims she signed up for. Understandably, the tarred and feathered guy has hit her hard.
“I wandered into the ward to check on Jason. There was a woman by his bedside. I guessed she was his girlfriend or something. They didn’t say that Jason was married. Anyway this woman took this laminated card from her wallet to show me, but she didn’t leave the card long enough for me to read it properly. It was almost as if I had caught her out, that she was up to something. She looked quite official, and told me that she needed a few minutes with the man. So I left. The curtain was closed. I know I shouldn’t have listened. And you probably think I watch too many movies, but I thought by the suspicious way she seemed to behave she might have something to do with it. Maybe not the actual tarring and feathering, but she might have known who did, and wanted to silence him if he regained consciousness. I know it sounds stupid, but she did seem rather cagey. If she’d been his girlfriend she would have been upset. The minute the woman left I burst into his room. Thankfully Jason was still alive.”
“You mean you think this woman had come to kill him?”
“I know it sounds crazy. I guess I was just a wee bit scared because of how he came in. This woman spoke so authoritively, almost cold and clinical, if you see what I mean. I don’t think she was connected to the police. A couple of officers came later.”
“Don’t killers who want to silence someone, usually wear white coats and masks, so they won ‘t be recognised?”
Alternatively she appears far too upset to appreciate my rather futile attempt at humour. “It’s not funny, Aidan. I don’t know what I thought. It’s just so horrible. When you’ve lived under the shadow of these things as we have,” she shivers involuntarily once more, and pulls on her cigarette vehemently.
“So when are you on shift again?”
“Tonight. For the next two nights. I’m the Ward Sister. Those young nurses look up to me. If anyone wants a shoulder to cry on Sister Collier is always there to oblige. How will it look if I can’t cope?”
A vibrating buzz emanates from my jacket. I carry two phones. One is for personal use. The other is the personal transmitter all Treveleyan’s operatives are issued with.
“Sorry, Sis I have to get this.” I pull out my personal mobile by mistake. Before returning the former to my jacket.
“You have two phones, Aidan?”
I tell her that I keep one for Treveleyan’s calls, but I don’t elaborate further on who he is. I see that Treveleyan is calling. Moving out of earshot of my sister, I growl, “What do you want?” into the mouthpiece, purposefully neglecting to speak his name.
“Oh dear you sound a little aggrieved, my boy,” I wish he wouldn’t keep calling me that. “it’s just to let you know that I have organised a special briefing for 9am tomorrow. Sorry it’s such short notice, but something has come up, and I’d like you to be there.”
I utter a barely audible confirmation.
“Good. In the conference room. I’m glad you sought fit to visit your sister’s grave,” he adds, before I realise that he has rung off. I catch myself shivering involuntarily, not altogether because of where I am. Or that those thinly filamentous trails of mist, reminiscent of gossamer wraiths, appear to have entwined themselves about my legs as if it is their intention to pull me beneath one of those granite monstrosities.
“I’m glad you sought fit to visit your sister’s grave,” he had said. How the fuck did he know? As if he’s capable of pinpointing my precise location with his accursed remote viewing.
“You okay, Aidan?” Brid’s voice, ringing with concern, returns me to the present. I mutter absently that I’m fine.
“Let’s go. It’s cold here and you’ve gone quite pale. Was it bad news?”
“Not exactly.” I manage a tentative smile.
I’m in the process of cracking open the Cabriolet ‘s door when she asks, “What is it you really do?”
“You know what I do.”
“A driver you said.”
“That’s right.” I tell her non-commitally.
Grabbing my arm she confronts me squarely. “This Treveleyan guy, who is he really? Look, you can tell me. We’ve been through so much together. I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours,” she adds, composing herself into the passenger seat.
“What’s that supposed to mean? You make it sound as if we were kids again.”
Her gaze is faraway, her tone wistful when she says,”I wish we were. Do you remember when I cut off your curls, because I thought curls were wasted on a boy? And Harry grassed on me to Mum.”
“I don’t remember that.”
“Well, you were about three. Now that’s enough of a trip down memory lane,” she retorts briskly. “You’ve probably been wondering why I don’t ask you over to my place anymore.”
“It did occur to me. I thought you were pissed off with me about something. Or you had fallen out with Caitlan. I know she snapped at you one day when you offered to change Catie’s nappy. You said she’d have a sore bum if she stayed in it too long.”
“That wee girl sure has some issues. I know she’s your wife, and I love her to bits, but I think she probably has post natal depression. You guys reckon you suffer, but women’s emotions are all over the place when we have a child. All she needs is love.”
“Like The Beatles?” I smile.
“Like The Beatles,” she nods, “maybe more than most women.”
“You know I love her. ”
“Then maybe you should show her more. Give her your 110 percent, and not just with sex. Buy her flowers. Treat her like a lady. Your lady. And you’re avoiding the issue. I asked you what you really do for this Treveleyan character. Don’t tell me it’s just driving. What kind of driving? Taxi? Chauffeur? The next words that come from your lips has to be the truth, brother.”
I can’t help but heave a prolonged sigh. “Okay, since you ask. I’m not just a driver. Don’t tell Caitlan. She believes that’s all I am. She’s a bit too delicate right now. When I tell you, you’ll probably go off on one, and won’t speak to me anymore.”
“It would have to be pretty bad for me to behave that way toward you. So, I’m listening. There’s only you and me in this car.”
That’s if Treveleyan isn’t sitting in the back seat like a fucking ghost. I glance behind me. The seat remains empty. Still.
“Sure.” I swiftly pass off the sensation that Treveleyan might be observing me from some enigmatic, equally unknown location. “It’s an agency, like I said. We do other stuff.”
“What other stuff?”
Notwithstanding, I have no intention of confiding in my sister what happened to Cartright at mine and Dennis Mitchell’s hands. The discovery of the depravity filmed on the DVDs in his basement. “We go undercover sometimes. Like Special Branch.”
“It sounds incredibly dangerous.” She fastens a hand over mine. “Do you know what went through my mind when that Jason was brought in last night?”
Although I shake my head, I can practically sense what is to come.
“That it could have been you.”
I slip an arm about her shoulders in an endeavour to placate her not to worry, that it won’t happen to me. I hope I’ve managed to convince her. Truthfully that I also convince myself.
“Why do you do it? There must be other more normal jobs out there. Bejaysus, Aidan, you have two children and a delicate wife. Soon you’ll be having your son full-time.”
“You know I’ve had difficulty finding other work. Treveleyan was offering it on a plate. Once I get enough money I’ll quit. Anyway you said if I tell you mine you’ll tell me yours. Has it got something to do with you putting me off visiting you.” She appears to take time over extensive throat clearing. “You’re not pregnant are you?”
“Good God, no! Jesus, Aidan, I don’t want anymore children.”
“It’s not Dad is it? He’s not going into a home? You know how I feel about that.”
“No, it’s not Dad. It’s Mark Collier. He’s moved back in with me,” she quickly adds. Closing her eyes, I sense she’s waiting for the storm to break. It does finally when I explode, “you’ve got to be fuckin’ kidding!”
Mark Collier, my sister’s husband, had walked out on her practically a year ago, in order to live with a friend of our late sister Laurena’s. Penny Cronin, who was 18 at the time, was allegedly expecting Collier’s baby.
“You’re not telling me you had the bastard back? I thought you were stronger than that. I’m guessing she’s had the baby by now.”
Brid appears suitably chastened by my outburst. “Only the baby wasn’t Mark’s. It was a fellow student’s.”
“Jesus, Sis! This smacks of rebound to me. I thought you said you’d never let him back into your life.”
“He is the father of my children, Aidan. What else could I do? Apparently, Penny used him from the beginning. The student was penniless. Mark had a good job, so he could provide for her and the baby. She treated Mark more as a father than a boyfriend. The student got a job, and wanted to see his child. Seems she’s been seeing him behind Mark’s back.”
“So he came crawling back to you? Have you told Ru?”
“Not yet. He’ll be as angry as you. Anyway, Mark’s sleeping in the spare room. I’m not ready for him to sleep in my bed just yet.”