Wednesday 6th May, 2015
The priest said the final prayer over the coffins, his west Cork accent making the words even more forlorn. He bowed his head, bald patch on his crown reflecting the sun. The other mourners around Peter and Lisa Leeson-Reid’s graveside followed the priest’s lead, but my attention remained locked on India. I willed her to look in my direction, just for a second. The quiet stretched, but her eyes never straying from her parent’s coffins. I had the stupid hope she’d drop whatever façade she was hiding behind if she saw me.
The silence was shattered as a couple’a hundred mourners blessed themselves, murmuring the names of the trinity. I kept my elbows tucked in close as I made the sign of the cross, trying not to smack the old dear at my side. Almost caught her poxy funeral hat, some kinda dead flower or animal planted on it and got an eyeful from the old bat.
A snatch of navy caught my eye when the couple in front of me moved, the man leaning sideways as the woman whispered into his ear and I lowered my head. If Aedan or Ciara saw me here there’d be bloody murder. Their navy uniforms stood out something awful from the black the funeral clothes. Pair of them looked like Lord and Lady Muck flanking the remaining Leeson-Reid family, heads up in the air. Bet there were no Gardaí stationed at Cian’s funeral. I hoped they were baking underneath their heavy blazers and cavalier vests.
Four men from the funeral home knelt at each corner of the gaping hole in the soil. Between heads I watched them turning levers, sending the two gleaming coffins into the earth. The groaning of stressed rope sent shivers down the small of my back. A bead of sweat followed, itching as it traced the curve of my spine before soaking into the shirt stuck to my skin. The back of my neck was definitely burnt. Sarah would give me hell, she was always going on about skin cancer.
India held her brother’s little hand tight as he leaned over the edge of the grave to watch his parent’s coffins descend. I doubted Rex was old enough to really understand what was happening. The cast was still on India’s right arm, strapped tight to her body. Long sleeves of her black dress did a good job hiding the wounds on her left, only the bandages around her finger nails visible. Fought her attacker hard enough to tear them from the nail bed. Cian didn’t even have a fucking scrape on him.
Without the bandages around her eye India was almost looking like the girl from all the family photographs. Wrapped in plastic in the evidence locker now. Her attention briefly flickered towards her parents’ resting place, before they lowered again. She’d been talking fine over the weekend, before I was taken off the case. Battered and bruised and grieving, but not this shell of a human, words and tears locked away. I still couldn’t understand how someone got to her in the hospital. There’d been Gardaí outside her door the whole time. Oisín said he’d questioned every nurse and doctor on the ward, but whoever spooked her was invisible.
At the priest’s prompt India took two white roses from the pile next to the graveside and dropped them into the earth, their heads falling first. She took two more, put them in her brother’s palm and helped him release them onto their parents’ coffins. The mourners around me were bristling, craning their necks to get a look at the siblings. Behind me someone tutted.
I looked down at the pudgy little man, sweat beading in the grooves of his shitty comb-over. He tried to lean around me and I blocked his view, rocking onto my other foot, making it look like an unfortunate accident. His hiss of annoyance was worth bakin’ for. Pissed me off, how many people were here just to cop a gawk at the India and Rex. I wondered how many people had actually showed up to mourn Peter and Lisa’s passing.
Their aunt and uncle took turns dropping roses into the grave. They looked good, too good. Pair of them could’ve passed for the Jameson’s Stallion race day at Leopordstown. Rosie Leeson-Reid looked similar to her deceased brother, the same dark hair and harsh features, holding her slim frame with disproportionate airs. When they returned to their niece and nephew’s side the stood just close enough that it didn’t look strange, their plaster-board smiles in place. Neither India nor Rex got the Leeson-Reid looks. Both had Lisa’s fair hair, her angular face. A blessing, really. She’d been the looker. A good trophy wife had to be.
The priest spread his hands wide, white vestments almost blinding in the sun.
‘I now ask for Peter and Lisa’s friends to come forward, to give their final offering,’ he said, sharp voice cutting through the bubble of noise that started up in the lull.
Rosie Leeson-Reid directed people towards her brother and sister-in-law’s grave, not letting anyone near the siblings. India had her good arm wrapped around Rex, holding him close.
After the first few people had paid their respects the couple in front of me started towards the graveside and I swore silently. They were the only two tall enough to hide me. A gap appeared in the crowd, Ciara and Aedan directly in my line of sight. The couple walked straight across another grave to reach for the flowers, gravel crunching as they trampled where dead faces lurked six-feet under. While all eyes were on their unhallowed procession I excused my way in behind a large marble gravestone, the space empty, no one risking the shite view. I balanced precariously on the grave’s low concrete border, praying I hadn’t been spotted.
India’s aunt greeted the tall couple. Both women were dressed to the nines, hair and make-up flawless. Same false smiles. South County Dublin accents drifted across to where I was balanced, lengthened vowels pulling their words out of shape.
A few paces from me there was a commotion as an elderly woman charged her way towards the graveside, bag swinging on her arm like a weapon. It took me a moment to place Betty Gregson, the black hat shielding her ancient face. Out of all of Peter and Lisa’s neighbours she was the only one adamant Peter hadn’t killed his wife and done a runner with his money. Morning we found his body up Killiney Hill she was the first person I went to talk to.
She went straight for India, batting the aunt’s outstretched hand out of the way. Rosie Leeson-Reid looked outraged, but her husband caught her temper before it could roll, his hands pressed firmly on her shoulders. Berry Gregson stayed with the siblings longer than anyone else had, even crouching down to talk to little Rex. I saw the edge of a white envelope passing between India and her neighbour before Betty went to grave, passing by the aunt and uncle without a second look. I’d have to pay her a house call soon.
When a group of twenty-somethings approached India her mask caved a little, the edges blurring with unshed tears. I’d seen a few of them in the hospital before I was taken off the case, either in her room or lingering outside when Oisín and I were questioning her. Still holding Rex close, she gingerly allowed each to embrace her. A red-haired young man held longer than the rest. He whispered something in her ear. Her eyes widened and she nodded. I needed to talk to that boy. I leaned further out from behind the gravestone. He’d been around the hospital most days, but I couldn’t place his name for the life of me. I’d have to look in my notebook when I got back to the station. Each of her friends let a flower fall into her parents’ grave and returned to her side. The red-haired boy stayed closest.
Suddenly a hand gripped my shoulder, pressing hard into the old bullet wound. I inhaled sharply, fighting back a curse. Four years and it still hurt like a bitch. I had a heartbeat to scan the graveside, Ciara missing. Aedan’s patchy-red face simmered with glee. India’s eyes abruptly swung upon mine, widening. I didn’t have time to tell if it was with fear or hope before I was pulled backward, my balance on the concrete barrier giving out.
‘Come with me,’ Ciara hissed.
Her sharp fingertips send shocks down the nerves in my arm. I shrugged out of her grip, dodging her hand as it went to catch me again.
‘Like I’m gonna scarper,’ I whispered, not wanting to cause a scene, rubbing my shoulder where she’d manhandled me. ‘Gowan, lead the way.’
Her lips pressed into a tight line but she took me at my word and led the way down towards the older section of Dean’s Grange Cemetery. The gravestones became more worn with each row we passed. Every now and then she looked back over her shoulder. I gave her a little wave the third time she did it and she rolled her eyes. When the gravestones were cracked and their epitaphs illegible she turned on me, hands on her hips.
‘Thought you were told to keep clear, what’re’yeh doin’ here James?’ she snapped.
I always forgot how intimidating the Northside accent was until I was being given’ out to. ‘Cant I pay my respects, Ciara?’
‘Don’t be smart. We’re de only ones the Superintendent gave permission to be here. Goin’ta report you.’
She had that awful condescending sweetness in her voice. Pushed me the wrong way every time. ‘On you go then, she knows I’m here,’ I said, regretting it at once. Should have come up with a better damn lie. Super was pissed enough with me as it was.
Ciara narrowed her eyes, trying to decide if I was playing it brave to cover my arse. She lifted her cap a little to let air touch her forehead. I could see the red line where the rim had pressed against her skin. She didn’t look half bad in formal uniform, thought it was rare I got the chance to see her wearing it. The regulation uniforms did a good job of equalizing the sexes.
‘Superintend warned’ya to stay away from the family,’ she said finally. ‘Both families, Cian’s too.’
Movement caught my eye and I looked back up the slope, the funeral starting to break up. India’s Aunt and Uncle led the way, heads close together, Aedan at their side, India and Rex left to tag along.
‘Someone needs to do the job properly,’ I said. The boy with red hair lifted Rex into his arms. Ciara tensed, her eyes narrowing.
‘You fucked up,’ she spat, ‘abou’ time you admi’ed it.’
‘You still buying that cock and bull story Phillips’s feeding you?’ That touched a nerve. Her nostrils flared. ‘Cian Dempsey didn’t kill Peter and Lisa Leeson-Reid and you know it,’ I said. ‘Why are you still following along like an eejit?’
‘Super warned you not to go off on your own. I’m bringing you back to the station.’
Couldn’t help but laugh in her face. ‘Feck that. I’ll see’ya around.’ I was so far in the bad books I didn’t really care anymore.
She lurched for my shoulder again, reaching up for my old injury. It was a dick move, the only way she could get the upper hand on me. I caught her wrist before her hand landed, holding her at arm’s length.
‘James. Don’t you-’
‘Think you might wanna be headin’ on as well,’ I said, nodding towards the disbanding funeral as I released her. She looked back and forth, trying to decide which situation was more pressing, but we both knew Aedan couldn’t handle shit on his own. She called my name once more. I didn’t bother looking back.
Jennifer Roe was published in this year’s UEA Creative Writing MA Anthology: Prose and Non-Fiction