Holy Orders A Quirke Novel Online - Benjamin Black

ONE

1

At first they thought it was the body of a child. Later, when they got it out of the water and saw the pubic hair and the nicotine stains on the fingers, they realized their mistake. Male, late twenties or early thirties, naked but for one sock, the left one. There were livid bruises on the upper torso and the face was so badly disfigured his mother would have been hard put to recognize him. A courting couple had spotted him, a pale glimmer down between the canal wall and the flank of a moored barge. The girl had telephoned the Guards, and the desk sergeant had dialed Inspector Hackett’s office, but Hackett was not there at that hour, and instead he got the Inspector’s assistant, young Jenkins, who was in his cubbyhole behind the cells writing up his week’s reports.

“A floater, Sarge,” the desk man said. “Mespil Road, below Leeson Street Bridge.”

Detective Sergeant Jenkins thought of telephoning his boss but then decided against it. Hackett was fond of his night’s sleep and would not take kindly to being disturbed. There were two fellows in the duty room, one, Quinlan, from the motorbike corps and the other in off his beat for a tea break. Jenkins told them he needed their help. Quinlan had been about to go off duty, and was not pleased at the prospect of staying on. “He’s on a promise from his missus,” the other one, Hendricks, said, and snickered.

Quinlan was big and slow, with slicked-back hair and eyes that bulged. He had his leather gaiters on but had taken off his tunic. He stood with his helmet in his hand and looked at Jenkins stonily out of those gooseberry eyes, and Jenkins could almost hear the cogs of the big man’s mind turning laboriously, calculating how much overtime he could screw out of the night’s work. Hendricks was not due off until four A.M. “Fuck it,” Quinlan said at last, and shrugged in vexed resignation, and took his tunic down off the hook. Hendricks laughed again.

“Is there a car in the yard?” Jenkins asked.

“There is,” Hendricks said. “I saw one there when I came in.”

Jenkins had never noticed before how flat the back of Hendricks’s skull was—his neck ran sheer all the way to the crown of his head. It was as if the whole rear part of his cranium had been sliced clean off and his hair had grown back to cover the scar. Must have a brain the size of a lemon; half a lemon.

“Right,” Jenkins said, trying to sound both brisk and bored, as his boss somehow always managed to do. “Let’s get going.”

* * *

They had a hard time of it getting the body up. The level in the lock was low, and Hendricks had to be sent to Portobello to rouse the lockkeeper out of his bed. Sergeant Jenkins set Quinlan to examining the scene with a flashlight, while he went and spoke to the couple who had spotted the body. The girl was sitting on a wrought-iron bench under a tree, white-faced in the shadows, clutching a hankie and sniffling. Every few seconds a great shiver would run through her and her shoulders would twitch. Her fellow stood back in the gloom, nervously smoking a cigarette. “Can we go now, Guard?” he said to Jenkins in a low, worried voice.

Jenkins peered at him, trying to make out his features, but the moonlight did not penetrate that far under the tree. He seemed a good deal older than the girl, middle-aged, in fact. A married man and she his bit on the side? He turned his attention back to the girl. “What time was it you found him?”

“Time?” the girl said, as if she did not recognize the word. There was a wobble in her voice.

“It’s all right, miss,” Jenkins said gently, not quite knowing what the words were supposed to mean—it was the kind of thing detectives in the movies said—and then turned businesslike again. “You phoned straightaway, did you, after you found him?” He glanced at the man in the shadows.

“She had to go down nearly to Baggot Street before she could find a phone that worked,” the man said. He had given his name but Jenkins had immediately forgotten it. Wallace? Walsh? Something like that.

“And you stayed here.”

“I thought I’d better keep an eye on the—on the body.”

Right, Jenkins thought—in case it might get up out of the water and walk away. Making sure not to be the