Title: Dead Silent
Author: Mark Roberts
Release Date: 5th May, 2016
Three nights. Three brutal murders. And a killer with a warped imagination.
In a smart part of Liverpool, old men and women are being murdered in their beds. DCI Eve Clay is baffled. These people are all nearing the end of their lives. Who would want to kill them? Why?
Only one woman has the answer. And she is deaf, mute, and locked up in an exclusive psychiatric ward. As Eve tries desperately to communicate with this woman, and hunt down the killer, her own shadowy past comes back to haunt her...
MARK ROBERTS was born and raised in Liverpool, and was educated at St Francis Xavier’s College. He was a teacher for twenty years and for the past thirteen years has worked with children with severe learning difficulties. He is the author of What She Saw, which was longlisted for a CWA Gold Dagger.
Thursday, 24th October 1985
Breathless, having run from the garden where she had been playing football with the big lads, Eve said, ‘You’re welcome, Mrs Tripp.’
The pleasantness of Mrs Tripp’s manner caused Eve to look down and perform a simple trick to check she wasn’t dreaming. She looked at the black trainers on her feet and told herself, Squeeze your toes. She squeezed her toes and confirmed. She was wide awake and it was all real.
‘Come and take a seat, child,’ encouraged Mrs Tripp, her newly permed hair crowned with an outsized yellow ribbon.
You’re too old and fat, thought Eve, to even try and look like that Madonna one.
As she walked to the chair across from Mrs Tripp’s desk, Eve smiled at the boss of St Michael’s Catholic Care Home for Children, her feet firmly on the ground, her eyes locked on to the fat lady’s gaze, and sat down.
‘I like your Everton kit, Eve.’
She glanced down. Blue socks bunched at the ankles, soil-and grass-stained shins from the sliding tackle she had put in a few minutes earlier, white shorts and blue-and-white top.
‘So do I,’ said Eve. ‘I just wish they weren’t sponsored by Hafnia.’
‘Why’s that, Eve?’
‘Hafnia’s a canned-meat company. In Denmark. Ham. It’s dead sly on the animals.’
‘Oh, Eve, how many times have we had this out?’ Mrs Tripp chuckled, smiling with her face but not with her eyes. ‘You’re a growing girl and you need to eat meat as part of a balanced diet.’
‘As soon as I’m big enough—’
‘Yes, I know! I know...’
Silence descended. Mrs Tripp looked as far into the distance as the four walls of her office would allow. Eve looked out of the window behind Mrs Tripp. In the sky above the River Mersey there were two horizontal red lines, as if a giant had drawn two bloody fingers across the grey autumnal clouds.
‘My, how you’ve grown, Eve. I remember the first time you sat on that very chair across from my desk.’
‘So do I.’ Eve smiled. It was bloody awful. ‘You’re a very busy woman, Mrs Tripp. All those kids. All them staff. How can I help you?’
Mrs Tripp clapped her hands and laughed too loudly. ‘It’s not a question of how you can help me; it’s a question of how we can help you.’
From the corner of the office came a solitary sigh. Eve looked and a tall, thin man with snow-white hair, dressed all in black except for a white dog collar, stepped out of the shadows into the muddy light of the room.
As he walked towards the desk, he closed the cover of a card file bulging with papers, a file Eve recognised as the one they kept on her. Behind his left ear she saw a thin hand-rolled cigarette. She looked back at his face, his unsmiling eyes fixed on her. She stared back but stood up as the priest advanced slowly, observing, thinking, nodding.
He placed the file down on Mrs Tripp’s desk and, with the strangest sensation in her head that she had lived through this exact moment at another point in her life, Eve read the letters of her name in black felt-tip pen: ‘EVETTE CLAY’.
‘This is Father Anthony Murphy. Father Murphy, this is Evette Clay.’
Father Murphy placed the hand-rolled cigarette between his lips, flicked his thumbnail against the red tip of a match and lit the loose strands of tobacco. He took in a huge lungful of smoke and blew it out in a thin stream.
‘Hello, Eve.’ His voice rumbled, his speech posher than a TV newsreader.
‘Good afternoon, Father Murphy.’ She sat down again and Father Murphy remained standing.
‘How old are you, Eve?’ asked the priest.
‘As old as the hills.’ She laughed, alone.
‘So I gather.’
‘Seven and a half, if it’s numbers you’re after, Father.’ She guessed the next question. ‘And I’ve lived here for just over one year.’
‘Up until when, you lived in St Claire’s with Sister Philomena?’
‘Yes.’ Her exuberance deserted her. ‘Did you know Sister Philomena, Father?’
‘No.’ A strand of hope, a connection, faded. ‘Does that disappoint you, Eve?’
‘Just because you’re a priest, it doesn’t mean you know all the nuns in the world. I was just wondering if—’
‘Father Murphy isn’t just a priest, as if that on its own isn’t enough responsibility,’ Mrs Tripp railroaded over her. ‘He’s a fully qualified doctor.’
‘Oh!’ said Eve, mustering as much enthusiasm as she could.
‘I’ve come to see you, Eve.’ Ash dropped on to Mrs Tripp’s desk.
But I’m not ill, she thought, yet said nothing.
‘It’s fair to say, isn’t it, Eve, there have been one or two episodes of odd behaviour,’ said Mrs Tripp. Eve knew what was coming next. ‘When you set off the fire alarm.’
‘That was an accident. Jimmy Peace was there. He vouched for me.’
Mrs Tripp turned to Father Murphy. ‘She’s very popular with all the staff and the children. People make exceptions for her.’
‘No they don’t, they tell the truth,’ said Eve.
‘Christmas morning. You refused to get out of bed and open your presents.’
‘I was sad because I couldn’t stop thinking about Philomena. I did get up by lunchtime. And I’d opened my presents by tea. And then I just did what I do most days. I accepted that she’s dead. And just got on with it. What else can I do?’ The ball of tears behind her eyes threatened to break, but the voice inside her shouted, ‘Don’t you dare don’t you dare don’t you dare!’ And with that, a surge of anger and a beam of light. The memory of the toughest girl she’d ever met in the care system, Natasha Seventeen, and the last piece of advice she’d given her before she left St Michael’s: ‘Don’t act depressed, kid, or they’ll cart you off to the funny farm!’
‘Jesus Christ!’ said Eve, all the bits and pieces falling into place.
‘Eve, blasphemy isn’t allowed here!’
‘I’m saying my prayers. And I’m asking Jesus to give me strength.’
Eve stood up, turned away from Mrs Tripp and made herself as tall as she could in front of the priest. There was a glimmer of a smile behind the sternness in his eyes.
‘Father Murphy, can I ask you a question, please?’
‘Of course you can, Eve.’
‘Are you one of those head doctors by any chance? What are they called now? Yeah. Are you a shrimp?’
‘I believe the expression is shrink.’ He took a drag on his cigarette, tapped a ball of ash on to the floor. Eve warmed to the man.
‘Am I glad you’re here, Father Murphy.’
‘Yes. You’re just the man we need round here.’
‘I think it would be a really good idea to talk about the past,’ said Mrs Tripp.
‘Me too, me too,’ said Eve. ‘Thank you, Father Murphy.’ She sat down across from Mrs Tripp. ‘The past. Yes, let’s talk about the past.’
She glanced up at Father Murphy, the lower half of his face concealed behind the hand in which he held his cigarette. She recalled a scene from a TV sit-com she had watched.
‘Mrs Tripp, tell me about your childhood,’ said Eve.
The only things redder than Mrs Tripp’s face were the lines in the sky above the River Mersey.
‘Go and finish your game of football before it gets dark,’ said Father Murphy. ‘I’ve heard about your great loss and I know enough of Sister Philomena to know she’d be completely and utterly proud of the way you are coping at such a tender age. God bless you, Eve. We will meet again. Please know, you will always be in my prayers.’
‘Thank you, Father, for understanding.’
He smiled, made the sign of the cross over her head.
The silence in the room behind her as she made her way to the door felt like treacle.
Eve closed the door after herself, checked the corridor. It was empty. She waited.
‘You flicked ash on to my desk and my carpet!’ complained Mrs Tripp.
‘And you have wasted my time,’ replied Father Murphy. ‘Which is the larger sin? She’s perfectly sane in spite of all the things she has had to endure. She’s a credit to Sister Philomena, who saved her from the powers of darkness and moulded her into the child she is.’
Silence. As Father Murphy’s footsteps approached the door of the office, Eve absorbed his words.
She hurtled down the corridor, running faster than she ever had.
Running. Running. Running like the Devil was at her heels.
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