When a controversial US diplomat is attacked during the opening of a Donegal gold mine, Inspector Benedict Devlin is disciplined for the lapse in security. The gunman turns out to be a young environmentalist named Leon Bradley - the brother of an old friend of Devlin's. Within days, the killing of an illegal immigrant near the Irish border leads Devlin to a vicious European people-smuggling ring. Then Bradley himself is found dead near the mine and Devlin begins to suspect that the business is a front for something far more sinister...
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BRIAN MCGILLOWAY teaches at St. Columb’s College in Ireland.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
BLEED A RIVER DEEP Chapter One
Friday, 29 September
‘They’ve uncovered a body out at the new mine.’
It took me a few seconds to realize the speaker was addressing me. I looked up from my desk to where Superintendent Harry Patterson loomed over me.
‘They’ve dug up a body out at the mine,’ he said irritably. ‘We’re going out there. It’s a dead body,’ he explained, turning to leave as he did so.
‘They generally are, if they’ve had to dig them up,’ I muttered to his retreating back.
‘And keep the smart-arse comments to yourself,’ he snapped. ‘Get a move on.’
The leaves had just begun to turn, and some green still showed from the massive oaks behind our home when I left that morning; the cherry trees though were predominately golden, the leaves beginning to twist and sag. The air was still ripe and warm, the tannic scent of autumn starting to sharpen.
The fact that Patterson himself was attending the site was indication enough of the priority this find was being given. It wasn’t so much what was found, but more where it was found: Orcas, a new goldmine opened two years previous near Barnes Gap, between Ballybofey and Donegal town, built on the promise of untold wealth to be shared with the whole community at some undefined point in the future. The body, Patterson explained in the car, had been found by some of the workers as they dug a new section of the mine. Patterson had been summoned by the owner himself, John Weston.
Weston was a second-generation Irish-American, whose family had moved back to ‘the old country’ following his father’s death. Bill Weston, John’s father, had been a senator in the US, as well as being extremely wealthy. John had inherited every cent and had developed a number of business projects in Ireland, supported by friends of his father. The Orcas goldmine was the biggest and, it appeared, the most successful.
Twenty minutes later Patterson turned the car up a narrow side road, and Orcas hove into view: sixteen acres of Donegal bogland which now housed Ireland’s largest goldmine. Preliminary tests conducted in the 1990s had shown the presence of several high-quality veins running through the rock under this land. One vein apparently stretched right across the sixteen acres and along the bed of the River Finn.
‘I wonder where...’ Patterson began, then stopped. There was no need to ask for directions. A convoy of Garda cars was already parked further up the road, alongside several 4x4s marked with Orcas livery. Half the force in Donegal must have been called out here, I thought. A good day to commit a crime anywhere else in the county.
The car made it almost to the site before getting stuck in a mud-filled puddle. We walked the rest of the way, our feet slipping on the wet path. Ahead of us a group of Guards had gathered, most still in their shirtsleeves. Some of them must have clocked Patterson, for they began to make themselves look busy. Some of the others just moved to the side of the road to let him past.
‘This is a right balls-up,’ he spat. ‘Weston’s just turned a record profit. Word was he was going to make a bigger investment. This could be enough to scare the fucker off.’
As we drew level with the pit, the two men standing in it dropped their spades and scrabbled up the bank of clay they had shifted. The soil was almost black and scented the morning air with the smell of mould. It took me a second or two to pick out the body from the surrounding earth, for the only parts visible at this stage were the head and part of the upper arm.
But Patterson had no need to worry about Weston getting scared off. If there was a murder involved here, it had happened a few thousand years earlier, by the look of it.
The corpse was curled in on itself. The underlying muscle was outlined by skin the texture of old leather. The face had been flattened, presumably by the weight of earth pressing on top of it. The eyes were open, though the sockets long emptied. The mouth likewise was fixed ajar, the teeth, slightly gapped and blunted, were still lodged in the jawbone. There was certainly no sense of serenity in death: the face was twisted as if in agony. One arm protruded slightly from the dirt, the fingernails still attached to the talon-like hand.
‘Jesus, what is it?’ Patterson asked. ‘Should we call the State Pathologist or the archaeologist?’
A few of the men standing around grunted good-humouredly.
‘Still, at least he didn’t die on our watch, eh, boys?’ he continued.
‘Do we need an ME to declare it dead?’ someone called. More laughter.
‘Best get Forensics up anyway,’ Patterson concluded. ‘Just to keep it all official and that.’ Then he nodded to me: ‘We’re to see Weston.’
As we travelled towards the main building, I looked out across the mine. When it first opened, it had been the subject of some controversy from environmental lobby groups, and I had had my own reservations about it, based on the little I had read in the papers. In reality, the mine itself was not at all what I had expected and much smaller than I’d imagined, though the scarring it had already inflicted on the landscape was still significant.
Two large warehouses squatted side by side, their low corrugated roofs painted blood-red. Despite the size, only a few workmen were visible, and I counted a half-dozen cars parked in the staff area. One, a black Lexus with personalized number plates spattered with mud, revealed that Weston was already here.
We were directed to the only brick building in the compound, a white stucco three-storey block. A workman was at the front door, fastening a bronze plaque to the wall with an electric screwdriver. It caught the sun as he shifted it into position. He nodded as we passed, then snuffled into the back of his wrist and continued with his work.
Weston’s receptionist was waiting for us when we entered the building. The floor was covered with thick carpet on which the image of a gold torc was repeated in a series of diagonal patterns. To one side of the reception desk stood a mahogany display cabinet, its contents lit by tiny halogen spotlights. The shelves of the cabinet glittered with gold jewellery. I wandered over and scanned the contents and their price tags while Patterson ingratiated himself with the twenty-year-old receptionist behind the desk. The smallest item in the cabinet – a pair of stud earrings – was priced at €350.
John Weston strode down the stairs towards us, his hand already outstretched, his smile fixed, businesslike, friendly, predatory. He smelt of expensive aftershave. His shirt cuffs sat just far enough past his jacket sleeve to reveal both the quality of the cloth and the gold cufflinks, fashioned again in the torc shape of his company’s emblem. His skin was tanned, his hair neatly trimmed: he looked younger than his fifty years, despite the slight peppering of grey at his sideburns.
‘Gentlemen,’ he began, his accent discernible in the way he slurred the word, the ‘t’ almost silent. ‘Thanks for coming. Let’s grab a coffee.’
Clasping Patterson’s hand in both of his, he shook it, then repeated the gesture with me.
‘John Weston,’ he said, smiling expansively.
‘Ben Devlin,’ I replied.
‘Ben,’ he repeated, with a nod of his head, as if to demonstrate that he was committing my name to memory. Then he placed his hand on my elbow and guided me towards the stairs, physically directing me. I resisted the movement and he stopped.
‘Just admiring your collection here,’ I said. ‘My wife would kill for something like that.’
‘Beautiful, aren’t they?’ he agreed, still smiling. His teeth were perfect and straight, and unnaturally white. I was vaguely aware that I was trying hard to find reasons not to like the man, despite the fact he had been nothing but gracious since our arrival.
‘Jackie,’ he said to the girl who had welcomed us. ‘Have you those packs?’
With a timid smile, Jackie produced two thick folders from beneath the desk where she sat. Both were bound in a leather cover emblazoned with the Orcas emblem. No expense spared.
‘And choose something pretty for Ben’s wife, would you?’ he added, winking at me conspiratorially, then directing me towards the stairs again before I had a chance to decline the offer.
Weston’s office itself was the size of the entire ground floor of the Garda station in Lifford where I was based. He occupied a corner room on the top floor of the building so that, from his desk, he could survey his empire both to left and to right. As we entered his office he flicked a switch and the blinds on the windows automatically pulled back, revealing both the expanse of his goldmine and, to the other side, the majesty of the Donegal landscape in which he had quite literally carved his niche.
‘Beautiful country,’ he observed. ‘Absolutely stunning.’
I began to suspect that Weston spoke only in superlatives. I also noticed he was being careful to compliment the landscape, and not the additions he had made to it.
I looked down over the forest to our left, through which I could catch a glimpse of the Carrowcreel, a tributary snaking its way towards the River Finn. The light glittered on its surface as if on shards of broken mirror.
‘Almost a pity to industrialize it,’ I said, earning a warning glance from Patterson, who had continued his ingratiation since our arrival, echoing Weston’s observations on the weather as we had climbed the two f...
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