A peace march in Londonderry erupts in mayhem on Assumption Day, 1970, and the embattled Royal Ulster Constabulary summons Chief Inspector Jack Hamilton.
In the aftermath he sees curls of auburn hair gently waving in the drainage water between riot-damaged cars. He discovers a young lady who arrived to her death fashionably dressed. Her glazed eyes look curiously skyward and her mouth is slightly open, as if she forgot a question.
The victim in this march threatens an unstable truce. Can the inspector find her killer before tensions burst between a Protestant militia and a Catholic rebellion willing to tear Northern Ireland apart?
The inspector took a wide turn around the scorched frame of a Lancia Flavia. A ripple of orange flame danced on the engine block. Jack examined the vehicle, no human remains inside. Gutters swelled with water from the fire brigade hoses. Glass fragments reflected like sequins on the sidewalk.
Soaked sheets with purple ink clumped along the drainage canal. Jack slowed his breathing. His shoulders followed suit and eased away from his neck. For a moment, he realized he was at ease in a mass-murder scene. He waved his arms to the constable and pointed toward High Street. The constable shrugged, a wordless query.
Jack cupped his hands to amplify his voice. “The girl wouldn’t run toward the four dead men. She would run away.” He turned north. Off in the distance, a hint of auburn hair waved in the gutter between two cars.
He sprinted, resisting the slices from skin-chafing boots, about fifteen meters past Corgan and No. 5. Jack stumbled to his knees and flung purple-print litter to reveal a young lady who arrived to her death fashionably dressed. Her rayon knit off-white jacket stopped just above the knees. Stockinged legs contorted under the rear of the Austin Seven Countryman station wagon. Her pleated skirt and powder-blue vest bordered a puddle of blood that had bubbled up around her pelvis. The winged collar was no longer off-white; it couldn’t resist the blood that gushed from her severed left carotid artery and coagulated deep in her hair. Her head dammed up the water runoff from the fire brigade. The coiffure swayed tenderly in the water. Her glazed eyes looked curiously skyward and her mouth was slightly agape, the face of someone who forgot a question. Jack lifted a cheek. His left hand supported his temple.
“You were adorable,” he whispered to her.
His eyes scanned her up and down. Then wide to the sides. No purse. He looked over his shoulder toward the housing. A powder-blue gaucho hat pressed between a stairway to a front door and rubbish cans.
The constable looked over Jack’s shoulder. “Oh, Jaysus.”
Jack rose—a palm on his lower back for support on the way up—and exhaled through his nose. “Get Carter. I don’t care if he complains. We have evidence floating down the gutter. I want that hat in an evidence bag. Next, I want the status of the ambulance that will take me friend over there to Altnagelvin Hospital. Three, stay with that bloke until the ambulance arrives. Four, I want Corgan to come with me.”
Jack looked for a twig. He squatted near the girl. His thighs resisted the burden, but they would have to make do because he didn’t want to touch the car or contaminate the blood. He poked the girl’s scalp with the twig, nudging her head to the side. Strands of her hair stuck to something embedded in the neck wound.
It was shiny. Maybe it was red or orange.
“What the hell is a UILC?” the inspector asked the girl.