* * *
The inspector’s office was quite overcrowded with all the people in it but Sullivan preferred it to the presbytery kitchen, or any other place, because this was his turf. This was his case and he was going to solve it, even if he did need the other people present to assist him with it.
Lady Felicia had taken the chair which had made Mrs. McCarthy a little huffy. Then there was also Father Brown, of course, who looked as pensive as ever when in the middle of a tricky case. And Sergeant Goodfellow was just coming in with a tray of teas for everyone.
“Doran, Cian Padraig,” Sullivan read from the family file he had just pulled out of his pile. It was starting to be quite the collection and maybe all of it would finally come together instead of just being a pile of useless papers. “Born 1905. Last known address near Manchester from five years ago. Some minor charges for theft and some bar fights.”
“Oh, so it’s minor when someone else does it but major when Sidney does it,” Lady Felicia responded with a pointed look towards the inspector whose lips pinched as he closed the file.
“The charges are in the process of being dropped,” he said finally but Lady Felicia’s face said she was not quite satisfied with that.
“First and foremost we should focus on how to catch Cian so that he can do no further harm, especially not to Róisín and Sidney,” Father Brown inserted himself as the calming influence as usual.
“Well, he has been around town, hasn’t he? Mrs. McCarthy saw him and he went to the haberdashery,” Lady Felicia pointed out.
“We need to avoid raising suspicion,” Inspector Sullivan stressed importantly. “I will be going to the Johnsons’ farm to inquire about the Irish laborer.”
“Do you think he’ll still be there?” Father Brown and Lady Felicia both looked doubtful.
“It’s worth a try.” Sullivan doubted that Cian Doran would still be lingering about the Johnsons’ farm but he didn’t voice it. They had to start somewhere though, didn’t they?
“Sidney is right,” the Father said then and everyone looked at him a little questioningly.
“Regarding what?” Inspector Sullivan asked a little tightly.
“You shouldn’t go alone. Cian is clearly targeting Róisín and by extension Sid but he might lash out if someone else stands in his way.”
“I’ll take the sergeant,” Sullivan acquiesced with a short nod.
* * *
Sitting at Róisín’s bedside and watching her sleep was both the best and the worst thing at the same time. He was so relieved and grateful that she was awake now and there was a spark in her again but at the same time Sidney felt guilty and in part responsible for what had happened. If he hadn’t told her she was ruining everything she might not have gone back to the caravan and wouldn’t have been alone there during the fire, wouldn’t have been snatched right off the street the next morning. If Sullivan hadn’t gone back to the shed, if he hadn’t found her in time…
Now he was damned to sitting guard at her bedside while the others tried to suss out her uncle. Maybe that served him just right, he had promised to protect her and had failed, running off for this reason and that. Maybe he could do a better job actually being with her.
He could tell when she stopped sleeping and started pretending to. Her eyelids twitched every now and then, so did her nose and fingers. Sitting, or lying, still wasn’t something Róisín was good at, neither was he.
“I know you’re not asleep,” he said quietly, taking her intact hand into his again.
Her lips pursed momentarily before she slowly opened her eyes.
“There you are.” He tried to give her a smile but he felt it was probably quite crooked.
She only looked at him for a moment before she looked off somewhere into the distance beyond her bed.
“I know you’re mad at me, can’t say I blame ya,” he admitted guiltily.
Her eyes flickered back to him but only for a short moment.
“Will you let me apologize at least? I shouldn’t have said those things to you, they’re not true at all and I’m so sorry, little Rosie.” He saw something pass over her face when he used the nickname. Hardly a very original one, seeing as Róisín meant little rose in Irish, but one he had always called her because she was beautiful and delicate like a rose but just as prickly too. It had well taken time for him to get past that but he could tell that the thorns were back now. He had no one to blame for that but himself.
For a while neither of them said anything, Sid waiting for a response to his apology and Róisín… thinking about something else, evidently.
“When,” she began in her croaky voice. She cleared her throat with a small cough. “When can I go?” she asked, looking at him finally.
He stared at her for a moment and had to fight the urge to jump up and hit something. It was not her who had ruined everything, it was him.
“Not for a while, I reckon,” he answered slowly. “Sullivan and the others are working on catching your uncle. I won’t let you leave until you’re safe.” He couldn’t tell what was going through her mind at that but she nodded ever so lightly. “Róisín.” He squeezed her hand. “I really am, sorry.”
“So am I,” she whispered and looked at him sadly before she closed her eyes again.
* * *
Mrs. McCarthy bustled through the grocery shop, looking well pleased as she collected things into her shopping basket. Anyone could see that she was almost bursting at the seams to spill her good news to someone and the patient salesclerk indulged her as she rang up the purchases.
“You’re looking very cheerful today, Mrs. McCarthy,” the woman smiled kindly.
“Oh, but it is a wonderful day, isn’t it?” Mrs. McCarthy replied with a smile.
“Certainly. Are you baking a special treat again today?” The woman had taken note of the baking ingredients that Mrs. McCarthy had gathered.
“Why yes, I am. Of course it’s all to celebrate our dear Sidney’s wife being released from the hospital today. They’ll be staying at the presbytery for now. As you remember, the caravan was burned down about a fortnight ago.”
“Yes, of course, we heard. Ghastly business with the caravan and then Mrs. Carter in the other fire as well! I’m glad to hear she is being released, what wonderful news.”
“Indeed. Of course the poor girl has a ways to go still, can’t walk just yet so we’ve made the Father’s study a makeshift bedroom. They’ll find their own place soon, I’m sure. Well, I must be off, lots of cooking and baking to do.” Mrs. McCarthy grabbed her basket. “Bye for now, Mrs. Smith.”
The spiel repeated itself a few times before Mrs. McCarthy made her way home. She gave the good news to Mrs. Wright at the corner, then also told Mr. Potter at the apothecary, then for good measure Mrs. Maxwell too. The town of Kembleford was sure to know about Róisín’s release by afternoon.
“And here we are.” Sid didn’t know why he said it, it was obvious they were at the presbytery now as he had just parked the car in front of it, but maybe it was the quiet hope that Róisín was going to say something in reply.
Of course she didn’t, if she’d spoken a dozen words a day in the last few days since they’d started buckling down on setting the trap for Cian he would have been surprised. She was up more and more, letting herself be pushed about in a wheelchair for a bit even, but most communication had been non-verbal. And if she did speak, it was not with him.
The only thing she had said more than a few words about was when she had been told the plan. She’d insisted on being there, in the presbytery, only after much arguing agreeing finally to at least being hidden safely upstairs while they made the study look like their resting place. Sid wasn’t happy with either, he wanted her as far away from harm’s way as possible but Róisín was stubborn. Very stubborn.
The veritable feast Mrs. McCarthy brought out for dinner was genuine though, not part of the plan so to speak, rather testament to the fact that the older woman had given up on her disapproval and distance towards her younger countrywoman. She was making a right fuss about Róisín and if Sidney hadn’t known something was off with his wife before, the way Róisín not just endured but tolerated it was a major tip-off.
“I’m off to the pub now,” Sid told her softly, leaning down to press a kiss to her forehead before she could turn away from him again. “I’ll be right behind him, I promise. The Father is next door and Goodfellow is downstairs with Mrs. M in the nook, Sullivan’s outside. You just need to make any noise and they’ll be right there.” He cast a look towards Lady Felicia who was sitting on a chair on the other side, hidden by the door should Cian make his way up here after all.
Róisín nodded. “Be careful,” she whispered and Sidney stared at her for a moment before he nodded.
“You too, little daredevil,” he teased her but only got a weak response. “This’ll all be over really soon and we can move into our cottage, yeah? I’ve got a surprise for you when we do.”
She nodded lightly and he straightened up. There was a short knock on the door and then the inspector opened it slowly.
“I’m leaving now,” Sid said before the inspector could ask.
“I’ve just received word that he’s at the pub,” Sullivan told him and Sid nodded gravely.
“I’ll go there, make sure he sees me and when he leaves, I’ll follow him.”
“Without being seen,” Sullivan tacked on.
Sid gave him a look. “Obviously.”
“Do you need anything?” Sullivan looked at the woman all tucked up in the guest bed. Mrs. McCarthy had done a good job at building another resting place downstairs in the study with Lady Felicia assisting. All these women were far too meddlesome, Sullivan had thought to himself not just once when Róisín and Lady Felicia as the front runners had taken over finalizing the plan for tonight. Mrs. McCarthy had certainly done her part in enabling them though.
Róisín shook her head, Lady Felicia declined as well and so both men left, Sullivan taking his post in the nook opposite the study and Sid making his way to the pub they had found out was Cian’s usual nightly haunt. Sid was supposed to get a drink and ramble about Róisín laid up at the presbytery and the emergency call the Father had received, leaving the presbytery vacated save for the injured young woman. Their careful surveillance of Cian Doran made them hopeful that he would take up on this prime opportunity to catch Róisín on her own.
And so it happened. Sid mimed the exasperated husband who had to get out of the house for a drink and it didn’t take ten minutes until he saw the man he had been following around quite some over the last few days, the man from the sketch, the man that Róisín had described to Sullivan, leave the pub. He drained his pint, loudly made his way to the toilets and snuck out.
Cian knew his way around Kembleford by now but he still had nothing on Sid. With safe distance but never in danger of losing him Sidney followed and watched the man who had tried to murder his wife at least twice and had murdered her parents and grandparents easily gain access to the presbytery via the back door. Sid had told the Father time and time again that it wasn’t safe but did he ever listen? Now maybe he would.
Sid found Sullivan at the hiding spot they had carefully chosen, eyes not once leaving the presbytery.
“He won’t even get near her,” Sullivan whispered to him, trying to calm the visibly seething man.
“I’ll make damn sure of that,” Sidney growled darkly. “What’s he doing inside? What’s taking so long? Why isn’t Goodfellow calling for us yet?” He straightened up, very much ready to march into the presbytery to… do something to Cian Doran.
“Get down,” Sullivan hissed, pulling him back and not a moment too soon because Cian Doran exited the same way he had come, through the backdoor, very quietly.
“Why is he leaving already?!” Sid’s heart sank into his boots. “He can’t be done already, can he?!”
“Be quiet.” Sullivan clasped a hand over his unusual comrade-in-arms’ mouth. “If Goodfellow hasn’t signaled for us, this isn’t finished yet. We need to catch him in the act.”
“As if we haven’t got enough evidence to hang him thrice!” Sid hissed back angrily, shoving Sullivan off.
“There.” Sullivan brought their attention back to the presbytery where Cian had now made his way around to the study windows.
Both men straightened up at the sound of glass breaking, and started running when the yellow glow of a flame blared up.
“Police, stay where you are and drop the bottle!” Sullivan yelled, reaching for his police revolver.
Sidney was faster with his longer legs, and stronger motivation, but not fast enough to prevent Cian from spiking the bottle of flammable liquid with its lit wick into the study before he tried to leg it. He didn’t get far before he was brought down with a brutal tackle from Sidney who wasted no time catching his breath nor footing before he started swinging punches.
“Carter, stop!” Sullivan arrived a moment later and instantly knew that if he didn’t manage to pull Sidney off Cian, the Irishman was as good as dead.
“Let me, he deserves it!” Sidney growled, easily overpowering the other man although they were similar in height and built. Cian may have had vengeance in his blood, or whatever his motivation for killing his entire family was, but it was nothing compared to what Sidney felt when finally within reach of the man who had tried-
“Carter!” Finally Sullivan got a hold of him but struggled to disengage Sid until Goodfellow came to help. “Calm down,” he snapped at the heavily breaking man with the bloodied knuckles whose glares may as well have made Cian drop dead while he watched him be arrested by Goofellow.
“Don’t tell me to calm down!” Sidney bellowed. “He tried to kill my wife! Twice! And he killed her family! Let me-”
Sullivan had to use his entire body to keep Sid from going for Cian again. “Carter,” he said, more quietly, gripping the man’s upper arms firmly. “Sidney.”
Finally Sid’s eyes snapped to his, chest still going heavily.
“We’ve got him,” Sullivan told him. “We’ve got him.”
“Took you long enough,” Sid spat out acidly but Sullivan knew it wasn’t truly aimed at him. “I’m gonna check on Róisín. Don’t let him get away again.” He gave the inspector a hard look and turned to head inside when Mrs. McCarthy as well as the Father came rushing out of the house. His face darkened when moments later Róisín followed, supported by Lady Felicia. “You’re not-!”
“Piteog!” the formerly surprisingly quiet Cian yelled across the yard. “You should be dead, a striapach! Dead!” He spat in her direction, it took both Sullivan and Goodfellow to keep him somewhat in place. “Mallacht Dé anuas ortsa, a striapach!”
Sid immediately put himself between his wife and the murderer, ready to protect her and maybe give the man another piece of his mind, in the form of his fists, but it wasn’t necessary.
Of all people to step up in front of the perpetrator who was basically foaming at the mouth still spouting what could not be anything but insults towards his niece, was Mrs. McCarthy.
“Ah dún do chlab, a Cian,” she told the man to shut up firmly, glaring at him. “If anyone’s cursed by God, it’s you, Cian Doran!”
Even more surprising than Mrs. McCarthy acting so bluntly was that Cian did fall silent, if due to her command or due to the shock of being spoken to like that by her you could not tell. What mattered was that he was quiet.
“This way, if you please.” Mrs. McCarthy gestured to the open backdoor into the kitchen and without a word of argument Inspector Sullivan and Sergeant Goodfellow too followed her instruction, more dragging than leading their culprit into the presbytery.
* * *