• Gina Fegan

Chapter 16. Trying for normal

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

Marieanne and Orla had looked after Ada or maybe it was the other way around. Ada was thoroughly enjoying having young people around her, and wasn’t sure if it was all the love and attention, or the new stents, but she was feeling a million dollars. The girls had found the homemade brown bread in the freezer, made toast and coffee (Barry’s tea for Ada) adding their own favourite raspberry jam from the garden.

“So Orla, what’s all this ‘eco warrior’ business I am hearing about, should I be afraid? I don’t want my beautiful granddaughter in combats looking like a para!...”

Next door Maeve was doing a re-cap. Natalie had already explained and left the leaflet with Ray, as she had said “no-one takes it all in, the shock wipes your mind of everything other that your loved one is dead. You need something in black and white to read and reread later on, even then you only take it in a bit at a time.” She had been more specific when she said “We will need you, Ray, to come and identify the body in the morning. An officer will call you to arrange a time with the coroner's office in Maidstone, the body will be much nearer in the morgue in the hospital in Canterbury. A post mortem will take place and then the coroner’s office will let you know when the body can be removed to the funeral directors and you can set the date for the funeral. I expect it will take a few days because of the circumstances.” Natalie has also gone through the other aspects he might want to prepare for including the possibility of media interest. Had it been a search the police would have encouraged media interest, now they wanted to assess all the information they have before opening the floodgates. So fingers crossed they should have a day or two before the local reporters found out.

Ray may not have taken it all in but a funeral was something he knew about. Handling the press was not. He was very glad that Maeve and Ada were there to help him, his daughter Ruth was flying back from Egypt and should arrive sometime during the day but definitely by nightfall. He was in the middle of telling Maeve the plans that he and Anne had made to be cremated when the coroner rang. They decided that it was best not to leave the house empty in case anyone called. Ada agreed to mind the house, or more likely ‘phone sit’ and settled in with her fresh pot of tea, while Maeve drove Ray the 10mins over to the hospital. “We shouldn’t be long, and you should be taking it easy too. I must say you are looking great,” Maeve was trying to strike a balance between her previous almost abrupt way of talking to her mother and her newfound ‘sharing’ which was a bit gushy and could sound insincere if she wasn’t careful. Ada didn’t seem to mind, “don’t rush back for me.”

Ray seemed to be dealing with practical things one at a time. He ran through the list in the car, ‘identify the body, his daughter Ruth was arriving today. Must check there are clean sheets on the bed’. Maeve had a strong sense that he still hadn’t taken in that Anne wasn’t coming back and that all this was so that he could tell Anne what he had sorted out. 

Not long after they left the house the doorbell rang. Must have left the keys or something, Ada thought as she got up to answer it. She opened the door, with a ‘what is it now’ attitude when her jaw dropped. Standing outside was Simon Evans, the TV reporter for BBC South East. Ada knew him as a pushy young man, a reporter who would walk over anyone, twist any facts, to get a good story. Equally he knew Ada, as the crank ‘mystic’ medium who could talk to your dead relatives for a fee. In fact he had done a feature on the ‘fake psychics of Kent’ and as Ada was the most striking looking, half the footage was of her at her most flamboyant. In reality it had done Ada no harm and ultimately she got a lot of new clients from the attention, but it was a damning piece and he didn’t know that she had benefited from it and she certainly wasn’t going to tell him. Simon had already set up his ridiculous looking small iPhone on a tripod and was filming, he had his interview clothes on, a standard white shirt and tie with a sports jacket, and had a microphone already pointed towards Ada. Although Simon was clearly taken aback at seeing Ada, he did a quick rethink and went on seamlessly. “Ada McPhilips, infamous spirit medium at the house of the deceased, what can you tell us about this tragic case?” 

Simon had had a tip off from a friend who was a new volunteer in the police force and still so excited about his important role that he forgot Simon was a news reporter and that as a member of the police force albeit unpaid he should have kept his mouth shut. A late night beer had turned into a scoop for Simon. 

Simon knew that he was on thin ice, nothing had been confirmed and the name of the deceased was not yet in the public domain but a murder could get him national syndication, the exposure was just what he needed, if he could get his interview now before any other journalists arrived, he could edit it and hold the piece till he got the all clear. If he was lucky he could have it on this evening's news before anyone else even got their interview. And a medium was going to be the icing on the cake. Never mind the old saying ‘if it bleeds it leads’ he had a much better headline ‘the dead are helping the police’. 

Ada knew this wasn’t about her, but she had not been communing with the other side since her heart attack, a piece of information that she didn’t want to share. Convinced this was only a temporary situation and that as soon as she recovered, well she would recover her gift too, wouldn’t she? As a result she was on the defensive on two counts. How to handle this? Ada decided that confidence was the right attitude, a concerned neighbour, who would help in any way they could. That sounded right in her own head. But it didn’t end up that way.

By the time they got back from the hospital it was already mid morning and both Maeve and Ray were flagging. It had been gruelling. Anne had looked peaceful, almost asleep, but Ray had taken it very badly. Maeve had been right, up till then he really thought that she would be back any minute. Now he was faced with the fact, she was dead, it was definite, final. Maeve kept him focusing on the things to be done, knowing that the grieving process wouldn’t really start until after the funeral. Years ago she had listened to Ada talking about it often enough after her father died. ‘It’s the empty place at the table; the voice messages that you don’t want to delete; that there’s nothing to look forward to; it’s all in the past now.’ It does get better as time goes on, but it takes time, a lot more time than you think. Right now, concentrating on the business of the day gets you through the next hour, the next day, and so on.

Steve had left a message. The police needed to do a formal interview with Ray and also with Maeve. As soon as they were up to it could they come down to the station?

Ada made them some toast and coffee to give them some strength before facing the police. Ada didn’t manage to find the right time to tell them about the BBC. It would do as soon as they got back, wouldn’t it? No rush yet.

The interviews at the police station took a lot longer than Maeve was expecting. The whole process was disconcertingly professional. This wasn’t her friend Steve, this was business. There were two police officers in the interview room, and as the tape recorder was switched on Steve said, “ for the record this is Detective Stephen Maguire with Officer Sue Gosby interviewing Maeve McPhillips.

You have a right to silence.

Whatever you say can be used against you in a criminal case in court.

If you don’t mention something now which you mention later a court might ask why you didn’t mention it at the first opportunity”. This was an interview under caution.

It was at about this point that it registered with Maeve that helping the police could be misinterpreted as being a suspect. Of course, as she thought about it, without anyone else under suspicion the first people to eliminate, or suspect, of committing the crime, are the partner (as in the case of domestic abuse) or the person who found the body. Given that this person might also be the last person to see the victim alive, that put her in a precarious position. This was a shock. Shouldn’t she have a lawyer present? This not being Maeve’s world, random thoughts were running through her head and she was leaning on vaguely remembered police procedural TV shows. Then the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six popped into her mind. From the news coverage of them, she did recall that the English legal system is an adversarial system. You may be innocent until proven guilty but the role of the police is to provide the necessary evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service to convict the guilty. She felt very uncomfortable. Whatever her relationship with Steve might have been, right now they were literally on opposite sides of the table. Even though she was trembling, she knew she would regret it if she didn’t take action right now, “I think I need a lawyer present.” And with that everything stopped, “interview terminated at 1.05pm.”

Once they were out of the interview room Steve tried to explain that this was just normal police procedure, that it might have been an accident or a serious crime which looked like murder. Maeve stopped him with a “I’m sure that’s what they said to the Guildford Four. So I think ‘better safe than sorry’ don’t you? And you are right, procedures are there to be followed and I should have a lawyer with me. And Ray should too. Do you have a list of appropriate lawyers that do it pro-bono, or for legal aid?” Steve was getting irritated, “we don’t think either of you had anything to do with it, but if we don’t do everything by the book we can’t clear you either.” With that they stopped talking to each other.

The sourcing of legal representation was always going to slow things down, which is why Steve had tried to get through this without one. Maeve had popped out to get sandwiches for Ray and herself, the police had given them tea. Steve was on his phone pacing with frustration. He needed to be on site with the forensic team not wasting time in the station but equally he knew he had to do the interviews.

By the time Maeve and Ray had had their meeting with the lawyer and finally got through the interviews, now with the lawyer present, it was late afternoon. Nothing strange or startling emerged but Maeve felt that she had done the right thing even though it felt as if she had made a fuss over nothing. She certainly didn’t make any friends at the station. 

As they were leaving, Ada sent a text saying that Ray’s daughter Ruth had arrived and that she had sorted food for supper, did they have any idea how long they would be?

At the house Ada had left Ruth sorting herself out and had gone back to Maeve’s to put on some roast chicken and new potatoes, thinking it would do, nothing fancy and no one was likely to notice anyway. She was sufficiently distracted that she didn’t think to tell anyone about Simon’s early morning visit and that he had been filming it.

Ruth and Ray came over to eat what Ada had prepared at Maeve’s and it did them all good, they could sit in comfortable silence with nothing to think about, and good food appeared on the table, in a warm and friendly atmosphere. Marieanne and Orla had known Ruth as the one they both looked up to as small girls. So there was no awkwardness. No need to prepare a face, they were all in this together. As a result none of them saw the item on TV. That night they all needed the sleep, and so it was that all their phones were on silent. 

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