Chapter 1

 
 
The little graveyard in Cork, near the green hills outside town, a wonderful place to rest in peace, was crowded with people. Eileen Beckett, the strawberry-blonde girl standing close to the open grave with the coffin already gone down, thought that many of them were probably just curious and hoping to hear some gossip about how this ordinary policeman found his death. But a lot of them had also come to bid him farewell in all earnest. He had been so popular among the people and had always helped to "keep the peace", as he used to call it, in his beloved hometown.
Face after face went past Eileen's eyes. She saw their lips forming the words "my deepest sympathy" again and again. But she only heard them speaking as if through a pane of glass. Her bewilderment caused by the recent happenings had dazed her a bit. She wasn't even able to cry anymore, and that might have seemed a little weird to the guests of her own father's funeral.
Another face appeared in her view. A stranger's face, deep-green eyes with curly brown hair framing a friendly and handsome, but sad expression.
Ben: "I am sorry for your loss, Miss Beckett. I think you don't know who I am. My name is Ben Ledger. Your father was a colleague of mine. Well, I suppose he was a bit more than that… er… I know this is really hard for you, but could we talk later? It's important."
This Ben Ledger was the first person today who seemed nearly as affected as herself. Eileen could recognize traces of tears on his cheeks. So she simply nodded once and even tried to smile – but failed. The young man nodded back but didn't return her smile and walked away, towards the gate. Eileen wondered why her father had never mentioned Ben, whether the two of them had been more than colleagues.
More people crossed her view. At last there was only one man left in the graveyard. He stood at the edge of the hole in the ground and gazed down. His tall, muscular figure seemed crooked and his dark long hair fell down around his face like a curtain. The gentle Irish rainfall which had just started, adopted the ambiance to her mood. Eileen stepped next to him and examined his serious face.
Eileen: "Hey."
Stark didn't look up but stared into the dark earth. His face seemed to have even more wrinkles than usual.
Stark: "Hi, darling." (hoarse voice)
Eileen: "Dad would have liked this kind of funeral, don't you think?"
Stark: (snorting) "Yes, of course. This totally would have been Fergus' cup of tea."
Eileen: "Yeah. He always wanted… wanted to…"
Stark still didn't look at Eileen. She wanted him to hug her or kiss her forehead the way he used to when she had been a little girl. She had always felt better then. After her mother died, Stark couldn't replace her but he became something like a second father. He had played with Eileen, had tried to dis-tract her when Fergus simply hadn't been in the condition.
Stark: "Come on, darling. Let's go home. You need to get some rest."
Eileen: "Okay."
They left the graveyard together and walked the gritty path towards the parking lot. Stark put his hands into his pockets instead of showing any affection to the skinny girl next to him.
Almost at the car they saw Ben Ledger sitting on a bench nearby the path. It looked as if he'd been waiting for her.
Ben: "Miss Beckett! Could you spare a moment, please?"
She briefly glimpsed at Stark.
Stark: "I'll wait in the car."
The old man, who suddenly seemed so strange and foreign to Eileen, continued walking away quickly with long steps and without turning back to glimpse at her. Somehow he couldn't meet her eyes today. She didn't want to think about him right now, so she sat down next to Ben and looked at him more closely. His pale skin was almost perfect, except for a long scar reaching from his cheekbone to the right corner of his mouth. It was just a very slim and fine line, which could only be noticed up close.
Ben: "Hello again."
(pause)
Ben: "You've recognized my brand mark?"
He softly touched the right half of his face and knowingly smiled at Eileen.
Eileen: "Oh, I'm sorry. Was I staring? I didn't mean to…"
Ben: "It's ok. Actually, it's easy to miss, isn't it? Therefore I am always surprised if someone discovers the scar. But, it lets me seem a bit ballsy, don't you think?" (laughing)
Eileen: "Yeah, kind of. Did you get it at work? Being a police-man is a dangerous job, isn't it?"
Ben: "Oh no… Well, yes… but the scar is not the result of an accident at work. I fell through a window when I was a baby. Pretty bad story."
Eileen couldn't help but smile, which felt good.
Eileen: "I'm sorry, but you make this sound kind of funny, you know."
Ben: "Yeah, you're right."
(both laughing)
Eileen: "So, why haven't I heard a single word about you if you and my father were more than colleagues?"
Ben: "Good question. Er, well, he always treated you like bone-china, didn't he? His little girl."
Eileen: "What are you trying to say?"
Ben: "Well, I just think he might have chosen the people he wanted you to meet wisely."
Eileen: "So he thought you would be a bad influence on me? What made him think that?"
Ben: "No, I wouldn't call it a bad influence, that's the wrong expression…but just think about it. You're a pretty attractive girl… roughly my age… if you know what I mean."
Eileen: (laughing out loud) "Ha! You totally knew my father!"
Ben: "Yeah… he always made work fun, you know. He was like a guide to me. He helped me a lot in the beginning. I had a rough time to fit in, here in Ireland, after moving from England."
Eileen: "England, interesting. Oh, yes. He always used to cheer me up, too when I felt down."
Ben looked at her sadly. But Eileen didn't want to let the conversation move towards the awkward topic. Ben was the first person with whom she was able to laugh again.
Eileen: "Thank you for the compliment, by the way."
Ben: "Compliment?"
Eileen: "You said I was a pretty attractive girl."
Ben: (laughing) "Oh, yeah… you're welcome. Well, it's the truth, isn't it."
He smiled an adorable tooth showing smile. Eileen spotted his slightly blushed cheeks.
Eileen: "Are you trying to flirt with me right after my dad's funeral? At the cemetery? He was right not to introduce you to me."
Ben: "No! I was not trying… come on… I just…I'm sorry! It was not my intention…"
Eileen: (laughing) "Hey, just stop babbling. I was joking , you know."
There was an embarrassing pause. Eileen started to like this boy. He didn't expect her to be sad and grieving, as she often thought the other people did. Yes, she was sad. Sad. Devastat-ed. Depressed. And Down. Way down. But Fergus wouldn't have wanted her to grieve for him so much that she neglected her life. He would have wanted her to have fun and laugh again, to carry on with her studies, to go back to business as usual. He would even think it was okay for her to flirt with his colleague in the graveyard on the day of his funeral. Fergus himself tried to get back to his life after his wife's death as quickly as possible. "Death is not the end of life, my darling." he used to often say.
The roar of an engine cut through the silence. Eileen turned her head and saw Stark's car driving away, fast.
Eileen: "Stark? Bloody hell! What's up with him today?"
Ben: "What's the problem?"
Eileen: "Stark. You probably know him as Agent Robert Stark. He was supposed to drive me home and now he's just left without me! He is acting so weird today! He won't even look me in the eyes!"
Ben: "Well, Miss Beckett, I can drive you home. I've been dying to see Fergus's house anyways. Oh, I'm sorry. I'm being so, um, sensitive today, umm. Sorry."
Five minutes later they got into Ben's black car. The traffic was horrible as it was almost every day in Cork, people were crossing the streets without looking and the tourist buses slowed everything down. On their way home they talked about Ben's work and her studies.
And all of a sudden they were parked in front of Eileen's house. It was her house now because her parents were dead and she didn't have any other family but Stark left, and he wasn't even related to the Beckett's. Eileen realized, that Ben hadn't asked her for any directions towards her house, which Eileen found kind of weird.
Ben: "Well, Miss Beckett…"
Eileen: "Please, call me Eileen."
Ben: "Ok, Eileen, we have to talk about a few things…"
Eileen: "Oh, right, you mentioned. What is it about?"
Ben: "Yeah, I didn't only come here today to bid farewell to your father, but also to tell you something very important."
Eileen: (joking) "Oh, a confidential police secret?"
Ben: "No, not exactly. Ah, I hate it that I have to be the one to tell you…"
Ben suddenly appeared extremely stressed. He nervously ran through his curly hair and cast his eyes to the ground.
Eileen: "What is it? What's wrong, Ben?"
Silence. She gently touched his shoulder and he took a deep breath. Ben was talking slowly, as if considering every word he said very carefully.
Ben: "Eileen, your father didn't die a natural death."
 
 

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