The following is a draft from The Longest Night, my debut novel! Let me know what you think in the comments or on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MagicOfAStory
“Delia, that’s a huge… I mean… That’s a big thing to say.” He stood for a second, his hand over his mouth, and then moved across the room and cupped Delia’s hands, which were clutching her mug of tea. “Are you sure?”
Delia’s vacant eyes stared deep into her mug. Hunter caught himself wondering if she was searching for answers, or trying to make them up, and he hated himself for it.
“I know this as surely as I loved my husband. Someone out there was just a bit too… invested in George’s research. George said that he was excited about it but also embarrassed about it.
“It started around a year ago. Someone contacted him about some very old work he did before. They wanted him to do further work on it. Paid him a lot of money. He said that what they were working on could possibly change the world…”
Hunter nodded. “But of course he didn’t talk about it.”
The widow nodded slowly.
Anyone who ever attempted to work with George would eventually come across his paranoia fuelled secrecy. He was an intensely private man when it came to his work, not sharing anything until he had unquestionably proved it without a shred of doubt. It was what made him so respected in the field. Hunter never doubted that this paranoid privacy extended to Delia as well, and now it seemed his wife was using this as a way to ‘prove’ his murder.
“Delia, I know you’re outraged at how George passed. I am too. A stupid accident isn’t how a man as great as George should’ve died. But why would you think he was murdered? Why not go to the Gardaí?”
Delia stood suddenly and moved across the room to the window. She jerked the curtains closed as she turned to face Hunter.
“I don’t trust them. I said I won’t go to them because I think the Gardaí that first showed up interfered with George, or hid something.” Hunter turned away from her. He didn’t want her to see the doubt that was surely plastered all over his face. He let out a long slow breath and tried to think of a way that he could convince Delia that George’s death was a terrible accident. He rubbed his hands through his hair and was surprised to feel a light sweat on his forehead.
“Why don’t you trust them?”
“It was the inquest. It didn’t match up with what happened. Not in my eyes.”
Hunter remembered what he could from the reports surrounding George’s death. Recently George had received enough funding and planning permission to conduct a dig near the Drombeg stone circle in Cork. Hunter and Sophie had both been there helping all the way. Although they went up against a lot of hardship and even protests from the locals, George, Hunter and Sophie proved them wrong by finding an underground passage tomb, one that rivalled the Newgrange structure in size. Sophie and Hunter left for Dublin for a meeting with the college while George stayed behind. As it was being excavated, George was moving some cables down into the site to power some lighting. He had wrapped the cord over one shoulder and under the opposite arm. But as he moved, there was a slight cave-in under his feet, and the cord slipped off and somehow got caught around his neck. George was found hanging by his neck the next morning, his toes only a few centimetres from the ground.
“What didn’t match up? What would make you think that someone kill-”
“The inquest said nothing about his head injury.”
Hunter turned again and faced her. This was different. This did change everything. He didn’t necessarily believe that George was killed. He could have easily hit his head during the minor cave-in. But why didn’t the coroner’s report mention it?
Delia stood up and walked over to Hunter. She had a sharp look in her eye, one that Hunter never saw before.
“When I was allowed to see him, I was devastated. He had blue…and… purple marks around his neck… but… there was something else. There was a dent in his head, just behind his left ear. No-one would notice it unless they touched him. I… I…”
Her voice trailed off. Hunter stood in silence, respecting the woman’s grief.
“I know you must think I’m desperate for saying this, but you have to believe me. I wouldn’t say this lightly. George’s death wasn’t an accident. George was hit over the head and then hanged. Someone made it look like an accident.”
Delia walked towards the door of the study. She smoothed out her skirt and picked up her empty cup from beside the chair. Hunter could feel the sweat on his forehead as his heart rate began to rise. Delia opened the door and looked back at Hunter over her shoulder.
“I need you to help find out who, and why.”
In the week since George’s burial, Hunter hadn’t slept properly at all. Instead he delved into George’s research, desperately searching for something that ‘could change the world.’ Hunter stared at the stack of papers on George’s desk and desperately wondered where he could possibly start. There were open books, closed books, handwritten notes on symbols in Neolithic sites, a scroll that George helped translate, journals from dig sites, letters, even Hunter’s own laptop and a fair few dig site maps littered the desk. Every page and small piece of mess contained so much information to go through that it felt that he would never see the surface of the desk ever again. George himself would always know exactly where every document, map, manuscript or catalogue was, no-one else could ever find the needle in his chaotic haystack.
He groaned in frustration. His hands felt too slow to do what was required, his brain wasn’t making the connections it had to, nothing was as fast as it simply needed to be. I need more time… and sleep, he thought.
Losing a good friend is something that most have to go through every now and then, but finding out that they were murdered was much worse.
Might have been murdered, Hunter corrected.
A knock at the door made him rise from the chair. He stretched his arms as he stood, accidentally hitting a pile of sheets that he had spent most of the day organising. The pile, which Hunter had mentally labelled, “Interesting but not world changing, look again later”, slowly leaned over the edge of the desk.
“NO, NO, NO!”
Hunter launched himself at the toppling tower and he managed to save some of his mornings work, but not without a couple of pages cascading to the floor. As Hunter struggled to put the sheets back onto the desk the mysterious knocker tapped on the door a second time.
“Yeah sorry, just a minute!” he said.
He got to his knees and picked up as many sheets as he could. There were one or two that had scurried too far under the table for him to reach, he’d have to move the desk. He left them for now and threw what he had onto the table. Finally, he stepped across the room and yanked the door open.
Hunter regarded the office’s visitor. His strong square jaw supported a wide smile plastered on his face. His thick black hair was cut very short and his deep brown eyes locked onto Hunter’s own. He stepped towards Hunter with a soft clean hand extended for a handshake.
“Hi, I’m Keith Akintola from Blue Line Insurance? I’m here to discuss the insurance claim of the recent robbery and vandalism?”
Of course. As if a death in the department wasn’t enough, they had a robbery a few days before George’s death. The thieves smashed a window to get in, spray painted some stupid drawings on the walls, and tossed most of the cabinets. That caused enough stress for the department on its own, but the fact that they stole a stone knife from the Neolithic era really added another layer of stress.
“Ah yes, that’s fine. Come on in.”
Hunter turned and walked back to his desk. His mind was stretched as thin as paper, trying to keep track of all his trains of thought. He raised his hands and ran them through his hair, hoping to calm his brain down. He collapsed back into the uncomfortable chair and yawned loudly.
Just as the man was asking for his name, a loud shrill ring interrupted them. He grabbed his phone and looked with confusion at the unsaved number.
“Professeur Hunter?” a woman asked.
“My name is Doctor Arlette Mesny, I’m calling you about research I was conducting avec Professeur Spears?”
Hunter’s heart dropped. He never heard of this woman before. Did this mean his phone was going to start hopping with phone calls from secret co-workers of George’s?
“Can you hang on a second? Sorry eh… Keith wasn’t it?”
Keith looked up from the floor. “That’s me!”
“I’m sorry but I have to take this. If you want to go to that room there,” he pointed to another oak door to Keith’s right, “That will bring you down to the archive room, second door. Sophie is there and she can help you out until I get there.”
The man followed his directions and left the room.
“I apologise, Ms. Mesny, I can speak now.”
“Dr. Mesny si vous plait.”
Hunter rolled his eyes.
“I apologise, Dr. Mesny.”
“Trés bien. Before I begin, may I say that I am deeply sorry for your loss? I cannot imagine how your department could handle the loss of such a brilliant man.”
“Thank you very much. It was certainly a shock. How well did you know George?”
“I never actually had the pleasure of meeting the man face to face. We worked together over email and phone calls.”
“What type of work were you conducting with George?”
“Well Dr Hunter, that is why I was calling. I figured that your department would want full disclosure on his research?”
Hunter sat up a little straighter in his seat and reached for a pen and paper.
“Most certainly. George was a very private person, however, so forgive me if I’m not fully up to date on his work.”
“Not to worry. I have been working with Prof Spears for about a year now. We were mapping tombes néolithic all across Europe.”
Hunter shook his head in confusion as his pulse quickened. Hunter himself was the resident Neolithic expert, and George died in a Neolithic tomb.
“But why? I mean map them how? Surely all known tombs are already extensively mapped? Why repeat the work of so many others?”
“Well Dr Hunter, we weren’t mapping every tomb. Dr Spears only wanted tombs that fit certain criteria to be mapped. Tombs that are supposedly older than 3200 BCE and have any form of spiral carvings, triple spirals or triskelions. Before you ask, I’ve already sent on the map, as well as a list of all the tombs. There are quite a number.”
“Thank you doctor.” He shifted in his seat and pinned his phone to his ear with his shoulder. Hunter started flicking through the sheets on the desk. He could have sworn he saw something in George’s handwriting about triple spirals.
“De rien. At first I found Prof Spears’ criteria strangely limiting. He wished to have as much information about each locale on the map. We agreed to split the map between us. He was to map Irlande et the UK, which made sense. Whereas I would work on Malta and Greece, once I finished France of course.”
“Of course.” He didn’t want to forget a single thing she said, even if she was sending on the research. Why investigate such a specific set of tombs? What was George looking for? “But Dr Mesny, did he ever say to you why he wanted these tombs researched, given how specific and wide the criteria are?”
“Never Dr Hunter, I apologise.”
Hunter kept flicking the papers on his desk over and over, knowing that he had seen something on spirals. As he searched, he thanked the doctor for calling, exchanged email addresses and personal phone numbers, and ended their conversation.
Thankful for the call, Hunter cursed it all the same.
Hope you enjoyed the latest chapter of my upcoming debut novel, The Longest Night! If you’d like to keep tabs of when The Longest Night is coming out head over to my Facebook page, or sign up to my mailing list for updates on the release! Even better, you can preorder the ebook right here!