Home > Most Popular > The Murder Rule

The Murder Rule
Author: Dervla McTiernan

The Murder Rule

Dervla McTiernan


For Kenny, Freya, and Oisín. Always.




The night before she left for law school, Hannah Rokeby didn’t sleep.

She went to bed early and listened to the sounds her mother made as she moved about the house. Their home in Orono wasn’t smal , but it was old, and sound traveled. Hannah heard the clatter of dishes from the kitchen, the opening and closing of cupboard doors, Laura’s footsteps as she moved into the living room, then silence. No television, but that made sense, because Laura would likely be reading. At eleven-thirty P.M., when the creak of floorboards signaled that Laura was final y climbing the stairs to go to bed, Hannah closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing, making sure that it was slow and even. Her bedroom door opened. Laura entered the room, came over, and sat on the bed. Hannah could smel her mother’s perfume—jasmine and cedar. She tried not to flinch as Laura stroked her forehead, once, twice, three times.

“My darling.” Laura’s voice was soft, not much more than a whisper. Hannah kept her eyes closed. Breathed in, and out. A minute passed. Laura was very stil , so stil that Hannah’s mind started to play tricks on her. Could she stil feel the weight of her mother’s hand where it rested against her lower back, outside the blankets? Stil feel the slight tilt in the mattress caused by Laura’s position on the bed? Hannah resisted the urge to open her eyes.

Laura liked to talk and Hannah couldn’t bear that, not tonight.

Another long moment passed before Laura sighed, and final y rose.

She left the room, closing the door behind her, and Hannah opened her eyes. She reached for her phone and checked the time. She set a silent alarm, closed her eyes again, and tried, unsuccessful y, to sleep.

At four A.M. Hannah got out of bed, opened her closet, and took out her large backpack and her shoulder bag. The backpack was already packed. She fil ed her shoulder bag with those smal essentials she hadn’t been able to pack without prompting questions from Laura that she wasn’t ready to answer. Her hairbrush, toothbrush, and her smal bag of makeup and toiletries. The copy of Vanity Fair, hidden under her pil ow, that had started al of this. A couple of textbooks—Charles O’Hara’s book on criminal investigation, and another on forensic and criminal psychology. Legal pads and a few pens. Hannah hesitated. There was something she was forgetting, something important. Memory returned and she took two quick steps to her nightstand and drew out a smal , battered notebook with a faded red cover. She held the notebook between her hands for a moment, drawing strength from it, then careful y tucked it between the textbooks in her shoulder bag. It would be safe there.

Hannah turned off her bedside lamp and left the room. The house was very dark. What light there was came from Laura’s bedroom; her door was open. Hannah set her bags down gently and crept forward.

A floorboard creaked and she flinched. She waited a moment, then leaned against the doorjamb of her mother’s room and peered inside. Laura was sound asleep. She had left her blinds open and moonlight streamed in across her bed. She looked beautiful, but that was to be expected. Laura always looked beautiful. In her early forties, she was stil slim and blond with fine features and an air of fragility that seemed to attract the wrong kinds of men. It was only in sleep that that fragility—expressed by a slight tightness in the set of her lips, a suggestion of strain in her eyes—faded away and she looked like she should. As if nothing had ever hurt her.

Hannah pul ed the door slowly closed. There was no creak from the hinges, because she had oiled them the day before. She went downstairs, took a folded note from her backpack, and placed it so that it was held in place by the coffee machine. Okay. Almost there.

Hannah went to the laundry room. There was an extra freezer there that they used to store frozen vegetables and ice cream. She opened the door and pushed aside the bags of frozen peas that covered her stash. For the past two weeks she had made extra portions of the meals she prepared for lunch and dinner, boxed and labeled them, and stored them here, where she could be sure Laura wouldn’t find them. Using the light from her phone as a flashlight, Hannah chose a portion of quiche and another of shepherd’s pie and carried them back to the kitchen fridge, where Laura would see them.

Everything was in place. It was time to go.

Except . . . damnit . . . should she search? One last time before she left? Hannah was torn—on the one hand, searching was a betrayal of Laura’s trust (she had promised); on the other, it would be irresponsible not to, right? Hannah looked at her watch and grimaced. She had time, barely. And she could do it quickly, run through the usual places. First the water bottles in the fridge. Check the seals, make sure they haven’t been opened. Then run a hand behind the books on the shelves in the living room. Next lift the couch cushions, then look inside the ficus planter in the corner, then the water tank in the downstairs bathroom. She found nothing.

Hannah’s spirits lifted. Where else? Laura’s tennis bag—it was hanging on the end of the stairs and there was a plastic water bottle tucked in the outside pocket. Hannah opened the bottle and sniffed.

Water. She was being sil y. This was a delaying tactic because she was afraid to leave. Pathetic. Enough. Time to go.

Unlocking the front door meant undoing the chain and the dead bolt. There was no way to close them al again from the outside, but it was only a couple of hours to dawn now. Laura would be fine, Hannah told herself. Laura would be fine. The air was cool and clear, and there was an Uber idling out front, lights on. Hannah hurried down the drive, put her backpack in the trunk, and climbed into the car. The driver was a hulking shadow in the darkness.

“When I booked you, I left instructions to wait down the street,”

Hannah said.

He shrugged his indifference. His eyes met hers briefly in the rearview mirror. “The airport?”


The car pul ed slowly away from the curb and Hannah looked back at the house.