Adams stood across the road from the funeral home watching the queue of people slowly file inside. He knew the whole thing was being recorded by his men sequestered in a plain white van a few feet up the road. Later they would have video and photographic evidence of every last person that went in. Adams doubted the hit-man would be brazen enough to show his face but the stupidity of criminals never failed to surprise him. Uniformed Garda were positioned every twenty meters along the footpath and some heavily armed officers from the Midlands Response Unit lounged against their reinforced patrol car, with submachine guns draped over their Kevlar vests.
There was tension in the air and lots of less than welcoming glances being thrown in their direction. Adams couldn’t care less what this lot thought about him or his presence here. He had a job to do no matter what the likes of the Griffins thought. As he watched criminal after criminal file past he was reminded that the whole damn lot were a boil on the arse of society and the quicker it was lanced the better. He checked his phone for the tenth time but the Chief hadn't been in touch. He was eager to hear about Fergal Collins. He'd gone out on a limb when he'd authorised a protection detail at the hospital and the Collins home without the chief’s knowledge. If they ended up refusing to fund the operation he would look like a complete fool.
The small hand on his watch crept closer to the top of the hour. The appointed time was drawing close, if something was going to happen it would happen soon.
A suited undertaker appeared and closed one of the outer doors and motioned the last late-comers to move along in. Close friends and colleagues of the Griffin brothers stood around tailing and smiling whole they waited for the removal to begin. It was a veritable who’s who of scum and criminality. There were more broken noses and scar tissue on display than you would find in any hospital ward in the country. Eventually the undertaker secured the last door to give the family a few private moments before the casket was sealed.
Adams clicked the mic clipped to his jacket lapel and held it down.
“All units stand by. They are getting ready to move.”
The armed unit divided up. Two of them sat into the patrol car and moved into the centre of the road on the church side of the funeral home. The rest of them joined the unarmed officers standing on either side of the road. Adams clicked the mic again and said, “Cordon units report.”
In his earpiece a he listened to the officers positioned on junctions between them and the church call in. By the time everyone had reported Adams knew the route was secure. Adams could do no more.
He thought back on a news footage of a bomb blast at a Turkish wedding and the carnage that had caused. How was he supposed to stop such a mad man. If anything like that went down here there would be lots of innocent people hurt.
Ten minutes later the doors opened and John’s coffin appeared on the shoulders of six men, three of whom were the remaining Griffin brothers. The coffin was lowered and slid into the back of the waiting hearse. The undertakers worked with practiced efficiency as they arranged the floral tributes along the sides of the casket.
“Unit one, move out,” Adams said into his mic and the patrol car with the armed men inside glided up the road at walking pace. The rear door of the hearse was closed and the engine started. The family followed the hearse as it moved away. It started as an arrowhead of people being drawn behind the dead man which soon swelled to a tidal wave of black. The Garda following the cortege scanned doorways, alleys and side roads for impending trouble. As people walked they chatted among themselves, only the family remained mute.
“Church team report,” said Adams into his mic as he walked along with everyone else. A squawked response in his earpiece said all was fine. At least this was going to plan. His phone buzzed in his pocket and it was Sim’s mobile number flashing on the screen. He pressed the answer button.
“There’s trouble at the hospital,” she said without preamble.
“What’s happened? Has someone tried to get at Collins,” he asked falling back as far as he could from the people walking on the road and covering his mouth with his hand.
“Not exactly but something must have happened because he’s trying to discharge himself. The doctors are trying to keep him where he is but apparently he is going nuts. They said there is only so much longer they can hold him.”
“Is the protection detail still with him?”
“Tell them under no circumstances are they to let him leave the hospital, if necessary, tell them to arrest him.”
“Anything, I don’t care, j walking. Just tell them to keep him there and I am on my way over as soon as I get out of here.”
“I’m on it,” she said and hung up the phone.
Adams said “Shit” just loud enough to attract a few glances from those following the slow moving procession. He wanted to rush straight over to the hospital but there was no way he could leave his post. He was commander on scene and that had to take priority. He only hoped Sims would be able to hold things together until he got there.
Scobie sat with his head resting against the train window as it clicked clacked its way to into the centre of London. It was hard to imagine that only hours before he had been getting the bells knocked out of him in Dublin and now he was looking at the galaxy of lights that made up London. It was vast, the city stretched as far as the eye could see, staining the night sky orange with its millions of street lights. Even though the carriage was nearly empty and nobody was talking, he was acutely aware that he was in a different country, even the air felt different on his skin. The people here held themselves differently, dressed different, they seemed alien to him.
It was eleven when he finally got off the train and stood on the echoing train platform. The station was vast and looked strange accommodating the few late night commuters that disembarked. It was too late at night to go looking for Scobie’s cousin and he didn’t think any hostel would be taking in people at this hour. He needed to get his head together and make a plan. The first thing he needed to know was where the hell he was? The second thing he needed to know was how far away was Kilburn? Thankfully he found a huge map of the train network a little further along the platform. It looked like a kid had gone crazy with a marker set but he soon got the hang of it. He found the airport easy enough, it was way out on the bottom left of the map. He followed the express line with his finger all the way into Paddington Station where he now stood.
That wasn’t so hard, thought Joey, perhaps he had a talent for this private eye stuff. Then he spotted a station called Kilburn High Street. It was only just above and to the left of Paddington but there didn’t seem to be a direct line linking them up. It only looked like a few streets so he might as well try walking, he had all night after all. That was when he spotted something else on the map, a station on the far side of the river, a place called The Elephant and Castle. It was miles away from Kilburn.
Joey started to worry that he might be on a wild goose chase. Could the pub be in a place called the Elephant and Castle rather than be called the Elephant and Something? He might end up searching in the wrong part of London altogether. Scobie’s Ma was cleaver enough but he had scared the crap out of her with all that stuff he had told her, perhaps she'd got mixed up. What the hell was he going to do? He couldn’t exactly ring the old woman and start questioning her on the phone, even if he had her number.
Joey sat on a nearby bench to think. He stashed his little bag under the seat and held his head in his hands, closing his eyes for just a while. It wasn’t long before a deep voice bellowed, “Evening, Sir!” and scared the sweet baby Jesus out of him. His eyes shot open and before him was a giant Bobby with his hands clasped behind his back, rocking backward and forward on spit shined shoes. The pointed helmet was rammed so far down on his head that Joey could just about see his sparkling black eyes under the rim and the chin strap looked painfully tight.
“Hi,” said Joey sitting up straight.
“You look a bit lost, me old china. Hope you weren’t planning on sleeping there?”
“No, I am just leaving,” said Joey standing up and retrieving his bag.
The Bobbie didn’t say anything, but he touched the rim of his helmet in a very old fashioned way. Joey’s hand was forced.
He walked out of the train station he aimed himself roughly in the direction of Kilburn and hoped that Mrs Jennings had been right. Thankfully the night was dry and although it was a huge city, the streets seemed much quieter than he was used to. In Dublin there would be hundreds of revellers milling around, going from pub to pub at this hour and then even on to night clubs. To Joey’s eyes the city seemed to be already tucked up and in bed. There were a light scattering of bar’s but they seemed half empty. Joey kept moving along and watching out for street names matching the ones he had read on the train station sign.
A few inches on the map turned out to be one hell of a walk. The further he got from the centre of London the quieter the streets got. It wasn’t long before the stylish three story Victorian houses began to give way to low squat blocks of flats which looked as uninviting as the place he called home. He spotted several groups of hooded kids hanging around on street corners, or near car parks, and he gave them all a wide berth. It didn't matter what country you were in, trouble looked like trouble everywhere you went.
Eventually he came across a turning into a small wooded area with a sign that read Kilburn Park. He was in the right neck of the woods and this was as good a place as any to spend the night. He walked down toward the empty car park and climbed behind the bushes that bordered it. Using his bag as a pillow he settled in for a cold night where every little sound made him jump. He had never slept rough before, he was frozen solid most of the time and every time he closed his eyes he felt completely exposed to every imaginable evil. By the time the first birds chipped he had a newfound respect for the life Scobie lived.
The rising sun had yet to appear when he used some stinking public toilets to clean himself up and brush his teeth. His pants and top were covered in clay from the night he spent sleeping under the bush. He didn’t want to use the change of clothes he had brought with him yet, so he jammed the door closed and quickly washed the clothes he was wearing in the sink and put them back on wet. They would dry soon enough in the sunshine.
He wandered back to the park and found a bench to sit on. Some thoughtful late night drinker had left a half-eaten kebab behind in a stirofome container, this became Joey’s breakfast, and it was delicious. Hunger was a fantastic sauce it seemed. Soon wisps of steam were rising off him as the sun slowly dried out his clothes but if there was any heat in that watery orb it wasn’t getting through, he was frozen and shivering. Even after his clothes were fully dry, he found it hard to get heat into his body. He stiffly rose from the bench and tried to walk some heat into his bones.
The rising sun triggered the city into life and within an hour the streets were swarming with bodies of all kinds. Joey had never seen anything like it. It was as if the entire population of the world had been scooped up, mixed together, and dumped into the hundreds of tiny flats along Kilburn’s High Street. Every race creed and colour were represented and soon the air was humming with a thousand different dialects. He even heard a few familiar accents in the mix. He spent hours wandering the streets but he failed to find any pub with Elephant in its name. He eventually found a phone box with a yellow pages phone book still hanging in its metal holder but that proved to be a dead end as well. He soon came across a place called The Cock Tavern and who better to ask than a barman thought Joey as he pulled open the ornate door and went inside.
The room was half full of pre-lunch drinkers none of which gave him a second glance. The long marble bar stretched the length of the room, a TV was tuned on to a news station. In the corner a poker machine sang happily to itself while a low him of conversation filled the room. Joey took a seat at the counter and the bar man walked in his direction while still continuing his conversation about football with a few regulars.
“Thirty million for that plonker, they saw you coming, mate!”
The barman’s head swivelled toward Joey and said, “Yes, mate?”
“Pint of Heineken, Please.”
The barman moved to the pumps and continued his football commentary as he filled the glass with golden beer. He deposited the dripping pint on a mat before Joey and said, “Three fifty, mate.”
Joey peeled a fiver from the small roll of English notes he changed at the airport and handed it over. Before he could ask the barman if there was a pub in this area with Elephant in the name, the man handed back his change and moved back to his friends.
Joey contented himself with sipping his drink and enjoying the warmth of the pub. He killed forty minutes watching the TV and drinking slowly before the barman floated in his direction and asked, “Refill, Mate?”
Joey thought of the small amount of money in his pocket and said, “Maybe later, I am trying to find a friend who works in a pub around here perhaps you can help me.”
The barman flipped his bar towel over his shoulder and rested his hands on the counter as if waiting for the second shoe to drop.
“The problem is I forgot the name of the pub, it’s called the Elephant and something.”
“In this Manor?”
“In Kilburn, me old son?”
“Oh, yes I think so.”
“Ere, Bill, you ever ear a pub called Elephant and something round ere?” called the bar man to one of the men he’d been discussing football with earlier.
“There is the Elephant and Castle but that is way over in Kensington, it’s soddin miles away,” said Bill and turned his back on Joey as quick as he had said it.
“If there is a bloke that knows every boozer in London, it’s Bill,” said the barman taking the towel from his shoulder and wiping the counter around Joey’s glass. The look he gave was confusing, it wasn’t friendly, it wasn’t unfriendly, just puzzled. Joey didn’t like being looked at so closely, it gave him the creeps. He lifted his glass and drained the contents before placing it back on the beer mat.
“Thanks for trying,” said Joey stooping to pick up his bag. As he walked away the barman walked along beside him and as they reached the furthest point from the seated group the barman said quietly, “Ere, Mate.” Joey stopped and looked at the man who was clearly trying to keep his voice down.
“There might be one place, but you don’t look the type.”
Joey moved closer to the bar and asked, “What type is that?”
“A pufta, but you never know these days.”
“I’m not bloody queer!”
“Sush, keep it down. Some of those boys aint too friendly, if you know what I’m saying. This friend, are you sure it’s a pub he’s working in, could it be a club?”
“Night club? Could be, I’m not sure really.”
“Well the word is, a few likely lads started a late club for the puftas and it’s not far from here. They're running it on a wine licence so it’s not exactly legal. The reason I mention it is that I heard one chap call it the Pink Elephant. Just said I’d mention it.”
“It’s worth checking out I guess, where did you say it was?”
“There is a Tesco down the road about half a mile, it’s across the road. Not sure if there is a sign or anything.”
“Thanks a lot, Buddy, you’ve been great,” said Joey, walking toward the door while the barman went back about his business, Joey all but forgotten.
He found the supermarket, but like the barman had predicted, there was no sign for a night club. With nothing much left to do he went into the supermarket to get some food, he was starving. He bought a premade ham-salad roll, a large bottle of coke and a sharing pack of mini chocolate bars. Joey couldn't just wait around for this club to open, he was sure to attract attention which was the last thing he needed in the given circumstances. So he took to the side streets and alleys, looking for somewhere he could pass a few hours. He eventually found a row of old garages which backed onto what looked like a small cluster of council developed housing. It looked like the kind of place people kept their nose firmly in their own business. He tried all the roller shutter door handles and found one more neglected than the rest. When he pulled on the door it moved a bit. He checked that nobody was watching before giving it a good heave and was rewarded with the snapping sound of rusted metal. The door squeaked up a few feet and he ducked underneath. Inside the place was like a mausoleum, decades old dust coated everything, some of it now floating in the newly disturbed air. The space was a dumping ground of car parts, old furniture but resting against the end wall was heaven on earth to a tired Dublin lad. A clean enough looking mattress.
“Home sweet home,” Joey said to nobody in particular and pulled roller shutter behind him.
Joey spent the remaining daylight hours resting, sleep took him like a hammer blow to the brain. He'd passed out in his damp clothes but not before devouring the roll and half the bottle of soda. When he woke he was shivering uncontrollably, he felt hot and cold at the same time, he thought he must be coming down with the flu or something. He struggled to sit up, his joints protesting at the inconvenience. The garage wasn’t completely dark, high on the back wall a narrow window covered in years of cobwebs was letting in dim streetlight. He pounded his arms off his back and sides to keep the blood flowing. When he got to his feet, his head spun for a second but then it passed. He jogged on the spot to try and get some heat moving through his body but soon he grew tired of that. His mouth was parched so he searched dim space until he felt his hand rest on the plastic shopping bag. He opened the coke and finished what was left in one go.
"God, that's good," he said aloud and let rip a bubble filled burp. After he had polished off six of the mini bars he was starting to feel a bit better, the sugar was hitting his system. Joey checked his phone and was amazed to see it was nearly ten at night. Had he slept eight straight hours? It seemed like he had only just nodded off. As he rubbed a hand across his chin, the sparse hair sang against his skin. He had never managed to grow any kind of a beard, it was always too thin and he ended up looking like Ming's forgotten love child. He knew if he was going to get into any night club he'd need to straighten himself out. Joey eased open the roller door a crack to make sure nobody was around. He slipped out clutching the empty soda bottle. He didn't have to walk to far up the lane until he spotted an outside tap on the back wall of a house. He was over the wall in a flash and filled up the bottle while keeping a weather eye for the owners through the kitchen window. As he was leaving he spotted a fancy shirt flapping on the washing line that looked just his size.
The clothes-peg hadn’t even snapped closed by the time Joey was ducking back into the safety of his newly acquired cave. He stripped to his pelt and scrubbed himself using the t-shirt he had been wearing after soaking it in some of the water from the bottle. Once he was good and moist he lathered himself all over with shower gel, including his face. Then he shaved by touch using a disposable razor. He was sure he must have nicked himself a dozen times. When his fingers could feel no more stubble he sloshed the remaining water all over himself and towelled himself off with the already damp t-shirt. When he was more or less dry he applied a good burst of deodorant and tried the shirt on for size. It was a bit tight across his chest, even-so it was far better than anything he had brought with him. He picked out his best jeans and finished the outfit off with a pair of converse canvas shoes. All in all, he looked presentable, he hoped.
Joey left the garage, making sure he knew how to get back, just in case. It only took a few minutes for him to find his way back to the supermarket and sure enough, across the road a door stood open spilling pink light out on to the sidewalk. Who needed a sign? Joey checked his look in a shop window, took a few deep breaths and crossed the road. Inside the door, a narrow stairs dove down into the bowels of the earth. The walls on either side were mirrored and the roof was lined with pink neon tubing. He was painted a rosy hue and when he looked in these mirrors, he looked a million dollars. Its amazing what the right lighting can make happen. A mixture of disco and hip-hop bounced off his ears and although it wasn't his kind of music, it was catchy. At the bottom of the steps he found a window with a bored looking woman sitting in it.
“Hi Hon, you a member,” she asked, her beehive haircut bobbing as she inspected her talon like nails. Joey hadn’t thought of that and it could well sink his plan before he'd a chance to try it.
“No, sorry. I’m new in town.” He was about to plead his case when the girl shoved a piece of paper toward him with a pen resting on top.
“Membership is five quid, that covers you for a year,” she said without much interest. Joey filled out details, but not his details, and added a five pound note before sliding the paper back to the woman.
“On you go, Darling,” she said with a smile, without even looking at what he had written.
Joey held up his bag, “Can I leave this here?”
“Corse you can, My Love. That’s two quid,” she said tearing off a ticket and handing it over. The membership looked bloody good value now.
He made his way into the main part of the club which was dominated by an oval bar, there was a tiny dance floor and even a pod with a dancing pole fixed to the roof. Thankfully nobody was actually using the pole but there were a dozen men giving it sox on the dance floor. The DJ was the biggest drag queen he had ever seen, she must double as the bouncer. Around the edge of the room the red light motif continued, throwing the high backed booths into deep scarlet shadow. Faceless bodies swarmed in the darkness and anyone of them could be Scobie but he doubted it was. This place would have freaked him out, and it was having much the same effect on himself.
"Come on, Joey, blend the fuck in," he mumbled to himself and made his way through the crowd to the busy bar. "Where are you Ryan, please be here," he silently prayed. As a space freed up at the counter, Joey got his first good look at the staff working behind the bar. Straight off he could rule out the two huge black lads wearing kid sized t-shirts. The Jenning's family tree might be a little unpruned but it didn’t stretch as far as Jamaica. Joey smiled at one of the two other bar man who were zooming up and behind the counter and he eventually stopped and took his order with a thick London accent. Doubtful he was Ryan unless he was moonlighting as a mimic. All Joey’s hopes now were pinned on a good looking black haired guy with the startling white shirt opened to his bellybutton. If that was Scobie’s cousin, then his junkie friend really got the shitty end of the stick. Joey tried to relax and blend in. He couldn’t help but look around at the nearly all male crowd, and he was surprised to see he was getting more than a few looks returned. When he turned back toward the bar the black haired man stood directly behind him.
“Drink?” he asked while taking glasses from a dish washer and stacking them under the bar.
“Cheers, a Heineken,” said Joey smiling his biggest smile. He saw the barman pause with his hand in the tray of steaming glasses.
“Are you from Dublin?”
“That obvious, ha! I am.”
“Me too. What brings you over to the Burn?”
“I only got off the plane tonight, sounds stupid but Kilburn was the only place in London I had heard of so here I came. Like I said stupid I guess,” said Joey shrugging his shoulders in what he thought was an adventurous and carefree way.
“And you managed to find this place? Most people would need a map and a blood hound!” laughed the barman popping the cap from a bottle and landing it on the counter. Joey placed a ten pound note beside it and said, “Have one yourself.”
“I’m Joe by the way.”
“Nice to meet you Joe, I’m Ryan,” the barman said taking the extended hand. Joey noted the contact lasted a bit longer than necessary.
As the night wore on, Joey chatted to a good few different guys, got chatted to would be more accurate but he soon believed he was pulling off his act, even if it was making his guts knot. He never strayed far from the bar and toward the end of the night Ryan caught him alone and gave him a knowing look.
“Right, what is your story, or is my gaydar busted?” he said sternly.
Fuck! He thought he was pulling it off and being caught out made him blush to the roots of his hair. “You knew?”
“Of course I did, but some of these queens couldn’t care less if a fine young thing like you is straight or not, as long as they get what they want.”
Joey leaned in across the bar and Ryan copied the move, “I’ve never been to a place like this before but I’ve always wondered, you know, if I was.”
“And you thought you’d find out in your first night in a strange country? Come on Joey, you’re no fool.”
“I don’t even have a place to stay,” said Joey, feeling a nervy note enter his voice. Was Ryan going to bite or not.
“Forget that. You are a fool,” said Ryan as he walked away.
Joey knew he'd blown his chance and was in the middle of trying to figure another plan of action when Ryan appeared at his elbow.
“You can stay at mine, just for the night. Tomorrow you get yourself sorted.”
“Keep your voice down. We’re not allowed to take punters home. I could lose my job over this. Get your stuff together and wait for me by the school by the end of the road. I’ll be at least an hour,” he said not looking at Joey but watching all around to see if anyone else was listening.
“Th...” Joey started but he didn’t get to say anymore as Ryan had already walked away.
It was nearer to two hours before Ryan appeared on the footpath outside the school. Joey had to look at him twice now that he was bundled up under a jacket and a cap to make sure it was him.
“I can’t tell you how good you are to do this,” said Joey bouncing down from the wall with his small bag slung across his shoulder.
“It’s only because you’re a Dub. Come on, let’s get out of here.”
They walked away into the night talking of different places at home they both knew, he even mentioned a few people Joey knew but he didn’t let on. He didn’t want to tip his hand. Before long they turned into a huge Georgian house which had been divided up into eight different bedsits. He stopped with his key in the door and said, “You can have the floor in my room, I got a cousin in from Ireland on the couch. It seems to be the week for waifs and strays."
They entered the hall and tiptoed past the closed door and Ryan indicated he should follow. The bedroom was the last on the corridor. While Ryan laid out blankets on the floor Joey asked, “Can I use the bathroom?”
“Sure, next door.”
Joey slipped out and passed the bathroom and quietly opened the sitting room door. He could make out a body on the couch, snoring softly. Joey quickly found Scobie's bag at the end of the couch and rifled through it but there was no money. Where the hell was it? Joey moved so he was leaning over the sleeping form of his friend and as if sensing his presence, the man rolled in his sleep.
“Scobie,” hissed Joey and his friends eyes sprang open. Joey rammed his hand over Scobies mouth before he could make a noise.
“Where is it?” he snarled into his friend’s ear. His eyes flicked for a micro second down toward his pillow and Joey rammed his hand under it, nothing, but he felt a hard lump under the cushion. Joey pushed his hand deeper and his fingers found the saving of his life. Joey let his friend’s mouth go and hauled him off the couch making his stumble across the room.
“Joey! I didn’t mean to do it!”
Joey didn’t answer, he was busy stripping the couch and sure enough there was a thick paper parcel with bundled notes peeking out of the corner. The lights flared on in the sitting room and Ryan stood staring at them flabbergasted. “What the hell is going on?”
“This!” snapped Joey waving the package at Ryan. “This is what is going on. Scobie stole this money from my flat, but it get’s worse. It’s not my money. This belongs to the most dangerous criminal in Dublin and you can thank your lucky stars I came to get it back not some head crackers who would leave you both in a coma for shits and giggles.”
Ryan turned on his cousin and said, “Tell me he’s lying?”
For once Scobie told the truth by saying nothing at all.
“Is it all here?” demanded Joey.
“Nearly? How much.., forget it, I’m counting it anyway,” said Joey storming over to the kitchen table and using his finger he ripped open the rest of the package. The notes were banded in thousand euro bundles. Joey counted seventeen bundles and a handful of loose notes.
“Three grand? How did you spend three grand in three days?”
“I needed some new clobber and had get the plane ticket, didn’t I,” said Scobie, sitting down sulkily.
“And I needed some, stuff.”
“Don’t think this is over, Jimmy Kingston knows it was you that took the cash.”
“Kingston! You stole from the Kingston’s!” bellowed Ryan sitting down and looking very ashen.
Joey scooped all the bundles back into the paper package and stuffed the loose notes into his pocket. Standing there in an apartment, in a strange country, with a man who had robbed him and another he didn’t even know, he felt very venerable. Joey grabbed a butcher’s knife from a fancy looking block on the counter waved it in front of him as he crab walked toward the door. Ryan held up his hands and jumped to the far side of the room.
“I’m not going to touch yea,” said Joey, rushing out into the corridor and retrieving his bag from the bedroom.
Ryan was standing by the door of the sitting room as he reappeared, stuffing the money into the bag and zipping it up. “You can stay the night if you want,” he said.
“Not fucking likely,” said Joey storming out the door and slamming it behind him. Joey didn’t want to be on the streets a second longer than he had to be with this amount of cash on him. He waved down the first black cab that came along and slid into the back seat.
“Where too, Gov?”
“Heathrow, terminal two please,” he said, his fingers not once leaving bulge in his bag where a lifetime’s money now rested.