Saturday, 29 October 2016

Thirty Pieces of Silver - Lay Us Down To Sleep

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?”

“Yes.”

“Tell them under no circumstances are they to let him leave the hospital, if necessary, tell them to arrest him.”

“For what?”

“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?”

“Sorry?”

“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?”

“The Burn?”

“Kilburn.”

“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.”

“Cheers.”

“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.

 "Shit."

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.”

“That’s flippin....”

“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."

 "Bingo!"

  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.”

“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.

“Three Grand!”

“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.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Stopped in My Tracks by the Moon

Tonight is a perfectly calm, crisp and cloudless night in Kerry. I finished up in the pub, did all my bobs and jobs before driving home as normal. The roads were empty and the temperature gauge on my car showed a brisk two degrees. The way I come takes me over a low hill, from the top of which you can see right across the valley to the hills in the distance. Tonight when I rounded that last bend, something spectacular was waiting for me.

A huge crescent moon hung just above the floor of the valley, in a night sky so dark, it may as well be painted black. It looked as if the moon was hanging directly over a tiny town in the distance, shinning down on it in utter brilliance. The whole scene was serene and other worldly. I know this is a trick of the atmosphere, bringing the moon so close you think you could touch it but I really did feel that way. Right there in that moment, the universe held up a tiny part of its beauty to be compared along side the work of man, and our efforts looked puny in comparison.

I pulled the car over and got out. It was amazing! Then I did the same idiot thing everyone seems to do these days, I took out my phone and tried to take a photo of it. After a few shaky looking snaps of a bright dot in the sky, I relised I was an idiot and put the phone away. I stood there for a good ten minutes, undisturbed by even one other car and watched this huge astral artwork move slowly skyward.

When I eventually got back in my car I knew I had seen something very special and the only sad part was I had nobody there with me to share the experience. I may have been the only person in this part of the world, who saw that moon, from that angle, in that moment, and that knowledge made me sad. I wanted to wake everyone I knew up and let them see what I had seen, I wanted to be able to share that moment with someone special, it may well have acted as a wedding ring for the soul, but that wasn't meant to be.

So what better way to celebrate the gift's of the heavens than with music.




Here are the crappy phone shots just to prove how silly amazing things look when we view the world through a phone.



(This one was taken lower down the valley closer to the village.)



Thursday, 20 October 2016

Poker Face

God, weddings can be the most boring and drawn out things in the world, particularly the speeches. I nearly lose the will to live when I see the microphone being passed to a nervous father of the bride with an inch thick stack of paper before him. All that changed the day of Bridie and Eamon’s wedding.


It began like any wedding with a fine breakfast followed by a the actual ceremoney and far too many photos. I'm sure weddings all over the world are a bit different, but in Ireland we tend to sit down for a meal with the wedding party on one long table at the top of the room, while the rest of us are seated on tables of ten or twelve. Sometime you get to chose where you sit and then there are the times the dreaded table plan appears. Those are the extra special occasions where you end up sitting beside people you’ve never seen before and will never see again. Its not so bad if you're a couple but at Eamon's wedding I was that awkward single workmate thrown into a pool of lifelong friends, relations and neighbours. It was like feeding a live mouse to a room full of snakes.  


Eamon, the groom, worked in the same lumber yard as I did and he is a sound guy. After five, we got called in for the meal I scanned the table plan and found my name allocated to table thirty two, right at the back, but at least it was near the bar. I wandered over and pulled out a chair. To my right were two old women who turned out to be spinster sisters which lived across the road from the bride. They were lovely in a sipping sherry kind of way. Then there was an older couple who seemed to be fighting and didn't even acknowledge me when I sat down, but thank God there were two younger couples at the table as well.

Grace was said and the and meal started. As the courses vanished it became clear that Brian, one of the younger men, was determined to be the center of attention for the night. He already had a good few pints under his belt and was dominating the conversation at the table as his much younger girlfriend tried her best to set a world record for free wine top-ups.

The other dominant force at the table was Fiona, who clearly knew Brian. Fiona was gorgeous and bubbly if not the sharpest chistle in the box. Fiona's boyfriend Tony, smiled in all the right places, laughed at all the right jokes, but seemed a little distanced from all that was going on. It was around desert time I found out why.

It seemed that Brian and Fiona had a short lived relationship while they were in college. While they seemed comfortable with this, Tony clearly wasn't. Fiona wasn't helping the situation when she laughingly touched Brian's arm to stop him recounting some tid-bit from their sex fulled past.
As tea was served, a hotel manager appeared behind the best man with a microphone in his hand.

"Oh Lord, the speeches are starting," I said out loud with empending doom.

"Great stuff!" said Brain and reaching out to pull an empty wine glass forward. "Are yea all up for a game of The Groom Thanks."

"What's that?" I asked as Brian rifled through his wallet for a note.

"It's easy," said Brian waving a tenner in the air. "Everyone puts money in the glass. When the groom starts his speech, every time he says the word Thanks the glass moves right one person. Whoever the glass is sitting in front of at the end of the speech wins the money."

It sounded like a bit of fun so I said, "Count me in," and I pushed a note into the wine glass along with Brian's. Fiona had her tenner in like a flash, the warring silent couple said nothing but the man stuffed a twenty in. The spinsters had a quick discussion among themselves adout the evils of gambling but still added a tenner between them and they would count as one person. Tony reluctantly put his money in. Brian's girlfriend's head was swiveling around like an orange on a toothpick and she had no idea what was going on.

"Don't mind her," said Brian dismissively as she slumped against his shoulder.

We had to endure the priest, the father of the bride, the father of the groom, Aunty Peggie who ever the hell that was, and the best man before it was time for Eamon's speach.

"Here we go," said Brian gleefully pulling the glass in front of himself which caused a giggle of excitement to emenate from Fiona. Tony gave a sideways glance at her, as even to my ears, the sound was vaguely sexual.

"Why does the glass start off with you?" asked Tony.

"I was the fist to put money in the glass," said Brian snootly.

"I'm not sure that is fair."

"Fair me arse. Anyway, it's where the glass ends up that counts," said Brian getting a bit tetchy.

"Now comes the moment you have all been waiting for, lets hear it for the man himself, Mr Eamon Ryan." said the best man passing over the microphone and causing a burst of feedback in the process.

"Jesus," said Eamon when the screeching died down and glanced over at the priest glaring at him from the end of the top table. "Sorry Father." There was a rustling of paper while he got his notes in order before he raised the mic to his lips and said "Howyea," in a thick bog accent that got the whole room cheering. "Thanks for coming," he said.

"And were off," hooted Brian as he moved the glass to his right toward me.

"I never thought I would ever see the day ..."

I have to admit I started to zone out for a bit but then Brian thumped me on the shoulder.

"What?" I asked.

"He just thanked some ould bat who taught him in primary school. Yea got to pay attention and move the fecking glass around on every Thanks."

"Oh, I missed that one," I said, shoving the glass toward the two spinsters who eyed up the money like a hungry dog eyes up a steak. So much for the evils of gambling.

"I want to thank the bridesmaids for looking ..."

"Whoop! There is another one! Move it on girls, come on now," teased Brian as a sad looking spinster shoved it in front of the grumpy looking man sitting beside them but the glass had hardly stopped when Eamon said, "I don't know how Bridie would have done it without yea, Thanks."

The grumpy man shoved the glass in front of his misses and gave her a filthy look as if she had somehow cheated him out of something.

"I want to thank Father Tom for ..."

The glass moved on again.

All through the speech the glass moved with every thanks that was uttered and I have to say it was getting very addictive. We all hung on Eamon's every word and when that golden nugget fell from his lips a low cheer and a giggle ran around our table. Even the spinsters were getting in on the act but it was Brian and Fiona who were leading the charge. People were starting to notice something was happening and were watching.

"I th...." What ever Eamon tried to say was blotted out by a burst of feedback but he powered through. "as she searched every shop in Ireland for pink roses for the center pieces, so thanks a million."

The glass moved in front of Tony but Brian shot out his hand and grabbed the stem. "He said thanks twice there, it's got to go to Fiona.

"I only heard one," said Tony trying to pull the glass back in front of him.

"Nope, there were two. One just before the static then one at the end."

"Hang on a minute, he only got a T out there, it could have been anything."

"What else could it be, for flip sake."

"Think, threw, timed, tempted, tits, who fucken knows!"

"Nobody says tits in a wedding speech," said Brian, deliberately not seeing Tony's point and moved the glass.


Reluctantly Tony let the glass go but the mood on the table was very much darker from then on. Tony didn't join in with the cheering as the glass moved which seemed to make Fiona even more determined to make up for him.

Ten minutes later, and a thousand thank's, Eamon was drawing to a close.

"So to finish I want to raise a glass to my beautiful bride and thank her from the bottom of my heart for having me." Everyone in the room stood and our table was on tender hooks because the glass now rested in front of Tony who smiled for the first time since the barney with Brian. It looked like he was going to claim the money.

"Right so, the bar is open and the band is ready to go so lets have at it, have a great night everyone and Thanks again."

Eamon put the mic down on the table and with a half sad face Tony moved the glass in front of Fiona which caused Fiona and Brian cheer at the top of their voices and lots of people looked in their direction including Eamon who thought they were cheering his speech. Sure enough he picked up the mic and smiled, "Thanks Lads!"

Another huge cheer from Brian as he grabbed the wine glass and held it aloft like a conquering hero.

"Ah hang on, that's not fair!" said Tony sitting forward.

"He said Thanks!" said Brian waving the folded money in Tony's face.

"The speech was over."

"No it wasn't but it is now."

"And that other thing earlier, if that was any other word besides thanks the glass would have ended up in front of Fiona not you!" said Tony his eyes beginning to blaze.

I knew trouble was coming.

"Come on guys, its only a game," said Fiona.

"You stay out of it," snapped Tony. I saw the shocked look on her face as she glared at her boyfriend.

"I beg your pardon?"

"You've been drooling all over this moron all evening, I'm sick of it. Just because you let him shag yea in college," snarled Tony. I knew he'd crossed a line and pulled back from the table.

"What did you say?" said Fiona coldly.

"What did you call me?" demanded Brian at the same time and getting up from the table and in the process he dislodged his drunken girlfriend who woke for the first time since the speech began.

"I said you SHAGGED HIM!" yelled Tony pointing an accusing finger at Brian while glaring at Fiona.

From nowhere the slurred word, "Bitch!" rang around the table and a fine haymaker of a puck landed Fiona on her arse while a drunken jealous girl flailed at her.

Well there you have it, that was how the battle began. It took two squad cars and a half dozen bouncers to bring order back to the place. I never knew what happened to the money but I do know this, if I ever get married there will be no bloody table plan, that's for sure.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Thirty Pieces of Silver - Hunting Scobie (cont)

Joey laid it on thick with Mrs Jennings when he got back to her house. He told her how he knew Scobie had been bricking it at the thought of going back inside, and that he was worried he might do something drastic like scarpering, that was why he had gone looking for him. He had tugged at her heart strings by telling her there was a chance he could convince him to come back before it was too late, to face up to the music and avoid being on the run. Joey piled heartache on top of despair and watched the woman crumple under the weight of those emotions.

Eventually Mrs Jennings told him that Scobie had a cousin working in London called Ryan Hughes. She'd said they’d been close as kids and she couldn’t think of anyone else he’d know over there. She knew he worked in a pub near Kilburn but she didn’t know where he was living. The only thing she could tell him, besides his name, was that the pub was called The Elephant and something. Joey headed home to pack a bag with Mrs Jennings pleas, to bring her boy home, ringing in his ears. He'd bring her boy home alright but he couldn't promise in how many pieces. Joey strode through the streets of Dublin on rock solid legs, something he didn't think he'd be capable of a few hours ago but now he had a destination, a hint of a trail. How many pubs could there be with Elephant in their name?

When Joey got back to the flat he found Sarah waiting for him, her makeup was streaked from crying and he knew he had been the cause of that. At first he felt angry that she was making a flipping scene when he needed to focus on getting Jimmy's cash back but that feeling soon melted. Anger flew out the window and was replaced by overwhelming guilt. Each tear that fell from her alabaster chin to splatter on the coffee table was his fault. The worst thing was that Joey knew, if his Ma had been alive, she would be doing exactly the same thing. God how he missed his Ma. She always knew just what to say to make things better. He would give anything to have her here right now. He moved over to the couch and sat beside the only family he had left and took her in his arms.

“Ah, Sis. Don’t be crying. I'll get things sorted,” he said stroking her hair which was dry from the dozens of times she had dyed it to cover the grey strands. Grey he'd been responsible for if he was honest. She looked at him sadly, like she was looking at him for the last time, but she didn’t say anything just sniffed and wiped away a tear.

“I spoke with Mrs Jennings and I know Scobie is over in London with his cousin. I just got to get over there and get Jimmy’s money back. It will be alright, I promise.”

“Will it be alright, Joey?”

“Of course it will,” he said but felt the hollowness of his words. Deep in the back of his mind he wondered who he was trying to convince, Sarah or himself.

“What about the next time?” she asked

“There won’t be a next time,” he said with a conviction he had no mortal right to possess.

“Joey, you’re running money around the city for a criminal. Worse still, you didn’t even know what you were running and you still did it! He'll use you till you’re in jail, or dead.”

“I swear, once I get this cash back I'll never go near him again.”

“Easy to say but he has his claws in you and you can’t even see it. You won’t be able to stop him, and the sad thing is I can’t see a way of stopping him either. He's going to take you from me, I just know it,” she said and fresh tears ran down her face. Joey hugged her harder and felt her sob into his chest as her hands wrapped around his neck.

“We can get through this. I know I’ve let you down and been stupid but that's all going to stop. I'll find a way, even if it kills me,” he whispered into the nest of hair rubbing against his cheek. She pulled away, her red rimmed eyes held his, searching for truth and hope in their depths. He knew that if there was ever a time to turn his life around, this was it. She must have seen some of what he was feeling because she patted his hand and dried her tears, sniffing back her heartache.

“Right, you better pack a bag. I’ll see about booking a flight for you."

There was nothing he could say to take back all that had happened. All he could do was try and make it up to her in the future. It only took him a few minutes to throw some clothes into a bag and find his passport. Sarah appeared at his bedroom door with her arms folded in defeat.

“You're on a Ryan Air flight leaving in three hours, and coming back the day after tomorrow. Will that be enough time?”

“Loads.”

“Where will you stay?” she asked. He hadn't thought about that. The only thing he had thought about was finding the cash.

“I’ll figure that out after I find Scobie,” he said walking toward her. She held out a piece of paper with his booking reference number on it.

“You’ll have to print out your boarding card at the airport, and take this,” she said pressing a fold of notes into his hand.

“I can’t take that,” he said knowing that was all the money they had. He tried to get her to take the money back but she pushed it away.

“And how much have you got?” she asked after his third attempt.

Joey said nothing because that was exactly what he had in his pocket.

“You can pay me back. Go on, you better get going,” she said standing aside and letting him out of the bedroom.

“Thanks,” he mumbled.

She hugged him again, pulling him close to kiss him on the cheek.

“You be careful,” she said sternly.

“I will,” said Joey, feeling embarrassed in his sister’s arms.

She eventually released him and he walked toward the front door. He looked back as he stepped out onto the landing and the broken look she wore wounded him anew. He knew in his heart that once he got Jimmy’s money back, he’d never put her through anything like this ever again.

***

The Griffin brothers gathered around the coffin, each of them looking uncomfortable in a stark black suit. Behind them, Emma sat with her hands folded in her lap and her face grey with grief. The twins sat quietly for once. They looked sad but confused, as if they kept forgetting why they should be sad. It was the miracle of being a kid, that bouncability they seemed to possess which vanished in the growing. Little Zoey looked as if she had no such defence against the evil of the world. She looked haunted and hollow, as if someone had scooped out everything that had made her vibrant and left a thin vainer of skin waiting to crumble at the slightest touch.

Clare had tried consoling Emma earlier but nothing she said seemed to get through the wall of grief the young widow had erected about her, she was beyond the reach of words. In the end Clare had sat in the hard plastic chairs which were unique to funeral homes and watched her sway gently back and forth while her eyes stared off into space. Even now, as the remaining Griffin brothers stood guard over the body of her husband, Emma's eyes refused to be draw in the direction of her departed love. Emma's distance wasn't the only stark change in the room. Darren and Tony seemed to be different men today. There was a calm between them which she'd never seen before. It wasn't exactly a closeness, but it wasn't the barely disguised animosity that had always been a feature of their contact before. Today they stood shoulder to shoulder and seemed to take comfort from the others presence.  

The undertaker approached Darren and waited until he looked in his direction.

“If you’re ready, shall we open the doors?”

Darren nodded and the man moved away toward the entrance. In a circle around the coffin were close family waiting to greet the mourners gathered outside. Seated first in the row was John's mother, the original Mrs Griffin. She was flanked by her sisters and brothers, those that were still alive at any rate. Then after the slightest gap in the row was Emma, who loomed incredibly large in the room, like the core of a black hole determined to suck all the pain and heartache in the world toward herself. The reason for the gap between Emma and her mother in law was common knowledge. Emma told Clare that John's mother had said on their wedding day no less, that her John was a fool for marring a painted trollop such as her. Her wedding day! Emma had laughed it off but Clare knew the old woman's scorn had struck home. Emma may be tough but she wasn't immune to poison on that level. Even in light of John's death, Mrs Griffin seemed to have no sympathy for her daughter in law.

The twins and Zoey sat closest to the Griffin brothers who dominated the head of the room like three gargoyles come to life. On the left of the coffin sat various cousins inter spaced with less direct married relations including herself and Martin.

The first people appeared in the doorway and blessed themselves solemnly before looking forlornly on the fallen man in the coffin. Clare knew that behind those virtuous looks, most were searching for signs of the bullet holes that had robbed this earth of such a vibrant man. They were nothing more than ghouls in saintly disguise. Then it began, the marathon of gripped hands, stifled tears and half hugs. Hour after hour the throngs came. Clare lost track of the number of strangers who expressed their sorrow before moving on to the next person in black.

She couldn't have said what had alerted her to a change in Darren, perhaps it was the way his back straightened, or that his attention seemed riveted to an area of the queue not yet even in the room. He shook hands while looking over or around the person directly in front of him. Clare sensed trouble in the offing and wondered what he had seen. He made no effort to alert Tony who was to his left, but something was clearly wrong.

Clare looked at those coming into the room, searching for a potential gunman, or an old enemy, or even the detective who'd called to their flat the other day, but she could see no one out of the ordinary. That was when she noticed the tall elegant woman with luscious hair falling past her shoulders moving slowly down the row of mourners. Clare was sure Darren's eyes were tracking her every move and it didn't take a physic to see why, she was gorgeous. The woman's eyes were framed by impossibly long lashes and her lips shone like rubies and although she mouthed her sorrow, there was a slight turn to the corner of her lip that suggested some hidden humour at the centre of her being. Clare followed Darren’s eye line and was sure she saw something pass between them. Darren looked uneasy, angry even. Closer and closer the woman moved until she paused in front of her man and offered her hand. She couldn’t hear the words that passed between them but Darren's gaze was locked on the willowy figure in front of him. Their hand clasp lasted longer than any other he'd shared, but the woman moved on before it was lingering. Clare knew in her heart that this was the woman who threatened everything she had built and she was moving toward her, the bitch.

“I’m so very sorry for your loss,” the tall woman said in a cultured and clipped accent that seemed exotic among the rumble of north Dublin accents filling the room.

“Thank you Mrs....?”

“Molly,” she said with a dazzling smile.

“How did you know John?” Clare asked returning her smile with interest.

“I got to know him through work, although not that well. I felt compelled to show my respects.”

Compelled? That word sounded double edged. Clare was about to ask where the woman worked when she became aware of the stalled queue of mourners and the glaring look Darren was sending her direction.

“It was lovely to meet you, Molly,” Clare said at last before extending her hand to the man standing behind her nemesis, accepting the next mumbled Sorry for your troubles.

As the mysterious Molly continued to shake the hands with the outer ring of cousins, Clare watched Darren from the corner of her eye. He was like a cat on a hot tin roof. His gaze danced from Clare to the departing Molly back to the individual who had appeared before him to grasp his hand in condolence. 

Clare knew she'd just encountered the rock which may crush love from her life, and she felt no better for the experience. Molly? What a dull name. Molly! Dull it may be but the woman it encompassed was nothing short of incendiary.

***

Pete knew it was a mistake to take Fergal Collins to the hospital but Jimmy was the boss, so he'd done as he'd been told. Even so, years of looking over his shoulder had taught him to always listen to his gut instinct and his gut was screaming out for attention. That was why he'd left one of his guy's behind to watch what went down.

The coppers had been round, that was only to be expected, but what wasn't expected was the fact that an hour ago, Collin's was wheeled out of the Emergency department under a four man armed guard. Pete knew that could only mean one thing. Once a rat, always a rat. Collins was trying to sell them out to save his own worthless skin. Pete had gone straight round to Fergal's house to make sure his old lady knew the score. If her old man talked it wasn't just his his head he was putting on the chopping block, it was all of them. As it turned out Pete never got to deliver his message. When he had turned up at the house there were two unmarked Garda cars sitting in the drive way. It looked like the whole Collins family had chosen the path they wished to take.

Pete was furious as he drove away, but nothing was set in stone yet, Collins had a long way to go before he ever made it up the steps of a courthouse. Pete considered calling Jimmy to tell him what had happened but he changed his mind. This was the kind of news best delivered in person.

When he turned the car into the Garrison and things were blessedly quite for once. He didn't know whether to be relieved or nervous. Lately it seemed if things weren't kicking off, they were about to. He parked outside Jimmy's and turned off the engine. The expensive leather seat creaked as he eased his bulk out the door and he felt a stiffness in his bones that was coming more and more often. Perhaps he was getting too old for all this stuff but what would he do then? Take up gardening or what?  He walked up the path and knocked on the door which was opened nearly instantly by Kenny. Pete felt his face harden with anger, that kid would be the death of them all.

"Did yea check the camera?"

"I knew it was you, chill out man," said the teenager walking dismissively away from the door.

"You had no fucking idea who it was!" shouted Pete storming into the house after the departing lad and slamming the door hard behind him.

"Don't be such an auld woman," said Kenny flipping him the finger over his shoulder.

"The cameras are there for a good reason, you gobshite!" Pete said catching Kenny by the shoulder and spinning him roughly to face him.

"Hey! Get your filthy hand's off me! You better remember you work for us, not the other way around. Got it!"

Pete felt his fists bunch and the kid was going to get a slap. That was when he heard Jimmy's voice behind him.

"He works for me, not you," the gang boss said evenly as he descended the elaborate staircase.

Pete and Kenny stood waiting for more but it didn't come. They were like two warring kids waiting for a parent to take sides. Instead of doing anything of the sort Jimmy waked between them with a knowing smirk on his face. Kenny waved his hands in frustration and chased after his father.

"Are you going to let his gorilla put his hands on me?"

"You probably deserved it."

"Jesus Christ. You're always taking everyone's side but mine!"

Pete saw the look in Jimmy's eye and knew some switch in his head had flipped from calm to dangerous. It always amazed Pete how fast he went from calm to deadly. Jimmy had a hair trigger, you never knew what would set him off, that was why Pete mostly chose to say as little as possible. Kenny always went a few steps too far, driving his father close to the edge but some inbuilt survival instinct stopped him in the nick of time.

"I'm not a kid any more, you need to start treating me with more respect," said Kenny to his father.

"That's rich," snorted Jimmy. "If you want to sit at the big boy table you better start pulling your weight around here."

"And what's that mean?"

"I'm fed up of watching you swan around town living it large on the back of my name and my hard work."

"It's my name too!"

"Only because I gave it to yea. You talk about respect, where is my respect?" yelled Jimmy.

"I'm sick of this shit," said Kenny walking away. Like a flash Jimmy grabbed his kid and the open-handed smack he delivered sent Kenny crashing back against the wall.

"Don't you turn your back on me!" This time, Kenny's survival instinct kicked in and he held his tongue.

"You're nothing but a spoilt rotten kid, but you're my kid and you better start remembering that. It's time you started acting your age and then you might earn a bit of respect, now get the hell out of my sight!"

Kenny hurried away toward the front door in a cloud of hurt dignity. He yanked open the door and just as he was about to slam it Jimmy snarled, "Don't dare slam that flamen thing."

Kenny paused with his fingers wrapped around the edge of the heavy reinforced door, a look of hate filled his eyes but fear of his father won the battle and he walked away leaving the door open behind him.

"Close the door, would yea?" said Jimmy  to Pete as he walked, you'd swear nothing had happened at all.

Pete closed the door and followed Jimmy into the sitting room. His boss was standing at the window watching Kenny's car leave a cloud of tyre smoke behind as he roared out of the cul de sac.

"We have a problem with Fergal Collins, Boss."

"What problem?"

"The cops have an armed protection detail on him in the hospital and another one at his house."

"What?"

"It looks like ..."

"I know what it means!" snapped Jimmy spinning around on Pete. Pete didn't react to the sharp comment, instead he just waited for Jimmy to get it out of his system. He watched the man stalk around the room muttering and making frustrated gestures with his hands before coming to a rest near the door.

"He's a dead man," Jimmy said at last.

"He was a dead man anyway, I think that is why he's turned to the cops."

"I don't believe it. This is the last thing we need. I'll get the tame coppers sniffing around and find out what he's been saying, you get a message to that snitch. Make sure he knows that if he says as much as one word, him, his bitch wife and kid, his mother, his brothers, in fact everyone he ever spoke too is dead. Tell him the only way the coppers will ever stop it happening is by burring him in the deepest darkest hole they can find."

Pete nodded and  walked out of the room. Behind him he heard Jimmy say to himself, "I should have killed him when I had him."

Yea you should, thought Pete as he closed the door.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Thirty pieces of silver - Hunting Scobie

Adam’s and Sims got lucky and found a parking space just outside the stations door. He was eager to get things rolling because time wasn't their friend. They walked through the public lounge and tapped in the access code for the office area. The door buzzed and Adams charged ahead with Sims a step behind him. It must have been serendipity because the Chief appeared on the corridor ahead of them.

“Sir,” called Adams. The tall commanding officer spun casually on his heel to face whoever was calling for him. He was always calm, always collected, a real cold fish some people said.

“Adams, I was just looking for you,” he said with a friendly smile. The Chief nodded in Sims’ direction but didn’t say anything to her.

“Oh?” said Adams, wondering what had happened that he didn’t know about.

“I wanted to let you know that the pathologist is going to release John Griffin’s body today.”

“That will really stir things up, Sir. We’d better step up coverage over the coming days,” said Adams sounding grave.

“I think that would be wise, you know how these gangland funerals attract every hack from every rag going.”

“We could do with extra manpower in that case. Do you think we could get the armed response unit up from Limerick?” asked Adams, seeing the opportunity to open the Chief’s purse strings a little bit wider.

“I don’t see why not, the situation certainly justifies it,” said the Chief looking all magnanimous and generous, all he was really worried about was getting any bad press. The last thing he wanted was some journalist saying the criminals were gathering in strength without a copper to be seen. He wanted plenty of blue uniforms in the photos with as many guns as they could muster.

“I’ll call Limerick and get things sorted,” said the Chief, beginning to turn away. Adams knew it was now or never to get the Collins spending approved.

“Sir, there has been a development I need to talk to you about." The Chief stopped and turned back.

“Carry on.”

Adams took a deep breath and dove in, “Earlier today Fergal Collins was admitted to hospital after being severely assaulted by the Griffin brothers. Collins is a member of the Kingston gang but he’s been working for John Griffin on the side, selling them information. The Griffins believe he knew about the hit but didn’t inform them, and Jimmy Kingston now knows that Collins was behind the hijacking of a drugs shipment.”

“I would suggest that Mr Collins is in a lot of trouble,” said the Chief dourly.

“He’s in the worst kind of trouble. We’ve just spoken with him and he is willing to testify against the Griffins, Jimmy Kingston and Pete Byrne on a rainbow of charges. He claims to have names and details of countless offences.”

“I can feel a but coming,” said the Chief crossing his reed thin arms across his chest.

“He knows he will never live long enough to testify unless he’s taken into protection and set up with a new identity after the end of the trials.”

“Just Collins?”

“Wife and young daughter as well, Sir.”

“I’m not sure how the DPP will react to that,” said the Chief clearly not loving the idea.

“It might be the best chance we ever get to take these two crews out of commission, it would certainly end this feud.”

“I’ll have to take some legal counsel on this. The courts may view his evidence as coerced, if it’s admissible at all. One way or the other a judge will certainly not give it as much weight as independent testimony,” said the Chief, already trying to figure out the end of the game before the ball has been even thrown in.

“We have to act now, Sir. Collins could well be on the next plane out of the country, if he lives that long,” appealed Adams, wincing at the sound of desperation in his voice.

“Detective, you know a rushed investigation is an investigation doomed to failure. I will take advice and get back to you,” said the Chief coldly, turning to walk away toward his office.

“Yes Sir,” said Adams to his back, feeling frustrated and slighted. Adams walked on in the Chief’s wake with Sims at his elbow. He felt the skin of his face prickle with heat. He was embarrassed at the less than enthusiastic reaction he had gotten, particularly because it happened in front of Sims. He felt stupid going red because of it, she knew the situation as well as he did. It was his job to try and catch the bad guys, it was the Chief’s to play the odds and make sure they made the best of the budget. Understanding it did nothing to take the sting out of the slap down.

He had to give Sims her due, she was good at reading a situation and still hadn’t said a word by the time they reached their open-plan office. She just walked along and allowed him mull over things in his mind. They stopped by his desk and before sitting he rummaged through the landslide of papers which had grown since they had left.

“I’d better get a memo out about the release of the body,” he said flipping through the new reports that had been added to his work load by unseen hands.

“I can do that if you like,” she offered helpfully.

“That would be great, if you don’t mind. I want to check in with the protection detail at the hospital and finish off this briefing paper.”

“I don’t mind at all,” she said walking away. Adams finally fished out the half-finished report which he had abandoned earlier. His eyes wandered across his own scrawl but he couldn’t concentrate. He felt uselessness fall on his shoulders like a cold wet blanket. What was the point of doing all of this top brass kept shackling them in miles of red tape and probable outcomes? He became a Guard to catch the criminals, to protect the public and to make the world a better place. Nobody had ever mentioned letting some of them slide because the chances of a conviction was less than cast iron. The pessimist in him knew the Chief was right, there was no point in rushing through an investigation, no matter how right you were, only to have it dismissed by some slick lawyer when you finally got your day in court. But hell, where do you draw the line? Adams could feel this case slipping through his fingers and if he lost Collins, he was right back where he started. All he could do was pray that the DPP came back with the right decision, before it was too late.
***
Joey hadn’t a clue where to start looking for Scobie so he decided that the best place to begin was with his mother. He rushed over to the small council house that Mr and Mrs Jennings had lived in when he was going to school and prayed they hadn’t moved in the last few years. When he got to the place, he looked over the freshly painted garden wall and admired the garden. It was bursting with flowers and pot plants. Dozens of ceramic butterflies danced on the ends of wispy rods as they were kissed by the wind. It was a garden that looked like it had fallen from the pages of a fairy-tale book, perfectly framing a cheery house bedecked in white and red paint which looked so fresh it may have only been applied yesterday. Joey opened the ornate iron gate and walked up the path. This looked like the last place on earth that should have been scared by drug use. He lifted the shiny brass knocker and let it fall twice. After a moment a tidy woman in her fifties appeared. “Can I help you?” she asked with an open smile.

“Hi, I’m Joey, a friend of your son, Sco…, Frank. I was trying to get in touch with him. Is he here?”

The woman’s smile vanished. Joey watched as pain, worry and despair sucked the colour from her being.

“Does he owe you money?”

“No, Mrs Jennings, nothing like that. I really am his friend, we were in school together and lately I’ve been letting him come round my place and tidy himself up.”

“That’s good of you. Not everyone would bother,” she said, the words sounded sad and guilt-ridden as they fell through the air between them.

“He’s a good lad, it’s just the...” he paused feeling as if he had talked himself in to a corner.

“The drugs, you can say it.”

“Yea, I guess.”

“They stole my boy, poisoned his life,” she said, the bitterness of those words caused her lovely face to crease with distaste. All Joey could do was nod and look sad.

“Has he been round today? I tried calling him but his phone is off?”

“No, he doesn’t call here anymore. Nothing left to rob I guess.”  Hearing a mother speak that way about a part of herself didn’t seem right.

“Have you any idea where he is staying or where he might be. I know he’s got a court case coming up and I wanted to make sure...”

“What court case?” she asked cutting across his words.

“You didn’t know?”

“No. People don’t talk to us much. He’s seen to that.”

“It’s nothing serious, shoplifting, a few t-shirts I think,” said Joey trying to soften the blow.

“My son, the thief. Jail might be the best place for him, he might get clean,” she said looking intently at the mat under her feet that said Welcome.

Joey knew there was nothing he could say that would make this woman feel better. Her house, her garden, her smile, it was all just window dressing for the world. Inside a huge Scobie sized piece of herself had been torn out and blackened by corruption. That corruption invaded every portion of her being and all this colour was a mask she wore for the benefit of the neighbours.

“I hoped you might know where he was staying?” probed Joey again knowing his need was greater than appeasing this woman before him. He still had hope, where she had none.

“Last I heard he was living in a derelict building across from your old school.”

At last, a lead. “I know the place. Thanks very much,” said Joey walking away down the flower lined path.

“Joey?”

“Yes Mrs Jennings?”

“Will you let me know how the court case goes?”

“Sure. Sure I will,” he said giving the woman a gentle smile.

“Thanks, you’re a good lad,” she said sadly. Joey hurried away, eager to get Jimmy’s money back, and hoping that if he ever met Mrs Jennings again that she would still think he was a good lad.

Joey knew the house Mrs Jennings was talking about, it was a right dive. It was a good twenty minute walk from the Jenning's place and no journey had ever seemed so drawn out. When Joey finally reached the house the front door was boarded up. The tiny yard was full of rubbish, some of which looked fairly new. Discarded syringes glinted in the wild grass and weeds which thrived on abandonment. He walked down the narrow path between the side wall of the house and an overgrown hedge. The back door had been forced open and hung ajar. He pulled it wider, the stink of unwashed human skin and rotting trash slapped him in the face making it hard to breath.

“Christ,” said Joey trying to cover his nose with his hand as he moved inside. Shafts of light cut through the gloom like lances of hope being driven into the heart of darkness. The room looked and smelt like a landfill. There was no sign of life, or of Scobie for that matter. Joey moved deeper into the house. In the hall, all of the balusters and the hand rail were missing from the stairway, most likely burned for fire wood, leaving only the bear steps rising up to the second floor. Something scraped across naked floorboards above his head.

Joey rushed up the stairs following the noise. He saw movement in a room on the right. No doors hung in any of the doorways, they just gaped like passageways into darker realms of misery.  Joey rushed forward and barged inside the stinking room.  The only thing he found was a strung out looking girl sitting in the middle of a filthy mattress on the floor. He rushed into the other rooms but they were all empty. Joey returned to the girl and stood over her.

“I’m looking for Scobie,” he said and the girl looked at him with huge watery eyes.

“He’s gone,” she slurred, as if she were half asleep. Joey knew she was high just by looking at her.

“Gone where? Is he coming back?”

“Don’t know, he left,” she slurred slipping sideways to lie down and draw here knees to her chest.

“Did he say where he was going?”

This time the girl said nothing, only blinking her blind eyes as she viewed a world chemically created for one. Joey looked at the cooking spoon and shooting kit abandoned on the floor and sighed. Junkies.

He shook her by the shoulder and her eyes wobbled in her head, eventually focusing on his face.

“Where did he go?”

“London, to stay with a cousin,” she said and her eyes swam away from him again.

“Shit,” he said to himself. Scobie was gone and he knew he had no choice but to go after him. He had to get to Scobie before he spent any of that money or Jimmy would kill him. Joey walked back down the stairs and out of the house as fast as his feet would carry him. The skink of the place lingered on his clothes making him wrinkle his nose in disgust. London was a big place but how many cousins could Scobie have over there? Joey retraced his steps. He would have to pay Mrs Jennings a second visit, she was now his only hope.
***
Darren, Terrance and Tony stood beside the undertaker’s hearse as John’s body was rolled through a roller shutter. Darren thought the coroner’s building should have been more impressive, less mundane. It didn’t seem right that this was the place people’s lives ended. The porters kicked on the trolley’s breaks and lifted the simple pine box into the back of the waiting hearse. One of the porters offered a clipboard to Darren and asked him to sign on the bottom line.

It felt like he was taking delivery of an amazon package not a man who had been more of a father to him than his father ever was. Darren signed and handed the clipboard back. He looked around at his brothers and felt weary. Weary of it all, never before had he ever felt so done in. From the corner of his eye he spotted the snarl on Tony’s face and felt his hackles rise. What was it that made his bother hate him so much? Was all this worth it? Was being the head of a family as fractured and dysfunctional as this worth all the agro. Right now, he just wanted to walk away for the lot of them.
He looked at Tony and asked, “What?”

“What?” mimicked Tony, acting as if Darren was a fool?

“What makes you despise me?” snapped Darren squaring up to his own flesh and blood. The porters felt the tension in the air and decided anywhere was a better place to be than here.

“What you talking about?” said Tony snidely, stuffing his hands into his front pockets. Half defensive, half dismissively.

“You, it’s always you. I’m sick of all this shit. If you want to be the boss, be the boss, don’t let me stop yea,” said Darren, feeling anger pull the muscles under the skin on his neck taut. Tony said nothing, it seemed having what he wanted laid out before him on a platter gave him pause for thought. Darren sensed it was time to push forward and kill this animosity for once and for all.

“I’m out! That is what you want. Fine by me.”

Being faced with everything he ever wished for didn’t seem to be driving Tony wild with delight. Darren started to walk away but Terrance ran after him.

“Wait, don’t leave!”

Darren turned and faced his brother. “It’s alright, Terrance. I would prefer to stay your brother than your boss. It’s up to Tony what happens now. I can’t do this anymore.” Darren took three more steps before he heard Tony’s voice call out to him.

“Wait.” The word was quiet.

“What was that?” asked Darren turning back to his brother.

“Don’t go, Darren, not now.”

“What’s to wait for? If this is what you want, I’m not going to stand in your way.” Darren watche his brother think. Eventually he spoke.

“Were stronger together,” Tony said.

“So? What's the point in that when we spend more time fighting among ourselves, than fighting our enemies?”

“What are you saying?”

“We're split. John was the one who held us together. We all knew where we stood when he was here.”

“And?”

“And, you want blood. Blood for John, let me tell you that I want it too. But I want it where it doesn’t cost us your blood or his blood or mine. You think I don’t have the balls for his, fine. Stick your balls on the line and see where the blade falls.”

Tony looked at him hard but said nothing. It was time to play the last card.

“After John’s funeral, I’m out. Without you, without your belief, there is no point in any of this,” said Darren walking away toward his car.

“Or?” called Tony behind him.

“Or, we work together and you trust me. Any time you want it, the crew is yours, until then, I need you in my corner.”

Darren stood and watched his brother work through the options. The gravity of taking charge was a leap too far for him, it wouldn’t sit well with his hedonistic lifestyle but the title had its attractions.

“Fine, you’re the boss.” Darren walked back to where Tony stood, defiant in defeat. He placed a hand on the back of his neck and drew him close.

“No, were brothers,” whispered Darren into Tony’s ear.

“Brothers,” said Tony in return and wrapped his arm around Darren’s neck. Terrance wrapped his arms around both of them and for once all four of them, John, Tony, Darren and Terrance were united if only in grief.