That leather jacket of Christy’s? Definitely new. He took it off and pulled his shirt sleeve up to his elbow. Lemurs - that was the name of those monkeys. His eyes reminded me of one of them.
“Four years Tommy – four. Not bad, hah? Even if I do so say so myself.”
“Fair play to you.”
God knows I was trying, but Christy’s face, his voice even, gave me a tired feeling.
“Look, here’s for the flowers - and don’t be arguing with me.”
Christy looked at the hundred like it was a miracle at Lourdes.
“Christ, Tommy, I couldn’t. No way. God, no.”
“Just take it for Jaysus sake.”
He winced in a show of reluctance and placed the money reverently in his pocket.
“Straight to the bank, Tommy.”
“You know the banks are bust, right?”
Christy’s smile came out as a leer. The teeth reminded me of a box of matches. I was getting a headache.
Maybe it was the end-of-day quiet, or the soft light, or even the scent of privet and lilac you get everywhere this time of year, but my gaze stayed on him. Maybe it was knowing that Christy could leave here, but that Terry could not.
“Question for you, Christy. You know the Cumminses, right?”
The smile faded a little but he was determined to square up.
“You mean the Cumminses Cumminses?”
“Them’s the ones. More Gary though. You know Gary, right?”
“Well Jaysus Tommy, I mean who doesn’t know Gary.”
“So what do you know then?”
Christy snapped back to suspicious mode. He frowned and screwed up his eyes.
“Have you seen Gary lately, is what I mean.”
He batted away the question with a shake of his head.
“What? Big nothing? Little nothing? Or nothing, like I’m-not-saying nothing?”
“Nothing, Tommy. Not, a, bleeding, thing.”
I mustered my offended look, and waited.
“Sorry Tommy, but come on. Things is dodgy enough these days.”
“You know Gary’s Ma, right? Mrs. Cummins? Bernie?”
“Bernie, yeah.” He nodded several times. “Tell you this much. She’s a saint, that woman.”
A saint. My sarcastic eyebrow lift earned me a sly grin from Christy.
“But that’s the way isn’t it,” he said. “It’s the fathers are the sinners. Right?”
“What about Jennifer. You had a thing for her.”
It was like I’d asked his opinion of a bad smell.
“So you did, then.”
“It wasn’t just me, man. Tons of lads had the hots for her.”
Something resembling regret crossed Christy’s face. He wrinkled his nose again and looked up at the trees for inspiration. The evening light had turned them mysterious-looking.
“Sure, she’s married and all for ages now,” he said. He looked over the foliage as if something unexpected had occurred to him.
“And Jenn, she was never a real Cummins to be honest.”
“It was the mother’s doing, Bernie’s. She made Jenn immune, or something.”
“Who’s the hub then. Jennifer’s.”
“Oh I don’t know. But I know she has a nice family thing going. Somewhere out the North County. Nice big house, all that fresh air and all. Yeah. As far as possible from the likes of us riff-raff.”
I slid the sacred Gameboy back into my bag. A caretaker had caught my eye.
“Come here to me Tommy. We better split or they’ll keep us here all night, ha ha.”
We walked on. May is the best month of the year, bar none.
“How long did he get anyway, Tommy? Tony C, I mean.” I told Christy I wasn’t sure.
“There’s plenty did worse though,” he said. Here we go, I thought – again.
“So he wasn’t shooting people in the street. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a big deal.”
Christy looked left and right before leaning in.
“Come on Tommy. Tony’s nothing like what Darren was. Seriously? Got to admit.”
“You don’t inherit things from your kids. It’s the other way around.”
He drew back and bugged out his eyes and did a slow, pantomime version of injecting himself. An exposition of how Tony Cummins’ male offspring had lost the run of themselves.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” he said. “It’d get you thinking about the old karma, wouldn’t it?”
“Karma. Karma what?”
“Bernie Cummins is what. Good-living, decent, not a bad bone in her body. But then there’s, you know, her husband? So you’d be asking yourself, how does that happen. Right?”
A bird began screeching. We were at the gate now. The last of the daylight was not so weak that I couldn’t see fresh bird-shit on the bonnet of my Golf. There was a motorbike parked down the road now. My heartbeat instantly migrated to my throat. My hand had slipped inside my jacket already, feeling around for the Sig.
“Nice or what? You like?”
I stopped looking up and down the avenue. No, the bike wasn’t that big really. It was a rough-and-tough model, for crossing Africa in one day, or something. Not a getaway sports bike, at any rate.
“It’s yours, that yoke?”
“A big Ten Four there Tommy. It’s a beast entirely, I’m telling you. It’d take you up The Spike, so it would. Well, near enough like.”
The smile took years off Christy. I imagined him racing up the Spire, all three hundred-and-odd feet of it. Christy Cullinane: cheered on by his multitudes of fans in O Connell Street. Christy, my brother’s pal. By my copper brain had lurched back to centre stage. New leather jacket. New (looking) motorbike. Christy was in better financial order than I’d have thought. How so? I wouldn’t be asking. Part of me needed to go on imagining that he was clean still.
“I do go up the mountains on it. Nature, the environment - all that. That’s what I’m into now. Honest to God - I swear. No more wrong turns. You know?”
Wrong turns. I’d have plenty of time to think about that; too much time, actually. Time to tell myself that what happened afterward wasn’t down to me. Wasn’t there a thing called free will too? So what happened after, I’d keep telling myself, was Christy’s choice to make. A hundred euro wasn’t a huge amount of money. It was only for luck too, for old times’ sakes. Good karma, right. Let the gods smile on Christy - that was my thinking.
But no. The truth was, it was me being a copper. It was me doing the sort of thing a copper did. I knew the money’d make Christy feel obliged. He’d feel he’d have to pony up something in return. To show me that he had his act together and that could hold up his end too - even if he didn’t want to.
I watched him open the ugly-looking tin box on the back of the motorbike and take out a helmet. I really, really don’t like having people with motorbike helmets on anywhere near me. There’s plenty of Guards the same way too. Christy lifted his visor to give me the eye
“I’ve got your number, Tommy. Ha ha. No worries, man. Your mobile, I mean. OK?”
My mind had emptied. Then I remembered. Gary Cummins, he meant.
Back at the apartment I turned off my phone and sank a few cans of Fosters. Only the one Jameson, though I poured was a bit more than was needed. It was Shark Week on Discovery: I’d forgotten. I was out the moment I hit the pillow. What’s more, I stayed that way until the alarm. That hadn’t happened in months. So maybe ….
So much for my stab at mindfulness. I was still in Rathmines, still sitting in my car. Still half-paralyzed by indecision. Make that plain addled. I tried again to put some shape on things. OK, so Tony Cummins’s missus wanted to talk to me. Bernadette Cummins, ‘Bernie,’ my Ma’s best pal from all the way back in primary school. Long before marriage, long before they had gone out working or had families of their own. Before all the woes and tribulations of the adult world came looking for them. Bernie who, even in this day and age, apparently went to Mass every day. The obvious question: how come Holy Bernie was still married to the man who was one of Dublin’s biggest gangsters?
I checked my mobile. Nothing. Nothing from Ma or from Bernie Cummins that’d give me the excuse to call it off. No email from Midnight either. Midnight, aka ex-Garda Kevin Earley, my contact in Oz who was now a cop in Queensland. Midnight, my Plan B. Nothing. Not even one of those stupid emails Macker sent around. The one time I’d actually read one too. Slipping my mobile back into my pocket, my fingers brushed against the envelope again. Another little jab from Destiny?
I took the letter out. I really should leave it at home – but that’s what I’d be saying ever since I’d gotten it last week. I pretty-well knew it by heart anyway. Obviously, it wasn’t the full report on that day in Dalkey, but it should have been enough for me anyway. Exonerated. Sometimes, the more you look at a word, the stranger that word gets in your mind. ‘That Day In Dalkey’ – right. The shrink, she nailed me on the phrase right away. Not ‘the shooting,’ or ‘the murder.’ I didn’t even like even thinking about it in those terms. The way she harped on about it gave me the pip, though. I didn’t let on.
I was still patchy on that day, in actual fact. Odd things stayed. Smells: burning rubber, cordite, diesel exhaust. Colours: white faces, a sky the colour of dirty water. The blinding blue dazzle of the arrays. That bright red stain crawling down the door panel of my Escort. The Sig I’d unholstered and half-wedged under my calf, how it flew off into the wheel-well when I’d hit the curb. How the sudden crush of knowing hit like a straight punch to the sternum. And that motorbike I’d seen speeding toward town earlier? The pair who had decided that, if that was Detective Garda Malone’s car, it had to be Malone behind the wheel, so their payday for killing him had arrived.
Stranger yet, there were things burned into my mind that I couldn’t even have seen that day. My version of what the Emergency Response lads probably saw as they spilled out of their Volvo: a head-case armed with a pistol and waving a Garda card, running around shouting like a lunatic. Another thing was the quiet. For all the shouting and the sirens, it had been so quiet in my mind. Quiet enough to believe that I could hear someone murmuring the same phrase over and over again right next to me. Will they shoot me, won’t they shoot me. Will they shoot me, won’t they shoot me.
They - the investigation team - were still throwing man hours at the case. We were almost 100% certain on one of the two on the motorbike, but he had up and disappeared. It was looking more and more like he’d been made to disappear, and permanently. The other prime had been taken in for questioning five times now. There was no give in him, not one bit. I wasn’t supposed to be privy to details, but a little dickey bird had told me that they were maintaining the phone taps, at least.
But repeat: exonerated, in the clear, off the hook - whatever way you wanted to say it. Surely that was good enough? Not so. Coppers are not big believers in coincidence. This Dalkey business didn’t just happen out of the blue, went the thinking. That Joey D business last year…? ‘Misadventure?’ There were coppers, decent conscientious coppers too it had to be said, who still inclined to the notion that I’d thrown Joey D off that roof. Not to speak speak ill of the dead, but really. Joey D, a criminal mastermind who literally couldn’t tie his own shoelaces? Who tripped over said laces as I was chasing him across a roof and consequently took a flyer and landed twenty feet below on his thick, doomed head?
That was not how the story went in some minds. Plain and simple, I must be a bent copper. I’d done for Joey D for one simple reason – because he knew too much. Garda Malone needed to keep his operation rolling along snitch-free. Not just his operation, but whatever gangsters he was working for, or shielding. Fellas he had grow up around. You grow up in Crumlin, in a ‘broken home,’ and that’s enough for some people. It didn’t matter that the hearing had taken less than ten minutes that morning, which to any normal person should mean that GSOC had known right from the start that this was open-and-shut misadventure. Maybe that was part of the problem, the word ‘misadventure.’
I sometimes regretted not kicking up a fuss when I got the heave from the unit I was working at the time. The brass made no direct mention of the Joey D situation. I got the line how it had ‘drawn attention to operations.’ What to do, though? Get on the blower to the Association? A non-starter, sadly. Some things you can’t fix. Trust is everything. For a copper, it’s the only thing. So I figured I’d best let the hare sit and bide my time, and wait for things to settle. If working with a head-case like Macker was to be my time in the wilderness, so be it. I’d take it handy and plough on.
Lately though, I’d been feeling a wobble. My head wasn’t right, I knew, but still I didn’t imagine that I’d be coming around to thinking the unthinkable, of jacking it in. Jacking it in and starting fresh somewhere else entirely, that was. Somewhere like Oz. The last man in Dublin you’d expect to be heading for the airport. I tried not to think about it, but of course that only made me think about it more. There’s a thousand ways to go mad they say. I might’ve found mine.
And maybe this morning’s caper here was proof.
I looked down the Rathmines Road. You could shoot a cannon down it: thank you very much, financial crisis. Maybe someone should shoot a cannon down it. But I’d have been over the canal by now, to Christchurch even, maybe even as far as the quays. I’d be where I really should be, back in that manky unmarked Mondeo next to Macker.
Days away from the raid and we were still short-handed. All the months of planning, all the man-hours - in Spain and Holland too – and we were still scrambling for bodies to fill the watch shifts. Operation Condor: a bird of prey that swoops down for the kill. It was the Spanish coppers who got to pick it, no doubt. Our end of it had twenty-seven suspects targeted. And some collection they were too: nationals from five EU countries, two from the Middle East, and three Africans. Bad eggs entirely, every man jack of them. A sort of United Nations of skangers.
Killing people was nothing to them. Europol had eleven murders down to them, and as many and more attempted. They put this outfit’s share of the drug trade at in or around six hundred million. That was the past year alone. They imported from Mexico and Colombia and – I still couldn’t shake a suspicion that this was a massive spoof – they even dealt with the Taliban. What was really giving us the willies was intel that they had gotten two Mac 10s and a half dozen AK 47s into Ireland. There was a lot of moving parts to this operation, a lot of balls in the air. Everything had to line up. Zero room for error. How likely was that, these days? Europol, when it works, is the eighth wonder of the world, but if someone misses a gear along the chain, there’s a lot can go wrong, and fast.
Yet here I was this morning about to give time I didn’t have to the wife of a gangster. Bernie Cummins who, despite Ma’s massively naïve assurances, was in no position anyway to guarantee that us finding her missing waster of a son would make her husband willing to play ball with us.
This was pure madness. It was time to put the kybosh on it. I rehearsed it in my mind: look Ma, I wasn’t thinking straight yesterday when I agreed to this. I was distracted, preoccupied, stressed-out - whatever. And look, the chances are, this ‘little chat’ that Bernie Cummins wanted might be an out-and-out set-up or a trap of some kind. It could even be a diversion from something else.
I jammed the key back into the ignition and clicked in my belt. About five seconds later, I took the key back out. It wasn’t about keeping my word to my Ma. She’d get over it. And I was pretty sure too that Bernie Cummins - if that thin, pale woman perched by one of the tables inside that Firenza gaff really was her – hadn’t seen me cruising past. Even if she had, so what? I’d broken a promise to meet her? The wife of a has-been gangster? I could live with that.
What stopped me was something else. It was that bloke with her, her minder. Maybe Bernie Cummins hadn’t seen me, but he had. He’d better have – that was his job. He had at least made mental note of someone slowly driving by and looking in the window of the café. He might even have had a picture of me to go on. Dublin gangsters are nothing if not resourceful. I didn’t have a name on that wide, lumpy-faced git but immediately I saw him, I knew. I also knew that if you were wearing a bomber jacket in May, in Ireland, weather was not your concern. If I was going to walk away, that would’ve counted as another failure.
I released my belt. I was still cursing when I heaved myself out of the car.