I was wrong about that - very wrong. That revelation would land on me soon enough. Meanwhile, I was back in the real world. Back in Macker-Land, across from the rat-run known as the Breffni. Back to that familiar state of …watchful… boredom.
‘Boring’ was working just grand for me, actually. A Sergeant doing surveillance detail looked a bit weird right enough, so I’d concocted some layers of camouflage. The old crisis / cutbacks / short-staffing line worked well enough for most. For them what knew better, I had other items ready for instant delivery, well-oiled phrases that’d dampen down the brain nicely. I was out here with Macker, I’d say, because I needed to get a feel for street-level action again. Also because: I was just sharing the load. I was slogging it out at at the coal face: getting back to policing basics. I’d sometimes throw in a line from a thing I’d read about how we were still cavemen more-or-less, and not cut out out for desk work eight, ten hours a day. Really, so much of the job had gotten to be computer screens and forms and meetings, and having a phone stuck to your ear for so long it felt like the side of your head had been scraped along a brick wall.
So far so good then? Hardly. I was forever looking for excuses to be out of the Unit office as much as I bloody-well could. It was the small stuff. The looks, the fake smiles, the calculated silences - I didn’t want to have to keep ignoring that stuff. I’d had a couple of near-misses. It was the same bollocks stirring the pot both times - Walshie. Walshie who came in on a magic carpt from CDU just before the Christmas. Him getting transferred in was proof of just how the staff shortages were biting. Mr. Hard Chaw Door Kicker and general Cock of the Walk. Exactly the wrong type of copper to be getting in here. I squared up to Walshie one afternoon out in the hallway. Dared him to straight-out admit that it was him retailing those ‘jokes’ about my Joey D troubles and – way, way worse - that day in Dalkey. He didn’t deny it, but then the bollocks actually had the gall to try out his warped sense of humour on me. I was set for a straightener then and there. This though I knew it’d be a serious session on account Walshie has some martial arts stuff. It was a close-run thing.
Walshie and his arsing about I could just about manage. The other issue, though, the big issue, was never far from my mind. It wasn’t just the likes of Walshie who had suspicions. It went all the way up. There were brass who wanted me nailed, and if I couldn’t be nailed, they wanted me o.u.t. Whatever they reckoned they’d need to do, they’d do, and I wouldn’t see it coming either. So all-in-all, far better to be out here eyeing goings-on around the Breffni, up in the wilds of Dorset St.
The Breffni, aka ‘The Breffni House Boutique Hotel.’ What a circus. Truth be told it had taken us way too long to cop on to how much was going on there. To how brazen the gangsters had gotten. How crime had gone international. The simple fact of the matter was that we had overlooked The Breffni. Sure, there were plenty of PULSE filings, but they never came together. Like it stayed hidden in the fog, or something.
Maybe it was because The Breffni was in a ‘colourful’ part of town. Here on Dorset St. was where you could really see the boom while it was booming. The flats and the B and Bs and the guest houses – and the bedsits that were not supposed to exist - they were chock-full. People of every colour and creed with the languages, the food, the music all wafting about in the air. I liked it. But all the while, the Breffni had become a port-of-call for every slag, blag and scumbag. Prostitution, stolen goods, rent-a-gun – that stuff’d have been reason enough to have a task force on it. But the big reason we were here was the drug trade. Right under our noses, the Breffni had become one of the big clearing houses for the trade. So it was The Breffni that was picked to be pressure point for what we were going to nail via Operation Condor.
Macker shifted and produced his phone; checked it, pocketed it again.
“Well on the way, Skip, and that’s a fact.”
Macker and his wind-ups.
“Am I right. Or am I right.”
Mr. Bamboozler-in-chief. Well on the way to what, you were supposed to ask. Which of course I never did. ‘Well on the way’ was his go-to, that and ‘business as usual.’ All the mad stuff coming out - the banks, the clergy and the child abuse, the brown envelopes – each and every new scandal, screw-up or disaster? ‘Business as usual.’ ‘We’re well on the way.’ And repeat.
Macker had no end of names and expressions. Lately, he’d been dipping into his ‘little people’ routine more. It wasn’t the fairies he was talking about, of course. It was us – we were the little people. The ones left to face up to the wolf at the door. The mugs, like, the ones getting it in the neck, the law-abiding iijits still showing up and still paying the bills. The ones standing at Departures with the stunned looks on their faces, watching their kids leave. Those ones.
For the villains of the piece, what people were calling The Golden Circle, Macker had his own rogue’s gallery. ‘The Buccaneers,’ he called the poster-boys for the crash, our so-called builder-developers, the spivs and wasters who’d left the thousands of half-finished houses rotting away in the rain, what they were calling ghost estates. Developer - yeah, right, sure. A word so elastic you could hold up every pair of knickers in Ireland with it.
Along with his Buccaneers were his ‘Aiders and Abettors.’ By them he meant all the enablers and hangers-on who were in the con as well. The wigs and the banksters, and the accountants and the estate agents and valuers - all the way through to the cute-hoor operators and consultants and lobbyists and general finessers and finaglers who made careers out of massaging politicians and councillors.
Macker even came up with Russian names. The legions of cronies who’d gotten themselves appointed to some useless semi-state outfit or board or committee or quango that nobody knew existed? ‘The Nomenklatura’ he called them. Or ‘The Apparatchiks.’ All missing in action naturally, too busy keeping the head down - except for creaming it goodo and filing expenses and lining up for bonuses.
But the ones that Macker despised the most, I came to think, had to be what he called ‘The Synod.’ When he’d hold up his phone to show me something from the news, it was almost always to do with ‘The Synod,’ he’d say. The know-it-alls in the universities and the media he meant, all the wordy columnists and the talking heads and the furrowed-brow know-it-alls. Massive experts mar dheá. Masters of everything, all right, until the shit hit the fan. When push came to shove, not one bit different from other insiders: circle the wagons, lads. For anybody else, they were on their own. Dog eat dog and the devil take the hindmost.
All entertaining - creative, in actual fact - in a Hallowe-eny way. I never let on that I reckoned Macker was on the ball here though. And he never came across bitter or angry. He’d just roll out his comments in slow, thoughtful recitations, with that vague grin and the faraway look of a bloke in a daydream. Or, like an explorer or a botanist or something, remarking on the flora and fauna. Sometimes his calmness was just downright freaky. Jaysus Macker, I wanted to shout - just let it rip, will you? Come on man, die dog or eat the hatchet here! We all know the country’s gone to the wall. Just get it off your chest for the love of God.
“All right….” Macker paused to work through a yawn. “All right, OK. Now. Today’s episode, the continuing saga… Audi people. So, you ready, Skip?”
This was another angle to Macker. He’d get this look in his eye sometimes and launch into riddle-type talk like this. Odten, a barrage of sly, leading questions came with the package. It put me in mind of a veteran wig, slowly cornering a witness in a cross-examination with innocuous-sounding questions and pleasant, friendly-sounding remarks. Maybe, I began to think, maybe behind the guff was a different Macker, a fella who loved bad news, the more dire and disaterous the better. The cruel, cynical type. Very much not people you’d want to be around but exist they did and, it had to be said, nearly all of the ones I’d come across were coppers too. What did people like that actually want, I often wondered. Complete chaos? The army on the streets? Who knew. With such peculiar things going on in that noggin of Macker’s, it was hardly a wonder why nobody was fighting for the honour of doing watch shifts with him.
“Audi drivers. Are they a different species, you reckon?”
Saying nothing would remain my policy. It hadn’t worked yet.
“Or is it more an SUV thing per se. That’s the burning issue.”
The screen on Macker’s phone was so cracked that I kept looking at the cracks more than the video. It was his daughter’s iPhone, not even a year old even. High maintenance, I gather. I overheard her talking to him once. She sounded like a right, proper little bitch, so she did.
“Exhibit A, Your Honour? The M50, yesterday. The Dundrum exit, it looks like. Watch.”
There was a white van and a red SUV, an Audi. It looked like said Audi had barged into the exit line. The van driver a hefty-looking item, got out of the van. Whoever took the video said ‘oh shite.’ Van Man walked briskly up to the back passenger door of the Audi and, without so much as a by-your-leave, took a good hard kick at it. Whoever laughed then sounded like a monkey.
“A nice how-do-you-do, isn’t it, Skip. Now that there motor, it happens to be a Q7 Audi. Panel work, we’re talking, five, six hundred easy. Now - watch.”
Audi Man slid smoothly out from behind the wheel. A trim-looking bloke, well put together and suspiciously light on his feet. He left his door open. I noted too how he held down his tie as he walked unhurriedly toward the van. He didn’t seem at all angry. It was more a preoccupied look. Accountant, I wondered. Barrister? Doctor?
“Watch, Skipper – watch. You don’t want to miss this.”
And of course I missed it. ‘Jaysus!’ shouted somebody. ‘Did you see that?’
Van Man was now surfacing about ten feet from where I’d last seen him. Macker rubbed his hands together like he was trying to start a fire.
“Locked horns with the wrong fella there. Didn’t he?”
I checked the volume on the hand-set and looked around Dorset St.
“OK, Skipper. Now the hard part. We’re the polis, are we not? How herein lies the conundrum, and it is this: what do we do? Section 6 the pair of them? Ding Van man alone, for assault? What?”
“First thing you do is turn that shite off. Jaysus.”
Macker leaned back against the door and put on his theatrical face.
“OK. Say Van Man takes hold of a hammer or something, and he goes and creases Audi Man with it. Now what do you say?”
What I wanted to say: Macker, how do they say shut the hell up in your language?
“You and Aristotle, Macker. I don’t know which of you is cleverer.”
A move across the street rescued the situation. Unless the bloke departing the Breffni had an identical twin wearing identical gear, he was the same bloke who had entered the Breffni about a quarter of an hour ago. A short enough session. I checked the time and logged it, and I called the camera man. It was Clancy. We were still using use our mobiles on the job. Four years after it was hailed as the Second Coming, the digital radio network still dropped out in way too many places.
“Already sent.” Uploaded, Clancy meant. “Which section?”
“What do you mean which section?”
“To file it. Ugly bastard section? Ugly-as-sin bastard section? Dirty-looking, ugly…?”
I put him on speakerphone. After a good bit of over-and-back we settled on one: fierce dirty-looking ugly low-down fat-face skanger bastard… section. Macker gave off one of his tinny laughs and went back to his phone, chortling quietly. The minutes resumed their crawl.
“Mount Leinster?” he declared then. “Christ, I never knew that.”
He let down his phone on his lap and stared out the window like he’d been seen Mary at Lourdes.
“Mount Leinster. Half in Carlow, half in Wexford. Guess what happened there, in 1786.”
I had been mentally listing the exact nationalities that Operation Condor had spat up.
“Your Ma, she… Ah no. I can’t say the rest. It wouldn’t be right.”
That effort earned me a broad, artificial grin.
“It’s where the last Irish wolf was done in. 1786.”
I had forgotten a Dutch national. He was one of the bag-men.
“Hunted down and kilt, yes. 1786. Now Skip, tell me this. What’s the Irish for wolf?”
I gave him the hairy eyeball and went to watching a van that had pulled in. Then I heard him sigh. The suspension squeaked as he slowly began to unkink himself.
“Well I’ll tell you,” he said after a long yawn. “It’s Mac tíre. ‘Son of the country.”
He pretended to wait for a comment, one he knew wouldn’t be coming.
“Like, to them – our ancestors like - a wolf was considered ….? You get it?”
“There’s nothing to get.”
“No, what I mean is - oh oh. Hold on everybody. Here we go now.”
I had noticed them first, actually. The woman was dressed like an old-style nun, but without any white. No face, just eyes. The bloke had a bushy number fairly glowing with that henna stuff. His tunic went to his knees. He had a white cap on the crown of his head. Afghanistan? Pakistan?
“First thing came into your head Skipper. Come on, don’t think now, just say it.”
“Macker. For Jaysus’ sake.”
“Seriously. Anything.” The couple stepped into a shop. “It’s brain training, elasticity. Use it or lose it. First thought Skip, come on.”
I trailed another glare by him and went back to watching the van.
“Yes siree,” he said. “Well on the way. And that’s the be-all and end-all of it.”
He had parked his phone screen-up on his knee. It was dimmed almost completely but I still recognized the page – Daft.ie. Another piece of the jigsaw of Detective Garda McHugh’s mind. It fit with another of Macker’s little quirks – the DART. Ze Dublin Area Rapid Transit he called it, like he was a tourist. So maybe getting hold of a house next to the DART was Macker’s dream. No doubt himself and his missus were fierce crafty with their money, and with house prices dropping like mad, they might well be close to making this DART dream a reality. ‘Well on the way’ - right.
But it didn’t fit so well with other pieces of the Macker jigsaw that I had come upon. I had a hunch that things were not be all joy and bliss in Macker-Land. There were phone conversations I shouldn’t have overheard. The marriage, I was beginning to surmise, had hit a bad patch. Hardly a surprise there. Coppers have always had it rough in the marriage stakes. Still and all, that missus of his appeared to be a particularly hard goer. And there was that daughter issue. Maybe that was normal these days? It might pass when the old hormones came off the boil. What did I know anyway. Wasn’t I the thirty-eight-and-a-half-year-old bachelor more or less living with his mother, the bloke whose fiancée had basically done a bunk on him?
“The centre cannot hold. Remember that one, Skip? ‘Mere anarchy –”
“Poetry for the Leaving? It was on the syllabus for ages?”
I flicked through my Contacts. It’d be fierce easy to just text Sonia. But a deal’s a deal.
“They say it was his best, better than – ”
“- Macker? The Chinese, they have this saying. All right? You get a set amount of words, they say, and when they’re gone, you shuffle off this mortal coil. Something to consider.”
“Right you be, Skip.” He offered a thin smile. “But just for the record, you can’t cod me.”
Those words put me instantly on edge. It wasn’t what Macker had said - it was what was behind those words. Throwaway comments like those were sharp reminders that I could never let down my guard. I might like to believe that I had Macker figured out, but I’d never let go of the suspicion that he carried on the way he did because… I that was the plan. The mind games, the word association nonsense, the slagging – they weren’t just entertainment. No. Macker’s task was to soften me up. Either he’d get the goods on me, or he’d drive me around the twist so’s I’d jack in the job. Whether Internal Review had decided I really was a bent copper or just a permanent aggravation, it didn’t matter. They wanted me o.u.t.
Sometimes I’d imagine telling Macker stuff.
You know, Macker, I actually did throw Joey D. off that roof. Yep. I put him in a choke and I gave him the old heave-ho.
Oh that’s very interesting now, Skipper. Now why would you do a thing like that, I wonder?
I had to, you know? I was bunched otherwise. Joey knew everything, see. Had me by the hasp.
God but you’re the hard man entirely. You have plenty on the go, it sounds like.
Oh that I do. You see, I’m what you’d call an information broker.
No way. Passing Garda intel on to the bad guys, is it?
‘The bad guys?’ Come on now. Do you see any bankers in the dock? Any molester-priests?
Fair point, Skipper, fair point. Well, does it pay, this gig of yours?
Does it what. The money’s brilliant. Come here to me, do you want in?
Well how much would we be talking about?
We’re talking big money, let me tell you – very big. You’d be on the pig’s back, surely. That missus of yours? Strolling down to the DART every morning? Mortgage? Hah.
A sudden guitar riff: Macker’s phone. The message? ‘Boris’ and the other two had just gone into a pub. This was one of the reasons we were paired up. ‘Boris’ was one of the skangers at the centre of this. Large, dark and hairy, and a former bouncer to boot, ‘Boris’ wasn’t a Russian at all, at all; he was a Bulgarian. The pressing question now, however: had ‘Boris’ just gone for a gargle, or was he trying to evade our surveillance? First the waiting game. Then, one of us might have to go on the hoof. Me, of course. If push came to shove, I was the armed wing of our twosome also.
Macker kept staring at the dashboard and turning his mobile over and over in his hand. The minutes dragged more. I flipped through the laminated watch-photos: a refresher on the gallery of scobes coming and going in the Breffni. Plenty of brown complexions in amongst our own sorry-arse home-growns. The two Arabic names still made me think of suicide bombers. The Nigerian with the gleaming forehead who claimed to be king of someplace. Big Fish One and Big Fish Two, the ones we really wanted, hadn’t shown in nearly a week. Not a hide nor hair of either of them. Maybe Belfast was too cozy for them? Or they were the first to know that we were on to them.
A crazy-eyed head zig-zagged by, like a boat caught in a swell. You saw addicts everywhere now. Up here, we were seeing more of the far-gone and ruined variety. The bright-eyed heroin users trudging in slo-mo like the walking dead. The grinning, hyper-active crack merchants, laughing and oblivious. Lately, we were noting more flakka heads stalking about and picking at themselves and making mad swerves like someone had yanked the remote control on them. It was a fast drop for some of them, only a matter of days. That’s how strong the new lab drugs were.
Maybe that was what made Gary Cummins bob up in my mind then. Was that what we were dealing with? One designer street-drug gone wrong, a trapdoor that opened under him? He could be lying dead in a ditch somewhere for days now. What would Bernie Cummins do then? It was out of my hands. My job was to just file this morning’s approach. The reporting chain was totally straightforward too - C.O. first. End of. But I wasn’t going to drop it on Delaney over the phone. I’d bring it by him, end of shift.
“Macker. I’m going to try a name on you. Tony Cummins.”
“Cummins, Cummins… Dublin?”
Macker stroked under his chin as though to stimulate his brain. After a few moments he stopped.
“Sorry, Skip. Nothing in the old memory banks - wait: he was done in that big feud a few years back, wasn’t he?”
“No, that was the son. Tony’s in Portlaoise a while now.”
“Safest place to me these days maybe? The way things are going?”
Macker’s version of a Northern accent was crap: almost as bad as mine. Like I needed the hint anyway. The dogs in the street knew what the IRA was nowadays. Continuity ‘RA, Real ‘RA, Existential ‘RA, Mad Maniac ‘RA - whatever they called themselves, they were all the same. It wasn’t political anything they were after, it was money: raw, dirty money. The millions from the diesel smuggling and the fags weren’t enough for them. They wanted into any business, legit or otherwise. Example: ‘security’ for a night-club ran to fifty grand a year. The ‘RA wanted the drug trade too. They put the word out to certain dealers that they had to switch over to them, and rapid. Those who didn’t kowtow or flee the country got it hot and heavy. Some of them were tortured and left by the side of the road, kneecapped. Some were done outright.
Macker was about to heave out some observation when my phone went off. It was Delaney. It took only a few words from him to make Dorset Street and Macker, and pretty well everything else evaporate. Delaney had no questions for me; he had only an order. I checked the time. An hour and a bit since I’d left Firenza. That was all it took them.