Delaney carefully closed his office door behind him.
“Tommy. What’s the story.”
“That’s my question, boss. No offence now, but I have no clue. Really.”
He did a slow eyebrow dance and looked at a print-out on his desk.
“OK,” he said next. “Garda Drug Squad Sergeant meets with gangster’s missus.”
“I was set to bring it by you in person, end of shift.”
“I believe you. Now, Nolan. What did he want exactly?”
“To air some mad notions, was all I could make out.”
Delaney made a duck-face and blinked slowly and looked up from the papers.
“Tommy. You’re not doing yourself any favours here. All right?”
“He had some fantasy that I work for him.”
“I see. Well now the same Éamonn Nolan asked me an interesting question. He wanted to know if you were as ‘candid’ with us here. What do you think he meant, ‘candid?’”
“Maybe he’s used to having yes-men around. By the way, he’s a bollocks of the first order.”
“Since when were you so sensitive?”
“Since that smarmy bollocks Nolan got in my face, is when.”
“What can I tell you. Anyway. He laughed it off this time.”
I sniffed the air and tried to read that print-out.
“So, Tommy. You know as well as I do what the OCU is there for. And when the Minister called for all-out war on criminal gangs, it wasn’t boy scouts he had in mind. You get that, I am sure.”
“Well I do and I don’t.”
“come on now. That’s not an answer. Look, I get it: you’re peeved.”
“Did the brass call for cowboy tactics? Posers throwing shapes?”
“I’m talking about the Organized Crime Unit.”
“Who pull the type of stunts that’d have the likes of us coppers on the carpet.”
Delaney nodded philosophically and looked by me.
“Working an op with the OCU wouldn’t do you one bit of harm,” he said. “The old CV, like.”
“Boss, if my CV needs tweaking, it wouldn’t be the Nolan route I’d be taking.”
“Career planning? Soft skills. Teamwork, networking Building capacity. Relationship building.”
‘Relationship building’ – well there it was. He and Nolan had talked, right enough.
“Did I already mention OCU cowboy carry-on? The dirty work they do be up to?”
His gaze swung back. He had a dim, displeased look now.
“So you’ll know to keep your wits about you then, won’t you.”
“Am I missing something?”
“Spare me the song and dance, Tommy. I want you to keep me in the picture.”
“What did you think? I need to know what Nolan gets you doing.”
I turned things over in my mind. Delaney was under massive stress too. I sometimes forgot.
“Boss, for the record. We’re already juggling chainsaws here –”
“-Pressure’s a given here. That’s the job.”
“We need all hands on deck –”
“Tommy. Really? Get off the stage. You know the way it is.”
“I thought I did, but maybe I don’t.”
“You’re a sergeant – that’s the way. And sergeants read the circulars, do they not? So yes, we’re badly stretched. Yes, we have to do more with less. Yes, we have to buy in – ‘we’ being ‘all of us.’ ‘All of us’ being the Garda Síochána, the good guys. Because it’s us against them. And last but not least, because we all swore the same oath.”
He eyed his desk-top as though something he’d planned to say had fallen down there.
“Nolan wants you ‘cause you’re a proper copper. Try to remember that. It’ll help.”
And that was that. Up he got. It was his go forth in peace move. He had his undertaker’s smile on display. At least I wasn’t the only one pissed off.
You smell Garda HQ long before you see it. It’s an old ‘joke.’
Dublin Zoo itself was a half a mile away but you still got a right good whiff of it here at the gate to HQ, aka ‘The Park.’ From a distance, the building had a harmless enough look to it. This was the more picturesque end of the Phoenix Park, with roads and avenues overhung by lush stands of trees. But a good number of the heads jogging around here just happen to be hard chaws from the run-jump-and-shoot units headquartered here, Guards and Army both. The apartment, which was to say me and Sonia’s apartment, was about a fifteen-minute walk, but I had driven over. I’d be wanting my getaway car close by.
Part of why I was OK with the apartment was because it was next to The Park. Fond memories. I used come by here on a run back in the St Joe years, me and the other lads. I liked the running-in-a-pack feeling, the fact that we were boxers, athletes. Sonia had her own reasons for picking the apartment. For her it was the Luas, and the art gallery place. She liked the history bit as well, the notion of Vikings and so forth. That you actually saw mountains from the balcony clinched it for her.
But that evening, I wasn’t that 14-year-old maniac who spent three evenings a week in St Joe’s. I was an adult sitting in his car, an adult very much less than thrilled to be here. I bided my time eyeing HQ through the railings, taking my sweet time with my Salt and Vinegar and my Caramilk. The fish and chips that I really wanted would have to wait. I’d get them later, on my way to Ringsend.
The get-togethers were more than just going for a few scoops with the lads. Sometimes, to figure out where you are or where you’re headed - or could or should be headed - you need to look over your shoulder. About a year after Terry left us, I had made a point of getting back in touch with lads that me and him grew up with. Things were bit dodgy at first. Spots and Gameboy both had similar issues to Terry’s. I could never be one of the lads really: I was a copper, a ‘narc.’ I didn’t recall anything being said outright, but we all somehow agreed that we’d draw a veil over such matters. As for ‘the old days’ we worked around them in our various ways. Never directly.
Olden Times were safe to talk about because they went back to when we were young fellas, back before things went astray. My Olden Days stopped the day Terry tried cocaine for the first time. It was like an arrow had been aimed at him on the day he was born, and that arrow had finally found him. That first hit, it changed him right then and there. In short order he was unmanageable. A matter of weeks, if I recall. From then on all we got were got lulls and lies, and lots of acting and drama. But things never really got better. The best it got was treatment. Fortune House, Coolmine, Fettercairn – Terry did them all. In the end, they couldn’t stop him from landing on that square with the name that was bandied everywhere now– ‘the chaotic drug user.’ We didn’t know, for days sometimes, where he was. Hence the ghost appearances maybe, hence the need to check another bloke lying there on the footpath. Knowing full well that it couldn’t be Terry, but needing to check anyway.
Somehow, the likes of Gameboy dodged any arrow of destiny. I had a mad theory: it was because he was so good at video games. He’d totally lose himself in them, and that doused the urge for a hit. He couldn’t come to Terry’s funeral. He was serving his fourth sentence. But after a sixth go in prison, he came out clean. ‘Something about the number six,’ he liked to say. He went off and got trained to be a crane driver then; made scads of money during the boom.
Spots was a horse of a different colour - Spots Feeney. With that hair-on-fire look, and freckles like mad on that spooky milk-white skin of his, he couldn’t not get the name Spots. The nose on him, though - it was like somebody got ahold of it and pinched it, and then they twisted it for good measure. The same Spots was a highly combustible item. A look would set him off. He came by it honestly enough. His Ma had mental issues and his Da was basically a violent dipso. Spots stayed with us about four months back when he was eleven. I just asked Ma and she said yeah, we’d give it a bash. It wasn’t like the Malone clan was in the best of nick at that juncture. Spots fitted right in; he just did what we did. Homework got done, beds got made, school got gone to, prayers got said. Ma put him in the room above the stairs. Some nights I’d hear him crying. I’d also hear Ma going in to him.
Then one day, no more Spots. He was out of the picture with us for ages after. He shot through those years on a raging river of booze and drugs. A lot of robbery, housebreaking, warehouse rob-to-order jobs. At one stage, he worked with another fella hijacking lorries. There was a near-murder that got kicked back to assault with intent. It was always about drugs. Money to get drugs, things he had to do for people he owed for his drugs.
He had a marriage behind him, Theresa. There was a daughter Jessica, fourteen or so, and from what I can gather, she’s cut out of Spots temperament-wise. It was Spots’ disability got him the place in Ringsend. By rights, the car that creased him should have killed him. He woke out of a coma five weeks after, not knowing if he’d walk again. His method of dealing with that was staying gargled or high 24/7. That all stopped one day. He never said how or why. I had an idea though. I had tracked down Terry in a place on the North Strand. He told me he’d had a real fright the day before, a weird dream, a nightmare actually: featuring Spots Feeney. He’d been grabbing Terry by the shirt and roaring at him, and winding up to give him a clatter. It sounded like something I’d do. The next thing Terry knew, Spots was holding him tight enough to crush him, and crying and shouting at the same time. I never brought up this matter with Spots.
Having umpteen pieces of metal holding him together wasn’t going to stop Spots. He started going to a gym, a gym that happened to be part-owned by a bloke he had served time with. (The same gym that was to become a favourite hangout for at least a half-dozen serious, up-and-coming gangbangers.) In no time at all, Spots was all upper-body; if he got you in a headlock, you’d be done for surely. He had kept it up since. He also decided that it was time to make a living, and to that end he became a taxi man. Not a taxi driver. Taxi man meant professional, like a divine calling. Taxi driver meant cutting corners, cheating, and generally making life crap for the known world in general. Spots didn’t do much taxi-ing, actually. It was just enough to keep the plate and get out and about. It took me a while to learn what his real gig was. It wasn’t getting somebody to a place: it was getting somebody out of places, places they shouldn’t be. This was about people who were making massive prats of themselves or otherwise putting themselves into stupid, downright dangerous situations. Well-known people too, or well-off people, or spouses and kids of same; ‘people you’d never guess.’
Spots was carving out his niche just as the Celtic Tiger was getting going in earnest, back when the money was sloshing around like water coming into the Titanic. Some people, they seemed to take losing the run of themselves as an obligation. Spots only told me what suited him, but he did give me a story about how he got his start in the business. One dark and stormy night (he said), there was a young one, fourteen or fifteen, a bit of a rip apparently, and she was missing. AWOL. In actual fact, she had gone on the razzle. Important fact: her people were millionaire-bracket out the Southside. But the mother got a nonsensical phone call from Princess, whereupon she hit the panic button. Her hub, he right-away called Spots. How? Said hub had been one of Spots’ fares one night. One of those encounters where philosophical sorts of things got said. People tell strangers things they’d never dare say to family. There was drink involved, of course.
So then somehow, some way, Spots actually found that kid that night. He never told me the details. She was over in some dive off Capel Street, high on something-or-other and in just about in the worst company you could imagine. There was trouble getting her out. The be-all and the end-all of it was Spots doing a number on some party who’d started throwing shapes. Bones broken, concussion, and so forth. He got the kid home, with her puking like the Trevi Fountain all over the taxi. The father met him at the door, forked over five hundred nicker, no questions asked. Another five hundred the next day. Spots never did get charged for the set-to that night. Not even interviewed – I checked. At any rate, this episode got Spots known in certain quarters. Whereupon certain people then started to keep his mobile number handy. It was all about trust, discretion; keeping things under wraps.
He didn’t mind a slag about writing his memoirs. I even gave him a title – Taxi Tales: 1001 Nights in the Big Smoke. Some of what he told me was so mad that I never knew if he was spoofing or not. Even when he was a young fella, Spots’d have you wondering. He had all the tricks, all the convincing details. A way of saying things that made it so real you’d be right there with him. He didn’t miss much. Even small stuff got his attention: a quirk, the way somebody spoke, or looked or walked.
Getting a night’s sleep remained an issue with him, however. Some nights he’d drive around at all hours. Mystery Tours, he called them. I went with him a few times. He truly knew every crook and nanny in the place. He never let on that he got a kick out of driving around drinking cans of beer with a copper on board. Once we went as far as Tara of all places – Tara, the whole High King bit. I spent a very weird hour with him there hobbling around in the moonlight until -
A streetlamp by the railings lit up, yanking me back to here-and-now. I gave up trying to get the last bits of crisps from the bottom of the bag. It was time to ‘give a bell’ to Nolan. I studied the dark droopy branches of a chestnut tree while I waited for him to answer. Relief began leaking in after three rings: grand, I thought, that was me heading to Ringsend then.
“Ah, Tommy. I was wondering. Come on up, meet the team.”
I got a long look from the uniform manning the gate. What, I looked a bit too interested in the shatter-proof glass set-up, or the anti-ram barriers? I was soon standing next to a vacant reception desk and scowling at the camera in the ceiling. Nolan appeared just as my count got to forty.
He snapped his card fob at various sensors like he was daring them to explode, each time cocking an ear for the buzzer to the door release. He talked over his shoulder as we climbed the stairs. I noted the limber stride. Halfway up, we turned sharply toward the front of the building, the side that faced onto the Phoenix Park proper. After a last wave of his pass over a sensor by a door with no name, he yanked on the handle. Sharp smells flooded out and stung in my nose: mortar and adhesive, general new plastic stuff, rubber, paint, carpet.
What a set-up. Poof - the usual Garda universe of grot and grime had vanished. Here was something you’d see in an ad for Italian office furniture. Glass-topped partitions on the cubicles, proper filing cabinets, acres of table space, ergonomic mesh chairs. Tons of huge monitors. A radio base set up in one corner, like a tabernacle. Everything here was open, bright and colourful. Like, there was nothing to hide, it was a new world. And not a single bit of kit, no tunics or hi-vis gear or ballistic vests or equipment belts or handsets, lying about or slung over chairs or partitions. Not one cardboard box kicked in under a desk. Mugs, dirty or otherwise, zero. No postcards or snaps of your kids or your wedding or your football team. Not even a newspaper. It was like I’d stepped into a film set.
“IKEA showroom, people tell me. You think?”
“I’m not the man to ask about that IKEA stuff.”
A woman, mid- thirties, on a mobile, sat at one of the desks, also attending to her screen in a manner that said she saw big problems reported thereon. Nolan took up station by her desk and waited. She got the message and finished her call, and got up out of her chair. The direct look said copper. A reddish-blond crop of hair said ‘shower and go about your business,’ not ‘book me a fancy hair-do every week.’ The general ruddiness and a tightness around the eyes suggested sports, and/or time outdoors.
“Catríona, this is Tommy.” Nolan turned to me. “Or do you prefer...?”
“No. Tommy’s grand. Even my Ma doesn’t call me Sergeant.”
She had that hard, quick handshake that you got from a competitor.
“Cat came from Kevin Street,” Nolan said. “Tales to be told, Cat?”
“Never a dull moment,” she said. Another bogger, I thought. I gave up trying to place bogger accents years ago. I just say ‘Kerry’ to them all.
“Cat is frontline. She’ll work with you on this.”
‘Cat’ had found a perch back on the edge of her desk, one foot pulled up behind her knee.
“Yep,” Nolan went on. “Cat shortlisted for Inspector last week. We couldn’t be more proud.”
She examined the toe of her shoe. Less a sign of embarrassment, I figured than a sign that she was less than thrilled skinny at having to stay late and wait for this Malone tosser to show up. Nolan said something about leaving us to it, and then he was off like a dirty shirt.
She looked over, eyes lazily alert. My irritation had turned to annoyance.
“There’s a problem. Several, actually. A) I have a pressing engagement - tonight.”
I left it hanging there, but there was no reaction.
“Problem B), more to the point, is your boss is labouring under a misunderstanding. What I mean is, this ‘working with’ thing he just said, it actually doesn’t exist.”
She either had an advanced degree in stone-faced expressions or it was the faintest glimmer of humour.
“I just got sent here for a chat,” I went on. “But that, I am afraid, is it.”
“Walk-around and a briefing is what I heard,” she said. With that, she turned back to her desk, and picked up a file folder. It was a catch-up, aka briefing file, on Gary Cummins. I skimmed through the first two pages and closed it again. Just as I presented it back to her, Nolan made a return appearance.
“Had a read already? Great. So let’s go through it, the three of us.”
“Sorry? I have a commitment this evening. I already mentioned this?”
No fireworks. I picked up on some mental exchange between Nolan and ‘Cat.’
“Fair enough.” Nolan had put on a bland face. “No bother. It can wait ‘til the morning.”
You’ll be waiting, I thought. I walked back through the space-age office braced for an interruption. It never came. Then I was outside, walking through the zoo-smelling dusk to my car.
But by God I was steaming by the time I turned the key in the ignition. I was steaming when I drove out the Park. Steaming when I got to Islandbridge, and steaming as I launched the car down the quays. Yet by the time I hit the Four Courts, I felt the air going out of this mental commotion. I kept to my usual cowardly routine of eyes averted from the boardwalk. Too many Terrys there, day in, day out.
Braking for the lights at O’Connell Bridge, I realized that a downer frame of mind had crept in. Was it from flicking through Gary Cummins’s woeful record? Maybe. What a waster. His supposed partner’s name had stuck in my mind: Mary Enright. Sex worker noted from seven years ago; minor stuff going back to her teens; no history of violence though. The ‘D.U.’ I had expected.
It dawned on me then that someone had quietly taken up residence in my mind. Bernie Cummins. Surely to God someone had levelled with her: Bernie, chances are your son is no more. Nolan probably got it right: if someone was making an example of Gary, we’d have found him by now. He’d have been done out in public, or left out in public at least. That was the ways things had gone now. As to any rationale for hiding a body, or burying it, there was form there. The ‘RA had done for fellas and never told anyone where to find them. Psychological warfare was a biggie for some of the more twisted gangsters too: a complete disappearance put the fear of God in everyone.
And what if it hadn’t even been about Gary owing somebody, or double-crossing somebody? What if it had just happened? It needn’t have been a big deal. Gary had rubbed someone the wrong way. Something trivial, stupid, childish even. Being an addict meant being with other addicts – anything was possible. Even so-called normal people lost it sometimes. I’d worked the case of a fella beaten to death with two-by-fours. Murdered because..? Because ‘..he looked at me a certain way.’ Or, had Gary been nursing a grudge to the point of planning revenge, and it backfired on him? Maybe it got about that Gary had ratted someone out. It didn’t even need to be true. A rumour would’ve been enough.
Still my mind kept sliding back to Bernadette Cummins. One son murdered, a husband in jail, and now son number two was missing. And she was sick, very sick. Who decided that Bernie Cummins be put through this? This God of hers kept slamming doors in her face. Here was a person who deserved a tip of the scales back her way, for once. Some fairness in life. Which meant that no matter what my thinking brain might say, I’d already agreed to be Sir Galahad here? Jesus. Talk about needing a shrink. At least it’d go a ways to explaining this deep, low-burning anger I felt now.
Something else was shuffling around in a dim corner back of my mind too. Nolan, with his unexpected: ‘No bother, Tommy.’ No bother? The Nolan that I’d pegged as an arrogant, overbearing bollocks? Yet here I was on my merry way heading out for a few pints with my mates, as planned? It was too easy, too easy by far. This must mean that there was something getting by me here. Delaney, I thought. Delaney had to be in on it too. The fact was, he had just hoofed me over to Nolan will-nilly.
Something snapped into place then - and it fairly started me. Sometimes the obvious is so obvious that you don’t see it. Me, a trained detective who had almost missed the bus here. The real gig was not Gary Gannon or any of the Cummins’ family’s trials and tribulations. The fact was, Garda brass had never stopped believing that they had a crooked Guard to root out. Nolan was just the face of the operation. This Cummins business was just the bait. The target was me.
I tore away from O Connell Bridge tires shrieking well up into second gear. Eden Quay flew past, the open windows gulping in the rubbery stink of the city, layered with the Liffey’s sour tang and the greasy stink of diesel exhaust. My swing around the Custom House threw a quick view of the North Wall across the windscreen, ground zero as it were, the scene of the crime, the site of those shiny, air-conditioned spiders’ nests where the hedge-fund suits had cooked up the crash over their fifty-euro lunches and copious lines of coke. Everything looked gank and shabby and badly-used this evening – everything, even the new Sam Beckett that I normally considered a decent farewell to the Liffey as it dawdled out beneath it into the Bay. The sight of the abandoned guts of the Anglo building only made it worse and, as for the lopsided convention centre we were all supposed to be so proud of, I imagined it – hoped, actually - it’d slide back into the rubble and stay there.
I set the tires howling again on the turn off the quays and I kept up the lunacy out onto Pearse Street proper, where the laws of physics and the properties of hard metal objects left me no choice but to soberly set about aiming the Golf at Ringsend. I finally got my precious haddock and chips and took it back to the car. The haddock wasn’t great; the chips were getting on for soggy. That didn’t stop me finishing the both of them. I’d sink a couple of Jemmies in Deegans’, around the corner, before meeting the lads. That’d give the boot to those presences that kept slipping in and out from behind hiding places in my mind still. I cursed Nolan plenty while I downed my first one. That seemed to work. Bernie Cummins though, I couldn’t budge. Even after my second, she wasn’t going anywhere.