Gameboy insisted on buying the first round. There was a message in that, I reckoned. It meant he had issues to air, pressing issues. Getting that first round would give him a leg up on our attention, or our patience.
Issues? Gameboy had basically thrown himself into the internet a few years back. Now that he knew everything from the dawn of time, he took it as his sworn duty to bore the arse off everybody. Interest rates. The Middle East. Genetically modified crops, the Double Irish. CIA drones.
“It’s only coming out now,” he said. We waited. It could be anything. “Leaks, like?” The two Jemmies from earlier had worked a bit too well. “It was all planned, so it was. Right from the start.”
Spots kept eyeing the bottles lined up on the shelf behind the bar.
“The IMF, they decided -”
“- No, no, no. Not tonight, Josephine. No way.”
Gameboy sprouted his indignant look. Spots was not impressed.
“We know already,” he said. “The bubble, the bail-out, the banks, the bollocks – yeah yeah yeah. It’s all a swiz, a con job. Travesty, scam – yeah, yeah, yeah. OK. We know. Happy now?”
“‘Happy’? People have had it up to here. There’ll be riots any day. Mark my words.”
That was not true. It was so not-true that even Gameboy knew it. But nobody wanted to admit that our whole cherished Irish rebel thing was all rubbish. I thought again of Midnight. Constable Earley, the Queensland copper. His missus with the grand nursing job. Their kids, who ‘loved the beach.’
Gameboy soon opted to take his marbles elsewhere. I watched him head over to a pair of blokes he knew from when they had shared State accommodations together.
“Really,” said Spots. “Have a bit of sense will you, I keep telling him. Nobody wants to keep hearing that shite - nobody. Things is bad enough without getting reminded day in and day out.”
“What if he’s right.”
“What if I said to you that you’re just acting the maggot, and trying to rise a row.”
“OK. I get it now. You hate it that he’s right.”
“Here, give us a speech now, why don’t you? About what? Fairness. The price of rashers?”
It wasn’t often I got to wind Spots up.
“Listen to me,” he said. “There ain’t gonna be any marches, or protests or any of that. No way. People in this country, we’re a walkover. All talk, so we are. That’s the god’s honest truth.”
He waited to see if any of this was sinking in. I opted for the elevated eyebrow.
“All right, so you get your little laugh. Fine. But I’ll tell you something now. The day your mob starts locking up the real criminals- them robber bankers, them raper priests and what have you ...”
I watched Gameboy advance some issue with his new audience. Spots began observing a lost-looking bloke standing by the far end of the bar. His shirt-tail was out and he swayed a little as he texted. A husband I wondered. He didn’t want to go home because…? The bank called? The doctor says he needs to see him? He got laid off? Or: sorry, I just can’t take it anymore?
I needed another drink.
“Status update. Lost in focking Ringsend. Poiles of focking riff-raff.”
Spots had the DART accent down pat. Miles ahead of Macker’s efforts. He took a sip of beer and licked his lips.
“Nobody’s going to thank you, you know,” he said then. “For the record, like.”
“What are you on about.”
“Hah. Like you have no clue. A pat on the back and maybe a medal, that’s the best it’s going to get for you. Like that’ll make up for all the new levies and cuts and what have you.”
Spots still put out little experimental remarks like this every now and then. Explorations, I called them. For certain people, a dissatisfied copper had a glow of opportunity to it. Spots never admitted to putting out feelers, of course. We watched the lost-soul texter head out the door.
“Eh,” I heard him say. “Them flowers? Very nice. Tell your Ma for me.”
The graveyard, he meant. Spots reminding me that he had made his own pilgrimage.
“And give her an oul hug for me while you’re at it.”
He wasn’t joking. I didn’t doubt that he’d check I did too.
“This actually brings me to another matter.” He made a point of allowing several long moments to pass. “Guess who I bumped into today. A new motorbike under him - well, new-looking in anyway.”
“Christy. He had it with him at the graveyard.”
Spots’ eyebrow stayed up a bit too long.
“Did he now. Well he is some messer that fella. Do you need reminding of that simple fact?”
“His heart’s in the right place,” I said. “You don’t mind that, do you?”
Spots sniffed and rubbed at his nose and returned to eyeing the clientele.
“All right so, Garda O’Blivious. Go and have a word with Mister Big-Heart.”
“About keeping his gob shut, is what.”
Somewhere in a corner of my mind, a little alarm went off.
“Meaning I know you’d never ask Christy to do stuff. But who else’d know that?”
“What ‘stuff’ are you talking about?”
“Listen to that. Look, don’t play the copper Q and A with me, Tommy. Do you know that Christy’s coming on like you and him are Starsky and bleeding Hutch?”
He began to fondle his glass. He resumed only after he had completed a good rub.
“Pulled up next to me so he did, Christy did. Yes, all aflutter, man on a mission style. ‘Seen Gary C, have you?’ says he. Right straight out, just like that. I couldn’t believe it.”
I took another go of my pint.
“There he was, them big eyes of his glowing like he’s in Lourdes and he just got his sight back. ‘What?’ says I. ‘What did you just say to me?’ Did he pick up the hint? Not, a, chance. That fella couldn’t pick up nits. ‘Gary Cummins,’ he asks me - again. ‘Seen him at all?”
Spots shook his head in wonder and resumed.
“Look, I says to him, are you gone completely mental? You watch what you’re saying, and who you’re saying it to. You want people thinking you’re a snitch?”
In my mind, I could hear this exchange all too clearly.
“‘Oh Jaysus, hold your horses now,’ says Christy then. Like he hadn’t stepped in a big enough pile of shite. ‘I just thought maybe you and Jennifer stayed in touch and all…?’”
Recalling this made Spots wince.
“Now this is Tony Cummins’ daughter Christy’s talking about,” he said. “See?”
“Well did you? Stay in touch with Jennifer?”
His eyes narrowed. I’d never been good at figuring when vexation turned to anger with Spots.
“You and Christy, Jesus. Some combination, the pair of you. Anyway. It’s ancient history. The last century –the last min.. millennium, for God’s sakes.”
“So you’re totally over her. That explains you rearing up here. Obviously.”
Spots closed his eyes. A horse-laugh from someone drew them open again.
“I actually met them once,” he said, quietly. “Jennifer and the hub. Liam. And me on the flat of me back out beyond in Sallynoggin. The rehab. One of those weird things – destiny, whatever. Christ.”
He shook his shoulders as though he’d felt a draught.
“There she was, Jenn, in visiting someone. And that’s when I saw it – she’d actually turned into her mother. I was half expecting to see rosary beads. Christ, I thought, how did I not see that coming.”
“You should’ve had rosary beads with you. Impress her and all.”
“Oh but you’re the funny fellow.”
“What about the hub? Liam Somebody, is it?”
“Murphy, Liam Murphy. He’s total straightsville. Big fella, hardworking. The quiet type, a builder I do believe. Not your quote, unquote, bad boy.”
“That was you, Mr. Bad Boy. Tell me, how did you get on with her da?”
Spots leaned back like something rotten had passed under his nose.
“Why or how exactly would this be any of your business?”
“He hardly welcomed you with open arms I’d say. No offence now.”
Spots sucked his teeth and looked away. I finished my pint. A hankering for more Jemmy bit harder.
“Back to Christy,” I said. “You gave him the bum’s rush, you were saying?”
“Damned right. Come here to me you, I says to him, and listen hard. That particular party you’re asking about, he won’t appreciate you going around like this. His family won’t either, let me tell you.”
“And nothing. He just looks at me, like: so…? He’s not all there, Christy isn’t, sad to say.”
Spots wasn’t wrong about Christy. But he wasn’t sad either.
“And that’s when he drops his clanger: ‘Tommy Malone’s looking for him.’”
Spots waited for a reaction. I wasn’t sure what to say.
“Makes sense he’d ask you, though,” I said, finally. “Spots Feeney’s the man in the know. Right?”
The trademark freckles had faded over the years; they stood out like tiny holes now.
“Are you out of your tiny mind? Do you think I’d tell the likes of Christy Cullinane?”
“Fair enough. Tell it to me instead, so.”
Grabbing his glass like it was a hand from a lifeboat, Spots drained it and clapped it back on the table. He eased back into his bleak study of proceedings.
Gameboy was tacking back our way. It was his round anyway. The drinks came, and Gameboy felt entitled to edge back into his topics of interest. Government surveillance was on his mind now. He was allowed to proceed – for a while. I wished I’d remembered to power off my mobile. I got to it on the third ring. ‘Unknown.’ Over a background of crappy techno, I got a hoarse-sounding hello. My hello back got me another hello. I gave it a few more tries. Nothing.
“See?” Gameboy said. “Way more dropped calls this last while. You know why?”
“The network is shite. That’s why.”
“Ah that’s what they want you to think, Tommy.”
My mobile was buzzing again. Mr. Unknown was back. There was no hello this time. No music in the background now either, but something that sounded like traffic.
All I heard was hard breathing, a whisper. Then he, she or it was gone.
I decided a long time ago about this modern business of driving underground to park a car: it would always give me the heebie-jeebies. It was just one of those things, though.
I made my way up to the apartment. The IKEA flat packs had not budged. Same for the tiles, and the glue, and the grout. Likewise, the trowel and the spacers and everything else. Everything on pause, occupant included -
- I had a text.
At first I didn’t believe it. I counted to five and read it again. The words hadn’t changed; they hadn’t gone away either. Report to OCU in a.m. Text back to confirm order received. ‘Order?’ Somebody had lit a fire under Delaney. I squeezed an ‘OK’ out of my fingers and hit Send. Come the morning, I’d sort this nonsense, but quick.
I freed a tube of Becks from the fridge and fired up the laptop. Staying away from Facebook was not as hard as I thought it would be. I wasn’t much of a Facebooker anyway. A week would go by between Sonia’s updates. Very measured about what she’d say. You’d think she was a copper, herself.
I got a right land when I opened to my inbox then. Hoax was my first thought, or her account has been hijacked. But it seemed to be the genuine article.
Having fuuunnnn!!! Family soooo older(!) Lots of changes. ‘Irish accent’! Sooo many people, soooo small place. Lots of Mainlanders! OMG SHOPPING! PRO shopper…! Miss you, Tom.
Nobody called me Tom except her. No XX, of course. But my suspicions had thickened. I tried to snuff the notion that this was her subconscious pushing back against what she really wanted i.e. the old fare-thee-well-and-fuck-off plan. I re-read the email several times. One of the pictures she attached had a forest of skyscrapers in the background. Kowloon, right. If that was her cousin Jenny… well, there was no nice way to say it. Cousin Jenny had one of those flat, disc-shaped faces that put you in mind of a saucepan lid.
“Tom misses you too, Sonia.”
That was the Jemmys talking. But I liked the sound of it, so I said it again. I tried to say it in Mandarin. My enthusiasm for learning Mandarin only went so far; about as far as that small mole on Sonia’s thigh. Which mental image sent me reeling with lust, of course. I couldn’t blame the Becks - or the pints of Bud or the Jemmys earlier for that matter - for the number of efforts I had to make to come up with a reply to Sonia’s email. However, I somehow managed to stick to my policy. Messages had to be brief and low-key. Restrained. Mature. I didn’t even try to make a crack about the latest shit to hit the fan here. Like, she needed to be updated on the shambles here?
It was after midnight when I conked out. I knew this because I had unplugged the clock so I wouldn’t end up looking at it when I woke up. Strangely, my nocturnal shenanigans had not struck last night. I hadn’t woken up with my heart leaping out of my chest and jumping out of the bed to fight the world. Just a strangely, last night’s heavy-enough session hadn’t left me as shagged as I’d expected.
The Dublin I woke up to was technically in daylight but dulled by a low sky that was packed solid with bunched-up, cantankerous-looking clouds. In the shower, I tried to forecast what the day might bring. Later, over corn flakes, I tried to figure what I’d miss about this apartment. The view? Nope. The twenty grand I’ve lost on the place already? Well yes. I had waited long enough to buy my own place, God knows, but if Sonia wasn’t…. I got up from the table like it had caught on fire. The final item of my routine before locking up never varied. I’d always be OCD about the Sig: holster release, chamber, clip and… Three times I checked it. Par for the course.
A fifteen-minute walk would get me to the OCU.
It was good to be walking in the open air, but it felt weird not to be behind the wheel all the same. Next to the light to cross Conyngham Road stood a shaky-looking character, draped in what looked like a sleeping bag. Sleeping rough in the Park, I surmised. The beady eyes stayed fixed on me as I approached, eyes that were unnervingly clear and off-kilter at the same time. Christy Cullinane, I thought. Spots was right. Christy needed a talking-to. It had to be me.