Tony Cummins was an eye-opener. He was younger-looking, and fresher-looking, than I had expected. You’d have thought that he had just stepped in off the street for a little chat. Strangely, this mad notion made me feel the prison wrapping itself tighter around me. Details buzzed in my mind, distracting me. The open-necked shirt was too white. Inmates were allowed wear a watch?
Mulhern waited by the door for us to settle. Cummins smiled up at him.
“Cappuccino for me. Not sure what the Guard here wants though.”
The Dublin twang was where it should be, so far up his no-az, it’s almost in his eye-az. He stared at the door after Mulhern left. I took my time flipping open my notebook.
“A sense of humour makes all the difference. Don’t you think? Tommy?”
“You’re still using those things? No tablets? iPad thingies?”
My pencil needed attention too. I heard him shift in the chair.
“Can’t you just watch it all later on anyways?”
Before looking up I let my eyes go flat. Left arm on the armrest, he was leaning a little that way, stroking his lip with his little finger. I kicked away a sudden thought: was I on the losing side here?
“Well thanks for dropping by,” he said. “How’s Sheila anyway?”
There was a flicker in his eye but the smile stayed firm.
“Your Ma I’m referring to. Lovely woman. A true friend to Bernie.”
I clung to my stone-face. After a few moments, he threw back his head and laughed softly.
“Come on,” he said. “You have to laugh. The women – they mate for life. Pals, I mean, not the other business. They made their First Communion together, your mother and Bernie, right?”
“I’m not sure.”
He lifted his arm to stroke the back of his neck, eyeing me all the while. He wanted me to notice that he has been moving iron around?
“Friends,” he murmured. “Oh yes. Through thick and thin.”
Trew tick an’ tin. Platinum Dub, all right.
“Ever wonder about your old mates? Where are they now, like?”
My answer was a shrug. It felt like the room was shrinking again.
“No? Really? Is so-and-so in jail? Gone straight? On the dole? In the ground…?”
“You’d know more about the subject than I would.”
Cummins seemed to like this answer. He blinked and smiled.
“Look, I respect loyalty, I do – loyalty plain and simple.”
Eyes locked on mine, he made two very philosophical nods.
“So tell your Ma she has my respect. No matter what.”
I thought about people watching this a room or two over; wondered if they could feel the same chill as I did. Cummins stopped stroking the back of his neck, but left his arm crooked there.
“Everything okay there Tommy - Sergeant, I mean?”
“This ‘no matter what’ thing you just said. It means what?”
“Oh come on now. It’s just an expression. English as she is spoken, and all that.”
“A person might think it’s a plan. Or a threat.”
“Dear oh dear.” The smile looked genuine. “Someone got out the wrong side of the bed.”
“There’s something you want. I haven’t heard what it is yet.”
He let down his arm and began a study of the table top. When he looked up again, the smile had become more of a grimace.
“This is your game plan?”
“There is no game plan. I’m here to listen, that’s all.”
He slid down a little in the chair.
“Well well well. The new-style copper now. Slides out of his designer apartment – oh by the way, meant to ask you. You like living in one of those? To me, they’d be like living in a glasshouse. Get the feeling people can see in? But sure, I suppose they’re used to them over there, aren’t they.”
I knew what was coming.
“Hong Kong, is it? Pictures I seen, it’s wall to wall skyscrapers. Jesus. Anyway. Where were we? The new-style copper – hey, didn’t you used to have an old banger? An Escort, a red one? I nearly forgot. God, what a tragedy. Out of commission now I suppose.”
I put down my pencil and stared at him. Somewhere in there, I might pick up a signal that Tony Cummins had a part in what was to be my murder that day in Dalkey.
“What exactly is it you want?”
“I want Gary found, and put in a safe place. Do you need a minute to write that down?”
“Will that be all?”
“He needs detox. Treatment, counselling. Anger-management stuff too, if you’re asking.”
“Did you forget anything?”
“Well, if you have to give him a hiding, I wouldn’t mind too much.”
“Of course. You don’t have Darren to put order on his little brother for you, anymore.”
The twinkle in his eyes froze.
“Nice,” he said. “You know, they ought to do a study of you. How someone can turn out the way you did. Compared to that brother of yours, like. You know what I mean?”
His words had no effect. I had been ready for this in some way that I hadn’t realized.
“Maybe I do,” I said. “I’m the one who gets to walk out of here and head back to Dublin. Have a bit of dinner, maybe a Quarter Pounder – with cheese. Have a pint or two, or ten. Sleep in me own bed. Is that the sort of thing you’re talking about?”
He made another, slower blink. The eyes reminded me of when we’d be messing around when we were kids, pretending to be hypnotized. I had shifted my feet, ready to jump.
“You think you can talk to me any way you want? Do you –”
The door swinging open cut off the rest. It was Mulhern and he was in a dander: he wanted me out. I was in no hurry. I had a notebook to close, an elastic band to arrange. The door swung closed faster than I expected. Nolan’s face was suddenly about eighteen inches from mine. I didn’t even get a chance to pretend I wasn’t shocked. Mulhern slid by us, so close I had to step out of his way.
“What’s the plan here, Tommy? What is the fucking plan?” So this was Nolan being livid. His stare skipped between my eyes. “Because whatever the hell it is, I need to be in on it. In advance.”
The far door opened and I caught sight of Cat, and Mick Quinn.
“We need to communicate here, Sergeant. Yes?”
I found a small scratch on the wall to silently announce my response. The Plan, Arse-face, is this: a) you get out of my face before I puck the lugs off you, and b) I go back to Dublin where I resume my duties with normal, civilized people. That is The Plan.
“What’re you poking Cummins for? Provoking him to what end?”
“He was trying to run the show.”
“Of course he is! We know that!”
“Maybe you do. But in any interview or interrogation that I do, that’s not on.”
“But you can handle it. Christ’s sakes, you were how many years in the Murder Squad?”
“Two, he threatened a Garda officer. A Garda Sergeant.”
Nolan looked away, took a few steps over and back.
“Okay,” he said, like he needed to be sure. “So what’s the next step?”
“There is no next step.”
Nolan stared at me like I was the Virgin Mary at Fatima.
“If he wants us,” I said, “he’ll come around. If he was only cat-farting around, well so what then.”
Nolan, for the first time, looked shocked.
“Cat-farting around? Look, he asked for you, Cummins did.”
Cat, I thought then. The Cat who drove me here, I thought. Keeping the fact from me that Nolan and Quinn were going to be in the audience here? Cat the Betrayer. There would be words.
“Remember what we talked about?” Nolan went on. “Enabling? To establish the relationship? Get him to a comfort level? Then, after you get him on the hook you can step back.”
“‘Establish the relationship’ doesn’t mean I sit there while he issues threats to me.”
“That’s just him playing his mind games. You know that as well as anyone.”
“He knew about my fiancée, about where I live. About the shooting back in Dalkey – he even knew the car I was driving.”
“For Christ’s sakes! Of course he’s going to try and run you! What did you expect?”
He gestured toward the closed door.
“Look, he’s cornered, and he knows it. We have him by the hasp - that’s why he’s messing with your head. All I want of you is to do what you’re good at. We play Cummins. He doesn’t play us.”
Cornered, I thought. Surely to God even Nolan knew what a cornered animal did.
He seemed to be on a different track, though. He canted away but came back up almost immediately, shaking his head and chortling. He stopped, caught my eye and winked.
“So let’s try round two. OK, Tommy?”
I eyed the door. If I looked long enough, I’d maybe see Tony Cummins’ fist and forearm sticking through it.
“Now what were we saying? Before we were so rudely interrupted.”
Cummins was a lot less smiley now. Still, he was trying.
“You were talking about your son.”
He turned to look directly at the camera. It was if he was looking for approval of how patient he was, dealing with this thicko here.
“What do they want out there, do you think? The ones watching us.”
He dropped his voice to a stage whisper and leaned in a tad.
“You mean you want me to rat people out. Just say it.”
As if. He leaned back and eyed the camera again.
“Oh yes,” he said, “we have Tony Cummins where we want him now. Now we’ll get what we couldn’t get at the trial, with our deals and inducements and ...”
He started examining the wall as though it was badly painted.
“…. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that extortion? Maybe even hostage-taking?”
Good interview technique the copper knowing when to keep his trap shut.
“Your plea bargain circus didn’t work. The stoolie deals didn’t either. God knows you tried but. Months, it went on.”
His gaze swung back my way, narrowed and hard.
“So what are the chances of me snitching, would you say?”
I met his eyes and offered a mental reply: I’d say they were pretty good in actual fact.
He dropped his gaze to his hands and examined his nails. He spoke so low I almost missed the first words.
“Bernie’s a good-living, decent person. You understand that. Right?”
“That’s what my Ma says.”
“Your Ma’s right. Bernie deserves good things to happen to her. Especially now. Just like your Ma does too. Don’t get me wrong. What I’m saying is, nobody deserves to lose a son.”
I noticed a faint gleam on a patch of skin on Cummins’ forehead.
“You think I don’t know what people say? ‘How could Bernie have married that Cummins fella?’ Look, I don’t care. Nobody can judge Bernie - nobody. What’s done is done. That’s life. C’est la vie.”
He looked up from his nails.
“You don’t believe me about certain matters, do you. Matters relating to your family.”
I got that sharp, almost black and white vision thing immediately. Edges, shapes – everything - felt so distinct, so near. If he said Terry’s name, I might lose it. No: I would lose it.
“Get the ball rolling,” I managed. “Give us something to work with.”
He offered a twisted smile but his eyes grew fixed and cold again.
“No kiss first? Not even a cuddle?”
“Gary’s gone missing but no-one’s called Missing Persons Bureau. Can you explain that?”
“You mean to the two lazy, fat coppers and the secretary there in ‘Missing Persons’? Not one of whom give a flying shite about Gary? That ‘Missing Persons Bureau’?”
“Where should we start looking for Gary?”
Cummins’ eyes shed their intensity and came to rest on the wall behind me.
“You’re asking the wrong man. I am sorry to say.”
“You’re telling me that you’re not in touch with Gary?”
He shook his head.
“Every family has their thing. It’s the way of the world.”
“I know – we know – that Gary has problems.”
“’Problems?’ You can say that again. You’ve been through the mill yourself, with your own situation. You learn a lot of things you never wanted to learn. Right?”
“You’re talking about addiction? Or is it something else?”
Again there was that confusion between smiling and rage.
“Can you tell me where Gary’s staying then? Or who with?”
Cummins shook his head again. He resumed his wall-stare. His voice came in a slow monotone.
“I put Gary out. Out of the house. It was a while back.”
“How long ago was that?”
“Last July. You can only do so much. Know what I mean?”
I opted again for stalling. He moved his gaze from the wall back to me
“I had to. Bernie could never do it. Gary was out of order, out of control really.”
“So where did he go?”
He drew in a breath, and let it out his nose in a slow, soft whistle. Meant he didn’t know?
Cummins began to shake his head.
“Why wouldn’t he go to her?”
He seemed to wrestle with whether he should bother answering.
“Did Bernie talk to you about this?” he asked instead.
“No. Should she have?”
“You know what Downs is? Of course you do.”
“This is your granddaughter you’re talking about? Maria, is it?”
I wondered if the camera caught the sudden flash in his eyes. His jaw slid over and back, like he was testing it after taking a punch.
“Does Gary visit?” I asked. “Stay with them maybe? It’s a nice big place she has, I hear.”
The jaw went still. He waited until I met his gaze fully. Words seemed to demand huge effort.
“I’m going to tell you something now. Right? And if it’s the only thing you remember from this conversation, well that’ll be a job well done. So listen. My daughter, Jennifer, and her family, they are in a completely different world to what you’re thinking. Got that, did you?”
“I’m not thinking anything. I’m asking for some basic info.”
“No you’re not. You’re playing to your copper pals out there. Like a pack of – not even wolves, it’s jackals they are, looking for any excuse to drag people down. So you tell them what I’m saying here. Jennifer is cut out of her mother. Jennifer is Bernie, and Bernie is Jennifer. Got it?”
He eyed the knuckles on his left hand and began stroking them.
“That might mean nothing to you,” he went on. “Or that shower out there watching. But your Ma, she’d know what I’m saying. She’d know there’s nothing fake about Bernie. Now, when Jennifer was born, Bernie told me what was going to happen. It had to be that way, she told me. Bernie had the plan from day one.”
He stopped stroking his knuckles and flexed his fingers and glanced my way before he continued.
“That’s exactly how she was reared, my daughter. My wife laid down the law, and I did what I was told. You’re getting this from the horse’s mouth. You and your cronies out there can have a good laugh over that now. I don’t care.”
A frown cut deeper between his eyebrows.
“So Jennifer does not come into this matter. And if I hear that you, or any of the monkeys watching us here hassles Jennifer, there’ll be no go on anything. Not an inch. See?”
This warranted at least a mild nod from me.
“But just so’s you don’t go away with a flea in your ear about this, and because you had the decency to answer the call for my wife, I will tell you something else here. Jennifer and Maria are away. They’re in Spain. A break for the both of them. They go over five or six times a year. Maria loves the sea side. And Jennifer has friends there, good friends too. Decent people. They help her out with Maria. See?”
He settled back in his chair and reignited his stare. This bullshit about good and decent people was a complete non-starter with me. A vain endeavour to try to pull the wool over my eyes. I knew good and decent people. And also, I’d bet good money that the ‘friends’ that Jennifer had in Spain were very probably wives and girlfriends of Dublin gangsters who’d transplanted themselves to the Costa.
“So where might he go then, Gary. Give us some start on it.”
“Here and there. I tried to keep tabs, had people looking in on him. I tried to keep channels open. It looked good for a bit, I had hope, I really did. But it’s a disease.”
“It looked like Gary beat it, you mean? The Methadone working for him, like?”
Cummins looked from me to the camera and back.
“I don’t know. All I know is he had got a bit calmer. I met him, and we talked. It was the first talk I had with him really, man to man like. So that’s another one for youse to laugh over.”
He slid a thumbnail along his lower lip.
“You want to know what I told Gary? Well I’ll tell you. The first thing I told him was he didn’t have the right to break his mother’s heart. I also told him I’d be ready to take him back on board, but I needed proof. I needed time to go by too, to see him staying clean.”
I wondered: did Tony Cummins hear his own words the way I heard them? ‘Back on board:’ back learning how to be a proper criminal again, under his father’s guiding hand. ‘Staying clean.’ Right.
“That has not come to pass yet, has it?”
“Correct, Sergeant. That did not come to pass.”
He stretched, and fixed me with a look that was not unkind.
“OK, it’s your turn now. Explain to me how you’re going to find Gary.”
“I’m not here to make offers.”
“Are you not. Well I say you better change your tune on that score.”
It didn’t take much to imagine Nolan out there rolling his eyes and cursing.
“So tell me then. How?”
“First thing is we canvas, talk with people close to Gary. He has a girl friend?”
“I don’t know any more. He did, and that’s what I was talking about here when I was saying that things had been looking up for a while. She was good for him, I was told.”
Cummins must’ve been out of practice – or he didn’t care that his lie was obvious.
“I forget. Where else would you go looking?”
“His associates. Do you know any of them?”
Another shake of the head. I couldn’t tell if he got my sarcasm.
“Surely to God youse can follow his phone and all, his money card. All that?”
“We’d see if he has come in contact with us recently.”
“The Guards, like? Arrested and that?”
“Not just arrested. Questioned, or if he has been seen with certain parties, in certain places. Associates, meetings, get-togethers. Pubs and clubs. Known residences et cetera.”
Cummins nodded a few times. It meant go on.
“We’d track any clinic visits, doctor visits. Is he in treatment? On and off? Casualty admissions. Dole office, any Social Protection interactions.”
Cummins’ frown stopped me.
“Social welfare, I’m talking about.”
“OK. Go on. What else.”
“Well there could be other sources.”
“Cameras like? CCTV, right?”
“We wouldn’t go to that right away, unless it’s a follow-up on a sighting in a given place. Especially a place we could expect him coming back to.”
Cummins thoughtfully scratched his chin. Had I messed up? Had I just given him instructions for how to find Gary himself? Or for Gary to evade us coppers who’d come looking for him?
“What other stuff would you be doing?”
I left it unanswered. Cummins got the hint, but pressed on.
“Cameras in buses, in taxis, right? Shops, pubs even?”
“Does your son take a lot of taxis?”
“Well there’s no way he’s running a car of his own. C’mere, you have that recognition stuff too, I heard. Reading the cars going by even. Is that true?”
“I don’t know.”
He threw me a disbelieving glance and turned to a study of his cuticles
“The idea is to track Gary’s routines,” I went on. “We work up a map, like. Try to put him on a timeline and map out things that way. We’d be looking for patterns. Predictions.”
“I see,” he said. He turned over his hand. “Yeah. Sort of.”
“This’s if he is really a missing person. Which is not clear yet.”
Cummins’ head tilted slowly up. His eyes had almost completely disappeared. A muscle moved by his jaw. Nolan and company must be hitting the roof again, I thought. Fine by me.
“You’ll do better than ‘track’ Gary. You’ll find him. You see?”
Cummins was on a train of thought and there’d be no stops.
“Find him,” he repeated. “Bring him to Bernie. And like I told you, I don’t care what you do with him after that. Charge him, hold him over – knock the shite out of him if you so desire.”
I saw nothing to offer now, or to argue about. All I could do was wait.
“Another thing. I don’t want Gary in the papers. None of this Garda information appeal stuff. No telly either. Not on that website of yours either, that Missing Persons thing. And most definitely not on any Facebook Tweet whatever thing either – no way.”
He placed his hands flat down on the table and glared up under his eyebrows.
“I don’t want ‘them’ running the show. Finding Gary, like. I want you doing it.”
“I can’t do this on my own.”
“You know the lie of the land. You’re the one Bernie talks about.”
“And I can’t just upend every procedure.”
“Don’t tell me what you can’t do. It’s not for them out there. This is on you.”
I kept my waiting face going and listened to his breathing.
“And now you want your bag of sweets, I suppose. Is that it?”
It was the breathing that signaled he was about to come around. He didn’t wait for a reply.
“Of course you do. All right, youse listening in out there, my fans here, are you listening? 17 Clonmore Villas. The Blanch, spitting distance of Corduff. The second last house there.”
“Blanchardstown,” I said, for the audience. “A house?”
“There’s a fella. You know him – you should know him, at least. It’s his granny’s place. She’s ancient. She doesn’t know one day from the next. There’s a shed down the back of this place. Don’t go in it. Pull up two slabs of the walk there, right in front of the shed. Go down about three feet.”
“Nobody, is who. There’s a fella, but he doesn’t know anything about what’s there any more than his granny does. He’s banged up for the last four year - that’s how he doesn’t. So don’t try to fit him up over it. They just used the gaff, some people did. So go do a bit of digging.”
“What would we be digging for?”
“To make the streets safer. And no, they’re not loaded. They were wrapped by an expert.”
“Who owns them? Who put them there?”
“This isn’t a confession box.”
His eyes had lost interest in anything around him. He didn’t bother turning when he spoke next: he just addressed the door.
“And phone Bernie. Tell her it’s started. Don’t forget.”
And that, apparently, was that. I waited anyway. He might cough up another bona-fide. But all I saw in the end, or believed I saw, was Tony Cummins already telling himself whatever story he needed to. Whatever it would take to explain away what he had just done.