Work in Progress

May 2016


An Existential Thriller

Journey into Ireland's dark capital, as the search for a kidnapped girl degenerates into the desperate hunt for a deadly missile.

The sequel to PURE MAD.



Gary J Byrnes, Writer


Twitter: @garyjbyrnes  Web:



Welcome to Ireland, in the Godforsaken Year of 2016.

I am a narcissist with a spastic colon, an overactive imagination, an addictive personality and occasional paranoid delusions. These are not just opinions, these are medically-certified facts. I am wildly optimistic and also pleased to immerse myself in the malaise that afflicts the land. I have a greatly exaggerated opinion of myself and am completely unsure of my place in the world.

I am a reflection of my country.

My country needs me.

The future of the free world depends on me.

Me and my existential crisis.



January sun came in low, so I kept my shades on. Sitting alone in the wood-panelled hallway of the Christian Brothers School office, I felt fifteen again. Last time there, I was waiting for a lashing from the Brother Superior. And the bastard sure delivered, with a leather strap as long as your arm and half-an-inch thick.

A text message chirped, one I'd been expecting. They've taken her!

Fuck. I'd be in Dublin before the day was out, so. I replied, asked him to call in to the office by six.

The floor was of patterned tiles in black and gold, worn by time. And blood and tears, well-mopped up, again and again. From within her gilded frame, the Virgin Mary gazed down at me. Why the crazy obsession with virgins?

Another text. What now? Don't forget your anger management class starts at 5pm. C U then!

'For fuck's sake!'

A frail woman came out to me. She looked like she was about a hundred and had survived on nothing but tea and prayer her whole life.

'Brother Gerald will see you now.'

She led me through her little space and into a cold room, left me sitting before a big desk. Gave me time to gaze at all the religious pictures, including Mary again, of course, and the gleaming brass crucifix on the wall before me. The stories that crucifix could tell. A minute later, he came in behind me. All psychology, of course.

'Mr Doyle, is it?'

'Yeah. Thanks for seeing me.'

'No problem. You're a past pupil, aren't you.'

He offered his hand. I had the urge to stand - conditioning - but I fought it. His hand was limp, damp. He sat at his desk, moved some papers around. He was in his sixties, heavy but with the flab of an easy life, not the muscle of work or the fakery of the gym. He was older, but his tiny, close-set eyes were still the same.

'I had the pleasure of being taught by the Christian Brothers, yes.'

'By me?'

'Certainly by you. Irish. My most-hated subject by a long shot.'

'I don't recall you, sorry. And Irish was never very popular, I'm sad to say.'

'Maybe it's the way that ye taught it.'

'Maybe. Anyway -'

'The beatings and all.'

' - to business.'

'Business. Yeah. I'm a private detective.' The holy man raised his eyebrows at that. 'I was hired by another past pupil, would you believe. He wants me to find a teacher who was here back in the late seventies. A Mr Crow. Taught maths.'

'And what's it concerning?' he said, flushed a little now. Anxious, the bastard, the past just wouldn't go away, no matter how many times he prayed to God to make it disappear.

'That I can't disclose.' He raised his eyebrows again, smug cunt. Okay. Deep breath. Try this. 'Let's just say it involved the anal rape of a child by his teacher.'

He pushed back in his chair, folded his arms defensively.

'This, this is preposterous. I, I -'

'Can you check your records, maybe?'

He took a deep breath, pushed a button on his desk intercom, then asked the old lady to look up Crow.

While we waited, he made uncomfortable small talk.

'Shouldn't the police be dealing with this?'

'My client doesn't believe that the police, the system, will ensure that justice is done. I think you'll find that many similar victims share this belief.'

'Well I hope we can help you, Mr Doyle, but I'm afraid most of our records from that period would be lost at this time.'


My heart was hammering, ready to punch a hole in my chest. The red mist was building in me, starting to obscure my vision.

They've taken her!

'It was a long time ago.'

Yeah, then came the never-ending stories of abused kids, beaten or raped to within an inch of their lives, the investigative tribunals, the whitewash.

'So you still don't remember me?'

'I see something in your face, yes. But I'm afraid I can't place it.'

The woman buzzed back.

'Brother Gerald, I'm afraid we have no record of any teacher called Crow. I'm sorry.'

'Not to worry.'

He drummed his fingers on the desk, raised his eyebrows. I waited, wanted him to spell it out for me. Raised my own eyebrows.

'So I'm afraid we have no records.'

'That's it so. All gone?'

He shrugged, stood up from his desk. Came forward, hand outstretched.

I took his hand, pulled him towards me, headbutted him. It was perfect. He collapsed onto his knees, blood pouring from his broken nose, tears in his eyes.

'What?' was all he could muster.

'You snivelling little bully. You're not so tough now, are you? Little boys are easier though, aren't they?'

'What do you mean?' his voice bubbled, spitting blood onto the green carpet.

'I was in here a good few times when I went to school here. I was just a stupid little kid, doing stupid little kid things. But you, you were the big fucking man, with the big fucking leather strap. I've waited a long time for this, to show you that little boys grow up. You should've thought of that, maybe. I pure hate cunts like you, you fucking child-abusing hypocrite. Jesus my fucking arse.'

He was crying now. Typical reaction when bullies get a hiding themselves. I bent down to him, right in his face. He was just a pathetic, flabby old man now. The years had stripped away my fear of him. His blood gushed, red as Jesus's, up on that damned cross of his.

'One thing, Brother. If you get in touch with the Guards about this, that's no problem. I'll take you to court for child cruelty. Maybe I could even organise a class action with a few of the lads. All I can say is you’re lucky all you did was beat me. Or you’d be begging to get left into heaven. Know what I mean?'

He nodded and mumbled. I slapped him hard on the face and split his lip.

I threw a business card at him. 'And I'll find that cunt Crow. Don't you worry. If anything turns up, like the miraculous resurrection of your records, give me a shout, yeah?'

Then I left.

It was his shrug that set me off.

Irish schoolteachers could legally beat the shit out of their pupils until 1982. Poland was the first country in the world to ban corporal punishment in schools. That was way back in 1783. I know this because I looked it up.

The police never came after me.


The night before, out in Tipperary, a dirty Hino truck had rumbled into position, its rotating drum of wet concrete loudly ready for pouring. The counting man could hear it, feel it - all the booming and scraping - down in the underground chamber. He knew time was up, looked around the well-buried shipping container for the last time. He felt an odd sadness. The war was over, the IRA had given up. Lost. Surrendered.

What future for the Republic now?

But no more would die. Wasn't that something?

A fizzing bulb in a protective cage dangled overhead, made the drizzle sparkle as it came down through the entrance hole. There was a stale smell in the place.

'Terrible fucking waste,' he said to himself, squinting as he wrote the quantities into a notebook.

And this room held just a fraction of the grand total, scattered across Ireland's muddy fields and quiet forests.

Seventy-two AK-47 assault rifles, two M60 machine guns, a beaut of a Barratt sniper rifle (the very one that took out half a dozen British soldiers up in South Armagh), a couple of dozen assorted handguns, thousands of rounds of ammunition. All to be ruined. Worst, the Stinger heat-seeking, anti-aircraft missile system. A big green steel case, marked FIM-92A. Forty grand's worth of God-like power, one man can sink a plane.

Jesus wept.

A call from above.


A face appeared at the manhole opening, gazed down into the half-light, cold raindrops falling past.

'Are you ready?'

'One minute.'

A tear slipped from the quartermaster's eye, some kind of payment to the Volunteers. They gave their lives or their liberty to get the stuff in. All for nothing. Anger then, which he needed.

He rubbed his eyes, cocked a loaded Browning automatic pistol and stepped over to a shaking bundle on the ground. He kicked it and the man mumbled.

'What's that?' he asked impatiently. 'I can't hear you.'

He removed the man's heavy cloth hood. He was younger than the quartermaster, but old enough to have known better.

A damp stain where he'd pissed himself.

'Please, I'm begging you. It wasn't me!'

'Orders is orders. End of story.' Somebody has to take the blame for the Stinger. It's you. 'Sorry.'

So the father of two boys and two girls was shot twice in the head, the noise painfully loud in the steel tomb. The pistol was thrown at the broken face. As the killer climbed the ladder, he threw a last glance at the Stinger case, smiled. She's away already.

'Okay lads, pour it in.'

An extended chute was positioned over the hole. Lumpy concrete slid and gurgled and flooded the chamber, preserving its many mysteries for the archaeologists of the fourth millennium AD.


Night fell quickly. The storm raged, must've been going for a fortnight. Fucking global warming. As I drove to my session, past boarded-up shops and grey faces, I called Fiona.

'They've taken her, Fiona.'

'Fuck me. What do you need?'

'The father'll be in to us before six. Can you try and dig out the contact details for that guy from Dublin I met at the conference last year? I'm going to need some local knowledge.'

'No probs. Anything else?'

'Yeah, see if you can get hold of your brother. I might need some back-up. Not straight away, I'll get the lay of the land first. And can you find me a hotel in Dublin for a couple of nights at least. Not too far from the South Circular, something cheap.'

'Grand, will do.'

'Thanks. See you in a while.'

'Play it cool, yeah?'


I arrived at the community centre early. I took a shit, spent a puzzled minute staring at the oily slick on the water before I flushed. I put it down to the omega-3 supplements I was on. To help replenish the old brain, which was also fed daily with a battery of anti-psychotic medication. I was also taking kelp tablets, to help keep the lead in the pencil, but maintained a couple of Viagra in my wallet for emergencies. Fiona was losing her interest in me as she built her self-confidence and lost the self-defeating Moyross-born assumption of failure, discovered her smartness and her hotness. I genuinely wouldn't begrudge her for wanting a better specimen than old Charlie. The shit I've been through. I'm worn out, in all fairness.

But I really was watching myself since the spell in the nuthouse. Charlie Doyle would not be doing the mental patient boogie again.

I left the stinking jacks and found that the group had gathered, all sitting in a circle with our leader, a pleasant, skinny woman in her fifties.

'Ah, Charlie. Welcome, take a seat.'

So I took a seat and closed the circle.

Everyone had the chance to moan and whinge about their fucked-up life and how it made them feel. The main emotion was anger. So we agreed that anger was self-defeating and did some deep breathing exercises. I wanted to jump up and scream Why can't we be angry? Why not? We're all a bunch of fucking sheep in this cunting country. We need to get angry and hang some fuckers. But I just breathed deeply, screwed my lid on a little more tightly.

But some day, the lid would come off again. I just knew it.


Back in the office, Fiona put some arnica cream on my forehead, made me take some painkillers as I reported on my meeting.

'Anything at all on Crow?' she asked.

'He said their records are missing. As we expected. Dirty bastards.'

'Pure cunts. The cover-up continues. So we'll give what we have to the client?'

'Yeah. It's good. I was just hoping for something else, some additional confirmation, anything.' I lit another cigarette. 'Can you look after that so?'

While Fiona made a call, arranged to meet the client and pass on the old teacher's current address - a nursing home not far southwest of Limerick city, near Adare - I looked at the other jobs that awaited the attention of my private detection agency.

Standard insurance jobs. And an extra-marital affair. No longer to be taken lightly, but Fiona would be well able to cope.

They've taken her!

A young Muslim girl had been targeted as a second wife by a mullah up in Dublin. Her parents - both consultants in the Regional Hospital - weren't happy about it and had marked my card. They couldn't involve the police under any circumstances and would request my intervention, if and when it was needed. And now he'd made his move.

I Googled the mullah again. Nothing new, but it improved my feel for his set-up. He ran a madrasa, hardline Islamic school, location on the South Circular Road, near the mosque. I tried to get my head around his religion. Turned out he was an Imam. Amazed that Muslims can have as many wives as they can look after, thought Fucking hell, one was more than I could handle. I figured he was after a pay-off. They couldn't turn him down, for whatever reasons, so he wanted them to make him an offer to send her back to Limerick.

The doctor arrived then, panicky and breathless.

I went down to the shared reception area for him, shook his hand and brought him up for an interview. He looked like you would expect any consultant in an Irish hospital to look: smart, arrogant, condescending. He spoke with an expensive English accent, but was jumpy and nervous.

'Tell me what you know.'

'I told you everything already. Can you go and get her?'

'That's exactly what I'm going to do. Just let me think this through first. Okay?'

'Okay. Sorry.'

I sat and made notes while he paced the room, stopping by the window every few seconds, like he expected to see her outside.

'Let's work backwards. Have you had any contact from your daughter since she finished school today?'

'Mia. Her name is Mia. No. Nothing. Here is a picture of her.'

'Nice looking girl. I can keep this?'

'Of course.'

'What time did she finish?'

'4 o'clock.'

'Is your wife at home now?'

'Yes, she's in shock, waiting. Just waiting.'

'And you have your mobile?'

He showed his iPhone 4S, swiped it to look deeper for any messages or missed calls. 'Nothing.'

'Okay, working back, when was your last contact with this mullah character?'

'Muhammad bin Wahaab. Two weeks ago today. He called me to ask if I had changed my mind.'

'That's when you got in touch with me?'


'How did he sound? Angry?'

'Impatient. Not angry. As if he was talking to a child. He kept saying that it was God's will for my daughter to become his wife.'

The storm brought rain, cold hard sheets of it lashed against the window. The doctor examined the drops closely.

'God's will? What does that mean exactly?'

'To a Muslim it means everything. Everything and nothing.'

'Did he say anything else?'

'He said that time was running out and that his new bride would help to deliver his greatest glory. I don't know what he meant by that.'

'And you won't involve the police?'

'I can't. He'll kill her.'

'Just like that?'

'Just like that.'

'Fuck's sake.'

Fiona was on her way out the door, fake Gucci shades up on her hair, folders and rattling keys. She waited until she caught my attention.

'Sorry, Doc. How long do you reckon you'll be, Fiona?'

'Half hour, no more. Me man's fairly eager to get the address.'


She went, delivered the information that would almost certainly lead to the murder of a paedophile. I knew this, but didn't care a damn for the man. I discussed my fees with the doctor, mentioned how I needed to take on a colleague from Dublin, would probably need extra resources.

'Mr Doyle,' he said, taking out a cheque book and filling in a couple of fields, 'this is literally a blank cheque for you to complete when you bring my daughter home.' He handed me an envelope then. 'And here is a thousand euros to cover your initial expenses. When you need more, just let me know and I will drop it in to your assistant.'

He wished me luck and left. I grabbed my shit, left €500 and a note for Fiona. Get me a better hotel and get yourself something nice.

It was starting to look like my dream assignment.



The three men drove towards Dublin, planning the night's business, unaware that their every word was being monitored.

The BMW was filled with pungent smoke, its instrument panel glowing. A heavy green box filled the boot.

'And if that gowl gives us any lip, I swear to God I'll shoot the cunt.'

'Take it fuckin easy will you? He's our only suss for disco biscuits.'

'And we'll make two hundred grand out of tonight as well, fuck's sake.'

'Okay, okay. Pass the fuckin joint so, will you?'

'Here. And take a fuckin chill pill as well, will you?'

'I'll be fuckin chillin and boppin in Dublin town tonight, boy.'

They all laughed.

Rainbow 3 flew at a thousand metres above and almost a kilometre behind the car. The gang couldn't hear the chopper, but the chopper could hear them. Syllable by crude syllable. A technician sat at the electronics console, her ears covered by plush headphones. Her fingers gently tapped a keyboard, modifying the sound reception to maximise recording quality. A microwave transmitter relayed the conversation, in real time, back to the operation commander.

The pilot watched his speed, matching the target vehicle's 140 kilometres an hour. It was a routine assignment, but no less rewarding for that. He flicked off the bugfeed to take an incoming call from base, Casement Aerodrome just outside Dublin on the N7.

He listened intently, grimaced.

'Okay everyone. We've been called off. New mission. Back to Dublin.'

'What the fuck? We have these fuckers,' said the co-pilot.

'Code Purple,' said the pilot. 'The Yanks pay our fuel bills so we do their bidding whenever we're told. End of.'

'Jesus Christ.'

'It's only Es.'

The car's position was passed on to ground units. Then there was silence in the Eurocopter as it banked sharply, looped around and ahead of the car and roared to the capital at above its designated maximum speed.

The girl was in the boot of the car as it sped east through the rain on the M7. She felt pain with every bump of the road.

The driver concentrated on the two-lane motorway, scanned for activity ahead, happy that there couldn't be police checkpoints at 120kph. He stuck to the speed limit, was overtaken by a black BMW doing maybe 150. Good, they will attract any police attention ahead.

'I think we're clear,' he said.

'We will deliver the merchandise and then embark on our jihad, God willing.'

'God willing.'

The driver smiled, excited to be so close to the formation of a new front in al-Qaeda's war on the crusader West, still electrified by the arrival - finally - of his commander, a battle-scarred veteran of Iraq. The ferry from Holyhead had been useful again.

'We have a strong cell now,' said the commander. 'We have funding, we have a spiritual leader. Soon, we will have a deadly missile. Then all we need is a plan of attack.'

'Have you decided on our target yet?'

'Not yet. We could have had Obama himself or the British Queen last summer. There are planeloads of American soldiers landing at Shannon Airport daily. To kill two hundred crusaders would be a beneficial use of the Stinger. We will continue to gather intelligence and we will pray for guidance. Anything could happen in this sick country. God will send our target.'


'I only hope that this little bride doesn't bring any complications.'

They drove on in silence, stopping near Portlaoise at a pub restaurant that was used by truckers. The car reversed into the hidden space between two lorries. The boot was opened.

'You can go to the toilet here and have some food. You will not cause any trouble.'

The girl was petrified, her face covered in mascara tears. She nodded. They helped her from the car, her legs unsteady, cramped.

'Dry your face,' said the commander, handing her a scented tissue and a raincoat. 'And wear this to cover your uniform.'

They sat in a quiet corner, had vegetable soup and bread rolls and Coca-Cola. When the girl went to the toilet, two of her kidnappers waited outside in the hallway, spoke quietly in Arabic.

The journey continued, the girl now accompanied in the boot by a cushion and an apple. The hazy orange sky ahead signalled their proximity to Dublin. The speed limit gradually dropped until they stopped at the Newlands Cross junction. The kidnappers were nervous, ready to drive through any checkpoint. There was nothing. The girl's predicament hadn't been reported. Never would be.

But now one man knew of her terror. And he cared. Actually gave a shit.


I hadn't driven the M7 since they completed it, all the way to Limerick. Just past Finnegan's in Annacotty and I was on motorway.

'This is fucking nice,' blasting towards Dublin at a steady 145kph, leaving the rain behind in Limerick, smiling, and then realising that I was low, too low, on petrol and there were fuck-all services on the road. I decided to chance it and push on to Roscrea, fill up the car and grab a bit of grub in the McDonald's there.

I passed the exits to Birdhill and Nenagh and Toomevara and Moneygall - Obama's ancestral home, would you credit it? - and I kind of felt all hollow and nostalgic for the little towns along the way. Barring something dramatically odd happening, I would never see them again. I'm getting to Dublin faster, yes, but I miss all those little places, many of them nothing more than a crossroads and a couple of pubs. But with some kind of character. Are they still even there? Like a tree that falls in the forest when there's nobody around, are they still even there?

Stuck on the gloomy motorway, zipping through Tipperary, her mountains and fields a black blur, I was the only car on the road, my headlights painting the tarmac, the white lines drawing me into some kind of daze. A text pinged, Fiona, shaking me from my funk.

My car purred, a sweet, three-year-old Ford Mondeo I'd managed to pick up with a few quid I finally got off Jean. Blood money, but money all the same.

Fuck, petrol warning light on. How far to Roscrea? Who the fuck knows. Then it was on me, a crazy ninety degree exit I only saw at the last second. I jammed on the brakes so I wouldn't flip.

'What the fuck were they thinking? Cunts must've run out of cash, I guess. Fuck!'

Then down a rickety road through the arse-end of Roscrea and petrol and burgers ahoy. I filled up the car first - eighty quid! - got my receipt and drove next door for some grub and coffee. I couldn't stand the yokel factor inside, the blank, pallid faces, so I ate at a table outside, smoked a fag and read a report in the Irish Independent about Roma teenager Mariora Rostas, which made me feel like just running away from every one and every thing.

When her tiny frame tightly bound in swathes of industrial-sized plastic sheeting was pulled from a shallow grave in the Dublin mountains last week, her injuries confirmed what they long suspected; that this penniless beggar had been abducted, raped and murdered.

Her body was curled into a protective foetal position; her teeth appeared to have been ripped out and bullet holes in her head left no doubt as to the cause of death. At a press conference last week a chief superintendent said the teenager was "brutalised" before dying an "appalling death". His words barely hinted at the depravity it appears she was subjected to.

Detectives believe she spent her final days tethered and locked into an upstairs room in south inner city Dublin, the plaything of the psychotic criminal and his henchmen pals. Her unlikely prison was a three-storey terraced house on Brabazon Street in the Coombe. There was a pub next door and a mixed community of staunch Dublin locals and bohemian blow-ins lived nearby. Dozens of people passed its front every day, unaware of the gruesome depravity on the other side.

She was 18 years old, only here a couple of weeks. Welcome to Ireland. I called Fiona.

'My God, Fiona. This country is fucked. I'm looking at the next generation here in McDonald's, fat kids out for dinner with fat mom and fat dad and not a brain cell between them. I wonder -'

'Go on.'

'I wonder if all the old clichés are actually true, if we Irish really are dumb fucking peasants, drunken idiots? And what about all the kids that’ve been raped and murdered down the years. Do we deserve everything that's happening to us? Do we actually need the fucking Germans to take over the country? Save us from ourselves.'

'Well that's already happened, hasn't it?'

'I guess.’

A couple of muddy jeeps pulled up, disgorged their meat.

‘Do you believe in karma?’

‘I don’t know. Maybe I should. Are we too far gone to be worth saving?’

'Anyway, c’mere I wancha. I have you a hotel, got a suite for half nottin. It's in Rathmines so it's dead handy, only a few minutes from the South Circular and you can walk into town. There's parking and an Aldi downstairs for cheap drink.'

'Lovely.' I tapped Travelodge, Rathmines into my Google Maps app, located the hotel. 'Any news on your brother?'

'He was out all night last night and I don't want to wake him. I'd say he'll be sound. Did you bring your meds?'


I'm on mild anti-psychotics.

'Char-lie! Tut-tut,' just like my mother. 'How're you fixed for smoke?'

I felt my jacket pocket, the lump of skunk there.

'I've a bit. I'll probably only be here for a couple of days. I'll be grand.'

'Well I'll send your pills and something extra on with himself.'

'Thanks Fiona. I can't see myself sorting anything out in Dublin.'

So she said 'I delivered the news anyway.'

'Oh, I'd forgotten about all that.' The memory made my forehead smart. 'How'd you get on?'

'I'd keep an eye on the news tonight. Me man was fierce rarin to go, if you know what I mean.'

'I'd be the same.' I drained my coffee. 'Go on, get some sleep, you're holding the fort tomorrow. Just tip away, do what you can yeah?'

'Okay. Thanks for the cash. Charlie?'


'I miss you.'

'You too. Night. Thanks, Fiona.'

‘Not a bother.’

I sat in the car as the constant stream of traffic made its way round the building to the drive-thru window, made a joint to calm my nerves. I got back onto the motorway as fast as I could, left the grim reality of rural Ireland behind in a fragrant haze.

The traffic grew steadily as I got nearer to Dublin, the capital like a magnet, sucking all the aimless, the innocent, the delusional into its dirty gob, to be spat back down the country at its leisure.

I listened to the radio for a while, flicking between stations. I came across a talk-radio discussion about fluoride, a heavy metal poison that’s put in all municipal drinking water in Ireland. I did not know that. Seems the Nazis - the fucking Nazis - came up with the idea during the war, they used fluoridated water to dose their POWs, make them docile and easily-controlled. Hmmm. I felt sick in my guts. I don't know if it was the shit music, the depressing talkshows, the meds wearing off, the toxic fluoride in my system or the Big Mac.

Is everything connected?

I eased off on the gas for a sec and Bluetoothed the soundtrack to Drive from my phone and that made me feel a lot better.

I'm gonna tell you something you don't want to hear.


A chill seeped through Garda Specialist Mark Twomey’s body armour, his gun barrel cold as the Irish Sea. Where was summer? Gone south, the jetstream pulling down northern air, that’s what the weather woman said. Some azure light in the sky at eleven. That was something.

‘I think I’ll pop a grenade into the next skanger in a souped-up Subaru,’ said Tony beside him, texting away. ‘Just for a bit of heat, d’you know what I mean?’

‘Yeah, man. How long more of this shite?’

‘Thirty minutes. Then I’m off to get locked.’

‘I’m with you.’

The uniforms, all hi-vis jackets, stiffened as each car inched forward to the checkpoint. Blue flashes, Stinger chains coiled on the footpath.

Somebody, try and drive through. Please.

The squat bulk of the Martello Tower loomed beside us, part of a network around the coast from Napoleonic times, keeping an eye out for the invasion that never came. Some meaning there but he couldn’t find it.



‘Is that the tower out of Ulysses?’

‘Where Buck Mulligan had his shave? Yeah, that’s the one. Not the tower in Sandymount, which is what most people think.’

‘You’ve read it then?’

‘Just the first chapter, Mark. Load of shite.’

‘Any chance of a lend?’

‘Nah. Gave it to Oxfam.’

That’s that, then.

A signal came from a uniform and he tensed up. A nod of Tony’s head and we moved closer, took up position beside our Lexus jeep with the blacked-out windows.

‘It’s the Builder,’ whispered Tony, clear as day in his headset.

The rest of the unit perked up at the message. MP5 submachine guns were held a little more tightly as the uniforms checked tax discs and scrutinised the driver’s licence.

The Builder sat calmly in the driver’s seat. His shaved head carried a fake smile. Too clever to be carrying, but we’d go through the motions anyway. His bird sat beside him, wearing pyjamas, tapping her iPhone, consciously disinterested.

Dirty prick controlled half the heroin supply in Dublin. You know the score: no need to pen a misery memoir.

But they could never nail the fucker.

His documents checked out, so the uniforms got him out into the night and went through the vehicle. He took a good look at the paramilitary cop, trying to see through his balaclava. His index finger moved off the trigger guard.

Just try something, scum. Just try it. God, the urge. Where was it coming from?

Their Alsatian was brought into the game, sniffed around inside the car against the Builder’s protestations.

‘I don’t want dog hair on me bleedin’ seats.’

Go fuck yourself, buddy.

‘Smelly mutt.’

What about a pig comment? Nothing. Go on, you dirt-peddling bastard. Try it.

Then a call across the ultra-secure network. Shooting in Dalkey. Dalkey? Probably just Bono on drugs, setting off fireworks with Mick Jagger.

The checkpoint was lifted. The Builder waved as he drove on to his luxury penthouse overlooking Dun Laoghaire harbour and yacht club. The cops got into their jeeps, used sirens to tear south, away from Sandycove and into the swankiest part of the city.


The incident was nothing. Just two guys peppered by a shotgun blast. They panicked, crashed their Beemer on the Vico Road, there by the viewing spot. A few pellets here and there, a little blood. Scumbags. Nothing to say, no leads. Car fucked.

‘Who was it then? Mary-fucking-Poppins?’

The bay below them glistened, a fat moon rising over Bray. Beautiful. Really nice. They could see why all the rich fucks set up shop in Dalkey.

And his woman, his lust, his heat, his faster faster heartbeat, just down the road. Jesus, all he wanted to do was go to her.

They did their bit for an hour as the local uniforms stopped cars, did their door-to-door. Gangs of kids swarmed about, age five up. Where do these little fuckers spring out of? They couldn’t live around here, could they? Just look at the mansions, nestling snugly against the hill, twelve foot high gates, blinking LEDs on the access panels.

Council flats were the pox on the landscape, leeching poison into the locality, but none in Dalkey, far as they knew. Was it the council’s new policy of buying up the houses that nobody wants and parachuting in the scum? Dispersal? Funny to think of junky scum with their feral kids living next door to the addled rock stars and failed bankers.

‘Give us a look at yer gun, mister.’

‘Shouldn’t you be in bed?’

‘Ah go on.’

‘Haven’t you school in the morning?’

‘Ah fuck off yeh bleedin’ peeler cunt.’

A ten-year-old gurrier telling a heavily-armed cop to fuck off? We’ve lost the war. It’s over. He walked back to Tony before he lost my temper, slapped a child. A fucking child.

‘How’re things with Penny?’ he said. Not again.

‘Nothing doing, man.’

‘Jesus, can’t you try and work it out? My missus loved our nights out, wants to see the Karaoke King back in action.’

Those days are gone.

Another buzz across the network. A real shooting. In Limerick this time. A lot more serious, with a couple of senior gangsters nailed to railway sleepers before being shot. Then they were chopped into mince by the 22.20 Heuston express. Classic.

‘Fuuuck! They’ve started up again. I’d say we’ll be sent down again,’ says Tony.

‘Fuck that. If I’ve to endure another day down Stab City, I’m quitting this unit man.’

‘Come on.’

‘Fucking mean it.’

‘What would you do? Go back to being a plod?’

‘Detective, maybe. Get after some of the bastards, instead of standing around waiting to react.’

‘That’d still mean two years on the beat with night classes on top. At your age? Don’t be a sap.’

It was a screaming nightmare. But how to wake up? How?


At last, at her tiny place, that cottage with the red window frames and the hanging baskets and the long crack in the white plaster on the front wall. Down the little alley, the sea a black shadow behind him, the musty fresh smell of it – like her secret smell - and the sound of breaking waves, far, far out the strand. The street light flickers as he puts the key in the lock, his hand trembling with that same excitement of the seventeen-year-old about to lose his virginity. The smell of that.

She’s waiting in the little parlour, her legs up under her on the couch, pink blanket over her, she lets it slip to the wooden floor, the blanket sighs, she’s wearing nothing, her arms out for him. He says There’s a hello, so she says Hello and he says he missed her. They kiss a wet and salty and primitive kiss and he is hard. No, harder. Is this all he needs to be happy, his work forgotten, his broken past discarded? Yes, she says. Yes. And he takes his clothes off, his old t-shirt with the faded Led Zeppelin logo, the fallen angel, Converse sneakers, jeans, shorts, the pile builds quickly and he’s in her, her hot thighs around him tightly, his knees on the floor and it hurts and it hurts. The time melts and is it seconds or is it hours and he comes inside her and she too cries out that yes, that’s it, lover, that’s it and she shakes and bites his shoulder. That hurts too, but not as much as his knees on that hard floor of oak from a tree that bloomed in majesty during the Famine and now, here it is, crucifying his blasted knees.

They sit together on the couch then and drink a Chilean merlot, Tesco, Finest, and her lips grow redder, her foot on his crotch, teasing him. And he drinks and thinks and thinks and drinks. God, what is she and what does she see in me?

‘What do you see in me?’ he says.

She doesn’t answer. He’d only said it to himself again. Don’t ruin it. Don’t fuck this up too. He savours the moment, the warm dryness of the wine, the imagined sunshine from an unknown continent half a planet away, captured by the fruit, the humble, glorious grape. She holds up her empty glass and he goes to fill it, but instead she takes the bottle, guzzles it, streams of wine flowing down her neck, over those same veins that throb with the wine of her. So she looks at him then and he does her bidding. He licks the wine from her skin and he licks where there is no wine at all and he licks every inch of her. Every last inch.


I reached the Red Cow roundabout at nine, an ugly spaghetti junction linking the M7 and the M50 motorway around Dublin. Marked the zenith of Ireland's infrastructural fantasy. I'd made it up in ninety minutes. So maybe not such a bad zenith.

I raced the trams along the Naas Road, beat the fuckers easy, and hooked right onto the canal. I turned the map on and watched my blue arrow as I passed the brutal, soul-destroying blocks of council flats at Dolphin's Barn, what the fuck is that name about?, and on to Harold's Cross, maybe a hundred swans resting in the water there.

A couple of winos sat under the bridge. Stopped at the lights, I watched them share their poisonous discount vodka, the sad camaraderie of society's jetsam. Poor fucks.

On, on past the army barracks to Rathmines and Portobello Bridge, named after a British military victory. In Panama, of all places. More swans and a couple of fat barges tied up. No right turn, so up Mount Pleasant, then back onto the main strip of fast food dives, supermarkets, failed shops and there's my hotel.

Checked in, ‘No bar? Are you serious?’ Up to the top floor, took in the view, saw the time on the big clock up the street, ran out the lobby to the offie. 10 o’clock closing! I ask you. Aldi was fucking shut so I tore up Rathmines Road like a lunatic until I found an off licence called Deveneys. I bought Jameson whiskey, Stoli vodka, Martini, two red. And two white, just to be covered. I was grabbing a four-pack of Stella when I spotted the notice.

'You do deliveries?'

'For sure.'

'This is, like, the best off licence ever.'

So I took a slab of beers, a few packs of skins, eighty Marlboro Lights/Gold, a pouch of Golden Virginia, a cocktail shaker, a jar of olives and a big bag of ice. I paid with the business Laser card. They said they'd have the gear down to me in ten minutes.

I took the whiskey away with me, couldn't wait that long.

A quick whiskey calmed my nerves a tad, standing there on the rooftop balcony watching droves of young women in tiny minis and enormous heels tottering into the dirty-looking club across the street. Tramco. Stupid name. Then I made a connection with an old sepia print of a Rathmines streetscape down in the lobby. Trams in it.

My gear arrived and I began to put together a martini with Stoli, James Bond-style. The ice gently clinked as it settled. Just as I was shaking, not stirring, and getting ready to look up the adult movie selection, the room phone buzzed.

‘Mr Doyle?’ she asked, hesitant, scared of me already?


‘There’s somebody here to see you. A Mr Reilly.’

My local man.

‘Can you send him up?’

I drained the martini and started on building two more as the knock came to the door.

And there he was, like a Clouseau, thin moustache and raincoat.

‘Frank, good man. Come on in,’ as he squeezed my hand like it was a contest.

‘Charlie. Good to see you, me auld flower.’


‘Gawan so.’

‘You’re eager.’

‘How’s the writing coming along?’

‘Meh. I tidied up what I wrote in the nuthouse and sent it off to a few publishers. No interest. They all thought it was too far-fetched.’

‘For god’s sake.’

‘And every word of it true. Pure Mad, I called it.’

‘Well don’t give up.’

‘We’ll see. I might get a sequel out of this little caper yet.’

‘Fiona filled me in. I’ve the little fellah down on the South Circular keeping an eye.’

‘The little fellah?’

‘Me son. He’s an eager little bastard.’

‘So what’s the damage?’

‘All in, how does 400 a day sound? We should have him covered 24/7 between the three of us.’

‘Fine. Client’s loaded and very eager. Let’s do five days for starters. Should be plenty.’

We clinked glasses.

‘Fucking nice,’ he said. ‘How’s your ma?’

‘Same old story. She’s in and out. Happy on her good days. That’s something.’

‘It sure is, in this day and age,’ said Frank, draining his drink. ‘And how are you?’

‘I’m here, aren’t I?’

We laughed.

‘So this girl was snatched off the street?’

‘On her way home from school. Disgusting, isn’t it?’

‘There’s some right dirty bastards on the go in this town, I’ll tell you. Even ladyboys on the game down the canal, I’m not jokin you. Limerick? Not a bleedin patch on Dublin.’

I swallowed my drink and got started on the next round.

‘Is it just me or is there a pipe bomb going off or some fucker getting shot every other day now?’

‘It’s not just you, Charlie. It’s not just you,’ he said as he eased over to the balcony and gazed down at the buzzing street below. ‘The naked city, my man. The dirty auld town. Don’t forget that this little messed-up republic of ours was born and raised on terrorism, bombings and assassinations. It’s in our genes. Or something. I think we’re all mad, y’know? The state of us.’

Well I definitely am. Frank was a class act, like an identikit private eye, Columbo crossed with, like I said, Clouseau. And he talked a lot of sense. I made a mental note to feature him in one of my books.

I joined him outside and saw what he was talking about: gaggles of young women in mini skirts up their arses, tottering on heels high enough to give nosebleeds. You could actually smell the perfume up on high.

‘Not so bad,’ I said, admiring the view, the view at first glance.

‘Don’t waste your energy, Charlie. They’re only bleedin kids. Teenage discos in Tramco most nights. Just a cover for underage boozin an drugs and ridin.’

‘Jesus. There was none of that in my day.’

So many taxis.

‘And you want to know the worst thing?’

I shrugged. ‘Go on.’

‘The place was taken over by NAMA, along with half this cuntin town. So all this,’ he gestured with his arm at the kids and their vodka and their parents’ money being sucked out of their naive little hands to pay banking debts, ‘all this is being done on your behalf, Mr Irish Taxpayer. How does that make you feel?’

‘I pure hate how that makes me feel, to be honest. I pure hate it.’

‘I think they should be made to put up a NAMA sign in front of every business they run and every property they own. People would be fucking stunned. Oh, here,’ he said, rummaging in his coat pocket, ‘do ya like music?’


‘Here’s a couple of passes to a gig later, Republic of Loose, Arthur’s Day and all that.’

His phone, permanently on silent, purred gently.

‘Text from himself. Our man’s on the move. Let’s go.’

Oh fuck. The martini buzz was coming up on me and all I wanted to do was go to sleep. Instead, into the shaking, bassy night.

Frank drove.

‘Where we headed?’

‘Me gut tells me he’s off to one of the gambling clubs in town. See up there?’ pointing across me, up a tree-lined road by a boarded-up Spar. ‘That’s the barracks where Michael Collins was based.’

‘The man who liberated the Irish, shot by the Irish.’

‘We’re gas, aren’t we? Hang on a sec.’

He stuck one of those Bluetooth things that I hate in his ear and speed-dialled his son on his Nokia.

‘Martin, what’s the story?’ Much aha-ing and uhuh-ing. ‘Roger. Well I’m with Charlie and we’re on the way there now. See you in ten, yeah?’

The Bleeding Horse, Anseo, Flannery’s, Whelan’s. We were on a busy strip of pokey bars, flashy bars, charity shops and burger joints. Camden Street.


‘Your friend is off for a night’s gambling, boozing and whoring with his right-hand man. Rasputin, we call him. Dressed to the nines.’

‘But isn’t all of that shit against his religion?’

Frank laughed. ‘Hypocrisy, Charlie. It’s what Ireland is built on. This character knows us better than we know ourselves. The place is just over the river on the northside, barely legal. You’ll love it.’

‘Fuck it, in for a penny...’

The city streamed by, grimey and vengeful, eager to prey on a blow-in like me, but charming in its novelty nonetheless. Someplace new to my tired eyes. It was almost like being on holidays. It smelled different, must be the roasting barley wafting across the night city from St James’s Gate. It’s the smell, that’s what lets me know I’m somewhere new.

‘Good man yourself,’ he said, turning left onto Dame Street, up to Christchurch, the bells tolling like a funeral dirge. We passed under its arch, by the Council’s bunkers at Wood Quay and over the Liffey. All the way down the Quays, Frank was yapping away about the cases he’d been on lately, pretty much all to do with insurance fraud and infidelity. I kept my stories to myself.

Just before O’Connell Street we left Bachelor’s Walk and found ourselves in a desperate, snaking alley.

‘Just up here now,’ said Frank as he eased into a space.

I saw a neon sign up at the corner, glowing red and green. A bundle of black rubbish bags in a doorway.

I got out of the car.

No, not rubbish. A man.

‘Jesus Christ,’ cried Frank. ‘No. No, it can’t be.’

His son lay in a crumpled heap, dark blood lazily flowing across the path towards the gutter, his jugular vein sliced open. He was dead, I could see that, but Frank lunged for the wound, applied pressure, screamed at him to wake up.

I fumbled with my phone and called, begged for an ambulance.

A huge seagull ripped open a rubbish bag across the street, glancing at us every few seconds.

‘Where are we, Frank?’

‘North Lotts, tell them the North Lotts. Now you get the fuck out of here, Charlie. No need for you to get involved.’

‘You sure? Fuck, I don’t want to leave you like this.’

‘Go on, to fuck. Get over the river and keep walking. I’ll call you.’

And he went back to his boy, pleaded with him to live.

Everything had turned bad much faster than I expected. My head was throbbing as I got to O’Connell Bridge, the city’s symbol there, the Spike, a giant hypodermic syringe to draw attention to the worst heroin problem in Europe, and crossed the churning, scummy boundary with the crowds of pro-beggars and wilting junkies, pyjama-wearing wanderers and auto-drunks, a dozen languages babbling, and made my way to my nest of self-pity as banshee sirens wailed in the middle distance.

I reached College Green, just outside Trinity College, where the local and immigrant taxi drivers carved out their respective turfs. An openly racist cab driver took me to my hotel, moaning the whole damned way about how the Nigerians had taken over, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Down long, empty corridors, like something out of The Shining, only not as luxurious.

I needed to be there, to process what had happened. So I drank, hoping that Frank would call. Nothing.

Then I remembered my weed and smoked a disgracefully fat joint, enough THC to cull a nunnery, and my mind fizzed into a new dimension. My mouth tasted of iron and fireworks and toast and blood and I knew my meds were out of my system and I was dangerously close to losing it. I did not want to end up back in St Joseph’s, that hole of despair and madness and buzzing doors and electricity. No. No. No. So I went into the night, thinking, thinking, wondering if I was yammering aloud as my brain threw off its prescribed shackles.

I pounded the shiny pavement in towards town, the early casualties coming towards me, back to their bedsits and townhouses and bitter sleeps.



I was woken by my cursed phone at 10.04am. I was surprised to find myself in the hotel room. Fiona, chirpy.

‘Charlie! How you gettin on in the big smoke?’

‘Fucking awful, Fiona. Frank’s son was tailing our man for us and we found him with his throat cut.’

‘Fuck me! Is he...’

‘He looked dead to me anyway. I did a legger on Frank’s advice. I’m waiting to hear from him. Anything on the news?’

‘I didn’t hear diddly-squat. Jesus, that’s pure mad.’

‘Tell me about it.’

‘More bad news for you, boss. Sorry.’

I lit a cigarette, went to the balcony, looked down at the sunny, cold day and the crowds milling into Lidl. ‘Go on.’

‘Paedo teacher did a legger. Our client got to the nursing home and snuck into his room. There was a hot cup of tea and a sandwich with a bite taken out of it, like... I don’t know.’

‘Like the Marie Celeste. So my Christian Brother pal tipped him off?’ I’ll be paying that cunt another visit, so.

‘Makes sense.’

‘Perfect sense. So, any leads on where he’s gone.’

‘I’ll give you two guesses.’

My stomach lurched. ‘He’s here, isn’t he?’

She laughed a dirty little laugh. Bitch. ‘Yes sir. The only other lead we had on him was his sister in, let me see, Sandymount. That’s near you, isn’t it?’

‘Yep. Remind me, what happened with that lead?’

‘Frank actually checked that out for us a couple of weeks back. Good report. No sign of me man, nothing to raise suspicion that he was hiding out. I can email you the report, maps and all.’

‘Thanks. Listen Fiona, I’m going to need your brother fairly pronto.’

A police motorcycle screamed by, followed by the army bomb disposal truck and another bike, off to deal with yet another pipe bomb in a grimey suburb.

‘No problem, I’ll give him a shout now.’

‘And will you see if he can organise sandwiches and a flask?’ Class A drugs and a gun.

‘Grand. Will I book him a room as well?’

‘For tonight, yeah, but can you look at renting us a house or a nice apartment for a few weeks, makes more sense.’

‘For sure. Talk to you later, Charlie. And listen, be careful, will you?’

‘Abso-fucking-lutely, baby.’

I looked at the pile of drink, argued with myself for a couple of seconds before I turned on the mini-kettle and brewed a cup of nasty instant coffee.


It is morning and he is in her bed, she’s on her side, facing away, always looking to the mirror, her arse presented to him, that meandering curve so perfect in its degrees, the hazy darkness of the divine cleft. He admires her body for an hour, her gentle swell like the sea a hundred yards away and he is called. Sleep, my sweet and I shall return with breakfast of sausages and black pudding and rashers so salty your tongue will cry out.

He leaves gently, into the whiteness of morning by the beach and a blue sky owned by the fierce gulls that would take your eyes out.

The strand is quiet. He walks down to the water, a good half a mile away, the flats a mirage and ships, fine big ones, way off, looking like they’re beached on the sand. Odd sensations on Sandymount Strand, like it’s somewhere in-between, neither land nor sea. Well, that’s exactly what it is, he says to a dead crab who says nothing back. And he sees his mother in him, and she also mute as she decays in Glasnevin Cemetery and he wishes he’d said so many things, Ma. But you never gave me a chance, Ma, you never gave me a chance. And he reaches the water and it is cold. He sees the little sails then, over at Dun Laoghaire, the rich kids out with daddy while mummy sits in the 4X4 on the pier and frets.

Back towards shore and he sees his wife’s face in the little pools of saltwater and his face as well – but he doesn’t know who he is - and he swears to get even and he wants to hit himself. All is ashes. But she’s there, over there. Across the road, lying in that same position, wanting him to come with breakfast, and it’s not all bad.

Over to a pile of jumbled rocks and he finds a nice flat one to lay upon like an escaped lizard and the sun warms him and it’s like he’s being born and there is a sound behind him, a nervous laugh and chatter and a woman and she’s panting now and he’s grunting and he edges along the rock and catches a glimpse and it makes him stir and he goes the shop and buys breakfast and freshly-squeezed orange juice.

And he goes to her.


I showered and dressed and found an internet cafe up the road where I spent an hour or so printing out the file notes Frank’d made in Sandymount. I scoured the web media for any reports on the stabbing in North Lotts, but it hadn’t broken yet. I made a wish, a true, genuine wish upon something magical, anything, that Frank’s son had made it.

One report did catch my eye.


Dimitris Christoulas shot himself while standing opposite Greece's parliament building. In a note he left, the 77-year-old retired pharmacist wrote, "the government has annihilated all traces for my survival, which was based on a very dignified pension that I alone paid for 35 years with no help from the state. And since my advanced age does not allow me a way of dynamically reacting (although if a fellow Greek were to grab a Kalashnikov, I would be right behind him), I see no other solution than this dignified end to my life, so I don't find myself fishing through garbage cans for my sustenance." Since the economic collapse, Greece’s suicide rates have almost doubled. Ireland’s have increased by 13%.

Sad like tortured kittens, but his Kalashnikov line made me smile.

I was also interested in a couple of reports on the state of the nation’s children. 20 percent of Irish kids go to bed hungry. And 20 percent hear voices in their heads. Not clear if that’s the same 20 percent or whether, when you add in the kids that have been sexually abused, the majority of Ireland’s youth is deeply psychologically damaged. What kind of future for this battered Republic that never truly got off its knees.

Into Poundwise, picked up a folder for my printouts and a notepad and made my way across to Hanna’s bookshop for some reading matter. Picked up Ulysses to see what all the fuss was about and Game of Thrones, to see if the book was as dirty as the series. Then down to a sweet little restaurant called Kafka. The name appealed. Lunch special was fillet steak with asparagus and a Béarnaise Sauce with creamy mash. I just had to have it and couldn’t enjoy such a meal without a glass of Bordeaux from the very long list. Kid in a candy store.

There was nothing from Frank, so I decided to focus on the paedo teacher. I read through the report, made some notes, familiarised myself with the location on Google Maps.

Food, delivered with a smile, the world a blur outside the window.

Over a good coffee, the news finally broke on my phone.

Man stabbed to death in city centre mugging.

Mugging my arse. The mullah made him. Frank would want revenge, this I knew, but I didn’t want the girl to become collateral damage. Fuck, what a mess.

I decided to get my car and head straight over to Sandymount while I waited for Fiona’s brother to get up the M7.

Straight down the canal, past endless vacant office blocks, some barges and a little cluster of food stalls by a lock with a shrine to a drowning victim. The spicy, porky, perfume was good, got to me. But I was full to bursting.

Then I saw the iconic Poolbeg chimneys, smelled the sea.


The matt black, 161 D, 8 cylinder Jeep Grand Cherokee with tinted windows and consular plates glided easily along by the canal. Two men, always two men, smart casual dress, dark glasses.

Extra, stubby aerials.

The air conditioning purred, though it wasn’t hot out or anything. Habit.

12 miles per gallon.

The Ford was kept within sight, but always a couple of vehicles away. They had a pretty good idea of where Charlie was going. The IT guys had spent the night pulling all his online files, emails and cell traffic.

‘Okay,’ said the driver, ‘so he’s keeping tabs on some paedo on the run. But what’s this got to do with our guy?’

‘Beats me. He’s taking the right,’ said the team leader, his mind flashing back to Boston, to the abuse he’d suffered in high school at the corrupted hands of the chaplain, the sweat, the smell, the pain, the fear. If Doyle doesn’t waste this fucking guy, I sure will.

‘Tide’s out.’


I found the address easily enough, parked half a block away. Frank’s notes were so perfect I could easily ID the mother as she walked by me towards the house. She carried a couple of bulging henna shopping bags, never saw me. And the bags weren’t full of bogroll or the like. She was straining like she was ready to die.

‘That’s a lot of shopping, Mrs Crow. Old people normally eat like birds.’

You’ve got company.

I waited an hour, but neither she nor her son came out.

The tide came in, preceded by screeching Oystercatchers and Curlews.

I risked leaving the car for a quick look at the strand. Some dunes off to the left of the power station’s defunct chimneys, a white ferry easing out towards Holyhead on the high tide.

The air smelled good and fresh. Lights blinked on across Dublin Bay. Howth. An expanse of sand that stretched away for a mile before succumbing to the oily green water. I remembered my recurring dream of me, The Old Man and the Sea, mending nets on the shore. Could this be the place? Traffic roared by, relentless. Nah.

Then Fiona’s brother called.

‘Charlie, what’s the story?’

‘Pauly, are you up?’

‘Yeah man, just checked in.’

‘Sound. I think our man is here. I’m done for now. I’ll be back in 15, yeah?’

‘Sound, so.’

I forgot that traffic west along the canal was feeding the N7 to Limerick and Cork, as well as Dublin’s outer suburban mortgage millstones and was, therefore, a cunt. I got into my room after 34 minutes of utter tedium, my mind salivating at the prospect of a bit of coke. I was hungry, but the food stalls had packed up and fucked off.

I called Pauly and he was with me in 20 seconds.

‘I’m only up the hall, kid,’ he said.

I felt safer in his lean, donotfuckwithme presence, ACAB tattooed on his fingers, a tricolour inked on his studded earlobe. Fiona’d told me bits and pieces of his history. He had a lunatic side to him, but was reliable, especially in a fight. I fixed drinks - vodka and tonic - while he chopped up some coke on a little glass table.

I filled him in on both cases while we got wired. He took off his bomber jacket to show me the .357 Magnum he carried in a shoulder holster. I was happy for him to carry it. Me and guns had a bad history.

‘So what’s the plan, boss?’

‘You need to eat? Me neither. I reckon we take a walk up to where our mullah’s based, get the lay of the land. Then get into town and have a few pints, make a plan for tomorrow. I’m worried that I haven’t heard from Frank yet, but we have to push on. That girl is still out there somewhere.’

‘Just let me skin up a couple for the walk.’

I stood on the balcony with a fresh drink while the coke sped through my veins, to the gentle rustling of cigarette papers and the sniffing of a man on a mission.

The Dublin Mountains looked so close I almost reached out to touch them. Dublin’s unofficial graveyard, I wondered how many secrets lay buried there, overlooking the city for eternity. Maybe the damp air acted like a lens.

Oddly, my malaise was beginning to lift and I imagined a vista of resolution and success, the grimy streets shimmering..

In hindsight, it was just the drugs.



An evil east wind blew up the canal, but at least it was at our backs as we turned left at Portobello and headed west towards Harold’s Cross.

Some winos and teenagers huddled on the benches. Swans standing around on the path, puddles of their green shit everywhere, wide berth.

We were in great form as we careened towards the junction of Clanbrassil Street and the South Circular.

‘Jesus,’ I said, squinting at a plaque on a house. ‘That’s where Leopold Bloom was born.’

‘Who’s he when he’s at home?’

Ulysses. James Joyce’s book. Main character.’

‘Fuck that for a game of soldiers. Look at this, everything’s Halal!’

And it was. Funny how Ireland’s Muslim influx had found itself centred in what was once Dublin’s Jewish Quarter. Funny peculiar.

We stopped in a bar on the corner.

Pauly went into the jacks to do a line. I could actually hear him snorting while I waited to be served. I called the pints of Heineken and saw, sitting alone at a window table, Frank.

He stared out through the horizontal wooden blinds. He looked crumpled, an empty brandy glass before him. I asked for a double Napoleon to be sent over and took our pints to the table beside him. I played it cool. Professional.

He glanced at me and nodded. The brandy was welcomed.

‘See yer man at the shop, the one with the leather jacket?’

A group of Muslim men stood around outside a halal grocery. ‘Yep.’

‘That’s the one who killed my son.’

So he’s dead.

‘Fuck. I’m sorry.’

‘Not your fault, Charlie.’

But it was.

‘It was.’

He grunted, took a long drink.

‘So that’s Rasputin? Has the look of a Mad Monk.’

Then Pauly came. I made the introductions and Pauly got jumpy, started fidgeting with his jacket.


‘Right,’ said Frank. ‘Back in a minute.’

He was out the door before I even registered what was happening.

‘We have to stop him,’ I said.

‘You mean help him?’

I shook my head as we eased out the door. Frank was already across the street. He was screaming as he neared the group of men. I couldn’t make out what he was saying. Traffic was busy, speeding into town, so we were stuck outside a takeaway, New China House, watching for a gap. Something smelled good.

A gunshot. And another.

A gun going off is really loud. Shockingly fucking loud. I’ve been close, too close, to shooting, but it’s something I’ll never get used to.

Pauly fumbled for his weapon. Oh Lord, no! I couldn’t see what had happened. I felt sick. people running everywhere. Cars screeching. Horns. Pigeons flapping.

We managed to get over, the old shop sign glowing, fruit and vegetables on display outside, their fine layer of traffic grit. The group of men gone, just the one remained, the heap on the dirty path, no rain in days. The pool of black blood edged towards the road. The pigeons were back already and they eyed it curiously.

Not Frank. Thank Christ! Rasputin. He looked really dead, no comebacks.

Then I saw Frank clutching his side with his left hand, a gun limp in his right.

And a guy appeared from around the corner of the shop, where a car was parked. A gun in his hand. What’s with all the fucking guns? He raised it towards me. Me! A shot rang out, painfully close. The guy crumpled, like in slow motion. I turned towards the sound and the cloud of bitter cordite smoke. Pauly was there, a crazy gleam in his eye.

‘Where’s the rest of the cunts?’ he asked, gun crazy.

‘Let’s get the fuck out of here,’ I said.

‘My car’s up by the bridge,’ said Frank. ‘Come on.’

So I took his arm and led him back up the hill. Pauly followed, walking backwards, wanting to shoot somebody else. Nobody on the street, thank Christ.

A siren, but way off. Come on!

We stumbled and rushed and turned left just before the bridge.

‘I’m just there,’ said Frank. ‘Hang on.’

He threw his gun into the canal, startling a couple of angry-looking swans. He looked at Pauly.

‘I just got this, for fuck’s sake!’

‘Go on, bud. They’ll find it, but there’ll be fuck-all forensics.’


‘I’ll get you a new one, kid. Alright?’

A splash.

We got into the car. Somehow, I ended up in the driver’s seat.

‘Frank, I can barely walk, let alone drive.’

‘Drink driving is the least of our worries, Charlie. Go on.’

‘Where we going?’ as the engine cranked to life. ‘Do the hospitals report all gunshot wounds to the cops, or is that only on TV?’

‘No, they do. I know someone who can look after me. He’s up in Rathgar, not far. Just do a u-turn here, then left and over the bridge and stay straight. And make it quick will you?’

I drove on auto pilot, still out of my brain on lethal weed and cocaine. All the gunplay had jerked me from my almost-happy place. Bastards. That place was getting harder and harder to find, in a world turning to shit, like a mirage on the motorway.

I tried to focus on my speed, stay locked on the floating fifty, but I actually couldn’t read the numbers.

‘How’s my speed, Pauly?’

He leaned forward. ‘Grand, Charlie.’

Frank was in the front passenger seat. He was pale, drooling a little. was that blood on his lips? Lamb of god, what am I doing here?

‘Frank! You ok man?’


‘Fuck. Frank! What’s the address? I don’t know where I’m going.’

We passed the little Hoover Centre,  vaguely familiar-looking, like I’d seen it once. Lots of boarded-up places and a rubbled and weedy vacant lot that used to house the Classic Cinema, where I’d seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show, a college student dressed in black stockings and suspenders, about a thousand years before. But I didn’t register that memory then, just the homeless man sitting outside a little tent there, fire burning away merrily.

We approached a complicated junction.

‘Frank! Where to now man?’

He looked up, coughed. ‘Left of the Spar, up fifty yards. On the left. Lantern. Wooden door. Just buzz it.’

He slouched back and I pulled in badly, dinging his alloys on the kerb. Thanked Jesus for the lantern. I switched the engine off, lights off, stumbled to a wooden door and buzzed. A few seconds of horrible waiting, then a sleepy Hello.

‘I’ve got Frank here. He’s been shot.’

‘Just a second.’

A very tall, very thin man opened the door, stooped out and looked up and down the street. Then he saw Frank.

‘Who’s that in the back?’

‘He works for me. Pauly. I’m Charlie. I -’

‘Let’s get Frank in. Quickly. You can tell me your tale of woe later. I am correct in assuming so?’


Pauly and I took an armpit each and lifted Frank in through the door, across a Zen-style courtyard and up a couple of steps to a dimly-lit surgery, plastic sheets laid across a high bed. I registered the gleam of steel and the hum of expensive machines.

The doctor said “Charlie. I’d appreciate it if you could move Frank’s car from outside the premises. Just up and around the corner. Pauly, you can wait in the courtyard to let Charlie back in. Then you can both wait there until I’m finished. Clear?’

‘Cool,’ I said, delighted to be leaving. I don’t know why, but I had been suffering from the delusion that I’d be handing surgical instruments to the man, like on tv.

I parked the car, made sure it was in a proper space, even had the foresight to pay for the first few hours’ parking in the morning. They’re cunts for the clamping up here, Charlie. Absolute cunts, Frank’d told me, that night we met. And the bit that really sticks in my craw, the Council’s losing money, over a million a year, just to piss drivers off.

Pauly let me in. He’d been busy, so we sat and enjoyed a long joint.

‘Not how we expected tonight to turn out, eh Pauly?’

‘Fuck’s sake, shom. This Dublin’s a mad bastard of a town.’

I just wanted to go to bed and to sleep for a decade. Wake me when it’s all done. When everything’s better!

Police sirens then, close. They buzzed up and down the main road down below for a good half an hour. The helicopter was up, but didn’t come near our little oasis of calm.

We sat in silence for an age until the doctor came out, blood on his shirt. A hint of a smile.

‘Well done,’ he said, his voice hushed. ‘You got him here just in time. The bullet cracked a rib and nicked the spleen. I managed to dig the bullet out and tidy up the damage. He’s sedated now and taking antibiotics.’

‘Thank Christ,’ I said.

‘He’ll be sore as hell in the morning, but he’ll live. Now get some sleep.’

‘You want us to come back in the morning for him?’

‘No. We have people for that. Can you give me his car keys?’

I handed the keys over and the worthless, copper-coated steel cent dropped. ‘Is Frank IRA?’

‘I can’t say.’

‘Fair enough. Where can we get a cab?’

The taxi picked us up at the Spar and took us down Leinster Road towards the hotel.

‘What time are we?’ asked Pauly.

‘Shit, 2am.’

‘Fuck. Where did the night go to?’


He reported for duty on Monday, an automaton, donned the blue canvas, checked and loaded his Sig Sauer 226, no need for heavy armaments until their operational requirements had been outlined. He was on the edge, walked rigidly down the lino-floored corridor, sat in the briefing room with the eleven others in his unit.

There was no small talk, no How was the weekend?, no What a night last night. He nodded to Tony, got a little wink back.

The CO arrived, told them to sit.

‘First things first. We’re not going to Limerick.’

Thank fuck. There was a positive murmur. Not just him then.

‘Unit C is already deployed,’ he continued. Good luck to them. ‘The media loves to go over the top when anything happens outside Dublin, makes them feel better about themselves, I suppose. So let’s not forget that we’re slap bang in the middle of the main gang battleground in the country, yeah? We’re on standby today, so get some target practice in. Ye’ll be needing it before this day is out.’ Then, alarmingly, he looked straight at me, ‘I can guarantee ye that.’

Then he droned on for a good twenty minutes about current gang activity in the Dublin Metropolitan Area, the display behind him flashing to display hotspot activity, those red ones possibly linked to any or all of the top five gangs.

It was like watching reality TV. Shit reality.

‘One last thing,’ said the boss, ‘and you’ll like this. The US Embassy has picked up some chatter.’ Glances were exchanged. There was an actual murmur. This is it! ‘I can’t tell you any more, but we’re going to be doing some tactical exercises with the Army Ranger Wing up in Rathmines Barracks before the week is out. So, lay off the drink or those cunts will punish you. Yeah?’

After the briefing he told Mark to follow him down to his office in five.

He sat there, reading printouts, the ones with holes on either side of the page, stood when Mark entered. A bit of a smile. He was from Cork, Collins country. Sharp.



He punched buttons on his desk phone and asked his assistant to head out to Java Republic for a couple of What? Black? Yes.

‘Isn’t it gas how everyone perked up at the thoughts of a shootout with a cell of suicide bombers?’ he laughed. ‘I hear you want out.’

‘Straight to the point. Yes, I do.’ Thanks, fucking Tony.

He sat down on the edge of his desk, pointed to a chair. Mark sat down for his bollicking.

‘Now I don’t like this kind of talk in my unit. I don’t want any bad apples here, you know that.’


‘So what’s the problem?’

‘It’s this whole reactive thing. That’s all we do is react. You can’t prevent crime by having armed checkpoints on every corner.’

‘So you think becoming a detective will let you solve the gang wars?’

‘I really don’t know.’

‘Hmm,’ he said as their coffees and Danishes were dropped in. Gift. ‘You’re not very decisive for a crimefighting superhero. Or is that the way you’re meant to be?’ he smiled.

‘Maybe. Maybe not.’

They laughed at that and enjoyed the coffee for a couple of minutes while the boss took a call about security preparations for some ambassador.

‘See,’ he said, pointing at the phone. ‘I accept your point. They want us to be babysitters for jumped-up cunts from some shitty kip when we’re not out in the field. And that’s where we should be: out hammering the fuckers.’

‘I’m with you there.’

‘And that job you did, delivering pizzas to the drug dealers’ party in Finglas and collaring that prick O’Malley with the coke on his nose. Brilliant. Legend.’

‘Yeah, but he only got a year for possession.’

‘That’s not the point. He’s in the ‘Joy. That’s what matters. Look, do me this favour will you?’

‘I’ll try.’

‘You’ve only been in the unit, what, four months?’

‘About that.’

‘So give it a few more. You fit in really well and everybody likes you. You’re an excellent shot and you’ve a brain on you. Stay with us and you’ll have your opportunities.’

‘What kind?’

‘Everything you want.’

He stuffed the vanilla custard Danish into his mouth and drained the coffee cup. Then he stood in front of Mark and held out his hand, looking straight into his eyes.

Mark stood, shook his hand.

‘See you tonight,’ he said.


‘If you want to make a real difference. 2300. Location A3 H7.’

Mark knew exactly where he meant, a quiet location by the river, south inner city. They used it for meeting snitches and the like.


‘Civvies, clean. Okay?’

‘Okay to drive?’

He thought for a second.

‘Yeah. Now go shoot some paper.’


O’Connell Street throbbed, still hundreds milling about, taxis lined up to the horizon, much traffic. It was warm, so lots of flesh out. And the spire, shining against the virile indigo sky. Just a five second look at it all as he drove east on the quays to the Custom House and across the Liffey to the Southside again, left and straight out past the coffin ship, to the gloomy stillness of Sir John Rogerson’s Quay.

Quieter here. Past the Ferryman pub, a car waited, engine running, lights off, across from a rusty lightship. Mark pulled in behind, looked around as he walked to the inside rear door. It clicked open. A driver in front and his boss in the back seat.

‘Thanks for coming.’

‘No bother. What’s happening?’

He had a large padded envelope on his lap, his right hand resting on it.

‘See anything out there?’

‘Is that the Builder’s jeep up the street?’


‘No muscle?’

‘No. He’s on a social call tonight. He’s got a bird in that apartment block. Comes here twice a week. Clockwork.’

Mark glanced at the package, knew what was coming.

‘Is this a hit?’ he asked.

The boss smiled, nodded.

‘Are you able for this?’

‘Is this the first?’

‘No. But we’re only getting started.’

Mark looked around the street, analysed his escape route, held out his hand.

‘Good man. It’s a Glock. Clean. Cocked. Into the river when you’re done. Anyone stops you, show your ID and keep driving. Just get away. Any questions?’

There was nothing. His heart was beating on the back of his tongue, his mouth arid.

So he stood in the shadows of the red ship, the package in his hand. A fog horn cut through the thick night air from down the river. He shivered.

A click. The Builder was at the lobby door, half out, checking the street. He didn’t spot Mark, so he left the building.

Mark took the gun from the envelope, flicked off the safety catch.

End of excerpt.

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