I’m walking home from school, my sixteen-year-old brain swirling with sixteen-year-old-swirling-bullshit.
In front of our house there’s a badly parked, unmarked Garda car: Like all unmarked cop cars, it’s just a squad car without the Garda shields on the doors or the blue light stuck on the roof. The regular Castlebar unmarked – a Garda-blue, Ford Cortina; recognizable by all, including the blind – is parked in front of it in our driveway.
As I edge past the badly parked unmarked, I see the number “37” applied, in three foot tall, reflective, white numbers, on the roof – tall and reflective enough to be read from a helicopter!
My blood rushes.
Inside in the kitchen, there’s two detectives sitting either side of a smoking turf fire, slurping mugs of tea and puffing cigarettes: One is from town, Eamonn, I him know well; he’s a carbon copy of my father; hair greased back hard, blue trousers, a tweed-ish jacket, with plastic-leather elbow patches.
“Howaya now,” Eamonn says, nodding, lifting his mug of tea and cigarette toward me; his reddish face breaking into a thin-just-about-a-smile, smile.
The other fella looks too young to be a detective: He’s all 1970s-Garda-cool; Wranglers, baggy red jumper, thick moustache, scruffy hair, with skinny sideburns; but he still has required Gard’s these’ll-give-you-a-good-kick-in-the-arse, black shoes; the ones that were way cool – back in the 1950s.
He stares at me with the sort of Gard’s suspicion I’m well used to, but for added big-city-cop-effect, he lets cigarette smoke slowly escape his nostrils.
“Did you get any slaps today?” Eamonn says, laughing, nodding to detective 37. “Them De LaSalle brothers don’t be shy about letting young fellas have it, let me tell ya, and fair play to them. We don’t want them growing up like bleddy eejits.”
Da is at the counter in the scullery making ham sandwiches, buttering up big slabs of Moran’s Bakery, sliced batch bread.
“Here, take this,” he says to me, passing me the plate that was meant for him.
“Nah, not hungry,” I grunt-lie, eyes ranging the shelves in the scullery for biscuits or something better than a ham sandwich.
He grabs the other two plates, and heads into the kitchen.
“Now we have residents’ lists from nearly every hotel and guest house in Mayo for the night of the fire,” Da says, handing over the sandwiches. “Eamonn pulled them – fare dues, a lot of work. Oh, ye’re nearly out of tea.”
“Ah well now,” Eamonn says, and from the scullery – where I’m still reconnoitering the shelves for sugary-food hiding locations – I can imagine him nodding his head a rake of times to show how just little trouble it really was, “some of them young lads above in the barrack do be very helpf … .”
“Throw on the kettle in there,” Da blurts out, “there’s thirsty polis-men in here.”
I grab the kettle, and fill it up. It’s a big old copper one, with a gun-metal-grey soldering scar where the leaky spout got rough-repaired.
I know I shouldn’t, but I keeping turning around to see the action in the kitchen.
“Now the fire started around midnight on the Saturday,” Da says, sitting out on the edge of his chair, both hands held up and ready – like he was David Harvey waiting to get Leeds outta trouble with an easy Bremmer pass-back.
“Perfect timing,” he kinda harrumphs, throwing his head back, “at that time, half the Westport fire brigade’d be two sheets to the wind – and the other half dead drunk.”
I see him looking at 37 for a reaction; but 37 is busy pulling up the sleeves of his jumper – the tea, and the roaring fire, making him too hot.
Behind me in the scullery, the kettle starts to growl.
“Anyway, the first one there,” Da starts up again, “was an arse-scratcher, just out of Templemore, out from Louisburg. You see, Pat, the sergeant,” he touches 37 lightly on arm, “was within in town, ‘cause the second fire,” he stops-and-nods for emphasis, “had already been started in there, and he was trying to deal with that – along with whatever goes as a fire brigade in Louisburg.”
The hands go up again for another Bremmer pass-back, head back, eyes closed as he puts the night back together in his mind.
“And then the Westport squad – which of course beat the fire brigade” – he stops again, nods sideways, pursing his lips – “with another two youngish Gards, standing there, all scratching. It twas an arse scratchers’ festival that night, because in fairness, there wasn’t much else could be done. And sure by then the hotel was above in flames; it ‘twas a goner, or as much of a goner as whoever wanted it gone anyway,” he nods all-knowingly – head-shoulders-torso leaning forward from the chair.
“And I seen in … de arse-scratchers report,” 37 says, in a heavy Dublin accent, his eyes going over and back between the two of them, “dere was turf stacked up against de wall.”
“Yeah,” Eamonn says, lighting another cigarette. “The hotels like the turf fires; I suppose for the Yanks; you know, the ould smell of turf smoke goes a long way with prying open a New Yorker’s wallet. Do you remember the big round fella from Calee-forn-yah, above in the Cobweb, hogging the whole fire, and tears in his eyes, going on and on and on about ‘grand-maw and grand-paw’s thatched cottage’ – and all it twas some hackney driver took him to, was a bleddy cowshed, up the Windy Gap!”
He laughs a little laugh, throws his head back, and gazes into the fire.
“But stackin’ it up like dat, against de wall?” 37 says, his eyebrows raising, his head angling. “I mean dey’re not … you know, farmers kinda ting. From de photographs, dis was a nice premises – once and upon a time anyways.”
“Ah,” Da throws his head back, “I suppose the barman or the housekeeper did that, to make it easier it for himself … .”
“To burn de place down?” 37 says, getting excited.
“Not all at, to keep a bleddy fire going of a rainy night,” Da says taking fast gulp of tea. “Sure it only rains down here eight nights a week.”
“And ye’s are shore de Provies weren’t involved?” 37 says, giving Da and Eamonn the suspicious Gard’s stare.
“Oh yeah, no problem there,” Eamonn says, shaking his head, smoke gushing out his mouth and nose.
“Not at all,” Da cuts in, shaking his head. “Sure we could tell you what every one of them ate for his dinner that day, and how many pints he had that night, and where. ‘Twasn’t them – this time anyway.”
“And you see, we did get the wan curious name from the residents’ lists,” Eamonn says, slipping his notebook out of the inside jacket pocket.
Da and 37 sit up even more.
“An Anthony … Bogs…worth,” Eamonn looks up the two of them. “He only stayed two nights, within in Reek View Guest House in Westport – the Fridah and the Sat-ur-dah,” he looks back at the notebook, “and then he flew back to London from Shannon, on the Sunday evening flight. The landlady said had a few pints somewhere down in the Octagon the Friday night, but wasn’t around until very late on the Sat-ur-dah night.”
“Dat’s our man,” 37 blurts, jumping up, lumps of Moran’s batch bread crumbs falling off his red jumper. “We needa get ‘r hands on him – do you have a phone here.”
“No,” Da shakes his head, not moving another muscle. “No phone in this house. There’s a radio in the unmarked.”
“We needa contact de British authorities as soon as possible,” 37 says, still standing, looking like he needs to get somewhere fast.
I hear the kettle start to rumble. Turning around, I see steam starting to billow out the spout.
“Ah now,” Da asks, lifting the mug up to his mouth again.
“What would that crowd be doing for us abroad in London?” he takes a big gulp of tea and shakes it down.
“Dey’re required, by deir own Backing a Warrants Act, to pursue a suspect for a crime committed in de Republic of Ireland with as much diligence as dey would for one committed in, … in, … in Liver-poool. When I was a Garda in Crumlin, we sent manys de suspect over to dem – if de judge allowed it, of course.”
There’s silence, the turf fire shifts, settles a bit, sending a flock of sparks up the chimney.
“In fairness now,” Eamonn says, breaking the silence, his eyebrows rising up high, pointing the lit cigarette at 37. “I’d say ye’d have had a fair pile of suspects above in Crumlin for sending over – heh?”
“Sure lookit, even if we were lucky enough that wan of them fuc…, fellas, knew yer man, then we’d be up again … let me tell you this one,” Da start-stops, takes a pre-story, big gulp of tea.
“There wan day a couple of year ago, and more maybe, probly actually,” Da nods his head, doing that eyes-gazing-at-nothing-thing he does when starting a story.
“I was within in the Claremorris barrack, making a photo-stat off some fingerprints I took in Dillon’s pharmacy. Don’t you remember Eamonn, the tinkers pushed one of their wee lads – he was only eight I think; in the run up anyway he was too young for Saint Patrick’s – in Dillion’s back winda, and he took some of them ould Polaroid instant-taneous cameras, the whole lot worth fifty quid or something – and hundreds of pounds within in the till; he never even looked at it; the poor divileen.”
He takes another gulp of tea.
“And sure we knew well twas that crowd camped out the Knock road, back from England, ‘cause the wee lad they put in the winda, like many another first time burglar, didn’t he go and,” Da nods toward the scullery – I’m standing in the doorway now, and see everything – and mouths the word ‘shit’ to two detectives, “himself, and then toss it there on the floor. Anyway, ould Dillion, God bless him, speak no ill of the dead and all the rest,” he raises his both eyes and hands toward the ceiling in fast-fake-prayer, “between the break-in and the …,” he raises his eyebrows, nods a couple of times, “well, you can imagine the same man, he was very proper – a Trinity man, I believe – arriving into that. So McGinley, the inspector at the time, says to me, in the way the same man would; ‘shoot over there to Claremorris, and dust a few prints in the pharmacy, before Dillon lays wan himself on the carpet in front of the glasses rack!’”
They all guffaw hard, heads rollicking back, mouths opening wide, showing too much teeth-tongue-ribbed-roof – I turn away.
“So I went over, took the prints, and when I was dropping them off, didn’t the barrack phone ring; some ‘constable bloke,’” I cringe as he does the worst ever imitation English accent, “on the line from, from, …, where do Arsenal play at-all-at-all? Highport, High-something.”
“Highbury,” 37 cuts in, butt-end-lighting a new cigarette off the old one.
Behind me the kettle fumes scald-the-skin-off-your-fingers steam; boiling water spitting out the spout; I turn to get it.
“Good man, good man, you saved me there! And wasn’t this ‘constable’ looking for the youngest of them Carney’s, there’s an awful clatter of them altogether, out Knocknashactha, by Lough Blenner. The father has land right down on the shore of the lake; I fished it; once only; full of pike.”
He shakes his head rapidly, with angler’s impatience for bad water.
“And fair dues to this ‘constable,’” I cringe again, unplug the kettle, “he had tracked young Carney all the way to the Claremorris barrack for a … a … stolen car, I believe. Now that was some polis-work, let me tell you that.”
“Jaysus and it twas,” Eamonn says, head shaking, “’cause there’s an awful heap of Carneys out that way to be getting it down to wan of them.”
‘Twas definitely a stolen car,” Da says.
I’m back in the doorway and he’s wagging his index finger at Eamonn.
“I remember now, ‘cause, I happened to know this self same bucko. He was a small bit fond of stealing cars outside dancehalls to get home, and then leaving them down the bog road behind his house. I caught him in wan of them dead-drunk-asleep wan time. ‘Twas a young lassie from up the midlands, working within in the dole office; new; and she had her father’s mustard yellow, Hillman Hunter with her for the first few weeks, and didn’t the bucko steal it outside the TF of a Sunday night. Oh, she was very upset.”
He stops for a breath, nodding-nodding-nodding.
“She come right up to the barrack, crying about “daddy’ll say this, and daddy’ll do that.” Sure we had the bucko below in the cell, and the mustard Hillman Hunter back in front of … of … I forget now what B & B she was staying in at the time, to her by three in the morning. Ah, then the judge goes and gives him three months suspended, and pay for the damage to the car.”
He shakes his head with resigned disgust.
“Anyway, I told the English polis-man I’d see what I could do for him.”
“So you see,” 37 says, sitting up his chair. “We could get dat fella – wat was ‘is name again Eamonn?”
“And I meant it at the time,” Da nods his head a few times, like he’s talking more to himself than to them. “I did.”
He nods again, deep this time.
Eamonn flips open the notebook.
“Anthony … Bogsworth; he went be Tony or mister Bogsworth, the landlady said.”
“We’ll need her guest register information for his address, dey usually give de real one – in case tings go bad, and de old-lady has to track down de body. De London gangsters is fierce souper-stitious altogeder – when it comes to a corpse.”
He looks from Eamonn to Da and back again.
They both nod sideways – like they just might be impressed.
“And sure den Joe,” he turns to back Da, “we’ll be as good a polis as yer ‘constable bloke,’” he does an even more cringe-worthy imitation.
“Ah, let me finish, and you’ll see where all his good polis work ended up. I get in the car, drive right out to Blenner, get a hold of young Carney, and I told him,” he wags the finger again for extra emphasis, “in no uncertain terms, that, in a matter of minutes – sure I was making it up as I went along,” he smiles, shaking his head, “that we’d have him on an air-o-plane, at his expense mind you, back to High…, London. Oh, and I was rattling the cuffs, the lot. Like I wasn’t fooling around as far as he was concerned.”
“They do get vury nervous at that pint,” Eamonn says, narrowing his eyebrows, pointing his index finger in the air, cigarette smoke trailing next to it. “Vurrrryy nervous indeed.”
I take the chance to fill the teapot with boiling water, add another couple of teabags.
“Oh sure he was scared shi…,” I imagine Da turning to look at me back in the scullery doorway, “… very nervous. Indeed he was Eamonn. And then bucko starts telling me stuff he knew I’d want to know, and I’d say, in an hour or so, I got a solid two months worth of work done within in the unmarked out by that ould pike filled lake. Oh, this fuc…, fella, knew every cattle-rustling-salmon-poaching-car-thieving-burglar from Blenner to … to … Belmullett. Oh sure, the first thing he does is run into the house, and come back out with a yoke for swapping ear tags.”
He stops, stares at 37.
“Cattle ear tags – you know they do be swapping them around on stolen cattle. And sure ‘twas a useless yoke, wouldn’t work at all, I could tell be looking at it, but he went and got it,” he nods and smiles, like as if a child did something funny, “to establish his bona-fides as a good crook. Don’t you see, to get me to put away the cuffs and stop talking about the air-o-plane. But when he starting talking, sure I had what I needed and let stay there in Blenner.”
“Still, dere’s de Warrants Act, and sure dey mightened play dat game over dere.”
“Ah would you go away out that,” Da snaps, throwing his head back. “Now, in my opinion, we've as much chance of them sending this … Bogglesworth, or whatever his name is, over to us, as, …, as, … as I have of marrying the Queen.”
“She’s not a bad looking woman – the Queen,” Eamonn says, shaking his head knowingly, holding out the cigarette hand. “And she has a damn fair bit of property too, let me tell you that.”
37 sits down again, but on the edge of his chair.
“And a husband,” he says, taking a deep pull of his cigarette, and trying to pull the sleeves up a bit more.
Da makes eye contact with Eamonn, rolls his eyes, and then turning to the scullery, he says, way too loud, at me in the doorway:
“Is there any tea in that pot at-all-at-all-at-all?”