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Authors: Ken Bruen

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Headstone

BOOK: Headstone
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HEADSTONE

Also by Ken Bruen
Once Were Cops

Sanctuary

Cross

Priest

The Dramatist

The Magdalen Martyrs

The Killing of the Tinkers

Funeral: Tales of Irish Morbidities

Shades of Gracve

Martyrs

Sherry and Other Stories

Time of Serena-May/Upon the Third Class

Her Last Call to Louis MacNeice

Rilke on Black

The Hackman Blues

A White Arrest

Taming the Alien

The Guards

London Boulevard

Blitz

The McDead

Vixen

Dispatching Baudelaire

The Dead Room

American Skin

Bust (with Jason Starr)

Calibre

A Fifth of Bruen

Slide (with Jason Starr)

Ammunition

The Max (with Jason Starr)

All the Old Songs and Nothing to Lose

HEADSTONE
KEN BRUEN
The Mysterious Press

an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

New York

Copyright © 2011 by Ken Bruen

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be

reproduced in any form or by any electronic or

mechanical means, including information storage

and retrieval systems, without permission in

writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer,

who may quote brief passages in a review.

Scanning, uploading, and electronic distribution of

this book or the facilitation of such without the

permission of the publisher is prohibited. Please

purchase only authorized electronic editions, and

do not participate in or encourage electronic

piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of

the author’s rights is appreciated. Any member of

educational institutions wishing to photocopy part

or all of the work for classroom use, or anthology,

should send inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841

Broadway,

New

York,

NY

10003

or

[email protected]

Published simultaneously in Canada

Printed in the United States of America

FIRST EDITION

ISBN-13: 9780802195043

The Mysterious Press

an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

841 Broadway

New York, NY 10003

Distributed by Publishers Group West

www.groveatlantic.com

11 12 13 1410 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

To Philip Spitzer, agent extraordinaire

Lukas Ortiz, mi hermano

Joel Gotler, the wizard

Renate Hutton, who, wonderfully, buys the books

He drained the last of the pint, thought,

“Christ, that was good.”

Another Jay?

Tempting?

Phew-oh.

But he’d had two alongside the batter of pints

already. Primarily, he needed a cig. That tipped the

balance. He could already feel the first hit of

ferocious nicotine. He moved from his stool,

brushed the dandruff from his jacket. Normally he

didn’t notice it but he’d caught sight of himself in

the old mirror with the slogan,

“My Goodness, My Guinness.”

And a frazzled comic zookeeper chasing a pelican

with pints of the black in his beak. Nearly made

him smile; you just didn’t see those ancient slogans

anymore. More’s the Irish pity. He cursed anew

those damn black jackets that showed up every

fleck of white. Like stranded drops of snow. He

said,

“Night all.”

Got a few muttered,

“God bless.”

No warmth though.

Fecking media had given his profession the taint of

leprosy. Grudgingly, he conceded the fact he hadn’t

paid for any of his drinks the whole evening might

be a factor.

He thought,

“Bad cess to ye.”

Outside, he stared at the church. Saint Nicholas’s.

One of the two Protestant outfits in the city and,

they claimed, some hoofmarks inside the door

were made by Christopher Columbus before he set

sail to find the New World. He figured they needed

all the lures they could conjure. He got out his pack

of Major, the strongest Irish cigarette, none of the

Marlboro Light shite for him. Smoke or fuck off .

He wouldn’t be surprised if the decaffeinated tea

rumor was true.

Flicked his Bic.

Got the first lethal drags of smoke into his starved

lungs.

When the blow came to the back of his skull.

Hard.

He dropped the cig, nearly fell. Then a massive

kick to his stomach did drop him to his knees. The

mix of Jameson and Guinness spewed forth like a

nervous confession. He heard,

“Fucking bastard’s spewing.”

Another forceful kick laid him flat on his back. He

could barely see, had the mad thought,

“Nothing good happens outside a Prod church.”

He could barely see from pain but he registered

three figures.

Was one a girl? He heard,

“He’s wearing his dog collar.”

And it was ripped from his neck with the chant of

“Woof

Woof.”

A hand in his jacket, ripping out his wallet.

Holding it up for the others to see, a male voice

going,

“He’s got a photo in here.”

The chorus,

“Who is it then?

Britney?

Lindsay Lohan?”

An answer.

“Some old cunt.”

His mother.

He made the drastic mistake of trying to get up,

surely the young people still had respect?

Right.

The next kick broke his nose.

He fell back.

The girl stood over him, sneered,

“Trying to see up my skirt, yah pervert.”

And shredded the photo into his face, paused,

added,

“Nearly forgot this.”

Spat in his face.

He heard

“Who’s for a pint then?”

As they moved away, he allowed himself a tiny

amount of hope till one hesitated, came back, and

with slow and deadly aim, kicked him in the side

of his head, laughed,

“Forgive me Father, for
you
have sinned.”

A light rain began to fall, drenching what remained

of his mother’s torn photo. She’d always wanted

him to be a priest. As his eyes rolled back into his

head, he muttered,

“Top of the world, Ma.”

A headstone is but a slab of granite

lashed by an indiff erent wind.

Things were looking up. Late October had brought

a week of Indian summer. Be it global warming,

the world going to hell?

Who cared?

We grabbed it while it lasted.

Eyre Square, people lying out in the sunshine. Ice

cream vendors peddling slush at five euros a pop.

The country had, on a second referendum, said
yes

to the Lisbon Treaty. We took that for what it was,

…………………………………..a brief stay from

Death Row.

I was coming off the worst case of my bedraggled

career. Literally, a brush with the devil. I muttered,

“Darkness visible.”

Had sworn,

“Never, never going down that dark path again.”

Whatever it was,

the occult,

devilment,

Xanax,

delusion,

it had shaken me to the core. I still kept the lights

on in the wee hours. In my apartment in, get this,

Nun’s Island.

Who said God had no sense of the ridiculous?

To add bemusement to bafflement, I met a woman.

After the devil, I’d gone to London on one of those

late deal Internet offers. Met Laura. An American,

aged forty-two, and, to me, gorgeous.

She made my heart skip a beat. She was a writer of

crime fiction. At my most cynical, I thought I was

simply material for her next book. A broken-down

Irish PI, with a limp and a hearing aid.

Yeah, that would fly.

Did I care?

Did I fuck?

She liked me.

I grabbed that like the last beads of the rosary. She

had rented a house in Notting Hill and was due to

come and stay with me for a week. But hedging our

collective bets, we went to Paris for five days, see

if there was any real substance in what we thought

we had. February in that wondrous city. Should

have been cold and bitter.

Nope.

Such Gods there are gave us the Moveable Feast.

Glorious freak spring weather. We had a lovely

hotel close to the Irish Institute and were but a

Bonjour from the Luxembourg Gardens, where we

spent most of our time. I was nervous as a cat, so

long since I’d been in a bed with a woman, a

woman I hadn’t paid for, that is. My scarred body,

I dreaded she would be repulsed by it. The

opposite, she seemed to embrace my hurt and pain.

Whispered as she ran her fingers along one lengthy

scar,

“No more beatings Jack, OK?”

Worked for me.

In Hemingway’s beautiful memoir, pastiche, he

writes of the miraculous time he and Hadley had

and how they felt it would last forever. And . . .

wood was all around them and he never touched it

for luck. I said that to Laura, she answered,

“You touched my heart, that’s all the luck we

need.”

Would it were so.

Sweet Jesus.

I’d sworn that despite Paris and their customs,

you’d never catch me eating food in the park, I’d

never be that uninhibited to grab a French roll and

eat it as I lay on the grass. I did, loved it, a bottle

of Nuits- Saint-Georges, the French amazing

sandwiches, wedges of cheese, the almost warm

sunshine, and Laura. Jesus, it was heaven. I even

rolled up my shirtsleeves. Made her laugh out

loud, she said,

“My God, you heathen you.”

Like that.

We did all the tourist crap and relished it. Got our

photograph taken on Boulevard Saint Michel. I

carry the photo in my wallet and never, never now

look at it. I can’t. But it’s there, like the blessing I

once believed I’d be granted. Went to the Louvre

and again made her laugh when I said the Mona

Lisa was little more than a postage stamp.

In Montmartre on the second-to-last day of our

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