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Authors: Ken Bruen

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Thrillers, #Crime

Headstone (6 page)

BOOK: Headstone
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Stood there for a moment, thinking,

“If I continued to dig the hole, I was going to need

the headstone sooner than expected.”

Always do sober what you said

you’d do drunk.

That will keep your mouth shut.

—Irish proverb

I walked down Quay Street, stepped into Café Du

Journal. Real Irish place, right?

I half hoped I’d run into Vinny from Charlie

Byrne’s Bookshop but, no, the place was half

empty. I got a corner table, old cop habit, so you

can see who’s coming at you. Ordered a double

espresso, a large Danish. I had no appetite but

figured it would soak up the inevitable Jay. The

sugar rush wouldn’t hurt either. Far end of the café

was a Goth girl. I’ve always had a soft spot for

them. They are harmless, do their gig, despite

ridicule, and carry a continuous torch for The

Cure.

I admire tenacity.

The girl, beneath the white makeup, the black eye

shadow, black lipstick, couldn’t have been more

than nineteen. She was staring right back at me.

She was pretty, in a sort of wounded way; even the

Goth stuff couldn’t quite hide that. Her eyes, a

deep brown, were boring into mine, so I asked,

“Help you with something?”

She moved from her table, took the seat opposite

me, and, when she spoke, I noticed the stud in her

tongue. How do they eat with that?

Maybe they don’t.

She said,

“You don’t know me.”

Statement.

I asked,

“Any reason why I should?”

Allowing a hint of force in there. If she was here to

bust my balls, she’d chosen the right fucking day

and the right fucking time to try it.

Her accent was the new cultivated Irish that spoke

of:

money,

education,

confidence,

and fuck you.

As alien to me as a Brit.

She said,

“You put my brother in the mental hospital.”

As lines go, it’s a showstopper.

I asked.

“What?”

She took my spoon, asked,

“May I?”

Cut a corner of my Danish, said,

“I like sweet things.”

She’d thrown me. The only person I knew for sure

I’d put in the home for the bewildered was my own

self. Then,

Jesus Christ.

Years ago, a young man had been beheading

swans. I’d nailed him and, yeah, he came from a

good
family, meaning cash and clout. No jail time,

sent to a hospital. She asked,

“Coming back dude? The booze hasn’t destroyed

all the brain cells?”

I’d met most brands of psychos during my career

as a half-arsed investigator. They all shared the

same total lack of empathy. Not so much they

lacked a human element, more like they were a

whole other species. A highly lethal one. But that

kid, he’d used a samurai sword to decapitate the

swans. What I most recalled was the absolute glee

in his eyes. He didn’t so much enjoy his deeds as

revel in them. I’d used a stun gun to knock him

back into the water. The swans had gone for his

eyes. He lost one. Every fiber of my being had

been to let him drown. But I’d dragged him out. I’d

hoped never to see the creep again.

Years later, he’d turned up,


Cured
,”

he told me.

The medicine hadn’t been invented to rewire his

kind. They simply changed their act. The deadly

impulse even more honed and ferocious than ever.

He’d then vanished from my radar. I always knew

he was out there and I was unfinished business. I

said,

“I remember him; he told me he was a student.”

She gave me a look of pure defiance, said,

“He got his degree.”

I couldn’t resist, said,

“Long as it wasn’t as a vet.”

She pushed the Danish back, said,

“It’s stale.”

I said,

“So……..?”

“He’s missing.”

I wanted to say,

“He was born missing,” but went with

“And I should care………….why?”

“I want you to find him.”

I laughed, said,

“I’m the very last person he’d want on his case.

You never gave me your name.”

Her whole body language was screaming that she

had ammunition. She said,

“Bethany.”

I signaled to the waitress for the bill, said,

“Your family as I recall has lots of resources, and

at last count, there are nine professional

investigators in the city. They’d be glad to take

your money. Me, I couldn’t give a rat’s arse what

happens to your whacko brother.”

I paid the bill, stood up, and was turning to leave

when she near whispered,

“I have something you want, Taylor.”

I shook my head, had already reached the door

when she hissed,

“I know what happened to the priest,”

pause,

“and the retard.”

Stopped me. But she was up and brushing past me,

moving fast.

I went after her.

Great.

Pursuing a young girl on the busiest street in

Galway. My mobile shrilled, I said,

“Fuck.”

Pulled it from my jacket. Bethany had reached

McDonagh’s Fish ’n’ Chip shop, the bottom of

Quay Street. Christ, that girl could move. She

turned, stared back at me, then ever so elegantly,

gave me the finger. She disappeared among the

horde of tourists being off-loaded from a coach.

I answered the mobile, heard,

“Jack, it’s Stewart.”

“Yeah?”

“Where are you?”

“Iraq.”

“What?”

“The bottom of Quay Street, the fuck does it matter

where I am?”

He wasn’t fazed, he’d heard it too often, asked,

“I’m at the Meyrick, can you come? We need to

talk.”

I said OK and rang off . The Meyrick used to be

the Great Southern Hotel. It was never great but it

was one more fading landmark on the city’s

landscape. I’ve always had a sneaking fondness for

it, mainly as they allow me in. It had moved further

up the ladder in its new incarnation. And me, I just

got older.

I headed up Shop Street, marveling at the new

outlets, a new one every day. The street was

ablaze with buskers, mimes, panhandlers, and the

dying remnants of a drinking school. I stopped

outside the GBC Café. The name had come to me.

Bethany’s brother broke the surface of my

bedraggled mind.

Ronan Wall.

The last time I’d met him, he’d been charm

personified. You’d think he’d have a hard-on for

me. But no, despite his eye loss, his incarceration

in the mental hospital, you’d swear I was his best

friend. Did he, as you’d expect, lacerate me, berate

me for destroying his life?

Nope.

He thanked me!

I shit thee not.

Said, and I quote,

“Thanks to you, Jack Taylor, I’ve turned my life

around. I have great plans for my future.”

My arse.

He was the real McCoy, a full-blown psycho, the

out and full-focused ultimate predator, and he’d

learnt to hide in plain sight. He could mimic human

behavior to a degree of charm that probably fooled

most people. A good-looking kid, blond hair

falling into his remaining eye. The new artificial

one was, no doubt, the best money could buy, but

disconcerting in its stillness.

His good eye couldn’t quite disguise what lay

beneath, and worse, he knew I knew.

But he’d rattled on, flush with affability and

studied warmth. I hadn’t seen him since but I knew,

one day, he’d show, and so here he was again in

my life. Whatever the gig, it wouldn’t be good.

How could it, with a stone killer just biding his

time?

The Meyrick Hotel lies at the bottom of Eyre

Square and the new renovations should have made

it imposing. All that solid granite, the iron railings,

but to me it was still the hotel of my youth. I

pushed through the freshly polished glass door,

saw Stewart in the lounge. A white porcelain

teapot, matching cups before him. Decaffeinated or

herbal tea no doubt. He stood up on seeing me.

Dressed in an Armani suit, one of those suits that

whispered to you,

“You ain’t never going to be able to afford this.”

He was the personification of the new Irish: sleek,

smug, self-contained. I felt like his bedraggled

grandfather. We sat, he offered me some of the

shite stuff he was drinking, and I gave him the look.

Asked,

“What’s up?”

He reached in the pocket of the immaculate suit,

produced a small package, said,

“This came in the post.”

I said,

“A headstone.”

His surprise was evident so I said,

“I got one too.”

He glanced at the package, said,

“It’s unnerving.”

I gave a short laugh, said,

“That’s the point.”

He waited, apparently believing I had an answer.

I didn’t. Finally, he tried,

“Would it be some kind of Halloween prank?”

I said,

“Trick or threat?”

I told him about Ronan Wall’s sister and her

parting shot about Father Malachy. Stewart was

edgy. He liked patterns, things that made sense,

events he could Zen-control. His mobile shrilled

and he checked the screen, said,

“I have to take this Jack.”

Like I gave a fuck?

While he talked, I played with ordering a large

Jay, decided the distaste on Stewart’s face wasn’t

worth the hassle. He finished the call, said,

“Sorry about that, a new venture.”

He’d been a dope dealer, got busted, did a long

jail stretch, and since then I knew he was involved

in all sorts of business gigs. He never shared

details but was always awash in cash. For once,

I asked,

“What is it?”

He grimaced, said,

“You’re going to laugh.”

I said,

“I could do with a decent laugh.”

He flexed his fingers, then,

“Head shops.”

He was right, I laughed. Galway already had two

of them, selling:

herbal joints,

bongs,

high e.s,

flying angels,

rockets,

chill.

And all the assorted paraphernalia of a doper. A

crazy legal loophole allowed all sorts of illegal

highs to be purchased. How fitting that a convicted

ex-dealer would get a slice of the action.

I shook my head and he asked,

“You disapprove?”

I stood up, said,

“No, I think it’s brilliant.”

He came as close to a plea as his nature allowed,

asked,

“What about the headstone?”

I thought,

“………..headstone

……………………………..head shop.”

Said,

“You’ll make a killing.”

Facts

of

………….Light.

Putting headstones out of my mind, I figured I’d

better begin my search for the rogue priest.

Where would a renegade cleric with stolen money

go?

I answered with,

“As far as possible.”

But maybe not.

Back to basics, use my feet. I trudged around the

town, showing his photo. It’s a given. You do this

kind of tedious work, you’re on a hiding to nothing.

People will give you answers. It’s Ireland, no one

is ever . . . ever going to simply say

“No.”

Would that they could but they can’t. Mostly they

asked,

“Why?

What’s he done?

What’s in it for me?”

And of course, lots of misinformation. You had to

follow that shite anyway. Mostly what you got was

tired. My limp ached. I even did a Google search.

Nope. He had really flown under the radar.

Eventually, I had to phone Gabriel, give him my

report. A very short one. I played with the idea of

stringing him along, saying I had a definite lead.

When I called him, his clipped sarcastic tone

changed that idea.

Quick.

I hoped he’d fire me. I never wanted to have to

listen to this sanctimonious gob-shite again.

I’d begun the call with,

“It’s Jack Taylor.”

He snapped,

“I know that.”

Great start but I tried,

“I’ve been tracking down every avenue of

investigation.”

“And?”

Jesus, I disliked this bollix, said,

“And…………..”

let it hang for max impact, then,

“I got nothing.”

Silence and an ominous one.

Then he ordered,

“Stay on it.”

Notice the lack of……..
please
. I fucking did, said,

“What?”

“Are you deaf, Taylor?”

Well actually, yes, in one ear, but didn’t feel this

BOOK: Headstone
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