Authors: Ken Bruen
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Hard-Boiled, #Noir
Once Were Cops by Ken Bruen.
In this stripped-down dark thrill ride from Edgar-
finalist Bruen (The Guards), a psychotic Irish cop,
Matthew Patrick O’Shea (everybody called me
Shea), blackmails his way into a green card and a
police exchange program that takes him from
Galway to New York City for a one-year stint with
the NYPD. Partnered with the brutal Kurt Kebar
Browski (he looked like a pit bull in uniform), the
clever sociopath, who has a hidden predilection
for serial rape and strangulation, brazenly
advances his ambitions despite intense attention
from Internal Affairs and a mobster named
Morronni. An acknowledged master of
contemporary noir, Bruen touches all his usual
themes in his trademark clipped postmodern style,
a deft shorthand that enables him to romp at will
through genre clichés to quickly reach deeper and
more dangerous depths. No one is safe as this
shocker spins wildly toward a violent finish.
Copyright Š Reed Business Information, a division
of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters,
organizations, and events portrayed in this novel
are either products of the author’s imagination or
are used fictitiously.
For Robert Ward, true literary renegade and four
kinds of friend And Brian Lidenmouth … without
whom this book wouldn’t have been written And
Honora Finklstein, Susan Smiley, Gold Hearts
once were cops. Copyright Š 2008 by Ken Bruen.
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of
America. For information, address St. Martin’s
Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication
Once were cops / Ken Bruen. —1st St. Martin’s
Minotaur ed. ISBN-13: 978-0-312-38440-1 ISBN-
10: 0-312-38440-8 First Edition: November 2008
It takes a particular kind of psycho to be a really
-Graffiti on the wall of a restroom in Lower
“WHERE DO I BEGIN?’ Wasn’t that like a song?
And a pretty fucking bad one.
Like my story.
The old chestnut, and how did what started out so
good, go so freaking bad? The Yanks whine …
“Who you gonna call?” God? Do me a favor.
Whatever else is in this narrative, it ain’t Him.
Unless He was seriously fucking with us.
My name is Matthew Patrick O’Shea.
And you’re thinking,
“Does it come any more Mick?”
Not a lot.
Course, everybody called me Shea.
Has a ring to it and the first thing I did in America,
yeah, Shea Stadium.
If only I’d stayed thus.
Right at the end, when the shite was coming from
every direction, I’d have given a lot for a dose of
me own predictability.
I grew up in Galway, the son of a Guard, and it
was never for debate but that I’d follow in me old
man’s heavy shoes.
I HAVE THIS SPLIT PERSONALITY GIG
GOING, TRULY, good cop/bad cop.
You’ll notice the caps there, so you’ll know I told
you from the off.
Part of me has always wanted to be a decent human
being, and being a cop seemed like a way I could
make a difference. People like me, no shit, it’s just
the truth and I’ve always known how to get them to
Nothing wrong with that.
Then there’s the zoning, from the time I was a
child, I’d go someplace in my mind, a cold place
and it’s like seeing the world through a fog or very
heavy glass and what I most want is to do damage,
biblical damage, it’s beyond rage, more like a
controlled fury that oh so careful watches, then
strikes. I saw a cobra once on the TV and that
hooded head, the poise and then the ferocious
I never saw anything more beautiful in my life and
I felt I was inside that hood. My mother used to
say, “Shea lives in another room.” A room covered
in ice and fierceness. My father said, “Ah, he’ll
grow out if it.”
He was so close … what I did was grow into it. I
knew some bad stuff happened when I was zoned
but I’d only barely recall it after. There was a
priest in our parish, named Brennan, he liked me as
I was one hell of a hurler.
Hurling is our national sport, a cross between
hockey and murder.
I’d zone in games and some poor bastard would
end up with forty stitches in his head. Fr. Brennan
liked to win, and our team never lost because he
used to say, “Let Shea loose.” He spoke to me one
time and asked, “How does that change happen, is
it the adrenaline of the game?”
And I told him of the zoning, he looked worried,
“Don’t ever tell another soul about this, they’d
lock you up.”
Then he handed me a green rosary beads, it was a
few weeks before Easter and the days were
offering up rare moments of sunshine, as I took
them. It was a lovely piece, gold cross, emerald
beads and silver threads. The sun came flooding
through the windows, catching the beads in a shaft
of sheer translucence, and I felt a jolt of electricity
that nearly knocked me off my feet.
Fr. Brennan said,
“You grip that beads when the shadows invade
your mind and pray to our Holy Mother and all the
saints to deliver you.”
I did grip the beads like a vise when the shadows
came creeping but didn’t ask for help, I wanted
something entirely different, a release from the
pressure building in my head, and the longing for
this sometimes had the beads cutting into the palms
of my hands.
I felt like I’d been gloriously crucified.
It was such delicious agony.
I began to collect rosary beads but they had to be
green, and I began to watch movies like a person
possessed, cop movies especially.
Thing is, I always loved cop movies. Thing was,
being a Guard didn’t jell with the cop movies I
I mean, do you really think you’re going to see a
movie titled: The Guards} Yeah, like that’s going
to happen. First, the Guards don’t carry guns.
Saturday night, you’re facing off against a drunk
gang, you think a baton is going to disperse them.
Especially as the bastards were carrying. And not
sticks. I did Like fuck. me year.
Pounding the wet miserable streets of Galway,
soaked to the skin, freezing me nuts off and
“Has to be something better than this.”
Then my old man died, he’d been connected, to a
politician. He’d gotten a drunk driving gig quashed
and did some other stuff too.
The guy, Kearns, at the funeral, said to me,
“Anything you need, you call me.” I did. Told him.
“I want a green card.”
He had the eyes of a rat, and the smile of one too,
he stretched back in his oh so expensive leather
“And why would you want to go to Amer-i-kay?”
Leaning on the word, playing with it, playing with
me. The bollix.
But I let him screw around, I wanted this and if it
meant eating shite, give me the shovel.
“The whole world wants to come and live here,
especially the Yanks, and you, you want to go the
Story of my life.
I had me a temper, a bad one, hair trigger me
mother said. Mind you, she said a lot of stuff, most
of it garbage. I said,
“I’m still young, want to travel a bit.”
Biting down on the anger I felt building, trying not
to tell him to go shove it. He said,
“Not as easy as it used to be.”
Here we go, so I said,
“My old man, he kept files, I was thinking I should
burn them, what do you think?”
Got me green card.
And the green rosary beads.
My mother wept… buckets, course, the half bottle
of dry sherry she put away before lunch might have
“And what will you do, amacV Son.
I gave her me best smile, the one in me first
communion photo, said,
“I’ll do the best I can.”
We’d recently had Clinton on a visit and he was
especially impressed with our police force, that
we didn’t carry guns. He helped put in place an
exchange program where twenty Guards would go
to America and twenty of their finest would come
here. The Guards would be sent all over the States,
for that overall view. I knew what I wanted and it
wasn’t some backwater down south, I wanted the
big one, New York. I went to Kearns again and he
sighed, the guy could have sighed for the
Olympics, and he snapped,
“What is it this time?”
I told him of the program and how I wanted New
He tut-tutted, there really is such a sound and it
sounds ridiculous, unless you’re a woman in her
late seventies and even then. He said, “That’s for
the best and the brightest.” I smiled and he said,
“Confident little bollix, aren’t you?”
I gave him my best smile, I’ve practiced it, blends
humility with the right amount of attitude. He said,
“I thought we were done with our little
arrangements, you have, how shall we say, no
further leverage, do you?”
I looked a bit bashful and said,
“I lied.” He debated on the prospect of telling me
to go fuck meself but knew with the election
coming up, this story would finish him. He said,
“It’s going to take some time and I’m not sure I can
“I have every confidence in you.”
He was right about one thing, it did take a while,
and I walked those streets of Galway, the beads in
the top pocket of my tunic. There was a woman,
her car had stalled and she called me for
assistance, I zoned but I do remember her beautiful
neck, the rest is a blur. Those were still early times
in my development of the beads and I took them
with me when I was done.
Only later did it occur to me that to leave them
would be like reverence.
Now he was sitting up and I added,
“An underage girl you put the meat to, I have her
He couldn’t believe it; he’d called in a lot of
favors to get this to go away, but I’d pried a copy
loose from the officer in charge, a guy who hated
Show me an honest cop and I’ll show you that pigs
-Convicted felon to a newspaper reporter
I HAD A GIRLFRIEND, IF YOU DIDN’T, YOU
DIDN’T BLEND, and I knew how to do that. She
didn’t have that snow white long neck I adore and I
think that’s why I chose her, so she’d be in no
danger. Then I got a call from Kearns and he near
shouted, “It’s done, you’re with the NYPD for one
year.” “Thank you so much, Mr. Kearns.” There
was silence and he added, “I hope they burn you
fucking good.” And slammed the phone down. I
took the girl out for dinner and I think she thought I
was going to propose, instead I told her of my year
assignment to New York.
She had a mouth on her, went, “Yah eejit, what do
you want to go there for?” Nearly said, “To get the
hell away from you.” Went with: “For us, build us
a better life.” Did she buy that? Take a wild guess.
Said, “Sure, we’re the prosperous country now.”
We danced around it for a bit but neither of us
really cared, and before I left, she said,
“I’d never have married a Guard anyway.” I could
have said, “And who was asking?”
She gave me a bottle of aftershave as a going-away
present, smelt like piss.
I could say she meant well. She didn’t.
I was listening to her, the green rosary in me
pocket, zoning in and out… my eyes fixed on her
neck, she was so blessed it was a mediocre one.
Few days before I left, I ran into this broken-down
guy, had been on the force with my father. An
alcoholic, he was some kind of half-arsed private
investigator, he’d been dry for a few years then hit