Read Once Were Cops Online

Authors: Ken Bruen

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Hard-Boiled, #Noir

Once Were Cops

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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

effective cop.

-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.

Somebody was.

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.


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

do so.

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

strike …

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,

then said,

“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.

Fuck that.


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

chair, asked,

“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.

He added,

“The whole world wants to come and live here,

especially the Yanks, and you, you want to go the

other direction?”

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

swing it.”

I said,

“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

sworn statement.”

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

can fly.

-Convicted felon to a newspaper reporter



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

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