Authors: Paul Carson
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Crime
Which was how Tommy Malone came to be staring at 'The Taking of Christ' by Michelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio, in Room Nine of the National Art Gallery one Wednesday morning in November 1994. He had come to plot a robbery,
But he couldn't take his eyes off it, it disturbed him so much. There was Christ, all meek and humble like, about to
be dragged away. And there was Judas planting a kiss on his cheek while two heavily armoured soldiers clutched Him, one with dirty hands and nails. The whole painting was dark, gloomy and foreboding. Malone had walked away twice, the second time right down to the front entrance, but each time he had come back to look and wonder. The second time he'd sat down on the bench directly opposite and examined every figure, every facial expression, every detail of clothing. The face of Judas looked repellent, his brow furrowed, eyes open, lips pressed against Christ's cheek. The fucker, Tommy Malone had thought, that Judas was a righ' fucker, righ' enough. Then he noticed another soldier in the background. Three of them! It took fuckin' three of them! And would ye look at yer man! He's not even puttin' up a fight! Malone couldn't take his eyes off the figure of Christ. He kept staring at it, looking at the face, a mixture of betrayal, resignation and sadness. He'd stood up and read the details of the painting: 'The Taking of Christ'. Caravaggio 1573-1610.
So they were takin' him off to be fuckin' crucified and he didn't even put up a fight? He had looked at the hands, clasped together, subdued. Then he'd stared at the eyes. They were closed, not scrunched up or wincing against pain or terror. Just closed. Accepting. Knowing what was coming and accepting it. No resistance.
Is it any wonder I don't believe in God? He had turned for the third time to leave when it suddenly hit him, like a thunderbolt. He suddenly knew why he knew he would never make a move on the painting, why it unsettled him so much.
The scene came back. He was aged about nine years and the family was living in one of the slum flats on the second floor of the Steevens Street complex. He heard again the hammering on the door, watched as his father tried desperately to hide. He remembered so vividly his mother weeping, wiping her eyes repeatedly with a filthy apron tied around her waist. The hammering grew louder and the other children started to cry and scream with fear, with terror.
That was what he remembered most, the sheer sense of terror. Finally the door was broken down and in charged six Gardai, batons drawn. There was a fight in the small kitchen, his father cursing and screaming, the Gardai trying to pin him down, raining blows to his head and arms and shoulders. His father broke free, rushed to the door and out onto the landing, still shouting and screaming. 'Ye won't take me, ye shower of bastards.' He jumped over the small landing wall down the twenty feet to the courtyard below. And to his death. He died from massive brain damage when his skull opened like a coconut as it hit the concrete. And all the time, as the children screamed and roared and the neighbours fought with the Gardai, his mother just sat and wept, wiping her eyes with that filthy apron. Her manner was resigned, as if she had known some day it would all come to this.
Just like Christ.
Tommy Malone had stared at the painting intently. His gaze kept returning to the face of the betrayed Christ, the eyes closed, the brow furrowed, lips slightly open.
'Why didn't ye run?' he'd muttered. 'Just open yer eyes and run. Like me Da.'
He'd looked up at the face of Judas and then at the face of Christ and then at the face of the soldiers.
'We'll I'm fuckin' tellin' ye this,' the words had been whispered. 'They won't crucify me. I'm tellin' ye that. They won't crucify me. There's no way I'm gonna let the rozzers get hold of me again. They won't crucify me.'
He'd suddenly noticed someone standing close to him and looked up. A nice American tourist was admiring the painting as well, an elderly, blue-rinse set woman.
'Isn't it just a magnificent painting?' she'd drawled.
'Would ye ever fuck off?' replied the art critic.
Betty Nolan bustled in, shaking the drips from her umbrella. She was slightly taller than Malone with bleached blonde hair sitting on her head like a beehive. A good looking woman in her day she was slowly going to seed and the
dress she was wearing under her heavy overcoat bulged at the front and sides. She sat down and took a quick sip of Malone's whiskey. 'Jaysus it would freeze ye out there.'
Malone smiled and ordered a whiskey and soda from the young bar hand who had followed her into the snug. As soon as he was satisfied they couldn't be overheard Malone turned to Betty, motioning that the conversation was to be kept low.
'D'ye still do the odd bit of cleanin' down at Harry O'Brien's headquarters?'
Betty's eyes narrowed, full of suspicion. 'Why d'ye wanna know?'
Malone avoided the question. 'Are ye fed up cleanin' and scrapin'?'
The bar hand interrupted with the drink and Malone dropped five pound coins in his outstretched hand, waving away the few pence change offered. As soon as they were alone again, Malone continued.
'How'd ye like to make a million, and I'm not talkin' about winnin' the lotto?'
Betty took a sip of her whiskey and then added a little soda. 'What are ye plannin', Tommy?'
'I'll tell ye in a minute. D'ye still do the odd bit of cleanin' down at Harry O'Brien's place. Would ye answer me?'
'I do. Twice a week, Thursdays and Fridays, before the offices open. Why? Waddye wanna know abou' Harry O'Brien?' She sipped at her drink, never once taking her eyes from Malone.
'Would ye like to make a million and fuck off outa the country to somewhere nice and sunny and live it up for a change?' Malone drained the last of his Guinness, wiping the froth from his moustache. 'No more cleanin' and scrapin'.'
Betty said nothing, her eyes still fixed on Malone. She knocked the whiskey and soda back in one gulp, shuddering slightly as she felt it hit her stomach. 'Waddye plannin', Tommy?'
Malone stood up and opened the snug door to make sure no one was listening outside. He waved away the young bar
hand moving towards him. 'In a minute, I'll call ye in a minute.' Satisfied, he closed the snug door and sat down, reached across and took one of Betty's hands in his own. She looked down and then back at him. 'Waddye plannin', Tommy,' she whispered uncertainly.
Dean Lynch drove from his Ballsbridge flat and parked in the multistorey car park at the Ilac centre, only a five minute walk from the hospital. It was a bitterly cold night with few people on the streets. Those who were out huddled in doorways sheltering against the wind as they waited for buses or taxis to take them home. Dublin's Central Maternity Hospital was located in Whitfield Square, a once grand square situated only five hundred yards from O'Connell Street, the city's main thoroughfare. The square had fallen into disrepair over the years and new office blocks now replaced the old, mainly Georgian buildings. In the centre was a small overgrown garden, railed off from the roads and poorly maintained by Dublin Corporation.
The front of the hospital was an impressive grey stone structure covering three levels. The massive wooden front door was flanked on both sides by granite columns and the upper floors had six large windows on each level. The hospital complex was divided into four wings: North, South, East and West. This had little to do with geography and everything to do with convenience, the wings added over the years and pointing in every direction but that which their names suggested.
The hospital was protected by high walls and there were usually only two entrances open at any one time, the main front door and a small service door at the back. Dean Lynch avoided the main entrance and slipped into the car park
through a side gate, moving quietly along the edge of the building until he found the door that was used by cleaners to dump rubbish. It was open, as usual, and within minutes he was inside the basement. He listened carefully before going any further, but confident of every move. He had been this way many times before. He knew how to slip in and out of the hospital unnoticed and often used this route when he wanted to raid the supply stores for fresh needles and syringes.
Checking carefully, he edged past the pipes and humming turbines of the hospital generator to the stairwell leading to the upper floors. Within minutes he was on the outpatients' level of East Wing and into the corridor alongside his consulting room.
The reception area was in total darkness, the patient chairs scattered aimlessly in every direction. One or two well-worn glossy magazines lay on the floor. Lynch slipped off his shoes and left them inside his room, closing the door quietly. Stealthily he padded along towards the laboratory. There were no lights in any of the examination rooms, the library empty with only a corner light giving a faint glow onto the darkness outside the door. He turned it off, closed the door and moved towards the laboratory. In the gloom the only noise was the soft padding of his feet.
Inside lab assistant Mary Dwyer was finishing off the last blood reports from one of the gynaecology wards. She glanced at her watch for the third time in as many minutes and mentally calculated how long it would take her to get home at this hour. Her parents were very unhappy about the extra duty she had to put in at the hospital. She considered briefly ringing them but dismissed the thought just as quickly. They would have to learn she was a big girl now and able to handle herself. Being an only child sure has its drawbacks she thought as she set up a full blood count screen for Ward Four.
Through the half open door Dean Lynch quickly assessed
the situation. As expected at this time of night there was only one assistant staying late to deal with emergencies. From where he stood he could make out a white coat and a head of reddish-brown hair bent over the desk in front. Lynch squinted closer, double checking no one else was in the lab.
Mary Dwyer stood up briefly to reach for paperwork and Lynch made a note of her frame, slim but not skinny. He checked his watch. It was 9.16 pm. Still in stockinged feet he made his way back to the consulting room, picked up the internal phone and dialled.
'Damn,' fumed Mary Dwyer when she put down the phone. 'Damn, damn. A bloody AIDS test at this hour of the night. It'll take an hour to get a result on that.'
She was still obviously angry when Dean Lynch entered the lab and put the small blood filled bottle down on the counter in front of her.
'Dr Lynch, is this test really necessary tonight? I mean it'll take an hour to get a result. Could it not wait until tomorrow?'
Dean Lynch controlled the urge to smack her across the face.
'I need that result tonight, thank you very much, and no, it will not wait until tomorrow. I need to decide on this woman's management immediately.'
Lynch had taken the sample of blood from himself earlier and labelled it Joan O'Sullivan. He'd completed a standard hospital request form for a HIV test on a Joan O'Sullivan with an address in Crumlin, careful to print the request and not sign the form. He fixed his eyes on the young lab assistant and she averted his gaze.
'Ring me in an hour,' she muttered as she set about processing the test.
'I'll call back.' Lynch closed the lab door behind him.
Mary Dwyer scowled as she heard it shut.
Back in his consulting room, Dean Lynch sat down on the chair in front of his desk and began the long wait. All day long he had gone over in his mind how he could have contracted the AIDS virus. It couldn't have been from injecting himself for he always used fresh needles and syringes for each hit and never shared. It could only have come from one of the many prostitutes he'd hired out over the years.
While he had been overly cautious about safe sex he knew when his mind had been fogged from heroin he wouldn't have known what he was doing. So fogged on occasions he knew he might well have shared a fix with one of the many call girls he had visited in Amsterdam, London and Bangkok.
Half in dread, half in exultant expectancy he stood up, checked his watch and set about preparing.
He had decided already what he would do if the test was positive.
No one must learn he had AIDS.
No matter what had to be done.
The last examination room along the darkened corridor was reserved for minor surgical procedures. It was about six yards from the laboratory. Inside Dean Lynch slipped on a pair of surgical gloves and pulled them tightly across his hands and extended fingers. He clasped both hands together, interlocking the fingers until he felt he had as firm a fit as possible. Then, opening a stainless steel instrument tray, he selected a sterile scalpel handle from inside. On a shelf behind lay boxes of various sized scalpel blades. Lynch peered along each, finally selecting a size twenty-three, the widest blade available.
Opening the foil he snapped the blade onto the scalpel handle and slipped it inside his white coat pocket. The foil was screwed tightly into a ball and pushed inside a trouser pocket. For a moment he leaned against the wall, summoning up all his mental and physical reserves. Sweat formed on his brow and he wiped it away with a sleeve.
Mary Dwyer had her back to the lab door, engrossed in paperwork. With a quick glance along the darkened corridor, Lynch gently opened and closed the door, turning the lock. The click as the bolt engaged alerted Dwyer and she turned sharply.
'Is that test ready yet?' His voice was slightly shaky, his mouth dry. The pounding inside his chest almost rocked his bulky frame.
Mary Dwyer turned back to her paperwork, ignoring the question.
'There's no Joan O'Sullivan at the address you put on this form, Dr Lynch. At least there's no Joan O'Sullivan of that address in the hospital computer records. We have no record of that patient ever having attended here either as an inpatient or outpatient.'
She swivelled her chair round to Lynch.
'I've checked through the past five year records and there's no Joan O'Sullivan of 249 Crumlin Crescent in our system. Do you think she's given you a false name and address?'
Dean Lynch controlled his rage.
The little bitch had actually checked his request form.
She's on to me already.
'It's… it's possible, I suppose… I mean… how can you tell… sometimes it's hard to know if some patients are giving you their right name or not.'
He was stammering, fluffing his lines and he knew it. What's more he knew that she knew it. Mary Dwyer stared straight at him, a half smile on her lips.
'Probably some prostitute or bloody drug addict I'll bet,' she snapped as she flicked a switch on the computer terminal beside her. The machine whirred slightly and half stopped, then the printer beside started to click into action. Dean Lynch watched as the test result was printed.