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Authors: Ken Bruen

The Guards (6 page)

BOOK: The Guards
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Outside, I took a deep breath. So, I’d proved a link, but what did that give me? Rang Sutton and told him; he said,

“Well, we’re on our way.”

“But to where?”

“Hell, I’d say.”

“At least it will be familiar.”

Back home that evening, I was slow working through a six pack.
The doorbell went. Answered to Linda, the bank clerk upstairs tenant. She went,

“Good heavens, what happened to you?”

“Just a scratch.”

“Drunk, I suppose.”

“Did you want something?”

“I’m having a party tonight, just a few friends.”

“You’re inviting me?”

“Well yes, but there are some ground rules.”

“I’ll be there.”

And I shut the door. Had just opened a fresh beer when the doorbell went again. Figuring “There goes the party,” I pulled the door open. It was Ann Henderson. I said,

“Oh.”

“You were expecting someone else.”

“No, I mean … come in.”

She had a batch of shopping bags, said,

“I thought you could use a solid meal. No! I knew you could use a solid meal. But first I need a shot of colada.”

“Pina colada?”

She gave me a look of almost contempt, said,

“It’s the highest dose of caffeine and sugar in a shot glass.”

“Wouldn’t a Scotch do the same job?”

Another look.

She found the kitchen. Not a difficult task as there are only two other rooms. I heard her gasp,

“Oh … my … God!”

“Sorry, I haven’t had much time to clean.”

“Come in. I m opening the wine.”

I did.

Already she was unpacking bags, sifting through pots, asked,

“Like spaghetti?”

“Shouldn’t I?”

“It’s dinner.”

“Love it.”

After she poured the wine, she ordered me out. I sat in the living room, finishing the beer. I didn’t really want to put wine down on top but thought, “Fuckit.” Which is the short version of the Serenity Prayer.

Half an hour later, we were seated at the table, mountains of food before us. She asked,

“Want to say grace?”

“Can’t hurt.”

“Thank you, Lord, for this food and drink.” I nodded.

I tried to eat politely. She shook her head, said,

“Jack, there is no way you can look cool and eat spaghetti. Let it dribble, eat like an Italian.”

I hate to admit it but I liked her using my name. Throwing caution to the wind, I ate like a demon. She watched me, said,

“I’d forgotten what a pleasure it is to watch a man eat.”

Even the wine wasn’t half bad. I said,

“Wanna party?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Upstairs … my neighbour … she disapproves of me, but I think she’d be surprised by you.”

“Why?”

“Well, you’re a surprising lady.”

She stood up, asked,

“Dessert?”

“No … I’m as full as a tick.”

I was wearing a grey sweatshirt that read
AYLON.
The w had long since washed away. I had stone-worn black cords and Du Barry moccasins. I looked like an ad. For
GAP
retro.

Ann was wearing a red sweatshirt. No logo. Faded blue jeans and pale Reeboks. We could have done one of those mortgage commercials. I didn’t mention this. She said,

“We’re not really dressed for a party, are we?”

“But we’re comfortable, right? They’ll think we’re an old relaxed couple.”

This made her sad. I did what you do in such cases; I said,

“Another drink?”

“Why do you drink so much, Jack?”

I could feel the evening getting away from me. I moved to my bookcase, took a volume out, flicked through, found the well thumbed passage, handed it over, said,

“Will you read this?”

She did.

It’s always the same. When you come out of it and take a look around, the sight of wounds that you have left on the people who care for you makes you wince more than those you have inflicted on yourself. Though I am devoid of regret or remorse for almost anything I have done, if there is a corner for these feelings then it lies with that awareness. It should be enough to stop you from ever going back down there, but it seldom is.

Anthony Loyd,
My War Gone By, I Miss It So.

I went into the bathroom, examined my No. 3. The gel was congealing. I considered a fast shampoo but thought “Screw it.” When I came back, Ann had left the book aside, said,

“That is so sad.”

“Does it clarify anything?”

“I don’t know.”

I didn’t want to get into this so said,

“Let’s get to that party.”

“Shouldn’t we bring something?”

“Isn’t there a bottle of wine left?”

“Oh, right.”

We went up the stairs in an awkward silence. At Linda’s door, we could hear music. Sounded like James Taylor. Jeez, what a bad omen. Knocked.

Linda answered. She was dressed in a long flowing sheath. I said,

“I brought a friend.”

Linda hesitated for just a second, then,

“Lovely. Do come in.”

We did.

Everyone was dressed to the nines. The women in long dresses, the guys in suits. We looked like the hired help. Ann went,

“Uh-oh.”

I introduced Linda to Ann. They regarded each other with cool assessment. Linda asked,

“What do you do, Ann?”

“I clean offices.”

“I see.”

But she didn’t.

A bar was set up along the wall. Complete with a bartender. He had a waistcoat and bow tie. I took Ann’s hand, said to Linda,

“Later.”

The barman said,

“Good evening, folks. What can I get you?”

Ann had white wine. I acted as if I were undecided, then,

“Gimme a double tequila.”

Ann sighed. I think the barman did too, but it was subdued. He asked,

“Lemon and salt?”

“Naw, skip the crap.”

Heavy chunky glass. I was pleased to see the base had one of those super-glued stickers. It read:

Roches

£4.99

A suit approached Ann, began his social skills. I joined as he was saying,

“On Sky News, before I left, they said a man was found crucified in North-West London.”

“Oh God!”

The guy let his hand rest lightly on Ann’s arm, said,

“Don’t worry, the report said his injuries weren’t life threatening.”

I said, “Hardly life enhancing either.”

Linda approached with a tall guy, said,

“Jack, I’d like you to meet Johann, my fiancée.”

‘Congratulations.”

Johann gave me a close look, asked,

“What is your profession, Jackues?”

“That’s Jack. I’m unemployed.”

Linda gave a tight smile, said,

“Johann is from Rotterdam, he’s a programmer.”

“Great, my telly’s on the blink.”

 

Malice
with a Galway-ed
bite

 

Ann was on her third glass of wine. Oh yeah, I was counting.
Easier then counting my own. I was still on the tequila. John Wayne used to say it hurt his back. Every time he drank it, he fell off his stool.

Linda approached, asked,

“Might I have a word?”

“Fire away.”

“A quiet word.”

The music had grown in volume. Sounded suspiciously like techno Gary Numan. That awful. Linda led me to the bedroom. Closed the door. I said,

“Alas, I’m spoken for.”

She ignored this, sat on the bed. The room was cluttered with furry animals,

Pink bears

Pink frogs

Pink tigers

Leastways, I think that’s the colour. I wasn’t about to verify. Linda said,

“You’ll be aware I’ve been doing very well at the bank.”

“That’s good … isn’t it?”

“Of course. They have generously agreed to help me buy a house.”

“Way to go, Linda.”

“This house.”

“Oh.”

“I’ll be doing major renovations.”

“Ah, don’t worry about that. I’m out all day.”

“Jack … I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave.”

For a bizarre moment, I thought she meant the bedroom. Then I rallied, tried,

“I’m a sitting tenant.”

As opposed to a sitting duck.

Being evicted is no doubt a shock to the system. The mind is liable to turn in any direction. I thought of guns. Well, a gun. I said,

“Did you know Special Garda Units are getting a new pistol. Not just any pistol but the Rolls Royce of handguns.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“Oh yeah. The Sig Sauer P-226 has been issued to members of the Emergency Response Unit.”

“What on earth are you talking about?”

“It’s Swiss. That’s where the precision comes in. See, all that neutrality gave them time to design a serious weapon. Do you think there’s a moral there?”

“Jack … I’m serious, you’ll have to find new accommodation.”

“Course, you being in the bank business, you’re not going to piss on the Swiss.”

She stood up, said,

“I must get back to the party.”

“They’re £700 a pop. I don’t suppose the lottery will spring for them.”

She was at the bedroom door, said,

“Come on, Jack.”

“No, I’m going to sit here and think of weapons.”

She was gone.

I didn’t think I could move into the Skeff with Sutton. Maybe it was time to make that move to London. A knock on the door. I said,

“Yeah.”

Ann came in, asked,

“What are you doing, Jack?”

“Talking to pink teddy bears.”

“A bad sign.”

“Oh yes, but for who … me or the teds?”

“Linda looked very serious when she came back to the party. What happened?”

“We were discussing guns.”

“Guns.”

Back at my flat, Ann said,

“I feel a bit tipsy.”

“Want to prolong it?”

“Good heavens, no.”

There was an awkward silence. I didn’t know what to do. She said,

“Will you kiss me?”

I did, if badly. She said,

“That’s a poor effort, try again.”

I got better.

Then we were in bed and it was wonderful. Slow, strange, exciting. After, she said,

“It’s been so long.”

“Me too.”

“Really?”

“Oh yeah.”

Then her voice wavered, she said,

“I haven’t mentioned Sarah all evening.”

“You don’t have to, she’s there in your eyes all the time.”

She hugged me close, said,

“What a beautiful thing to say”

I felt better than I had in longer than I’d ever admit. Then she asked,

“Did you ever love someone?”

“There was a woman, when I was in the guards. She made me feel more than I was.”

“That’s a good feeling.”

“But I screwed it up.”

“Why?”

“It’s what I do best.”

“That’s no answer.”

“I could say it was the booze, but that’s not true. There’s a self-destruct button in me. I keep returning to it.”

“You can change.”

“I don’t know if I want to.” On that sombre note, we went to sleep.

She was gone when I woke. A note on the pillow,

Dear Jack,
You’re a lovely man. Don’t self-destruct on me.
I couldn’t bear it.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Ann.

I wasn’t sure what I’d let myself in for.

A conscience full
of
others’ dreams

I never meant to kill him.

A current expression,

“It got away from me”, is hackneyed beyond tolerance. Used to excuse everything from

Wife battering

to

Drunk driving

Well, it got away from me. What began as an exercise in
intimidation
ended in murder. Here’s how it went down.

After my sojourn with Ann, I met Sutton the next day. Sojourn is a lovely word, has a resonance of culture and wonder. So I was feeling good, feeling strong and ready I made arrangements for Sutton to pick me up at Seapoint, the huge ballroom that sits sentinel to Salthill.

I’d served my dancing apprenticeship to the late sixties showbands there.

What bands!

Brendan Bowyer

The Indians

The Freshmen

Those guys came on stage at nine, played non-stop for hours. And did they give it large. Flogged their guts out with cover versions of everything from

“Suspicious Minds”

to

“If I didn’t have a dime …”

If not a time of innocence, it was most definitely an era of enthusiasm.

As I sat on the promenade, The Specials’ “Ghost Town” was playing in my head. A No. 1 from 1981, it caught perfectly the civic unrest of London back then.

Sutton pulled up in a Volvo. It looked seriously battered. I got in and asked,

“Where did you find this?”

It was an automatic and he set it on cruise, said,

“Bought it from a Swede in Clifden.”

He glanced at me, asked,

“What’s the difference with you?”

“Me?”

“Yeah, you’ve got a shit-eating grin going there.”

“Do I?”

“Yeah, like the cat got the cream.”

Then he slapped the wheel with his palm, exclaimed,

“I get it … you got laid … you dirty dog, you did, didn’t you?”

“I got lucky.”

“Well I never! Good ol’ Taylor. Who was it, that rock chick, what’s her face, Cathy B.?”

“Nope.”

“Don’t make me do the hundred guesses trip. Or did you get a hooker, eh?”

“Ann Henderson.”

“The dead girl’s mother?”

“Yeah.”

“Jeez, Taylor, how bright was that?”

Cathy B. had found Ford’s address. When I’d told Sutton, he
asked,

“The guy isn’t married?”

“No.”

“Let’s go visit his gaff, see what shakes.”

We parked at the side of Blackrock. The Salthill Towers loomed behind us. Sutton asked,

“Where’s he located?”

“Ground floor.”

Breaking in was a breeze. The lock was one of those Yale jobs. We walked into a spacious living room, expensively furnished. Tidy, too. A long coffee table had a book, open-ended, but nothing else. I checked the title,
Finnegans Wake.
Sutton said,

BOOK: The Guards
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