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Authors: Ken Bruen

The Guards (9 page)

BOOK: The Guards
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Naturally, but a spit from the hospital was a pub. For one dizzy
moment, I was poised. Oh, never did the siren song cry so awful bright. I couldn’t … I couldn’t. I looked back and felt Dr Lee nodded, as if he could see, and I walked on.

At the train station, I’d only half an hour till the train. Sat in the buffet, ordered nothing. There was a newspaper on the chair. More tribunals. I felt I’d gotten my own brown envelope. Checked the date and my stomach did a flip over. I’d been gone for twelve days. One for each of the apostles. Doing some calculating, I’d been three days missing in action and … earning money.

The train came and I got a window seat. I hadn’t shaved in hospital and a half decent beard was coming in. I looked like Kris Kristofferson’s dad. The mangled nose gave a total “don’t fuck” look. Leaving the hospital, I’d taken a hard stare in the
mirror. Solved what was puzzling me. My eyes. They were clear and nearly alive. Not bright but in the neighbourhood. After years of sickness lodged therein, it was some revelation.

Outside Athenry, the refreshments trolley came. A young lad of eighteen or so asked,

“Tea, coffee, minerals?”

“A tea, please.”

I could feel him inspecting my injuries, I said,

“Came off my bike.”


“Yeah, doing ninety.”

“A Harley?”

“Is there another?”

He loved that, then,

“Do you want a drink?”


“Look, see we’ve all these miniatures, but like, who’s gonna pay these prices?”

“No … thank you.”

“I’ll give you two for one. How would that be?”

“I can’t … I mean … I’m on tablets … for the pain.”

“Ah … tablets.”

He seemed to know all about them, then,

“I gotta go. You take care.”

Alighting from the train, I met a taxi driver I’d known all my life. He said,

“Travelling light!”

“The luggage arrives with the car.”

“Wise move.”

If you can do this sort of stuff with a straight face, you’re elected. Taxi drivers, of course, have to take an exam in it.

I looked out across Eyre Square and pubs beaconed from every corner. Backpackers thronged to and fro in search of Nirvana, a cheap hostel. A drinking school was in full song across from the Great Southern. As there was no one else to say it, I said,

“Welcome home.”


Walking into Grogan’s, I felt a mix of dread and adrenalin. Sean,
behind the counter, didn’t recognise me. I said,


“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, it’s Grizzly Adams.”

He came out from behind the counter, said,

“My God, where have you been? The whole country’s looking for you. Sit down, sit down, I’ll get your usual.”

“Sean, no booze … just coffee.”

“Are you serious?”


“Good man.”

You know you’re bad when a publican’s glad you’re not drinking. I sat down, feeling light-headed. Sean came back with the coffee, saying,

“I’ve given you a Club Milk to take the bare look off it.”

I tasted the coffee, said,

“Jeez, tastes good.”

He clapped his hands like an excited child, said,

“That’s real coffee. Usually I give you any oul dregs, but now …”

“It’s great, terrific bite.”

He laid his hand on my arm, said,

“Tell all.”

Nothing stops talk like this request. The mind instantly downs tools. But he continued,

“Ann, that woman? She’s been in every day, phones all the time … and Sutton, he has me damned. Why didn’t you phone?”

“I couldn’t.”

“Oh, I see.”

But he didn’t. He stood up, said,

“All in good time. I’m delighted you’re all right.”

After a bit, I decided to try and find Sutton. Which wasn’t difficult. He was propping the bar in the Skeff. He didn’t bat an eyelid, asked,

“What kept you?”

“I got sidetracked.”

“I like the beard, makes you look even meaner. A pint or a short?”

“A Coke.”

“A Coke it is. Barman!”

Sutton got a fresh pint and carried it and the Coke to a window table. We sat and he clinked the pint against the Coke, said,



“So, was it Ballinasloe?”


“Dr Lee still there.”

“He sure is.”

“Decent man.”

“I liked him.”

Sutton held his pint up to the light, examining it closely, said,

“Did two field trips myself. First time out, I drank right off.”

“In that first pub?”

He laughed but without humour, said,

“Yeah, the barstaff there have some attitude, I tell you. Veterans of constant incoming. One of the few places I’ve been where the bullshit doesn’t fly. The hospital send out a mop-up squad come closing. You’re there, you’re nabbed.”

He drained half the pint, continued,

“Second time to bat, I got two days. Was leaping outa my skin. Boy, did I hit the bar with thunder.”

“And now?”

“What you see is part of what you got. I drink with the brakes on.”

“Does it work?”

“Fuck, no.”

I went to order him a fresh pint, kept my eyes down. The barman asked,

“Another Coke?”

“I’d rather slash my wrist.”

The barman got a big kick outa this. Back with Sutton, I told him about my loaded wallet. He said,

“You star-trekked about twelve days ago … right? I vaguely remember some dope dealer got taken down.”


“Yeah, some punk kid. At the Salmon Weir Bridge, he got the shite hammered out of him, his earnings lifted. The guards were delighted.”

He glanced at my newly bandaged hand, went,

“Mm … m … hmph.”

Then he looked right at me, said,

“How come you haven’t asked about Mr Ford, the late lamented paedophile?”

“I hoped it was part of the jigs.”

“No worries, pal. Verdict, accidental death. I went to the funeral.”

“You’re kiddin’.”

“Poor attendance. You’d get a bigger crowd for a Hib’s game.”

I didn’t know what to think. Sutton patted my shoulder, said,

“Good fuckin’ riddance.”

I got home near eight. My flat was cold and forlorn. The empty
cognac bottle was by the window. I put the phone back on and rang Ann. She recognised me straightaway, exclaimed,

“Oh, thank God, oh Jack … are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine … I had to get away … I needed some time …”

“But you’re back now.”

“I am.”

“That’s wonderful. I lit candles for you.”

“God knows I needed them.”

She laughed then and the tension was broken. I arranged to meet her for lunch next day. After I put the phone down, I wondered why I hadn’t said I was sober. Not sober but not drinking. The gulf of difference. If sobriety is “of sound
mind” then I had a ways to go. I hadn’t said anything to her ‘cause I didn’t know if I’d be drinking when I met her.

The Coke had given me a splitting headache, but I could hack that. A sense of dis-ease was harder to handle.

I watched some bad television and at eleven turned it off.

In bed, I tossed and turned, but for the life of me, I couldn’t recall the face of the paedophile.


Is there a soundtrack to dreaming? Like, with nightmares, you
get heavy metal or Boyzone. As I slept, it seemed like the mellowest of Southern California were playing. I dreamt of my father. As a very young child, I was holding his hand at Eyre Square. A bus passed and I suddenly realised I could spell … I read aloud the ad. On the side …


He was delighted. Not only because it was the first word I spelt but it was his name. A more cynical view is my first word happened to be
Irish whiskey.

But nothing dims the warmth of that moment. I felt completely joined with him. Years, experience, life dented the union so many times, but only superficially.

The phone dragged me up. I couldn’t see the time, mumbled,


“Jack, it’s Sutton.”

“What time is it?”

“Later than we think.”

“Jeez, Sutton, what is it?”

“I thought you might be suffering, needing a hit.”

“I was sleeping.”

“Yeah, like I believe that. Anyway, while you were away, some kids took to burning winos.”


“Yeah, and winos, they’re our brothers under the skin. They’re walking point. Anyway, I’m here with a few like-minded people, and we’re going to nab the kids’ ringleader.”

“To do what?”

“Burn the fucker.”

“Jeez, Sutton.”

“So, wanna come along, play with fire?”

“Are you nuts, that’s vigilantism.”

“It’s justice, man.”

“Sutton, tell me this. Is this you with or without the brakes on?”

He gave a wild laugh, said,

“Got to go, time to fry.”

No return to sleep after that. I paced the floor for a few hours, thought of chewing the wallpaper. Went to the bookcase, selected John Sanford. He’d written twelve in the
series and I chanced on this.

Coming down hard. He’d been flying on cocaine for three days. Then, last night coming down, he’d stopped at a liquor store for a bottle of Stolichnaya. There was no smooth landing after a three day toot but the vodka turned a wheels-up-belly-landing into a full crash and burn. Now he’d pay Now he was just gonna have to suck it up.


The madness is I then wanted a drink beyond urgency. Not just any drink. Oh no, it would have to be an ice-cold Stoli.

Back to bed. Sleep gave grudgingly and with conditions.

I got the nine o’clock news the next morning. Third item in,

A youth was seriously injured after being set on fire in the early hours of the morning. The incident took place on Eyre Square. Gardaí are anxious to trace four men in connection with the attack. Superintendent Clancy, referring to a suggestion that this was in retaliation for recent fire attacks on homeless men, said:

“Any type of vigilantism or private individuals attempting to enforce the law will be vigorously opposed.”

He then went rambling on in a mini-state-of-the-nation spiel, but I cut him off.

I was in Grogan’s after eleven, and Sean asked anxiously,

“Real coffee or dregs?”

“The best you’ve got.”

It was sad to see how relieved he was to hear that. He returned with a coffee pot and toast, said,

“You’ll need a bit o’ lining.”

I said,

“Sit down, I want to ask you something.”

“Fire away.”

“Bear in mind the person who’s asking you has recently been under … shall we say … restraints.”

He nodded.

“Is it just me or does Sutton seem to have lost it?”

He gave a snort of disgust, said,

“Couldn’t never stand him.”

“Right … but what do you think?”

“I never understood what you saw in him.”

This was like pulling teeth.

“Sean … Sean, OK … I got that, but what do you think?”

“He needs locking up.”

“Thanks, Sean. An unbiased opinion was more than I could have dreamed of.”

Sean was standing now, spluttering,

“I’ll tell you another thing, Jack …” As if I could stop him.

“That fellow’s going straight to hell, and he’ll bring as many as he can with him.”

The said fellow arrived an hour later, said,

“Thought I’d find you here. Sean … a pint before Lent.” He examined me close, said,

“Still sober? I’m impressed. You have … what, a day?”

“Thirteen days.”

“Confinement doesn’t count.”

“Jesus, it does to me.”

Sean brought the drink, plonked it down. Sutton said,

“Cranky oul fucker.”

I said,

“I heard the news.”

“Gave a great bit of heat… for such a small bastard. The best part though, you’ll love this, was his mates crying and shouting, ‘Call the guards.’ Isn’t that priceless?”

“You could have killed him.”

“Well, we gave it our best shot.”

Sutton was beyond wired. As if he’d finally found his calling. He seemed on the verge of giggles. Now he leant close, said,

“It’s all down to you, Jack.”


“You paved the way with that pervert. Not only are they accountable, they’re terminal.”

“Come on, Sutton, can’t you see, it’s madness?”

“Oh, that it is. Glorious lunacy.”


I’d arranged to meet Ann at the Chinese restaurant. I’d left Sutton
mumbling to himself. Sean caught me at the door, said,

“I’m taking down his painting.”

“Ah, don’t do that, Sean.”

“He’s hopeless, people want the hurleys back.”

“Sean, leave it for a little while, he’s a bit fragile at the moment.”

“Fragile! That chancer? He’d build a nest in your ear and charge you rent.”

I went into Madden’s and bought six red roses. I have never, never bought flowers in my life. The assistant said,

“Will I make them into a spray or a bouquet?”

“I dunno.”

She laughed, so I said,

“Is there any way you can wrap so …”

“So people won’t see, is that it?”

“It IS.

“Arrah, go on our that. It takes a real man to carry flowers.”

“I’m going to have to take your word for it.”

No matter how I held them, they were blatant. Of course, that’s the day you meet everyone you’ve ever known. All of them comedians:

“Aw, isn’t that sweet.”

“Say it with flowers.”

“You little flower yerself.”

Like that.

I was at the restaurant early and got them under the table— fast. The manageress said,

“Oh, I’ll put them in water.”

“No need … honest.”

When she asked if I’d like a drink, I said,

“A beer … no … I mean … a Coke.”

Sweat was cascading down my body.

Ann looked … gorgeous. There’s no other word. I felt my mouth go dry, my heart pound. Stood up, said as if inspired,

BOOK: The Guards
7.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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