A rough unedited draft

Tuesday 7th March 3.30pm
Alan Buckley snatched at the phone without looking away from the VDU screen of his PC and cradled the receiver beneath his ear.
‘Yeah, Alan here.’
It was Carol at the front desk. ‘Alan, I’ve got a girl on the line for you. She refuses to give her name and says she has to speak to you urgently. What do you want me to do with her?’
‘Well, it sounds quite intriguing, Carol’, he said, turning away from the screen now and swinging his feet up onto the desk. ‘Put her through.’
Alan Buckley was 28 years old and the rising star of the Dublin press scene. Having joined the Dublin Evening News straight from college four years ago he had spent three of those years writing reports on school sports days and other such luminous events. His spare time however was spent delving into the thriving Dublin drug industry and when he presented his editor, Paul O’Neill, with an in-depth expose on one of the city’s leading crime figures O’Neill was impressed. Impressed enough to put it on the front page, a move, which eventually led to the conviction and imprisonment of several major players in the Dublin, drugs trade. It also led O’Neill to move Alan from the desk he shared with three other nobodies to the position of senior crime reporter.
‘Hello there, Alan Buckley here,’ he said when the call came through. ‘Mr. Buckley, my name is Anna McGahan and I want to talk to you about Michael Parker.’
Immediately she had Alan’s full attention. Swinging his feet down from the desk he flipped the switch on the mini tape recorder he kept constantly attached to his office phone. At his home in Inchicore, in the west of the city, was a similar device on his private line. Alan Buckley always went to great lengths when it came to protecting his sources but he knew that five minutes of tape might one day save him and his newspaper a lot of money if any of his high profile subjects decided to initiate a libel suit.
‘Okay, Miss, eh, McGahan, is it? What has the delightful Mr. Parker done now?’
‘Not on the ‘phone. Meet me this evening at the Gateway Bar. Do you know where that is?’
‘This is not how I normally do business Miss McGahan. I suspect you’ve been reading too many cheap detective novels,’ Alan came back.
‘Look, what I’ve got is really worth your while, but we do it my way or not at all. Now, do you know the bar?’
Alan grunted that he did.
‘7 o’clock tonight then,’ she said, hanging up before he could protest further.
Alan stared at the receiver briefly before replacing it in its cradle.
‘Jesus, who the hell is this crazy bitch?’ he asked himself as he pulled his diary from the top drawer of his desk, not to check if he was free tonight – Alan Buckley was always extremely organised and knew just who and where he was meeting for the next three weeks – but to record the planned meeting. This was his own form of insurance. When you met with the kind of unsavoury people that Alan often did it was wise to have a record of it somewhere. This prodded a thought in his mind. He had been putting a lot of pressure on the head of Dublin’s leading drugs gang lately. Was this a set up? Was he been lured to a trap for a little tête-à-tête with the wrong end of a baseball bat as had happened to a colleague on a rival paper recently? He decided to be careful, but as they were meeting in a public place he figured he should be all right.
‘Just don’t follow her down any dark alleys, Alan.’ He told himself as he turned back to the screen and resumed his typing.
6.45pm
Anna McGahan entered The Gateway bar on Harcourt Street, climbed onto a barstool and ordered a bottle of Budweiser. Waving away the glass offered by the barman she clenched the top of the neck in the joint of thumb and forefinger of her left hand and twisted the bottle in a cursory attempt to remove anything that might be lingering under the rim. Bringing the bottle to her lips she drank deeply before looking around the bar. It was quiet at this time on a Thursday, which was perfect. Not too many people about to observe the meeting but not so quiet that the barman would remember them very easily. Easing back in her stool she surveyed the bar slowly. She recognised nobody. She had chosen to meet here, as she was not a regular and to the best of her knowledge none of her friends were either. She had arrived fifteen minutes early so that she could check the place out thoroughly before the journalist arrived. She also wanted to choose where she would sit. She decided now on a table at the rear of the bar, which offered a clear view of the front door and most of the bar area, but which was a little detached from the tables near to it by the entrance to the toilet area. Taking her bottle she moved to the table and sat facing the front door.
At precisely 7.00pm Alan Buckley entered the bar and scanned the room. He spotted Anna immediately – she was the only lone female in the bar – and walked over to where she was sitting. Casually he slid into a chair opposite.
‘Hi. Anna?’ he enquired, offering his hand across the table.
‘Correct. You’re Alan, Right?’ She had seen his photo beside his by-line in the Evening News often enough to recognise him. Alan reached into the pocket of his jacket and produced a mini tape recorder and placed it on the table between them.
‘Well you can forget that for a start’, she said, pointing at the recorder. ‘Are you crazy, or something?’
‘I like to back up all my sources’, he said defensively.
‘Look, everything that happens between you and me is strictly off the record. OK. As far as I’m concerned we’ve never met and anything that passes between us never happened. If this gets out the best that could happen to me is that I might get away with just losing my job. Anyway I’ve got nothing to tell you. Wait’, she said as Alan began to rise from his chair, ‘I don’t know exactly what he’s up to but I can find out. As I say I’ve nothing for you right now. He’s got some files, I don’t know what’s in them, but he never lets anyone near when he’s working on them and he keeps them well hidden at the apartment.
‘All right,’ he said, resuming his seat and returning the recorder to his pocket, ‘you’ve got my attention. You can get your hands on these files?’
‘Shouldn’t be a problem, but I’d have to get them back pretty sharp. If he finds they’re missing he’ll come straight to me.’
‘OK. So I presume you’re not going to do all this simply out your love of democracy and fair play. What’s in it for you?’ ‘Ten grand – in cash, and that’s not negotiable.’ she said taking another draught of her beer.
‘Hey, slow down. This is not Watergate, you know, and I don’t work for the Washington Post’, he said incredulously. ‘This will be the biggest news story in years if it gets out, and you know it’, she said.
‘I don’t know anything of the sort. All I have so far are vague promises and your word that Parker is up to something big, and let’s face it, the word of someone seeking a bribe for information…’
‘What exactly does that mean?’ Anna said, angrily, bringing her beer down hard on the table, causing people at nearby tables to turn and look at them.
‘It means,’ said Alan, ignoring the glances ‘that I know nothing about you. You arranged this meeting; you asked for the money and so far you’ve shown me fuck all worth getting excited about. For all I know I’m being set up by Parker. He’s already in a tight spot and revealing a media plot against him would really take the heat off for a while, wouldn’t it? At least ‘til after the election anyway. So, Miss McGahan, it’s time to shit or get off the pot. If you’ve got something let’s see it. If not stop wasting my time and yours, OK’
With that Alan stood, nodded goodnight, and strode to the door.
‘Shit’, Anna swore. She hadn’t expected this at all. Now what was she supposed to do. She knew little enough about Alan and now thanks to her, he had the scent of a story on Parker. If he decided to follow it up himself and Parker got wind of it he would eventually come asking questions. Those were questions Anna really didn’t want to have to answer. Jumping from her seat she followed Alan through the door. Looking up and down the street she saw him walking to his car and raced after him.
‘Alan, wait’, she called as he reached the car and began to unlock the driver’s door. ‘Alan’, she called again and he turned as he sat into the seat. A moment later she reached him, breathless, and steadied herself on the door as she tried to catch her breath
‘You look like you could do with a sit down’; he laughed, reaching over to unlock the passenger door. ‘Get in’
Anna walked around the car and collapsed into the seat.
‘Keep up the aerobics. It’s doing you the world of good,’ he joked.
‘Very funny,’ she said. ‘OK. Here’s the deal. You’re not going to put anything up ‘til you see some evidence. I can’t have you running around making enquiries that might jeopardise my position.’
‘So’, he asked.
‘So I’ll get you some goddamn info. Now you listen. I’m taking a considerable risk doing this so I want five grand on delivery, you can view the stuff first, but you don’t copy anything ‘til I see some money.’
‘That’s it?’ he asked.
‘Yeah.’
He pulled a business card from his pocket, scribbled a number down on the back, and placed it on the dashboard. ‘That’s my mobile. When you have something, ring me. I’ll talk to my editor and see can I arrange something about the money.’
‘No way.’ she said, ‘I don’t want anyone else knowing about this’.
‘Jesus Christ. I can’t just walk in, ask him for five grand and tell him nothing’.
‘Nobody knows but you and me’, she insisted. ‘I can’t take the chance of Parker finding out, for God’s sake’.
‘OK, you drive a hard bargain. I’ll give you that much, and I do have to admire your balls in even coming near me with this. I’ll talk to O’Neill and I’ll be extremely vague. If he says no that’s the end of it as far as I’m concerned. That’s the best I can do, OK.
‘I’ll be in touch,’ she said taking the card and climbing out of the car. She began walking towards St. Stephen’s Green and hailed a passing cab. ‘I’ve got to get a real job,’ she told herself as she headed back to Parker’s office to work late for the third time in as many nights
12.00am
Jack Connell was sitting over a gin and tonic when he noticed Gerard looking in his direction and motioning in a ‘come here’ fashion. Gerard was one of those people who never seemed to do very much but somehow managed to finance an extravagant and decadent lifestyle. Living such a life he also always seemed to have something very interesting going on or some fabulous story to tell. When Jack arrived Gerard was deep in conversation with a twenty-something girl. As she was completely engrossed in Gerard’s tale Jack was able to study her without being seen to stare. She was, quite tall with neatly cropped blonde hair, which framed an ordinary if pretty face showing a scattering of freckles about her nose. She was dressed surprisingly casually for the occasion, wearing blue jeans and a plain white blouse tucked at the waist while most of the ladies wore cocktail dresses and the gentlemen, Jack included, wore suits and ties. All this time she stared at Gerard in a hypnotic fashion, hanging on every word of his story, which was most probably being invented as he spoke.
Finally Gerard finished his tale with a loud guffaw and a fit of coughing which seemed to take over his whole body and turned to his friend, seeming to dismiss the girl entirely and said, ‘Ah, Jack, there you are. Now what can I do for you?’
This was quite usual for Gerard. He would often telephone at some ridiculous hour and insist that Jack had to come around ‘immediately’ as he had to speak to him on a matter of the ‘gravest importance.’ Arriving at his south side flat he would be met with the usual greeting of ‘Ah, Jack, there you are. Now what can I do for you?’
And so being quite used to this Jack simply replied, ‘Oh, just prowling the party really. Thought I’d check out who the girl was but you seem to have lost her now.’ Turning to where she had been standing Gerard seemed only now to realise that she had wandered off, most likely sick off looking at his back ‘How odd,’ he said, ‘must have gone to the ladies room or something. A delightful creature, a little intense though. Do you know I think she believed every word I said.’
‘Now that doesn’t happen very often. Fancy a refill,’ Jack asked indicating his empty glass.
‘A grand idea,’ boomed Gerard, guiding Jack towards the bar. ‘I do believe it’s your round too,’ he continued, ‘Mine’s a Jameson, thanks.’ The bartender fetched the drinks and they stood for a moment with their backs against the bar counter surveying the room in silence.
‘So who was the girl, then?’ Jack asked.
‘I don’t actually know for sure,’ Gerard answered, ‘I’ve met her a couple of times, once in London at a dreadful cocktail party and again quite by chance at the Blue Moon last week. She was at a party in the private suite at the back of the restaurant and I bumped into her at the bar. She seems to have come with Parker tonight, though what the connection is I have no idea.’
‘Michael Parker?’ asked Jack, surprised.
‘Yes indeed. Seems he’s been in America since the divorce and only came home last week.’
Michael Parker was a prominent politician and a leading light in the current government. His perfect image had taken a bit of tarnishing recently when he had faced allegations of planning corruption, bribery and backhanders, all of this compounded by a very messy, very public divorce from the daughter of one of Ireland’s leading businessmen. Parker, being the man he was, had put on the most convincing of public displays and had now, it seemed, put all of this behind him. In fact the opposition benches hadn’t called for his resignation for at least two months now, which was quite unusual for someone who seemed to get into as much trouble as he did. Parker was very much the black sheep of the local social scene right now yet here he was appearing amidst the highest movers and shakers in the country, seemingly without a care in the world and with a mystery woman in tow. Jack was intrigued and felt that Gerard somehow knew more about it than he had so far divulged.
‘So,’ he asked, ‘what was so urgent that you had to drag me away from my table? Would it have anything to do with our friend Parker?’
‘It may do but I’m not sure. I need to get some more information first but I shall tell you all about it later.’
‘Could you find out a little more from your friend?’ Jack enquired, taking a small sip from his gin and tonic.
‘Got to find her first,’ he said.
‘Well now’s your chance, ‘cos here she comes’
The girl was arrowing her way through the crowd towards them. As she reached them Gerard straightened himself and turned to greet her.
‘Anna, how lovely to see you again,’ he said taking her hands into his own. ‘Where did you get to?’
‘You never told me you know Parker,’ she said.
‘Well I don’t really know him, not that well anyway. I’ve seen him at a few parties and been introduced but I couldn’t say that I’ve ever really had a conversation with him.’ ‘Well he seems to know you. Perhaps you’re notorious’
‘Perhaps I am,’ he laughed, ‘Anna, let me introduce my old friend Jack Connell, I believe you nearly met earlier.’
‘Less of the old,’ said Jack offering his hand. ‘And if it wasn’t for Gerard’s dreadful manners we would have met earlier. A pleasure to meet you, Anna. May I get you a drink?’
‘Oh, Gerard’s manners are always delightfully absent when it suits him,’ she joked, shaking Jack’s hand warmly and meeting his gaze. ‘It’s lovely meeting you too Jack and yes, I’ll have a bottle of this, thank you,’ she said placing her empty Budweiser bottle on the bar.
As Jack tried to attract the bartender’s attention Anna turned to Gerard as he launched into yet another of his wild tales. Finally, getting no response from the bartender, who was flirting animatedly with a young, giggling waitress, Jack moved around the bar to where they were talking and bought three drinks. As he returned with the round Gerard and Anna were once more convulsed with laughter, Gerard obviously having reached the hilarious conclusion of his tale.
‘Ah, perfect timing, Jack,’ said Gerard swapping his empty tumbler for a fresh one. Jack handed the Budweiser to Anna and asked, ‘So, what brings you here tonight? It doesn’t seem like your type of party,’
‘And what would you say would be my type of party?’ she countered.
‘Oh, I’m not entirely sure, but judging from your outfit and the way you sink a beer I would guess that it was something a little wilder than this.’
‘OK,’ she replied, ‘you got me. I’m really not into this scene but when you work for Michael Parker you can sometimes finish up in some strange places.’
‘And what exactly is it that you do for Mr. Parker?’ Gerard asked.
‘Oh, this and that. I do research mainly but I am as likely to wind up answering the ‘phone or making coffee as anything else. As for tonight, well, we were working late and he invited me to come along when we were leaving the office. I’ll tell you, though, I’m glad I met you two. This has got to be the most boring party ever.’
‘Surely it’s not all that bad,’ said Parker, who had just appeared at her shoulder. Anna jumped and the colour drained from her face as she turned to face him. ‘Honestly, Mr. Parker, I was only joking. I’m actually quite enjoying myself. I was just saying. Wasn’t I Jack?’ she said, now turning towards the bar.
‘Relax, girl, I’m only having fun with you. I wouldn’t expect someone your age to find us old farts of any interest. Isn’t that right Gerard?’ said Parker turning toward the two men at the bar.
‘Sadly, Michael, what pleases a young lady these days is a mystery to this old fart so I will defer to your greater knowledge on the subject,’ replied Gerard cuttingly. With that a tall, muscular man arrived and spoke quietly into Parker’s ear.
‘Gentlemen, I’m afraid I have to leave now. Anna do you want me to drop you home?’ he asked. ‘Come on then,’ he said, turning and walking away. Anna thanked Jack for the drink and kissed Gerard on the cheek. ‘I’ll never get a taxi at this hour,’ she said and hurried quickly after him.
The two men looked at each other quizzically before Jack spoke. ‘Well, quite the little tyrant isn’t he,’ he said. ‘And what was that between you two. Kinda frosty wouldn’t you say?’
‘Our Michael likes to throw his weight about, certainly. Especially where employees are concerned, or more to the point, female employees,’ Gerard answered, ‘Likes them to know who’s boss I believe.’
‘Does that also apply to his domestic affairs perhaps?’ Jack enquired.
‘Well, possibly, but if I had Frank McLoughlin as a father-in-law I’d probably be on my best behaviour, wouldn’t you?’
‘Frank who?’
‘McLoughlin. Come on Jack. Parker’s father-in-law. Surely you’ve heard of him. Big businessman, golden circle and all that. He’s the money behind that huge development on the south quays. The dogs in the street know he’s the mystery name behind Parker’s recent planning scandal.’
‘Ah, now I see. And the reference to young ladies?’
‘Well, rumour has that it was an affair with a young employee that finally put paid to his marriage. Evidently it wasn’t Anna McGahan, she doesn’t appear to even like him very much, but I would bet that the rumours are true.’
‘So, what about Parker and Anna. Did she give you anything?’ ‘Well she says that he’s into something serious and that we should hear all about it very soon. Like I say, there’s certainly no love lost between those two,’ with that he drained his glass. ‘More drinks then? Your round I believe.’
Jack resignedly turned to the bar and ordered two more drinks.
Wednesday 8th March 2000 9.30pm Anna sat nervously in the back of the taxi as it cruised along St Stephen’s Green West and turned into South King Street. The driver had tried to make conversation when he picked her up in Harcourt St, ironically outside Garda headquarters, but she hadn’t seemed the chatty type and he had immediately resigned himself to a silent fare. Minutes later they came to a halt outside an apartment building on the south quays and she paid the driver and climbed out of the taxi. Her heart was pounding as she entered through the large front doors of the lobby. ‘This is silly’, she thought, ‘I’ve been in here dozens of times. Why should tonight be any different’? ‘Good evening, Miss’ She started. It was the night porter, and thankfully not one she had seen before. Had it been John he would have known her and certainly would have remembered her visit if asked later. Anyway, she had come here to collect papers for her boss on dozens of occasions in the past, wasn’t that why she had her own key. Yes, relax, she told herself. This is just a routine visit to your boss’ city apartment and five minutes after you walk back through that front door nobody will even recall you being here. Taking a deep breath she strode confidently, she hoped, towards the lifts.
‘Hello’, she said as she passed the night porter’s desk and disappeared into the open lift. She exited on the third floor and turned left, walking to the last door in the hallway while rummaging in her bag for the key. Finding it beneath various make-ups and perfumes she inserted it in the lock, noticing a slight tremor in her hand as she did so. ‘Jesus, calm down’, she told herself as she entered the apartment. The door opened directly into the large living area off which was the kitchen to her right and two doorways leading to the bedrooms directly opposite. Moving to the large window overlooking the street she opened the blind leaving the room dimly lit by the street light. She turned to the writing desk where she knew she would find a key. Retrieving it from the small drawer in the front of the desk she moved to the larger of the two bedrooms. Entering she made straight for the double wardrobes by the furthest wall and opened the left-hand door. ‘Shit’, she swore as she saw the base of the wardrobe strewn with shoes. She hadn’t wanted to spend any more time than absolutely necessary in the apartment. Quietly she began to move the footwear and place it on the carpet behind her, taking care to keep each pair in the order in which they were removed. She knew she could never hope to put them all back exactly as she had found them but if she was close she should be all right, she thought. Just so long as he didn’t find shoes that hadn’t been worn for six months sitting at the top of the pile! With the shoes cleared she then removed the square of carpet which covered the base of the wardrobe and, using the key taken from the desk, she unlocked the trapdoor this had revealed. Now she reached into her bag and retrieved a small torch, which she switched on and placed between her teeth. Training the beam through the trapdoor she removed a large cardboard box-file and turned to place it on the bed. Fumbling with the ribbon, which secured the file, she once again cursed the trembling in her hands before she eventually managed to undo the simple bow and open the box. Inside were several folders, each of a different colour. She knew it was the red folder that she required and removed it from beneath two others, one blue, and one green. Quickly she closed the file and retied the ribbon, anxious now to leave. She put the box back in place and relocked the trapdoor. Carefully she replaced the carpet and shoes, hoping that they were close to their original position, and left the room. She replaced the key in the desk drawer and after closing the blind once more she quickly moved to the front door and locked it behind her as she left the apartment. As she exited the lift in the lobby she noticed that the night porter was not at his desk. ‘Thank God’, she sighed and hurried to the front door. Once on the street she walked briskly towards the city centre and after walking about 200 yards she hailed a passing taxi to take her back to her rented apartment in Rathfarnham. As the taxi sped her towards home she fished in her bag and retrieved the card Alan had given her the previous evening. Finding her mobile phone she dialled the number on the back of the card.
‘Hi, Alan Buckley.’
‘Alan, it’s me, Anna. I’ve got the stuff.’ ‘Okay. Meet me tomorrow evening. Same time, same place.’
‘Hey, I’ve got plans for…’ The phone was dead.
‘Bastard,’ she said out loud.
‘What’s that, Love?’ the driver asked, over his shoulder.
‘Just drive the goddamn car,’ Anna replied, icily.
Thursday 9th March 7.00pm
Anna returned to The Getaway and ordered her customary bottle of Budweiser. Again she took a seat at the rear of the bar and waited for Alan to arrive. He arrived promptly at 7.15pm and made straight for her table.
‘Drink up,’ he said.
‘Pardon.’
‘Drink up. I’m not going to go flashing this sort of stuff around in a public bar,’ he said, indicating the folder Anna held in her lap. ‘Let’s go somewhere a little more private.’
Anna rose, and leaving the beer, she followed him out of the bar to his car across the street. Alan started the engine as she climbed into the passenger seat and pulled quickly into traffic. He proceeded to drive west at frightening speeds, dodging traffic with one hand on the wheel while the other fiddled with the radio, trying to find a news station.
‘Do you always drive like this,’ she asked as they raced through Kilmainham, ‘or are you just trying to impress me?’
‘Time is money in my business,’ he replied, ‘I’ve got a meeting arranged with Frank McLoughlin for nine o’ clock so we gotta be quick. If you’re nervous put your belt on.’ Anna decided to follow his advice and buckle up, only to find that as soon as she had done this they were pulling up outside a house in Inchicore.
‘Okay, let’s make this quick’, he said, jumping from the car and bounding up the steps to the house. As Anna reached the door he was already entering the hallway and moving to the kitchen to de-activate the alarm system, which was sounding its reminding beep. Anna followed him and seated herself at the long, pine dining table, which occupied the centre of the kitchen.
‘Would you like a drink?’ he asked, turning towards the fridge.
‘Sure, Bud if you have it,’ she answered.
‘Sorry, Coke or 7Up.’
‘Coke’s fine,’ she said.
‘Fat or skinny?’ he asked.
‘Huh, Oh diet please.’
He pulled two cans of Diet Coke from the fridge and sat opposite her.
‘Well let’s have a look then.’ Anna opened the folder and began passing papers across the table to him.
‘Okay,’ she said, ‘I’m not entirely sure what all of this means. It seems to outline some sort of payments to an account in Jersey. McLoughlin, Parker’s father-in-law, is mentioned a few times, and look here,’ she said, pointing out one page, ‘this mentions The Assistant Garda Commissioner, Tom Cullen.’
‘Jesus, this goes further than I thought,’ Alan said, quietly. ‘Listen I’ve got to copy these but I’ve got to be in Howth for nine so let’s get to it.’
‘Well I hate to be impolite, but…’
‘I know, money. It’s all there,’ he said pulling a wad of notes from inside his jacket and tossing it across the table. He then rose from the table and headed upstairs, leaving Anna staring, open mouthed at the pile of notes before her. Quickly she began to count. As he’d said it was all there, five thousand, all in fifties. Anna stuffed the money into her bag and, taking her Coke, followed him upstairs. She found him in a bedroom, which had been converted to an office. It contained a large desk on which stood a phone and computer monitor. The latter was connected to a PC, a printer, and a scanner, which sat on a low table next to the desk. Alan was by the window using a photocopy machine to copy the files she had given him.
‘Are you putting these back tonight?’ he asked.
‘Yeah, he’s at some party fund-raiser or something so he won’t be back ‘til well gone midnight’.
‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Just a few more pages and we’re outa here.’
Once he had copied the final few pages he replaced everything in the folder and handed it back to her.
‘Let’s go he said. I can drop you off in town if you like.’ ‘Leave me on the quays near Parker’s apartment,’ she said and followed him downstairs. She waited while he reset the alarm and climbing into the car she steeled herself for another hair-raising ride back into the city. Changing her mind she asked him to drop her off at Christchurch, outside the cathedral, so that she could walk to Parker’s place by herself. The last thing she wanted was to be seen anywhere near the apartment in the company of a journalist. Reaching the quays she strolled casually along, seemingly enjoying the pleasantly mild March evening. As she approached the apartment building she stopped in her tracks. Parker’s Mercedes was entering the underground parking area.
‘Shit,’ she swore. ‘What the hell do I do now?’ She stood on the street opposite and watched the third floor window she knew was Parker’s. It seemed like an eternity as she waited for some sign of life in the apartment. Finally, deciding that it must not have been Parker’s car after all, she began to cross the street. Just at that moment a light showed in the window and she could see the familiar outline of Michael Parker silhouetted through the net curtain as he drew the blind.
‘Oh, holy shit. This is a disaster,’ she muttered to herself as she paced the footpath. If Parker noticed the missing files she was in serious trouble. As far as she knew she was the only one with a key to the apartment so he would come directly to her.
‘Okay. It’s Thursday night. I could do with a drink to help me think,’ she told herself, and hailed a taxi.
8.45pm
The Horseshoe Bar at the Shelbourne Hotel was packed when Anna forced her way in through the crowd.
‘Bloody rugby fans,’ she cursed as she fought her way to the bar. When she got there she was faced with a wall of green-shirted backs, the owners of which were all trying to attract the same barman’s attention. Just then an elbow heavily dug heavily into the small of her back, causing her to lose her temper immediately. ‘Watch where you’re going, you big fucking oaf!’ she cried, as she turned to see who the culprit was. ‘I’m terribly sorry,’ a voice said, and then, ‘Oh, Anna it’s you. Sorry about that.’ As she turned she found herself confronted by Jack Connell. ‘Oh, it’s you,’ she said, ‘Be a little more careful with the elbows would you. I’m not having a great night.’ ‘Well I was just going to go somewhere a little quieter if you’d care to join me,’ said Jack, ‘That is unless you’re meeting someone here.’ ‘I suppose so. I don’t fancy fighting through that lot just to get a drink,’ she said indicating the scrum at the bar. ‘What did you have in mind?’ ‘Follow me,’ said Jack, forcing his way through the crowd. ‘You hungry?’ he asked once they had reached the street. ‘A little,’ she replied. ‘Pizza?’ he asked. ‘Lead on,’ she said. Twenty minutes later they were seated in a small Italian restaurant in Temple Bar, taking the first mouthfuls from their beers and picking at the basket of bread the waiter had left when he took their order. ‘So. What has you out on your own on a Saturday night, then?’ Jack asked. ‘Who says I was on my own?’ she replied. ‘Well you never went to excuse yourself to anyone before we left the hotel. Anyway, don’t be defensive. It was just a simple question.’ ‘I was in town on a bit of business and I fancied a drink. I forgot all about the rugby game today, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone near the Shelbourne. What about you?’ ‘I was supposed to be meeting Gerard at the hotel – he was at the game – but he seems to have gotten side-tracked somewhere. He rang me on the mobile to say he’d be late so I’m meeting him later. Would you fancy coming along.’ ‘That’d be nice, I like Gerard,’ she said, ‘What exactly does he do anyway?’ ‘Gerard em…well I suppose you could say that he dabbles. He has always had money, family money, you know, and so now he plays the markets. Much like you or I would play the horses I suppose.’ ‘Really? Isn’t it well for some, then? What about you, how do you earn a crust?’ ‘Me? I’m an accountant. Now isn’t that exciting? I spend my days ensconced at my desk in the firm of Bailey, Bailey, & Bailey and three more obnoxious brothers you could not hope to meet. Life, as the man said, is bliss.’ ‘Why do you do it then? she asked. ‘Security, I suppose. I’ve never been very comfortable out there in the big bad world of recruitment. I’ve been offered lots of positions but turned them all down.’ ‘Why? Seems to me you could make a go of it anywhere.’ ‘Bailey pays the mortgage and the bills and if I keep my head down it’s bearable. A nice quiet life is all I want really.’ ‘What about ambition? Don’t you want to work for yourself, have your own practice one day?’ ‘My main ambition is to be able to afford a couple of nights out each week, to be able to enjoy good drink or fine food and pleasant company. Bailey pays quite well, really. I never have to worry where next month’s mortgage is coming from, yet I still clock out at half past five and leave someone else to worry about the business.’ ‘Sounds perfect when you put it like that I suppose,’ Anna said. ‘So what time are you meeting Gerard?’ ‘Oh, I don’t know. He’ll probably call me later, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t. Not the most reliable date is our Gerard.’ The waiter arrived with their pizzas then and Jack and Anna continued their conversation as they devoured them, talking non-stop about anything. Jack told her pretty much of his life so far, everything from childhood through college to his first job to Bailey, Bailey, & Bailey. Anna proved to be an avid listener through all of this, a trick she had learned from her mother many years before. ‘If he wants to talk, let him. He’ll think you’re the best conversationalist in the world,’ she had said. As the desserts arrived Jack asked, ‘So, what about you? What brought you to this point?’ And then Anna proved as good a talker as a listener, talking eagerly about herself and her life so far. Just as she had gotten to her graduation from college Jack’s mobile rang. ‘That’s Gerard,’ he said looking at the name on the display, pressing a button to answer the call. ‘Gerard. Early as ever,’ he said. ‘Damned caller ID,’ Gerard replied. ‘Can’t sneak up on anyone anymore. Where are you? I never made it to the Shelbourne, you haven’t gone home have you ‘cos I’m in the mood for a party.’ ‘We’re at Gino’s. Why don’t you come over and join in a glass of wine or two?’ ‘Okay, on my way. Hey, who’s we.’ ‘Oh Anna’s here, I’ll explain later.’ Jack and Anna were having brandies after their coffees when Gerard arrived with his usual understated entrance. 8.05pm Michael Parker fiddled with the key and cursed as it refused to slide home in the lock. ‘I’ll have this open in a jiffy,’ he said, without turning to the girl. It would have been difficult to turn anyway as she had both her arms around his waist and was using him to support her full weight. The key slotted into the lock and Parker swept into the apartment, stumbling as he did so. ‘Make us some drinks, will you dear. I’ve got to put this stuff away,’ he said, indicating the briefcase hanging from his left hand. Entering the bedroom he made straight for the wardrobe and swung open the double doors, falling backward onto the bed as he did so. He lay there for a few seconds to reorient himself as the alcohol made his head spin. ‘You’re losin’ it Mick,’ he said as he righted himself and looked toward the wardrobe once more. As he raised himself from the bed the girl entered the room carrying a large whiskey in each hand. ‘I brought the drinks, Michael,’ she said from the doorway. Turning quickly Parker moved towards her. ‘I’ll be out in a moment,’ he said, pulling her towards him and patting her butt. ‘I’ve just got to straighten out something here first.’ ‘Okay, but don’t fall asleep on me, now. If you’re not out in five minutes I’m coming in.’ ‘Cheeky,’ he said and slapped her butt again as he pushed her out the door. Returning to the wardrobe he swept the shoes out onto the floor and lifted the carpet from the base. Fumbling in his suit pocket he retrieved a set of keys and opened the locked trapdoor. He drew out the cardboard box-file through the opening and turned to place it on the bed. With difficulty he untied the ribbon and opening the box he lifted out the folders inside. As he spread them on the bed he knew immediately that something was wrong. Scanning through them quickly he noted that the red file wasn’t there. ‘Jesus. Fuck. What….’ he muttered, falling to his knees and searching under the bed. Beside the locker. Casting his eyes around the room frantically. He knew he wouldn’t find it. He had been secreting material in that wardrobe for over five years and had never mislaid a file. There was too much at stake to be getting careless like that. ‘Okay, think,’ he told himself. ‘Who knows about the files?’ That was a short list. Only him. His solicitor had suspicions, he was sure, but was far too professional to ask. ‘Think. Jesus. Who has access? Who can get in here?’ Just then the girl came back in carrying the two drinks, one of which was now only half full. ‘Michael, are you coming out? I’m getting lonely out here by myself,’ she said in the most seductive voice she could muster as she leaned heavily on the doorframe. ‘I told you to wait outside for me!’ he said angrily. ‘Jesus, cheer up ye miserable bastard,’ she came back, laughing. ‘Look, just fuck off home, will ye. Something’s come up. I’ve gotta work. I’ll call ye.’ ‘Yeah right. Like I never heard that one before, Lover Boy,’ she said turning to weave her way to the door. ‘Fuck her,’ said he said as he watched her exit the apartment. Parker sat heavily on the edge of the bed and buried his head in his large hands, his mind a blur. He had to get a grip on things, and quickly. He could feel the first seeds of fear being sown deep inside of him and that, more than the missing files, frightened him, and spurred him into action. Parker had survived the cut-throat of Irish politics for over twenty years and he knew better than most that fear was his biggest enemy now. He knew that fear was fed by panic, which was fed by inaction, and so he forced himself to concentrate only on whatever task he needed to perform at any given moment. Right now that task was to get himself upright and find a stiff drink. Rising from the bed and turning he saw the two drinks the girl had left on the small table by the door and strode across the room towards them. Pouring the smaller into the larger he took a deep draught and headed towards the living room. ‘Okay, who knew about the files?’ he said, talking out loud now to the room. ‘Only me, as far as I know. So, who had access? Maybe someone just got lucky. Maybe they don’t know what they have. Think damn it!’ He drained the drink and walked to the bar to pour another. He poured two fingers of Jameson into a glass – when your fingers were as large as Michael Parker’s this was a large drink – and added ice cubes. He walked to the window and opened the blinds. Standing there he looked out across the river at the city he had adopted, not as a constituency – Parker was a ‘country’ TD, his electoral power base was in his native Offaly – but as a means of achieving power and wealth, and let’s face it, he always said, the former was nothing without the latter. Looking to his right he could see the flood lit magnificence of the Four Courts building, with its rendition of Justice standing proudly at its summit. Lady Justice, blindfolded to all. Just as well he thought, or half the politicians in this town would never survive. ‘Well, Mick,’ he told himself, ‘if you don’t get your arse into gear you’ll be walking in that front door some day, and you’ll be going out the back in a prison van.’ He was starting to think more clearly now. He walked around the apartment and carefully checked every door and window before returning to the bar. He was no crime scene detective, but he could find no evidence of a break-in. That meant that whoever had been here had used a key. ‘Just walked in the front door and fucked me royally. The bitch,’ he spat, slamming his glass down on the bar. ‘Who the fuck does she think she’s playing with here?’ It was clear to him now. There were only three keys to the apartment. He had used one to get in tonight, and his spare was still hanging on the key rack in the kitchen. Anna McGahan had the only other. He needed to get things moving now, and quickly. Reaching for the ‘phone he dialled a number from memory. ‘Hello, Penny Arcade,’ said a heavy Dublin accent. ‘Let me speak to Christy.’ Parker could hear the distinctive, digitised music of the slots and poker machines whirring away in the background as he waited for the girl to fetch Christy Byrne from the cashier’s booth he occupied at the amusement arcade in the city centre. Byrne had been jockeying the same stool in the Penny Arcade since his last release from prison. That was fifteen years before and Parker had been using him as to take care of any ‘little problems’ for the previous twelve. His methods were often unorthodox, to say the least, something which had made Parker nervous at first, but he was very professional and in twelve years the cops had never looked at Christy Byrne even once. The regular cash payments he received from Parker meant that he no longer had to indulge in petty crime, another fact that kept the cops away. Best of all, however, he and Parker had never met. Byrne in fact did not know for whom he was working, and once the money kept coming he didn’t care to know. He was effective and didn’t ask questions, so for Parker he was perfect. A moment later a man’s voice came on the line. ‘Yeah, what’s up?’ ‘Christy,’ Parker said,’ in reply to the greeting. ‘I have a job for you.’ 11.30pm Gerard swept into Gino’s with all the pomp and ceremony of a three ring circus in full swing. To do this on one’s own was no mean feat, but Gerard descended on each table as he passed, slapping various backs, kissing proffered cheeks and tipping knowing winks at some of the ladies. Finally he reached Jack and Anna’s table and collapsed into a chair. Immediately, Gino himself was standing by the table with a bottle of Gerard’s favourite Chianti, already uncorked and began pouring for him. ‘Ah, Gino. You are amazing,’ said an obviously drunk Gerard, before introducing Anna with a sweep of his arm. ‘You know Jack of course,’ he added, almost inconsequentially. ‘Fill them up, Gino, and bring another bottle, please,’ he said slipping a note into Gino’s eager palm. ‘So, Anna,’ he asked, impishly, ‘how did he become a we?’ ‘Behave yourself,’ she said, adopting an admonishing tone. ‘He rescued me from a Welsh tidal wave of rugby fans, and before you ask, he has been the perfect gentleman.’ ‘I never suggested anything of the contrary, my dear. Did I mention how fabulous you look tonight?’ Inevitably Jack became a spectator to Anna and Gerard alternately praising and teasing each other. He was fascinated by Anna’s capacity for alcohol as she matched Gerard drink for drink until he tipped himself backward off his chair and roared for a taxi. Between them Anna and Jack heaved Gerard to his feet and guided him to the door and into the street. Anna hailed a passing taxi and we bundled him into the back, Anna clambering in beside him. ‘We’ll take you home first, Anna,’ Jack said as he climbed into the front seat. ‘Where to?’ ‘Rathfarnham, please,’ she answered. Traffic was light in the city in the early hours and they arrived in Rathfarnham ten minutes later. ‘Take the next right and go straight to the end of the road,’ Anna said from the back. As they pulled up outside the small apartment block Jack got out and opened her door for her. ‘We must do that again sometime,’ he said. ‘Yes, we must. I really enjoyed tonight.’ ‘Here give me a call,’ he said, fishing a business card from his pocket. ‘Maybe next weekend.’ Anna laughed then. ‘Do you give your card to all your girlfriends?’ she asked. ‘Not all of them. I’d better get him home. He’s in a bit of a state. Call me.’ ‘I will,’ she said and kissed him on the cheek before she turned to enter the building. Jack waited until he saw her ascend the stairs and turn out of sight before he got back into the cab. ‘Gonna have to watch you, Connell’ said Gerard’s slurred voice from the back. ‘I thought you were asleep,’ Jack answered as the taxi sped back towards the city. ‘Just resting, boy. Just resting.’ Friday 10th March 1.45am Anna yawned loudly as she came to her door and rooted in her pocket for her keys. Finding them she drew them out and opened the door, kicking it shut behind her as she entered the hallway. She was aware again of the files, which she had in her bag. ‘Gotta get them back tomorrow,’ she told herself. ‘Perhaps he hasn’t missed them yet. I’ll call his place in the morning and if he’s gone to the office I’ll put them back on my way in,’ she thought. She ditched her bag and coat on the couch as she crossed the lounge and made straight for the bedroom. As she entered the room she pulled her shirt over her head, ready to fall into bed. ‘Very nice,’ a voice said behind her. Anna spun around and looked straight at Christy Byrne. ‘Jesus, who the fuck are you. What are you…? Oh God. Please don’t hurt me,’ she said seeing the knife in his gloved right hand. ‘There’s no money here. Take whatever you want, just please, please don’t hurt me.’ ‘You’ve got something belonging to a friend of mine. He wants it back. He also wants me to teach you a lesson,’ he said flashing the knife across his face. ‘There in my bag in the…’ ‘Shut the fuck up, bitch,’ he barked at her. ‘I know what I’m looking for and I’ll find it when I’m finished with you. Okay.’ ‘Jesus, you’re going to kill me,’ she whispered. ‘Maybe. Maybe if you’re really good I won’t have to. Then again, my friend thinks you may already know too much. That’s the thing about information. Once it goes into a pretty little head there’s only one way to erase it for sure.’ Anna was in a panic now. The fact that she was wearing only a bra above her waist made her feel even more vulnerable. She tried to clear her head but this monster that had invaded her bedroom was filling her vision. She hadn’t noticed him move towards her, holding the knife out to one side now. She began to back away and knocked her legs on the nightstand, almost losing her balance. She reached behind her to steady herself and her hand rested on the cast iron lamp standing on the table. The pair Mammy bought me when I moved in here, she thought, the other one standing in the living room because the bedroom wasn’t big enough for two nightstands. The roomed seemed to get ever smaller as he advanced on her, waving the knife slowly across his body. ‘I am not going to die here!’ The thought seemed to explode in her head. Where it came from she never knew, but it spurred her into action. Following the basest human instinct, the will to survive, she leapt at him. ‘NO,’ she screamed. ‘NO NO NO.’ Over and over as she swung the heavy lamp from behind her, catching him a glancing blow across his face, causing him to step back quickly. He hadn’t expected this. Usually the sight of a knife combined with his sheer size was enough to leave victims paralysed with fear. Usually it was easy. He swung the knife in a wide arc as he retreated, catching her across the forearm as she brought the lamp up above her head. Pain screamed in her arm but she refused to give in to it. She knew that to hesitate would be fatal. She brought the lamp down heavily, striking him squarely on the forehead. His legs buckled under the blow and he went to his knees, stunned but still swinging wildly with the knife. Anna took a step back to avoid the blade and swung the lamp once more, bringing it home to the back of his skull. He fell in a crumpled, unmoving heap on the carpet, blood oozing from the wound underneath his thick hair. Anna reeled backward, falling onto the bed and lying there with her hands clasped between her knees. ‘Jesus, Jesus, Oh God,’ she whispered to herself as tears began to course down her face. She realised she was falling apart and forced herself to sit up and look at the man on her floor. He hadn’t moved. Was he dead? Christ I killed him, she thought. Swinging her legs across the bed she went to the wardrobe and pulled a holdall bag from the top shelf. She began throwing clothes into it. She pulled a shirt over her head and the pain seared her arm as she stretched into it. She grabbed the bag and went straight to the bathroom to get a bandage from the cupboard beneath the basin. As she moved into the lounge she hastily wrapped a bandage around her damaged arm, tying it with a crude knot. She was beginning to feel light-headed now and wondered if she had lost much blood. The wound would need stitches but that could wait. Her first priority now was to get out of the apartment. She pulled the files and her mobile phone from her bag and stuffed them into the holdall. Grabbing her car keys from the coffee table she raced to the door and down to the under ground parking area, looking over her shoulder every few steps, waiting to see him following her. She threw the holdall onto the passenger seat and started the engine. She sped to the exit and as she operated the automatic gate she kept her eyes glued to the rear view mirror. ‘Jesus, come on,’ she hissed, as the gates swung laboriously open. ‘OH GOD!’ she screamed as she saw a figure exit the stairwell and stumble towards the car. He was only yards away now and he broke into a shuffling run. She gunned the engine and popped the clutch, not caring that the gates had not fully opened. The car leapt forward through the gates, leaving a long gash on the passenger door. She glanced in the mirror before she swung into the street and saw Byrne standing in the gateway, the knife dangling from the fingers of his right hand.
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One Response to “a hAlf aRsed nOvEL”

  1. Frank Ryan Says:

    That is a long post alright!

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