Sunday, 16 June 2013

Chapter Eight


Chapter Eight

 

 

I should have been happy now that I had a job lined up, but some days I couldn’t seem to get my act together. Memories of Marie didn’t help. Nor did those lingering memories of another civil conflict in another land: memories brought back so vividly by what I had seen in Belfast.

It was a whole lifetime ago, or so it seemed, when I made that last flight into Sarajevo from the American base at Incirlik. I went in under the pretext of delivering a load of food and medical aid. While I was making out the flight plan, they told me that a cease fire was in operation so there’d be no trouble getting into Sarajevo Airport. As it turned out, I was lucky not to get my ass blown right off. When we landed I counted six small bullet holes in the tailplane. A guerrilla unit was hidden in the hills overlooking the airport and they’d been taking pot-shots at us. While we were unloading, they dropped a mortar bomb alongside the runway which was probably meant to frighten us. It did its job.

Of course everyone got a bit annoyed about it all and someone went off to see the UN commander and lodge a complaint, for all the good that would do. The UNPROFOR was there as a peacekeeping force because no one wanted to fight an all-out war just to impose a solution in Bosnia. NATO and the US had ideas about what should happen, but they didn’t want to get bogged down in a bloody ground war in which troops got killed. Bosnian civilians getting killed was another matter, something they all stoically accepted.

I sat it out at the airport for an hour or two and then I decided it was high time I got myself into the city. I fixed up a lift with an aid lorry that was carrying medical supplies into the city from the airport. The driver was a Brit, a young WRAC driver who said she’d been out there all of two weeks and was scared shitless by the indiscriminate shelling. I told her I’d been back there all of two hours and I knew how she felt.

We were about a mile from the city boundary when mortar bombs started to explode nearby. It didn’t look like it was going to stay too healthy round there, so the driver put her foot down with the aim of running the gauntlet, but the lorry in front suddenly slowed down and then came to a juddering halt. The other driver seemed intent on not moving any farther so I climbed out to see what was bugging him. The road ahead was blasted apart with such a huge shell-hole we hadn’t a hope in hell of driving past. The upshot was we just sat there scratching our heads while more and more mortar bombs rained down on us. We had no real shelter so, after a few minutes, me and the girl crawled under the lorry and we just waited for a direct hit to wipe us off the face of the earth. Every thump hit us hard in the chest and threw up a shower of mud and stones which rained down on the vehicle.

“You know,” the girl told me, “Getting shit scared is very easy out here. You just turn up and tell yourself you want to get out alive. The rest is very easy.”

“You scared now?”

“Too right.” I felt her go tense as another shell screamed close overhead and pounded hell out of the ground just yards away. Chaos erupted and my ears felt like they were being forced back into my head. It seemed like we were about to don heavenly wings and get ourselves out of there on a one-way ticket.

“You okay?” I asked the girl when my hearing began to return.

“Hell, no. I’ve just wet my knickers.” She started to sob.

“Tell your boss you fell in a puddle.” I hugged her and then she wrapped her arms around me. I wondered who was comforting who.

Not long after, there was a lull in the shelling and the girl made to get up, but I held her back. “There’s gonna be snipers out there. Wait until it gets dark.”

“I never thought it would be as bad as this,” she sobbed. “I’m going to die here. I just know I am.”

“Think positive,” I told her although my own thoughts were far from positive. “Tell yourself you’ll live through this. Tell yourself you’ll be able to give your grandchildren a graphic account of what it’s like.”

“I won’t have grandchildren. I’ll die here. Right now.”

I figured she might be right about that.

But I was wrong. About an hour later, darkness fell and the shelling stopped again. That big shell hole still made it impossible to drive on so we just walked into the city, leaving the trucks out there on the road. The girl’s uniform had dried out, but she still looked vulnerable as she went off to find her own unit. Something about the way her shoulders were hunched told me she was no happier about the whole damned mission than I was.

I made my way to George Quinlon’s base and told him what had happened. He didn’t come up with much sympathy, told me to get my ass down to where the press corps was being briefed. In the event I missed the briefing at the Residency and I found the press corps in the ruined basement of this big hotel near the city centre.

One man I immediately recognised was that freelance photographer called Joe Bickford. He was a giant of a man with a head for strong drink and a heart for small kids. He was working on the story of how the shelling of Sarajevo was turning the kids into prematurely senile vegetables before they even learned to walk. It took a lot out of him.

Some of the guys there knew that the UN commander was in the city, but no one could pinpoint exactly where, which was probably deliberate on the part of the UN. A simple matter of self-preservation. I went back to Quinlon and he told me to get the hell out of Sarajevo. He’d just been thrown out of the UN forward headquarters after letting fly with the wrong words, something akin to accusing the UN of corruption. Anyhow, he didn’t want me tainted with any backlash, so he told me to clear off for a few days. I figured he was holding me in reserve in case he failed to patch up the division between himself and the western powers.

I went back to the cellar and pitched in with the press corps guys. Eventually we settled down for what sleep we could get in the basement. In the course of the night Joe told about what was happening to the kids in Bosnia and I sensed that it might be important. Not to the military chiefs back home, but to humanity as a whole. One particular story he told me concerned a bunch of kids in Mostar.

Something about Joe’s description of the violation of the kids must have struck home because the next morning I decided the UN commander could take second billing and I went with Joe to this run-down home for orphaned kids.

The destruction of the Muslim area of Mostar was worse than in any other part of Bosnia. Virtually no building of any size was left intact. The ruins were left with no water supply, no electricity and the local people spent their lives hiding out in cellars. Getting aid to those people was difficult to say the least because the warring armies commandeered it once it was on the road. When armoured support was sent in, the Serbs found ways of stopping it.

We approached through the Croatian part of the city which, by contrast, was relatively undamaged. According to Joe, the staff at the children’s home had plans to get the kids out but they couldn’t because the big-hearted guys behind the gun-sights thought it wasn’t a good idea. Joe was real pissed off about that. He wanted them kids out far more than he wanted the dramatic photo opportunities they gave him. As it turned out, he didn’t get any pictures that morning. The orphanage had taken a direct hit during the night. Three of the staff and twenty two of the kids got themselves a one-way ticket out of Mostar and out of this life.

We got to see the mangled bodies, but I still don’t talk much about that. It turns my guts inside out just to remember it.

Joe and I did what we could to help the rescue workers get the survivors out of the wrecked building. Then we went back to Sarajevo and the hotel basement where we pulled out the booze and got stoned out of our minds.

“You ever seen the like before?” I asked him.

He looked at me through glazed eyes. “Yeah. I seen it in ’Nam and I seen it in Cambodia. Wherever toy soldiers get to shoot off their guns. I seen it. There were women and kids just shot to hell in those places. Trouble was, they were American guns and American toy soldiers that did the shooting.”

“Victims of war,” I said callously, and he spat at me. Quite right, it was a dumb thing to say and I hated myself for saying it.

“You know what victims of war are, Henry? They’re people. Human beings with feelings just like you and me. And when it’s kids, they’re people who get hellish scared at what the big guys do to them. You ever thought of that, Henry? It’s soldiers and airmen like you that do it! They go out there and they kill the kids!”

“I ain’t never bombed a kid,” I told him.

“How d’you know who you’ve dropped bombs on, asshole?”

“I never killed a kid knowingly,” I said.

“Knowingly or not, you’ve done it, Henry. Your bombs sure as hell killed innocent kids. Government flyboys did it when Kennedy gave the orders, they did it for Johnson and they did it for Nixon. And when Uncle Sam sent you off to war and told you to drop bombs, you just went off and dropped bombs. And you’ll do it again. And more women and kids will get killed. And there’s always someone like you to callously tell me it’s an unavoidable fact of war.”

“We Americans ain’t too much involved in this war, Joe,” I reminded him.

“Ain’t involved? Henry, I hear stories that Clinton wants to send in the bombers. They tell me he wants to drop more bombs around here, and guess who’s gonna get killed. The kids and the innocent civilians, that’s who! I hope to God he has second thoughts.”

I didn’t listen to him too closely then. In fact it took me some hours to fully accept the truth of what he said. And when I had come to terms with it, I felt like shit because I knew that, sure as hell, one day I would be fighting in a war like this. When the time came, I’d have to do what I was told to do.

Kill people.

I reckoned I couldn’t live with that hanging over me.

Next morning, when Joe went back to the orphanage to see what help he could give, I went with him. Bodies still lay amidst the wreckage of the building, tiny mangled kid’s bodies and it tore the guts out of me to see it. Once incident in particular knocked the shit out of me, a little girl trapped beneath a fallen beam, but I still don’t like to talk about that.

The airport was open again by now, but I didn’t give a damn. I stayed around to help save a few more kids. Later, my co-pilot was ordered to take charge and return the ship to base.

That was when they posted me AWOL.

It was three days later when I made my way back to the airport and hitched a lift back to Incirlik on a US Herky Bird. By then I was officially in the shit good and proper. When I got back to base I told my CO I’d had enough and wanted out of his air force. He told me to shape up, and I told him to go to hell. Then he said he’d see me court-martialed if I didn’t obey orders.

And he meant it.

*

I had a month to kill before I started work with American Interstate so I called Penny and told her I was planning on coming back to Belfast. I’d already had it out with mom and dad. They didn’t like the idea none too well, but they accepted the fact that they were not going to stop me.

I got a kick out of hearing Penny’s voice which I hadn’t fully expected. She wasn’t as classy as Terri McDolan, but she was far better in bed. She sounded surprised at first, then guardedly pleased, and she insisted I stay with her. That offer sealed the whole thing for me.

Two weeks after the funeral I took a red-eye 747 to Heathrow and then caught a British Airways Shuttle to Belfast’s Aldergrove Airport. It was mid-day and raining heavily when the Shuttle touched down, which pretty well set the scene for what lay ahead. I picked up a hire car at the airport and headed towards the city. A thunderstorm hit the area while I was driving down off the mountain, lashing rain obscuring the view ahead and violent lightning flashes backlighting the black clouds. Something started to jar my nerves when I got closer to the city and I was certain it wasn’t the weather. It was the place. Something about it bugged me and I couldn’t shake it off.

I drove straight to Penny’s apartment. It was a bit of a pain, driving on the left with a floor gear change, and the traffic real busy despite the weather. I was tuckered out when I pulled up outside the tenement block so I sat in the car for a few moments, wondering if this was such a good idea. Then I went up to the apartment.

Penny wrapped her arms about my neck just as soon as she got the door open but that was to be expected. She was wearing jeans and a sweater and had her hair tied back in a scarf, like she’d been dusting and polishing up to the last minute. A curious discomfort came over me. For some reason I couldn’t help comparing Penny’s raw sexual appeal with the refined but muted sensuality of Terri McDolan. Penny won hands down, and I quickly wiped the thought of Terri McDolan from my mind before it could do me any harm.

“How did the funeral go?” The words came out while Penny was still hugging and kissing. The warm vibrancy of her body quickly came flooding back, a promise of real turn-ons to come.

“Wet. There was a bad storm.”

“I wanted to send flowers but I didn’t know the address,” she said as I settled my suitcase into her bedroom. She’d cleaned up the place some since I was last there, but maybe that was for my benefit.

“I guess we didn’t think of that sort of thing when we parted.” My mind was working back to the aftermath of the bomb.

“How long will you be staying?”

“As long as it takes to find out what really happened to Marie.” I decided to say nothing about the job, not yet. “I’m in no hurry.”

“Don’t stick your neck in too deep, Henry. For my sake.”

“Your sake?”

“Okay, for your own sake. Just listen to reason, will you. I don’t want anything happening to you. I really don’t.”

I grimaced. Shades of Chief Hanson’s warning. “I don’t aim to end up like my kid sister.”

“You sure of that?”

“Sure, I’m sure.”

After that we kissed and groped on the bed for a while but jet-lag was taking its toll and I needed to get some sleep. Penny was wise enough to see that and after a while she left me to slide between the sheets alone while she went back to the kitchen. I went out like a snuffed candle and woke up around six o’clock that evening.

In the kitchen I found Penny still working, cooking a hot evening meal. She had on a light housecoat and I could see straightaway she was wearing nothing beneath it. No bra, no pantyhose… absolutely nothing. It wasn’t any accident and, despite my fuddled brain, the message didn’t go unnoticed.

“Recovered?” she asked, smiling over her shoulder.

“Enough. You want to come to bed before I get dressed?”

I didn’t need to ask twice. She walked over to me and planted a wet-lipped kiss right on me. So she had none of the finesse that I’d seen in Terri McDolan? It didn’t matter. Penny was for real while Terri was a plastic doll. Besides, I knew it was going to be damn good when we got it together again. Good and right.

*

I don’t know what woke me during the night, but the first thing I was aware of was the scent of Penny beside me. That soft, fresh scent of her body and the fragrance of her hair. She was breathing softly, enclosed in vestiges of sleep.

I shifted closer and put one arm about her, tingling with the soft touch of her skin. I pressed my body against her back and drew my legs up to mould myself against her while she lay with her knees drawn up to her chest. Then I kissed her neck and was rewarded by a slight moan as she stirred. I had woken her.

We lay together for some time, comfortable and content in each other’s closeness, until she rolled over, poking me in the ribs with a loose elbow. Then she kissed me, softly on the lips. No effort to break through into my mouth, just a chaste pressing of lips on lips.

“You feeling randy again?” she asked, switching on a bedside lamp.

“You know me, usually ready for anything.”

“Anything?”

“You.”

“And I want you.”

*

Afterwards, the impish grin on her face told me it had been good for her also. She reached out and held me tight and I laid my head against her neck listening to her heartbeat as it slowly returned to normal. It was so peaceful and comfortable, it felt right, to be with her and I knew that I had not dreamed that moment of union. It had been real.

I must have dozed for ten minutes or so before coming to and realising she was cuddled up close with her head nuzzling my neck. The bedside lamp was still on. I thought she was asleep so I kept still, trying not to disturb her. To occupy my mind, I dropped down to a more mundane level of thought and began to plan what I would do now I was here in Belfast; my line of enquiry.

But Penny wasn’t asleep. “You’re thinking,” she whispered, slowly uncurling from my grasp. “I can tell by the way you’re holding your muscles tight.”

“I thought you were sleeping.”

“Just enjoying you quietly. You were thinking, weren’t you?”

I rolled over on my side to face her. “Sure I was thinking. Thinking about where I’m gonna start asking questions. I was wondering if I’d get any more out of Tessie Gidley. I doubt if I’m flavour of the month with her any longer.”

“She won’t talk to you again. Stay away from her, Henry.” Penny switched off the lamp and then ran a finger up my chest, teasing the hairs in its path.

“What about Billy Gidley? He’s supposed to be the boss of the company, isn’t he?”

Penny didn’t answer. She pulled herself closer and I could feel her warm skin like soft silk against me.

“Where can I get hold of Billy Gidley?” I persisted.

“If you must, you could try him at home.” Her voice couldn’t hide her reluctance to tell me what I wanted to know. “Most days he does his paperwork at home and in the evenings he goes round all the clubs to make sure the girls are not being molested.”

“Keeps a protective eye on them?”

“He’s a big man and most trouble makers don’t dare argue with him.”

“I hope to hell he does better for you than he did for Marie.” I clasped her tightly, her breasts crushed against my chest. “Say, do you know all the other girls on their books?”

“Not all. Most of them.”

“Christine Fisher?”

Penny didn’t answer at first. She just reached out and switched on the bedside light again, without any apparent reason. She blinked and rubbed her eyes when it came on. “Who told you about Christine Fisher?”

“It came up some place. You know her?”

“Of course I know her. It’s the name she uses, but probably not her real name. Stay away from her, Henry. They say she’s big trouble.”

“That’s what I heard. What’s her scene?”

“They say she pushes coke.” Penny sat up and leant over me, eyes sort of enquiring. “What’s it got to do with Marie?”

“She’s American, she’s a stripper and she’s a red-head. Apart from that, the name came up some time. I figure I gotta check on everything that comes my way. Some of it might mean something.”

Penny frowned, turned away and said nothing. After a minute or so she lay back and stared at the ceiling. “You’d be wasting your time. Marie wouldn’t get mixed up with the likes of her, even though Fisher is American.”

Maybe, I thought, then again, maybe not. “What about…” I paused, wondering if I was asking too many questions too soon. Trouble was, I was trying to fill in gaps in a conversation that sounded real but was actually filled with holes you could drive a tank through. “What about the Irish American Woman’s Aid Centre? What do you know about that?”

She sighed like she was getting sore at me. “If you want to know about them, you should read the papers. They’re constantly getting themselves in the news. They pretend they’re trying to help girls in trouble and all the time they’re spreading Republican propaganda.”

“What sort of girls?”

“Eh?”

“You said they help girls in trouble. What sort of girls? What sort of trouble?” I knew the answer, of course, but figured Penny might give me a new angle on the operation.

“Usual sort of thing. Young girls wasting their lives on the street. Unwanted pregnancies. That sort trouble.”

“Unwanted pregnancies. You mean they help girls like Marie?”

She looked at me with an expression that made me shiver. “Keep away from that organisation, Henry. They’re big trouble.”

“Big trouble. That’s what you just said about Christine Fisher.”

“And it’s what I told Marie so I’m telling you the same. Keep away from them.” She pointedly switched of the lamp and turned away from me.

I didn’t reply and shortly after that I guess I must have dropped over to sleep.

Around an hour or so later I was woken by a single gunshot. It happened so near and so sudden it sounded like a bomb exploding. It knocked me out of my mind partly because it was so unexpected and partly because I still had memories of other explosions. Not just the bomb that went off in the city last time I was here, I also had vivid memories of those bombs in Sarajevo, and they were real shit.

I sat upright in the darkness before I was fully awake and reached for a light switch but couldn’t find it.

“Wassamatter?” Penny reached out a warm hand across my crotch.

“Didn’t you hear that? It was a gunshot!” I was getting my brain back into gear.

“So what?”

“For Chrissake, Penny! It was nearby!”

I felt her sitting up in the darkness. “There must be a British patrol in the area. One o’ them Republican bastards will be taunting them. Forget it, will you.”

I slid out of bed, crept slowly to the window and peered round the drape. Drizzly rain was still falling and I could see a soldier crouched in a doorway opposite, lit up by a solitary street lamp. Stupid jerk, I thought, didn’t they teach them how to keep in the shadows? Other vague figures flitted around farther down the street.

“It’ll go quiet now,” Penny mumbled from the bed. “Some bloody sniper will have crawled into the area and let off a round to put the wind up the Brits. The bastard will have run back to his own side of the peace line by now.”

“And these guys outside?”

“Will get cold and wet for the rest of the night and not know why. Come back to bed, will you?”

I shivered but stayed by the window, naked and shivering. “What about the police? What do they do about this sort of thing?”

“You really are green, aren’t you? Straight out of the trees.”

My eyes were getting used to the dark and I could make out Penny sitting in the bed with her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands. “So answer the question,” I said.

“This is West Belfast, Henry. There’s a police station about half a mile away in Tennent Street and they say it’s the busiest in Europe, but one thing they can’t do is actually police West Belfast. They patrol the streets in daylight in armoured cars with army support, but they don’t actually police anything.”

“They say there’s parts of New York like that.”

“I doubt it. I doubt if any of the New York police are constantly protected by army patrols while they’re out in the streets.”

She was right and I backed down. I began to make my way back towards the bed. “How do people round here live like this? I mean, how do they stand it?”

“They overdose on Valium mostly. Then they enjoy a few mental breakdowns and the odd suicide or two. All the things people like you don’t get to hear about in the States when your fine Republican friends spout off in Congress about British oppression. When was the last time one of them actually saw a bomb explode in the streets of his home town? When was the last time one of them saw a relative with his kneecaps drilled way by a Black and Decker?”

I slid into the warmth beside her. “That’s politics for you.”

“Politics be damned. And you can tell your friends I said so when you get home.”

I lay down in the warmth of the bed and felt Penny cuddle up beside me. Within minutes her regular breathing told me she was asleep again. I lay awake for another hour waiting for a second gunshot. All I heard was the occasional noise of the Brits moving about in that dismal Belfast street.

They were welcome to it.

The sound of running water woke me up next morning. I lay there in the bed for some minutes, getting used to the strange darkness. Instinctively I reached out once again for a bedside lamp which wasn’t there. Wrong side of the bed, wrong bedroom. It wasn’t until that moment I fully recalled exactly where I was.

I leaned over and switched on Penny’s bedside lamp. Then I rolled back to my side, slowly sat up and fumbled around for my watch. It was gone nine o’clock. I staggered to the window and stared out at the grim scene outside. No soldiers, just dull buildings and the odd dull figure hurrying along a dull street.

The bedroom door opened and Penny came in, straight from her bath. She stood there for a moment looking at me, framed by the light from the hallway. She had a towel wrapped round her head, but she wore nothing else.

“Feeling better?” she asked.

“Better?”

“You were pretty good during the night,” she said, letting the towel drop to the floor. “I figured if you were on good form, we might…”

I grinned in anticipation. “Uh-huh. Guess I’m ready for it.”

*

Later I turned on the small television Penny had in her kitchen and watched a magazine programme with some guy talking to a local politician about the chances of peace in Ireland that year. It was all hogwash, of course. Even here in Belfast they hadn’t clued up to the idea that they were hoping for a cease fire, not peace. They didn’t even seem to be too sure about the difference. And it didn’t take much imagination to see that real peace wouldn’t settle over Ireland until at least another generation or two had grown up, physically and mentally. Still, talk of a cease fire was a step in the right direction.

Soon after breakfast I drove into the city and went to see Chief Inspector Rourke. I was still feeling pretty up-tight because of the way the guy had been holding back on me and I wanted a few honest answers from him before I tackled anyone else. I was shown into his office by the same smart little doll who had met me at the airport the first time I arrived. The Gidleys didn’t have a complete monopoly on attractive women in Belfast.

Rourke looked dead-pan at first, not sure why I was calling on him. I suppose he had a right to be puzzled.

“I thought you’d gone back to the United States, Major Bodine.”

“I did. And it’s Mr Bodine. Remember?

“Yes, of course. What can I do for you, Mr Bodine?”

I sat down, looked him in the face and opened up. Didn’t see the point in beating about the bush. “You can start by coming clean with me, Chief Inspector. Tell me everything you know about my sister’s murder.”

That seemed to catch him on the hop. “Come clean with you?” He frowned, buying some thinking time. “I can assure you that we’re not holding anything back from you, Mr Bodine. What exactly do you want to know?”

Not holding back? He was shifting more lies, but what the hell. I sighed and tried again. “Let’s start with that cab driver. What was his name? Sammy Wilde? What can you tell me about him?”

“Sammy Wilde?” Rourke put his finger tips together and looked up at the ceiling. He looked like he was busy mentally balancing discretion against truth. A small slice of truth won the day. “I assume the Gidleys told you about him. He wasn’t a very nice character; you might as well know that. They say you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but the fact is Sammy Wilde had a finger in just about every dirty game going.”

“Like what?”

“He was a pimp, he collected extortion money on behalf of the UVF, he was a petty thief and we were about to jump on him for drug peddling.”

“You were about to jump on him? You mean someone conveniently beat you to it?”

Rourke ignored that comment. “I’ve told you the truth about Sammy Wilde. Was it an honest enough answer, Mr Bodine?”

“It fits with what I already know. Has he… what’s the term you British use… done some porridge?”

Rourke laughed at my awkward attempt at their version of English. “Yes. Sammy Wilde has done time. I don’t have the facts in front of me, but I believe he’s done at least two spells inside Crumlin Road jail. What else do you want to know?”

“Why was my sister in the cab?”

He coughed, just enough of a cough to tell me he was about to clam up on the truth. “We understand she was being driven to her work. I told you that.”

“Tessie Gidley told me Marie wasn’t supposed to be dancing at the Blue Taboo Club that night. But you say that she was going to the Blue Taboo to work. It doesn’t add up. So I figure that someone’s lying to me.”

Rourke leaned back in his seat and his face went all grim. “We were under the impression that your sister was being driven to her dancing job. If Mrs Gidley has said different to you, we’ll talk to her again.”

“You’ll tell me the outcome?”

“Of course.”

“Okay. So, who planted the bomb?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “We don’t know. Possibly the Provisional IRA. Maybe another Republican group. There’s more than one.”

“But Anfo isn’t their normal trademark these days, is it? Don’t they prefer Semtex or Co-op?”

“They use whatever they can get hold of.” Rourke’s brow furrowed deeply and I figured I had wrong-footed him. He began to talk quickly. “It’s become increasingly difficult for the Provisional IRA to get hold of Semtex. Anfo is easily made up using the sort of materials you find on a farm: fertiliser and fuel oil. Ireland is just one big farming country, you know.”

“Sure.” I could see I wasn’t going to get any more useful material out of him and I rose to leave. “Just one more thing. What do you have on Christine Fisher?”

“Who?” His brow creased even deeper and he turned suddenly menacing.

“Christine Fisher. You’ve heard of her?”

“Should I have?”

“She was a stripper, Chief Inspector. I was told she was into narcotics.”

“Who told you that?”

“Heard it in passing. Heard also that the Brits have been trying to trace her.”

His expression turned suddenly black, like I’d stepped on a raw Irish nerve with a heavy American boot. “Drug enforcement is the responsibility of the drug squad, Mr Bodine. I’ll make some enquiries.”

“Sounds like you’ve quite a bit to ask about. You’ll tell me if you get any good information on what really happened to Marie?”

His lips barely parted. “Of course we will.”

Somehow, I just didn’t believe him.

As I was leaving, I could hear some raised voices behind me. Someone was getting the sharp edge of Rourke’s tongue.

It was still wet outside and felt like it was going to rain for ever, but I left the car in a city parking lot and walked about a bit, just trying to get my mind in tune with the feel of the place. It wasn’t easy, not with so much evidence of violence and intolerance scattered about on every street. I passed an army patrol in one street and wondered idly if they were connected with the poor wet guys I’d seen during the night. They sure looked pissed off and that told me what they thought of Ireland.

Eventually I found my way back to the Billy Gidley office and went upstairs. The same stupid blonde tart stared at me as I went in, still chewing her gum.

“You again? What do you want?”

“Mrs Gidley. Is she in?”

“No, and you’d better not be bothering her, so you hadn’t. She’s none to please with you.” The blonde turned her attention back to her typewriter.

“What about Mr Gidley?”

“He’s not here.”

“Where will I find him?”

“At home.”

“What’s his address?”

“None o’ your business.”

That was it. I’d had enough of this little bitch. I leaned across the desk and grabbed at the neck of her sweater, pulling her face close to mine. Her jaw dropped open and I could smell cheap perfume mixed with the smell of bad breath.

“Listen, sister, it seems like there’s no one else here to see what’s gonna happen in the next few minutes. Now, are you gonna tell me how to find Billy Gidley or am I gonna beat it outa you?”

She told me.

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