Friday, 14 June 2013

Chapter Seven


Chapter Seven

 

 

It was late, far too late, and I was in a dead end bar in one of LA’s less presentable areas.

And I needed to be left alone.

And I was fast losing my marbles.

LA had a damn sight more to offer than this, but right then I didn’t give a damn for anything but drowning my frustration in neat rye. I’d had three good chances thrown my way, and in one evening I had blown them all. I had screwed up the chance of finding out more about the background to Marie’s murder. I had messed up whatever small chance I’d had to land a decent job flying 747s. And I had really fouled up on making a friend of Terri McDolan. Once the alcohol started to numb my brain I wasn’t too sure which loss I regretted most.

Lightning flashed outside; a sudden thunderstorm. Or, maybe, it wasn’t so sudden. Maybe I’d been too tied up with myself to notice it. Inside, the bar turned dark.

A jangle of Country and Western music was playing in the background, and a couple of resident whores were propped up against the far end of the bar, much the way their sort prop up bars all over the world. You only have to look at them to see they’re whores by the way they slouch over their drinks, the way they eye the customers and the appalling way they dress.

One of the pair was a Native American, but she’d sunk all the natural charm of the purebred native into a filthy cesspit of white European sluttishness. A flash of lightning at a nearby window showed up her pale, dull face in sharp electric blue highlights. She wore a short skirt that barely concealed a well-rounded ass. And she had a small, tight blouse that might have looked better on a kid. Both the whores looked my way a couple of times, giving me their coy tart’s smiles, and I snarled back at them.

It didn’t seem to put them off any.

Thunder rolled in the distance and the music droned on in my head. Sorrowful, like grief rattling round in my guts.

Eventually a couple of brawny seaman took the girls’ attention away from me and I was glad of that. I ordered another drink. It was getting near midnight and I had already loaded my gut with enough drink to sink a small battleship, so another wasn’t going to make much difference. The tantalising image of Penny Hamilton crept back into my mind and I figured the only way I could kill the memory was to kill my mind stone dead. I was pretty damn close to doing that, but Penny just refused to go away completely. Stripper though she was, she had gotten herself into my soul and it looked like nothing was going to get her back out again.

More lightning flashed and more thunder rumbled, closer this time.

An argument broke out at the other end of the bar, but I did my best to ignore it. One of the seamen shouted out something about fifty dollars being too much to pay for a pox-ridden slut. Real trouble was brewing, but if the whores wanted to charge too much for their dubious pleasures that was their look out. Their problem, not mine. Besides, arguments with whores were as commonplace in this sort of bar as Budweiser and rye whiskey. While the row built up, I continued to punish my guts and my head.

The barman was getting agitated, laying it on thick that he was worried about his decor, if you could believe that. He started shouting at the whores and then at the seamen. I didn’t bother to look at what it was all about because I didn’t give a damn for any of them. Instead I downed the last drop from my glass and tried to push myself into an upright position. It was time to go. I had enough wit left to understand that I would never make it home, but I was fully ready to crash out in some cheap, dingy hotel and think of an excuse next day.

Suddenly, the native girl screamed. The piercing noise was followed by the sound of a bottle smashing. I turned round and tried to focus hard on what was happening. The bigger of the two seamen had lost his temper and was threatening the girl. He was waving a broken bottle at her. Hardly a good way to entice her to drop her pantyhose, I thought, always assuming she wore any. She had her back to the wall, hands close up against her face to protect herself. The other girl was now screaming blue murder, but she didn’t get too close to the action. Probably a wise decision. This was a matter for the police. I decided to get the hell out of there fast as I could.

Another lightning flash filled the windows, and the music still moaned in my head.

I was half way to the door when the seaman jabbed the bottle into the whore’s face and she screamed so loud and piercing you could have heard it in New York. Blood from her lacerated face spurted down her filthy white blouse, but the seaman continued to jab away at her, bellowing out obscenities like he was going mad. The next swipe of the bottle ripped open the pathetically tight blouse, drawing blood from her breasts. The whore screamed even louder.

That seaman had to be even worse for drink than I was and he kept on shouting, alternately slashing at her with the bottle and then punching with his opposite fist. I got a bit rattled at that point. So she was a whore? So she was the dregs of society? She sure didn’t deserve what she was getting and no one else seemed to be doing anything about it. I staggered across the bar-room and, without a single coherent thought in my mind, I landed the seaman a heavy blow across his ear. He fell sideways and sprawled himself across the bar. Then he slid down to the floor.

That, as far as I was concerned, was that. While the mutilated whore dragged herself away amidst a long trail of blood and her friend went to her aid, I turned to leave. But I hadn’t reckoned without the other seaman. He must have been sore at me for what I did to his mate because he came at me like a charging bull. That’s when the whole thing turned into a brawl and I pretty damn soon lost the battle.

I don’t know exactly what happened next.

*

Some time back I was in this hotel cellar in Sarajevo. I was holed up with a bunch of press corps guys and a whole load of explosive shit was raining down in the streets outside. I was with a guy called Joe Bickford. We had just come from an orphanage where we had seen such cruel and merciless carnage as would turn the stomach of the most hardened of war-weary press men. Tiny mutilated bodies lying amidst the rubble of a building that had taken a direct hit from a Serb mortar shell. It left me with such a hatred for the bastards who were firing those guns that I could never again look upon civil war with any feeling of dispassion. It left me physically sickened. Serb violence or IRA violence; it was all the same to me. Senseless bloody slaughter and then some.

We’d been there for hours and we had no food but, somehow, somebody had managed to get hold of a crate of vodka. It had been left lying about in the hotel wine cellar. Anyhow, it was all we had so we set-to and drank it.

After a while the bombs outside ceased to matter. We didn’t even hear them. We got as drunk as it was possible to get without actually killing ourselves and then we just lay down amongst the dirt and rubble and we slept it off. That drink sure killed everything: the fear, the horror and the sheer shit-awful stench of death that hung around the place. I suppose it killed the part of my brain that reacts to suffering. No, not killed, just numbed. It numbed my brain just enough so that the reactions came back later. Reactions to the reality of the killing.

Later, when the guns had stopped and the drink began to wear off, I sat there with those press guys and we talked about what we had seen. That was when I allowed my feelings to get the better of me. I’d been under orders to report back to the airport as soon as possible, but I didn’t. I went back to the orphanage with the other guys.

*

It was the next morning in LA when I awoke with a hammer drill digging its way out from deep inside my head. A couple of my teeth felt loose and my jaw ached. A snub-nosed cop was shaking me by the shoulder. I blinked and slowly digested the smell of a dingy police cell.

“Wake up there, buddy. You can’t stay here all day.” The cop half lifted me to my feet. “Come on, you. This ain’t no Holiday Inn.”

I tried to stand but my feet refused to accept the challenge. A hefty push from the cop sent me staggering towards the cell door. I grabbed the door post and tried to stay upright. With the echoes of that hammer still ringing inside my skull, I tried to think, tried to remember what had happened to land me up in this place.

One eye refused to open properly. I knew straight away I’d see one hell of a shiner if I got near a mirror. But I couldn’t remember how I got it.

The cop pushed me again. “Get a move on! Your lady friend don’t want to be kept waiting any.”

Lady friend? What lady friend? Vague, diffused memories began to slowly, painfully refill my brain, but I had no memory of any lady friend who would want to bail me out of this. The cop grabbed my arm and propelled me out of the cell and along a corridor to a big, untidy office. He stopped at the door and pushed me inside to where Terri McDolan was seated with one slender leg demurely crossed over the other. She was calmly talking to a police lieutenant.

For a minute I went fully brain dead. When I came to again I staggered into the office and slumped down onto a hard seat, conscious that she was eyeing me like I was some sort of leper caked in shit. My jacket was ripped, my shirt was torn and my trousers were crumpled and dirty. I felt like something that had just crept up out of the sewer while she looked like one million dollar bills neatly tied up in a pink ribbon. Life kicks you in the guts like that some times.

I fingered a sore jaw bone and tried to focus on her face. None too successfully. But, deep inside, the memory of it was still intact.

“You sure this is the guy?” the police lieutenant asked. He was a tall, thin-lipped cop with a sour expression plastered right across his ugly face.

Terri nodded. “This is Mr Bodine.”

The cop turned to me and snapped. “You want to tell me what happened?”

“When?”

“You were picked up in a drunken brawl. So what happened?”

“Haven’t a clue.” I suddenly caught a brief memory pattern of the whore. “Did anyone get hurt?”

“There’s a couple of guys in another cell. They look as bad as you. The barman told us there was no one else. You want to say anything different?”

“No.” Somewhere, deep inside my swirling brain patterns, was a vague memory of the whore screaming and blood being spilled. But, what the hell? If the cop said no one else was involved, I was prepared to let him believe it.

He shook his head. I realised then that he wasn’t deceived one little bit, but he had more important work to do. “Okay, you stupid creep. You’re free to go.”

“Free?”

“Sure. You’ve Chief Hanson and Miss McDolan to thank for that.” He pushed a sheet of paper towards me. “Sign here. And don’t let me find you in my precinct again, you hear me?”

Terri’s lip curled somewhat distastefully as she stood up, her slender body neatly packed inside a simple black dress.

“You heard the man,” she said. Then she thanked the cop in somewhat more friendly terms than I would have used and headed towards the door. Clearly I was expected to follow. Right then, it suited me to fall in line.

When I finally made it outside into the cool morning air, she was standing at the sidewalk beside her Merc, calmly and thoughtfully gazing into the sky.

My jaw ached when I spoke. “Thanks for the help, but… how and why?”

“Save it.” She slipped lithely in behind the Merc’s wheel and gestured me into the passenger seat. Events were happening just a shade too fast for my fuddled brain and I needed time to work out what the hell this was all about. I got into the car and, before the door was fully shut, we had taken off in a cloud of early morning dust.

“Where we going?” I asked.

“I’m driving you home.”

“What’s this all about?”

“Shut up.”

I shut up for a while.

“Any answers coming out yet?” I asked when we were some minutes farther down the street. My jaw still ached like hell.

“I followed you,” she said after a moment’s hesitation. “After you left last night I found out where the taxi took you and I came after you.”

“Why?”

“A sense of responsibility, I suppose. I invited you to the Irish ceilidh so I figured I was responsible for you. Even if you were bloody rude to my friends.”

“You call that big guy a friend?”

She pointedly ignored that question. “You got into a fight over a prostitute.”

“I did?” Memory rushed back. “Yeah, so I did. Careless thing to do.”

“Why were you drunk?”

“Some broad turned against me. Took me to a party and then threw me over.”

“Liar. You brought it all upon yourself.”

“Maybe. But it gets you like that when a real nice woman turns against you.”

“I was a damn fool to help you in the first place.”

“We all make mistakes.”

We drove in silence for some minutes. When Terri spoke again it was with a calmer, more dignified voice. “Chief Hanson was responsible for getting you out of that police cell, not me.”

“How did he find out?”

“I told him.” She grimaced and, before I could question her again, she rattled on, “I also found out something that might be of use to you.”

“What sort of thing?”

“I was talking to Father O’Hagan and it came out that he knew something about the bomb that killed your sister. He remembered it because he was over there at the time and there were two bombs went off the same night. Your sister was identified as a Catholic and Father O’Hagan was staying with the priest who was called out to administer the last rites. He told me to say nothing to you, but

“He knows what happened!” A mad rush of hope surged up into my head. The fog began to clear. “What else did he tell you?”

“Nothing that he’s willing to tell you!” She bit her lip. “The thing is, I think he might know something he’s not willing to tell even me.”

“Go on.”

“I overheard him mention something about a red-head who got killed. He seemed to know a lot about it. He said it was a damned foul-up.”

“A damned foul-up? You asked him about it?”

“Yes. But he wouldn’t talk.”

“Nothing at all?”

“Nothing at all.” She shook her head. “I don’t know any more than that, Bodine. Look, maybe it was something to do with the Irish American Woman’s Aid Centre. Father O’Hagan has a lot to do with it. Or maybe… I don’t know.”

“Hell! I’ve got to talk to that priest!”

“No!” The force of heavy braking drove me hard back into the seat and suddenly my whole body ached. The Merc slammed to a complete stop and Terri rounded on me. “You’ll talk to no friends of mine! Not again. I’ve helped you more than I should and that’s an end to it. God, if it ever comes out at American Interstate that I took you to that ceilidh…!”

“But

A slim finger stabbed the air in front of my eyes. “But nothing, Bodine! You’ve caused me enough trouble as it is. Let this be an end to it.”

“So why did you raise the subject?”

She breathed heavily. “I wanted you to know that a priest was called out and your sister had the proper prayers said for her when she died. I thought it might be some comfort.”

It wasn’t.

“And?” I said, chewing at my lip.

“And I want you to know that the whole damn business over there in Belfast is too deep for a jerk like you to get involved in it. And probably too dangerous. Keep out of it.”

“I’ve seen worse danger.” I allowed my head to sink down to my chest. Somehow I had to get to that Woman’s Aid Centre and find out what the people there knew about Marie. I was also curious about a girl who had enough gumption to get me out of jail when most others would have cursed me to hell.

“Terri’s an unusual name,” I said, looking up and thinking I could calm her down by changing the subject. “And you’ve just past the turn-off to my mom and dad’s place.”

“It’s an abbreviation of Theresa.”

“Tessie,” I said. “Most common way of abbreviating Theresa is Tessie.” And that triggered off a niggling idea in the back of my mind. I let it pass.

“So what?” Terri said.

“Where the hell are we going?”

“I told you I was driving you home. My home.”

“Why?”

“To get you cleaned up. You can’t go back to your parents looking like that.”

“They’ve seen worse.”

Terri lived in the sort of smart apartment you would expect to be occupied by someone with both money and social standing; beyond the financial means of a Personnel Officer. It was in a tree-lined street close by Burbank. Not so close as to get a view of Toluca Lake, but close enough to make it more than I could have afforded on a major’s pay. She could have had a private income, or maybe it wasn’t her apartment. I decided not to ask.

There were two bedrooms, but only one had a bathroom attached. Like the rest of the apartment, she kept the bedroom feminine and immaculately tidy. I immediately felt out of place, like a filthy mongrel intruding at a pedigree dog show.

“Leave your clothes in the washing basket,” she called out as she went on into the bathroom and began to run a hot bath. “I’ll get them cleaned.”

I followed her into the bright, pastel blue bathroom and sat on a stool alongside her. Then I started the process of easing my sore body out of the soiled clothes. “I’m not used to this kind of service.”

“Well, don’t get used to it,” she snapped back. “It’s strictly a one-off.”

She didn’t wait for me to finish undressing, which seemed entirely in keeping. Instead she told me to wash myself while she tidied the lounge. Taking her at her word, I languished in the warm bath, feeling the aches ooze out of the bruises that stained my upper body. After a few minutes I heard Terri call to me from the bedroom.

“I’ve sent your clothes to the cleaners. They’ll get them done express by tomorrow morning.”

“Thanks.” That told me I was staying the night, but I didn’t ask where she expected me to sleep. I wasn’t ready to chance my luck.

“I’m leaving now. I have to get back to the office. Don’t make yourself too comfortable. You won’t be staying long.”

“Thanks.”

The apartment seemed empty when I dragged myself out of the bath and tried to wrap myself in a towelling robe that was two sizes too small. I wandered out to the kitchen where I found a hand-written note on the table. I will be back around seven o’clock. Make sure there is a hot meal ready for me.

I grinned and made myself a coffee. Then I wandered around the apartment, picking things up, studying them and putting them back. Nothing caught my attention so I ambled on through to the main bedroom.

Was this an intrusion on her privacy? Probably, but I was keen to find out more about her. I sat on the side of the bed and cast a gaze around the room, nothing out of place, nothing suspicious. Not even the odd item of underwear left lying on the floor. Even a photograph album on her bedside cabinet was arranged to look like it had been designed as part of the décor.

On a whim I picked it up and began to leaf through the pictures. The early ones were apparently taken in Ireland. They had that Irish air to them, as well as shop names written in Gaelic. Then came a series of holiday photographs taken at a beach resort, probably the Mediterranean. One shot showed some shop names in French. Another showed Terri sitting at a hotel poolside, topless. It confirmed all that I had imagined about the figure she hid beneath that neat, prim suit. The next few pictures were coastal scenes, probably from along the Mediterranean shore. I paused a while at a shot showing a long, sandy beach and Terri standing at the water’s edge, topless and unashamed. It was both a surprise and a turn on. I spent some minutes enjoying the look of Terri McDolan out of her clothes. I was learning fast about this woman and I liked what I was turning up.

Eventually I turned the next page and then stopped with a sudden mental jerk. The picture was taken at a formal dinner. Father O’Hagan sat in the centre of the group with Terri to the right of the shot. She was dressed in a stunning low-cut formal dress. But to the other side of the priest sat a red-headed girl. At first glance I thought it was Marie, but a closer inspection told me it wasn’t. Another connection was made when my mind did a quick flashback to that covert photo that Bray had showed me. A fuzzy shot of a redhead not too unlike Marie.

*

I was still wearing the small bath robe when Terri returned.

“That looks ridiculous on you,” she said.

“Didn’t have anything else to wear. None of your clothes fit me.”

“Asshole. Come with me.” She drew me into her bedroom and gave me one curt instruction. “Take it off.”

“Sure. I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours,” I smirked.

“You’ll do more than show me.” She slid out of her dress and stood in front of me in her bra and panties.

“That looks mighty like a come on,” I observed.

“So? Come on.” She grabbed at the robe and threw it onto the floor.

I didn’t need a second invitation.

*

When I awoke next morning, the duvet was pulled back on the far side of the bed. I reached across and ran my hand down to where the sheet was still warm, where Terri had been lying. I had said nothing to her about the photograph album, I judged it imprudent. But my mind wandered over the implications of what I’d seen. I lay back and let my gaze wander around the room. The only thing that didn’t really fit in here was me.

It had not been a satisfying night. After all my expectations it came as a shock to discover Terri wasn’t real. The sex wasn’t real, it was just an act, and not a particularly good one at that. At just the right moment she arched her back and gasped out loud, but it was false. And at that very same moment I found myself fantasising over mental images of Penny Hamilton to make up for Terri’s shortfall. And I longed again for that union between two souls who were meant to be together.

She came back into the room a few minutes later with a mug of coffee. She was wearing a pink silk robe but it was only loosely tied at the front. When she stooped to put the mug on the bedside table near me, the robe fell open. She made no attempt to cover up.

“I’ll be gone shortly. I’m always in the office by eight thirty.” She stood up and eyed me with a look that told me I was about to be dismissed. Then she slipped out of the robe and walked into her bathroom. I heard the shower going and wondered if I ought to give her a hand. In the event I drank the coffee and decided it would be too much of an imposition. I’d already taken more than I had a right to expect.

When she came back into the bedroom she went straight to her dressing table and began to apply her make-up.

“Did you go to a convent school?” I asked. I could see her face in the dressing table mirror and watched, fascinated, as she changed it from raw beauty into sophisticated elegance.

“Why do you want to know?”

“Idle curiosity.” I raised a wry smile. “Did you know you sleep on your back with your arms outside the duvet?”

She smiled self-consciously. “Old habits die hard. When I was a girl in Ireland the nuns had a horror of self-abuse. Some of them still do.”

“You can’t all be like Mother Theresa.”

“Try telling the nuns that.” She half turned away from the dressing table and pulled on a pair of the sheerest tights like she was painting her skin. “Mother Theresa founded a house in the North of Ireland, did you know that? But she pulled out after only a year. When she left, she said, ‘These people haven’t suffered enough yet.’ Can you believe that? They haven’t suffered enough yet.”

“Maybe she thought they won’t come to their senses until they’ve all experienced a bit more agony.”

“You think so?” A gleaming white blouse covered up her chest in one deft movement.

“I’ve seen suffering in other places. I was in Sarajevo not so long ago. You’ve heard of Sarajevo?”

“Who hasn’t?” She shrugged. “Terrible business, so it was. Terrible. Now that’s what I call real hatred. To kill all those innocent people like that.”

“At times it was almost beyond belief. I saw women and children mown down in the street by snipers. They were shot just because they were there. Innocent women and children. What can you make of people like that?”

“Life is full of evil, so it is.” She stood up slowly and ran her hands down her skirt, straightening out non-existent creases. “It’s there for us to recognise it and learn from it according to Father O’Hagan. Evil deeds carried out by evil people are part of life itself.”

“You know more than you’re letting on.” I stared straight at her, but she never flinched.

“That’s just your opinion.” She wasn’t looking at me now. I continued to stare at her, waiting for her to reveal more on the matter. But she never did.

“Let yourself out,” she said. “Don’t try to call me, and don’t come here again.”

“Why did you bring me here, Terri?”

She didn’t reply immediately. A full minute passed in strained silence before she sat on the side of the bed and faced up to me. “I could say I felt sorry for you, but it wasn’t that. I could say I was repaying Chief Hanson in full for a favour he once did me, but it wasn’t that. The truth is… I just fancied you.”

“And now?”

“Now I know I made a mistake. You’re not my sort.”

*

Two days later I went down to the sheriff’s office and found Chief Hanson with his feet up on his desk and a copy of Playboy in his grubby paws. His sexual emotions were pretty close to my own but a touch more in the mind.

“Sorry to interrupt your dreams, Chief.”

The magazine fell to the desk like it was red hot. “What the hell you want, Henry? Can’t you see I’m darned busy?”

“I want you to make some enquires for me.”

“What is it this time?”

“I want you to find out what you can about an organisation called The Irish American Woman’s Aid Centre.”

“Who the hell are they?”

“That’s what I want you to find out. They’re based in Belfast; something to do with helping girls in trouble. Unwanted pregnancies, drugs and that sort of thing.”

“This anything to do with Marie?”

“Dunno. Could be.”

He dropped his feet to the floor in a loud clatter. “Dammit all, Henry, you’re gonna get yourself into real trouble one o’ these days.”

“So you told me. Now, will you find out what I want to know?”

“Might. Might not. You got that job, did you?”

“American Interstate? I had an interview.”

“What about the woman? What’s her name?” He made some pretence of trying to remember. It didn’t fool me. “Miss McDolan?”

“Quite a dame,” I came back.

He grinned towards the cover of his Playboy magazine. “You get anywhere with her?”

“Mind your own business, Chief. Just find out what you can about the Irish American Women’s Aid Centre, will you?”

He persisted. “Did she tell you anything useful?”

I stared at him. “Why should she?”

He shrugged. “Dunno. Just a thought.”

It was more than that. There was a lot he wasn’t telling me and I wasn’t ready to break his neck in order to find out what it was. Not yet. I cut him short. “None o’ your business, Chief.”

I left him hollering about me being too damn stupid to know when to leave things alone, but I knew he would do his best to get me the information I needed.

When I got back home Mom was busy baking cookies. She was still mad at me for coming home with my face in one hell of a mess and for not telling her about where I’d been. I noted her sour look and took myself away from the kitchen.

A letter was waiting for me on the hall table. A quick flash of excitement ran through me, it was from American Interstate. I ripped it open and saw that it was dated the previous day. The signature at the bottom of the letter was Terri McDolan. She must have acted fast on that one. Then a dull feeling wrapped itself around me. She would have sent the letter soon after our one-night stand. Soon after I insulted her friends.

I scanned quickly through the words.

Subject to more detailed investigation of your application the company is willing to offer you the post…

I jumped on the spot. They job was mine! Starting in one month’s time.

I turned over the page and on the back, in a neat female script, was the message: “We’ll talk again when I next see you.”

That, I thought, was just what I needed.

*

The following day I got this irate phone call from Chief Hanson telling me to get my butt down to his office faster than an F4 over Hanoi. He didn’t say why so I went at my own pace just to find out. I caught him in his office nursing a coffee and poring over a disorganised pile of papers. He looked none too happy.

“You wanted to see me, Chief?”

He glared at me. “Sure I want to see you, you dummy! You’re gettin’ me into one whole load o’ shit, you know that?”

I perched myself on the side of his desk. “So, what’s the problem?”

“The problem is that I started making enquiries about that organisation in Belfast. The Irish American Woman’s Aid place, and guess what. I’ve been leaned on.”

“Who by?”

“You don’t need to know. But I’ve been told to keep my nose out of things that don’t concern me.”

“Who, Chief? Who’s leaning on you?”

“Never you mind.” He was a mite cut up and it showed. “Maybe you should ease up, Henry. Forget the whole damned business. Marie’s dead and we’re all real sorry about that but maybe you oughta leave off any further nosin’ around.”

“Are you putting pressure on me, Chief?”

“Nope. You’re a free agent if you want to go it alone. I’m just advising you, Henry. Friendly advice.”

“Friendly advice?” I stood up and jammed my hands into my pockets. “It don’t sound too friendly to me. Who’s behind this? Would Lieutenant Bray have anything to do with it?”

“He just does his job, same as me, Henry. But he ain’t behind this, I can tell you that. It goes higher than NYPD.”

“Thanks, Chief. You just told me something important.”

I stormed out of the office.

If this warning came from a lot higher than NYPD, then I wanted to know who was behind it. And I wanted to know one hell of a lot more about a damned foul-up in Belfast. The only way to find out more was to ignore every goddam warning, stick my neck out and see what crept out of the woodwork.

*

It wasn’t difficult finding Father O’Hagan’s parish. The priest house was a crumbling building in a run-down backstreet. A bishop’s palace it wasn’t. I turned up unannounced because I didn’t want him making up stories before I got there.

          The door was opened by a young priest who looked like he was straight out of school. Teeth and Adam’s apple jiggling in unison.

          I put on a forced smile. “Hi. I called to see Father O’Hagan. Is he at home?”

          “No. He’s away for a few weeks. Can I help you?” The guy’s voice was high pitched like he sang with the sopranos in the church choir. He stood in the middle of the doorway as if he was afraid of me getting inside.

          “Name’s Henry Bodine. I met Father O’Hagan a while back. Need to talk to him urgently.” I thought the word ‘urgently’ might get me into the house.

          But the young priest just shook his head. “He’s not here at the present. Won’t be back for a while. What was it about?”

On an impulse I decided to try my luck with this guy. “It’s about the Irish American Woman’s Air Centre in Belfast. You know about the place?”

          He stared at me with a vague look; the look of someone who really wasn’t clued up about anything outside his parish. “Not a lot, I’m afraid. It’s a pity you didn’t call yesterday, Mr Bodine. Father O’Hagan is in Belfast right now.”

          “Right now?”

          “Yes. He caught a flight yesterday.”

          Any doubts I had about returning to Belfast faded in an instant.

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