Monday, 17 June 2013

Chapter Ten


Chapter Ten

 
 

There are some photo images of violence that will forever stick in most people’s minds. Who has not despaired at the image of row upon row of the emaciated bodies of Jewish inmates in Auschwitz? Who has not been filled with horror by the image of Kim Phuc, a nine-year old girl running from a napalm attack in Vietnam, her clothes burned from her frail little body? Who has not been shocked by the image of South Vietnam’s police chief, Nguyen Ngoc Loan, executing a suspected Vietcong guerrilla in the street.

There are other images that shock and disgust.

But only two images of hideous violence shook me to the core and they weren’t photos, they were both in my mind. One was the sight of that mangled body in the Belfast mortuary. The other was an image of tiny massacred bodies in a Mostar orphanage.

That night I dreamed of both.

I woke up early next morning, mind still buzzing with the anguish of my vivid dreams. The immediate impact faded quickly as most dreams do, but the emotional residue remained for some time. I lay in the semi darkness, slowly washing away my mental discomfort by concentrating on what had happened the previous night at the Blue Taboo club. The warm body beside me helped stop me from jumping out of bed to get dressed.

Penny stirred much later, snuggled up close for a while and then encouraged me into a bout of sex that shook my mind into overdrive. Later, while I was still recovering, she announced that she never lay in too long because it was a bad habit. She was first out of bed and I leaned back against the headboard watching her get dressed. She had as much grace and fluidity getting into her clothes as when she got out of them; like a ballerina.

I reached up onto one elbow. “Where did you learn to dance?”

“Been dancing on and off since I was a child, so I have.” She looked almost beautiful in the diffused morning sunlight that came in through the east-facing window. I guessed it was something to do with the way her face glowed with a child-like freshness.

“What sort of dancing?”

“Started off at junior ballet classes like lots of kids. Most little girls do, you know. I tried other things after that.”

“But you went to full time ballet school later on?”

“For a while, when I left school.”

“Explains why you’re so smooth the way you glide around the stage.” I tossed in the remark provocatively. “You’re streets ahead of that other girl; what’s her name…”

She made a short, scornful noise. “Molly McNamara. Probably not her real name, but who cares? And if you want to know a girl’s name just ask me straight off, don’t beat around the subject first.”

I tossed her a wink. “Molly, eh? Not exactly my type. She’s too dumpy. Movements too wooden. That’s her stage name?”

“They introduce her as Molly the Dolly. She’s only been with the agency two or three months. She’s still got a fair bit to learn.”

I carried on watching intently right up to the point where Penny’s breasts disappeared under a silk blouse.

“Did she know Marie?” I asked. I couldn’t hide a note of disquiet in my voice. I must’ve been brooding over the confrontation with Molly since the night before and was no nearer finding out how the girl had discovered my identity.

She stiffened slightly, betraying an inner tension I hadn’t been aware of. Until then. “Probably. In fact, almost certainly. Why do you want to know?”

“It might be important. I’ll talk to anyone who knew Marie or worked with her. Like the Fisher girl, for instance. Did she know Marie?” I looked at Penny, waiting, but she was taking her own time, consulting some deep inner opinion before replying.

“I never saw the two of them together. Whatever Marie thought about Fisher, she said nothing to me.” As she spoke, Penny bent over to choose a skirt from the bottom of her wardrobe. “Besides, Fisher isn’t the sort of person Marie would get mixed up with.”

“A bad lot?”

“And then some.” She stood up and studied two skirts, one in each hand. “What do you think of these? Which do you like best?”

“The short one. Shows off your legs.”

“Lecher.”

“Admirer of the female form.” I decided to change tack, convinced Penny would know nothing more which might shed any light on the matter. “How did you first get involved with the Gidleys?”

“The usual way. Someone recommended me. They’re well known in the business. Used to be on stage themselves, you know, when they were younger.”

“Don’t tell me Tessie was a stripper?” The mental image must have caused me to smile because Penny suddenly grinned back at me.

“Idiot. They started off as rep players. Worked their way onto the London West End stages. Billy never got very far, but Tessie was once in The Sound of Music, did you know that? Just a bit part as a nun, but it was real theatre. Can you imagine it? Tessie Gidley playing the part of a nun!”

“So she was an actress”

“And a bloody good one to get away with something like that! Mind you” The sentence was never finished. When I studied her face it wore an expression of indecisiveness. She still couldn’t make up her mind which skirt to wear.

“Yes?” I tried to get her mind back onto the subject of Christine Fisher.

“Nothing.” She dropped both skirts and dived back into the wardrobe.

Information was now dribbling out and it was all fascinating stuff, but what did it have to do with Marie’s murder? Instinctively, I had this feeling that this latest information was important, but I couldn’t quite figure out why. Then I realised that I was classifying every bit of new information as important. Gathering it up like a squirrel gathers nuts and hoarding it away. Unlike the squirrel’s nuts, much of my hoard would probably turn out to be useless.

Thoughts about Marie tripped another recent memory inside my brain.

“Last night the barman, Tommy Brennan, said he knew Marie better than most. What did he mean by that?”

Her mind finally made up, Penny stepped into a short, neat skirt. “Ignore it. Tommy Brennan’s well known for shooting his mouth off. If he’d actually pulled as many girls as he claims, he’d be in his grave by now.”

“Like Sammy Wilde?”

“No. Sammy Wilde actually did pull the girls. Old and young alike.”

“But not Marie.”

“Not a chance.”

“You?”

“What the hell do you take me for?” She pulled on a loose sweater and made to smooth it down over her chest. Unfortunately it stayed loose, obliterating the shape beneath. Then she stalked off to the kitchen.

I thought she might be getting breakfast, but didn’t care to follow her to find out. It was too warm and comfortable in the bed. I must have been dozing a while before I heard a chime sounding in the hallway.

“Doorbell!” Penny called out from the kitchen to the accompanying sound of a kettle coming to the boil.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah! So move your lazy arse and answer it!”

There was no arguing with her tone of voice. I hastily pulled on a robe and went out to the hallway, still fastening the belt as I opened the door. An experienced criminal investigator would have been more careful, but I had much to learn. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for that sort of thing anyway.

Chief Inspector Rourke stood outside, along with a uniformed officer. Both wore a sidearm.

“Good morning, Mr Bodine. Sorry to catch you in bed.”

“What the hell do you want?” The words snapped out angrily before I could put a check on them.

Rourke was polite but curt in reply. “I wonder if we could have a short word with you.”

“I’m not dressed

“I can see that, sir.” The politeness lapsed somewhat as Rourke pushed his way into the apartment and his companion followed. They both removed their hats and the junior man fingered his holster. John Ford would’ve made a great Western movie out of those two guys. It felt like I was about to be invited to a lynching party.

Penny came into the lounge, a frying pan in her hand. From the look in her eye, I thought she was going to hit Rourke with it. Her lip curled. “What’s going on here? What do you want?”

“Just a routine matter, miss.” Rourke eyed the frying pan and I got the feeling he would have reached for his pistol at the slightest sign of a threat. “We called to see Mr Bodine.”

I was pretty keyed up by now and I let it show. “How the hell did you know I was here?”

“We’ve been keeping an eye on you, sir. Don’t want you coming to any harm.”

“Spying on me, are you? As if I’m some sort of criminal? And just what the hell do you want with me now?”

Penny edged in beside me, frying pan still at the ready. “That’s right. What do you want with him?

Rourke cleared his throat. “We’d appreciate, Mr Bodine, if you’d stop interfering in our investigations.”

I gaped at him. “Who’s interfering? As for investigations, what investigations? I ain’t seen any investigations. Are you investigating something, Chief Inspector?”

I sat down heavily on the settee and Penny fell into place beside me, the pan on her lap. The two policemen remained standing, which put them at an immediate psychological advantage. They knew what they were doing all right.

“We heard that you were at the Blue Taboo Club last night, Mr Bodine. Asking questions.”

“Who told you that?”

“A friend of ours saw you there. Heard you asking about your sister.”

That figured. I should have been expecting this call. “There’s no law against asking questions. Is there?”

“It’s a delicate situation, Mr Bodine. We’re investigating your sister’s murder and I’m afraid you’re getting in our way.”

“Am I really? Tell me how. How am I getting in your way, Chief Inspector?”

“Just take my word for it.”

“Take your word? Why?” Inside I was beginning to seethe, but I tried to hold that in check. “You know, I’m real cut up about the fact that my sister has been murdered and, quite frankly, I don’t see any sign of you doing much about it. You can’t tell me who killed her or why. Can you?”

He scratched his chin and eyed me like I was some sort of dog-shit. After a moment, he said, “We’re still working on it.”

“Really? Well, it don’t show much and I aim to find out for myself just what happened, with your help or without it. Now, I haven’t broken any of your laws and you can’t stop me going to the Blue Taboo or any other club. Got that?”

“Nice little speech, sir. Saw it on Miami Vice, did you? The fact is we already have people out there in the field investigating the case. If you go around asking awkward questions and stirring up trouble you’re likely to put those people in danger. Do I make myself clear, Mr Bodine?”

“Plenty. You think I might blow someone’s cover. Who? Tell me that, Chief Inspector. Who’s cover?” I was baiting him because I knew darned well who he was talking about.

“You can’t expect me to reveal that, can you? All I can say is this: it would help us greatly if you didn’t go around asking people about your sister’s murder. For one thing, whoever killed Miss Bodine is likely to pick you out as a potential target next time.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“I doubt that. I don’t think you’ve really appreciated what’s going on here in Northern Ireland.” I sensed an air of self-superiority in his voice, as if he was on top of things and I was the dumb mutt who knew nothing. “This isn’t some sort of game, you know.”

I wasn’t taken in by his act. “You could have fooled me. Is there something you’re hiding from me about Marie’s death?”

He grimaced and then quickly recomposed his manner. “When we have something to tell you, we’ll tell you.”

“What about me?” Penny’s patience suddenly snapped. “Henry’s driving me now that Sammy Wilde is dead. I need a driver. Do you want me to give up my job?”

“No, miss. I’m sure you can look after yourself, even if your friend here can’t.”

“That’s enough, Chief Inspector. I’ve had” I stood up suddenly, not noticing that my belt was trapped under Penny’s bottom. The robe flew open and I hastily swung away from the two men while I refastened it.

“As you say, sir. I think that’s all for the moment.” Rourke backed away towards the hall and his man followed. “Just remember what I’ve said. We can see ourselves out.”

He gave Penny a gentlemanly nod as he left and she scowled at him in return. Her face was ashen and the pan shook in her hand.

“Did you hear that?” I said incredulously when they were both gone. “Telling me to back off from their investigations! The bastards!”

Penny clenched a fist. “Those guys put the spooks into me.”

“I know what you mean.”

“At least you frightened them away.”

“I didn’t say

“It’s not what you said, numb-skull!” She came close and pulled at the belt of my robe. “Good job it doesn’t frighten me away.”

*

It had stopped raining but a few clouds were still scudding low, fast and heavy across the sky. Above them, another mass of cloud ran by at a more northerly angle.

Penny was free for the rest of the day and I wanted to see something of the countryside so we packed ourselves a picnic and took off. To begin with, I drove the hire car while Penny guided me along the route. Going through the built-up areas still bugged me, especially when we came across military patrols. For some reason, I also felt pretty hacked off at the sight of all those gable end murals shouting out one form of bigotry or another.

Once we got out onto the coast road and headed south towards the Ards Peninsula, it all seemed a darned sight more peaceful. I began to relax. We drove for a while with me just listening to the car radio and admiring the sea views.

Penny fell quiet and I glanced at her to see she had her eyes shut. She probably needed to relax some after coming out of Belfast. We had left behind the more heavily populated areas and were cruising along in a relatively wild part of the country. This was like I’d imagined Ireland should be: tiny cottages at the roadside, wide empty fields and rugged seashore.

With Penny no longer navigating, I followed my nose down the coast road until we came to a small fishing village: a small-time place far away from Belfast. But something stuck in my throat as soon as we rolled into the narrow main street. Union flags hung from the lamp-posts and windows like they were celebrating a coronation or something. The kerb stones were painted red, white and blue, an untidy line of worn colours all the way along the road. I slowed down, wondering what the hell was waiting around the next bend, half expecting to run straight into a protest march or a big band parade. Deeply puzzled, I reached across and gave Penny a shake to waken her.

“What the hell is this all about?”

“What’s what all about?” Penny opened her eyes and rubbed them. She sounded tired. Still not fully back into the real world.

“All this paint and flags. Some sort of festival?”

“No.” She switched off the radio and finally managed to rouse herself from the quiet mood she’d been in. “It’s always like this here. It’s a Loyalist village.”

“You mean they live like this all the time? Day in and day out? Waving these flags and shouting God Save the Queen.”

Penny sucked air like she was getting exasperated and trying to stay calm. “Don’t mock them. It’s their way of life. They take it very seriously.”

“Should learn to take a joke. Hell, this is just one big joke, ain’t it?”

“For God’s sake, Henry. You don’t understand anything, do you?”

I calmed down, suddenly aware I was spooking her. “Maybe I don’t. Maybe I shouldn’t be here.”

“Don’t look down your nose at us, Henry. We’ve enough problems without that.”

Something about the way she spoke worried me, as if I was digging into private thoughts she normally kept hidden. As if I was invading some sort of sanctity in her inner mind. “Sorry if I seem to be ignorant about all this. Suppose I must seem like some sort of backwoods country boy to you.”

“This is my home, and my country. Would you like it if I mocked your homeland? Would you like me to make rude remarks about the way your people carry guns like they live in a wild west town? Would you?”

That one hurt so I avoided answering it. “Ever considered moving away from all this?”

She thought for a moment. “If I had kids, Henry, I’d probably want to move away from Ireland before all this got hold of them. But I don’t have kids, do I? Maybe I’ll never have a family of my own and that’ll be a good thing. Means I won’t have to run.”

We drove on out of the village and the silence that followed was uneasy—an awkward respite for both of us to digest the other’s words. There was a look of hard, wet rain in the distant hills, but it didn’t seem to be heading our way. After a while, I opened up the conversation again. “The way they covered that village in tribal graffiti: I suppose they know what they’re doing?”

“Yeah, they know all right. Your American Indians knew what they were doing when they painted tribal graffiti on their bodies and their tepees to frighten their enemies, didn’t they?”

I grunted. Such deep thoughts from Penny came as a surprise, but that was not in the least bit unwelcome because it made her so much more suitable as a possible lifelong mateif such a thing as lifelong union could ever be possible between us. That was not the first time I appreciated how much she was growing on me.

I drove on to another small village where we caught a ferry boat across Strangford Lough. A strong tidal flow was running out through the narrow part of the Lough, but the ferry struggled across it to the other side. We stopped at the pub near where the ferry berthed and, for some odd reason, things looked just a mite more civilised. We went inside and bought our drinks at the bar. Then we ordered our food and the whole place looked almost congenial.

“You been here before?” I asked. We found a window seat where we could look out over the Lough: a pretty scene that would have been a real tourist trap in any other country. I sat back with the pint of Guinness in my hand and began to relax.

Penny sipped at a glass of nondescript white wine. “Not this particular pub. Never been in here before now. But I’m glad we came. Glad to be away from Belfast.”

“Change of scenery?”

“Change of atmosphere.”

I studied her across the top of my pint jar. “You know this area, do you?”

“Sort of. I have to get out of Belfast at times. Just to get away, you know? Sometimes, when I’m feeling low or guilty, I come down here. Other times I take a bus away up towards the Antrim coast. It makes me feel… cleaner.”

I frowned. “Guilty? You said ‘guilty’. What have you got on your conscience to make you feel guilty?”

She chewed at her lip. “We all get feelings like that at times. What makes you think I’m any different from anyone else?”

Something about the reply puzzled me, but I let it pass. I changed tack as a way of keeping things friendly between us. “You know what the best thing about today is? It’s spending time with you.”

“As clichés go, that one’s pretty well washed out. Is that the best sort of chat-up line you can think of?” A pause, and then, “Do you mean it?”

“Would I say it if I didn’t?”

Penny half closed her eyes. “Sometimes I wonder about you, Henry. You can be so nice to me and then suddenly you get so uptight you’re difficult to live with. Is it because of what I am? Because I’m a stripper? Because other men get to see me naked on stage? Are you ashamed of me?”

“No, of course not. It’s nothing like that, at all. If I get uptight

“No ‘if’ about it. You do get uptight, honestly.”

“All right. When I get uptight it’s because of things that I can’t explain to you, at least, not yet. Maybe one day.” I took another gulp at my drink to give myself time to think. How much could I admit to her? “There are things that happened to me, Penny. Things I’ve seen and done that I haven’t learned to come to terms with. I was screwed up inside long before I came to Northern Ireland. This business about Marie only makes it worse.”

She looked at me intently, her eyes now open again and closely focused on mine. “I don’t understand you. I wish I did, but I don’t. How can I if you won’t open up to me?”

Open up? Tell her all about Carrie-Ann, and the guilt I would carry with me to my grave. And it wasn’t just Carrie-Ann. Images of those innocent Balkan children floated back into my head and suddenly that peaceful place no longer seemed peaceful. “I rarely discuss my past with anyone. When I decide to talk about it, you’ll be the first one to hear the story. I promise you that.”

“I wish I could do something. Something to make everything right between us.”

“Maybe you can.” I reached out for her hand. “Maybe you’d come back to the States with me. When all this is over and done with, maybe we could make a go of it together. You and me.”

She looked at me but she didn’t speak for at least two full minutes. “I don’t know what to say, Henry. Are you asking me to live with you?”

“Live with me, be the mother of my kids.” I stared into her eyes. “We could get married if you want it that way.”

She laughed out loud. “Don’t be so stupid! We hardly know each other. You don’t know what you’re saying. Men like you don’t marry women like me. In time you’d get to be ashamed of me because of what I am. I couldn’t live with that.”

I drew back and ran my gaze over her, wondering if I’d overdone things, wondering if I’d said too much. “Ashamed of you? With a figure like yours? Back home I’d be fighting off the competition and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

She laughed; a light bubbly sound, as if she really enjoyed being flattered. “You really know how to sweep a girl off her feet with words, don’t you? If this wasn’t a pub I’d smack you in the face and then make love to you right there on the table.”

“Better save that last bit of it till we get home. Might upset the locals. So, what do you say to my offer?” I set down my drink and reached for her hands.

“I don’t know what to say. I think you’re out of your mind and you’ll come to your senses one day. It just wouldn’t work, Henry. No way.”

“Well, think about it. The offer stays open until the day I go back home.”

At that point she went silent so I called the barman across and ordered more drinks.

Some while later we left the car by the pub and went for a walk along the shore. We stopped at the edge of a field surrounded by a high hedge and we climbed over a five-bar gate.

“Guess it seems quiet enough for us to” I suggested.

“The ground looks damp,” Penny observed.

“A spot of damp won’t hurt us,” I said. I wasn’t going to be put off, I wanted her badly and nothing was going to stop me. It was like that so often these days, I simply couldn’t get enough of her.

“There’s a man in the next field watching us.” she countered.

“Good. Hope he learns something.”

She looked askance at me and then she laughed. “I’m supposed to be the one who gets men worked up watching me.”

“Maybe you could teach me a thing or two.”

*

On the way back to Belfast I let Penny drive. She seemed more relaxed after one hell of a satisfying session in the field and more ready to talk. She even smiled once or twice.

“What d’you think of Tessie Gidley?” We were driving fast up the Downpatrick Road when I asked the question.

Penny kept her eyes focussed straight ahead, her voice went cold. “I don’t trust her an inch. Neither should you.”

“I didn’t figure to. Give me your reasons.”

She drew back her lips and hissed before replying, as if she was trying to turn natural distaste into simple, coherent words. “There’s more to Tessie than you’ve figured out.”

“Oh yeah? So fill me in.”

“Hell! Look at the woman’s name, idiot! Tessie! Doesn’t that mean anything to you?” She glanced at me with a dark expression. The car weaved into the centre of the meandering road before she brought it back onto the left hand side.

“What’s in a name?” I asked, fingering my seat belt.

Penny’s knuckles went white about the steering wheel. “Tessie is short for Theresa. The name of a Catholic saint.”

“Shit!” Tessie and Terri were two versions of Theresa. I recalled having that idea back in the States. Why hadn’t I followed up on it?

“You don’t find many Protestants in Northern Ireland called Theresa,” Penny said firmly.

“There’s one, obviously.” But Tessie Gidley wasn’t a Catholic, was she? Couldn’t possibly be. “What are you trying to tell me, Penny?”

“Tessie Gidley was born a Catholic. She changed her religion when she married Billy Gidley. Billy; now there’s a strong Protestant name for you. Probably named after King Billy. They still fight the Battle of the Boyne, you know. Every bloody waking minute of their lives they fight that battle. They have to.”

“You included?”

Either she didn’t hear me, or she pretended not to. “You know what they say about religious converts in this country? They say they’re more fanatical than the ones who’re born into it. They have something to prove, you see. So they shout louder than the rest.”

“You think Tessie Gidley’s a fanatic?”

“You’d better believe it.”

“I’ll watch my back next time I meet her.”

She gave me a sly glance. “You’ve still got a lot to learn, haven’t you? Even now, you still know so little about Northern Ireland.”

“I know that you once built a ship here called Titanic.” For no obvious reason I went on to tell her about Jacob Bodine.

“Do you blame us for his death?” she replied.

“Why should I? The guy in charge when she sank was English.”

She shrugged, keeping her eyes focussed on the road ahead. “You know why the ship sank?”

“It was going too fast and it hit an iceberg.”

“And

“There’s more?”

“I had a boyfriend once who worked in the shipyard design office. He reckoned different. Reckoned it should have stayed afloat even after a glancing blow with an iceberg. But, what the hell? Why get morbid over something that happened long ago?”

“Tell me anyway.”

“Another time.” She raised a hazy smile. “Don’t want to spoil the day with talk of disasters. Can you put your hand on my leg without causing me to crash the car?”

*

It was getting late and I was ready for bed, but I decided to hang things out a while. I had questions I wanted to ask before we actually hit the sack. Bed was for enjoying, not for discussion.

Penny was curled up in the best armchair, carefully painting her toe nails. She wore a short cotton night shirt which was rucked up about her waist, quite oblivious of the nudity that stretched from there to the soles of her feet. The look of concentration on her face masked deep thoughts into which I had no immediate access.

I coughed to attract her attention and said, “Penny.”

“Yeah?”

“Christine Fisher.”

“Her again?” She jerked her head upright and shot me a suspicious look. “What about her?”

“How can I find out more about her?”

“Why? What do you want to find out?” The nail varnish was put aside with a very deliberate motion. Legs unrolled slow and easy, leaving the night shirt still rucked up about her waist. She knew what she was doing this time, but I didn’t let it put me off my stride.

“She might be able to tell me something important.”

“Keep clear of her, Henry.”

“Yeah, yeah. You told me that before.” Her evasive reply was just too blatant by far. Told me more than what she actually said. “Now tell me where I can find her.”

Penny shook her head. “I can’t. I honestly don’t know where she is right now. Haven’t seen her in weeks.”

“Who would know? Tessie Gidley?”

She compressed her lips and slowly shook her head. “You really don’t know when to take advice do you? If you go chasing after Christine Fisher you’ll end up in deep trouble.”

“Like Marie?”

“Maybe.”

“Hmm. It’s my ass. My decision.” I let her digest that bit before adding, “Now, spill the beans. Who can tell me where to find her?”

Penny looked down to where her legs were stretched out from the chair to the floor. After a moment, she pulled them tight up against her chest, clamping them in position with her arms. “I suspect she had something going with an IRA godfather. Things were let slip, you know what I mean? The odd unguarded comment.”

I quickly latched onto the opening she was giving me. “What’s the guy’s name? How do I contact him?”

“His name is Joe Felan and you don’t try to contact him because he’s a drug dealer in a big way. You don’t ever try to contact those people. They get in touch with you, if they want to.”

I recalled the name from the first time I was in Belfast. A two-bit prostitute had given me a warning about Joe Felan. I felt I was getting into something really dangerous here so I tried to make my voice sound casual. “Someone has to contact them some time or other.”

“Not direct. These guys have networks of people they trust to do all the up-front leg work. He hides out somewhere to the south, in County Down. The British military call in bandit country.”

I digested the information carefully. “So, Fisher was tied in with a big-time Republican narcotics dealer? How did she get onto the Protestant Gidley’s books? Didn’t they know she was into the other side’s drugs operation?”

“Probably not. Not the drugs bit. But they would have known she was a Catholic. I told you before: the Gidleys will take on anyone who can make money for them. As long as the girls keep quiet about their religion and their politics. Apart from that, Fisher wasn’t exactly on the Gidley’s books, not in the same way as me and Marie. She just did a few occasional stripping jobs for them. More often she worked at clubs where they use freelance girls. They’re cheaper, you see.”

“Just the stripping jobs?” I wondered if the Gidleys really did know anything about her narcotics line.

“And other jobs.” Penny drew her face into a look of distaste. “She wasn’t fussy about who she slept with, and that’s another reason why the Gidleys used her. Prostitution pays even better than stripping. And don’t look so shocked. The Gidley’s use girls for anything that makes money.”

“She was a prostitute as well?”

“You didn’t figure that one out? I reckon they probably knew she was a small-time user. But it’s a safe bet that they didn’t know she was tied up with Felan. Just as well for her.”

“Why?”

“Felan is big with the Provos. The Gidleys would have murdered her if they knew.”

I digested the information slowly. A picture was beginning to emerge. “But you knew about this?”

“It came out one day. I overheard a conversation I wasn’t mean to hear.”

“Did Marie know?”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

“But you knew.”

“What is this?” Penny lowered her knees and glared at me. “Some sort of inquisition?”

“Skip the aggro, Penny. I gotta get at the facts. You say the Gidleys probably knew Fisher was a user?”

“If a girl earns good money for the Gidleys, it makes sense for them to ignore some of the facts. Like the fact she was a Catholic; an American Catholic just like Marie.”

“But they wouldn’t have known about her connection with Felan?” I chewed on that one for a moment. “So, how do I make contact with this hood?”

“Don’t!” She glared at me.

“You can’t stop me. I’m a big boy now and I do what I want.”

“Please

“How do I get to meet him?” I put on a pleading expression. “Come on, Penny, help me. I need to do this and I need help.”

She stood up and walked to the window. Several minutes passed before she spoke again. “You really sure about this, Henry?”

“What do you think?”

“All right, damn you! If you really want to do this I’ll put out some feelers for you. Make a few enquiries.”

“People you know?”

“There are a couple of other girls I’ve come across who knew Fisher. Girls who work for the Gidleys. They might know what to do. Just leave it to me. All right?”

“Thanks.”

“I’m only considering the possibilities. If you went blundering in on your own you’d soon get your head blown off. Killed outright. Or worse.”

“There’s worse?”

Her face tightened sharply. “They don’t actually kill you. Not straight away. They just make you wish they had.”

“Sound like real nice guys,” I said as casually as I could manage. But, inside, I was trembling. “What drives them?”

“Hatred,” she said calmly. “Pure undiluted hatred. They were born to it, they grew up with it and now it rules their lives. If you don’t understand that you’ve learned nothing since you came here.”

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