The wasp (an excerpt from the next Crowe investigation) 2021
It was a Tuesday afternoon towards the end of August when the wasp came in to die. Its stuttered descent, like a downed spitfire, made Pius John Crowe look up from the shopping bag he was unpacking. The wasp dipped and droned before it landed on the windowsill where a potted cactus stood. The insect’s wings gave a shudder then stopped like a toy whose mainspring had failed. Crowe finished unpacking. He lit a B&H and filled the electric kettle. While it boiled, he rinsed an old mug heaping three spoons of instant coffee followed by three teaspoons of sugar into it.
Crowe hated wasps. Rolling up the sports section of the newspaper, he eased himself around the kitchen table that dominated the garret. He sidled past the sofa bed that hadn’t been tidied; the pillows strewn like drowning sailors. Inching forward he was prepared for the wasp’s sudden revival and a battle of the fittest to commence. But it lay silent on its side beside the cactus. The plant was a gift from Clodagh Robertson; she was the one bright light in his life now.
Crowe had christened the plant ‘Bob’.
“It’s like you, Crowe,” she had said, rolling her eyes, “Squat, ugly and indestructible,”
“You forgot prickly,” he’d replied.
“Drop the l-y; nail on the head,” she’d muttered.
A librarian jest of sorts, he’d surmised.
Crowe nudged the insect with the newspaper. Nothing. Opening out the window, Crowe looked at the deserted courtyard below. The shadow of a seagull circled briefly over the bulging bin bags lining the wall of the Chinese takeaway before flitting on. Roscarrig, the last place on earth Crowe wanted to be. Looking out further through the alley, past the rooftops, long fields peppered with tractors, seasonal workers and hay bales stretched out across the pastureland. Taking a sharp right from the alley led to the fishing boats moored to the harbour.
“Life in the sticks, Bob,” said Crowe.
Crowe scooped the wasp onto the paper and tilted it out the window. He watched the insect’s husk carried off by the wind, then pulled the window shut. The kettle clicked off and Crowe tossed the newspaper into the wastepaper basket and made the coffee. Clodagh’s attempts to move him off full fat milk had been as successful as the new Fitbit she had bought for him that languished unopened in the cutlery drawer. He stirred in a generous measure of milk and slurped it loudly as he eyed the flatpack box leaning against the wall that would at some stage become a bookshelf.
The garret, bequeathed to Crowe by his old friend and mentor Sergeant Quigley, had managed to accommodate all the belongings salvaged from his former life. The courts had temporarily awarded the family home to his estranged wife, Alison, and their son, Cathal. Once Cathal had finished school and university, the house would go up for sale. As Cathal was nearly sixteen, Crowe had to accept this glorified bedsit was his home for at least the next five years. The mantelpiece displayed a few pictures of Cathal. There were none of Alison. By the fireplace Crowe had a neat stack of well-worn books; Ulick O’Connor, Ernie O’Malley and Tim Pat Coogan as well as biographies of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and a history of The Limerick Soviet. On the opposite side, leaned a whiteboard he had requisitioned a few months previously, cleaned down and ready for the recycling bin. The word ‘THEA’ was still legible.
In a corner was his record player and the carefully sheathed vinyl of Glen Gould, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and rare Melodiya Rachmaninoff recordings. The expensive speakers were mounted alongside the wall TV above Cathal’s pictures. They hummed out a Bach piano concerto.
The open skylight struggled to bring the sunlight in. The usual cacophony of the morning commuter rush and regular aircraft passing overhead had been silenced by the national lockdown. Although this far out from Dublin city, Roscarrig was a little more liberal with the interpretation of social distancing rules and the sale of essential goods and services.
This far out, the rules simply did not apply.
Crowe’s mobile flashed into life, he answered it,
“Good morning, Chief Superintendent, O’Suilleabháin,” he said.
Chief Superintendent Dáithí O’Suilleabháin, Crowe’s superior and friendly neighbourhood tormentor must have found another soul crushing dead-end case. He enjoyed his petty tortures.
Crowe went over to the record player and carefully lifted the needle. He turned the player off.
“As you are the nearest SIO in the area, Detective Inspector, I need you to attend a possible incident,” said O’Suilleabháin. A shuffling of papers followed before the upward nasal twang continued,
“It’s all hands to the pump, Crowe. You will be liaising with Dr. Jeffrey McDaid. Interim State Pathologist. Just assigned from Belfast.”
“Where’s Cutts?” asked Crowe.
“She’s en-route to Galway, left at 4am this morning, a suspected murder / suicide,” replied O’Suilleabháin.
Heaven help them, thought Crowe. Oliva Cutts, the State Pathologist, wasn’t a morning gal.
“OK. Send me the directions, boss, I’ll get there as soon as I can,”
Crowe knew, O’Suilleabháin hated ‘Boss’. He knew too that O’Suilleabháin was planning to ship him out to some far-flung parish beat near the border once the emergency had lifted.
Somewhere he couldn’t cause trouble.
“Don’t you want to know what you’ve been called to?” asked O’Suilleabháin.
“Nope,” replied Crowe hanging up.
Crowe stubbed the cigarette out and looked at the directions in the text message received.
Ten minutes’ drive from here, at an estuary on the border of Roscarrig and the next parish of Farandore. He knew it well; it had once been an area gridded off as a search area when a girl named Thea Farrell had gone missing.
Hanging from a hook on the door was his new suit, his shirts for the week, laundered and ironed from the local laundromat. Crowe dressed, knotted his only tie, and located his badge, handcuffs, note pad and pepper spray. He gave his teeth a glancing brush and checked his appearance, such as it was in the bathroom mirror. His anthracite eyes and mastiff chin gave him an intimidating look that rarely softened. Happy he’d pass muster, he pulled the front door saying,
“Hold my calls, Bob,”
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