The Drowning Kind (wip) "Where to, Boss?"
“What a fearful thing it is when the voyager sets forth,
but a curse remains behind.”
“Where to, Boss?”
It was Crowe’s kind of ride, neither he nor the taxi driver spoke. He had the kind of sour hangover that felt like a jackhammer going through his skull. The silence was broken only by the sporadic bursts from the Satnav. Dublin’s pale of suburbs gave way to the southbound motorway.
But even long distances abhor a vacuum,
“I know you,” she said.
Crowe spied the unblinking eye of the small camera on the mirror, it peeked out behind a thick-beaded wooden rosary. He flicked his eyes across the laminated ID – the driver’s name was Abosede Akande O’Hare.
“I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure,” he replied.
“I’m sure I know your face. You look done in, man,”
He studied his hand, the knuckles still had traces of bruising. He covered them with his other hand. The scratches had healed. A faint indentation on his finger hinted where a wedding band used to be. Sometimes the tremors arrived unannounced.
“You police?” she asked.
“No,” Crowe replied.
Abosede made a clicking sound with her tongue like a rolodex looking for a name.
“I mistaken so,” she murmured, “You look like police,”
“It’s Gardai in this country,”
“Gardee. Gar-da - Guarding what?” she snorted.
Guarding what indeed, he thought.
“Guarding your right to talk even though I’m paying you only to drive,” said Crowe.
The clicking continued, she mumbled something in her native tongue.
The cab smelled exotic. A gold watch glowed on her ebony skin; its glass was covered in a faint meshwork of cracks. The white lines of the road were hypnotic.
He had gone twenty-four hours without sleep.
Twelve junctions later, the motorway siphoned off to a dual carriageway that dog-legged onto a secondary road. The silence stretched out to forever. The first signposts for his destination appeared.
Abosede was undeterred, “Well, don’t expect any sunshine in Róscarraig, man. The forecast for the summer is terrible. Terrible.”
“Suits me, I’ve been told to rest,” said Crowe.
“You cannot rest in Dublin?”
“No-one seems to think so,” he paused, pressing his forehead against the window. The faint vibrations of the road coursed through his temples, “I had to leave,”
“Why? The city is money, boss; it crisp, it nice,”
He closed his eyes,
“I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you,” he said.
“I do know you. Brutality, man. Brutality,” said Abosede.
Like her photo, her braids were piled gloriously high on her head.
“Róscarraig thanks. No more talk please or I will definitely kill you,” he replied.
Crowe’s eyes fell onto the glove compartment, an adhesive 3-D Jesus doled out a plastic benediction. Abosede glanced sideways at him,
“Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved,” she intoned,
“Fuck him,” replied Crowe.
The silence descended between them like a pall.
Dilapidated lines of greenhouses fell away into large tracts of grass and clumps of yellow gorse and seas of unsightly Ragwort,
“Jacobaea Vulgaris,” he muttered.
He thought about Googling ragwort, but like his watch, the bloodied mobile phone was sealed tight and locked away in an evidence bag.
He folded his arms.
Abosede’s clicking started up again.
Two bedraggled roundabouts later, they were on the main street of Róscarraig. TO LET signs hung over a line of shuttered premises in decrepit defiance. A careworn church, local community centre, flanked by pubs, Chinese takeaways, Polski Sklep, Post Office and bookies, offered all the basics. A family supermarket festooned with floral hanging baskets made a heroic attempt at a little local colour. Its wares were proffered on trestles beneath old-fashioned shop front cursive that stated in white – ‘Today’s specials’.
It was a town dismal and forgotten; out of time and out of luck, thought Crowe. The ragged end of nowhere.
My every wish and comfort, he thought.
His destination, Gallagher Estates had a collage of lettings and sales in its polished shopfront window. The façade was pock-marked with flaking paintwork, darkened by years of HGV diesel fumes. The paving at the front with a dip gave the building the air of sagging slowly into the ground. Gallagher came out to meet the taxi.
Crowe peeled a few euros for Abosede. She smiled a diastema thanks; a semi-precious stone glittered in one of her incisors. Her mouth flipped to a scowl,
“This miserable place is nowhere, boss. Not a fare, not a fare back until the city,” she said as she popped the boot with a gloriously painted finger nail,
“I’m only here for a week, maybe two,” replied Crowe.
He added another fifty Euro to her fare,
“In a malevolent no-place like this? That’s a lifetime, man. A lifetime,” she replied.
From an animal print purse, she handed him a business card. It was white and bisected by a thin cross,
“Jesus saves, boss. My husband has a meeting place, a mission. You welcome anytime,”
“Is that your mobile number along the bottom?” asked Crowe.
“Yes,” she replied.
Soup and salvation. He jammed the card into the pocket of his fleece. The last thing he needed was a lifeline.
Crowe hauled himself out of the taxi and removed his big sports holdall and a newly acquired backpack. Abosede looked up and down the main street and executed a brisk three-point-turn.
“You do not tarry, man. Do not delay,” she shouted out the window to Crowe.
Crowe and Gallagher watched the taxi accelerate. A spring breeze idled up the main street, tinged with salt and cutting to the bone.
“You alright?” asked Gallagher.
Looking at Crowe, he saw a man who seemed to have pulled his wardrobe out of a charity shop donation bag. Battered peak cap, stained olive cargo pants, cheap running shoes and formless t-shirt peeping out of an unwashed fleece; a man with his entire existence stuffed into pockets and bags.
Crowe shifted the weight of his holdall.
“You look like you’ve come to relax,” continued Gallagher.
“I’ve come here to recover,” replied Crowe.
“I can see that. Quigley was worried about you. I’ve given my secretary, Hilary, an extended lunch. We can talk in the privacy of my office. Is it Pius, John or Podge?”
“John it is then,” said Gallagher, “Call me by my first name it’s Derry, my secretary likes it. Derry Gallagher at your service,”
Crowe ignored the proffered hand. Gallagher took the backpack.
“Come inside,” he said
Gallagher’s height was above average, but feminine at the hip and gait. His well-pressed suit was a decade out of date. He dropped the backpack at the side of his desk. Crowe left his holdall near the door. Shrugging off the jacket, Gallagher placed it onto a curling arm of the tall antique coat stand. The office was small, painted in faded tangerine with a combination of damp, strong perfume, and Chinese food smells. A coffee pod machine pulsed in black and chrome with a stack of disposable cups. Gallagher tapped his laptop keyboard as if he were headlining Carnegie Hall.
Despite the nonchalance, Gallagher seemed nervous and alert.
“Help yourself,” he said.
Crowe was already at the machine. He crushed rather than inserted the pod. Viscous black coffee oozed into the cup.
“How is that old reprobate Quigley, still singing?”
“I think so, yes,” said Crowe.
Small UHT milk pots and sugar sachets stood to attention beside a shiny teaspoon. Crowe tore and crushed to get hit he needed. He piled the small neat bin high with them.
There was a basic office chair facing the desk, Derry Gallagher liked to conduct brisk business. The metal and plastic sighed under Crowe’s weight.
Gallagher peered closely at his screen and stabbed the print key. A small cream-coloured printer at his elbow began whirring into life. A plastic container of disinfectant wipes kept the desk studiously clean.
“You can never be too careful, all those viruses about,”
“Trojan Horses and malwares are all the rage these days,” said Crowe.
“HIV / AIDS, H1N1, SARS, winter influenza, you can never be too careful,”
“It’s spring?” said Crowe.
“Never too careful, John,”
Gallagher gave the laptop a hearty wipe. No rings but a solid block of metal watch peeped out of his starched cuffs and novelty blue enamel cuff links with crossed golf clubs. The desk beside him, Hilary’s, was a shining testament to optimism; perched on top of the monitor was a small soft toy – a reindeer with a red ‘Merry Christmas’ jumper. Arranged around the keyboard was the usual feminine armoury of hand-moisturiser tubes, lip balms, water bottle, pen holder and a lip-stick stained pint glass. Pinned to a single cubicle wall that separated them was a remembrance card with a smiling old lady. Beside it was a recent photograph of a Labrador dog. Crowe suspected that Hilary was middle-aged and single. Her desk telephone was blinking a missed call.
“How do you want to play this – off the books, John?” asked Gallagher.
“Preferably, less paper the better – cash?” said Crowe.
“Of course, now, John, it will become a premium Airbnb let after June. Double the rental in fact.”
Crowe looked at the calendar over Gallagher’s shoulder. It was the second last week of April.
May, June, July.
“I can give you three thousand. Cash. Right now. Covers me ‘till end of August.” He said.
“That would certainly do it.” Derry Gallagher grinned.
He handed Crowe the print-out of the lease. Crowe stood and opened a money belt. It seemed to offer underwire support to his gut.
“If I’m left alone and no details appear suddenly on Twitter or any other social media platform, I can guarantee a bonus at the end of the lease.”
Gallagher nodded. Quigley had too much on him to allow anything like that to happen to Crowe.
“I can recommend the golf course here,” said Gallagher.
“Don’t play it,” replied Crowe.
“A man should have a hobby – there’s the library here, a good one, so I’m told. We have a local GAA club, a rowing club on the outskirts, but that’s about it.”
“Closed down years ago. Cutbacks,” replied Gallagher,
“There’s an AIB and a credit union in the next town. It’s mostly farmers and market growers around here – cash under the mattress; old school, spit on a handshake.”
This amused Gallagher as he mimed the gesture.
Crowe declined to enter the improv. He kept his arms folded. He wondered if Gallagher’s safe had shelf space for rent.
“Is there a doctor in the town?” asked Crowe.
Gallagher’s smile angled into a rictus, “Yes, Pascal O’Rourke, he’s the only one, been here since the year dot,”
Crowe pondered this. A doctor. He’d never taken a single sick day until a month ago.
From a desk diary, Gallagher handed over the Doctor’s business card.
“No walk-ins, appointments only, if you can find him,” said Gallagher.
“What’s the Internet like out here?” asked Crowe.
“Utterly shite, John, might as well try to dial up. Broadband roll-out like everything else passed us by. Card machines take forever, so business here is mostly cashmoneyboss.”
Gallagher’s Louth cadences mashed into a crude mock-itinerant.
“I see Quigley is the owner / occupier on the lease?” said Crowe.
“Yep. He bought it ten years ago.”
Trust Quigley to find somewhere completely anonymous and practically off-the-grid in twenty-first century Ireland.
“Electric or gas?”
“A fob comes with the keys. I can arrange a cleaner.”
“No need. Best place to eat?”
Gallagher’s laugh echoed,
“Usual haute cuisine of burgers and chips or cattery-chow-mein if that’s your thing, though a new Café has opened facing the Harbour – The Boogie-Woogie, great open prawn sandwiches.”
Crowe handed Gallagher the money belt,
“Could you hold on to this, I’d like to make withdrawals without drawing too much attention?”
“Business hours are 9am to 5:30,” replied Gallagher.
Crowe handed over the money belt and allowed himself a generous gut scratch.
“Put this in your safe. Any of it goes missing…?”
Derry Gallagher rose and put Crowe’s cash in the safe. A potted plant stood proudly verdant beside a water sprayer, “No need to worry, I’m the only one with the combination. After 6pm, there’s an after-hours surcharge,”
“I’ll bear that in mind,” replied Crowe.
Crowe shifted his weight in the chair as he drained the last of his coffee. The frame gave a warning crack and a groan. Gallagher glanced over in concern; he would have to give the chair a good lash of the wipes once Crowe was off the premises.
“Tell you what, John, I’ll take you out for lunch, show you around and then take you to your new digs. My shout. Throw the luggage in the boot.”
Parked on the side street, Gallagher’s Lexus had seen better days. The tyres were balding, and the tax disks were a month out of date. Without too many Gards venturing out this far, he’d probably get away with it for another few weeks. The comfortable interior gave off that faint waft of sweat, damp and flatulence that seemed to accompany Derry Gallagher as his signature.
“Eleven years ago, Róscarraig had a population of fifteen hundred. Today, its ten thousand – mostly starter homes. Commuter-belt first-time buyers. It’s a ghost town between seven am and five-thirty.”
Gallagher did a slow circuit of the town. The main street wove past a stone horseshoe harbour with a few small fishing boats, skiffs and larger trawlers moored. A latticework of ropes held them tightly to the harbour wall. The road meandered along lines of fields where labourers toiled in bright day-glo