The Killing of the Tinkers

BOOK: The Killing of the Tinkers
3.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Also by Ken Bruen

Shades of Grace
Rilke on Black
The Hackman Blues
Her Last Call to Louis MacNeice
A White Arrest
Taming the Alien
The McDead
London Boulevard
The Guards

Copyright © 2002 by Ken Bruen. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

   ISBN 0-312-71185-9

First published in Ireland by Brandon, an imprint of Mount Eagle Publications

First U.S. Edition: January 2004

For Ed McBain
Bonnie and Joe,
Black Orchid Bookshop,
East 81
St., New York

The boy is back in town

I ended up staying

I was arrested my first

On release from Mill

Thomas Merton in his Journal

London offers nigh on

Another tinker was

I needed a suit and

The funeral was massive

Apart from a visit to

Sweeper collected me on

Kiki arrived on a wet

If I dreamt, it was

I headed for The Quays

I’d spoken on the phone with Laura

I took my mobile phone

I caught a cab at Dominic Street

Christopher McQuarrie, The

That evening, I was stocking

I had no idea how to get

At Roches, they were selling

One of the first lessons

I got a new case!

I met Keegan later in theday

I finally took Laura to adance

I went to the army and navy

I had hoped never to see

Third night and I’m crouched

The story made page one

I’d finally solved a case

Another day of hibernation

Figuring it’s time to return to crime

Lord knows, feeling bad

There are few nightmares to

Mikey led me into the house

On the return journey

You Can’t Go Home Again

Thomas Wolfe

The boy is back in town. As the coach pulled into Galway, Thin
Lizzie was loud in my head. One of the great solo blasts from Gary Moore. I saw them at their last gig in Dublin. I had pulled crowd duty for the biggest concert of the year. Phil Lynott, head to toe in black leather, coked to the gills. He stalked that stage like Rilke’s panther. He’d never stalk a stage again. Me neither. His premature death coincided with my own career crash. I’d been booted out of the guards for slapping a TD in the mouth. I’d never regretted that. Only wish I’d hit him harder. My dismissal led into a spiral of slow descent towards alcoholic hell. Settling in Galway, I’d become a half-assed private investigator, causing more havoc than the crimes I’d been investigating. Now I was bringing back from London a leather coat and a coke habit.

I would have come home sooner, but for the old Irish imperative of having to stay gone. At least look like you tried. I don’t know whom I was trying to impress. It had been a long time since I’d impressed a living soul, least of all myself. A near miracle had happened. My departure from Galway had been a sober one. It was such a revelation. To be clear in my mind and free from the habitual sickness was amazing. I could think without the need to swill booze at every opportunity. Reading books returned to being the pleasure it had once been. I truly believed I was about to start anew.

Now I was back to being what they call a conscious drinker. When I was conscious, I was drinking. A fellah I met on the Kilburn High Road had asked me if I was a social drinker. I’d said,

“No, what about yourself?”

“I’m a social security drinker.”

I’d gone to London with a plan. There are few things more lethal than an alcoholic with a plan. Here was mine. Go to London and get a flat in Bayswater. As near to the park as it gets. Preferably with a bay window. Watch those grey squirrels along the Serpentine. In the plan, the woman I’d loved would come to her senses and realise how much she missed me. She’d fly to London and, somehow or other, she’d find me. Just one fine day, it would have to be a fine day, she’d miraculously find me, and happiness would be sealed. All I had to do was wait and she’d show. Or if I stayed away long enough, a letter would arrive from her, telling me how much she missed me and would I please take her back?

What I got was a bedsitter in Ladbroke Grove. Consoled myself with delusion. I’d been weaned on Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks”. Among a richness of great songs, “Astral Weeks” stood out. Told myself I was living it. The reality was as close to nightmare as you get. The grove is now a long stretch of urban decay. The human wreckage vies for space with the garbage. A mix of aromas hits you as soon as you begin to venture along it. From the inevitable curry through urine to that pervasive stench of abandonment.

Leaving Galway, I’d left behind a string of deaths. My case had involved the apparent suicide of a teenage girl. The investigation had led to —

Witness this:

Three murders.
Four, if you count my best friend.
My heart being hammered.
Tons of cash.

Imagine if I’d been competent.

Oh yeah, and there’s the possibility that my involvement caused the death of a teenage girl. I had to bite down and swallow hard lest I add my own name to the list of fatalities. I could trot out the sickest defence line of the decade:

“I meant well.”

I didn’t.

I was too drunk most of the time to mean anything.

As the coach approached the outskirts of the city, I’d mouthed a mantra:

“Attempting to give back to the world a portion of its lost heart.”

The quotation by Louise Brogan, it gave me a sense of longing I couldn’t ever expect to realise.

Getting off the coach at Fair Green, the first thing I saw was the headline:


Next I noticed the hotels. Four more in Forster Street. This used to be the arse end of town. Nothing grew here ever. Of course, Sammon’s was long gone. The pub of my youth. Liam Sammon had played on the team that won three All Irelands.

Count them and weep. At least when the pub went, we’d still had the carpet showroom A sign in the window said “Moved to the Tuam Road”.


You could no longer say,

“Everything’s gone to hell.”

Hell and everything else had moved to the Tuam Road.

Before my departure, I’d found a new pub. No mean achievement in a city that had barred me from every worthwhile establishment. I knew it was my kind of pub from the sign in the window.


Jeff, the owner, had been part of a heavy metal band. Big in the eighties, in Germany. He wrote the lyrics. You go…what lyrics?


He’d hooked up with a punk rocker who odd times helped me. Cathy Bellingham, a Londoner ex-junkie, she’d washed up in Galway. I’d introduced them and withdrawn. They’d be my first port of call.

I’d flown from Heathrow to Dublin, caught the noon coach west. The driver said,


I knew I was home.

A reformed smoker, I’d started again. It’s a bastard. The new world is designed for non-smokers. It’s near impossible to do coke and not smoke. It blends so fine. When that first rush hits, you want to wallop it with nicotine. As if you’re not bad enough. I don’t know is it when that ice numbness jells or later, but you’re reaching for that soft red pack. Try smoking at Dublin Airport or any airport. Good luck. Talk about segregation. Small pockets of isolation where the shamed smokers congregate. Like lepers of the modern wasteland. You’d nod guiltily at each other, crank the lighter and suck the poison in. You’d need your head examined to bring drugs through Dublin Airport. These guys are lethal. Boy, do they see you coming. Get you and you are going down.

I chanced it.

My need was greater than my fear. I could envision the headline:


Wouldn’t that launch a homecoming?


On Forster Street the urge to snort was massive, but I held it off. Outside Nestor’s a guy in a filthy white suit was singing,

“You’re such a good-looking woman.”

A battered cap was at his feet. It had collected all of 50p. I checked my pockets, put a few coins down. He said,

“Spit on me, Dickie.”

From Joe Dolan to Dickie Rock, without missing a beat. I laughed and he added,

“That’s sterling.”


“Ary, you meant well.”

He launched into “The House with the Whitewashed Gable”.

A lone sentry at the bar. He exclaimed,

“Jaysus, look who’s back.”

Irish people across the board will greet a returnee with exactly the same expression,

“You’re back.”

Jeff was behind the bar, nodded, asked,

“What’ll it be?”

“A pint.”

The question was large in his eyes:

“You’re drinking again?”

Fair fuck to him, he didn’t ask it. A song was playing, something I didn’t recognise. I asked,

“What’s the tune?”

He smiled, said,

“You’re not going to believe this.”

“Jeff, it’s Ireland; I’ll believe anything.”

“It’s ‘I Saw a Stranger’ by Tommy Fleming.”

Leaving the Guinness to settle, he came round and said,

“Gimme a hug.”

I did.

Not easily or with much flexibility. Us Irish guys don’t do hugs. Not without a lingering mortification. He looked good. His trademark black 501s were spotless. A granddad shirt, cowboy boots and a black suede waistcoat. A ponytail tied tight. Like me, Jeff was knocking on fifty. He didn’t look like an aging rocker. An ease in his movements gave class to whatever he wore. I said,

“You look great.”

In Ireland this is usually the preamble to “Lend us some money.”

I meant it.

He stepped back, scrutinised me. I was wearing my one Oxfam suit. It had died. I’d let my hair grow and hadn’t trimmed my beard. He said,

“You look fucked.”


He went to cream the pint. I sat at what used to be my spot. In the corner, hard chair, harder table. Hadn’t changed. I had. I said to the sentry,

“Can I get you a pint?”

He didn’t answer for a moment. I wasn’t sure he’d heard. Then he spun on the stool, asked,

“Will I have to buy you one back?”


“OK then.”

I rummaged in my holdall, took out some essentials. Left a package on the table, slipped the rest in my pocket, said,

“Jeff, I’m just going for a pee.”


I locked a stall, kneeled over the toilet, pulled down the lid, took out the Silverwrap. I laid five lines, rolled an English tenner and snorted fast. The burn was instant. Rocked me against the door, could feel the freeze lash my brain, muttered,


After ten minutes, I was electric; straightened up, went to the wash basin. A mirror above had the logo,


My nose was bleeding. I said,

“Sweet Jesus.”

Cleansed it with a tissue. Doused my face in cold water. A grey tint showed beneath my beard. My cheeks were sunken. I hitched my pants, tightened the belt a notch. Two stone had gone. In my hurling days, I was built. Spuds and sport pack on that bulk.

Back in the bar, Cathy was sitting at my table. Transformed. I’d known a twenty-two-year-old punk with track marks on her arms. She jumped up, said,

“You’re back.”

Alongside the Irish greeting, she’d acquired a soft lilt. I preferred her Kim Carnes intonation.

More hugging.

She gave me the look, said,



“You can’t fool an old doper.”

“Why would I try?”

“Because it’s what addicts do…hide.”

I sat, took a hefty swig of my drink. God, it was good. Cathy leant over, wiped the foam of my upper lip, said,

“We have your room ready.”


“Your first night, you have to be with friends.”

“I was going back to Bailey’s.”

“Go tomorrow.”

“Well, OK.”

She’d filled out. Her face was well-fed, shining even. I said,

“You look radiant.”

She went shy; I’d swear she blushed, though I think that’s a lost art. She said,

“I’m pregnant.”

After I did the congratulations bit, I said,

“I bought ye something.”

Her face lit, she asked,

“Show me.”

I gave her the first package. Like a child, she tore it open. A gold Claddagh ring bounced on the table. I said,

“I got ye both one.”

“Oh, Jack.”

I’d got them off a guy in a pub.

Cathy tried the ring. It fit. She called,

“Hon, come see what Jack bought?”

He approached the table cautiously. Cathy showed him the gold ring, said,

“Go on, try it.”

Didn’t fit so hot. He pulled a chain from beneath his shirt. I spotted a miraculous medal. He opened the clasp, slid the ring along the links, said,

“Daniel Day-Lewis wears one, figures it makes him Irish.”

The medal sat on the table, like an aspiration, leastways the coke thought so. Jeff said,

“Jack, you take it.”

“It probably belonged to your mother.”

“She’d appreciate a worthy cause.”

“Put like that, how can I refuse?”

I put it in my wallet. There was a photograph, showed a young woman smiling at something off camera. Her hair in ringlets, framing a face of neat prettiness. Jeff caught a glimpse, said,

“Oh, yeah?”

“Came with the wallet.”

The night turned into a party. I rang Mrs Bailey at my old hotel and she arrived with Janet, the maid/chamberperson/pot walloper. A true creature of grace. A few guards showed and joined in. By nine, the place was hopping. I’d switched to Bush and the going was easy. Jeff danced with Mrs Bailey, I had a waltz with Janet. The guards did some jigs.

Post party. The pub looked like a bomb had hit it. I’d passed out on my hard chair. Bad idea. My back was in bits. The hangover hit low, fast and lethal, walloping every fibre of my being. I muttered,

“Sweet mother of Jesus.”

The sentry had crashed on the bar, the inevitable half pint of black at his head. Jeff appeared, greeted,

“Nice morning for it, lads.”

Sadistic bastard. He turned on the TV. Surfing the channels, he settled on Sky News, heard,

“Paula Yates has been found dead.”

Hit me like thunder. I loved that lost chick. Once heard her say,

“The first time Fifi fell off the bed as a baby, I raced to the doctor. I was beside myself. He said the only thing wrong with this baby is she is wearing too much jewellery.”

How could you not love her?

A time I heard Mary Coughlan say,

“It’s one thing to sing the blues; feeling them nearly killed me.”


Jeff shook his head, stared at me, said,

“What a waste.”

But I knew. His expression was beloved of mothers, length and breadth of the country. It cautioned,

“Let that be a lesson to you.”

Jeff had way too much style to say that. The sentry stirred, reached for his glass, drained the dregs, then went back to sleep. In my old pub, Grogan’s, two men were in constant attendance. Each end of the bar, dressed identically

Cloth caps
Donkey jackets
Terylene pants.

Twin drinks. Always and for ever, the half drained pint of Guinness, creamy head intact. No mean achievement. I’d never known them acknowledge each other. I knew them as the sentries only. What they were guarding is anybody’s guess. The old values perhaps. One had fallen to a coronary. The second had shifted his tent when Grogan’s changed hands.

I felt old. Circling fifty, every bad year was etched on my face. The hangover threw in another hard five. Jeff asked,


“Does the pope have beads?”

“That’s a yes?”

I headed upstairs. They’d given me the attic room. It was clean, Spartan. Thomas Merton could have swung a cat in it. Sunlight streamed in through the roof window. It gave me an illusion of hope. Got my toilet gear and went in search of a bathroom. It was unoccupied. Spotlessly maintained, with a crescendo of fluffy towels. I said,

BOOK: The Killing of the Tinkers
3.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Detection Unlimited by Georgette Heyer
The Bogleheads' Guide to Retirement Planning by Taylor Larimore, Richard A. Ferri, Mel Lindauer, Laura F. Dogu, John C. Bogle
Sanctuary of Mine by S. Pratt, Emily Dawson
What Came After by Sam Winston
Tableland by D. E. Harker
Carol Finch by Fletcher's Woman
Southern Charm by Stuart Jaffe
Paragaea by Chris Roberson
Prey by Stefan Petrucha