Night of the Fluffies (from Murder for Anxious Beginners)
by Alan Kelly
I planted my walking stick firmly on the tarmac and levered myself out of the warmth and security of the taxi. ‘Some things never change’, I thought, when I saw the Wheel Bar still poking out of the ground like a serrated tooth in need of urgent capping. In my perfectly tailored black pinstripe and meticulously shorn bleached hair, I couldn’t have looked more out of place if I was one of those purply guys with tails in Avatar. In my heart of hearts I didn’t really care. My old identity had been kicked into permanent touch and now this was the new me – how I liked to look, how I had to look. I could not change back again for anybody or for any reason. Three painful years had slipped from my life since I last downed a pint in Finglas and I never felt more alone. But then again I had never felt among friends even when growing up here.
I looked slowly around. It was the back-end of summer and the nights were calling sooner. A clammy breeze brushed across my face as baleful shadows slithered across the concrete bones of the old Jamestown Road. Right at that moment I hesitated. Maybe Paddy Dwyer was right and this was all a big mistake. In the middle of my reflections a very different image flashed through my mind. I was sitting under a shady lemon tree with the aroma of wild thyme adrift in soft primitive heat. It was my one and only holiday with Mary Jane and it seemed to pop into my thoughts lately whenever clouds of stress approached my horizon. At first I welcomed the intrusions. Now it just felt like a lament for a strangely stupid Romeo with fixation issues. It was dangerous allowing my mind to wander out on its own.
Before I became overly maudlin about my recent past I noticed a half dozen or so troglodytes loitering around The Wheel entrance sucking mega joints and John Player Blues. At least one scuttled off in a tizzy when he saw who had just disembarked from a taxi.
A beanpole with bright orange hair stretched his neck from the smoky porch. It was Small Paul in a scarlet Ben Sherman and a pair of dun coloured skinny combats that made him look deformed. He was yelling like a loon and waving a heavily inked left arm that looked like a swirling multicoloured stain.
‘Hey, Macker man! I can’t believe you made it!’
‘SP, the very man,’ I replied with a hurried smile.
I first engaged the skills of the wiry Northsider in a teacher/protégé kind of way after busting him for possession back in my early copper days. He wasn’t the usual dope donkey and he made a positive impression on me. A brainiac prodigy, he had dropped out of UCD before the college dumbfuckery had completely de-knackered him – or at least that was his alibi. Mysteriously, after such a transitory stint in college, he had somehow still managed to accumulate an extraordinary index of blue-chip contacts. It included most of the banks and financial institutions, practically every government department, and a few noteworthy freelancing bastards in foreign fields – all an integral part of his information archive. A loose but mutually rewarding alliance thereafter blossomed between the former college geek, the nob solicitor, and now, the ex-cop private investigator. Small Paul had two primary weaknesses and one mild predilection, i.e., imbibing copious amounts of Guinness and grade A cannabis, and entering ‘staring’ competitions. While he insisted the ‘staring thing’ was simply to sharpen his concentration, I suspected all that enforced attention was the main attraction. Regardless, he was like a starving terrier rooting out the last bone on Earth when sniffing the dirties on errant husbands, wayward wives, or bent bankers.
The Wheel was jammed with moody young men with enormo-beards and women with skirts raised to stunningly high expectations. Local oldsters still clogged-up the corners sipping everlasting pints and picking a string of losers from the racing post. This made me feel simultaneously happy and mildly depressed. Out of nowhere, a digitalised farrago of rock, hip-hop, and metal abruptly pounded into life and drilled into my brain. I winced. It sounded like a half-crazed deaf bastard had grabbed the zeitgeist by the balls and kicked the crap out of it. The music lover inside me cried in desperation – holy fuck!
No longer feeling part of any cool demographic I scanned the beery tableau for a recognisable distraction. The old polished bar still resembled an undertaker’s display coffin with a cluster of beer handles protruding at one end and a pair of perpetually empty poor boxes chained to the other. Sets of matching pensioners were welded to bar stools hypnotically watching Sky Sports on giant flat screen TVs. I noticed an older barman with a flushed face and two bloodshot holes near his forehead squinting through the fug.
‘Raymond, me old son,’ he wheezed over the din. ‘Welcome back. Haven’t seen you in fecking ages. I heard you were brown bread?’
‘Nah, still alive and kicking, Murph.’
‘Great to see yea, anyway.’
‘You too, mate.’
‘Are you having a drink or what?’
‘No, no, I’m ok. SP is looking after me. Thanks anyway.’
‘Right so. Mind yourself. Talk later maybe?’
‘Yeah – later, Murph.’
When Murph turned to a pair of old bods stationed at the bar I managed to catch his scratchy response.
‘Did you see who that was, lads?’
‘It was oul Jimmy Mack’s young fella. The Guard,’ grunted one of them. ‘So what?’
‘So nothing, really. It’s just, well you know – it’s always good to see old faces.’
‘Well, I wouldn’t get too attached to that particular old face, if I were you, Murph.’
‘And why’s that?’
‘He’s just a pile of shite waiting to be shovelled.’ I quickly looked away.
A handful of seasoned drinkers, alerted by Murph’s salutations, rubbernecked in my direction and casually raised their glasses. I eyebrowed my appreciation. I was beginning to feel in a comfortable groove and pushed that shite and shovel prediction out of my mind.
‘Let’s find somewhere quieter, yeah?’ Small Paul bellowed into my face.
‘Sure. What about Westmeath, then?’
We bagged an empty-ish corner where some high-back seating promised an adequate amount of protection from the musical onslaught. Small Paul carefully positioned a couple of creamy headed pints in front of us and immediately launched into a whirlwind spiel.
‘Man, this is so fucking cool! And you know what?’
‘This is the first time you’ve been out this way since the shoot-up!’
‘Ah well, hadn’t really thought about it.’
‘We need to commemorate it, man. Mark the moment, yeah. Set up a routine if you know what I mean. Hey, that rhymes! And…’
To slow him down I slid a wrapped newspaper across the table.
‘2K. And I need your talents for my first official PI job – starting tomorrow.’
Small Paul wasn’t listening. He was peering down at the folded-up newspaper.
‘The Irish fucking Times! Does this look like an Irish fucking Times kind of place? You might as well plant a big flashing sign over my head that roars “twat with two grand! twat with two grand!”’
‘Well, if you don’t want it…’
In a blink he grabbed the cash and shoved down the front of his combats.
‘Besides extracting bits of bullet out of your arse, did they remove bits of your brain as well?’
‘My brain problems happened long before any shooting.’
‘You really have been away too long, Mack.’
‘I don’t think I have,’ I pointed behind us with my thumb. ‘It’s impossible to be away too long from that everlasting god-awful stink in the jacks.’
‘Right, granted. It is a mite putrid. But you always know where you stand with a good stink. It’s like a factoid that never varies – you know what I mean.’
‘I’m serious, man. And there’s things living back there that can never be killed.’
‘Ok-ok, I’m in. Explain.’
‘Well, just for a laugh, we cut the heads off a few cockroaches a while back…’
‘…why the fuck would…’
‘… And guess what? …Go on, guess.’
‘Ehh…everyone looks normal until you get to know them?’
‘They stayed alive for fucking weeks afterwards.’
‘Really! And what? They ate through their arse?’
‘Nah, I think it was osmosis, man. They sucked it up through their feet.’
‘Wow, and there was me, worried that college had been completely wasted on you.’
I realised at that moment how much I had missed Small Paul’s brand of mad Northside chatter. I let myself go and laughed properly for the first time in yonks. It felt good, like waking from a nasty dream feels good.
‘I’m glad now I left my regular mind outside.’ I said. ‘It sure helps with the communication.’
‘Too true…and the pints taste better as well. Cheers.’
My belly struggled with its sudden re-acquaintance with ice cold Guinness. My brain remembered well enough, though. All those benumbed mornings-after congealed in porter stains and nicotine flashed briefly into existence.
‘This is really good for us, Macker man. And you know what – I think we should make a night of it.’
‘Eh – I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.’
‘Yeah, yeah, of course it is. It’ll be great – you’ll see. Just let good old SP look after the necessaries.’
‘Paul, don’t bother, please. I’m not staying…’ but his mouth was already out and about.
‘First things first, though. We need company.’
He immediately eyeballed the floor for feasible targets.
‘Yo ladies, do you know where I can find a good plastic surgeon?’
A pair of beautiful young things with basketball boobs and impossibly precarious stilettos pulled up to inspect the ginger nut.
‘Why? D’ya need a face transplant, or maybe a new head for your granddad, there?’
A spasm of cackling laughter ignited between them.
‘Well, if you must know girls, my friend here is in dire need of a penis
- He’s packing so much meat he needs a walking stick just to get around.’
Cackling of quadraphonic proportions now assailed the once muffled corner. Unbelievably though, the girls took the bait and plonked their lipstick-stained glasses in front of us.
‘You’re a frigging nut job, but we could do with a bit of a laugh, couldn’t we, Maeve?’
Before I knew what was happening I was within an ass’s roar of having some genuine craic. I always envied my young friend’s capacity for living the moment and I slipped easily into his idyllic comfort zone.
Abruptly our shenanigans were brought to an end when a pair of human nightmares slammed through the entrance doors. As they cast a slow malevolent glare around the premises they looked every inch a diabolical mix of hairy primate and tattooed concrete. Moments later they zeroed in on our table.
‘Fuck me pink,’ groaned Small Paul, staring hard at the floor. ‘It’s the Fluffy twins.
A-And I think they’re looking in your direction, Mack. At least I hope it’s in your direction.’
The Fluffies trundled their way across the floor as Small Paul and the girls dissolved into the ether. The rest of the bar craned their necks and watched with morbid fascination as one of the twins rested a pair of king-sised fists on the table in front of me. Black pitiless eyes searched about the table like a vulture unsure when feeding-time should start.
‘Evening, Mr. Mack,’ he began, his arm muscles rippling like a bag of tired eels. ‘Long time no see.’
‘Hi, Seanie – Mattie. Didn’t know you guys were out?’
‘Early release, Mr. Mack, overcrowding in the Joy,’ Mattie replied with a sly grin.
‘And eh, we’re kinda sorry to tell you this, Mr. Mack. But…we have orders to smash-up your good leg and stick your cane up your arse.’
‘Holy fuck, lads?’
‘What. There’s more?’
‘Fraid so, Mr. Mack,’ said Seanie. ‘We have to put it on YouTube, as well.’
‘There’s no way around it,’ sighed Mattie. ‘And it’s nothing personal, like. But orders is orders, you understand.’
‘Only too well, lads.’
‘But you know what…you were always good to us and our dear old ma, Mr. Mack, when you was a cop. And we remember that, don’t we, Mattie?’
‘Yea, Seanie, we always remember that, so we do.’
‘So, tell you what, Mr. Mack,’ continued Mattie with a knowing wink. ‘We’ll only break your leg in one place and we’ll use Vaseline on the cane. How does that sound?’
‘…and we won’t shove it too far up your arse neither,’ Seanie interjected.
As the twins stood back I knew I was only seconds away from being totally fucked. I looked at the weighty silver handle of my cane that was shaped like a small rugby ball. All of a sudden memories of self-defence lessons in Rehab flashed into my mind. ‘The Solar Plexus is a complex bundle of ganglia and nerves radiating out from the pit of the stomach,’ Mr. Doolan the Rehab instructor had proclaimed. ‘If punched with enough force, say, with the tip of a walking stick, it will bring down a gorilla.’
I took a deep breath. ‘Sounds fair to me, boys, thanks for being so decent about it.’
‘That’s ok, Mr. Mack. Don’t mention it.’
I said a quick prayer as I slipped out from the seat, pushing the cane along the table in front of me. Approaching vertical I took careful aim. It was now or never. I had no choice. And with all the strength I could muster, I rammed the tip of the cane into Seanie’s solar plexus. Hostilities initiated, the giant Fluffy gasped horribly and crumpled helplessly to the floor.
His mammoth brother roared like a lunatic and hurled himself in my direction. In another rehearsed tactic I dived to the floor and rolled posthaste into Mattie’s scrambling legs. Momentarily flummoxed, he toppled over in a confused heap. Before he untangled himself I was already on my feet and launching into a golf swing that brought the cane head scrunching into Mattie’s exposed scrotum. He recoiled like a human globule and gently folded over beside his brother.
A collective intake of astonished breath sucked the entire bar of oxygen and the only sound to be heard was the thud-thud-thud from the big speakers behind the counter. A hundred and fifty drinkers stood stock-still with their mouths open in stunned silence. I gently poked Seanie with my cane.
‘Seanie, are you ok, lad?’
‘Yeah, Mr. Mack, I’m ok, thanks.’
‘How about you, Mattie?’
‘Yeah, I’m ok too, thanks for asking.’
‘Ward sent you, didn’t he?’
‘Can’t really say, Mr. Mack, he’d kill us if we did. You understand.’
‘Right guys, I understand. Thanks for not telling me.’
I hawed the top of my cane, polished it with a paper napkin, and made my way slowly towards the door. The gob-smacked clientele parted like a human Red Sea. Small Paul snapped himself awake.
‘Hey you, God. Wait up there,’ he yelled. ‘You just twonked the Fluffies with a fucking walking stick. Fuck-sake man, I want to have your kids. Take me now, here, in the car park.’
But I was in no mood for jokes. ‘It was Ward,’ I said. ‘He knows I’m here, he’s probably watching us right now.’
‘Say what! Ward… looking at us! Eh, I’ll take a rain-check on the old starting-the-family-thing, Mack. Call you tomorrow about that job. See yea.’
I was alone again in the dingy car park with the muffled din from the Wheel battling against a blustery north wind. Overhead a mangled street lamp swung wildly from side-to-side. I stared into a smoggy metropolis of terraced houses, flats, and thickets of satellite dishes. I grew up on these streets. But for the first time in my life I felt really afraid being back here. A taxi pulled up and disgorged a shaven-headed guy in a dark tweed overcoat with a mobile phone stuck to his ear. I climbed into the vacated space.
‘Connolly Station,’ I said. And without saying a word the driver pulled smoothly away.