Book: Irregulars

Previous: Chapter 38
Next: Chapter 40

39

Jeremiah Byrne hands his last three pence to the bored attendant in the booth at the showers’ entrance and strips off his clothes, carefully folding them and placing them in a wire basket on the shelf of the changing-room.

Wrapping himself in a towel—the only thing he has managed to steal since coming into the Achill the day before—Jeremiah enters the communal showers. They are as empty as his pockets and he curses his luck. He had managed to meet only one man willing to part with coin for his company in one of the curtained dressing stalls that run one wall of the changing-room, despite spending the better part of the previous night loitering in the steamy air, and so today he has a hacking, liquid cough that is triggered by the few remaining cigarettes in his possession.

Rum luck. Rum fucking luck and worse hope of filching a knife from the canteen, though he has managed to buy a heel of stale bread from one of the harpy cunts working the serving line. Knives are another story, the men have to rent them for two pence per item of cutlery—fork, knife or soup spoon—and are especially careful of them. After buying the bread he had lingered at a table, gnawing on the bread for over an hour, hoping one of the diners might accidentally forget his knife, until he was chased from the canteen by one of the women. Not wanting to test his luck and be thrown out of the Achill, he had come to the showers and had no luck here either. If he stumbled into a paying punter, he might rent his own knife and fork in the canteen and simply keep the knife, sharpening it to a lethal edge and point against the brick wall in the toilets, jimmying up a handle grip from strips of torn lining from his jacket. No luck, to fuck, but.

He showers, hanging the towel on a hook on the tiled wall, standing under the hot and constant spray that comes from the ceiling fixtures under the command of a rusting button on the wall. The water feels wonderful, scouring away the dust from his hidey-hole under one of the Achill bunks in the far corner of a dorm room, where he’d slept the day away in the emptied hostel while its paying patrons tramped the streets until the Achill opened again at five. Jeremiah lets the water beat away his cares; his fears for his sisters; fear of the men who are hunting him. It has been what? Three days, four maybe, since he’d stuck the fella in the laneway off Abbey Street. Surely them lads would be after some other poor sap by now and have forgotten auld Jerry Byrne, him with enough troubles of his own. Bygones be bygones. And maybe he hadn’t killed the bastard, and anyway, no harm done.

A shadow warps the light through Jeremiah’s closed lids and he opens his eyes. His luck a-turning? See now, a fella there, and one he can tell by the spark in his eyes is as bent as a dray’s shoes, surely. The man leans in the doorway to the changing room, staring at Jeremiah. A frisson of fear laces through Jeremiah’s blood. The man is blocking the only exit from the showers. He is wearing a cap and labourer’s clothes but he does not have the look of a punter or a doss-house sleeper. And his eyes, Jerry realises, are alive with something more than lust.

‘Young Jeremiah,’ the man says, and the icy fear becomes a shudder. How does he know my name? I’ve told nobody me name ….

‘Who’s that, when he’s at home?’ Jeremiah croaks, just as the water cuts out, leaving him dripping and naked and suddenly cold. Goosebumps pepper his flesh in the humid veil of steam.

The man laughs. ‘Jig’s up, boy. Come here to me now and don’t be messing. There’s lads want a word with you.’

Lads like the mates of the fella he’d stabbed in the laneway. ‘I don’t know what you’re on about,’ Jeremiah says, making his way as casually as he can to his towel, drying himself before tying it around his waist. Rum fuckin luck is wha’ I have and that’s no word of a lie ….

‘Ah, young buck, you do know what I’m on about,’ the man, who is from the country by his accent, imitates Jeremiah.

‘I fuckin’ don’t so’s unless you want yer bottle washed, fuck off with yeh and let me get dressed.’ But his voice betrays his words, sounding young and frightened as it echoes off the dripping walls of the showers.

‘You know, young buck,’ the man says, rubbing the stubble on his chin, adjusting the cap on his head, ‘I don’t need bring you in at all. The bossman would be just as happy with you bleeding out into that drain there, boy, so don’t make me come in and drag your nancy arse out of here.’

Jeremiah swallows. Jig’s up all-fuckin’-right, but there’s life for a fella. You’re cold, you’re hungry, you’re beaten down and then you die. Fuck it, for a game of jacks.

‘You’ll let me get me bags on, wha’?’

‘Of course I will, young buck. I’d hardly have your shitty arse on the seat of my motor without a pair of breeches on it, would I?’

‘No.’ Jeremiah walks towards him, his footsteps sucking on the wet floor. Something—someone—passes behind the man in the doorway.

The man turns, seeming to sense the presence, and as he does so his hand goes into his jacket and comes out with a boxy, long-barrelled pistol. The man says something and Jeremiah only catches the last words of it. ‘… out of here. We’re busy …’

He cannot hear the muffled reply from the other person inside the changing-room, but the man in the doorway turns back to Jeremiah, pointing the gun at him, and says, ‘Stay there, you. No, sit down, there, now. Now!’ before turning back to the unseen figure.

 

O’Keefe is moving down the hall when he hears the shot. It is muffled and flat from behind the swing-doors of the showers, but he recognises it for what it is and breaks into a jog. Instinctively he pats his belt—as if it still holds the side-arm and baton of his days as a Peeler—and finds it empty. He has a flashing thought that this is what his father must feel as he searches for memory and finds only the mist of incomprehension: the nakedness that comes of being unarmed around armed men. He pushes through the swing-doors into the showers.

The attendant’s booth is empty and O’Keefe hears a scuffle from the adjoining room—rough grunting and the sliding of boots on tiles. He moves into the changing-rooms and comes upon Just Albert standing over a man who is slumped on a bench, halfway between seated and supine. Just Albert swivels round and points a Mauser automatic at O’Keefe.

‘Jesus, Albert it’s me!’

‘Took your sweet time of it coming.’

The man on the bench moans, his leg swinging out as if to find purchase on the tiles, and Just Albert turns back to him, putting the pistol into his coat and coming out with his club. Before O’Keefe can stop him, he begins to beat the man on the bench with the club, the sound of it against the man’s skull like a wooden door slamming in the wind.

O’Keefe grabs his arm as he brings it down again.

‘Stop! Albert, for God’s sake, you’ll kill him!’

Just Albert does not resist, and O’Keefe releases his arm.

‘He shot me, the bastard.’ He tilts his head to show an angry red welt on his neck above his collar. O’Keefe is stunned by how lucky Ginny’s man has been. A mere graze when one-tenth of an inch either way would have killed him.

‘Lucky boy, you.’

‘Luck’s nothing to do with it.’

‘Still, he missed.’

‘Lucky for him, then.’

O’Keefe doesn’t try to decipher what Just Albert means and steps over to the man, digging through his pockets, coming out with a wallet with several ten-bob notes in it and nothing else. In the inside of his jacket pocket, however, he finds a badge.

‘Jesus, Albert. You’ve done it now. This fella’s CID.’

‘And I’m to piss meself over a badge?’ He turns away from O’Keefe and sticks his head into the showers. ‘All right, Jeremiah. You ready to come with us?’

‘He’s in there? The Byrne boy?’

Just Albert nods and turns back to O’Keefe. ‘And this lad, this CID fella, was looking for him same as we are. Who are CID anyway?’

‘Detectives, Albert. Mick Collins’ own hand-picked lot of gunmen turned into a detective department and protection squad for government men. They’re a hit mob more than policemen, so the word is.’

‘Well he’s the one hit this time isn’t he?’ Just Albert smiles.

‘These are killers, Albert. They aren’t the lads for fannying around.’

‘Do I look like a lad for fannying round, Mr O’Keefe, when our Nicholas is missing these past weeks? Do I?’ His voice is raised and the smile is gone. ‘I let this lad take that lad in the showers there and we get nothing of what he knows about our Nicholas. This fella was as ready to kill him as take him in, I heard him say as much.’

‘No, Albert, you don’t look like one for … look, here.’ O’Keefe’s voice is low, calm. ‘You can’t bludgeon your way around the city and expect not to pay for it.’

‘You’d want to be some man to collect what I owe, wouldn’t you? This fella tried it.’

O’Keefe replaces the wallet and badge. ‘I don’t doubt he had it coming somehow, Albert, it’s just …’

Before O’Keefe can finish, there is a flash of movement from the shower-room entrance and the boy clad only in a towel darts between them, a pale fury of pumping legs and arms. He makes it as far as the changing-room entrance when Just Albert throws his club, a low, spinning missile that racks off the boy’s ankle and sends him sprawling on the wet tiles, slamming into the bath attendant’s empty booth. Just Albert steps around O’Keefe and grabs the boy by the hair, lifting him and dragging him back to the bench and seating him next to the bloodied head of the gunman.

‘Now,’ Just Albert says, ‘you get your kit on and hurry up about it, right?’

The boy’s eyes are wide and his nostrils flare, as if reacting to the coppery fug of blood in the air. He nods under Just Albert’s grip.

Ginny’s man releases the boy and watches as he takes a wire basket holding ragged clothes and a new pair of shoes—the shoes he had taken from the lane boys, O’Keefe thinks—and dresses. His hands are shaking, and O’Keefe feels a welling pity for the lad.

O’Keefe’s eyes go to the gunman. He wonders should he feel pity for him as well, but cannot muster any. He reaches down with his index finger and feels for a pulse, finding it after a moment, his finger coming away smeared with the man’s blood. He wipes his finger on the man’s coat and turns back to the boy.

‘Are you Jeremiah Byrne?’ O’Keefe says.

The boy looks at him and seems to notice him for the first time.

‘Blondy lad. Of course he is. Aren’t yeh, youngfella?’ Just Albert says, walking to the attendant’s booth and cracking the swing-doors to peer out down the hallway to the kitchens.

The boy nods. He is so thin that his ribs run like wheel ruts under the snow white of his skin. His arms are strung with the youthful beginnings of lean muscle and his face is handsome and young under the vigilance of ancient, dark blue eyes. Another boy who has seen too much of the world, too early, O’Keefe thinks, knowing there are thousands more in the city who have seen as much.

‘How old are you?’ he asks.

The boy, still looking at Just Albert as he shrugs on his jacket, says, ‘Fifteen, I think. Or Fourteen.’

‘You don’t know?’

‘Sure, how would I fuckin’ know? Nobody told me an’ anyway, did they?’

O’Keefe shakes his head. A child who matters so little no one had bothered to tell him how old he is, when his birthday is. Like one of a litter of pups to the mother.

The man on the bench moans again and Just Albert turns to look at him.

‘Don’t,’ O’Keefe says. ‘We need to shout him a doctor and we need get shot of here in case his friends come looking for him.’

Just Albert nods. ‘Right youngfella, you see this?’ He takes the pistol from inside his coat and shows the boy and the boy nods.

‘Just you make a move to run and you get one in the head and then one in the bollix when you’re down, got it, Sonny Jim?’

Jeremiah nods.

 

O’Keefe and Albert lead Jeremiah out of the showers, past the kitchens and up the stairs, where O’Keefe tells the cashier to ring for a doctor—that there’s a fella injured in the changing-room of the showers. ‘An important man,’ he says to the cashier, ‘so do it now or you’ll be for it when his friends find him out.’

Out onto the street.

‘I’ve the Trusty,’ O’Keefe says.

‘And I’ve the Bento, round the corner. We’ll take him in the motor. You can collect the bike later,’ Just Albert says.

Down May Street to Smithfield Market square, the scent of blood and rotting meat hangs in the cool, damp night air. Fog softens the lamplight. Tramps and old women scour the cobbles and pub fronts for dropped coins or scraps of meat the dogs might have missed, thick in their rags, like mumbling ghosts in the mist. Whores linger by the pubs and closed shopfronts. Candles burn in tenement windows on the far side of the market square, and horses whinny from an unseen stall. The gang of boys from the lanes is there, leaning on and milling around the Bentley. One of the lads, jumping up from his perch at the bonnet, shines the spot where he’s been leaning with his sleeve, leaving a greasy spot on the black paint.

‘There he is,’ one of the boys says.

‘Yeh fuckin’ thievin’ cunt, Jerry Byrne,’ another shouts. ‘You’re only lucky them fellas wanted yeh or yer guts’d be hangin’ out of yeh like ribbons from a tart’s wig.’

‘All talk, you are,’ Jeremiah says. ‘The fuckin’ lot of yis couldn’t gut fish.’

‘Come back round and find us when them two lads are finished with yeh and we’ll show yeh, Jerry. And here, Mister,’ the lad says to Just Albert. ‘Where’s the other pound you says was in it if yis found him?’

‘Pay the man, Mr O’Keefe,’ Just Albert says, opening the door to the Bentley. ‘They’ve done good work tonight.’

O’Keefe peels a pound note from the roll in his pocket and hands it to the oldest boy. Behind him he notices the messenger who had come for him at the Cunningham house.

‘You eat those beans, did you?’

The boy says nothing, but holds up the Bachelor’s tin, unopened.

‘We’ll eat them when we’re ready,’ the oldest lad says. ‘And remember, you, Jerry Byrne, you’re as good as dead if these two don’t kill yeh first. Are yis gonna kill him, Mister?’

‘We’ll see how he behaves and then decide,’ Just Albert says, holding Jeremiah by the arm and guiding him to the rear door of the Bentley.

The gang leader is about to speak when a smaller boy approaches him and whispers into his ear.

‘Here, right. Them shoes he’s on. Can we get ’em back off ye when yis’re finished with him?’ the oldest boy says.

A pair of shoes a matter of life and death on these streets of his city, O’Keefe thinks. He says, ‘You,’—pointing to Jeremiah—‘take off those brogues and give them over.’

Jeremiah Byrne shoots O’Keefe a look of disgust, but bends and removes the shoes, making no move to hand them to the boys. One of the smaller lads skips forward and takes them. As he hands them to his leader, he turns back and spits at Jeremiah’s feet.

‘Fuckin’ dead, you are,’ he says, his voice high and young.

‘Get in the car, Jerry,’ O’Keefe says, ‘I’m not sure how long I can hold this mob off you.’

‘You’d not hold us back one tick of the clock if we wanted him now, Mister,’ the leader says, and O’Keefe, looking over this wolf pack of boys, thinks that he may be right.

They pull away in the Bentley, O’Keefe in the back seat with the boy, and drive onto the river quays, past the blast-charred ruins of the Four Courts, east towards O’Connell Street.

After a long moment of silence, Jeremiah says, ‘Where’re yis takin me?’

‘We need to ask you some questions is all,’ O’Keefe answers.

‘And you’d better answer them right or there’ll be only bits of you left to hand back to your mates,’ Just Albert adds, his voice cold.

‘They’re not my mates.’

They continue on in silence, and O’Keefe thinks they are going back to Ginny Dolan’s house in Foley Street when Just Albert turns the car left at Liberty Hall and onto Store Street, pulling up in front of the morgue.

O’Keefe is torn between admiration for Just Albert and worry that this is the wrong thing to do. The boy is too young to see what is inside on the slabs. He decides to let things play out, thinking that there is less chance of Just Albert threatening the boy injury if the boy is shocked into telling them what he knows by the sight of his dead comrades inside.

‘Right,’ he says, holding him by the arm, ‘let’s go.’

Just Albert leads them into the building, and down the main hallway through the sets of swinging double doors. He appears oblivious to the chance they are taking of being caught and having to hand the boy over to DMP detectives, batting through the doors as if he owns the place.

Through the final set of doors and they are in the morgue proper, the room several degrees cooler than the hallway, the cement floor damp and the slab in the centre of the room empty and clean. The same attendant O’Keefe had bribed the evening before is there at the desk eating a cream bun and drinking tea.

‘What’s this, you can’t be in here …’ He recognises O’Keefe and lowers his voice. ‘Jaysus, Mister, you can’t be barging in like this and with a boy and all? Jaysus. I could lose me job over this.’ He makes no move to rise from his seat, and O’Keefe peels
a pound note from his roll and tosses it onto the desk beside
the bun.

‘You’ll be rich before the week’s out. Now stand out in the hall and keep an eye out. If anyone you can’t refuse entry to is coming, you let us know and we’ll head out through your office there, right? Anyone else, you stall until we’re finished.’

‘Well, since we’ve had no bodies today and the post mortem on your boys there,’—the attendant points to two trolleys against the far wall of the room, on which rest sheet-covered bodies—‘was finished this morning, a quid’s worth the risk, but mind you be quick about it.’

‘What were the post mortem findings?’ O’Keefe asks, as the attendant makes to leave.

‘Dumdums to the back of the head for the both of them. There is nothing left inside the boys’ skulls at all.’

‘Jesus. Any idea what calibre round?’

‘Oh yes, the sawbones here, he used to be with the Royal Army Medical in the war. He says it looks like nine by nineteen millimetres, by the size of the entry wound and from the look of the flattened slugs.’

‘Luger Parabellum?’ O’Keefe says, trying not to match the attendant’s enthusiasm but finding it difficult. How many times had he stood as a Peeler speaking in rooms such as this in the past, with men like this one?

‘Most likely. Some of the newer sub-machine-guns are using nine millimetre, but it’s rare enough here in Ireland so far. At least as far as we see. Still 7.62 and .353 mainly. Some .45 calibre. The Thompson handheld machine-gun loads .45. A fierce big hole it makes too.’

O’Keefe nods. He had seen men with the Luger, had even lagged one or two in Cork during the troubles there. It was a well-respected gun by men who had fought in the war, known for its reliability. He would wager that the IRA had had their share of them brought in from various sources, but they are rare enough, as the morgue attendant had said. It isn’t much, he thinks, but it could be something. He has heard that there has been progress matching bullets to individual guns in the laboratory. Kevin Barry himself had been hanged on the basis of this new science of ballistic evidence.

‘And the other bodies you’ve seen,’ he says, remembering his previous conversation with the attendant, ‘the ones with the same trauma and bullet wounds …’

The attendant answers before O’Keefe can finish. ‘Same-o, same-o. Point nine rounds, contact wounds, back of the head.’

‘Is there any chance it’s the same gun?’

‘Ah now, what I think and what I’d be able prove is a-whole-nother story.’

‘Look,’ O’Keefe says, taking another pound note from the roll, ‘I know we’re putting you in a hard place. We need five minutes is all, to ask this lad a few questions.’

‘And you thought this was a good place to do it?’

O’Keefe shrugs. ‘You never know what seeing his pals laid out under a sheet might do to motivate a lad towards the truth.’

The attendant takes the note, reverting back to the compromised morgue sentinel that he is. ‘Now be quick about it, Mister. Two quid’s grand for a piss up or a fortnight’s grub and rent, but it won’t feed the family come winter if I’m out a job.’

‘That won’t happen if you keep proper sketch, right?’

The attendant leaves and O’Keefe crosses the room to where Just Albert stands with Jeremiah Byrne before the two sheeted forms on the trolleys. He nods at Ginny’s man and receives a nod in response. Without pausing he whips back the sheet from the first body, the sheet billowing and wrapping itself around Jeremiah, the sour, sweet scent of decay wafting forth like Dublin fog. O’Keefe had not intended for this to happen but it has the desired effect of shocking the boy, who begins a panicky flapping of his arms in an attempt to shrug free from the sheet. Just Albert grabs Jeremiah by the back of the neck and forces him down until his nose is nearly touching the corpse’s cheek.

By chance, it is the body of the boy found wearing Nicholas’ jacket, the rough skin of his feet marking him for Jerry’s friend. Visible now on his skin, running from his sternum to pubic bone, is a thick, forked trail of stitching from the post mortem. Under the dead boy’s hairline, O’Keefe can just make out the stitching of the cranial cut, where the skin of the boy’s face had been peeled back and the top of the skull sawn off to reveal the desecration the dumdum nine millimetre had done to the boy’s brains. Thankfully, the corpse’s eyes are closed, but the cigar burns and terrible bruising are still evident.

‘Your mate, is it?’ Just Albert says, and Jeremiah nods, still trying to work himself free from the sheet.

‘Why was he wearing Nicky Dolan’s jacket?’

‘Whose jacket?’

‘Nicholas Dolan’s jacket,’ O’Keefe says. ‘A black schoolboy’s coat. Where did he get it?’

‘I don’t …’

Just Albert presses down on Jeremiah’s neck, burying the boy’s face underneath his dead friend’s chin, his lips pressed tight to the stitches. Jeremiah struggles but Just Albert’s grip is too strong.

‘Take a good sniff, young Jerry. You smell that? That’s what you’ll smell like by morning if you don’t start giving me answers.’

The boy grunts and yelps, the sound halfway between a sob and a shout, and O’Keefe begins to wonder are they are being too hard on the boy. He has given his share of slaps as a copper, has taken the hard line once or twice, but rarely with someone so young. And a slap was one thing. Pressing a boy’s face into the corpse of his friend another.

‘Tell him, Jerry. Where did you get the jacket?’ O’Keefe asks, his voice softer and more reasonable than the doorman’s.

‘Let me up, jaysus fuck. Let me up an’ I’ll tell you for the sake of holy God.’

Just Albert lets him up, keeping a firm grip on the back of his neck. ‘Well?’

‘He stole it.’

‘Stole it from Nicky?’

Jeremiah nods, and looks to O’Keefe as if for mercy. There is a pleading in his eyes that moves something in O’Keefe.

‘And when was this? Where?’ O’Keefe says.

Before Jeremiah can answer, Just Albert leans into the boy’s ear and says, ‘Did yis hurt Nicky? If yis hurt our Nicky you’re a …’

‘Albert, leave off him.’

‘We didn’t hurt him. We only wanted his shoes and jacket.’

Just Albert tightens his grip on Jeremiah’s neck.

‘And any shrapnel, any coin, he’d on him. I swear on the life of me sisters, I do.’

‘Let the kid go, Albert. For fuck sake.’ O’Keefe and Just Albert lock eyes for a long moment before the doorman reluctantly releases the boy.

‘Look, Jeremiah,’ O’Keefe says. ‘We’ll not hurt you, but we need to know what happened. How’d your mate end up dead here? And this other boy.’ O’Keefe removes the sheet from the second body, but gently this time. ‘Do you know this lad?’

Jeremiah looks down at the second corpse and nods. ‘I think … I think he was with the other one who went in the hotel, the one whose jacket we … Tommo nicked. They must have lifted him as well.’

‘The other lad … Nicholas, you mean? He was in the hotel? Show him the photograph, Mister O’Keefe,’ Albert says.

O’Keefe takes the photo from his jacket and hands it to the boy. ‘Who lifted him, Jerry?’

Jeremiah looks back up at O’Keefe. ‘You know the man he battered back in the baths there, at the Achill?’ He indicates Just Albert with a nod.

O’Keefe tells him he does.

‘Well, I think it was his mates lifted him. They wanted all four of us.’

‘But they didn’t get you?’

‘Nor the other lad.’

‘Nicholas?’ Just Albert asks again.

‘Sure, how to fuck would I know his name? I was robbin’ him not ridin’ him.’ Some of the brashness of the streets, along with colour to his face, has returned to Jeremiah Byrne.

‘Mind your tongue, youngfella, or I’ll cut it out,’ Just Albert says, and O’Keefe frowns at him and signals to go easy.

‘And what, did these men come up on ye when you were robbing this boy and his friend?’ O’Keefe taps the photograph in Jeremiah’s hand. ‘This boy?’

Jeremiah studies the picture. ‘It was dark. It could be him but I don’t know. Sure, it wasn’t him I was worried about once I stabbed …’

‘You stabbed Nicholas?’ Just Albert’s voice is a low rasp that sends an icy dagger of panic up O’Keefe’s spine.

‘No, no. I didn’t stab no youngfella, no fuckin’ jaysus way I didn’t not! I swear on me sister’s eyes. I stabbed one of the trenchcoats, I did. I’d say that’s why yer man, the man he bate,’—Jeremiah indicates Just Albert with another tilt of his head, still afraid to look at him—‘is lookin’ for me. And why, I’d reckon, they’re lookin’ for your lad as well. I done the stabbing, but sure, they might think the four of us was together. Maybe that’s why Jerry and this lad are dead, but. I’d say it is.’

O’Keefe thinks for a moment. ‘Stand over there for a tick, Jerry. I need talk to my friend. And don’t think about legging it, right?’

‘I won’t. Any chance of a smoke?’

Jeremiah takes O’Keefe’s proffered Player’s Navy Cut and a light and steps over to the sink, some feet away from O’Keefe and the doorman but farther still from the exit. He takes in the welcome burn of smoke and turns, the cigarette pinched between his lips, to the sink to scour the smell of death from his hands and face. He turns on the water and looks down into the deep basin, and for the first time in several days, smiles. Miming his ablutions, his back to the two men, he reaches down and slips the long surgical scalpel into his trousers, covering the handle of it with his shirt.

Across the room, Just Albert says, ‘Nicholas went into the hotel. He was running messages and that fucker Murphy knows who for and how to contact him. He has to.’

O’Keefe considers this. ‘It seems likely all right.’

‘Then why are we still standing here? The hotel’s a five minute walk away and we need to have another chat with Mr Murphy.’

‘Remember his minders, Albert. They’re not men to be trifled with.’

‘Neither am I, am I?’

‘No, you’re not, but I’m asking you, right? No more violence, Albert. We’ll not be lucky every time.’ O’Keefe points to the angry welt the CID man’s bullet had carved in Just Albert’s skin.

‘Luck’s nothing to do with it,’ Just Albert says for the second time this night before turning, pushing through the swing-doors, leaving O’Keefe with Jeremiah in the morgue. O’Keefe covers the two bodies with their sheets.

Jeremiah takes a final pull on the cigarette and drops the end on the floor.

‘You’d better go,’ O’Keefe says to the boy. ‘Now, while he’s forgotten about you. And stay away from the lanes. Those boys want your blood and won’t be as gentle as we were.’

The boy sneers and laughs. ‘That sorry fuckin’ gaggle? Once they don’t cough on me I’m not afeared of them, I’m not.’

O’Keefe shrugs and crosses to the doors, holding them open for the boy. ‘Suit yourself, so.’

‘I always do, don’t I?’ the boy says, passing through the doors, the blade of the scalpel warming to the heat of his skin under his shirt.

 

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