The Foley Street door is opened by the young, mute girl and she admits the two men. The interior of the brothel is dark in contrast to the afternoon light, and Charlie Dillon and Jimmy Boyle wait until their eyes adjust to the dim hallway before following the girl into the parlour.
The room at first appears empty and smells of stale perfume and whiskey soaked into faux-Turkish carpets. Jimmy takes the odour of the whiskey over all other smells and his mouth fills with saliva and his hands begin to shake. He shoves them in his trouser pockets to still them.
‘A drink, gentlemen?’
Dillon and Boyle turn to the silhouette of a woman seated on a chaise longue in front of the parlour window, the outside light a harsh white through the lace curtains, making it difficult to see the woman’s face.
‘Don’t mind if we do,’ Jimmy says, and the driver slips behind the bar before Dillon can stop him, taking a bottle of Paddy from the shelf behind and glugging a generous measure into a glass. ‘You want one, Charlie?’
Dillon stares at his driver. ‘No, I don’t, Jimmy.’ This is not how he had wanted to begin.
‘A seat then, please,’ Ginny Dolan says, indicating two chairs across a low table facing the chaise longue.
Boyle refills his glass and follows Dillon to the chairs, setting down the whiskey and taking out his packet of cigarettes. He offers the box around and has no takers, the brothel madam smiling, he thinks, as she shakes her head, but it is hard to tell, seated as she is in front of the window.
‘What can I do for you, gentlemen?’ the woman asks, directing her question to Dillon. ‘You said it was urgent business in your phone call.’
‘I’ll not beat round the bush, Mrs Dolan,’ Dillon says, leaning forward, hands on his knees. He squints and tries to hold her eyes against the light of day behind her. ‘We’re looking for your man, Albert. You said on the ringer he’s not here.’
‘He’s not, you’re welcome to look if you care to …’
‘Missus, if I wanted to search this … house … for him I’d have twenty detectives and soldiers in here in a minute and you’d not have so much as a plate unbroken when we left. So save yourself the bother and tell us where your man is.’
‘I didn’t get your name, sir.’
‘Captain Charles Dillon, Free State Army Intelligence,’ Boyle says, setting down his whiskey, ‘And I’m Jimmy Boyle, CID.’
‘Ah, a spy and a copper. I feel so much safer now.’
Boyle nods, reaching into his jacket for his badge, and Dillon tells him to leave it.
Turning back to Ginny Dolan, he says, ‘This is not a friendly visit, Mrs Dolan. Your man is wanted for the attempted murder of a detective officer and the murder of three men in the employ of the Free State. I will have this house in shreds, I will, if you choose it.’
‘Twenty odd years I’ve run a business in these streets, Mr Dillon, and never once did a single serving soldier of the British Army ever threaten me. And now with the Free State of Ireland only a wet week old, I’m already threatened by an Irishman.’
The woman smiles pleasantly as she speaks, and this enrages Dillon. ‘You tell me where he is, whore, or I’ll burn this fucking stew to the ground. See how long it takes for your doxies to jump ship to one of the other houses …’
‘Captain Dillon, tut tut, sir.’
‘Do you think I’m having you on, Missus? Do you?’
‘I think you’d do well to ask your masters first before you threaten Ginny Dolan with burning, Captain Charles Dillon of the Free State Army Intelligence.’
‘My masters give me reign to do what I need do in the pursuit of enemies of the Free State.’
‘Including the destruction of Irish businesses and the harassment of loyal, Irish citizens?’
Dillon smiles a cruel smile. ‘Your loyalty isn’t worth a ride on your sorriest brasser, Missus, to the people and government of Ireland.’
‘So you’re threatening me, a poor, widowed woman, on behalf of the people of Ireland then, Captain Dillon?’
‘I’d mind my mockery if I were you, madam. Good whores are hard to come by if they’ve no house to tup in.’
Ginny Dolan pauses and turns to Jimmy Boyle. ‘Mister Boyle, why don’t you make yourself another straightener there like a good chap while I speak to Captain Dillon here?’
Jimmy Boyle looks to Dillon, and Dillon, flummoxed for the moment, pauses. ‘There’s nothing … he can hear anything you’ve to say.’
‘I’d rather think you’d hear what I’ve to say yourself first and then decide.’
Boyle shifts his gaze from Dillon to Ginny Dolan and feels a chill wash over his back. There is something about the woman that unnerves him. She is not afraid of Charlie and certainly not of himself. He stands and crosses the room to the bar for more whiskey before Dillon can stop him.
‘Now then, sir, will I tell you why you’ll be taking your threats away and leaving me be, will I?’
‘Go on, then, tell us. You’ve backbone, I’ll give you, for a pimping whore madam.’
‘Oh, I’ve more than backbone, Captain Dillon, believe you me,’ she says, her smile fading. ‘I’ve friends among your masters and among the departing Crown.’
‘And what friends are these?’ Dillon asks.
‘You’re an Irishtown lad, aren’t you, Captain?’
For a second Dillon is thrown. ‘I am, though what’s it …?’
‘Forty-five the Strand Terrace, is it? And your dear mother and two sisters and poor invalided grand-da live together, snug as bugs don’t they, in that lovely Irishtown terrace house?’
His face darkens. ‘And what of it?’
Ginny smiles again. ‘Oh, nothing of it, sir, only it would be a shame if any fire started here should send sparks down Irishtown way. Life’s terrible hard for a family with no home and young, pretty sisters such as your own. It can be fierce dangerous on the streets what with the type of men that will do just about anything to a young girl for the price of a jug or two …’
‘You whore, are you threatening my family!?’
‘Now, now, Captain Dillon. I do nothing of the sort. I’ve a mind to find my missing son Nicky and will have nothing or no man stop me. That’s all. Perhaps you might care to look for yourself. There’s a substantial reward in the offing should you find him.’
‘You rickety bitch. I should put a bullet in you right now, and then you’d be no harm to any upstanding man or woman.’
‘You’re calling yourself upstanding, Captain?’
He reaches into his coat, comes out with his Luger pistol and slaps it down onto the table with a clatter that makes Boyle spill his whiskey at the bar.
‘Put that away, for the love of God. Do you not think I’ve done my sums and paid who needs paying already? Just in case something ill should befall me? Let’s call it Ginny Dolan’s life assurance, shall we? There is no reason for us to be enemies, Captain Dillon. Grander men than you have benefited from my friendship.’
Dillon stares hard at her for a long moment, unable to believe how this meeting has turned on him. The notion of finding and killing this madam’s doorman is gone, leaving only fear in its place. Not mad, he thinks. Dangerous. There is a part of him that would just shoot the woman, solve this problem as he has solved all others in the past years. But there exudes from this whore a menace older, darker than those he has encountered in the Crown forces or in his former colleagues now aligned against the Free State. Her threats, he feels, are utterly real, and her malice boundless.
He takes the gun back from the table and holsters it. ‘Come on, Jimmy, he’s not here …’
‘I’ve enjoyed your visit, Captain Dillon. Really, I have.’
The madam is smiling as they leave.