Nora stands outside the closed door to Carty’s office. She is conscious of all activity in the office having stopped, conscious of the eyes of Mary Whyte on her, heavy and spiteful. The weight of her future, her freedom maybe, is the weight of her hand about to knock on the Detective Superintendent’s door. Guilt drives her to action and she knocks, and without waiting for a response enters the office.
‘Nora…?’ Carty is at his desk, looking tired, his glass eye appearing slightly askew in its socket.
‘You have to stop Dillon. He’s torturing O’Keefe. He won’t stop.’
‘I’ve no authority to stop him, Nora. Murphy was as much his operation, the Army’s operation, as it was ours.’
‘This is our building, sir. Our office. We do things our
way here, don’t we? Or does Dillon do things his way wherever he goes in the country? Are we working his way now, in our cells?’
‘We do our share of it, Nora, sure, you’ve heard it yourself.’
‘It has to stop. Seán O’Keefe has done nothing to deserve what he’s getting. You must stop it. It’s not right.’
‘He’s done nothing, then?’
‘He hasn’t. I was with him all night, watching him, like I was assigned.’ The lie comes easily to her this second time.
‘You were watching him.’ The words are flat and stagnant with a truth Nora has not foreseen.
‘I was. He was with me, last night, he couldn’t have done what Dillon thinks he’s done.’
Carty says nothing and the silence gathers around Nora like a rebuke.
She says, ‘You know that Charlie killed those two boys, in the city morgue. Tortured them first, like he’s doing to O’Keefe right now. On your watch, sir.’
‘I know he probably did, Nora, but there’s little I can do about it even if I could prove it. Just because you saw the bodies does not mean you can prove he killed them.’
‘I …’ Nora stops. ‘He as much as admitted it to me.’
‘You weren’t with O’Keefe all night, were you, Nora?’
Fear rises in her and she knows she has been caught in her lie. ‘I was.’
‘You weren’t. You were seen meeting him, seen …’ Carty appears sad, saying this. ‘We had another man on him. He was seen coming out of Burton’s and our man took the initiative to shadow him. He … watched … saw you two. Together.’
‘Oh.’ Something collapses inside her and her legs feel weak, hollow, as if they will not hold her upright.
‘Look, our man’s a good sort and won’t say anything. You’ll be grand, Nora.’
She swallows, knowing that it is not true, lies set upon lies, and decides that it doesn’t matter any more.
‘You have to stop Charlie, please. We’re supposed to be detectives. Political crimes. It’s a crime, Terence, what’s happening down in that cell. Please.’ Tears begin to run down her cheeks and she swipes them away, choking back the urge to weep in rage, in shame, in sadness. ‘Please,’ she says.
For a long moment, Carty says nothing. He blinks hard as if to dispel some horrible vision, and his glass eye rights itself. Finally he stands, his chair creaking under him. ‘Wait here,’ he says, and leaves the office, the door half-open, typewriters clacking back to life in his presence.
Dillon leaves Shirtsleeves holding his tie and comes to stand over O’Keefe.
‘Give me a pen. A pencil, whatever, give it to me.’ He takes O’Keefe’s jaw in his hand and holds his face in front of his
own. ‘Now you sign these papers, Peeler, and that’ll be that.
D’you understand me? Nice and easy and this will all be over for you.’
O’Keefe’s vision is blurred with blood and tears, but he is able to see, as Dillon looms over him and his jacket falls open, a Luger pistol hanging in the holster under the man’s left arm. Anger flares and lights in his gut and some small, futile joy with it. It does not matter now but at least he knows. He mumbles and is not sure if his words can be understood through the bloody mass of his teeth and tongue.
‘What’s that?’ Dillon lets go of his jaw and O’Keefe’s head slumps down onto his chest.
Fighting the black comfort of oblivion, the pain in his head and chest, O’Keefe raises his head and forces the words out more clearly. ‘A Luger.’
‘Your gun,’ O’Keefe says, a smeared grin coming to his lips. ‘It’s a Luger.’
‘Yes, what …?’
‘Is that the same one you used to shoot the two youngfellas?’ O’Keefe says, still smiling, black sleep edging his vision, fighting it.
‘What are you on about?’ Dillon says, turning to look to his two men. ‘What’s he on about?’
‘The two young lads in the city morgue. You shot them. The two boys …’
‘That’s why you and your men have been hunting the young blondie fella … and Nicky. You left two witnesses alive … two other boys who can identify you.’
‘You’re fucking daft. I’ve kicked all sense out of him, lads.’ He turns back to O’Keefe. ‘And even if you’re right, you’ve no proof. A murderer, sitting in a murderer’s chair, accusing me? Prove it, Peeler. You’re not in the police any more, are you, so? No way for you to stitch me up now, is there, you fucker.’
‘The way you’re trying to stitch me up, battering me into signing those papers of yours? So you can hang me with your man’s tie from the coat hooks and close the whole case out with a suicide.’ Blood and spit leak from O’Keefe’s mouth onto his already blood-soaked shirt. ‘I’m surprised you haven’t lit up one of your cigars by now … like you did to those two young boys.’
O’Keefe sees the look exchanged between the two younger men before the blow comes, Dillon’s fist lashing out and knocking one of O’Keefe’s loose teeth back into his throat. O’Keefe tries to bring his knees up in the chair as Dillon works his body with punches. At least, O’Keefe thinks, I know now. At least I know who killed those boys. A shame, but, I never found young Nicky. Shame I didn’t find him before this lot did.
The last words he hears are Dillon’s, saying to the younger detective, ‘The tie, Robert, give it here.’
Blessed black unconsciousness falls and O’Keefe slumps off the chair onto the hard floor of the cell, his blood bright red under the harsh light of the hanging bulb.
Carty keys the cell door and Dillon turns, the tie taut around O’Keefe’s neck, O’Keefe’s eyes beginning to bulge, spittle and blood in stringy webs from his lips, his feet jigging and scraping the cell floor.
‘Leave off him, Charlie. For the love of God. You’re a bloody savage, you are.’ Carty’s words are spoken softly.
‘This is none of your business, Terry,’ Dillon says, the necktie still taut in his fist, O’Keefe’s face going from red to blue, his tongue bulging from his mouth.
‘It is my business, Charlie. The courts are up and running, proper courts martial, and we’ll run him through them, but I’ll not have someone murdered here under my command.’
‘Murdered?’ Dillon laughs. ‘How many men have you murdered, Terence, for the sake of all that’s holy? Jesus. Murdered? By fuck, you’ve some cheek.’
Carty’s hand goes into his jacket and comes out with his Mauser. He levels it at Dillon and then the two other men. ‘Ye two shift it. Out!’ he barks, and the two younger agents look to Dillon and then to the gun. ‘Out!’
Reluctantly, the two pass in front of Carty and out of the cell.
‘You’re fucking finished, Carty. Know that, like you know nothing else. My brother …’
‘Fuck the brother, Charlie. You’ll be just as finished if I choose to investigate the killing of those two boys.’
‘You wouldn’t chance it. You wouldn’t dare, not with what I know about you, how many dead men you signed off on. How many dead men you fuckin’ shot yourself with your Mauser there, before you went so high and mighty behind a desk.’
O’Keefe’s feet lash out and straighten and his body goes limp.
‘Let him go, Charlie.’ Carty raises the Mauser.
Dillon smiles and shakes his head. ‘You’ve gone weak in the head, man.’ He lets go of the tie and O’Keefe slumps out of the chair and onto the floor, a bellowing intake of breath and then wracking, coughing exhalation. His eyes flare open, terror in them, ruptured capillaries making his pupils blood-red, blood in a fine coughing spray from his mouth.
‘We won’t be working together again, Charlie.’
‘No, Terence, we fucking won’t.’
Dillon turns and takes his suit jacket from one of the hooks before turning back. His face is flooded with rage, and Carty thinks for a second that Dillon will go for the Luger in its leather holster. But the man smiles instead. There is something vicious and unhinged in it, and Carty wonders is the man sane at all. Wonders for a passing second if he himself is.
‘Is it the bint upstairs you’re saving him for then?’ Dillon says. ‘Are you jockeying her, Terry? Is that what this is all about, wha’?’
‘Fuck off away, Charlie, or I’ll have you up for those two boys.’
‘You would in your hole, have me up, you soft bastard.’
Dillon leaves, slamming the cell door shut with a din that echoes through the CID offices.
O’Keefe has a faint recollection of a man standing over him, of voices raised, and then water in his mouth, the coolness of it running out over his lips, unable to swallow, and down his neck onto his chest. Rough hands moving him from the floor, his bonds loosened and untied.
And now he wakes to the sting of a cool sponge on his forehead, his face. He tries to open his eyes and finds one of them sealed shut with blood, the other so swollen he can see only a narrow slit of the world. It is a moment before he hears the sound of sobbing over the ringing in his ears. Words spoken, softly, gently and then the crying. He is lying down. A mattress of sorts. But his head is held and supported, his shoulders resting against the firm, round warmth of a woman’s thighs. A blissful fog buffers his consciousness. But through this, he is aware of a woman. The low, sweet tones of the woman’s voice felt through the contact between their bodies, his back and shoulders on her thighs, his head held against her stomach, this woman. His mother?
Struggling to open his eyes. It is her. Nora. And she is speaking to him and the words she is saying are, ‘I’m sorry, Seán. I’m so sorry.’
But he is unable to open his eyes, and is soon submerged again in the nothing-scape of unconsciousness.