Joel Smith, Wordsmith

 

Writer, Poet and Photographer Joel Smith read English at Trinity College Dublin and travelled to Spain before moving to Manorhamilton where he lives with his wife Ruth and their four children, Hannah, Nóra, Eilish and Sáidbh.  Family life and his work with the local community have both deeply influenced his work as has his strong connection with the surrounding countryside of Co. Leitrim.

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Big Dog – Courtesy Joel Smith Photography

I love to get up early in the morning (if no children have come in to visit me in the middle of the night), especially at the weekends and do something before the rest of the world is up. I love going into the forests or down by the lakes but it’s also a good time to write so I just have to accept I can’t be in two places at once. I also do a bit of photography which has led to a series of posters of the rich natural life to be found here in the North West.

I tend to go to my studio each day and put in an hour of writing before or after work.

My work as a journalist for Paddy Power led to a humorous blog and I find that humour is a vital factor in what I do. I’ve also done a bit of stand up. The funniest book I have ever read is Al Franken’s “Why Not Me” about his challenge for the presidency. Growing up I used to love the Lord of the Rings, it’s an epic saga that stands the test of time. I also love Robert Graves and Graham Greene. There is consolation in the fact that Greene got rejected several times. Poetry wise I used to love Browning growing up but at the moment my favourite poet is John Montague.

The best advice I can give to any writer is write and read as much as you can. I think the sooner you get a rejection out of the way the better; it’s largely the story of a writer’s life. The beauty is now you can self-publish your work and therefore have full control over how the book is presented and formatted right down to being in charge of distribution. I have written a lot of stories with my children in mind and if I can captivate them I know I’m going in the right direction.

 

 

A Patron of The Arts

 

I who had nothing now have something,

From the sister of the man who married my sister,

I have bought a drawing and it is framed on my wall.

 

A patron of the arts

One of those men who commisioned Michelangelo´s David,

Like Medici of Florence, I am Smith or Mac Gabhann of Dublin (formerly of Tir Eoghan).

 

You may kiss my ring if you wish.

 

In the picture he is bowing, he is bowing,

To silent applause bursting in my ears.

 

After the drawing I know he will depart from the stage

And wipe the sweat from his brow,

For in this performance, as in every performance

He has given his everything.

 

I will walk the streets of Terenure and Killyclogher as a man of no small importance.

“There he is again, look at his pompous walk.

Is he a Cardinal?”They will ask, “No, too young,” says the other,

“A Bishop then or else a patron of  the Tyrone & Fermanagh Mental Hospital?”

Ah, if only. Happy days with a London Bobby’s hat on my head ineffectually doing the gardening.

But I cannot just simply and consciously regress, for I am a man of no small importance, a man of property; like the Medicis of Florence or those O’Neills of Tyrone or Maguires of Fermanagh.

 

 

The Retired Detective – Joel Smith

You know, when I was a young man or even a slightly middle aged man working in Scotland Yard I never thought I would end up living in Ireland while my wife, a teacher, learned Irish (eternally – I’m afraid she is destined never to overcome her accent). It’s very different here, smaller, more connected with the past, safer in some ways, more dangerous in others.

 

When I came into the force I was told by an old hand who was shortly to retire, “It doesn’t get any better you know, it just gets worse”. Of course he was right. I passed on the same information to a young constable before I left.

I had no illusions about the Irish when I came here. I’d lived through the various bombings I wasn’t searching for lucky Leprechauns or even happy-go-lucky people. Still and all I like it here, not expecting too much, anything is a plus. As you know we built this house together, my darling and I. They say you need to build two houses before you get it just right. We won’t be building another one.

It is dark tonight, clouded over but dry. As I look out of my window to the other side of the valley I reflect upon the words of Conan Doyle’s creation Sherlock Holmes:

It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.
“You horrify me!”
“But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.”

These last few months have proven these fictional words to be very true. I did not expect to be somehow involved in detecting a murder in the townland where I live. That’s what they call them here, townlands – we have postcodes, they have townlands. These townlands are usually just descriptions of prominent geographical features like big rocks or the mouths of rivers. I live in Gublaun, it means the full mouth of the river or so I am told.

In any case somebody has been poisoning my neighbours for some time. I am lucky enough to have a separate well, which nevertheless I have had sampled and given the all clear. Strangely as an outsider, I have a kind of blessed anonymity – I don’t exist. I never worked the land here, put seaweed or manure on the soil, helped someone else to save the hay, fell out with my brother over land, drank the pub or looked after my parents while my love slipped away from me. Neither am I one of those decent people that are like dolmens of respectability, acknowledged by one and all to be good arbiters of the community.  It helps of course that I am Protestant, although not doctrinaire and since the Reverend Noel has gone you are as likely to find me at mass with Fr Goode for I cannot bear the Rev Clifford, he is much too Dick Emery for me.

It was early spring, I remember because on my way cycling down (yes I even have a bicycle) to my friend Dennis’ house I had enjoyed seeing the bluebells and smelling the fresh garlic. Let me describe Dennis for you. He is, or was rather, a big man, somewhat shrunken now due to sickness but with a full wire brush head of black only slightly grey hair. He had befriended us shortly after we arrived here and I with my usual suspicious nature had taken my time to warm to him, but he worked down at the Organic Centre and had such knowledge about nature, about mammals and fish and all the things that you know I love, that I found myself in admiration of him and we played backgammon and draughts regularly ( he did not know how to play chess unfortunately and professed himself correctly as, too old to learn).  For the past six weeks however he had been sick, losing weight and suffering from chronic diarrhea. Once or twice a week I had continued to call down on him and we played our game often punctuated by visits to the bathroom. I was sad to see his decline.

“Ah Dave, I heard you at the gate. Thanks for coming but I don’t think I’ll be much of a challenge for you today.”

“How are you feeling Dennis?”

“Same old same old, only worse. The doctors keep telling me to drink more water to flush it out of my system – but that only seems to make it worse. Would you mind getting me a drink of water all the same Dave?”

I poured one for him and one for myself.

“It’s a bit cloudy, isn’t it Dennis?”

“That’s always the way with well water Dave. You’re not in the city now.”

That night and forgive me dear if you feel I am being crude, I spent an inordinate time sitting on the toilet. The things that go through your head when you are sitting there for a long time. It’s almost like sitting in church – especially when you feel like you are dying and indeed there are of course the accompanying sensations of panic and relief and then hope and despair. But somehow as I came to the end of the episode – I had shrugged off your stepmother’s attempt to give me Imodium  – I reflected that maybe Dennis’ water was polluted. Perhaps a leveret or something of that nature had strayed into the well and drowned.

That morning I was too unwell to investigate but as the day wore on I gradually got some strength back and that evening – twilight, with bats plentiful and active but the dreaded midges were thankfully scarce – I gingerly made my way into the field with the well that Dennis and his neighbours sourced their water from and using a crook that Eloise had bought to give our new house an olde worlde look, I fished about until I pulled out a lamb whose throat had been slit and put it in a bag that I had in my pocket (always carry a bag here – otherwise the shops will make you pay for them).  It was too late to bother Dennis with the news even though I could see the glow of his lights from where I was so I marched home and threw the dead animal in the garage after wrapping it in a few more bags.

I was a bit disconcerted but neither displeased, or even surprised. I had a hot whisky or two. Somebody was poisoning Dennis, that much was clear but who or why? I had heard whispers in the pub about Dennis’ behaviour as a young man. Suggestions that he had been a wild child in the sixties, the first man to smoke marijuana in Rossinver, perhaps, it was said, he had even got a girl from Ballyshannon pregnant before heading off on the hippy trail. I had taken all these stories with a pinch of salt. After all, to be alternative in Rossinver in the sixties you probably just had to be late for mass a few times. Even so it was clear that Dennis was a bit of a hippy so maybe some of it was true.

Eloise looked at me concernedly, with the implication that I’d had enough. I suggested she go off to bed and I would follow within the half hour. I poured myself a final whiskey, this time cold with a little water, turned on the classical radio station and allowed the music, the spring part of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

I switched off the lights with the cheering thought of radically improving my friend’s health with an early morning call. I took a large glass of water and ate a couple of grapes hoping to deflect an almost certain headache.

The next morning I woke up uncharacteristically late. Eloise had gone to work and I was left to have breakfast on my own.

After eating my porridge and switching off the dirge on the radio I drank juice and tea and cycled down to Dennis’ hoping the air would clear my head. The smells of wildflower were lost on me that morning and I roughly forced open the stiff gate at Dennis’ house. I knocked loudly but there was no answer. I knew something was wrong because it was now 11 0’ Clock and the habits of an old gardener die hard – Dennis was always up by 7.30am at the latest, even when sick – he had told me. I looked in the window and I could see him sprawled on the ground, vomit on the blanket beside him. I had a key so instead of bursting the door open I used the purple headed key (I must admit to colour coding my keys with those little plastic key covers).

I rushed over to him and started talking mindlessly and hopefully reassuringly (old habits die hard – it’s a bit like talking to a baby you know he doesn’t understand but it reassures him.) knowing that he almost certainly couldn’t hear me. He was pale looking, unconscious, and vomit splattered. Dried blood hugged the corners of his mouth, but he was still breathing. I rang the ambulance and the Garda (Irish Police) and though I thought about taking him in myself, I knew he’d get priority in an ambulance. So I waited for the ambulance and left a note on the door for the Gardai with my address.

That evening I had made a nice risotto and drank a few glasses of wine when two Gardai (the plural of Garda – you see the language is rubbing off on me after all) arrived. Even though I’m an ex-cop it’s strange to say, now that I’m no longer one of ‘them’ I found myself drawing back a little. Everybody thinks the cops are after you for something, even me. I noted or thought that they were looking at my car and the UK reg. Strictly speaking I should have changed it to an Irish Reg.

Ushering them in I looked at them in the light and offered them tea or coffee which neither of them accepted. One was young, innocent looking and open countenanced, he was broad but youth kept him from looking fat. That wouldn’t last forever. The other was just a little older in age but seemed a lot older in experience. He had short fair hair almost military-like. The dark haired one was called Liam, the blonde Martin. Liam asked the general questions, Martin followed up with the detail.

“Do you still have the lamb sir?” The black haired one.

“Yes I am afraid I ended up putting it in the freezer. Sorry Darling.”

“Did it have a yellow tag on it sir or a splash of colour?” Said the blonde.

“No nothing that I saw but maybe you would care to have a look at it.”

As we made our way to the freezer in the garage the blonde took the opportunity to casually ask about 20 questions about me, how long I had lived here,  what had I done before I retired, What were the neighbours like?”

“Would you mind if the superintendent called out to you sometime Dave (they are not as quick with sir as we used to be, I always liked it in the lower ranks, impersonal and aggressive). I think he would be very interested to meet you.”

“No not at all.” I wondered what did the superintendent want with a retired old cop from England?

The stink was foul as I opened out the sheep for us to look at and I was surprised that I hadn’t noticed that one of the ears had been cut off. Presumably to dispose of the tag that had been on it.

Shortly afterwards Martin and Liam were called away, taking the sheep with them.

Before they went I managed to ask them had they any suspicions. The black haired one said something on the lines of top secret but the other shook his head, “nothing yet Dave but we’ll ask around.”

I found it a strangely honest way of doing business.

Next morning I resolved to cut down on my drinking and went to Sligo to visit my friend Dennis. I cursed the expense of parking at the hospital but didn’t know the town well enough to find an alternative.

Already Dennis looked a good deal better. I told him what I had found.

“Fuck me,” he said uncharacteristically swearing (but he certainly had the right) “some bastard is trying to poison me. I should have stayed in Australia.”

I asked the obvious questions.

“Does anyone dislike you, have you ever given anyone a reason to do something like this?”

“I’m sure a lot of people hate me and a lot of people like me the same as anybody else but I can’t think of anyone who would have the energy to do this to me.”

“What about your neighbours, did any of them get sick? Who else uses the well?”

“There’s me and Seamie and Mickey. That’s all as far as I know. There used to be another wee man, John James but he died last year.”

“It’s no wonder if the well was poisoned. Will I talk to them?”

“Do, and tell them not to drink the water.”

“Anything I need to know about them?”

“They’re brothers and they don’t talk to each other.”

“Land?”

“Love. A mother’s love.”

“Go on.” He had a great knack of wracking up the tension before telling a story.

“Well, there were two sons and one daughter in the family, the father died when I was young while the mother died just last year. I used to go out with Mary Mac when we were young but she had the sense to leave for America. I still get a postcard from her now and then. Seamie and Mickey were both home birds. Mickey was the go-er. He farmed the land, got up early in the morning, ran it as a business, bought more land, more livestock, better livestock, bought better land. Seamie was a mummy’s boy, gentle and intelligent but at heart he was a little bit lazy. As his mum got older he took care of her. He had a heart of gold, she could barely remember her name in the end. Mrs Mac loved Seamie and when she died she gave him the home house. Fair enough you might say but Mickey didn’t look at it that way, even though he had moved into his own house twenty years earlier. This, he felt was a betrayal of all he had worked for. In her will she said she wanted to be buried in Carlow beside her mother and father but Seamie had ignored her wishes, burying her instead at the graveyard beside the Lough. That was another reason for Mickey to hate Seamie. There were plenty of black looks at the funeral, but I don’t think Seamie even noticed them. He’s been drunk almost from that day to this.”

“Those are some neighbours to have.”

“Well they’re not the best and they’re not the worst. Seamie won’t mind you calling in on him but you better tell Mickey that I’ve asked you to tell him to keep an eye on the place until I come back.”

By the time I left Dennis I was hungry and had something to eat in town, getting out of the hospital with my customary shiver of distaste and relief. Sitting in Lyons’ I treated myself to a civilized fry and the Times. I always found that when I was in Ireland I wanted British news and vice versa.

Just a few hours later I parked outside the house of Seamus McMorrow. It was a respectable little bungalow, painted blue. It was at least eighty years old and a few flower boxes decorated the outside. The garden which had been tended so carefully at one stage now seemed to be tumbling over on itself, not quite gone to seed but heading in that direction. It was a classic sunshine and showers day and I waited for a moment inside the car as rain lashed down with an intensity that I knew couldn’t last this time of year and listened to the sound of yet more dismal economic numbers on the radio. Eventually I flicked it on to radio in the Irish language and felt some relief at not knowing what was being said yet somehow having a bit of company.

When the blue sky re-emerged I pulled my coat tight around me as the cold wind chased the heat out of the valley and hurried along to knock and ring the bell at the same time. Knocking at thousands of doors in your career teaches you to do away with the niceties and this struck me as a house were the doorbell hadn’t worked for years and probably never would again.

I heard a jump and the door was opened wide with a “hullo!” Even from this vantage point I could see that the house wasn’t in all that bad a shape, there was no smell and it wasn’t very messy. “Hello. My name is David Hawthorn. I just live up the road. I live up on the old Manorhamilton road beside Patsy Sweeney and I’m a friend of Dennis Rooney.”

The trick I find with these situations is to get as many name checks in as quickly as you can. I try to be as clear as I can to allay any suspicion. I told him I was originally from England but I was retired here and my wife was working as a teacher in Kiltyclogher. It usually works but in this case I could see he was a sociable enough chap and he let me in, offering me a cup of tea which I accepted.

I was surprised to find that everything was in a general kind of order and Seamie was drinking tea and reading the Irish Times at the table with the radio on in the background. The smell of turf in the house and on him was exactly what I had expected. His poor mother was probably in great shape in the graveyard, nicely cured from the bog smoke.

Seamie had his trousers tucked into his boots and a beanie hat on top of grey hair that had once been fair. He looked as if he might be about to do some farm work but I could tell he was simply reading the paper.  We sat down and I noted that there was quite a few empty bottles of beer in his recycling box and in the kitchen there were four or five 5 litre bottles of water.

“I heard Dennis was in hospital? Do they know what’s wrong with him?”

“Yes. It’s the water. Someone has been poisoning it. But,” and I motioned over to the water bottles “it looks like you already knew that.”

“Well I didn’t know that.” He wasn’t defensive in the least. “But I did know that the water tasted funny and I did know that my brother hates me enough to poison the well.”

“And you didn’t think to tell Dennis? Or the Gardai?”

“Well I thought Dennis would taste bad water and not drink it. Any animal would.”

“He’s not an animal.”

“Yes I know. I’m sorry. How is he now?”

“Better.”

“Are you going to tell the Gardai?”

“I already have.”

“Well.” He considered his tea and then drank from it. “Could you give me a lift into town?”

“What for?”

“Well, the Central will be open now.”

“So you’re just going to drink yourself stupid?”

“No, but I am going to have a drink.”

A few minutes later I found myself driving him into town. My wipers were working only on the intermittent. I really would have to find a better garage man.

We were listening to the death notices on the local radio station so I took that as a weak cue to broach the subject again.

“How would you have felt if we’d heard Dennis’ name called out on those notices?”

“Bad. Dennis is a friend. I’m not poisoning him.”

“But your brother is!”

“He might be, but I’m too cute for him.” He said it mischievously, unaware of the gravity of what had happened, this casual poisoning.

I parked outside the pub. I had been told as part of my orientation that the litter/dog/traffic warden had taken redundancy and they had no money to replace her, so parking was free in Manorhamilton.

I went in with him and I have to tell you that it had been twenty or more years since I had seen a pub as dirty as this. It was the kind of place where licensing, hygiene and smoking laws were routinely ignored. There was a dog sleeping under one of the bar stools. Groups of punters looked at us and gave a friendly wave to Seamie and a wary glance to me.

At first I had a seven up while he drank beer but when he moved on to whisky I joined him. He was likeable, friendly and smart, in another environment he might have done well but then so could we all. I asked him, apologizing before hand for my knowledge and my curiosity, why he hadn’t buried his mother according to her wishes.

“She wrote that damn will twenty years ago and I’ve been caring for her ever since.” I noted he still talked about her in the present tense. “But I’ll be damned if I’d see her body go all the way to Carlow where I’d never be able to talk to her again.” His eyes went watery. Well, you’re allowed to be emotional when you’re drunk and a man, especially if you’re talking about your mother. “I love my mum and I go down to the grave to talk to her most days, that’s all there is to it. She’s been my work for the past two decades.”

I drank with him for a long time. Pausing only to eat a delicious roast dinner and texting Elouise that I would be late home.

Eventually when I left the pub, I walked up and down the main street. Entering a more civilized pub where I normally drank, I realised just how drunk I was. I left quickly and cast away all ideas of drink driving home and reached for a taxi card I had picked up in the aforementioned dirtiest pub in Ireland.

I was still on the street fumbling with my mobile phone when a car flashed me and I recognised one of the gardai from the other day, the smarter one. Someone else was in the back, the car was unmarked. “Martin.” I said “Hello there, I’m just waiting for a lift home.”

“Hello David. The superintendent is in the back – he’d like to talk to you.”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Of course you do,” said the voice in the back “but it’s just a friendly chat – and we’ll bring you home.”

So I got in. I was in my amiable and curious rather than aggressive drunken phase.

He turned on the light in the back seat so I could see him properly and shook my hand.

What a friendly looking fellow I thought – always bad news.

“Hello Mr Hawthorne, do you mind if I call you David?”

“No, not at all. And what will I call you? Superintendent? ”

“No need for formalities between two colleagues. Call me Robert.”

“Bobby?” He bristled

“No, Robert.”

I was pleased to find a way of annoying him so soon.

He switched the light off.

“We thought you were going to do a little drink driving.”

“And that would have been that. I would have co-operated then for sure because you would have had something on me”. It was a dirty old trick that cops throughout the world used but it was something I didn’t relish being tried on me.

“By the way what do you want me to co-operate on?”

He paused clearly annoyed.

“You’re a trained cop, living on this side of the border. Look, let’s cut the shite. We need eyes and ears there for everything from vehicle registration to dissident activity.”

I was taken aback by his straight talking.

“I’m a retired English cop.” I paused for a moment, thinking out loud . “Are you planning to pay me?”

“Possibly,” he said unsure of his ground.

“Thank you very much but I’m a little too old to be a community informer. Maybe you could drop me here.”

I was still about three miles from home.

“Do as he says Martin.”

I slammed the door and the car did a hasty three point turn and sped off.

There was a lot to consider but it was a beautiful summer’s night and I was glad of the walk. The lambs and their mothers were talking to each other in the fields, startled now and again by my presence. I was a little shocked myself when a wood pigeon shot out of some trees beside an old school house. There was an outdoor tap at its gate and I let it run for a while and then wet my whistle. It was late, Elouise wouldn’t be pleased with me. The stars did look beautiful. There was a good moon so I felt relatively safe walking and when my journey had come to an end I was almost disappointed. Noisily I made my way to the kitchen. Elouise had left a cooked ham salad sandwich on the table for me and a glass of water. I ate it and went to bed hangdogedly.

I groaned awake about 11am determined to change my new found drinking habits. I drank water for breakfast and read Elouise’s note.

Remember we have guests for dinner. Don’t be drunk before, during or after please!

This was pure outrage on her part, in general we got on so well because she was willing to tolerate so much. I really would have to pull myself together. By 2pm I was well enough to cook myself scrambled egg and drink a little orange juice. At 4pm I was feeling angry enough to visit Mickey. I cycled down this time and brought my bike inside the cattle grided entry of an imposing house. I had heard that his wife ran a computer school in Sligo so she would probably be away while he, reputedly a workaholic, farmed and built houses. Sure enough he was outside, painting his own two storey house when he could surely have got a few of his men to do it.

“Hello there!” The sun was shining making my dehydration even worse.

“Hello. You’re Dennis’ friend. David, is that your name? How is Dennis anyway, the old bastard?”

“Better now you’re not poisoning him.”

“That’s a pretty serious allegation. Any animal could have wandered into that well.”

“And had his ear cut off?”

“Just be careful mister with that allegation that you’re spreading. That’s libel or defamation or some fucking thing.”

“So you did do it?”

He climbed down the ladder. Went right up to my face and spat on the ground. “What do you think?” His wiry curly hair seemed to stand on end, chin and teeth jutted out at me. I thought he was going to try and kill me there and then.

I just blinked at him. Looked at his wall and said “I think you missed a bit.”

I stood my ground and let the silence envelope us until he moved away and started painting again. Teeth still gritted. “By the way” he shouted. “Be careful on that bicycle. Anyone could kill you on these country roads and if you come onto my lands again I’ll shoot you as a trespasser.”

“You know,” I said “I carry a small fire arm myself for personal protection. I hope we don’t get into some sort of scuffle.” I let it be at that not waiting for the comeback which would probably involve him taking his double barrelled shot gun out.

Back home, I checked my revolver, loaded it and put in a kitchen cabinet. Then started to prepare dinner. Elouise was back early and prepared a starter of melon and Parma ham. She always did that, I don’t know why. I made onion soup and a main course of home made chips with peas and gravy and home made steak ready to go on the pan. Finally, I had a good kitchen with a good gas hob and oven. I did love this house.

The couple arrived at 6 and we had drinks although I stuck to coke for the time being while Elouise looked approvingly on. The woman, young girl really was quite pregnant (about 6 months she told us) in her later twenties and called Isabella. Her mother was Italian and had worked in the embassy when he fell in love with her Leitrim mother. She had moved to leitrim two years ago with her husband Caoimhin (pronounced quee-veen) who worked as a teacher with Elouise. He was from Fermanagh but his Irish was flawless (or so I was given to understand). Self taught, he also sang in the language. He was earnest, amiable and curious about my time in Scotland Yard.

Eventually Elouise could see I was drying out of conversation and with some relief on my part she said “Darling why don’t you have a drink, the red is really very nice”.

“Ah well,” I said trying to mask my eagerness “I’ll give it a try.”

Dinner was going well, Caoimhin was asking my opinion on the hunger strikes. It turned out his uncle from Monaghan had been on the first hunger strike and his health, mental and physical had never been the same again since. Forty two days he had lasted before it was called off.

“Better than bombings.” I said.

I was just about to put out dessert when I heard a shot. Everyone looked up for a second then continued talking. “Caoimhin, I’m a bit worried about one of our neighbours. I wonder would you mind coming down with me to take a look and see that he’s okay?” I asked Elouise to phone the Gardai.

A very ready fellow, Caoimhin jumped in the car with me. It always helps to have a witness in case things go pear shaped. I slowed down in front of Mickey’s house. Sprawled higgledy piggeldy on the cattle grid, blood seeping through the bars and into the earth, was poor old Seamie.

We got out of the car. I warned Caoimhin to hang back.

“What the fuck do you want? Look what you’ve done!” The shout was from an upstairs window. Mickey held a shotgun loosely in his hands.

“Can I check to see whether he’s alive or dead?”

“You can check all you like, but he’s dead.”

I stepped cautiously over to him and felt for his pulse but I could tell by his colour and the amount of blood around his shoulder that he was gone.

“You’re right. I shouted up to him. He’s dead.”

His face crumpled.

“What happened?”

“He was drunk, he’d been on the phone. He said he wanted to see me one last time before the Gardai took me away. I told him not to come, that if he came I’d shoot him.”

“What are you going to do now”.

“I don’t know.”

“You may as well just throw the gun down and I’ll bring you in.”

I could hear a fast car in the background and cursed myself for getting Elouise to call the Gardai.

The Gardai had the sense to park a little way back and out of the corner of my eye I could see the two of them Martin and Liam coming over the side wall of the house. This was turning into a bit of a disaster, why could they not have radioed for a specialist unit?

“Do you want me to come inside Mickey?”

“No, I don’t want you to come inside.  A lot of this is your fault.” And he put the shotgun back to his shoulder and pointed it at me.

“Do you want me to go away Mickey?”

“No, I want you to stay right there you little English bastard and sweat for a while.”

He was sweating too.

I was torn between wanting to keep the conversation going and keeping my mouth shut for fear of further provocation.

One of the Gardai tripped on a can of paint and made a noise.

“What the fuck was that?”

I winced.

“Eh, Eh, it’s only me Mickey.” Liam the Garda, stepped gingerly into sight with his hands up in the air.

“Get the fuck over there!” He motioned Liam to go beside me with his gun.

Meanwhile I could see that Martin had gotten in the back door and at this stage was probably crawling up the stairs.

“Well that was very clever. Now he has two hostages”. I said, Caoimhin meanwhile with excellent instincts of self preservation had managed to get himself on the far side of the pillar and out of danger for the time being.

“Who said anything about hostages?”

“What else do you call it when you’re pointing a gun at people and won’t let them go anywhere? Remember what happened at Abbeylara (this was an infamous siege incident which had been badly mishandled by the Gardai). Take some advice from an ex-cop, put the gun down and go in here with Martin to the barracks and believe me, it will be simple from then on, it will be all process.”

He pondered that for a moment then raised the gun as if to fire but I could make out movement in the background, we heard a commotion, a bang and Mickey was being tossed out of the window onto the ground. Falling hard onto his head, his shotgun falling and shooting off harmlessly. I walked over the unconscious body of Mickey on the ground and kicked him gently with my foot. Did something monstrous happen to this man when he was a boy to put such rage in him or was it just the lack of a mother’s love.

Martin was at the window and Liam gave a ‘kehoe’. When Martin came out I shook his hand.

“I can’t say it was textbook, but you did it anyway.”

Martin just nodded. Caomhin popped his head back up in disbelief and we waited around for an ambulance and statements. Caomhin was allowed to go back up to the house for a bottle of whiskey. Sitting there on a garden bench sipping my whiskey as the sun started to set over Lough Melvin I wondered at how I had nearly been killed and resolved to be both less friendly with people and less curious. From now on, I would be an island.

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