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Pale Moon Was Rising


Brendan Gerad O’Brien


Published by:

Brendan Gerad O’Brien on Smashwords

Copyright: 2017 by Brendan Gerad O’Brien

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A Pale Moon Was Rising

Chapter 1

Jacob Butts scurried across the room, leapt up onto a stool and reached out to the statue of The Virgin Mary on the mantelpiece. ‘Thank you, Lady. Thank you, thank you.’

Leaning forward he kissed the statue’s feet. The excitement that bubbled through him made it difficult for him to breathe but still he did a little dance on the stool. He couldn’t believe what was happening. Never in his wildest dreams had he expected this. Four of them. There were four of them coming. He never had that many before. Four! It was usually just the one, sometimes two. He never had a problem with just one or two. One or two were easy to manage.

Then in a heartbeat the excitement turned into a heavy lump of apprehension. Could he handle four? What about the time three of them turned up? He wasn’t expecting that either and it nearly turned into a disaster. Luckily it didn’t. But it nearly did. And now there were four of them coming. Anxiety was beginning to overwhelm him and he struggle even more to catch his breath.

He looked back at the statue. Trust the Lady? Yes, trust the Lady.

He leapt off the stool and scurried back across the room to the large rug just inside the front door. He gave the edges a tug, making sure it was lying flat and unruffled. He needed it to be invisible.

Then he studied the large mirror at the edge of the rug. That had to be just right too, positioned so that it was almost invisible as well.

But suddenly it was too late. The boards creaked on the wooden walkway outside the door. The handle gave a soft groan as it was tested. They were here.

Jacob Butts sprinted back across the room and threw himself into his big leather armchair near the fireplace, and he flinched as the door crashed open. They were the usual sorts, big men in long coats and assorted hats. And carrying big sticks.

The first two through the door looked straight at Jacob Butts, raised their sticks and charged. And when they ran onto the rug it folded beneath them and they disappeared down the hole.

The third man stopped dead with his feet on the edge. His stick flew into the air as he flapped his arms like a wild bird trying to lift off from thick mud. He almost managed to turn around but the fourth man was already too close and slammed into him. He flipped forward and dropped like a sack of potatoes down on top of his pals.

He might have screamed, but Jacob Butts didn’t hear him. He was too busy wondering what the fourth man was going to do.

But the fourth man was one of life’s followers. He depended on others for guidance. He needed directions. On his own he couldn’t think fast enough. And now he was flummoxed. He wasn’t even a proper member of the gang. He was only there to make up the numbers. The others didn’t want him to come in the first place, but he clung to them like a bad smell. They warned him that if anything went wrong he was on his own.

And now it had. And he was.

Raw fear turned into dark rage. He had a huge face, like a full moon but without the light. He bellowed something as he pointed at Jacob Butts, skipped around the edge of the rug and launched his attack.

When his reflection came out of nowhere and flew towards him he was even more flummoxed. But he was moving too fast and he slammed into the huge mirror that he hadn’t even noticed. The glass shattered. He grabbed his face and howled like a wounded animal. But he stayed on his feet and staggered towards the small man in the big armchair.

Jacob Butts leapt up and grabbed the poker from the rack near his feet, and in a blind panic he threw it in the general direction of the man. It was a fluke, but the poker flew like a javelin. The man ducked but misjudged the throw. The poker hit him in the eye with the force of an arrow and threw him backwards down the hole.

Shock pinned Jacob Butts to the floor. All thoughts had poured out of his head and left just a blank grey space. The only thing that registered with him was his heart beating at twice the normal rate and sucking the oxygen out of him. Any minute now he was going to faint. He was struggling to fathom out what just happened. From start to finish it had probably taken less than half a minute, but it had frozen him in time. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever get back to normal again.

With considerable willpower he shuffled across to the hole and peered down. The first three men were obviously dead, the spikes from the steel contraption on the floor protruding from various places. The fourth man was still twitching, but it wouldn’t be for long.

And the pigs in the sty directly below them were hysterical with the promise of what was to come as the blood poured through the grill and spattered down all over them.

Chapter 2

Thomas Kinsella hummed softly to himself as he cycled home along the road to Blennerville with the River Lee on one side and the ship canal on the other.

The only cloud in the early morning sky was the usual clump that blew in from the Atlantic and got stuck on top of the enormous Brandon Mountain, Ireland’s second highest peak. Stretching the whole length of the Dingle peninsula, it shimmered in a haze that softened it so much it appeared to melt into the silver water of Tralee Bay.

The flatland around the River Lee was a muddy lake as the incoming tide rolled into it under the Blennerville Bridge. Mudlarks sang and the water sucked at the mud of the riverbank.

On the other side of the road a flock of seagulls screeched around a small boat that was taking cargo up the canal to Prince’s Quay on the edge of Tralee town.

Kinsella loved this time of the day. He’d finished his night shift and was heading home to Rose and the boys. The cows would be milked and the chickens fed, and his breakfast would be on the table. He took a happy breath in through his nose. On such a beautiful morning it was easy to forget about the war in Europe.

The war was turning now, of course. The Allied forces had landed on the beaches of Normandy and were pushing the Nazis all the way back to Germany. But like a cornered rat, Germany was still dangerous.

It had been an unusually busy night for Kinsella. Manning the switchboard in the Ballymullen Army Barracks was the most boring job in the world. Twelve hours of sitting on a hard chair with his senses dulled by the big earphones that cut him off from the world while waiting for someone to call. If anyone did call it was usually before midnight. Then the rest of the night crept along like a snail in a cabbage patch.

But last night the calls didn’t stop. A farmer swore he saw a submarine off Kerry Head. The lookouts dotted along the Dingle Peninsula said they couldn’t see anything. Another caller insisted that a boat had landed near where he lived. The occupants seized a car and were heading for Dingle town. Regular Army and Local Defence Volunteers were dispatched. The Gardaí and the Local Security Volunteers were out in force.

Eventually they all converged on a motor mechanic’s workshop in Dingle. The distressed owner told them that three men in naval uniforms had dragged him out of bed and forced him to repair a length of fuel pipe. Then they tied him up and disappeared.

Despite the intense efforts by the Irish Security force they couldn’t locate the men, or the sub. At the end of his shift Thomas Kinsella was still no wiser as to what really happened. Part of him wanted to hang back to see what developed, but he was too tired and hungry. He needed to get home. He was sure he’d know soon enough if there was any more news.

An army truck came rumbling over the bridge towards him so he slowed down to let it pass, and as it drew near the driver recognized Kinsella. He pulled into the side of the road and wound the window down.

‘Isn’t it a grand morning, Tom?’ He spat a cigarette butt onto the grass.

‘Jerry, how’s yourself?’ Kinsella braked and leant his outstretched hand against the front of the truck. ‘You haven’t been out all night, have you?’

‘We have indeed.’ Jerry gave a weary roll of the eyes. ‘Chasing feckin’ shadows. Some auld farmer swore he saw a submarine and they sent the whole army out to look for it. Utter madness. We were falling over each other, demanding identification from people we work with every day. No one knew what we were supposed to be looking for. The blind leading the feckin blind, if you ask me.’

A young soldier jumped out of the back of the truck, leant over the low wall and started to be sick. Jerry rolled his eyes again. ‘My driving can’t be that bad. It must be something he ate.’

The corporal sitting beside Jerry snorted and looked at the soldier in the wing mirror. ‘The last thing we had to eat was that pot-mess in the canteen and that was ages ago. So if it was the pot mess wouldn’t we all be spewing up? No, it’s you weaving all over those winding roads in this auld truck. It’s all right for us up here in the cab, but what about the poor eejits in the back having their guts shook to bits?’

‘Ah go away with yourself.’ Jerry gave him a poke with his elbow. ‘If you think you can do any …’

But the corporal wasn’t listening. He was watching the soldier staggering back to the truck with his arms flapping and his mouth wide open in a face that was wild with shock.

‘What’s wrong with that eejit now?’ The corporal was already opening the door. Then they heard what the soldier’s was shouting.

‘A body. There’s a body in the mud. There’s someone stuck in the mud.’ He vomited again and sagged to his knees. Jerry and the corporal jumped down and followed Kinsella over to the wall. The body of a man was on its back. He was wearing a shirt and tie, dark trousers and dark shoes. As more soldiers scrambled out of the truck and bunched up around him the corporal was the first to react.

‘Right, you two climb over and pull him out of there.’

There was a shocked yelp from a ginger haired lad who practically threw himself back behind the others. ‘What? Me? No, no …I’m not … I can’t even swim.’

‘Swim? You don’t need to swim. What’s the matter with you, you yellow piece of shite? Get back over here and …’

‘I’ll do it.’ The drystone wall was only about two feet high and a foot wide with a layer of grass on top. Big Patrick O’Donnell threw his leg over it and tested the density of the grass and weeds behind to see if it gave him enough support to stand on. ‘I’ve pulled animals out of worse places than this. Especially the sheep. That’s where the saying follow like sheep comes from, you know? One dope jumps into a dyke and the rest follow to see what he’s up to. They’re stupid, the whole feckin’ lot of them.’

He was talking fast to mask his anxiety. After about six nervous steps he reached down and grabbed the body by the shirt collar. And he found out that grabbing a lump of sheep fur and pulling it out of a dyke was nothing like dragging a twelve stone dead weight out of mud. The shirt began to split. O’Donnell changed his grip but still the body didn’t move.

‘Move over.’ Mick Griffin came up on O’Donnell’s left side and grabbed one of the man’s arms. O’Donnell stepped forward and took the other arm and together they dragged it back to the wall. Others leant over and helped to lift the body onto the wall, then they all stepped away from it, unsure of what to do next.

‘Who is he?’ someone asked, but no one seemed to know. He looked young, in his twenties, but the side of his face was caked with blood and it was hard to see it clearly.

‘Search him,’ the corporal instructed. ‘He might have something on him that’ll tell us.’

But all he had in his pockets was a half-crown and a handkerchief.

‘Has anyone gone for the guards?’

They all nodded at the ginger lad who was already half way across the bridge and heading for the phone box.

Chapter 3

The excitement was bouncing off the walls as Eamon Foley walked in the door to the Tralee Garda Barracks. The people who normally disappeared like mist in a breeze the moment their shift ended were still hanging around, huddled in lively groups puffing on cigarettes and talking in animated bursts.

‘What’s going on, Dennis?’ Foley leant on the front desk where the duty officer Dennis Reardon was busy trying to listen to the buzz around him.

‘We’re after being invaded.’ Reardon’s eyes were all over the place, unable to settle on anything because of the anxiety that was oozing out of him. ‘Last night. Submarines everywhere. Boats came ashore all along the Dingle …’

The phone rang and he grabbed it as if was a life raft. ‘Hello, Tralee Gardaí … yes …what? …oh, right …what? Now?’

Foley looked around for someone sensible to talk to. He spotted the chunky shape of John Guerin and shuffled over to him. The bearded guard spun around when he got the poke in the back and his bright eyes crinkled in amusement. ‘Eamon, it’s yourself. And how’re you this morning?’

‘What’s all this about being invaded, John? Is it …’

Before Guerin could answer an older man butted in with a wave of his hand. ‘There were submarines spotted all over place last night. Two off Dingle and another by the Maharees. Apparently another two were trying to get into Fenit, obviously to capture the oil terminal there.’

Foley realized his hands were shaking and he had to clamp them together. He had prepared himself for this moment ever since the war started. Yes, Ireland was neutral. Promises were made by Hitler that he would honour it. But there was still a nagging worry that one day, when the time was right, the Germans would look at Ireland in a different light. Now that the Allies have landed in Europe and were tightening the noose on them, Ireland would be a prize worth taking. If the Germans could breach the backdoor to Britain, would the allies have the resources to stop them?

Foley’s instinct was to rush back home to warn his sister Vicky, prepare her for the worst. Then get over to the school and find his son. Then what would he do?

‘Right, fall in!’ The shout was loud enough to witch off the noise and make every head turn towards Sgt Jack Fitzgerald. He barged through the doors into the muster hall and went straight to the table at the front, slapped some papers down on it and watched the duty team troop in behind him and grab a seat. After a lot of shuffling and scraping of chairs they settled down and the silence was total. No one wanted to be the one to attract a glare from the six feet six ex-army Sergeant Major.

‘Right,’ the accent was Kerry but the edges had been smoothed by his time as a student in Rockwell College. Tanned and fit, he had a sharp mind and the unnerving ability to look at someone and tell instantly if they were lying or not. It was something to do with the unconscious twitches of the face muscles. Just in case, everyone avoided direct eye contact with him.

‘Let me tell you a story about an officer in the trenches during the last war,’ he said. ‘He sent a message back to Headquarters saying ‘Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance.’ However, by the time the message went along the lines and arrived at the HQ it had become ‘Send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance.’’

The look on his face was hard to read and everyone glanced at each other, uncertain whether to laugh or not. They decided not to.

‘And that’s very much what is happening here right now.’ The Sergeant picked up a sheet of paper and slammed it back down on the table again. ‘If I believed all the stories I was faced with when I came in this morning I’d be manning the barricade on Blennerville Bridge.’

This time there was a ripple of nervous chuckles but it didn’t last long.

‘So now I’ll tell you the real story. There was only one submarine last night, and that wasn’t spotted until it was actually leaving Irish waters. The first anyone knew about it was when four men entered a farmer’s house near Dingle. One man stayed with the farmer’s wife while the others forced him to drive to the nearest boatyard where they got a mechanic to repair what he thinks was a piece of fuel pipe. Then they tied him up before taking the farmer home. Then they disappeared into the night never to be seen again.’

He checked the piece of paper again and looked up, scanning the room to make sure everyone was paying attention.

‘And we’re not even sure of the nationality of the submarine. The farmer said they all wore dark overalls and the one who gave the orders sounded more like Noel Coward than Herman Goering. And before they left they shoved five English pound notes down the shirt of the mechanic who fixed the fuel pipe. They also left some English pound notes on the farmer’s table. However, that could be a classic case of misdirection. All we do know for sure is that they …’

The door flew open and Guard Reardon rushed in. Sergeant Fitzgerald stopped him with one of his withering glares and Reardon immediately shrunk to half his size as he crept up to the table and handed him a note.

The Sergeant snatched the piece of paper, scanned it then dismissed Reardon as if he was swatting a fly.

‘Foley, Guerin, get on your bikes and meet Guard Mitchell over in Blennerville. He’s after finding a body in the river. See if you can be of any use to him.’

Foley sprang to his feet, light with the relief that the threat of invasion had evaporated. Guerin was slower. As he eased himself out of his chair his sluggish movements gave the impression that he was lethargic and slow to react. Many a criminal found out the hard way that he wasn’t. Because he spent most of his spare time at the handball alley slapping a ball around as part of the Kerry International team, he had developed the reactions of a feral cat. The first time Foley saw him in action he was left speechless. They’d cornered a notorious thug who was determined to resist arrest and squared up to Guerin, raising his fist to attack. But before he’d even got his arm up to shoulder height Guerin had danced around him and kneed him in the back of the thigh. Both the thug and Foley were transfixed by the speed of it all.

Chapter 4

The body was still lying on the wall when the two guards cycled up. Someone had put a grey blanket over it, and Guard Mitchell was keeping watch by the edge of the road. He seemed to know every car that passed, giving them a wave and having a word with the ones that stopped to enquire what he was doing standing there at this time of the morning. He had the bearing of an efficient local policeman, fit and lean like a greyhound. He watched Foley and Guerin approach and gave a casual nod.

‘Is this your man?’ Foley leant his bike against the wall and took a peek under the blanket.

‘It is.’ Mitchell pulled the blanket right down so they could see him properly. The man looked young, mid-twenties with a strong square face and thick black hair. His eyebrows were thick and black too.

‘Is he local?’

‘He’s not from out this way, that’s for sure,’ Mitchell said with absolute certainty. ‘But of course he could be one of the lads who work in the mill.’ He nodded at the big stone buildings that filled the space around the windmill. ‘I wouldn’t know any of them myself. Unless I had cause to, which would be rare to tell you the truth. They’re mostly good lads, no trouble at all.’

‘So who found him?’

Mitchell’s eyebrows rose at the question and a flash of irritation crossed his eyes. ‘So who found him? Weren’t you briefed about this?’

Foley stepped back. ‘As a matter of fact, we weren’t. All we were told was you’re after finding a body and we were to go and help you with it.’

Mitchell gave a look that said it wasn’t unusual but it still annoyed him. He sucked at his teeth and stood up to his full height. ‘Well, some army fellas spotted him this morning and they called me.’

‘Some army fellas?’

Mitchell nodded. ‘Apparently they were out all night chasing submarines. On their way back to town this morning they stopped here for some odd reason, and one of them spotted the body.’

‘Maybe they thought the submarine was coming up the basin,’ Guerin chuckled.

Mitchell forced a chuckle too but his eyes stayed serious. ‘Anyway, they pulled him out and sent for me. They searched him to see if they could find out who he was, and obviously I checked that too. But there was nothing on him except a half-crown and a handkerchief. Nothing to tell us to who he is.’

Foley looked over the wall. The tide had turned and the river was falling back to its natural level. ‘So where do you think he was washed up from?’

‘Oh, he didn’t come in on the tide. He was too far up the bank for that. And his clothes are dry, not like they would be if he was bouncing around in the sea all night.’ Mitchell gave a sweep of his hand. ‘No. I’d say he went over the wall right here. He could have been in a fight, which would explain the state of his face.’

‘Or he could have been attacked and robbed, hit with something and tried to escape by jumping over the wall.’

‘He didn’t jump over the wall.’ Mitchell lifted the other end of the blanket. ‘If he did his shoes would be covered in mud. But they’re not so I’d say he was thrown over it.’

Foley took a closer look at the clothes the man was wearing. The suit was well worn with leather patches on the elbows. The shirt was frayed and the knot on the tie was shiny from constant use. The shoes were scuffed and the laces shredded at the ends.

‘He doesn’t look too well off, by the cut of him. But I suppose someone worse off than him probably wouldn’t notice that. They saw an opportunity on a dark road and took a chance. Then things went too far so they threw the body over the wall thinking the tide would take it away.’

‘You could be right.’ Mitchell lifted the man’s left hand and pointed to the chunky ring on the second finger. ‘And I bet they’d be cursing if they found out they missed this piece of expensive looking jewelry.’

The ring appeared to be solid silver with an intricate pattern on it, tiny symbols that could have been foreign numerals or letters. Foley tested it to see how easy it would be to pull it off. It moved freely. ‘It’s a bit big for this fella’s finger. What do you think, is it actually his or did he … you know? Acquire it?’

‘What if he was knocked down by a car or something?’ Guerin gave a tight lipped shake of the head. ‘If it was dark. His clothes are dark. Maybe someone ran into him and just didn’t stop. If they were going fast enough and they hit him hard enough the impact might have thrown him over the wall.’

‘I thought of that,’ Mitchell stepped onto the road and waved along a stretch of it with his finger. ‘So I looked for skid marks, or any other sign on a collision over about twenty feet in both directions. But there’s nothing to indicate that anything hit anything else in this immediate area.’

He went back to the body and tugged the blanket back over it as a truck approached from over the bridge. Then he took a packet of cigarettes from his top pocket. ‘I hope one of you fellas has a match,’ he said as he put a cigarette in his mouth and held out the packet. He waved to the driver as the truck rumbled past and Foley cracked a match and held it out to him. Then Foley took two cigarettes, handed one to Guerin and lit the both of them.

‘Anyway, as I was saying, we expect people to walk on the right hand side of the road so they’ll be facing the oncoming traffic.’ Mitchell blew out a cloud of smoke with his words and he wiped a bit of tobacco from his lip. ‘So we can assume your man was walking back towards Tralee because he was on this side of the road. So how tall would you say he was? Five ten?’

They both took another look and nodded.

‘Well the army truck that found your man this morning was still parked here when I arrived. And as I came around on the inside I nearly cracked my head on the big wing mirror that was poking out of it. Now there was an awful lot of activity around here last night, army trucks and police vans all over the place. And like you said, he had dark clothes on him. Now if the lads were all geared up for action their minds would be focused on other things. So what if one of them hit him and they didn’t even realize it?’

The three of them looked back at the body again and they all took a long drag on their cigarettes.

‘I suppose they’ll be able to tell us a bit more when they do the autopsy,’ Guerin said.

‘If they do one.’ Foley was well aware that the system was under enormous pressure at the moment, bogged down by the weight of refugees who flocked to Ireland to escape the war in Europe. Because of the increased death rate, natural and un-natural, autopsies were only carried out when clear evidence of suspected foul play was presented. Then it had to be authorized by the Garda Commissioner.

‘Well, maybe the detectives will come up with something.’

‘That’s wishful thinking.’ Mitchell crinkled his nose as if there was a sudden bad smell. ‘That big fella with the belly that he can’t get a shirt to fit was here already. Now what did he say his name was again? Casey?’

Both Foley and Guerin groaned. Casey was so hopeless they only sent him on cases that didn’t require a great deal of brain power. And usually alone, because no one else wanted to be contaminated by the doziness that dripped off him.

‘I told him what I was thinking but he just looked through me as if I was talking out of the wrong hole. His face said he was the detective and what did I know. He didn’t even wait till the Doc came.’ Mitchell gave the slightest shake of his head and smiled. ‘I didn’t get around to mentioning the silver ring in case he took it with him and it got lost somewhere between here and the town.’

‘Speaking of the Doc, where is he?’

‘He had to go to a suicide in Castleisland first, then a suspicious death over in Clash. Hopefully he’ll come here next. I’m not happy about keeping your man lying there on a wall all day.’

The sun was already throwing down a sharp heat and Mitchell wiped his eyes with his fingers. It was going to be a glorious day.

‘If you want to go and get yourself a cup of tea or something, I’ll stay here and keep an eye on things,’ Foley offered, but Mitchell waved it away.

‘No, I’m grand. As soon as they take the body away I’ll sneak off home. But thank you anyway.’

‘You’re welcome. So what would you like us to do? We feel useless just standing around here.’

Mitchell looked back at the village. ‘Well, if he was coming from that direction, the question is what was he doing out here in Blennerville? Was he visiting someone, or was he having a drink with friends. Or was he just out for an evening stroll?’

‘At that time of night?’ Guerin sniffed.

‘Well, we don’t know what time he ended up here,’ Mitchell turned to the body. ‘All we do know is the time the army lads found him. From the condition of him it’s obvious he wasn’t lying there that long, so we’re only assuming it was dark when he met his end.’

‘You’re right, I suppose,’ Guerin conceded.

‘Anyway, it would be a great help if you could wander around the village and ask if anyone remembers seeing him yesterday. Try the shop and the pub, and anyone else you meet. If you wouldn’t mind.’

‘It’s a pity we haven’t got more to go on. A name would be good, or better still, a picture.’

‘Maybe we could mention the ring,’ Guerin tapped his own finger. ‘It’s an odd lookin’ thing, that’s for sure. The kind of thing you’d notice if you were in close proximity with him.’

Mitchell grinned again. ‘Wasn’t I thinking that myself. I was even going to suggest taking it with you.’

Guerin lifted the blanket and raised the hand, but as soon as he pulled the ring off the finger he practically threw it at Foley. Foley caught it like it was red hot, pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and wrapped it in it. Mitchell was already scribbling a description of the ring in his note book, adding the time and date. He got both of them to sign it.

Chapter 5

As they crossed over the Blennerville Bridge Foley tried not to look at the ominous grey ruins of the old windmill shimmering in the harsh sunlight. Built in 1800 by the Blennerhassett family, it used to grind corn for the local population and also for export to Britain through the busy Blennerville port. Huge granaries and storehouses sprang up around it. But by 1880 several major events had overtaken the windmill - the introduction of steam power and the opening of the Ship Canal in 1846. Finally the building of Fenit Harbour meant the windmill couldn’t compete anymore and it was abandoned.

And for as long as he could remember Foley got the strangest feeling whenever he was near it. An irrational sense of foreboding as if the empty shell of what was once Europe’s biggest windmill was haunted by some shadowy secrets.

He was about ten years old when he first felt it. He was heading out to the tide for a swim when he spotted some school pals jumping into the still black water between the lock gates at the entrance to the canal. Naturally he joined them.

He was used to swimming in the sea, but this water had a coldness to it that stunned him when he jumped in. He went down like a stone and the water wrapped itself around him in a grip that almost caused his heart to stop. For one dreadful moment he felt his end had come. He was going to die right here and no would ever find his body. He was just going to sink right down and be swallowed up by the mud. He couldn’t do a thing about it. He was petrified. There was no way out.

Then something slammed into him and shocked him into action. He made a frantic burst for the surface, shooting out of the water at the same time as one of the other kids.

‘Sorry, sorry,’ the lad cried. ‘I’m sorry I landed on you. Are you all right?’

Foley spluttered a yes as he swam to the iron ladder and pulled himself up onto the edge of the lock. And when he looked up the first thing he saw was the windmill in the distance, shimmering and menacing, pulling his senses towards it. He swore it was staring at him with an evil intensity. His throat became so tight he could hardly draw breath.

Then one of his pals slapped him on the back and dared him to jump back in the water. He couldn’t. He pretended to have cramp in his leg.

Now as he cycled over the bridge he realized that Guerin had stopped and was leaning against the wall. He’d taken off his cap and was shielding his eyes with his hand. Foley turned around and cycled back to him.

‘What a beautiful day this is,’ Guerin sighed. ‘It’s a grand day for a spot of fishing. I might take myself off in a boat this evening and try my luck.’

‘Aren’t you playing handball?’

‘Naw. My partner Joseph Green has a few days off so he’s taking his missus to Killarney for a bit of a holiday.’

Foley gave a splutter. ‘What’ll Eileen say about that? You have a free evening and you’re not going to take her out somewhere?’

‘Ah, she won’t mind. She’ll be glad to have me out of the house.’

‘Because you won’t tell her, will you? You’ll pretend you’re out there training for the handball tournament.’

‘Of course I’ll tell her. What do you think I’d …?’

‘I don’t think – I know. You’ll look her in the eye and you’ll lie like a hairy egg.’

Guerin snorted and put his cap back on, pushed himself off the wall and cycled past Foley back onto the road. ‘Where are we going first?’

‘We should try the pub over there. They’re having a delivery so there’s someone up and about that we can talk to.’

The dray horse on the pavement outside the pub had a feed bag over his head and he was munching happily after dumping a pile of manure on the ground behind him. The delivery man was rolling a barrel of porter down the chute into the cellar and shouting instructions to his assistant. He watched the two guards lean their bikes against the pub wall and stroll in the front door to the bar.

Coming in from the bright sunlight made them stop and take a moment for their eyes to adjust. Chairs were piled up on tables and a young woman was sweeping the floor. She looked up when she heard the door clatter open.

‘Lads, we aren’t open yet. You’ll have to ...’ her bright green eyes scanned the two men and when she registered the uniforms her hand went to her throat and her expression changed instantly. ‘Da, you’re wanted.’

It still amazed Foley how people react when they’re approached by a policeman. It varies from fear to guilt and hits all the bases in between. The innocent immediately think something has happened to their loved ones, and the guilty ones become aggressive and defensive.

What?’ A head appeared behind the forest of stools that were stacked up on the counter. He had the same bright green eyes as the girl but most of his hair was gone. He compensated for that by growing what was left into a pigtail and letting his sideburns reach right down to his chin. He looked the guards up and down and rolled his eyes.

‘Eleanor, will you go in to the office and get the liquor license.’

Foley put up his hand. ‘No, no. We’re not here about that.’

The young woman propped her broom against a table and came over. ‘So what do you want? It’s a bit early for a pint, I’d say.’

Her long hair was the colour of a fox and she had it pulled back and tied with a black band so that it hung over one shoulder. And the smile she gave was as bright as her eyes. And completely infectious. Foley couldn’t help smiling back. But then he checked himself. The reason they were here was nothing to smile about.

‘Well, ah … we called in to ask … ah …’

Foley realized he was staring at her but he couldn’t help himself. She had the most beautiful eyes he’d ever seen. Guerin pushed between them and held his hand out to the man behind the counter.

‘Good morning, sir. I’m John Guerin. And that is Eamon Foley.’

‘Mike Carmady.’ The man gripped the hand and smiled as he shook it. ‘I’m the landlord. Eleanor is my daughter.’

‘How do you do,’ Guerin smiled back at him. ‘We’re sorry to bother you so early in the day but we … well, there’s no easy way to say this but we’re after finding the body of a young man back there on the road to Tralee.’

‘Jasus,’ Carmady straightened up and would have taken a step back if he had the space behind the counter. ‘Do you know who he is? Is he a local lad?’

‘That’s what we’re trying to find out.’ Guerin leant his elbows on the bar. ‘Guard Mitchell thinks he’s not from out this side of the town.’

‘Well, if Tom Mitchell says he’s not from around here you can take his word for it.’ Carmady tapped the counter in emphasis. ‘Tom knows everyone and their dog around here. A pig can’t fart without Tom Mitchell knowing about it.’

Guerin took out his notebook and flicked it open. ‘He’s about five ten, early twenties with thick dark hair. You didn’t notice if he was in here last night?’

‘No. There was just the usual crowd, I think.’

‘What about around town? Did you notice anyone like that wandering around? It’s possible he was just out for a walk when he was killed.’

‘Killed?’ Eleanor gasped and staggered back against the bar. ‘What do you mean killed?’

‘Jasus, I’m sorry.’ Guerin put his hand out to steady her. Foley grabbed a stool off the counter and helped her to sit on it, and Carmady rushed out from behind the bar. He pushed Foley out of the way as he put his arm around his daughter. ‘C’mon now, girl. I’m sure the guard didn’t mean to upset you. He was just …’

‘I’m sorry,’ Eleanor covered her face with her hands. ‘I wasn’t listening properly. I thought you said you caught a young man …you know? …arrested someone. I didn’t realize you were talking about a dead body. Oh my God. That’s dreadful. What happened to him?’

‘Right now we don’t know,’ Guerin told her. ‘But he didn’t drop dead from something natural.’

‘Oh dear God,’ Eleanor repeated. ‘That’s really horrible.’

Foley reached in between her father and Guerin and took her hand. ‘Will I get you a drink of water or something?’

‘No, no. I’m grand.’ She held his hand tightly for the briefest of moments then let hers drop into her lap. ‘I’m grand now. But thank you all the same.’

A beam of sunlight coming in through the large pub window flooded that corner of the bar and in the sharp light Foley noticed that Eleanor wasn’t as young as he first thought. He’d put her down as late teens but now he could see the soft lines around her eyes and the corners of her mouth that said she was in her mid-twenties, much closer to his own age.

She slid off the stool and lifted it back onto the counter. The three men stood looking at her and a flash of embarrassment danced across her eyes. ‘I’m grand,’ she insisted. ‘I’m sorry I caused a fuss. It’s just … well, it’s not every day something like this happens around here.’

Guerin gave her one of his understanding smiles and looked back at his notebook. ‘Right, as I said, the first thing we have to do is find out who he is and what was he doing in Blennerville last night. Where was he going when he was …’ He glanced at Eleanor but she was studying her hands and didn’t seem to be listening again. ‘So we thought we’d check in here first just in case he’d called in for a pint of the black stuff.’

‘Well I had the night off so I was out.’ Carmady scratched his chin. ‘But Eleanor was here. She’d know.’

They waited for her to react, but she didn’t.

‘Eleanor?’ Carmady patted her on the arm and she looked up sharply.


‘The guards were wondering if maybe he came in here last night. Did you see him at all?’

‘No, I didn’t.’ She knew she’d answered too quickly and she brushed her hair with a quick sweep of her hand. But she didn’t look at her father. ‘He didn’t come in here last night.’

There was an awkward moment before her father cleared his throat. ‘Are you sure, girl?’

‘I am.’ She gave an annoyed click of her tongue. ‘It was quiet in here last night. Just the usual crowd, Mick Carroll, Sonny Lynch, Pat the Pipe. It was dead in here. I’d have noticed if some stranger came in. I wouldn’t have been able to miss him, would I?’

She pushed past her father and practically ran towards the office door. At the same time a young man popped up behind the counter.

‘Just the two barrels today, is it, Mr Carmady? I’m after putting them in the cellar for you.’

‘Eugene,’ Carmady had started to go after Eleanor but went back behind the counter instead. ‘Close that hatch before someone falls down it and breaks their feckin neck. There’s a good lad.’

It took a moment for Eugene to realize there were other people in the bar and he squinted through the legs of the stools to see who it was. His face stretched in shock when he saw the uniforms and his instinct was to turn and bolt but Carmady was blocking his way. Eleanor came back out when she heard his name and she took his hand, giving him a strange look that was almost pleading.

‘Eugene was in here last night and he didn’t see your man either. Did you, Eugene?’

‘What?’ Eugene’s eyes were all over the place, wishing he was somewhere else. Eleanor poked him with her finger.

‘Tell them, will you?’

‘Tell them what?’

‘That you didn’t see any stranger in here last night. The only ones in here were the usual lads.’

‘What are you talking about?’

The noise Eleanor made in her throat could have been a curse but she covered it by putting her hands over her face. ‘Eugene, the guards are after finding a dead man on the roar over there and they’re asking if he came in here last night. I told them he didn’t. I didn’t see him, and you …’

‘Yeah, I saw him.’

The silence came down so hard the only sound was the noise from the street outside. Eleanor’s head gave an involuntary shake and she stepped back away from Eugene.

‘So you did see your man?’ Guerin said. ‘When was that?’

‘When we were coming out here this morning. Guard Mitchell was standing by the road so we stopped and asked him if he was all right. He told us about the fella he found in the river and he gave us a brief description of him just in case we might have seen him around.’

Guerin’s eyes disappeared into frustrated slits and he wriggled his nose. ‘And you didn’t recognise the fella?’

‘Jasus, he didn’t let us look at him.’

‘I mean from the description he gave you. You didn’t see anyone of that description in here last night. Or any other night for that matter.’

Eugene’s eyes were still dancing around the room searching for an answer. They settled on Eleanor again and he grimaced, a shadow of uncertainty crossing his face. Eleanor just stared at him until he looked away again.

‘No, I never saw him before.’


‘Never, and that’s the God’s honest truth.’

Guerin glanced at Foley and raised his eyebrows, then he shut his notebook and slid it back in his pocket.

‘Ah, well, I suppose we’d better be getting on. Nice meeting you all.’ He smiled at Eleanor whose face had softened again. ‘I’m sorry if we upset you with the bad news. But I expect Eugene would have told you all about it soon enough.’

‘He would,’ Eleanor smiled back at him. ‘And I’m sorry I’m such a cry baby when it comes to things like … you know … dead people? Ever since my mammy died I …’

‘Eleanor,’ Carmady spoke sharper than he intended and she flinched. ‘Don’t be upsetting yourself now, child. Why don’t you go and make yourself a nice cup of tea. And maybe one for the guards too.’

‘Not for us, thanks,’ Guerin waved the idea away.

‘Are you sure? It’s no bother.’

As Eleanor brushed past him Foley held out his hand. She looked at it suspiciously before taking it in a soft gentle grip.

‘I was wondering …’ but his mouth had dried up. He felt his face redden and he cleared his throat. Eleanor’s eyes sparkled with a wicked humour as she waited for him to continue. ‘Well, just that if you do remember anything …you know … drop in to the barracks and let us know. I’m Eamon. Foley. Eamon Foley. And this is John Guerin.’

Eleanor couldn’t hold back the chuckle any longer and she let go his hand. ‘I will of course.’

Guerin was already pulling the door open. ‘Will there be anyone at the mill this time of the day?’ he called back to Carmady who glanced up at the clock.

‘Yes. They start at six and they’re on the go till ten tonight.’

‘We’ll be heading over there, then. Thank you, Mr Carmady. And don’t forget, if you hear anything …’

‘I will, of course.’

Chapter 6

Jacob Butts raked through the remains of the bonfire with a long stick. He needed to make sure all trace of his four visitors had well and truly turned to ash. Then he opened the metal gate in the wall and tipped the ashes into the river.

He still hadn’t fully recovered from the shock of having so many people call on him like that. It was not good for his nerves. He loved the brilliant rush of adrenalin that he got when one or two people called. But what happened last night was almost too much for him. He didn’t think he could ever go through that again. He asked the Lady to limit it to two from now on. The next time, if the head count was more than two, he would pull up the drawbridge and lock the door.

Still, he did very well out of them this time. It was obvious they’d robbed other people on their way to his house so there was much more cash on them than usual. He always made a point of only keeping the cash. It was too risky to keep anything else in case it was traced back to him. So he put it in the old metal box and lower it into the deep pool in the river. The only way anyone would ever find the box would be if they were actually swimming there. And that was very unlikely.

But the money meant nothing to Jacob Butts. What was important was the benefit to his pigs. He glanced over at the huge animals with enormous pride. The three Large White Ulster boars were grunting and snorting around the yard while the four sows lay happily on their sides in the slurry as the piglets fed off them.

Some of them should be ready for the next market. But that was a whole month away now. A tug of impatience made Jacob sigh as he swept the last of the ashes away with a hard brush. He would need to keep busy until then. It seemed such a long way off.

Jacob Butts loved his day at the market. He loved the buzz and the banter. And he loved the attention he got from the other traders. The buyers would study his animals and ask how he got them to be so big and healthy. What was he feeding them? Where could they get some of it?

So he made a point of never agreeing a sale until the afternoon, just to drag out his day. Then he would stuff the money into his shirt pocket and head down to the Grand Hotel for a hearty meal and a mug of ale.

Afterwards he would wander off home, content and slightly inebriated.

Yes, he was so proud of how things were going right now. For a moment he wished his father was here to witness it.

But only for a moment. Because his father, John Joe Butts, was a brute. Small and wiry, he had spite running through him like a stick of Blackpool rock. He was like an angry terrier, snapping and growling at anything and everything. And Jacob spent his whole life in fear of him.

So Jacob knew he wouldn’t get an ounce of credit for all his hard work. The sweat, the tears that he wept trying to keep things going would invoke only ridicule.

Consequently when John Joe had a stroke and died just before Christmas the only feeling Jacob could muster was relief. Of course he went through the motions, the sad face, the choked voice at the funeral, the obligatory tears as he read out the urology.

Later as he was going through his father’s things he realized that he knew absolutely nothing about his father. There were no letters, no photos, no paperwork of any kind to say where he came from. Or to say if he had any other relatives, living or dead. There was a Marriage Certificate giving the date when John Joe married Ann Quinlan, a Birth Certificate for Jacob. And a Death Certificate saying that Ann had died in childbirth.

Jacob had no recollection of his own childhood. It was as if his whole life had been written in chalk on a blackboard, one day at a time. Then it was wiped off again when the evening came.

If only they had been like a normal family. If only they had spent some time together. If only they had a proper conversation once in a while Jacob Butts might have learnt why his father was like he was. Why he was so bitter, why his life had been so terribly sad.

Chapter 7

‘Where were you all morning?’ Sergeant Fitzgerald bore down on Foley with an angry swagger.

John Guerin had disappeared towards the canteen the moment they got back to Tralee so Foley was left to take the full force of the sergeant’s attack.

Foley stepped back a couple of paces. ‘We were out in Blennerville like you told us, Sarge. We were helping Guard Mitchell.’

The sergeant stepped forward by the same amount. ‘All this time? I needed you here, Foley. We’re shorthanded enough as it is without the two of you gallivanting all over the place. So what were you doing that took so long?’

‘Well, the dead fella had nothing on him to say who he was. Guard Mitchell said he wasn’t a local lad so he asked us to knock on a few doors to see if anyone had noticed him hanging around the area.’

‘He was a non-national?’

Foley blinked a couple of times. ‘I don’t know, Sarge. How could you tell that?’

‘By the cut of him, of course.’ The Sgt flapped his huge hands. ‘Did he look foreign?’

‘Well, no. I’d say he didn’t look foreign. But how …’

‘And why did you have to go knocking on the doors? What was Mitchell doing? It’s his patch. He should be the one making the enquiries, not taking advantage of my good nature.’

Sgt Fitzgerald maneuvered Foley back towards the front doors. ‘Anyway, I want you to find Guerin and get over to the hospital. There’s a family causing trouble because they’re refusing to treat their drunk father who fell and broke his nose.’

‘But what about the dead fella out in Blennerville?’

‘That has nothing to do with you anymore. Mitchell found him so Mitchell can sort him out. I can’t spare anyone to babysit him anymore.’

Foley took the ring from his pocket and held it out to the sergeant. ‘The dead fella was wearing this. I thought if I took it over to Dean Callaghan, the jeweller, he might recognize it and we might be able to identify the body.’

The sergeant gave a snort and pushed the ring away. ‘Why would he recognize that auld thing? He must see thousands of them every day.’

‘I know that, but I just thought it was worth a try.’

‘Why have you got it? Why isn’t Mitchell doing that?’

‘Because I’m pals with Dean Callaghan, Sarge. And the ring has a distinctive design on it, see?’ He held the ring up to the light but the Sgt just blew a sigh and didn’t look at it. ‘I thought Dean might be able to recognize it.’

‘No.’ Sgt Fitzgerald flapped his hands again. ‘I can’t spare you for that. When you write up your report put the ring with it. Now find Guerin and get over to the hospital.’

‘But Sarge, we might be able to solve this quickly. If we can find out who the dead fella is we might be able to find out why he was killed. And who killed him.’

‘Who said he was killed? I thought it was a suicide. Detective Casey said he floated in with the tide.’

‘No, he did not.’ Foley almost laughed but decided to cough into his fist instead. ‘It looks like he was hit with something then thrown over the wall. The tide was nowhere near him.’

‘For God’s sake.’ Fitz rolled his eyes. ‘All right, but you’ll have to do it during your break time.’

‘What? But I’m just after getting back and I’m dying for a cup of tea.’

‘Foley, I need your ugly body out there doing what you’re paid to do. Now if you want to go around pretending to be a detective, that’s fine by me. But not on my time. Is that clear? Now the choice is yours. Give it to Detective Casey or take it over to your pal. Either way, I want you and Guerin over at the hospital right now. Is that understood?’

All Foley could do was nod.

Chapter 8

Dean Callaghan gave an exaggerated groan when he saw Foley and Guerin coming in through his shop door. ‘Lads, keep an eye on these two. They’re a shifty pair if ever I saw one.’

The girls behind the counter chuckled nervously as Dean beckoned the guards into the back room, and he took up his usual position behind his workbench.

‘This is John Guerin,’ Foley pointed with his thumb as he put the ring on the bench in front of Dean. ‘We’re wondering if you recognize this, by any remote chance.’

‘Hello,’ Dean nodded to Guerin then studied the ring for a moment before gingerly picking it up. ‘What’re you up to this time, Eamon?’

He put his magnifier to his eye and rolled the ring between his fingers.

‘We’re just interested in who owns it, that’s all.’

‘Yeah,’ Dean gave a mocking grin. ‘I always worry when you come in looking for information. It never ends well, and that’s for sure.’

Foley gave him a pretend slap around the head. ‘I told you he was useless, didn’t I?’ he said to Guerin. ‘I only come in here because I haven’t got the time to go to a real jeweller.’

‘He won’t go to a real jeweller because he’d have to pay for their time. The last time he opened his wallet there was an almighty scream out of it. The poor thing had almost healed up and here he was ripping it asunder again.’

Dean seemed to be talking absently as he studied the ring. He sat back, put the ring and the eyeglass on the bench and folded his arms.

‘Mixer Daly.’

‘What?’ Foley stepped closer and looked at the ring.

‘It belongs to Mixer Daly.’

‘Mixer Daly, from out in the Spa?’

‘The very same. I thought you’d recognize the name.’

‘But …’ Foley felt his heart sink. Mixer was at least fifty years old, much older than the body in Blennerville. ‘Are you sure about that? Are you sure it belongs to Mixer?’

‘Absolutely.’ Dean picked up a pen and waved it at the guards. ‘Listen, there’s not a month goes by without Mixer and his lunatic family coming in here with something they want me to buy off them? Usually something a relative left him in a will, God rest their poor soul. A silver candlestick, a solid gold watch, a diamond encrusted salt cellar. You name it and Mixer was left it in a will. There can’t be much room left over in the Spa graveyard after they’ve planted all of Mixer’s relatives in it, and that’s for sure. ‘

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