Read Ride on Online

Authors: Stephen J. Martin

Ride on

MERCIER PRESS

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© Stephen J. Martin, 2007

ISBN: 978 1 85635 529 2

Epub ISBN: 978 1 85635 983 2

Mobi ISBN: 978 1 85635 982 5

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

Praise for Stephen J. Martin

‘If you put Bono and Brendan O'Carroll into a DNA blending device, then you would end up with Stephen J. Martin – a wordsmith with one ear for rock music and another for Dublin's vernacular ... the dialogue drips with authenticity.'

–Irish Examiner

‘Martin brilliantly evokes the cruelty, the fun, the allure of the impossible dream. I laughed, thought back - and then laughed again!'

– Tom Dunne, Today FM

‘One hilarious incident after another ... irreverent and amusing ...'

– Irish Emigrant

‘... rollicks along in a jolly fashion ...'

–Ireland on Sunday

‘Whether you're a musician yourself or simply a music lover, Superchick will rock your world!'

–Stephen Lawson, Total Guitar

‘Brilliant! A laugh a minute ... rich, humorous and incredibly vivid...'

– Irish Echo

For

Kieran and Margaret …

Chapter One

‘Problem solved,' said Aesop, bouncing into the studio and taking off his coat. ‘I have our song. Came to me in my sleep last night.'

‘Good stuff. I suppose it's subtle and evocative, is it?' said Dónal Steele, The Grove's manager, without looking up from the mixing desk where he was going over some notes with Sparky, the engineer.

‘Evocative … I betcha that means girly, doesn't it?' said Aesop.

Aesop went through phases. This week, his girly cut-off point was somewhere around the live version of ‘War Pigs'.

Dónal thought about it for a second.

‘Kind of.'

‘Thought so. No then. It's not girly. Not like you mean anyway.'

‘I see. And what's it about?'

‘Where's Jimmy? He'll want to hear this.'

‘He's out there,' said Dónal, pointing through the soundproofed window of the control room with his coffee cup.

Aesop pressed the intercom button.

‘Jimmy?'

Jimmy's head popped up. He'd been adjusting one of the settings on his stompbox.

‘Howya,' he said, standing to speak into his mike. ‘What's up?'

‘I have a song.'

‘Do you? Brilliant. So do I.'

‘Yeah? What's yours about?' said Aesop.

‘Actually, it's for Jen's wedding. I've been at it for a while. I never thought of putting it on the album, and then last night I just said, fuck it, why not? I came in early this morning to put some tracks down for it.'

Jimmy didn't give a shite about what was girly and what wasn't, once he was sure it was coming from the right place. In his drunker moments, he just felt like he was freeing it from his soul. But he'd only ever said that to Aesop once and then suffered an unmerciful slagging. These days, he kept his more poetic musings to himself until it was time to put them to music.

‘Oh Christ no,' said Aesop, rubbing his eyes with one hand. ‘Here we fuckin' go again.' He looked up. ‘A wedding song?'

‘Yeah. Well, kind of. Listen …'

Jimmy started a guitar intro and then began to sing. It was beautiful. Simple. A voice and a guitar and sibilant lyrics that whispered to the heart of promises and devotion as a summer breeze might tease an aspen to shimmer. Aesop looked around at Sparky and Dónal. They were both grinning and nodding and tapping their fingers in time to the song. It faded out in softly beating echoes and Jimmy looked back through to the control room, his eyebrows raised.

‘What do you think? It's called “More Than Me”.'

‘It's brilliant,' said Dónal. He'd heard it three times already this morning. ‘Jesus. I think that's the one.'

‘It's good stuff Jimmy,' said Sparky. ‘Lovely.'

‘It's the foulest fucking thing I've ever heard in my life,' said Aesop. ‘And it's way too early in the morning to be subjecting me to it too, you fucker.'

Jimmy stepped away from the mike and came in through the big heavy double doors.

‘But it's a wedding present, Aesop. For your bleedin' sister. It's s'posed to be romantic and sweet.'

‘And evocative?'

‘Yeah, exactly.'

‘Well, you fucking nailed it then,' said Aesop. ‘Cos my breakfast is on its way up. Where do you keep getting lyrics like that, for fuck sake? I swear, it's like you have a girl's knicker-drawer for a brain sometimes Jimmy, the shite you pull out of it.'

‘We've already got some rockers on the album Aesop,' said Dónal. ‘We thought we'd close it out with a simple ballad.'

‘And anyway,' said Jimmy, ‘it still needs a bit of work. And I've another verse to write.'

‘Oh brilliant. One about snowdrops and daffodils?'

‘No, Aesop. The song is about …'

‘Cream-coloured ponies? Fairies and fucking lollipops?'

‘Aesop?' said Sparky at last, putting down his tea and looking up. He always had a short fuse around Aesop.

‘What?'

‘Shut your bollocks.'

Aesop blinked at him and then sat down and picked up a bikkie from the plate in front of Dónal.

‘Well I wrote a song too, yiz bastards.'

‘Let's hear it then,' said Jimmy, handing him the guitar. ‘Come on. What's it about? We're all listening.'

‘You'll think it's crap.'

‘We won't.'

‘Yeah you fucking will. After the pole-smoker song you just sang? Jesus, all it needs is a recorder solo in the middle. If it went on any longer I was afraid Sparky and Dónal were going to start fingering each other in here, the heads on them.'

‘What's your song Aesop?'

Aesop grinned at him.

‘It's called “Brokeback Fountain”.'

Jimmy frowned.

‘And what's it about?'

‘It's about this pair of lesbians.'

‘Right. How many songs about lesbians is that now you're after writing, Aesop?'

‘Only two.'

Jimmy nodded.

‘So what about them anyway?'

‘Well, one of them is after spilling ice-cream all over her tits.'

‘Jesus,' Jimmy sighed, shaking his head. ‘What was she doing with it, for fuck sake?'

‘I don't know. It doesn't matter. So anyway the other one gets to work, but sure one lesbian can only eat so much ice-cream, right? And …'

‘Okay Aesop. Right, I get it. But the thing is …'

‘So, into the shower with them. That's kind of it. Well, there's lots of bubbles and all. And they keep dropping the sponge and stuff …'

‘Right. But Aesop, we're not really …'

‘You think it's stupid, don't you?'

‘It is fucking stupid, Aesop. But that's not the point. We're not writing that kind of album. It's not really our genre, is it? Y'see, we do this thing called rock music. What you're after writing there is called lesbian porn. See how they're not the same thing?'

‘They could be.'

‘No they couldn't, Aesop.'

‘I have one about eating porridge as well,' said Aesop. ‘I thought of it this morning.'

‘Did you? Well, there you go. That's fucking stupid as well.'

‘You haven't even heard what it's about yet!'

‘Is it about porridge?'

‘Yeah.'

‘Right then.'

‘Do you want to hear it?'

Jimmy looked up at the clock over the desk. It was time to stop fucking around and get a bit of work done.

‘Later Aesop,' he said, grabbing his guitar and heading back out the doors into the recording room. ‘Come on. Let's see if we can get some clicks down for “More Than Me” to get us started. I've got a bass line down on track one there, Sparky. There's an arpeggiated loop on track two that'll get us to the chorus, so just kill it then and bring it back when I give you the nod. You'll get the idea. I'll play the melody here. Aesop, it's four-four, no tricks. I need you to play off the high hat until the chorus but I want it to build up to the first verse, so open it up gradually until I start singing. Sparky, that's when you bring in track one. The bass will hold us up there until the change. Track two is from the top. Four bar intro. Plus one to count us in. Are we right? Dónal, will you keep an ear out for an acoustic part. We'll need one to fill it out for us, but I didn't get a chance to put one down this morning. If anyone has any better ideas on any of this, let me know when we're done.'

They all got themselves ready. Aesop just got in behind the drums, took off his jumper and settled his headphones over his ears. By the end of the day he'd have forgotten all about his lesbian and porridge songs, so Jimmy wasn't worried about him getting sulky. Slagging and shite-talking aside, when it came to this type of thing Jimmy was the boss and everyone was cool with that. Aesop was his best mate, but The Grove was his baby.

Dónal smiled. He'd been hoping that Jimmy would come up with something good to finish the album, and here he was now after pulling this total fucking cracker out of nowhere. It was single material. It'd be all over late-night radio. The tune was already in his head and would be for the rest of the day.

Jimmy counted them in when they were all ready to go, his eyes closed and his head nodding as everyone came in where they were supposed to. The song sounded even better now with all the work he'd done putting backing tracks down before everyone else had gotten in. Then he started singing, leaving them behind in the studio and going with the song until it finished in a clutch of ringing notes on his guitar. He opened his eyes and held his bottom lip in his teeth for a second, just staring at the wall opposite him. The others waited. Then he looked at Aesop and grinned.

‘Jaysis, Aesop, I think you were right,' he said. ‘It does need a recorder solo.'

Aesop just raised his eyes to heaven and shook his head. Then he turned to Dónal and Sparky in the other room and leaned into his mike.

‘Into the jacks with the pair of you, now, and wash your hands.'

*

It was a good morning in Sin Bin. They got a lot of work done on ‘More Than Me' and then found time to tidy up the chorus on one of the other songs before lunch. Another week or two and the whole thing would be in the bag. Jimmy and Aesop decided to go for a sandwich, and maybe a pint, for lunch. Just one, because Jimmy had to go back to the studio afterwards. He'd be there all afternoon and most of the evening. As well as being in The Grove and contracted to Sin Bin Productions in that capacity, Jimmy was also a business partner of Dónal's and Sparky's. He'd bought in a few months ago with a payout he'd gotten from his previous job in IT. Dónal had been short of dosh and Jimmy had been flush. They got on and respected each other. Right time, right place, right circumstances. Jimmy was the kind of bloke who wouldn't be happy just singing in a band anyway, so when he suggested to Dónal and Sparky that he get on board properly with Sin Bin, it all just fell into place. So now he was helping produce other bands too and learning the ropes when he wasn't doing his own stuff with Aesop and The Grove.

Aesop wasn't doing any of that. He was just the drummer in the band and that's the way he liked it. He'd be spending the afternoon looking at furniture for the place he'd bought with Jimmy from their album advance. He was living there on his own and paying rent for the moment to Jimmy. Jimmy already had a house so it was all working out fine so far. Aesop had a bit of money coming in for the first time ever in his thirty-three years, and his old man had been fairly keen that he get out of his house, take his fucking drumkit with him, and learn what it was like to have a bit of responsibility for a change. Everyone was up on the deal, as long as the band kept up some momentum and the arse didn't completely fall out of the property market. If they got the projected royalty cheques over the next few months, then Aesop would give Jimmy back twice the money that he'd put into the apartment, pay the balance of the mortgage off completely and own the thing outright. He still grinned to himself every time he walked in the front door. His front door. His gaff. From playing the drums with Jimmy. Who'd have fucking thought it?

‘What are they like, this crowd you're seeing later?' said Aesop as they headed down the stairs just after one o'clock.

‘Young fellas. Not bad. I've only heard a couple of bits from them. Be interesting to meet them. They're s'posed to have one song that Dónal reckons could be a starter. They call themselves Leet.'

‘Leet? What's that mean?'

Jimmy shrugged.

‘No idea.'

They got out onto the street and stepped around two young lads who were standing against the wall outside.

‘What's their sound?'

‘That's the thing. It's a bit mad. Imagine The Specials mixed with Coldplay …'

‘So … brilliant mixed with shite, like? Very novel.'

‘Yeah. But it works, apparently. They've a bit of a following around the city.'

‘Jesus, who'd have guessed there'd be that many gay ska-heads in Dublin?'

‘Well anyway, they're catchy enough. The arrangements are a bit obvious, but we can fix that. The singer has a good set of lungs on him. The drummer writes all the songs, Dónal says.'

‘Drummers are always the best songwriters, aren't they?'

‘Yeah. “Brokeback Fountain”, “Octopus's Garden” … it's a fucking quality list that just goes on and on, isn't it?'

Jimmy heard something behind him and looked around. The two kids that had been outside the studio were walking behind them. A bit young for fans, although it wasn't at all uncommon these days for people to stare or point or even follow them. Sometimes they didn't even say anything, which Jimmy found a bit unsettling. He turned back to Aesop.

‘So what are you up to tonight, after you go shopping for rugs and coffee tables?'

‘I'm heading over to Donnycarney first to see me Nan. She's been giving Jen shit that I haven't been over. Then they're showing a Cure gig on the telly and …'

‘The Cure? But you hate The Cure!'

‘I know. Isn't it funny? But they were playing “A Forest” on the radio this morning when I was getting up and I can't get it out of me head now. They weren't that bad, were they?'

‘They were fucking brilliant! Jesus, the shite you used to give me in school for liking them. Cheeky fucker now. And the … wait … hang on a minute, Aesop …'

Jimmy turned around. They were after going around a couple of corners now and the two boys were still behind them.

‘Are yiz all right lads?' said Jimmy, stopping. They were only about eleven, but Jimmy just wasn't used to this kind of attention yet and it gave him the willies a bit.

The smaller one looked at the very slightly bigger one.

‘Are youse The Grove?' said the bigger one.

‘Yeah.'

‘We weren't sure. Where's the Chinese fella?'


Page 2

‘Shiggy? He's in Japan. What's the story?'

‘Me sister likes you.'

‘Your …'

‘She wants to meet you.'

Aesop snorted and stopped to light up a smoke. Wherever this went, it'd be good for a slagging in the pub afterwards.

‘Eh … that's nice,' said Jimmy. He looked around the street to see if anyone else was listening to this.

‘Will you meet her?'

‘Ah listen, I'm kind of busy, y'know? But … how did you know where we'd be?'

‘Your website said you were making a CD in that Sin Bin place. I got the bus in with Conor. He's me brother.'

‘Oh. Right. Eh, howya Conor. And what's your name?'

‘Liam Flanigan.'

‘Liam. Okay. Em … but … and how old is your sister?'

‘Fourteen.'

Aesop gave another little giggle.

‘When will she be fifteen?' he said, grinning over at Jimmy. ‘Fifteen all right for you, Collins?'

‘Shut up will ye?' said Jimmy over his shoulder. He turned back to the kids. ‘Where is she? I'll say hello. Did she not come out with you?'

‘He called you Collins,' said the kid, pointing at Aesop. ‘Are you not Aesop?'

‘What?' said Jimmy. ‘No. No, he's Aesop. I'm …'

‘Right. It's not you then. She wants to meet him. Aesop.'

Aesop was chuckling now.

‘She likes me, does she?'

‘Yeah.'

‘That'd make more sense all right. And what did she say about Jimmy?'

‘Who's Jimmy?'

Aesop threw his head back and roared laughing.

‘Ah that's so cool, that is. The lads will love this. Nothing's changed in twenty years, has it Jimmy? It's Cathleen McGovern all over again. Jaysis, remember when …'

‘Shut up, you clown,' said Jimmy, straightening up. He couldn't help being embarrassed even though it was a stupid situation and not even his fault. ‘Here, you sort this out. Gimme that smoke.'

‘Your sister didn't come out with you?' said Aesop, taking over. He was great with kids. He had two nephews not much younger than this pair and he was mad about them. ‘Is she shy?'

‘No, she's sick,' said Liam. ‘She's not allowed out. But she has a picture of The Grove on her wall and she's always talking about you, so she is. It's her birthday next week. I said I'd come in and ask you to go to her party. Conor wanted to come as well.'

‘I see. Aren't you great brothers, aren't you? I have two brothers as well, but they wouldn't do that for me. And your sister's sick? Well, that's no good, is it? But c'mere, should you not be in school?'

‘We're mitching.'

‘Ah Jaysis lads, yiz shouldn't come into town when you're mitching. They have inspectors out on the streets. You'll be snared. How long were you standing outside the studio? You should have come up and …'

‘For Christ sake Aesop …' said Jimmy, looking over. ‘Stop encouraging them, will you? They shouldn't be on the mitch at all.'

‘Ah stop it Jimmy, ye big granny. Leave them alone. Did you never go on the mitch?'

‘No, I bloody didn't!'

‘Don't mind him lads. He was always a big swot when he was in school.'

‘Will you come to her birthday?' said Liam.

‘The thing is lads, we're very busy making this record, y'see? Maybe when we … what's her name?'

‘Philomena … Mena.'

‘Well, you tell Mena when she gets better that if she wants to say hello, she can call Sin Bin and … hey Jimmy, is the Sin Bin number on the web site?'

Jimmy nodded.

‘Right,' said Aesop. ‘Call Sin Bin and they'll tell her when I'm in there and then she can come in with your folks and I'll show her how to play the drums. Will you do that?'

Liam was grinning.

‘That'd be great, mister!'

‘I'm Aesop, Liam. Just Aesop.' He winked at Conor. ‘Who am I?'

‘Aesop,' said Conor, blushing.

‘That's right,' said Aesop with a big smile. ‘And c'mere. Maybe I'll teach the two of you to play the drums as well. Would you be into that?'

Conor and Liam looked at each other like it was Santy they were after meeting. They nodded like they were trying to dislodge their heads.

‘Good stuff. Right, well me and Jimmy here are off now to have a bit of lunch, okay? So you tell Mena I said hello and Happy Birthday and to give the studio a call when she's feeling better. Tell her I'll teach her how to play her favourite song. Will you do that?'

‘Yeah,' said Conor.

‘Right. Off yiz go then. Go back to school and, Liam, you tell your teacher that you had to bring Conor to the dentist this morning all right? And you forgot the note. And go easy on the jelly and ice-cream at Mena's birthday party next week, ye here me?'

The kids laughed and then turned and headed off back down towards the river. Aesop watched them for a while, grinning, and then turned around to Jimmy, who was leaning against the wall and putting the cigarette out.

‘Y'right?' said Aesop.

‘Yeah. Fuck sake, aren't you fucking great, aren't you? It's a wonder you didn't start doing magic for them.'

‘Ah, kids are brilliant Jimmy. Jaysis, you were bending over poor Liam like you were his headmaster about to give him a box. Hands behind your back and everything.'

‘Yeah, whatever. Can we go for a pint now … fucking … Ronald McDonald? I've to be back in an hour.'

‘You're just grumpy because Mena likes me instead of you.'

‘Am I? And what are you going to do when Mena comes knocking at the door of Sin Bin next week?'

‘I'm going to teach her how to play the drums, amn't I?'

‘And what if she wants you to be her new boyfriend?'

‘Ah don't be fucking stupid Jimmy. I'll sign a CD and a t-shirt for her and she'll be all chuffed and run off to show her mates. Y'know something, for someone who spent twenty years dreaming about being a rockstar, you haven't given much thought to the fans, have you?'

‘What fans?'

‘All the kids who bought the singles for starters, you muppet. There's more to it than just playing music Jimmy. And would you ever try not to look like you're going to call the cops every time a fan comes up to you in the street.'

Jimmy shook his head as he pushed the door of the pub open.

‘Will you fucking give over. We've got two singles out. Anyway, she's your bleedin' fan, not mine, remember?'

Aesop roared laughing.

‘You think I'm going to forget that, Jimmy?'

Jimmy looked across the road, where two teenage girls were staring at them.

‘Jesus, come on for fuck sake, look.'

Aesop looked over and gave them a wave and a big grin.

‘Howzit goin' girls?' he called.

They giggled and one of them waved back.

‘Aesop, will you come on?' said Jimmy.

‘You go on in Jimmy. Get me a pint. I'll just say hello …'

‘Christ, they're only young ones, Aesop.'

‘I'm not trying to score. For fuck sake, if it wasn't for them and their mates, I'd still be on the dole. It's only manners. Go on. I'll be in in a minute.'

Jimmy watched him cross the road and thought for a second about going over too. But then he went into the pub and up to the bar to order the sandwiches and drinks. He just couldn't get used to all this. On the stage was one thing. That was his job. But when he was just trying to get a bit of lunch?

The barman came over to him and stopped, frowning. He was new, this barman.

‘Are you Jimmy Collins?'

Jimmy sighed inwardly.

Fuck sake.

Chapter Two

‘Cup of tea?'

Norman looked up from where he was lying on the ground on a black plastic bag. The sun was up above the wall now and shining in his face. He raised his hand over his eyes to see if the voice was talking to him, but before he could see properly or even say anything, it spoke again.

‘I've the kettle on. Will you have a cup of tea? It's a cold morning to be out working.'

Norman put down the secateurs and smiled at the silhouette on the other side of the rosebed.

‘I've love a cup. I didn't realise what time it was.'

‘Come on so. I'm Trish.'

‘I'm Norman. Or, Robert I mean. Robert.'

He stood up and grimaced slightly at the creak in his knee and the twinge that shot down to his ankle.

‘Are you sure now?' she said smiling. She had a coat on and her arms folded tightly against the wind that was coming in off the sea. A few bits of hair were after coming loose from under her cap and she pulled them from her lips. Lovely lips they were too. He'd been admiring them from afar for about a week and now here they were, pointing at him and moving and nice words coming out of them.

‘Yeah. Robert. Well, my mates call me Norman. Long story.'

‘Come on in then. You'll have to take those boots off, though, or the charge nurse will have you scrubbing the place with a bucket and mop. I saw her doing it once to the poor lad who delivers the vegetables.'

‘I'll leave them in the porch here.'

He sat on the step and pulled his wellies off as she hung up her coat and waited just inside the door. Then he followed her into the dark corridor and past the huge statues of Our Lady on one side and St Francis of Assisi on the other. It was under the cold marble stares of that holy brace that Norman's eyes adjusted to the murkiness and he found himself gazing, with frankly confused surprise given the time of the morning, at the perfect shape of the snow-white form that was leading him towards the warm lights of the kitchen up ahead. Not that it was a uniform designed to arouse a man. God no. The last thing the nursing home needed was for the male residents to be getting the horn and annoying everyone with their delusions of virility. Christ knows, some of them were bad enough as it was. The nurses wore a plain white uniform that was crisp, no-nonsense and subdued. Herself didn't like any silliness under her roof and none of the girls felt inclined to test a ninety-kilo, sixty-year-old woman with the makings of a fairly respectable beard when the light caught her from the right angle.

But such qualities as no-nonsense and subdued are often in the eye of the beholder and Norman's eyes were following the figure-of-eight sway of Nurse Trish's hips as though tied to them by string. He'd never actually been this close to her before and none of the furtive glances of the past few days did her justice. The back of her dress was pinched very slightly half-way down to allow the merest suggestion of a tapering waist and then, below those hypnotic hips that dipped and rose in time with the tapping echoes of her shoes, there was nothing but falling fabric to the backs of her knees. But then, suddenly, like a bet you thought you'd lost, appeared her legs. Strong, firm almond-shaped calves that dived into neat white nylon ankles. By Christ, she was a fine woman. Norman picked up his pace.

There was no one else in the small kitchen.

‘They're all coming down for their breakfast now,' said Trish. ‘Everyone's in the main canteen. I'm just coming off.'

‘You work nights? That's tough.'

‘Well, we take turns. I've a few days off now and then I'll be on the morning shift. Sugar?'

‘No. No thanks. I'm grand. This is lovely. Thanks very much.'

‘That's all right. I could see you through the window when you went chasing that bag.'

Norman laughed.

‘The feckin' wind took it before I could find a stone.'

‘Bikkie?'

‘Oh lovely. Hob Nobs. Mam doesn't usually get the chocolate ones.'

Christ, will you shut your hole about Mam? Jesus …

‘Ah, sure one or two won't kill you. So how are our roses doing? Will they survive the blizzard everyone's talking about?'

‘They'll be grand. I guarantee it now, come the summer they'll be exploding into every gorgeous red and pink you've ever seen, so they will. People will be stopping on the street outside, watch.'

Trish laughed.

‘Herself upstairs will love that. They better not make a racket.'

Norman grinned back. Fuck sake, this was easy! Chatting away like old mates. He was on fire!

‘Eh … so … em …'

Fuck. Now his head was completely empty. That's what he got for being cocky.

She looked at him for a minute.

‘Would you be able to help me with something, Norman?' she said. ‘I don't s'pose you know anything at all about cars?'

His heart took a little jump for itself. She was after calling him Norman and it felt brilliant.

‘I … I do a bit. What's the problem?'

‘Well, I've a lend of my Dad's and it was acting up last night. It might be just the cold weather, but if it won't start you wouldn't be able to have a look at it or give me a little push, would you?'

‘Of course I will. Come on and we'll have a look at it.'

‘No, no. Finish your tea.'

‘I'm done sure, look. Thanks, that was lovely.'

‘Are you sure now? I don't want to keep you from your work.'

‘Two minutes, sure. Come on. No problem at all.'

She led him out to the car park and up to the car. It was a big old Sierra. A bit of a banger of a yoke. She got in and tried to start it. It lurched forward suddenly and then stopped dead.

‘Jesus,' said Norman. He'd had to jump back out of the way. ‘That didn't look good. Was it doing that this morning when you came in?'

She nodded back at him through the windscreen.

‘Lift up the bonnet there,' he said.

She released the catch and Norman bent over and stuck his head in over the engine, biting his lip.

‘See anything?' she said.

‘Hang on a sec,' said Norman, rubbing the stubble on his chin. He knew fuck all about cars, but that was okay because he wasn't planning on fixing it anyway. He just needed to give himself time to think. He might never get another chance at her. ‘Hang on. I'll just try and give the … eh … spark plugs a quick wipe. Sometimes they can get dirty. Wait now. So anyway … you're not working tonight …'

‘No. I'm off now till Monday. I was going to drive home this afternoon.'

‘Where's home? That's a Kerry accent.'

She laughed.

‘God, my friends say I'm getting a Dublin one.'

‘You are not, don't mind them.'

‘I'm from Sneem. You know Sneem?'

‘I do of course. God, Sneem's a beautiful part of the world.'

‘It's a bloody freezing part of the world too, at the moment. I'll be in front of the fire all weekend.'

‘Sure won't we all. Try it now.'

He stepped back as the car lurched again and died.

‘Yeah. The spark plugs are manky. I'm going to have to clean them all.'

He hoped she stayed in the car because all he was doing was taking some dirt from the underside of the bonnet and rubbing a bit on his face. He wouldn't know a spark plug if he sat on the pointy end of one.

‘So you won't be around tonight?' he said. ‘Ah well …'

‘What?'

‘Well, I was going to say … ah, sure, if you're not here …'

‘Yeah?'

‘I was going to say … like … would you like to go out for a drink later?'

He was glad she couldn't see him. He knew he looked petrified. He heard her laugh and felt like a total dickhead. Fuck. He was going down again. ‘Kamikaze' was what Aesop used to call him at school discos. But then …

‘I'd love to Norman. But I usually like to be able to see a fella when he's asking me out, and not be talking to the bonnet of me car, like.'

He grimaced and stood up to go around to the open door on the driver's side.

‘Sorry.' He was purple now and smiling like a dope. ‘Would you be on for a drink tonight? Maybe you could drive home to Kerry tomorrow morning? Only if it suited you, like. If you have something on at home, of course …'

‘I'd love a drink.' She was smiling at him. Something a bit cheeky in her eyes. ‘That'd be great.'

He smiled back, a big huge one. He felt sixteen feet tall and about six and a half stone in weight, instead of the other way around.

‘Yeah? Brilliant!'

Then he looked around at the open bonnet of the car and decided he better get back under it while the going was good and before he said something that would fuck everything up.

‘How is it now?' he called.

Back in the car, she pulled it out of gear and into neutral, laughing to herself. That had been a doddle. The engine roared into life.

‘Norman, you're a genius!'

‘Ah stop. It probably just needed a few goes with the cold this morning.'

He was chuffed with himself. He hadn't done anything and now she thought he was the dog's bollocks. He came back to her and leaned down on the window.

‘I'll give you a call later this afternoon?'

‘Yeah. Wait till about two, will you? I'll be asleep.'

‘Course.'

She scribbled her number on a piece of paper from the glove compartment and handed it to him with a grin.

‘Thanks for fixing the car.'

He shook his head.

‘Thanks for the tea.'

She grinned and reached out through the window to wipe at his cheek. She showed him her fingers.

‘From the spark plugs …'

‘Oh right, thanks.'

He took out his hanky and wiped his face.

‘Talk to you later so.'

‘Grand.'

The car took off down the driveway and Norman watched it for a bit. Then he trudged back to the rosebed, a big happy head on him. He didn't even notice the four nurses in the main front window laughing and pushing each other. It was the first time he'd asked a girl out in six months.

*

‘Ah … well, fuck it anyway!' shouted Jimmy at himself in the kitchen that night. He put the tin down on the counter and hung his head in disgust.

He had a deadly recipe for smoked salmon fillets with a cream pasta sauce and he was just after making a balls of it. He got the wrong salmon. It wasn't the smoked stuff at all, it was just regular tinned fucking salmon chunks that would taste of nothing by the time he'd fried up the onions and garlic and added the few chopped chives he had in the fridge.

He cooked it all up anyway rather than waste the food and sat watching the telly as he ate, still pissed off with himself. The cordless handset of his phone was sitting on the arm of the couch across the room from him and every few minutes he found himself looking away from the news to make sure it was still there. When he was finished eating, he went over to pick it up and click it on and off to make sure it wasn't out of battery or something. It hadn't rung in ages. But it was fine.

He put the plate into the sink and checked the clock in the kitchen. He put the kettle on and sat looking at it for a minute as it started to hiss.

They hadn't spoken in about three weeks. Not even an email. Jimmy remembered meeting her in Thailand the previous summer. That week often played itself out like a movie in his mind afterwards. He'd been through a fairly dry patch before that and she was just so fucking beautiful and so cool. But then when he got back to Dublin he'd had all this crap in his old IT job, and then he'd quit that, sort of, as The Grove had started to take off in a big way and he suddenly found his face on the front of magazines and his voice coming out of the radio in his car. He just didn't have the time for a long distance girlfriend. Any girlfriend in fact. Certainly not one that deserved all the attention that he couldn't give Susan. She was cool and relaxed but she wasn't a sap. Someone else would edge his way sooner or later into the gap Jimmy had left and then she really would be gone. Maybe it had already happened. Maybe that's why she hadn't called him

But it wasn't right. If it was going to be over, if he was going to let Susan go and get on with her life, he should do it properly. But he didn't want to. He didn't want it to be over and he didn't want to let her get on with her life. He wanted to come off the stage and see her there waiting for him, to have her share the insanity with him and then to grab his hand so that they could run off and hide from it all together when it got too mental. Six months. If he just had six months to wrap everything up, the album, the tour, and get the whole thing moving. Twelve months tops. In a year he'd be able to give her so much more than he could now. But, Jesus, was she going to wait around for a year for him to get his shit together? What if … if …

Bollocks to this. He had to call her.

‘Hello?'

‘Susan?'

‘Jimmy?!'

‘Yeah. How's it …'

‘Hang on a second, Jimmy. Just … hang on, give me a second.'

He could hear her hushing someone in the background, her hand on the mouthpiece making everything muffled. Who was there? Some bloke probably. A bottle of wine in one hand and a tin of smoked fucking salmon chunks in the other, the bastard.

‘Jimmy?'

‘Yeah. Still here.'

‘Sorry, it's a bit loud here.'

‘Entertaining?'

‘Kind of. Amanda is heading off tomorrow. There's a few people over.'

Amanda had been out in Thailand with Susan on holidays when they'd met. Aesop had … well, he'd made sure that Jimmy had plenty of time alone with Susan.

‘Where's she going?'

‘She's just going off travelling she says. Doesn't even know where. Said she'll head to Paris first and see what happens. She hasn't really had a great time of it recently, poor thing. They let her go in work, well she kind of quit, and she … she hasn't really been herself for a while now. But I told you all that, didn't I?'


Page 3

Jimmy didn't remember.

‘Yeah, yeah,' he said. ‘That's tough.'

‘But anyway, how are things with you? It's been a while.'

Her voice was bringing it all back now. Thailand, Dublin, her laugh, the feel of her skin.

‘Three weeks and three days,' said Jimmy.

‘Wow. You're counting. I didn't think …'

‘Susan, why didn't you call?'

Fuck it, this was hard enough without dancing around.

‘Jimmy, it's … I'm … God, I wasn't expecting you to call tonight. Jimmy, I'm … I …' Big sigh. ‘I'm not enjoying this. Us. It's too hard. We're not even really a couple, are we? It's not one thing, it's not the other thing. I don't want to get … to be the one who … it's just hard Jimmy. And you never call. I know, I know, you're busy. You've got so much you need to do. I know that. I mean, it's great. It really is.'

Jimmy was sitting right on the edge of one of the hard kitchen chairs; elbows on knees, hand on forehead and the phone jammed up against his face. He was rocking back and forth a little.

‘Susan, I'm … sorry.'

‘The last time I called you, you were in such a hurry to get off the phone. I felt like I was just in the way.'

‘It wasn't like that Susan. I had a film crew costing a thousand quid an hour waiting to roll. There was a cranky make-up lady tapping her watch at me, and Aesop running around the TV studio in a towel and a Cradle of Filth t-shirt trying to find his lucky underpants. It was just bad timing.'

‘I know, Jimmy. You told me. But you never called me back.'

‘Well, you sounded pissed off. I thought I'd give you a bit of time to, y'know …'

‘How much time did you think I needed?'

‘I …'

‘Jimmy, I'm not sixteen any more, y'know? Going out with the lead singer in the band was all well and good when he was just on the posters on your bedroom wall and it wasn't real. But this is different. Even when I was in Dublin, the way people kept coming up to you in the street, I felt like I was getting in the way. Like I was taking up time you should have been spending with them. I'd just kind of stand to one side and try not to look too much like some groupie you'd just picked up.'

‘Ah Jesus, Susan, it's not like that. And it's all new to me too, believe me. I still get surprised when it happens and then I don't know what to say to them. I mean, this is Dublin, right? Half the time they just come up and go, “hey you, singer bloke, you think you're fuckin' great, don't ye?” and then walk off.'

She laughed. It was the sweetest sound he'd heard in weeks.

‘Susan …'

‘Jimmy listen to me. I told you before that not a lot of people can do what you can do. You have so much talent, God. I don't want to be the one who stops you showing it off. You deserve everything you have now. You should enjoy it.'

‘But I'm not. It's not like it was meant to be. There's something … fucked up about it all. Something's missing or something.'

‘What could be missing?'

‘I … I'm not sure.'

Don't fucking say it, Jimmy. It's not fair. Don't mess with her head like that. You're either in or you're fucking out. Where's your balls? There was another pause. Then …

‘I saw the “Strut” video yesterday.'

‘Oh, did you? So, what did you think?'

‘It's so weird to see you on the TV like that! You wouldn't believe it. But, no, it's really great! It's a good change after “Caillte”. Shows that you're versatile. Aesop smiles a lot when he's playing the drums, doesn't he?'

‘Depends on the song. You should have seen the head on him this morning when we played my latest masterpiece in the studio.'

‘You both looked great. Very sexy. I didn't see the Japanese guy you were talking about though. Is he not coming back to play with you?'

‘Probably not. Maybe. He doesn't know yet. It'd be great though, he's a great bloke.'

‘Who were the girls?'

‘Who?'

‘The girls in the video.'

‘Oh, just some dancers. We hired them for the shoot. Probably another reason Aesop was smiling like that.'

‘And you?'

‘Nah. Not my scene.'

‘Jimmy?'

‘Yeah?'

‘It's … I guess it's kind of hard to sit all the way over here and wonder. I mean, I know what Aesop's like. Amanda sent him a few emails, but I don't think he replied. I can only imagine what you guys are getting up to, the things that are happening around you now.'

‘Susan, it's not like that. I swear to God.'

‘Isn't it?'

‘No! Well, maybe a little bit. I mean it's there all right. Aesop is certainly enjoying himself. But I've known him since school and, believe me, he's been living this life since he was about thirteen. The only difference is that he doesn't have to borrow money off me all the time now. He's the rockstar. I'm just a musician, same as I always was. And I don't get caught up in all that shite. It's a bit distracting to be honest. I'm too busy. And anyway it's embarrassing.'

‘Jimmy, be a rockstar.'

‘What?'

‘Go and be a rockstar. Please. It'd make me happy to know that everything you've worked for all these years is paying off. Live the life and see what you think. You'll only get one chance to do it, right?'

‘Susan, I don't want that.'

‘Well … what do you want?'

Fuck it, he was walking straight into these.

‘I … just want it to really get going so I can … y'know …'

He heard her sigh.

‘Jimmy, Amanda's heading off tomorrow. I don't know when she'll be back and I need to spend a bit of time with her before she goes. She really hasn't been herself. I should go.'

‘Susan … can I call you?'

‘Of course. Hey, you owe me a song, remember?'

‘I do remember.'

‘Any progress?'

‘Well …'

‘Too busy I guess, right?'

‘Ah Susan, it's not like that … I just have all this …'

‘I'm only joking Jimmy. Look, I need to go.'

‘I'll call you. Soon.'

‘Do if you like.'

‘I will.'

‘I mean it Jimmy. Call me because you want to. Not because you think you should. Okay?'

‘Yeah. Sure. But of course I want to. I want to talk to you properly. Not like this. I need … I mean I want to …'

Susan laughed again.

‘Jimmy, I don't think you know what you want right now.'

‘Susan …'

‘Seeya Jimmy. Take care of yourself. And, hey, give me a wave from your next video. That'd be cool.'

She hung up.

He sat up straight and felt the sweat trickle down his back. His hands and the phone were slimey and hot. Susan was nobody's fucking idiot. She was afraid of the very same thing that Jimmy was. That he'd drift away from her, that he'd let the circus he was part of now pack up and leave her behind. He wanted so much to promise her that it wouldn't happen. But how the fuck could he do that? It was getting so big now that he felt like he was just one of the clowns.

*

Norman met Trish out in The Yacht in Clontarf. A few pints, a bit of dinner and a couple of pints, and then a few quick pints before they walked back along the coast as far as Fairview, where he stopped a taxi for her and held her hand as she sat into it. His heart was going nineteen to the dozen as she sat there looking up at him. He had no clue what she wanted to happen next, but he wasn't about to risk making a balls of the whole thing by opening his gob and so he just smiled at her and then cleared his throat.

‘So … would it be okay if I called you again, Trish? I had a great night tonight.'

‘Will you not be out in Baldoyle?'

‘Ah, I'm pretty much done out there. I will be anyway by the time you get back next week.'

‘Ah, that's a shame. What about our poor roses?'

‘Sure, it was only a small job. They'll be grand for another while. So …'

‘Give me a call next week. I'll be working but I should be able to get off again on Friday night. They're usually cool with the country girls getting home for the weekend if they can.'

‘So you'll be going back to Kerry?'

She grinned up at him from the back of the taxi.

‘Well … that might be up to you.'

His belly did a flip and then they heard another voice muttering.

‘Fuck sake …'

It was the taxi man.

‘Maybe you want to turn on your radio there?' said Norman, leaning down.

‘It's broke. Go on. Pretend I'm not here. I've heard worse in annyway. I'll start whistling if it gets too painful.'

Norman turned back to Trish.

‘So, maybe we can go for a meal next Friday? A proper one.'

‘I'd love to.'

Norman suddenly put his hands on his face.

‘Oh no! Fuck!'

‘Jesus. What? What is it?'

‘Oh God, sorry Trish. I just remembered I'm going to a gig next Friday. Feck it anyway. Unless … do you like music? Would that be okay instead?'

‘Is that all? Christ, I didn't know what was wrong with you.'

‘I just remembered. But what do you think? Would you be on for a bit of live music?'

‘Of course I would. Who is it?'

‘The Grove. You know them?'

‘Of course, yeah. But are they not over in England or something? Didn't I read that?'

‘Not for a while yet. They're playing in Vicar Street next week. Will you go with me?'

‘Do you have a spare ticket?'

‘I … eh … I know a fella can get me one.'

The taxi man stopped whistling.

‘Can he get me one?'

‘What?'

‘Can he get me one? My mot is mad into that shower. That Irish song they do, y'know? She's always singing along to it on the radio. She was trying to get tickets to that gig but they were all gone. You should've seen the pus on her. It used to be Robbie this and Robbie that, but now she never shuts up about yer man Aesop. Some shaper, that bloke.'

‘Eh …'

‘I'll bring you and your bird home for no fare. Where are yiz going?'

‘I … what? She's not my …'

‘Can you get two tickets?'

‘I don't know if I …'

‘Look, sit in there in annyway. I'll give you me phone number and if you can do anything you give me a call. If you can't, then no sweat. Right? Now where am I going?'

Norman didn't know what to say, but Trish moved along the seat, laughing. He sighed and got in.

‘That's it, you do what your bird says,' said the taxi man.

‘She's not my … bird,' said Norman.

The taxi man looked in his rearview mirror at Trish and then turned around to Norman again.

‘Well you better get your fuckin' skates on pal, before she's someone else's bird.'

Trish looked up at Norman with a big grin and put one hand on his leg. Norman caught a wink in the mirror from his new ally and just closed his eyes, his face burning in the dark.

Chapter Three

Aesop and Jimmy met up for breakfast two days later. They didn't usually bother hooking up outside the studio so early in the day, but today was going to be, hopefully, a landmark day for The Grove. There was still some mixing and tidying up to do, but they were going in to cut the last song. The album was pretty much done.

Jimmy sat opposite Aesop, half a fried tomato en route to his mouth.

‘Who?' said Aesop, frowning into the distance.

‘Jesus Christ,' said Jimmy, putting down his fork and shaking his head. He looked up. ‘Do I have to go through this every fucking time? Amanda! The girl you rode in Thailand, Aesop. English. Green eyes. Freckles. Friend of Susan, the girl I've been going mad over for the last six months, who came to visit me from London and got Peggy all excited because she brought a scarf from Harrods …'

‘Amanda … Amanda …' said Aesop, tapping the table in front of him. ‘Was she the one whose husband pissed off and took the car? A nice one too, wasn't it? A GT-R or something. Jimmy, that's got a steel turbine, ball bearing core, eighteen-inch …'

‘She wasn't married. They were engaged. But yeah, he took some dosh and did a runner. I don't know anything about a GT-R.'

‘I think she said it was blue. Did she not say it was blue?'

‘Fuck the car Aesop. Do you remember her? It's not even a year ago.'

‘I do yeah. I think so. So what about her?'

‘She's gone … she … ah, it doesn't matter.'

‘No, tell me.'

‘What's the point if you don't remember her?'

‘You were going to tell me, so just tell me.'

‘She's gone off travelling. I was talking to Susan the other day and Amanda is gone off travelling because she was let go out of work and I think she's still upset about yer man legging it. So Susan said she's gone off on a trip to get her head together or something. That's it.'

‘She's gone travelling.'

‘Yeah.'

‘Ah that's nice. Great. So … eh … so, where's she off to then?'

‘You have no fucking idea who I'm talking about, do you?'

‘I'm trying me best Jimmy for fuck sake. I remember the car.'

‘You never even saw the car! If there was one. Christ. Forget about it. It doesn't matter.'

Aesop relaxed and took up his coffee. Thank fuck that was over. Jimmy got all excited sometimes and Aesop would have to weather the storm till he got it out of his system and calmed down. Anyway, how are you meant to remember every single girl in the world you ever met or talked to or rode?

‘So what were Dónal's new band like,' he said. ‘What are they called? Feet?'

‘Leet. Yeah, they're pretty good actually. Y'know who they reminded me of? The Stranglers. Take something like The Killers, right? Add a big keyboard sound like The Doors and a bit of ska. They sound like that. Y'know what I mean?'

Aesop had his face scrunched up.

‘The Killers, Stranglers and the Doors. And ska.'

‘Yeah.'

‘I'll have to take your word for it Jimmy, at this hour of the morning. The Stranglers were fucking deadly, but.'

‘Add more Killers.'

‘Not Coldplay though?'

‘No. I don't know where Dónal got that from. They're not whingy like that.'

‘Thank fuck.'

‘Anyway, they're good. Catchy. Man, they've got some tunes.'

‘Do they know a bass player?'

‘Ah shite. Forgot to ask them. I'll ask them the next time. So c'mere, did you find anything when you were out shopping for your new den of iniquity yesterday?'

‘Nah. Actually, I went to the zoo instead.'

‘Dublin Zoo?'

‘No, Jimmy. One of our many other zoos.'

‘But what was in the zoo?'

‘Monkeys. Well, buff-cheeked gibbons.'

Jimmy just looked at him and said nothing.

‘Y'see, I read in the paper last week that one of them had a baby about two months ago and that this week would be the first week it'd be on display.'

‘So … what, you brought Phil's kids?'

‘No. They have football on Saturdays, sure. I just went on me own.'

‘What? Why for fuck sake?'

‘Man, monkeys are brilliant. Them fuckers make me laugh. The buff-cheeked gibbons don't use their legs. They just swing out of trees, the cages, ropes. Like Tarzan, y'know? It's amazing. They lash around the place, just swinging from arm to arm, and they never fall. The speed of them. And the baby, his name's Jai, was hanging onto his mammy for dear life and her pissing around the cage being chased by the daddy. I think he was after some sweet monkey love, but she was probably still sore from Jai and she wasn't having any of it. He ended up giving Jai a smack on the head and then went off into a corner to sulk. It was brilliant. You should see them.'

Jimmy shook his head.

‘I don't believe you.'

‘Which part?'

‘All of it. You reading the newspaper for starters.'

‘Sure, I go to the zoo every few weeks to look at the monkeys and chill.'

‘On your own?'

‘Yeah!'

‘Since when?'

‘I've been doing it for months now!'

Jimmy just sighed. He probably shouldn't have been surprised. Aesop had a thing for funny animals. He went to see ‘March of the Penguins' about five times when it came out and was probably the first person in Dublin to buy it on DVD. He'd come home from the pub, roll a big spliff and then stick on the movie and break his bollocks laughing at the telly for two hours before he went to bed. He did it at least three times a week. He had one about dolphins too.

‘You're a bleedin' looper Aesop.'

Aesop shrugged and picked up his coffee.

‘Isn't it better to go to the zoo for the afternoon than go out robbing shops?'

‘I s'pose it is. Who robs shops?'

‘Some people rob shops. Those fuckers were funny today, but. You should've seen them.'

Jimmy nodded.

‘You know you can't have pets in that place?'

‘Yeah, I know.'

‘So you're not allowed buy a monkey.'

‘Actually they're apes, Jimmy. If you want to be technical about it. Yeah, I know. I wasn't planning on getting one.'

‘Yeah, well I was just making sure. Look, we better go and get our arses to the studio. We told Sparky we'd be in at eight and you know the way he gets when people are late.'

‘I know. Hey, let's give him another fifteen minutes, will we? He'll be pacing around the place and kicking things and talking to himself. It's so bleedin' funny. He's like a caged animal when he's angry, isn't he?'

‘Well you'd fuckin' know, by the sounds of things.'

*

Jimmy and Aesop finished playing and looked up through the window at Sparky. He gave them the thumbs-up to say it was a wrap, and then they took off their headphones and started to yawn and stretch. Jesus, that had been a long session, but at least they were done. The rest of the work would be done by Sparky at the console, Jimmy lending a hand. Their debut album, which Senturian Records were going to release in the UK, would be winging its way to London and all the lads would have to do then would be wave and smile for the cameras. Everything was cool. Well, they had to find a fucking bass player of course. Jimmy had done all of the bass on the album except for the two versions of ‘Caillte', which Shiggy had already recorded in Dublin and in Japan when the lads were out there with Johnnie Fingers the previous year.

‘Aesop, there's a call on hold for you here,' said Sparky into his mike.

‘Is it the president of me fan club again? Will you tell her I have her pencilled in for Tuesday and Thurday evenings and not to be such an itchy trollop. And would she ever try and have a bit of respect for herself.'

‘I told you not to be giving this number out like that, didn't I? Anyway, it doesn't sound like one of your little floozies. It might be one of their Daddys, though, looking to kick the hole off you, please God.'

‘A bloke? Jaysis. Tell him to hang on, will you? I'm going for a piss.'

‘Hang on? I'll hang your bollocks off the monitors you cheeky prick. You can take it now or I'm cutting the fucker off. He's tying up the line for ten minutes, the cunt.'

Aesop nodded.

‘Where was that finishing school you went to again, Sparky? Switzerland, was it?'

‘You've five seconds.'

Aesop went in to take the call as Jimmy and Sparky started to tidy up. Leet were coming in a bit later to start putting down a demo that Dónal hoped would get Senturian interested in them. Jimmy was finding it hard to multitask like this – his debut album one minute, getting a deal for a bunch of kids the next. Dónal was out now at a meeting with some music lawyers.

‘Wotcha reckon Sparky?' said Jimmy.

‘Hopefully it is some girl's Da looking to kick the hole off him.'

‘I meant about the album.'

‘Tops, Jimmy. Here you go …'

Sparky took a CD out of his breast pocket and handed it across to Jimmy.

‘Unit number one.'

Jimmy took it in his hands. It was just a blank-looking CD, no artwork or anything. No indication that it contained a large part of his spirit, his soul, the musical ideas that had been with him since he was a teenager, most of his aspirations for the future. It was going to be called “Brazen Songs and Stories”.

‘So how long will you need to spend on it, Sparky?' said Jimmy.

‘By the end of next week it'll be in London. No problem.'

‘I'd say you'll be glad to see the back of it then, yeah?'

‘I'll tell you Jimmy, you've some good stuff on there. I'd say you'll do well out of it. But it's all down to the money and Senturian look like they're behind it. That's what's important in the end. If it's not being pushed along like a bastard, nothing will happen. That's the business these days. Good songs mean nothing.'

‘That's a jolly bleedin' thought.'

‘Sorry man. It's business. You see that fucking eejit that won Big Brother? Number one for the last six weeks and all he does is talk over a song that was shite when it came out the first time in 1966. More talent in my snot so there is. He'll have an album out now too, watch. Make a million quid. In six months time, no one will remember the cunt and we'll never hear from him again and that's the only good thing about it. Hand us those cans will you?'

Jimmy picked up his headphones and gave them to him.

‘You don't think much of the music industry, do you Sparky?'

‘Full of pricks, Jimmy. Always was, actually. These days more than ever. And I don't mean the likes of that gurrier in there on the phone. I'm talking about fuckers would sell their own mammies. Greedy bastards. It's got nothing to do with music.'

‘So why do you do it?'

‘Why?'

Sparky looked at Jimmy like it was the strangest thing he'd ever been asked.

‘Yeah,' said Jimmy. ‘I mean, if you think they're all bastards, why not do something else?'

Sparky laughed.

‘Like what?' he said. ‘Kindergarten teacher? Nah Jimmy, this is my job. The only one I can do. But I don't do it for the money.'

‘Why then?'

‘See that gobshite in there?'

‘Aesop?'

‘Yeah. Aesop. You know what I caught him doing last week?'

‘Oh Christ, don't tell me …'

‘Nah, it's not bad. He was loosening up before you got here. Playing that old Van Halen song he likes. You know it?'

‘“Hot for Teacher”? He plays that to warm up when he can get his hands on two bass drums.'

‘Yeah, well he was playing it the other day. I happened to be recording at the same time, just to get some levels for later.'

‘What happened?'

‘He played it perfectly.'

‘Yeah, he's good at it all right.'

‘No, Jimmy. Perfectly. I have that album on the computer. I brought it up and put the Van Halen intro next to his to check the waves. Identical. He didn't miss one single beat.'

‘Right. Eh … is that good?'

‘If you'd told me I'd have called you a lying cunt.'

‘Really?'

Jimmy looked back in at Aesop who was still on the phone.

‘It's that hard to do?'

‘It's not fuckin' easy. So anyway, that's why I do it Jimmy. Cos every now and then, when you work with artists, you come across something that you can't explain. That's God shining through, Jimmy. It's a little glimpse of God. I need that in my life. We all do. God is brilliant, so he is.'

Oh fuck, thought Jimmy. Sparky was going mad again. Steady … steady …

‘Of course,' continued Sparky, ‘then you look at the people that God chooses to use as his instrument. And, taking that fucker in there as an example, the holiness of it all kind of falls on its tits, doesn't it?'

Jimmy laughed.

‘I s'pose, yeah.'

‘But it doesn't matter, Jimmy. I heard it. He hadn't even taken off his jacket. He just pulls out the sticks and goes straight into it. He didn't even know I was in here. Thirty seconds of the intro. Then he stands up, sees me and goes, “Hey Sparky, is the kettle boiled? I'd a skinful of pints and two French slappers last night. Hairy yokes they were too, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy meself. Is there bikkies?”.'

Jimmy laughed.

‘Sounds like the Holy Spirit working through him all right.'

‘I know. But you can't question God, Jimmy.'

‘I don't, Sparky. I don't. But … I wouldn't have figured you for …'

‘Ah, I'm not going to stick a bible in your face Jimmy, but when I hit the bottom of the shitter twenty years ago and I couldn't climb out, it was God who reached down for me.'

‘Fuck. I never knew that.'


Page 4

‘Yeah. Well that's between me and him. The point is, most people don't give a fuck about anything they can't show off to their greedy bastard mates, and you can't show off your soul. This isn't about heaven and hell or any of that manmade shite, Jimmy. It's not even about music. My job isn't really about music. It's about getting into someone's head and showing them the way out. Fuck knows, I've had a lot of practice flying in and out of me own head. For a while there I used to be gone for days. Sometimes me head wouldn't let me back in and we'd have a big row. Confusing as fuck that was.'

‘Jesus. What were you on? LSD, coke …?'

‘LSD and coke? Christ, you don't want to take LSD and coke together Jimmy. The fuckin' last thing you need when you're hallucinating is a confidence booster, I'm telling you. Anyway, I don't do that shit any more, but when an artist – like you for instance – wants something, I can usually get a feel for it and help them bring it out. And I thank God for giving me that gift. You've got your gifts too, as does that little delinquent in there. But the music industry doesn't give a fuck about any of that. No more than any other industry. It's about money, Jimmy.'

‘You're fucking bumming me out here Sparky. Jesus …'

‘Ah, I don't mean to Jimmy. The important thing is howyoufeel about the album. Where it came from, what it means … are you cool with it? Your name is on it. Can you stand next to it?'

‘Yeah. Yeah I can.'

‘Then fuck them all.'

Aesop came back into them. He had the knuckle of one index finger in his mouth and was frowning.

‘What's up?' said Jimmy. ‘You in the shit over some bird?'

‘What? Oh. No. No, it's not that.'

‘Who was it then?'

‘Remember Mena?'

‘Probably not, Aesop. Around when was she having the pleasure?'

‘No Jimmy. Mena. Remember them two little young fellas were outside here a while back? Wanted me to go to their sister's birthday party. She was sick, right?'

‘Oh yeah. Eh … Liam, wasn't it? And the little fella.'

‘Yeah. Well, that was their Da on the phone. Turns out that the poor young one is out in Crumlin in the hospital out there. She's not fucking doing well either.'

‘Jesus. That's fucking terrible. Is it bad?'

‘Yeah. They're only letting her home for her birthday cos they aren't sure she'll be having another one.'

Sparky blessed himself and shook his head.

‘Poor child.'

‘Her birthday is Friday night. I said we'd drop in.'

‘Okay. But … eh … we're playing Vicar Street on Friday, Aesop.'

‘We'll just say hello on the way to the gig. I know it'll be tight but, listen man, apparently I'm all she talks about, right? She thinks I'm fuckin brilliant or whatever. And now Liam is after copping that something's going on with her. He's starting to go off the rails at school, his Da says, and he keeps fuckin running away and all, y'know? And the Da sounds like he's only barely holding it together himself. C'mon. We'll drop in, Jimmy. Half an hour, right?'

Jimmy just nodded.

‘Okay. Yeah, no problem.'

The three of them stood there for a minute.

‘Cup of tea Aesop?' said Sparky, eventually.

‘Thanks man.'

Chapter Four

Norman looked at himself in the mirror. He was just out of the shower, standing in his jocks and cursing at the spot of blood on his neck. His Mam kept buying him cheap disposable razors and they were making shite of his face. He smiled at that. He couldn't even use a crappy blade now without cutting himself and yet he could still remember being crouched over a small stream in the mountains of Afghanistan, shaving with a Bowie knife so that the locals wouldn't notice the big red head on him if he had to unwrap the thick scarf that covered his face. Freezing cold water and a nine-inch blade. The lads would only laugh at him if he told them about it. They were always taking the piss about when he was a soldier. He didn't mind that much. And anyway, there was nothing cool about shaving with a knife. No more than there being anything cool about having to carry your gick around in plastic bags when you were on a mission so that animals wouldn't sniff it out and give your position away. They tended to leave stuff like that out of the Rambo movies.

He was all excited tonight. The lads had finished their album, and they were celebrating with the gig in Vicar Street. They'd blown everyone away the last time they played there and this time was going to be even better. The press would be in, the new songs would be on show, the venue was sold out. After this one they'd be taking a couple of weeks off and then the CD would be in the shops and the whole thing would start up again. Dónal was already finalising the details of the tour. Yeah, it was going great for the lads. But that's not why Norman was excited. The reason he was clipping his toenails and scanning frantically through the shirts in his wardrobe was that he had another date with Trish.

Earlier that day, he'd talked to Jimmy and Aesop on the phone. He wanted everything to go perfectly tonight.

*

‘Jimmy?'

‘Norman. What's the story?'

‘Listen Jimmy, I'm on a date tonight.'

‘Yeah? Brilliant. Who is she?'

‘A nurse from out in Baldoyle, at work.'

‘Great stuff.'

‘Yeah. I'm picking her up at eight. What time are you on?'

‘We'll be on around nine-thirty I'd say. Leet are supporting us. Remember that band I said I was doing a bit of work with? They'll be on at eight.'

‘We'll probably grab a quick bite, but we'll be there for when you come on. Listen, can I buy a ticket for Trish?'

‘Jesus Norman, didn't I say to you …'

‘Ah no, Jimmy. That's not fair. I don't want to impose. You said I could just show up and I appreciate that, but I only met this one recently and then she wasn't sure if she was free tonight so I didn't want to …'

‘Ah Christ, Norman. You're already on the guest list. Guests can bring guests. Bring whoever you like, really. Get her to bring her mates, sure, if you want. There's a few dozen spare spots. Half of the press won't turn up anyway, the pricks. It's no problem. Just tell the guy on the door your name and you're in, done deal.'

‘Ah Jimmy, I feel like a terrible …'

‘Norman, for fuck sake it's nothing. We've been over all this before! Please, you and Trish come backstage afterwards. I want you to. And don't queue up either when you get there, right? Just come in.'

They'd actually nearly had a row over it before. The last time The Grove played Vicar Street, Norman had actually paid for his ticket and then was too embarrassed to ask to go backstage afterwards to see the lads. Jimmy went spare when he found out. Him and Aesop had been mates with Norman for twenty years. Norman had come to see the band play when there was more people on the stage than in the audience. He wasn't fucking having him pay in to see them now.

‘Jimmy, it's awkward, y'know? The fella won't know me and he'll be giving me that look, like I'm only …'

‘He'll fucking know you tonight, don't worry about it.'

‘How will he?'

‘I'll tell him a fucking huge Corkman will be in tonight with his bird and if he's not nice to you, he'll be cleaning the jacks next week. Okay?'

‘Ah, Jimmy, see what I mean? Going to the trouble …'

‘I'm joking Norman. Look, it'll be grand. Seeya there, okay?'

‘Okay Jimmy. Okay. I'll seeya later. If I don't see you before you're on, good luck.'

‘Thanks man.'

*

‘Aesop?'

‘Norman. Howya. What's up?'

‘Listen, Aesop, I'm bringing a girl tonight to the gig.'

‘Sorry, I'm confused. Which Norman is this?'

‘I'm serious Aesop. I'm bringing a girl.'

‘A real one?'

‘Yes, a real one. From Kerry.'

‘Okay. Well it's starting to make sense now. Fair enough. Good man. Why are you telling me, but? Did I ride her or something?'

‘No. But I'm just telling you that I really like this girl and there's a good chance we'll both be backstage afterwards. Okay?'

‘Right. Eh, Norman?'

‘Yeah?'

‘I'm only out of bed. What are you fucking talking about?'

‘I'm just telling you. I like this girl a lot, and it's our second date.'

‘Okay … right. And it's my turn to say something now, is it?'

‘Did you hear what I just said?'

‘Yes, I fucking heard you Norman! You've got a bird. Brilliant. Porky Pig is hang gliding past the window here. Are you going to tell me why you fucking rang me?'

‘Okay, I'll spell it out. I know you're playing a big gig and all tonight, and I don't want to distract you, but I'm just telling you now not to fucking annoy me this evening or I swear to God I'll kick your bollocks into your throat.'

‘What? You rang me to tell me that?'

‘Yes.'

‘You went to the trouble of ringing me to tell me you're going to kick me in the bollocks if I annoy you tonight in front of some bird I haven't even met.'

‘Yes.'

‘Norman, I was sitting here quite happily having a cup of tea and a bit of toast. Do you think I need this fucking abuse when I pick up the phone? I don't know who I'll be annoying today. I haven't given it any thought yet.'

‘Well, I'm just saying to you that it better not be me. And you're to be a gentleman around Trish too, or that'll be another kick in the bollocks.'

‘Fuck sake. Okay. Fine. I'll be nice to your bird. Can I go now?'

‘Yeah. Seeya later.'

‘Fuck sake …'

*

‘Was the limo really necessary?' said Jimmy. He was looking around the inside of the car, feeling the leather of the seats and pulling at all the drawers and gadgets.

‘Of course!' said Aesop. ‘And listen, you're to be on your best rockstar behaviour when we get there, right? The big swagger up to the front door in your leather jacket, the shades, and then I want to see some shapes when we get inside.'

‘What shapes for fuck sake?'

‘Just pretend you're on the stage.'

‘But I'm not on a stage, Aesop. I'm at a fifteen-year-old girl's birthday party.'

‘It's a stage tonight, man. No offence, but Daytime Jimmy is a bit of a boring fucker sometimes. We need Rockstar Jimmy to put in an appearance this evening.'

‘I'm not boring.'

‘Are you not?'

Aesop did a Jimmy impersonation.

‘Ooh, look at me, I'm Jimmy the artist … I'm so confused … life is heavy and sad … I can't say two words to a woman without falling arse-about-tit in love with her … hang on till I find a dark corner so I can write a nice song about rabbits … sad ones … and candy floss … and being so into some tart, that I don't know who I fucking am any more … oh, what does it all mean …'

‘Aesop …'

‘ … I wish I was in Radiohead …'

‘Get fucked. I'm not like that.'

‘Ah, you are a bit, but, aren't you?'

‘No. Jesus, just because your life revolves around your cock, it doesn't mean other people don't have things going on in their head.'

‘Whatever, Jimmy. I'm just saying that when we go in there tonight you're to be all cool and chilled, right?'

‘You keep fucking telling me! Will you fuck off?'

‘Okay, okay. Look, this is Sandymount now. We're nearly there. Where's your shades?'

‘Jesus fu … they're in me pocket.'

‘Grand, grand. Just checking.'

Five minutes later they pulled up outside Mena's place. Aesop had called her Dad and he was already standing outside the front door waving at them as the car stopped.

‘Right Jimmy, now …'

‘I know, I know. Come on. We've only got half an hour and then we've to get to the gig.'

‘Help me with this, will you?'

‘What's in it?'

‘Ah, t-shirts, posters, a few bits and pieces. For the young ones at the party.'

‘Here, give me one of the bags.'

Mr Flanigan was all smiles for them at the porch. He shook their hands and welcomed them inside. Jimmy looked back at the car from the hall. There was already a bunch of neighbours starting to gawk.

‘Tommy Flanigan,' said Mena's Dad. ‘You're very good for coming.'

‘Not at all Tommy. I'm Aesop, and this is Jimmy. We're chuffed we could make it. Is she inside?'

‘She's on the couch in the living room. All her mates are in there with her. She can't get about, so the party is kind of arranged around her.'

‘Does she know we're coming?'

‘No. And I didn't tell Liam or Conor either or they'd tell her.'

‘Grand so. How's Liam?'

Tommy sighed and ran a hand through his hair.

‘He's not great Aesop, to be honest. He was always a bit of a handful, God knows, but himself and Mena are … y'know, when they were growing up and all, they were very close. Listen, he thinks the world of you too, same as herself. You wouldn't … you don't think you might just have a little word with him? Just, the two of you. A bit of attention. He'd love that from you, so he would. He's nearly a bigger fan than she is, sure.'

‘No problem, Tommy,' said Aesop. ‘I'll have a laugh with him.'

‘Thanks. Look they're just in here.'

Tommy nodded at a door just off the hall.

‘I'll go in first and say we have a surprise for her. Wait here a sec.'

‘Okay.'

Tommy went inside and the lads could hear him hushing everyone.

‘All right?' said Aesop to Jimmy.

‘I'm grand. And listen man … this is a good thing you're after doing. Fair play to you. I know you've been bloody annoying me all day about it but, y'know, at the same time …'

‘Shades Jimmy. Where's the shades?'

‘Oh for fuck sake … you'd have a saint wanting to kick the arse off you, you know that?' said Jimmy, fishing them out of his pocket and putting them on. ‘Okay? Is that all right?'

‘Lovely. You're a ride.

‘Did Sparky want to come? I mean, he's kind of in the band at the moment.'

‘Nah. Children give him heartburn in the arse he says. But he wants the limo on the way back from the gig. I think he's bringing his old dear for a spin around Dublin on the way home. Is that all right? We'll have to get taxis home like real people.'

‘I am a real person, Aesop.'

‘Are you?' said Aesop, grinning. ‘Do real people wear shades indoors? Look at the state of you.'

‘This was your fucking …'

‘Lads?' said Tommy, pulling the door open again.

Aesop winked at Jimmy and strolled in first. Jimmy took a breath and followed.

There was about one second of total, stunned silence in the Flanigan living room and then the eardrums in Jimmy's head nearly exploded with the screams of two dozen teenage girls.

*

‘Okay Mam, I'm off now,' said Norman.

‘Have a good night love.'

‘I'll be late. Or I might even stay in Aesop's in town if it's very late.'

‘Okay. Well, I'll see you in the morning then.'

‘Goodnight.'

Norman got the bus into town and stood next to Molly on Grafton Street, pulling his collar tight around him and sticking his hands in his pockets. There was a guy in a tracksuit standing just next to him with a huge basket of individually-wrapped red roses. He was shifting from foot to foot in the cold and looking around hopefully. Norman was thinking about it. After all, himself and Trish had pretty much met because of roses. It'd be cool. Or would it be fucking corny and crap? Norman wasn't brilliant at this type of thing. Still, he hadn't fucked anything up yet. He turned around.

‘Are you selling the roses?'

The guy looked down at his basket and shook his head.

‘Nah. I just thought I'd come out tonight and stand around in the cold like a cunt.'

Norman blinked at him.

‘Christ. I'd say you don't sell many, do you, charming fucker that you are?'

‘Not in this weather. Everyone's meeting their women in pubs, the bastards.'

‘I'll have one. How much?'

‘Fiver.'

‘A fiver? Are you mad?'

‘You're going to start haggling, are ye? And the fingers fuckin' frozen off me?'

‘Jesus, okay. Well just give me one so, please.'

‘Here you go.'

‘Thanks.'

‘No problem.'

Norman took the rose and looked at it. It was a bit shite-looking. Still, it wasn't exactly the season. He wondered where they got them. He folded his arms against the cold, tucking the flower into the crook of his elbow, and waited. It was five past eight. No sign of her yet. Another two minutes. Then he turned around again, frowning. The roses guy looked up.

‘What?' he said.

‘Are you going to just stand there?' said Norman.

‘What?'

‘Are you going to just stand there? Right next to me with a big basket of roses? She'll know where I got this one.'


Page 5

‘What are you talking about?'

‘She'll be along in a minute. What kind of a prick will I look like? Can you not go and stand somewhere else?'

‘Where would you like me to go for fuck sake?'

‘I don't know. Around the other side of the statue or something?'

‘A fiver.'

‘What?'

‘Gimme a fiver and I'll go away.'

‘You can fuck off with yourself!'

‘Then I'm staying put. You make a good windbreaker, big fucker like you.'

‘I'm asking you now as a favour.'

‘Sorry pal. This is where the business is.'

‘There's no business you said a minute ago.'

‘Things have picked up a bit.'

‘Jesus, you're some bollocks. Here's your bloody fiver. Give me another rose.'

‘What? What are you going to do with two of them?'

‘I'll think of something. Now give me the rose and go off away around the other side of the statue. Oh Jesus. Here she is. Quick …'

‘Yer one in the boots? Jaysis, that's a bit of all right, that is. What's her name?'

‘You're looking for a basket up the hole now, is it?'

Norman was finally standing alone next to Molly as Trish walked up.

‘Hi. Sorry I'm late. Bloody buses.'

‘That's okay. Here.'

‘Oh, God, thanks! They're lovely. You shouldn't have. Two?'

‘Eh, yeah. In case you lose one.'

Nice one. Fuckin' eejit.

‘Are you hungry?' he said. ‘We've a good while before the gig. Or maybe a pint? Up to you …'

‘Actually, a pint would be good. I'm not that hungry. I never am when I work nights.'

‘McDaids?'

‘Yeah, great.'

There was a good Friday night crowd in the pub. Norman found one stool at the window just inside the door and helped Trish off with her coat. He just about managed not to bless himself when he saw what was hidden under it. This outfit she had on her now was a different story altogether from the nurse's uniform or the last time they were out. The coat slipped off her shoulders and into his faintly quivering hands to properly reveal the kind of woman that Norman had been fantasising about since he was twelve. Tall, strong, curvy. Not like the little tarts on the telly with nothing to them.

‘You look very … eh … you look very pretty tonight,' he said, folding her coat. He was all red.

‘Thanks,' she smiled. ‘Without the coat, like?'

‘Oh Jesus, no. That's not what I meant. You looked lovely outside too. I just meant …'

She laughed.

‘Only joking Norman. Hey, you look lovely too.' She looked into his face. ‘You're pretty cute when you're flustered, do you know that?'

He shook his head, looking at the floor, and muttered something.

‘What's that?' she said, leaning in.

‘I said I must look like fucking Bambi so, at the moment.'

She kissed him on the cheek with a grin, one hand on his side as she stretched up to him. She wasn't at all shy about personal space, Trish. Probably came from being a nurse. The things they saw and did all day, there was hardly much room for being sensitive about shite like that.

‘That's for the roses,' she said. ‘And hey, let me get you a pint too.'

‘No, no. I'll get the drinks. What are you having?'

She got up on her toes again to try and see the taps at the bar. Her big breasts bounced slightly under her blouse with the sudden movement and he gawked at her without meaning to, a funny noise coming out of his throat on its own.

‘Do they have Murphys here?' she said, turning back to him.

Murphys? His bad leg nearly gave way on him.

*

Norman relaxed over the next hour. She was so natural and easy that he forgot his usual worries about fucking everything up every time he opened his gob. By the time he was holding out her coat for again, he was feeling the glow from three pints and getting a bit excited about seeing the lads on the stage. It turned out that she'd seen The Grove before, years ago, in the Baggot, when she'd just moved to Dublin.

‘I remember the drummer. He was chatting up all the girls at the bar afterwards. Mind you, that's a long time ago. It mightn't even be the same guy they have now.'

Norman said nothing.

They headed around to Thomas Street and saw the queue tail around the corner.

‘Hope it's moving,' said Trish. ‘It's a bit cold to be standing around.'

Norman took a deep breath and her hand in his, closing his eyes for a second and praying that Jimmy had remembered to say something to the doorman.

‘Come on,' he said. ‘We'll be grand.'

They walked up the top of the queue, Norman trying to be nonchalant but convinced that he had a head on him like a tomato.

‘Yes sir?'

Posh accent. Not like they used to be, bouncers.

‘Norman Kelly,' said Norman, swallowing. ‘I think … eh …'

‘Ah yes, Mr. Kelly. Please, would you like to follow me?'

‘Eh … okay … thanks.'

The guy led them into the venue and through a couple of doors until they found themselves in what Norman took to be some kind of member's lounge. Well-dressed people were mingling, the tinkle of ice and hum of poser bullshit hanging in the air. He could feel Trish staring at him, but he didn't want to say anything until he knew what was going on.

‘The VIP room, Mr. Kelly. Please help yourself to refreshments. Will I tell the band that you've arrived?'

‘Ah … eh … no. No. Leave them be. I'll talk to them later, sure.'

‘Very good, sir.' He shook Norman's hand. ‘On behalf of the management here at Vicar Street, I hope you have a great evening.' Then he turned to Trish and gave a small bow. ‘Miss.'

And then he was gone.

Norman finally looked down at Trish, with a small embarrassed smile. She was looking at him like someone had just groped her arse.

‘What the fuck was that?' she said, her Kerry accent on full now and her eyes huge. ‘“Will I tell the band you've arrived?” Who are you? Jesus, is the gardening just a part-time thing with you or what's the story? Should I be ringing the girls?'

‘Sorry,' said Norman. ‘I forgot to tell you. I'm just mates with the band.'

‘Jesus, yer man looked like he'd been waiting all night for you to show up.'

‘Well … eh … I've known the lads for a good while, like …'

‘Look at this place! Oh, is that … look, Norman, there's our taxi man from last week.'

He was standing with a girl at the bar, waving over and giving Norman the thumbs up.

‘Yeah. Jimmy said it was okay if I brought a few people and then I remembered that I'd made that fella a promise, so I called him earlier. Told him to mention my name at the door.'

‘Lucky him. He probably wasn't expecting the VIP treatment.'

‘Yeah. Well Jesus, neither was I, to be honest.'

The taxi man was making his way over. Norman had never seen a grin that big before.

‘The mot thinks I'm bleedin' ice cream,' said the guy, shaking Norman's hand. ‘You could sprinkle nuts on me. If you're ever stuck for a taxi, Norman, you give me a bell, right? Day or night. No problem.'

‘Thanks.'

‘Howarya again,' he said to Trish.

‘Hi.'

He nodded back to Norman.

‘Has this fella got the clamps on you yet?'

‘Maybe I'm the one with the clamps,' said Trish, smiling.

‘Jaysis, I don't think you need them. But he's a good bloke. Fair play to him for giving me a bell today. A lot of blokes wouldn't bother their arse. You could do a lot worse for yourself.'

‘I think you might be right.'

She looked up at Norman and grinned. Norman just fidgeted and looked away.

*

Norman and Trish stayed in Aesop's that night. If Aesop came home at all later they didn't hear him. Norman turned the key and they went straight up the stairs to the spare bedroom. It was nearly as big as the main one and had just been fitted with a king-sized bed. Aesop's sister had spent the previous Wednesday buying all the trimmings and it looked brilliant.

Trish turned on the light and then looked around at Norman.

‘Aren't you full of surprises?'

He gave a small shrug.

‘Sure, it was me that painted it for the bollocks.'

‘Ah, Aesop's great. They both are. God, I can't believe you've all been mates since you were kids.'

Norman nodded and tried to smile. He was a little bit down. After the gig, backstage, Trish and Aesop had gotten on like a house on fire. Norman was trying to be sociable and talking to whoever was around, but he kept hearing her laugh and he'd look over to see Aesop telling her something, all arms and mad expressions the way he was when he was on the pull. The two of them had found a small sofa and she'd probably spent an hour at least being charmed by the fucker and howling her head off with him. Norman knew it was pointless being jealous over someone like Aesop. When it came to women, he couldn't compete with that. It fucking hurt him a bit though. He really liked Trish and the idea that she'd fall for Aesop … and to think that he'd been the one that actually told him to be fucking nice to her!

‘Yeah. I noticed you were talking to Aesop a lot all right. The girls seem to go for him.'

‘I can see why!'

‘Yeah …'

‘What?'

‘Hmm? Nothing.'

‘Is something wrong?'

‘No. No.'

‘Oh God. It's not Aesop, is it?'

‘What? No. Don't be silly. What are you talking about?'

‘Norman, look at me.'

‘What?'

‘Where's Aesop?'

‘Christ only knows.'

‘Right. And where are you?'

‘I'm here.'

‘Yeah. And where am I?'

‘You're here.'

She nodded and put her hand on his face, going up on her toes to kiss him.

‘And what does that tell you? Don't be going and getting all peculiar now on me. I've had a brilliant night.'

‘Ah, I'm sorry Trish. I've just known him for a long time and … he's a great bloke, but …'

She shook her head at him, her eyes closed, and he stopped talking. Then she started to unbutton her top, letting it and her bra fall to the floor. Norman looked down at her, his breath catching.

‘Holy fuck,' he said, unable to help himself.

She started to unbutton his shirt then, and reached up to pull it from his shoulders. She ran her hands down his chest and around by his sides to pull him closer. Something under her fingers caught her attention. She lifted up his arm to look and found the beginning of the twenty-inch scar that ran in jagged angles from his ribs down and then around to the middle of his back. She frowned at him, but he just shrugged at her and sighed.

‘Collapsed lung. When I was younger. They had to operate.'

She ran her finger along the raised flesh again and looked up at him, but his eyes were closed. Okay. If that's the way he wanted it. But she wasn't stupid. Plus, she knew a thing or two about scars. And collapsed lungs for that matter. No surgeon had done that to him.

But that was fine; he didn't want her to know.

‘You should have sued,' she said.

Chapter Five

A few weeks later, Jimmy was heading into the studio with a guitar riff going through his head. It wasn't really a Grove thing, but he knew that it would suit Leet for one of their songs. He wasn't interested in getting a writing credit, or even one for performance on the Leet album, but he'd teach it to Eamonn the guitar player the next day. In the meantime he wanted to get the thing recorded with their click tracks before he bloody forgot it. He'd been fucking useless for months and didn't trust himself to hang onto an actual decent piece of music in his head for more than one day at a time any more. He'd only been able to finish out their own album with ‘More Than Me' because he'd started the song months before, when Marco had asked him to be his best man.

He rounded the corner and started making his way up the street to the front door of Sin Bin, not even noticing the cop car that was parked on the kerb right outside.

He opened up the door and stepped into the warmth of the studio with a big sigh of relief, taking off his coat and slapping his hands together to get some blood back into them. Another fucking cracking Irish winter so it was, the stinging wind outside whipping your nipples into points you could use to cut glass.

‘Jesus,' he said, opening the control room door. ‘Poxy cold out there again …'

He stopped. No one was there. He looked through the window into the main room and gasped, feeling something like a smack in his chest. Dónal, Sparky and Aesop were out there with two cops. Aesop. Jimmy hadn't seen him all week. Oh … fuck, no. What was the gobshite after doing? Was he after getting snared with gange? The dopey bastard. I'll fucking kill him. Hang on, Jimmy. Hang on. He's never been caught before. They'll only give him a bollocking. Right? They only gave you a bollocking the first time, didn't they? But … why would they send two cops around to the studio just for that? Didn't sound right. Something was up. Fuck, please let it only have been gange. Please, please, please. Jimmy was pretty sure that Aesop didn't mess around with other stuff, but there were a lot of new people hanging around them these days after gigs and all. Sparky had already given them a pointed and carefully rehearsed speech about it. ‘Keep an eye out for cunts', he'd said.

Jimmy watched his hand go out to the handle of the door and push it open. He heart was hammering like it was about to give out on him.

‘Wh … wha …' he stammered, stepping inside and looking at everyone.

Garda Number One turned around to him. He was a big bloke. Big as Norman and made even bigger by the huge yellow shiny anoraks they have to wear.

‘Who are you?' he said. Culchie.

‘I'm Jimmy. What did he do?' He looked at Aesop. ‘What are you after doing?'

‘Jaysis, Jimmy,' said Aesop, laughing. ‘You're some best friend, you know that? The boys in blue call around … “The man we're holding says that you can attest to his whereabouts yesterday afternoon. Is this true?” “Yes Garda, he was out robbing the post office.”'

‘Jimmy,' said Dónal. ‘I tried calling you earlier but you weren't picking up.'

‘I was at Ma's all morning. I left me phone at home and haven't been back. What's going on?'

‘I'm afraid we have a bit of a problem. The two Gardaí here are helping us out with it.'

‘What did he do?'

‘He didn't do anything. It's okay Jimmy. He's not in trouble. Well, not like that …'

‘What? What's happening then?'

‘Well, we're just trying to find out.'

‘Garda Egan,' said the big one, from behind a moustache he could have used to grow cabbage.

‘I'm Garda Ní Mhurchú,' said his mate, who was a girl copper. Fairly short for a copper, and a bit pudgy. Very short hair and a not a whole lot of soft feminine vibes. A bit of a bulldog head on her. ‘We're just asking Mr. Murray a few questions to help us in connection with an incident that's been reported. You're Jimmy Collins, right? I've seen you guys play. Last October it was, in the Town Hall in Galway. It was a great night.'

‘Oh. Eh … okay. Thanks. And … so … and … what's wrong now?'

Garda Ní Mhurchú turned to the others and raised her eyebrows.

‘Oh, it's grand, you can tell him,' said Aesop, waving a hand at her. ‘He probably won't even be surprised.'

‘It seems that Mr. Murray has offended someone to the point where they've been threatening him.'

Jimmy just nodded at her slowly.

‘Told you,' said Aesop, opening a Twix.

‘What kind of threats?'

‘Well … we don't need to go into that just now. Do you mind if I take off this coat? It's very warm in here.'

‘Not at all,' said Dónal. ‘Go mad. Do you want a cup of tea?'

They both nodded.

‘Lovely.'

‘Sparky, would you mind doing the honours?'

When they were all settled around a low coffee table in the lounge area, Garda Ní Mhurchú took out her notebook and started writing in it. Jimmy was just sitting on the edge of his chair, his tea getting cold in front of him.

‘So, first of all, you don't know who's been doing this?' said Garda Ní Mhurchú.

‘No clue,' said Aesop.

‘But it would seem to be a woman, based on what we know?'

‘Yeah.'

‘Okay. And is there one particular woman in your life right now? A girlfriend or partner, or … ?'

‘No. Well, just Jennifer I s'pose.'

‘Jennifer?'

‘Me sister.'

‘And would you say your sister is … estranged at all?'

‘Ah she can be, yeah. Well, she's always talking to her goldfish, y'know? Stuff like that. You'd swear they were … but, nah, not anything this bad. And anyway, I know her. When she's annoyed with me she usually just tells me I'm a fu … fool.'

Jimmy closed his eyes and sighed. He was used to jumping in when Aesop met new people, but he didn't know if he was supposed to do it when he was being interviewed by the police.

‘Okay. And what about other women in your life, Mr. Murray? I mean in a social context. Do you … date for instance? Or are you seeing anyone regularly?'

‘This should be fucking good,' muttered Jimmy under his breath, as he picked up his cup and sat back in his chair for the first time. Sparky suddenly cleared his throat and left to put the kettle on again. Dónal started to fidget on the sofa.

Aesop was finishing the Twix and fingering the wrapper as he thought.

‘Mr. Murray?'

‘Well, Garda Ní Mhurchú … y'see … eh … sorry, would you mind calling me Aesop? I feel like me Da's standing right behind me or something. It's making me nervous.'

‘Of course. Aesop. So … do you see anyone regularly, Aesop?'

‘Well … no. Not any one girl in particular.'

‘But you've been with a number of women recently?'

‘What's recently?'

‘Well, let's say since Christmas.'

‘Yes. A number.'

‘A big number?'

‘Well … medium-sized. I had a bit of a cold there a few weeks ago.'

‘I see. Aesop, maybe if we started with the last woman you … em … wooed.'

‘Okay.'

‘When was that?'

‘Yesterday. No, no … the day before. Tuesday.'

‘You're not sure?'

‘Well I was with a girl yesterday all right, but I wouldn't say I wooed her exactly. But that's grand as well sometimes, y'know?'

‘I'm sorry?'

‘Well, some young ones are just quiet, like. But I definitely wooed the one on Tuesday. We had an hour to kill before “Desperate Housewives” so I thought I might as well take her the scenic route. She wooed a fair bit. I remember it because I don't have much furniture yet, so there's a bit of an echo around the gaff and I was afraid that …'

Everyone was looking at him.

‘What?'

Jimmy looked around at Garda Ní Mhurchú. She had a nice big frosty head on her now. She glared at Aesop for a minute and then tapped her notepad.

‘You said you were with someone last night?'

‘Eh … yeah. Out in Drimnagh somewhere. Had to get a taxi back.'

‘Okay. But these threats started last week. Did you know this girl before last night? Had you met her before?'

‘Eh … not sure. But it's fairly unlikely. I'm not really one for swapping numbers afterwards and being mates and all, y'know?'

‘Mr Murray … Aesop … if we were just to take the last few weeks, since the New Year, how many girls' names would I be able to put in this notebook?'

‘Their names?' Aesop scratched his head. ‘Jaysis … well, you won't have to go looking for your pencil parer.'

‘So … a few, just?'

‘No. More than that.'

‘So then … what's … is it that you can't remember their names?'

Aesop sighed.

‘I don't really like to get attached, Garda. I tend to forget names. You know the way hoors don't like kissing you on the lips? That's me with names. Otherwise it gets all personal and you end up with a head full of women and you're trying to match names with faces and what you said to who and what happened … ah, it makes things very complicated, y'know? If it'll help I'd say there was probably about a dozen of them. God, that makes them all sound like slappers, doesn't it? They weren't though. They were lovely. And one of them was definitely Russian. Or she had that accent anyway. Russian … German … Norwegian … y'know that kind of way? Nice girl. She was wearing this blue yoke.'

Garda Ní Mhurchú had stopped taking notes now. She was just staring at Aesop.

‘And, just out of interest, the last six months?'

Aesop frowned off into the distance and started to try and count in his head, his lips and fingers moving for a couple of minutes.

‘Jimmy, when were we in Japan?' he said eventually.

‘About six months ago Aesop.'

Jimmy was mortified, his head hanging down. Dónal had already gone to help Sparky in the kitchen.

‘Will I include that?' said Aesop to Garda Ní Mhurchú. ‘I was a teacher out there for a bit. It's a deadly way to meet girls, y'know yourself …'

‘No I don't,' she said. She'd put down the pad again and was sitting back against the chair just looking at him.

‘Okay, well, sure I'll add them in too. Right. Now where … ah shite. I'm after losing where I was. Will I use your pad?'

‘Just an estimate is fine. No need to be exact at this point. I'm just trying to get a feel for what we're up against.' She looked at her colleague. ‘I think I'm starting to get an idea.'

‘Okay. Eh … and it's only riding now we're talking about, right? Not birds I just got talking to down the shops or whatever …'

Jimmy couldn't take it any more. He stood up and started walking into the kitchen.

‘I'll … just see if that kettle is boiled yet.'

*

Jimmy showed the Gardaí out. At the door, Garda Ní Mhurchú turned to him.

‘Mr. Collins, I take it you're the … brains of the operation?'

Jimmy shrugged and gave a little nod.

‘There's no reason to panic or anything, but Mr. Murray needs to be vigilant until this is sorted out. I'm not sure he's … on the same page as everyone else.'

‘He's not even in the same library.'

‘Right. Well, here's my number in case he does manage to piece together any of his … encounters. Maybe he'll be able to give us a bit more information.'

‘Thanks Garda.'

‘He mentioned that he used to give your name out to girls? I'm afraid I had to stop listening when he was explaining why.'

‘Yeah. Well he doesn't do it any more. I told him to stop. Anyway, we're both kind of well-known now, so there wouldn't be much point.'

‘Right. Well, just in case, you be a little careful yourself. It's possible that the …' She paused to get the right words. ‘ … utterly demented … girl that has a fixation on him might find her way to you by accident.'

‘Jesus, I never thought of that. I still don't even know what happened.'

‘They can tell you upstairs. But, again, no need to panic. I'm sure we'll be able to deal with this quickly and quietly.'

‘I really appreciate this Garda. Thanks for coming out today.'

‘No problem at all. And best of luck with the new album. I hear it's coming out soon?'

‘Oh yeah. Thanks. Couple of weeks.'

‘I'll be sure to pick up a copy.'

‘Great.'

Jimmy came back up the stairs to find the others all sitting around the coffee table looking at him.

‘So, will someone tell me what the fuck is going on?' said Jimmy.

Dónal picked up the empty cups and started bringing them into the kitchen.

‘It seems that one of the girls this dirty little bastard has been sniffing around didn't appreciate the way she was treated either during or after the liason,' he said.

‘A tenner says it was after,' said Aesop.

‘Aesop, there were two Gardaí in here a minute ago,' said Jimmy. ‘This is not the best time for you to be fucking about.'

‘Yeah. I don't think Garda Ní Mhurchú liked me. The head on him.'

Jimmy frowned at him.

‘What?'

‘What?'

‘Aesop, you do know that Garda Ní Mhurchú was a woman, don't you?'

‘What? Get fucked.'

‘Aesop, she was a girl!'

‘She was not. Why do you think that?'

‘Well, her fucking name for starters.'

‘What are you on about? It's just Mhurchú. Murphy, right?'

‘It's Ní Mhurchú! Ní is what women use in Irish.'

‘Me bollocks! And anyway, why didn't she call herself Ban Garda Ní Mhurchú then, if she's a woman?'

‘Because they don't do that any more. They're all just Garda.'


Page 6

‘But … Jimmy, did you not see the fucking awful-looking mess of a face on it … it couldn't have been …'

‘Okay. It doesn't matter. Whatever. Will you tell me …'

‘She was a bit short for a bloke copper all right, but I thought that was just because she was standing next to that big long lanky streak of piss she came in with. But she'd no make-up on or anything.'

‘She's a fuckin' copper, Aesop, not a bleedin' Avon lady. And anyway, I think she might have been … eh …'

‘Been what?'

‘Y'know …'

‘A short fat bloke?'

‘No. A lesbian.'

Aesop roared laughing.

‘No fucking way, Jimmy. I've seen hundreds of lesbians, and they don't look like that.'

‘What? That's exactly the way they look. For fuck sake, sorry for ruining your favourite fantasy, Aesop, but lesbians aren't all six foot tall with long blonde hair, big tits and red lipstick.'

‘Of course they are! Jimmy, come around to the flat afterwards and I'll stick on some …'

‘Aesop. First of all, fuck off. I just want to know why two cops were here today and no fucker's told me yet. What the fuck is going on? And second of all, I promise you the girls in your videos are doing it for money, not for love. Real lesbians probably laugh their bollocks off at that stuff. So to speak.'

‘But Jimmy, I can prove that you're wrong.'

‘Aesop, I don't care.'

‘You like girls, right? So would you prefer a six-foot blonde with big tits and red lipstick, or would you prefer Garda Ní Mhurchú with that train-wreck of a boxer's face she lugs around with her?'

‘Aesop …'

‘You'd go for the peach, wouldn't you?'

‘Listen to me …'

‘And the only difference between lesbians and other women is that lesbians like women. So if they like women, why would they all go for women that look like blokes?'

‘They don't look like …'

‘Y'see? If they wanted to go for people that looked like blokes, they'd just go for blokes, wouldn't they? And then they wouldn't be lesbians. Plus, they'd get the bonus of having someone with a lad. Something they can actually use, like.'

‘Maybe they don't want a lad. Maybe they like …'

‘But do you see my point, Jimmy?'

‘You don't have a point Aesop. You're a fucking eejit who thinks porn is real life. Now will you please …'

‘Admit it Jimmy. I'm right.'

Jimmy sighed.

‘Aesop, I don't know everything about lesbians, but …'

‘Ah-ha! Backing down now! Captain fuckin' Lesbian you were a minute ago, weren't you?'

‘Whatever! I don't care, Aesop. I'm just saying that lesbians tend to go for a certain look and it's not a very flouncy one. Now shut your bollocks about them. Right. Tell me.'

‘Tell you what?'

‘Why were the fuckin' police here?'

‘Ah right. Well it started last week. Wednesday. Someone kept ringing the door and then legging it. They were at it for about an hour. Eventually I just stood at the door having a smoke for a bit and when I went back inside it stopped.'

‘Maybe it was just kids doing nick-nacks.'

‘Yeah, that's what I thought. But a couple of days later when I got up, the fuckers were after stuffing all these dead flowers in through the letterbox.'

‘They what? For fuck sake!'

‘Yeah. I never did that when I was doing nick-nacks. What the fuck, y'know? It was a bit freaky. Anyway, I still thought it was just some youngfellas messing, so I kind of forgot about it. Then on Saturday night I came in from the pub and the geebags were after drawing a loveheart on the door with a bleedin' felt-tip marker. And it had an “A” on one side and a “P” on the other. Oh, and more bleedin' flowers in the hall.'

‘That's not young fellas Aesop. That's a bird.'

‘Do you think so, Sherlock?'

Jimmy turned his head a bit, frowning.

‘Paula … Penny … Peggy … Ma? No, fuck, she likes him …'

‘A bit pointless trying to narrow it down by name Jimmy, y'know? Remember poor Garda Ní Mhurchú's dilemma?'

‘What? Oh, yeah. See what happens now? See what happens when you're a trollop? And you … but why didn't you tell me this was going on, you spa?'

‘What? Sure you'd only bleedin' laugh at me for scoring with a psycho.'

‘I wouldn't Aesop. Jesus, this is serious, this is. Some mad one is stalking you!'

‘It gets better.'

‘Christ. What happened then?'

‘The gaff was broken into last night.'

‘Fuck! What did she take?'

‘Nothing. Well, there wasn't much to take was there? She didn't even like me new curtains. But a few bits and pieces were knocked over and she left a letter. Well, it was kind of like the page of a diary.'

‘What did it say?'

‘I gave it to the cops before you got here. But basically it was saying that she loved me and she's looking forward to us being together. Eh … permanently. More lovehearts on the letter, y'know? Like the door.'

‘Fuckin' hell! I'm getting the heebie-jeebies here, Aesop. What did she mean by that? Permanently. Is that … does she mean … y'know …'

‘Don't know. Sounds a bit like it though, doesn't it? So I called Dónal this morning and he called the cops and told them to come in here.'

Jimmy stood up and walked around the room.

‘That's fucking terrible! Jesus, what are we going to do?'

‘It's okay Jimmy,' said Dónal, standing up too. ‘We're working on it. I've had a little bit of experience with this type of thing. I know it looks bad but, really, it's not all that uncommon. Sometimes people see their heroes on the telly and if they're a bit fucked in the head they can get … obsessive.'

‘But for fuck sake, Dónal … she threatened to kill him!'

‘I know, I know. Well … she didn't technically say that, right? It's … it's probably not that bad. The cops will find her and she'll just turn out to be some girl with a bit of a problem. Depression or something. Last time I remember it happening, they just got her some therapy and she was grand. She was having problems herself and didn't realise the harm she was doing.'

‘Ah Jesus … I don't know, man …'

‘Jimmy, it'll be fine,' said Aesop.

‘How come you're so fucking calm?'

‘I'm sure it's just like Dónal said. It'll be grand. C'mon man, what's the chances of me getting bumped off by some mad bird?'

‘Aesop, these things do happen! Look at Lennon.'

‘Lennon was a god, Jimmy. Who the fuck am I?'

‘Yeah, but it doesn't matter thatweall know you're a total fucking eejit who isn't worth a wank Aesop, does it?'

‘Well Jesus, thanks for the boost there Jimmy. Fuck sake …'

‘The point is Aesop, you don't know what goes on in these mad fuckers' heads. It could be a religious thing or anything. There's loads of that shite about. Maybe she thinks you're the second coming of Christ for fuck sake.'

‘Well then she wouldn't want to kill me, would she? She'd be coming around with buns and stuff. Bringing me children to kiss and all, y'know?'

‘That's … it's … I don't know. I'm just saying you need to be careful. Really. I know you like to go through life like it's all a big fucking laugh, but … Dónal, tell him will you?'

‘Well, he's right about being careful Aesop. The Guards said that too.'

‘I'm always careful.'

‘You fucking are not, Aesop! You stop and chat to everyone on the street that comes up to you. You shag your way around the city without even knowing who these girls are.'

‘If they come from good families, like?'

‘I'm serious Aesop. You need to keep a low profile for a bit. What did the cops say?'

‘They said they'll get back to me when they have any news. And they're coming out to the gaff this afternoon to have a look.'

‘Is that all?'

‘Well, they said they didn't have much to go on. Apparently, she said, they'll have to cast a wider net than they were hoping. Look, it's grand. Will you stop worrying? That's why I called Dónal, sure. I knew you'd only get your knickers in a twist like a big girl. And listen, don't say anything to Jennifer about this, right? She's as bad as you.'

‘Well … but … I mean, Jennifer's been in your gaff Aesop. For the curtains and all that. What happens if the nutter comes back when she's there and thinks Jennifer is your bird or something? Y'know? Aesop, this is not a small thing. You're the one who's always watching telly, aren't you?'

For the first time, Aesop didn't say anything.

‘Maybe you should move in with Jimmy for a bit?' said Dónal.

‘Yeah. Come on. Tonight. Pack a bag and you can come over tonight.'

‘Ah, will you stop. It's not that bad!'

‘It fucking is!'

‘I'm not moving in with you, Jimmy. That's just stupid. And I like living in town. I'll just tell Jennifer the place was broken into and I had to change the locks. She won't be able to call over unless I'm there. And I'll tell her to come with Marco. He's got a black belt and all, right? Actually, I'm not sure I even locked the gaff last night. Maybe that's how she got in?'

They all looked at each other for a bit. Then Jimmy rubbed his face and turned to Aesop again.

‘Look, just be careful okay? Keep your head down till the cops find her. This is serious.'

‘Ah I know. It'll be okay. All right? Can we all just unclench a little bit here? Garda Ní Mhurchú is probably down the cop shop right now, reading her tea leaves. They'll find her.'

‘But you're not to …'

‘I won't try and score for a few nights, okay? Keep me head down. And I'll keep an eye out for anything weird. What else am I meant to do? Lock meself in the jacks for the next two weeks, for fuck sake? It'll be okay, right? Look, fuck this, I'm going to head into the zoo. Does anyone want to come?'

They all looked at him but didn't say anything.

‘Right. I'll give yiz a call later.'

He stood up and went to get his coat.

Jimmy turned to Dónal.

‘He has to be careful.'

‘I know. He will.'

‘I don't know if he's taking this seriously, man. Y'know … Lennon, Dimebag …'

‘I know Jimmy. He knows too. He is taking it seriously. Listen, if anything else happens, I'll look into getting some kind of security. I think I have a few numbers.'

‘Will you? That'd be good Dónal. Because he is always getting into trouble. He doesn't give a fuck what he says. To big fuckers and everything. It's all a giggle, I swear. Sometimes I wonder how he ever made it to adulthood at all.'

‘I'm telling you, Jimmy. He knows it's serious. He won't mess about.'

Aesop passed them by again with a wave and opened the door to go out. He looked down into the hall and stopped.

‘Hey, did anyone leave a dead fish out here?'

Then he broke his bollocks laughing and went out, slamming the door behind him.

Jimmy put his head in his hands before looking up.

‘I'd start looking up those numbers Dónal.'

*

Later in the pub, Aesop was a bit quiet.

‘Thinking about your mad little friend?' said Jimmy.

‘Nah. Actually Jimmy, I was just thinking about some of the things I said to Garda Ní Mhurchú when I thought she was a bloke. They weren't really … proper. Were they?'

‘No, Aesop, they weren't.'

‘I feel a bit bad.'

‘Good.'

‘I feel like I should give her a bell to apologise or something. You don't talk like that to women. She looked a bit upset when she was leaving.'

‘But probably thankful that she's a lesbian. How are you going to apologise?'

‘I'll just tell her what happened.'

‘Well, that'll make her feel better, won't it? What are you going to say? “I'm very sorry Garda Ní Mhurchú but I thought you were a bloke, the head on you.”'

‘Or I could make something up?'

‘Ah, just leave her alone. I'm sure she doesn't give a fuck what you think. She was probably only upset because now she has to interview every bird in Dublin.'

‘And a few in Tokyo as well. Remember that little thing I was riding?'

‘Yuki-chan.'

‘Is that her? She looked like she might go off the deep end a bit, didn't she? Remember we got ambushed in your gaff that time?'

‘She's in Japan. I can't see her coming all the way over here just to start stalking you.'

‘I don't know. I can have a strange effect on women Jimmy.'

‘I know Aesop. Garda Ní Mhurchú probably spent the afternoon scrubbing herself in the shower.'

‘You still think she's a lesbian?'

‘I don't know what she's into Aesop. I'm just saying, lesbians sometimes look a bit like that. Short hair, a bit stocky, no nonsense …'

‘Man, you really need to get yourself some new porn …'

Chapter Six

Aesop came home from the zoo a few days later with a shopping bag of milk, bread and eight tins of beans. Now that he was at home he was a bit uneasy. The door was definitely locked this time because he'd checked it twice before heading out. He put down the bag and gave it a push. Still locked. He opened it and went inside, walking slowly to the kitchen. There wasn't a sound. He did a quick tour of the whole gaff, opening doors and sticking his head around them before walking into the rooms. Everything was fine. Well, the bedroom needed a bit of airing, but that was nothing new. He'd been eating a lot of beans since he moved in on his own. Still though. Fuck it, this was a load of bollocks. Creeping around your own pad because you're worried that some mad slapper is going to jump out from under the bed and start screaming and slashing away at your mickey with a big knife or something, just because she doesn't approve of your lifestyle choices.

He made himself some beans on toast and turned on the telly to watch Eastenders. When it was over and Aesop had finished picking beans off his t-shirt and putting them in his mouth, he sat and pushed the buttons on his remote for about ten minutes. Nothing but shite. He'd normally be calling Norman or Jimmy or Marco to go for a scoop around about now, but he'd promised Jimmy that he'd keep his head down for a while. Probably a good thing anyway. If he went for a pint, there was a good chance he'd score and the quality of the riding had really gone way down since he'd become famous. It was a bit of a bummer. One girl even tried to pretend that she didn't know who he was, but Aesop wasn't stupid. The big delighted head on her. He hated that. Aesop's philosophies on the equality of the sexes weren't particularly well developed in his mind but, when he was with a girl, he knew what felt right and what didn't; and this kind of awe felt wrong. Well, it was fine afterwards, obviously. Expected and appreciated, even. He dropped his plate into the sink and flicked on the kettle for a cup of tea. Yeah, a little bit of awe was all right. But you had to earn it for fuck sake or you were only codding yourself.

The doorbell rang and Aesop froze.

What the fuck? After last week, he hadn't had a single unannounced caller. Come to think of it, who came up to your door these days without ringing first to make sure you were at home? No one did. It just wasn't the done thing any more. Everyone called. He looked around the kitchen for a weapon. There was nothing. He didn't even have a decent knife because he didn't cook. All he had was a plate, a knife and fork for eating, two cups – one spare in case he was entertaining – and a teaspoon. The doorbell rang again and he swallowed. He picked up the fork, still covered in tomato sauce but probably sharper than the knife, and started down the hall with it gripped tightly in his hand. At the door he peaked through the peephole quickly and then pulled his head back because of something he remembered from an old Jean Reno movie involving a bullet and an eyeball. It was a bird out there. Oh fuck.

He couldn't tell who she was though. She was all wrapped up in a scarf and hat. Too tall for Jennifer. Aesop took another quick goosey through the peephole. She'd turned around now and was facing out into the courtyard. There was no chain on the door. He'd meant to get one, but kept forgetting. First thing tomorrow, assuming this one didn't murder him first.

‘Who is it?' he said, one hand on the doorknob and the other brandishing the fork. He was standing up against the wall now, in case she tried to shoot him through the door.

‘Hi Aesop,' said a voice. ‘Sorry for bothering you. It's Trish. I left something behind when I was here before.'

Aesop's mind raced, filtering through all the names of girls he knew … Jennifer … Jennifer's friends … Jimmy's Mam … no Trish's there. He was out of names. He must have rode this bird.

‘Trish?'

‘Yeah. I was with Norman. We met at Vicar Street?'

Ah right. Thank fuck. Norman's bird. Yeah, he'd talked to her after the gig. This was the one Norman threatened to kick his bollocks over if he wasn't nice to her, so he'd laid on the good stuff and then backed off to leave her wandering through whatever dreamy fantasies he'd conjured up, so that by the time she got hold of Norman later she'd ride the lad off him. Okay. Grand. So what the fuck was she doing here? Did she get the wrong idea that night? Did the mad cow think he'd ever, in a million years, shag Norman's girlfriend? Besides the fact that he wouldn't do something like that anyway, had she not seen the size of the fucker? There wasn't a deathwish-driven nutcase in Dublin would go near her now. Someone should tell her.

He opened the door and looked around and past her before looking at her.

‘Howya.'

‘Hi. I'm very sorry for not calling. I didn't have your number.'

‘Oh right. Yeah. Norman has it.'

‘Yeah. I know. But he said he was having an early night tonight and I didn't want to wake him. He's working early this week.'

‘Eh. Okay. So …'

She looked behind her and then turned around again to Aesop.

‘I'm sorry, do you mind if I come in?'

‘No. Not at all,' said Aesop. ‘Come on in.'

He did mind as it happened. He'd enough on his plate these days without Norman hunting him down too and fucking skinning him like a rabbit.

She saw the fork.

‘Oh God, I'm sorry. I'm interrupting your dinner.'

‘It's grand. I was just finished.'

‘Have something nice?'

‘Yeah. Well, beans on toast.'

She laughed.

‘You're such a boy.'

‘Yeah. Thanks. So … you forgot something?'

‘Yeah. I left a chain upstairs. I kept meaning to get it.'

‘Ah. Right. Well, go on up and get it so.'

‘Do you mind? I'm on my way to work, so I just thought I'd drop by to see if you were in. I was here last week too, but there was no answer.'

‘Sorry about that. You should have gotten Norman to get it off me.'

‘Yeah, I know. I kept forgetting. I'll just pop up and get it?'

‘No problem.'

He shut the door to stop letting the heat out as she ran up the stairs. He watched her go up and then started down to the kitchen again to lose the bloody fork. He was pouring water onto his teabag when he heard her coming back up the hall.

‘Found it! It was on the floor next to the bed. Lucky. It could easily have disappeared up the hoover.'

‘That'd be fairly unlikely,' said Aesop, without looking around. He glanced up and saw her looking at his teacup.

‘Do you want a cup of tea?'

He wanted her to fuck off, but he didn't want to be rude either. What was she after? The only reason women forgot jewellery was to come back and get it later. This bird was odds-on looking for a portion. But on the off-chance that she wasn't, he had to be nice too. Bollocks to this. The Simpsons would be on soon.

She looked at her watch.

‘Yeah. Why not. I have a bit of time.'

‘Great.'

He got another teabag.

‘Inside? I don't have a kitchen table out here yet.'

‘I noticed that. You don't have much furniture at all, do you?'

‘Still moving in. Grab the Jaffa Cakes there.'

They went into the living room and she laughed again.

‘You got a big telly though.'

‘Well, you get the important stuff first, y'know?'

‘And curtains?'

‘Yeah. I had some help there. Anyway, they keep the paparazzi from annoying me.'

They sat down on two big beanbags. He still hadn't mustered up the resolve to get a couch yet either.

‘Does it happen much?'

‘Which?'

‘Paparazzi.'

‘Ah not really. There was a picture in one of the papers of me having a pint in McDaids a few weeks ago. They had a little story under it about me meeting Colin Farrell in there.'

‘Wow! What's he like?'

‘I've never met the fucker. I don't know where they got that from. I was just having a pint.'

‘Oh. Shame. I think he's absolutely lovely. He's just so sexy. Isn't he?'

‘He's a ride, yeah. So what time are you working?'

‘Eleven.'

‘Right. That must be tough.'

‘Ah it's not too bad. I like it at night. I like it when it's all dark and quiet. Don't you?'

She turned to face him, bending one knee so that her weight shifted and the stuffing in the beanbag rolled until she was suddenly six inches closer to him. Her foot was practically touching him. His eyes flicked down and then up again.

‘Eh … well …'

‘You actually look a bit like him. Colin Farrell. Did anyone ever tell you that? Cute, but in a kind of … dirty way.'

Dirty? You fucking slapper! Right. This was getting fucked up. She wanted him to ride her. Fuck it anyway. There was no way this wouldn't get messy. Even if he politely declined with all the sensitivity in the world and told her to fuck off, Norman would still be left with a girlfriend who was up for it with other men. And Norman was funny about that stuff. Plus, he'd blame Aesop.

‘So … Norman's working early, is he? Will you … eh … will you be seeing him tomorrow so?'

‘Aesop?'

‘Yeah?'

‘You don't remember me, do you?'

‘Sorry?'

‘You don't remember me.'

‘What? Of course I do. You're Trish. Weren't we talking for ages after the gig?'

‘I don't mean that. We met before. A long time ago. And you don't remember? I'm hurt.'

She turned towards him more fully and pouted. There was suddenly something very strange about this girl. Even stranger than her wanting a poke off him.

Oh fuck. No! What had he done? He realised the situation he was after getting himself into and it started to make a kind of horror-movie sense. His hands were all sweaty all of a sudden. Then she was smiling at him again. Big grin. He started to push himself very gradually further back in his beanbag. His dinner was sitting heavily in his belly and felt like it was being churned about in there. She … she … was she the one who … oh Jesus, oh fuck. Jimmy says be careful and then he goes and lets her into the gaff and makes her a cup of tea. All this time it was Norman's …

‘Eh …'

Now she was laughing, leaning even more towards him.

‘You look very nervous all of a sudden. I wonder why that is. Maybe you do remember? Is that it?'

Aesop picked up his cup. He probably had one chance to talk his way out of being gutted by a psycho and he wanted an extra second to think about how to do it.

‘Trish, listen …'

‘Yes?'

‘Eh … Trish … I don't know where we met before.' He had his free hand up in supplication. ‘But I'm very sorry if things didn't work out.'

‘What?'

‘I'm just saying, like … I'm sorry if I … y'know …'

‘Aesop, I have something for you.'

She slowly reached into the bag at her feet and suddenly pulled out something shiny.


Page 7

Chapter Seven

Jimmy sat bolt upright in the bed. Someone was trying to bang down his front door. Jesus, the cops were right. She was coming after him now. That stupid fucker Aesop and his uncontainable dick were finally going to get him killed. There'd been close calls before – angry boyfriends, outraged brothers and mates, the girls themselves fuming and upset – but this was the big one. He'd finally managed to stoke up a nutter and now she was coming after Jimmy because she hadn't managed to catch Aesop yet. The bastard. It wasn't fair! Jimmy was always nice to women. He sat in terror for a second. The thumping downstairs wasn't letting up. He had to get out of bed and try and protect himself before she broke down the door and cornered him. The doorbell started ringing now too. Christ. He was fucked. And he only had his jocks on.

He started down the stairs with his pillow clutched to his chest and the blood roaring through his head. Then he heard the voice outside, whispering in hoarse, guttural panic.

‘Jimmy? Jimmy? Open the fucking door quick!'

‘Aesop?'

‘Yeah Aesop. Open the fucking door!'

Jimmy was standing right at the door.

‘Who's out there?'

‘I'm fucking out here. Will you open the door?'

‘Is there anyone else?'

‘What? No. I hope not anyway. Will you hurry up for fuck sake before she finds me?'

‘Jesus …'

Jimmy pulled the door open and Aesop barrelled through it, knocking Jimmy onto the floor and standing on his arm as he slammed the door closed again and ran into the kitchen. Jimmy was still picking himself up when Aesop appeared back in the hall with a big bread knife.

‘Ye fuckin' bastard,' grunted Jimmy, crouched over and rubbing his shoulder.

‘Shush Jimmy,' said Aesop, looking through the peephole. He was sweating like a racehorse, his breath coming hard and heavy.

‘What the fuck happened?'

‘It was Trish.'

‘Who?'

‘Fucking Trish! Norman's bird. The culchie.'

‘What about her?'

‘She's the one who's been after me. I must have rode her.'

‘What? Are you sure?'

‘Yeah! She came around tonight and tried to stab me, the mad bitch. I let her in and everything. Jesus, see what happens when Norman scores? He shouldn't be let near women. He can't get a bird for years and then when he does pick one up, she's the Angel of fucking Death.'

‘You're mad. Trish was lovely. How did she try and stab you?'

‘How? She had a knife in her bag! Oh Jesus, man, what are we going to do?'

‘Calm down, will you? Jesus. Okay. We're going to call the police. Fuck, we better call Norman too. Now tell me what happened will you?'

‘Yeah … yeah. I was just … I was … what's with the pillow?'

‘What? Oh … I was in bed when you started going at the door with a bleedin' sledgehammer.'

‘And you brought your pillow down with you? What were you going to do with it?'

‘I wasn't fucking thinking, was I? I thought there was a madwoman out there.'

‘And you were going to subdue her with a pillow?'

‘Will you fuck off? I got a fright. Now tell me what happened. Jesus …'

‘Yeah. Right. Okay. Okay, well I was at home making the tea …'

*

Jimmy had put the phone down and was looking at Aesop on the couch.

‘So you didn't actually see a knife?'

‘I saw enough. She had it in her bag and she was going for it.'

‘Aesop …'

‘Jimmy, you should have heard her. She was going on about how much she likes the night and being in the bleedin' dark and that she was into blokes that are cute and dirty like me and Colin Farrell. At first I thought she wanted me to fu …'

‘You and Colin …'

‘I'm telling you man. She's off her fucking trolley. Call the cops, will you?'

‘Aesop, she didn't actually do anything.'

‘What?!'

‘She didn't stab you. You didn't see a knife. All she did was sit down for a chat and a cup of tea.'

Aesop stared at Jimmy for a minute. Then another minute as he played the whole thing over again in his head. Then he looked at the floor.

‘Two cups,' he said eventually.

‘What?'

‘When I saw her going for the knife, I fired me cup of tea at her and legged it.'

‘You threw your tea at her?'

‘Right in the chops man.'

‘Jesus Aesop …'

‘But I didn't hang about. I was down the hall and out the door before she had a chance to come after me. I caught a taxi on the quays – what are the fucking chances, right? – and came straight here.'

Jimmy looked at the phone again and back at Aesop.

‘Aesop, is there any chance – any chance at all – that you over-reacted?'

‘Over-reacted? Smacked her with a pillow, like? For fuck sake, what was I s'posed to do? I was sure I was about to get a Bowie knife up the hole!'

‘But all she said was that she liked the night time. I like the nighttime. I'm always up late writing. It's nice and quiet. So what? And she likes Colin Farrell? Every bird on the planet likes Colin Farrell. They're not all serial killers.'

‘But she said I was dirty.'

‘You are dirty. You're a filthy bastard. Everyone knows that.'

‘But girls aren't s'posed to talk like that.'

‘It's not the first time you've been called names by a bird, Aesop.'

‘And she said she met me before.'

‘Yeah. In the Baggot.'

‘What?'

‘She told me in Vicar Street. She saw us play in the Baggot years ago. She was out with her buddies and saw us. You were chatting up her and her mates at the bar afterwards, acting the slut.'

‘But …'

‘Aesop …'

‘But …'

‘Aesop … did you throw scalding hot tea on Norman's bird for no reason?'

‘No … I … I … No! What about the knife?'

‘What knife?'

‘The one in … the one …'

Aesop turned to face the empty fireplace. If he looked frightened before, the dawning realisation of what he may have just done was starting to sink in.

‘Jimmy …'

‘We need to call Norman.'

‘What? Are you fucking insane? He'll kill me!'

‘Aesop, we have to. You just assaulted his bird with a cup of tea.'

‘Oh fuck. Jimmy. What am I going to do? What if he …'

‘Listen, you fucking lemon, she might be hurt. We have to call him.'

Aesop stood up. He looked like a man on his way to the gallows. He turned back to Jimmy.

‘She's grand.'

‘What?'

‘She's grand. It wasn't hot.'

‘The tea?'

‘Yeah. It was half milk. Ah, it's a thing I do. If I'm trying to get rid of a bird but I can't get out of making her a cup of tea, I make sure it's only lukewarm. They either don't finish it or else it's gone in five minutes. A decent cup of tea can take twenty minutes of sipping.'

‘But it was your tea you threw.'

‘Yeah, I make them both like that so I can down mine in a hurry too. No excuses then. If we're done riding and both staring at empty cups, she pretty much has to fuck off, doesn't she?'

‘For fuck … okay. Well, I s'pose that's something. Are you sure?'

‘It was piss. Definitely. Before I thought she was trying to kill me, I thought she was trying to get me to ride her. Man, I wanted her the fuck out of there before she started dropping the cacks. The tea was grand.'

‘Well … thank fuck for that anyway. But we still have to call Norman, man.'

‘Christ. What's he going to do?'

‘I don't know. But I'm going to guess that he won't be happy with you.'

‘He'll kill me.'

‘He won't kill you.'

‘He will! Jimmy, he never gets his hole. He's finally getting some now and then I go and drown his bird in Barrys and then run out of the house screaming like a little girl. She'll think we're all fucking mad.'

‘Probably. Fuck sake, I would. Can you imagine the fright she got?'

Aesop nodded.

‘She wouldn't have been expecting it all right. Fuck. But I was just so freaked out. The stuff she was saying and then when she went for the bag … Christ. And anyway, it was you that told me to keep an eye out and be careful.'

‘So it's my fault now, is it?'

‘Well, you can't blame me for all of it.'

‘I bloody can. And another thing, …'

Jimmy's phone rang and they both looked at it.

‘I'm dead,' said Aesop.

Jimmy picked up the phone to look at it and nodded.

‘Norman,' he said. He switched it on. ‘Norman? Yeah … yeah, I know … he's here. Yeah … Sorry man, I'm not sure exactly. It was a misunderstanding … I don't know. Is she okay? Right … right. Well that's good … where is she now? … Okay. Okay, hang on a minute … here he is.'

Jimmy held out the phone but Aesop just shook his head and backed away.

‘Aesop, he wants to talk to you.'

‘Tell him I ran away.'

‘He knows you're here.'

‘Tell him I'm gone to Australia.'

‘Aesop …'

But Aesop just sat down with his arms folded and his eyes shut tight. Jimmy sighed and put the phone to his head again.

‘Sorry man … he's afraid you're going to kill him. Yeah … I know … I know. Aesop, he says Australia isn't far enough … and he is going to kill you … Okay Norman. Yeah … Right … I'll tell him.'

Jimmy hung up and looked over at Aesop.

‘He's coming over.'

Aesop swallowed and went green.

*

‘A photograph?' said Aesop.

‘Yes,' said Norman. ‘You total fucking langer. She was showing you a photograph.'

‘Of what?'

‘She was out with her mates in the Baggot years ago for a birthday. They got talking to you and Jimmy after the gig and one of them took a picture. Trish found it in a box last week and stuck it in a frame. She was going to give it to you. She was being nice. A photo of you surrounded by girls. She thought you'd like it.'

‘Well it looked like a knife. It was shiny.'

‘The frame was shiny. Are you going to come out of there?'

When Norman had arrived earlier, Aesop locked himself in the toilet upstairs and said he wouldn't come out until Jimmy had explained that there was a stalker after him and that's why he freaked out with Trish.

‘Are you calm?'

‘Yes.'

‘Jimmy, does he look calm?'

‘He's grand. Will you come out of there, you eejit? He won't do anything.'

‘Make him promise.'

‘For fuck sake Aesop,' said Norman. ‘Come out of the toilet. I'm meant to be in work in six hours and I want to sort this out.'

‘Go down to the living room. I'll be down in a minute.'

‘Aesop …'

‘Go on. I don't want there to be any accidents on the stairs.'

‘For fuck sake …'

Aesop eventually crept downstairs and peeped around the living room door.

‘Will you come in and sit down?' said Norman. ‘If I wanted to kill you, you'd have been a corpse ten minutes ago.'

‘I'm sorry Norman.'

‘It's not me you need to be apologising to.'

‘I know. Where's Trish?'

‘She's at work. She had to go home and change first though. Tea, Aesop? You threw your tea at her?'

‘It's all I had.'

‘Fuck sake. Isn't it just as well you weren't chopping vegetables? Why did you think she was the one stalking you?'

‘I … I … was a bit nervous. I s'pose I picked up a few things she said the wrong way. And then when she went for the knife …'

‘Photo.'

‘Yeah. Well, when she went for it, I panicked. She wasn't hurt was she?'

‘No. Well, she was fucking freaked out. You scared the hell out of her, you tool. But apparently you make a shite cup of tea, she says. She gets worse spilled on her at work.'

‘Well that's good.'

‘So what did she say?'

‘What?'

‘What did she say that you picked up on the wrong way?'

‘Oh. Eh … ah, we were just talking about stuff and she said she likes Colin Farrell.'

‘So what?'

‘Well, she said I look a bit like him.'

‘And?'

‘I thought she was looking for a … for me to … y'know … eh … nothing.'

‘Aesop, are you telling me you thought my girlfriend came over to your place for sex?'

‘No! Well … maybe. A little bit.'

‘What kind of delusional fucker are you?!'

‘It's just … well, it's the kind of thing that happens Norman.'

‘Is it? Jesus, that must be grand. Is this the latest thing now for you, is it? Other people's girlfriends calling around to you for a servicing? Christ, aren't you the lucky man with the horse's mickey?'

‘No, it's not like that. It's just that … well, women are always … when they leave something behind, it usually means …'

‘She's with me!'

‘I know! And she's great. I'm happy for you. But with everything that's going on and all, I wasn't really thinking properly. And when she said I was dirty …'

‘Dirty?'

‘Yeah. Like Colin Farrell, y'know?'

‘What are you on about?'

‘Nothing. Nothing. I fucked up Norman. I'm sorry. Are you sure she's okay?'

‘She's fine. Now. She was in a right state when she called me though, you muppet.'

‘I know. Christ. What must she think of me …'

‘You don't want to know.'

They all looked at the floor.

‘Fuck sake,' said Norman, shaking his head.

The others nodded.

‘And all this stalker shite started last week?'


Page 8

‘Wednesday,' said Jimmy.

‘Over this clown?'

‘Yeah.'

‘Fuck sake.'

‘Yeah.'

‘Do the police know?'

‘Yeah.'

‘What did they say?'

‘They're looking into it. We've to be careful in the meantime.'

Norman nodded.

‘Keep yourselves armed and ready, is it? With cold tea. Christ, that'll do the job all right.'

‘Well I didn't have a pillow handy,' muttered Aesop.

‘So what now?' said Norman.

‘What?' said Jimmy.

‘You need to call someone. If there is someone out there looking to slice up this bollocks, you'll need to get some close protection.'

‘Close protection?'

‘Security. A bodyguard.'

‘Dónal said he might know someone. We were going to wait to see if she stopped though. Now that the coppers are involved, like.'

‘No,' said Norman. ‘That's no good. You need to hire someone now. Tomorrow. The police could take weeks finding this one, or they might never find her. You need someone keeping an eye on you. Obviously. Look what happens when you try to do it yourself. Jesus …'

‘I'll talk to Dónal tomorrow,' said Jimmy.

‘I'll talk to him. I know a few people. Specialists. What's his number there?'

Norman took it down and stood up.

‘Right. I'm going home to bed. Are you staying here tonight Aesop?'

‘Yeah.'

‘Okay. And you're sure you'll be able to make it till the morning on your own?'

‘I'm grand.'

‘You're not going to attack Jimmy here if he has to go to the jacks during the night?'

‘No.'

‘Right then.' He started towards the door. ‘Well, thanks for all that anyway. I only know the girl a few weeks and I've already had her hysterical on the phone. That must be a record.'

‘Sorry man.'

‘Didn't I tell you that I liked her? Didn't I? Be nice to her, I said. And then you have to go and give her a fucking heart attack like that and destroy her dress.'

Aesop nodded.

‘Will you tell her I said sorry?'

‘I will. And you'll be telling her too when you see her and explain yourself. You can leave out the part about thinking she wanted to have sex with you.'

‘Right. I won't mention it so.'

‘I'll talk to yiz tomorrow.'

‘Right,' said Jimmy. ‘And thanks for coming over. Sorting it out, y'know?'

Norman nodded and walked out.

Jimmy went back in to Aesop and found him staring at his hands on his lap. He sighed and sat down next to him. He checked the clock on the DVD player.

‘Will I put the kettle on?'

‘Jesus, no. I can't be trusted. A dog outside will bark or something and then that'll be you and your couch fucked.'

*

Norman got into his van and put on his seatbelt. He didn't start the engine yet. He was pissed off. About everything. But the thing he was most pissed off about was Trish. Aesop was a gobshite, but then Norman knew that already. Tonight's episode wasn't exactly one that anyone could have seen coming, but it was only one of a long list of fucking stupid situations that Aesop had gotten himself into over the years. Trish was a different story though. What was she doing, calling over to Aesop like that at night? She could easily have gotten the necklace off Norman if she'd asked, but she hadn't even mentioned it, let alone mentioning the fact that she was going to actually call around for it. And she did it when she knew that Norman wouldn't be around. She hadn't even said a word about the photo until she'd called from her gaff after Aesop had thrown the tea at her. He gunned the engine and took off. He only lived five minutes away from Jimmy and was in bed five minutes after that. He lay there, staring at the ceiling, wide-awake with his thoughts racing. He knew what was wrong and it was annoying the fuck out of him. He was jealous. Pure and simple.

He turned onto his side and stuck his arm under the pillow. He'd fuck it up eventually. Brood and sulk until she left him. He'd try and be his usual self around his Mam and the lads, but inside he'd be sick to his stomach for weeks every time he thought of her until maybe – maybe – he'd bring himself to try again with someone else months later. Someone that could light up some of the shadows inside him with a smile that was just for him. That's all it would take. But Trish wasn't the one. She'd dump him. She'd ultimately dump him because of his insecurities and leave him with a whole set of new ones. That's the way it would go.

Bollocks anyway. Three weeks and it was like watching a train wreck already.

Chapter Eight

Aesop bounded up the stairs and into the reception. He stopped. There they were; Jimmy, Dónal … and Norman.

‘Howyiz lads,' he said quietly.

‘Aesop.'

‘Eh … howya Norman. How's things?'

‘Grand.'

‘How was … work?'

‘Grand.'

‘Eh … why are you here?'

Dónal leaned back in his chair and threw his pen onto the pages on the coffee table in front of him.

‘Norman is helping us out with our … security issue.'

‘Oh. So you know someone then Norman?'

‘Yeah. Me.'

‘What?'

‘We went over some of the names that I know, people that I've worked with before who are in this game now, and I realised that any bloke we got to keep an eye on you would eventually only wind up getting annoyed and kicking the shite of you himself. So I'm going to do it.'

‘Kick the shite out of me?'

‘I haven't ruled it out.'

‘Right. Eh, Dónal, can we keep looking? I'm not feeling the love here.'

‘Sorry man,' said Jimmy, smiling. ‘It's a done deal. Actually, it's perfect. He knows you, knows your habits, knows your mates and your family. He'll be able to spot anything that doesn't look right. Isn't that right, Norman?'

‘Yep. A large initial part of this work is research on the principal. That's you. I've had a lifetime doing that, God help me. This way I won't have to waste any time briefing someone else and trying to explain that you're like that all the time.'

‘So … and what happens now?'

‘Me and you go back to your place and I check it out. Then I'll go home and get some things and bring them over.'

‘What things?'

‘Clothes, toothbrush, rubber ducky …'

‘You're moving in?!'

‘Yep.'

‘But … but …'

‘I can't keep an eye on you if I'm not there, can I?'

‘But I only just moved in. I was starting to get the hang of the place, y'know? And anyway, who said I needed someone to live in the gaff? Can I not just give you a bell if I'm going out or something?'

‘As far as we understand it, Aesop, all the problems you've had so far have been at home, right?'

‘Well … yeah.'

‘So that's where you need looking after.'

‘But the … will you stop saying it like that? I'm not a fucking baby.'

The others all looked at each other.

‘I'm not!'

Jimmy stood up and handed Aesop a sheet of paper.

‘We know you're not. But this is the way these things work. Look …'

Aesop started to read.

‘Discreet?'

‘Yeah,' said Norman, smiling. ‘One of my attributes as a close protection professional. I printed some stuff off the Web earlier so you'd have an idea of what to expect.'

‘Look at the size of you and the big red head! How is that discreet? You don't exactly blend in around normal people, do you?'

‘Yeah, well she's not trying to cut my bollocks off.'

‘Don't say that! She just … she probably just needs a hug.'

‘Yeah, you just keep telling yourself she's only after a hug.'

‘I am.'

‘Good luck with that.'

‘Fuck sake. You're s'posed to be on my side Norman. Some bleedin' bodyguard you are, saying shite like that. Am I not s'posed to feel relaxed when you're around?'

‘Actually, you should just think of me as a chaperone.'

‘I don't need a chaperone.'

‘That's kind of what it is though,' said Dónal. ‘A lot of time, the management of a … wayward … talent makes sure someone responsible is around so he doesn't get himself into trouble.'

‘What are you on about? I thought we were worried about trouble I'm already in, not trouble I'm planning to get into in the future.'

‘Two birds,' said Jimmy. ‘Till this thing blows over.'

‘So … so that's it then? Kevin fuckin' Costner here is going to move in with me, is he?'

‘That's right Whitney. Me and you. Except I'm not planning on getting shot.'

‘But you're not even a bodyguard, Norman. You're a bleedin' gardener.'

‘Not much work in the oul' gardening this weather.'

‘But still. I mean … have you ever even done this before?'

‘Is it an interview now you're giving me?'

‘No. Well, yeah. A bit. Are you qualified?'

Norman laughed.

‘How many times have I saved your bollocks over the years when your big gob ran away from your brain?'

‘But this is different.'

‘I know. I'm getting paid this time.'

‘How much?'

‘That's between me and your manager.'

‘Well, who was the last person you bleedin' … chaperoned, then?'

‘You wouldn't have heard of him.'

‘Try me.'

‘Well, I can't tell you about the last one. But, just to set your mind at ease, back in the nineties I was deployed in Sierra Leone as part of an international covert Special Forces team to support and train ECOMOG troops trying to restore stability to the region after one of the more brutal RUF incursions towards Freetown. I had to train and supervise the troops that were assigned as close protection to one of the government envoys trying to broker a ceasefire. You probably remember from the telly that ECOMOG eventually managed to overthrow the Koromah junta and then later on UNAMSIL got involved and the Brits helped them catch Sankoh?'

‘Eh … was that on a Wednesday? Cos I was probably watching Coronation Street. Was it the time you fell and cut your leg?'

‘Yeah. I fell. It wasn't a sniper round at all. Langer. Anyway, I think the point is that I'm qualified to keep an eye on a little shitebag like you. I'm assuming that this young one who's after you doesn't have access to automatic weapons or keep a stash of frag grenades under her bed, so I think I should be able to manage.'

Aesop sighed and looked down at his page again. He saw something and pointed to it.

‘Yeah? Well it says here you're not s'posed to be making assumptions.'

‘Oh right. I must be rusty so.'

‘Actually, speaking of beds …' Aesop sighed. ‘Looks like I had a visitor last night.'

‘What?'

They all looked at him.

‘I went home this morning from Jimmy's and the door was bloody open.'

‘Jesus. Not again,' said Jimmy.

‘Yeah. Well, obviously I didn't lock it myself when I … left. And I don't know if Trish closed it properly after her either when she was going out.'

‘Trish who?' said Dónal.

‘Eh …'

‘It doesn't matter,' said Norman. ‘So, what happened?'

‘Well, I went in and looked around. No problem. I went upstairs to change and when I came out of the shower, the fresh jocks I was after putting out ready on the bed were all damp.'

‘What do you mean damp?' said Norman.

‘I mean the bed was wet.'

‘She put water on the bed.'

‘Not water. Piss.'

‘What?!'

‘She pissed on the bed.'

‘Are you serious?' said Jimmy.

‘Why would I fucking make that up?'

‘Fuck sake!'

‘But why did you put clothes on the bed if it was after being pissed on?'

‘I didn't realise.'

‘Someone pisses on your bed and you don't notice?'

‘Well the room is only after being painted, isn't it? There's a funny smell in it anyway.'

‘Paint doesn't smell like piss Aesop.'

‘I know that. Can we stop with the fucking clever observations? She was there last night after I left and she pissed on the bed. That's all I'm saying.'

‘Was there anything else?'

‘Well … I'm not sure. But I can't find me Cradle of Filth t-shirt.'

‘Jesus, Aesop, that could be anywhere. The state of your bedroom, you messy bastard.'

‘Well, I thought it was on the shelf. Although, to be fair, it might have been this young one I rode a couple of weeks ago that took it. She was doing some ironing for me …'

‘You have them doing your fucking ironing now?! For fu …'

‘No Jimmy, Jesus. What do you take me for? Just this one. And she offered. Y'see, she was trying to get the nozzle of the hoover under the tumble dryer and saw that it was full of clothes, so the next thing …'

‘You're actually going to make me listen to this shite, are you?'

‘I'm just saying, maybe that might be what happened to the t-shirt. Cos I'm after losing a few bits of clothes over the last while. It's not enough that I'm giving them half a kilo of pud, now they want a souvenir as well to take home with them afterwards, greedy bastards. Man, I loved that t-shirt. It's one of me favourites, Jimmy. Remember when I got it? Remember that time when we were all down in …'

‘Aesop …'

‘But I could've nearly sworn it was on the shelf next to the …'

‘Aesop, can we talk about it later? Stupid fucking t-shirts aside, was anything else taken?'

‘Don't think so. Just that and the pissy bed. Oh, and more bleedin' flowers. Except in the kitchen sink this time, with water and everything. So I, got dressed and came here.'

‘I'll call Garda Ní Mhurchú,' said Jimmy, standing up.

Norman nodded and bit at his lip, saying nothing.

‘What now?' said Aesop.

‘I'm thinking that maybe you staying there isn't such a good idea,' said Norman.

‘Ah Jaysis. Why?'

‘Why? Because it's too dangerous.'

‘But you'll be there. If she turns up, you can just grab her and beat the fuck out of her.'

‘That's not how it works Aesop.'

‘Of course it is. She comes along when she's dying for a shite, or whatever she has planned next for me, and you drop out of a tree and grab her head – twist, crunch, the job is done. She falls to the ground twitching.'

‘This isn't “Enter the Ninja”, Aesop. The whole point of what I'm there for is to avoid any confrontation at all and let the police do their job.'

‘You fuckin' chicken.'

‘I'm serious Aesop, if you or I ever have to get involved with this girl then something has already gone arseways.'

‘I'm already involved with her Norman. I have a mattress full of her wee for fuck sake.'

‘Ah, you know what I mean. But, seriously … pissing on your bed … Christ, what did you do to this girl?'

‘Who's the bleedin' victim here Norman? It's not my fault she's a spacer.'

Norman nodded. He was thinking about Aesop's townhouse, the courtyard outside, the door and windows. He thought about Trish being there on her own last night, however briefly, and about Jennifer, Jimmy and everyone else who went there. Including other girls that Aesop had been picking up. No. It was no good. He'd check it out, get the place locked up properly and then get Aesop out of there and fixed up somewhere else. His own place was no good. He wasn't bringing Aesop into the same house as his Mam. Jimmy's was no good either. They had to go somewhere completely different. Dónal would have to pay for a hotel in town or something. But … no. That wouldn't work either. If Aesop was still living in town, he'd be walking around and going out to all his usual haunts. Norman would have to handcuff him to the bathroom sink or he'd never stay still. They had to get out of town completely for a week or two.

‘Is he needed?' he said to Dónal and Jimmy, pointing at Aesop.

‘Needed?'

‘Are you lot working on a record or something?'

‘Well, no. We've got a tour coming up though. Rehearsals. Why?'

‘I'm thinking maybe it's a better idea if he wasn't in Dublin.'

‘Where are you thinking?'

‘Don't know. Down the country somewhere. Just some place out of the way. There's no point in asking for trouble with him hanging around the city, is all.'

‘Where were you thinking of bringing him?' said Dónal.

‘Not sure yet. Away though. He doesn't exactly keep a low profile, does he?'

‘No he doesn't.'

‘Who the fuck is “he”?' said Aesop, looking around at everyone. ‘The cat's mother?'

‘Can he be gone for a couple of weeks just?'

Jimmy and Dónal looked at each other, weighing it up.

‘Well it's not ideal,' said Jimmy. ‘But I s'pose he could come back for a few sessions with me and then head off again.'

‘Come back from fucking where?' said Aesop, but no one was listening.

‘Yeah, yeah …' said Norman. ‘That might work.'

Norman was starting to have an idea. His Granny's old house in Cork. He knew everyone in the village and Aesop wouldn't be able to do anything or go anywhere without Norman knowing about it.

‘Okay, I have it,' he said. ‘We'll go to Cork.'

‘We'll what?' said Aesop. ‘Cork?'

‘I have a place there we can use.'

‘Your Granny's?' said Jimmy. ‘Are you sure that's all right?'

‘It'll be grand.'

‘Cork?' said Aesop again.

‘And it's exactly what we want. Away from everything that's going on here. Two weeks, say, and the Guards should have an idea of the score with the other one.'

Dónal looked at Jimmy.

‘Well … if you're sure,' he said. ‘We really appreciate this Norman.'

‘It's fine. No problem.'

‘Cork?'

‘We'll get going this afternoon. I just need to make a few calls around the family to make sure nothing's going on, but I'm sure we'll be grand.'

Aesop eventually put his hands up in the air and stood up.

‘Excuse me a fucking minute please,' he said.

They all looked up at him.

‘What?'

‘Why is no one talking to me about any of this?'


Page 9

‘We are.'

‘You're not. You're telling me I'm going to go down the bog and live with Sergeant Slaughter here, but I don't hear anyone asking me what I think about it.'

‘Well, what do you think about it?'

‘I'm not going! Cork? Will you get fucked, will you? You can eat my black shite if you think I'm spending a fortnight in the arsehole of nowhere in Norman's Granny's farmhouse.'

‘Aesop, it's to make sure no one knows where you are.'

‘Fuck off! What am I meant to do in Cork?'

‘Not get your throat slit for starters.'

‘Not get my throat slit? Jimmy, you know what I'm like around culchies. They're always trying to beat me up.'

‘That's because you're always annoying them.'

‘It's just a bit of slagging.'

Norman stood up and clapped Aesop on the back.

‘Well Aesop, you're about to learn to have some respect for your country brethren. You might even learn more than manners.'

‘This is bollocks!' said Aesop. ‘You're not s'posed to give in to mad people! It's only when we … when … the terrorists make everyone afraid of … the … when you stop being … and it's because terrorism is after making you not do the things that … that's … that's when they win!'

‘Well done Aesop,' said Jimmy. ‘You should write a newsletter.'

‘Piss off you. You know what I mean. She's fucking up me life here.'

‘I know, man. Sorry. But Norman knows what he's talking about. It really is better if you get out of Dublin for a little while. The cops will catch up with her and it'll be all over. Look, I'm going to call Garda Ní Mhurchú now and tell her about the piss. I'll tell her you'll be heading off to Cork this afternoon as well.'

‘Dónal. Help me out here.'

‘Sorry Aesop. Norman's the boss and he knows what's best. It won't be for long. No one will know you're there.'

‘But you lot know, don't you?'

‘Well we won't say anything.'

‘And what if she grabs one of you and tortures you to find out where I am?'

‘I can't see her doing that,' said Norman.

‘There we go again with the fucking assumptions, Norman!' said Aesop, waving his page in the air.

‘Well, they don't know where the house is anyway, do they? She can torture them to death and they still wouldn't be able to give anything away.'

‘Fuck sake Norman,' said Jimmy, scratching his head and looking at Dónal.

‘Fuck sake is right,' said Aesop. ‘Two weeks in the crotch of Cork? What is there to do? I betcha they don't even have a zoo down there, do they?'

‘What do you want a zoo for?' said Norman. ‘You'll be out in the countryside. There's animals all over the place.'

‘What animals?'

‘Cows and sheep and …'

‘Oh fucking marvellous. Cows. The great natural entertainers of the animal kingdom. For fuck sake Norman, I want monkeys.'

‘Well there's rabbits. Rabbits are a laugh.'

‘Rabbits. Jesus.'

‘And foxes and squirrels and stoats and badgers …'

‘Me hole.'

‘And the birdlife down there is …'

‘Birds are shite.'

‘Well, Christ Aesop, I'm sorry the granny didn't leave us a house in Borneo.'

‘Borneo? They've good zoos there, do they?'

Chapter Nine

Aesop heard the knocking on the door, but it was like it was happening somewhere else. In the next townhouse or something. Then it thudded again, a bit closer this time.

‘Aesop. Get up.'

Aesop didn't move. It was one of those mad dreams he had sometimes, when he hadn't scored, hadn't been riding late into the night and hadn't been drinking or smoking a spliff. His head was always racing those nights. He stuck the quilt under his chin and up around his ears and began to sink back into quiet blackness. The door burst open.

‘Get up you sleepy fucker.'

That wasn't a dream. It had a Cork accent.

‘Hmm?'

‘Come on. Time to get moving.'

Who he was, where he was, who was trying to get him to wake up … all these things chugged into Aesop's head and finally managed to eject him from blessed, sweet sleep into a panicked alertness. One eye unstuck and popped open, facing the window. It was pitch dark.

‘Fuck. Is she here?'

His head was two inches off his pillow, waiting for the answer.

‘No one's here. It's time for us to get going. Up you get and into the shower. I'm finished already. The kettle's on.'

‘What time is it?'

‘Ten to six.'

Aesop's head sank back into the pillow and he conked out immediately to sleep again.

‘Aesop.'

Nothing.

‘Aesop!'

‘What?!'

‘Get up!'

‘Is it still ten to six?'

‘Yes.'

‘Then fuck off.'

‘We have to get going.'

‘We don't.'

‘We do. The traffic will start getting bad in another hour and we'll be stuck.'

‘I'll follow you down later. I'll get a train.'

‘You won't. Come on, the traffic …'

‘I don't care!'

‘I care. Get up.'

Aesop sat up in the bed and looked at the big figure standing in the door.

‘Norman, listen to me okay? You're just having a bad dream. We both are. Now go back to bed and I'll see ya later. There's no such thing as ten to six in the morning.'

‘Of course there is.'

‘Why have I never seen it then?'

‘Because you're a lazy shite. Are you getting up or am I getting you up?'

‘What are you going to do? Carry me out of the bed?'

Three seconds later the light in the bedroom was on and Aesop was curled up on his bed and squinting through his fingers as his quilt disappeared out the door.

‘Ye fuckin' bastard!' he yelled after it.

‘Downstairs in ten minutes,' called Norman from the stairs. ‘I'll have the tea made.'

Norman carried the quilt into the kitchen and threw it into a corner. He stuck some toast on, and heated up the kettle again to scald the pot. Then he walked down the hall and cocked his head up the stairs. He could hear the shower running, so he went back to the kitchen to rinse the cups from last night. When Aesop didn't appear after twenty minutes, he started up the stairs to find out what he was doing now. He knocked on the bathroom door.

‘Aesop, are you right?'

Nothing.

‘Jesus, did you fall asleep in the shower now?'

He flicked the lightswitch on and off a couple of times.

‘Aesop?'

Still nothing. He grabbed the door and pushed it open. The bathroom was full of steam but Norman could see well enough to know that Aesop wasn't in the shower cubicle. Oh fuck. What was going on? This wasn't good. He ran back into Aesop's room. The light was still on, but there was no sign of Aesop. Good and worried now, Norman ran down the stairs and checked all the rooms. The front and back door were still locked. The radio was on in the kitchen, but Norman was sure that he'd have been able to hear anything going on in the house while he was getting breakfast together. He ran back up the stairs and checked the bathroom and Aesop's room again. It was only when he practically sprinted into the spare room he'd slept in himself that he found his quarry, curled up in the bed and fast asleep.

*

They were just coming through Abbeyleix before Norman would talk to him except to bark orders.

‘Will you be careful?' said Norman, looking around. ‘You're getting milk everywhere.'

Aesop was eating a casserole dish full of Rice Krispies next to him in the van.

‘Well stop driving like a fucking madman then.'

‘I s'pose you thought it was funny back there in the house.'

‘Honestly Norman, I wasn't thinking at all. I was just trying to get some kip and this big fucker switching lights on and robbing me quilt.'

‘You turned on the shower, sure! Why didn't you just get into it?'

‘Hard to get some kip in the shower. I knew it'd give me ten minutes of peace and quiet.'

‘Well, aren't you the resourceful prick when you want to be. That's something anyway I s'pose.'

‘Would I have made a good Ranger?'

Norman grunted and shook his head.

‘Christ, they'd eat you.'

‘Speaking of which, why did you fuck my toast out the window?'

‘I don't want crumbs in the van.'

‘Yeah, well can we stop? I need to get a sausage or something. I'm still hungry.'

‘We'll stop in Johnstown. Half an hour.'

‘You're just fucking getting me back now.'

‘I want to get into Kilkenny before we stop.'

‘Kilkenny? You mean that's a real place?'

‘As opposed to what?'

‘I thought it was just a word, y'know? Like Carlow or one of them makey-up places.'

‘No, Aesop, it's a real place. Sure where do you think Kilkenny beer comes from?'

‘Oh right, yeah. They named it after the beer?'

‘Christ,' said Norman, checking the odometer to see how long more he'd have to put up with this shite. ‘We should have flown.'

‘And another thing …' said Aesop.

‘Jesus, what now?'

‘Can we change the fucking music?'

‘What's wrong with it?'

‘What's wrong with Joe Dolan at this hour of the morning? Will I make a list for you?'

‘Well put on whatever you want. The CDs are under the dash there.'

Aesop pulled out a CD case and flicked through it. Then he looked over at Norman.

‘Are you fucking winding me up?'

‘What?'

‘Is this it?'

‘What's wrong with it?'

‘The Fureys, Planxty, Stocktons Wing …'

‘That's fine music for you now, boy.'

‘It's fucking not. It's bogger music.'

‘Have a look out the window, Aesop, and tell me what you see.'

Aesop rubbed the window and peered out.

‘Desolation,' he said.

‘Well, it's New York City compared to where we're going. You might as well stick on some Planxty there and get yourself in the mood.'

Aesop stared out the window for a minute and then his mouth dropped open.

‘Look at the size of them shites! How big are the cows in Kilkenny for fuck sake?'

Norman looked out at the stacks of turf drying in the bog they were driving past. He shook his head and sighed.

‘Christ save us from dopey jackeen fuckwits.'

Aesop folded his arms and said nothing for a minute. Then he looked up.

‘I miss Dublin,' he said.

*

When they finally pulled up outside Norman's Granny's cottage, Aesop was asleep. Norman cut the engine and gave him an elbow.

‘Come on Sleeping Beauty. We're here.'

Aesop opened his eyes and looked around in confusion.

‘What's up?' he said, rubbing his face and sitting up straight.

‘We're here. Come on. I need to get a cup of tea into me.'

They both got out of the van and stood there, stretching and bending to get the kinks out. Then Aesop looked around.

‘This is it?'

‘Yep. What do you think?'

Aesop did a full three-sixty, taking in the fields, the other houses dotted around miles away and finally the cottage itself. Then he looked at Norman.

‘It's quiet,' he said. ‘Too quiet.'

‘Grab your stuff there.'

‘Where is everyone?'

‘We're both here. Are you right?'

‘No welcoming party? And what are you bleedin' grinning at?'

‘I'm home Aesop. I love it here. Christ, can you smell that air?'

Aesop took a whiff.

‘I smell something all right. I thought you were after letting one go.'

‘Fresh country air Aesop. Fill up your lungs with that and it'll put hairs on your chest.'

‘And your back too probably. And where's the noise. What's going on?'

‘What's out here to make noise? Look at the view, sure.'

‘All I can see are mountains and rivers and sheep.'

‘Yeah, that's what a view is Aesop. And nice job spotting the sheep by the way. I thought I'd have to explain to you what they are.'

‘What's that over there?'

‘Where?'

‘Over there next to the cow looking at us.'

‘That's the holy well.'

‘What does it do?'

‘It's just a holy well. People come to pray for healing or luck or to find something they lost.'

‘That's a bit fucked, isn't it? You're not allowed pray for luck. That's like asking God to let you win at poker. He'll just tell you to fuck off.'

‘There's wells like that all over Ireland. They were here before Christianity came along, so a lot of the older traditions are still attached to them. The church took them over, but didn't change too much. That one is for Saint Ita. They say she lives in it still as a trout.'

Aesop looked away from the well over to Norman, frowning.

‘Saint Ita the trout? I would've thought I'd remember something like that from religion.'

‘Serious. You go over there and make an offering and circle the well three times clockwise as you're praying and Saint Ita will see what she can do for you in terms of bringing it up with Himself.'

‘Can you see the trout?'

‘I never have. Granny did, she said.'

‘And the mucksavages around here believe that shite?'

‘They do. Are you planning on making any friends in Cork, Aesop?'

‘Hadn't thought about it.'

‘Because you go around calling people mucksavages and they're going to get annoyed with you and take it out on your bollocks.'

‘Ah, come on Norman. A magic fucking trout …'

‘It's just a tradition. We have them in some parts of the country, y'know? That well goes back fifteen hundred years at least.'

‘Is that your Granny's land it's on?'

‘Yeah.'

‘And did she not get a pain in her hole with people traipsing through it the whole time and leaving footprints and butts all over the place while they're waiting for their turn to have a word with the trout?'

‘It's a holy well, Aesop, not a street corner for people to hang around on. Will you get your bag and come on? It's cold out here.'

‘That cow is still looking at us. What does he want?'

‘It's a bullock. And he's probably wondering what the fuck you are.'

‘Who owns him?'

‘Mikey Pat.'

‘Mikey Pat?' Aesop laughed. ‘Jesus, I can just picture the fucking head of Mikey Pat now and the smell of cabbage off him.'

‘Mikey Pat is about six foot six Aesop. County hurler in his day. A lovely man, my cousin and a legend in the parish. I'm telling you boy, you'll have to try and keep that big gob of yours from swinging between your ears like a skipping rope or someone will let fly at you.'

‘And yet this is where you bring me for me own protection? I haven't even gotten me bags out of the van and I'm being threatened by my so-called fucking bodyguard. And by the way, do you realise that the further we got from Dublin, the more you started talking like a mullah? And what's a bullock anyway? Is it the same as a bull?'

‘It's a bull that's been squeezed, Aesop. Will you get your bags and come on?'

‘You squeeze them? When you get lonely, is it? For fuck sake, what would you squeeze a bull for? Would he not get annoyed?'

‘He gets a bit of a shock all right.'

‘So why don't you just leave him alone? Do yiz not have women down here to squeeze when you get the horn?'

‘I'll explain it to you later Aesop. Come on.'

‘Do you squeeze the sheep as well?'

‘We do.'

‘Yiz filthy fuckers. And I thought Jimmy's porn was sad. So what do you call a squeezed sheep?'

‘A wether.'

‘Whether what?'

‘Fuck sake. I'm going inside to get the fire going. You can do what you fucking like.'

Aesop stood on his own for a minute looking at the bullock through the slight drizzle and then shouted in the door.

‘I think he needs another squeeze, the head on him.'

*

‘But why?' said Aesop. He was staring into the fire, his hands wrapped around a mug of tea and his face a picture of disbelief and pain.

‘You have to.'

‘But why?'

‘They're no good to you otherwise. They'll be worrying the heifers.'

‘But … you castrate them!'

‘Yeah. It's what you have to do. Otherwise they'll be no end of trouble.'

‘Jesus, what do you do to your kids when they get out of hand?'

‘Aesop …'

‘Would you not be better off letting them ride all the girl cows and then you'd have more baby cows? It's simple maths, Norman.'

‘The calves would be shite at giving milk later.'

‘But you didn't even give the poor bloke a chance. Maybe his kids would be brilliant at being milked.'

‘They wouldn't. It's a business they're running, Aesop. They can't afford to take any chances. You only let prize bulls near your cows. And anyway, that doesn't even happen all that much any more. You get the AI man in.'


Page 10

‘Who?'

‘You buy the semen of prize bulls and this bloke comes around and impregnates your cows for you.'

‘Ugh! What? How, for fuck sake? Or, hang on a minute, do I even want to know? Tell me he doesn't …'

‘Fuck sake Aesop, he injects the stuff up the cow and she gets pregnant and then you've a good idea what to expect from her calves. That's all there is to it.'

‘You sick bastards. Wait till I tell Jimmy about this.'

‘You've never heard of the AI man?'

‘Well we wouldn't have had much use for the fucker in Drumcondra, Norman, would we? And c'mere to me, how in the name of fuck do you collect a bull's baby batter anyway?'

‘There's a couple of ways. You can use an artifical vagina. He starts to mount the heifer, but then you whip his cock into that instead and let him pump away.'

Aesop put his mug down by the fire and stood up, pointing at Norman.

‘You're fucking taking the piss out of me now.'

‘It's true.'

‘Does he not fucking notice?'

‘He's distracted.'

‘By what? You have Barry White on in the background, is it? And what about the poor girl cow? She's getting herself all ready for the bull's mickey, delighted with herself, and then you leave her hanging.'

‘It's not a match-making service we're providing Aesop. She'll get over it.'

‘And have you ever done this?'

‘No. Sure we never had a prize bull. I've been there at the other end though. Helped out the AI man when he came to sort out the heifers. When I was a young fella. For a treat, like. If I've been doing a good job helping Mikey Pat out around the farm, he'd let me help the AI man.'

‘For atreat?' Aesop sat down again and shook his head at the fire. ‘Fuck sake, we used to get Jaffa Cakes.'

*

Aesop was lying in bed that night. It was only about eleven o'clock and here he was; sober and alone in the bed with a quilt that must once have been about seven flocks of ducks. It was fucking huge and weighed a ton and it was pulled up to his nose. His eyes flicked around the room. It was freezing outside the bed but in here he felt like he was still on top of the fire out in the living room. But man, it was quiet. The wind had dropped off and only came now in bursts, flinging big drops on the windows when it did. Besides that there was nothing. Maybe the odd crack from the dying embers outside, but that was it. No piss-heads stumbling home, no cars beeping or sirens going. No girl in the bed with him, soft and purring and trying to get into his head. Now it was just blackness and total quiet.

How the fuck was he meant to get any sleep?

Chapter Ten

Norman had to get some kind of physical exercise every day or else he'd be all cranky. Now that he wouldn't be out gardening for the next couple of weeks, he went for a run first thing the next morning instead. He walked out to the road and started jogging up the hill slowly to get himself warm. It was freezing but the sky was clear, the sun low over the mountains to the south. Every kilometre or so he'd get down and do thirty quick press-ups before setting off again, leaving a black circle in the frost where his breath had huffed out of him in short blowing bursts. He ran the roads with a big smile despite his exertions. He'd spent his childhood summers around these fields and he knew every twist in the route and every tree he sped past. Every now and again a car would come towards him and he'd get a salute from the driver and give one back, the grin on him getting bigger for a minute. Sometimes he wondered what he was doing living in Dublin at all.

Back at the house, he let himself in and looked around. There still wasn't a peep out of Aesop, although Norman wasn't really expecting much activity. It wasn't even eight o'clock yet. He cleaned out the grate and set the fire going again, then he had a shower to get the sweat and soot off him. He ate a couple of apples and put the kettle on. There wasn't much in the fridge, so he decided to go to the shops to stock up.

He knocked on Aesop's door. Nothing.

‘Aesop?'

Nada.

He opened the door and went in.

‘Aesop?'

The big mound hidden under the quilt moved slightly.

‘Aesop?'

‘Ugh.'

‘Come on. The early bird catches the worm and all that.'

‘Me hole.'

‘Aesop …'

‘No one ever talks about the worm.'

‘What?'

‘The fuckin' worm is up early, isn't he? And look what happens to him.'

‘Will you ever get up, will you?'

Aesop sat up.

‘Norman, is this the way it's going to be, is it, ye bollocks? You coming in to torment me at the crack of dawn every day. Will you fuck off out of me room and come back when it's around the time that normal people get up. This isn't boot camp we're in and you can kiss my arse if you think I'm keeping the same insane hours that you do. Go back to bed and I'll see you later, okay?'

‘So you don't want breakfast then?'

There was a pause.

‘I didn't say that.'

‘I'm going to the shops. What do you want?'

‘Sausages.'

‘Just sausages?'

‘And coffee. And will you get me smokes as well?'

‘Are you going to apologise for being rude to me?'

‘I am.'

‘Go on so.'

‘I want to see the sausages first.'

‘You'll be getting no sausages until I hear you say sorry for being a rude fucker when I was only seeing what you wanted for breakfast.'

‘I'm sorry.'

‘For what?'

‘Being a rude fucker.'

‘And what'll happen the next time you do it?'

‘You'll kick the shite out of me.'

‘Right. I'll be back in fifteen minutes.'

‘Will you get rashers too? Do they have rashers in the country?'

‘Do they have rashers? Where do you think rashers come from?'

‘Ah. I know that one. Pigs. But I haven't seen any pigs in the fields yet. I thought maybe the ones in Dublin come in from England or something.'

‘Pigs don't live in fields, Aesop.'

‘Do they not?'

‘No.'

‘Jaysis. I'm going to be an expert on the country soon, amn't I?'

‘No.'

‘You'll have to start calling me … eh … what's that word?'

‘Langer.'

*

There was a red Fiesta parked outside the house when Norman got back. He grabbed the bags of groceries and went in, pushing the open door with his foot. He could hear girls laughing inside.

‘Hello?'

‘Norman!' said Aesop.

He was next to the fire, dressed just in a t-shirt and his boxers. On the other armchair was a girl in her mid-twenties. It was Helen, Norman's cousin. Sitting on the couch was her mate Jessica. They were all drinking tea.

‘Hiya Robert,' said Helen. Everyone down here called him by his real name. She got up to give him a hug. ‘Great to see you.'

‘Heya Helen. How's things?'

‘Grand. Mam sent me up on the way to work with some milk and eggs for you. Noreen was on to her last night. I didn't know you were entertaining.'

‘Yeah. I see you've met Aesop.'

‘We have yeah. God, I was expecting you to open the door and then the next thing we get this famous rockstar instead. I nearly fell over when I saw who it was. Jessica screamed, didn't you Jessie?'

‘The shock I got!' said Jessica.

‘I got a bit of jolt meself,' said Aesop, picking up his cup.

‘How are you Jessie?' said Norman.

‘I'm grand. Now I am, anyway.'

‘So Aesop was telling me that you're down for a couple of weeks,' said Helen.

‘Yeah. Just taking a break.'

‘How come you two know each other?'

‘Ah, we were in school, like.'

‘Will you have a cup of tea Norman?' said Aesop. ‘I'll put the kettle on again.'

‘That'd be grand Aesop,' said Norman, looking at the scene in front of him. ‘Do you want to put a pair of trousers on you too while you're at it?'

‘No problem. I was in bed when the girls knocked.'

‘Well you're up now. I'm sure they'd be just as happy for you to be decent.'

‘He's grand,' said Helen. ‘Sure won't they all be jealous in school. And c'mere to me, tell us all about this Trish one. Aesop was saying you've got a thing going on.'

‘Ah Jesus, Aesop. Can you not keep your gob shut for five minutes?'

‘Leave him alone Robert and tell us all about her. Noreen didn't mention it to Mam or I'd know already.'

‘Do you see this Aesop?' said Norman. ‘Do you see what you're after starting? Listen Helen, don't be telling Bridie anything or else my Mam will get wind of it and then I won't get a minute's peace.'

‘I won't say a word,' said Helen, winking at Jessie. ‘Come on, tell me.'

‘Ah, I've only been seeing her for a few weeks. It's nothing.'

‘He's madly in love with this chick, girls, I'm telling you,' said Aesop. ‘He spends half his time walking around the park at home, talking to the trees and laughing to himself.'

‘Aesop! Will you shut up? Jesus, what are you trying to do to me?'

‘Are you all right there Norman?' said Aesop. ‘Are you standing too close to the fire or something? Your face is gone a bit red.'

‘Fucking hell, I don't believe this,' said Norman, rubbing his face. ‘You're not even in the place a day and you're hanging me in front of the family.'

‘She's a cracking girl, Helen. A nurse. Big and tall and legs up to her ears. She's from Kerry or somewhere like that. And I'll tell you something, she's mad about this fella. Never shuts up about him. Norman this and Norman that and listen till I tell you about Norman.'

‘Aesop, shut up!' said Norman. He was blushing furiously now. ‘Don't mind him. He's talking shite. We're only …'

‘I'd be surprised if you didn't meet her while we're down here to be honest.'

‘Really?' said Helen, laughing.

‘Ah yeah. Sure they can't keep their hands off each other! They're like a couple of chimps, sitting there grooming and touching each other.'

‘Fuck sake, that's enough!' said Norman. He checked his watch. ‘What time is school?'

Jessie looked at her phone.

‘Oh God. We'd better get moving, Helen, look at the time.'

‘Right, yeah. We better go. So are you going for a pint tonight lads?'

‘Well …' said Norman.

‘Definitely,' said Aesop. ‘See you there?'

‘We'll be in Kavanaghs I'd say. Rob?'

‘What? Oh, eh … yeah, maybe. Kavanaghs? I s'pose so.'

He was still all flustered and hot.

‘Don't mind him girls. He's only thinking of Trish now. He'll have to go in for a cold shower or he'll be chewing on the kitchen table for the rest of the day.'

‘Fuck sake, Aesop. What does it take for you to shut your hole? Go in there and put some pants on you for God sake and give your mouth a rest.'

Aesop laughed and got up.

‘I'll see you later, ladies. Thanks for the eggs and the milk.'

‘You're very welcome,' said Helen. ‘Hey, is Jimmy Collins coming down at all?'

‘Jimmy? He might show his face all right. He's doing a bit of work up in Dublin, but he said he'll try and get down for a few nights. Why's that? Soft spot for Jimmy, is it?'

Helen looked at Jessie. Now it was Jessie's turn to go red.

‘Ah,' said Aesop, with a wink. ‘I see. I'll say nothing so. But I'll make sure and let you know if he's on his way, so you can say hello.'

Helen laughed again.

‘We'll have our prettiest frocks out and ready to go, so.'

‘God, I'm telling you, girls, you don't have to go to any trouble. You're a feast for the eyes on a cold dark morning like this, honestly. A lovely way to start the day so it is, chatting with the pair of you.'

‘Bloody hell Aesop,' said Norman. ‘Sorry Helen, he's always like this.'

They both laughed and stood up to grab their coats.

‘Flattery will get you everywhere Aesop. Lovely meeting you.'

‘And you. Seeya in the pub later.'

‘Bye now.'

They went off, leaving the two lads standing at the door.

‘Well, you're some bollocks anyway,' said Norman.

‘What did I do?'

‘Going on about Trish like that. Christ, everyone will know now.'

‘So what? And anyway, have they nothing else to be talking about?'

‘Everyone knows everyone's business down here. Mam will know about it by lunchtime. And what are you shiteing on about, with your feast for the eyes.'

‘I was being serious. Two gorgeous young things like that. I haven't seen a woman in two days, and then they arrive on the doorstep and invite me out for a drink. Lovely girls.'

‘Were they? Well, Helen is my cousin so don't even think about it.'

‘Why not? Sure Marco is marrying my sister and you don't hear me getting arsey with him.'

‘Yeah, well Helen isn't Jennifer and I'm not you. Keep away from them, I'm telling you. We're not down here so you can scandalise the place. Now get dressed, will you? I want to show you some things after breakfast.'

‘What things?'

‘A couple of moves that might help you if you're stuck.'

‘Martial arts?!'

‘Just a couple of defensive moves.'

‘Deadly! Oh, can we do the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique? That'd be brilliant.'

‘Aesop, it's just a couple of ways to get out of a corner. You already know the most important move, and I've seen you do it a couple of times.'

‘Run like a fucker?'

‘That's the one. That's Plan A.'

*

After breakfast Norman pushed the table and chairs out of the way and made some space in the kitchen.

‘Are you right?'

Aesop was starting to look a bit nervous.

‘Eh, Norman … what are you going to do? Are you going to hurt me?'

‘Not if you get out of the way in time.'

‘Well, last time I looked, you were a trained killer and I was just a sexy rockstar.'

‘You're a drummer, aren't you? You should have good hand-eye co-ordination. Let's see.'

‘Yeah. But the thing about the drums Norman, is that they don't actually hit you back. They stay fairly still most of the time.'

‘Come on. Stand up here next to me.'

‘What's with the rolling pin?'

‘Pretend it's a knife. I'm going to come at you with it.'

‘You are in your fuck.'

‘I won't hit you. Will you come on? This is to show you how to protect your head.'

‘From a rolling pin?'

‘Just pretend I'm holding a knife.'

‘How about you pretend you're holding a rolling pin?'

‘For fuck … okay. There. It's gone, right? Now will you stand up?'

‘I'm trusting you here Norman! Go easy.'

‘Right. Now. Most people will come at you like this and then … where are you going?'

‘I'm practising Plan A,' said Aesop, one hand on the front door.

‘Come back you big girl. You already know how to run.'

‘Why don't we pretend that I'm the attacker?'

‘Will you keep still if we do it that way? Come on so.'

‘Will I use the rolling pin?'

‘Doesn't matter. I'd have your arm broken before you got near me with it.'

‘You'd have … I don't want to play any more.'

‘Aesop, I won't hurt you. Jesus, you think you're going to get a chance to converse with this girl before she slices you?'

‘No! I'm expecting you to drop out of a tree and smack the tits off her before she gets near me!'

‘What is it with you and people dropping out of trees? Look, you have to be prepared for any eventuality Aesop. I'm not going to be there every second of the day, am I? Come back.'

‘Okay. Okay. But you better not hurt me. I need my arms to play the drums, right? Dónal's not paying you to put me in fucking traction a month before we go on tour.'

‘Aesop, I won't touch you, okay? I won't even defend myself. I just want to show you how to get out of the way.'

‘Okay then. Right. Okay. Right. Are you ready?'

They were standing opposite each other.

‘Yep.'

‘You don't look ready.'

‘I'm ready.'


Page 11

‘I'm going to stab you in the head.'

‘Off you go, so.'

‘Right? Knife here, in the right hand. I'm going for your left ear.'

‘I'm waiting.'

‘I don't want to give you a clatter, Norman. By accident, like.'

‘You won't.'

‘Will I do it slowly first?'

‘Will you just swing your hand Aesop? It doesn't matter how you do it.'

‘Aren't you very sure of yourself?'

‘Just come on.'

‘You've your hands in your pockets, sure.'

‘That's for your safety.'

‘You really don't think I can hit you?'

‘You want to make a bet now, is it?'

‘Are you serious? Are you saying that even if I went full tit at you, I'd completely miss?'

‘That's what I'm saying. And at the rate you're going, I'd have killed you five times at this stage if that's what I was trying to do.'

‘A tenner says I connect.'

‘A tenner? How about the fire? If you touch me at all, I'll clean the grate and set the fire every morning. If you miss, you do it. And in the morning, now, you hear me? Not bloody lunchtime or whenever you get around to it.'

‘All right. It's a deal. Are you ready then, Sooty?'

Aesop went into a small crouch, one fist up like he was about to strike a hammer. He made a couple of feints. Norman didn't even flinch. Then Aesop let a roar out of him and jumped forward, the fist coming down in an arc towards Norman's head. There was a flash of movement and by the time Aesop's arm had come to a stop across his chest, Norman was getting to his feet right behind him and giving him a small poke into the back with his finger.

‘You're dead.'

Aesop turned around.

‘How thefuckdid you get around there?'

‘Sure Christ, I could've knit a jumper in the time it took that knife to come down on me.'

‘But you were in the corner! There was no way past me!'

‘The big blousey swing of you! I was gone under your arm, sure.'

‘Show me how to do it!'

‘Sorry man. Takes a bit of practice to get that one down. Anyway, that's not what I was going to show you. That was just for the bet.'

‘Best of three!'

‘No way! Sure you know what I did now. You can just keep your arm in.'

‘So you only have one move then?'

‘No Aesop. The bet was that you wouldn't be able to touch me. If it was a real situation, there would've been … contact.'

‘What would've happened?'

‘I'd have pulled your arm out of its socket and hit you in the mouth with the wet end.'

‘Lovely. And are we going to be teaching me how to do that one?'

‘Aesop, if this girl ever catches up with you, there's a good chance you'll be crying like a little girl and begging forgiveness, yeah?'

‘Probably, yeah.'

‘So we should probably concentrate on getting you to the point where you can do a runner with your trousers full of shite and leave advanced man-to-man combat techniques for another time.'

‘Yeah. Yeah, that's fair enough.'

*

Kavanaghs looked like a gingerbread cottage to Aesop by the time they rounded the last bend in the road and he could finally see it.

‘Oh thank fuck,' he said, through gritted teeth.

‘Bit nippy all right,' said Norman.

‘Nippy? There's icicles hanging off me nose!'

‘Well we're just there now. Sure it was only twenty minutes. I'm telling you, you want to go on a rekky in Pakistan in the middle of winter.'

‘Why would I fucking want to do that?'

‘Freeze the mickey off you, so it would.'

‘Oh hang on till I call me travel agent, so.'

‘Up there for six weeks I was once, chasing a bollocks that wasn't even there.'

‘Jesus. And did you boil up snow and ice to make hot beefy Bovril?'

‘Far from Bovril we had. Sure, I saw one bloke piss on his flask once just to try and melt a drop out of it. Worked too.'

Norman chuckled at the memory.

Aesop looked sideways at him.

‘Norman, do you realise how many of your Rambo stories involve going to the toilet?'

‘It sticks in the mind, Aesop. You'd be amazed how much you'd kill for a civilised crapper when you're in certain parts of the world.'

‘Yeah, well right now I'd kill for a bleedin' taxi. Do they not have them?'

‘Of course they do. But won't you appreciate your pint more after your little stroll?'

‘If I can hold it.'

‘We'll get you a straw. Anyway, it's your own fault for coming down here with no decent clothes. Look at you. You'd swear you were about to go on stage.'

‘Yeah, well, in case you don't remember, I was being hoofed out the door yesterday, half-asleep with no breakfast. I need a bit of time to get warmed up in the mornings, so I do.'

‘You were chipper enough this morning.'

‘That'll be the women that came to say hello.'

‘Remember what I said earlier about that?'

‘Norman, I'm sure they're old and mature enough to decide for themselves what they want.'

‘Maybe they are. But you're not. Leave Helen alone. She's not like the girls in Dublin, okay? She's young and she's had a bit of a sheltered life. Don't even think of taking advantage of her.'

Aesop mumbled something.

‘Did you hear what I said?'

‘I heard you.'

‘And?'

‘And what?'

Norman held out his arm and they stopped right outside the door of the pub.

‘Aesop, that girl is family. Make me a promise now that you won't touch her.'

‘She's a grown woman, Norman!'

‘I don't care. Promise me.'

‘Fuck sake …'

‘Aesop …'

‘Okay, okay. Jesus, I promise.'

‘Right so.'

‘Can I ride Jessie?'

‘I'd rather you didn't.'

‘Cos I'd say she was the itchiest out of the two of them anyway.'

‘Aesop!'

‘I'm only bleedin' joking. Jesus. But she's no relation, is she?'

‘No. Look Aesop, people down here know everything that goes on and they tell. Okay? It's not like Dublin. You start acting the slut down here and people will be dealing with it long after you fuck off back to the city. Okay?'

‘I think you're underestimating your fellow culchies Norman. They're not babies.'

‘Do we have to have a conversation about you calling them that too?'

‘Sorry. Slipped out.'

Norman swung the door open and held it there for Aesop. As he went to step inside, Norman put a gloved hand on his shoulder.

‘I'm serious Aesop. Mind your manners in here. Have a bit of respect and the locals will do likewise and everyone will get on grand and no problems.'

‘You're making them out to be fuckin' eejits, Norman. I'm sure they're grand. They're not fucking aliens are they? We'll have a laugh tonight, watch.'

‘Just don't take the piss.'

Aesop winked at him and then took a big breath and walked inside doing the Twilight Zone theme music.

Chapter Eleven

Aesop tried to be on his best behaviour. Norman seemed to be under the impression that just letting him out of doors down here was asking for trouble and if it was going to be like that for two weeks then Aesop wouldn't get to have any fun at all. After they collected two pints at the bar, Norman steered them back to a small table out of the way where they were pretty much on their own except for a middle-aged married couple quietly sipping a pint and a glass of wine next to them.

Aesop took a big pull on his drink.

‘Nice pint,' he said, picking the glass back up to give it a closer look. ‘Do you want a game of pool?'

Norman looked around. It was early enough and there was no one on the table.

‘Eh …'

‘What's the matter?'

‘The boys down here take their pool very seriously Aesop.'

‘What boys?'

‘The local lads. Some great players there is too.'

‘So what? Anyway, there's no one there now is there?'

‘They'll be in soon enough.'

‘They don't own the table, do they? They can have it when we're finished if they come in.'

‘You're a bit handy yourself Aesop. I don't want any grief.'

‘Why would there be grief? Jesus, is everyone down here just itching to stick the head on somebody? What's the matter with you? Will you relax?'

It was another half hour before two guys in their twenties came in and put some coins on the table. Norman and Aesop had just started their third game.

‘Winners?' said one of the young fellas.

‘Ah no,' said Norman. ‘You can have the table.'

‘Are you sure?'

‘Yeah. We're finished anyway.'

‘Thanks.'

They wandered off to the bar, leaving the lads to finish their game but looking over every now and again to see who these new guys on the pool block were and how their form was.

‘Why didn't we play them Norman?'

‘Ah, I've enough pool for tonight.'

‘Chicken.'

‘What?'

‘You don't think we'd beat them?'

‘It's not that. I'd rather just have a pint. And the band will be on in another bit anyway.'

Aesop bent over a shot and then looked up.

‘You think I'm going to get us into trouble every time I open me mouth, don't you?'

‘It's been known to happen.'

‘Jesus man, all I'm doing is having a pint and a game of pool. You think I'm going to go out of my way just to annoy a few woollyheads?'

‘Look what you just said!'

‘They can't hear me.'

‘But I heard you. Anyway, they keep looking over.'

‘Ah right. They lip-read, do they? Are they going to feel threatened and start throwing slaps around just because I'm all sophisticated and urbane and their women want to ride me?'

‘Christ. Will you shut up and take your shot you langer? Sophisticated my arse.'

The game didn't even go the distance. Norman plugged the black with four of his balls left on the table.

‘Pints on you, my big worried friend.'

‘Right. Go on back to the table there and I'll bring them over.'

‘The lads are coming back. You sure you don't want to play them?'

‘Yes. Go on.'

Norman went to the bar as the two guys arrived with their own pints.

‘Lads,' said Aesop.

They were looking at him a bit funny. One of them picked up a cue.

Oh fuck, thought Aesop. Here we go. They must have ears like rabbits, this pair. He looked past to them to see how far away Norman was.

‘Are you that fella in The Grove? The drummer?'

Aesop relaxed. Thank fuck for that. He smiled and put his own cue down on the table.

‘Yeah. Aesop Murray. How's it going?'

‘Grand. What are you doing down here?'

‘Ah, just taking a bit of time off. The band is on tour in a few weeks. That's me mate Norman. His Granny used to live down the road there, so we're staying in her gaff for a bit and seeing the sights.'

‘Not many sights around here.'

‘Have you not been to the holy well?'

They turned to check out Norman.

‘I don't think I know him,' he said.

‘Norman? He lives in Dublin now. I think he prefers it down here, but.'

Norman had the pints now and wasn't wasting his time getting back with them. He handed Aesop his, and then glanced around quickly to see what damage had been done.

‘Hiya lads,' he said quickly. ‘Enjoy your game.'

‘Yeah,' said one of the guys. ‘You sure you don't want to play? House rules. The table is yours till we knock you off it.'

‘Nah, we're grand.'

‘Fair enough.'

Norman made a beeline for their old seat.

‘Talk to yis later lads,' said Aesop. He winked. ‘Norman's shite at pool, but I'll give yis a game.'

He walked over to Norman and sat down, looking around the bar with a smile and saying nothing. Then he turned around.

‘I told them you were shite at pool.'

‘Good.'

‘Set them up for later. Might snaffle a couple of pints off them.'

‘I'm not in the humour Aesop.'

‘Sure we'll see.'

He knocked back some of his pint.

‘Anyway … so, c'mere, how is Helen your cousin?'

‘Helen? She's Mikey Pat's daughter.'

‘Oh. Right. But … hang on … I thought you said Mikey Pat was your cousin?'

‘Yeah. His Dad was my Dad's brother.'

‘But … then Helen isn't your cousin, is she? She's your … eh … second cousin or something.'

‘So what?'

‘Norman!' Aesop clapped his hands together. ‘Sure, second cousins are grand!Youcould even ride her. The Pope says you can and everything, so he's hardly going to have a mickey-fit if I put one away, is he?'

‘It's got nothing to do with the Pope, Aesop. And don't be talking about her like that or I'll give you a box. Second cousin or whatever she is, you promised you wouldn't go near her. She's still family.'

‘I don't even know my second cousins, sure. I could have rode dozens of them already and I'd be none the wiser.'

‘Jesus. And that doesn't bother you?'

‘You can't be going around the place letting things bother you, Norman. Life is a fragile and fleeting thing. You never know when your next portion will be your last.'

‘Will you ever … who are you waving at?'

‘Next portion.'

Norman looked up at the two girls coming in the door.

‘You better be fucking talking about Jessie.'

‘Oh there's Jessie too, look.'

The two girls saw them and waved back with big smiles. Aesop felt Norman staring at him.

‘I'm joking for fuck sake. Will you chill out?'

He turned to give the girls another poilite flash of the pearly whites and saw Helen's eyes widen just the tiniest bit. She said something to Jessie and they both laughed. Then she looked up at him again and gave it to him full-on, the smile dropping off a good bit but the eyes just scooping him up, green and shining even from thirty feet away. The flush in her cheek from the cold outside deepened … and then back came the smile; pink lips and white teeth and the merest suggestion of the horniest fucking overbite that Aesop had ever seen.

He wondered if his own mouth was open. He'd never seen an entrance like it. She was stunning. Not that she was minging on her way out to work this morning when he was having his tea, but by fuck she was a goddess after a few pints. She unwrapped her head from a big shawl yoke as she stopped to say hello to someone, and her hair fell out of it, bouncing down around her shoulders in russet bundles like the whole arrangement was spring-loaded. She leaned to one side as she laughed at whatever the guy was saying to her and grabbed it by the fistful, shaking it and sweeping it out of her face until it seemed to run in rumpled bewilderment from one side of her chin right around her head to the other. Well, that was it. There was nothing else for it. He had to have her, didn't he? It was only manners. He wasn't even registering anything else that was happening in the pub, or who else was there. It was just Aesop and Helen and the ensuing chain reaction in Aesop's head was something he barely noticed shifting into first gear. Then they started to come over and his eyes flicked to Jessie.

Fuck. The mate.

‘Okay Jimmy. Wingman. Wingman. I need a wingman.'

‘What?' said Norman.

‘I need a wingman. Get rid of Jessie.'

‘What?'

‘Get rid of Jessie. I'm going in. Jesus Christ almighty, would you look at her. Have you ever …'

‘Aesop, what are you doing?'

‘What?'

‘Did you call me Jimmy?'

‘What?'

Aesop looked around and blinked.

‘Oh.'

‘What are you on about?'

‘Eh … nothing. Sorry Norman. I was miles away.'

‘What's wrong with your mouth?'

Aesop closed it.

‘Nothing.'

The girls stopped at the table and started to unbutton coats and cast off hats and coats and gloves.

‘Bloody freezing tonight!' said Helen. ‘Hoosh up there Robert. Two pints?'

‘No way,' said Aesop. ‘Sit down there, the pair of you. I'll get them. What are you having?'

‘Murphys for me,' said Jessie.

‘Bacardi and diet Coke in a tall glass,' said Helen.

‘Eh, right. A tall glass. Aren't you very precise? And a pint, is it Jessie?'

‘Thanks.'

‘Grand so.'

Aesop went up to the bar, slotting things into place in his head for later. Hmm … a tall glass. She must be a size queen, Helen. Mad for lad. And the heftier the better by the sounds of things. Aesop was a Freudian at heart.

He passed the pool table on the way.

‘Howya lads. Still going strong?'

‘So far, yeah. You ready for a game?'

‘Sorry pal. A bit later. Entertaining.'

He nodded towards the corner where Norman and the girls were. The lads looked over and then looked at each other. Aesop caught a vibe of something, but just nodded and carried on to the bar. He didn't give a shite about pool any more. He gave the order to the barman and stood with his back to the bar, watching the girls talk to Norman. He had a bit of a problem there. Norman. Norman would freak. He looked at Helen again but could only see the side of her face. She turned suddenly to look over at him and out shone that smile again. He smiled back and then turned around to pay for the drinks. This wasn't right. She was barely related to Norman at all, and even if she was, what was wrong with Aesop giving her some rumpy pumpy if she was up for it?

He grabbed the drinks and started to make his way back, noticing another furtive glance from the two boys at the pool table. Aesop nodded again and kept going. Something was definitely up with this pair of muckers. Fuck it, he had other things on his mind. Back at the table he put down the drinks and sat beside Norman.

‘That tall enough for you?' he said to Helen.

‘That's grand, thanks. I like the extra Coke.'

‘Ah right. C'mere, do you know those two lads playing pool?'

The two girls looked over and then quickly took up their glasses.

‘Yeah,' said Jessie. ‘They're from around here.'

That was all they said. Aesop nodded and finished his old pint. There was some history there. Did he have to sort that out too?

‘Hey Aesop,' said Helen. ‘Do you think you might play with the band for a bit? They're setting up over there, look. They'd be delighted for you to join in.'

Aesop turned around. There were about five guys setting up for a trad session.

‘Ah, to be honest Helen, I don't really play that kind of stuff.'

‘You could sing a song, sure.'

‘Jaysis, no. I'm a shite singer. If Jimmy was here he'd get up all right, but you don't want me up there spoiling it for everyone.'

‘Do you not do backing vocals? You do on the telly.'

‘Nah. That's all Jimmy and Shiggy singing. My mike is just for show, I'm telling you. I do a bit in a few songs when we're playing live but, I swear, if I tried to do lead vocals on me own we'd all be asked to leave.'

‘Norman, will you get up?'

‘Ah sure I might in another few pints.'

Aesop looked around. Norman was worse than he was.

‘What? Are you going to sing?'

‘Not at all. I'll just play with the lads for a couple of songs.'

‘Play what?'

Norman went red.

‘Ah, I play a bit of oul' bones.'

‘The bones? Are you serious? Since when?'

‘I've always played them. Sure, it's only a laugh. It's nothing.'

‘How come I never knew that?'

‘Sure Christ, I'm hardly going to take them out when you and Jimmy are playing, am I? I'd look a right langer.'

‘But … have you got them there?'

‘In me pocket.'

‘Give us a look.'

‘Ah Aesop, don't start slagging me now.'

‘I'm not slagging you. Take them out there.'

Norman reached into his coat and pulled out two flat sticks about six inches long and handed them to Aesop.

‘How do you hold them?'

Norman showed him and Aesop gave them a quick shake. One of them immediately slipped loose and described a big arc over them before splashing off the top of his pint and skidding around the table. The girls roared laughing.

‘Bollocks.'

He dried it on the seat and handed both of them to Norman.

‘Here, you show me.'

Norman took the bones and demonstrated again how to hold them. Then he raised up his right hand to shoulder height and rattled off a rhythm to the Paul Brady song that was coming over the house system. Aesop clapped his hands together.


Page 12

‘That's brilliant! Jesus, when did you learn how to do that?'

‘Ah, will you fuck off taking the piss Aesop,' said Norman. He put the bones down on the table and picked up his drink.

‘I'm serious, man. Tell him girls. Jesus, you've been able to play all these years and you never said anything.'

‘You should see him with two sets,' said Helen.

‘Ah Helen, don't,' said Norman. ‘He's only winding me up.'

‘Do you have another set with you?' said Helen. She reached over into his pocket and found them. ‘Here, show him.'

‘He doesn't really want to see.'

‘He does.'

‘Ah …'

Norman took two bones in each hand and doubled up on the beat, one hand playing off the other for about five seconds. People started to look over. He put all the bones in his breast pocket and sat there with a head on him like a beetroot.

Aesop shook his head.

‘I can't believe you never showed us that before. That was fucking deadly! Jaysis, it was like you had two tap dancers in your hands.'

‘It's nothing, sure. It's only the bones.'

‘It's percussion, Norman. Did you honestly think I'd have no interest in learning how to do that? Selfish bastard.'

Norman went even more red. He couldn't even count the times he'd have loved to whip them out when the lads were around jamming, but he'd been way too embarrassed. They were so cool and brilliant at their instruments, and it wasn't as though he didn't get enough slagging without producing something like the bones in the middle of the kind of stuff they played.

‘If you want, I'll show you a bit.'

‘Norman, I want you to show me everything you know.'

‘It's not much.'

‘You big modest gobshite, I know what I heard. You can really play them fuckers. We'll start tomorrow. No messing. First thing.'

‘First thing? Now I know you're taking the piss.'

‘We'll see about that. Now, your round I believe. My pint is wrecked from the little accident earlier.'

Norman looked around the table to see what the round was and then stood up.

‘Helen likes a nice tall glass,' said Aesop, all kinds of images sprinting into his brain and firing memos off down to his underpants.

‘I know, yeah,' said Norman, moving off to the bar.

Screams of laughter from Helen and Jessie followed him up there before the barman had even started pulling the first pint. He looked around and saw Aesop with his hand on Jessie's knee as he was telling them some story. As long as it was Jessie's feckin' knee there'd be no problems, he thought. The lads at the pool table didn't seem to know him, but he knew them. The tall one, Davey, and Helen had been engaged for a few months last year. That was why he didn't want to play pool. He wanted to stay away from them. That Davey bloke was a bit highly strung and a terrible prick on top of it with drink in him. If Aesop started in on Helen, you never knew what might happen. Norman didn't know the full story, but apparently Helen hadn't been with another guy since they broke up and the murmurs around the family were that it was because she was hoping Davey would find someone first and leave her alone. The whole thing annoyed Norman. He could deal with the situation in about five fucking minutes if he was let, but another one of the cousins told him he was better off out of it. Mikey Pat had apparently said something to Davey once and Helen got all upset and told him to just leave it. It wasn't Norman's place to get involved. And anyway, the last thing they needed was a scene down here.

His hands full of booze, he started to make his way over to the others. Just then the band started up and went into ‘Fisherman's Blues'.

*

Aesop had been steering his attentions carefully away from Jessie and onto Helen for about an hour when he suddenly found himself back where he started.

‘I see we have a couple of Kellys in the house,' he heard one of the guys in the corner say over the sound system. All eyes turned to their table. It been happening all night actually, but for the most part they were looking at Aesop. Word had gotten around that he was there and everyone in the place had been doing their best to have a good gander without getting caught. Now, though, it was Norman that was getting the looks as he got to his feet to a big cheer.

‘Come on Helen,' he said. ‘We'll do a couple.'

‘What?' said Aesop, looking at her. ‘You as well?'

‘Helen's the best singer in the place tonight, wait till you see,' said Norman.

‘Really?'

Helen just blushed a beautiful shade of cerise and stood up, leaving Jessie and Aesop on their own clapping at the table.

Once she got over to a mike and turned around, still lovely and rosy about the face, she took a guitar off one of the guys and did a quick run on it as the guy adjusted the height of the mike stand for her. Ten seconds later she had the guitar in dropped D tuning and was strumming away on it. Aesop sat forward. This was getting fucking interesting.

‘Thanks very much,' she said, into the mike. The crowd shut up cheering to let her sing. ‘Here's a little song for a friend of mine.'

She looked out around the crowd and Aesop followed her eyes to see who the cunt was. Then she looked full at him and he copped on. Jesus. She was reeling him in, the slapper, and he was falling for it!

Off she went on the guitar, her hand going a mile a minute on the intro. A fiddle player came in after a bar or two and then a bodhrán and finally Norman, standing at the back so everyone would be able to see the rest of the band, started up with the bones. It was the Luka Bloom song, ‘You Couldn't Have Come at a Better Time'and as Helen sang it she kept catching his eye. She didn't hang about staring at him though. She wasn't some hoor. She was being dead cool, pulling her face away from the mike and closing her eyes, her head cocked down as if to hear the bodhrán properly, for any of the short instrumental breaks. When she got to the ‘me and you and me and you and me …' line, up came those eyes again like searchlights to pick him out and nail him to his seat. Fuck sake! Aesop had watched Jimmy do this a thousand times. He'd done it himself sure, from behind the drums when he spotted some honey out among the punters, and here he was now grinning up at her like a fuckin' eejit and feeling special. He felt Jessie's hand on his arm and her voice in his ear as she leaned in to him.

‘I think someone's got the hots for someone,' she said.

‘She's great up there, isn't she?'

‘She's been doing it for years. Everyone knows Helen Kelly around here.'

He nodded and turned back to the stage so she'd shut her hole and stop distracting him. This was great stuff. Everyone in the pub was clapping and singing along, punctuating the song with ye-hoo's and calling her name out. She got to the end of the last chorus and stopped singing so that Norman could step up and do a bones solo. Aesop roared laughing. He was fucking brilliant, the head down, the hands up and the bones flicking and bouncing off each other like he had one toe stuck in a socket behind him. Aesop had known Norman for over twenty years and he'd never seen him do anything like this. Trying to get him to sing at a party was like pulling teeth, and yet here he was up on a stage in front of a hundred people and standing next to a cracking bird while rattling out a percussion solo that Aesop knew you didn't just pull out of your arse. He was really good at those fuckers.

Helen took a bow and grinned.

‘Thanks very much everyone.'

But she didn't look at Aesop this time and he felt a small jealous kick inside his belly. There were a few calls for another song and Helen nodded as she took off the guitar and handed it back to the guy behind her.

‘Maybe one more,' she said, as they began to simmer down. One hand went into her back pocket and the other held the stand just in front of her with long slender fingers. The eyes closed, the hair got swept out of her face, and then she somehow shifted her body so that it glided right in, bringing the mike to her mouth and the rest of her a few inches closer to a rapt Aesop who was by now fit to mount the pint glass in front of him.

‘Need a bit of hush for this one,' said Helen with an apologetic grin, and every gob in the place immediately snapped shut. One tool was on the phone, but his mate gave him a dig and a dirty look and the next thing the phone was back in his pocket.

The song was in Irish, and Aesop was hopeless at Irish, but it was sad and slow and full of heart-rending wretchedness the way any decent Irish ballad ought to be if it had any respect for itself. Her voice was low and full now, and the couple of people humming softly along with her lent it a resonance that was like a pulse that gently throbbed around the pub.

‘What's the song?' Aesop whispered to Jessie next to him.

‘It's called “An Cailín Álainn”. The Beautiful Girl.'

‘What's it about?'

‘It's about being in love with a beautiful girl. But she's gone and all that's left is heartbreak and pain. If she ever came back, the singer would make music for her like a harp or the song of a bird in the dewy fog and never be sad again.'

‘Fuck.'

‘It's gorgeous isn't it?'

‘Yeah.'

It was better than gorgeous. It was perfect. Helen. She was … she was just perfect. For fuck sake, she was up there singing a love song to another girl! Whatever lusty aspirations he had a minute ago, now she was playing right into his lesbian fantasies as well. Aesop held his pint glass to his mouth, gazing up at her. He wondered if she had a shaved minge too. That'd be fuckin' brilliant, so it would. He turned to Jessie.

‘Yeah?' she asked.

‘I don't s'pose … eh … ah, it doesn't matter.'

Jessie probably didn't know anyway.

Chapter Twelve

Jimmy wandered around his house, looking for things to do. But tonight all his clothes were washed and ironed, the place was spotless and there was half a lasagne in the fridge from yesterday so he didn't even have to cook. A quick flick through the channels revealed nothing but the usual shite on the telly. He sat looking at it, but thinking of Susan, and then he walked over to his laptop to check on flights. Fuck it. He needed a holiday. He could have her in his arms by lunchtime tomorrow.

He stood up and went out to the fridge to grab a can of Guinness and by the time it was in his belly he had his phone out, the contact list scrolled down to Susan's name. An hour later there were three more empty cans on the coffee table in front of him and he was still fingering the phone. Four cans was the sweet spot. He decided that he was being a big fucking girl. It was time to sort this out. He'd go over. First thing in the morning. Spend the weekend with her at least and before he came back again he'd know what they both wanted.

He pressed the green button, his heart hammering.

*

‘Those two lads playing pool …' said Aesop.

It was some time after two and they were back in the cottage, sipping on a couple of fairly respectable Jamesons in front of the fire. They were both well oiled and there was no great urgency about sobering up.

‘What about them?' said Norman.

‘Well, maybe I was just imagining things …'

‘You weren't.'

‘So the big one fancied me then?'

Norman looked over at him.

‘What?'

‘Well, he kept looking at me. More than just the punters in the bar, like. They were just looking cos they knew I was in the band, but every time I saw yer man he was staring at me like he was on a promise.'

‘Aesop, he doesn't fancy you. Langer. He's a big oaf called Davey Molloy and he was looking at you because he had a thing with Helen and reckoned you were moving in on his territory.'

‘Ah. Right. Well that would've been me second guess.'

‘Nasty one, that fella. Keep away from him. He only left the place early because he's got a match tomorrow and the manager of the team was in. I don't know him that well, but I've heard that he's a bit of an animal on the pitch and worse off it when he's tanked up. Put a bloke in hospital last year with a bottle.'

‘Jaysis. So blowing him a kiss wasn't a good idea?'

‘What? When did you do that?'

‘When you were up on the stage with Helen. I was swept up in all that gorgeous music and when I caught him eyeballing me, all the love just came out.'

‘You fucking eejit! What did he do?'

‘Well, for a minute I thought he was going to come over and lamp me, but his mate grabbed him and said something to him and then they headed off a bit after that.'

‘Aesop, it's no wonder everyone's trying to kill you. Why do you have to be such a cheeky bastard all the time? Jesus, for someone who couldn't box his way out of a paper bag, you've some knack for winding people up.'

‘Sure aren't you here to protect me?'

‘Not like that I amn't. Just because I'm here, that doesn't mean you can go about the place taunting big fuckers like him. You think I want to get involved with anyone down here where I'm known?'

‘It was only a kiss. It's not like I was passing him notes to meet me out in the jacks or anything. Can we change the music?'

‘No. Listen to me Aesop, it's not funny. Helen and that bloke were nearly married and he's having a hard time realising that it's not going to happen. If you see him again, you bloody ignore him, okay?'

‘Do you not reckon you could take him?'

Aesop was grinning at him now, the eyes all bloodshot and droopy.

‘That's got nothing to do with it. I'm not getting into stupid situations down here just because you're bored and feel like taking the piss.'

‘Sure you're much bigger than him. I'd say you'd batter him. What is he … six foot? So in theory …'

Norman sighed and looked into the fire.

‘He's six-foot one. Weighs about ninety-two kilos. Favours the right leg from an old knee injury and he was holding his cue tonight like he was after getting a belt of a hurley on the thumb some time in the last week. I'd say his reach is seventy-six inches give or take, but he's a southpaw. He leads with his right leg, so I'd stamp down on that, put the gammy knee out and that'd be the end of it. Two seconds. First round knockout. If he did try and get to his feet again he'd be a stupid bastard and it'd cost him the use of his shoulder for six months.'

He looked up, smiling.

‘In theory, like.'

Aesop frowned at him.

‘Fuck sake! Who told you all that stuff about him?'

‘No one did. I can just do it. Used to box, remember?'

‘Since when is stamping on some poor fucker's knee allowed in boxing?'

‘Yeah, well … I did other stuff too.'

‘You're a scary bastard sometimes, Norman.'

‘The point is, Aesop, just because I can deal with Davey Molloy if I have to, if you start any shit with him I'll probably just apologise on your behalf and buy him a drink and if anyone will be getting a slap, it'll be you later on for being a tool.'

‘Do me.'

‘What?'

‘Do me. Height and weight and all that. Fuck, and there's me for years saying you should be in the circus. Eh … I mean … a lion tamer, like.'

‘You're five foot ten and about seventy-three kilos.'

‘And how would you sort me out in a scrap?'

‘You?' Norman chuckled and shook his head. ‘Sure all I'd have to do is tell you what Imightdo to you and you'd faint down into a puddle of your own piss.'

Aesop roared laughing.

‘Jaysis, what's Davey's number there? We'll get him around and I'll wind him up for you. Kevin Costner me bollix. Fuckin' Robocop I have here with me!'

‘Just you keep away from Davey. You're in enough trouble.'

‘Do Jimmy.'

‘Ah stop messing. It's only knowing what to look out for. It's not that hard.'

‘Yeah. Actually, you know what? I can do it too.'

‘Can you?'

‘Yeah. Well, with chicks I mean.'

‘You can tell how to bate a girl? Christ, that must come in handy.'

‘No no. Not fighting. When you walk into a place and it's wall-to-wall beaver, like. You're only going to leave the place with one bird, right? Most of the time. So you don't want any surprises later on when the kit comes off and you're committed.'

‘What are you on about Aesop? If you're that concerned about a girl's body, can't you get a good enough idea of it just by looking at her in her clothes?'

‘Exactly. That's what I'm saying. But if you pay attention to the details of all the different girls in the place, you can fine-tune the upcoming session, can't you?'

‘Can't I what?'

‘Take tits for instance.'

‘Ah Jesus, Aesop …'

‘Just for a minute. Jessie, right? Looks like a 34C. Sounds lovely, right? But she had a padded holster on her this evening. Now, I'm not saying that that's a bad thing. Shows that the girl is trying to make herself look nice before she goes out, fair play to her. You want a girl that's going to put in a bit of effort, and the balcony's always a good place to start. This morning, though, she was a B. Sure, B is a lovely size too. Better on a 32-sized bird, but still. We can't all be perfect, right? Thing is, if you only saw her tonight and reckoned you knew what the day's specials were on the puppy menu, then you might well find yourself feeling hard done by, y'see? You'd have them out and you'd be wondering if your hands are after suddenly growing a bit bigger somewhere en route between the pub and the back of bus shelter. Y'know what I mean?'

‘Aesop …'

‘I, on the other hand, didn't even need to see her this morning to know she was giving the girls a little boost tonight. A top doesn't fall the same way across a bird wearing a padded bra. They keep coming up with better ones, but you can't fool Aesop. I've been at this game too long. Now, in Jessie's case it doesn't matter a bit. She's well-stacked either way and I'd be the first man to stick the head on them given the right circumstances. But it's still nice to know what you're letting yourself in for, is all I'm saying. Sure, once you get to know a girl you can tell what bra she likes to wear with what top, if she's not wearing a bra at all … for fuck sake, after a while you can even tell when she's got the painters in. Y'see, every month …'

‘Okay Aesop! I don't want to hear any more.'

‘Now … arses are a different story altogether …'

‘Shut up, you fucking delinquent. Christ, this is your hobby, is it?'

‘Jesus, no. It's much more important than that.'

‘And you do it with every girl you see?'

‘Just happens at this stage. Like noticing what colour her hair is.'

‘So you were doing it with Helen?'

‘Ah … well, I mean … it's not like I was …'

‘And Trish? You want to tell me all about Trish's breasts?'

‘I'd … rather not.'

‘Good.'

‘Right.'

They both sat looking into the fire for a couple of minutes.

‘Norman, please. That music is doing me head in. Have you anything else?'

‘It's grand. Stop moaning. And … anyway … I've seen them.'

‘Seen what?'

‘Trish's … breasts.'

‘Yeah?'

‘They're lovely.'

‘Good stuff.'

‘I like her, Aesop.'

‘I'd say you do. She's a real honey.'

‘Yeah. I think she likes you.'

Aesop leaned back in the chair and took a big gulp of whiskey.

‘I doubt that.'

‘She said she hasn't heard from you. I thought you were going to say sorry.'

‘I am, Norman. I just feel like such a bleedin' eejit. I don't know what to say to her. Y'know, “Listen Trish, about the whole fucking-a-cup-of-tea-in-your-face-and-calling-you-a-psycho-cunt thing … ”'

‘You called her a …'

‘Oh. Sorry. I didn't mention that bit before.'

‘Fuck sake. Just call her, will you? Tomorrow.'

‘I will.'

‘Things are hard enough without …'

‘What? What's hard?'

‘Ah … nothing.'

‘Tell me.'

‘It's nothing Aesop. You wouldn't … know what it's like.'

‘What what's like?'

‘What it's like when a bird that you're mad about fancies your mate.'

‘Who? Jimmy?'

‘Jimmy? Jesus … Aesop, she fuckin' fancies you, you dope.'

‘What? She does in her bollocks.'

‘She does! It's obvious. You can see it in her. That night at the gig and all …'

‘What are you talking about Norman?'

‘You and her, and her breaking her shite laughing with you all night on the couch at the party afterwards. That's what I'm talking about.'

‘Jesus, Norman, we were only chatting.'

‘Yeah, but she never laughs like that with me.'

‘So I'm a fucking comedian. So what? Doesn't mean she's into me.'

‘Aesop, you were there being the fucking rockstar after your gig, with no shirt and a towel around your neck and your tight pants and those two stupid fucking studs in your eyebrow, people coming up to you and shaking your hand every five minutes, and I'm over the other side of the room talking to Sparky about his Mam's daffodils.'

‘Fuck sake Norman, we were talking about you!'

‘And that had her breaking her bollocks laughing? Brilliant …'

‘No ye spa. I was making myself out to be a fuckin' eejit and telling her about all the times I'd have been in the shit if it wasn't for you. Remember the time that bloke thought I rode his wife? He would've killed me if you hadn't been there to calm him down.'

‘You did ride his wife Aesop.'

‘Yeah, but I didn't know she was his wife at the time, did I? It's not like I got her to fill out a questionnaire.'

‘Anyway, women don't want the big hard case. They want someone who can make them laugh. Isn't that what they say in all the magazines?'

‘That's bollocks! We're talking about real women, man. A giggle's all right now and again, but they want a lot fucking more than that. I'm telling you, the likes of me is the last thing they need. And they know it, thank Christ. Norman, they might want to fuck me, but they want to marry you; that's what they say in the magazines.'

‘But I don't want her fucking you before she marries me!'

‘Wh … hang on … are we still talking about Trish?'

‘Yes!'

‘Aw Jesus, listen man, I would never try and move in on your bird no matter what. Any bird! Ever. And anyway, I'd say we're safe enough as far as Trish is concerned. She thinks I'm a fuckin' weirdo.'

‘But what was she doing in your gaff that night? Women don't forget their jewellery. You said that yourself, sure.'

‘Wasn't she giving me that picture? She was just being nice. Getting in with your mates so that it'd be easier for you and her. She's fucking mad about you Norman. Really. It's all we talked about that night.'

‘I don't know Aesop. There's something about her. I can't stop thinking about her but, it's like she's keeping something from me …'

‘Norman, listen. I'm telling you that Trish is a great bird and all she wants is you. The only thing that'll change that is you fucking it up. Really. Chill out and stop looking for things to worry about. She's great and she wouldn't touch me with rubber gloves on. If she's keeping something back, it's probably because she sees that you're not sure and she doesn't want to get hurt.'


Page 13

‘I don't know …'

‘You know how to bate the shite out of people, Norman. I know women. Trish is a fucking angel and she's all yours, so make the most of it.'

*

Trish was in her bedroom on her own, very sober. It was two in the morning. The wardrobe door was open and she stood in front of the mirror stuck to the inside of it, just looking at herself. She was in her uniform still, even though she'd gotten in from work an hour ago. Only the bedside lamp was turned on and that was on a dimmer switch. Still, even in the rusty orange glow that seemed to seethe all around her, her uniform shone sharp and crisp. The way she liked it. She breathed deeply and closed the wardrobe door, stepping back to sit on her bed.

She was thinking about Aesop, remembering the fear and panic in his eyes that night. The way he'd bolted from her, flinging stinging obscenities in his wake, before she had a chance to stop him. She reached under the bed and patted around until her fingers touched the box and then she pulled it out and set it on her lap, just looking at it for a minute. The lid came away in her hands and she felt the catch in her chest when her eyes fell on what was inside. Something from another life.

*

‘You reckon?' said Norman, looking up.

‘I'm telling you, man. I know women.'

Chapter Thirteen

It was a beautiful Saturday morning in Cork. The sky was a brilliant pale blue and a fresh breeze was whooshing through the stripped trees behind the cottage, carrying with it in earthy wafts the musk of burning turf. The sun was low, but blinding bright, splashing long shadows across the fields from every ditch and bush and the rocks that pierced the earth like ancient broken teeth. A tractor and trailer crunched past on the road and then disappeared over the hill. A crow set down on the bench just outside the front door and looked around in jerks and twitches before taking off again and vanishing into a hedge. Inside the cottage, two figures sat at the kitchen table.

‘Me fuckin' head,' said Aesop.

‘What's left in the bottle?' said Norman. His chin was down on his chest, his hands folded demurely in his lap and his face scrunched up in pain.

Aesop opened his fingers and looked between them over to the small table in front of the fire. He closed them again.

‘You don't want to know.'

‘That's your fault. I wanted to go to bed when we came in from the pub.'

‘I don't seem to recall having to break your arm to get you to have a small one.'

Norman turned to look at the bottle.

‘Jesus. That was full when we started. No wonder I'm in this state. You're a bad influence on me. I was going down to the bog this morning and everything.'

‘We're already there.'

‘No. I mean the actual bog. I was going to cut some turf.'

‘There's loads in the bin outside.'

‘It was for the exercise. A bit of fresh air. I was going to show you how to cut peat.'

‘That'd come in handy. All the times I've said to meself, if only you knew how to cut peat Aesop …'

‘We'll go after lunch. A couple of hours. To sort out this hangover.'

‘Or we could just take a load of tablets and not bother our bollocks. That gets my vote.'

‘You don't have a vote. We can't stay in the house all day, Aesop.'

‘Why not?'

‘Because it's a gorgeous day. We should go out for a walk or something.'

‘Norman, that's the kind of thing a girl says right between waking up in the morning and me pushing her into a taxi.'

‘Well I'm not a girl Aesop.'

‘Ah, you're a bit of a girl sometimes Norman, aren't you?'

‘Is there eggs in the fridge?'

‘Yeah. Helen brought loads over yesterday.'

‘Right. Well I'll get started on the French toast, you sort out the fire.'

‘Ah Jaysis. I don't want to. Can I make the French toast and you do the fire?'

‘Do you know how to make French toast?'

‘Eh … eggs, toast … em … garlic …'

Norman stood up.

‘Don't use too many firelighters.'

‘What the fuck is that on the radio? Listen man, is there any music at all in this house that isn't shite?'

‘Granny's CDs are over there in the press.'

‘I don't s'pose there's any chance Granny was a big Megadeth fan, is there?'

‘Have a look.'

Aesop got down on his knees and started flicking through the selection.

‘Dolly Parton?'

‘Yeah.'

‘I didn't know she sang.'

‘What?'

‘She has an album here. Oh, two albums. Did you know she sang?'

‘What did you think she did?'

‘Well … I thought she just had these massive knockers and … y'know …'

‘She's a singer you fucking eejit.'

‘Really?'

‘Stop stalling and do the fire. I'm not doing it, Aesop.'

‘I'm serious. What kind of music is she?'

‘Country and Western.'

‘Jaysis. Sorry Dolly, you can stay in there. Oh, look, “War of the Worlds”!'

‘Yeah. Granny was mad into Richard Burton.'

‘Excellent. That's my kind of granny. This is proper hangover music.'

‘Aesop, get a move on, will you?'

‘Who's Richard Burton?'

‘Listen to me, you big …'

There was a knock on the door.

‘Anyone awake in here?'

It was Helen.

‘Oh thank fuck,' said Aesop. ‘Saved.'

He ran over and opened the door.

‘Helen!'

The arms went out and he gave her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek.

‘Thank God you're here. Norman's being a terrible bully this morning. Will you tell him to leave me alone?'

Helen laughed and walked in.

‘Morning, guys.' She stopped. ‘Oh God … the smell in here.'

‘That's him,' said Aesop, pointing at Norman. ‘I keep telling him to see a doctor.'

‘No. It's the cigarettes and booze. God, it reminds me of when Granny had one of her parties.'

‘I'm beginning to like what I hear about your Granny.'

‘She was great. So, what's up? Have you eaten yet?'

‘Just putting on some French toast here,' said Norman. ‘Do you want some?'

‘I'm after bringing some sausages and bacon and pudding down. And Mam made a few loaves of bread for you. And butter. Here, Robert, let me do it.'

‘Ah no, Jesus. I'll look after it.'

‘You will not. Put on the kettle there and sit down before you fall down. Look at the state of the pair of you. Reeking of whiskey and bags under your eyes like pillows. What time did you go to bed?'

‘I had to leave him asleep on the couch,' said Aesop. ‘He can't hold his gargle.'

‘Right. Well, the two of you sit down. Here's the paper, look. I'll make the tea. Robert, set the fire there.'

‘But … that's Aesop's job.'

‘Ah stop. He's our guest, sure. Go on. It'll only take you a minute.'

Aesop grinned at Norman and took the paper off Helen.

‘Thanks Helen. You're very good. Norman had me doing everything.'

‘Aesop …' said Norman. He looked fit to give him a box.

‘Will you do what your cousin says and stop whinging?' said Aesop. ‘Honestly, Helen, he's been like a bear with a sore arse all morning. I wanted to go out for a walk and everything but there was no shifting him.'

‘Come on Robert. Get the fire going and we'll have our breakfast. You'll be grand then.'

‘I'm grand now!'

‘Can I do anything at all for you Helen?' said Aesop.

‘Not at all,' she said, her head in the fridge. ‘Sit down there and Robert will make the tea. Robert? The fire?'

Norman looked around and glared at Aesop. He opened his mouth to say something, but Aesop just made a show of flapping open the paper and sat on the couch.

‘Will I put on some music Helen?' he said.

‘Yeah, go on sure.'

‘Do you like Dolly Parton?'

‘I love her.'

‘Really? Me too. Norman, can you stick on some sounds there while you're up. And Helen, are you sure I can't help?'

‘Just sit down there Aesop and relax. Robert, I think that kettle is boiled.'

Norman gave one final dagger-glare in Aesop's direction and then knelt down to put a CD on. With ‘Jolene' coming out of the speakers, he walked past Aesop and gave him a boot in the shin on his way out the back door to get some sticks.

‘How do you like your eggs Aesop?'

‘Actually, I love poached eggs Helen. But don't go to any trouble.'

‘No trouble.'

‘Ah, you're very good for coming down and making the brekkie like this.'

‘Not at all. I wanted to say hello anyway. I don't get to see Robert much these days and he said you didn't know how long you'd be hanging around.'

‘We'll be here for a couple of weeks probably, so you drop in to see him as often as you like.'

‘Thanks.'

‘Seriously. Drop in to see me too if you like.'

She stopped what she was doing for a second, but didn't turn around.

‘Maybe I will.'

‘Listen, I wanted to tell you last night, Helen, but I was pissed and didn't want to sound like a fuckin' eejit. You've got a beautiful voice. Man, last night you were absolutely … stunning … up there.'

‘Thanks.'

‘I'm serious. And, no, thank you. I had a brilliant time.'

‘I did too.'

‘Helen?'

‘Yeah?'

‘That Irish song you were singing …'

‘Yeah.'

‘Who is she?'

‘Who's who?'

‘The girl in the …'

There was a thump outside the front door, someone kicking muck off shoes. Then a knock.

‘Hello?'

Aesop's head spun around in surprise.

‘Jimmy?'

He went to the door and opened it. Jimmy was standing there, grinning.

‘Howya Aesop. What's …'

‘Did you bring your iPod?'

‘What?'

‘Your iPod.'

Jimmy tapped his jacket pocket.

‘It's here.'

‘Speakers?'

‘They're out in the car.'

‘Gimme your keys.'

‘It's not locked.'

‘Grand.'

Aesop bolted past him and out to Jimmy's car.

‘Nice to see you too, Aesop. Fuck sake.'

Aesop ignored him, so Jimmy stepped inside and looked around. He saw Helen standing at the counter, looking at him.

‘Hello.'

‘Hi.'

‘Eh … I'm Jimmy.'

She just nodded, a full black pudding in her hand, like she was seeing things.

‘Where in the car?' shouted Aesop from outside.

‘In the boot. There's a sports bag with me gear.'

Jimmy turned back to Helen.

‘Is … Norman here?'

‘He's out the back cutting up some sticks for the fire.'

‘Right.'

‘Jimmy, the boot won't open.'

‘For fu … you need to lean on it with your knee. It gets stuck.'

He walked over to Helen and put his hand out.

‘Nice to meet you, eh …'

‘Helen.'

‘Helen. Nice to meet you. Are you Aesop's … friend?'

‘I'm Robert's cousin.'

‘Oh right. Yeah. Helen. He mentioned you, yeah. Bridie's your Mam, isn't she? God, they have you making their breakfast for them? You should have told them to …'

There was a tremendous banging from the front garden.

‘Sorry Helen, can you excuse me a minute?' He walked back to the door and looked out. ‘Aesop, I said lean on it with your knee, not kick the fuck out of it.'

‘It won't … fucking … the yoke is …'

‘Christ, I'll do it. Hang … will you … Aesop, stop fuckin' kicking me car! Jesus …'

He went out and opened the boot, pointed at the bag, and then came back inside.

‘Has he been listening to a lot of Norman's music?'

‘And Dolly Parton.'

‘Right,' he said looking back at Aesop rooting through his bag.

‘Eh … will you have a cup of tea?' said Helen.

‘I'd love one Helen, thanks. That was a long drive this morning.'

‘Are you going to be staying?'

‘Yeah. For a few days anyway.'

Aesop came in and went over to Jimmy, reaching into his pocket.

‘What … Aesop … stop … will you … what are you doing for fuck sake?'

‘Gimme your iPod. I need Zeppelin. It's an emergency.'

‘Here. Jesus.'

Aesop took the iPod and speakers and went over to the counter to plug them in, the other two just watching. Ten seconds later ‘Black Dog' was blasting out through the kitchen. Aesop sighed and leaned back against the fridge like he was sinking into a hot bath.

‘Ah Jaysis. Ah, that's grand now …'

‘Aesop …' said Jimmy, shaking his head.

‘Oh. Sorry. Yiz must think I'm very rude. Jimmy, this is Norman's stunningly beautiful cousin Helen, who's an amazing singer and a dab hand at the oul' fry in the mornings. Helen, this is my mate Jimmy Collins. He's a rockstar.'

A dishevelled and disgruntled figure stumbled into the kitchen through the back door, two arms full of broken sticks and his nose streaming blood.

‘Head came off the axe,' he said, blinking at everyone and then staring at Jimmy with his mouth open.

‘And of course, you know Norman,' said Aesop.

*

The lads were sitting on the low stone wall next to the holy well, smoking.

‘A trout?' said Jimmy.

‘Yeah,' said Norman, shrugging. He had toilet roll stuffed up one nostril.

‘Fair enough.'

Aesop got up and peered into the well.

‘Hello?' he shouted.

‘Don't take the piss Aesop,' said Norman.

‘I'm not. Just trying out the echo.'

‘Sit down and have your smoke. And don't be flicking your butt into it either. Bring it with you back to the cottage.'

‘And what did Saint Ita do for herself?' said Jimmy.

‘Ah, I don't know all the stories. I think her Da wanted her to get married to some rich bloke, but she didn't want to because she wanted to live a simple life and go around helping people.'

‘Typical Pisces,' said Aesop, sitting on the wall again and stubbing out his cigarette.

‘Anyway,' said Norman. ‘Are you going to tell us what you're doing down here? I thought you were busy in Dublin.'

‘I was. But … well, I couldn't concentrate on what I was doing, y'know? I haven't been writing very much lately … figured I could do with a bit of time off. So I thought I'd come down here and see what you two were getting up to. So what have you been up to?'

‘Not much,' said Aesop. ‘Met Helen and her mate Jessie yesterday. Then Norman showed me some karate. Went to a trad gig last night and fell in love with Helen, God bless her sweet voice like honey and eyes the size of dinner plates, but Norman made me promise not to touch her which I think is totally fucking out of line. I nearly got into a fight with a bloke called Davey, who's Helen's ex-fiancé, for blowing him a kiss across the bar, but his mate pulled him away before I could batter him. Then Norman got up and played the bones with the band. Came home, drank a bottle of whiskey, told Norman I called his bird a cunt, and then passed out upside down in the bed. Oh, by the way, apparently Jessie is mad for your cock, Jimmy. You haven't met her yet, but you will. A couple of nice handfuls on her and the deadly accent and everything. All I did was mention your name and next thing she's there shifting around on the seat trying to get comfortable, y'know? The bullets out and everything just thinking about you.'


Page 14

Jimmy just blinked at him and looked around at Norman.

‘Aesop,' said Norman, pointing at the well. ‘Do you know where we are? This is s'posed to be a holy place. Can you not have a bit of respect?'

‘Sorry man. I keep forgetting.'

‘Anyway Jimmy,' said Norman. ‘Why didn't you go across to England to see Susan if you had a bit of time off?'

‘Well …' said Jimmy. ‘I was going to. But it didn't work out.'

‘What didn't work out?' said Aesop.

‘I called her but … I think it's over.'

‘Ah no,' said Norman, turning to him. ‘Why? What happened?'

‘I don't know to be honest. But she just told me it wasn't working and she'd prefer it if I didn't call again.'

‘Really? Why, for fuck sake? I thought you two were going to sort out all the stuff between you.'

‘Well I was hoping we could. Man, she wouldn't even talk to me. She just said she'd had enough and wanted to move on. To be honest, I can't really say I blame her. It was too hard. I was working my arse off on the record, and I'll be on tour in a few weeks. And …'

Jimmy drifted off and looked out over the fields.

‘Are you all right?' said Norman.

‘Yeah. I s'pose. It was a tough one though. Tears and everything. I only talked to her for five minutes, but she was all upset. Worse than that. She sounded really angry or something. Like she suddenly realised that I've only been wasting her time.'

‘Do you think it's worth trying again with her?' said Norman.

Jimmy sighed.

‘Yeah. But I'm a selfish bastard. I only want to do it my way. Wait until I had everything cleared up and could concentrate on the two of us.'

‘Jimmy?' said Aesop.

‘What? And before you say anything, I'm not in the humour for listening to any of your shite about riding someone else to get over it. This only happened last night, right?'

‘All right. But I was just going to say that this was always going to happen and that you're a fuckin' eejit.'

‘Thanks.'

‘Seriously man. You're like a fuckin' book I've read already.'

‘What fuckin' book have you ever read?'

‘I'm just saying, like. You've a head full of piss and if you want this bird so much, why don't you just go over there and sweep her off her feet and tell her you love her and that no matter what happens with the band or any other shite in your life, she's the most important thing and you'll do whatever it takes to make it all okay. Tell her to come to Dublin, move in with you, get a job if that's what she wants and then the two of you can fuck like rabbits and make babies and build a castle and be the coolest fucking rock and roll couple on the planet.'

The other two looked over at him.

‘What are you looking at?' he said. ‘It's simple! It's not what I'd do, but I'm taking into consideration the fact that you're a handbag. If you don't do all that because it's not what you want, well then that's grand. Drop it, leave her alone, stop whinging, get on with your shit and ride the arse off Jessie tonight. But if you don't do it because you're too busy doing all that complicated poet bollocks in your mind again, then your head is full of piss and I don't want to fucking hear any more about it.'

‘Jesus … isn't life simple Aesop?'

‘Yes! You fucking … langer. Norman, call him a langer. I can't do the accent.'

‘He's not a langer Aesop.'

‘You're both fucking langers then.'

‘What do you know about it, Aesop?' said Jimmy. ‘You don't give a shit about any girl.'

‘I know you love this Susan bird. Whatever that means. I know that fucking Kleenex dispenser over there loves his Trish bird. What's the problem? You're always telling me I'm a waster and I should cop on and settle down and get serious about a girl. Well, the pair of you are hardly fucking brilliant advertisements for it, are you? Look at you. You want to know what it all means, Jimmy, even though it means fuck all except for what you've got here and now. And you, fucking … Mr Bean on steroids … are so happy that all you can think of is the whole thing going to shit. What are you fucking like? I'm not allowed ask Helen out, but I'll tell you, if I did bring her out at least she'd have a good time and neither of us would come out of the experience fucking traumatised.'

No one spoke for a minute.

‘Well … maybe you have a point,' said Jimmy.

‘You know I have a point. Norman? Am I right?'

‘You're not totally wrong. Maybe.'

‘And can I ask Helen out?'

‘Only if you want your bollocks fed to you.'

‘Bastard. Well, listen, if I'm going to be imprisoned in this bleedin' hellhole for the next two weeks with the pair of you, I don't want any more of this shite, ye here me? Fuck this …'

He stood up and started walking around the well. After three circles, he reached into his pocket and then fired a handful of coins down into it.

‘Aesop,' said Norman, reaching out to grab him. ‘What the fuck …'

‘Shut up a minute. I'm not finished. Is there a special prayer, or what's the story?'

‘I don't know. I think there's a prayer, but …'

‘And does it work if you talk out loud, or is it like blowing out birthday candles?'

‘I don't know Aesop. And I don't think …'

‘Well I'll try anything if it means you two aren't a drippy couple of homos for the next two weeks. Actually, y'know something, I feel better already. I think me hangover's gone.' He leaned over the well again and shouted. ‘Thanks Ita! Seeya tomorrow.'

He sat back on the wall and lit up again. The others were laughing.

‘That's more like it,' said Aesop.

‘Aesop, why did you throw money into the well?' said Norman.

‘You said people made an offering.'

‘They do. See that box over there?'

Norman pointed to a metal box chained to a small post.

‘Ah. Right. Well …'

‘It's not a wishing well.'

‘We'll find out about that won't we? So where does the money go?'

‘I don't know. I think it goes to some charity or something. Listen, I've to have a crap. Are you coming in or will you be out here?'

‘Ah, we'll stay a minute,' said Jimmy. ‘It's nice out here.'

‘Grand. Seeya in a bit. I think there's a few beers in the fridge. I'll bring them out.'

‘Any word on Shiggy?' said Aesop, once Norman had set off for the cottage.

‘I talked to him the other day. He might have a business trip here coming up soon. We can talk properly about it then. You know he's been working for Kyotosei for twenty years?'

‘Really? Jaysis, he looks about twelve.'

‘Yeah. Well, it'd be a big thing for him to just drop it all.'

‘That's fair enough I s'pose. Still, it'd be deadly to have him back.'

‘I know. Sparky said he'd fill in for the Irish tour, but when we go over to England, it'd be too hard. He's got enough shit on his plate in Sin Bin. If Shiggy isn't back, we'll have to get someone else by then.'

‘Fuck that. We're a good band with Shiggy. Starting all over again with … y'know …'

A car drove past on the road. A knackered thing that roared as the driver gave them a wave. They waved back.

‘Hang on a minute Jimmy,' said Aesop, watching the car drive vanish.

‘What?'

‘Keep sketch for Norman, right?'

‘What? Aesop, what are you doing?'

‘Nothing. Just keep an eye out. Hang on …'

He ran off towards the ditch at the side of the road and came back a minute later with a straight broken branch about six foot long. He started stripping all the twigs and smaller branches off it.

‘What are you going to do with that?'

‘Nothing. It's grand.'

‘Aesop, what are …'

‘Here we go,' said Aesop, after a couple of minutes, holding up his stick and grinning at Jimmy.

‘What are you going to do with that?'

‘Watch …'

He walked over to the well and looked down into it.

‘Aesop, that stick is nowhere near long enough to get your money back. And anyway, you'd need a scoop or something on the end of it.'

‘You reckon?'

‘Of course, you dope.'

‘Is that a car coming?'

Jimmy looked off down the road. There was another car approaching, coming into view and then disappearing as it came towards them over the dips in the road.

‘Yeah. Why?'

‘Are you ready?' said Aesop.

‘For fucking what?' said Jimmy, looking around quickly. He was starting to panic. You never knew what the mad fucker was going to do. ‘Aesop, what are you up to?'

‘Hush a minute. Hang on … hang on …'

Just then the car came over the last dip and Aesop immediately stood back and held his stick in two hands over the opening of the well. It suddenly looked very much like a fishing rod.

‘Aesop …'

Aesop's shoulders were already starting to shake with the laughing. Jimmy could see the driver of the car slow down and look at the pair of them, her mouth open in a big O. Aesop gave her a big smile and a wave and then turned back to his rod. He suddenly gave it a jerk upwards and leaned back like he was trying to land a whopper. Jimmy put his face in his hands and turned away. When he managed to look back over his shoulder, the driver of the car, a woman of about fifty, was still staring in horror at the sight in front of her. Aesop gave a final pull on his stick and jumped backwards, landing on the ground with the stick still jerking. The car finally trundled out of site behind a hedge.

Aesop got up and came over to Jimmy, one hand still clutching the branch and the other on his belly. He was roaring laughing.

‘Ah, man … did you … did you see her face?'

He pointed out at the road and then doubled over.

‘Ah Jesus … ah Christ … that was fucking brilliant that was …'

‘What's he laughing at?' called Norman, coming over the field towards them with a sixpack of Guinness bottles.

‘Eh …' said Jimmy. ‘He , eh … we were just laughing about something Shiggy said once.'

‘Ah right. Gas man, Shiggy. What's with the stick, Aesop?'

But Aesop couldn't talk. He just bent over, cackling, shaking his head and pointing at the road. Eventually he straightened up and took a bottle off Norman.

‘We should go to Dingle.'

‘Now?'

‘Yeah.'

‘It's nearly two o'clock.'

‘So what? Come on. We'll head off now, have a few pints tonight and then be ready in the morning to get out on the harbour.'

‘Me bollocks,' said Jimmy. ‘I know what you're at. I'm not driving to Dingle now to look at a fucking dolphin after driving down here this morning already.'

‘Ah go on.'

‘No.'

‘Tomorrow?'

‘We'll see.'

‘We'll see? I'm not fucking seven, Jimmy.'

‘Look at that sky, Aesop. It's going to rain.'

‘But we'll be in the water.'

‘We will in our fuck. It's freezing.'

‘But they get you in a wet suit.'

‘They'll be lucky to get me in a boat. We'll talk about it tomorrow.'

‘I want to go today!'

‘Tough.'

‘That's not fair! I want to go to see Fungi.'

‘Another day, Aesop.'

‘But Jimmy, you said …'

‘Jesus, Aesop,' said Jimmy, rubbing his head. ‘I thought you weren't fucking seven? Will you shut up? Anyway, he's probably hibernating.'

Aesop tutted in disgust and crushed his can under his foot.

‘Hibernating … fuck sake. I'm getting more beer.'

He walked off back to the cottage, muttering to himself.

Norman and Jimmy didn't say anything for a bit. Then Norman looked up.

‘I don't think dolphins hibernate, Jimmy.'

‘Yeah? Why not?'

‘I think there might be a danger of them … y'know … drowning.'

Jimmy thought about that for a minute and then nodded.

‘I s'pose they'd need to be careful about that all right.'

Chapter Fourteen

‘There he is!' shouted Jimmy, pointing. ‘Look at him!'

It was the next morning. Cold and dark under heavy clouds and the boat was rolling all over the sea.

‘I see him,' said Norman, laughing. ‘Jesus, he's massive. Aesop! Look!'

But Aesop wasn't looking. He was at the back of the boat puking his guts up. He raised one hand in acknowledgment and then up came some more of his breakfast and he bent over fully again, grabbing the rail with both fists and roaring.

There were about a dozen people on the boat. Three Americans, a couple from Germany or somewhere, and the rest Irish. It was fairly choppy out in the harbour, but only Aesop was suffering to the point where he couldn't even stand up without feeling the huge fry he'd eaten that morning squirm and boil in his stomach.

‘Aesop, you're missing it,' shouted Jimmy.

‘I'll be grand … ugh … I'll be grand in a minute, Jimmy. Just … I'll be … '

‘We've been out here for an hour, man. We'll be heading back soon.'

Jimmy walked back to him.

‘Come on over here. At least if you're puking out the side of the boat, you'll be able to see him when he comes up.'

Aesop stood up straight. He was green, blobs of old food on his chin and his eyes red and streaming. He put one hand on Jimmy's shoulder.

‘I don't want him to see me like this,' he said.

‘I don't think he gives a shite, Aesop.'

‘He does. Jimmy, I've been … aw … aw Jesus … wait … wait a minute Jimmy.' He belched. ‘Ah, that's better … I've been waiting for years to meet him and look at the state of me now.'

‘He's a dolphin, Aesop.'

‘Dolphins are more intelligent than people, Jimmy.'

‘Some people, yeah, I can see that. Nothing would do you only to eat all them fried eggs this morning, would it?'

‘She said she was after making too many.'

‘You could've just said no.'

‘To food?'

‘Well anyway, I'm sure you're not the first person Fungi's seen vomit out here.'

‘You don't understand.'

‘Well … why don't you sit down and just peek over the side.'

‘He's not fucking stupid, Jimmy. He'll know I'm … '

‘Hi guys!'

It was one of the Amercian blokes. He was standing there in a bright luminous orange raincoat and beaming out of a tanned face with teeth like a mouthful of snow.

‘Howya,' said Jimmy.

‘Nice camera,' said Aesop, glancing up. It was about the size of fax machine.

‘Thanks! Hey, I guess you're not feeling too good, are you?'

‘What makes you say that, Inspector?'

‘Well … I noticed that you've been throwing up. Are you okay?'

‘I'm fine. Here, look … high five … '

He put up one hand, but before the other guy could do anything, Aesop was spraying the sea again.

‘Hey buddy, what you need is some toast. Dry toast.'

‘Is that what I need?'

‘Sure is. That'll sort you right out. We've been having problems with the food over here too. But when your stomach is upset like that? It's the only thing that works. Dry toast. Guaranteed.'

‘I see. And, c'mere, do you have any dry toast?'

‘No. Sorry.'

‘I see. Right. Jimmy, what did we do with all that dry toast we had?'

‘I think I left it in the car, Aesop.'

‘Shite. Ah well. But, listen, thanks anyway, man. It was a cracking idea.'

‘You're welcome. Are you guys English?'

‘No,' said Jimmy. He could see that Aesop had had enough already. ‘We're from Dublin.'

‘Really? It's hard to tell. Everyone we meet has all these crazy accents. We don't have an accent in the States.'

‘Is that a fact?' said Aesop. At least he was distracted now from his vomiting. ‘Aren't yis brilliant?'

‘Yeah. I guess we're lucky. Hey, I think we're turning around. I should get some more pictures of Fungi. I gotta tell you though, I'm a bit disappointed.'

‘Why's that?'

‘Well, he doesn't do any tricks. He just kinds of swims along with the boat, doesn't he? I guess he's not so smart.'

‘He jumped up out of the water a few times,' said Jimmy, looking at Aesop quickly.

‘Yeah, I guess. But they'd make a lot more money if they put him in a pool and taught him some tricks. That's what we do at home.'

‘Where's home?' said Jimmy. He gave Aesop a small kick in the shin.

‘South Beach, Florida.'

‘Florida, right. God. You must be loving the weather here so, are you?'

‘Y'know, actually, I prefer the sun.'

‘Oh. Do you? Right so.'

‘Anyway, we're heading to Dublin on Tuesday. We've been in the countryside for a few weeks now. Looking forward to some excitement. Is there anywhere you'd recommend? We've heard about Temple Bar and Grafton Street and … '

‘Have you ever heard of Ballyfermot?' said Aesop.

‘No. What's there?'

‘Great nightlife. You'd like it. Ballyfermot. Just ask the taximan.'

‘Ballyfermot. Right. Well, we'll be sure to check it out.'

‘Do. Bring your camera.'

‘Yeah? Okay.'

‘And that raincoat.'

‘Sure. Well, I'll see you guys later. Thanks for the tip.'

‘And you.'

He went back to his mates, and Jimmy turned around to Aesop.

‘Ballyfermot?'

‘Did you hear what he said about Fungi? Fungi's not a fuckin' clown Jimmy. We're lucky that he shows up here at all and lets us get close to him. You can't capture him and put him in a pool. There'd be a riot.'

‘Jesus. The bloke was only making conversation.'

‘Yeah. And slagging Irish food he was, too. Well, anyway it doesn't matter. He won't remember Ballyfermot.'

‘But he's writing it down, look.'

Aesop gave a small laugh and looked over.

‘Is he? Well he said they were looking for some excitement. Ah Jimmy … I'm just a bit depressed. I was really looking forward to seeing Fungi.'

‘Well he's still out there. Come on. Give him a wave anyway.'

‘All right.'

They went back to Norman who had moved over to the other side of the boat now that they were heading back in.

‘Hang on,' said Norman, putting his arm out. ‘Get down wind from me, you.'

‘I'm finished.'

‘I don't care.'

‘Believe me Norman, there's nothing left. I think the last thing that came up was something I'm going to miss later on.'

‘I'm not taking any chances.'

‘Is he still out there?'

‘He was there a minute ago. He must be getting tired though. He was lepping out of the water like it was scalding. It was brilliant. Did you not see him at all?'

‘No. Fuck it. I don't believe this shit. All this way … '

‘That's what happens when you make a savage of yourself at breakfast. How many eggs have you eaten in the last two days?'

‘They're nicer down here.'

‘Why didn't you tell the landlady you were full?'

‘Don't you bleedin' start.'

‘Well we're going back in now.'

‘Thanks, I can see that Norman.'

‘Jesus, it's not my fault you didn't see him. Don't be getting snotty with me.'

‘Where was he?'

‘Over there. Next to the head.'

Aesop looked out but there was no sign. Just the waves, which seemed to just be getting rougher and higher, the spray flying off crests in sheets.

The boat carried on into the harbour and just five minutes later they were pulling up to the pier. Aesop sighed and started to walk off back up the boat.

‘Where are you going?' said Jimmy.

‘I'm getting me money back.'

‘What?'

‘He said you get your money back if you don't see the dolphin on his boat trip.'

‘You're going to go and get your money back, are you?' said Norman. ‘From a Kerryman?'

He roared laughing.

‘C'mon, Jimmy, this'll be good … '

*

‘Do you want another pint Norman?' said Jimmy, getting up.

‘I'll go,' said Aesop.

‘You got the last one.'

‘Yeah, I know. But I'll get this one too.'

He stood up and went to the bar. Jimmy looked and saw that two hotties were after coming in and were standing there wondering what to order. Aesop was making a beeline for them.

‘He never stops, does he?' he said to Norman.

‘Ah, feck him. We know him well enough at this stage.'

Aesop came back from the bar with three pints, a packet of peanuts and a grin like a Christmas tree.

‘Stockholm,' he said.

‘Yeah?' said Jimmy, finishing the last of his old one. ‘On holliers in February?'

‘Nah. They live here. Well they live in Athlone, but just came down for the weekend. They work for some phone company or something.'

‘Ericsson?'

‘I didn't catch their names.'

‘Do they work for Ericsson?'

‘Fuck, I don't know. Anyway, who's up for it?'

The two lads said nothing.

‘C'mon, you useless fuckers. Do I have to do everything around here?'

‘Aesop, I've got a girlfriend,' said Norman.

‘Ah … okay then. That's allowed. Jimmy? You just got your marching orders. Are you on?'

‘No, Aesop. I'm not on. I'm just having a pint here.'

‘Ah Jesus lads, come on! Do you not feel the Need for Swede? Are you going to make me go over there and ride both of them? Have you never had a Swedish bird? It's like being strapped to a kangaroo.'

‘Off you go, so. Enjoy yourself.'

‘Are you sure you don't want to spoil yourself? Don't say I didn't offer.'

‘I'm grand.'

Aesop opened his wallet and pulled out two sets of the earplugs he used when he was playing drums and put them on the table next to the pints.

‘In case they're a pair of screamers later. Who's always looking out for you?'

He picked up his pint and turned around to go back to the bar.

‘And he wonders why I won't let him near Helen,' said Norman to Jimmy.

Aesop turned around.

‘What?'

Norman put down his glass.

‘I'm just saying. This is exactly why you're to keep the fuck away from Helen.'

Aesop looked back at the bar quickly and then sat down.

‘Are you saying that if I don't go over there, I can ask Helen out?'

‘No.'

‘Well … well what are you saying, then?'

‘I'm just saying you're a prick with ears and that's why you're not going near her.'

‘But … hang on a minute, Norman. You said I wasn't to touch her.'

‘That's right.'

‘Well I'm only thinking of riding that pair because you said I'd no chance with Helen. I'd never do that if I was with Helen.'

‘So Helen would be more like one of your prolonged and happy relationships?'

‘But … wait a minute Norman. That's not fair. Didn't I say that I thought Helen was great. What do you take me for? If I thought … if I thought that …'

‘She'd be like strapping yourself to a kangaroo?'

‘No! Jesus, Helen isn't like that. Helen's totally cool. I mean it, man. There's something there, I'm telling you.'

‘No there isn't.'

‘There is!'

‘And so this is how you display your affection for my cousin?'

‘Look … look … hang on a minute …'

Aesop was scratching his head.

‘What do you want me to do for fuck sake?'

‘Just be yourself.'

‘Norman, I really like her. If I thought I'd get a chance with her, I'd never go near the Swedish birds.'

‘Prove it.'

‘So … okay … if I don't ride them, you'll let me … y'know?'

‘I didn't say that. Did I say that Jimmy?'

‘Ah fuck sakes,' said Aesop. ‘You're only messing with me head now, Norman.'

‘Well, let's just say that as far as I can see, you're still the same gobshite you always were, following your cock everywhere it takes you. And it's not going to happen with my cousin.'

‘Okay. Okay. I won't ride them.'

‘Good.'

‘I'm not sick, Norman. I can say no. All right lads, you're about to witness something special. I'm staying put here. No sex for me tonight. I can do this.'

‘Well, you're about to be put to the test,' said Jimmy.

‘What?'

‘I think they got bored waiting for you. They're coming over.'

‘Shit. Itchy Swedish bastards …'

*

Norman was in the jacks about two hours later. The Swedish girls were long gone. Aesop had sat there fingering his pint and going out for a smoke every five minutes and had barely opened his mouth the whole time they were sitting down with the lads. Jimmy and Norman had a laugh with them, but they eventually wandered away.

‘Aesop?'

‘Yeah?'

‘You did very well.'

‘Thanks.'

‘Although I think they might have been be wondering what your problem was.'

‘They're not the only ones.'

‘You really like Helen?'

‘Yeah. It's like … eh … ah, I don't know …'

‘Yeah. It's been puzzling me too.'

‘No. I mean, I haven't done anything about it. But she's looked at me a few times and I know she's up for it.'

‘Up for it? Aesop, that's just the kind of expression Norman wants to hear out of you.'

‘I didn't mean up forit. I just meant that I think she likes me too. Man, there's something about her and I just … will you say something to Norman for me?'


Page 15

‘What am I s'posed to say?'

‘Tell him I'm serious about her.'

‘Aesop, will you fuck off!'

‘What?'

‘You're not serious about her! You're just gagging for it because you can't have her.'

‘No. No, it's not that at all!'

‘It fucking is. Cop on and leave the girl alone.'

‘Didn't I not just show him that I was serious?'

‘No. You sat there for an hour and said nothing with your foot tapping and your hands shaking like one of them was going to fly off your pint at any minute and land on a big Swedish tit. Helen is just another girl, Aesop. You should have gone off with the two honeys tonight.'

‘Aw Jesus. Don't say that Jimmy. I'm all … I'm all …'

‘They were fucking gorgeous. They only came over here for you and then you left them hanging. They're probably lapping champagne out of some other bloke's belly button right now.'

‘Stop! Will you shut up?'

Aesop had his eyes scrunched up now and looked like he was in pain.

‘Look Aesop, Norman is right. Just be yourself. This lark doesn't suit you. Look at the fucking state of you. You're sweating for fuck sake. Hey, why don't you go off and find them. They're probably in one of the pubs. Go on.'

Aesop looked up.

‘You think?'

‘Yeah. Sure it's still early. Isn't there a session in that other place you were yesterday? Maybe they're in there. Go on. Do us all a favour.'

‘Well …'

Aesop picked up his smokes and his phone and started to stand up.

‘I could … I could just … but … but Helen …'

He plonked down again, closing his eyes tightly and putting his fists up to his forehead.

‘Jimmy, me head is fucked.'

‘But what's your prick telling you to do?'

‘Will you shush! I'm trying to ignore it …'

Chapter Fifteen

Aesop still wasn't himself the next morning. Even the landlady was worried about him.

‘Will you not have another sausage Aesop?' she said.

‘I'm grand thanks, Mrs Kennedy. Really.'

‘I have more rashers on.'

‘Ah, I'll leave it. We were out on the sea yesterday and it was awful rough. I'm still feeling a bit ropey so I am.'

‘Ah you poor thing. Have a cup of tea just, so, and let me know if you want anything before ye head off. I can put some rashers in a sandwich for you.'

Jimmy and Norman looked at each other and shook their heads. Oul' ones were always like this with Aesop. If only they knew.

‘Thanks very much Mrs Kennedy. You're very good.'

The old lady smiled and wobbled off back into the kitchen.

‘You weren't feeling too ropey to down eight pints last night,' said Jimmy.

‘Aw, I had to make her go away, man. She's minging.'

‘I can't believe you're not eating.'

‘With the pissy smell off her? And anyway I didn't sleep very well.'

‘Thinking about the Swedish pair?'

‘No. This fucker honking and groaning all night long.'

‘I have been known to snore all right, it has to be said,' said Norman, a huge forkful of beans on its way into his mouth.

‘I can deal with snoring, Norman. Snoring has a rhythm. It's when you sit up out of the blue and start roaring and punching the fuck out of the pillow that I get a bit nervous. Jesus, what happens when you've a bird in the bed? If you can remember what that's like. Does she have to wear a crash helmet?'

‘I slept like a baby, I don't know what you're on about.'

‘Some fuckin' baby. At one stage you stopped in mid-dig and looked over at my bed with your fist in the air and only one eye open. I nearly shat meself. So, no Jimmy, I wasn't thinking about the Swedish birds. I spent most of the night afraid of going asleep and keeping an eye on Freddy fuckin' Krueger over there.'

Jimmy laughed.

‘Well anyway, are we right then? We'll head back to the cottage?'

‘Yeah. Fuck it.'

‘Do you want to have another go at seeing Fungi?'

‘No Jimmy. Sure the weather's worse today. I'll come back again.'

‘You sure?'

‘Yeah.'

‘Right. Come on. Are you eating them mushrooms Norman?'

‘No. I'd a bad experience with mushrooms once. Bangladesh. Christ, never again.'

Jimmy reached over and stuck his fork into about five of them, put them in his mouth and then stood up, nodding upstairs with his head.

*

They loaded up the car quickly, sorted out Mrs Kennedy with her money and took off for Cork again. There wasn't much talking after the drink the previous night and the only sounds were the occasional belch out of Jimmy's Peugeot on gear changes, and ‘Live and Dangerous' coming out of the speakers.

‘Is there any word from the cops?' said Aesop.

‘I talked to Garda Ní Mhurchú last night,' said Norman. ‘She gave me a ring.'

‘Any news?'

‘Nah. Not really. The note was just from a diary yoke, but that's about all they know. The flowers could've come from anywhere. Nothing's been robbed, so they can't trace anything that way. And nothing's come up from the prints they took. A lot of prints, she said, considering that it's a brand new gaff that's only had one bloke living in it.'

‘That'll be all the new special friends I've made since I moved into town.'

‘Yeah. Well, anyway they're keeping an eye on the place. She was just checking up on things with you.'

‘Why didn't she call me then?'

‘She probably didn't want to waste her time talking to a fuckin' eejit.'

‘Fuck sake. It's my bollocks we're talking about.'

‘I rang her last week and told her I'd be in charge of things. And to talk to me with any news.'

Aeosp sat back in the seat and sighed.

‘I do actually have a fucking brain you know. Didn't I beat you at chess the other night?'

‘That was draughts Aesop. And I could barely see with the bottle of whiskey I had in me. And you a cheating bastard robbing three of me men when I went to the jacks. Yeah. Don't think I didn't notice that. I just wanted the game to be over so I could get some kip. And … hey … hey Jimmy, slow down.'

‘What's up?'

‘Can you back up a bit?'

‘What?'

‘What was on that sign we just went past?'

‘I didn't see it.'

‘Back up,' said Norman, looking out the back window. ‘It's grand. There's nothing coming. About fifty metres.'

The car was stopped now and Jimmy turned around in his seat to reverse the car back up the empty road. They got to the sign, which was tied to a tree. They all read it, and then Norman looked at the other two with a big grin.

‘Are yis on?'

Jimmy and Aesop turned to each other

‘Eh … '

‘Come on. It'll be a laugh.'

‘Norman, I'm not sure … eh … '

‘C'mon to fuck. Live a little.'

‘That's the problem,' said Aesop. ‘I'd like to.'

‘You dragged us down to see Fungi Aesop, didn't you?'

‘There was more than a fifty-fifty chance of us surviving that experience Norman.'

‘Don't be such a big blouse. Jimmy?'

‘Eh … I s'pose we could go and have a look anyway.'

‘Grand. Let's go so. Next left Jimmy … '

Jimmy looked out the windscreen for a minute and then put the car into first. It farted a couple of times and then took off down the road with Aesop already biting his fingernails in the back seat and looking worried. Norman's idea of a good time usually meant doing something that normal people associated with mortal injury. It was always a bad sign when he was excited about an outdoor activity.

*

They pulled up into the car park and got out. The wind had dropped off and the sun was making an effort, but it was still freezing. Aesop walked between the other few cars that were there and over to a notice board.

‘Jaysis. Lads, according to this yoke, Slieve Mish is eight hundred fucking metres high.'

‘Yeah,' said Norman. ‘Jesus, it's gorgeous here, isn't it? Look at that view. A man could go walking here for a week and never see it from the same angle twice. You can see the rain down in Kilshannig, look. I've a good mind to leave you here and walk home.'

‘Right so Jimmy,' said Aesop. ‘Back in the car, c'mon.'

‘Can you see the sea boiling up down there?'

‘Would you ever stop beating your big farmer's chest for a minute,' said Aesop. ‘Did you hear what I said?'

‘I heard you.'

‘Eight hundred metres.'

‘Right.'

‘Jimmy, I'm assuming that you haven't lost the will to live. Can we just go?'

‘Hang on Aesop. I want to have a look at this.'

‘But it says … '

‘Aesop, I'm pretty sure you don't jump off the top of the mountain and go all the way to the bottom. Come on. We'll see what it's like anyway.'

They started walking up a rocky pathway that curved around a bend in front of them. A half hour later, one which consisted of more leg exercise than either Aesop or Jimmy had had in about ten years, and they finally reached a cabin. They could see the platform about a hundred metres further on, a few people standing around.

‘Hi, I'm Shauna,' said a smiling girl at a desk inside the cabin door. ‘Welcome to the Mish Mash Experience.'

‘Mish Mash? Jaysis … ' said Jimmy, stepping into the room. ‘Ooh, it's lovely and warm in here.'

‘You guys here to jump? We've just started going again. It was too windy this morning.'

The other two stepped into the cabin behind Jimmy. Aesop went straight over to the electric heater.

‘Ah, that's better. Jaysis, you've a little kitchen and everything in here.'

‘Yeah. Well we're up here all day,' said the girl. ‘So … three for a jump?'

‘Two,' said Aesop.

‘Or … maybe just one,' said Jimmy.

‘Don't mind this pair,' said Norman. ‘I'll go anyway.'

‘Ah, a Cork man. We've had nothing but foreigners today so far. Would you like to see the platform first?'

‘No. I'm grand. How high is the drop?'

‘Exactly two hundred and ninety-five feet. About a hundred metres.'

‘To the ground?'

‘Yeah. Although we try and fix it so you don't do the full ton.'

Norman laughed.

‘What's the closest you've come?'

‘Well, there's no water down there, so around seventy-five is about right before the snap.'

‘Sounds cool. How much?'

‘Seventy-five euro please.'

‘One euro per metre? Sounds fair. Credit card?'

‘No problem. And you'll have to sign this disclaimer.'

‘Of course.'

Aesop was watching all this, his head going between the girl and Norman.

‘Norman?'

‘Yeah?'

‘Are you off your bleedin' trolley?'

‘What?'

‘You're going to jump off a cliff with a rubber band tied to your feet?'

‘Yeah. Always wanted to do one. It'll be great. Will you not have a go?'

‘I will in me brown. Sorry love, but do you get many nutters doing this?'

‘Well, we've only been here since the summer. First permanent one in Ireland. There's a few people out there now. Americans they are, or Canadians.'

‘Mad foreign bastards.'

‘Okay. Well, if you go out to the platform, you'll meet Robbo. He's the boss and he'll sort you out.'

‘Grand,' said Norman, striding out of the cabin.

The other two looked at Shauna, who was still smiling.

‘Not too late,' she said, waving Norman's disclaimer form.

‘Sorry,' said Aesop. ‘There's this thing I've to do later on this afternoon and I kind of have to be alive for it.'

She looked at them again, tapping her pen against her cheek.

‘Are you … are you guys … ?'

Jimmy nodded.

‘Oh brilliant! I thought I knew your face all right? Can I have an autograph?'

‘No problem.'

‘And can I take a picture on me phone?'

A couple of minutes later, the lads left her beaming at her phone and went out to find Norman. He was talking to Robbo, who was showing him all the gear.

‘What do you think?' said Norman when he saw them coming over. He was holding up a big roll of bungee cord and grinning.

‘I think you need to sit down and have a cup of tea for yourself and think this through,' said Aesop.

‘Did you look over the edge?'

Aesop gripped the railing in front of them and slowly leaned towards it. Then he looked out and down.

‘Oh holy Jesus,' he said, leaning back quickly and pushing himself up against the opposite wall.

‘Safe as,' said Robbo. Australian accent.

‘Safe as what?' said Aesop, still running his hands along the wall behind him for something to grab onto.

‘Safe as you like!' said Robbo.

‘Me bollocks.'

‘You're not jumping?'

‘Correct.'

‘Mate, what would I have to do to convince you that it's totally safe?'

‘Well, you'd have to move the whole fucking thing about two hundred and ninety-four feet closer to the ground for starters. And I still probably wouldn't do it.'

‘Come on, ya poof. I have cords for every size. What do you weigh?'

‘Twenty-seven stone. Sorry Robbo. It's not going to happen.'

‘What about your mate there?'

‘Ah … ' said Jimmy. ‘I don't think so. My insurance wouldn't cover this.'

‘Mate, it's all included in the seventy-five euro.'

‘Is it? Still … '

He looked over the side and then edged back next to Aesop.

‘I don't think so. Did you know there's a sheep down there?'

‘That's Woolly the Jumper. If you can grab a handful of wool, you get your money back.'

‘Right. Yeah. Anyone ever done it?'

‘Not yet mate.'

‘I'll give it a go,' said Norman.

‘Norman … ' said Jimmy.

‘Seriously,' said Norman to Robbo. ‘Can you get me that close to her?'

Robbo looked at him.

‘I was joking mate.'

‘Come on. I can do it.'

‘Eh … sorry mate. I can't do that.'

‘Ah c'mon to fuck. It'll be a laugh.'

Robbo looked at the other two, but they were staring at Norman.

‘Norman,' said Jimmy. ‘Don't be fucking stupid. Robbo was only messing.'

‘Hey Norman,' said Aesop, pulling cigarettes out of his pocket. ‘I'll give you another seventy-five on top of it if you can check whether she's been squeezed.'

‘Remember how we established that we only squeeze the boys, Aesop?' said Norman. ‘Anyway Jimmy, if you get the measurements right, it should be no problem. That right Robbo?'

‘Sorry mate. No facking way. It took me three years to get permission to open this place.'

‘Well, can you put me down further than seventy-five metres? Say, eighty-five? Ninety?'

‘Mate, if you really want to, I'll get you down to eighty metres. That's it.'

‘Okay so. That'll do. Lads? Are you sure you won't do it?'

‘Positive,' said Jimmy, swallowing. He didn't like being up here in this cage thing. He was already starting to hum a happy tune from his childhood in his head.

‘There's a couple of girls over there that are thinking of giving it a go,' said Robbo, pointing over to the other group, twenty metres away and trying on harnesses. ‘You don't want to look like a couple of poofs now, do you?'

‘I don't mind,' said Aesop, looking around. He frowned. ‘Jimmy, is that who I think it is? There can't be more than one raincoat like that in Kerry.'


Page 16

Jimmy looked over. It was. The guy turned around and they could see his shiny choppers from here.

‘Hi guys!' he shouted, and started to come over, waving.

‘Hiya,' said Jimmy.

‘Going to give it a go? By the way, I'm Bill. I don't think we introduced ourselves on the boat yesterday.'

‘Howya Bill. Jimmy. And Aesop.'

‘Hi guys. So … you going to jump? It's smaller than the ones I've done before but, hell, a jump is a jump, right?'

Jimmy nodded.

‘Speaking of jumps,' said Bill, leaning in and whispering. ‘My buddy and I got real lucky last night with two chicks from Sweden. Ya know what I mean?'

Aesop's eyes doubled in size.

‘From Sweden?'

‘Yeah. Met them in some bar last night. Wow! Talk about a couple of honeys! I don't usually go for blondes but … oh man … '

Aesop looked over. There they were, the Ericsson sisters, laughing with the other two Americans.

‘So are you guys going to jump?' said Bill again.

‘Eh … yeah. We are,' said Aesop.

‘Great! Hey, we should get some pictures together. Come over when you're ready, why doncha.'

They both watched him walk back over to the group.

‘You're going to jump now, are you?' said Jimmy.

‘I said “we”,' said Aesop.

‘I heard what you said. And I'm not doing it.'

‘What'll we look like if he jumps and we don't?'

‘I don't give a fuck what we look like. I wouldn't jump off this mountain if I was bleedin' Spiderman and I'm certainly not doing it just so you can impress some tart.'

‘It's not the girl, man. It's that Yank. He thinks he's brilliant. The fucking jump isn't high enough for him now, did you hear that? We're jumping for Ireland here, sure.'

‘Ask me arse Aesop. I'm going to watch Norman jump, from a nice safe distance, and then I'm heading back down to the car and getting some lunch. There's a pub down the road with a singing dog according to Norman.'

‘Yeah? What does he sing?'

‘Who the fuck knows.'

‘We'll do that so. But the jump first, yeah?'

‘No.'

‘Well I'm doing it. Look, come on over to this crowd for a minute. I have to know if he rode them.'

‘He said he did, didn't he? One of them anyway.'

‘Blokes are full of shit. You have to go to the source.'

‘They're hardly going to tell you what they … '

‘They won't have to,' said Aesop, walking away.

Jimmy followed him over and Bill introduced them all round. Aesop turned around at one point and gave Jimmy a solemn nod. It seemed that Bill had indeed scored, although Jimmy had no idea how Aesop knew this. He didn't even want to know.

‘So,' said Aesop. ‘You don't reckon it's high enough?'

‘Nah,' said Bill. ‘I did a five hundred footer in Costa Rica last year. Nowthatwas scary.'

‘Jaysis. You should be on the telly.'

‘This is only a small one. For kids.'

‘And you don't reckon you'll be scared at all? Did you not look over the side? It looked scary to me.'

‘Nah. Should be cool. Hey Elina, you want to help me with this thing?'

One of the Swedish girls came up and kissed him before helping him step into his harness. She gave Aesop a nice smile, one hand on her hip and one on Bill's shoulder.

‘Hello again,' said Aesop. He cleared his throat. ‘Okay, well I'll seeya in a bit, Bill. My mate is itching to go, so we're going to have a look at him first.'

‘No problem. We'll see you in five.'

Aesop and Jimmy started walking back over towards Norman.

‘Did you see that?' said Aesop. He was fuming, fists clenched. Jimmy had never seen him look so upset.

‘See what?'

‘Kissing her in front of me and everything. Cheeky fucker … coming over here like that, robbing our women … '

‘She's fucking Swedish, Aesop.'

‘It doesn't matter. This ismyturf, Jimmy!'

‘What? Your turf? We're in bleedin' Kerry, Aesop. You might as well have stepped out of a fucking spaceship, the head on you.'

‘He doesn't even like blondes he said! What does that mean? What's wrong with him? He's just winding me up now, man.'

‘Will you give over, Aesop. He doesn't even know you were talking to her last night.'

‘Me bollix Jimmy. And anyway, that pair are s'posed to be back in Athlone by now.'

‘Maybe he gave her such a good looking-after last night that she didn't want to go back.'

‘Ah shut up Jimmy. That's just being rude, now, so it is.'

‘You're not really going to do it, are you?'

‘Someone has to put manners on the fucker.'

‘He doesn't give a shite if you jump or not. How will that teach him manners?'

‘He's been rising me for two days, Jimmy. Taking advantage of me when I'm sick on the boat and then when I'm trying to do the right thing by Norman with Helen. Then he's snogging that gorgeous bundle right in front of me, and laughing in me face. And now you want me to let him think I'm a chickeny bastard who won't even jump off a mountain?'

‘Look, Aesop, you do what you want. You fuckin' eejit. But I'm not doing it.' They were back at the main platform now. ‘Hey Norman, that didn't take long.'

‘Sure I've done me share of this kind of thing. The gear's the same.'

‘Are you ready to go?'

‘Yeah. Robbo, are we ready?'

‘Sure Norman. Are you ready?'

‘Yeah. Let's go.'

‘Okay mate. You need to hop to the edge there. That's right. Until your toes are just over the edge. Don't look down.'

‘How will I be able to grab hold of Woolly if I don't look down?'

‘Eh … '

‘It's grand Robbo. I'm only messing. Okay?'

‘Right. Now I'll go one, two, three, BUNGEE! All right? You dive off like you're diving into a pool.'

‘Grand. Lads, will you take a picture?'

‘Eh … ' said Jimmy. ‘You mean lean over and … '

‘It's okay guys,' said Robbo. ‘We have a guy over on that ridge. He'll get some good shots and we can email them on to you, no charge. And then Phil on the winch here will go down and pull you back up.'

Phil gave them a wave. He looked cold and bored.

‘Lovely. Can I go so?'

‘Wait till I give you the countdown.'

‘Okay. Lads, you're not going to see anything from back there.'

Jimmy and Aesop slowly moved to the railing again and clung onto the top of it.

‘One … two … three … BUNNNNGEEEEEE … '

Norman let a whoop out of him and executed a beautiful dipping arc before the angle they needed to lean out at to see him became too much for the lads.

‘Faaack,' said Robbo. ‘Nice dive. Has Norman really not done this before?'

‘Eh … well he's done similar stuff,' said Jimmy.

‘Facking mad as.'

‘Mad as what?' said Aesop from up against the back wall again.

‘Mad as you like!' said Robbo.

‘Does everyone talk like you in Australia Robbo?' said Aesop.

‘Straylia? Faack. I'm a Kiwi, mate. Aussies are poofs!'

‘Oh right. Sorry.'

‘You poofs going to jump?'

‘I'm thinking about it,' said Aesop.

‘Beauty. Okay, wait till I get Norman back up here and then I'll go and check on the other guys.'

Phil was already en route down to Norman and a couple of minutes later the two of them appeared at the platform.

‘Holy fuck,' said Norman, when he saw the lads. ‘That was fucking deadly!'

‘You're mental,' said Jimmy, shaking his head.

‘Lads you have to do it!'

‘Aesop is thinking about it.'

‘Good stuff out of you Aesop! You'll love it!'

He detached himself from all the cables, wires and his harness and then thanked Robbo and Phil.

‘Man, I'd do that again in a flash. I can't wait to see the pictures.'

‘We email them on to you Norman. You left your address with Shauna?'

‘Yeah, she has it. Thanks a lot.'

‘Right guys, I'm going to check on the others. Aesop, you want to start trying on harnesses there?' He handed him one. ‘I reckon this one will do you.'

‘Thanks.'

A couple of minutes later Bill and his mates and the girls came over. Only the guys were doing the jump. Bill gave Elina another kiss right in front of Aesop and they both grinned at him. Now even Jimmy was sure that he was taking the piss. She must have said something to Bill about last night. Well, Aesop was the one that decided Helen was more important. He couldn't exactly complain about it now that they were with Bill and his mate, could he? Still, Bill was being a bit of a prick about it.

‘How was that?' said Bill.

‘You'll love it,' said Norman, still flushed and high as a kite. ‘It's a right mad buzz!'

‘Thanks man. Pity it's such a lame one though. Still it's for the video blog, right? But I've done much tougher jumps.'

Norman nodded and looked a bit bemused.

‘I've done a few meself.'

‘Anyway Robbo, let's go. If this is the only Irish bungee, then I guess I might as well do it.'

Once he was all strapped up and ready to go, he bunny-hopped to the edge.

‘Well,' said Jimmy to Aesop. ‘He's doing it. You're up after him. Does your harness fit?'

‘Yeah, it's grand,' said Aesop.

‘Are you nervous?'

‘Actually Jimmy, I feel strangely calm.'

‘I think you're a looper doing this just to prove some stupid point that he probably won't even get anyway.'

‘Hey Aesop?' called Bill, turning around from the very edge. ‘How do I look?'

‘You look brilliant, Bill.'

‘Elina? You ready with the video?'

‘Yes.'

Aesop pulled out another smoke and lit it up.

Robbo stood with one hand on Bill's back.

‘Hey Aesop … ' said Jimmy.

‘One, two, three … ' said Robbo.

‘Just a second Jimmy,' said Aesop.

‘BUNNNGEEEEE … ' yelled Robbo.

Bill leapt into the air, arms out, one hand on top of the other, his body turning into an A-shape, bent at the waist, before he straightened out and hung for a split second right in front of them.

Aesop pulled the smoke out of his mouth, took a step forward and roared.

‘No Bill! No! Not yet!Jesus Christ, not yet!!'

But Bill was gone. Screaming and tumbling, his perfectly formed dive a distant memory as his arms and legs tried to flap their way back up to safety and his underpants quickly filled with urine. For a second, that's all anyone could hear. Bill's frantic screams of terror. Then they all turned to Aesop, who was taking off his harness, the smoke back in his mouth so he could use both hands. He looked up.

‘Jaysis, I'd say that'll look deadly on his video blog,' he said out of the corner of his mouth.

‘Aesop … ' said Jimmy and Norman together, mouths open.

‘Aw … mate,' said Robbo, shaking his head. ‘That was … '

Elina was just looking at him in horror.

‘You evil, evil … ' said Jimmy.

‘Later Jimmy. Listen, I think the best thing to do would be to get the fuck out of here, yeah?'

Norman nodded. He couldn't speak.

‘Grand. Well, thanks for everything Robbo,' said Aesop, handing him the harness.

‘You … and you're not even going to jump?'

Aesop roared laughing.

‘I am in me bollix. I'm going for a pint. Lads? Seeya in the car.'

He took off away from the platform in a half jog. He went straight past the cabin and then stopped and walked back, sticking his head in the door.

‘Hey Shauna.'

‘Oh. Hi Aesop. You want to jump now?'

‘Nah. Listen, did I see a … ah. There it is. Will you do me a favour Shauna?'

‘Of course.'

*

‘How much is that doggie in the window?' sang the man with the guitar.

‘Woof woof!' went the little mutt.

‘The one with the waggly tail … '

‘Woof woof!'

The lads were breaking their bollocks laughing.

Four miles back up the road, Bill had recovered sufficiently so that his shaking legs were able to carry him slowly to the cabin to pick up his keys and phone from the basket. He was dazed, dishevelled, queasy and very uncomfortable. He'd never relieved himself upside-down before and gravity had made shite of his t-shirt. Tear marks still stained his cheeks.

‘Hi Bill,' said Shauna, all sweet and innocence. ‘Your mate Aesop told me you'd want this.'

Bill looked down at the saucer she was holding out.

‘I have butter and marmalade, but he said you preferred it dry?'

Chapter Sixteen

‘Okay muppet,' said Norman, standing over Aesop the next day. ‘Two things …'

‘What?' said Aesop through the chocolate bikkie in his mouth. He'd been flicking through an old Hello magazine on the armchair.

‘You've to call Trish tonight and say sorry.'

‘Ah Norman …'

‘You said you would ages ago and you haven't yet. You have to Aesop.'

‘She's probably forgotten all about it.'

‘She has in her arse. After dinner you give her a call. Okay? And you're to apologise properly, you hear me? I don't want any of your bollocks-acting on the phone. You're to …'

‘Okay okay. I'll bleedin' call her. And?'

‘And it's your turn to make the dinner.'

‘Me?!'

‘Yes, Aesop. You're making the dinner. You think we're all going to be waiting on you hand and foot for the rest of your life? There's no women here now for you toplámásinto feeding and watering you.'

‘But … but we had that big feed at lunchtime. Are you hungry again already, you big gorilla?'

‘Who's stuffing his face with rubbish in front of me? It's five o'clock now. What are we having? You don't have to go mad. I'll go out to the shop now and get whatever you need. Check the fridge there.'

‘But Norman …'

‘Go on.'

Aesop sighed and walked over to the fridge.

‘Jesus, it's packed.'

‘Grand. So what are we having?'

‘Hang on a minute.'

Aesop rooted around in there, pushing things aside so he could get a good look at his options. He held up a plastic bag.

‘What's this?'

‘Lettuce.'

‘Lettuce. Right. And how does that work?'

‘Come on Aesop, it's frosting up out there already.'

‘All right, all right. Okay. I think we have everything. Will you just get some salad cream? Not mayonnaise or anything. Proper salad cream I need, right?'

‘What are we having?

‘A surprise.'

‘Right. Is that it?'

‘Yeah. That should cover it. Get some smokes too. And we're out of beer.'

‘Okay. Give me money.'

‘I've to pay for it too?'

‘That's the rules.'

‘Fuck sake. Okay. Here …'

‘Grand. I'll see you in a bit. Jimmy, do you need anything?'

‘What?' Jimmy was on the couch with his guitar, doing his warm-up exercises. ‘No. No I'm grand thanks. Or, actually, will you get some Ribena? I don't want to get a cold with the tour coming up.'

‘No problem.'

Norman grabbed his coat and went to the door. The whole roof seemed to shift and creak when he opened it and stepped outside.

‘Christ, there's a fair wind coming up,' he said, pulling up his collar and closing the door after him.

The lads could hear his heavy footsteps walking to the car.

‘So what's for dinner then?' said Jimmy, looking over.

‘I'm going to make me signature dish.'

‘I didn't know you had one.'

‘It's bleedin' magic. Wait till you see. What are you playing there?'

‘Ah, I'm just practising. A few scales and modes. Good for the fingers. This is a Dorian mode. Y'see, the Dorian mode comes from a minor scale …'

Aesop held up his hand.

‘Hang on a minute Jimmy. Will we wait till Norman comes back before you explain? Because maybe he gives a bollocks.'

‘Nothing wrong with learning a bit of theory, Aesop.'

‘Ah, it's all a load of me arse. Who gives a wank about the difference between diatonic scales and minor scales and all that bollocks?'

‘The minor scale is a diatonic scale, Aesop.'

‘Well I managed to become a rockstar without knowing that or giving a flying fuck, didn't I? So it can't be that important.'

‘Whatever, Aesop. But the Dorian mode is one of the …'

‘I knew a Doreen once. She was good for the fingers. But, Christ, she'd some gob on her.'

‘At least you remember her name.'

‘It's buried in me brain! She had this mad habit of talking to herself as you were lashing into her. Mental. I mean, I'm all on for a girl knowing what she wants in the leaba, but … well, it's only manners to direct it at the bloke that's on top of her, right? But this one used to be cheering herself on. “That's it … good girl Doreen … come on Doreen … oh, oh, we nearly had it that time … come on pet, that's it, we'll get the next one … concentrate now, Doreen … ” You'd swear she was coming for Ireland, the scrunched-up head on her, and didn't want to disappoint the folks back home. Sure I was getting all caught up in it too, nearly joining in and everything, just to wish her all the best. After about an hour she told me to wait a minute, and disappeared out of the room. I thought she was going to come back in with a plate of oranges for fuck sake. But she was just changing her frillies. “It works better when I'm wearing this one,” she says. Bleedin' spacer. It took another hour. I swear, by the time she got there I didn't know whether to give her a kiss or a medal.'

Jimmy laughed.

‘Gold?'

‘Jaysis yeah. After all that? Fuck sake, I spent the next week waiting for an invitation to the Mansion House.'

‘So c'mere. Are you going to phone Trish?'

‘Yeah. Jesus, I have to, don't I? He'll go fuckin' spare if I don't. But what are you s'posed to do in a situation like this.'

‘A situation like this? Aesop, this is a unique situation. Look, just talk to her. The longer you leave it, the harder it'll be.'

‘But what am I meant to say to her?'

‘Just tell her the truth. Tell her you're a fuckin' eejit.'

‘She knows that.'

‘But she wants to hear it from you, doesn't she? Just do it and then Norman will chill out and I won't have to be fucking mortified the next time I see her.'

‘Yeah. I s'pose. But I don't care what anyone says, she was acting all fucked up that night.'

‘As opposed to your own performance?'

‘She gave me the willies, man.'

‘Well I'm pretty sure she'll be careful not to do that again. Now will you try not to talk for the next twenty minutes so I can finish this?'

‘Ah play something else Jimmy. Scales are boring.'

‘I have to do them for me tendonitis, don't I? Go and start the dinner or something.'

‘It doesn't take that long. I'll wait till Norman gets back. Go on. Play something cool.'

‘Like what?'

Aesop grinned.

‘Do “Cat Scratch Fever”!'

‘What? Fuck off! On an acoustic?'

‘Yeah, come on. I'll sing. For the craic.'

Jimmy laughed.

‘Okay. Okay. I'll give it a go … hang on a minute till I get a key for you. And c'mere, if I get a blister trying to bend these strings, you're dead.'

‘You won't. C'mon.'

Aesop watched Jimmy work it out and start the intro. This was brilliant. This was how they'd started, all those years ago. Two fuckin' eejits and a guitar. Aesop watched Jimmy effortlessly find the right chords and notes. He probably hadn't played this song in years but it was right there, like he'd written it himself only yesterday. How the fuck did he do it? Aesop had no idea. He loved the guitar, but he was shite at it. Compared to Jimmy anyway. The drums were easy. He couldn't remember a time when he wasn't able to play whatever he wanted on them. But Jimmy … Aesop would never be so gay as to actually admit it, even to himself, but he thought Jimmy was fucking deadly.

*

Aesop brought two big dinner plates over to the kitchen table, where the other two were waiting with something approaching trepidation. He held them up in the air over them.

‘Are yis ready?'

‘We're ready. Come on, will you? I'd eat a scabby babby through a tennis racquet.'

‘Right, here ya go.'

He plonked the two plates down on the table with a big grin.

‘Tuck in lads.'

They looked at the plates in front of them and then up at each other.

‘Sandwiches?' said Norman.

‘Yep.'

‘We're having sandwiches for our dinner?'

‘Not just sandwiches, Norman. My special sandwiches.'

‘What's in them?' said Jimmy, picking one up.

‘Ah ah!' said Aeosp. ‘No looking. You have to close your eyes and tell me what's in them.'

Norman had a sandwich in his hand now too.

‘Close your eyes!' said Aesop again.

‘You're not taking the piss now?' said Jimmy. ‘There's not fucking ash from the fire or something in them, is there?'

‘No! I'm telling you, they're bleedin' gorgeous. I came up with the recipe when I moved into the new gaff and had to start feeding meself.'

‘Are you sure?' said Norman. ‘Cos if I break a tooth or something … I'm telling you …'

‘Will you relax? Okay. Eyes closed? Right. What do you think?'

They both took bites out of their sandwiches.

‘Aesop …'

‘Eyes closed Jimmy!'

‘They are closed.'

‘What do you taste?'

‘Salad cream.'

‘And?'

‘Onions.'

‘And?'

‘That's all I fuckin' taste Aesop. Salad cream and onions.'

‘And salt?'

‘Eh … I s'pose. Maybe.'

Norman opened his eyes as he swallowed the first bite.

‘Aesop, are you after making salad cream sandwiches for the dinner?'

‘You don't like them?'

‘Fuck sake … you useless prick.'

‘They're bleedin' gorgeous! What's the matter with you?'

‘How is this dinner?'

‘I eat this all the time!'

‘Well that would explain the pasty face of you. Jesus, there's half a bloody pig in the fridge and cheese and eggs and all kinds of stuff for a proper salad, and this is what you serve up to us? And you wasted a whole sliced pan on them too, you fucking langer.'

They'd both thrown down their sandwiches at this stage and were looking up at Aesop.

‘Lads this is gourmet shit, I'm telling you …' he said.

‘It's not, Aesop. It's just shit,' said Norman.

He stood up and went to the fridge, pulling out the huge leg of ham and getting a chopping board and knife.

‘What are you doing?' said Aesop.

‘I'm making proper sandwiches.'

‘But you'll ruin them.'

‘Aesop, has anyone – anyone in your life – given you salad cream sandwiches for dinner.'

‘I eat them every day! Twice a day if there's no beans in the house.'

‘Do you never eat fruit or vegetables?'

‘What do you call onions?'

‘Fuck sake. Jimmy, do you want some of this?'

‘Please Norman.'

‘Right. Do you, you fucking eejit, while I'm cutting it?'

‘No! I'm grand with the salad cream.'

‘This doesn't get you out of making meals, Aesop. And you better start coming up with some new recipes or there'll be trouble in this house, I'm telling you. And you can do the dishes and put everything away after you talk to Trish.'

‘Who put you in charge, you big bullying bastard?'

‘Dónal did.'

‘You're only getting paid to make sure no one kills me.'

‘And you're making me earn it too, aren't you? Blowing kisses at Davey and winding me up about Helen, making that poor American lad cry like that …'

‘Well … you don't have to go around slagging the dinner I made for you.'

‘Oh, you're going to start sulking now, are you? We're the ones who should be sulking Aesop, and the stomachs hanging out of us with the hunger at half past seven. Salad cream sandwiches …'

‘Well, if it's such a stupid idea, why did they write it on the bottle then?'

Aesop went over to the fridge, found the bottle and pulled it out, clearing his throat and reading.

‘See? It says it right here. “Perfect for Sandwiches”. Where do you think I came up with the idea?'

Norman turned back to the chopping board.

‘Do you know the aerial sticking out of the roof of my van, Aesop?'

‘Yeah.'

‘Well, will you ever go out and hang your bollocks on it?'

*

‘Yeah … yeah, he is … no, he's doing the dishes. Okay … okay … here he is.'

Norman handed the phone to Aesop, who was standing there with a teacloth and a wet plate. Aesop gave him one more pleading look, but Norman just frowned and jerked the phone at him. Aesop mouthed the word ‘fucker' at him and took it.

‘Eh … hello?' he said.

‘Hello.'

‘It's Aesop.'

‘Yeah, I know. How are you, Aesop?'

‘I'm grand. How are you?'

‘Okay.'

‘Listen, I … I … eh … hang on a minute …'

He took the phone away from his face.

‘What are you two fuckers looking at?'

Jimmy laughed and started playing the guitar again. Norman turned away and started to put away the dishes.

‘Sorry about that.'

‘That's okay. What can I do for you?'

‘Well, for starters, you can tell me that you weren't hurt when I … did that awful thing that time in my gaff.'

‘You mean physically?'

‘Yeah.'

‘I wasn't. It was mostly milk, sure.'

‘Really? Oh. Well anyway, the other thing you can do is tell me that you forgive me for being a total muppet. I'm so fucking sorry I scared you like that. I was a bit on edge that night and I don't know what I was thinking. I was all …'

‘Aesop, it's fine.'

‘Really?'

‘Really. Don't worry about it. Norman told me that there's been someone following you. I suppose I can see how that might … get you all uptight.'


Page 17

‘Ah, thanks Tracy. You're very good.'

‘Trish.'

‘Oh fuck, yeah. Sorry. Trish.'

‘Anyway, is he looking after you down there?'

‘He is, yeah. Sure I'm no trouble anyway. Isn't that right Norman?'

Norman just raised his eyes to heaven.

‘We went to see Fungi yesterday.'

‘Yeah, Norman said that. How was he?'

‘Well, I didn't actually see him meself. I had a bit of food poisoning and the boat was terrible rough. Every time I tried to look over the side, I kind of . . . puked.'

‘Oh. That's a pity. You should go again. Hey, I'll be down home in Sneem next week. Maybe we can hook up and go together?'

‘Yeah, deadly. I'm not sure if Norman wants to go again though. He's seen him loads of times. And Jimmy's hopeless. He's got no interest in aquatic mammals.'

‘Well, we can go and see Fungi just the two of us then. I haven't seen him in years.'

‘Eh, yeah. Great. Well anyway, I don't want to keep you. I just wanted to say sorry for wrecking your dress and giving you a fright. Can I pay for the cleaning?'

‘Not at all. Sure it just needed a soaking. It's not the first time, believe me. You have to get used to it in my job.'

‘Right. Ah, listen, thanks very much for not giving me shit over it.'

‘Forget about it Aesop. I already have. Hey, do I hear Ted Nugent in the background?'

‘Yeah! Jesus. That's Jimmy messing. How do you know Ted Nugent?'

‘Sure don't I have two big brothers? Mad rockers they were, when I was growing up.'

Aesop laughed.

‘Yeah, me and Jimmy were just messing about earlier on the guitar.'

‘Cool. Well anyway Aesop, just forget about what happened before. Okay?'

‘Thanks. Well, look, how about I buy you and Norman dinner then? Can I do that at least?'

‘You don't have to, Aesop. Really.'

‘Ah, I want to. Just to say sorry properly. Please?'

‘Well … okay. If you like. But … Aesop?'

‘Yeah?'

‘I … I was kind of hoping for a chance to see you alone. I want to just have a chat with you about something. In private, like.'

‘You want to … eh …'

Aesop changed the phone to the other ear and lowered his voice.

‘You want …'

‘How about you buy just me and you dinner instead? Just the two of us? Or we could even meet somewhere? No need to mention it to Norman. He can be a bit … y'know …'

Aesop swallowed and looked around. Jimmy was de-tuning to play some Foo Fighters and Norman was poking at the fire.

Fuck. This wasn't good.

He moved towards the bedroom quietly and went in, closing the door behind him.

‘Just us?' he said. ‘And … what do you want to talk about?'

‘I'd rather just meet with you. If that's okay? There's something I want to show you. Or … well, give you.'

Aesop's head was whizzing. What the fuck did that mean? Did she want to ride him again? Or … or …

‘Is it the picture from the Baggot? Because you can do that any time. You don't have to go out of your way or …'

‘No, it's not that. But it's something to do with it all right.'

‘Sounds very mysterious.'

Aesop tried a little laugh. Jesus, he was getting a headache. Why couldn't this mad tart just leave him alone?

‘God,' he said. ‘We don't want Norman to get jealous, do we? Ha ha …'

*

Out in the living room, Norman turned away from the fire.

‘Where's he gone?'

‘I think he's in the bedroom.'

‘What's he in there for? Is he finished talking to her? Where's me phone?'

‘I don't know.'

Norman stood up and looked at the table and the counter. No phone.

What was he gone into the bedroom for? What were they talking about?

He went over to the door and listened. He could hear Aesop talking in there, but he couldn't make out what he was saying. He was practically whispering. What the fuck?

Suddenly Norman could feel it. Like a bit of bread he'd swallowed before it was properly chewed, stuck in his gullet. He felt it like a faint nausea that hit the pit of his belly and started to move through him until he could nearly taste it in the back of his throat. Jealousy didn't feel green to Norman. It was a roaring, thumping red. It was a blazing inferno. It was a vicious storm on the ocean. It was a boiling cauldron of something that twisted and squirmed, and it mocked him. He stepped away from the door and took a big slow breath.

‘More tea Jimmy?'

‘Hmm? Yeah, okay. Is it after getting a bit chilly in here?'

‘I put another log on the fire. It'll catch in a minute.'

‘Grand so.'

‘Oh, I got coffee earlier. Coffee?'

‘Lovely. I'll have a Wagon Wheel too if Aesop didn't eat them all.'

‘Yeah, there's a couple left.'

‘Is he still talking to Trish?'

‘He must be.'

‘Jaysis. Is that a good thing or is she reading him the riot act?'

‘Don't know.'

‘I hope she's giving him a right bollo …'

Jimmy didn't get to finish. There was a sudden roaring scream from the bedroom.

‘Arrghhh! Arrgh!! Jesus fucking … argghhh!! Hoh-leeeee fuuuuuuck!'

A crashing sound followed by another quick bout of swearing exploded through the house.

‘What the fu … ?'

Jimmy and Norman's faces were locked onto each other for a split second and then Norman dropped the kettle onto the floor and before Jimmy could even register what was happening, he was at the bedroom door. He slammed down on the handle, but the door wouldn't budge. There was another bang from inside.

‘Arggh! Help! Help!Norman!!'

‘Aesop, what's going on?'

‘There's a … a … ah Jesus!Quick!'

‘Oh fuck,' said Norman. He rattled the handle again and when it didn't move he took a step back.

‘Norman!'

‘I'm coming Aesop. Hang on …'

‘Jesus fucking Christ! Norman!Arggh…'

The screaming was becoming more and more high-pitched and frantic and then Norman could hear one more crash and Aesop scrabbling at the door on the other side.

‘It won't … it's … it won't …'

‘Stand back.'

‘What?'

‘Get back from the door Aesop.'

Norman shifted backwards again and then propelled his body into the heavy old timber. It exploded into the room. Before he even had a chance to get his bearings, a figure pushed past him, through the kitchen and out the front door. Footsteps pounded on the gravel outside and then faded into the night. Norman straightened up and looked around. The room was empty. He looked at the window. It was closed. Under the bed. Nothing.

‘He's gone!' he said, looking out at Jimmy, who was now clutching his knees and his guitar to his chest, completely white on the couch.

Jimmy nodded.

‘He just ran out the door. Who the fuck is in there?'

‘No one.'

‘At all?'

‘No one. Look …'

Jimmy got to his feet very slowly and put his guitar down. He grabbed the poker from the fire and peeked around what was left of the doorframe. Norman pulled the wardrobe open, Jimmy standing by ready to split anyone that might be hiding in there, but that was empty too.

‘What the fuck?'

They both went back out to the kitchen. The only sound now was the wind howling in the front door.

‘Where did he go?' said Jimmy.

‘Come on.'

Norman led them out to the garden. There was no sign of Aesop.

‘Can you see him?'

‘Maybe he's hiding.'

‘Aesop?' called Norman. ‘Aesop, where are you?'

Nothing. It was hard to hear anyway with the whistling and banging from the wind.

‘Aesop!' shouted Jimmy. ‘Aesop!'

‘Out here!'

It was faint, but it was coming from the road. They walked out through the gate and saw a shadowy figure standing about thirty metres down the road. It waved.

‘Is he gone?'

‘Who?' said Norman. ‘Come back for fuck sake. Is who gone? There's no one in there.'

‘Are you sure?'

‘Will you come over here, Aesop. What the fuck happened?'

Aesop started to walk towards them. He was shivering, dressed in only a t-shirt and jeans, no shoes and his arms wrapped around him. But he didn't look like a man who was in the process of being butchered alive, which is exactly what he'd sounded like two minutes before.

‘Is he gone?'

‘Who? Who was in there, man?'

‘Did you go right into the room?'

‘Yes!'

‘He must have run out past you.'

‘Who? You were the only one who ran out.'

Aesop stopped at the doorway and looked in.

‘Gimme that poker,' he said to Jimmy.

Jimmy handed it to him.

‘Okay. Nice and slow.'

‘Please Aesop,' said Norman, when they were in the living room again with the front door shut. He wiped the sweat off his face, even though the house was cold now. ‘Jesus, you're after scaring the shite out of us. What the fuck happened?'

‘A fucking big badger was in there.'

‘A what?'

‘Badger. I was talking to Trish and it just ran out from under the bed. I nearly fucking died.'

Jimmy let a huge sigh out of him and sat down on the couch again. For fuck sake.

‘A badger?' said Norman, looking at the splintered door into the bedroom. ‘Is that all, you prick?'

‘Yeah.'

‘A fucking badger?'

‘Yes, Norman!'

‘In February?'

‘Would you fuck off? I know what I saw.'

‘Aesop, badgers don't be running about the place in February.'

‘Well someone needs to tell this fucker, because he was running around that bedroom a minute ago.'

‘You made me break a hundred-year-old door off its hinges because of a small little furry animal?'

‘Little? It was like a fat hairy child with a tail!'

Norman walked over to the bedroom.

‘You fucking langer.' He had his arms out in front of him. ‘Look what you made me do! I thought you were being attacked in there!'

‘I was! He came running out from under the bed, ran across me feet before I could even shit my pants, and then he started doing laps of the room and screeching.'

‘The only screeching I heard was from you. It was like a pig being slaughtered.'

Jimmy looked over.

‘Jesus, Aesop, you fucking scared the crap out of us.'

‘How do you think I bleedin' felt?'

‘Are you sure it was a badger?' said Norman.

‘What?'

‘Did it have a stripey head?'

‘Did it have a stripey head? I was running for me life, Norman, not giving the cunt a shampoo.'

‘The door was locked. What did you lock the door for?'

‘I must have knocked the stupid fucking culchie latch thing down when I was trying to get out. Why can't you have proper doors?'

‘And what were you doing in the room in the first place? Could you not talk to Trish out here?'

‘I … well … Jimmy was playing the guitar and I couldn't hear her properly.'

Norman turned around again, shaking his head.

‘Look at the fucking door!'

Aesop looked.

‘You're after wrecking your Granny's door Norman,' he said.

‘Am I?'

‘Your Ma's going to batter you.'

‘We'll have to get it fixed. Fuck ye anyway.'

‘And where am I meant to sleep tonight?'

Norman pointed into the room.

‘In there. Why?'

‘I am in my fuck.'

‘What?'

‘With that fucking thing on the loose?'

‘He's gone.'

‘I don't give a wank. I'm not sleeping in there.'

‘Aesop, he's gone.'

‘You show me his twitching corpse, and I'll sleep in there tonight.'

‘He must have …'

Norman bent over and looked under the bed again.

‘There. There's a hole in the floorboard. That's where he got in. Look …'

Aesop leaned over very carefully.

‘See?' said Norman. ‘Up against the wall …'

‘No. He didn't come in there.'

‘How do you know?'

‘Sure that hole is only two inches across.'

‘Well that brings me onto the other thing I was going to say. It wasn't a badger, Aesop. It was a mouse. And it wasn't the size of a child either. It was the size of a mouse.'

‘My bouncy bollocks it was.'

‘Aesop, you're a dozy prick and you're paying for that door.'

‘I didn't break it, did I?'

‘You scared the living daylights out of all of us, and it's your fault the door is broken. Look at the face of poor Jimmy still. Come on, look at him …'

Norman led Aesop back into the kitchen and pointed over to the couch.

‘Look at him! He's fit to puke with the fright you gave us. And I thought I'd be going back to Dónal with you in a casket. Fuck sake.Andthe mess on the floor as well. I dropped the fucking kettle too, with you, you fool. What if it had been boiled already?'

He sat on the armchair and ran his hands over his head.

‘Christ. I'll have to talk to Mikey Pat about the door and … where's me phone?'

‘Your phone?'

‘Yeah. Give it to me and I'll call him now to see if he has any timber or will I have to drive to Millstreet.'

‘I … eh … I think I left it in the room.'

‘Well get it so.'

‘Norman?'

‘Yes Aesop?'

‘It might be broken.'


Page 18

‘What?'

‘I kind of threw it at the badger.'

‘You what?'

‘I threw it at the badger. I nearly got him! But he … well, he ducked and …'

‘Where's my phone Aesop?'

Aesop went into the bedroom again.

‘Norman?' he called.

‘Yeah?'

‘It doesn't look good.'

‘Jesus.'

Norman got up and went into the bedroom. Aesop was pointing at a mess of broken plastic in the corner.

‘Man, can you imagine if I'd hit him? He'd have been fucked. Look at the state of it!'

‘You total bastard Aesop. I only got that last month. It's one of the new …'

He stopped picking up pieces of it and looked around at Aesop, frowning.

‘You were still on the phone when the mouse ran out from under the bed?'

‘Badger. Yeah. We were just chatting, like.'

‘And what happened then? Did you say goodbye?'

‘Say goodbye? No. Sure I nearly pissed me pants! I started yelling and … oh. I see your point.'

‘So you're telling me that you're in the middle of a phone call to Trish, apologising for scaring her the last time you spoke to her, and then this mouse appears and you lose your fucking mind?Again?'

‘Maybe … maybe it didn't sound so bad over the phone?'

‘Aesop, me and Jimmy thought you were being flayed alive! At what point in the proceedings did you throw the phone at the mouse?'

‘Badger. Right before you broke the door down. I was too freaked out before that to do anything except jump up and down.'

‘So one minute she's shooting the breeze, everything's cool, and the next minute all she hears is you screaming and yelling for help. That's all she hears. She doesn't know it's only a mouse you saw. All she gets is a load of roaring and bangs and crashes and my name being shouted. All this and then the phone goes dead from you hopping it off the wall? Is that what you're telling me happened? Is it? Aesop, is that a fair fucking description of the course of events?'

‘Well … except that it was a badger, and …'

‘I don't care if it was a charging fucking elephant! You're after doing it again, aren't you? Christ, what did that girl ever do to you? What didIever do to you that you can't just let me have a girlfriend for a change?'

‘I … I didn't mean to frighten her again, Norman. It was … the badger's fault.'

‘Jesus man, are you trying to put the poor girl in therapy, is it? I have to call her.'

He looked at the bits of phone he'd put on the bed.

‘It's fucked, look,' he said.

‘Use my phone,' said Aesop.

‘And what number will I call?'

‘You don't know it?'

‘Who remembers numbers any more, you langer? It was on the phone, sure!'

‘Is it not on the little card?'

‘No! I put them all onto the phone when I was swapping over from the old one. I've a whole new card and everything. There's nothing on it at all!'

‘Sorry man. I don't know what to do so.'

‘There's nowhere open to even drive to at this hour to send her an email!'

‘Sure who reads emails at this hour?'

‘What are we going to do? She thinks we've all been murdered by your fucking stalker!'

Norman sat on the bed next to the smashed phone, his head in his hands.

Aesop stood there, trying to think of something to say.

‘Well …' he said eventually. ‘Well, at least the badger didn't spray the place with that smelly stuff they shoot out of their arses.'

Norman just shook his head.

‘Christ, will you go away from me now, Aesop, will you? Before I do something terrible to you.'

Chapter Seventeen

Jimmy woke up to Norman knocking on the door.

‘Jimmy? You awake? I'm going over to Mikey Pat about the timber. You want to get up and get the breakfast going?'

‘Yeah. Yeah. What time is it?'

‘Half eight.'

‘Right.'

‘I'll be back in half an hour.'

‘Grand.'

‘Tell Aesop to set the fire.'

‘Yeah. Seeya.'

‘Good luck.'

Jimmy heard him go out the front door and then the van started up. He lay there with his eyes closed, frowning when he stretched and smacked one foot off the wall. Bloody bunk bed. This was the room where Norman's young cousins slept and since he was the last one to arrive, he was stuck here. He'd forgotten to close the curtains and the sun was coming right in the window. The wind last night must have blown all the clouds away. There was no sound at all in the house. Not even in his head. The few days off hadn't done much yet to set a spark to any of the latent music he hoped was buried in him somewhere. He'd had a laugh last night playing a few of his old favourites with Aesop, but his own holy well was still bone dry.

He tried to stretch again in the cramped little single bed and got a sudden feeling of having lost his bearings. Like vertigo. Like the room was spinning. It wasn't right. The bed seemed to be moving on its own or something. Earthquake? He opened his eyes and was greeted by the sight of two white legs and a bollocks hanging off the top bunk and dangling right in front of his face.

‘Jesus!' he shouted, pulling his head back and lashing it off the wall. ‘Aw …'

‘Morning Jimmy.'

‘What the fuck are you doing up there?'

‘Well, I couldn't sleep in the other room. And I thought, hey, maybe badgers can't climb, so …'

‘Me fuckin' head.'

‘What?'

‘I'm after banging me … will you either get up or down off that bunk? Do you think that's what I want to see first thing in the morning when I open me eyes?'

‘Am I near the ground? There's no ladder on this yoke.'

‘Yeah. Just get down, you fucking tool.'

Aesop dropped onto the floor and walked over to the window.

‘It's nice this morning, isn't it?'

‘Lovely. Any chance you could put a pair of jocks on? And get away from the window before someone sees you.'

‘Who's going to see me out here?'

‘Well I don't want to see you. Put some clothes on.'

Aesop turned around.

‘They're in the other room.'

‘Well fuck off and get them then. And Norman says that you're to … what are you after doing to yourself?'

‘What?'

‘Did you shave your … self?'

Aesop looked down.

‘Ah yeah. Sure that's all the rage now. Chicks don't dig foliage these days, Jimmy. You need to take a trimmers across the chest, and then from the belly button down to the bean bag. And that's a special job in itself. Do you not do it?'

Jimmy just stared at him. Aesop came over, grinning.

‘Do you not do it?'

He started grabbing at Jimmy quilt.

‘Give us a look.'

‘Go away Aesop.'

‘Ah c'mon. Show us your bush Jimmy.' He had a fistful of quilt now and was trying to yank it away.

‘Will you … stop … will you fuck off, Aesop? Go away …'

‘Just a quick look …'

‘No! Fuck off. I don't shave, only me face.'

‘You dirty big ape. Women are mad for shaved minges now on blokes. Sure they're all doing it themselves and everything. It feels deadly man. Well, once you keep doing it. Cos if you let it come back … aw man, the itchies will drive you up the wall. You should try it. But, c'mere, make sure and grab a hold of your balls up and out of the way when you're doing your hole, right? You don't want to catch them, I'm telling you.'

Jimmy still had his quilt wrapped around both hands and pulled up to his chin.

‘Thanks. Will you go and get dressed now? And you've to set the fire, Norman says.'

‘Yeah yeah. But do you want to borrow me trimmers? I swear, Jessie will be down on you like a felled tree. I have it with me. Do you want to try it?'

‘No.'

‘Are you sure?'

‘After you shaving your hole with it? I'm grand, thanks.'

‘But Jessie …'

‘I've never even met Jessie, Aesop. Is that how I should introduce meself to her? Walk up, stick her hand down me pants and tell her I heard she likes them glossy?'

Aesop looked off to one side for a minute.

‘I don't think she'd like that, Jimmy. She'd probably rather just … happen upon them, y'know? In her own time, like.'

‘If you don't put jocks on right now, Aesop, I'm telling Norman you slept in the kids' bed in the complete nip.'

‘What's wrong with that?'

‘Do you want to see if Norman thinks there's anything wrong with it?'

‘Eh … no. Not really. He's already pissed off at me over last night. Jaysis. He's like eggshells these days.'

Aesop moved to the door.

‘Don't forget the fire.'

‘What's for breakfast? I can't eat any more eggs. I think I'm after making meself allergic.'

‘Fruit salad. We're in training from now on, Aesop. The tour's in less than a month.'

‘Do we have any papayas?'

‘Papayas? In Cork? In the middle of winter? Of course we do. Isn't there a field of papaya trees next door. Go out and pick a few and I'll throw them in.'

‘I do like papayas. Ever since Thailand. Remember that? You never see them here.'

‘It's far from fucking papayas you were rared.'

‘I used to love the way they were all juicy and …'

‘Aesop …' said Jimmy, pointing. ‘Jocks? Please? Go away and let me get dressed and then I'll see what exotic delicacies from the Far East Norman picked up with the salad cream last night.'

*

‘Is he still out there?' said Aesop from the couch. ‘Is he not freezing?'

Jimmy was doing the dishes and could see out the window.

‘Yeah. Actually, I think he's enjoying himself. I asked him could we help, but he just said he was grand. And that you'd only get in the way.'

‘How does he know how to make a door anyway?'

‘Ah, Norman learned all kinds of stuff in the army.'

‘Oh that's what they do in the army, is it? Ah, right. Well that's good. I was worried that if we were ever in a war we'd have to make do with guns and tanks and helicopters. But woodworking skills … Jaysis, that can be the difference between defending our borders against invasion and all of us having to learn Swahili.'

‘We're going to be invaded by Uganda, are we?'

‘You can't trust them Ugandans, Jimmy. South American bastards …'

‘Anyway, wasn't Norman in Turkey that time? Remember when they had to help rebuilding a village or something after the earthquake? Villages need doors.'

‘I don't remember that.'

‘He was gone for four months, Aesop.'

‘Ah, I could never keep up with the mad places that fucker used to go. I only remember the ones where he brought me back a pressie.'

‘Well anyway, he's grand out there, look. It nearly looks like a door already.'

‘Will we go out and take the piss out of him? He's far too happy out there with his hammer and his bucket of nails. C'mon …'

Aesop walked out the door and Jimmy saw him through the window lighting up a smoke and saying something to Norman and Norman giving him the finger back.

His phone rang. Dónal.

‘Heya man, what's the story?' said Jimmy. ‘Were you able to get hold of Norman's bird?'

‘Yeah, no problem. She was in the book, so I just called her and told her that everything was grand and no one was hurt or anything.'

‘Brilliant. I'll tell Norman. She must have been freaked out, was she?'

‘Well, when I told her who I was she went a bit quiet. I think she's a bit suspicious about anything to do with Aesop at this stage. A mouse was it?'

‘So Norman reckons. He didn't see it, but I'd still take his word for it over Aesop.'

‘He's some gobshite.'

‘Stop. You should have seen him. You'd swear Norman's Granny was back from the grave and chasing him around the room.'

‘Well Trish sounded okay after a bit. She's working this afternoon she said, but I gave her your number so that she can ring when she gets a minute.

‘Cheers man.'

‘No problem. So anyway, how's Cork. Relaxing?'

‘As much as it can be with Aesop around. Do you miss me?'

‘I do, yeah. But c'mere, I've a job for us.'

‘What's that?'

‘We need to go to London. All of us.'

‘For what?'

‘Senturion want to start talking about extending the contract. They've a few ideas on the marketing side, and they said they want the bass-player thing sorted out too. And they want to talk about America. Plus, we sent over the Leet EP and they're interested in that as well. Oh, and before I forget, I got a mail from Shiggy.'

‘Yeah, he mailed me too. He's in Dublin next week for work.'

‘Well, we'll see what Senturion have to say and then we can talk to him.'

‘Cool. So, when do we need to go?'

‘I'm thinking Thursday. Can you get back here? Or you could just fly straight from Cork or Shannon if you want and I'll meet you there. Up to you.'

‘Well we'll see what the craic is. All of us … you mean Aesop too?'

‘Yeah. We should all get together in the same room. If it's contract stuff, he should be in on it. Anyway, it'd be good for him to meet everyone. He's only met the head honchos once.'

‘Okay, I'll tell him.'

‘Will you ask Norman to come too? Maybe he can keep the other bollocks out of trouble.'

‘I don't know if anyone can do that Dónal. But he's probably our best bet all right. Right. That's grand so. I'll book flights for Thursday morning?'

‘Grand. I'll email you the details and the hotel and all.'

‘Cool. All the best, man.

‘Jimmy, before you go, there's something else … eh …'

Jimmy caught something in his voice.

‘What's up Dónal?'

‘You and that girl in London … Susan, right?'

‘Yeah. But I don't think that's happening any more. I talked to her a few days ago and I think she's had enough. Wasn't a happy camper.'

‘Oh. Right. Did she say why?'

‘No. Not really. She sounded pissed off though. Wasn't like her. I s'pose it just sunk in that being with me was going to be a pain in the arse. With the band and all, y'know? She probably had the hump that she'd been wasting her time. It's a bit of a … what about her anyway?'

‘Jimmy, I … I think I know what her problem might have been.'

‘What? What are you talking about?'

‘You know we have that clippings company working for us?'

‘Yeah.'

‘Well this morning they sent me all the latest reviews and stuff for the album, the tour dates, all that, right?'

‘Yeah.'

‘So they sent me a clip from one of the English papers.'

Jimmy was getting uneasy now. He sat down at the kitchen table.

‘Yeah.'

‘Jimmy there's a photo of you in there. With Aesop's sister.'

‘Jennifer? From where?'

‘I don't know. I think it was just after the Vicar Street gig. You have your arm around her and she's kind of reaching up to kiss you.'

‘What the fuck?! She was just thanking me for “More Than Me”. Marco was right next to her!'

‘Yeah, but he's not in the shot. And the caption … eh …'

‘Oh fuck. What about the caption, Dónal?'

‘Well, it kind of says …'

‘Yeah?'

‘Will I just read it to you?'

‘Yeah.'

‘It says … “Collins' new friend”.'

‘Jesus …'

‘Friend is in quotes. And then underneath, it has … “Jimmy Collins of Irish rockers The Grove is seen above leaving a popular Dublin nightspot with an unidentified brunette. Collins had been dating Susan Plester (27) of Kent since their meeting on idyllic Thai island Koh Samui last Summer, but is this the end of their whirlwind romance? A source close to the band says that Collins and Paul ‘Aesop' Murray, drummer with The Grove, have been thoroughly enjoying the trappings of their new-found fame. Ms. Plester (below) was unavailable for comment.” It's only a small little thing in the gossip section, Jimmy, but …'

‘Fucking hell! Bastards! Dirty fucking scumbag cun …'

‘And then there's a picture of Susan and you underneath.'

‘What?! Where the fuck did they get a picture of Susan and me?'

‘I don't know. But she's not smiling or anything and the caption under it says, “Plester … not amused”.'

‘But Dónal … but … and what source close to the band is telling them this shit?'

‘No one is, Jimmy. It's just a way for them to say any oul' shite. They make it up.'

‘Pricks! I've known Jennifer for twenty bleedin' years! What paper is it? We have to get on to them and … and …'

‘Jimmy, I know you're pissed off, but even though it's all bollocks it's the kind of thing that happens. You're not to go mad or anything.'

‘But it's not even true! We have to sue them or something. Can we? Is that … eh … libel or … ?'

‘Probably not. They didn't actually say anything that isn't true, except for the bit about the source and they can easily get away with that. And anyway, something like this is tiny compared to some of the shit they can pull. It's not worth it. I'm only telling you because I didn't want you to see it first. And I know how you feel about Susan.'

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