This is an excerpt from a self-published novel, Black Donnelly, Rats and Pigs. Copyright rests with the author.
County Mayo, Ireland
“Murf! Three times since . . .”
“. . . since the incident.”
“Always at sundown.”
“A preferred meeting time. Wouldn’t you say, Mickey?”
Inspector John Patrick Murphy (Murf) is standing at the open doorway of Mickey Carr’s abode. He makes his way inside, uninvited. Mickey’s cluttered house contains two rooms, this front room which opens to the outside, and a back room intended as a bedroom. Who knows what Mickey uses the bedroom for. He clearly sleeps in the front room, which also serves as kitchen, living-room and work-room. Murf sits on a high stool by the workbench.
Mickey is sitting on a couch — it is impossible to say what exactly he is sitting on. There are items of clothing and machine parts on it, and more stuff under it and against it. Mickey is wedged in the midst of it all. He stares across the darkening room through the open door at the fading daylight outside. It is already dark inside the dim room except for the faint twilight reaching feebly into the gloomy interior.
Mickey has a smouldering cigarette in his mouth. And the floor at his feet is littered with empty cigarette packets. He does not respond to Murf’s question. Both men sit there in silence, listening to the other’s rhythmic breathing. After a few minutes, Mickey’s cigarette burns down. He removes it from his mouth and stubs it out on the wooden floor. He reaches for the pack of Woodbine beside him. He draws out another cigarette and places it between his lips. He strikes a match using his thumb-nail. The flaring match illuminates his face, and the action brings him to life. He addresses Murf, “Are you gonna arrest me?”
Murf remains silent.
Mickey continues to smoke. The dim light fades to semidarkness. He is visible in the glow of the cigarette. The tobacco is loose and the cigarette smoulders quickly. In ten minutes or so, Mickey is ready for another Woodbine. He draws another cigarette from the pack. This time he taps the cigarette to settle the tobacco and drops the now empty pack at his feet. He repeats his lighting routine. Then he focuses on Murf.
“Murf.” he says, and his eyes drift back to the light in the doorway, “I know how you do it.” A pause for a drag, and he continues, “The thing with the dots. You gather information like dots, and you put them together to make a picture. It’s the same with me. That’s what I do. I make a picture in my head. That’s how I see in the dark — inside my head. I see the picture. I can draw the picture in my head after one blink of the eye, and then I see it inside even with my eyes shut.” He pauses for a drag. “I do the same thing by touch. I can touch something in the dark, and see it inside like a picture. That’s how I take a gun apart and put it back together again – even in the dark. I look at the picture in my head. I form the image by feeling the gun in the dark.” Mickey takes the cigarette out of his mouth. He holds it between his thumb and index finger and leans forward. “Do you ever get it backwards, Murf? Like, the black dots and the white dots mixed up?”
Murf responds, “All the time. Sometimes it is black dots on white, and sometimes it is white dots on black — like a negative. But it doesn’t matter; the picture is just as clear either way.”
“A negative? Is that what it is? My pictures are negatives too, and it doesn’t bother me neither.”
“In what way are your pictures ‘negatives’, Mickey?”
“Well, when I take something apart — say, a gun — and I put it back together from the picture in my head, it’s always pointing the other way.” Mickey finishes his final cigarette. He extinguishes the butt and bemoans its passing. “I’m out of fags.”
Murf lobs a pack of 20 Woodbine to him. “I brought some for you.” The pack lands at Mickey’s feet with a dull smack.
Mickey’s hand is directed by the sound and nimbly locates the pack. “Just the 20?”
Murf tosses over another pack, and another — five packs in all. Mickey pulls out a cigarette from a fresh pack and lights it.
Mickey, still perched at the edge of his seat, looks at Murf’s shadowy form and says, “You have a picture from the other night? The night of the . . .” and draws a circle with the glowing cigarette. “Right?” He does not wait for a response. “I have a picture too. It’s the same picture. Isn’t it, Murf?”
They sit in silence for a while. Then, Mickey says “I could kill you here and now, Murf.”
Murf is unfazed. It is an observation, not a threat. Murf realizes that Mickey, notwithstanding his dependence on cigarettes and porter, is still an efficient killer — formerly, the IRA’s most lethal assassin during ‘the Troubles’. It is a skill that was once admired and gave him status. But it is now unemployed and unrecognized. Mickey has no other admirable skill. His ability to take things apart and reassemble them is viewed as an oddity. He is unable to fix a broken item unless it is first introduced to him in its working state; only then can he reassemble it to the template in his mind.
Mickey sits back against the back of the couch and lowers his head. The cigarette smoke drifts from his mouth up to the top of his head and disappears into the darkness. There is silence until his cigarette burns down. He removes it from his mouth, and leaning forward, he stubs it out with his boot. “Well, aren’t you gonna arrest me?” It was not a question.
After a silent pause, Murf says, “Well, Mickey, aren’t you going to kill me?” And neither was that a question.
Mickey leans back again. With no cigarette glow to light his face, Murf cannot read him. Mickey resumes speaking in a voice only slightly above a whisper. “You know Murf? They all think I’m an amadan (simpleton).”
“No, you don’t Murf. That’s because you see pictures in your head –— you and me both.”
“Ben Muldoon? Does he think you’re an amadan? And he doesn’t see any pictures.”
Mickey is agitated at this. “No, Ben’s my friend.”
After a moment, Murf asks, “What about Foxy?” Some minutes pass. Murf can tell from Mickey’s breathing that he is wide awake.
Then, Mickey says, “Sergeant Fox of the RIC would play handball with me at the back of the barracks. He protected me from the bigger boys that threw stones at me and called me names. When I had nowhere else to go, he would let me stay there, hanging around the stables,. Once or twice, when I did not go home, he let me sleep in the ‘black hole’. He left the door open so that I could go when I please.”
“What else did Sergeant Fox do?”
He thinks for a minute, then, Mickey says, “He saved me.” He flips out another cigarette from the pack and asks, “What did he save me for?”
Murf isn’t sure if Mickey is referring to Fox’s motivation in saving him, or if he is lamenting his current situation. On reflection, it probably alludes to both. This time, when Mickey strikes the match, Murf sees that his cheeks are wet.
Mickey reaches forward and picks up an empty cigarette pack from the floor. He carefully restores its shape. Then he takes a fresh cigarette, rolls it on his cheeks, drying them, and places the tear-stained cigarette in the restored pack as in a sacred ritual. Then he carefully places this pack, with its sole cigarette, in his inside jacket pocket. “My last cigarette,” he says.
Murf corrects him. “You still have 100 cigarettes, Mickey.”
Mickey, in turn, corrects Murf. “I have 97. But this one . . .” patting his pocket gently, “. . . is my last one.” Some minutes pass. Then, Mickey says, “I will smoke my last cigarette with Sergeant Fox.”
Murf asks, “Shall I tell him so?”
“No. First I’ll smoke the other 96. Then I’ll go to him.”
“However long it takes me to smoke 96 fags.”
Mickey’s cigarette burns down. The smouldering cigarette generates a small sphere of light around his face. He stubs it out. It is now totally dark.
Some more minutes pass. Then Mickey says, “Tell Ben he can have the banbhs (piglets) back. And the two fat pigs. I have no need of them now.’’ Mickey’s breathing changes to a relaxed rhythm.
Murf says gently, “I’ll do that, Mickey.” He waits for a response. There is none. Murf gets up to leave. “Is there anything else I can do for you, Mickey?”
“I need a pencil. Do you have a pencil, Murf?”
Murf plucks the pencil from the notepad in his breast pocket and passes it in the darkness to the sound of Mickey’s breathing. Mickey takes it from him unerringly. Murf hears Mickey shift position on the couch, and then the sound of relaxed breathing. Mickey is asleep.
Murf navigates his exit from the dismal house by the sound of his feet. Guided by the hollow sound on bare floorboards, he steers his feet through the clutter along the narrow dark pathway from the couch to the door. Outside, the low cloud bank screens any light from the sky. No moonlight, no starlight. Only the crunch of gravel underfoot directs his progress to the bottom of Mickey’s lane. There, he collides gently with his black Ford Prefect 10hp car. The roar of the starting engine and the lights of the departing car are an irreverent intrusion on the silent sombre night.