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The Death of an Irish Lass
On the Cliffs near the Wide Ocean
"I was after having a bit of a gargle, sir. Truth is, I was under the gaff. I thought I'd pull the car in off the road and put the public out of danger. I tried to get in close to the wall. I guess I was worse off than I thought." He pointed to the left side of the new Jaguar sedan. The paint was torn down the length, showing bright sheet metal below the cream-colored lacquer. The rear fender was crushed.
"Then I felt a need."
McGarr glanced at the man. The euphemism seemed odd coming from him. He was a Dublin dance hall owner, but McGarr knew better. Barry Hanly was a type -- he'd trade in anything that promised a fast profit. He had said he was forty-two. To McGarr, Hanly looked fifty-two. He was fat and pasty. The only chins that he had were unnecessary. Even the expensive three-piece blue suit and cashmere chesterfield coat couldn't hide the collapse of his upper body. McGarr had grown up with and, later, had had to arrest dozens of men like Hanly. They had spent so much energy trying to avoid real work they were used up before their time. And Hanly was nervous now, puffing a little as he tried to explain to McGarr how he had come to stumble across the body of a young woman out here in a pasture near the Cliffs of Moher.
She was propped against the other side of the wall, dressed in a stylish full-length leather coat. Her legs were crossed casually. Through her violet-tinted glasses her eyes seemed to be focused on a point distant in the Atlantic. She had four punctures where somebody had jabbed a pitchfork through her upper chest.
"I don't know what it was," Hanly continued. "Either me being 'locked,' like I told youse, or just being a city boy or what ... " He glanced up at Garda Superintendent O'Shaughnessy. The tall Galwayman's face was impassive, his eyes seemingly disinterested in anything Hanly might say. "Ach -- what's the use? You'd never believe it anyhow. I must have fell over the wall, hit me head on a rock. When I woke up, I was sprawled on her lap." The right side of his forehead was a large blue bruise with a pink center that was scabbing. "And she as dead as a post." Hanly turned away from McGarr and O'Shaughnessy and kicked a stone. His feet bulged from loafers made of glove leather. They were Italian, and McGarr had seen them in a Grafton Street shop for thirty-five pounds a pair. "Well -- would I have flagged down a car and told the driver to get the Garda if I had killed her?" he implored. "Cripes, I haven't touched a thing. I know you boys'll get me out of this one."
"Here's what Bernie could dig up on him." Hughie Ward handed McGarr the facts that had been relayed over the police radio in the Rover. It was parked back on the road to avoid marring the tire impressions in the soft ground. "All old stuff. One case of aggravated assault, though."
"In 1957, for God's sake!" Hanly said. He turned to McGarr. "And it was dismissed. Just some little gouger I had to chuck out of the dance hall. He kept coming back in. I had to settle him." Hanly's face, once handsome in a rough way -- nose upturned and thick, beard black and heavy, hair wavy -- was livid, and he seemed to have a slight case of the shakes.
McGarr knew what it was. Hanly was indeed hung over.
"Take it easy, Barry. May I call you that?" asked McGarr. He took Hanly by the arm and walked him away from O'Shaughnessy.
After several paces, McGarr stopped and removed a small flask of whiskey from the liner pocket of his raincoat. He took a nip himself and handed the bottle to Hanly. "The situation calls for courage, my friend."
"Ah, thanks, Super. You're a right man." Even the sight of the flask cheered Hanly. "I thought I was drowning in a sea of thirst, so I did."
He took a long pull on the flask, nearly finishing it. When he could speak again, he said, "Remember, now -- I owe you one." The whites of his eyeballs were laced with red veins. His nose was running. "Which reminds me." He turned from McGarr and peeked over the wall. He had still not handed McGarr back the flask. His pinky finger protruded daintily. On it was a fat gold ring with a red stone. "I could have sworn I had a bottle of Canadian Club in me jacket. I brought it along for companionship, just in case I got lost on the way to the jakes." He winked.
McGarr motioned to the stile and followed Hanly over it. "What can you tell me about her?" he asked.
"Nothing. Never saw her before, and that's the God's honest truth, I swear it, Superintendent." Hanly then finished the flask as though he believed he wouldn't get another chance now that the questions had begun anew. "You can check for yourself down in the town." He meant Lahinch, about five miles away. "If you can trace me movements." Again he winked at McGarr. The whiskey had hit him fast. McGarr imagined booze generated much of whatever trouble Barry Hanly currently experienced.
In front of them for several hundred yards lay pastures which walls of narrow stones divided. Then, suddenly, the land stopped. It was as though whatever force was responsible for Ireland had become contrary and quit its work of island making peremptorily. The cliffs of black basalt fell six hundred feet into the sea ...The Death of an Irish Lass. Copyright © by Bartholomew Gill. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.