Read an Excerpt
Her Last Call to Louis MacNeice
By Ken Bruen
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1998 Ken Bruen
All rights reserved.
As I left the funeral, I near said festivities and maybe that was more accurate. Doc grabbed my arm, 'You're leggin' it already.'
'Yeah, I'm funned out.'
'Oh, that's rich Cooper.'
'Was there something?'
'Hardware. We're gonna need some shooters right – the guy fell thru but I got another address. Here, you go arm us.'
'But this is in Islington.'
'What, you think they only sell guns in Kilburn?'
'Bad fuck to this – I dunno this guy.'
'He's expecting you.'
'Wonderful, thing is what's he expecting from me?'
'Cash, lotsa cash.'
But Doc had already turned away. Father Cleary was calling. I wanted to go to Islington about as much as I'd want an evening with Quinn. Traffic was light and I got over there in jig time. The day's repo was the Renault Espace Turbo Diesel. A sort of double retake as the company was recalling them, to install a fuse in the engine's diesel pre-heating system. Heat sometimes damaged the wiring harness. What I did was be careful. Enough heat going down already. Couldn't find the house for ages. Saw a size nine and toyed with asking, 'Know where the gun dealer hangs his shingle?'
Then bingo! Got outa the door and locked it by remote from the pavement. It gives that 'ping' so beloved by yuppies everywhere. Shit, all I needed was the cellular and I'd be the total asshole. Rang the doorbell – the door opened a crack.
'Are you Joseph?'
'Who wants to know?'
'Look, I feel ridiculous saying this but Doc sent me. He forgot to give me a password, his secret service training ain't what it used to be.'
Nice clean house, not a gun in sight. Nice clean gun dealer too. Joseph was in his mid-twenties, crew cut and Miami Vice casuals. Loose shirt, pants and, we hoped not loose-tongued. He had a corduroy face as if someone sat on it and it didn't bounce back. Dark eyes with fire. Doc hadn't mentioned the guy was a dance short on his card, light on the feet. Not yer screaming queen but it was there. He gave me the smile, puts lots of teeth in it, asked, 'See something you like?'
The accent was Kensington muted. Let you know he had class but not pushing it. I said, 'You're a bit young.'
'How many gun dealers have you met?'
'Son ... how many would I want to?'
He let it settle, then decided to take it lightly. Or else ... shoot me?
'And how is the good doctor?'
'Keeping well. Keeping stum more like.'
'Let us then to the penthouse.'
He wasn't kidding. Upstairs was the Heal's catalogue come to life. I liked it a lot, said, 'I like this a lot.'
He locked eyes, weighed the consequences then went for it, 'Killer.'
I settled in a couch that had the personality of a hypnotist, whisperin', 'Sleep, you're getting drowsier and drowsier.' Joseph said, 'I have some vodka here, has the personal approval of Yeltsin, thus quality.'
'I thought he went for quantity but yeah, give us a belt of that.'
He did, then, 'Yasseu.'
'Only yesterday I despatched a beautiful Ruger SP-101, a true work of art.'
I didn't know if regret or admiration was expected so I gave neither. Concentrated on the drink, it tasted cool and cold, a gentle kick that promised endurance. Mostly what it was like was more – lots and lots.
Joseph asked, 'Are you familiar with,
"if I have seen further than other men
it is because I have stood on
the shoulders of giants"
– know it?'
'Ran it by a mate only the other Tuesday.'
'Like some of my merchandise, I have modified it, thus:
"it's because I have sold to
the baseness of greed."'
I drained the vodka, got down the last tinkle and said, 'Fascinating and I'm sure you have a whole bunch of other quotes but, hey, let's get to the guns – OK, how would that be.'
He stood and I don't think he was well pleased.
'I thought perhaps you were a fellow traveller, that through the instruments of destruction we could comprehend transcendence.'
'Shit Joe, I have problems on the Northern Line – transcend that.'
So we weren't going to be buddies, especially not asshole ones. He left the room and didn't return for about twenty minutes. I nearly had a nap. Carrying two large flat cases, he opened them on the floor, began to pile out weapons, reciting, 'You've got your Glock, lightweight, plastic, undetectable by airport technology, a Baretta nine millimetre Parabellum, small wars model, a Colt, the basic western gun, looks serious. The Detective Special, beloved of Special Branch, makes them feel like movie stars.
'This big chappie is a Mark V1 Enfield. Yes, your assumption's correct, from those good folk who brought us the Lee Enfield and World War One. A variety of Mausers, very efficient. Uzis of course and, I have stocks of CS Gas, so popular lately.'
He had a light perspiration on his forehead and I realised – 'Jeez, this guy's hot for them'. He said, 'No need to rush. I'll leave you alone and let you get acquainted. Standard items such as 12-gauge and Brownings I keep downstairs. Enjoy!'
I fiddled about with them, did a few movie poses, dropped to combat position and generally clowned around. I gathered he'd be watching so, wot the hell, give 'em a show. When he came back, I was seated quietly and I said, 'The stage is BUR.'
'I beg your pardon?'
'El has left the building? No sweat, forget it.'
'You've made your selection.'
'Indeed I have. Have you got a pump shotgun, double loader.'
He was dismayed, spread his arms out, said, 'You don't wish any of these pieces?'
Jeez, was he pleased, bundled up the gear with sighs and tut-tutting. I could give a fuck. Went and got me the pump and two dozen shells. Said in a sarcastic tone, 'I trust this is sufficient.'
'Yo Joseph, don't trust so easily eh. Tell you what though, if I run out, I'll give you a bell.'
I was handing over the wad of money as I said this. He paused mid-note, said, 'Oh, I don't think so. One feels a car boot sale would answer your requirements.'
I wasn't offended, offered, 'You ever in the market for a car yerself, give me a shout.'
'I very much doubt that Sir. I can't ever picture myself in the market for whatever it is you hustle.'
As he let me out, I tapped his arm, said, 'If I'm ever throwing a party, a wild one, you're top of my A-list pal cos fuckit, you're just a fun fella.'
He shut the door.
MOROCCO AND POINTS SOUTH
Got home and shit, I was tired. Weapons and funerals, they'll do for you every time. Out of the car, gave the yuppie 'ping' and turned to my door.
Cassie literally materialised before me, staggered and I barely caught her before she hit the ground. She was out cold. Carried her over the threshold – yeah, I bet she enjoyed that – and laid her on the settee. Doused a cloth with ice water and mopped her brow. She was wearing late-evening hooker ensemble. Black bomber jacket, white and tight T-shirt, short black skirt, black stockings. Sure, the obvious crossed my mind but I tried to ignore it. She came round with little groans and whimpers, not unlike the sounds she'd made when we had sex. I asked, 'Are you OK?'
'Brittle bone disease, ain't it a bitch. Usually connected to the menopause but I had to get it early. I'll be literally cracking up – they'll hear me coming, and going.'
I didn't know what to make of this. More lies? So I asked, 'Can I get you something?'
'Tea – a drink.'
'Coffee'd be good. I had a little girl, back when I lived in New York City. Her name was Ariana. I loved her more than I thought I could bear. She filled me with joy and wonder and pain and oh God, with yearning. I had to leave her alone for a few hours one evening – it's a long story why – when I got back, she was gone. I've never seen her since – that's partly why I'm such a goddamn mess.'
I agreed about her being a bloody mess but felt maybe it wasn't the time to mention it. Coffee, yeah, I was glad of the diversion. Made it hot and ball-bustin' strong. Elephant blend, as a mate said. At first I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Reckoned the Yeltsin had finally kicked in but no – she was singing! In a low clear voice of nigh absolute purity. I dunno about beauty, fuck knows, where would I have learnt, I was raised with pigeons. But, I'd bet this was close. I didn't know then but it was a song by Tricia Yearwood called 'O Mexico'. It had a ring of loneliness, of longing that hit like a gut-shot. I felt as close to weeping as a hard-ass like me's ever gonna come.
Then she stopped and the silence scalded my heart, muttered, 'Get a friggin' grip.'
I was wrung as tight as tension, not worth tuppence. If the filth had come callin', I'd have put up my hand, shouted – 'fair cop guv'. Carried out the coffee, no bizzies, Noble had scoffed the lot. She'd been crying, I wish I didn't know that and she said, 'Are you familiar with Thomas Merton?'
'Not unless he's a bookie.'
'We must be true inside
true to ourselves
before we can know
that is outside us.'
I poured the coffee, asked, 'How d'ya take it.'
'Cream and sugar –
"But we make
ourselves true by
manifesting the truth
as we see it."'
I handed her a mug, wondering if she'd finished. She had.
I took a sip, real good – fuck, I make great coffee.
'So Cassie, where's my gun ... eh?'
'I tossed it.'
'I was scared – scared I'd eat the metal so, I walked over Waterloo Bridge and sank the sucker. Is that the one Ray Davies wrote about – I saw the Kinks once.'
'And my money, I suppose you, dumped that too.'
'Don't be a horse's ass, I spent it, you've mucho dinero.'
'But not so mucho patience lady and your meter's running high. Lemme see if I can get this across. You stole from me, broke in to my gaff, took a shot at me and generally ran fuckin' liberties. Am I getting through to you Cassie. Our firm has been moving rag-ass trying to find you.'
'I've been naughty!'
'I need spanking.'
'Whoa – hold the phones lady.'
She was up, took my hand and put it on her breast, said, 'Hold this.'
I pushed her away and her voice dropped to a whisper.
'You don't want me?'
'Look Cassie, you're a hot lady but this isn't a real good time – OK.'
'It's because I lost my little girl, isn't it. You're punishing me.'
I stood up, 'For heaven's sake, I'm real sorry about that. I'm trying to be fair, I'm not going to hassle you about all the other crazy shit. Just leave now and we'll let it be.'
'I think I see her, you know, on the street and I chase after her – or on a bus – or ...'
'But I have a good report that she's in Agadir.'
'Morocco. Her father was from Kif.'
'I thought that was Keith Richards' nickname.'
'It's a village in the Blue Atlas Mountains, they specialize in hash. I know he now lives in Agadir, a P.I. says he's ninety percent sure.'
'A private investigator?'
'Yes, I've had dozens of them. Will you come – will you come and help me get her back.'
'I don't believe this. You can't just go down there on a vague report – can't you get Interpol to check.'
Her voice rose, 'Those pricks – do me a goddamn favour. But you're different, you'd get her.'
'I'm sorry, look it's late ...'
'We could drive on down there, to Algeciras, I'd read MacNeice to you, I ...'
'Stop it! Just stop it all to hell. You need help, but not any kind I can provide.'
Now she dropped her arms, seemed to shrink.
I took her arm, moved her to the door, opened it and had to push her out. She stood outside, like little Orphan Annie, said, 'You'll come to Agadir, you just don't know it yet but, I promise you that – on my little girl's head.'
I closed the door, said, 'Dream on lady.'
She stood outside the door and I could hear her say, 'David – David, did you ever hear what Kafka said,
"No people sing with such
as those who live in
'Indigent! I don't friggin' believe it. You've got to be bloody joking – c'mon!' – Yelling at the very height of my lungs.
Doc took it all, well, almost, and replied, 'Would I joke about that. It's the term they use and a right vicious one.'
I couldn't take it in – how could he be skint—
'How can you be skint?'
'Don't get righteous with me Davy boy. The bloody house is mortgaged to the gills, those school fees – like murder – and the blackjack. It's been a long run of shitty luck, I'm going to have to pack it in.'
'Blackjack! You've been gambling – you've been wot? Why didn't I know?'
He stood up, his boots gleaming in the light, 'Why should you know. My bloody Missis didn't know. Since when do I account to you fella?'
I was close to losing it, had to pull back. I could see a roof in Battersea, see my father's eyes.
'OK ... OK Doc. Might I ask how you propose paying for the Taj Mahal or whatever bloody monument you're building to Laura. Won't Father what's his bloody face be a tad surprised to hear you're – indigent – or does he play blackjack too?'
'Watch yer lip boy.'
'Or wot Doc?'
He made the effort also to rein in. We'd never – ever – hit this place before.
'Father Cleary doesn't know, alright. Treesmead will pay for his project and get me out of the hole – it has to.'
He paused, then, 'I went to see Meryl Streep in her action pic, River Wild and jeez, she was louder than the friggin' rapids, so my head was opening. Could you then stop shouting at me now – OK.'
I didn't even know I had been, said, 'I wasn't shouting – you went to the cinema without Laura.'
'Would have been hard to bloody bring her.'
I went to make coffee, brewed up a storm, heard Doc say, 'Tea for me, two sugars.'
Mutterin' 'Now he tells me' I half mangled a tea bag into a cup, sloshed water on it, tepid water. Put the sugar in before extracting the bag and, worst crime of all, didn't heat the cup. All petulant I grant you but it was that or reach for the new 12?, give it an early outing. Piled the lot on a tray that had Charles and Di's wedding portrait. As he sipped the tea, he gave a grimace, asked, 'Did you heat the cup?'
'Not yer best mate – no, not at all.'
'Doc, why don't I do this – I'll move some of the repo money to help you out.'
He gave a sheepish grin, 'Em ... might be a slight problem.'
'No, I'll tell the accountant to do it – he gets paid to shuffle figures. A little cosmetic arithmetic and you're whistlin' Danny Boy.'
'I've been and sang that song already, 'tis not a tune worth humming.'
Now I was up, 'You've been dippin? You've been robbin us!'
'Whoa – slow down Streep. I'll put it back, it was just sitting there. But I do have good news.'
'You shot the accountant?'
He laughed, said, 'That's more like it son. Let me put it this way, Quinn won't be a problem, I know you were concerned there.'
'Jeez, you didn't top a cop!'
'Naw, they just broke his legs. If I'd another few hundred they'd have completed the job. But fuck, the readies are tight. Anyroad he won't be playing for the Police Reserves this season.'
'You're a piece of work Doc, you're a real fuckin' class act. I better buy a lorry load of strawberry delights.'
'For the Noble savage, he's fond of his bikky he is.'
When Doc had gone, I thought about funerals. The way things were shaping, I'd soon be arranging my own. In prison, Doc had waxed eloquent and long about the Irish rituals for it, mainly he'd waxed long.
At a loss after Doc left, I flicked through the paper. Read an article on Patricia Highsmith and liked her saying, 'I find the public passion for justice quite boring and artificial, for neither life nor nature cares if justice is ever done or not.'
'Amen,' I said.
Time to move, I'd an accountant to see, Doc and I had force back-pedalled from out and out war. Not so much a sheathing of weapons as an option for other battlefields. But that didn't mean I couldn't bounce somebody's head off a wall.
Heard the post come through the box, didn't think it would be news to cheer. The handwriting on the envelope was now familiar. Could be worse I thought, the loony bitch could be phoning. Opened it with a heavy heart. In large clear writing she began,
Why do you refuse us, we are destined to be one and, so it shall be. Time to wake up and smell that coffee – you hear what I'm saying.
A woman described my beloved MacNeice as having the looks of a fallen angel. Like you, he believed himself to have become, as a result of his childhood 'in a strange way hollow'. And he remained 'always terrified of his father'.
Darling David, let me make you complete. Ariana can be your daughter too. I just know you're made to be my family
Excerpted from Her Last Call to Louis MacNeice by Ken Bruen. Copyright © 1998 Ken Bruen. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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