Gwyneth Steddy’s first novel, Do Sleeping Dogs Lie? which is already listed for The First Novel Prize by Crime Cymru, will be published by Diamond Crime on May 2nd 2022.
Friday 12th April 1989
“You’re taking the piss…”
Duncan Gallagher glanced across at his old friend in the passenger seat, then returned his eyes to the road. You couldn’t be too careful in these back lanes.
Trevor Mulholland snorted with laughter. “Serious, the man couldn’t do a deal to save his life. All I did was wait for him to give in. And sure enough the oul fool dropped the price. I could sell the same machinery tomorrow and double my money.”
“So the drinks are on you,” said Duncan, smiling.
“Not far now. Here – turn right just after this petrol station. Another mile at the most.”
Duncan loosened his collar with his free hand and pulled down his tie. He had heard of Kealey’s, of course, but had taken care not to visit, even when it was suggested as a meeting place by a prospective customer. The green, white and gold painted kerbstones didn’t help. He’d been straight with Trevor when he had asked for a lift. “Not comfortable” was the phrase he’d used. And he didn’t tell Pat where he was going. She would’ve played hell. Four miles from town in a staunchly republican area? Brilliant. Still, they should be safe enough this time in the afternoon. He hoped.
He pulled up in the deserted car park Trevor looked at his watch and reached down awkwardly for a bulging envelope at his feet. That bit of weight he had put on since their rugby days was clearly getting in the way. When Duncan dislocated his shoulder and Trevor twisted his ankle in the same match, they both realised that at the age of thirty-six, it was time to hang up their boots. Duncan knew that his effortless ability to keep his weight down irked Trevor. But maybe he should lay off the stout – that would be a start.
“Stay for a quick one before my meeting?” asked Trevor. “But no need for you to wait for me. Probably best you don’t.”
“OK. I’ll come in for one.” Duncan felt relieved that he wouldn’t be around for long. Trevor hadn’t said who the meeting was with, and Duncan had absolutely no intention of asking. In this country, what you didn’t know kept you safe. And Trevor had kept more and more from Duncan over the last two years.
“Bout yeh, Tony,” Trevor greeted the barman.
“Usual?” replied Tony. He rose slowly from a stool positioned beside the cash register, carefully folded his newspaper and stretched out his back. He ran a hand through his steel grey hair.
Duncan looked at Trevor in surprise. A regular in this place? He knew Trevor liked his drink, but this couldn’t be a regular watering hole. Surely he had higher standards and more regard for his safety?
With a practised movement, Tony dragged a wooden box towards him with his foot to reach the pint glasses on the shelf over the bar. The dimensions of the bar hadn’t taken into account his short frame. He stepped up onto the stool with an agility that belied his advanced years.
“Aye, a pint for me and a wee chaser.” Trevor turned to Duncan. “Usual?” Duncan nodded. “And a half of the black stuff for my friend here.”
Trevor sat on one of the bar stools.
Duncan looked around him. The pub was typical of the type. No refurb here for many a year. Chipped formica tables stained with years of spillages and basic wooden chairs with little thought given to comfort. The floor was scrubbable lino. A pool table placed close to the toilets. Maybe you’d be distracted from your game by the bleach-and-urine scent coming from the gents. The ladies’ toilet would be rarely used. Duncan walked over to the pool table and started to rack up the balls in the triangle. A quick game would do no harm. It was a while since he’d beaten Trevor.
“Game?” Duncan asked.
“Fiver in it?”
Trevor looked at his watch. “Sure, if yeh want to get beat again I can meet yeh in McAteers this evening. “Bout seven? Should be well done by then.”
“There you are.” Tony placed the drinks on the counter in front of Trevor. “As I’m not rushed off my feet here, I’ll be out the back. I’m due a delivery.”
Duncan watched Tony push the swing door that led to the rear of the pub. He moved back to the bar and took a sip of his drink.
Trevor was leaning over the bar, fingering the envelope he had placed in front of him.
“Trevor, I’m sure you know what you’re doing, and I’m happy enough not knowing what you’re up to. But…”
“Thanks for your concern.” Trevor smiled. “In my line of work, you have to make sure you keep everyone happy.” He tapped the envelope with his index finger. “As they say, it’s not pleasant but yeh have to do it. A fact of life if you want to quarry in this province.”
He took a sip of his whiskey and a gulp of his stout.
“I know Trevor, but…”
The door to the pub slammed open. A man in dark clothes and a balaclava, a hand gun held out, was walking towards them. Duncan felt his drink slip through his hand. It fell to the floor. The glass shattered. Trevor pushed past him. Moved towards the gunman.
“What the fuck is this? We had a deal! Look.” Trevor held the envelope out in front of him. “It’s all in there. Go talk to the top man.”
The gunman shook his head, his weapon still pointed towards the two men.
“Fuck sake, it’s all there,” insisted Trevor, his voice weaker.
Duncan reached out to Trevor, finding his left arm. “Trevor, calm…”
A flash. A deafening noise that echoed from the walls. Duncan’s ears popped, then started to ring. Trevor slammed into him as if he was jumping backwards. Duncan fell to the floor, Trevor on top of him. Duncan’s face was wet. His eyes stung. Through blurred vision he could see that the gunman was now closer, his eyes narrowing. Duncan cleared his face with his left hand. The gunman lowered his weapon, turned and walked out of the room.
Duncan pulled himself to a sitting position, and leant against the foot of the bar, his legs spread wide. He pulled Trevor’s body towards him. Wrapped his arms around his dead friend and held him like a child, Trevor’s back resting against his abdomen. Duncan’s bladder and bowels opened.
“Help. Help me. For Christ’s sake, please . . .” Duncan tried to shout but it came out a whisper. Tears began to roll down his face. He held his friend close and rocked. “Jesus, Trevor . . .”
Constable Edward Daniels pushed open the door to Kealey’s bar and scanned the room. He detected the pungent smell of body waste and blood. In his first year as a constable, he had witnessed the after-effects of both deadly bombs and shootings. It hadn’t got any easier to stomach. He started the, by now practised, technique of concentrating on breathing in through his mouth and out of his nose, which helped stop the heaving in his stomach. Sometimes it worked.
When the call came in to the station, Edward had recognised the names straight away as the two men at the touchline when he played for the Omagh Academicals rugby team, shifts allowing.
At this moment, in front of him, Trevor Mulholland was lying in a pool of his own blood. Duncan Gallagher was at a bar table sipping a whiskey, his hand shaking as he raised the glass to his lips. He appeared to be concentrating on a spot on the far wall, away from the body of his friend. Duncan’s suit jacket and trousers were soaked in blood, but as far as Edward could see, he was uninjured. Physically, that was. From his ashen colour and blank stare, Edward guessed there might be some hidden injury.
DI Robinson walked in the room
“Daniels, get this place sealed off. No one comes in unless I say so.”
Edward straightened up. At the bar, Duncan tensed up and put down his drink.
Robinson moved to Edward’s shoulder. “Fecking mess to clear up again…” he muttered. Then looked up. “You!” he shouted over to the man at the bar. “Your name?”
“Tony Muldoon.” Tony was holding an opened bottle of whiskey, about to give Duncan a top up.
“Houl your horses. I need this man sober.” Robinson moved to the bar and put his hand on the bottle to stay the process of pouring.
Tony twisted the cap. Placed the bottle on the bar with a bang.
“Have ye keys to this place?” asked Robinson.
“I don’t care where they are. Give them to this lad.” DI Robinson nodded to Edward. “I need the place shut.”
“I’m not sure if big Frank would appreciate that. It’s Friday night.”
“You can tell your boss I’m shutting the place. And ye never know, it could be a while before I’m done. Could be a good few days, maybe a week. Depends on the help I get. Now, go get the keys.”
Tony sneered at the DI and reached under the counter and drew out a large bunch of keys. He pushed them towards Edward and headed for the storeroom.
“Stay in there until we’re sorted,” Robinson yelled after him. He sat down next to Duncan.
Edward returned from securing the door.
“So… Tony was out the back when the gunman arrived,” DI Robinson said. “Handy. He only came back in when he heard the shots. “Best to see if Duncan here can help.” He reached over and touched Duncan’s arm gently. “Right, Duncan?”
Duncan looked at Robinson as if seeing him for the first time. He glanced up at Edward and then back at the DI.
“Are ye not getting an ambulance?”
“It’s too late for Trevor. We’ll get someone for you, though.”
Duncan took another sip of whiskey. Edward’s stomach was starting to settle, but he felt it would settle a good sight better if he could share that drink.
“Go easy on that.” DI Robinson put his hand over the top of the glass. “I need you to tell me what happened. A nice wee cup of tea, that’s what you need. Edward, get that clown out the back to make Duncan a cup of tea. Plenty of sugar in it.”
Shelving lined the walls of the large storeroom, ready for the crates of beer. The door at the rear of the pub was open. Tony was deep in conversation with a tall man who looked as though he could do with a good meal or ten. This man’s reddened complexion and sunken eyes suggested that he received most of his nutrition from alcohol.
Edward spoke up. “We need a hot sweet cup of tea for Duncan.”
“I’ll come now. Just sorting out the drayman here.” Tony nodded towards the skinny man and turned back into the room.
“Hang on a minute.” Edward put his hand on Tony’s chest to stop him. “How long has he been here?”
“Him? He got here just before the shooting. But he was in here the whole time. Weren’t yeh?” Tony turned to the man.
“Yeh. Saw nothing. Heard nothing. Was in here the whole time.”
“Name?” asked Edward. Might as well to get it, even though he knew the man wouldn’t be any use as a witness, regardless of what he did or didn’t see or hear.
“Don’t leave. DI Robinson will want a word.”
As Edward returned to the bar with the sweetened tea, he heard the familiar noise of a helicopter landing – the brutal growl of a Chinook, by the sound of it. An army patrol from the town’s barracks to seal off the area, just in case it was one of those traps the terrorists were fond of. Something inside Edward unclenched a little. DI Robinson rose to his feet.
“Constable, get that tea into Duncan and then take him home. We’ll catch up with him when he feels up to it. He’s had a wile shock.” The DI patted Duncan on the shoulder. “He needs to get home and change out of those clothes.”
Edward placed the mug on the table in front of Duncan. Robinson gestured for Edward to follow him towards the door.
“Can’t get a word of sense outta him. And he’s honking of shit and piss. Use his car – he’s in no fit state to drive. I’ll send a Tangi out to fetch you back.”
Edward knew Duncan lived just outside Seskinore. Not the best place to hail a taxi from, even if they would go that far from town. “Right Sir… Oh and the drayman Sir. Name’s McGonigle. He was here the whole time, but says he saw and heard nothing.”
“I’ll deal with him. And Edward…
“Best take the cap and tie off. I don’t think Duncan’s Sierra has much armour plating. You just don’t know who’s waiting to take pot-shots in this neck of the woods.”
Edward shook his head. Some disguise his DI was suggesting. He took a final look at Trevor Mulholland’s body. Regardless of any potential risks, he was pleased to get away.
* * *
The DI was right about the need for a nose peg. Edward found a blanket in the boot of the car. It was covered in dog hairs, but it was better than Duncan sitting directly on the passenger seat.
As Edward drove away from Kealey’s Inn and towards the town, Duncan started to sob quietly. Edward looked across at him, unsure of what to say. Or if he should say anything to this man who he had only previously seen laughing and shouting instructions to rugby players from the side line.
“He didn’t shoot me.”
Well, obviously, thought Edward.
“He was going to but he didn’t.” Duncan spoke through his sobs. “He didn’t want the money.”
“What money?” Edward asked. He hadn’t noticed any money. Not on the floor, or on the table where Duncan had been sitting, or on the bar.
“He shook his head,” Duncan continued. “He didn’t want it. Trevor was sure it was enough. Maybe it wasn’t enough.”
“Duncan, what money?”
But Duncan’s body was now racked with sobs, and he was unable to speak at all
29th March 2022
“For feck’s sake, would you leave the lead alone!” Malcolm Bell shouted at the dog.
He had just been enjoying a wee sit down on the bench, taking in the view of the East Strand in Portrush. The sea and weather were calm, the beach now filling up with the park runners ready to head out along the sand to the White Rocks for their usual Saturday 9.30am, or thereabouts, five-kilometre run. His wife had told him it was good to take a wee walk and sit awhile, letting the world go by. But when ex-DI Bell was honest with himself, he bitterly missed the pressure, the always-present tension of working as a policeman in the West Tyrone town that had been his home and working patch for thirty years. He had been looking forward to retirement, had told himself it would make all the difference to the nightmares, to the memories he wanted to leave behind. But when retirement and the accompanying move to this seaside town on the north coast arrived – what did they say? Be careful what you wish for.