He reached for the soap, wincing as it slipped out of his hand, automatically stretching further but his ribcage was fit to burst at even this small movement. He rubbed the spot gently, wondering as he showered if it was bruised or broken, cracked or shattered. Each small stroke brought new sensations of pain. What was he going to do? It had finally happened, the connection of foot on bone, he had been waiting for it forever. But now that it had, he was confused as to his next move.
There were mitigating circumstances, there always were. He remembered his own occasions of volatile temper raging through him, the only release would be the explosion in his knuckles as he punched something or someone. The time Gerry Downing had teased him about his hair colour in the pub, the surprised expression that hung on his face as he was launched over the bar. Yes, he could remember each and every time.
But he had never hit her. They had been going out for over a year now and he had been sure to keep his temper in check. The guys in the bar were always riling him but he began to count to ten, if she were with him, some of them had copped to this and upped their game. They and he knew this was the one. The keeper. He just had to keep his cool long enough to get the ring on her finger and then it didn’t matter. He was a cop, he knew domestics were never investigated and maybe, just maybe she would behave herself all the time and there’d be no need to teach her right from wrong.
Last night, in the bar, the guys had just gone over the top. Mocking his clothes, his hair and when they started in on his aftershave. Billy Mac, did a pirouette and said in the campest of voices, “lovely cologne, what is that a hint of; lilies or lavender?”
He jumped up, strode over to Billy and was about to grab his neck when…
She called his name and he turned. She was slightly squatting, almost a split squat and all in a second was up delivering a front kick to his breast bone and then into a power sidekick, from the left. That’s what threw him. Her front kick had been on her left leg with the right outstretched reaching his body. But how did she get that on the floor before beginning the sidekick, and when he thought of the power behind it, he winced.
She walked out of the bar, head held high, legs like a gazelle. At the door, she turned, bowed to the ensemble and on rising, raised one arm in the air in a fist and shouted, “for Michelle, you gutless wonder.”
The men gathered around him, it was unfair they said, they were only ribbing. This caused a wave of giggles, but they knew the score. It was only banter and the physicality of it all, just lads having a laugh, blowing off a bit of steam. But Michelle.
Michelle Grainger had lived in the village her entire life, never leaving it for the bigger towns like most of them. She drank in the bar and worked in the shop, her life was simple and her dream was to settle down with her handsome boyfriend, the policeman from town, who came every Tuesday to air the old Garda station and give out the odd ticket for busted backlights. Garda Brennan, AJ to his mates, loved the attention from this yokel girl and spun her a line for a year or two but he had a fiance in town and was not going to be shackled to Michelle no matter what. She arrived at the station on Tuesday morning to meet him and give him the good news; she was expecting.
She did not get the conversation she wanted as he suggested it wasn’t his and called her names. . Meanwhile, AJ had contacted his mate on the force, asking his advice. His friend had said, don’t worry, he’d sort it out for him. There was a young hoon, Backers Mackie, he was on the edge of everything and about to move into a bigger league. He needed taking down but it was proving impossible to tie him to anything.
Now, he was in Mountjoy on remand, being tried with Michelle Grainger’s murder, he had no alibi, his prints were found at the scene. The village, scared witless by the thought of a murder on their doorstep were all too eager to place Backers in the area on the night in question. Garda Brennan was an absolute rock of support to the family and neighbours. He talked about the shock of her news two days before but how he had bought a ring and was going to propose at the weekend. He was as white as flour throughout the whole affair. He explained to his fiance how this local girl had been stalking him and thought he was her boyfriend telling the whole village. She was so understanding, they waited a year to get married just to allow Michelle’s family some peace. They were invited to the wedding but it was still, for them, too soon but they wished the couple all the best. AJ moved cross country, doing something in vice in the city.
He actually hadn’t meant to kill Michelle, just talk to her, bundle some money at her and get her on a boat to England, but she was so adamant. She wanted the white dress and the marquee, she had even planned the music for the first dance. She was either obsessed or had little to occupy her mind.
He was still in the shower, letting the water cascade over his rib cage, in all his years of thumping and kicking people, no one had ever landed one on him. He thought back to last night. How he had crumpled in agony. This couldn’t go on, his rages were getting more ferocious, he was under investigation at work, things were beginning to unravel and now this. Michelle, that had been two years ago, Backers was locked up, albeit he hadn’t been to trial yet. There were pre-trial hearings with the barristers and a growing swell of people wondering why he was claiming to be innocent. Backers had begun to help the Gardai with their enquiries into a number of unsolved cases around the area and was admitting to the dealing and GBH of more than a few people in town. So why wouldn’t he cop to the murder?
He looked in the mirror, “Alexander James Cronin, it is all getting a bit messy,” as he said this to himself, he smirked. Understatement of the century. He winced again as took a deep breath. His phone beeped. The message read, “Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief. Psalm 143. This might be your answer, mate”
It had been sent anonymously. On his way to work, a guy tried to give him a leaflet as he said, “Repent, the end is near.” At break time, a few of the younger guards were reciting poetry at each other, trying to remember the words from their leaving. They were on the cusp of their thirties and realising their youth was gone, were reminiscing about school and the dreaded exams. Julie Tolley raised her voice in the hushed canteen,
“I have lived in important places, times
When great events were decided, who owned
That half a rood of rock, a no-man’s land
Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.
I heard the Duffys shouting “Damn your soul!”
And old McCabe stripped to the waist, seen
Step the plot defying blue cast-steel –
“Here is the march along these iron stones.”
That was the year of the Munich bother. Which
Was more important? I inclined
To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin
Till Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind.
He said: I made the Iliad from such
A local row. Gods make their own importance.
The whole canteen burst into applause, none of the others had quoted an entire poem, just a line here and there.
“Way to go, Jules.”
“Good one, Trolley Girl.”
Nicknames were common, some stuck. His was “Moanin’ Cronin,” he didn’t care one way or the other. Poems in the station was a good distraction from his mind in turmoil. He looked up and saw the Inspector enter.
“Sir, I would like to meet with you today, if possible, I mean if you are not busy. I mean I know you’re busy but can you fit me in, sir?”
“Sergeant Cronin, I can see you tomorrow at nine am, I have things to do today.”
“Yes sir, thank you, sir. Right nine o’clock tomorrow. Sir.”
He walked to the river after work, he looked into the water, looking for answers, he only saw his reflection. It’s down to me then, to do what is right. He smarted at the pain as he walked slowly home. He got over another hurdle, he hadn’t jumped off the bridge as so many other tortured souls had. The bookshop was still open, it wasn’t a place he would normally be found.
“Hello Sergeant, how may I help you today?”
“I got a message this morning and I want to look it up, do you have a, a, a Bible?”
“Yes of course, which translation?”
“I guess so.”
The woman thrust a book in his hand.
“It’s popular with the young ones and er, um, people not used to opening a bible. What is the passage?”
“Psalm,” he pronounced it p-salm
She smiled warmly, took the Bible back and turned to Psalms. “There are 150 psalms, do you have the chapter?”
“Oh yes, sure, let me look,” he took out his phone, “1 4 3.”
“Here, you read away, no rush.”
“Thank you,” and he sat on the chair and read:
Listen to this prayer of mine, God;
pay attention to what I’m asking.
Answer me—you’re famous for your answers!
Do what’s right for me.
But don’t, please don’t, haul me into court;
not a person alive would be acquitted there.
The enemy hunted me down;
he kicked me and stomped me within an inch of my life.
He put me in a black hole,
buried me like a corpse in that dungeon.
I sat there in despair, my spirit draining away,
my heart heavy, like lead.
I remembered the old days,
went over all you’ve done, pondered the ways you’ve worked,
Stretched out my hands to you,
as thirsty for you as a desert thirsty for rain.
Hurry with your answer, God!
I’m nearly at the end of my rope.
Don’t turn away; don’t ignore me!
That would be certain death.
If you wake me each morning with the sound of your loving voice,
I’ll go to sleep each night trusting in you.
Point out the road I must travel;
I’m all ears, all eyes before you.
Save me from my enemies, God—
you’re my only hope!
Teach me how to live to please you,
because you’re my God.
Lead me by your blessed Spirit
into cleared and level pastureland.
Keep up your reputation, God—give me life!
In your justice, get me out of this trouble!
In your great love, vanquish my enemies;
make a clean sweep of those who harass me.
And why? Because I’m your servant.
His eyes were damp as he finished. “I will take it.”
“Okay, that will be twenty-five euros, Sergeant. Say do you need to talk to someone. I mean I don’t want to pry, but you seem different today.”
“Do I know you?”
“We went to the Tec together, years ago now. But you seem beat today, I hope you don’t mind me saying. It’s just you have always commanded the space you were in. But now, well you seem to have shrunk, ever so slightly.”
“Stress, I guess. Oh sorry,” he smiled, “they were quoting Kavanagh at work today maybe it is rubbing off.”
“Ha, ha, Kavanagh never rhymed. Seriously AJ, I know a guy, he is a good guy and he is strictly confidential. He could meet you tonight?” She left it as a question in the air as he got out money to pay for it.
“Just round the corner, in the wee chapel, he’s a minister, well a lay pastor, but he is a good listener and he’ll be there now. He cleans the kitchen on a Tuesday night.”
He walked around the corner and through the open door. He saw the guy drying dishes at the sink. “Hello,” he called, “I think I am in trouble. Can you help? …”