Esso Blue

Fitzgerald stooped over a book on the low wooden table with a knitted brow beneath his thick, wavy brown hair. He stubbed out his cigarette, scratched his head and looked at the lascivious Miss Reid with a perplexed expression on his face. Then he gave a fatuous laugh.

"What?"

"I've just read that the starving Irish workers a hundred years and more ago went about their work on the land in crushed top hats and swallow-tail coats with an open breast in front."

"How strange," she said. "They must have looked odd."

"It says here that they looked like dancing masters that had been treated cruelly by fate. You know what this means?"

"No."

"Beckett the fucker. Godot, the play, the dress, the speech, the void, the waiting, the not turning up. They were all Irish. All Irish republicans waiting in the land of the swinging tit."

Miss Reid laughed. "Waiting for what, Dan?"

"For Marsh, who fucking else!"

The morning was wind-vexed when Fitzgerald went book browsing. Ominous dark clouds were gathering on the horizon like insurgents when he entered Hanna's book shop on Nassau Street. On leaving he felt the first raindrops and he hurried beneath the thin rain and sunbeams to York Street. By the time he darted in to the gloomy hallway the rain was descending in sheets.

Now he borrowed an umbrella and headed out into the rush hour traffic on his way to the Peacock. The rain had eased and was now falling as a lazy drizzle.

He gave the umbrella a vigorous shaking before calling a pint.

"Still pissing?" asked Clarke in the shadowy light of the bar.

"It's soft now, almost looks romantic when you see it against the street light."

Clarke watched the brown clouds in the glass tumble slowly over and into one another with a serious expression on his thin face. Then he fixed his glassy stare on Fitzgerald

"Good jaysus, were you up in Kennedy and Smiths before you came here?"

Fitzgerald took his pint and carried it to the table where Edwards, Richards and Ructions were seated. He placed it on the table and then removed his overcoat. The three were in the middle of an economic analysis of the world, he noted, or the so called Western part of it.

"What we have now is a ubiquitous market," declared Ructions.

"I'd hate to get that up me arse," Edwards sneered as he called three pints from Clarke.

"Commodification is the operative word," continued Ructions. "You see the flatulence in the Dail, regardless of party, are merely the whipping boys for the conglomerates. Their agenda, even if they don't know it, is to narrow national opinion into a crass discussion of who can find the lowest priced bargain in the blingiest supermarket and create an orgy of glitzy vulgarity, a fucking frenzy....."

"Consumification is what it is," announced Richards.

"Con what?" inquired Fitzgerald, taking a slug from his Guinness.

"They want to replace society with an economy of individual consumers," explained Richards. "That way them and their media mouthpieces hope to substitute intellectual thinking with frivolity, you know, whose mot got the fanciest pair of knickers for the cheapest price in some bargain basement dump which pays its yellow pack workers yellow pack wages for working yellow pack hours. Sure isn't that jingle, bom bom bom bom esso blue, nearly the current national anthem?"

"Don't put that fucking thing into our heads Tim, for Jesus sake," pleaded Clarke from behind the counter.

"They would like to limit the national conversation to just one notch above who has got the biggest cock," Fitzgerald cut in.

"Is he gasbagging on about his cock again?" commented Marsh. He had just arrived. He had a slight limp as a result of a fall off his Honda motor bike when he took a U turn in Thomas Street after spotting Nobber walking in his direction.

"I'm gasbagging about the ubiquity of the market principle and the futility of marching," said Fitzgerald out loud, while directing Marsh's attention to Necker, the trade union official who was sitting near the front door perusing a book.

Necker looked towards the table.

"Oh! That marching is a load of oul' Duke of York," said Marsh giving Necker a two fingers sign.

There was a mutual froideur between them since the time Marsh burned down part of a store in nearby North Earl Street, causing some workers, who had been on official strike for higher wages, to lose their jobs.

Marsh took off the light blue mac coat and shook the rain off it while the others began to discuss whether the Soviet Union was or was not a socialist country.

"Just a coffee Jimmy," Marsh shouted to Clarke. After he left the Peacock the previous night, himself and a number of others had ended up in a session in Ned Munroe's house in Mabel Street on the North side of the city. There, while listening to long playing opera records of Gili, they had made gluttons of themselves on Munroe's free, semi-fermented, home-brew beer that quarter filled the bath.

"I think I can still feel the hops leppin in me belly," he mumbled to Fitzgerald.

"I tell youse something," warned Richards, "if anything happens to the Soviet Union, the neo-liberals in America will wage war on the working class all over the world."

"Talking about neo-liberals, what about the fucker who sold Jimmy the jalopy?" inquired Marsh as he delicately sipped the coffee.

He was referring to a second hand auto dealer on Fenian Street who had sold a car to one of the group. The car performed badly, if it performed at all. Another mechanic told the car owner that the vehicle was a heap of scrap; that he should return the car, demanding his money back, if he could get someone to push it from Drumcondra to Fenian Street. The car was towed to the premises but the dealer was adamant that the car was no longer his responsibility.

Marsh had taken the matter so serious that he had, himself, drafted up a letter and had it delivered to the dealer. Fitzgerald had been on the phone from the house on Ormond Road the following day.

"What did he say?" inquired Marsh.

Fitzgerald blew a thin line of smoke towards the ceiling. He examined the cigarette in his hand as if he thought that it was faulty, then a shadow of a grin crept over his rugged features.

"He said that your maladroit manifesto was not of his oeuvre and that you could go and fuck yourself."

"As subtle as a temptation, the foul mouthed little turd...well, I can be subtle too," mused Marsh in a nuanced way as he aimlessly stirred the coffee.

"We're going to have to call on him and tell his family that they might see him again but that they might not recognize him," suggested Davis as he licked the Guinness froth from his beard. He was staring at two young women who were sitting at the counter. One stared back and smiled: the other turned away.

Davis had grown a neat black beard and had allowed his hair to reach shoulder length, in an effort to disguise himself from the Slug. He was also wearing spectacles with plain glass. The overall effect was of somebody who might be doing a PhD on why people with long hair, beards and spectacles do PhD's.

"It's the dealer we have to see," said Marsh, dismissing any other line of action.

"We'll have to take a car because there's a problem with the gearbox in the Volks," said Edwards.

Two weeks later Davis headed over to Ormond Road to make a phone call. Edwards waited on Palmerston Road for him. Davis made a lot of phone calls and it was dark when he emerged from the house.

The two made a number of failed attempts to break into cars before they were successful with a Zehyr Zodiac on Charleville Road. Edwards sat in the driver's seat and began fiddling with the wiring beneath the dashboard. A car came around the corner and drove up the road slowly towards them. Edwards watched in the driver's mirror. Although it was near ten o clock and the road was badly lit, he recognized the green Morris Minor.

"Don't move. It's the harriers."

They sat still in the darkened car as the two detectives drove slowly past. Their car stopped about ten yards further up the road.

"Fuck it. Nobber. He's onto us, scram."

They fled from the car and ran down the road. One of the Branchmen jumped out and followed on foot. Nobber, not bothering to waste time, reversed the whining Morris Minor down the road at speed.

Edwards went for a wall which seemed to be over seven foot high. He was on top of it in a flash. Davis knew that he would not make the wall and he raced for the Rathmines Road.

The Branchman on foot caught up with Davis on Wynnfield Road.

Mickser Branching Out

"Did you get out of that car?" he asked, squinting as he stared at Davis under the street light. Davis immediately recognized him as Mickser, the Branchman who had tried to infiltrate the National Civil Liberties League and had been expelled by Weldon and Casey.

"What car?"

"What are you running for?"

Davis had his left hand up to his mouth in an effort to disguise his frantic breathing.

"I wasn't running," he gasped.

"You must have a dickey heart so, come back to the car."

Davis had a small .32 automatic in his right hand. Mickser did not notice it but he felt it as Davis lashed out suddenly. The combination of his fist and gun knocked Mickser unconscious and Davis took off past the side of Slattery's pub. As luck would have it he was immediately able to hail a taxi on Rathmines Road.

"To Marlborough Street, the Peacock pub."

Edwards glanced from the top of the wall. He saw Davis tearing down the road with the Branchman gaining fast. Nobber had jumped from the Morris and was shouting into the car radio. Edwards cleared a few obstacles and found himself in the grounds of St Louis Convent. He stood in the darkness and soon heard a thump as Nobber dropped from the stone wall and landed in the convent grounds twenty or so yards away.

Seeing the convent gate ahead of him, Edwards raced across the grass towards it in a semi-crouch. Outside, on the far side of the road, a garda patrol car was parked. There were three gardai sitting in it. Edwards did not know if the car was responding to the Special Branch alert or if they were just idly passing the time until their shift was finished. One way or the other, he had no option but to straighten up and continue towards the gate.

He was wearing, by pure coincidence, a black overcoat and a white polo necked shirt. He walked to the gate, now in full view of the relaxed gardai. With an authoritative air he jerked open the gate and slammed it loudly before smartly crossing the road towards the patrol car.

"Evening Father," one of the gardai called out.

"Evening lads," he replied, hardly able to believe his ears. He found it difficult to contain himself and not give the game away by sprinting up the road. He knew that Nobber, somewhere in the grounds, was bound to arrive at the gate at any moment and raise a hue and cry.

He did not arrive for some time however because he did not hear Edwards as he raced across the dew-damp grass. Believing that he had trapped the would-be car thief in the bushes near the wall he scurried about and through them. He was delayed further when he raced through the remains of last winter's dead leaves. He mistook the sounds of his hectic shuffling for that of his prey. When he stopped, the sound stopped and he listened. Then he took off again after his own sound, darting to the left and to the right. Edwards was walking smartly over Portobello Bridge before Nobber realized that the only sounds in the convent grounds were the sounds he himself was making.

Davis arrived in a crowded Peacock pub. Over the incidental chatter he relayed the bad news. He told the others that Edwards was arrested and was on his way to the Bridewell.

"Did he leave prints on the car?" Fitzgerald inquired.

"I opened the doors and told him to keep his hands on his balls."

"Well then it's just a matter of getting Seamus Sorohan to issue a writ of habeas me bollix instead of a res ipsa loquitur," said Fitzgerald, "and point out to a jury, warning them that corroboration, independent of material circumstances, cannot implicate the defendant in the commission of any crime because the law must draw consideration which cannot have been within the contemplation of the defendant, as there are many implied warranties or covenants, which will be found, that in law are raising an implication from the presumed intention of the defendant with the object of giving such efficiency as..."

"Has someone slipped him a Mickey Finn?" asked Marsh.

Ructions was staring at Fitzgerald and scratching his beard when Edwards walked in. Marsh was so relieved that he asked Clarke to give Plopps a pint.

Plopps In The Peacock

Plopp's large glabrous pate was almost a permanent striking feature, like a full moon, at the wall corner of the counter. Most evenings at about 7.30 he plodded down Sean MacDermott Street, a quivering enormousness of fleshy jelly and bundled himself into the confidential confines of the Peacock pub. He sagged down on the bar stool and only the bottom half of it remained visible beneath the grease mottled fabric. This somehow enclosed and contained the bellies, the over bellies and the pendulous backside cheeks which sometimes squeaked as he squelched forward on swollen rubbery legs. And, when the huge body unrolled and unfolded itself from the glistening stool and trudged laboriously towards the toilets, customers had to stand up and hug the wall as chairs were pushed against the tables.

The great face turned towards Marsh on a series of bloated necks.

"Tiocfaidh ar La, Tommy," he shouted as he raised the pint glass to lips of blubber.

Marsh raised his glass back. He did not know what Plopps had shouted for all he heard was a deep gurgling turbulence of sound. What he saw, as he raised his glass, were two blue bubbles of gristle squinting out of a fantastic pinkish mass which trembled and shivered in ghastly spasms long after the gurgling war cry had ceased.

Marsh and his crew were now supporters of the Anarchist, Irish Angry Brigade. After the attack in North Earl Street, they also made incendiary attacks on Arnotts, Pennys, Woolworths, and Roches Stores on the grounds that they believed that these stores could pay better wages.

On May 18th Saor Eire members in the Curragh issued a letter to the press stating...."following the lead of other genuine political elements," we "have severed any connections which we have or ever had with the organization calling itself Saor Eire."

In June, two Angry Brigade devices ignited in the Henry Street branch of Dunne's Stores and later, part of the Skylon Hotel was burned down. When they discovered that the Knights of Saint Columbanus had held their inaugural meeting in Wynn's Hotel, some fifty years earlier, they burned down part of that hotel.

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It was a balmy Saturday evening, some time after the escape from Nobber, that Edwards parked the repaired Volkswagen in Denzille Lane. Marsh was sitting in the front passenger seat. They were both wearing light three quarter length raincoats. They got out of the car and walked quickly to Fenian Street.

"Fuck," Edwards cursed, "what's the fucker with the famished face doing?"

"Cleaning the windows, what does it look like?"

"He couldn't be open this late."

"Stay here," said Marsh. He approached the young window cleaner. He was thin, definitely underweight for his size, and he noticed that his prominent front teeth were sand coloured.

"How's things pal?"

"Fine."

"Is the boss around?"

"He locked up a good while back...I was late," he said apologetically.

"No harm in that once you do a good job. Are you doing this place long?"

"A few months."

"I thought so because I used to do them."

The window cleaner looked a bit surprised. Marsh appeared to him to be a little on the smart-looking side of the street for someone who went around cleaning windows. He did not mean to be derogatory towards the profession of window cleaning, after all he was a professional window cleaner himself. Not only that, but he took great pride in leaving every window he washed down like a mirror. Indeed, the radiance from one shop window he cleaned in Ballybough, was so dazzling that the sun's reflection from it caused a series of traffic accidents.

He was also aware that the trade could attract a tiny minority of degenerate individuals. He knew two brothers who used the excuse of cleaning windows to spy on the contents of the rooms which could be noted down for future burglaries. Then there was a tall man with a black hat who carried a ladder on his bicycle and who spent more time trying to catch young ones standing in their knickers in their bedrooms, than removing grime from glass.

He concluded that the fellow with the longish nose and trilby hat was definitely not a peeping Tom. One could tell from his demeanour that he was a respectable man. He must have misunderstood him. He had undoubtedly meant that he owned a window cleaning company. It occurred to the scrawny cleaner that he might get a job from the man: a job guaranteeing him a steady weekly wage with health and pension benefits accruing. Perhaps this was his lucky day, he thought. Perhaps he had met the man who would change his life.

"Did you clean them?" inquired the cleaner, continuing to give the glass an energetic polish for he believed that first impressions were lasting.

"Yeap."

"Did you move on to something more profitable?"

"I got sacked."

The cleaner was dumbfounded. "Sacked?"

"The boot. His nibs said that I spent too much time admiring myself in the window. His windows. How do you think I look yourself?"

The window cleaner's brain was in a whirr. He stared at the grinning figure. He was beginning to become uneasy.

"You look fine," he answered cautiously.

"Not me. My reflection. How d'yah think my reflection in the window looks?"

"Good," said the window cleaner giving a nervous laugh.

Marsh lowered the tilt of his hat. Behind the two large windows of the car showrooms, he could see three rows of cars, two to a row. He could also see the reflection of the window cleaner and the reflection of an elderly couple with an old dog on the far side of the road, their translucency giving them the appearance of lost ghosts. For a second, he wondered how it always seemed to him that old people owned old dogs, and more bizarre, how old people seemed to resemble their old dogs or was it the other way around!

"Watch my reflection walk," he ordered the confused window cleaner. His limp was not discernable as he walked smartly to the far window. Then he swung around and faced the window in a semi-crouched position. He whipped out a 9mm automatic pistol and holding it at arm's length with both hands he fired a single shot. The window cleaner dropped his bucket and galloped towards Westland Row. Marsh took a few brisk steps and fired twice more as the dog on the far side of the road summoned all its reserves of energy and delivered a single, futile bark.

The three bullets embedded themselves in the back wall of the premises, each one first traveling through the two windscreens and two back windows as well as the two newly cleaned showroom windows.

"He would have had more money if he had paid the money," said Marsh to Edwards as the Volkswagen drove away.

"That's a conundrum for Fitzgerald to work out."

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A split developed over Marsh and his crew operating with the Angry Brigade. It sharpened when Long was beaten up by those now calling themselves Saoirse Eire and largely based in Cork. These were nicknamed ‘derivatives' by Ructions and ‘neo-cons' by Fitzgerald. There was an element in Saoirse Eire that considered the atheism of the Angry Brigade as anti-Irish. When Long explained to them the difference between Ultramontane and Gallican tendencies within Irish Roman Catholicism they stared at him as if he was mooning the Holy Ghost, and then they pistol whipped him because they considered his theories weird and wonky.

The Saturday morning had been dull and overcast, threatening rain. Now the sky had cleared and a light wind freshened the evening. It was the first day of December when Galvin, the wizened Republican from the fifties era, glanced furtively around before he entered the Peacock.

"There's five derivatives sitting in Nicoletti's," he whispered to Davis.

Davis left the pub and hurried to the public phone kiosk near Lucky Duffey's shop on Parnell Street. There were two women inside the phone booth. Davis jerked open the door.

"Excuse me!" the woman in the leather mini skirt exclaimed.

"Leave it fucking out sunshine," shouted the second woman who was aggressive and plump and had peroxide blond, curly hair.

"The Missus," Davis pleaded. "The Missus is having a baby, up there, the ambulance."

"Jesus!" shrieked the blond woman. "Up where?"

They stepped out of the phone box as Davis grabbed the hand piece.

"Up there in the Blue Lion," he shouted as he pushed a coin into the phone coin slot.

"Esso Blue," he said urgently as Ructions' voice came on the line.

As the women burst into the Blue Lion pub, Davis was trotting back to the Peacock. Soon after, six people, led by Ructions, passed the pro-Cathedral. They halted at the corner of Talbot Street. Galvin was sent in to Nicoletti's Restaurant on Marlborough Street to lure out the Saoirse Eire diners.

Galvin entered the homely restaurant. The diners were seated at two of the small tables near the counter.

"Well, well, well, do yis know the bankers who yer wives are riding while yis are up here in the big smoke?" the diminutive republican inquired in a sneering tone.

As the disgusted diners jumped to their feet, Galvin, taking short fast steps, scurried out the door towards Abbey Street. He was followed by the Saoirse Eire members who were, in turn, chased by the tall Nicoletti, the restaurant owner. He presumed the running figures were doing a bunk. The owner, extending his long legs was beginning to gain on the diners when he heard a shout from behind: "Leave it fucking out, Ken."

He looked around and stared into the wild staring eyes of Ructions. He halted and scratched his head as Ructions and a number of others raced past him.

The diners were unaware of Ructions and his posse until they heard a shout of "Halt!" from Long. He was carrying a shotgun which was completely wrapped in brown paper. There were two loud bangs and the night air was filled with bits of brown paper. A garda, who happened to be standing on the corner of Abbey Street, was ordered by Ructions not to get involved. He had no such intention and dived for cover onto the floor of a newsagents shop.

The Saoirse Eire group fled past the Abbey Theatre entrance towards the River Liffey. They were followed by Ructions and his men, who sent a hail of bullets after them from handguns. Nobody was injured in the fusillade which also caused pedestrians to scatter and run for their lives.

People were still jabbering about the violent bout of playacting outside the Abbey Theatre when a grinning Marsh walked into the Peacock pub. He had abandoned his usual spic and span appearance. Now his blue mac overcoat, as well as his face and hands, were all splattered with a white substance.

"Jaysus Tommy," remarked Fitzgerald, "Were you reading Ulysses under a pigeon loft?"

"Art, pal, modern art," Marsh replied.

"You're not tossing buckets of whitewash onto blank canvases?" Ructions sneered.

"I heard that one of those modern fellows in New York used to strap a paintbrush onto his cock and made a fortune," said Fitzgerald.

"From his paintings or from his cock?" Edwards wondered.

"Jaysus Tommy," Clarke shouted from behind the counter, "fair fucking play to your elbow. Art bejaysus!"

Marsh went into the gents. He wrinkled his nose as he thought he got a smell like semen. He removed the coat and gave it a vigorous shaking. He then turned it inside out and put it back on so that when he emerged, he was wearing a light grey mac.

"What kind of art, Tommy?"

"Fucken leprechauns," he announced, his shoulder twitching. The pub became silent.

"Leprechauns!"

"Yeap. The fucken front room is full of 'em."

"Full of leprechauns!" Fitzgerald echoed. "Were you on the fucking tear all day in Kennedy and Smiths?"

"Plaster leprechauns," Marsh corrected.

"What's your front room doing full of fucking plaster leprechauns?"

"I'm making the fucken things in rubber moulds, got to paint them next."

"For the garden like?"

"For the fucken yanks pal. They go mad for ‘em."

Edwards headed towards the toilets as the rest of the company gave one another curious looks.

"Sure, sure. Sure if the yanks buy tins of soup from Andy Arsehole, why wouldn't they buy plaster leprechauns from you."

"And wouldn't they be worth a fortune if the world was to run out of plaster," Ructions surmised. "Is that one in the bag there?"

"No, it's a fucken lump hammer."

"Jaysus, you don't use a lump hammer to get them out of the rubber moulds, do you."

"No. I borrowed that for another job."

"Jaysus Tommy, you're a fucking busy man. Though I should warn you that there's no money in being a genius," Fitzgerald laughed.

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Marsh's announcement reminded Davis of his first and only venture into art. He was about twelve years old and pocket money was scarce. To alleviate the penury the young Davis hatched a plan that could have been described as artistic quantitative easing.

The Saturday morning was a mournful grey as Davis headed into town. For two weeks, on his way home from O'Connell's schools, he had avoided the tiny hall tuck shop on the North Circular Road. Now, with three weeks pocket money nestling in his trousers pocket, he entered an art shop on Talbot Street. He bought some green and cream ink dye, two small sable hair brushes and a copy book of plain white pages. His cheerful whistling seemed to contradict the general glumness of the late morning as he hurried up Whitworth Road.

The rain had begun falling and the Walton's programme was on the radio when his father arrived home from work.

"Have yeh got a pound, dad?" he asked as his father, well fed by his mother, settled himself down beside the coal fire with a plan in mind to read the Irish Press.

His father stiffened in the arm chair. He peered over the newspaper, his brow wrinkled in alarm.

"A pound?"

"Aye, it's just to copy one for Brother Cutberth, the art teacher."

"Oh I see," said his father, relaxing and putting his hand in his back pocket.

"Be careful of that," his mother warned, emerging from the kitchenette.

Davis added some tracing paper and a red biro from his schoolbag to the purchased items as he set to work on the kitchen table.

"Turn on the light," instructed his father as the day continued to darken.

Davis worked diligently. His mother and father threw approving glances towards him and at one another. His father's knowledge of art was limited, and he would rather see his son burying his nose in a mathematics book, but he was proud to see Frank, for once, not spending his Saturday afternoon gallivanting around the Drumcondra environs with the usual disreputable elements.

"What do you think of that?" asked Davis some hours later. His parents stared at the portrait of Lady Lavery.

"Good Lord," said his father, "that is nearly as good as the real one."

On the Sunday Frank showed the note to some of his pals.

"Where did yeh get it?"

"It's fucken massive."

"I did it meself."

"Yeh did in your bollix."

They crowded around him.

"We could use it in Gormons," suggested Wade.

"But one side is blank," observed Lawless.

"I could just fold it like this and pass it over," said Davis, folding the note, "sure oul Gormon is half blind."

The Gannon brothers shook their heads and looked at Masterson.

"It's too risky, you'd have to do the back."

On Monday, when Davis' father arrived home from work he inquired about Brother Cutberth's appreciation of the art work.

"He said it was massive. He wants me to do the back.

The pound note was borrowed again that evening and soon a good likeness of one of the heads representing the rivers of Ireland materialized on the blank back. Davis completed the accompanying geometric designs the following day.

He met his pals after school. There were two that he would not have considered to be close friends, but, having heard about the new pound note, they had made sure to be in the right place at the right time.

The group assembled in the park on Mountjoy Square opposite Gormon's shop.

The shop was situated in the front room off the dilapidated Georgian hall of number 58 Mountjoy Square.

Gormon's Pound Note

Davis, followed by seven other eager shoppers, entered the hall and pushed open the shabby door that led into the shop.

Inside, the shop looked like a monument to wasted time and decay. Nothing moved except the flies silently flitting from one sticky bun to another. These were planked on the lids of old biscuit tins on the L shaped wooden counter that guarded two walls of shelves.

On these shelves were various cardboard boxes with faded designs which looked like fragments from a previous way of life. A single bulb was hanging from a bare socket beneath the ruins of a plaster ceiling. The light coming through the yellowish stained glass of the single large window bathed everything in a green hue.

The bunch of young shoppers piled in as if in defiance of the scene of silent devastation.

Gormon, a rumpled clump of greasy dark material, slumped on a tall stool in front of the web-tattooed window. In front of him, on the short side of the counter, stood jars of sweets. Davis thought that he noticed the glimmer of a greedy expression transfigure Gormon's face, as an involuntary twitch on his pinkish forehead dislodged a bluebottle that Davis had first presumed to be a black wart.

The boys called for nancy balls and bulls eyes from the silent crouching figure. If they had known anything about art, they would have concluded that Gormon was the inspiration of a series of Francis Bacon's more depressing paintings.

Without getting off the stool Gormon moved slowly and methodically. He counted out sweets from the various jars and carefully placed them in cones that had been previously made from old newspapers. Each boy also took a jam tart and a cream bun. Davis handed over the note.

Gormon gave it a remorseless stare. For a fraction of a second there was an intense silence, then he seemed to suck in a bucketful of breath. A irrational bellow came from deep down in his stomach and filled the dereliction.

"Run," shouted Davis.

There was a mad scatter out into the hall. Some sticky buns got trodden into the bare, dirty hall floor as the figures jostled one another to escape. They raced down towards Gardiner Street with a wheezing shop owner staggering behind them until he had to come to a halt at the traffic lights, paralysed by a horrible bout of coughing that completely overwhelmed him.

"I didn't think that oul cunt had even got legs," they laughed afterwards.

Davis presumed that the gardai in Fitzgibbon Street were examining the note for fingerprints when his father inquired about it.

"Oh Brother Cutberth thought it was so good that he has it on display in the glass case beside the Superior's office."

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Now, while Marsh took to his knees in his front room to paint his plaster leprechauns, Ructions, Edwards and the others finalized their plans for a 100% guaranteed to be successful Tote van heist. They had just been given the remaining forensic details by Hacksaw Hughie the fiddler.

It was a cinch, they assured each other. It couldn't possibly fail.

The heist was to be carried out on the evening of the running of the St Leger at the Curragh Racecourse. Davis would use the repaired Volkswagen to drive up the Naas Road some minutes ahead of the van. A bogus garda would then saunter out and wave the van to a halt near the village of Kill where it would be quickly emptied of its untraceable cash.

The robbers would then drive their stolen getaway car, a black Vauxhall Cresta, inland for several miles. Edwards would follow in the Volkswagen. After several miles travelling west, the Vauxhall would be abandoned at a T junction, making it look like it was heading in the direction of the city. The three would then transfer to the Volkswagen, and drive, by a circuitous route, on minor roads, to a safe house in Monastrevin in County Kildare.

Sure it was most probable, they believed, that they could listen to Maurice O'Doherty read the nine o'clock news in Cecil Finlay's intimate public house on the Main Street. There, with the few locals, they would tut, tut, in unison and agree that something terrible was happening to this little island of saints and scholars and also point out that the robbery was obviously the work of professionals. Knowledgeable, thoughtful, experienced men who allowed for every possible angle and did not gamble like the idiots whose lost money had filled the van before it was as good as stolen for a second time the same day. These men, they would explain, exemplified the difference between winners and losers.

"Here's Davis," Long shouted.

It was nearly seven on a fine September evening some hours after the running of the St Leger. The approach of dusk on the horizon over the city made the light behind them look drowsy. The three were having a smoke just off the main road beside the getaway car. Davis leaped from the Volkswagen. He was highly agitated.

"That cunt is going like a bomb. I had to drive like a fucking lunatic to get past him. This is a fucking banger. We'll have to get something better when we empty that fucking van," he rattled on.

"Relax, we will," Long assured him.

"Quick Joe, he's just down the fucking road," Ructions suddenly shouted.

Edwards stepped out on to the carriageway. As luck would have it there was a lull in the traffic on either side except for the Tote van approaching in the distance.

"The cap," Ructions shouted. Long threw him a garda cap, frisbee fashion. It was one that was seized during the baton charges over the flying of the IRA flag in O'Connell Street in 1966. Edwards caught it. He put it on his head and realized that it was on the large side.

"This must have belonged to turnip head from Fitzgibbon Street," he shouted jovially. Holding it with one hand, he raised his other hand with as casual and as calm an authority as he could muster. The other three were heaped together in a semi-crouch behind the ditch at the corner of the field. The van sped out of the horizon towards Edwards. If the van had been closer he would have yawned, thereby totally convincing the driver of his credibility.

The van seemed to increase its speed. Edwards' brow wrinkled and his eyes widened. The bogus garda raised his second hand. He waved frantically as the cap went askew on his head so that from the neck up he looked like a contortionist. The van driver kept his boot to the floor. Edwards felt a most peculiar shudder run through his body. He looked towards the others with a look of terror on his face. Ructions stared back with a pitiful look.

Some Jersey cows, attracted by the activity at the ditch, had mosied over to the corner of their field. They stood in a pale brown, chewing mass of bovine tranquility, observing the furtive figures on the far side of the ditch. For a moment it seemed that the unruffled gaze in their large brown eyes had hypnotized the men. It was as if everything in the whole world had stood still....except the van!

Long shouted something and the Jersey cows jumped back from the ditch. Edwards stared into the leering face of the mad van driver a fraction of a second before the disbelieving figure on the middle of the road ditched himself. A split second later the van tore past where he had just been frozen to the spot. The garda cap danced in its wake for a second or two before coming to rest thirty feet up the road.

The would be robbers were all shouting at one another. Ructions aimed his revolver after the disappearing van. Long grabbed his arm.

"It's too late. The cunt is gone with our money."

"That cunt tried to kill me," Edwards shouted. He was trembling with emotion. Davis ran up the road and recovered the garda cap. It was flattened like a pancake.

"So much for Hacksaw Hughie's info," he hissed. The robbers were unaware that the Tote van was in radio contact with the gardai and would be informed in advance of any garda checkpoint. Receiving no pre-arranged signal, the driver knew that this ‘garda' had not been trained in Templemore.

"Why did you jump out of the way?" Ructions demanded, staring at Edwards.

"To remain in the fucking land of the living, bleak as it fucking is," he answered angrily, flabbergasted at the question.

"Into the Volkswagen," ordered Davis, "that cunt is almost in Dublin by now and telling the cops all about us."

"And how he tried to murder me. I need a large brandy. Head for the Peacock,"

"Worst case of road rage I ever saw," muttered Long.

"Joe lost his bottle," Davis laughed as the four sped up the Naas Road. Ructions was sitting in the back seat. He stroked his beard thoughtfully.

"The van must be running on a full tank of Esso Blue."