Marsh shook hands with Skinner, the chicken choker, in the Peacock.
"We have a deal so, give me about three weeks."
He sat down with Ructions and Davis, giving his shoulder a bit of a twitch.
"What the fuck!" Ructions shrugged, "Have youse resolved the contradiction between official and unofficial strikes?"
Marsh gave his cigarette a business like tap on the box before he lit it.
"He bought a house in Wicklow, on the Carlow border, and needs a few things for it. The fucken leprechauns are a bit on the slow side at the moment, so I reckon that Edwards and meself could help him out for a few bob."
"Sure, knowing your entrepreneurial expertise, he couldn't have come to a better man, isn't that right Sean?"
"Right, bejaysus, isn't Tito himself using Tommy's formula for a mixed economy."
Skinner needed three long windows for the nearly completed cottage extension and materials for a large garden pond that the official had himself half dug out, using a pickaxe and wheelbarrow over a prolonged spell. Marsh promised that, because of his vast range of business contacts, he would be able to supply the necessary materials at bargain prices.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon Marsh arrived down with Edwards to the cottage. Two men, one wielding a pickaxe, the other a shovel, were working in the area partly dug out for the garden pond. This was in the shape of a large elongated eight figure.
"Have yis found any gold yet?" Edwards shouted jovially.
Both men stared blankly at him as a third, stout, man emerged from the extension shell.
"They've no English mister," he shouted in a Wicklow accent, "but they're both Catholics."
Marsh cursed as he remembered he had forgotten his measuring tape. Taking the old line, from the top of his fingers on his outstretched hand to his elbow, he measured up the three long narrow windows. Then while taking long strides and counting out loud, he marched around the pond perimeter twice. The two figures stared after the tramping figure and then at one another.
"Jaysus Tommy, I thought you were after joining the Gestapo," Edwards called out.
Marsh ignored him. He was muttering to himself. "Thirty seven," he suddenly shouted out to Edwards.
"Thirty seven what?"
"That's the question."
On the journey back he ordered Edwards to swing right at the Brittas Inn.
"Head for Glenasmole," he ordered.
When they stopped Marsh got out of the Volkswagen and led the way on foot through a steep wooded area. After about ten minutes of fast climbing they came to a clearing. Edwards looked towards the setting sun.
The sky beyond the mountains was a flood of light. Beneath the cosmic calm the distant mountains appeared to swim in a hallucinatory intensity while those in the foreground were already beginning to merge into the long shadows of the twilight.
"Jesus! That's fucking spectacular."
"We didn't come up here to look at the fucken sky," said Marsh, directing his eyes downwards. They were looking into an area about the size of a football pitch. The ground was covered in an ominous looking black plastic sheet.
"What the fuck!" exclaimed Edwards.
"It was going to be a dump," explained Marsh. "You know, the usual, a few back handers. But the local residents fucked them up and the plan was abandoned. Left all the fucken plastic just lying here. The local farmers are taking it and covering their barn roofs with it. One of them told me the other night that they call the stuff the Third Reich, it'll last a thousand years."
He took out a Stanley knife. Edwards looked on in panic.
"We couldn't fit that in the car," he protested, "besides, I told Ructions that I'd see him in the Peacock later."
"We're not putting it in the car," explained Marsh. "We're just cutting it now an' later we'll collect it in Hackett's trailer."
Marsh strode across the plastic, counting each stride. Then, sliding along on one knee, he cut a large rectangular section with the Stanly blade. The two men rolled up the plastic. At Marsh's behest they dragged the roll some distance and hid it in the undergrowth at the wood's edge.
On the following Wednesday evening, Marsh, Edwards and Davis were back at the abandoned dump. They had Hackett's trailer hitched to the tow-bar of the Volkswagen. Marsh was scanning the area through binoculars. Suddenly he shouted: "Wrozzers. Get the fucken trailer."
The three unhitched the trailer and pushed it into the wood. They were standing beside the Volkswagen when the garda patrol car pulled up. Two guards got out of the car.
"Lovely evening guard," said Edwards pleasantly, as the five figures stood in ribboned sunlight.
"It is. What are youse doing here?" asked the older of the two policemen.
"Bird watching," snapped Marsh who possessed an alert as well as a devious mind. He lifted up the binoculars. The younger, cherub-faced, guard laughed.
"Really!" said the older one, his eyes closing into a suspicious squint beneath a protuberant skull. He studied Marsh as if he was an alien.
"Yep. I received information that an azure tit was seen in the area," Marsh announced confidently.
"Isn't Ireland full of tits?"
"And false information," suggested the distrustful older guard.
"The azure tit is a rare migrant to Ireland," explained Marsh. He then cupped his hands in front of his mouth and blew in.
"Tsi-tsi-tserri-de-de-de," he whistled out.
The two gardai exchanged curious glances.
Edwards stared up at the nearest tall tree as if he was expecting, at any moment, to see an azure tit. Of course, he did not know what an azure tit looked like. He also did not expect to see Marsh smothered in azure tits, like a Dublin Saint Francis. Davis thoughtfully stroked his newly grown Mexican moustache as Marsh whistled another sharp rasp through the glowing woods.
"That's as close as I can get to a mating call at this altitude," he apologized.
The older guard seemed to lose interest in Marsh's whistling as he looked over the red Volkswagen.
"Who owns this?"
"I do," Marsh and Edwards chimed together.
"It's a company car, fully comprehensive," Marsh explained, still continuing to glance around at the darkening sky.
The older guard took down the names and inquired if Edwards was Irish when he gave his name as Lambert Simnel. The young guard checked the tax and insurance discs on the windscreen then the garda car radio cackled into life. The gardai drove off in a hurry.
"Best of luck with the tits."
Dusk was beginning to set in when the car and trailer headed towards Blessington. Marsh was in the rear seat. He periodically looked out the back window with the binoculars.
"What are you looking for?" inquired Davis.
"Yep, cause when they put those names into the transmitter in Tallaght its gonna go up in fucken smoke."
That Friday after closing time Marsh left the Peacock pub and headed for the Northbrook Hotel on Northbrook Road. He had an appointment with a political journalist who worked in the Irish Times. Marsh had discovered that the Saoirse Eire faction had linked him to their simplistic "Brits out" policy and he wanted to ensure that the journalist knew that his campaign to destroy the Southern State had not, because of the Provisional IRA campaign in the North, been relegated to the back burner.
He had studied Fitzgerald's thesis and now he had it all worked out in his head as he entered the cosy basement bar. He had deliberately only drank half a dozen pints in the Peacock earlier so that he would confront the journalist with a clear mind.
After some small talk about hurling in East Clare, the affable journalist explained how he had started working in the fifties as a young journalist in the Clare Champion newspaper. He relayed how he was not long working there when he was given a story about a particular fisherman who had caught a trout while fishing in the Cloon River near Cranny in Clare.
The unusual aspect to the story was that when the trout was cut open for the pan, a young trout was discovered in the hooked trout's belly. The young journalist was quite pleased with the amount of publicity that his story attracted. Inquires were even made from members of the fishing community abroad.
Two weeks later the young journalist was about to leave the newspaper office after his day's work. The Editor suggested that it would be advisable if he left by the back window instead of the front door. He was told that the fisherman he had named in the story was waiting across the road from the newspaper offices and as well as his bicycle he had an ashplant stick in his hand.
To his surprise, the rookie journalist learned that the same man had got married on the very same day that he was alleged, in the newspaper story, to have caught the trout with the baby trout in its belly.
"Everybody in the surrounding countryside knew about the bride's reputation except the would-be husband."
"The fucker who gave you that bum steer was a handy bit of nasty work," said Marsh.
Marsh was determined not to give the journalist and raconteur a second bum steer as he outlined to him how his campaign to overthrow the Free State in the South of Ireland would not in the least be scaled down because of ongoing Northern shenanigans.
"We started ours when Adams was a baby," he declared.
The two were on their second whisky and their third cigarette as Marsh went into theorectical detail. He lectured the journalist on how consonant cluster conspiracies had failed to find a frictionless epenthesis along a continuous scale whether from one extreme point, the cardinally phonemic to the cardinally prosodic.
The journalist's eyes widened as he peered over his glasses. Although a long standing back problem had him physically badly stooped he seemed to straighten himself as he reached for his whisky. He sipped it while continuing to look at Marsh, frozen faced, as if his head had turned into a smoking bazooka.
Marsh was now slurring his words slightly and gesticulating carelessly with his hands. The journalist pulled his chair back from the table a little. He feared that at any moment Marsh might accidentally send the whiskies flying.
Marsh leaned forward and insisted that not even a "fucken homogeneous pharyngealization" would deter his men.
The journalist threw his blank notebook on the table.
"I haven't a clue what you're talking about," he apologized.
"I'm talking about my bullets flying on this side of the track. Tell Blaney and his Catholics that. That's an exclusive Pal."
Marsh stepped out into a flaunting breeze and tumbled headlong over a protruding granite kerb stone.
"I nearly broke me bollocks," he told Ructions in the Peacock the following Sunday night. Then he followed Edwards out to the toilets.
"Don't tell me," moaned Edwards, "There's a harrier at the counter."
"No. It's more serious then that Joe. Don't drink too much tonight."
"We have to go to war after the pubs close."
"Yep. I have a loan of a pick-up from old Matt Skelly and I have a crowbar."
When Marsh rejoined Ructions he jerked a thumb in Edward's direction and shook his head.
"That man is beginning to put on a bit of weight. Overdosing on the calories. You know what the doctors say."
"Very dangerous," agreed Ructions. He stubbed out a cigarette. "Like these."
"He needs exercise. He's becoming too solid."
Despite the cursing of Edwards, that night Marsh and himself set to work lifting granite kerb stones from Northbrook Road and some other roads in the vicinity. They heaved them into the pick-up which had sacking on its steel floor to reduce noise.
"That's thirty," gasped Edwards. "The tyres will burst if we put on anymore," he advised as the sweat poured down his face. He was staggering with exhaustion.
Marsh returned to the Northbrook the following night. The main topic of conversation was the disappearance of the kerb stones.
"Wicklow granite. Handcut. Over a hundred years old," one man with a refined accent groaned.
"Architects," announced Marsh. "Everyone knows that an architect and a jerry builder is as lethal a combination as a solicitor and an auctioneer in a small town."
"I am a solicitor sir," a red-faced man protested.
"Then you know what I mean," said Marsh.
A few days later they had again borrowed the trailer from the magnanimous Hackett. It was required for a job in Pearse Street.
Jim Sullivan, a communist from the fifties era, had died a few years earlier. He had a barber's shop in Pearse Street. The shop was now derelict. It had been in a ruinous state for some time when Marsh climbed inside one Friday night. With a hammer, screwdriver and pliers he removed most of the fixings holding the plate glass window in place.
On Saturday afternoon the Volkswagen with the trailer on tow pulled up outside the shop.
"Jesus," said Edwards, "I didn't know that it was that fucking big." He surveyed the eight foot by six foot shop window.
Davis looked up and down the busy street. It was full of shoppers going and coming.
"You're going to have to keep them off the footpath," ordered Marsh.
"They'll be safer taking their chances with the lorries on the road," Edwards laughed.
Marsh and Edwards lifted the sheet of glass from its dilapidated frame as Davis put on his most authoritative accent.
"Men at work madam, step away, glass, danger," he snapped as he ushered women shoppers, some with children, some pushing prams, out on to the busy roadway. Marsh and Edwards grunted as they edged the heavy sheet of glass across the footpath.
"We'll have to lower it on to the trailer," said Marsh.
"If we can't hold it just let it fucking go," advised Edwards.
"We need it," insisted Marsh.
"I'm not thinking of the fucking glass. I'm thinking of me fucking fingers. I don't want to see me looking at them and them lying on the pavement if you see what I mean."
They successfully lowered the sheet of glass on to some planks that they had placed across the trailer sides. Davis shook his head.
"This is not the way to carry glass."
"It's the fucken best we can do."
Across the road Marsh spotted a middle-aged man sitting in a van. An apparently retarded boy sat beside him shaking to and fro.
"That oulfella over there is watching us," observed Marsh.
"Of course he's watching us. Isn't there a recession sweeping through the land. Sure it must be ages since he saw men working, and on a Saturday evening too."
"That's what's wrong with the country. Nobody willing to do a decent day's work for a decent day's pay," agreed Marsh.
"Are we getting paid for this?"
"It's just a figure of speech."
Marsh drove the Volkswagen slowly down Pearse Street as Edwards hurried back to the Peacock. The car then headed towards Pearse House flats and then onto Grand Canal Street.
"That oulfella is definitely tailing us," said Davis, looking in to the passenger mirror.
"Maybe he thinks we're knackers and he's hoping we'll lead him to the nearest halting site," Marsh laughed.
They crossed Hubband Bridge, then passed Parson's bookshop and drove up Mespil Road. The van remained about fifty yards behind.
"I know this mot in Mespil Flats. Maybe we should leave it. But we have to shake off Sherlockfuckenholmes," suggested Marsh.
Half way up Mespil Road Marsh pulled the car into the kerb. The van did likewise some distance behind. Marsh and Davis got out of the car. They walked into a front garden and up to a hall door. Marsh instructed Davis to pretend to ring the front door bell while he watched the parked van through the front garden hedge. He saw the van driver and the retarded boy get out of the van and cross the road onto the canal bank. The driver appeared to be trying to interest the boy in a swan which was flexing its wings. Marsh shouted "Run."
Both men raced down the long front garden and dived into the Volkswagen. As they took off hurriedly they could see the van driver trying to pull the retarded boy from the canal bank. The boy was shouting and putting up a stubborn resistance. The man was dragging him, and the pair fought in the middle of the road oblivious to the passing traffic.
The sheet of glass bounced up and down on the trailer planks as Marsh revved up the road. In his mirror he could see one man leap from a car and another rush from the canal bank to confront the brawling pair. The car and trailer turned left onto Sussex Road and then immediately left again in to the Mespil Flats complex.
The car drove around the administration buildings and came to a halt at the Oak House block. Marsh skipped up the few concrete steps and hammered on the ground floor door. A woman in her thirties jerked open the door.
"Christ Tommy, what's the matter?"
"Nothing. Where's Lorricks?"
"He's in bed. He's on nights this week."
Marsh pushed past her into the front room.
"Lorricks, Lorricks," he shouted, "Come out an' givus a hand."
"What is it Tommy?" the woman repeated.
Soon a stocky man emerged. He pushed his black shirt into his jeans and then patted down his disheveled dark hair.
"Jesus, yeh look like yeh just jumped out of bed," Davis laughed.
"What the fuck Tommy?"
"Its Hackett. I have to get his trailer back. Givus a hand with this sheet of fucken glass. We need to put it in your place for a day or two, it's for a pal in the movement."
"He's a queer, Tommy."
"Not that Dick. It's Dick Yaah. I don't think yeh know him. He's a fucker for glass."
"He is," agreed Davis. "He has stained glass, opaque glass, frosted glass, laminated glass, bullet-proof glass, reinforced glass, one-way glass, antique glass, tinted glass, beveled glass, leaded glass, stove glass. This is plate glass."
"He's lucky he doesn't have broken glass with the state of the springs on that trailer," added Marsh.
The three, with a little effort, carried the sheet of glass into the flat.
"Put it up against the wall," ordered Marsh.
"That's it. Up against the fucking wall," Davis laughed.
"What about the kids Tommy?" the woman pleaded.
"Put some chairs in front of it. I'll have a glazier up, it'll be gone in no time, the kids won't even know it's there."
The woman was quite religious. She sidled up to Marsh.
"Tommy, I heard you're doing lovely statues," she purred in a tone that could be described as coquetry of the seducer.
Marsh gave her a curious look.
"You know," she appealed, "I'd love a statue of Our Lady, like, for the mantelpiece."
"Tommy is an expert in statues. He has a distinction in sculpture and a room full of fucking plaster leprechauns," Davis explained.
"Every kind. Runing, jumping, walking and jogging leprechauns. Leprechauns of God the Father, of God the Son, of God the Holy Ghost. Leprechauns in Heaven, in Hell, in Purgatory, in Limbo or anywhere in between. Leprechauns of the Ascension, the Assumption, the Immaculate Conception and the evaporation of the Body of Christ. Leprechauns of Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Knock, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Guadelupe, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Medjugorie, Our Lady of Czestochowa, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, Our Lady of Dolly Fossetts, Leprechauns of Angels, Devils, Saints, levitating apparitions, bleeding apparitions and winking apparitions. Leprechauns committing mortal sins, venial sins, sins of omission and leprechauns with no souls or is it no holes and clenched buttocks. I've forgotten now."
Marsh and Davis left the flat. They drove out to Hackett's.
"What about the kids Tommy?" Marsh scoffed, imitating the woman in Oak House. "Did she never hear of discipfuckenplin!"
"That's what I was thinking."
A forthnight later Clarke shouted to Marsh in the Peacock, "Tommy the blower. It's Hackett."
Marsh took the phone.
"What did you want the trailer for?" Hackett inquired in a sharpish tone.
"I told you, to collect a sheet of glass. Why?"
"It's just that last night this oulfella banged on my front door and in front of me wife and children accused me of stealing his shop front window."
"What did you say?"
"I told him that he was a fucking lunatic and that if he didn't remove himself from my front lawn I would be left with no alternative but to use force."
"Sullivan's widow must have sold the shop," explained Ructions as the others laughed. They imagined the old fellow, who they presumed was the van driver, telling his friends in his local pub how his complete shop window had been stolen in the middle of a Saturday afternoon in one of Dublin's busiest thoroughfares.
"They'd ask him was he on the poteen before he came out."
The group at the table were debating on the dispute between Oskar Lange and Ota Sik, the Polish and Czech economists, trying to figure out if there was an objective necessity for the existence of commodity money relations and the market in a socialist economy when Clarke shouted to Marsh again: "Tommy, the blower, a woman."
"Jesus he's a busy man," observed Fitzgerald, as Marsh engineered himself behind the counter past Plopps.
After a minute or more Marsh slammed down the phone. He was angry. Indeed since he had teamed up with some of the irregulars in the Angry Brigade faction, he had become known as the angry man of the angry brigade.
"A dear John?" inquired Ructions.
"Ah, another oulwan in hoc to the Proddies," said Marsh. He was a little on the weary side, having, the previous night, celebrated a black tie party for one of the pub regulars who had reached twenty one years on the dole.
"They've a cheek ringing you here," said Long, who had an insouciant attitude to the commonality, "let her go to a brief."
"She saw one. He pointed out that a woman can be said to intend a consequence which is not desired in itself if that consequence is a condition precedent to the achievement of a desire consequence and she decides to cause that consequence insofar as it lies within her power but the fact that foresight of a substantially certain and eh up me Nat King Cole."
"It sounds like that's what he was trying to do to her," Ructions laughed.
"We need a plan of action, like the last time," Long sneered.
"Don't go down that road," Marsh warned.
At that meeting, held the previous autumn, the Angry Brigade had decided to smash the low-wage, non union policy of some of Dublin's big stores by burning them down. When Necker, the union official, suggested that such a policy might incur job losses, it was explained to him that the seventies would be socialist and that the day of the innocent passer-by had long gone.
The plan failed because the incendiaries needed non-lubricated condoms to contain the catalyst. These could only be got in the North, and Marsh, without telling anyone, could not bring himself to stroll into some Belfast Well Woman centre and ask for one hundred non-lubricated durex...Instead he drank the train fare in the Peacock and bought a box of cheap blue balloons in Hector Greys.
On the appointed day Marsh, like some wages clerk, dished out the primed incendiaries to the teams of arsonists who arrived at the York Street flat. Soon, immersed in the new culture of bling, they were moving among excited shoppers in the large city stores.
Incendiaries contained in matchboxes were planted under ornate cushions of armchairs, under mattresses of double and single beds, into overcoat pockets which hung on racks in rows with 'bargain' labels attached to them: silky curtains were unrolled and rolled back again and placed beneath the bottom of the pile was a matchbox with a blue balloon nestling inside.
It was then that Marsh's sexual inhibitions came to the rescue of Dublin. The incendiaries, which were supposed to explode when the city was sleeping, began to ignite. Sometimes, the arsonists had not even made it to the front door of their targets before shouts of 'Fire', 'Fire' were heard.
Marsh himself was heading for a personally selected place of sabotage when he felt a deep burning pain down his leg. Fortunately, he was passing Kennedy's pub on Westland Row at the time. He burst into the quiet premises and dashed for the toilets, prompting the lone customer to remark to the barman, "tethered to his bowels, poor chap."
Marsh gave the toilet downpipe a vicious jerk, pulling the cistern down on top of himself. There was a tremendous crash of breaking porcelain and the inoffensive barman, who had been glancing at the three-thirty from Doncaster on the television, gingerly went to investigate. A sopping figure pushed roughly past him shouting "that cunten jacks is dangerous, pal." The figure then disappeared out through the door and in the back entrance to Trinity College.
Marsh squelched past the pathology building and across the College Park. He stopped suddenly at the corner of the Trinity Library and stared, eyes fixed on a heavy-set older chap who was standing close to the Campanile, apparently watching the Front Arch entrance to the College.
Puckering his brow, Marsh took a step back so that he was almost hidden behind the Library building. He could not be certain, but the figure, distinguished by its long dark coat and hat was at variance with the casual attire of the many young figures passing it in both directions. To Marsh it bore a remarkable resemblance to the Slug. He turned on his heel and headed towards the Arts Building.
He entered one of the lecture theatres and sat down at the back of the room. There were approximately forty students there. Some were reading their notes: most were talking to one another, and a few looked at Marsh as he removed his soaking coat.
He was discreetly examining his scorched trousers and singed thigh when he heard a woman exclaim:"Tommy!"
It was Miss Reid.
"What happened to you? You're soaking and..."
"Oh I had a bit of an accident doing a plumbing job for that cunt Edwards. He lit up a cigarette just as I was checking out the fucken gas immersion." He shook his head in disgust.
"You'd want to get that seen to."
"Ah! It'll be ok. What are you doing here?"
"I'm studying philosophy."
"Fair play to yer fucken elbow. Philosophy bejaysus."
Marsh jumped as the door, which had been ajar, crashed shut. The Professor had arrived.
The Professor was youthful and over six feet tall. He was well built and wore small round spectacles which reminded Marsh of Eamon de Valera. His light brown hair was cut short and hung over his forehead in a manicured fringe. It was deliberately combed forward as if the Professor was planning, in the future, to conceal a receding hair line. He surveyed the audience with a silly grin on his face and muttered something indecipherable. He reminded Marsh of a large boy in casual attire.
Marsh's eyes widened as he watched the Professor totter towards the front of the lecture hall. He was convinced that he was "two sheets to the wind" as he told Jimmy Clarke later. He was also taken aback when he heard him say in his opening remark, "cunts devoid of cognitive content," in a slurred accent that owed more to the slums of North Belfast than the groves of academe.
The Professor turned around and stared at the blackboard. On it was scrawled:
He stroked his jaw and swayed slightly. Then he turned around to the class.
"Who did this abomination?" he asked in a caustic tone.
"It was the previous lecturer, Professor Simon," said a female student who was seated in the front row.
The Professor placed his hands on his hips and looked back at the equation. He shook his head up and down knowingly, as if the whole conundrum had suddenly revealed itself, and only a complete idiot would not be capable of understanding the simplicity of the mathematical structure.
"That fucking arsehole," he muttered. He removed a wooden handled duster from its place on the narrow blackboard ledge and proceeded to wipe off the equation. He did this with slow wide arcs of his right arm. Each time he drew his arm across to his left the duster squeaked on the board surface and it squeaked again as his arm arced its way slowly to its right.
At first Marsh thought that he was hearing things and then he was astonished when he realized that the Professor was breaking wind in perfect synchronization with the squeaking of the duster. He would have laughed except that he was still preoccupied with the possibility that the Slug was mooching around the august College environs and his damaged thigh was sending darting messages to his brain. He shook his head and looked at Miss Reid. She looked straight ahead, as if normality was lord of all. The other students appeared to do likewise.
The Professor put the duster back in its place and walked gingerly to a small study to the right of the blackboard. In a very short time Marsh could hear someone in the room noisily throwing up. After, what seemed to Marsh to be about three bouts of vomiting, the ashen faced Professor reappeared. He managed to engineer himself, with considerable difficulty, onto a highish wooden stool in front of the now blank blackboard. The class observed all of this in total silence.
"Today we are going to look at Carnap who died not that long ago," the Professor announced as he vigorously rubbed his hands together. Marsh noticed that he was slurring his words slightly.
"Can anyone tell me what the principle of verifiability might have in common with the pragmatic theory of truth in Carnap's scheme of things?"
The class remained silent: the Professor shook his head, and Marsh thought that he muttered: "thick cunts." Two students, one with long blond hair and wearing a miniskirt gathered their notes and left the theatre. The Professor watched them leave with lazy eyes and then he semi-focused bemusedly on the sullen faces in front of him before managing to conjure up enough energy to give a female student in the front row an intimate wink.
Marsh continued to study the Professor. His expression would have locked itself into a state of permanent befuddlement if it had not been for the darts of pain which were now increasing in frequency from his injured leg.
The Professor leaned back on the stool and took a stick of white chalk in his right hand. He examined it for a few moments and tapped it on the back of his hand. He placed it to his lips as if it was a cigarette and gave the class a supercilious smile. Then he leaned back on the stool and began to scrawl on the blackboard: "principle of ver..."
There was a crash as the Professor lost his balance and tumbled off the stool onto the floor.
"It's time to go and get that leg dressed," snapped Miss Reid.
"I've seen less drunkenness in the Peacock," remarked Marsh.
"And heard less effing and blinding," added Miss Reid.
After lending Marsh the taxi fare to emergency ward whatshername in Summerhill Miss Reid walked aimlessly into the crowded streets between Trinity College and Stephen's Green. When it occurred to her to think about it she was conflicted. Some species or other of academic duty called her to the library and a wrestling match with Russell and Whitehead. It was a strong enough impulse that almost carried her back to the college. But the leering gargoyles of her weaker nature, reminding her of the fragility of time and the passing of holy hours, pulled her straight across Grafton Street, in the non-syllogistic direction which is the way of licensed premises.
"Ah, to hell with it," she thought. "Principia Mathematica, me trapezoidal arse! I'll see if there's any craic in Grogan's."
Which is almost exactly the thought that occurred, at almost exactly the same moment, to Aengus Mac Og, as he exited the National Gallery onto Clare Street. Except of course, he being of a masculine orientation in this phase of the adventure of his life, the thought did not manifest itself to him with such precision.
"Ah, fuck it," Aengus thought. "That's as much of art as flesh and blood can take. I'm gonna spend the rest of me life paralytic and comatose."
It wasn't until catching sight of the Bank Of Ireland on the corner of College Green, and remembering the glory days of its earlier dispensation, that an inkling of Grogan's tickled the back of his mind and made him double back in that direction.
In the National Gallery he had spent an inordinate amount of time with a painting of that house of finance's parliamentary incarnation: when the bank was a talking shop, and a knocking shop, and a shop where Henry sold himself by the pound, for guineas.
"Pork for gold," he'd thought. "Fair exchange. No robbery."
He had stared into the painting long and hard, remembering this stupid face here, recognizing that stupid wig there. "Bitches and whores," he'd thought. "Wretches, ruffians, rogues, rapscallions, rascals. I know your sort."
But really it was a notion of the painter that held him there. And his joy in what he knew the painter was really at that kept him looking into those rows of curley-wigged, heavy-jowled mugs of Henrys.
Francis Wheatley it was. An on the run from Covent Garden, one step ahead of the kneecappers, had arrived on this shore of the channel we share with Shoneen in seventeen hundred and diddley dee. The weather fine. The passage fair. Sea spray sparkling in the sunlight on his wife's blond hair. Or was it? And was she? Whatever...
Francis parked his easel and went to work. Painting the dandies of Merrion Square and their Christchurch belles. Portraits to wish a fortune on. Then Henry volunteered himself an independence and spoke to it in the Big House at the bottom of Dame Street. The hog pen on Hoggen Green where artist Francis sold those fat pigs the art con.
He opened a subscription for engravings of his painting of The Irish House Of Commons and oh! how the mugs of Henrys subscribed to sit for their place in history! When the canvas filled he rubbed the first lot out and started fresh. Then rubbed those out, and so on. A flood of Henrys rubbed out as the guineas rolled in.
But lackaday, cry how are the mighty ruptured, and its all alas for the ladies. Some floozy of a Henrietta spotted his Lizzie wife for a Mrs. Gresse and the roof fell in. Off on his toes again the bould Francis, a brush stroke ahead of new cappers now, still after his knees.
Turning into William Street Aengus thought "Rub-A-Dub Francis Wheatley" and guffawed.
And so, misstepping, he tumbled into Grogan's and saw Miss Reid there at the bar talking her easy way into all their good graces, those lords of the liquour at Grogan's. Glancing round she saw himself and sighed, "Need I ask?" He shook his head and she called it for him. "Set it up, Tom, please. Sure, a pint of plain is still the only man for Young Aengus".
Much later, with much red biddy and black porter poured in and pissed out, and the power of it pounding in the blood streams of the pair of them, Miss Reid told Aengus she was tired of analytical philosophy.
"Carnap was catnip to me once, so he was. Rudolf my red-nosed Positivist, that all my feline pheromones mimicked a response to. Metaphysician heal thyself, he told me, and propositioned me with logic and with science. Flash dresser, smooth talker, with his high brow and his tiny glasses. I only wanted to see Vienna but he tried to drag me to Chicago. He was unhappy there he said. His wives didn't understand him. So who did? Not me Aengus. Never me."
It seemed to Aengus, who was prone to alcoholic paranoia, there was too much glass and too many heavy ashtrays in the neighbourhood of their snug corner table for him to risk an honest response. In this kind of mood he feared Miss Reid was likely to slash or smash him without giving it a second thought until after the ambulance was gone, the pub had closed and the hangover had passed. That left way too much time for pain and hospital waiting rooms and stitches and more pain. He didn't care for any of that, so he took the coward's way out. Tried and tested. An empirical resort to humour; what Fitzgerald had once denounced as the last refuge of the scoundrel. Empiricism that is.
"For myself, Miss Reid," he replied slowly, his phrasing an eerily correct exercise in wino-precise auto-speak, "I am a transcendental idealist. Call me to action. My path is categorically clear. Imperative, even. I will. I must. I Kant. D'ye wanna come my place for coffee. I'm in Pearse Street these days."
"Coffee would be grand," she said, "And Pearse Street's not too far."
And Pearse Street wasn't too far. Just far enough, after stopping for a one and one, for them to sober up a little. Not too much though. Just enough.
Arrived then in the Pearse Street bedsit they proceeded to coffee which, in a gesture to national culture, they drank in the Irish style. In a gesture to national unity the whiskey in the coffee was Bushmills, distilled in the Occupied North. In a gesture to simple good taste, it was the Black Bush.
Each settled comfortably, in an easy rhythm of thought and feeling, one with the other attuned. Conversation moved freely; all the more so as Aengus did most of the talking.
Miss Reid mentioned a prominent politician of the Fine Gael party who Aengus mistook for a Geraldine earl of the same name. Garrett Fitzgerald of Desmond, a practitioner of the arcane arts, a lover of books who had once given twenty fine cows for a copy of the Lilium Medicinae.
He then spoke of that Munster woman, Celia Roche, a paragon of beauty and wit. She was annoyed by many stalkers and had them exorcised by friendly bards with sharp satires, all played upon the glory of a harp that was Sir John Fitzgerald's, the lord of Cloyne.
"Celia was grand, Miss Reid," he said, "But she couldn't hold a candle to you."
And he recalled fair-cheeked Eileen MacSweeney, a faultless flower among the Gallowglasses of the Boggeragh Mountains.
"Eileen was fine, Miss Reid," he said, "But she couldn't hold a candle to you."
"I know those mountains," Miss Reid replied, "Down Muskerry way, where the Blarney roses grow. I've had blarney enough from you, Young Aengus. Tell me a proper story now, and no more of this aul' nonsense."
Though in herself she felt well flattered, and very pleased with the warmth of the blush of it spreading from her cheeks to the bloom of her. "I'm flowering," she thought, secretly. "Bees are rushing to me for the honey-makings in the sweetness of me."
"Okay," Aengus conceded. "A proper story, so. Shall I tell you of how Senchán Torpéist, the Connacht man, then Chief of all the Poets of Ireland, was offended by the Mice of Galway?"
"I'll listen to that," Miss Reid said.
So Aengus began.
"It was the year of our lord, six hundred and change, some twenty years or so after the great Bardic conference at Dromceat had reformed the institutions and the stipends of the Art of Poetry. Chief of all the poets of Ireland, the blind bard, Dallan Forgaill, had died. Our man Senchán was selected to deliver his funeral oration and, with that out of the way, was elected to fill his sandals. He then proceeded to make his rounds of the courts of the provincial kings of Ireland.
"First off, he being from that neck of the woods himself, Senchán decided to visit the court of Guairè Aidne mac Colmáin, Guaire the Hospitable, King of Connacht. Gathering the Great Company of his bardic officers and his pupils in the arts of Poetry, their families and servants; gathering to him his children and his wife, Bridget, he set out for the palace of King Guairè at Gort in the County Galway.
"In those days, at least as the rhymers tell it, the Kings of Ireland were in a healthy competition to win the grace and favour of her poets. Only the best of accommodations with the grandest linens and bedcoverings and wallhangings, only the finest foodstuffs, the worthiest whiskies and wines, the most delicate of dainty treats; only the best of all kinds of everything was thought to be good enough to be extended in guest-friendship to the Great Company of Senchán Torpéist, the Chief of all the Poets of Ireland. King Guairè the Hospitable was living up to his name.
"Some days into the Great Company's happy stay, Senchán's wife being at table while her husband remained in his apartment, she thought to herself he would be sorry to learn he had missed the delicacy which was being served as a starter to the assembly's long luncheon. The dish in question was a Toastie from Arbroath, featuring smoked haddock, eggs and hard cheese, all ingeniously combined and grilled to a very tasty conclusion. Senchán had travelled among the Picts in his youth, teaching those savages how to carve the most allusively poetic images into stone, and had often spoken to Bridget of the wonders of that region, most wonderful of which, to his mind, was the Arbroath Toastie.
"With this thought in her mind, Bridget had a portion of the exquisite dish turned onto a plate and sent her maid Grainne to deliver it up to her husband. Unfortunately, just before Grainne arrived to fulfill her charge, Senchán stepped out for a word with the Mayor of his home town of Kinvara, a word that kept him busy for no more than a mere ten minutes. And so, receiving no answer to several knocks and a few shouts, the maid left the plate of Arbroath Toastie on a table in the Chief Poet's room and went back to her place at her mistress's side. "Having done his duty by the Mayor of Kinvara, Senchán Torpéist, returned to his apartment and was puzzled to discover a fine plate with nothing but well-gnawed bones scattered upon and around it. A little perplexed as to what oddness might have transpired in the brief time he was round the corner talking to the Mayor, Senchán went down to inquire about this among his Great Company and the members of the King's Household, who were still at luncheon in the grand banqueting hall of Guairè's Palace.
"In no time at all a jury was enjoined to consider the evidence and render a verdict. In no time at all its commission was discharged. The guilt, the whole guilt and nothing but the guilt of the illegal seizure and felonious consumption of Senchán Torpéist's portion of the Arbroath Toastie was laid to the account of those impudent beasts, the Galway Mice. The Chief Poet himself spoke a doom upon the thieving rodents. In five hundred rhyming stanzas he satirized them to their deaths, declaiming at the end:
'Galway mice have sharp teeth,
But no other weapons.
They are lazy, fat and greedy,
And have no skill in war.
For a whim they ate the present
Which Bridget sent to me.
You Galway mice, in the roof of this fine house,
Fall down dead, the lot of you, every mouse.'
"Upon that instant the rafters opened and the roof rained rodents, each and all of them dead as doornails. And upon that instant Senchán Torpéist knew in his heart, the mice were innocent. They had, he now realised, been framed by the cats. And so he began to declaim a satire upon the King of Cats, whose chief residence is in the Cave of Knowth, near Slane, in the county of Meath."
"Ah come on now Aengus," Miss Reid exploded. "I love all cats dearly, and I know them well. Like all intelligent beings they live in society, but they are much too independent, much too spirited as individuals, to tolerate for a moment any trace of social hierarchy. There is no monarchical principle evident, or even possible, in cat society. Cats are anarchists, plain and simple. And you, Young Aengus, are an eejit! You and your Galway Mice. Do you take me for some Galway Shawlie? If that's what you call a proper story I'll have no more of it."
She was about to announce she'd have no more of his company either, and take her leave, when she noticed a well-used, well-scrubbed, guitar propped up against the foot of the bed. "Aengus," she said, "Give me music now or give me peace."
"I'll play a bit," he said, and tuned his instrument to the key of apology. Then he played 'The Blackbird,' and 'The Stack of Barley.' He played 'Rodney's Glory.' And 'The Foggy Dew.' She sang beside him, like an Irish Linnet. As the salt tears welled in her eyes of blue.
"Miss Reid," he murmured in the key of languish.
As he sang the song of heart's desire, Miss Reid recoiled out of her quiet times and retiring ways. She woke into her startled hearing of harpstring and drumbeat, the pipe swirled music of new stirred spring. And woke withal to sounds of the beetle's horn on twilit Lagan banks.
"Fuck me!" she thought.
"Call me Maggie," she said.
The shades of night had long since come down. Aengus's black-outs and curtains had followed. The room stayed dark until late next morning, when the young couple arose, pleased beyond reach of even the worst hangovers, ready for bangers and rashers and fried eggs dripping grease with sunny sides up.
In an Italian café on Westland Row they faced as much as they could see of their immediate futures.
"Maggie," Aengus said, pleased to be getting used to the sound of her first name as he spoke it, of being one of a few who so much as knew it, "Would you like to come down to Clare?"
"Okay," she replied, "Where in Clare? How long? What for? D'ye have family there?"
"Nah, no family. I'm a gap-of-the-northerner, me. Up by the Boyne kinda way. Long while back. Long time no see. As for Clare... Its just there's a session in Miltown Malbay on Sunday. There'll be people there we both know. Good craic. And I'll need to swing round by Ballyvaughan. There's an artist chap there promised me a painting of Valparaiso. I might want to call in to the boneyard at Kilferagh. I'm told there's work for a poet round that way. Plague of rats, you know the kind of thing. So three maybe four days driving around. As long as I can borrow a car. You know anybody has a spare motor?"
Maggie didn't even have to think about that one. "Joe Edwards!" she said. "Always has something lying around, friends for the use of. Four days is fine. Or five. Whatever. I've no classes I need to worry about. I'll have to call home for some clothes and stuff. And be back in a week or so to help with another one of Tommy's schemes for redeveloping the inner city."
"That's that sorted then," said Aengus, smiling.
Maggie smiled back.
Together they sipped thick well-sugared tea with just enough milk to take an edge off it. Planning on the night to come. To be sipping again at one another.
Marsh's leg had healed when he got a few of the women shoplifters he knew to arrange a meeting with some of the women in the York Street area who were in hock to hire purchase repayments.
About a week after the phone call Edwards ushered a dozen or so women up the shabby stairs to the second storey flat. The women filed into the front room. They brought some letters demanding that immediate payments be made on hire purchase agreements that had fallen into arrears. A few of them had letters warning of court proceedings.
As the flat filled, Marsh peered through a chink in the drawn curtains overlooking the street below. He was there for several minutes, then he suddenly swung around to face the gathering. His straight black hair was sleeked back as he took off his trilby hat and threw it on the table. He stared at the women and gave his shoulder a quick series of slight twitches. Then he removed a white handkerchief from a pocket and gave it a quick swish, Tommy Cooper fashion, before blowing his nose hard into it.
"Have you got a cold Tommy, I could get ye..."
He dismissed the woman with a wave of his hand.
"Cut out the fucken blathern," he ordered, "has everyone brought their letters?"
"Most of us braw dem Tommy."
"I shouldn't be getting any letters," another complained.
"That's a fucken start. Let me just say that there is no shame in owing these cunts dosh. Remember youse have to show the same empathy to them as they show to youse. They fucken despise youse. Always remember that. If they could get youse into gas chambers in the morning they wouldn't think twice about it."
He tapped the table. "Yuh know that these fuckers devote their whole lives into promoting inequality, which Joe and meself consider to be a war crime against the decent majority."
Some of the women crossed themselves.
"Distribution! That is the magic word," Marsh announced as he lit a cigarette and blew smoke wildly in all directions around himself, "that fucken cheap perfume, phew," he muttered to Edwards. Then he began to sing in a shaky voice:
'Oh where are you going,
Said Milder to Moulder,
Oh we may not tell you,
Said Festal to Foe,
We'll hunt the Cutty wren,
Said John the Red Nose,
The women exchanged curious glances.
"That's about a mythical wren which is divided out to feed the poor," explained Marsh as he gushed out more cigarette smoke.
A tall thin woman, whose permanently nodding head seemed to sit precariously on a long slender neck laughed. "Feed the poor on a wren!!!"
"It's a fucking mythical wren," cut in Edwards. "Yis know, it could be as fucking big as Croke Park." He flapped his arms.
Some of the women blessed themselves.
"Youse are a tax burden to these people. Youse piss on their parade. Remember these fuckers represent a tiny proportion of the population who have grabbed a huge portion of the swag and that's the way they mean to keep it. This is just a sophisticated pyramid scheme and when it crashes youse are left holding the baby."
"Baby. What baby? Is someone up the pole?"
"My mother," Marsh continued, "had no running water for the toilets and she went around with the ring of the bucket on her arse."
"The wha' on her arse?"
"In fact," Marsh explained, "the first time she went in to a flush toilet after someone else and found it empty she came out wondering who would bother to steal someone else's shite. Here let me look at that, pal," he asked as he snatched one of the letters.
"Be careful with it Tommy."
He held the letter away from him at a distance. Recently he had noticed himself becoming long sighted. He was wondering if the Christian Brothers had the rights of it all those years ago with their dire warnings about wanking and blindness. He mumbled as his eyes focused in on the documents, as if he was telling his beads over some Satanic ritual, and giving evil little laughs at the impiety of it all: "Fucken court proceedings ... corporate totalitarianism..."
"Spreading over the earth like the pox," interjected Edwards.
"Hmmmm...final fucken warning," continued Marsh, "fucken disinformation...wait 'til this cunt gets a letter from me...publish or perish." He turned the letter around and stared intently at the back. It was blank.
"Wha' d'ya think Tommy?"
"Is there anything, like, can be done?"
The women looked on.
"My Johnnie said he was a communist and old Nick was hiding under his hat," one whispered to another.
"He is a communist," retorted Edwards, who had overheard the remark, "a special kind of communist. Isn't that right Tommy?"
"Oh yeah," Marsh agreed, placing the letter on the table. "I'm a simple communist. My Communism is a very fucken simple thing that does not immediately imply any formal philosophy or fixed dogma or predetermined habits of thought."
Johnnie's wife gave the other women a bewildered look.
"It is not to begin with," continued Marsh, "Anarchist, Marxist, Social Democratic, or Bolshevik, Leninist, Stalinist or Trotskyist. All I mean by Communism is a clear political commitment to the working class interest which is why we are all standing in this dump at the moment."
"Tommy is a Marshist," added Edwards.
"That's the fucken be all and end all and all in between of it: an acceptance that the fucken first and most important consideration in any political activity or programme is the present and future well being of workers and the poor from which the working class emerged and from which it is constantly replenished. A fucken small enough thing in a way. And at the same time, everything," Marsh continued.
Edwards applauded and he was joined by some of the women. Marsh stared at Edwards. Then he stared at Johnnie's wife.
"Tell Johnnie if I bump into him I'll shove me hat up his fucken arse," he muttered.
Marsh walked back to the window and again placed one eye to the chink in the curtains.
"Any of yez followed over here?"
"Follied by who Tommy?"
"Is there an allergic or something?"
"Doesn't matter," he muttered as he walked back to the table. "Put the fucken things on the table. C'mon, c'mon we haven't got all day. C'mon. Every fucken letter."
He was leaning over the table slightly on one hand. His long nose gave him a birdlike appearance. He slapped the table with the palm of his free hand. The audience was uneasy: trapped in the uncertainty.
"Wha d'ya want dem for Tommy?"
"C'mon, c'mon,. Put them on the table. I'm a busy man, a very busy man. I have things yis know in me front room. Lots of 'em."
Some of the women reluctantly put the letters on the table.
"That's it. Lovely, lovely. Every fucken one."
He picked up the documents and showed them to the anxious crowd.
"Watch fucken this."
He began to shred the letters with his hands and threw the large confetti-like pieces over the dumbfounded gathering.
"See them fall," he shouted. "The race to the fucken bottom. That's what the rich cunts want us to accept as the natural order of the world."
"Like the snow in Joyce," said Edwards, "falling arse over bollocks all over Ireland."
"Jeesus, me fucken letters. Johnnie will do his nut."
"He's fucken lost it."
"Leave it out Tommy."
Marsh stood staring at the crowd with a manic leer on his face.
"Look at me, look at me," he commanded, "do I look fucken mad? That's the problem sorted. Youse can all go home. The problem is fucken sorted. Got that? Fucken fixed."
He began ushering the bewildered women out of the flat.
"Are yah sure Tommy?"
"Of course it's all right," Edwards assured a woman, "sure Tommy knows the law. He knows it inside fucking out, habeas corpus, mandamus, De Bonis Non, you call it."
The women nudged one another down the dim stairway.
"There's no need to rush down the stairs, there's no fucking race to the bottom down here," laughed Edwards.
Nevertheless, others threw the most reproachful glances skywards as March leaned over the landing above them and echoed out: "Any other fucken letters arrive, tear them up. No better still, send 'em back. No stamp remember. No fucken stamp. Watch the newspapers. Have yis got that? The ragsheets. Watch the sky at night."
On the following Thursday at twelve forty-five a.m. on May 3rd 1973 an elderly man was out with his aging dog for a late night stroll. He stood to admire his reflection in the darkened windows of Thomas Dockrell Sons and Company Limited on South Great George's Street. He turned sideways and complimented himself on his carriage. Despite his age, his stoop, it appeared to him, had not indulged itself in the past year.
He thought that he could see the reflection of a red neon light from across the street in the window above the reflection of his dog's head. Just as he realized that the far side of the street was devoid of illumination of any colour the building was suddenly enveloped in a fireball which prompted the citizen and his dog to run for their lives.
Within minutes the entire block stretching along South Great George's Street and then back along Drury Street was a raging inferno. A short time later, the paint department in the rear of Drury Street exploded and the wall was blown across the street. At the height of the blaze heavy explosions ripped through the whole block as hundreds of people were evacuated from hotels, and guest houses filled with Spring Show visitors and people evacuated from homes in the area by gardai using loud hailers. The fire was one of the biggest seen in Dublin since the 1916 Easter Rising.
In the Peacock some time later Marsh twitched his shoulder and quizzed Edwards.
"Remember the geebags in York Street with the in hoc letters?"
"Were those letters from Dockrells or Cavendishes?"
"Sure how would I know. Weren't you the one who read them. Why?"
"Ah I was just wondering like." Cavendishes Furniture store on Grafton Street was later burned down with an incendiary device. All hire purchase files were destroyed. The fire was so intense that plastic signs on the far side of the street drooped like Dali sculptures.