"Are we endlessly expanding into nothing, I asked when he jammed on," Marsh explained.

"He was testing the brakes," suggested O'Donnell.

"He was testing my trigger finger," said a vexed Fitzgerald, "and we in the asrshole of the back of beyond after three futile hours of farting around the Galtee Mountains."

The squatters were holding an inquiry in the comfortable back room of an unkempt (someone who wasn't a fly estate agent trying to sell the kip might say dilapidated, or even completely ruined) two storey house on Belgrave Road in Rathmines. The use of the house came courtesy of a contact in a large auctioneering firm. This provided an endless supply of safe houses whose vendors were unaware that their friendly caretaker might often be on the Special Branch's most wanted list.

They were discussing the second military farce in a little over a week. The first, Marsh's Mountjoy bomb cock-up, was off all agendas because Marsh's motto was that if at first you don't succeed, destroy all evidence that you ever tried. However, he was quite agitated about the long spin to nowhere two nights earlier, when five of them left in a pick-up truck to empty an Army Magazine in North County Cork. Their contact, a middle aged engineer, said he knew the place inside out and claimed that breaking into it would be "as easy as eating honey with your bum."

"This place shouldn't be here, he says to me," explained Marsh. "And where should it be yeh cunt? I asked. Somewhere else, says he. And what should be here, says I. Some other place, says he." Marsh looked imploringly at the others.

"That beats the barney," said O'Donnell, short for that beats the man who ate the beef that bate the black.

"I told him that we had to get out of wherever here was and get to wherever there was," said Ructions.

"Get out of here! The fucker says," continued Marsh. "Sure how can we get out of here when we don't know where here is. We don't know where here was, where where was or where there…"

"A prolix defense," snapped Fitzgerald, who said that he had to leave to go to a friend of his on nearby Ormond Road from where he could make a few free phone calls.

"I wouldn't mind but all his family were staunch," observed Nolan.

"Staunch! Sure wouldn't they starve themselves to death for Ireland when there wasn't a smidgeon of potato blight anywhere in the country," Long noted.

"It took a few free brandies from Clarke in the Peacock to get the cold out of me bollocks," Marsh grumbled.


"Pull over," ordered Josh, a Branchman whose face looked like a hen had been pecking at it.

Josh was a well built man. Despite his pock marked facial skin he was good looking with thick, black hair brushed back. His easy going manner disguised a Machiavellian thought process, while his deep set eyes unsettled suspects, when he sat staring at them in stony silence. Interrogation and deciphering statements to help unravel ambiguous evidence in court were his specialities. He was also good at explaining to a jury the real meaning of verbal comments made by suspects, such as a comment like:

"I know you know I didn't do it Josh, because there's no proof, so can I go home?" could, in court, be explained as really meaning: "I know you know I did it Josh, but as you can't prove it you might as well let me go home."

"What?" asked the Slug, who was driving the green Morris Minor.

"Dan Fitzgerald, he's just after sneaking out of that posh kip."

"That house is not on our list. Let's give a knock and see if he's giving some fancy oulwan how's yer father," the Slug suggested.

"Yeah. We might get a statement out of her."

Those inside had agreed on the protocols of a course of action to punish the delusional engineer when there was a loud knock on the front door.

"That was a quick phone call," Marsh muttered as he left the room. The others heard his footfalls banging hollowly along the bare hall floor.

"Shit or bust," Marsh snapped as he yanked open the front door. The two Branchmen stared at him and he stared momentarily at them before slamming the heavy front door in their faces.

"Wrozzers! Vamoose," he shouted.

There was a clattering of feet on the stairs, and some cursing. The Branchmen were helpless and could only peer through the letterbox. They could see several figures milling around at the bottom of the stairs in dingy light. Somebody shouted to get out the back and one of the men ran up the hall and made a flying kick at the letterbox. The Branchmen pulled back sharply.

"Kick in the fucking door," the Slug shouted

The Slug was a tall, hefty figure with tawny hair brushed forward and brylcreemed down on his forehead to conceal a receding hair line. His droopy eyes in his round red face gave him a sorrowful appearance. Once, he countered this facial gloom by wearing a supercilious smile at all times when on duty. Now he rarely smiled and his hanging lower jaw seemed to be trying to out-droop his drooping blue eyes since Marsh and his crew encroached on his bailiwick.

Inside the house the men ran down a narrow passageway and battered down a bolted back door. They were now in the back garden.

"Over the gardens," commanded Marsh.

Two gardens down Mr Jackson had assiduously prepared a seed bed in his back garden for the following spring. He had checked it at about nine o clock that morning, and found it liberally littered with cat shit. There was so much of it that he wondered if some woman on the road owned a giant pussy. After remaking the seed bed he sat in the front room ruminating on the whole business of cat shit. He was thus lost in thought when his wife's voice rang out from the kitchenette. He ran to the back window and saw, to his amazement, two men jump over his back wall and plough through his seed bed. He dashed into the garden, scratched his head and stared at the seed bed. Suddenly a large man with a beard came over the wall and danced across the seed bed. Mr Jackson grabbed him.

"What's wrong?" he demanded.

"Pig's mickeys," said Ructions brusquely, giving him a rough shove before hurrying on into the next garden. Mr Jackson was about to steady himself when four or five men came over the wall, knocking him down as they trundled across the seed bed. They followed Marsh to the door of an old coach-house in the garden beside Mr Jackson's where they kicked in the door into the coach-house and blattered an entrance into a lane at the back of the houses.

"Meet up in the Peacock," Ructions shouted as they scattered in all directions. By this time the front door of the house was being kicked down by the Branchmen. The rich blue paint exploded into their faces as the door began to splinter, and then, with a crash, part of the door fell open.

Some of the upper-class residents watched in horror. They had never witnessed such a terrible thing before except on their expensive upper-class colour televisions. They saw the two well dressed boot-boys disappear into the darkened hall. It was a terrible experience for them all. What on earth was the area coming to. Adding to the confusion, a woman with blue-rinsed grey hair shouted: "Somebody call the police!"

Special Branch Investigation

Within a few seconds of entering the house, the Branchmen emerged in the back garden. A neighbour, who was now comforting a large ginger cat, which had just narrowly escaped death by trampling, stared at them.

"They went over the garden wall at a hack," she shouted in a refined accent, "jumping, just like the Grand National."

Josh and the Slug, neither of whom had any intention of jumping garden walls at a crawl, never mind a hack, returned to make a leisurely inspection of the safe house.

"Looks like the ruins of Collins' Free State" joked the Slug, "after he gave up the idea of allowing anybody the freedom to be free in it."


Several nights later three men in a red Volkswagen car pulled up around the corner from the engineer's house in Killiney. It was well after midnight, between lauds and prime, as a full moon was beginning to wane in the sky. Marsh and Davis got out of the car and entered the engineer's front garden. Marsh let out a shout as he caught the leg of his trousers in a rose bush.

"A fucken man trap. I'm after ruining me fucken trousers."

Marsh cursed as he went up to the front door. He pressed the bell and then jammed it with a matchstick he had been chewing. He also began to hammer on the glass front door. A light came on in an upstairs bedroom window. The engineer and his wife peered out. Marsh's hammering did not seem very loud from the outside, but inside, the whole house rattled and buzzed to the jammed doorbell. From the darkness of the front garden Davis' voice boomed out:

"Come down here you fucking whore's melt, come down here at once. I'll teach you to ride my wife. I'll teach you to rut with her behind my back."

The engineer and his wife stared down in astonishment at the raving lunatic in their front garden. Davis was unrelenting.

"Did you tell your wife about my wife, you cunt?" he roared, "Is that your missus up there? Or some other poor cuckold's light of love!"

The crashing inside the house intensified fiercely, and the engineer and his wife remained petrified at the second storey window. The engineer shouted out several times, but he could not be heard above the racket from Marsh and the roaring of Davis.

Marsh had a tendency to lose control if he was not kept in check. Because of this and because he could feel blood running down his leg as a result of his brush with the thorny rose bush he had now gone through the glass front door, and was hurling antique furniture through a large bay window into the garden like a mad bailiff. Lights came on in the neighbouring houses, and a small curious crowd gathered close to the entrance to the front garden.

"Take a look at the bumptious shagball who's been knocking the arse off me missus," Davis ordered the curious gathering.

After a few minutes of the same Marsh emerged from the wrecked front room and shouted to the astonished onlookers:

"Yousens'd want to get chastity belts with chub locks for yer wives with that whoremaster on the loose."

"Hold on until I call the police," demanded one incredulous local.

"We are the police!"

"Vice squad," Marsh quipped, as the pair turned, marched in mock military fashion and disappeared around the corner.