Rottweiler Soup: Beaten and Broken
I think the latest Ariel ad campaign has misjudged the mood of the country
‘You fucker. When did you do it?’
Frank’s first response was a watery smile. His second was more assured.
‘You’ve come here straight away, I’m sure. You must have only found it this morning.’
The pleasure in contradicting him was slight.
‘Two days ago, actually. But I had to listen to the recording several times to check I wasn’t hallucinating.’
He was indifferent to the revelation of his own fallibility. He just motioned down the corridor.
‘Walk with me.’
I’d found the fecker at the hospital, exactly where he said he’d be, although he put off meeting me once I got there. I had to wait until he came out of the interrogation room, although part of me wanted to storm right in there, create a scene, maybe kick a few chairs, punch the suspect myself a couple of times to demonstrate how crazy and unhinged he’d made me. Sadly, I am nothing if not a professional. Instead, I sat there until he’d finished putting Band-aids on his knuckles. Now he was leading me outside so he could have a smoke and prevent his minions from seeing me give out.
Exiting the rear door of the hospital was like stepping into a furnace. That dry heat again, the aridity of a Dublin spring morning catching in my throat, pounding my temples.
We both coughed. The corridor through the hospital had taken us past interrogation rooms, a part of the Crimson wing where I rarely ventured, rooms in which suspects are ‘debriefed’ often literally, before being dragged out here, round the back of the building, for the final stage in their processing. Over yonder, to the left, maybe 30 yards away from the back door, skirted by stoical berms of earth, is a patch of scrubland where they are knelt down to be shot in the head or the heart, as appropriate, depending on the surgeon’s requirements.
Further on along the hospital wall, not even out of sight of the execution grounds, is the entrance to the surgery, where the bodies enter for dismemberment and evisceration, and beside that entrance a large metal grille atop a raised platform indicates the disembarkation point for the pharmers’ lorries, where the other patients arrive. The lorries come down a winding, secluded drive that meets an otherwise little-used back road out toward Dun Laoghaire.
Frank lit up a fag and offered one to me before attempting an explanation. Just as he was about to start, there was a rumbling like thunder that made him hesitate, but it was just a lorry making to make its way down the drive.
‘Joe, mate, I’d’ve liked to have told you earlier, honestly. But we had to be sure of our case before proceeding.’
I laughed awkwardly. It wasn’t a day for laughing. ‘Sure of your case? Since when has that ever mattered?’
He wasn’t very convincing.
‘C’mon, Joe. You can see that this is different. This is a breach of security.’
Still not very convincing, but he was keeping a straight face, trying it on for size to see if I’d buy it. But I was all spent up.
‘I can’t fucking believe this, Frank. You’re genuinely trying to tell me that Delia was spying on us for . . . what? For who?’
‘For them, Joe, who d’you think?’ Quick drag. ‘And I think you’ll find that it’s for whom, not for who.’
I wheeled away.
‘Ahhh, fer Christ’s sake, Frank, that’s ridiculous. Delia’s solid. What possible motive could he have had?’
‘He’s Irish, Joe. He could have had all manner of motives. You’ve been here long enough to know what they’re like. Even you don’t fall for that céad míle fáilte stuff. They’ll do all sorts behind your back if you’re not careful. The only motives they have are ulterior ones.’
‘Jesus, Frank’, I said, assuming he was referring to Delia’s black market activities, ‘he was just trying to keep his shit together, trying to make a living. How do you expect them not to resent us? We come over here with our money and our jobs and we expect them to love us for it, then we fuck off with our money and our jobs and imagine we’ve left behind fond memories.’
He waved away my protests.
‘Doesn’t matter.’ He heaved up a gobbet of phlegm and aimed it at the trees. ‘We’re not here to defend rights and wrongs, we’re here to look after U.S. interests. That’s where the morality ends.’
How can life be so easy for someone so twisted? Or maybe life is easy if you’re twisted, and it’s complicated if you’re sane. Is that why people go crazy? To keep things simple. To retain their sanity. So which am I?
‘And do you have any evidence against him, Frank?’
He nodded, eyeing the lorry as it approached.
‘Enough.’ An exhalation of smoke. ‘He had the contacts.’
‘He was trying to make a living, Frank. Which of us isn’t compromised?’
I didn’t like the look he gave me. Menacing.
‘It’s a capital offence, Joe. I did him a favour.’
‘You’re a piece of shit, Frank. You know that, don’t you?’
‘Fuck off, Joe. You don’t want to make an enemy of me.’
I couldn’t believe this. He was threatening me. First O’Flaherty. Now Frank. Like someone had snuck into the apartment while I slept and scrawled ‘pussy’ on my forehead.
‘When did you pick him up? No, wait. Let me guess. It was last Friday, wasn’t it?’
‘It was either then or the morning after, because that was the last time I saw him, the last time I met him. And you were watching.’
Frank stubbed out his fag.
‘I bet he was pumping you for information, Joe. Did he mention the bomb?’
How the fuck am I expected to remember that? No denial that Frank was watching, though, you’ll notice.
‘No, of course he didn’t.’
‘You’re lucky you’ve got diplomatic immunity, Joe. We’ve got photos of the pair of you, you know—’
‘—Photos?! Fucking Stiveley.’
‘Never mind. Look, Frank, Delia supplied me with booze. We played tennis together. That was it.’
‘Those are the sorts of risks we can’t afford to take, Joe. You could have wound up in the canal with a bullet through your brains.’
My forehead was hurting as it was. It was the sun. It was stress. It was rubbing my hand back and forth across my brow with a lit cigarette in it.
The lorry we’d heard had worked its way down the drive and was reversing so that its back door broached the raised platform. I’d expected to smell pig, but then I saw the symbol on the driver’s door. It was the peace sign. The sign used by PACS, that charity outfit I donated my clothes to.
‘We were starting to have our doubts about you, Joe.’
Frank was walking vaguely in the direction of the lorry, for no good reason that I could tell. His tone was still friendly but reproving. I tried to manoeuvre so as to square up to him, but he kept turning and I didn’t want to look silly.
‘Meaning what, exactly?’
‘Meaning we weren’t entirely sure how far the breach in our security had penetrated.’
‘Meaning you’ve been watching me as well?’
He opened his arms to me generously, like the pope, as if to embrace me, as if the decision to spy on me had been the most natural thing in the world.
‘How else could we tell if you were helping him knowingly.’
He grinned as though he liked being insulted. Well, he does.
‘Joe, my old friend, you know you’d have done the same. We had to have confidence in you, and you didn’t have confidence in us. We needed you to confide in us, to tell us. But you wouldn’t tell us anything. Why didn’t you come to us, Joe?’
I didn’t know the correct answer. What was there to say except, ‘Because you weren’t the ones giving me booze and drugs’?
He placed a comforting hand on my shoulder, as though to reassure me that I’d passed their vetting procedure.
‘Of course, we were pretty sure you were one of us all along, Joe. Although you did begin to worry us when you started writing that fucking diary.’
The metal grille on the platform was raised now, and I could see more clearly what was going on. Oh boy, could I see clearly now. You’re not the first to have read this.
‘Joe’, he said trying to be paternal, ‘you know the best thing to do, don’t you?’
I blanked him.
‘Just get on a plane and leave. Go somewhere nice. Maybe try calling Ellie. I know it’s a long shot, but she might just want to listen.’
I wasn’t paying too much attention. Fucking Stiveley. He’d got me. The treacherous English fuckbasket.
The back of the lorry had been opened by a hospital porter who was now throwing piles of clothes out of the hospital and onto the platform, and from there into the lorry. The driver of the truck climbed down from the cabin, glanced in my direction as he saw me approach, and smiled a little inquisitively.
He had no idea what I was going to do. Neither did I. At that point the red mist had already descended and my head was an alarming shade of scarlet and had swollen to twice its usual size. I was on an impromptu walkabout that any nonpartisan onlooker might have taken for the dance of a berserker, but which was nevertheless intentional, motivated. Motivated by the fact that I’d recognised my red leather Pierre Balmain jacket on the driver of the lorry. My fucking Pierre Balmain jacket that I’d given in good faith expecting it to be passed on to some unsuspecting wino to puke over and urinate in. It only struck me then. PACS doesn’t pass on all the clothes it receives to the homeless, only those clothes being thrown in the back of the lorry now, the clothes of the already dead, in effect just recycling the clothes of the homeless. Fuck it, they probably use the clothes as a way to identify the next batch to be rounded up. They probably have trackers stitched into them.
So I threw a right hook that connected with the driver’s jaw at such an oblique angle that he actually fell toward me, already unconscious, and I had to step out of the way so that his teeth could hit the concrete. It was a satisfying punch—how rarely one gets it right—but I couldn’t stay to enjoy it because, if you recall, I was crazed and maniacal. I wanted to get out of that place as quickly as possible. However, I was in such a state of delirium that it was all I could do to follow the wall of the hospital around in the hope that it would bring me to the front gate.
I didn’t look back, but I think I heard Frank clapping.
I managed to make my way to the entrance in time to see the army making another delivery. A canvas-covered truck screeched up to the door, nearly knocking me to the gravel, and four troops jumped out, dragging a number of detainees in handcuffs down behind them. When I saw the first of them—his big red nose, his comic white face—I thought ‘Christ, they’re rounding up the kiddies’ entertainers now’, but on closer inspection I realized that it was someone I knew. It was O’Flaherty’s head that was being bounced up the steps as they pulled him along by the feet. They’d obviously stormed in on him while he was shaving and given him a bloody nose when he put up his puny resistance. He looked like a fucking clown. How appropriate.
Libération reports that six people were killed and over forty were injured in Chantilly, France, when heavy fog descended onto the racetrack and five horses ploughed into the stands. This was the first accident of its kind to occur in France. Many still remember the chaos following the Munich equestrian disaster two years ago when the stands collapsed during the dressage event and over two hundred spectators died in their sleep.