Rottweiler Soup: Poxy Lips
I met up with Maggie and Frank by the statue of Bill Clinton this evening. It wasn’t originally a statue of Clinton, it was Molly Malone, but as a tribute to Clinton’s role in the peace process they’d stuck his head on it rather than cast a whole new statue.
I decided to forgive and forget what happened at the embassy the other night so that I’d have someone to go out and drink with. The atmosphere at first was strange and strained, not all that surprising under the circumstances—they were still embarrassed—but since Frank doesn’t take anyone’s feelings seriously for long, he soon got over any hurt he might have caused me or any feelings of guilt. In his defence, he’s been distracted since the bomb at Connolly, which has forced him to ratchet up the intensity of his interrogations—always a source of delight to him. A further source of delight was the fact that it was Frank’s turn to choose our dining venue this week, and he was keen for us to try out a couple of new places: the wine bar we went to first, de Boer’s, and the new Jap restaurant at the Hibernian Hotel, S. & M. Egghead’s.
De Boer’s, on Nassau Street, takes the concept of bad taste and runs with it down-market. The theme is apartheid-era South Africa: photos of Selous Scouts on the wall, tires hanging from the rafters as a humorous reminder of the necklaces that Winnie Mandela wanted to free the country with, sjamboks hanging behind the bars over the mirrors and, to complete the effect, segregation, with the white wine served upstairs in a plush lounge, while nonwhites are served in spartan surroundings in the basement, the real apartheid, of course, being the sign on the front door of the bar that says ‘No Travelers Allowed’. Frank gave in to his love of the picaresque, taking us downstairs, and we clubbed together to buy a bottle of Tokay and settled on a bench well away from the restroom doors and close to the jukebox. We could squeeze two glasses each out of the bottle, so it worked out at a mere 18 euros a glass.
As I was coming back from the bar with the bottle, I gradually picked up Frank’s voice and recognised the spiel he was giving Maggie: he was reciting the list of interrogation options he makes his trainees memorise in case they find themselves short of ideas. Rub chili powder in the subject’s eyes; stick his head into a polythene bag of dogshit or petrol; play a tape of screaming in the next room and tell him it’s his wife and kids; put electric wires into his mouth, especially on his teeth, or better yet, to his teeth and his ears at the same time, a technique known as the telephone; put electric needles under his nails; burn him with cigarettes; slowly squeeze his testicles; and sleep deprivation, disorientation. I’ve known Frank to come into an interrogation room and immediately kiss his victim passionately on the lips, so pleased is he to have them there as a guest.
I don’t enjoy our nights out that much when we talk shop, but this was Frank trying to impress Maggie—not exactly chat her up, because he didn’t need to do that now—with the odd witty anecdote about torture. He’d had a union shop steward in today who he’d been pursuing for ages, hence his cheerfulness. Traditionally, the Irish have been very pro–trade union, and yet, fortunately for us, less well disposed toward socialism. This has made life for us in the covert ops world much much easier, but in recent times the trade union rank and file has swung violently to the left, even in a sweetheart union like O’Flaherty’s.
‘Tell me what you did to him then’, said Maggie, showing what I thought was an indecent degree of interest. Not quite salivating, but certainly with no consideration of my feelings.
‘Ahh . . . not much . . . give us a peanut . . . we just wirebrushed his helmet.’
I winced. ‘He wasn’t English, was he? I understand they love that sort of thing.’
Frank briefly reflected on the possibility.
‘Could’ve been. He got a boner anyway. Mind you, he chucked up all over the cell, the dirty fucker. And we’d only just had it cleaned.’ He split a peanut between his front teeth. ‘Didn’t tell us much either. There’s a real dearth of info out there at the moment. People are disappearing right, left, and centre . . . mostly left.’
‘Not that that’s anything to do with you, Frank.’
‘Joe, disappearances are not my style, you know that. It’s terribly amateurish.’
‘Quite . . . quite. And I know how you hate helicopters.’
We laughed and took simultaneous swigs. Maggie checked out the barman’s profile. Eugenically superior stock.
‘Just out of curiosity, guys’, I said, ‘what great cultural event were you going to pretend to have been to on Wednesday night in order to sustain your illusory pursuit of aesthetic erudition?’
‘Huh?’ said Frank, caught with a finger up his nose and looking at a passing teenager’s tits.
‘What show were you going to tell me you’d been to?’
‘Actually, Joe, we were planning an early exit from the Vagina Monologues at the Gaiety.’
‘Yeah, I would have bought that. Frank would have liked the sound of the title, but there’s nothing worse than an earnest theatre audience.’
‘Absolutely. Except we were going to tell you we were kicked out because of Frank’s overenthusiastic shouts of “cunt” every three minutes.’
I sighed heavily in despair. ‘Of course.’ Despair at my own credulousness, because that, too, I would have believed.
We left de Boer’s in a lighthearted mood and headed back up Grafton Street for Egghead’s.
There are still enough buskers, balloon manipulators, poetry reciters and statue impersonators in this country for a stroll down Grafton Street to make the case for Pol Pot. In the 1960s, all these kids would have been educated for emigration, trained to head off for decent jobs in the UK and the States so they could send back cash to their indigent relatives. With the demise of higher education, or rather, of careers requiring a higher education, anyone who didn’t fancy selling their body parts was faced with either joining the Gardaí or learning to juggle. Their omnipresence today just goes to show there are still some things a self-respecting Dub won’t do.
And which also means there’s a natural enmity between the Gardaí and the street entertainers. The latter are tolerated and nothing more. When the tourists disappear, around about October, these guys very wisely start exploring the transplant option, because when the tourists go, the witnesses go, so not only is there no one to chuck a euro in your cap, there’s also no one around to see your head being caved in. Spring and summer return and these fuckers seem to sprout like kudzu, congregating near waste ground or derelict sites in the Grafton Street vicinity to make a rapid retreat when circumstances demand.
It was while we were walking up past Davy Byrne’s that Frank sidled up to me and asked about Delia.
‘You know how we were talking about disappearances, earlier? Well, have you seen anything of your friend Delia the past few days?’
‘Now you mention it, Frank, I haven’t. Not at all this week.’ I was mildly concerned. ‘Do you think he’s done a runner or something?’
‘No idea. Haven’t seen him. Thought you might’ve. Does he have a record?’
‘Delia? Not a chance. Driven snow, Frank.’ Then I caught myself. ‘Wait. I tell a lie. He was pulled in a year or so ago, do you remember, when the Gardaí arrested him for possession of an empty bottle of amphetamines.’
‘That’s right. I remember. What happened about that in the end?’
A lanky, young, dark-haired mustachioed woman in an apron and holding a bucket interrupted us and asked if we’d like to make a donation to leukaemia research, but Frank told her ‘Only if I can watch’ and she skulked off.
‘They were just checking him out, I think. He got off with a warning. They told him he was lucky it wasn’t an empty bottle of ecstasy.’
I’m rather more partial to Indian and Chinese food than Japanese, but it was Frank’s choice of restaurant and there aren’t any Chinese restaurants left these days, not since they all fucked off back home to open fish and chip shops when the ‘free market’ kicked in and China became the largest capitalist economy in the world. Anyhow, Frank told me that this was Japanese ‘with a difference’, so I strapped on my adventurous mask to impress Maggie and decided to give it a go.
It was different. The decor you normally expect from sushi bars is all minimalist and hyper-real, whereas this place was 18th-century Victorian, with green marble floors and ornate friezes, a bit like the restaurant at the Hotel Adolphus back home. The food was different too.
There are two things that I thought I knew about lobsters, and it turns out only one of them is right. The first thing I knew, from reading Scientific American at work, was that no matter how fast lobsters walk, their heart rate never exceeds 80 to 90 beats per minute, and their ventilation rate peaks at 175 to 180 and refuses to go higher, irrespective of any increase in speed—I don’t know how this was discovered; lobsters on treadmills is my guess.
The other thing I thought I knew was that before being eaten, lobsters are boiled alive, and although they’re an orangey pink when they reach your table, they are a dark, greenish black in their natural state. The pink is their scream.
They are indeed a dark, greenish black in their natural state, though with a hint of midnight blue, but they aren’t necessarily boiled alive before you eat them. At least, not at S. & M. Egghead’s, which, it transpires, is a sushi bar that specializes in ikezukuri, a form of sushi preparation in which the meat is cut away from the selected animal while the still-functioning internal organs are left intact.
So the first time I threw up was when the chef plucked Frank’s red snapper out of the tank next to our table and expertly flensed two slivers of meat from along either side of its body and presented them on a plate to Frank before gently placing the snapper back in the water so that we could watch the confused and panic-stricken creature swim around in search of its nether regions.
The second time I puked, my lobster was making a game attempt to escape, crawling off my plate with one claw and only three-quarters of its body and one eye. What actually made me hurl, though, was Frank offering me an octopus arm—‘Try this, Joe, it feels really weird’—the disembodied arm still curling and uncurling between his chopsticks like a snake, and when I put it in my mouth, rather bravely, I thought, the tentacles started sucking on my tongue and on my soft palate, and then the arm unwound and reached down my gullet and triggered my gag reflex. Everything came up. Tokay, bits of lobster, Tayto cheese and onion. I whacked back my entire saketini, which stung my eyes, and at this point I realized that the octopus arm was hanging on, having withstood the onslaught of vomit, clamping itself to the inside of my cheek and swinging out of my mouth like a drunk around a lamppost, unfurling like a banner and enabling me to pleasure all the women in the room at the same time without even having to leave my seat.
Frank did his best to console me by pointing in my direction and laughing loudly, but eventually boredom kicked in and he decided instead to pat me on the back and, using a napkinned hand, pull the octopus arm free and dab my chin sympathetically.
‘Must’ve been something you ate’, he said.
I gasped for air while Frank ordered more drinks and Maggie looked a little nauseous at the sight of me. Frank picked his moment.
‘Joe, before I forget . . . sorry, Maggie, this is a little indelicate . . . Joe, you didn’t happen to come across my crucifix anywhere in your office, did you?’
Despite the sad state I was in, I shook my head with some concealed delight, schadenfreude, no less, since it was obvious that he would be in deep shit if he failed to return it to R&D.
‘I’ll have a better look round, tomorrow, Frank’, I said, weakly. ‘I’m going to pop into work.’
‘Great. If you would, mate. I’m pretty sure that’s where it’ll be. I think I misplaced it there when . . .’ His voice trailed off before he could say, ‘I was eating out Maggie’s ass’. I considered completing the sentence for him, but I could see Maggie’s complexion reddening.
‘Don’t worry’, I reassured him.
‘I’ll be at the hospital if you want to get in touch.’
‘I’ll do my best, Frank.’
‘I know you will, mate. You always do. You’re very good to me. Listen, dessert’s on me. What’ll you have?’
According to the Alabama Star, a 15-year-old schoolboy went berserk yesterday at his campus in Luttrell, Tennessee. Piloting a stolen U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F, the young student bombed the gymnasium, library and science labs before strafing the playground as his terrified classmates ran for cover. Since state laws were changed in 2009 allowing pupils to wear concealed weapons for self-defence in the event of a school shooting, the students were able to return fire, but their efforts were largely futile; their schoolmate was determined to go out with a bang, crashing the fighter into the main building of the school without ejecting. At least 230 students and staff are reported missing, and so far 97 bodies have been found. A spokesperson for the NRA said, ‘This just goes to prove our point that it isn’t guns that kill people, it’s people who kill people. If only those kids had been allowed to arm themselves with surface-to-air rocket launchers, their assailant would have thought twice about blowing them to smithereens.’
Local Christian fundamentalists were briefly mobilized for the Rapture by their Chapter heads when a TV station announced that ‘Authorities believe a number of the dead will rise’, but this was an editorial error: The announcement should have read ‘Authorities believe the number of the dead will rise’.