Rottweiler Soup: Prince of Darkness
My belly was playing up all last night, and I put it down to nerves or else the whisky working its way through my system. When I went for a shit after my first cup of tea and after the first Nicorette of the day, which always works, it was as though the canal lock up my ass had opened, and my innards dropped out with a SPLOOSH! that soaked my ass. I felt like I’d shat a placenta.
I studied the bulbous mass of shit but held myself back from prodding it to see if it moved. At first I thought it was my stomach, then, joy of joys, from underneath the dense stew a little white lump bobbed to the surface and clung to the side of the turd like a shipwreck survivor. It was what I’d been hoping to see for months: Steve the parasite’s head. Finally the poor bastard had bought the farm.
I considered fishing it out so that I could mount it, his departure striking me as both timely and symbolic, and by the look of the pile in the pan he’d taken another couple of pounds off my weight, which compounded my joy. No more Weight Watchers for me. From now on, I’ll be putting on weight.
After breakfast I got a phone call from Frank to meet up. I took four paracetamols and a pint of water and slipped into something long and uncomfortable: the 11.15 DART from Lansdowne Road to Greystones, and Frank met me at Killiney Station instead of Dalkey, his local station, probably because he didn’t want locals seeing him consorting with people of my ilk.
We exited the station and took the underpass down to a deserted and windswept Killiney beach, never my favourite spot — too stony, desolate, sterile. I’d had the sense to wrap up had put a scarf on, although I’d forgotten gloves and my Hush Puppies had seen better days. The tide was right in, roaring and slamming against the groynes, thrashing the shingle so that our small talk was accompanied by a background hiss, like a Greek chorus inserted into a pantomime.
‘You’ve really screwed up the whole show with your lack of professionalism, Joe’, he began. We were walking side by side in the direction of Killiney Hill, which meant he was shielding me from the sea, most considerate, but also that I could hear him clearly, understand his meanings unambiguously.
‘Don’t lecture me on professionalism, Frank’, I protested. ‘You and your buddies are running around like a bull in a China shop breaking a butterfly on a wheel.’
‘What kind of fucked-up metaphor is that?’
‘I’m sorry. It’s the stress.’
He nodded forgivingly.
‘You don’t have to tell me. There’s all hell let loose beyond the Pale. A breakout at the detention camp in Mosney. Half the refugees have managed to escape and God alone knows who their contacts are on the outside. If they organise we could be screwed right royally.’
A black Labrador appeared out of nowhere, tearing toward the waves in delight, a hundred yards ahead of us. It gave Frank cause to stop in his tracks. We’d have to head back before anyone saw us.
‘And not only do I have to deal with that, but you, you, my mate, have put me in this position where I have to . . . to lay down the law, to put you out of play. Like I don’t have enough to worry about.’
I grabbed his arm and stopped him in his tracks.
‘Excuse me? I put you in this position? Are you sure? Listen to what you’re saying. This was all your doing, Frank. Don’t try to stick this on me because you know full well that there’ve been plenty of times when you’ve crossed the line, broken promises to me, your pact with me.’
‘Pact. What pact?’
‘You know what I mean. Us. How many times have I kept my mouth shut because you’re a buddy?’
His face gave no sign of any comprehension whatsoever.
‘Joe, this is nothing to do with us. This is to do with the job.’
I pulled a stale packet of Cohiba Minis from my inside pocket and offered him one, but at that very same moment he had pulled out — from where exactly I’m not sure — a beige A4 envelope, which he was insistently holding out to me. Our eyes met and I realised from his glare that his offer took precedence. I took it from him and he set off walking again, a little ahead of me, while I put away the Minis and examined the envelope’s contents.
They were poorly Photoshopped photographs showing me and Delia having sex. Me fucking him up the ass from behind, me going down on him, him wanking me off. Some of the shadows were wrong, and it was clear that Delia’s body had been disfigured, probably prior to being photographed, and contorted to fit the photos. Somewhere, a penny dropped. These were the photos Frank had been referring to the other day. Not Stiveley’s.
Maybe it was half a penny that dropped, because I had to stand there another five minutes or so before I understood that the photos of me naked could only have been taken during my romp with Maggie at her home after the ambassador’s party. The night we spent there, the night I couldn’t remember, the night we were clearly not alone.
This guy goes into a brothel but he only has enough money to shag the pig they have locked down in the cellar. The next night he goes back and he doesn’t even have enough money for the pig, only enough to watch a sex show. On his way out, he says to another customer, ‘Hey, that was a pretty good show. For the money.’ ‘You should have been here last night’, the other guy replies. ‘We watched some idiot screwing a pig.’
I’m not sure why that sprang to mind. But it meant I had to catch up with Frank.
‘Are these meant to buy my silence?’
‘It’s your call. Your silence or the reason for your disappearance. This way, you can disappear voluntarily . . . you can go off to France, Spain, Italy, wherever. Somewhere out of the way . . . Or you can disappear . . .’ He didn’t need to finish the sentence.
I waved the photos in front of his face.
‘These are very badly done, you know.’
‘Well, they were rushed.’
‘What I object to, though, is the way you guys invaded Maggie’s privacy. I mean, I couldn’t give a shit what you know about me, but for fuck’s sake, Maggie?”
‘Joe’, he said, like he was about to lose his temper, ‘Don’t be a schmuck all your fucking life.’
My self-esteem shrank to the size of a small ball of mucus and bounced around my belly.
‘Meaning what, exactly?’ I knew exactly what he meant, but I wanted him to spell it out. Instead, he turned away from and looked out to sea. He inhaled deeply.
‘Meaning nothing. Meaning, yes, Joe, you’re right, I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have invaded your privacy. Maggie’s privacy. Meaning that I can’t be standing around here all day with you when there are travelers to be rounded up and asylum seekers to be interrogated. Meaning I’ve got to go.’
I can’t fucking believe it. I was date-raped.
He turned to walk up the beach and took a few steps past me.
‘You know I can’t let you go, Frank. Not until you’ve told me to my face that you killed Delia. That you tortured him. Him and others.’
His shoulders sagged with impatience.
‘Dammit, Joe, don’t be so melodramatic. Will it make things any easier for you if I say yes? In that case, yes. Will it make things more difficult? In that case, no.’
‘It’s not so much the truth I want, Frank. It’s whether you’re prepared to look me in the eye when you tell me.’
He retraced his few steps and stood toe-to-toe with me, glaring.
‘Here, is this close enough for you, Joe? I’m looking you in the eye, do you see? And I’m telling you, yes, I tortured Delia Brennan, Joe, yes. Yes, I killed him, yes, I slit his throat, and yes, it gave me pleasure. Not because he was a friend of yours, Joe. That’s totally irrelevant. But because he fucking ruined you. Ruined my fucking friend.’
He stepped back, his lips tight and unsmiling, and he still glared. I don’t know what kind of response he was expecting. I elected to speak in measured tones.
‘That’s all I wanted to know, Frank. That you could look me in the eye. Because I tell you what. I was hoping you couldn’t. I was hoping you’d feel some shame. Some guilt. Now I know that you have no remorse. It will make things so much easier.’
I reached inside my overcoat and pulled out Frank’s crucifix. He gave no hint of recognition, betrayed no surprise. I flicked the stop switch on Christ’s wrist and pressed playback so that Frank could hear his own confession over the growl of the waves.
‘Give me that fucking thing, Joe. It’s not going to do you any good.’
‘So why do you need it?’
I was backing away from him, wondering whether it had been a good idea to let him know I had him recorded. Clearly a lack of professionalism on my part. I should have remembered: revenge is a dish best served cold. Like jelly and nails.
‘It isn’t mine to lose, Joe. I’m beta-testing it, remember?’
‘Of course. How silly of me. Well how about this?’ I detached the crucifix from the chain and popped it in my mouth.
You’ve probably never tried to swallow a crucifix so let me tell you, it isn’t as easy as you’d imagine. I had the necessary saliva, or so I thought, but the peristaltic wave that forms around the bolus of food normally sent down the gullet doesn’t cope so easily with something cross-shaped. Like a cross. It scrapes. It stabs. It tries to come back up again and that really fucking hurts.
I was doubled over coughing and retching when Frank grabbed my arm, pulled me down to the sand and kicked my stomach. Perhaps he was trying to be helpful, figuring that the rapid expulsion of air would contribute to forced exit of the crucifix. Like the Heimlich manouevre but with more bruising. It didn’t work, anyway, which was probably why he attempted to crush my Adam’s apple. My immediate thought was, ‘That’s not actually helping at all’, although the pain served as a palliative insofar as it took my mind off any internal bleeding I might have had.
I tried to break Frank’s stranglehold but he was even more tenacious than Steve. And when I looked up at him kneeling over me, it became clear that I meant nothing to him, that even now, he was just doing his job.
He said to me once, ‘You know, Joe, if you were to dehydrate the human body entirely, the chemicals that you’re left with can be bought over the counter in a pharmacy for 13 euros. Still, some people’s lives are worth much less than that.’ Well, that may be true, but just add water to those chemicals and when arranged in a particular way they’re surprisingly unwilling to surrender that human life. I never knew my body wanted to live so much.
Frank was squeezing my throat with such vigour that, despite the cloudiness of my vision, I could make out that purple vein on his temple, pulsating. ‘If he’s not careful he’ll kill himself’, I thought.
Frank altered his grip to get a better purchase, and by moving down my throat he forced the crucifix up. It popped out of my mouth like a jack-rabbit, and we both followed its trajectory, Frank easing off momentarily out of surprise and indecision. With my right hand, I reached out for it among the pebbles, only a couple of feet away from my head, and as I turned my head, Frank’s grip became less secure. He wasn’t sure whether to beat me to the disc or strangle me first. I took advantage of his indecision and grabbed a stone, baseball size but egg-shaped, so that it protruded from the palm of my hand, and when I aimed it at his head, I aimed it so that the pointy end made contact with that throbbing purple vein at his temple.
It was a roundhouse blow but a clean shot, making contact perfectly. Clean, but bloody, dislodging Frank and knocking him to the ground next to me, semi-conscious, groaning. I was coughing and sore, but at least I could breathe, so I pressed home my advantage. As Frank came round, he attempted to pull himself up to a kneeling position. I rushed him and swung again, catching him more or less in the same spot, opening up a gash along the side of his head, round to the socket of his right eye. He went down face first but still wasn’t out.
I pulled him over onto his back and hit him again, full in the face, on the bridge of his nose. That’s where you aim to drive the bone up into the brain, although my intention was only disfigurement. I hit him again on his right cheekbone and felt it give way under the solidity of the stone, saw the bone through the grazing, saw the blood pour into his eye.
In retrospect, it’s difficult to decide whether I was killing Frank because he’d killed Delia or because he’d betrayed me. Maybe Delia had been a member of the underground. Maybe he had been using me. But so what? It had felt like a proper friendship, and he was all I had.
Well, him and Frank, but it turns out I didn’t have a friendship with Frank.
Another couple of minutes battering Frank’s face and neck was enough to convince me he was dead. At that point, I felt I should check whether there had been any witnesses, so I gingerly looked up from my work and surveyed the scene. The black Labrador had gone, and the sun was beginning its descent behind Victoria Hill. There was no one else around.
I returned my gaze to what remained of Frank’s face. Urgh. Disgusting. Poor Frank.
I dragged him over to the nearest groyne, only a matter of yards away, and propped him up against it at the edge of the water although I couldn’t tell if the tide was coming in. I looked around for the crucifix among the pebbles and pocketed it.
I’d sat Frank up so I could search him for identification. I started on his outside pockets and found some tissues, then reached inside his coat for his wallet only to discover that he’d been packing. Under his left armpit was a small holster containing a Saturday night special, fully loaded. Why the fuck hadn’t he thought to use it?
I threw it down, cast it away from me. Then I slapped Frank about the face. Severely. ‘You fucking, fucking idiot, Frank. You fucking, fucking idiot.’ He could have used the gun on me, could have whipped it out and shot me dead, yet he chose to try to choke me, to scare me into handing over the crucifix, to force it back up my gullet.
I wept. I put my head on his shoulder and wept like a child.
I hugged him until I felt the tide lapping at my left trouser leg. A sudden burst of hailstones began to rattle the pebbles like applause. Time to go.
I picked up the gun, put it into Frank’s right hand, aimed it into his mouth and pulled the trigger.
I’m not proud of it. It just made sense.
I left the gun next to his body and turned him onto his stomach, face down on the pebbles. The sea began its work.
According to Business Week, the governor of Kansas has ordered the eradication of all butterflies in the state after reading a book on chaos theory.