Seagulls screech at the sound of the approaching car, and its headlights pick them out wheeling away into the darkness. Martin Og shakes a fist at them as he drives to a stop near the front door of the weather beaten cottage.
‘You might be the souls of dead fishermen but that won’t stop me blowing your bloody heads off the next time I get a clear shot at one of you’.
The only response is the inevitable splat on his front bonnet, before they vanish into the twilight. He gets out and slams the door, slinging his knapsack on his shoulder, and, ignoring the mess on the car front, limps to the front door.
He inserts a key and opens it, listening for a few moments before reaching in and switching on the room light
‘Blackie! Blackie! Where the feck are you gone to now?
The lights reveal a room that is in a terrible state; rubbish and stale food litter the table and chairs, bags of waste and empty whiskey bottles are stacked high against one wall. The paper on the walls is peeling, the photos and pictures faded. In fact the whole room looks as if it hasn’t been tidied for many years.
Against the back wall is a dresser, adorned with some faded willow-pattern crockery. An old fashioned radio sits on the dresser. Some hunting gear - a mixture of nets and traps - hang on one wall .A large square net, of the kind that sea fishermen use, hangs suspended from one half of the ceiling There is also a battered acoustic guitar and a ten-gallon hat hanging on pegs either side of the passageway. Two armchairs are situated in the shadows, one at either end of the room, their backs facing Martin Og.
He looks at them in puzzlement, first one then the other, but his puzzlement is almost immediately superseded by a look of grief when he spots the body of a dog lying between them. The dirty black beret he wears is whipped from his head, revealing a shock of white hair beneath. He lets the knapsack fall from his grasp as he hobbles towards the body.
‘Ah Blackie. Ah Jesus, Blackie…’
He picks the dog up in his arms and cradles it for a moment, then sits on a bentwood chair rocking the dog in his lap. He uses the beret to wipe the dog’s face.
He doesn’t notice for a moment as the two armchairs swivel round to face him. When he looks up he sees two figures seated in them
Both are in their early/mid twenties, and both are dressed in the trendy, designer-conscious manner of their peers. The man is cradling a shotgun in his arms; the girl has a metal strongbox resting on her lap, a handgun in her hand. She taps the box with the gun.
‘We need the key, Martin’.
‘Martin?’ He pauses. ‘Did you kill my dog?’
‘He was old’
Martin rises. ‘You killed my fucking dog…..’ The man raises the shotgun. ‘Be careful with that, it’s …not insured’.
‘Not insured, he says!’ The man laughs. ‘Look at it! What’s to insure?
‘I’ve got insurance. Lots of insurance’
‘Yeah, fire insurance’. The girls looks around the room. ‘You got any fire insurance, Martin?’
‘Martin?’ You keep calling me Martin. Who are you people?’
The girl smiles at him this time, a big mouthful of pearl-white teeth. ‘Sorry. We should have introduced ourselves earlier. I’m Zoe. And that specimen over there is Zeb. Zeb and Zoe’. She smiles again. ‘Now, you got any fire insurance?’
Martin is beginning to think he must be in the throes of a nightmare. Surely he will wake up soon? ‘No. No fire insurance’.
‘Pity. Then you could burn the place down with impunity’
‘Why would I want to do that?’
Another laugh from Zoe. ‘Well, I mean…look at it!’
‘Impunity. That’s a good word.’ Zeb laughs softly
‘You like it, Zeb’.
‘Yeah, it’s cool. Burn the place down with impunity…I like that.’
‘Bet it all goes up like a bonfire’.
‘You reckon?Maybe we should…’
Zeb rises, standing the gun in the armchair. He examines the room, looking for something to set fire to, eventually settling for one of the bags of rubbish. He takes out a lighter and tries to light it but it won’t burn. He tries another one with the same result. ‘This stuff’s flame proof. Ye-aah. Everything’s covered in shit.’ He finds a filthy-looking tea towel and wipes his hands. ‘How long since you cleaned this gaff?
I can’t remember.’ Martin holds the dog out. ‘Can I…?
Zeb returns to the armchair.
‘’You just sit there till we say otherwise’.
‘What do you want?’
‘We’re your long-lost relatives come for a visit’. This is Zoe again.
‘I haven’t got any long-lost relatives’.
‘Not now you haven’t. You just found them’.
Zeb resumes his pacing, picking up a rabbit snare that is hanging on a nail on the wall. ‘What’s this?’
‘A snare for what?
Martin snorts. ‘For catching rabbits, of course’.
Zeb examines the snare, then hands it to Zoe for her to look at.
Zoe dangles it before Martin. ‘Show us then. How it works’. She looks at the dog’s body and indicates the table. ‘Put…that over there’.
Martin puts the dog down as directed, then takes the snare and makes a loop of the wire. He holds out the finished work.
Zeb sneers. ‘That’s it? That’s fucking it?’
‘Well, the peg…’ He indicates the wooden peg at the end of the wire.
‘is hammered into the ground. That’s all there is to it’.
Martin looks troubled. ‘Here? On the floor? The peg won’t go I’.
Zeb bangs on the floor with his foot.
‘It’s fucking timber innit? You got a hammer and nails?’
‘Do it. I want to see it’.
Martin drags out a box from underneath the rubbish, takes out a hammer, then looks for nails. While he does so, Zeb takes a trap from the wall and examines it, then hands it to Zoe. Martin returns with the hammer and nails and nails the peg to the floor. The others watch him, making faces at him, till he is finished.
‘So how does it work then?’ asks Zoe.
Martin pushes the hammer through the loop by way of an answer and pulls the loop tight.
‘Aw, poor rabbit. Poor, poor rabbit’.
‘Shut up, you soppy cow’. Zeb takes the hammer and pushes it through the loop several times, each time snaring it with force. ‘Yeah…yeah’.
Zoe taps the box on her lap with the gun butt. ‘I hate to intrude, but…’
‘In a minute’. Zeb holds up the trap. ‘What’s this then?What’s this fucking toy for?’
‘It’s a trap’.
‘Like for bears? A bear trap’.
Zoe finds this idea amusing. ‘There’s no bears round here you dink’
‘I know that’. Louder. ‘I know that’.
‘Smaller animals. Foxes, badgers…’ Martin’s voice trails off.
‘Cats and dogs?’
‘I suppose…Listen, Missy-whatever-your-name-is…’
‘Rabbits? What about rabbits?’
‘I suppose so. The odd time..’
‘You a sadist or somthin’? Poor innocent animals…’
‘They’re illegal now. We don’t use them anymore.
‘Why hang them on your bloody wall then?’
Zeb, who has been fiddling with the trap during this exchange, suddenly let out a triumphant yell.
‘Ere! I know how to work this thing. Seen it on the box once’.
He pulls the jaws back and try s to set it but it snaps shut suddenly, almost catching his fingers. He jumps back. As he does so, a phone rings, startling him even more. He searches his pocket, pulls out a mobile phone, then shakes his head
‘Must be yours’.
Zoe takes a phone from her bag, looks at it for a moment, then speaks into it.
‘Listen you cow, I told you this morning not to keep ringing me’. A pause. ‘No, we won’t be back tonight. Or tomorrow night’. Another pause while she listens. ‘I don’t know…’ She turns to Zeb. ‘She wants to know if we’re there yet’.
‘Tell her to mind own effing business’.
‘Did you hear that?’ She holds the phone away from her ear and makes a face.
‘I think she heard…’
‘Tell her we’re in Dublin….’
‘We’re in Dublin….’ She listens again. ‘She wants to know what we’re doing in Dublin…’
Zeb grabs the phone. ‘I’ll tell her what we’re doing in Dublin. We’re in Dublin because we’re robbing a fucking bank. And when we’re finished we’re off to the airport. Put that in your pipe and smoke it you old bitch’.
He switches off the phone and throws it back to Zoe.
Zoe fails to find this amusing.
‘I wouldn’t speak to my mother like that’.
‘That’s ‘cos you haven’t got a mother’.
‘Everyone’s got a mother’.
‘Who’s yours then? Go on…’
Zoe doesn’t reply, but the question clearly upsets her.
Martin, who has been listening to this exchange with growing irritation, can hold his tongue no longer. ‘You don’t deserve a mother’.
‘Who asked you for your pennyworth? You don’t come into the equation at all’. Zeb clearly likes this word. ‘Equation…good eh? We make the rules in this…this…
‘Shithole. You have no voice at all’.
‘Only the voice we allow you to have’.
‘Yeah’ Zeb taps the box on Zoe’s knees. ‘And right now we need to know where the key is.’
‘I haven’t got a key’.
‘Why would you have a box without a key?’ He looks at Zoe, ‘ Why would he have a box without a key?
‘Maybe he lost the key’.
‘Did you lose the key?’
‘Alright, here’s what we do’. Zeb takes the trap and sets it very carefully, then places it on the floor close to Martin. ‘Take off your boot. Go on…take it off’
Zoe waves her gun about to encourage Martin. He removes his boot.
‘Now put your little tootsies in the jaws’. Martin hesitates. ‘Come on, closer. A bit more. That’s it’.
Zeb picks up some assorted items, including an apple, a bolt, and a spoon, then takes a few paces back. ‘The object of this game is to see if you can manage to tell me where the key is before I spring the trap’. He laughs. ‘Spring the trap…get it? Ready? Here goes’.
He throws the spoon and misses the trap. He throws the bolt and gets closer. He shapes up to throw the apple. ‘Third time lucky’
By now Martin is convinced he is a lunatic. ‘It’s on the shelf’. He indicates the back wall. ‘Over there’.
Zeb rubs the apple on his trousers, then takes a bite and goes to the shelf.
‘Here?There’s no fucking key here’.
‘That black thing. Over there. Near the jam jar’.
Zoe, meanwhile, has been examining the box itself. ‘There’s no keyhole in this thing’.
Zeb picks up a black object the size of a cigarette box. ‘This? Are you having me on?’ He prepares to launch the apple
‘Wait! It’s a battery….yoke. You point it at the…at the box’.
Zeb points it at the box and presses a button.
‘You have to aim it …right’
Zeb tries it several times, then the box springs open.
‘A remote box…!’
‘It sends a signal…’
‘I know what it fucking sends. Question is, how do you?’
During this exchange Zoe has been examining the contents of the box. Mostly, its contents are papers, which she glances at, then throws aside.
‘Where the loot?’
Zoe finishes her search. ‘There isn’t any’
‘No dosh?’ To satisfy his curiosity he gives a quick glance inside the box. ‘Right, we need the persuader again…’
Martin, who has anticipated what Zeb is going to do, grabs the hammer and smashes the trap to bits before he can stop him. Zeb picks up the mangled trap and dangles it before him, then flings it away. He picks up the hammer and smashes the floor, close to Martin’s toes.
‘You think that busting it makes any difference?’
‘You’re an animal. You’re nothing but wild animal’.
Zoe holds out a document she has been reading. .Look at that. Look how much he paid’..
A quick glance is enough for Zeb. ‘Six thousand! He paid six grand for a car. What make is it?’
‘I can’t quite make it out. It’s Ford something or other…’
Zeb rushes to the window and looks out.
‘A Mondeo. It’s a bloody Mondeo’.
‘Paid in full by bloody cash’.
‘Where did you get the money from…Martin?Your stash under the floorboards?’
‘I don’t keep money under the floorboards’
‘Your sort always keep it under the floorboards
‘I got it from the bank’.
Zoe laughs incredulously. ‘You went to the bank and withdrew the cash, then lugged it around to the car dealer, when a nice simple cheque would have sufficed? I don’t believe you’.
‘Yes, sufficed’. Zeb rolls this word around his tongue, clearly liking it. ‘A cheque would have sufficed’.
‘It was a…private deal’.
‘Bollocks!’ Zeb takes the receipt and waves it under Martins nose. ‘What does this say? What does it say, eh?’
‘Ryan’s Motor Company’.
‘No. There. The small print. What does that say?’
‘I can’t see’.
Zeb scrunches the paper up. ‘I’ll tell you what it says. I’m not stupid- that’s what it says. Do you think I’m stupid, Martin?’ Martin doesn’t reply. ‘Where’s the rest of the cash, Martin?’
‘I told you. It was a cheque. You can’t get blood out of a stone. Have a look at the cheque book if you don’t believe me’
Zeb smiles and shakes his head. ‘Alright. Have it your way. For the moment’. He holds his hand out.
Martin looks nonplussed. ‘What?’
‘The bloody keys’.
When Martin seems reluctant, Zeb picks up the hammer and brandishes it. Martin puts his hand in his pocket and hands over the keys. Zeb looks at them and goes to put them in his pocket.
‘My turn to drive’. Zoe’s hand is now extended
Zeb looks at her for a moment, goes to say something then changes his mind. He throws the keys to her.
Martin speaks. ‘I’ve had a long day. I’m tired and I’m hungry. I need something to eat. And I need to take my tablet’.
‘Ah Christ, Martin, you’re not going to peg it, are you? That would be just my luck. Kicking the bucket before our business is finished’. Zeb turns to Zoe. ‘Didn’t I tell you this morning? One of those days, that’s what I said’.
‘He’s not going to die’. Zoe moves closer to Martin. ‘Are you, Martin? What is it? I bet I know. High blood pressure? Diabetes?Prostate trouble?’Martin doesn’t reply. ‘My grandad had all those. Age, see?’
‘Your grandad had diseases that haven’t yet been discovered. And what did he die of?’
‘He got run down by an ambulance’.
‘I’ve a bad heart. I mustn’t be excited’.
‘Ah, you poor thing’.
‘Can I have my tablets?’
‘Where are they?’
‘In my knapsack’.
Zoe goes to his bag and rummages inside, singing as she does so.
I love to go a-wandering, along the mountain track
And as I go I love to sing, my knapsack on my back
Valderee, valderaa, valder-haha-haha-haha, valderee
My knapsack on my back.
‘Is that what you do, Martin - go off wandering with your knapsack?’ She extracts bottles and jars from the knapsack, also a box of cheese and a sliced loaf, and finally a box of tablets. ‘I learnt that song on my Grandma’s knee’.
‘You have a lot of grandparents for someone who doesn’t know who her mother was’
‘Come to think of it, she wasn’t my granny’. She holds the box aloft. ‘These?’
She opens the bottle and spills tablets on to the table. Zeb picks one up and examines it. ‘They give you a buzz, then?’
Martin ignores the question. ‘What is your business here?’
‘Now, that’s a tricky one. What would you say our business here is Zoe?
Zoe hands a tablet to Martin. ‘Speculation. Yeah, I’d say we’re speculators’.
Zeb grins unexpectedly. ‘Speculation. That’s it. You got to accumulate to speculate’.
Martin holds up the tablet. ‘I need a drop of water. It’s not reasonable to expect me to swallow that without water…’
Zeb suddenly grabs Martin by the face and forces his jaws apart. Zoe takes the tablet and drops it into his open mouth. Zeb forces his jaws shut, and holds them like that for several seconds. Martin is forced to swallow the tablet.
‘Would you say that was reasonable?’
‘Went down a treat, I bet. Didn’t it, Martin?’.
Martin is still gasping. ‘That’s…that’s…’
‘That’s okay. Don’t mention it’. Zoe pats him lightly on the back. ‘Now, where were we? Oh yes. Speculation’.
I want the world to know that
I’m in love with…me.
‘What? You losin’ your marbles?’
‘No, Zeb - just singing Congratulations’.
‘Congratulation for what?’
‘It’s a song by Cliff Richards’.
‘Who the fuck is Cliff Richards?’
‘Some old geezer. My old drama teacher used to sing it’.
Zeb looks at Martin. ‘Older than him?’
‘Should be dead then, shouldn’t he. The over fifties,’ he makes a chopping movement with one hand, ‘top ‘em’.
‘Your mom’s over fifty’.
‘Probably. What’s your opinion…old man? Compulsory euthanasia for the over fifties’
Martin looks at him with loathing. ‘You’re biting the hand that reared you’.
‘She’s your mother. She brought you into the world’
‘I never asked her to. Anyway, She never wanted me. Never had any time for me. She’s only after me now ‘cos she needs, things. Needs, needs..’
Zoe continues almost seamlessly. ‘…somebody to fetch and carry for her. Do the donkey work for her’.
‘She’s okay. Got her own transport, the meals on wheels come round, the community nurse visits…
Martin looks incredulous. ‘She’s an invalid? Your mother’s an invalid! What kind of savages are you?. He struggles to rise, clearly in a rage. Zoe pushes him down
‘Steady. Remember your heart’. She feels the pulse in his wrist. ‘Racing. Like you been running uphill. Don’t take much to get you excited, does it. Martin?’
‘Stop calling me Martin’.
‘Why? It’s your name, isn’t it?’
‘Aw…don’t you want me to get familiar…Martin? And I thought we were getting on so well. Do I bother you, is that it? Are you all hot and bothered? Why don’t you unbutton your shirt…’she undoes his top buttons. ‘Look at that, authentic grey hair…
‘Why don’t you shag him and be done with it? That’ll kill him off if anything will’.
‘Nah. We don’t want him rigor mortis, do we?’ She checks his pulse again. ‘They say that having sex is the equivalent of running a mile uphill’.
‘What about playing with yourself?’ Zed laughs. ‘Hey old man, how many miles you run lately?’
‘I’ve never had sex with an old man. You ever done it with an old woman?’
‘Jesus, you’re disgusting’.
‘You ever done it with a young woman, Martin…?’
‘You ever done it at all, Martin…?’
‘…A gorgeous, firm-breasted…’ Zoe rubs herself against Martin. ‘sensuous young thing?’
‘What do you want?’ Martin almost spits. ‘Really want?’
Before either can answer, a phone rings again. Zeb takes out his mobile, then shakes his head. ‘Must be yours’.
Zoe shakes her head. ‘You turned it off’.
They both look at Martin. Martin is motionless for a few moments, then reaches into a pocket and takes out a mobile phone. For a moment the others don’t react, then Zeb takes it, drops it on the floor and squashes it with his foot. He kicks it away.
There is silence for a moment then Martin speaks, ‘Did they say who it was?’
‘Very funny. What are you doing with a mobile?’
Martin shrugs. ‘People ring me. I ring people’.
‘A mobile? You?’ This from Zoe.
‘Why not me?’
‘What kind of people?’
Another shrug. ‘Just…people. Anybody, everybody’.
‘How often do they phone? Every week…every day?’
‘I suppose…every day’.
‘More than once a day?’
Martin allows the merest trace of a smile to surface. ‘It’s not the back of beyond’.
‘You could have fooled me’.
‘Popular fellow, ain’t you, for a hermit?’ Zeb continues. Martin looks at him sharply but doesn’t reply. ‘The Hermit of Mahonbay, that’s what they call you, ain’t it?’
The silence drags on for almost a minute but Martin still doesn’t answer. ‘Well?’
‘I’m not a hermit?’ Martin finally speaks.
‘We stopped off in the village. That’s what they call you there’.
‘Those inbreds, what do they know?. People always like to stick labels on you if you’re any bit different’.
‘And you are different, eh Martin?’
During this last exchange Zoe has been acting bored, pacing the room, picking things up. putting them down. She speaks now.
‘A Mondeo - don’t you think that is a bit flash for a hermit? What does it entail, being a hermit? I mean, is it a skill you acquire? Something you can practice?
Zeb laughs. ‘Practice? You just go away and be one. Don’t see nobody, don’t speak to nobody. That’s all’.
‘Not very good at it then, Martin, are you? I mean, it’s like Piccadilly Circus. Phones ringing, us here…’
‘Nobody invited you’.
‘That’s true. But we were passing…’ During this exchange Zoe has been fiddling with the old radio. Some ceili music bursts forth briefly, then a voice speaks;
...finish this local news bulletin with the main headlines again. Armed robbers caused havoc in Mahonbay today, holding up a supermarket and a butcher’s, before making off with an undisclosed sum in cash. A local Garda patrol unit was quickly on the scene and gave chase. It is understood the robbers crashed their vehicle. They escaped on foot and are believed to be still in the area. A big manhunt is under way.
The raiders, one male and one female, are described as armed and dangerous, and shouldn’t be approached….
Zoe switches off the radio before the announcer finishes his broadcast.
A hold-all lies on the table, bundles of money scattered about around it. Zoe holds her nose and indicates the dog’s body behind it.
‘It’s starting to pong. Get rid of it’.
‘You’re imagining it’.
‘No I’m not. Dump it somewhere’.
‘Anywhere out of sight’.
‘Not squeamish, are you? You’ve seen dead things before’.
‘I said it smells’.
Zeb shrugs and picks up the body by the tail. ‘Where to old man?’
‘You leave Blackie be. You’re not throwing him out like some piece of rubbish’.
‘It’s just a dead dog’.
‘It’s Blackie. My Blackie. He’s been my companion for a long time. He needs a proper burial’.
‘A burial! Just chuck him down the nearest hole’.
‘No!You give him here. I’ll put him in my freezer, till I decides where to bury him. It’s over there, see? Through the doorway, in the passage’. Martin indicates the direction.
‘You had better check it out Zoe He’s slippery, this one’.
Zoe goes into the passageway, out of sight. Seconds later, her arm appears, holding a frozen joint. ‘Leg of lamb, anyone? Loin chop? There’s more lamb here than Tesco’s’.
When she re-emerges Zeb begins to move towards the passage, holding the dog’s body at arm’s length.
‘I want to do it. Let me. Please?’ an anguished plea escapes Martin’s lips.
Zeb’s expression suggests he is more than happy to oblige. Martin holds out his hands and Zeb places the body across them. Martin walks, almost ritualistically, towards the passage, Zeb following, the shotgun held in his hands. As they disappear, Zoe begins to count the money. They return after a few seconds.
‘Two, two five, three…three one, two, three…I make it three thousand four hundred, Zeb’
‘We left more than that in the effing car. In the other bag…’
‘We were lucky. We could’a been like the dog’ - brown bread’.
‘Not with me at the wheel. Didn’t I miss that tractor’.
‘You hit a tree. We rolled over three times’.
‘We’re here. What more d’you want?’
‘I wish we weren’t. I wish we were a hundred miles away’.
‘And we will be. Now we have a car. Soon as it gets dark’.
‘They’ll be here soon’. This is Martin
‘The Guards. The wireless said they were searching. You can’t get away’.
‘We’ll see about that. How far to your nearest neighbour?
‘Just over the hill’.
‘Liar. We had a good recce before we came in. There’s not a house for miles’.
He taps Martin on the knee with the gun. ‘How far?’
‘A couple of miles. That way’. He points in the direction of Mahonbay.
‘And up there?’ Zeb indicates the other direction.
‘Just hills. And forestry. This is as far as you can go’.
‘And on foot?’
‘A way through?’
‘Yes. But you need to know your way’.
‘You know the way’. He looks at his watch. ‘Be dusk in a couple of hours…’
Zoe is still examining the money. ‘If they come…?’
‘I don’t know. We’ll think of something…’
‘Alright. Me then. I’ll think of something’.
‘I doubt it’. She holds up a note. ‘What you reckon that is?’
‘Looks like twenty Euros to me’.
‘No. ‘That, you berk’.
Zeb peers at the note ‘A stain’. He laughs.. ‘Dirty money’.
‘It’s blood’ .She picks up some more notes. ‘ Its on these ones too’.
‘Blood money then’.
‘Don’t you remember? That butcher. He was chopping up a leg of something when we…’ She doesn’t finish. ‘He cut his finger’.
‘Oh yeah. Blood everywhere…’
Zoe drops them as if they were hot. ‘Yuck…I’m not taking them. You got a match?
‘Let me…’ He takes his lighter and sets fire to the tainted bundle, picking one note up and watching as the flames devour it. ‘Money to burn…’
‘If your mum could see you now…’
‘What would she do, eh? What would she do? Nothing’.
‘No…not now. I remember the time she…’
‘Just shut it, eh?’
What’s the matter? D’you think she might put you in a… dress or something if she finds out.?’
‘I said shut up’.
‘A bright yellow dress’.
‘I’m warning you…’
‘I thought you looked sweet. Your chubby little cheeks staring out from the photos. Blue and yellow ribbons in your…’
‘SHUT FUCKING UP…’
A faint beeping noise can now be heard, getting louder as the silence grows.
‘There’s somebody coming’. Martin looks almost cheerful as he says this.
‘Someone’s coming up the boreen’
‘I don’t believe you’. Nevertheless, Zeb rushes over to the window and looks out ‘There’s no one there’.
‘Give it a few minutes’.
What are you, psychic or something?’
‘I’m telling you’.
‘What’s that effin’ row?’ Martin looks blank. ‘That bloody beeping noise’.
‘That’s some of the insurance I spoke about earlier’.
‘What fucking insurance?’ His fist is suddenly thrust under Martin’s nose, almost touching it. ‘Turn the bloody thing off’.
Martin puts his hand in his pocket and the noise stops. Zeb rushes around putting the money back in the satchel, generally making things look ‘normal’. He kicks the broken phone and trap out of sight.
‘If somebody is coming, you had better be on your best behaviour. ‘Cos I’ll be in there ...’ He waves towards the passageway…’and this shotgun will be aimed right at your head…’
Zoe, who has been watching out, hurries back. ‘Oh shit! It’s…what-you-ma-call-im…the butcher…’She propels Zeb towards the passageway. ‘Go, go…wait, take this….’ She grabs the satchel of money and thrusts it at him. She watches him disappear before hurrying back to her chair and sitting demurely in it.
There is a rattling on the door. Martin looks at Zoe, then goes to open it. The man framed in it is a big man, florid in the face, tubbiness visible in his cheeks and on his wrists. There is a daintiness about him however, emphasised by the smallness of his feet. He wears a hat, and carries with him a blackthorn stick.
He looks at Martin for a moment before speaking. ‘Martin Og’
‘Harry’. For a moment he contemplates closing it again.
Harry indicates the door. ‘Time was, that was on the latch’.
‘Time was, we were friends. You can’t be too careful these days’. He pauses. ‘You’d better come in’.
Harry looks surprised at the invitation. He steps inside gingerly, looking around him as he does.
‘That dog of yours. I heard she was a holy terror’.
‘Not anymore. She’s quietened down. Anyway, you’re safe. She’s out…hunting.
‘Not my sheep, I hope’.
‘She doesn’t eat meat’.
‘She’s the only one that doesn’t then. Begod, and there’s dogs around these parts that ’ud put a hyena to shame. I blame the bastards that own them. Too busy filling their own guts to look after them…’ He sees Zoe for the first time.
‘Begging your pardon, Miss’.
I’m Zoe. I’m visiting Uncle Martin’.
‘I mean, well, he’s not really my uncle. I just call him that. My mother and him are’, she looks at Martin
‘Yeah, first cousins’.
Harry scratches his head. ‘Sissy’s family, you mean? I haven’t seen her for, oh, must be all of twenty five years. How is she these days?
‘Dead? Oh dear’.
‘She died suddenly. Last week. That’s why I’m here’.
‘Well now, I’m sorry for your troubles. I really am’. He looks at Martin. ‘You didn’t know?
‘We didn’t keep in touch’.
‘I only found out about Unc…about Martin, going through her papers. I thought it only right to come and tell him’.
‘Manchester, wasn’t it?’
‘Yes’. Harry replies before Zoe has a chance to.
‘You came all the way from Manchester?’ Zoe nods. ‘I only hope someone does the same for me when the time comes’. He pauses for a moment. ‘I have a sister somewhere in America. She went there when she was eighteen. I haven’t seen or heard from her since’.
There is silence for a moment, and nobody seems keen to break it.
‘I suppose you heard about all the excitement in town?’
Martin nods. ‘It was on the radio’.
Harry gives a little laugh. ‘You should’a been there. It was like Bonnie and Clyde all over again. Did ya ever see that fillum?’
‘They robbed banks’. This is Zoe.
‘That’s right’. Harry looks at her with a bit more interest. ‘Oh, I daresay this pair would’a done too - if we had a bank. But that’s gone west like everything else. Tinker, tailor, candlestick-maker, even the Garda station, all bloody gone.
‘But not Harry the butcher’. Martin can’t quite keep the sarcasm form his voice.
‘They’ll have to drag me out’a that place screaming. ‘Supermarket or no supermarket…’
Zoe feigns excitement. ‘ It was you! They said on the radio…you’re the butcher. They robbed you!’
‘That’s right, they robbed me’.
‘They held you up? Actually held you up? You saw them!’
‘I saw them alright. And I wish I hadn’t. It cost me nearly a thousand pounds. Euros, or whatever the feck they’re called these days. Me weekend takings’.
‘What did they look like?’
‘I told you. Bonnie and Clyde. Warren Beatty and…what-d’you-ma-caller…’
‘That’s the one’ He looks at her again. ‘You know your films, don’t you? They were wearing masks. You know, like those Spitting Image ones. But they were definitely Bonnie and Clyde.
‘The radio never mentioned that’.
‘The radio! You don’t want to listen to that thing. I’ll tell you how it was. Straight from the horse’s mouth’. He laughs. ‘Or in my case, the butcher’s mouth Ah, Jaysus, I could write a book about it - if I had the time’ He pauses to gather his thoughts. ‘I was in me office…not feeling too well after the weekend, you know?…doing me books, getting the money ready for collection… The security van picks it up every Monday…for the bank…in town. Well, you think it’s safe, don’t you? Anyway, I heard the van pull up at Supasave…Supasave how are you! They’re not a patch on my prices…
‘Of course. You grow your own’.
‘Aye, I do. The best and the cheapest lamb in the county. Anyway, I heard a bit of a commotion, so I thought I’d have a look. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was this slip of a girl and she had the van driver spread-eagled on the pavement, a sawn-off shotgun stuck in his ear, telling this other fellow, who was coming out of the supermarket, to throw the moneybags over to her. And there was Minnie Halloran, standing nearby, with her hands stuck up in the air, and ould Jamsie Boyle, kneeling next to her, praying I thought. At first I thought they were shooting a fillum, or something for the television, and I was annoyed that they hadn’t asked me.It wouldn’t be the first time, they done it before for Fr Ted or something. Then I heard someone else shouting, ‘hurry up for fuck sake, before the police get here’, and I see he was sitting in the car right next to me. He had a gun too, a small one, and he was smiling at me. Warren Beatty. That’s when I realised she was yer wan Bonnie.
I ducked back inside and made like I was working, chopping up meat, thinking about whether or not I should press the alarm. But he was still smiling at me, and the gun was kind’a pointing in my direction. By Christ, I wasn’t long sobering up, I can tell you! By this time she had the money bags over her shoulder and came running towards the car. He - Clyde - must’a said something, ‘cos she looked over. Then, before I know it, she’s inside the shop, pointing the…shotgun at me. ‘The takings, if you don’t mind’, she says to me, cool as you like, ‘and not the few quid in the till. The bag…under the counter’. They must have been watching me all along. Anyway, I nearly chopped me finger off’, he holds up a bandaged finger’, ‘in me excitement. She took the bag, then shoved me in the freezer. I counted to ten and let myself out - it’s one of those new-fangled ones, you can’t lock yourself in, thank God - and was just in time to see them disappearing into the mist. Ten minutes later, Mick Curley appeared in his tractor, saying some lunatics in a car had barely missed him on a bend, hit a tree and rolled down the slope into his meadow. Then the Guards turned up - I think they were already in the area - and took off after them.
Martin chuckles. ‘One-eyed Mick? He probably pulled out in front of them’.
‘Wouldn’t be the first time, would it?Anyway, he said they were no worse for wear, because the last he saw they were heading up into the hills’. He laughs. ‘You know Mick; ‘Begod now’, says he, I’d say they were up to no good’. They could have been headed this way’.
‘They could. Or they could have gone half a dozen other ways. Sure, there’s trails and paths all over the place. Maybe they’ve headed towards Kiltubret’ He turns to Zoe. ‘That’s where Harry keeps his sheep. They might be holed up there. In the killing fields of Kiltubret.
‘They’re not killing fields’.
‘I saw some lambs in the distance as I came up here’. Zoe waves a hand vaguely in the direction she thought she saw them.
‘They’d be mine. Unless Martin’s taken to breeding them on the Q T’.
‘You kill them? Those poor innocent lambs?’
‘When they’re big enough. There’s a slaughterhouse and some sheds there…’
‘But it’s so cruel!
‘We’re talking about sheep, for God sake. They’re bred to be et. Anyway, it’s all done humanely’. He hesitates. ‘Maybe I should head over there now…’
Martin grunts. ‘I don’t know what brought you this way in the first place’.
‘I thought I’d better drop in…warn you’.
‘It’s the first time in years you’ve shown any concern about my welfare. You must be getting soft in your old age…’
‘I’m holding out the hand of friendship. It’s about time we…look, can’t we let bygones be bygones?’ Harry holds out his hand.
‘You can stick that where the monkey stuck the sixpence. I don’t want your friendship. I don’t want your anything. In fact, I’d be just as happy if I never saw your ugly puss again
‘Shall I clear a space and you can have it out right here?’ Zoe grins.
Harry takes his hand back. ‘Hold on now. Hold your horses. And you, young lady, keep your smart remarks to yourself. It’s a terrible thing when neighbours fall out. And stay fell out. Are you saying you’re happy with the status quo Martin Og?.
‘I managed so far’. Martin’s reply is cool.
‘Well I’m not. It’s not a nice thing to meet a neighbour in the street, or at Mass, and he looks the other way. Or worse still, crosses the street. Not nice at all. D’you think I’m not sorry over what happened? Look how it turned out. Who’s the bigger fool?’ He pauses. ‘Have you noticed that the things you enjoy most in life, cigarettes, a big juicy steak, ten-year old malt, red-headed women, are what do you the most damage?’
‘I wouldn’t know - apart from the drop of malt’.
‘A woman? You fell out over a woman?’
‘The best of the quartet, believe me. The taste of good malt goin’ down…’
‘You fell out over a woman?’ Zoe’s question is louder this time.
Harry pauses and looks at her for a moment. ‘You sure she’s your - what would she be now…your niece once removed? - you sure she’s any relation at all? She doesn’t look like a Barry. She certainly has a lot of talk for one so…so…’
Zoe is outraged. ‘She! She! Who’s she? The cat’s mother? Wot do you think I am then, if I’m not his…his…? His bit of skirt, is that it? Maybe you think I’m on the game?’
Harry becomes embarrassed. ‘Good God, girlie… I…I never thought any such thing. I never meant no harm. All I said was…’
‘I know what you said. You said you don’t believe I’m his relation at all’.
‘No, I only meant it as a joke. You couldn’t be as…contrary as you are, without some bit of Martin in you. It’s just that to see him here with a… with you was a bit of a surprise. He doesn’t get many visitors, do you, Martin Og?’
‘Maybe being a hermit has something to do with that’.
‘A hermit? Ah no, you’re wrong there. Sure he hasn’t been a hermit for years’.
‘I never was’.
‘Well now, I think some people would disagree with you there, Martin Og. Sure we hardly saw sight of you for...for four or five years at least. There was one stage…’
He doesn’t finish, and when he does resume it is to Zoe he speaks. ‘We did fall out over a woman’.
‘A red-headed woman? Like John Wayne and Victor Maclaglan in The Quiet Man? Was she like Maureen O’Hara?’
‘She was a fucking bitch! All women are bitches. And men aren’t far behind.’ This is Martin.
‘Martin hates everybody, don’t you?’
‘Some more than others’.
‘That’s why he’s stuck up here on his own. He can’t stand anybody.’ Harry pauses. ‘Some people are born miserable, some have misery thrust upon them, and some grab at it and hang on to it for dear life.’
‘You’re full of shit, Sheehy’.
‘And you’re full of bile, Doherty. Sour, bilious, all eaten up inside. You’re so twisted up that if you straightened yourself out you’d be six inches taller. A bigger man in every sense. Ten years; you’ve wasted ten years of your life like that.’
‘It’s my life.’
‘Is that what you call it? I’d call it slow death. You go work in that quarry, sit in your machine all day, eat your meals in it, shit and piss in it for all I know. You speak to no one, come home here, and sit here all night, doing whatever it is you do. When was the last time you went to the pub, or a football match, enjoyed yourself? What do you do with yourself? You have more money than Solomon; what do you spend it on? If you want to punish yourself, why don’t you do it decently and wrap yourself in barbed wire or something, like Matt Talbot. Get some enjoyment out of your misery. But don’t go round being the miserable fucker that you are to everybody’
Zoe is clearly enjoying this. ‘Fifteen love to Harry.’
There is no stopping Harry now. ‘Not a hermit? I’ll tell you how much a hermit he was. For years we hardly knew he existed. Oh, you’d see him once a month, maybe. Down from the hills for his few groceries. He even gave up his job in the quarry at one stage. You’d come across his snares and his traps…’ He laughs ‘…a real Trapper John he was…but not much sign of the man himself. After a while people gave up trying to talk to him, or find out how he was keeping…’A pause ‘…well, people eventually stop throwing you the ball if you make no attempt to catch it…’ Another pause ‘… Anyway, one winter was particularly bad - snow, frost, the lot - and he wasn’t seen for ages, months in fact. A couple of us went calling on him, to make sure he wasn’t starving or anything…’
‘…I never starved a winter yet…’
‘…But he fired on us. Told us to eff off…’
‘… I thought you were robbers…’
Martin gives him a long look ‘You knew us well enough. We even brought some groceries.’
‘I didn’t want your charity. Besides, I had me pheasants and me rabbit stew. There was no fear of me starving.’
‘Don’t forget your lamb stew’
This last remark brings Martin up short. Whatever retort he had been going to make remains unsaid. The silence almost screams for someone to break it. Eventually Harry does.
‘You think I didn’t know? Don’t know? Three or four missing sheep every year. At first I put it down to dogs. But there was never any carcasses. And what dogs eat the skin and all? You were the obvious candidate. Little more than a mile away, and no one else for miles around. And you never bought any meat on your expeditions. You still don’t’.
‘Pity you can’t prove it.’ Martin finally speaks.
‘I could maybe look in that big freezer in there…’ He indicates ‘… the one you bought in town last year’.
‘And I could maybe break your neck if you tried’.
‘Thirty fifteen I think.’ Zoe looks from one to the other, not sure what to do if they should actually come to blows. She can see Zeb’s head poking out from the passageway. A look of inquiry on his face. She waves her hand for him to get back out of sight
‘Look, what was a few sheep to me…’ Harry has taken up again… ‘ I turned a blind eye. Well, I felt…all right, guilty, if you must know. You were having a bad time of it, and I felt partly to blame. But it’s got to stop, Martin. It’s gone beyond a joke now. Isn’t it? King Kong couldn’t eat that much. So you must be flogging it. Get a kick out of it, do you? Is that what turns you on? There isn’t anything else in your miserable life that would put a spring in your step every time you pass me.’
‘Would you ever take a flying fuck for yourself, Harry. I knew it wasn’t my welfare that brought you here’, Martin laughs. ‘You can’t stand it, can you? Your sheep…your precious sheep, vanishing into thin air like that. Because they’re all you fucking have these days… Maybe they were abducted by aliens…’ A pause. ‘… Do you make love to your sheep, Harry, when you’re down there on your own with them? ‘Cos you sure haven’t a woman to make love to anymore…’
‘No. But I used to make love to yours.’
Both men are now very angry; Martin has probably forgotten he is a captive. Zeb looks out from the passage again, but the men don’t notice him. Zoe waves him back again as Harry takes out a noggin of whiskey from his pocket, takes a drink from it, then puts it back. He indicates the guitar on the wall.
‘You ever play that thing now?’ He pretends to play it, singing as he does so.
You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille
Four hungry children and the crop in the field
This time your hurtin’ won’t heal
You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille.
He laughs as he speaks to Zoe.
‘You wouldn’t think it to look at him now, but our Martin was a fine cut of a man once. Even played the guitar a bit around the bars. Oh yes. And he looked the part. Ten-gallon hat, Wranglers jeans, the lot. That’s how he met Lucil…Lucy. She sang a bit too. There’d be duets…These Boots Are Made For Walking, Blanket On The Ground…you know all that stuff. Then he whisked her off her feet. Didn’t you? All the way to Nashville. Two months they were gone. He came back a poorer and wiser man’.
‘That’s not true…I…’
‘You denying it happened?’
Martin doesn’t reply for a moment. ‘She did the same to you, in case you’ve forgotten’.
‘Huh! At least I got my money’s worth. Seven years of it.’ Another knowing look in Zoe’s direction. ‘Martin thinks I moved in on his woman. Thinks I made a big play for her. Took her off him. I didn’t. She made a play for me. Not long after the Nashville…episode, she was sniffing around, always smiling and chatty, moving her body about the way women do when they’re interested. And she was sporting this big ring that he’d bought for her in a shop next to The Grand Ole Opry. Kept taking it off and asking how much I thought it was worth. I said I was a butcher not a jeweller. Then she said she was going to get it valued, and if it wasn’t worth anything she was going to give it back to him, and if it was she was going to keep it…but that she wasn’t going to marry him either way. She never gave it back, did she?’
A snort from Martin. ‘She wasn’t the giving-back kind’.
‘Don’t I know it? And she wasn’t just looking for a roof over her head either. She was looking for someone to keep her in …comfort. She was used to….well…bright lights…that sort of thing.’ He looks around the room. ‘The day you showed her this dung heap was the day you lost her. She was a mercenary bitch. Anyone could see that’.
‘You’re the one who married her’.
Ah, but I knew what I was letting myself in for. Look, she wanted a good time, and I was willing to pay for it. I could afford it. Besides, when was I going to get another fine-looking woman like that throwing herself at me? They hadn’t exactly been kicking my door down for quite some time. I thought I might get five years out of her.’ He laughs. ‘I got seven. Didn’t I do well?’
‘I don’t think you could have afforded much longer.’ Martin pauses. ‘She told me she lost the ring. Months later, I found out you sold it for her in Cork’.
‘Well now, aren’t you the quiet one.’
‘I was hardly going to broadcast it….and you and she already married. There’s more than one way of skinning a cat’.
‘Aye. And sheep too’.
Zoe intervenes. ‘I reckon you should call it quits now. Even-steven after all this time.
Harry grins. ‘Maybe she’s right’.
‘Maybe she’s fucking not’.
There seems to be little more to say. Harry takes out the noggin and has another swig. This time he offers it to Martin. Martin hesitates, then takes it and has a long drink.
‘You owe me’. Martin drinks some more.
‘No, you owe me’.
‘And I reckon you both owe me.’ Harry offers Zoe the bottle but she declines. ‘Where is…Lucy now?’
‘Rotting somewhere, I hope’.
‘Last I heard she was singing round the pubs of Kilburn. Took up with another singer’. Harry grins. ‘Seems she has this thing about country singers…’
‘She must have been cross-eyed when it came to you then’.
‘Aisy now! I could always warble a bit. Even you must admit that’. Harry adopts what he thinks is an Elvis pose and does his rendition of one of his songs.
You ain’t nothin’ but a houndog
You got me rockin’ all the time
You ain’t nothin’ but a houndog
And you ain’t no friend of mine…
‘I find the ladies like that sort’a thing’.
‘She still left you’.
Harry nods. ‘She still left me. Lucy was restless. She was always looking over the hill .Always looking for the great singer she should have been. She never got the breaks. In her view’. A pause. ‘She was average. There’s hundreds of singers, never sung outside their bathrooms, better than she was’. Another pause. ‘So she left me’.
‘You got off lightly’.
‘Legally, she could have taken half of everything you owned’.
Harry doesn’t reply for a moment, instead takes another long drink.
‘Ah yes, legally’. He laughs. ‘ You know something…? Legally, she was entitled to nothing’. A pause. ‘I might as well tell you. Look, there was no wedding. It was all a sham. You all thought we were married when we came back from our travels.
But It never happened - for the simple reason she was already married’.
‘She was never married. She fucking saw you coming!’
‘She told me it happened years ago. When she was very young. Long before she came to Mahonbay’.
Martin snorts. ‘I knew her long before she came to Mahonbay, and I tell you she wasn’t married’.
‘Why did she say she was, then?’
‘You’re asking the wrong person’. Martin pauses. ‘Women like that, they always carry baggage with them’.
‘I didn’t press too much…in case it frightened her off. Harry gives a grin. ‘We just pretended. Well, it was better than having the likes of Minnie Halloran throwing
Holy water all over you and praying for your redemption’. He takes another long drink. ‘Ah, man! That’s a big load off my mind’. It’s been eating away at me for years’.
‘Confession is good for the soul’. This is Zoe
‘So they say’. Harry takes a long look at her. What about your soul? What are you really up to?’
‘You’re after something’.
‘Alright.’ He pauses for a moment. ‘What do you do, Zoe?’
.When you’re not visiting. What do you do? What work?’
‘There’s no such thing’.
‘You’re right. It’s prestidigitator’.
‘Big words don’t impress me - especially when I don’t know what they mean’.
Martin, who has been looking from one to the other, speaks, ‘ It means conjurer’.
‘If you didn’t go to school then you met the scholars, eh, Martin?’ Harry turns to Zoe. ‘You’re a conjurer?’
‘You make things disappear?’
‘What kind of things?
‘Lots of things. Money, animals…even people. Would you like to see?’ Harry has an amused look on his face. ‘You think I’m joking? Sit there, just sit there. For ten seconds…’
She picks up her bag and disappears into the passage. Harry is bemused, while Martin, clearly, hasn’t his thinking cap on. By the time he realises his opportunity it is too late. Zeb and Zoe appear in the doorway, their faces concealed behind Bonnie and Clyde masks. Zeb is holding Martin’s shotgun, Zoe her own sawn-off.
Zeb speaks. ‘Hey Bonnie, what say we blow their fucking heads off?’