Cork, 2016, August 2nd, Tuesday afternoon....
The blue lights of squad cars and ambulances reflected and flickered on the farmhouse walls in South Cork. Gardaí flowed through Chaz O’ Connor’s farmhouse, his Tonner hideout, his warehouse, and unfortunately for him, his dumping ground. They scoured the property, searching, watching, waiting, whispering, and huddling in small groups, shouting for light or a comrade to help piece together why a gun fight took place in the middle of nowhere. The consequences were plain to see; bullet holes riddled the house front, broken windows, and in some cases no windows, shell casings littering the ground outside, and in the house, two spent tear gas canisters and two known criminals sprawled dead on the floor, another shot and wounded, and another, Chaz O’ Connor, concussed, but still capable of giving lip to those in his vicinity.
‘Easy. Easy, lads, watch me neck, for Christ’s sake.’
The paramedics strapped him onto a stretcher and prepared to roll him to the ambulance. Russell stood looking on with his hands on his hips.
He frowned at the criminal. ‘Fuck your neck, O’ Connor.’ The frown slowly turned to a smile at the sight of his nemesis in custody. ‘Your neck will be well healed by the time you see light of day again.’
Chaz smiled, jaded, his eyes heavy, but not wanting to give Russell too much satisfaction. ‘Ah, my old buddy, Detective Russell, can’t you see I’m in need of medical attention?’ Chaz could see the Detective shake his head and noticed the relief spread across the stress lines etched in his face. Russell waved at the paramedics to usher Chaz out of his sight. Strapped to the stretcher, Chaz grimaced as he bounced across the gravel, before the paramedics snapped up the wheels and pushed him into the ambulance. Once the double doors closed, Chaz stared at the ceiling of the ambulance and swallowed his pride. The clinical smell of the sanitized interior and the rhythmic blare of the sirens were a sobering reminder of his situation. He tried to scratch an itch on his cheek and found his hands were tethered to the sides of the stretcher. He moved his head to look around, and the walls began to quiver. A surge of nausea reached his throat before he managed to swallow the stinging bile. He stopped moving, shut his eyes and waited for his head to stop spinning.
The Shades are all over the house…All over the yard. What the hell am I going to do now?... What a fuckin’ day?!...At least, I’m still breathing…still alive.
Chaz snorted, opened his eyes and started to laugh, not a hearty laugh as he was accustomed to, but a ridiculous laugh, bordering on a cry, as the hopelessness of his situation dawned on him.
‘What the fuck are you laughing at?’ Detective Brendan Coyle sighed, shook his head and looked out the back window of the ambulance. ‘Arsehole.’
Chaz quietened to a whimper and closed his eyes once more.
I have no fuckin’ idea. I’m some langer, alright.
A lump formed in his throat and tears welled on his eyelashes.
Cop the fuck on, Chaz.
He coughed lightly, clearing the lump in his throat and blinked away any sign of feeling sorry for himself. He realized that a headache was better than a bullet, like the one lodged in Greg, or dead, like Pinch, Johnsie and Joe.
How did this happen?...Yamaguchi...And that gobshite, Tom Shaughnessy, left me for the pigs.
An anger surged through Chaz and he burned with a fury that caused his head to throb. His heart monitor began to beat a faster rhythm and the paramedic checked the machine. Chaz caught a glimpse of the paramedic’s face as his eyelids flickered and then darkness.
* * *
The ambulance reversed into the Accident & Emergency of Cork University Hospital and the back doors flung open. A semi-conscious Chaz, with an oxygen mask fixed to his face, and his eyes half-opened, rolled through the A&E auto-doors. Moments later a second ambulance carrying a groaning Greg, screeched to a halt, its contents spilled out the back and flowed into the hospital after Chaz. The news networks already carried the breaking news about the shootout at the farmhouse, but Dr. Miho Kato was still missing. The connection had yet to be made and the reason for the shootout remained a public mystery. The experts surmised a gangland dispute, but no matter what, Dr. Dan Collins and his staff set to work on both patients without prejudice.
* * *
The light was too bright, burning, in fact torturing his eyes, so he closed them again. His eyelids were heavy anyway, better kept closed. Chaz could hear the ward, pulsating, beating a steady rhythm of busyness, healthy people whizzing by outside in the corridor and around the room, while those in beds and perhaps lucky enough to have the energy to be mobile, experienced a different time lapse. Chaz turned his head and opened one eye halfway. He was thirsty and could see a glass of water on the table beside him. He tried to move his tethered hands and they jerked against his bed. An IV was set up and although he was getting fluids, he just wanted to wet his lips, moisten his mouth, dampen his throat. Was that too much to ask? Both eyes blinked open and Chaz began to croak. He tried to raise his bandaged head but gave up quickly and lay back down.
Ah, my fuckin’ head... What did that Japanese bastard hit me with?
He glanced around to see three other beds, all with curtains drawn. Occupied or not, there was no way to tell. If there were patients in the beds, they were quiet and that suited Chaz.
What time is it? What day is it?... I’m so fuckin’ tired.
He yawned and blinked the sleepiness out of his eyes. He reached for the call button and pressed it.
Less than a minute later, a nurse turned into the room and approached his bed and a Garda appeared behind her. She checked his IV.
‘Well, Mr. O’ Connor, how’re you feeling?’
She lifted his chart and scribbled information on the sheet. Chaz looked at the Garda who stood at the doorway and then half rasped, half whispered his request to the industrious nurse.
‘I’m thirsty and I’ve a throbbing headache, Nurse, can you gimme anything for that?’
The nurse extracted medicine from the cabinet next to the room entrance and pressed a button next to the bed, elevating Chaz’s torso. The Garda folded his arms, staring at the criminal, probably hoping he’d be a smart bastard and he might have to restrain the gangster. Chaz wasn’t in the mood, he swallowed the pills, sucked water from the straw and lay his head into his pillow once more.
He gasped and smiled at the nurse. ‘Thanks, love.’
The nurse half-smiled and nodded.
Chaz blinked his green eyes and cleared his throat. ‘Sorry, what time of day is it?’
The nurse pointed at the clock on the wall behind Chaz. ‘Half past eight.’
Chaz turned his head and squinted at the red letters on the digital clock and noticed “PM” on the bottom righthand corner. ‘Is it still Tuesday?’
The nurse smiled, raised an eyebrow, and nodded.
‘I see. Thank you, nurse,’ said Chaz and he relaxed his head onto his pillow.
The nurse glanced at the Garda before lowering the bed once more. ‘Can I get you anything else?’
Chaz smacked his lips and made a sorrowful face while he sighed. ‘No thanks, I’m grand.’
‘OK.’ she nodded, turned, and walked towards the door. She pressed the foot pedal to pop the disposal bin lid and tossed her gloves, before walking out past the large Garda.
Chaz opened his eyes and caught the Garda staring at him from the door. Chaz curled his upper lip into a half-smile and winked at his warden.
There was a chill in the air as dusk faded to still black. Temporary spot-lights lit up the back of the farmhouse, highlighting the rain falling in a slant right to left as the Westerly winds picked up. Russell had already found OpiPharm barrels under a tarpaulin sheet, confirming Wayne O’ Sullivan’s story about the Tonners’ drug route. The forensic team continued to comb the barn after a Garda found a bloodstained floor. More dried blood on chains hanging from the rafters made for a grim picture. The canine squad brought dogs to the farmhouse and Russell watched them paw and root at the ground, and sit panting, in various positions all over the back yard. But Russell decided to wait, to be patient and not count invisible chickens. The rain made the ground too soft for heavy machinery, so men with picks and shovels were about to start a dig of the yard.
Could it be? Could it be possible that Miho Kato is buried here? What about Larry Kelly and his wife, or maybe they’re sunning themselves in Spain?...
Russell stuck his hand out from under his sheltered position at the backdoor and the rain wet it up to the edge of his sleeve. He looked at the wet glossy sheen on his skin and snorted nervously.
Maybe there’s nothing in the ground, the dogs found bacon bones and it’s a big waste of time.
Russell drank in the evidence found so far, but somehow, he struggled to deal with the unexpected end. The thrill of the chase no longer spurred him. The motivation that drove him to never stop was all but extinguished. He thought he’d feel more satisfied, more fulfilled, but instead, he felt lingering doubts.
So far, no sign of the bank money, maybe that’s in the ground? The OpiPharm barrels are evidence, but I need a lot more than empty barrels and blood stains to put O’ Connor away…Right now, he’s the victim…Sweet Jesus!
Russell took a deep breath through his nose and smelt the diesel fumes of the mobile generator. Water drops gathered on the verge of his hood before dripping to the ground. The conclusion was near, he could taste the finality, the inevitable sweetness of the end of Chaz O’ Connor, an ending worth waiting for. He had tasted it before, but it turned sour in the delivery yard at OpiPharm Industries. Still, Russell swallowed the sweet taste again, but this time he subdued his excitement. He lowered his expectations and leaned his back against the wall. He had learnt from his recent mistakes and waited while listening to the chug-a-chug of the generator.
‘Detective!’ shouted a Garda in wellingtons, standing in a hole up to his waist, ‘Over here.’
Russell pushed away from the wall and couldn’t help his heartbeat increasing. He pulled his facemask over his nose and mouth, while walking and slipping his way across the muddy ground to the hole. He held a firm grip on hope but didn’t want to rush just in case his hope disintegrated. He didn’t want to be disappointed when they pulled something unimportant out of the hole. The bastard was in hospital under guard, but Russell needed solid evidence. He peered down to see a muddy man-made material and he shouted over the noise of the generator. ‘Get it up! Let’s see what we’re dealing with.’
A few minutes later, four Gardaí wrestled a large roll of carpet to the yard surface. Russell squatted, and his gloved hand reached down to unroll the carpet. Despite his face mask, the stench of death made him wince. A woman’s arm spilled from the roll and then two bodies. He didn’t recognize the woman, but immediately recognized Larry Kelly. The surprised look of murder still etched on his face. A possible improvement on the look of greed he so inadequately masked when he was alive. A Garda cameraman recorded the evidence and Russell counted the first of many chickens.
The friendly calling came from the left and Chaz watched a young cleaning lady buzz around the ward. She pushed a bucket with her mop handle, squeezing, splashing, wiping, squeezing, splashing, wiping, a sequence uninterrupted until she reached his bed. She stood the mop in the bucket, placed her hands on the side of his bed and looked around. Her butty frame caused her shoulders to hunch even further as she leaned over his bed, giving her a slightly intimidating form. Chaz eyed her and then glanced at the door. It was closed.
What’s up with this bitch? I don’t know her. Do I?... Should I call that dumb shade out there?
Chaz didn’t panic, but his tethered hands made him feel vulnerable. He looked at her face underneath her peaked cap, but still nothing, no recognition.
‘I’ll be back for ye later, alright?’, she whispered. ‘Be ready.’ Her eyes widened to emphasise the instruction.
She had already started to hum and recommence her measured cleaning pace. Chaz stared at her and then looked at the door. It remained closed, quiet, undisturbed, but he knew a Garda sat on the other side, reading a paper, or checking his phone or doing some other shit to kill the time until they could lock him up and throw away the key.
Be ready?… For what, like?
‘Hey! Hey!’ whispered Chaz in a labored quiet shout. ‘What d’ye mean?’
But she was already pushing and rattling her bucket towards the door. Chaz frowned and shook his head. He relaxed and placed his head on the pillow. Blinking slowly, he took a deep breath and sighed. Silence enveloped the room. Stay sharp, but tiredness was catching up with him and he closed his eyes. Sleep will help him to stay strong. Minutes later, the main light in the room extinguished in favour of a soft wall light near the door. Chaz began to drift and welcomed sleep.
CREEEK! The room door opened, and the cleaning lady returned, tippy-toeing her bulky frame at speed through the darkened room. Chaz woke and blinked at her. He raised his head while she set to work on freeing his hands. He rubbed his sore, sweaty wrists, yanked the IV from his arm and twisted out of the bed. He sat on the edge, squinting, dizzy and tried to focus. He glanced at the clock, and noticed it was almost midnight. It didn’t seem like it, but he must have slept for a couple of hours since the cleaner came the first time. He looked at the open door and blinked at the sight. A Garda lay on the ground in front of the doorway, tea spilt from a mug in his hand and his cap lay upside down in the puddle.
Chaz grabbed the woman’s arm. ‘Who are you? What’s goin’ on?’
She glared at him. ‘Look, we don’t have time for this shit. If you wanna get outa here, follow me!’
She threw his shirt and jeans at him. He grunted as he pushed his feet into his shoes and followed her to the door. She stopped, grabbed the door frame and eased her head into the corridor. Chaz grimaced away a piercing headache while buttoning his shirt and he watched the peak on her capped head turn right and left. Directly outside the door, another Garda slumped on his chair, a half-drunk mug of tea on the floor. They stepped over the Garda lying in front of the door and moved quickly to the left down the corridor, picking up speed when the stairs exit came into view. They descended two flights of stairs and Chaz blinked back the pain, fighting against a dizzy spell. Sweat gathered, darkening the edge of his bandage and he placed a hand on the wall to steady himself. She pushed the exit door bar and they crashed through to the rear of the hospital. Breathing heavily, Chaz squinted in the darkness and welcomed the cool air, gulping the freshness. A running car waited about twenty meters away and the lights flashed to encourage even more haste. The short woman raced to the car and Chaz raised an eyebrow, surprised at how rapidly she shifted her diminutive stature. She got into the passenger seat and Chaz followed with nothing to lose, flinging himself into the back of the car. He had no sooner shut the door when the rear wheels spun and the car hurtled away.
Chaz lay on his elbow for a moment, catching his breath and wincing with a throbbing headache caused by hell’s drums. He grabbed the two front seats and pulled himself forward.
‘Don’t get me wrong now, I’m glad to be outa that kip, but what the fuck’s goin’ on?’
The woman turned in her seat. ‘I’m Clara… Clara O’ Rourke.’ She shook her head and grimaced at him. ‘They killed my fuckin’ Johnsie, like.’
Chaz squinted at her.
Johnsie, that big fucker and you?…I have no clue who you are girl, but...
Chaz nodded slowly and smiled. ‘Ah, Clara, right, Johnsie mentioned you alright…’ Chaz wet his lips and blinked back the pain. ‘…Listen, I need to go to Glanmire, can ye bring me? I’ll make it worth yer while, like.’
Clara glanced at the driver and then nodded.
August 3rd, Wednesday….
The mobile phone bounced around the bedside locker and then slipped to the floor. Paul Russell raised his head slightly off the pillow and half-opened one eye. He smacked his lips and heard the racket that woke him coming from under his bed. His one open eye read the bright green numbers of his digital clock, 1:22, and he reached his hand to the floor, feeling around the carpet.
He leaned over the side of the bed, and easily spied the source of his discomfort. He grabbed the phone and threw himself back on his pillow.
Glancing at the number, he sighed. ‘What is it?’
‘Boss, I…it’s O’ Connor….’ Brendan Coyle hardly knew how to continue. Russell sat up in the bed, wiped his eyes with a thumb and forefinger, and was wide awake now. He filled his lungs and his heart stopped in his chest. He stared into the darkness in silence, waiting. He blinked and then it came.
‘He’s…he’s gone, Sir.’
Russell’s suspended heart plummeted from his chest, skirted off his rib cage, finally coming to rest in the pit of his stomach. He closed his eyes and exhaled. Taking shallow breaths, he tried to keep his weakened stomach in check.
‘Hello? Sir?...Are you there?’
Coyle’s distant voice attracted his attention and Russell retrieved his dropped mobile phone. ‘Yeah, I’m here.’ He swallowed, and his breathing regained a semblance of normality. ‘What the fuck do you mean, gone?’
Brendan Coyle paced the hallway of his home in his underwear, not long after being woken himself. He struggled to find the words that could possibly appease his boss.
‘I just got a call from the hospital, a night porter found both uniforms unconscious in front of O’ Connor’s room. There’s no sign of him.’
Russell flicked on his bedside lamp and threw his legs out of bed. Couching the phone between his ear and shoulder, he put on his jeans. ‘Get a fugitive alert out to all patrol cars and stations in Cork. Meet me at the hospital in twenty minutes.’
Russell cut the call and tossed the phone on the bed. He buttoned and zipped his jeans, pulled on his socks and found a shirt. Then suddenly stopped, standing in the middle of his bedroom, he stared at the floor. Like a man who had lost a sure bet, conned out of his life savings, disillusioned to the point where nightmares were now the new reality. He closed his eyes.
What in the name of God is going on? How can this be? Gone? Who the fuck would help O’ Connor?…
Russell’s self-pity turned to a self-loathing, and the hatred was eventually redirected at O’ Connor.
I should’ve stayed at the hospital. How can that bastard have escaped!?
He took a deep breath and buttoned his shirt. The veil of sleep withered away, but underneath he remained exhausted. Tired, sick and tired of this perpetual joke, the never-ending torture that is Chaz O’ Connor. He walked into the hallway, grabbed his hanging car keys from the wall and slammed the front door behind him.