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JUST ANOTHER DAY AT THE RACES?

John Roche was the first investigator to arrive on the scene - some might say he was always likely to be first there - he had probably not been home, and the Irish Club was his second home in any case. He was a good detective, but he was not such a sound human being. He would give his age as 38, but he was less sure than one might expect of that. The questionable nature of his birth, the when, the why, the how, was of less interest to him - nowadays - than it was to those who heard his story and found themselves intrigued by his lack of interest in it all. He had long since learned to bury the past - at least for sanity purposes - by slave-driving himself, and those around him, when he worked, and by a constant supply of Jameson’s when he did not. It was difficult - even for those closest to him - to know whether, as they say, ‘he had drink taken’, because more than likely most of his days and nights he would indeed have ‘drink taken’, but he had become an automaton and functioned at a level of intuitiveness and doggedness whether or not that was the case, so it had ceased to raise eyebrows. He gave his superiors a torrid time, and his underlings an even more torrid time. But he was simply impossible to replace because he was just the best bloody Sherlock that any of them had ever had the pleasure to work with. Pleasure? Not always - in fact, hardly ever. Privilege, maybe, but God it was hard for the people around him to feel it - all the time, or even some of the time! He was horrible, but brilliant. He was obnoxious, but irreplaceable.

He had been contacted - not only because he was never known to willingly sleep, and because he gave out merry hell if he was left out of the loop - but more strangely because the caller who had rung three nines had asked for him in person. Though the bank of phones which receive 999 calls were not located within the strategically placed police stations around the county, the call handler had had the presence of mind to recognise the significance of this - or perhaps the fear of Roche’s tongue - and had passed the information on. The caller was insistent. Said Roche’s name over and over, though he did not seem at all disconcerted or distressed by his horrible experience: the fact that he had found ‘some ol biddy in a pool of blood and piss behind the Irish Club’. Jasmina, the call handler, told the station when she buzzed it through, and wrote in her compulsory notes, that he was very much detached and controlled - almost matter of fact - about the ‘find’ but when the call handler said she would pass it on to the Merryvale police station, it being on their patch, it was then that the fellow got agitated - indeed abusive - effing and blinding and asking her if she was stupid or what, and had she not heard what he said. The man who had to be informed was MR. ROCHE. She was impressed that despite all his abuse and the sudden loss of his rag, that he constantly referred to Detective Inspector John Roche as Mr. Roche.

Ultimately, when the case was concluded and justice once again prevailed, this was a crucial stepping stone in an otherwise bogmire of obfuscation and misinformation, much of it deliberate, some of it accidental and more of it just came with the territory. There were always some people who just found it difficult to tell the unvarnished truth - or the truth at all, for no apparent or clear reason. They just had to weigh up any truth, analyse how that truth might serve them better untold or somehow misdirected. Whether indeed they should deny the truth at all - just because they might be threatened by it in some way they could not at the time quite see. Sometimes just to poke that old bugger Roche in the eye and spoil his day.

So soon after John Roche arrived, the local uniformed officers erected tape and sealed off the area, though at 4.30 in the morning, there were, as yet, not that many people around. Being a Thursday in mid-October, the weekend revellers were not there to provide an audience. The distance from payday, the temperature of the night, and the day of the week proved both useful and an annoyance to Roche. He was glad that there were not a constant stream of gawkers hanging around, but he was less glad that so far nobody was coming forward to say they had seen something, or someone. Not even the caller, who had given his name as Brian Boru and had slammed the phone down when this was challenged.

It would need the forensic blokes to decide what had happened, how long ago, and just what, or who, they were looking for. Accident or …. Not accident? Unlikely, certainly, but if she was drunk, she could have just fallen and hit her head on a broken bottle or something? Roche did not for a moment think so, but he would need to wait in any case however impatient this made him. He had no conception - and even less patience - with the fact that not everybody was up and about at 4.30 in the morning, just waiting for somebody to call in a murder - unlike himself.

The doctor who was on call to act as Medical Examiner was the last to arrive, some hour and ten minutes after she was telephoned - which did not go down well with John Roche. He knew for a fact that she only lived seven miles down the road, on the outskirts of the city, how could it take so long to throw on some clothes and drive over! She could not even blame the traffic this time of night. Bloody inefficient. Too fucking cavalier by half. No sense of urgency! The fact that she was a single mother with two children, and an au pair who was entitled to at least some time off even if that coincided with a murder which nobody could have foreseen, cut absolutely no ice with him.

Not that Dr. Maguire saw it as her duty to explain any of that. She had worked with Roche many times before. She was Irish too - born in Limerick, though her mother was from Cavan and her father was from Belfast - and she felt no awkwardness around Roche. She was used to blustering and taciturn men who thought they were the bee’s knees and the spider’s elbows - she had been brought up by one (also a doctor); had married one (also a doctor) and had divorced one (the same doctor). Even when she arrived, in actual fact, she was unable to really get at the scene because her way was blocked and though she did her best to squeeze through, much of what she needed to examine was still hidden under the chassis.

Roche was chomping at the bit. Anxious for the scene of crime officers to check the vehicle - bloody great Chelsea tractor of a thing - so that he could get some kind of proper perspective. Great monstrosity blocking his view! It was important to know how long ago it happened. Might have been hours ago - nobody would have seen much - hidden back here in the poorly lit car park, fucking great truck in the way shielding the scene. Roche cursed to himself, but then shook his head and muttered. “Ah well, we’ll find the fecker. He - or maybe she? - can be bloody sure of that! They won’t get away with it! Not here, not, fuck it, in my own back yard! I won’t have it! I won’t fuckin’ have it!”

Finally, they were able to move the vehicle and Dr. Maguire could start her work. Eventually, when she had as much detail as she could get under the impractical circumstances, with daylight approaching, people beginning to muster, and the rain beginning to drench herself, the team, the scene and the evidence, she packed up her bag and said that she would be able to say more when she had had time to do a more detailed examination. Indoors, in comfort, dryness and warmth. Roche, in a state of shock, unusual for him, merely grunted. He was glad to see the back of her, but barked orders at the SOCO team to be sure to get a move on, cover what needed to be covered, measure what they needed to measure, and try to look as though they knew what they were doing before the whole bloody lot was lost down the drain washed away by the now down-pouring rain.

As soon as she was turned over onto her back, it did not need anybody else to identify the victim. They would certainly not be putting out photofits or working with dental records. Anybody that was Irish in the city knew exactly who this was: it was Bernie O’Dwyer. Queen of the Irish community, Director of the Irish Club and self-proclaimed ‘Protector’ of Celtic best interests for miles around. An altogether nasty piece of work; a rogue, a villain(ess); a wheeler-dealer and the Irish ‘Godmother’ …. Allegedly, of course! There had been no instances of horse’s heads in beds or St. Valentine’s Day massacres associated with her, but times were different, location was different, opportunities were different. To a frightening extent, however, mentality and greed were exactly the same: all that had altered was the level of sophistication and the myriad new ways in which such business could be pursued and protected. Nowadays such crime bosses seldom needed to take such drastic action, so much of their ‘crime’ was carried out at arm’s length and on paper or via sham (or sometimes perfectly legitimate) cover businesses.

John Roche considered this. Christ …. What a feckin’ turn up for the books! There were certainly very pointy horns to this dilemma! He was probably Bernie O’feckin’ Dwyer’s archenemy! Her Moriarty. Under the circumstances, perhaps, for accuracy purposes, those roles should be reversed: him Sherlock; her Moriarty! If there was one person who had got under his skin since he arrived in the city - long before he made any kind of name for himself in the forces of law and order - it was Bernadette Rosario O’Dwyer. For Pete’s sake, if he was not himself, and himself was not landed with the job of investigating it, it would be himself that should be brought in for immediate questioning - the number one, odds on, stitched on favourite: God, this was really bringing out the Irish in him. He needed a drink!

Despite his attempts at the contrary, it was impossible for those around him - D.C. Sharon Pretty, D.C. Bobby Shillington, and the rump of the Scene of Crime people and the uniformed personnel guarding the perimeter of the site - not to notice his reaction to the victim’s identity. He was just not quick enough to cover this with an even more than normal brusqueness and lack of charm. Despite the fact that it was Sharon who got the biggest share of his rudeness on this occasion, that was merely because she had the misfortune to be standing the closest. If anybody witnessing thought that this demonstrated a contempt or dislike of women, per se, they could think again, because to his credit Roche treated everybody the same - badly! Regardless of sex, race, creed, age, sexual orientation or disability, Roche was Roche was Roche! He had no ‘other side’, no real appreciation of any of those differences. He saw ‘people’. Not even villains and ‘worthy citizens’. In Roche’s world, anybody could be villainous, depending upon temptation and circumstance. He had known so-called ‘villains’ who had shown infinitely more compassion and generosity of spirit, than many of the so-called

‘good’ citizens. In his view, the holier the outward demeanour, the closer he needed to look at what was underneath. With the thugs, the ‘honest’ common-or-garden criminals, the in-your-face pimps, prostitutes, shoplifters, muggers, murderers, scumbags most often you saw what you got! He knew what he was dealing with. He did not like them. He would not tolerate them. He would bring them in - and down - with not an ounce of compassion or compunction, but …. that did not mean that he in any way believed that ‘the rest’ were any different - just because they were better actors, or better liars, or just plain luckier!

A very myopic and damaged soul was John Roche, but one created and - one might be tempted to use the word nurtured

(though the connotation of the word ‘nurture’ tends to imply something warm and cuddly which would be extremely wide of the mark) within a society of what he saw as bigots and deceivers. And with many, he was probably not wrong. He knew that world, that society very well. He had its number! None of them were worth a light - well almost none of them. Even he had a soft - well a softer - spot for one or two, but they were not here, not now, and not likely to alter his opinion of the universe in general. And his own countrymen in particular. Roche, despite his birth and his ancestry, was decidedly not a champion of his native land nor his inherited religion. He did not like anybody much, but he disliked the Irish and ‘the church’ more than most.

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