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HOME IS NOT WHERE THE HEART IS, JUST WHERE THE BED IS

Having left Sharon, and looking into the Irish Club, he had thought better of remaining there, lest people start talking about

‘poor Bernie’ - he could not bear the hypocrisy of it all - and he would be tempted to say things he had best not say. Even when he had drink taken, he was, for the most part, a detective at heart, and he had long years of understanding himself and his tongue. He knew he was better off, tonight, not running the risk of shooting his mouth off, though he did wonder if to do so might loosen somebody else’s tongue, and it might elicit information which could prove useful. So, because he was - for him - relatively sober, he thought discretion was the better part of valour, and buying a bottle of whiskey from the bar, he made his way home.

He never took the lift, which was frequently not working anyway, and almost always smelled like a urinal, so climbed the three floors wearily up to his flat.

John Roche did not spend very much time at home. He did not see it as ‘home’. Home was something that other people had. He had a doss house, that now and then he used to sleep or think, or hide from the world. He had nothing there that other people in modern times might have – comfort things. He had a battered, ancient black and white television, no computer, not even a radio. The kitchen had the various appliances that kitchens have, because they had been there when he moved in. But certainly the oven - if it was clean - was clean because it had never been used. There was certainly dust and grime on the hobs, but that was purely the accumulation of dirt that had grown over time - not the result of any kind of cooking. The kettle was used certainly, and now and again a toaster, but more often than not he had not remembered to buy any bread to toast, or it was green with mould, and even for Roche inedible. The most obvious things around the kitchen were the bottles. Some - indeed most - empty and discarded, some half full and precious.

He sat down heavily in a battered and well-used armchair - which mostly acted as a bed as well as a chair. He seldom made it as far as the bed, which was permanently unmade, with bedding which had decidedly not seen the inside of the washing machine since the last time his ‘sister’ had plucked up the courage to visit him - hopefully having first taken the precaution of having a tetanus injection! They had laughed about that. Deirdre was not his true sister, but they had been together in one of the many foster places he had been in during his adolescent years, and they had struck up a friendship, a completely platonic friendship, which had lasted over time, and though they met very rarely nowadays, they kept in touch sporadically and he certainly thought of her as his family - his only family in fact. Deirdre lived in London and worked in some kind of advertising agency - Roche had never quite understood what she did, and had never really been interested enough to ask her. She had married, another Irishman, called Padraig, and they had three children now. Roche had gone to the wedding, and had been persuaded to be Godfather to the middle child - a son, Connor, but the two men - Padraig and Roche - had never really got on. Deirdre did not seem too bothered by this, and was no more likely to listen to Paddy telling her she should ‘drop that ould drunkard’ than to

Roche if he had told her to think again about marrying that ‘sanctimonious creep’. She kept her own counsel, and ignored both of them.

He dosed in the chair, waking uncomfortable and wet where the glass he had been resting on the arm of the armchair had tipped over. He cursed - as much at the waste of alcohol as the fact that he was now damp and soggy. Opening his eyes with difficulty, he saw a woman sitting on a second chair. He could not see her clearly, but since he was both half cut and half asleep, that was not surprising. However, despite his current state of confusion, he was alert enough to know that she should not be there. How the hell did she get in? Who was she! As he adjusted his vision and his brain to the reality of the place, the time, the circumstance, he was only just in time to see her properly before she was gone again. Jaisus, he thought, the DT’s had caught up with me at last! He walked over to the chair, and felt the seat, almost to see if it was still warm from the presence of a person sitting on it. But no sign, nothing to tell him one way or the other, whether he was going nuts, or whether he had had a visitor that he could not remember bringing home, or inviting. He was sure - well almost sure - that he had come more or less straight home. He was sure, almost sure, that he had not brought anybody back with him. Who would he invite? He had never done it before - and even he was not so stupid as to think that this was the kind of ‘home’ you invited somebody to visit, except Deirdre. Deirdre - could it have been her? She had a key. But she would not just go - no, he had to be accurate, she did not just ‘go’, she had disappeared. She was there one minute gone the next. It could not have been Deirdre. She would have lambasted him for the state of the place, and would be, right now, banging and crashing about cleaning and sweeping, and washing and dusting. No, not Deirdre. In any case, bless her, this one was younger than her. She was not much more than a

girl - not more than …. Well a teenager, perhaps sixteen or so. Who the hell!....... Needless to say, it was impossible then to sleep - who slept when strange young women were flitting about and letting themselves in and out of the place. God almighty, he was really in a bad way now. He had better shake himself out of it or he would end up like Jim Kelly wetting his trousers, and sleeping in the gutter…. And being bathed by Marian! If that was not enough to sober a man up, then nothing would!

The flat was minute - a room (that another tenant might honestly be able to call a lounge because it might feel ‘loungable’); a kitchen, already described; a bedroom just big enough for a double bed (which was just as well because that was all that was in it) with piles of clothes in all four corners, as well as more carpet-like across the floor; and a bathroom - with an unprepossessing bath, a grimy half screen protecting the flow from an ancient shower head; and a dingy toilet, well overdue for a good clean. So it obviously did not take Roche long to satisfy himself that she had not just moved herself somewhere else in the flat. She was definitely gone. The door was not closed properly - but it rarely was. He was, for a policeman, less than careful with his own security and that of his possessions. Deirdre would say that it would take a brave burglar, with no sense of pride and positively no fear for his own health, to enter the place without protective clothing and a face mask. She could have just gone out the door! Yes, that must be it. He was just not fully awake quick enough to see her go. He was relieved to have partially sorted the mystery of where she was, but who she was, now that was an even greater mystery.

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