THE BLIND LEADING THE BLIND!
The offices of EireAid were located in a substantial annexe to St. Margaret’s Church, which stood in an inner city area. On a map this was identified as Spittlebury, but known locally as The Spit. In recent times this had become more of an industrial and commercial area than had been the case previously. Many of the original rows of back to back terraced houses, two up to down, had been demolished, the inhabitants scattered around the rest of the city. The area now had become a hot-bed of illicit wheeling and dealing - mostly drugs and stolen merchandise, of prostitution, of burnt out stolen and abandoned cars, of dumped household appliances and other detritus and the odd dead body, either through drug overdose, violence, or sheer wear and tear.
St. Margaret’s had once been a focal point for the neighbourhood, many of the locals being of Polish, Irish or Italian origin, who saw the catholic church, and its clergy, as a link with their past, their tradition, and the saving of their souls, and in the good old days, perhaps, in some instances, the repair of their bodies. The parish church had once been served by a religious order of friars - the Order of St. Simeon - and the annexe, which now housed EireAid, had been the living quarters of more than 20 brothers. Essentially they had been an urban based order, ministering to the needs of the poor and the destitute. Not surprisingly, this frequently included a disproportionate number of alcoholics, drug addicts and men afflicted with recognised mental health issues, but many had simply become weighted down by the sheer loneliness and isolation of their lives and an inability to lift themselves out of the gutter.
Like most other similar institutions, the Order had diminished over time right across the globe due to falling numbers of recruits and the disillusionment of the ‘faithful’, not only because of constant scandals and bad press, but as much because of the increasing secularisation of the world as a whole, and the move away from ‘the opium of the masses’ to a ‘the heroin of material wealth’. Finally, the Order found it impossible to continue their ministry, and impractical to maintain their premises, not only in in various cities of the world but in The Spit too.
So, when all this was taken over by Bernadette O’Dwyer and the good-hearted men and women of the city, the work had continued to include a good proportion of time, money and patience required to battle the ravages of alcohol and drugs. In the new wave of ‘professionalism’, Bernie decided that they needed a proper ‘project’ for which they could apply for funding, and hence the ‘ADD Up’ initiative was created. Monies flooded in from charitable trusts, from the local council, from the Irish government, from churches, from …. My goodness, from everywhere! It was a miracle! Bernie was overwhelmed, and so a great opportunity was seized and a new chapter in her career was grasped with both hands! The Alcohol and Drug
Dependency give Up (ADD Up) project was the first of many - all of them creative, all of them well funded, all of them perfectly timed and well researched. Bernie was nothing if not thorough. It is difficult to say how quickly the rest of the Board of Trustees realised that all was not as it seemed. Some never did suspect; some preferred not to entertain the doubt; whilst others were just too afraid or embarrassed to ‘make a scene’. There were, obviously, human nature being what it is, some who were cut in the same cloth, just hoping that a little slice of the proceeds might trickle their way. Bernie and Ger O’Dwyer were not people you messed with so it was not a surprise to that there were many who chose a more pragmatic option. They became ‘too old’, ‘too ill’, ‘too busy’ or even ‘decided to move out of the city - indeed out of the country’. They were very sorry, but they had to reluctantly un-volunteer!
Roche and Bobby went into the front office of EireAid, to be greeted by a nun - Sister Bridget. Though she was not in full habit, her navy blue demure calf length skirt, her pristine white blouse under a navy blue button up cardigan was unmistakable, and just in case anybody was left in doubt, there was a prominent crucifix around her neck. “Good morning, John - welcome to EireAid”.
“Good morning Bridget (no title for nuns either - Roche was not gender discriminatory!) Who is in charge now that your Boss has been removed from the scene?”
“It depends, John. I suppose each of the projects will continue to work - for the time being - under the direction of the project leaders. Poor Bernadette, God Rest her Soul, did not interfere anyway, on a day to day basis. Life goes on, don’t you know!”
“Though Bernie’s does not!” interjected Roche. “Do you have any views on that, Bridget? What does your gut tell you about that? Any divine wisdom that you can pass on?”
“Mr. Roche, as you know, we have a lot of sad and damaged people around here. God knows all. God will judge. He knows what is in people’s hearts. But I certainly could not say. I have no idea. Probably just a random encounter - drug dependency is a terrible affliction, and it makes people self-obsessed and thoughtless - even violent and determined that their need is above everything. Poor Bernadette was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. May her soul rest now in peace!”
“Jaisus, Bridget, sure I’m not at all convinced of that, you know! Not the God knowing part - that I could not say - but if he exists he is probably off hiding from all the chaos he has created - but about the randomness of it all. I think they knew exactly who it was. I never knew an opportunist mugger yet - let alone a druggie after anything - absolutely anything - to sell to get money - who would not take a mobile phone, a handbag - for Christ’s sake that bloody rock she had on her hand was worth over a grand! . …… No, we have to look in some other direction, Bridie, love. That’s a bloody fact!”
“Watch the language, if you please, John Roche. There is no need to use the Lord’s name in vain …. Even if you yourself are …… are …. In a bad mood.”
“Jaisus, Bridget, sure I ought to be in a bloody wonderful mood, shouldn’t I! The she-devil has gone to meet her maker - or more likely old nick - but here I am trying to find out who murdered her! I know that I should give them a medal, but my job is to find them and see that they are held accountable - irrespective of my own feelings. So …. I just remind you, that you, as a holy sister, should be speaking the truth, and should not be so flippant in what you ‘approve of’ and ‘disapprove of’. In all honesty, Bridget, I think we would both agree that feckin’ murder is a greater sin than bad language. You seem to be ready to comment on one, but seem philosophical on the other. If I walk around this building now, will there be not a dry eye in the house, or will it just be business as usual - and with a slightly lighter spring in people’s steps? Who is in? Who’s in charge?”
With that, at the sound of raised voices, a woman appeared at the top of the staircase. She was well known to Roche and he addressed her accordingly.
“Well, Patsy, that saves me a search of the building! Which way is your office - I take it you have an office - you being a major cog in ADD! Lead on, Bobby and me will follow you.”
Patsy Downing was tempted to argue, but thought better of it. Instead she turned and, as instructed, led the way for the two men, back to her desk, which was not in an office, but one of 6 in an open plan arrangement on the first floor of the three-storey building. Two other people sat at desks, one working on a computer, the other making himself a mug of something.
“I assume that you have some kind of interview room, or private place, where you see clients or take a nap? … Are you happy to answer questions here, or do you want to go somewhere else?” “I don’t know what you want to know. I’ve got nothing I need to say to you privately, so here is as good as anywhere.”
“Right so. What was your relationship like with Bernie - I know she could be a bit of a dragon lady! How did the two of you get on?”
“We kept our distance. I did my job. She did hers. We met very seldom, actually. Staff meetings, around the building in passing. Just, random.”
“What about outside work. Did you socialise together at all?” Patsy lifted a quizzical eyebrow and took a long time to respond. “Well you know, John …. Sorry you are obviously on duty, do I have to call you Mr. Roche, or even Detective …...?”
“Don’t be a smart arse! Just answer the question.”
Patsy shrugged, but smirked to herself, which did not go unnoticed by Bobby.
“Well, as you well know, we do not really walk in the same circles
- sorry did not walk in the same circles. I knew Gerard O’Dwyer better - apart from work - really. I’d known him much longer. Before he got …. Whipped into line!”
“What does that mean? Was he known to you, as they say, professionally, or socially?”
“What are you implying? Are you calling me a whore, or him a lush?”
“Stop fucking about Patsy and answer the sodding question!”
“’I thought it was a perfectly good interpretation of what you said: professionally or socially! Did I get paid by him for sex, or did I drink with him? Or, alternatively, did he have - like yourself, John - a bit of a problem with the booze, so did I work with him in my ‘professional’ capacity?”
One look at Roche’s ever reddening face let Patsy know that she had better stop winding him up.
“All right. All right! I had known Ger for years. I was raised two streets away from his sister-in-law, Maisie in Belfast. She is married to his youngest brother, Liam they live in Leeds now. Anyway, we had lost touch - me and Maisie - over the years, more because she was Catholic, and I was Protestant - not that it mattered much to us, but it certainly mattered to other people. During those years, you were expected - well forced in some areas - to stick with your own. We had met originally because we were both big Boy George fans” Bobby sniggered and made a face. Roche was not concerned enough about her preferences to know whether it was gauche or trendy, made no comment or gave no sign he was at all interested or amused. She reacted, however, to Bobby, since he was by far the lesser intimidating of the two, not only because they were police, and Roche was the more senior, but because it was John Roche and he knew everything - about her, about the Irish community, about EireAid, and about the local ‘drunk’ scene. There was no pulling the wool over his eyes. He was incapable of being influenced by flattery, by ‘friendship’, by tears or by tantrums. She had to try to stay calm. It was best to try to interact with the other one. It made it easier if she tried to ignore Roche as best she could, otherwise she would be a quivering wreck and he would get the wrong idea.
“I know, I know, don’t look at me like that … it was a long time ago!” she pretended to laugh and flirt with Bobby…. Before continuing her story, keeping it truthful and adding in extraneous bits and pieces to make it sound authentic, but at the same time keeping it somewhat devoid of any kind of real information which might lead them off in uncomfortable directions. “Anyway we met at a concert in Liverpool - we had both sneaked away from home for the weekend. I had nowhere to stay - I was going to just sleep in the station or doss down somewhere - but she had relatives there, and I got invited and went to stay with them too. Ger was there at the time - he was friends with one of her cousins, I think he was called Noel, or something like that - anyway Ger and Liam were there. That was where Maisie met Liam.
“I did not see him again for years until I was working over here.
He turned up at a meeting.” She pointedly looked at Roche, with a look that said you know quite well what kind of meeting. He was never known to attend any, but nonetheless was perfectly aware that others with his ‘cross’ did. He had just never seen his drinking as a ‘cross’ and had no desire nor intention of changing his lifestyle.
She continued “I did not know he had a problem with the drink. Well how would I? I had not heard about him - or Liam, or Maisie for that matter - for ages. Anyway, I was doing my best to stay sober, and was a bit concerned when he walked in that he would blab, perhaps to Maisie, and it would get back to my Mum and Dad. I had been wild at home, and certainly drank, but we had never acknowledged the problem - to them it was something I would grow out of. They probably preferred not to know. I did not want them to suddenly get faced with my failings via the grapevine back home. They moved in different circles, my parents being decidedly of the Prodi variety that most certainly did not fraternise with Papists! But you get paranoid, don’t you!”
Roche did not indicate agreement or disagreement in any way, but Bobby, always keen to be seen to do the right thing, and show that he was worldly-wise, nodded his head sagely, and looked compassionately at the woman. Roche knew the scene only too well, but more than that, he also knew the woman. He was not a fan - not that he was a fan of many people, but he knew that this particular so-called recovering alcoholic was not quite what she seemed. He made no attempt to alleviate her embarrassment, nor fill the void with any other distraction, so she was forced to continue.
“.... anyway, we barely acknowledged one another - I am sure he recognised me and I recognised him, but I guess it was embarrassing for both of us, and he was probably as anxious about the word getting out as I was.
“The next time we met was when I got the job here, and at the first Christmas Party, in walked Gerard O’Dwyer.. I knew Bernie’s husband was Gerard, and had wondered if it was the same Gerard O’Dwyer, but it was less stressful to convince myself that it was a common enough first name, and there were lots of O’Dwyers around the place. He just looked straight at me. To my surprise, before I could say anything he surreptitiously narrowed his eyes and shook his head in warning, before allowing himself to be introduced to me by Bernie, as though we had never clapped eyes on one another ever before. I just played along with it, but it was a wrong move, because it had repercussions down the line - for both of us.”
John Roche was very interested in the ‘repercussions’. He knew that Gerard O’Dwyer was involved as a major player in the drug distribution scene, ostensibly, as far as the gang hierarchy was concerned, as the underling to his wife, Bernadette. Roche, though, really had never been sure which tail wagged which dog. The world on the street was that Patricia (Patsy) Webster was a dealer working for them. Since she also worked as a
‘genuine’ employee of EireAid, as an Alcohol Support Worker, that meant that her boss - in both capacities - technically - was Bernadette O’Dwyer. Patsy and Ger were both inextricably involved in the local drug distribution scene - he well up the food chain, and her closer to the streets, but both with secrets they would rather not publicise - perhaps more secrets than even the tricky Bernadette ever really knew. Did those secrets come back to haunt her? But there were a great many secrets out there. Almost too many suspects - including Roche himself, it had to be acknowledged. The only person he could rule out, though, was himself. He was not quite sure where he was at the time…… to ask a drunk where he was in the early hours of the morning was never going to elicit a very accurate answer, but he was fairly sure he was not sticking a knife into Bernadette O’Dwyer - much as he had often daydreamed about doing so. If he was forced to hand over the case to A.N. Other, however, that ‘fairly sure’ would fast become a handicap.
Later that night, he was having a quiet drink in the Club, when he saw a face appear at the door, take a look inside, and then back out again as quickly as they could.
Leaving his drink, with a word to Liam the barman, that he would be back for it, he followed the fleeing from around the side of the building and easily saw the silhouette of the man in the glow of a security light, as he tried to hide himself between two cars.
“Well, well, well! Micky, fancy seeing you here. I thought that was you at the door! Changed your mind, perhaps? Now why might that be?”
“John ….. well, how’yer! I thought I saw a pound coin between the cars – look after the pounds, and the thousands will look after themselves, eh! How’ve you been. I hear you have been busy. Terrible thing, Bernie, and all that. Dreadful altogether!”
“Truly dreadful, Michael. But not half as dreadful as you picking on small, little, delicate women while they buy their milk and groceries!”
“Me …. I done nothing! I was never near Tesco’s! … I was in the Fiddlers all night from half six!”
“Well, that’s all right so! How could I have ever thought it was you – except that you send me a fuckin’ text warning me off, you stupid bloody bollix!”
“Me? I don’t even have a mobile phone! Not me, John, not me! You’ve got it wrong, you have, you have!”
“Ah well …. let’s just dial this nice number that I have here, and see who answers it. They must be the person I’m after. Then I can apologise properly and even buy you a drink to say sorry.”
Micky went to run away, but Roche was too quick for him. He grabbed his head and thumped it down several times on the bonnet of the car, finishing with a punch or several to the kidneys.
“God Micky you’re awful clumsy. Why can’t you hold your liquer better, and stay upright. Always walking into things. I thought you were going to wait with me while I dial this number – not a lot to ask from a drinking mate, is it? Here we go then ….”
A phone started to beep in Micky’s pocket, and John said “Well, fancy that! Now there’s a coincidence!”
Micky now, really fearful that the damage he had received was only the start of things, said …. “Please John, it wasn’t my idea. Ger was afraid that Bernie’s death might open up a bit or a box of frogs and that you might get too nosy!”
“Oh well, that’s all right, Michael. So long as you were just following orders! That’s what toe-rags are supposed to do, after all! Because you are such an obedient young man, I, too, will expect some consideration in future. When I want to know something, you will tell me politely and without lying to me. Do you hear me!”
“I do, John. Perfectly”
“Well off you go then! ….. and Micky. Two things: First, nobody said it was outside Tesco’s, and second, it is a can of worms, and not a box of frogs. You are, yourself, as mad as a box of frogs, and as bright as an amoeba!”
“Never mind, clear off now, or I will change my mind and arrest you. But you owe me …… big time!”
John heard him muttering ‘Fuckin’ tug! As he wandered away.
John supposed Micky was right, he was an ‘effin thug’, but he had long learned that to do the job properly you had to tailor the punishment to fit the crime and the criminal. Sometimes it was better to mete out their own medicine and even more Machiavellian to leave them out on the street. He would be sure to publicly thank Micky for his help and his cooperation. That should go down well with his comrades!