She had a mouth that could raise the dead. It had raised me plenty over the years, but I’d never been close enough to Rosaline’s orbit to do anything about it.
I brought her a third martini and her tongue had loosened enough to share some sage advice with me as she leaned back in the little snug. “Never fuck anyone crazier than yourself,” she said, sucking an olive between those rose red lips.
I would have done well to listen to that advice, but it was already too late. I was hooked like a flopping pollock, mouth agape and eyes glassy. Guess I even forgot to breathe. Like the day you find a tenner in the street and you know have to gamble on it because if you stick it in your pocket it will just be spent on mundane things and go too quick, but if you risk that windfall on the ponies or the dogs or even the feckin’ hurling, the fey folk will grace you with gold and all will be well.
That’s how it had been with Rosaline today. A thousand times I had watched her pass by, inhaled her perfume and wondered what it was like to slip your hand down those silken curves and feel her purr like a Jaguar. A thousand and one I expected it to be, but she stopped and crooked a red-taloned finger at me. “Seamus,” she cooed. “You busy?”
What passed through my head? A cloud of smoke fumes, a raging fire, a sea of lover’s tears, a madness—a farewell to the old life. The goddess had smiled upon me. She let me buy her a drink. Rosaline even let me speak. All I managed to stammer out was, “Can I get you another?”
“I got a problem, Seamus,” she confided when I brought that third cold stem to the table, making sure not to spill the tiniest drop. I had belted a measure of Jamie at the bar so I sipped my Carlsberg slow enough, although nerves tempted me to inhale its bubbly gold. “It’s a problem what needs fixin’.”
I nodded a little too quickly, until I suddenly imagined I might look like one of those dolls they sell with the spring in the neck so all they do is nod and nod. “Maybe I could help you out, Rosaline.” Smooth like, you know? She would never have guessed that a guy like me could come to the rescue, but suppose I could prove myself—I’d be in like Flint.
“I had a feeling you might be the guy who could come through for me.” Rosaline got one of those long long cigarettes she always smoked and I fumbled through my pockets to find a lighter for her. Here’s a gal not keen on the forthcoming smoking ban. I held the blue plastic thingummybob up to light her coffin nail and allowed myself the opportunity of perusing her features. Up close—closer than I had ever been—her dark eyes drew me in like a bottomless pit, but one that I figured might have a soft landing at the end of it.
“What can I do for you, Rosaline?” My mouth wanted to go on talking but my brain had enough sense to shut up. I tried to keep my eyes from sliding down to the generous orbs of her chest that looked as if they would just fit the shape of my fingers. It might have been easier if her dress didn’t plunge down halfway to her navel. Rosaline probably never thought about the effect she had on men.
“It’s that bastard Reynard.” She leaned forward and laid her hand on my sleeve. I didn’t mind the better view it offered.
“Reynard, eh? He’s a foxy one.” A drop of sweat trickled down the side of my neck from behind my ear. It tickled something awful, but I didn’t want to wipe it away.
“He’s bugshit insane, is what he is.” Rosaline blew out a big lungful of smoke. “I ought to have known better.”
“But you’re shot of him now, right?” Things were looking up for me. Rosaline on her own, a good thing and no mistake. If I could help her out in some way, I bet she’d be grateful. Oh yeah, I could picture the ways she might show her gratitude, not all of them involving her being on her knees. “So much to the good.”
“Except for one thing.” A look crossed her face that froze me. The tasty pictures in my head evaporated, too. I never wanted to be the cause of a look like that; it sent a shudder through me. For such a lovely young thing she could look awful hard.
“What’s that?” I finally managed to croak.
“He took MacGuffin.” The icy hatred in her voice cut the air. Her eyes flashed as if an errant flame had been caught in them and burned hot. A woman full of fire.
“My Scottie!” She stubbed out her cigarette with vehemence. “He’s got my little boy.”
The dog, you eejit. I nodded, comprehending at last. “What he do that for?”
“Because he’s an evil, heartless bastard.” Rosaline leaned forward again, her hand on my arm. It made my pulse race again, but for a different reason now. “I want you to get him back.”
My idea of problem solving for Rosaline had extended about as far as cleaning the spark plugs in that tetchy little Mini she had or maybe tinkering with her plumbing. I was handy like that. “So you want me to go over there?” I had hoped the words would sound more self-assured than they did.
“I want you to get your arse over there and get my dog back.” Rosaline’s grip on my arm tightened. “And if he’s hurt a hair on his shaggy hide, I want you to kill him.”
I swallowed. “You think he’s…hurt him?”
“I’m just sayin’—he might not be that stupid, but I wouldn’t put it past him.” She sat back and threw the last of the martini down her red throat. “You go get my baby and I’ll be properly grateful, I can tell you, Seamus.” Rosaline smiled again, dazzling this time, her hand unconsciously raised to her heart to show me how much she cared. My eyes didn’t mind the location one bit. I felt like one of those cartoon wolves though I don’t think my eyeballs actually popped out of my head.
“Right, I’ll set out directly,” I said, getting to my feet with the soft curve of those cling peaches settling down in the back of my head to inspire me. “Be seein’ you.”
“I’ll be in my flat. Drop him by.”
As I walked along the canal, I did my best to weigh the image of Rosaline’s fine breasts against the rather daunting picture of Reynard MaConner. Everyone around here knew Reynard, whose name was never, ever shortened to Rey.
Not that he was terribly violent on the whole, I must say. Well, not as rule. Rumour had it he had been the one to shoot Declan but nobody could tell if that was bluster, rumour or fact. There were guys who were all talk and there were guys who were all action; I guess Reynard had enough of the latter to make you take the words as gospel.
I could never figure out what exactly he did, but I knew where I’d find him. I turned off the canal onto Henry Street and there was the Den. I hadn’t been inside it for a couple of years, but it looked the same on the outside as ever—which is to say it looked like a place better off condemned. I took a deep breath and went im.
I regretted that deep breath immediately. There’s funky and then there’s funk-key. The Den definitely would not be winning any Guinness Best Pub awards that year or any other. The gloom of the fusty corners found its match in the sullen landlord who presided over the unpolished bar. There’s an art in catching a barman’s eye, a game most pub owners know well. The Den’s pint-puller assiduously ignored my presence. I would have to earn the right to a bevvie.
A murmur of conversation at the back led me to my target: Reynard occupied himself in conversation with a familiar figure. If I hadn’t known he was years in the grave I might have mistaken him for John Peel. He certainly looked like Peel, but he sounded just like Frank Carson. This was not advantageous. But it gave me an opening.
“English Bob, long time no see.” I clapped him on the back as if welcoming a long lost friend. English Bob of course was Irish and lived in America, but if you don’t get the joke, I’m not sure I could explain it.
Reynard regarded me with a cool gaze, but Bob glared at the interruption. “What is it you’re wanting, Seamus? I’m busy.”
“Not a thing, not a thing.” I spread my hands as if abashed by this hostility. “Actually I wanted to have a word with Reynard.”
There was something lupine in Reynard’s smile. “With me? Do I know you?”
I decided to stick with the glad-hand, friendly feller approach. “Not at all, not at all.” Repetition, repetition, repetition echoed in my head. “I’m just doing a favour for a friend.”
“Is this person of interest any friend of mine?” Reynard sipped his Guinness and his black eyes bored a hole through my forehead.
I tried to ignore the trickle of sweat meandering down between my shoulder blades. “That’s a tricky question, Reynard.” I kept hoping they’d ask me to sit down with them, but there was no offer.
Reynard exchanged a smile with English Bob. “Seems like a simple yes or no to me, is that not right, Bob?”
I laughed. I meant it to sound all matey and friendly but it seemed to get a little strangled in my throat. “Well, not being privvy to the details of your life and friendships, I hesitate to make a reckoning of where you two stand.”
“You’re an eejit, Seamus,” Bob said with a grimace.
“Oh, I dunno,” Reynard said with a smile, one that would not have looked out of place on the fox who just broke into the henhouse, “I think he’s just being polite and careful like. Take the weight off your legs, why don’t you—er, Seamus, was it?”
I sat down with grateful speed. “It’s a delicate matter,” I admitted.
Reynard leaned over. “So who’s your friend then?”
I swallowed. “Rosaline.”
Reynard didn’t blink. “She send you?”
I chose not to consider the other possible meaning to that phrasing and simply answered, “Yes.”
Reynard smiled. It broke across his face like a rising sun. “Was she tearful?”
“No, not tearful exactly.”
“Was she drinking?”
“That she was.”
“Ah, well,” Reynard said with a sideways glance at Bob. “She’s missing me for sure.”
“Is it not the truth?”
“Well, ah.” How to explain? “That may be, sure enough.”
Reynard looked interested now. “But not why you’re here then?”
“Ah no, not quite.”
“Get to the feckin’ point then,” English Bob broke in.
“Patience, man,” Reynard said with a smile that suggested anything but.
I felt myself nodding a little too fast again. “It’s the dog, don’t you know.”
“What dog?” English Bob asked with genuine curiosity.
“The dog?” Reynard asked, clearly surprised.
“She wants the dog,” I said as quickly as possible, finding myself out of breath at the end. Nonetheless, uttering the words allowed me a sense of peace restored, like an overdue piss when your bladder’s bursting.
Bob and Reynard both stared at me for a moment with blank looks, then Reynard started laughing. His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, and real tears fell from his eyes before he was through.
It was not the reaction I had been expecting.
Given Rosaline’s anger and her fear that her ex might hurt her wee doggie, I had thought I would be stepping into the middle of a hard fought custody case. I envisioned the little dog stretched thin, me a-hold of one leg and Reynard to another. It now appeared I had miscalculated.
“She can have the mangy mutt,” Reynard said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I don’t know why she didn’t take him with her in the first place.”
Relief flooded my veins. This was going to be a lot easier than I thought! I could almost feel the curve of those cling peaches in my palms already. “I can take him off your hands right now, if you like.”
Reynard gave it a thought for about it a minute then nodded. “No time like the present. Back in a few, Bob, my old friend.”
He lived just around the corner, over on the canal. I followed him up a flight of stairs to the red door of his flat. I could hear a barking within. “Sounds like he’s been missing you.”
Reynard gave a kind of laugh as he unlocked the door. “It’s not me he’s been missing.” As we stepped into the entry the shaggy ebony beast ran over barking like a banshee’s best friend. The sound deafened in the small space, punctuated by the tappity tap of his nails on the wood floor as he circled around us. His wee tail wagged like a windscreen wiper.
“Nice doggie,” I shouted.
“Feckin’ moron,” Reynard said, aiming a swift kick at the dog’s hindquarters as he pressed on into the sitting room. Clearly the Scottie had grown accustomed to this habit, for he moved just enought to elude the steel toe of Reynard’s boot and continued his deafening yapping. Reynard gestured for me to take a seat on the floral sofa that seemed strangely out of place next to the black leather easy chair and the big oak coffee table.
As soon as I sat down, MacGuffin leapt up into my lap and stared into my face as if memorising my features. I found it unsettling but at least he had shut up.
“He likes you,” Reynard said with sneer.
“More of a cat person really,” I said, nonplussed by the intense stare of the shaggy dog. I patted him gingerly, afraid he might start yammering again or worse, bite me.
“So why did Rosaline send you?” Reynard said, a hand casually resting on his crossed knee.
I blinked at him over the dog’s head. “To get the dog.”
Reynard smiled. Something in it gave me a chill. “Why did Rosaline send you?”
I shrugged. The terrier’s fetid breath huffed in my face as he continued to stare at me like I was a raw chop. “I was handy.”
“So, you’re not looking to make time with her because you know she’s thinking she’s free of me?”
I tore my gaze away from the pup to look at Reynard. His bared teeth no longer looked like a smile. I swallowed. “I’m just doing a favour for her. Old mates in the neighbourhood, like.”
“I don’t remember you from the neighbourhood.”
When did he pick up that gun? I could feel the sweat pop out on my forehead. I petted the dog trying to think what I ought to say. “I guess we moved in different circles.”
Reynard laughed: a short bark not too different from the Scottie’s yap. “Different circles, that must be it.”
“I just happened to be passing, bought her a drink, she asked me.” I ruffled the dog’s fur hoping I looked more calm than I felt. “Didn’t think it would be much of an ordeal, on my way really. Bit of shopping then.” Shut up, you’re babbling, you eejit!
He got up slowly, the hand with the gun slipping down casually as if it were just a natural part of his arm. “She might think she’s shot of me, but Rosaline hasn’t copped on to my persistent nature.”
“You don’t say,” I said, patting the dog now as if he were on fire.
“And that includes giving the wind to the hounds sniffing in her wake.” The gun no longer hung lazily by his side. “What are you after, Seamus?”
“Just this dog, that’s all, for sure, Reynard. No ideas above my station.” If I’d had them before, they had evaporated with what was left of the whisky. I looked up at the gun pointing at me. “Perhaps I should be on my way now.” I couldn’t really move though with the dog on my lap. For a small pooch he weighed a load.
“Why in such a hurry?”
“You’re a busy man. I know you’ll be wanting to get back to your business with English Bob.” I tried to shift the dog but he stuck to me like a burr. “I’ll just be on my way.”
“I don’t think so,” Reynard said, raising the gun.
I couldn’t actually say how it happened exactly. My mouth still hung open when MacGuffin lunged toward Reynard and snapped his teeth around his arm. He swore an oath—Reynard not the dog—but it got drowned out by the Scottie’s growls.
The two of them struggled, the dog making gutteral sounds and Reynard matching him snarl for snarl. I sat on the edge of the sofa uncertain what to do.
And then the gun went off.
Reynard fell hard. MacGuffin ran off across the room with the gun in his mouth, tail wagging to beat the band like a bodhrán player with St. Vitus, as he loped in circles around the room.
“Here boy, here boy.” I clapped my hands. I didn’t really want to look too closely at Reynard who lay very still. “We need to go.” My head filled up with a pounding that seemed audible.
The pooch paused by the doorway to the kitchen, the gun still clutched in his mouth. His look suggested mischief; we had no time for that. “C’mon, laddie. We’ll get you pies and bones and everything you want, just let’s go now!“
He barked, tail vibrating a mile a minute, the shiny gun in his mouth.
Knowing it was the wrong thing to do, I lunged for him and he dropped down, forelegs on the floor, wiggly arse in the air. Thinks I wanna play! He darted past me, the gun tight in his teeth. I launched myself on him and we rolled across the floor until I heard another explosion and a fire seared through my gut.
But I got the gun when it dropped from his mouth and slid across the wood floor. The Scottie barked at me, hoping I would play some more. I hazarded a glance at Reynard, but he lay where he had fallen. A pool of blood had grown from the hole in his head.
I staggered up to my feet. Not so bad, not so bad. I limped into the bedroom and found a belt in Reynard’s drawer. I coaxed the doggie over and looped it through his collar. The two of us exited the flat with all due speed, which at that point wasn’t nearly enough.
It wasn’t so far back to the flat where she waited. I passed the usual crowd of students from the uni, knocking back a few naggins and looking for amusement. I saw a pair of Gardai but they were occupied with some Spanish tourists. I finally climbed the steps to her flat and rang the bell, feeling a bit faint. The ache in my side now shouted louder than the blood in my ears.
“Rosaline!” I called out her name and rang the bell again. The dog hopped up and down with delight, glad to be home I supposed.
At last she answered. Her sleepy look quickly evaporated as she saw her little babe. “Macca! My baby!” She scooped up the dog and swirled him around, cooing.
“Bit of trouble—” I said, then fell back against the entry way wall. I found it hard to breathe.
“That’s all right, my baby’s back!” Rosaline murmured baby talk to the dog who licked her face vigorously.
Something about it seemed wrong, but I couldn’t think what. I slipped down the wall until I was sitting on the floor.
Rosalind finally noticed me and set the Scottie on the parquet. He trotted over to lick my face for good measure. “So who got the worst of the deal: you or Reynard?”
I coughed. “Him. I’m still mobile, right?”
“Is he dead?”
“You sorry if he is?”
“I’ll have a mass said for him, but I can’t say I’ll cry.” Rosaline looked down at me from the doorway. “You all right there, Seamus?”
“I will be, soon as I can share a little time with you.” I coughed again and something wet filled my throat.
“Maybe in the next life,” Rosaline said as she blew me a kiss and stepped over me, closing the door to the flat. “C’mon, Macca. Let’s get you a steak and kidney pie, baby.”
The dog gave a quick, sharp bark in my face then turned and trotted after the seductive sway of his mistress. I noticed his arse had the same little wiggle to it just before I slipped into the forgiving arms of oblivion.