Stepping into the Post Office for a break from the rain on Thursday morning, I heard J.F. talking about “Unseens.”
Now what class of a criminal is this, I wondered. Hanging back by the card stand. I listened on, in order to garner the full facts.
—Unseens, she repeated. You know, them that are there but which you never see.
Moriarty was after losing old J.F.’s post again anyway. He scratched his flaky scalp as he checked again his red in-tray, and under the scratchcard holder, where he sometimes put things that had no other place.
—Who are they now? Like ghosts? Or aliens?
—No! I’m talking about them on the phone and online. The ones who ring you out of the blue even though they don’t know you, always asking questions. The ones who take the oil.
—Ah right, he said.
My fingers knocked a load of cards then they both looked at me.
—Garda Roe, J.F. saluted me with a gloved hand. She always calls me Garda Roe, even though everyone else in the village has been trained to call me Bill.
—Nothing to see here, I joked.
—I must go, Michael, she said to Moriarty. I’ll call in for that package later.
—Tell me, I said to Moriarty when she was gone. How is she?.
—She’s in low spirits, he said. An awful way. She’s watching the oil tank like a hawk the whole time.
—Has she caught sight or sound of the culprit?
—She has not. She’s going on now about getting a dog like the Murrays have.
—Many are getting dogs now.
—Don’t seem to trust that their local law enforcement officer can do the job.
I noticed him flinch well enough.
—Ah they do, Bill. It’s only the extra bit of security in these dark times.
—I pleaded with the powers that be not to cut the hours at the barracks, God knows that I did. But I continue to do what I can.
But it did get me thinking, all that about the Unseens. Because the people aren’t going out anymore; they’re holding fort always. They’re battening down the hatches now as the dark days roll in, and I wonder what this means for the survival of the barracks.
Bingo Attendance, Town Hall, 14th of 5th: 9
Number of punters in McGowans, 14th of 5th, 10pm: 2
That nine at Bingo is down from twenty-two on the same date in the previous year, and an average of eighteen over the past two years. McGowans I understand even less. These people know that I don’t check the roads. They are well aware that I fill my quota by stalking the out-of-towners that feel liberal behind the wheel once they get beyond the Owenboy River. So why are local people leaving poor McGowan to rot behind his own counter?
It’s the Unseens, I’m convinced of it now. These faceless shadows have my people pulling curtains at eight o’ clock in the evening, and peeking out of them the night long, watching the road through the torrents of rain that come out of the sky. They have my people looking for dogs. Installing perimeter lights that are nearly impossible to sidestep.
9th of 8th
Saw two working men carry a transformer between them, the transformer hanging between them like a kid wanting to be swung. They were coming out of the ghost estate, packing up their van probably—I have reason to believe they were sent out to fix a gas leak—and they were talking low. Scheming, I reckon. Of course it was difficult for me to determine what exactly they were scheming on. These are two bucks working for an out-of-town outfit, so I have no prior knowledge of character and nothing to go on by way of context. But the circumstance can offer a theory:
Half-drowned as it is, only one house on that estate is now occupied. It is L.L. that lives there—young female, two children with her, a girl and a boy, no known partner, previous address somewhere in Longford—and she complained of a gassy smell about the place recently. So I reckon these two bucks from god knows where come in to do a steady day’s work fixing the gas leak, and they start to thinking that there’s an awful lot of copper pipe in those empty houses, and an awful lot of electrical cable with no life running through it. And maybe one man remarks to the other that there is a black market for these types of materials and a lot of money to be made. And maybe they progress to thinking that maybe they’ll call down here of an evening and liberate said piping and cable. That maybe they’ll switch off the van lights two-hundred yards down the road and slip quietly in. By torchlight, they’ll work over flooded concrete floors. They’ll make the calculation aloud:
—Two houses a night, twice a week for three months. We’ll have the fukken place picked dry. We’ll be lining our fukken pockets!
But maybe they haven’t vouched for the local law man who lines himself across the town nightly, who stretches his soul out over the rainy lanes and soggy fields and dripping houses, who patrols the land like an all-seeing eye.
In fact, I remember one night, patrolling the estate as always, and, because she was away (this verified by Moriarty), I was able to step up to L.L.’s back door. And going through her refuse for evidence, I found a very interesting note, all crumpled up but legible still. It said, in shoddy handwriting:
—We are two buses parked in the depot at night, side by side, waiting to be away from each other so that we can be busy with strangers and missing one another, and yet longing for that cold tarmac and that cold security light of the early hours in the depot, when it is just us again, two buses alone, at night, side by side.
I thought long and hard about that. I went back to the barracks, took eight cans of beer from the Wheelie Bin of Confiscations, and pondered that which I had read.
I read it over and over, drinking each can in turn. I wondered for ages whether the note was meant for me and wondered did she know about my patrols. I thought then that if that was true why did she scowl at me so when she saw me? Why also would she not give it to me? So I decided finally to file it away with all the other evidence I have on her. I marked it INCONCLUSIVE.
19th of 11th
Moriarty came to see me this Wednesday evening last, as he always has. He’s not so good for information as he was, mind going soft the way it is, but he’s still a decent enough source. He’s my only source if the truth be told. Not even the slightest bit of gossip, would the folks of this town give me, even after all the work that I’ve done for this parish. They stick together like glue.
I gave Moriarty tea, and I fed to him no less than three Kimberley biscuits, and I sat and listened while he scratched at his head and tried to remember everything.
—Tell me, I said, of her beyond the GAA field.
Moriarty scratched that flaky scalp of his again. I’ve often imagined cracking it open off the corner of the formica table.
—Ah but well you know about her. She’s paranoid since the hand came through the kitchen window that day.
—I still have two suspects in mind about that. I’m gathering evidence day by day, but it’s a sensitive operation.
—It was a terrible incident what happened. She says she feels as bad about stabbing the buck—if it was a buck—as she does about being burgled.
I clenched my fist. It’s a natural reaction when I think again about the knife.
—It was very fortunate she was not hurt, I said.
—Only that she was waiting on that phone call from England she would’ve been at Bingo.
—It’s one of my biggest regrets that I wasn’t there when needed.
—That’s right, you were struck down that time.
—I was, that very same evening.
—By measles, wasn’t it?
Moriarty asked this innocently, the fool.
—Shingles, I replied. I was felled for two weeks.
We sat in silence a while. I could see Moriarty feeling out a way to get another Kimberley. I could see his eyes searching the wall, pretending to be swimming in deep tides of thought. But I knew he was only thinking of biscuits.
—And Fitzgibbon? I asked.
—Still losing oil, he sighed. Still talking about getting a dog.
—What about unseens? I asked.
—I don’t know about them, he said after a long time.
—Well, I said, standing. I don’t mean to rush you but I have accounts to settle.
Grasping, he returned again to the subject of the old heifer J.F., and her paranoia with regard to the siphoning of oil.
—She’s in the house all day, he said. She’s even re-arranged the rooms and furniture so that she can keep an eye on the tank while she watches her programmes.
—I’ve checked for her myself and there’s certainly no leak.
—And yet she leaves the house only twice a week, Thursday for her pension and Saturday for the shopping.
—Well I know it, I said.
—She won’t even go to the Bingo anymore.
—Tut tut, I said.
He can fuck off for his Kimberley biscuit, him.
There was just enough light after that, so I got the bike out from the side room and stole out the gate for a quick spin along the ditches.
They are like friends accompanying me on my way, those ditches. They understand the efforts I make and do not judge me for the things I have had to do in the name of justice. I pondered as I went the time it’s been taking J.F. to report the act of the oil being siphoned from her tank. It has risen from fourteen hours to fifty-two hours. That is a big jump by anyone’s calculations, and could mean several things. It could mean that she now has her own suspicions and doesn’t trust me or have faith in me. Or it could mean that she is losing it. Either way, she needs a break from the siphoning, because it’s not helping her case or mine. The unseens count all these numbers. Measure everything.
Well, I cannot say that I will miss the taste, or crawling through Brady’s ditches. Neither will I miss putting my arm in where I cannot see what is going on. I will, in the short term, miss watching from a safe distance the face of J.F., a soft face like my own mother’s, confused sometimes, aghast often.
31st of 12th
I know now that it cannot be long until it’s all over. The barracks will close, despite my efforts. The opening hours are slipping—only eighteen hours per week now. Any fool can see the future. There are all kinds of Unseen at work here, and I like not one of them.
And when it’s over? I shudder to think. I’ve spent so many years here in the barracks. I’ve birthed so many notions and beliefs. And I’ve plastered and painted too. Fixed windows, mended doors. This place is to me as a child or a wife, a thing I’ve worked at and loved. I know every crack and creak of her. We are like two buses parked in a depot, side by side, wanting only to be busy and away from each other, busy with strangers and missing each other, and yet longing for that cold tarmac and that cold security light of the early hours in the depot, when it is just us again, two buses alone, at night, side by side.
Everything I have done, I have done for the barracks.
1st of 2nd
Good luck at last! Arrested, on this Tuesday gone by, a man in his early forties, slim build, 5’ 10”, fair hair, drinker’s complexion.
After a severe storm the night before it was a clement morning, a morning to give the lungs hope, and on my patrol I was not overly put out when the back wheel of the bicycle began to lose air at a ferocious rate. It is an unruly brand of flint in this part of the country and in fairness it has ripped through no less than thirty-seven tyres in my many years stationed here. It was a bad part of the road, so I trotted up to the church where I could replace the inner tube safely. It was about 0830. I was pulling out the tube when I heard a cough.
I stopped and listened.
Fr. P.’s car was nowhere in sight and I was certain from all known evidence that Fr. P. could no longer stomach the walk from the parochial house to the church.
Stooping low, I moved to the gate and saw the church side door ajar. Forced by the look of it.
Sauntering up to the side door, I let myself in, very quiet but very casual.
It took me a moment in the dim to ascertain the facts, but very quickly I spotted him. Stretched out on one of the middle pews, left of the aisle as I faced the altar. His head rested on a filthy sack, which I could imagine contained clothes and maybe a tobacco packet. My heart raced at the thought of real, hard evidence, but I moved slowly, took my time, until I stood over him and he woke properly.
—Jesus Christ! he screamed, jumping up.
—Did I wake you? I asked.
He knew well that he was in trouble.
—It was a bad night, garda, he said. I needed shelter.
—It was a bad night, I agreed. You sought shelter in the Lord’s house, is it?
He stood and looked around him as if it was the first time he’d seen the place. There was an empty flagon of cider collapsed into itself on the knee rest.
—But you didn’t think to ask, I said, for the permission of His Noble Self?
I nodded to the statue above the altar for dramatic effect.
—It was late, he said.
—You took, I replied, without asking or being given.
—Garda, he said. I’m at a low point in my life. I’d been walking all day. There’s no one gives a lift or shelter in this county anymore.
—So blame the locals, is it?
—No, Garda. I meant nothing by it.
I had the better of this one without even trying. It was like all my Christmases arriving at once.
—I’ll tell you what, I said. Come with me and we’ll figure out what to do with you.
Like a shamed schoolchild he gathered up his things and followed me. Did I even spot a singular tear coming down the cheek?
We walked the two miles to the barracks. The air was warm and in fact he was not bad company at all. His name was Hoxton and he came from London. He said he’d been wandering the country for months, sleeping rough. He said he’d a history of mental problems.
At the barracks, I sat him down at the table. I gave him tea and a sandwich.
—Look, Hoxton, I said. Embarrassing as this is for me, I need to cuff you.
—Do you have to? he asked.
—Trespassing, criminal damage. I’d be neglecting my duties if I didn’t. I’m sure we’ll get all this ironed out but in the meantime I have to follow the rules like everyone else.
I maintained a casual pose, rising and walking to the press like I didn’t care for the whole situation, sighing as if formalities bored me.
—Here, I said, pulling the handcuffs from the press and tossing them to him. Stick them on yourself.
He began to fix on the cuffs, reluctantly.
—Behind the back, I corrected him. Here I’ll help.
And gently I helped.
Once they were on then I went to the special hook on the wall and took the green key from it. I put the key down on the table and then slid it right under his nose.
—What is this? he asked, picking it up between both hands. Maybe he thought it would unlock the cuffs!
—It is evidence, I said.
—Evidence of what?
—You know, I said.
I sat across from him now, smiling. My time had come.
—How would I know? he asked, again like a schoolchild.
I placed my hands on the formica. Leaned forward. I was now very serious.
—Are you telling me that you don’t know about your own operation, stealing cable and oil from the people of our town for months? That this key in front of you, which I found on your person in the church, isn’t the key to a storage unit over in Bally, which, when I brought you there, was found to contain at least thirty containers of stolen oil and enogh cable to wire an estate?
He wriggled in the handcuffs now, like a fish.
—Do you have an alibi for the 14th March last? I continued. Did you attempt to enter the house of Mrs. Maureen Stack that day, only to be foiled by her deft skill with a kitchen knife?
—I’m homeless! he cried.
—That’s not an alibi, I said.
—You’re insane! he screamed.
—No, I said. I’m lucky. Lucky that I caught you at it today. Lucky that your campaign of terror in this parish, or the campaign of whoever you work for, is at an end.
I stood over him then and I spoke calmly.
—Now, there’s a room back here that I’m going to put you in until the detective gets here, and we can do this the easy way or we can do it the hard way…
I scold myself now. With all the worries about my own effectiveness, and all my self-pity about the barracks maybe closing, I had forgotten to believe in pure, simple miracles.
Danny Denton is from Cork, Ireland. He has published fiction and prose in various publications and anthologies, including Southword, The Stinging Fly and Funhouse (forthcoming). His novel, The Earlie King & The Kid in Yellow, is forthcoming from Granta Books in January 2018.