Just for a change.....the opening chapter to Belfast Shakedown.........
“Belfast is a shit hole. If the world had piles, that’s where they’d be.” The man who spat these words in my face ended up in hospital with a broken jaw and two black eyes. My bruised hand was purely a coincidence. Nobody runs down my city. That’s my job. On a particularly dull and boring Belfast day in my first floor flat overlooking the river, with a couple of empty warehouses shimmering in the foggy smog, I tried to find a position where the eyes of the toy leprechaun on top of the bookshelf did not follow me around the room. It was impossible to hide from the damn thing. It sat there between James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’, essential to impress the ladies, and Seamus Heaney’s ‘Death of a Naturalist’, just essential for mind, heart and soul. Here I was, a private investigator, outwitted by a little green lucky charm, which had been given to me as a fun gift by an old ex-friend who seemed to enjoy taking the piss out of the Irish. I remember thanking him from the heart of my bottom as I poured, nay wasted, a perfectly decent pint of Guinness over his head. We have not spoken since but his spirit and spite haunts the leprechaun who in turn haunts me with static but deadly eyeballs. Some self-imposed threat of a lifelong curse stops me from disposing of it, so we have a silent pact just to get through each day without unnecessary rancour. Over the years, I have assigned a very important task to the green chap. He carries my front door key in a slot between his buttocks and to save my legs I throw him out of the window to whomsoever I authorise to come up and see me. It is an arrangement that works and we just get on with the job of being a key-minding leprechaun and a private investigator.
The doorbell rang, just a normal ding-dong, although I had promised myself a new chime of the Black Velvet Band as soon as I could afford the luxury of it. I looked out of the window to see Limp Donnelly’s bald spot. I opened the window, shouted down for him to get ready to catch the leprechaun and then threw it down towards him. In true tradition, he raised his hands above his head and waited for the key to succumb to gravity. When it missed Limp’s hands and banged into his forehead, he shouted an expletive that seemed to echo across the river, bouncing between the warehouses before evaporating into the stillness of the afternoon.
I had hoped that Donnelly had brought a fresh bottle of Bushmill’s with him to warm us up. The flat was as cold as a solicitor’s heart, only because I was too tight to turn on the heating on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I looked forward to the other days but as this was Wednesday, I was wearing several layers of clothing and waiting for liquid refreshment as a necessary remedy for my blue nose and shivering limbs.
Donnelly had indeed delivered the goods. He had a plastic carrier bag containing two bottles of booze, which he presented to me with glee, unaware of the demon bag’s singular threat to the planet. He took the view, supported by me incidentally, that plastic bags are made from products of the Earth, so there is nothing strange in their manufacture to frighten the Earth, just, it would seem, Earthlings who get off on gloom, doom and despondency. He put the bottles on the kitchen table and incarcerated the plastic bag with all the others accumulated under the sink in a cupboard akin to Alcatraz for bad, bad things. There were a couple of tax demands in there too. He poured generous drinks and sat down.
Donnelly and I had a long history of friendship, moral support, pub-crawls and love of poetry. We would write and perform poetry every Thursday night at The Stanza, a venue for writers to meet, share verse, get drunk and put the world to rights. It was the perfect antidote for a private investigator used to crime with all its nasty traits and evil outcomes. It was certainly a welcome sideline as business had been a little slow of late. In practical terms, Limp was expert at finding his way around Internet search engines and he seemed to know enough people to gouge out information when I needed it most.
“Have you written anything new for tomorrow night?” I asked.
“No,” said Limp, “remember Eddie Hennessy is doing a rare performance.” Hennessy was a world famous poet, with global poetry sales in respectable numbers. He was a Belfast man in his late sixties and wrote some of the most wonderful words in literature. He had never forgotten his roots, his upbringing, the locality that had shaped him and his friends and supporters. I had forgotten his appearance at The Stanza because the gig was a last minute arrangement. But I was looking forward to it because I loved him and his canon.
The phone rang.
“This is me, is that you?” I enquired.
“Yeah. Sticky, it’s Barney at The Stanza.” Barney was manager, caretaker, chief cook and bottle smasher at the venue and a friend of mine who had fed me in the hard times and made sure I got home when I was mugged by alcohol. He had one tooth in his mouth, but ironically a great warm smile. I detected nothing but anguish in his voice.
“What is it Barney?” I asked.
“I’ve got a problem over here,” he said, his voice a little higher pitched than normal.
“What is it? Booze sales down and you need me to bump up your income?”
“I wish it was that simple Stick. It’s Eddie Hennessy.
“What’s the matter?” I asked. “Don’t tell me, he needs a killer limerick to open the show and he knew he could rely on me?”
“Shut up, will you?” Barney was in no mood for unwise cracks.
“Barney, what’s going on? What’s wrong with Hennessy?” I said with my hand clenched around the receiver and with tight ripples forming on my brow.