James Conway, founder of the Rathmines Writers workshop in 1990. He was chair of the Dublin City Council’s Art focus group in 2004. His work has been broadcasted on RTE’s Sunday Miscellany. His work has been published in Ireland’s own, Connections UK, A Fistful of stories, Circle (Mallow), Encounters. A story of his was shortlisted for the William Trevor short story competition in 2006.
By James Conway
Inspector Mulligan got into the black Ford Mondeo. Radio reports spluttered out information about road blocks and change of shifts. The car skirted the edge of the forest. The high trees of oak, elm and ash populated his vision as they sped on the narrow roadway, bumpy at certain points as the wheels dipped into watery pot holes.
In the distance even through the car windows he heard the thin scream of chain saws severing the sacred limbs of trees. The forest represented stability. To some hell bent on adoring nature its aesthetic ruled their eyes and nasal passages until they were drunk with a verdant happiness. The forest settled the countryside, took the naked pain of isolation away. Passing the long stretch of trees Mulligan hummed a tune he’d not thought of in years. Something from his show band years.
“Approaching the cabin now sir” the driver said as they turned a sharp bend leading to the end of the passable roadway.
“From here on in it’s a dirt track too bad for the tyres, I’ll just park her on this patch sir, if that’s okay?” he added.
“Let’s be seeing this drop out man Zach whatever his name is” Mulligan said determined in his mind to grill the scrawny new world traveller about his friendship with Marcus.
To Mulligan’s surprise the entrance up to the cabin had a pebbled front giving the dark brown appearance a sense of respectability. Jokers play tricks he thought, it was probably done more out of his wanting people to think him safe. The old farmers round here were suspicious of new comers. Zach probably seemed like a man from outer space, straight in from Mars. With his long hair, beard and outlandishly bright coloured clothes he was a ringer for a druggy.
Once out of the car the policemen’s feet squelched on the pebbly front and Zach was alerted.
“What do you make of this place?” Mulligan turned to his driver O’Hara.
“It s kept ok, used to belong to a retired tax inspector from up the country. Now it is rented by this new world guy Zachery”
Zach Wolf drew back from the narrow window as the guards approached the door. He awaited the heavy knock. In the frame of the doorway he appeared thin, gaunt and his large blue eyes stood out against the pale face that surrounded them.
“Gentlemen can I help ye at all?” he said in a lazy drawl.
“Learning some of the brogue all ready then?” Mulligan asked in a sort of mimicking tone.
“What do you know about Marcus Dunphy?” the sergeant asked.
“Marcus Dunphy, well let me see, suppose I have met him a couple of times. I haven’t seen him in a while though” Zach replied brushing off the enquiry with a confident sort of casualness.
Mulligan stared him out and finally said.
“I don’t have any patience with liars. I ask you once again. And he repeated the question this time in a sterner tone.
“Can’t help you gents, haven’t seen Marcus in a long time. He blows with the wind you know”
“We have witnesses who say you were seen driving Marcus into town last week.”
“Do you like dolls?” This time it was O’Hara who asked the question. He reminded Zach of some kind of altar boy only grown up. He bet he was a good little boy always clean who said his prayers. He understood how he was a driver, too refined for the beat.
“Dolls Zach, do you like them?” O’Hara repeated.
“Look all round you the place is littered with them. Strange for a grown man to collect dolls. Take this one for example” And he picked a china doll up from a mantelpiece.
“Here catch” O’Hara threw it to Zach who had to dive awkwardly to save it from falling to the floor.
“What are you doing guard? Have you some kind of objection to my dolls or what?”
“Or what now there is an interesting expression. Could mean anything couldn’t it?”
Zach became agitated his safe little world was being threatened.
“Don’t upset Garda O’Hara Zachery he can be strange shall we say.”
Mulligan paced the room. Zach wondered what he was thinking.
“Permission to break up all the dolls in the room sir?” O’Hara asked like some kind of kid bent on devilment.
“Do you have a hammer Zach or will I smash them with my truncheon?”
“You are fucking mad do you know that?” Zach screamed as O’Hara lifted his stick ready to crush the china doll.
“Once more Mr. Zachery Wolf have you seen Marcus?” O’Hara asked.
“No Mr. Nancy boy garda I have not.” Zack’s face was becoming stiff like a mask.
“What did you call me you weirdo coming over here scrounging off this state?”
A strange sort of sour grin developed across Zach’s face knowing he’d gotten his own back on the police, the pigs, the filth call them what you like.
“Alright, yes I did see Marcus last week, he told me he was chasing a bit of crumpet, didn’t say who it was though. Is he in any sort of trouble then?”
O’Hara had discovered a photo at the back of the room. It showed a group of people
at a campsite, three men and three women. To the right O’Hara recognized two figures one was Marcus with his arm round Aileen Kirwan, a woman murdered lately in the area. Marcus was smiling broadly.
“Who took this picture?” he asked.
“I did” Zach replied. His eyes had become somewhat strained, as if expecting some sort of torture. His senses were on extra alert.
Mulligan came from behind and caught Zach by the hair. He dragged him over to the picture. Zach was grunting saying “Lay off me do you hear or I’ll…..”
“You will what Zach?” “What will you do?”The inspector released his grip on Zach.
The Mondeo car drove away from the cabin. Zach Wolf was being taken in for questioning. The light was fading and Mulligan hummed that tune again.
As the car turned to drive back to the police station a figure watched from within the forest. It was Marcus.