Pulling his car onto the shoulder of the dual carriageway, McGarr peered down into the valley of the Shannon.
Below him stretched a vista that had remained unchanged at least since Ireland had been cleared of its forests in the seventeenth centurya patchwork of green fields, iridescent under a pale sun and bounded by a web of gray-stone walls.
The pattern stretched in every direction as far as the eye could see, dotted here and there with bright bits of black-and-white cattle that were feeding on the last green grass of the year before being confined to barn or haggard the winter long.
It was fully autumn now, and the smoke of kitchen fires could be seen rising from farmhouse chimneys into the chill air. Down in one low field, a hopeful farmer was disking the land to plant winter wheat in spite of recent snow. A cloud of crows wheeled in the lee of his tractor, diving for the grubs and worms that the bright blades were turning up.
The Shannon itself divided the idyllic scene, as in many ways it did the country, east from west. A wide and sinuous strip of silver, the river had overflowed its banks in places, rushing to the sea. But on a high bluff in a bend of the confluence lay the town that had summoned McGarr. Because of the report of two deaths. "Murdered together in bed," the caller had told him.
Called Leixleap (literally, "Salmon jump"), it was a collection of no more than three dozen houses around the spires of two churches and a bridge over the river. The ruins of a sixteenth-century castle occupied the highest ground, and there was even the outline of a mottean ancient earthen fort from pre-Christian days when the river had been the main thoroughfare of the Irish Midlands.
Lined with narrow vintage dwellings, Leixleap's old main street traced the river with tour and fishing boats tied along a diked wall. There was even a riverside parkcourtesy of an EU grant, McGarr would betjutting out into the stream. At the bridge, the old cobbled street formed a T with a newer road that was lined with shops that were busy on this, a Saturday.
"It's there you'll find me," the voice had said to McGarr on the phone. "Mine is the biggest, prettiest, and surely the most valuable edifice in town. And it's that that bothers me, Peter."
Sitting in his office in Dublin Castle, where he had been completing paperwork of a quiet Saturday afternoon, McGarr had waited.
Finally, the man had added, "It was done, I'm sure, to finish me. And it will, without your help. You're my only hope."
McGarr had turned in his chair and looked out the grimy window into Dame Street, which was choked with shoppers and traffic, now as Christmas approached. The ... hubris of the man is what he remembered of Tim Tallon, who had been a schoolyard bully.
Son of a powerful and wealthy judge, he had thumped and punished every smaller boy at the prestigious Christian Brothers Academy in Synge Street. Until he stole from one, who had the courage to tell. And the good brothers had promptly expelled the hulking lad.
That one had been McGarr, a much younger scholarship student who found Tallon waiting for him after school when McGarr set off for his working-class home in Inchicore. Across Dublin the larger boy had gone at McGarr repeatedly, with the fight broken up mercifully by a publican on one corner, a butcher on another.
That man had whispered in McGarr's ear before releasing him, "Now, RedI'll give you a running start. If you don't think you can get clear, you're to lay for him with something solid. Go for the knees. Then, stay out of reach."
Good advice and well taken. In an alley off Davit Street, McGarr had surprised Tallon with a length of lumbera low blow to the side of one knee. And then, nipping in with short, sharp punches, he had drubbed the larger, slower boy, until yet another charitable adult had finally intervened. On Tallon's behalf.
At home that evening, McGarr's fathersmoking a pipe in his easy chair in their diminutive sitting roomhad glanced over his newspaper, taking in McGarr's broken nose and black eyes, his torn and bloody school-uniform jacket and trousers, and finally his bruised and scraped knuckles. "Something to say?" he had asked.
McGarr had not.
"Are you 'right, lad?"
McGarr had nodded.
"And you'll find the money for new gear?" he asked, there being eight others at the time in the family.
Again McGarr had nodded.
"Sois there anything that needs attending?" He meant, at school.
McGarr shook his head.
Regarding him, his father had smiled, which was a sign of approbation from the unassuming good man who very well understood what growing up in Dublin could be like. "Go in to your mother now. Maybe she can patch that nose."
McGarr had neither seen nor heard from Tim Tallon until the phone call now some forty years later. And with what? Only the report of a double murder, if Tallon could be believed.
"Sure, Peterwe've been following you and your career in the papers and on the telly for ... how long has it been? Decades. And when we found them dead only a minute or two ago after the maid opened the door to make up the room, well then I says to meself, says I, I'll call Peter. He's an old friend and mighty. He'll handle this thing the way it should be handled. Hush-hush, like.
"Tell you true, we've scrimped and scraped, worked and saved to build this business andChristsomething like this could ruin us surely. You know how things go." (Continues...)