Third part of the Barman and the Barfly.
| Loose Ends
At Naas Garda station Detective Moran rubs his eyes and wearily combs his fingers through thinning brown hair. He closes the report that he’s just finished and tossed it on the desk behind him with an announcement.
“Muldoons’ latest offering”
Sergeant Price glances at the title then sends his eyes rolling to the heavens for comfort. Saturday afternoon wouldn’t be complete without some inane missive from the sticks.
“‘The Barman and the Barfly’? This, I assume is in relation to that barman in Blendally, John.., something. Let’s have a look at what literary opus he sends us now.”
Sgt. Price reads with jaded disbelief, occasionally muttering “Barfly... Anvil of doom...?” Finishing, he tosses it behind him and repeats the announcement. Muldoons’ personal reports were required reading at the station.
“So what do we put on the official report to Dublin?” asks Price. Moran shrugs. “I was talking to John who took the call out with the appliance. He said there was a broken bulb and smoking towel beside a broken smoking man. Maybe Muldoon’s on the money?”
They share a knowing look and synchronised headshake. Moran leans back. He tries to picture the scene and apply Occam’s razor. After two minutes of hemming and hawing he sits up and pronounces death by misadventure.
“Poor bloody fool tried to change a light bulb with a wet hand. Shazam. Case closed. Fancy a pint?” Price nods assent.
Derisory laughter wafts from the reader behind them
“‘Gotcha ya big bastard.’ Where does he get this crap?”
Much later that night it is calm in the Farriers’ Arm. Illuminated by a single dim light and a shaft of blue moonlight, three cigarettes smoulder in an illegal ashtray on the bar.
One is a Benson smudged with red lipstick, one a slim filterless handmade, the other a neglected John Player weeping a snake of ash.
The cause of its neglect is that its master is speaking; at length, with barely pause for breath let alone smoke. His name is Paul and he is very drunk, the last patron remaining and tolerated for very good reason.
Tonight was Johns wake and John was Pauls’ younger brother.
His ample frame is precariously balanced on the edge of his barstool as he leans forward, gesticulating with the pint glass in his right hand and letting forth an interminable monologue seemingly bereft of meaning or end.
“Anyway I got home around half two; three I’d say, maybe four, though it wouldn’t have been much later than half three in fairness. It was very late though so maybe half four in fairness at a push. Though now that I think of it I checked the clock when I got in to see if ma had been long in bed ‘cos she goes at half eleven on the dot and it takes her a couple of hours to get into a deep sleep in fairness. Anyway I checked the clock and it was two o clock on the nose so I was close in fairness…”
Beside him sits Luke, also ignoring his cigarette along with his Guinness, Pauls’ ramblings and most of the rest of his surroundings. He sits dead centre on his stool, shoulders slumped, perfectly still.
Occasionally he makes a silly face at himself in the mirror behind the bar. This is because Luke is extremely stoned.
Luke, being a relaxed young man in his early twenties, had smoked a spliff after walking Shauna the lounge-girl home. Just to take the edge off the hard nights work behind him. He is regretting his decision to return for late drinks now, feeling uncomfortable under his boss’ watchful eye.
To explain himself; for some reason he felt the need to, the red eyes have been put down to sinus trouble and the lassitude to the days graft. His detachment and lack of hand-eye co-ordination are two of the three things worrying him.
The third thing is Mags, his boss.
Mags draws deeply on her Benson and stubs the butt firmly, staining her work toughened thumb red. She idly rubs it off a beermat.
She is dressed in barmans’ black, like Luke, but where his is crisp and austere hers is noticeably flounced. With ruffles and buttons and lace-work, but all entirely black so it was impossible to tell how many layers or what kind of garments she wore. Sort of an amorphous, dark... flounce. Against pale hardened skin her crimson lipstick stood out like a red dress in a black and white movie.
Mags McMurphy herself was in no way a flouncy woman. A widow with one grown-up son that never calls, she was working her way through middle-age so she could work her way into old-age.
One thing was certain, she’d never stop working. She ruled the Farrier with a rod of iron, and missed nothing that went on within its walls, or such was her reputation.
Luke suspected she was a little too shrewd for his liking. His unasked for excuses elicited a simple “Oh?” and a carefully blank stare. He sank into his silence.
Now she sits legs crossed, elbow on the counter sipping Iced Budweiser and giving Paul her full attention, nodding and sympathising as appropriate.
“and it was a very good service in fairness, there was a good turnout. John was much loved around here…” Paul trails off as his eyes mist and the words catch in his throat.
He doubles over on the counter, heaving with muted sobs.
Mags and Luke share a knowing look and a synchronised headshake. She puts her hand on Pauls shoulder and guides him to the street.
“Hit the light Luke. And do you think your weed addled head can help me get this poor bloody fool home?”
Luke grins sheepishly and flicks the switch as Mags continues to berate him.
"I know you're smoking that wacky tobaccy. Where do you get that crap?”
The rosy dawn slowly insinuated itself into the horizon of the night. The early bird, having breakfasted on the worm sings a solo prelude to the chorus right outside Lukes bedroom window.
He turns over with a sleepy grumble, and opens one red rimmed eye. His alarm clock blinks a silent 5:33, a good six hours before he should be forced to face reality and a mere two hours since he left it. Luke feels a grudge forming against winged creatures everywhere.
He opens the window to shoo the bird from its perch. It rises in angry hysteria, screeching a sharp C that rouses its brothers roosting nearby. The chorus begins in earnest.
With a resigned groan Luke shuts the window, draws the heavy red curtains and slumps back into his bed. Fully awake now, he flicks on his bedside lamp and reaches for the remains of last nights’ spliff. He props himself up to sit against the headboard and sparks the jay. Blowing smoke rings and listening to the birdsong he relaxes into reflection.
‘Poor John’s gone. He was one of the good guys; never heard him say a bad word to anyone, always in a good mood. And now he’s gone. Snatched cruelly away in his prime; executed by a busted bulb. The Farriers won’t be the same with- Ow!’
“shit,” Luke curses as the roach burns his lips, “That’s dead.”
He opens his bedside drawer, takes out the makings and starts to construct a fresh spliff. His slim dextrous fingers work on autopilot as he lets his mind wander again.
‘Paul was in a state last night too, not surprising really. The mother freaked me out though, what’s her name… Jane… Janet or something; we get Paul home and she’s sitting by the stove knitting and rocking. Dead silent and ignoring everyone, just staring at the coals. Where’s the roach paper? ... Ah.
I didn’t know where to look when Paul asked us to stay for a nightcap. What could we do? The man had just lost his brother.
Even Mags looked uneasy as we sat and listened to him, with the steady clicking of those knitting needles filling every awkward pause with even more awkward. It was almost a relief when he broke down again and Mags put him to bed. Lighter? lighter… lighter!’
Luke ignites the spliff and gazes at dust motes floating through the pale slice of grey sunlight that is slipping through a gap in his curtains. He begins to feel philosophical.
‘Aren’t we all just brief specks illuminated by the light of life? How quickly we slip into the endless night, how meaningless our vague existence…’
A sharp rapping on his window tears him from his reverie.
“What the hell?” he exclaims, pulling back the curtain. Outside is Jewels.
“Let us in Luke willya?”
Jewels Johnson clambers in the window and grins at Luke, despite the chill of the morning he has a patina of perspiration on his brow and an agitated twinge to his movements.
“Gi’s a drag off that.”
Luke passes the spliff and enquires politely as to why he’s calling at such an early hour, adding that he doesn’t get paid ‘til Wednesday.
“Relax man I’m not on my rounds.” Jewels pulls heavily on the joint. “If anyone asks I was on your couch last night ok?”
“Is anyone likely to ask? Where were you really?”
“Nah, shouldn’t think so, but just in case yeah? I had to collect some stuff off a guy and I think he got busted. I don’t think there’ll be any trouble but it’s better to have a story and not need it, know what I mean? You can forget about the ton ya owe me too if ya do that for me. Need anymore?” Jewels hands back the joint.
Luke eyes the sodden roach distastefully, Jewels always dog-ended spliffs.
“Well I’ll take another ton bag if you have it so.”
“No bother mate, got some lovely home-grown orange bud just in, I’ll drop it in later. Mind if I grab a few hours’ kip on your couch? I’m shattered.”
“Go for it, There’s a sleeping bag in the hot-press. Here, take this with ya.” He offers Jewels the wet joint.
“Cheers man. What time you in work?”
“Two. It’s the long shift.”
“Gi’s a shout before ya go willya? See ya later.”
“Grand. See you in a few.”
Jewels makes his way to the sitting room as Luke settles back into bed, hoping for a few more hours in the sweet embrace of Orpheus.