ALL THE DEAD VOICES
South Armagh, November 9th, 1980
It would have been one thing if they'd had to camp out for days on end not knowing when their mark was approaching: two men jammed fast inside a makeshift hide of fencing bales and felled saplings within a hawthorn copse one hundred metres up the hill from the road. Cramped against the wood and wire with the hard earth cold and damp and the harsh November wind flinging scrub dust and the tang of pine resin into their eyes and deep inside their lungs, on top of which neither volunteer could abide the other so to be huddled together in such close physical proximity would have been hard to bear in any conditions. But of course, the Officer Commanding had ensured that the operation was planned to the last detail, and that the two, whose animosity was legendary and a source of private amusement to their colleagues, would spend as little time together as possible.
In Dublin, there was a volunteer at the Port watching for the judge and his wife as they rolled off the ferry and headed for the M1 north to Belfast. He made the call to a volunteer in Newry, who provided the signal the button men needed: he drove along the motorway, pulled off onto the hard shoulder within their sight, rolled down his window, rolled it back up and drove away. This told them the judge's car had embarked on the sixty-mile journey from Dublin. They knew the judge liked to drive fast, so they prepared for his arrival inside the hour, traffic permitting.
They were using a roadside bomban Improvised Explosive Deviceabout the size of a gallon canister. It would traditionally have been placed in a culvert or a drain, but the British Army had sealed up all the more obvious culverts for miles around. Instead a spot had been selected by a thicket of almost bare sycamore and a shallow trench had been dug sufficient to house the bottom third of the IED, which was then concealed with mulch and leaves and fallen branches.
Now they were ready. Red, the man with carrot-coloured hair and intelligent, skeptical brown eyes had had reservations about the op when he heard that the judge's wife was going to be with him. But he was such a good target and this was such a rare opportunity that he decided to suppress any qualms he may have felt. This was a war, and there would always be a sliding scale of victims, and if a judge who presided over the repressive Diplock court system, where evidence was heard, verdict delivered and sentence handed down all by one pillar of the British establishment, if such a figure was not a legitimate target, he didn't know what was. And this was the only time he had slipped his security detail, so he knew the risks for his wife. And she was sixty-seven anyway, good innings and all that shite, so away to fuck.
The latter sentiment is where Ice, the dark-headed man with the cold blue eyes, would have begun, if sentiment had been part of his make-up. As it was, his main regret was that the judge and his wife had been visiting their daughter in Cheshire to see their new grandson, their third grandchild. "Pity they're not coming here, then we'd have the chance to wipe three generations out, cubs and all, lace the set with blood." Some of the younger volunteers thought this was just talk of the kind you'd hear in a Republican pub when the beer was flowing, but Red knew it was nothing but a true expression of Ice's hate-filled soul. Red didn't hate anyone. He was fighting a war, and in a war, people on both sides died, and that was just the way it was. Red didn't take pleasure in another man's death, but in a war it was us and them and that was all there was about it. Because they depended on the support of the community, and while the community wanted the soldiers gone, and the worst of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the bigoted bastards in the Ulster Defense Regiment taken out, they didn't want people shot in front of their children, didn't want wives and girlfriends blown to fuck or any of that crack. Red had seen Ice cheer after killing an RUC man in his front garden, cheer after his children had all flocked around their daddy's dead body and wailed like lost wee souls. And Ice cheering and whooping in the getaway car like a fucking savage. They wouldn't keep the support of the community long if they saw Ice in action.
Because for every IRA murder, there were so many more people involved than the button men, the volunteers who pulled the trigger or detonated the bomb. There were the bomb-makers of course, the engineers who handled the explosives, the nails and bolts and shrapnel, the fuses and timers. There were the people who concealed the device at the arms dump, and those who moved it and set it in place and primed it, those who worked out a radio signal so that it could be set off at a distance, those who stole the cars so the bombers could make their getaway, those who provided the safe houses where they could hide out until the coast is clear.
Obviously the button men were the true killers: none of the rest of it would have added up to much if they hadn't been prepared to flick a switch or pull a trigger. But it's not as if they were sitting in a car outside a pub at random, or concealed in a ditch on a border road, waiting for a likely-looking target to drive past on the off chance. No, first of all someone had to scout the victim, establish him as a scalp worth takinga UDR or RUC man, a loyalist paramilitary, a British soldier, a judge. And that someonein this case, the sister of a legal secretary who worked in the judge's chambershad to pass the information on to someone in the IRA, information about his daily routine, his haunts, his habits. And information about when he broke those habits. When he decided, despite being in the middle of a major case, and against all protocol, that he needed to see his newborn grandson, and that he was going to and to hell with protocol, he was going to shake his minders and vanish to Cheshire for the weekend.
It was an opportunity they likely wouldn't get again. They had to seize it. And so they waited, Red watching the road with binoculars, Ice with his finger poised on the control. It wouldn't be long now.
The quality of football played in the League of Ireland is not very high as a rule, and if you're not a committed supporter of one of the teams on the field, in this case Shelbourne and Monaghan United, it can tend towards the boring, to put it mildly, but when the bloke behind me said what we needed was a bit of fucking action, I don't think a guy in a balaclava piling out of the fans' car park with a submachine gun and spraying bullets around Tolka Park was what he had in mind. It was all over in a twinkling. The players hit the deck as soon as they realized what was happening, so it was impossible in the instant to know if any of them had been shot; the gunman scarpered towards Richmond Road with the Guards who had been on match duty in pursuit; before the supporters began their stampede towards the exits, I was over the barrier and making my way across the pitch towards Paul Delaney, the gifted Shelbourne No. 9 and the reason I had been at the game. He was curled in a ball by the goalposts at the riverside end with his arms over his head and a high-pitched, droning sound coming from somewhere inside his shaking torso. His teammates were slowly rising to their feet now and counting heads; the Monaghan players were doing the same.
"Paul, are you all right?" I said. "The gunman's gone, it's all over."
Paul lifted his head slowly above the frame of his arms, like a man daring to survey the aftermath of a storm from the supposed safety of his house. His tightly cropped blonde head was drained of colour; his pale blue eyes streaked red with fear. Before he had a chance to speak, Barry Jordan, the Shelbourne captain, was upon us.
"You all right, Paulo?"
"Sound, Jordo, yeah."
"Who's this? You're not supposed to be on the pitch, Mister," Jordan said to me. Though he was twenty years my junior, and clearly shaken by what had just occurred, he had a natural authority that made me feel like I was somehow in the wrong, even if the field was rapidly filling with panicking fans trying to get to the exits, or hoping at least to find some carnage worth gaping at.
"It's all right, Jordo, this is Ed Loy. He's a... a friend of mine," Delaney said.
Jordan looked me up and down. I'm six two, and I wear a black suit and a black overcoat. I don't look conspicuous in most settings, but I wasn't exactly dressed for a football match.
"I'm an old friend of Paul's brother," I said. "He asked me to keep an eye on him."
I should have kept my mouth shut. Jordan looked at Paul, glanced toward the car park the gunman had erupted from, then appeared to join a few dots with a shake of his head at me. He turned to Paul with a pointing finger, but something between anger and despair rendered him speechless; he nodded at the turf, as if to tamp down his emotions, then ran back to where the Shelbourne players had linked arms to form a circle in the centre of the park.
"You'd better join them, Paul", I said, with something short of total conviction.
"Do you think so? After you mentioned my brother. Jordo knows now, or thinks he does. They've all heard the rumours. They probably think those shots were meant for me," Paul said, his voice plaintive with self-pity and fear.
"And what do you think?"
Paul Delaney's colour had returned to normal. He shrugged, possibly aiming for nonchalant unconcern. All he hit was petty, and sullen, and scared.
"No one has any reason to take a shot at me," he said.
"Well good," I said. "Glad to hear it."
Delaney made a move toward the huddle of red jerseys, then turned back to me.
"Look, Mr. Loy, I appreciate you know me brother and everything, and thanks for the concern, but I don't need any help from you, right? From anyone. Tell Dessie I'm grand. Tell him he probably knows Jack Cullen as well as I do. Tell him if anyone's to blame for all this, he is."
The Shelbourne players were chanting something to each other, their heads close together. Again Delaney moved towards them. Again he faltered, this time wheeling around his teammates and taking off on a run in the direction of the dressing rooms. The club stewards were on the floodlit pitch now, encouraging the ghouls and rubberneckers sniffing for blood to disperse; the PA system was announcing the abandonment of the game and urging everyone to leave in a calm, orderly fashion. I joined the throngs queuing for the exit and replayed as much as I could recall of the incident in my mind. So exciting was the game that my attention had wandered, and I had been staring vacantly in the general direction of the Cash & Carry car park, so I had seen the gunman immediately, drawn to the balaclava masking his head, seen him produce the SMG, seen him start firing without any care as to where his target was. Because he wasn't shooting to kill, he wasn't some maniache was firing above everyone's head. I could picture him now, the SMG, looked like an Uzi, held aloft for maximum effectlet as many people as possible see the weapon firstand then a volley fired in the air. It was a warning, or a gesture. Had it been for Paul Delaney's benefit, or at his expense? Or was it nothing to do with Delaney in the first place? Maybe it was some anguished Shelbourne fan making an over-demonstrative protest about the need to return to the top flight in the league.
As I walked down Richmond Road and wheeled right through Ballybough heading for the city centre, I turned it over in my mind. I had run up against Paul's brother Dessie when he was a junkie dealing drugs for Podge Halligan. Despite that, I didn't think Delaney was a bad man, and if at times he had been apt to forget it, he had a tough-minded wife ready to jog his memory, and two kids to shame him into toeing the line. With their help and mine, he kicked his habit, and I persuaded a rich client with a guilty conscience to buy him a stake in an Irish pub called Delaney's that Dessie's brother Liam ran on a Greek island whose name I could never remember. By all accounts the bar was a roaring success; every so often I'd get postcards wishing me well, and photographs of sunburned and heavily refreshed Irish folk I didn't know toasting a beaming Dessie.
Dessie wasn't beaming when he called me a few days ago. His brother Paul was eighteen years old and tipped, if not quite for the Premiership elitehe had already had trials with Arsenal and Liverpool, and hadn't made the gradecertainly for a professional career at English Football League level at the very least. And as Dessie said, that'd be Paul pulling anything from 200k to half a mil a year for fifteen odd years, and then he's made for life if he's bought the right property and made the right investments and hasn't blown it all on the ponies or some gold-digger or up his nose. Which was where Jack Cullen came in. A couple of doorman-size Dubliners called Ollie and Dave came into Delaney's back at the end of February and Dessie sized them up for players straight away. But they were quiet enough, nervy in fact, looking over their shoulders the whole time. They kept to themselves, drank their pints and ate their moussaka and chips and watched the football on satellite and ducked out whenever anyone started getting too friendly. After a week or so, they relaxed a little, and after another week, once Dessie and Liam saw they weren't up to anything, the Delaneys relaxed too.
Turns out the boys were on the run: they'd barred Lamp Comerford, Jack Cullen's minder, from getting into The Viscount, a nightclub on Talbot Street, because Lamp was too drunk, not to mention buzzed on coke and any other pill and powder you were having yourself. Lamp rolled back a couple of hours later and emptied a Glock 17 at Ollie and Dave from point blank range. He missed them both with every shot, in the process proving them right to have forbidden him entry: if you can't hit a target from ten feet with a Glock 17, you'd better go home and sleep it off. Especially if you're the feared enforcer for the biggest drug dealer in the North Inner City. So now the word was the lads had a price on their heads and no shortage of ambitious local young heroes willing to claim it. So they fled to the continent, choosing Greece because, as they said, if they'd gone to Spain, they may as well have sent Lamp and Jack Cullen a map, given the number of Irish gangsters decamping to the Costas for the good of their health and so forth.
At least, that was how they put it at first. But then it emerged that that was only part of the truth, that Ollie and Dave had actually come to Delaney's for another reason. The lads had been involved with junior football at Tolka, playing for the Shelbourne Young Reds from under sevens all the way up, a few years ahead of Paul Delaney. Of course, Paul had always been different class, but Ollie and Dave were proud of the association. They loved his pride, his loyalty, the fact that, until he got a big move to an English club, he'd stay at Shels: he would never move to an Irish side for more money. They felt like they had a stake in him, and they wanted to see him, if not quite at Manchester United, certainly doing it mid-table Premiership. They reckoned he was that good. And after that, a bit of confidence, a lucky break, who knew? But the likelihood of that was fading because of Paulo's association with Jack Cullen. He'd been seen in the Viscount with "associates" of Cullen's, he'd even been at Cullen's daughter's wedding in Marbella. Dessie and Liam argued that Cullen had always been a major Shels fan, and that it was hard to avoid him if you put in the hours at Tolka, he'd be at an under-nines game as soon as a first team fixture. If you grew up in the same streets as these lads, you couldn't turn around and cold-shoulder them or there'd be war. Ollie and Dave conceded that, and said they hoped that's all it was, but that Paulo was getting the reputation of being the go-to guy in soccer when it came to drugs, a kind of middleman dealer for guys who didn't want some skin-pop skanger in their lives. Barry Jordan had come into the Viscount specifically to ask them about it. They'd told Jordan it was all bullshit, but Jordo was no fool, and if he found out, he'd stop at nothing to put Paulo out of the game. You might survive that kind of scandal when you're well set-up, but just trying to break in? Forget it. No one needs grief like that from a newcomer. Another name on the long list of League of Ireland losers, another might have been who never was.
Dessie wanted to fly back and knock some sense into Paul straight away, but he felt that, given his past, he lacked a certain credibility on that front, so he asked me to have a word. I told him I wasn't in the business of mentoring waifs and strays, and Dessie said that was just as well, since he didn't think he could afford my mentoring fees, let alone my investigator's rates, and when was I going to come out to Greece and get a tan on the Delaney brothers?
So there I was walking down Gardiner Street towards the Viscount, calling Paul Delaney on his mobile and leaving a voicemail. He had been happy to meet me last night after training in the Crowne Plaza, a shiny new conference hotel set in a mature woodland park off the Santry Road, where he sat drinking water and glowing with rude health and giving every impression of never having taken or even heard of any drug stronger than aspirin. He talked of his ambitions in the game, of the importance of discipline and fitness and diet for athletes over the course of a short career, of how the appointment of the new Irish national team manager, the veteran Italian Giovanni Trappatoni, was a major step in the development of Irish soccer. He talked like a press agent's dream.
Afterwards, in the car park, I smoked a cigarette and Delaney smiled indulgently at me, as if I were taking snuff, and I took in the car he was driving, a red Mazda MX-5 1.8i that the wages Shelbourne FC paid couldn't have financed.
"Nice car," I said, although it looked to me like the kind of thing a trophy wife might drive to the beauty parlour.
"I'm lucky to have it," Paul Delaney said without missing a beat. "The girlfriend's father has a Mazda dealership. Mad into Shels he is. It's not a gift, but as good as, he lets me drive it as if it's mine."
He smiled at me, his cornflower blue eyes wide with what looked like boyish excitement. I had run out of strategy; moreover, I wanted him to be on the level.
"I have to ask you, Paulbecause Dessie and Liam want me towhat's the deal with you and Jack Cullen? Because there's been a lot of talk"
Delaney smiled wryly and held his hand up.
"I've heard the talk too, Mr. Loy, and do you know something? That's all it is. And I'll tell you where it stems from: one incident in the Viscount nightclub. I'm not a regular, I don't drink, and I don't enjoy keeping company with people who do. But I went in one Friday night, because the lads insisted, it was after we beat Bray Wanderers six one-"
"And you got a hat trick," I said. Delaney winced slightly, as if it was bad taste, or excessive flattery, on my part to bring it up.
"And I was there, and Jack Cullen had a table with all his... his people. I was at school with some of them, or their brothers. And everyone knows he owns the place, or at least, someone owns it on his behalf. And it's all, Jack sends over a drink, and then I have to go over and thank him, and I'm stuck at his table while he talks for about three days about Shelbourne in the eighties, and in the seventies, and what his oul' fella told him about Shelbourne in the sixties and the fifties and tradition and locality and Irish football and all this. And then he has to give me a lift home in the big Merc, drops me off in the street outside my apartment block. And of course, the next day, everyone is talking, and some reporter from the Daily Star rings me up asking if I'm... what was it... Druglord Cullen's Football Front? I mean, come on. What would you have done? Cause he's a heavy guy, and if he wants to talk to you... it wasn't as if he was cutting up lines on the table, there was nothing like that, he wasn't even drinking. I mean, I know who he is, we all know who he is, but you can't just ignore him... but then everyone puts two and two together, now the lads themselves, my own teammates, some of them think I'm sneaking into the opposition's dressing room dealing coke after matches, it's ridiculous. End of."
Fair enough. It helped that Paul hadn't got angry once, or asked me who I thought I was; before he took off in his little red Mazda, he offered to arrange a ticket for me for the Monaghan United game.
"It won't be pretty," he said. "Not one for the connoisseurs. But if you want to come along..."