JUDGING US (Excerpt)
Before I admit everything, before it eats me up, I must say I didn’t cause any of this, my wife did. Not to say she is a villain and I am a victim; she isn’t as strong as she pretends to be. I am not so weak— as a man (to quote her). You shouldn’t hate her and feel sorry for me. I forced her out of a life she loved and into misery. I had opportunities to change things when we began to veer off our charted course. I wanted to escape the misery that greeted me every night when I returned home, and it spiralled from there. Still, I am baffled how to explain my utter loss of control and spiral into…
Just know that I started out with good intentions. Life, as they say, got in the way.
Inferiority complex. That is the crux of it.
Feelings of inferiority have plagued me since my teens. Truth is, I am a big fucking act. Most people have at least one hang-up that drives them to distraction, misery, craziness, or in my case success. If there is one quality that has kept me and Noleen together all these years it is our respective inferiority complexes.
If I could just go back I would do most things, if not all, differently. But I would not change marrying Noleen. Not only because she gave me my daughter, Row, but because she is the most intoxicating, interesting, dazzling creature I’ve ever known. She looks at me and all my problems evaporate because mine seem insignificant compared to hers. The only issue with allowing her problems to trump mine is she becomes a problem swallower, throws them up then when I least expect.
If I am to admit everything, you’ll need to know a few things about me first. Let’s call it a foundational crash course in what makes Conlon Reign tick so off beat.
It might seem unimportant, but I bite off my cuticles. I do this because my senior school headmaster would turn his rings around before beating me about the head. See, he had impeccable fingernails and I can still see those pale, bleached, cracked hands to this day.
The number two reason for screwing up my life is the issues I have with women. See, my school bully was a girl. Yep. At seven Jude Reckels interoperated me fancying her as a sign I was hers to do with as she pleased, slapping me about the head, too, oddly enough. I also feel my issues with women weren’t strictly Jane’s fault. When a teacher, Ms. Linneane, took to punching me in the stomach because I was, quote, ‘too much of a white-haired angel’, my issues with women grew big, gnarled roots. And I have black hair, not white.
All this foundational discombobulation turned into a desperate need to prove myself, to outdo all others, show the world that I was not someone you treat like that. Beneath my calm personality there lurked the need to pay back what the world had given me. I remembered how my mother’s short fuse resulted in her whacking her kids, too.
All this lay somewhat dormant from my consciousness until in my thirties, when my relationship with Noleen began to sour. It all circled me under the guise of ‘wife problems’ when it was ‘women problems’. When I finally traced my victimhood back to the buried memory of Jude Reckels, after meeting an old school friend and remembering, I had to hold my hand up and stop blaming Noleen.
And this is where the real problem occurred. Because there was a ‘wife problem’, there had been since we met. She chose me for my kindness when we met at seventeen, which she began to realise was cowardice.
Women have a nose for cowardice, I cannot lie to a woman. It’s something I have no explanation for. She loved me weak and she could only love me in my thirties when I was strong. When that anger first began to bubble up. But I was ashamed of what I was, what I feared I may not be able to control if I let it out. It was at this point in my life that I met a man.
In my world, me were not perceptive. They dug around, pushed buttons to get you to admit something, but not this one. And he came into my life right at a time when I needed it least, and he read me like I was a classic novel he’d read a hundred times.
It is with him that I will start this tale.
I speak of Garda Commissioner Pat Morgan.
There was an art to how Morgan put me in his pocket. Months before the biggest trial of my life, my third as a judge, I met him at a charity fundraiser organised by Templemore Garda College. A glitzy affair where I avoided eye contact with everyone, expressly his gaze. He admired his reflection in a monstrous mirror across the hotel foyer, puffing his chest and looking at the colourful lines of rank insignias adorning both breasts. I knew him vaguely through seeing him in court, so he felt comfortable approaching me. He chuckled and slapped my back and talked about Dancing With the Stars like it meant something to me. It was then I realised everything Pat Ryan said had a kind of double speak to it.
Our next meeting, by invitation when he finally got me in his pocket, was on the golf course. Mentioning Brian Crawley and fixing me with a stare was enough for me to accept his friendly invitation to meet him at Deer Park for a quick round, under the guise of picking my brains about my last trial.
He shook my hand all friendly, even put his arm around my shoulder on the way to the clubhouse, and told me that the judicial system becomes clogged when the institutions are filled with strangers. I did agree, but I was curious about what her knew. I had buried what I knew about Crawley’s dodgy dealings all those years ago.
Ducking behind my golf bag while he looked for his ball, I shakily managed to get my pinkie up to my nostril—the habit I had formed in the months before had a hold of me, but I will explain all that soon enough.
After I popped back up with a stupid ‘just two professionals sharing a round of golf’ face on me, he grinned back all red faced. I rubbed the palm of my hand upwards over my nostril, my right nostril as I was snorting the coke with my left and it was getting sore.
He winked as he read me like a macaque monkey plotting to steal a banana, swung his hips over his ball and faked niceness with innocence baby-blue eyes.
“Your experience when dealing with the press offsets your inexperience as a judge,” he said, holding the three wood like a bat.
“Your upcoming trial.” He took a practise swing, slicing through the still, thick sea air with a sword-like swish. “Or maybe somebody up there finds it funny, huh?”
“Finds what funny?” He loved seeing me squirm like I did under his insinuating gaze.
He smirked and pointed at the fairway before belting the ball. We watched it skip and roll into heavy rough and broke his club and flung it into the bushes. “Everyone has dirt, even altar boys,”
“You broke your driver.”
“I’ve two. Come on for fuck’s sake.”
After his measured chip shot onto the fairway, he returned to his golf bag red faced and frustrated, blaming his swearing on m my avoidance tactics.
“What avoidance tactics?” Before he could push me on it, I headed fast up the fairway like I’d left the car running.
“You have to learn to trust people, Conlon?” he said, as he caught up.
I listened hopefully for the swish of my club as I swung it through the damp grass.
“Conlon, boy. Did ye hear me?”
“Chipping over a bunker is no easy feat,” I said, avoiding eye-contact.
“Here,” he said, with that clasping grasp of my shoulder I’d experienced that first time we met, “you’ll be looked after.”
“You wouldn’t want it getting out.”
I should have bluffed him. “What do you want from me?”
He winked and slapped my back and then squeezed my shoulder. “I want you to make sure Devlin doesn’t somehow wriggle out.”
“Ah, this is about the trial.”
“You scratch my back I’ll scratch yours.”
“It’s highly unethic—”
“We won’t let you look bad.”
I wriggled free and leaned on my putter. “Who are ‘we’?”
“People who’ve been following your career a long time, Pecker.”
Jesus, what else does he know about me? I hadn’t been called that since college.
“Fond of showing your cock, I heard,” he said, smirking like he’d struck gold with me being appointed as judge in this trial. “Heard it’s nothing to write home about. Come here.”
He pulled me into the trees and gave me a look that settled me down. He had the presence of a loving father and someone who had so many close friends he feared nothing. “I know it’s only your third trial, and you’ve been going through something at home, but this is fucken important.”
He knows all about me.
His pupils were black pearls. “Yer wan Amy Boon, the defence barrister, she has me concerned. She lost her last two cases. And fucken Steen, the journeyman prick, might get steamrolled if he isn’t on his game. Do you understand?”
I had a foggy buzz in my head and nodded. “I’m not sure what you’re asking me,” I said, chipping the ball onto the green.
I pulled my trolly up the fairway, feeling tenser for having played a good shot—I hoped letting him win might have gotten me out of helping him.
He took his shot, and it rolled across the green and into a bunker on the far side. “Devlin’s semen was inside the victim. He was stalking her for months according to the people at her apartment block.”
“All of them are involved in drugs and prostitution.”
“Clearly he did it, Conlon. For fuck’s sake.” He held his driver like he might break it and reconsidered, holding it by his side and leaning on it with his large body, bending it until I was sure it’d snap.
“Clearly,” I said.
After he chipped onto the green, I missed and let him win the hole. As he led the way to the next hole, I listened to the birds in the giant horse chestnuts, hoping to drift away. Robins or sparrows, they were sweet to listen to.
“Fuck all that talk about the public’s lynching of Devlin,” he said, caressing the head of his putter.
I stood over my ball, holding my putter. “It negated the sub judice the courts laid down,” I said, pally-wally. “They made examples of a few small online publications and fined them for speculating, did you know that?”
“You’re right, the damage was done by public opinion in the months before. The jury will have their minds already made up.”
After he hit his ball and missed the hole, he waved away my suggestion that I might not be up to presiding, given the international interest. “Sure the TV cameras are nothing to you. Veteran with the media, so ye are.”
I missed my shot and tasted the salty sea air in the breeze. “Do you think that’s why I was appointed?”
“That and the victim’s father’s fame. The president of the High Court thought cameras should be allowed in court. It will prevent speculation continuing after the trial.”
The president had bent me over a chair and lifted my gown on the issue so to speak.
“You love the attention,” he said, rolling his ball with the sole of his shoe while eyeballing me.
“I assure you, Pat, cameras in my face are the last thing I want.”
“You’re well used to them defending all your wife’s shadier friends. She knows anyone who’s anyone in the Irish music business, I hear.”
I took my shot, and knocked it down the slope of the green and into the rough. “Shit.”
“Playing like an amateur,” he said, trying not to gloat. “A hotshot celebrity lawyer now a hotshot judge.”
“Look, if that defence barrister is anything like her mother you won’t have it easy.”
“Boon has a lot to learn,” I said, casually sliding my putter into the bag and listening to a wood pigeon repetitious call.
He took my arm and paused to inspect the big scar on my lower forearm. “Old war wound?”
“Kitchen accident.” He gazed at me suspiciously, making me blurt out, “Boon is too ambitious, she’s a maverick.”
“Ye got that fucken right.” Meaning, I wasn’t resisting his advances, so to speak. See what I mean? Double speak.
When we got to the green of the next hole, he wiped muck from a luminous yellow golf ball and put it back on a spot nearer the hole. “She majorly blew her last case.”
“Shoddy police work.” He eyeballed me, and I countenanced an apology for creating disharmony between the legal institutions, verbally apologised and accidently putted for a birdie. “Sorry.” I sniffed and rubbed my nose after the cheeky bump I’d taken while his back was turned. He didn’t seem concerned, perhaps he was well used to judges hitting the bag on the golf course. I felt I had a lot to learn.
“Remind her how bad she is whenever you get the opportunity,” he said.
I thought back to before I had a drug habit, before all this began, and nodded before I had the time to consider the gravity of what he was asking me to do—make sure the shoddy policework didn’t cause Devlin to walk.
And that was it, I was along for the ride, he had me in his pocket, his on judge. And for all I knew, he didn’t know a thing about the secrets I’d kept to myself regarding Crawley.
“Good man yourself,” he said, inhaling through his nose and proudly gazing out over the course towards Bray in the distance like he owned Dublin.
As was played the last few holes and discussed my first two cases, I noted how he made eye contact with other golfers. They knew him by reputation, and he garnered good will by proxy of the idea that it might be better not to get on his bad side. I couldn’t do anything but quietly smile and agree. It didn’t help that he kept repeating this catchphrase any chance he got, “Dublin is small, dirt doesn’t stay buried for long.
I threw the last two holes, while he complimented me for my dress sense, cleanliness, and my record as a lawyer.
“If you’re half as astute a judge as you were a barrister, you’ve nothing to worry about,” he said, leading the way back to the clubhouse.
“I’m not worried.” I was literally shitting myself.
He chuckled ironically as I nipped to the toilet. “Sure you don’t look it, Conlon”
We sat in the corner of the half-full clubhouse lounge, hunched over pints of Guinness. I rubbed my churning stomach over my jumper while looking at the front page of the Examiner showing Hart Lavelle during the final weeks of her life, skeletal and ravaged by heroin.
“Ireland’s biggest murder trial threatens to derail,” I said, and read the first paragraph. “Not giving you an easy time, Pat.”
With his thumb and finger he wiped creamy residue from his moustache. “A newspaper is a printed organ that does not see the difference between falling off a bicycle and the collapse of civilization.”
“Yates, was it?”
“Bernard Shaw.” Pile driving his chunky finger into an earlier picture of the victim in her musical heyday, superimposed over her final, decrepit picture, he said, “There is more than enough forensic evidence to convict Devlin, and we have a good jury—not a liberal amongst them. With a man of your integrity in the chair, I’m confident there’ll be no nasty surprises.”
I laughed through my teeth. “Jaysus, you’re laying it on thick.”
“No-no, I mean it. High Court already and you’re only thirty nine. You’re headed for the Supreme Court for sure.”
I nodded and flicked through the pages and back at him again.
He polished off his pint, got up and brought two more and stared at the folded newspaper. “If you pulled her in Dicey’s you’d be happy with yourself,” he said, opening it and eyeballing me. “Until you got her home,” he said, guffawing.
“Yeah.” I tried to convey indifference and looked at a barmaid. She resembled her, with that dead-eyed expression that she gave before turning on the charm.
“Would you give her one, would ye?”
The irony, I thought and stammered something about my pint tasting funny. I was sure he had that bit of dirt on me, that nobody could know about. And I was sure he was holding it for when I stepped out of line. I said something about a typo in the second paragraph on page 4 as he read it.
“Jaysus, relax, you’re a nervous wreck.” He slapped my shoulder and gave me one of those bowels loosening smiles.
I wiped my spillage with a beer mat. “I’m fine.”
“Ah sure ye are. Nothing wrong with a few nerves before a big trial like this. You’ll have the press on your side because you’re young.” He turned a page and looked at a picture of her father. “Your man Lance Lavelle must have been some bollox for his son, daughter or whatever, to slip that far. Prostitution, drugs, gangs and now she’s—he’s dead, I mean. Or is it she?”
“She. I don’t know much about Lavelle.”
“I suppose there aren’t many opportunities out there for a trannie. You’d have to take what you can get.”
“A transvestite is a man who dresses as a woman, Pat. She was transsexual.”
“Ah right. She was no Boy George anyway.” He turned the page to another story about her show-jumping appearances on TV when she was a child.
He smirked with the culchie bourgeois confidence of someone more concerned about looking good than doing good. “Boon has three losses, four would be the end of her. She’ll have something to prove—but don’t they always, bloody modern women.”
I took the paper back and flicked to the sport’s section and rubbed my hand up over my right nostril.
“Don’t go soft on her because you were in her position, ye feckin’ altar boy.”
END OF EXCERPT
TREOIR: CURSE ON THE ISLAND
Background about this excerpt: Jonah has albinism and has a natural gift for science. Here he tells Donnacha about a scientific explanation he has for déjà vu.
There are two theories in Treoir that Jonah tells Donnacha about—and this makes Jonah an important person to him and a driving force when he has to decide to risk everything to rescue him.
I first though, vaguely, about both of Jonah’s ideas as a boy. ‘What if God is just a big brain. What if we live inside that brain’, kind of thing; the stuff kids think of and forget all the time. Those ideas came back to me while writing this, and I developed them using quantum physics and other theories on the universe to underpin Jonah’s ‘musings’. I’m not sure if either ‘theory’ would stand up to proper scientific scrutiny, but they are compelling—and beautiful—when you think about the universe in this way. Enjoy.
From chapter 9
We walked in silence together, Jonah trying and failing to assimilate my mood or lack of one. I was resigning myself to the fact that a reduction of all my worries and sorrows to a single and manageable nuance such as guilt had shattered and I would have to endure an unending feeling of falling without ever feeling anything else ever again.
He put his hand on my shoulder and lowered his dark glasses. I stopped walking and turned to face him, not knowing what I wanted to say. He had an angelic expression, like all the wisdom in the world was within him and he could plug and resupply my bottomless pit. “Do you think it knows when someone dies?” I asked, after a lengthy silence. “The universe, I mean.”
“Yes. Do you think it’s conscious about someone dying?”
“I think it’s conscious of everything.” He covered his sensitive skin with his sleeves and hood and held his hand out, staring at it. “When I was young, I used to wonder if I was here. I used to think I wasn’t. Almost like I was seeing myself as a memory.” He showed me the black fossilized crustacean he’d found. “Time is funny like that. Our conscious perception of it runs at a different rate. Time flies, you know? And reality is perception, of course.” I let him ramble, glad to not have to think about Erin. “I had deja vu,” he said. “And I started thinking. What if our galaxy has ended already and we’re glimpsing the consciousness of an observer who is somewhere else where time runs much faster. It could be another sign the universe is conscious and connected quantumly. Our sense of time may make it appear that we’re here, but to that observer, we might be extinct already. We may be able to catch a glimpse of ourselves in the future because of some universal connection, a consciousness showing us a few seconds of what that observer has perceived caused by some kind of quantum entanglement. What do you think?”
I fished out a lump of material with intricate colourful stitching from the water. Hand-woven; a sarong, one from the east, maybe Thailand or Bali. I just stared at it, thinking of Erin. “It’s not good to think I don’t exist, Jonah.”
“No, you do. You’re just catching up, consciously speaking, because we perceive time at a much slower rate. Like data transferred over a slow internet connection. When we see a quantum leap—an electron moving without an apparent traceable path—that may be proof we see time much slower. The electron may have moved so fast, faster than light—and possibly at the speed of consciousness—that we can’t map it.”
“Interesting.” I felt my mood lifting.
I sat in the sand and he sat beside me, giving me a sympathetic grin. I continued to just look at him, wondering how anyone could see him as a curse. “Your family,” I said. “They thought you would bring them bad luck. That must have hurt you.”
He shook his head. “I used to think that, but we bring bad luck on ourselves with our actions and our thoughts, and with our disharmony.” His face was angelic. “When we think only of ourselves, then everything good about the world becomes invisible, including ourselves eventually. All we see is the bad or the possibility of bad, and we have to find someone or something to blame. We never fix the problem, we do things to cover it up. But when we observe the world and take into consideration our affect on it, then it opens for us.” He listened to the birdsong. “Then we exist in harmony with it. In love with it. Love and harmony are quantum and entangled with creation. They are the power in the universe. Maybe we can prevent our extinction by being conscious of the consequences of our actions. Maybe time and consciousness are malleable, just because one observer saw one reality, when unobserved another reality can exist. Like the double-slit experiment.”
Beyond my world of life and death, meaning and meaninglessness, of third points between reason and imagination and all the physical and common laws pertaining to reality, “something always leads me back to harmony, to love,” I said. “Love was like withdrawing from heroin after I’d been without Erin for a while. It scared me to look for it again.” A lump stuck in my throat. “A little more work and you might have a real theory, Jonah.”
He opened his arms. “I was thinking more a religion,” he said and chuckled.
We took a walk up the coast, and I was in a more reflective, philosophical mood.
“We have a college on the island. It’s renowned the world over,” I said. “Would you like to attend?”
He laughed sarcastically.
“I’m serious, Jonah.”
“I haven’t got the money.”
“No, we have a different outlook on education at the college. Ned donated all Wann’s paintings, they sell for millions. It’s free on Treoir.”
“How is there a college on such a small island?”
“Erin thought we should do something for Treoir so they’d accept us. She believed a college would make the students more loyal to the island. Many of the students have rejuvenated Saints Rest and Clippers Hook, where before they were leaving.” I took a barefoot walk in the stony sand. “She thought if you charge a student thousands to contribute to society and make them pay high taxes because of their earning potential, you create a mercenary mindset. And when they become worldly enough and skilled enough you may find they will be less inclined to act morally responsibly and may exploit for personal gain. Look at how big corporations operate. It’s more prudent to find ways to make education free. That way you create thankful, respectful, and loyal citizens who want to contribute and improve society for all.”
His eyes were full. “So I can go to college for free?” His voice cracked. “Here on the island?”
“You’ll still have to pass the entrance exam. But you’ll do okay. It’ll be specific to your interest as opposed to a general intelligence score. And we make exceptions for people with ideas like yours.”
His feet danced. “Teachers said I wasn’t smart. I never did well in exams.”
“Maybe you were self-conscious because of the way society is formed into groups. You couldn’t focus on things around you because the focus was always on you. It’s a new start. Come on, I’ll show you the round tower.”
Treoir is Available now. £2.99