THE DEVIL DROVE A WHITE MERCEDES
Not all saints wear robes and carry staffs. There was a man in Coolock, north Dublin who wore his hi-vis jacket and rested on his palm on his truncheon like he’d been sent to do the work of one. Seargent Maurice Delaney liked to warm a barstool in Kennedy’s of a Tuesday night, opening his belt to its last notch and exhaling deeply, mostly as prep for the whore of a hangover in the morning. He’d been an atheist as long as celibate, except for that Cavan wan. A divorcee, she had come onto him on a call, only a year out of Templemore. With her wine-drenched eyes and the looseness in her hips, something overtook him that day. After his fifteenth pint—a week’s worth of Guinness drunk in one night—he often fantasised about them walking together with her dogs along some lonely, windswept beach. Apart from that, Maurice had remained stubbornly joyless.
“Fair play Maurice,” Joe would say, handing him his first pint of the black stuff on the house. “Any craic?”
“Ah would je schtop. Oive a fierce pain,” he said, massaging a spot behind the breast pocket of one of three casual shirts he owned.
“That’ll be the toxins. The body remembers. Take it easy tonight. Just stick to ten pints.”
“Good luck with that,” he said, swallowing half his Guinness like a basking shark inhaling a school of black krill.
Joe tended bar to Maurice like a novice priest to a cardinal. A confirmed bachelor all his life, he secretly shared a longing in his heart. “Do you want a packet of peanuts?” His eyes were womanly and his tone hi-pitched for Maurice, soft and loving; symbolically taking off Maurice’s boots; gently slipping off his thick socks (that he wore to give his beat bounce); lifting his size twelves and removing the plasters; inspecting his bunions before bathing his feet and redressing; then gently slipping them into a nice comfy pair of fur-lined moccasins. “Here’s two packs for ye, keep yer money.”
Maurice winked and tore a packet open with his impeccably-maintained teeth and poured the second half of his pint down his gaping mouth, eyebrowing the taps. He slammed the creamy empty down with a relieved sigh of achievement. “You might be right, Joe. If the fat and salt don’t finish me off, the hangover tomorrow will.”
“Ah, but you’ve years in ye yet, Maurice. Just take it easy. You’re not a young man na more.”
Maurice gave a little shake of the head, ginger thatched-roof eyebrows sloping down, GAA goalpost between them. His skin had the weathered look of a fisherman and his eyes were mildly humoured by irony that his spirits had near broken when he was young. “Would je schtop, I’m only getting’ schtarted. You wouldn’t believe the week I’ve had.”
Joe liked to talk about football to take Maurices’ mind off work, bring him down to earth again.
Maurice appreciated this and it was the reason he chose Kennedy’s all those years ago after being moved down from Cavan. The locals that frequented Kennedy’s hadn’t much in the way of conversational fodder, however, besides amateur punditry on sporting matters. You’d have a rare night when one of their adult kids would turn up and inspire the ‘back in my day I’d have been shot for wearing me hair like that’ banter. You’d get conversations about modern music and the old stuff. Always a warm feeling would fill that place about a shared love of the Beatles or Pink Floyd, ruined when Ed Sheran came on the jukebox. There’d be soft glows in the eyes about daughters reaching the age and blooming into fine young things who still had their hearts in the right places. Kennedy’s was like a hazy meadow by eleven, mid-week, and that feeling would linger on the drunken faces long past closing. Song always broke out on a Friday. Saturday had a bit of menace to it; cocaine running around the place. Sunday was the nurse. Monday a day of mourning the rumours flying around at the weekend and a day of reset.
This weekend the place got low with the rumour that some scumbag had apparently done it again to his daughter. The heaviness lasted ‘till Tuesday when Seargent Maurice Delaney arrived for his weekly session, tantamount to a visit from the Pope this day. When he was there, Kennedy’s became a place where people opened up; a place where hushed rumours that were vomited up on Sunday could be tested for integrity. It was Maurice who’d put to bed a spurious rumour from fact.
He slapped his lips together, and winked. “That little knacker hasn’t the balls for that.”
The relief transformed Kennedy’s into a little chapel for a moment, lit by clean thoughts. However, this weekend, with the cocaine flying around as if Bing Crosby had given a rendition of White Christmas, a familiar name returned to everyone’s lips: Frances Funtime Fredricks; or Triple F; or lately The Devil in Disguise, (due to F being the 6th letter of the alphabet).
‘You’d never think she was the top drug-dealer in Cairndale to look at her,’ the gossip was. ‘Dimpled cheeks, geeky glasses, blonde hair in a bun, lovely eyes and shocking pink everything.’
The only giveaway was the new white Mercedes she drove with pink-upholstered seats, ‘and at only nineteen’. ‘Blowjobs for one-fifty, a ride for two-fifty and whatever you wanted for a grand,’ rumour was. ‘That’s how she got started.’.
“Ah her, sure I know all habout’er. As quick as a ferret down a rabbit hole,” said Maurice, using his bulbous tongue to pick mushed peanuts from his teeth. “Learned how the drugs game works that way. Seduced half the dealers north of the Liffey. Has them all under her spell now.”
“Men do when a woman with smoky eyes and dancer’s legs work their voodoo,” said Joe, mopping the bar.
“She’s dirt on everyone,” said Nully, a round faced regular punter with a perpetually falling gaze.
“Would you believe…,” said Joe, scanning the other moustachioed amateur sports pundits buttressing his bar. “They’re all afraid to cross her. Even the little mad yokes who don’t know better.”
“She sounds like the devil alright,” Nully muttered.
“Ye wouldn’t think to look at her.”
“She’s some ride,” said Nully’s son’s gormless mate, blowing the shape of a fanny into the head of his Guinness.
“She’s a little slut, would je kop on,” said Nully’s son.
“Just sayin’ man.”
Maurice leaned back, the leather squeak of his belt against the chair bringing calm and silence to the proceedings. A weighty sigh always heralded a slap of his lips before he spoke. “So, you all know what I’m up against now.”
“We do Maurice,” said Joe, doe-eyed. “Can you not arrest these people ruining things for everyone? I’d like to start a talent night here, like the X-Factor, you know? Find Coolock’s hidden talent,” he said, with a twinkle in his eyes. “But you know what it’s like around here. Some scumbag’s little sister won’t get through to the next round and he and his mates’ll start threatening us.”
“Ye can’t arrest anyone without evidence, Joe.”
“Frances is importing drugs,” said Nully’s son into his pint, dreary dull eyes intensely magnetised by an old Guinness-stained drip tray, which Joe wiped anxiously.
“We know,” said Maurice, “but we have to catch her doing it. So far she’s led us on a wild-goose chase.” He rubbed the grey whiskers on his square country chin. “I think she has her spies everywhere. She’s always one—jaysus, ten steps ahead.” He sighed with a nod and downed half his pint.
Frances Funtime Fredricks had her spies, but so did Seargent Maurice Plumbtree Delaney, and he wasn’t telling anyone in Kennedy’s, who despite all their good intentions, were to him ‘as weak as pisswater when it came to staring down a local scumbag and keeping schtum’. If Triple F was equal to Adolf Hitler around Coolock, he was intent on becoming Winston Churchill. To break her Enigma machine Maurice turned to his own Alan Turing in Bletchly Park, Jerry Finn of Dowley Park Road. This rough Wednesday morning, he had planned to visit him to find out what the late-night message meant while he walked home from Kennedy’s.
The second thought, still in his undies, was of the Cavan wan who’d seduced him. Maurice recalled how he had gone to question her about her antics with the local teenage boys. It was as much of a shock to him that he had allowed it to happen as it was a fond memory, his only transgression that still haunted him with guilt every morning. Not that all other guards were saints. In his ten years in Dublin, he’d seen how easily a good guard can be turned. Seeing them fall victim to their fears that family would suffer violence if they didn’t take the bribe had caused the nagging pain behind his breast pocket.
For the constant pressure to take a bribe or pay the price, he’d never allowed himself someone at home waiting to take his shoes off each night. His family were Kennedy’s Bar of a Tuesday and the good people of Dowley Park Road. They appreciated the sacrifices Maurice had made in helping their communities. Cairndale was so neglected by local government that Maurice was the only guard left who dared enter. In turn, Maurice appreciated that in talking to the guards Jerry Finn of Dowley Park Road had made himself and his family targets for several drug gangs vying for territory. Maurice felt Dowley Park Road was home base. It was less of a road and more of a park with the large green in the centre circled by a row of council houses. In these homes lived individuals who had privately rallied behind Jerry after his car was set alight and the words ‘Rat’ were spray painted across his doorway in a crude red font that evoked thoughts of dripping blood.
Jerry Finn was not easily intimidated. With Dublin’s housing racket in full effect, he had made his voice heard to local government long before he decided to personally take on the drug gangs. But the locals were forced to stand aside helplessly watching one eviction after another as they had windows smashed to drive off any would-be ‘rats’. That had delivered a new class of people to the area, who serendipitously and perhaps naively harboured the same resentment for intimidation and fortitude as Jerry Finn.
Maurice, turning up each time another stolen car screeched into Dowley Park, didn’t go unnoticed by the community, that came out as one: pyjamas and slippers, kids in the nook of an arm, bouncing away the whines. They’d be on the phone and marching towards Jerry’s house to discuss the recent event. Jerry was vocal in his plan to stand up to them. A silver Ford had come on a grey Monday around noon, watching his house. Four masked young fellas sat ominously still then the car screeched away.
“The schmart feckers” Maurice had said, “There’s only women at home during the day. They know what they’re up to.” But he soon learned that the women who had moved into the area were far from helpless victims when their husbands were at work. When the silver car turned up the next time, they went out as one. A gang four times as large. When the silver car left, only to return with machetes and hurleys, whereupon they started breaking Jerry’s windows, the women pulled at the arms doing damage. “No fear in them,” Maurice told the regulars in Kennedy’s, recollecting the videos he’d seen.
Maurice had arrived one day, just in time to give a blast of the lights and siren. He saw the track-suited, hoodie-wearing gang leg-it back to the silver car. He didn’t give chase, it wasn’t worth arresting them, they were kids, bar the driver. He needed to find out who was sending them. And he had his suspicions. This Triple F wan. There was a second method in his madness in letting them know he wasn’t after them: it was a way of saying ‘stay out of here and you won’t get nicked’.
Maurice planned to make Dowley Park Road his stronghold. After that, he had the council lay down speedbumps and block off the road that connected two estates—the rougher part accessed by a fly-tipping blocked artery of a laneway, which he severed by putting up tight bollards. The locals would have to take a detour to get where they wanted to go, of course, but they had been doing that to avoid the black heart of Cairndale anyway. Going that way, you were guaranteed to be stoned. And if you were unfortunate enough to catch the lights, you’d have your bonnet dented by hordes of wild kids, who’d also decorate your windscreen with spit and greeners.
Maurice’s plan to clean up Cairndale and to a lesser extent, Coolock, was based around the locals, and Jerry Finn had been all over Triple F for weeks.
This morning was no less a battle to drag his sex-starved, still mildly hungover body back up the stairs to put on the uniform. He was a weak, overweight, forty-one-year old man in white Y-fronts until he put on the costume, utility belt, tabard and cap. Then he was God’s servant on Earth again. The garb gave him a long-legged walk, shoes pointed to the heavens, all completely involuntary. He’s stride into the station, unbothered that he wasn’t greeted as the hero he was. There’d be silence, ominous. Sometimes he’d feel a faint reverence due to so many guards abandoning Cairndale for fear they’d have to take the bribe. Other times shame hid on faces for those who had transgressed in accepting money to look away.
He drove there thinking only of the videos of the women risking their safety to protect their friend. As he entered the station, his voice boomed with authority about kicking arse again today but was upbeat before collecting his paperwork and going to his patrol car.
It had been six weeks since that first expensive car with blacked out windows had shown up at the exact moment he was leaving the house. There’d be another passing as he left the station to start his day. He had pulled over a few for the tint and noticed the audacity in the young people, half of them from decent families and attending college. With what Jerry Finn had told him, he was sure the influence of this Triple F had spread down the chain to kids who should have no place in the drugs trade.
Her over-confidence is a good thing, he thought, as he started the engine. He’d often used egotism to catch a criminal by playing his hand low-key; the stupid country guard always ten steps behind. But this morning he was upset about pulling over another young woman the previous Friday, who should have been working on her buns in the gym or whitening her teeth, not willing to spy for what he assessed as clout, street cred and a bit of free cocaine at the weekends. They weren’t her gang per se; nor were the ones smashing windows. Her ‘generals’ were too smart to tint their windows or appear so overtly aggressive. His sinking heart this morning was buoyed by the fact Maurice felt like Jerry Finn was close to figuring out who they were.
He had a sip of coffee as he took a right turn out of the station car-park, spinning the wheel one-handedly while flashing a look to the left. Opposite to the direction he had headed, a car was parked across the road with tinted windows. The thought of this smoky-eyed gang boss, only nineteen yet seemingly with more control than any who’d gone before her, made his chest hurt something awful. Mostly because she was using an American model of recruiting college students. Bright, ambitious and sociable, all of them ruining their lives for easy money and Instagram followers. Their advertisements for drugs were delivered to their audiences like typical show-off antics: ‘Do you need to give your weekend a lift? I’m your gal’.
He knew Franaces lived two roads across from Dowley Park, in the back bedroom of her ma’s house. Mary Fredricks was well-known back in the day as a druggie shoplifter on Henry Street. In the late nineties she got clean and fenced gear for The General and other well-known members of the criminal underworld. Now, if you believed her, she was a reformed character, given her woke Facebook posts. Jerry Finn and other residents of Dowley Park saw through it and had created several fake profiles on social media.
They all met in Jerry’s kitchen—as they had for a year and a half. With Maurice having brought relative safety to the area, they started a part-time paedophil- hunting operation on the side, which required them to maintain numerous fake profiles, which included being friends with Mary Fredricks. The only fake profile that bore fruit was Jerry’s sixteen-year-old alter ego from Texas, Tyler Smith. She lived on her father’s ranch and had her own white mare. She drove a white Mercedes with pink seats and always posed in tight hotpants, often with an assault rifle. Jerry perfected the correct vernacular and emoji skills whenever he had a spare moment, testing the water on other profiles before getting blocked.
“It’s like fishing,” he said as Maurice let himself in through the back door. He carefully but quickly typed a comment below Triple F’s post: ‘Ghant mugs, there, babes. ☹ The heat here, OMG. I’d love to be in Eire! Can’t spell ‘your day will come’ in Irish but you know I luv yall. I’m so going to go soon, so many roots to discover. XoX. Keep the faith!’
“Is that Frances herself?” said Maurice
“Jaysus, good man. Sounds like yer getting’ close to her. What’s with the XoX, lesbians are ye?”
“No,” he laughed. “The ‘Xs’ are just friendly, the ‘o’ refers to ‘a hole inside her’ Frances always talks about it in her messages when she’s lonely,” he said, hitting send.
“Jaysus, we’re dealing with a philosopher, are we?”
“She’s deep and smart.”
“I can’t deny it, I’m sort of impressed by her.”
Jerry’s wife laughed from another room. “She could have been Taoiseach if she wanted to, but she chose wrong.”
“They have no patience nowadays,” said Jerry’s next-door neighbour, Pavel, a stocky, T-shirted, no-necked, shaven-headed Hungarian builder with kind blue eyes. He squeezed Maurice’s shoulder as he put down a cup of tea in front of Jerry.
Jerry was focused on the screen. “She’s hard to predict. Anytime she posts a bare-all video talking about her troubles, I’ve noticed a few strange things. Have a look.” He hit the space bar and lifted the mug of tea. Maurice and Pavel sat either side of him.
Pavel’s wife, Iva, a blonde, thin-eyed ex-teacher, studying to be a lawyer, stood over the three men. “We think she uses code,” she said. “Watch how she changes her body posture when she says, ‘We used to go knacker drinking down at the Old Gravin Docks at the Grand Canal Basin, where the Naom Éanna is…’ She’s talking about a derelict boat,” said Iva, excitedly. “I have studied human behaviour and know the signs of deception.” She used the touchpad on Jerry’s laptop to rewind the video and muted the volume before playing it. “Watch without the sound, you’ll see it. I check for a person’s baseline first, how they normally talk and move. There are a few things about her body language worth noting. Firstly, she normally speaks very calm and measured. Secondly, she holds her head up—she’s very proud of herself. She rarely shows verbal disfluency—stumbling. Yet, when she mentions that location, ‘the Old Gravin Docks’ she speaks quickly and with a slight bowed head. Without actually stumbling, she stumbles. She also blinks rapidly and smirks while saying the location. Very subtle but very obvious if you know what to look for. Individually, theses things don’t necessarily mean anything,” she said, hand up. She closed her fingers as if catching a fly, “but in a cluster like this, it appears to be deception.”
“Do you think that’s where the next shipment is arriving?” asked Maurice.
“Possibly. She’s vary paranoid, although you’d never think it to look at her. I doubt she uses phones. I think she does all her business in public, where it’s noisy: supermarkets, pubs, that sort of thing.”
Jerry hit the spacebar to stop the video. “She’s organising something and it’s not a rave.”
“Okay, so we might have a location, but when?” asked Maurice.
Jerry moved the slider on the video along a minute and hit space. Frances said, ‘We’d stay there drinking until the sun came up,’ looking straight down the lens. ‘Once we stayed there until 5 A.M., off our nuts on yokes. The real deal, ye get me?’ Jerry hit space again.
“5 A.M.. That sounds to me like a message to somebody,” said Maurice.
“Maybe or maybe a decoy,” said Pavel.
“You overthink everything and give her too much credit,” said Iva.
Maurice leaned back and took off his cap and mopped the flop from his brow. “We might have a rough time but no date though.”
Jerry sipped his tea. “It’ll be tonight. She always takes these videos down an hour or so afterwards and makes another saying she was emotional and regretted it.”
“Jerry is the only one obsessed enough to watch everything she puts up,” said Iva.
“She’s bringing in a shipment tonight?”
“Best bet, yes,” said Jerry, rubbing his eyes.
“Well done,” said Maurice, groaning to get to his feet.
“You’re not going there alone, are you?” asked Jerry.
“I know you, you are.”
“I was thinking about it. I won’t. I’ll call… Detective Kelly.” He patted Iva on the back. “Studying to be a lawyer. You’d be better served in the force.”
She shook her head and gazed out the window at dark clouds dominating the landscape. “I want to see their eyes when they are sentenced.”
Detective Andrew Kelly worked his way up from a local station in Killmuckridge where as a guard he was barely a wet weekend out of Templemore and intercepted a lorry carrying three-million-Euro’s worth of cannabis. When he repeated the feat the same year, he got a promotion to Pearse Street in Dublin, where he spent five years before moving up to detective. Maurice worked in Pearse Street at the same time and they’d shared a patrol car for a year-and-a-half. Counter to Maurice’s staunch morals, Detective Andrew Kelly used cocaine that he absconded. “I pay for it, I don’t take the stuff I confiscate,” he said, driving Maurice to the location.
Maurice sat in the back with rain tickling his cheek through the open window, listening to the unsymmetric swish and splash of tires plunging into puddles in the missing cobbles. “It’d be tempting though.”
“I said I don’t have a fucking habit, Maurice… but on nights like this,” he said, wiping his nose, “it takes the edge off. Jaysus, tell me anyone you know who doesn’t need something to do this job.”
He laughed. “You’re from some other planet, wud ye stop. It’s just up ahead.”
“Have you surveillance gear?”
“I do. I’ll pop the boot and you can grab the night vision goggles.”
“Great.” Maurice hopped out as Detective Kelly lit a cigarette. “It’s raining, pop it will ye?”
“Get back in ye clown. Night-vision goggles, for fuck’s sake. Where do ye think ye are, America or somethin’?”
“Fucking night vision.”
Maurice huffed as he sat into the back seat of the unmarked police car, keeping his feet outside. “What time is it?”
“Do you not have a watch? It’s half-four. You’re some man staying up this late past your bedtime.”
“I face these whores every day. You’ve a cushy number.”
“Nothing stopping you from going for a promotion, Maurice.”
“I’ve important work to do in the community, I can’t abandon them now.”
“Did ye forget your cape this morning?”
“Shouldn’t we go over there?”
“We will in a minute, wait until I finish me smoke.”
“Hurry the jaysus up.”
“It takes as long as it takes.”
When Detective Andrew Kelly was sufficiently relaxed, they sneaked to a laneway with a view of the entrance to the scrap of wasteland and the channel where the boat was docked. Maurice’s heart skipped as a white Mercedes arrived at the top of the road. Jerry and Iva’s hunch had been correct. The futures of all the young people under this wan’s spell would be back on track once he got the cuffs on her. If left to grow from her small foundations, she might become as big and as bloody as the last lot.
Triple F pulled her Mercedes up next to the boat. A short while later, Maurice watched with delight as a black car arrived and two skinny young fellas got out. Frances went to her boot and gave them two white boxes. Maurice shoved open the car door and steamed straight towards them. “Armed police,” he barked, pointing his phone, which in the dimly lit wasteland, could have been a gun.
Detective Kelly followed and pulled a real gun. “Out of the car, Frances,” he said, strolling up behind Maurice, down on one knee and breathing heavily.
She opened her car door and sat in, one leg up on the door rail, laughing. “What’s got your knickers in a twist?”
“We know exactly who you are,” said Maurice.
“I’ll let you book her,” said Detective Kelly.
The detective grabbed the boxes from the two lads and slapped cuffs on them.
“What am I supposed to have done?” asked Frances, all innocent.
“Importing drugs,” said Maurice, standing.
“Where are you going’ with that? You must be off your rocker.”
“What’s in the boxes?”
“Wud je feck off.” He flashed a glance at the detective. “Did you check in the boxes?”
Detective Kelly knelt down and opened one. He looked up sombrely.
“What?” said Maurice.
“What have ye there?”
“Looks like… party balloons.”
“I’m a party organiser,” she said, smirking. “They don’t call me Funtime Fredricks for nothing.”
“Where are the drugs, Frances?” said Maurice, through his teeth.
“Drugs? Me? You must be on them yourself.”
“You’re importing bloody drugs.” He rubbed his left pectoral.
“What gave ye that idea?”
“Stop playin’ me.” He opened a packet of balloons and inspected the contents.
“Looks like you got played alright. Doesn’t it?” she said, flicking her silky blonde hair. “And before you accuse me, none of it is stolen. I have receipts.”
“Why come to the docks at night?” said Detective Kelly.
“It’s a surprise birthday.” She smirked.
“Oh, ye little …” Maurice eyeballed the detective. “She’s lying. Did you search the cars?”
“I will now.” He opened all the doors, saying, “But if there’s nothing we have to let her go.”
Maurice put the three of them in the unmarked police car and went back to help the detective search. He returned to Frances and the two lads in the back with his hands in his pockets, shoulders raised to his ears. He nodded to Frances. “Out ye get,” he said, unlocking the door.
She skipped towards her Mercedes as Maurice put his hands on his head. “I know you’re dealing. I’ll catch ye one day.”
“Here, Maurice,” said Frances, “my friend Tyler said hello. Tell her her banter is ‘ghant mugs’.” She threw her head back, screaming with laughter. “Ghant mugs. Ye sham ye.”
Maurice felt sick; clammy. The pain moved from his breast pocket to his neck, jaw then his left arm. “Jaysus, Andrew, I think I’m… call an ambulance will ye?”
The detective took his arm, and they got into the car and sped away. Maurice muttered as they drove over cobbles. “Stop.”
“What was that?”
“The boxes… The bloody boxes. What were they made out of?”
“Plastic I think.”
He dabbed his finger to his tongue then grabbed the detective’s shoulder “Turn back, we’ve got her.”
“She’s clever, but not clever enough to get one over on me. She forms the cocaine into boxes. I can taste it on my hands.”
The detective dabbed his finger to his tongue and looked back with a smile. “Well now, that’s a new one on me. Good man yourself, Maurice.”
“Oh be jaysus, if I die tonight, I’ll go to heaven a happy man having locked up the devil in disguise.”