Little Criminals
in having been so publicly welcomed as an intimate of the family.
    Frankie was looking forward to the funeral in the morning. He liked the idea of mixing with the family, being seen to be connected. There was a price to pay. After the Mass and the ritual at the cemetery there would be the inevitable and unavoidable wake at some hotel, and the kind of drinking that would put him out of action for most of the day after. Which was OK, because the kidnap job wasn’t scheduled for another six days.

    In the corridor outside the Circuit Criminal Court, a woman opened her blouse and offered a breast to her baby. A young, skinny, uniformed garda, one hand clasping the other behind his back, watched for a moment, then strolled over to the mother and told her to take it outside. She told him to have a heart and her brother, a five-foot-three bundle of muscular animosity, hurried over and told the young garda not to act the bollocks. The woman told her brother to go away, she was OK. Then she continued feeding the baby.
    The garda looked around, as though considering which of the eight colleagues hanging about the hall might best be called upon to help him restore law and order.
    Sitting on a bench several yards away, Detective Sergeant Nicky Bonner muttered, ‘Asshole.’ Beside him, Detective Inspector John Grace looked up from his Evening Herald crossword, clocked the situation and nodded.
    It was pushing seven o’clock in the evening, the company of performers from the Circuit Criminal Court – police, lawyers and civilians – was hanging around waiting for the jury to make up its mind. Otherwise, the Four Courts complex was closed for business.
    John Grace watched the woman cuddling the child, the curve of the nourishing breast just visible between the baby’s face and the open edge of the pink blouse. Dolores Payne was a shoplifter whose work-rate added half a shift to at least one inner-city police station. She was here to offer moral support to her boyfriend, the defendant in the manslaughter case John Grace had been attending, as senior investigating garda, for the past three days.
    The case was a stupid one, the kind of not-for-profit crime that filled more cells than any number of criminal masterplans. Close to closing time in the defendant’s local, someone cracked wise about something or other, someone else called the wisecracker a wanker, someone pushed someone and the sensible people left the pub in a hurry. Dolores’s boyfriend, seeing himself as the senior Big Shot on the premises, stepped in as a peacemaker. One of the combatants, a distant cousin, told him to fuck off and by the time the police arrived Mr Big Shot had to be dug out of his estranged relative. Decades of half-remembered internal family resentment popped up out of nowhere, resulting in one set of bloody fists and a distant cousin who lasted six days on life support before he gave a sudden shudder, woke up and said to the nurse who was changing a dressing, ‘Tell Sheila I want to see her.’ Then he closed his eyes and died. He had no relative, friend, neighbour or workmate named Sheila, no Sheila worked in the hospital, his wife was named Marian and no one in his family knew who Sheila might be.
    For the detectives at Turner’s Lane garda station, the case involved little more than turning up and arresting the guy everyone was pointing at, Mr Big Shot. This kind of stupid killing was as old as alcohol. It was one of eight serious assaults that detectives at Turner’s Lane dealt with that week. It was the only one to end in a fatality.
    ‘It’s the new Ireland,’ Nicky Bonner was fond of saving. ‘Since we got prosperous, everyone’s more tense and no one feels the day’s complete until they get marinated.’ Nicky had a theory. ‘Used to be the Church set limits to things,’ he said. ‘That’s all gone. All the old landmarks are gone. Even the IRA are wearing suits and discussing gross national product. It’s all about money

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