Saturday, October 23, 2010


He’s late. A half hour late, and I don’t have the option of calling. I check my watch and take a sip of my sparkling water. A small sip, after thirty minutes open I find it flat. I should’ve put the top back on. Stupid. Friday night and I’m paying for my own drinks, bad enough without wasting all my money on Ballygowan.

Can’t get drunk yet. Who knows how much longer he’ll be? I need to look good, and drinking on an empty stomach won’t help me. I look at the cocktail menu anyway. Ten Euro for a Cosmopolitan. Celtic Tiger prices. They obviously didn’t get the memo. It’d take fifty of them to pay for this suit. My shoes, newer, cost half a Cosmopolitan. The bartender spots me looking and asks if I want anything. I tell him I’m driving even though I took the bus. Shit. He’ll buy me a drink when he gets here, that’ll be awkward. He’ll probably buy me a few. I order another sparkling water, Ballygowan, glass, not plastic, even though the first bottle’s not empty. It’s warm as well as flat but I finish it anyway, the bartender takes the empty as he places the fresh bottle on the table. I check the mirror behind the bar - the suit looks good, dark navy slim fitted jacket, skirt just long enough for office wear and a crisp white blouse with enough buttons open to show my necklace. The suit’s touching two years old, older than I’d like, but looks professional. Just like him.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Watchman

Niall’s mind focused on two tasks, the first important, the second vital. He scans the docks for security, the remainder of his mind devoting itself to the acquisition of heroin.

The darkness hides him in a bag of cold sweat and paranoia. They could do me for trespass, he tries to reassure himself, but they probably wouldn’t call the cops.

The other three check for older style locks on nearby shipping containers. A specially cut and folded beer can will slide easily alongside their fastener, opening the lock. Niall listens for the squeak of doors opening. Nothing. If they were caught they’d be done for trespass, going equipped, possibly robbery. That’s why they got paid more.

The part of Niall’s brain that demands opiates does not understand the concept of debt. It does not understand why Niall spends four hours working for a ten quid bag when he could be begging. He tries to silence it.

A squeak. An open door. Still, no need to panic yet, it could be stuffed with scrap metal. Niall catches his breath, listening. He might get a little extra for a good job. Too professional to talk, he hears the others start to work. What was it? A good haul would almost definitely mean more heroin. This is important he told himself – how many footsteps can you hear?

Two sets means TVs, furniture, storage heaters, even printers once. Big items, harder to sell, harder to move. Hardly worth the effort. Three sets means gold dust. Small electronics. Laptops. iPods. Computer parts. Mobile phones. A hot shower tomorrow morning and a walk around town in a suit, seeing who’d buy them. More gear. He listens carefully, his junkie brain excited.

Could he really hear the difference? He always guessed, and was right more often than not. The others, professionals, did not stomp. He hears a grunt. Something heavy? He scans the dockyard once more, and finding nothing, sneaks back to look.

His ten Euro bag and continued health depends on not leaving his post; paranoia keeps him to the shadows. In the distance the three stand around an open container and use a mobile’s light to check the contents. One cuts open the packaging. Lots of small boxes. They could easily carry ten each. Don’t get excited yet he tells himself. It could be dog bowls again. People ship all sorts of rubbish.

Too far away to see clearly, he finds comfort seeing the others still working. Surely it must be worth something? Paranoia draws him back to his post. Too late he sees the security guard, neon jacket, torch, walking past. Time slows down as the heroin seeking part of his brain, jolted by adrenaline, examines the situation. Arrest means no drugs. Failing to keep watch means no drugs. The others getting caught means... he rubs his arm. Healed now. Broken for something minor.

Time moves with unexpected clarity. He could run, now, and warn them. He’d have to run past the guard, shouting. Would they make it? Probably. Still, if he’d been at his post he could have warned them silently. They’d close the container, hide nearby, and get back to work in a half hour. If they missed out on iPods for this he’d take a beating. He probably wouldn’t get his bag.

Time slows. Why did they give the guards neon jackets? Much easier to spot. He watched the torch flick through the shadows. More neon, a bright orange life buoy. Of course. Niall runs with a focus only addicts possess.

“Help! Help!” he roars, not looking back “I’m fallin’ in!”

Still strong, he leaps over the safety barrier, making sure there are no boats below. “HELP!” he shouts as he falls, making certain his landing is a loud belly flop.

The cold water shocks him. He takes a moment to congratulate himself. Sure, he’ll be in trouble. Play dumb he thinks, just say you were looking for somewhere safe to sleep. They mightn’t even call the cops. There could be a warm blanket, a cup of tea.

He should ask for a cup of tea. And to use the bathroom. How long would it take the guard to fish him out? The port wall is two stories high with no ladder; you can only get out if you are pulled up by rope. The other three will have plenty of time to load the van. They’ll even lock the container afterwards; it could be weeks before anyone spots the robbery. He wonders if they could do this stunt again at another dock.

His body starts to shiver. Must be some problem opening the life buoy he thinks. He's not worried. Withdrawal has prepared him for worse, and if he fakes hypothermia he'll buy a half hour waiting on the ambulance, going through the motions. He could even come back tomorrow night, give the guard a few beers for his efforts, keep him talking while the guys did another run.

Niall kicks off his shoes. Their weight was dragging him down. “Help!” he cries again.

On the dock, a security guard walks his beat. He’s had one official warning for falling asleep on the job. There would not be a second. Three cups of coffee run through his system and his headphones blast loud music, keeping him awake.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Adolphus Kiernan is a short and sparsely built man whose lifetime spent stooped over architectural drawings has bestowed on him an unusual curvature of the spine. This semi-grovel and downcast stare give him a submissive air; many find it easy to bend him to their will. Still, sometimes, when the world’s gaze rests elsewhere, you’ll catch a glimmer of rebellion in the old man’s eye.

“Brother, I’m sorry, I can’t make your show tonight... I know... I’m sorry... last minute job.”

With that Adolphus returned to work. Artist, father, lover, his brother outshone him in most measurable capacities. He even had a better name.  But work must come first.

Many pressing matters cried for Adolphus’s attention. Every one of the bank’s branches resides in a building of some description, rarely are they purpose built. Customers visit converted Georgian homes, old print works, former hotels and units originally designed for shopping. Each one requires homogenisation of sorts; a raised floor for cabling, a floating ceiling for lighting, and appropriate heating. The IT area must be flood proof, air conditioned and well ventilated. A break area is a union necessity. Entrance must only be possible through two sealable doors and, most importantly, all cash must find itself behind bulletproof glass, spending the preponderance of its day in a time locked safe. Computerisation was not a priority and Adolphus drew all plans by hand.

He turned his mind to a recently acquired Georgian listed building in Cork. A box room offered the ideal size for IT equipment, but had no channel to run the required cables, and no legal method of adjusting the interior. Balancing the plans atop some boxed Christmas decorations he opened the photographs of the site. He checked the interior of the room, pausing to pull out a magnifying glass. Excellent. A servant’s bell. The tug cord in the room would be connected to a bell in the hallway – he could have the cabling run through the same route. Ancient force of habit caused him to turn and share this success. Finding no-one, he turned to his next item.

The hour is late when he rolls floor plans into a plastic tube for further work at home. The tube is large, while standing it reaches his sternum; he has been cautioned that cycling so encumbered is dangerous. He prefers the stairs to the lift.

“Goodnight Rashid” he makes a point of smiling to the night security guard, making eye contact.

“Goodnight Alphonsus!”, the reply accompanied by a smile of white teeth and what seems to be genuine feeling.  The cycle home is cold, he feels no benefit from his coat after a days’ wear. Rashid returns to his book.

“Good morning Rashid!” is delivered with the same smile, coat and enthusiasm used some eight hours prior. This was a rush job, and four hours’ sleep must suffice. After one short stop he leaves the revised plans propped against his manager’s door. No note required, his eight am deadline met with twenty minutes to spare Adolphus decided to treat himself to a canteen breakfast of tea and toast, consumed at his desk.

His work is hard and often thankless. Despite working in a facilities department the heater in his solitary workspace has gone unmended for some three years. In winter he does not remove his coat, come warmer weather he folds it carefully and lays it atop the old filing boxes, Christmas decorations and office bric-a-brac that share his workspace. His coatstand has long since been surrendered to more important staff, the space it once occupied now used to house a box of old keyboards. There is no longer space for two people; for expediency’s sake his superiors shout orders from the corridor. There is no need for a response.

 “Kiernan!” comes such a shout. His first name was never favoured. He turns to find his manager, Sean, bloodshot eyes, unwashed hair, the smell of last night’s smoke and mixed drink entering where Sean does not. Last night’s work in his hand, the roll squashed flat in the middle, decorated with a bootprint, he continues.

“You expect me to present this mess? You were supposed to have this ready at eight! It’s half nine!”

Adolphus sits quietly, accepting the blame for Sean’s clumsiness. He promises to have it redone by noon, silently reminding himself that the meek shall inherit the earth. He consoles himself by breathing “the second time around is always faster” and sets to work, meeting the noon deadline with his habitual fifteen minute safety net intact. He travels the complicated warren of corridors to Sean’s office. A newspaper tells of bank bailout costs, it lies on a desk beneath a landscape by Jack B Yeats. An original. Were Adolphus a greedy man, he may wonder how the mahogany furniture contrasted in value to his years’ pay. But he is not a greedy man, he never sought more than his due.

Judging by his desk Sean was on his third coffee. “You’ve let a lot of people down Kiernan.” He took the plans. “Now get out – I’ve got real work to do.”

Adolphus left without a word.

All in all the day passed smoothly, Rashid had barely commenced his nightshift when Adolphus crossed the reception area with his drawing tube. He allowed himself the luxury of a brief conversation about Rashid’s homeland, and even resurrected some French that had lain dormant since secondary school.

“You are in a good mood my friend.”

“Thank you Rashid, I suppose I am. I’m going to see my dear brother. I let him down quite badly yesterday, but I think some supper might make things right.”

Days passed, and had anyone caught Adolphus’s eye they may have caught a brighter glimmer. In a most unexpected development he left the building for lunch, returning within thirty minutes, rubbing his arm.

“Where the hell were you?” Sean asked in the corridor

“Flu jab sir, can’t be too careful at my age.”

“Running all over town on company time is as bad as stealing, and I’m not paying you for it. Make up the time before you go home tonight.”

Adolphus scuttled past, eager for the privacy of his office. Both shoulders were quite sore and he found difficulty reaching plans on higher shelves. He took the medical bureau’s receipt from his pocket and studiously ripped it into the tiniest of pieces, then ate the segments with a warm cup of tea.

Time marched on, his routine varied little. Early mornings and late nights continued, the day’s monotony broken only by occasional strolls through the office’s gilded halls and new plans for old banks.

Adolphus worked his sixty fifth birthday without ceremony or complaint. He finished his assigned tasks and took a brightly coloured envelope from his jacket. Not a birthday card, a Christmas card of sorts, he hid it with the Christmas decorations for later discovery. He was a shy man, and did not enjoy the prospect of delivering his message to Sean in person.  For the last time he rolled his plans and walked through the building. He passed Rashid with a simple “Bonne chance!”; a longer goodbye would follow by mail. He stepped outside, despite the late hour the summer’s sun still shone. His arms, no longer stiff from various immunisations, lingered for a moment by his bike. Would he need it again? For the first time in forty three years, Adolphus and his drawing tube flagged a taxi home.

“What line of work are you in buddy?” the taxi driver asked.

“Oh, me? I’m a bank robber. Recently retired.”

“Fair enough buddy, no chit chat then.”

Adolphus went to his bedroom, examining his tickets and passport to a new life for the thousandth time before opening his drawing tube. In keeping with routine he unrolled his plans, the topmost detailing a new branch’s secure doorway. It was no longer of interest. Beneath lay a John B Yeats original, recent subject of a private bidding war, replaced, as with so many others, by his brother’s excellent reproduction.