Being The Beginning Sunday January 23, 2011
1 The Exchange Sunday January 30, 2011
2 bildende Kraft Saturday February 5, 2011
3 Gossamer Wings Friday February 11, 2011
4 Nemesis Saturday February 19, 2011
5 Odd Shoes Friday February 25, 2011
6 al-Rûh Friday March 4, 2011
7 A Love Supreme Thursday March 10, 2011
8 The Three Cornered Light Thursday March 24, 2011
9 Serendipity Tuesday April 5, 2011
10 The Watchman Friday April 15, 2011
11 The Upright Way
13 The Cave of Montesinos
16 The Perfect Square
18 The Uncontainable
19 The Ear of Malchus
20 Mauvais Pas
21 Sinan Qua Non
27 The Vanishing Point
28 The Cat Walks
29 The Approximate Likeness of Being
Becalming Unscientific Postscript
“A strange spark flashes in the eyes,
a strange word slides into the song,
the soul, rising itself with the dawn,
does not know about its night to be. . .”
Reaching for the familiar bottle of the malt Flanagan begins to unscrew the cap. He suddenly hesitates mid-revolution, and changes his mind. Coffee is required instead, he realises, to concentrate his wits. He heads for the kitchen, ladles a double helping of Java into a cafétière and waits for the kettle to boil. Once prepared, he leans against the breakfast counter, gulping down the coffee before refilling the cup and returning across the room to the diary. He scrolls down to check how many entries are left and decides to keep going. Jack Dawson is bad enough drunk, but sober he’ll be lethal, he reasons, and then wonders about the true nature of his and Rio’s attachment and the silence of that attachment. Almost a conjugal silence he had thought the night they had all met in the hotel; so little need to say anything between them and yet so much unsaid between them.
He waits for an announcing creak of the apartment building’s front door but it doesn’t come. Felicity Fellows is not returning, he finally decides, rubbing his eyes. ‘I need to understand everything,’ he says into the silence. He scrolls down, glancing quickly at two short entries. The one for January 18 reads:
Back from Belfast, Walt. No word from Jerome. Bastard! Mac rang, wants to come over. I put him off. He thinks I’m with Flanagan. Hangs up not believing…
Flanagan skips over the accusation, remembering an article he’d read recently about how George Gamow’s predicted cosmic radiation, the Universal noise from the Big Bang, was detected after all possible elements that might account for that noise were eliminated, including the “white dielectric material” – birdshit – scrubbed from the antenna dish. Bastard! She called me. Bullshit, he thinks, brown dielectric material confusing the noise of his imploding universe.
‘Bring it back,’ he reminds himself, sipping the coffee. Azure dielectric material:
January 20 – morning:
What a shit day Walt! It started with a loud and persistent knocking sound that woke me up. I looked at the clock. It was nearly midday and I had been asleep for the best part of nine hours; too much to drink after Mac’s telephone call. The knocking noise got louder…
‘Right. Hold on. I’m coming,’ Rio shouted, throwing off the bedcovers and walking to the window. She pulled back the drapes. In the street, a white police patrol car was parked against the kerb, its engine still running. She opened the window just enough to stick her head out. Directly beneath her, standing at her front door, was a uniformed policewoman.
‘Hello,’ she called down, her tongue moving like sandpaper in her mouth.
‘Dr. Dawson?’ the policewoman looked up and asked in an irritated fashion.
‘Would you come down ma’am. I need to talk to you.’
‘Just come down please and open the door,’ the policewoman demanded.
‘Sure. Hold on a sec!’ Rio closed the window, straightened up, turned and suddenly stubbed her toe against something hard. ‘Shit. What’s that doing there?’ she squeeled aloud, looking down to where the combined telephone-answering machine and its handset lay scattered on the floor, unconnected to each other. Jerome’s poem lay beside them. She must have knocked it off the side table during the night, she realised as she bent down, lifted the handset and listened. There was a low hum of an engaged signal and the low-battery warning light was flashing. Replacing the handset on the machine, and the machine on the table, she checked that the line was working before donning a towel-robe and going downstairs.
‘Please come in,’ Rio said as brightly as she could on opening the door. ‘What’s the problem, officer?’
‘We need you to come to your lab in the museum, Dr. Dawson. We have been trying to contact you since early morning,’ the policewoman said with a clipped, impatient emphasis.
‘I’m sorry about that. My phone was off the hook. I must have knocked it over in the night. I …’ Rio paused and then asked anxiously, ‘What’s up with the lab? There wasn’t a fire, was there?’
‘Dr. Dawson, please get dressed quickly and come with us. Everything will be explained when we get there. I’ll wait in the car for you.’ The policewoman turned on her heel and left.
Rio watched the young officer get into the patrol car before closing the front door and it was another ten minutes, and a quickly taken shower, before she joined them. Without a word they sped the short distance, with the siren blazing and against the flow of traffic, to Ship Lane. This time the recently repaired barrier of the security gate was already erect and as they pulled in Rio saw that there was a tremendous amount of police activity all around the Clock House building. There had been rumours all week of an imminent, but unscheduled visit by former US President, Bill Clinton to the Museum and she now wondered whether all staff had been called in on their Saturday off to be in grovelling attendance. ‘I’ll kill Aengus for not warning me,’ she murmured. The words slipped out before she could stop them.
‘What did you say, Dr, Dawson?’ The young policewoman looked sideways at her as the car skidded to a halt.
‘Look at all the activity. I’m annoyed with the Director for not letting me know there was an important visitor coming. The lab is in a mess.’
‘You’re right there,’ the policewoman growled.
‘What?’ Rio was taken aback by her tone and the observation.
‘Please come with me, Dr. Dawson.’
The policewoman stepped out of the car and waited for Rio to do the same. They headed for the front entrance and it was only when she saw the blacked-out windows of the Silk Road café and the fluttering, yellow tape of a crime scene exclusion area, blocking their way that she suddenly realised that something terrible must have happened. As the policewoman held up the tape for her to duck under, a tanned, dark-haired man came forward to meet her.
‘Dr. Dawson, I’m Detective Inspector Flatley of the Garda Central Detective Unit in the Phoenix Park.’
DI Flatley was taller than her, and had eyes that were so brown, Rio noticed, they were nearly black. Wearing a well tailored and very tight fitting navy-blue suit, a bright pink tie and pale-blue shirt, and pointed, highly polished Italian shoes, he didn’t strike her as being very Irish or fitting any stereotype she might have had of an Irish police detective. ‘What’s going on Inspector?’ she asked accepting his proffered handshake, which was firm.
‘We’re here investigating a possible homicide,’ he replied brusquely, releasing his grip.
‘Did you say homicide?’ she queried, confused.
‘Yes. I need to ask you a few questions Dr. Dawson. Please follow me.’
Stunned by the unfolding events Rio meekly followed him around the corner of the foyer entrance and into the first room of the restaurant. Through a connecting doorway she could see an ashen-faced Mac sitting at a table being questioned by another, heavier built, man. Cormac McMurragh looked up briefly as she passed and nodded his head. She was shown to a chair placed where her back would be to where Mac was sitting. DI Flatley sat down on the chair opposite, his face impassive.
‘What’s going on, Inspector? Please tell me,’ she pleaded.
‘Somebody may have been murdered here last night . . . in your lab as it happens. We’re trying to piece it all together. When were you in the lab last?’
‘What? Who for God’s sake?’
‘A Mister Joseph Reilly, the night security guard.’
‘Christ no! I don’t believe it,’ she cried. Rio pushed back on her chair and stood up. She felt her stomach heave. ‘I’m going to get sick. Excuse me.’ She covered her mouth and ran across the marble floor of the atrium, jumping over the ornamental pool in the hurry to get to the ladies toilet. The policewoman who had collected Rio from the house followed, to stand near the cubicle door as she retched, clearly annoyed by the need to do so. It was a few minutes before she felt composed enough to return to the restaurant where DI Flatley was waiting with two cups of coffee.
‘Sugar,’ he asked kindly.
‘When were you last in the lab, Dr. Dawson?’ Flatley persisted as he opened a notebook.
‘About 2.30 pm last Tuesday! I had a meeting in the afternoon and went straight home from there. I was in Belfast until yesterday. At a conference. Took the evening train back. You can check, if you like.’
‘I have,’ Flatley said, flipping over a page. ‘Alone?’
‘Last night. Were you alone at home last night?’
Rio could hear one of Mac’s distinctive loud slurps erupt behind her. ‘Yes,’ she said, blushing.
The policeman noticed. ‘Did anybody call to the house?’
‘What about Tuesday?’
‘What about it?’
‘Did anybody call to your house then?’
‘What’s Tuesday got to do with it Inspector? Joe’s…the homicide happened last night,’ she said, flustered.
‘Please answer the question Dr. Dawson. We are trying to establish everybody’s movements for the last week or so.’
‘It’s what we do. With your training you must realise that.’
‘What do you know of…’ Rio started to object but then realised of course they would have checked on her background, including her time with the FBI. She relented and answered his question. ‘Yes, two people did. Mac . . . Cormac McMurragh and Jerome.’
‘Jerome . . .’ DI Flatley did not look up as he flicked through the notebook until reaching a blank page, ‘. . . that would be Jerome Flanagan?’
‘Yes. Dr. Jerome Flanagan! He used to be a curator here in the museum.’
‘I see,’ he said, writing it down. ‘Any telephone calls?’
‘When? During the entire week?’
‘No. Last night,’ the policeman asked, in a tone which suggested he already knew.
‘Yes my uncle. About midnight.’
‘A bit late!’
‘Not for him. He lives in Florida.’
‘I thought that Dr. Flanagan was staying in the house.’
‘No he’s not,’ she said, a little too emphatically.
‘I thought he was with you.’
‘Who told you that?’
‘Something Mr McMurragh said earlier,’ Flatley mumbled, flicking back to another page.
‘That was on Tuesday last. I told you. He and Mac . . . Cormac McMurragh were with me.’ Rio half turned to see if Mac was listening.
‘Until what time?’
‘They left at about 7.00.’
‘You were alone all night so?’ Flatley’s eyes were sizing her up, testing her.
‘No. Dr. Flanagan came back for dinner.’
‘I see and what time did he leave.’
‘About 3.00 or 4.00 in the morning.’ She couldn’t stop her face blushing.
‘Was that the last time you saw him, Dr. Flanagan . . . the early hours of Wednesday morning?’
‘Any telephone contact since?’
‘I understand.’ Flatley smirked.
‘Well, I don’t,’ Rio shouted back at him, annoyed with the process, the intrusion and the inference in his tone. She stood up. Heads everywhere turned to look at them. ‘What’s happened here? Tell me!’
‘Take it easy, Dr. Dawson,’ he whispered as he leaned forward and touched her hand. ‘Please sit down.’
He smelt of expensive aftershave, Issy Misake, she thought, calming down a little and retaking her seat. ‘I will if you would do me the courtesy of some sort of explanation…about what happened here. I’d like to go up to my lab.’
DI Flatley studied her for a long time before answering. ‘Mr Reilly was found dead in your lab. Crime scene officers are still working up there but his body will be removed to the morgue shortly. Unfortunately it’s not a pleasant sight. Tell me, apart from the routine security patrols which he usually made at . . . let me check,’ he flicked through his notebook again, ‘ . . . at midnight and 6.00 am would there have been any other routine reason for going into your lab. Would, for example, he have been doing something for you?’
‘No. Why do you say that?’
‘Dr. Hanratty, the Assistant State Pathologist, has determined that his death took place roughly between 2.00 and 5.00 am, no sooner than that at any rate. The last person to leave the building was Phyllis Andrew at 02.00.’ He paused for a moment. ‘Why would Miss Andrew have been working in her office so late?’
‘Phyllis, Dr. Andrew, is the Islamic curator. She has been away all week in the States and perhaps was catching up on some work. She’d have still been on East Coast time. It’s not that unusual for some people when they come back. Why don’t you ask her?’
‘We will when we find her.’
‘Oh. Nothing serious. Her neighbours said she left early from her house this morning. By taxi.’
‘I left a written message for her yesterday about something that I’d been working on,’ Rio said, in an abstract way.
‘We know. We found it in her office . . . let me see.’ The detective pulled a clear plastic bag from his jacket pocket. Inside Rio could see that there was a single piece of paper; the writing on it was her own. DI Flatley began to read it. ‘ “Dear Phyllis, I hope you had a good trip. Please destroy the photocopied letter I sent you for an opinion. I’ll explain later. Love Rio.” I thought you said you went straight home yesterday evening.’
‘I said I got home about 11.00pm. I called into the museum about 10pm on the way from the train-station to pick up my mail, and that is when I left the message for Phyllis . . . Dr. Andrew.’
‘So you were in your lab?’
‘No. The mail collection boxes are in the foyer. Joe Reilly let me in and I left straight away again without going up to the lab. I was very tired.’
‘How did he seem?’
‘And Miss Andrew?’
‘No. Phyllis wasn’t there then . . . at least Joe didn’t mention it. He offered to slip my note under her door.’
‘What is the letter you mentioned?’
‘Oh. Nothing important. Some . . . museum business,’ she said defensively.
‘I see,’ DI Flatley said with a click of his tongue. After a moment of contemplation he spoke again. ‘On a different note, Joe Reilly and Miss Andrew were very close, weren’t they? ’ he asked in a nonchalant way as he folded up the plastic bag containing her note and replaced it in his pocket.
‘Yes, they were good friends and whenever Joe was working nights, Phyllis would often stay in to talk with him. It’s so sad.’ Rio’s eyes filled with tears as she spoke her thoughts out loud.
‘Yes. That’s what Mr McMurragh said.’ DI Flatley smiled, a thin sad smile, reminding her of Flanagan. ‘Would you mind coming up to the lab with me, Dr. Dawson? You have to be careful not to touch anything but I would value your help. See if anything is missing; that sort of thing. I’m looking for a motive.’
Rio cringed at the word and had to fight hard against the waves of nausea that suddenly washed over me. ‘Sure.’
‘You’ve probably been to many of these scenes? With the FBI?’ Flatley enquired as he walked alongside.
‘As it happens, Inspector, I have not. My work was always lab based although my uncle would sometimes describe some of his cases when I was growing up.’
‘Was he a policeman?’
‘State Trooper then FBI.’
‘I see,’ he said with another click of his tongue. ‘I’d like you to put on a pair of crime-scene overalls and gloves. You don’t have a latex allergy do you?’
‘No,’ she replied, searching Flatley’s face for any hint of inappropriate sarcasm.
They soon reached the top floor landing, stopping to put-on the overalls at a spot from where Rio could see an animated Aengus FitzHenry entering the foyer below. Nearby a fingerprint technician was dusting the doorway that led to the lab corridor and slightly irritated by the disruption protested loudly before pushing it open with the end of his dusting brush. They entered the corridor and turned into the laboratory doorway.
‘Oh God no!’ she suddenly screamed.
‘I’m sorry about that,’ Flatley said in annoyed fashion as they had to retreat again to allow the gurney with Joe Reilly’s body on it pass out. One of his hands had released and had slipped out through a small tear in the body bag.
Rio shivered. The familiar was no longer familiar. She felt disembodied, as if walking in an alien space, observing it from a distance. Its sanctity seemed desecrated and destroyed, dirty and in need of a cleansing wind.
‘This way Dr. Dawson.’ Flatley led her to the far end of the room. There was a large crescent-shaped board with writing on it being held up by another detective.
‘Yes sergeant.’ Flatley spoke down to another detective who was on his hands and knees searching around in the shadows beneath the sink.
‘Look at this.’
The sergeant moved to one side and Rio could see a small square piece of paper on the floor. It had writing on it. Flatley hunched down to examine, without touching, the paper more carefully. He read it aloud, ‘Dear Rio, I’ve done what you asked. By the way the Watchman translates as the “idol of Hakim”, the judge. Love P. Do you know what she was talking about?’ he asked.
Rio’s head was spinning. Phyllis had translated the word as hakim and not nesr as Jerome Flanagan had done. Why? What’s he up to? she wondered.
‘What’s a “Watchman”?’ Flatley persisted.
‘The linking word between the end of one page of a document and the start of another in Islamic texts, usually used as a guide to the binders, so that the proper page sequence would be maintained,’ she answered automatically. Suddenly her hand came up to her mouth. Oh Jesus . . . Flanagan lied to me, she thought as her stomach heaved again. She wobbled before leaning heavily against a workbench.
Flatley had a concerned look on his face as he stood up to stop her from falling. ‘Do you want to sit down?’
‘No thank you, Inspector. I’ll be ok in a minute,’ she replied quietly, knowing she would not be. It was at that moment she noticed the slightly sweet smell, which was drifting through the lab. She looked around and then noticed the pink, frothing liquid that filled the jacketed water tank. She moved forward for a closer look.
DI Flatley spoke softly, ‘Joe Reilly was found slumped on the floor beneath the tank. He had copious frothing liquid coming from his nostrils and mouth. Drowned probably. Held down into the bath.’
‘Oh dear God,’ she said, horrified by the thought. ‘But it’s not deep enough!’ she protested.
‘It is if you’re concussed or drugged and your head is held down. I’d say he was carrying that letter to you when he collapsed and that the letter fell from his grasp and lay hidden from view under the sink.’
‘God! I’m going to retch again.’ With that Rio turned and vomited into a small hand-washing sink beside the tank. Straightening up she accepted a handkerchief that the policeman offered. ‘I’m sorry Inspector.’
‘No harm done. It’s a distressing scene for you. We should go.’
‘Yes . . . no. It’s not just the scene. There is something else.’ She was sniffing the air again.
‘That sweet aroma in the room! Do you smell it?’
‘Yes, I think so. Is it somebody’s deodorant?’
‘I have a very keen sense of smell, Inspector. It’s not perfume it’s . . .’ Rio broke off and went to the middle section of the lab where the small solvent cupboard and over night storage safe were located, side-by-side. Their presence was obscured for security purposes by a false panel on the wall. She depressed a small lever and the panel slid to one side. The solvent cupboard’s door was open. ‘Inspector. Come here please!’ she called out.
‘What is it, Dr. Dawson?’
‘The solvent cupboard! It’s been opened.’
‘What of it?’
‘There was some chloroform in there.’
‘Chloroform! Why on earth would you have that in here.’
‘It is sometimes used for removing old varnish in picture restoring. It was due to be disposed of on Monday.’
‘I see. Why such security measures?’ Flatley examined the sliding panel.
‘The security is for the night-storage safe. It is really a lockable, modified drying cabinet where small items I might be working on can be safely deposited overnight, or at weekends, without having to return them to the main vaults or leaving them lying about. Small items have a habit of disappearing from museums.’
‘And the solvent cupboard?’
‘It was easier to position them side-by-side when remodelling the building. Both need the same controlled humidity and air extraction connections.’
‘And the safe. What’s in there?’
‘God. The parchment! I’d forgotten all about it,’ Rio bent down and started to dial in the combination of the safe. She suddenly thought of the fingerprint technician. I looked up at Flatley. He nodded for her to go ahead, as she was still wearing the latex gloves. The safe opened. It was empty. She almost knew it would be. ‘They’re gone,’ she said wearily flopping back onto the floor.
‘A Durer etching and an old parchment letter that I was working on. They are both gone.’
‘You mean stolen?’
‘Yes . . . I suppose so.’
‘Were they valuable?’
‘Priceless . . . oh my God.’
‘Do many people know about the safe and the cupboard? Their location and security codes?’
‘God. I don’t know. Anybody who has ever worked here I suppose. At least anybody who has worked since the Library moved to this location. Oh my God!’ Rio felt herself getting dizzy again and tilted forward to lean against the safe.
‘Right. Let me help you up, Dr. Dawson.’ Flatley placed his hand under her elbow and helped her to her feet. ‘I’ll get the technical lads over here and we’ll go downstairs again and you can give me a description of the etching and the parchment and also detail who, currently, has access to the lab. Before we go out however, is there anything else out of place?’
She had difficulty taking her eyes away from the empty safe but eventually looked around as he requested. The rest of the lab was the way I’d left it on Tuesday afternoon, only it wasn’t. It was changed forever.
Outside fresh snow was beginning to fall again Walt, and I wanted to rush forward and open the window and let it blow in; to cover over me; to hide me…
Flanagan scrolls quickly on:
January 20 – afternoon:
After FitzHenry and DI Flatley had left the conference room, Rio sat staring up at the blue sky through the nearest window. Mac was opposite, fidgeting, his face in shadow. Each of them, she thought, nervous; waiting in silence; anticipating the explosion that would surely happen when FitzHenry returned. It was not long in coming. The door swung open and looking up she could see that his face was already a flaming, incandescent red. He stood at the head of the table, visibly shaking, a labile volcano looking down its length at us, saying nothing, threatening everything.
‘Aengus. I –’ she began, trying to deflect the eruption.
‘Dr. Dawson if you don’t mind,’ he interrupted, with magma spittle that showered over them. ‘I would like you to remain silent for a moment. I will come to you shortly. First, I want some answers from you, Mr. McMurragh!’
‘Prof! Honestly. There is nothing linking me to the theft or the murder. How was I to know that Ahmed could do something like this? I was simply in the café having a coffee and had the pictures with me when he came over and asked me about them. He seemed genuinely interested and I saw no harm in it,’ Mac protested, moving his hands around like a small child.
‘You should not, should not have discussed confidential Library business with a man running the café!’ FitzHenry shouted, the veins on his temples almost distended to bursting point.
‘But Prof –’ Mac was flustered and Rio felt sorry for him.
Together with FitzHenry they had spent nearly three hours with DI Flatley going over their individual statements and trying to piece together what had happened in the days prior to the murder. Rio had given an account of her work with the stolen parchment; of Jerome Flanagan’s involvement; the story of the Book of the Messenger; and finally had explained to Flatley about the concerns Flanagan had expressed with regard to the significance of the parchment to orthodox Islam and his theory about “sleepers” waiting in the shadows. At one point she was just about to bring to the detective’s attention to the discrepancy between Phyllis’s and Jerome’s translation of the “Watchman” word when Mac suddenly mentioned he had shown some of the photographs of the parchment to Ahmed al-Akrãsh, the proprietor of the Silk Road Café in the museum. This had brought the first noticeable flicker of genuine excitement, Rio noticed, to Flatley’s otherwise impassive features.
The policeman had then explained that Ahmed al-Akrash had not been seen since the afternoon of the murder, had not come into work the Saturday morning and that the café manageress, Mags had not heard from him. A neighbour returning from the night shift in Guinness’s Brewery thought he had last seen him leaving his house in a hurry very early on Saturday morning and enquiries with the Syrian Embassy in London were equally worrying. Neither they nor the authorities in Damascus had issued a current passport or exit visa to anybody called Ahmed al-Akrash.
‘I don’t believe for one fucking moment Jaffa Flanagan’s ridiculous tale of “sleepers” waiting around for a mysterious book to suddenly reappear after hundreds of years.’ FitzHenry continued in a sarcastic tone as he paced across the top of the room, ‘What concern’s me most you two, is that the Durer is fucking missing and, DI Flatley agrees with me on this, that is far more likely to be the motive of the robbery and murder.’
‘Putative Durer, Aengus!’ Rio said, annoyed with his attitude but really surprised by FitzHenry’s facility for gutter language.
The Museum director suddenly stopped pacing and glared down at her. ‘From now on I think it would be far better if you addressed me as Professor or Director, Dr. Dawson. How could you have put my . . . our work here in the library at so much risk by involving yourself with Jerome Flanagan?’
Rio glared back at him, her own volatility releasing. ‘How dare you make judgement on, or assumptions about, my personal life FitzHenry! It’s none of your fucking concern,’ she shouted, descending into the same gutter.
‘As it happens, it is very much my concern Dr. Dawson.’ FitzHenry’s voice hardened to a superior sneer as he sat down. ‘Your personal involvement with Flanagan has led to property of the Library going missing and puts our reputation at considerable risk. Just when I …we had recovered it.’
‘Jerome Flanagan would have had nothing to do with the murder and I think you are jumping to conclusions.’ Rio did not back off. ‘In any event, only a week or so ago, if I remember correctly, you were prepared to be involved with Flanagan in trying to acquire the Ptolemy, only for Brigadier Crawford to slap you down.’ She stood up, wanting to leave when the thought struck her. ‘Is this where this is coming from? Are you lap-dogging for Crawford?’ She was fuming and like a trapped animal would fight her way out if required.
‘Sit down Dr. Dawson. I was in fact talking about the photographs that you and McMurragh kindly supplied him with. I gather from Inspector Flatley that they are all gone; taken the night he was with you. I also understand that Flanagan needs to account for his whereabouts since then. You’re not enough of an alibi it seems. Pity!’
DI Flatly had informed them before he left that the police were reasonably certain Flanagan had caught a connection to Istanbul on the Saturday morning, about the time Joe Reilly’s body was discovered. The Turkish police had been informed that he was wanted for questioning but they held little hope of finding him in a city of twelve million people. "Istanbul is a city full of the disappeared," the Turkish Chief of Detectives had explained to Flatley. "Living and dead." ‘I’ve had enough of this bullshit innuendo. I’m leaving.’ Rio picked up her bag.
‘That’s a good idea.’ FitzHenry was nodding his head with a resigned look on his face.
‘What do you mean?’ she asked, suddenly disarmed by his vacant stare.
‘Brigadier Crawford contacted me only ten minutes ago on behalf of the Trustees and I appraised him of the situation. Your contract with the Library is to be terminated forthwith, Dr. Dawson and we would like you to leave straight away. The Garda technical bureau are not finished with the lab so you will have to come back at some stage for your belongings. I’ll take your security swipe-card if I may.’
Rio was too stunned to speak and in a dazed fashion lifted the ribbon-held card from around her neck and slid it down the table to FitzHenry.
‘You too Mr. McMurragh,’ he said without looking up.
‘Wha . . .wha . . . what do you mean Professor?’ Mac stuttered.
‘As a full time employee you are suspended without pay and your future with the Library will depend on a full review of your involvement. I suggest you contact your union representative for advice on this matter.’
‘That’s bloody typical of you FitzHenry! Isn’t it?’ Rio had recovered some composure and was not going to back down. ‘Whatever about me, suspending Mac is not warranted. He only brought the photographs to my house as a favour to me. We have not even buried Joe yet and you want to pile on the bodies. Because of past problems in the museum, the almighty bloody Library, you want to make us scapegoats for deficiencies in the very expensive, and much hyped, security system that you sanctioned. It’s a typical bloody overreaction on your part.’
Aengus FitzHenry stood up. ‘I’m sorry our association has ended this way but it’s your own fault, Dr. Dawson. I will arrange for one of the security men to accompany you off the premises. Good bye!’ He was gone and Rio turned to look back at Mac.
‘I’m so sorry, Mac.’
‘Jasus! It’s enough of a blow to drive a man back to drink.’
‘You wouldn’t?’ she asked, genuinely worried.
‘Nah. Even if the worst came to the worst a man with my skills will have no problem getting work. It’s not a problem. The stuck-up gob-shite!’
‘I’m so sorry,’ she said.
Mac shook his head. ‘Flanagan is a bollix,’ he said with real anger.
‘I thought you were friends,’ she said surprised by the intensity.
‘We are. We go back a long way. Did you know we were at school together, at a boarding school in Dublin? Me up from Connemara, him flying in from Kuwait like some exotic bird – his father worked in the oil industry. Only children, the both of us and an unlikely pair, even then, fair and dark, surface and deep. When his parents separated and his mother came back to live in Dublin, he stayed on in the school. For some reason he preferred it that way as he and his mother didn’t get on. Jaffa was always a selfish bollix. Calculating and loving himself, and himself alone, in the way that calculating men do. Brave with it though, brilliant mind, very few loyalties in his life, except me for some reason. Stuck by me when I left the seminary and –’
‘The seminary. A place where they train you for the priesthood.’
‘I know what it is? What were you doing there?’
‘Chancing my arm, really.’
‘For how long?’
‘Nearly six years! Went awol before my ordination.’
‘A crisis of faith?’
‘No, it was lust. I’d met Marie and she got pregnant. Jaffa was my best man.’
‘Jaffa later got me the job here in the museum. Told them I was a top-notch photographer when I could hardly spell Polaroid. He could charm the pants off a nun, but a bollix all the same.’
‘I’m sorry to have got you into this,’ she said.
‘I don’t give a shit about the job, Rio.’ Mac’s voice quivered. ‘It’s you I care about and the thought of you and Jaffa getting together is tormenting me. I love you, Rio. There I’ve said it. I love you.’
There was a long silence. She reached out and touched his hand. ‘I know,’ she said softly.
‘I know how you feel about me. You don’t hide your feelings very well.’
‘But you and Jaffa?’
‘Nothing happened between us, Mac.’
‘Then you and I . . .’
‘I don’t know, Mac. What does one say to a best friend who has suddenly declared his love? I love you but I want us to remain friends, or some crap like that. I’m no good at this. It changes everything and nothing. I want to run away and not deal with it. That’s my real skill.’ She stood there looking at him not knowing what else to say. A chasm had opened up between them and he wilted before her eyes. Flanagan had betrayed them both and she would get him for it.
Mac read her mind. ‘What’ll you do, Rio? Go after him?’
‘Then this might be helpful!’ Mac reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of film. ‘This was the last roll of film I had installed in the camera on Tuesday morning. I had only taken two or three images of the parchment and engraving with it before you took them back from me to lock away, so I hadn’t bothered developing the entire role. Given our new circumstances I plan to get a few copies made. I’ll give you a set and also one to the police. FitzHenry can go and fry himself!’
‘Mac that’s fantastic! Do those images show the writing clearly?’ she wanted to hug him, but held back. Everything had changed.
‘Yeah! Thanks for speaking up for me with FitzHenry but it was my own fault.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I shouldn’t have shown the photographs to Ahmed and I shouldn’t have set you up with Jaffa. I knew you would find him attractive. It was like I was testing you, us, or least the fantasy of us.’
‘Listen Mac! I make my own mistakes.’
‘Jaffa would have had nothing to do with the murders, Rio,’ he said quietly.
‘No, of course not! I know that. Jerome’s intensity fooled me. The truth be told, he’s far more interested in going off chasing after some bloody book than in me. He used me . . . us and I will make him pay for that. Whatever it takes! I’ll get the bastard.’
‘I am sorry,’ he said, obvious relief washing over him. ‘Anyway, the police might get him first.’
Rio said nothing for a while until the thought could no longer be contained. ‘Mac. You really don’t think he had anything to do with it, do you? From our conversations he seemed to have all the information he needed from the photographs.’ She suddenly felt very unsure.
‘No! But if he doesn’t get back here soon and answer Flatley’s questions, Brigadier Crawford will be quite happy to have him made the prime suspect.’
‘Serve him right!’
‘Yes, Mac,’ she replied, knowing what was coming.
‘Could I call over to you tonight?’
‘No, not tonight. I’m really tired.’
‘Yeah.’ Resignation. ‘Tomorrow then?’
Another test of the notion of us, she thought. ‘Yes Mac, I’d like that. Call me around 6.00 first though.’
A smile, a strange smile from Mac and we parted, each to collect our belongings before leaving the building. He didn’t wait to talk to me again and I saw him heading off home, walking as usual, head down into a biting wind.
It will be ok, Walt. I think. I owe him that much, an easy gift to give!
Jack rang. All arrangements in place. He’ll be here soon...