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                                                                            P R O L O G U E


I came from a part of Ireland where there were no lambs and no calves. Even as little boy's feet pressed them dry and brown, it seemed the shamrocks in that spit of land were all that was left of merry old Éire. Small clammy white hands breathed at the sides of black corduroy legs. Lips clenched, quivered, dappled red. Little nose swallowed the grey second-hand smoke that kept on blowing from the cigarette wasting away in the fingers of the detective.

"You must understand we did all we could..." his mouth said. The lips moved there, but the words were in the head: he couldn't have cared less for the blood-stained settee, the wee lad under his elbow, or the half-hour that had dried up since he had drove the wee lad away from his mam. This world wasn't for worrying. Sensibilities weren't for care.

He said, "Don't worry, son, the Gardaí's looking into your mam's murder," like it was a little bit of stress over a missing plaything. As if the mother hadn't really been stabbed five times in the chest and the lad returning home from school hadn't opened his black front door to a green sitting room turned red: "let's get you home."

The boy raised his head slowly – black curls bobbing, black eyes throbbing from the fists that had been rubbing them since they caught sight, like a guilty knuckle could clean away the images that stayed in their sterns like the fingerprints of her murderer.

A boot stamped out a fag end into the shredded shamrocks and a smoky hand grasped his shoulder. Like a proud trophy boy he was led away and into the Suzuki, careless of its panes, dreading of the looming destination on the GPS: "We've rung your uncle, son, he knows you're coming."

The aching throbs rose up from the throat, this, real as anything. One smoky hand raced from the wheel, started back again. With a frown the detective passed the jacket of Gold to the boy beginning to sob in the passenger seat. Fumbling, stumbling hands lit it for him. And this was when I began to savour it, the fresh smoke rolling in and out of my lungs. In the mind's eye, like black waves, tumbling out grey.

"You're washed out," the detective said.

Boy, smoking, nodding in realisation rather than agreement.

"You're a washed out, washed up loser."

And he stared me right in the face; it stared me between the eyes like a black fist, gloss chipping and steel spoiling besides: "Twat."

And then he laughed. Laughed over everything: a boy's black destiny as a washed-up loser, the spoiled black gloss, the blackened shredded shamrocks and a lonely whore's blacked-out death.

This, too, real as anything.


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