As all three regular readers will be aware, Thursday on CAP has become something of an irony-free zone, largely because I’m in the process of redrafting a novel and offering up said redrafts to the public at large and then ducking to get out of the way of the barbed-wire bouquets.
The extract below is yet another fresh start. For those precious few of you - how few! how precious! etc. - who have been paying attention to date, the first section predates the man-on-balcony-with-gun opening of previous offerings, although that strand of the narrative will eventually find Dan standing on a balcony with a gun in his hand.
The second section then flashes back to Dublin some months previously, as we begin to discover how and why Dan travels to Loutro, and winds up on a balcony with a gun in his hand. The plan for now is for the story to progress via flashbacks / flash-forwards, until such time as the twin narratives intersect.
The pic, by the way (© www.west-crete.com), illustrates the ‘high country’ in which we first encounter Dan, which for the purpose of the story is situated high above Loutro, a tiny village on the south coast of Crete.
Please feel free to leave a comment registering your approval and / or disgust, and also feel free to do so anonymously, if you prefer.
And now, Dear Reader, it’s over to you ...
DANNY BOY: A NOVEL
Loutro. Friday June 24, 2009:
We rode down from the high country with the child turtled on the mare’s withers, her fingers braiding its mane and only the pink of her knuckles to say she still lived. The patient mare allowing for our slumped and shifting weight. The blood on its flank my own good blood.
A lowering sky hung down with its guy ropes unstrung and my delirium was such that it could have been dusk or dawn, the grey mist patched with cloud or peak.
‘Not long now,’ I told the child.
A lie, or as good as, but no child should know the truth of the world as it is and will always be. Some time later she coughed, a thin pewling, and fell silent again.
‘Not long now,’ I said, ‘not long.’
Not long now, not long. My own heartbeat, good yet.
While I bleed I live, and while I live she lives, and that’s all there is to that.
The mare plods on down the scarp. Wild flowers appear, yellows and reds so flimsy they hang bowed by dew. Dawn, then.
The sky is pinking by the time I see the first scars of civilisation, a stone terrace long abandoned to windborne chance and maquis. At first I thought it the shed skin of some mythical snake. Weary now beyond the edge of mind. Where thought is instinct reflexed on itself, so that thinking is doing. Such is life with a bullet in your gut and a child to see delivered safe. What needs and no more.
Beyond the terracing the track winds between the humped backs of drystone walls. Outhouses with glassless windows and hungry doors that put me in mind of Carthage and the insatiable Moloch, so that I closed my mind’s ear to screaming children fed to the fire as faggots of pink and melting flesh. The mare’s steps echoing back from whitewashed walls long since gone mossy and grey.
In a doorway a man stands hunched with his head beneath the low lintel, back braced against the frame. A small cup to his lips. The horse crosses the square and stops and snorts. A fine spray flies. The child barely stirs.
The man unfolds from the doorway and stands looking up at us shading his eyes, head tilted to one side, his gaze flowing from me to the girl to the blood on the mare’s flank. Shaking his head slowly all the while, as if the scene was a novelty viewed through a kaleidoscope and by so shaking he might rearrange the elements into another picture entirely.
‘You chust would not listen,’ he whispers, ‘would you?’
Saying it to me but for himself also. To the empty sky that only ever listens.
My tongue has swollen behind cracked lips. When I speak it’s no more than a croak. ‘They’re coming, Berte.’
He nods and flicks aside the grainy dregs and places his cup on the windowsill and calls inside. Steps forward reaching up and tries to pry the girl loose, but her fingers are gnarled ivy in the coarse mane. It takes some moments to free them but then she’s gone and I allow myself to go too, by degrees, angling forward and down until my awkward weight is too much for even that patient mare and she shies and tosses me the final few feet.
Dublin. Monday March 21, 2009:
‘You can start recording now, Browne.’
‘For the record let it be stated that this is an interview with Dan Noone pursuant to a statement in the case of the State versus Anthony Whelan. DI Brady and DS Browne attending, Dan Noone voluntarily present without legal representation. Can you confirm that, Dan?’
‘That is correct.’
‘No need to be so formal, Dan, we’re only having a chat. You know the drill, right? Get all our ducks in a row first. The statement’ll come later.’
The interview room: a basement bunker, stark and drab, beige breeze-block with chocolate trim. A fluorescent light humming.
‘It might help if you close your eyes, Dan. It’ll feel weird at first but - there you go, good man. Now, tell us what you see. Just let it come.’
‘In your own words, now. Nothing fancy.’
Black ice on Christmas Eve.
‘Take your time, Dan. No hurry. I know it’s tough.’
Bare branches. Bony fingers. Headlights drilling a tunnel from the dark.
‘Just relax, Dan, and --’
‘We were heading for home from Midnight Mass.’
‘Now you have it. From where to where?’
‘Kilquade to Enniskerry. Up the N11, in along the twenty-one bends. Could’ve done it in my sleep.’
‘We’ll lose that last bit, Browne. Okay, Dan, go on. What time is it?’
‘Eleven-thirty or thereabouts. Maybe a little later.’
‘Because Midnight Mass …’
‘In Kilquade Midnight Mass starts at 10pm.’
‘Good stuff. Okay, so who’s in the passenger seat?’
‘Rach being …?’
‘Rachel. My wife.’
‘And what’s Rachel doing?’
‘Twisting in her seat. Leaning back to see past the headrest.’
‘Who’s she singing to?’
God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing ye dismay.
‘Who’s Rachel singing to, Dan?’
‘Pooh Bear, okay. But who’s holding the bear?’
‘The Boop. Emily, our baby girl.’
‘Good man, Dan. Let’s stick with actual names for now. What’s Emily doing?’
‘Nothing. Trying to sleep. It’s way past her bedtime.’
‘So what happens then?’
It’s too late anyway, Rach. Doesn’t matter. She can wait for morning.
‘Stay with it, Dan. What happens then?’
Remember Christ the Saviour was born on Christmas Day.
‘Dan? What happens next?’
‘I look across at Rachel and say --’
‘No, you don’t. Your eyes are on the road, both hands on the wheel. What do you see?’
‘A flash. Strafing.’
‘Strafing, that’s good. What then?’
‘I don’t know. This is where it all goes blank.’
Wrenching the steering wheel before I knew what it was. Already too late.
‘You can’t remember anything?’
It came hurtling out of the bend, cutting the corner. Ploughed us nearside in front of the rear wheel arch.
‘Just relax, Dan. Let it come.’
‘I’m telling you, there’s nothing.’
Slewing across the slab of black ice, invisible under a mulch of dead leaves. Back tyres sliding out as I threw the wheel against the skid, the car turning back on itself going over the low ditch.
‘You know the drill, Dan. Anything at all you can give us could be useful.’
A shudder as we punched through the low metal railing. Then the sickening lurch into space, the stony riverbank thirty feet below.
‘I know. But there’s nothing.’
We hit like a paper lantern scissoring closed.
© Declan Burke, 2010
“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.