PROLOGUE

November 1988 - DUBLIN

 

The smog had been heavy for days, Dublin city falling into darkness by late afternoon. The poison bellowing from the chimney tops attacked the throat and lungs as it crept menacingly through doors and windows. Some of those who ventured outside wore masks in an effort to stop the sickening blackness and health warnings, whilst politicians in the year of the Millennium, argued in government buildings about speeding up the transfer to smokeless fuels, and another black Dublin winter took its toll. The mood on the streets was sombre, the air chocking, as if it was a partially buried city.

 

It was after midnight when Valentine Pearson strolled past the town hall clock in the suburb of Rathmines, before turning around and going back in the opposite direction. The repeated solitary movement, up and down the footpath, fought off the night chill and the edge to his mood. He wore a long grey overcoat with a black silk scarf wrapped around his nose and mouth, his collar raised, his black trilby hat tilted downwards, keeping his eyes in shadow. He listened as the town hall clock rang out a quarter past midnight, his irritation and impatience at the late hour forming a tight knot in his chest. He swallowed hard. The man he was due to meet was now fifteen minutes late. Kicking a stray beer can with more force than he intended, a lone car crawled past him with its fog lights on. The rest of the street was deserted, other than some teenagers a few moments earlier, falling out of the late night chip shop further up the street. Gripping the tightly bundled cash in his pocket, ten thousand pounds in large notes, the term guilt money came to mind. He stopped walking; retreating instead under the town hall archway. Out of sight, his eyes fixated on Leinster Road, opposite him, second-guessing the direction from which his late rendezvous would come. The wrought iron amber street lights created circular pockets of light on the ground below. He heard the man’s footsteps before he saw them, disappearing and reappearing within the circles of orange light, the encounter getting closer with each step.

 

It would be over soon, he told himself. Give the money and that would be it. He recognised his co-conspirator before he saw his face, crossing Rathmines Road with a form of arrogance about him as Valentine pulled further into the dark. The man was barely half his age, early twenties, with that swagger that younger males possess, a confidence born out of ignorance and too much testosterone. Still, he thought, any port in a storm. Clenching his fists, part of him wanted to hit out at someone, anyone, hating that feeling of vulnerability and the sense of power being held in the hands of another.

 

As both men came face to face, they kept their silence for a couple of seconds; the younger man waiting as the older one finally stepped out from the darkness onto the smog-filled street. ‘Lovely night,’ the younger man said with too much vigour for Valentine’s liking. Valentine pulled the scarf down from his face.
‘You took your time,’ his words sounding cold and indignant.

 

‘I told you I’d be here, and here I am.’
‘You told me a lot of things.’
‘Don’t shoot the messenger.’ The young man coughed, covering his mouth with his hand.
‘Is that what you are now, Malcolm, a messenger?’
‘Do you have the cash?’
‘I do.’
‘If you want things sorted, you will need to pay.’
‘Can we trust them?’
‘To stay quiet you mean?’
‘Yes.’
‘Would you prefer to run the risk of not paying?’
‘No.’ Valentine took the money out of his pocket, handing the envelope with the bundled cash to his collaborator. ‘We won’t be discussing this again. Do you understand?’
‘I do.’