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Chapter 1 Joe Henry was just an ordinary guy who didnt normally stand out from the crowd

and he certainly wasnt Gods gift to women though he wasnt ugly either. His features were, at least, symmetrical. He was slightly above average height, slim and starting to show signs of male pattern baldness, but what he did have in his favour was a willing and winning smile and an optimistic outlook on life. He was quite well dressed in his business suit and was watching the automatic doors opening and closing, carefully observing the people coming through them. Dublin Airport was abuzz with excitement and energy. People were coming and people were going, plans were being made, tears were being shed. The combination of numerous conversations and the public address system was keeping the decibel level very high when Joe, a salesman with Irish Office Machines, stepped forward confidently towards the two well dressed businessmen who had come through the door marked Arrivals and held up his sign. He had spent some time the previous evening perfecting it, printing it neatly by hand on a sheet of photocopier paper, nicked from his office, and gluing it to a piece of cardboard cut from a cornflake box to make it more rigid. So there it was, in those nice big letters, the abbreviated version of British Office Machines, BOM. No sooner had he raised the sign when some lunatic woman, possibly dyslexic, perhaps illiterate, certainly paranoid, pointed at it, screamed, BOMB, BOMB, at the top of her voice and promptly fainted at his feet, crumpling to the floor. Her piercing voice cut through the other noise so everyone within earshot turned to look at him and froze as he continued to hold his sign aloft. For a split second no one moved, it was almost as if someone had hit the pause button on a video recording. Joe shouted, NO! NO! but he was wasting his breath, no one was listening, the fast forward button was now operational and people were running away from him in all directions, except for the security guys who were running at him. He looked at his carefully crafted handywork and then down at the comatose figure. Theres no bloody B at the end of it you stupid B, he roared at her inert body. Then he thought, I must really have scared the hell out of her, and was feeling a wave of compassion when he became aware again of the alarm bells ringing

and looked up to see the rifle swinging towards his jaw. He tried to duck but it was too late. He felt the butt make contact with his face, saw the proverbial stars and the lights went out. He was unconscious as his legs buckled. On the plus side the woman who started all this trouble broke his fall, but on the down side it was really unfortunate the way their bodies ended up intertwined as they did. Weeks later Joe would be contacted by the Sunday papers who had got their hands on some shots from the CCTV footage and he had to agree that it certainly looked like he and that lady were involved in some sexual activity with a security guard looking on. But that was a problem for the future. He came around very slowly and in his semi-conscious state a mixture of old memories and current thoughts passed in confusion through his brain. Where am I? Why am I here? A conversation came back to mind, but vaguely as if in a dream. Joe, I want you to bring two VIPs from the airport to the office next week, Mike McGovern had said. Mike was Joes boss at Irish Office Machines. He was strongly built, in his mid-forties, with hair greying slightly at the temples but quite handsome. He was definitely a ladies man and happy to prove his virility at any opportunity but was one of the boys at the same time. He smiled quite a lot but had a volatile temper and was not an easy man to relax with. Why me Mike? Nobody in the whole place lives further from the airport than me. For a start youre English. Theyd probably like to be met by a friendly face they can relate to. Im not English. Im from the North, Im not English. Well youre British. I am not British, Im Irish, my passport is green. A bit like yourself then if you think arguing with me will get you anywhere. Theyre arriving next Tuesday and I want you to collect them. Right? The skirmish was over so Joe had dutifully said, Consider it done.

Get the details from Jackie, and dont be late getting there, these are important people. Certainly Mike. There ended the first lesson, Job retention above all else. He remembered that hed got to the airport, as instructed, and as hed come in through the rotating entrance door hed looked up and could see from the overhead display that the plane carrying the VIPs had already arrived. They were only coming to Dublin for the day so they wouldnt be waiting for luggage and theyd probably have been travelling in the front of the plane anyway, Business or First class for sure. I got here just in time hed thought. It wasnt long before people with the Heathrow/Dublin tags on their briefcases began to come through and hed scanned the new arrivals for likely candidates. He had the sign to hold up, in case he couldnt spot them. Hed tried different ways of printing the sign with various sizes of letters but no matter what he tried using the full company name the full sign was still unreadable from only a couple of yards away so hed abbreviated it, had chosen the best letter size to fit the page, with the letters studiously the same height. Then the automatic doors opened and two men strode imperiously into the arrivals reception area. They wore very expensive suits, old regimental ties and bore that supercilious air which comes so naturally to some people. The two superior beings stopped and looked around for their driver as though such a service was their divine right. That must be them. Thank you very much Mike, this car journeys going to be a bundle of laughs, he thought remembering all the kids toys on the back seat and the faint smell of sick that still lingered. Susan, his wife, had been quite liberal with the air freshener but it hadnt quite covered that aroma. Damn, too late now. Anyhow, they should have sent a proper chauffer or taxi for these guys. That was when hed stepped forward, held up the sign, and all hell broke loose. Snap out of it you scum bag! he heard, as if from a distance, then a slap on the face with a flat palm helped bring him round and he realised the bells in the building had stopped but the ones in his head were still ringing and he was handcuffed to a table in a sparsely furnished room with some very serious looking guys around him.

His head was splitting and his mouth was dry. From his reflection in a mirror he could see there was blood on his face and clothes. Enthusiastic bunch these security chaps, he noted. Just like in the movies they pointed a bright light in his eyes and asked him all sorts of irrelevant questions which he tried to answer but of course his Northern Irish accent didnt help. To these Special Branch Officers it was the vocal equivalent of printing, Paramilitary lunatic, across his forehead. He was answering their questions as best he could when the door suddenly swung open. A tall man with a scar across one eye and down one cheek marched smartly into the room and all the officers snapped to attention and saluted him. He returned the salute and then asked the most senior officer involved so far if they had got anywhere, only to be told not really. He crossed the room and put his face very close to Joes. Where is it? he snarled. Wheres what? The bomb of course. Ive already told them there is no bomb. Look at that, said the newcomer, youve caused that, and he pointed to a bank of CCTV screens. The place certainly wasnt abuzz now; in fact the only buzz was in Joes head. The screens showed the terminal building almost empty, the concourse was populated only by a few security men and police with sniffer dogs searching for the non-existent bomb. Now the medical definition of, foot and mouth disease, says that it is a very serious viral infectious disease affecting cloven-hoofed animals. The other version of foot and mouth disease is defined as the ability to open ones mouth and put ones foot in it. Joe suffered from the latter version. I didnt cause that; it was some stupid woman caused that. And what do you call this? said the new interrogator, holding up the sign. Joes patience was wearing thin, his head was hurting and hed already been through all this.

Look. I cant help it if you cant spell. Bomb has a B at the end of it. There is only one B on that bloody sign and thats the first letter. Ive already told them BOM stands for British Office Machines. Im a victim of a complete outrage and you can be sure I will be pressing charges against everyone concerned, including you. Bunch of feckin eejits. The new man didnt say anything but turned towards one of his officers and nodded. Out of the corner of his eye Joe spotted a tall, blond, uniformed Garda officer stand up, walk over to a cabinet and pull out a drawer. As the officer turned around Joe could see he was holding a green latex rubber glove. He watched, with growing apprehension, as the officer took great pleasure in very slowly blowing the glove up like a balloon, sprinkling talc into it, and carefully inserting his right hand forcing his fingers fully into place inside the rubber. The officer knew damn well what he was doing because he could see the beads of sweat that were breaking out on Joes forehead as he gave one final snap of the glove at his wrist. Take your clothes off sonny, came the order. Theres no need for that. Ive already explained everything. Off, or Ill take them off for you. This man was enjoying his job way beyond the call of duty. As far as Joe was concerned the strip search was totally unnecessary and he said, Can I not just drop my trousers? Off. All of them. Aw come on, for Gods sake how much Semtex do you think I could put up there, not to mention a detonator? Not enough to blow my cap off. But again he was wasting his breath. After removing his clothes he realised how cold it was and looked down at his shrivelled manhood. He saw the smirks on the faces of the other interrogators and said, Should this not be conducted in a private room or something? Touch your toes you little terrorist bastard, was the reply and, after hed assumed a suitable position the officer said, Its nothing personal.

Those were the last few words many people from up North in Joes part of the world heard as a trigger was pulled, so those words had a serious resonance for him. Its feckin personal to me, he replied to no avail. It wasnt quite like going to the Doctor, and it could have been worse, but Joe wasnt of that sexual orientation and he thought of Phelim, down in the Cork office, who might have been a more amenable victim and might even have volunteered to come back for seconds. But it was still a shock and caused a sharp intake of breath and a bulging of his eyes as the examination was conducted and completed. Joe had his hands firmly on his knees and tried to put his head through his legs to look at his tormentor but it only hurt his back, so he looked over his shoulder and said to the officer, Are you married? Its got nothing to do with you but, yes, I am. I was wondering if your wife knows what you do for a living? He really should have straightened up before letting his mouth cause him more grief. The second examination was considerably more robust than the original and caught him completely by surprise so the intake of breath was even sharper than the first and he straightened up pretty damn quickly this time. Then he turned to see the officer violently tear off the glove, throw it in the bin, and splay the digits of his right hand to show a thumb and three perfectly manicured fingers and a forefinger with a brown crescent at the tip. Shit, Sean said. Not easy to say that without sounding like the Scottish James Bond. You never spoke a truer word Sean, said one of his colleagues, those gloves arent as strong as they used to be. Bloody cost cutters. Joes examiner was heading for the door, in search of the nearest place to clean the contaminated finger, when the Senior Officer in the room spoke, Oh, by the way Sean, Id suggest you dont pick your nose til you sort that out, and pointedly sniffed twice wrinkling his nose. The door slammed behind him as Sean tried to take it off its hinges and the air of jocularity didnt last long.

After more questioning they eventually phoned the number on his business card, Yes they did employ a Mr. Joe Henry. Yes he fitted the description. Yes he has gone to the airport to collect some very important British businessmen. No hes never been in trouble with the law. No hes not in any illegal organisations, and so on, and so on. But by that time, unknown to Joe, all the passengers Outgoing and Incoming had been herded into the outdoor car park and kept there in the piddling Irish rain while the whole place was searched. They could have been herded into the underground car park but no one thought of that, or else they reckoned they were mostly English and the Irish ones would probably go back home and take the day off, so they were all left out there to get soaked. Also unknown to Joe, the VIPs had found a call box, phoned the IOM office, cancelled the meeting, and promptly returned to London as soon as the airport was reopened, never to be seen again. So much for Anglo-Irish relations. When they released him he had to sign all sorts of forms confirming he had been well treated and wouldnt be pursuing any litigation. Hed have signed anything. The fuss of that day eventually died down though not before Joe managed to get some very unflattering photos in the papers which his work mates used against him for years. After the Special Branch let him go he searched the airport for ages and had the visitors paged, to no avail, but he wasnt going to hold up the bloody sign again. Anyhow, he couldnt, it had been kept as evidence pending a possible prosecution. Finally he gave in, phoned the office, and was put through to Mikes secretary Jackie. Hi Joe, no theyve gone back to England. Youd better get back here Mike would like to see you, and she hung up. All sorts of thoughts were going through his mind as he drove back to the office. Shit. Im in trouble now. Ill probably get demoted. What am I thinking, Ill probably get fired. He barely noticed that his arse was still a bit sore.

As he came through the front door of the office, Sheila, the receptionist, flicked the PA system on and said, Red alert. Red alert, Bomber Joe has entered the building, good news always travels fast. As he walked past her he tilted his head to one side and gave her a dirty disapproving look but he could see people laughing and diving under their desks. Not feckin funny Sheila, he muttered as he passed her. As soon as he got to his office the phone rang. Hi Joe, could you come up to the Boardroom please? Click, and it went dead before he could speak. Jackie didnt waste much time. The boardroom? Jesus, its worse than I thought, and the sweat was again breaking out on his brow. As he walked through the showroom he shouted, Adios amigos, and nobody was laughing this time. He thought of his enjoyable times here as he climbed the stairs and went to Jackies desk. She looked every inch the part of a bosses PA. From head to toe she exuded elegance. Raven black hair, naturally wavy but enhanced by expensive styling. She dressed modestly but still managed to show that there was a very shapely woman in there. She was aged about thirty but no one was certain and, sure as hell, her demeanour meant no one would ask. In fact once she had established herself in her position of power she had removed her record from the Personnel Department so all her personal details were exactly that, personal, and that was how she was going to keep them. Whats the story? he asked her. You better go in and find out, she replied, ever the soul of discretion. He went to the Boardroom door, took a deep breath, and knocked. Come in. He was expecting a sombre atmosphere, a serious dressing down and the sack, what he found was a party. He was stunned, what the hell was going on? The owners of IOM and Mike all shook his hand,

What would you like to drink Joe? You deserve one. Name your poison, we have only the best, Mike said. There were champagne bottles on the table so he asked for a glass of that. Then Mike looked more closely at Joes face and the lump on the side of his head. Jesus! Youre going to have a right shiner in the morning. What exactly happened? So Joe told them the whole story, even the part about the glove, but he still couldnt fathom why they were celebrating. Im afraid I dont understand why were having a drink now. It was Mike who answered him. Youve accidentally done us a big favour Joe. The men you were collecting were coming here to make a hostile takeover. British Office Machines were going to dump us as their distributor and sell directly here in the Republic. The airport incident has convinced them were still living in the Wild West so theyve withdrawn the offer. Youre in line for a bonus. Joe sank his champagne and took another glassful then he excused himself from this exalted company. When he got back to his office he thought, zero to hero, what a bloody day, the bonus will be handy though, Susan could do with a new coat and the kids could do with new shoes. Then he sat down, rather too firmly, on his office chair, feeling a distinct pain, and I could do with a very stiff drink. As he drove home he was wondering whether to tell Susan the whole story. Hed have to tell her something, it was already common knowledge in the office so shed hear from someone in there sooner or later. He didnt anticipate the media interest. He told her everything about the events of the day including the details of the officers brown fingernail and she was not at all pleased that some bloody policeman was interfering with her Joe. They had a few drinks and were thinking of heading off to bed when he said, Its still a bit sore, pointing at his bum, would you like to kiss it and make it better? You know, like you do with the kids knees. Theres a big difference between their knees and your arse, but she smiled.

My head is still thumping, he said touching the lump on the side of it where the rifle butt had caught him. She looked at the bump and winced. Take a couple of pain killers and go on up. You can warm my side and Ill see what I can do to take your mind off it. That sounded promising so Joe was happy to comply. Should I take pain killers on top of the booze? What harm will it do, youre not driving anywhere. Go on. Ill tidy up and follow you soon. So he took two of the tablets, washed them down with the last of his gin and tonic, and went upstairs. He checked his kids were fast asleep in their rooms, anticipating some marital noise, and slid into bed on Susans side, Brownie points were always useful, especially considering what he had in mind. He lay flat on his back, folded his arms outside the bedclothes, clasped his hands, corpse like, and waited. He listened expectantly for the footsteps on the stairs but the drugs and booze had combined to create a slightly hallucinatory effect and his head was spinning. What am I doing here? he asked himself. Dont be silly, its simple, you met Susan. His eyes closed slowly, his mind drifted back to years ago, and he started rerunning the film of his life since that eventful evening when Susan had entered it.