All around the island, the oceans roared cold.

When you were drinking with Moonbeam, the barkeep knew to keep two sets free either side to prevent incidents. Also to leave the bottle. "You can't smoke in here." I said. "Above all it isn't fair." "No law says a monkey can't smoke in a bar. No law says you can't light up a cigar and leave it burn. And if a monkey should happen to come along and enjoy it, there isn't a court that would bring a conviction. Read up on it" This was his idea of a stakeout. To sit there most of the way through a bottle of Red Breast, three cigars deep, and to whistle at passing girls. There he went again. "Don't look at me like that. They love it. That last one giggled." "This is no kind of stakeout. He's not going to show. And if he does then what?" "I'm not paying you for opinion. You're just the muscle. Don't forget that. Here's what you know: he's already in view. Has been this whole time." I looked in the bar mirror over the bottles and the monkey had something. Back out across the street the mark was getting out of his car. He was all swagger and had that broad look we had been promised. Moonbeam hit us with two more doubles. Well we had to drink to it. It had been two weeks of fruitless graft. Most of it scouring bars on the expense account. But there he was. He didn't look much. He shut his front door after him and on went the front room light. Then he began packing away the goods. It meant we would have to sit there all night in deep observation. Moonbeam called upon another bottle to help it along. "What are we supposed to learn from this?" "Soon as that light is out you're going through his bins. That's what we shall learn from it. That and I'm going to have to stop by. Pose as a new neighbour. Befriend the fucker if I can." "That's among the stupidest ideas you've had." The bins were pretty revealing. He drank a whole lot of wine. He read the Independent. Didn't seem to watch what he ate, a whole lot of tinned food. Men’s lifestyle magazines featured prominently too. Numerous receipts from bars. There was no time to haul the bin out of sight somewhere to examine thoroughly. I tore the sack open and combed through it. All there was was an alley alongside the house to do it in semi-darkness. It was insanity. People stopped and stared at me in puzzlement. "I can't find my wallet." I kept saying to them. Then they would smile and stroll right along. You could always count on people not to help. It was standard Moonbeam operation. I could see him the whole time back at the bar too, teetering on that stool, the cigar flaring bright and true. How I hated that monkey. Finally I hit upon something. Dog food. There was a dog in there. Bird food too. But the dog food was cheap. Perhaps bought in a hurry, without thought to nutritional content or digestive reaction. And there was only one can, to dozens of packets of bird food. Seemed the right size can to amount to one meal for the kind of dog we were after. About then I remembered I had once

worked in a design studio. Even had subordinates. And there I was going through trash. Well the universe is a painful and majestic dance, who knew which ballroom I was bound for next. I made it back to the bar and Moonbeam had furnished us both with sausage sandwiches. He blew smoke into the eyes of passers by. "This almost reminds me of the olden days." He said. "Back then you fuelled up on sandwiches and whiskey before you made a move. It heightened your senses somehow." "These sandwiches are good." "It's the combination. The sausage, the mustard and the whiskey. Is there anyone else in there with him?" "There's a birdcage. It's covered. Nobody but that." He chewed on the gristle a while. "That fucker will be the brains." It's always a bird. Usually a parrot. You can count on that." The sad fact was that Moonbeam had fallen in love with the client. She was forty odd. Trim and flirty. Her name was Elspeth. She tickled the wisp of fur beneath his chin with affection. She knew what she was doing. But he was sunk by it. His little eyes glazed. She led some kind of bohemian existence out in Blackrock, collecting art, fine foods and pets. The house was all velvet, gilded corners, silken curtains, Persian rugs. Her favourite dog had been snatched. It was her most valued possession. It went everywhere in her little satchel with her. It never left her view. But it had been taken. The reward was what you might expect from vulgar wealth. Moonbeam heard the amount and sucked on that old cigar through slit eyes. "Well bring the dog. But we shall only accept half that reward. We're not in this for the money. We are artisans of a kind." She swept him right up into her arms. Well that was what he wanted. He hardly said a word the whole time back in the car. He commented on how wonderful her buttocks were when she walked two or three times. But only to maintain the pretence. Like I said he was sunk. I had to stay close to the window while Moonbeam knocked on the front door, for I was the muscle. It was the usual ill conceived idiocy. He was two bottles of whiskey deep. He could hold it. He claimed he needed it for the performance. "Are you Mr. Chalmers?" The Monkey looked odd without his cigar. Like a regular Capuchin. Only with hat in hand. "Yes I am." "Glad to meet you. I just moved into the area. Wondered if I could ask you a couple of things about how things ran." "I'm not interested in buying anything." "I have nothing worth selling." "You're not some creep or weirdo are you? I read stories about guys like that." "I am a bit of a creep, I'll give you. But the fact is you could take me down hard with one hand tied and we both know it."

"Alright come on in." The both of them continued talking in the hall. I only picked up the thread again when they entered the front room. All I had to do was await the signal. Then I was to arrive at the door. Come straight through the door if I had to. But the door looked heavy. Maybe I would try the window. The signal was always the same. It was when Moonbeam said the word 'Hummingbird.' How he worked it into conversations was as ridiculous as any of it. But he paid. I peered in the window. The man drew the cover off a birdcage. Inside it was a cockatoo in a cheap tie. I didn't recognise him. "This is Pearblossom. He rooms here too. He may be of more help." Pearblossom shifted on his bar and flinched. "Who is this putz? I thought I told you not to introduce me to any more characters. As it happens I was occupied. I was reading my Maupassant." "This is Magnus. He said he's just moved in locally. He needs the low-down on the area." "First the dog and now this idiot. All I want is the curtain. Tell him to buy a map. Sorry buddy, nothing personal but you look like a putz." Moonbeam took that one impressively. He fired up a cigar. "You can't just light up in here. Get the hell out!" "Actually I've come to see if there are any dogs living in the area. I have a problem with dogs. I can't live near to one. I thought you could fill me in." The mark poured himself and Pearblossom fresh beers and then poured out a third. "No dogs around here. Maybe you'd like a drink." "Your bird just mentioned one a moment ago." "That dog came by in passing. He was trouble." Pearblossom danced a little further back and forth. "You can tell in people's eyes if they're trouble." He glared into Moonbeam's eyes. Moonbeam glared on back, through the cigar smoke. "There's dog food in your bin. Your table corners are chewed and there are paw prints showing through on your tiles that someone has tried to wipe over. I can see all of that and I have cataracts. I know you have a dog in here." His little fists were clenched. They trembled. He chewed on the cigar. He was horribly drunk. I think he forgot I was waiting outside. It was going to be like the episode in Shankill revisited. He was going to get slapped around hard and I'd have to witness it from outdoors. Well, so be it. I cleared my throat to catch his attention. I waved. Nothing. Then I noticed a dog beside me. He was just sitting, watching it all. It turned out it was the dog we wanted. He had the patch over the one eye. The little pierced ear, It was all there. He seemed pretty together, considering. I had expected a broken looking creature. A cowed spirit. But there was fire in him. We looked at each other a while, not knowing what to say. "Look at all this trouble." He finally said. "And all of it over a woman." "We were hired to find you. We understood you had been snatched, possibly by this man." "I was liberated. And that fool had no hand in it. I just used him to draw you out. I knew she'd send someone." "She's pretty upset. She put up a whole lot of money." I thought again about the money. I really wanted that money. "You saw the house then? I had to get out. She dressed me in velour. In knitted tops. There was a tracksuit. I had earmuffs in winter. It was demeaning. You can't fathom it.

No bitch would look at me in those earmuffs. I paid this guy to distract her one afternoon with some fake love poems I had written up, declarations of love in sonnet form. Of course she wasn't interested." We both looked in at the guy. He was going pretty hard on Moonbeam. Poor little sucker hadn't a shot. Between all that and the cockatoo. But he always got ratty if I jumped the hummingbird rule. "Still, it gave me enough time to gather up a few things, scrape together some money from her dresser and make an exit. I tell you I never looked back. But I knew you'd come." "She loves you dearly. You know that." "It's too late for that now. Once you've been broken by a woman she'll never look at you the same. I blame myself anyhow. I allowed it." "So you won't come back?" "I'll call her. Tell her you caught up with me. Maybe you'll even get your reward. But I'm not going back there." It was in his eyes that he wouldn't either. "I see." I'm not going to lie. I contemplated bagging the guy in a potato sack and hauling him in that way. Moonbeam advocated tazers in these circumstances. But then that would only amount to another new low in the general descent. And there's no need to rush something like that. He knew what I was thinking. His hind legs trembled, preparing to bolt. Then we both looked up. The front door swung open. Moonbeam was hobbling back on out of it, down the porch steps. His broken cigar still lit, clutching on to his lower back. His hat was in ruins. He was in a bad, bad way. He limped back across to the bar, taking an age, pausing for breath. He glared at us both hard going by. I figured I was fired all over again.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful