Walk a Crooked Road
Day 2 – Later
Rathmines Garda Station, Dublin
Inspector Paddy McNeil stared at the sea of faces outside the police station. He knew the local lads but there were others he had never seen before. Word has got around that this is not some ordinary house fire and that there is more to it than the Garda are letting on to.
They are right but he has a prepared statement and he is going to stick to it.
He tells them that he will read a statement and that he will not be answering any questions.
‘Thank you all for coming. As I’m sure you know there was an explosion at house at Harold’s Cross Road in this neighbourhood yesterday. There has been speculation that it may have been a terrorist-related incident. I can categorically say that terrorism has been ruled out and that the explosion was gas related.’
‘I can tell you that two bodies have been found in the house, one male and one female and that we are conducting enquiries to establish their identities. Neighbouring properties escaped the effects of the blast and there were no further casualties. That is all I am able to tell you for now. Thank you.’
And with that, as reporters shout out questions, he turns and walks back into the station.
University of Liverpool, Peach Street
It has been a heavy day. We have been preparing for graduations and adjudicating on exam re-sits for our second-year students. It will be the first graduations since 2019 because of the pandemic. It’s 5.30pm and I badly need a drink, so I decide to go to a pub on Catharine Street I discovered a couple of weeks ago, not long after the pubs re-opened fully. It’s just a short walk away and it’s a warm, pleasant evening. I tried to persuade one or two of my colleagues to join me, but nobody is free for an hour or two now. I didn’t even bother to ask ‘Mr Hostility’ who appears to have it in for me. His name is Harold Darke by the way. Darke by name and Darke by nature! I seem to recall a composer by that name from my days in a church choir. I was a useful alto then and it’s something I miss.
Anyway, maybe Mr Darke has a problem with women, especially the attractive, intelligent variety which I flatter myself I am one of. It’s something I encountered in Dublin too. You really wouldn’t expect that in academia, would you? Or would you?
There is something else that I find a bit odd too. Ever since I arrived, I could not help noticing Chinese students forming little huddles as soon as it became legal to meet more than six people again. There is nothing ominous in students getting together, of course. But as I walked towards them, they all glanced at me furtively and their conversation ceased. When I walked past them, I turned around and they were all staring at me. I thought at the time it was just a case of sizing up the new lecturer. Now I’m not so sure.
I reach the Blackburne Arms and order a pint of Guinness and a packet of crisps. I like this place. It’s relaxing with a pleasing mix of academics and locals. I think back to getting my job so quickly. I guess I was lucky and in the right place at the right time. It seems a senior mathematics lecturer had died suddenly, leaving the faculty with a problem at a tough time. I was a gift from heaven and with my double First from Oxford as a calling card I think they would have taken me on even if there hadn’t been a vacancy. Did I mention my double First before? Possibly not. I occasionally suffer from an outbreak of modesty.
I have never understood why anybody has difficulty with maths. It was something that always came naturally to me. They called me a genius when I was a little girl; I never really understood why because what I did was about as difficult as breathing. I was accepted into Oriel College when I was 14.
I stare in the mirror behind the bar. I have a long, expressive face with a slightly upturned nose. It’s an attractive face, I think. I know men, and sometimes women too, also find it attractive. At least I no longer feel like a freak which I did until I got to Oxford. I hated my childhood. I was always alone, and I hated my parents too who I blamed for treating me like something from The Village of the Damned. They both died within days of each other when I was doing a post-grad teaching degree. I only went to their funeral because I was obliged to. I didn’t shed a tear and I left as soon as I could. I know my relatives were whispering about me and giving me furtive glances all the way through it, but I just didn’t care.
I glance around the pub and spot a few people from college I have a nodding acquaintance with. We wave to each other and smile. One leaves a small group in the corner and sits next to me. She is also clutching a pint of Guinness. I know her name is Emma and that she teaches art at the city college at the end of the road.
She asks how I am settling in. I nod sagely and say that I am finding my way around and that the only fly in the ointment is ‘Mr Hostility’ who seems to dislike me for no good reason.
She asks if he is middle-aged and inclined to leer at females. I think about it, and she is probably right. He is. I did catch him once ogling my legs. She nods wisely and says that there is always one in every department. I ask if they ration them out and we both burst out laughing. She tells me not to be freaked out by him. I assure her that I am not about to be freaked out by anybody.
I ask her if there are many Chinese students at her college. She shakes her head and says just a few and that it’s well known that they tend to target universities that teach the ‘hard’ subjects like maths and the sciences. She asks what my subjects are, and I tell her. She says that top universities like Liverpool increasingly depend on the Chinese for the fees they bring in.
She says she must go and meet a boyfriend she is about to dump. I grin and wish her the best of luck. She is my kind of person. I like her candour. We agree to meet for a chat and drinks the day after tomorrow.
I order another pint and sit at the bar lost in my thoughts. I suddenly notice that somebody has sat on the bar stool next to me. It is a man, middle-aged, thinning hair wearing a loose smile.
‘Not seen you before,’ he says brightly. I stare at him. Overweight, unfit, probably married and on the make. I have seen his type in bars all over the world. I call them barflies because they need to be swatted to persuade them to go away.
‘Can I buy you a drink,’ he says, moving closer.
‘Sure. A Jameson. A large one.’
He orders it as well as a large whisky for himself. The drinks arrive and we sip.
‘Do you live around here?’ he asks hopefully.
‘I do yes,’ I say sweetly. ‘What about you?’
‘Oh, I’m in the suburbs. Are you new to Liverpool? From Ireland obviously. You must work around here. You can’t be a student,’ he says emphatically.
‘Well, you’re too…….’ He was obviously going to say old but thinks better of it.
‘Too well dressed,’ he ends up saying.
I am beginning to tire of this chat-up nonsense. I down my Jameson and am about to stand up when he grabs me by the arm.
‘Why don’t we go to your apartment,’ he breathes in my ear.
I extract a foot-long hatpin out of the side of my trousers where it is concealed in a hidden pocket. I look into his eyes as I slowly position it between his legs.
‘Why don’t you take a look down there,’ I say softly, nodding towards his crotch, my mouth wide open enticingly. He looks down and the smile melts from his face. He stares at me, disconcerted, and looks down again.
‘Unless you get up and walk out right now,’ I breathe into his ear: ‘that pin is going to pierce your cock and carry on going until it emerges from your arse. You won’t be the same man afterwards, I guarantee.’
He stares at me, looks down at his crotch and goes pale, then the puzzlement gives way to uncertainty. He looks around the pub and just for a moment I get the feeling he might create a scene. I shake my head. ‘Don’t even think it,’ I murmur in his ear. He stands up and walks out without even a backwards glance.
I wait a few minutes after replacing the hatpin, glance around the bar. One or two people give me a sympathetic glance. I smile briefly and walk out slowly.
I am looking forward to seeing Emma again.
The next chapter will be published here on Monday, May 16.