This is Day 20 of the Blogging University course I embarked on, 20 days ago, called #everydayinspirations and the topic for this final day is, well, open ended. In fact, it has been suggested we reflect on what we’ve learned. Since I can’t speak for anyone else, I’ll say it has been interesting and, occasionally, inspiring. Many of the tasks set, I found, I was already doing and some, I simply won’t do, because it’s not my style. These include lists of any sort. I don’t see any value in them, apart from shopping. I don’t write articles that suggest I know the secret of happiness or even mild contentment. I won’t tell you how to do things and become rich. I may write articles that outline how I work and provide tips, but only in so much as they work for me.My best advice to anyone, is read Polonius’s advice to Laertes (Act 1, Sc 3 Hamlet) and heed those words well. I’m blogging to improve my writing, get a body of readers and sell books. If that gets me followers, so be it and all are welcome but, without intending to be offensive, I’m with Jack Nicholson on this, ‘Sell Crazy, someplace else, we’re all stocked up here.’
The following is the first chapter of my latest novel (as yet unfinished).
That’s a three dog night, Seanie thought to himself, as he looked at his own breath puffing out in thick clouds of vapour. And that was inside the van. The three of them were stuffed in the front, with the young fella perched on the half seat between himself and Mickey.
Mickey, in the passenger seat was a big lad, lard arsed, in appearance, if the truth were told, but nobody dared. He was as sensitive about his size as he was about his thinning hair, which he wore, combed over, oiled and tucked, in a bundle, behind his left ear. Which explained why some people called him Fat Mickey, but not to his face.
Mickey’s appearance was deceptive, though, Seanie knew. Mickey could climb a wall like a fucking monkey. That’s why he was here.
The young fella’s teeth chattered like a snare drum in a marching band. He was scrawny and skinny, ideal for the job, but his clothes were worn and threadbare. Seanie made a mental note to buy the young fella a decent winter coat by way of payment for the job he’d do tonight.
Seanie had cased the place the week before. He got a lift down, early in the morning, from Liam the Loaf, who drove a bakery delivery truck every morning from Johnston, Mooney and O’Brien in Ballsbridge to places as far away as Oldcastle in north Meath to The Curragh and back by Naas, before lunch, after starting at 5am. Liam dropped him in Navan and he walked from there to this place, a warehouse, half a mile on the far side of the town. He climbed into a tree in the field opposite the warehouse and hunkered in for a long day of waiting and observation.
What he saw was exactly what he expected to see: a steady stream of trucks arriving and departing laden with goods bound for the city Christmas markets. There was no night time guard on the building, that he could see. A man arrived 7am, in a private motor car and opened the double sided, padlocked gates with a key from the jangling bundle, clipped to his belt. The building, he observed, was long but no more than two stories high, he surmised, from the metal gantry, stairs and access door, around the side. He noted, also, four skylight windows, two on either side, of the building’s roof.
Seanie took pride in his preparations. He climbed out of his perch in the tree as the warehouse shut, for lunch, apparently. The last truck left and the man with the motor car and the bunch of keys locked up before driving off himself. It was then Seanie alighted from his observation post, complaining aloud, as he landed, about the stiffness he felt and about the demands his job made on him.
Some aspects of the job made him uncomfortable. He was introduced to a man in his local, a Northerner. The man who made the introduction was a local Republican; not hardcore, just a sympathiser who sold An Phoblact, the Republican paper, in the pubs and Easter lillies outside the Church on the anniversary of the Rising and the week of the Wolfe Tone commemorations. Now Seanie had no problem working with Republicans, so long as they didn’t engage him in political discussion or ask him to put his hand in his pocket. He just didn’t trust Nordies. They made him nervous.
The colour of their money was the same as anyone else’s, though, he believed. The man told him he needed 100 Christmas turkeys and when he started to tell him they were for prisoners’ families and dependants, Seanie stopped him there. ‘I don’t care who, or what they’re for so long as I’m paid their value on delivery,’ Seanie told him, not knowing then where he might go to fill this order but the promised fee of £2 a kilo for a 5 kilo bird was more than enough to whet his appetite. First, he’d need to secure the supply. He wasn’t going to promise anything, especially to this guy, until he was fairly sure he sure he could deliver. They arranged to meet again, four nights later.
It was funny that, Seanie thought, talking turkey. Turkeys were the topic of a conversation he had, only the night before with Turkey Tony, who worked as a part time porter in the markets, among other things. Turkey Tony got his name from working part time in the turkey market, at Christmas, when he was a young fella. But that was a long time ago, Tony was no spring chicken, or Christmas turkey, anymore. Turkeys, these days, were rarely sold, live, as they used to be. Not the way they were in Tony’s time, anyway. Back then, as a turkey porter, you’d have to grab a turkey from the pen and then stand, holding it aloft by the legs, wings flapping and kicking up hell, while the turkey merchants made their bids. But that was then. Nowadays, your turkey was provided, all trussed up by your butcher, gutted and cleaned, its giblets and essentials, shoved up its arse, if you were a posh git who could afford it that way. The rest of the world bought them frozen.
No, what Tony was, was a ‘spotter’, a job that was useful for a certain class of people, who, themselves were always on the lookout for an opportunity. And Tony was the man who could spot an opportunity. And Tony talking turkey with him and him talking turkey with the Northerner, was kismet, Seanie thought.
He loved words like ‘kismet’. It was fate, but he’d never say that. No, he’d say ‘kismet’, just to piss everyone off because they wouldn’t know what he was talking about and were too thick to ask him what it meant, for fear they’d look thick for asking.
Tony knew of a place outside Navan, he told him, that was unguarded and stuffed with turkeys, ready for the plucking.
‘Wha?’ Seanie asked him. ‘No,’ says Tony, realising his mistake, ‘I was speaking meteorically,’ knowing Seanie’s fondness for a smart turn of phrase. ‘Wha?’ Seanie asked, again. ‘The place is full of turkeys, I meant,’ Tony said, at a loss to explain what he meant. ‘Are they fuckin’ plucked or not?’ Seanie asked, exasperated. ‘Jaysus, I’d imagine so and frozen, too. Sure, they’re kept in a warehouse, not a slaughterhouse.’ Seanie decided to leave the turkeys on a back burner, so to speak. That was, until the Northerner turned up and suddenly the prospect of a windfall before Christmas was a likely outcome, with a bit of planning. And that’s what took him to Navan and his perch in a tree to see if there was anything to Tony the Turkey’s story.
So now here they were, freezing their nuts off in a beat up Bedford, with no heating. He was trying to put his head in the game but he was distracted. Before he left home his mammy said she was feeling ‘a bit off’ and was planning to visit the clinic that evening. Now Seanie knew the oul’ wans thrived on jawing about their ailments, their corns and their cures and who has a touch of this and a touch of that and how so and so has ‘women trouble’ or a spot of catarrh, consumption or the unspoken, whispered about horror, the Big C itself or, as they called it, a ‘chewmore.’ The nagging thought in Seanie’s mind was that his Ma was known for dishing out the remedies. She never took a day off work or had a sniffle or a cold in her life. She’d talk about her bunions, corns and ‘various’ veins with the best of them, because, he suspected, there was a competitive element to it all. But she never got sick and now he was worried.
‘A fucking three dog night,’ he said, aloud.
‘Wha?’, the young fella asked.
‘Wha?’ Seanie said. He looked at Mickey who was staring at him, expectantly. Then it dawned on him he’d spoken aloud.
’Three Dog Night were a rock band. The name was what Aborigines used to call a freezing night ‘cos on a cold night, they’d dig a hole and hunker down with a dingo, on a really cold night, they’d have two dogs but if it was fuckin’ freezin’ like tonight, you’d need three dogs.’
Seanie was aware of the young fella and Mickey staring ahead of them, into the bleak December chill, their silence a deafening testimony to their confusion and complete lack of understanding. Right on cue, the snow fell; first in a few flaky drops that landed, then skidded from the mucky windscreen in front of them and then, like layers of white blankets, waving in the wind before lying like a bed on the country lane, the hedgerows and the fading warehouse in front of them.
‘Christ, that’s all we fuckin’ needed,’ Mickey cursed, ‘are we gonna do this or not?’
The young fella’s teeth beat a machine gun tattoo, before Seanie could answer.
‘Yeah, c’mon. Let’s get to it’.
He gunned the engine of the Bedford and it lurched forward, down the slight incline, gaining speed, as it hurtled towards the rusted gates before them.
‘Jaysus,’ Mickey yelled, holding his hand out to the dashboard to brace himself. Seanie could feel the young fella beside him, draw his legs up and lean into the gap behind his left arm and his stomach.
The van hit the gate, the radiator just level with the padlock. It snapped and the gates swung open, one of them popping from half its hinges and hanging at an angle in the road as the van’s momentum brought it right up to the warehouse’s front entrance.
They worked without speaking. Seanie had run through the plan with Mickey in the van. He, Mickey, was to take the young fella up the gantry and, from there, hoist him on to the roof. Mickey would then follow the young fella, onto the roof – a feat that appeared more wishful thinking than a done deal, given Mickey’s size but the big lad was surprisingly agile and had a successful career as a cat burglar behind him – anyway, once they were both on the roof, they were to jemmy one of the skylights and then lower the young fella, tied with a rope, to the warehouse floor.
It was a tried and tested routine and the young fella was an old hand at it. Once he was inside, he’d unlock the door, Seanie would back the van inside and then they’d close the gate and door and pack the van in comfort. Mind you, with the gate hanging off its hinges on one side, propping it up so that it looked intact, was easier said than done. Seanie made as good an effort at it as he could but he figured the late hour, it was 3am, the snow, the cold and the remote location would work in their favour. They just had to get a move on and not dally about.
Everything went as planned. Mickey and the young fella got on the roof. Mickey jemmied the skylight, tied the young fella off and lowered him down. less than a minute later, the door was open.
That was when everything started going pear shaped. As soon as the door slid open and the warehouse floor was flushed with light, the commotion started. Commotion was not an adequate word to describe the cacophany. It began as a shuffling, whooshing noise from what looked like banks of tarpaulin covered crates, at the far end of the warehouse. That was soon replaced by what sounded like the amplified noise of a giant steam bath, boiling and bubbling.
‘What the fuck is that?’, Mickey asked, over the din.
‘I don’t fucking know, do I?’, Seanie shouted, walking determinedly towards the covered crates and the bubbling din.
The first thing that struck him was the smell. The closer he got to the crates, it became almost unbearable. He felt as though he was choking, like he wasn’t just standing in a toilet, he was upto his neck in shite. Holding his cupped hand over his nose and mouth, he reached down, grabbed a corner of the tarp and yanked it over the top of the crate.
‘Fuck,’ he shouted.
Seanie dropped his hand and stood, gaping, at the sight that greeted him. The crates weren’t crates. It was one giant container or pen and it was full of turkeys, live turkeys.
‘Jaysus, Seanie, they’re turkeys.’
‘No shit, Sherlock,’ Seanie said, still staring, mouth agape at this turmoil of flying feathers and gobbling birds.
‘What’re we going to do?’, Mickey asked.
Seanie marvelled at Mickey’s capacity to state the fucking obvious. The only problem was, he didn’t have an answer.