Labacally – The Witch’s Bed: Chapter 19 of 19

After using the court tombs for many centuries, however, some tribes then sealed off their entrances and turned their backs on the monuments and rituals that their forbearers had relied on. What caused this great shift? Perhaps the ancestors in the tombs were no longer listening to the living, or perhaps some new calamity had befallen the tribe which the ancestors were powerless to prevent. . . 

Carlton Jones (2013). Temples of Stone: Exploring the Megalithic Monuments of Ireland. The Collins Press, Wilton, Co. Cork, Ireland. ISBN-13: 9781848891678

*****

The next day, many national newspapers ran with a front-page headline along the lines of: Man Pushed Under Bus by Boy (15). The killing made it onto the main evening news a couple of days in a row. Journalists and TV crews had us plagued on the estate for days. There was a queue of neighbours willing to talk on- or off-camera in praise of Rob. In the words of Joe, Rob was a “community stalwart” who was only interested in protecting the estate from vandals and a “small antisocial element” whose behaviour would have gotten out of hand had it not been for Rob and the NW. He was “fine and upstanding” and “always willing to lend a hand to his neighbours”. He was a hard worker, kept his place nice and clean, had a big heart and would do “anything to help somebody in trouble”. There was nothing about the strong-arm tactics he used against the likes of the Bake Sale Bullies, the security cameras or the drone.

For legal reasons, nobody could speak about Lucas on camera (referred to only as the “chief suspect”). He was, after all, a minor. But off the record, people had plenty to tell the flocks of journalists seeking “background” who doorstepped the entire estate and buttonholed passers-by. He came from a “troubled background”. He was always causing hassle around the estate – bush drinking, lighting fires, graffitiing, vandalism, setting off fireworks at Halloween, bullying younger kids. He was not a good student, often went on the mitch. 

The local papers, The Limerick Post and The Limerick Leader, stayed with the story the longest and printed pieces containing the most detail. It was from these I learned that the gardaí had recovered a statue suspected to have been stolen by Lucas from the dig. Without naming the boy, both newspapers gave a very full and more-or-less balanced description of Lucas and his family circumstances. These reports described the location and nature of the juvenile detention centre which Lucas now called home and was likely to do so for the foreseeable future.

I only spoke to only one journalist – off the record, naturally. The doorbell had rung several times, both on the day of the killing and the following evening. I had politely put the run on all journalists and was prepared to repeat the same “no comment” to a caller who rang the doorbell just as we had finished cleaning up after our evening meal. When I opened the door, I found myself recognising the woman who was smiling at me with a mix of sympathy, understanding and hope; she was a columnist for The Irish Times and I had a bit of a thing for her, to the extent that I followed her on Twitter and had seen all available on-line video content of her appearances on current affairs programmes and chat shows. She was smaller and more petite in person than I expected, but her newsreader’s hair and trademark broad smile were exactly the same as her profile picture. She wore a light grey business suit of a cut which emphasised her curves and was just as beautiful in the flesh as on screen. Her voice was the same silky southside Dublin purr that made me melt when I heard her on the radio. I almost got carried away and told her I was one of her most avid readers, a big fan, but stopped myself short. I did agree, much to my wife’s later chagrin, to say a few words about the killing.

I told her exactly what I thought about Rob without being unkind, confirmed that he was in a relationship with the dig’s principal archaeologist and perhaps lost the run of myself trying to contextualise the killing.

“It’s like a clash of two Irelands, the old and the new. Lucas and his friends, even though they were born here, aren’t fully of here. In our eyes they’re Poles, Belarusians, Moldovans – whatever. Eastern Europeans. They’re always lumped into that broad category. And they behave in a different enough way from their Irish peers as to stick out. And because their parents aren’t particularly embedded in Irish society their kids aren’t doing the same stuff as their Irish peers – the rugby, the GAA, the scouts, all the usual stuff that normalises kids, brings them into society, keeps them out of trouble. And if the parents don’t have very much culture and aren’t particularly attentive and there’s drinking and fighting at home, you get kids behaving like Lucas and his friends do. And these kids are probably angry and hurt and alienated. And then you have the likes of Rob who see their country changing. They hear more Polish and Brazilian and Spanish on the streets of where they live than English. And their estate is looked down on by people living around them because it’s full of Poles and Filipinos. And so they take it out on the Lucases. And it becomes a bit of a running skirmish.”

“So, you’re saying Rob and his neighbourhood watch were racists?”

“It’s hard to say. There are Polish people and other Eastern Europeans on the neighbourhood watch and the gardening committee and the residents’ association. But I don’t know if Rob would have come down as heavy on Irish kids as he consistently did with Lucas and his pals. The only other group to receive that sort of treatment were the Travellers.”

“So, there’s tension here between the Irish and New Irish?”

“I wouldn’t say ‘tension’. But there’s a guardedness. With some. But maybe it’s not particularly because the people are foreign. It could be because ‘bad families’ who happen to be foreign are regarded suspiciously because they’re foreign rather than bad. Whereas if it’s an Irish family causing problems people just classify them as scumbags straight off. It’s complicated.”

“I’m getting the sense that there are a lot of hidden divisions in Mountain View. And it’s a microcosm of today’s Ireland. What do you think?”

“That’s a pretty good angle for a feature! What might one say? We’re all divided and broken up, in a way. Very few people on this estate are from Limerick, not to mind Castletroy. We’re all emigrants here. But some are different from others. Some make an effort to fit in. Some make an effort to welcome newcomers. And some people, both Irish and foreign, don’t want any interaction with any of the rest of us. There’s a bit of everything.”

*****

Flowers began to be placed at the entrance to the estate, even as Rob’s body lay below the Scenic under the cover of a fire brigade blanket. By the time the body was taken away and the gardaí had finished their investigation, which involved blocking the road to traffic until mid-afternoon, there was a thicket of blooms marking the spot. This grew into quite the mound as afternoon turned to evening and featured in many news stories. The flowers remained there until the rain turned them into a multicoloured mush and the wind drove them up and down the link road and chased them around the estate. At the weekend a posse of gardening committee members sallied forth to shovel them away. We kept any notes pinned to the flowers and passed these on to Rob’s family.

Many were addressed Rob personally and said things such as “we’ll miss you forever”, “you were a great neighbour”, “you kept us safe”, “you always had a kind word for us” and “you never refused to help anyone”. The hundreds of WhatsApp messages that flew around the RA group reflected similar sentiments. According to these, Rob had been almost a living saint, selflessly putting others first in protecting Mountain View from hordes of marauders. He seemed to have lent a hand to someone from every household (except those who he spied upon and whose children he intimidated). He was friendly, pleasant, obliging, caring, big-hearted, responsible, upstanding – the list of adjectives went on and on. I did not post anything.

I did go to the funeral, though. I felt it was my duty, a final obligation to a neighbour who perhaps I didn’t like or whose behaviour I didn’t approve of, but who was a neighbour nonetheless. Rob’s family were from the other side of the city. His body was waked in the family home and the death notice requested that the house be reserved for close friends and family only. There was talk of the RA committee attending the wake and offering sympathy on behalf of the RA and NW, but in the end, it was decided to respect the wishes of his mother and brothers and sisters.

What was also decided was that the NW would form a guard of honour outside the church along with Rob’s warehouse colleagues. It was quite a moving sight to see these mostly young men stand to attention as his brothers and cousins carried the coffin from the church to the hearse. The requiem mass had been a moving affair generally. St John’s Cathedral was packed. Dozens of Mountain View neighbours attended. I spotted almost as many local politicians, including our go-to councillor lady and TD. The front pew was occupied by his poor mother, flanked by his sisters, brothers and in-laws. Up to half a dozen pews contained black-clad uncles, aunts and cousins. They all looked to be in a state of deep shock and hurt. His mother was distraught, and her body heaved with grief throughout the service. Rob’s brother gave the eulogy of a nature precisely what one would have expected of such an occasion. A musically talented cousin sang some of Rob’s favourite songs post communion and a niece played the violin during the offertory procession. There was not a dry eye in the house.

My scanning of the congregation during the service finally yielded the result of locating Dr Cullen and her team. She was dressed as a mourner and at a few points was comforted by one of the women archaeologists who sat close by her. After seeing Dr Cullen in the cathedral, morbid curiosity impelled me to attend the burial, something which I had not intended to do as I was in a hurry to get back to work. I wished to see whether she would attend and what her role there might be. She had not been named in the death notice (either specifically or as a generic girlfriend) and nor had she joined the family in the front pews. Perhaps they were not even aware of her existence. Or perhaps the incipient nature of she and Rob’s relationship did not qualify Dr Cullen as a chief mourner, although barring them being cold-hearted monsters, I’m sure the family would have included her in celebrations had she wished. Regardless, it must have been difficult for Dr Cullen to inhabit this Tenebrae of someone who had lately been intimate with the deceased yet was not in a position to publicly display her grief nor receive the sympathy of the larger community. I wondered had she made contact with Rob’s family. Had she called to the house to pay her respects to her boyfriend’s mother and siblings? Had she been able to say farewell to Rob in the context of a wake?

Dr Cullen did attend the burial. Just as in the cathedral, she was not to be found among the chief mourners who made a close circle directly around the gaping grave. There were far fewer people at the graveyard than in the cathedral, making it easier for me to pick her and her companion out from the crowd. I debated whether to approach her to offer my condolences as I had to Rob’s mother and family directly after the mass. Looking at her face stiff and pallid with grief and her usually poker-straight body hunched in on itself, I found my heart reaching out to her. I picked my way over to her through the knots of mourners as the priest began a decade of the Rosary.

“Dr Cullen – Sue,” I said as gently as I could.

She slowly turned her head from the grave and greeted me with a thin smile. She and her companion had their arms linked. It appeared as if the other woman, was holding the doctor up.

“Cathal,” she said. As if my association with Mountain View brought a wash of memories of Rob to the fore, her eyes teared over.

“I’m very sorry about what happened to Rob. I know you must be terribly affected. It must be awful. I’m sorry for your troubles. If there’s anything I can do . . .”

That was all I could manage. I found my own self on the brink of tears, a common reaction of mine to others’ grief.

“Oh, thanks,” she said in a whisper. “Thanks.”

I stayed by her side until the decade ended and people began to file back to their cars. Dr Cullen showed no sign of wanting to leave, so I left her with an order to take care of herself.

“I’ll try,” was what she said.

*****

Lucas’s family lost no time in moving out of the estate. A couple of days after the funeral, a rent-a-van was seen outside their house and Lucas’s father and another man were observed filling it with the family’s belongings. A few hours later, the van was driven off and the family car pulled out of Mountain View for the last time. The mother and father were never seen or heard of around the estate again. Some said that they moved to Kildare or Dublin to be close to the juvenile detention centre where Lucas would spend the rest of his adolescence. Others said that they moved to England or Northern Ireland or even back to Poland.

“We won’t see them on the telly whenever the trial happens, that’s for sure.” Declan told me. “Coz he’s a juvenile, they won’t be allowed to give his name or reveal any details of his family or show the typical pictures of the mother or father entering or leaving the court. We’ve seen the last of the Wachowicz’s for sure.”

He enunciated “Wachowicz” with the pride of a child having mastered a difficult word. I could imagine him recounting the story of Lucas to his grandchildren in thirty or forty years’ time and taking the same care over the surname.

Within a week, the former Wachowicz home was rented out to a young couple who work in one the medical device factories in the industrial estate. They have a golden retriever puppy and our paths have crossed a few times in the past couple of weeks. I have yet to ask them how they feel about living in a murderer’s house.

*****

When I heard from Declan that the dig was imminently wrapping up, I lost no time in squeezing Archie into his harness and striding towards the Y to pay Dr Cullen one final visit. My presence at the dig’s entrance was relayed to the doctor by the same girl as always, but instead of being called forth beyond the barrier Dr Cullen came out to me.

“Can I come for a walk with ye?” she asked, righting herself after bending down to give Archie a hug and a few scratches behind the ear. Her left ear and cheek were wet from where the dog had been licking her.

She looked a lot better than the last time I had seen her. Wearing shorts and a string top against the day’s heat, along with hiking boots, she looked like a blonde Laura Croft. Her tanned skin and toned muscles gave off an impression of strength and vitality and I realised that I must have looked ridiculous beside her in my own knee-length Dad shorts from which my stick-like, milk-white legs poked out either comically or pathetically – or a mixture of the two. Her shoulders were broader than my own bottle-likes, and her soles elevated her a couple of inches above me (I was wearing sandals). How could even a part of me have thought that there was chemistry between us or that there could ever have been a thing?

I took us across the green and into the northern section of the Y that was as yet untouched by the builders. Since Lucas’s raid on the dig, the eastern part had been fenced off and the moving of earth into giant mounds and the making of roadways for the diggers had commenced. The grass in the northern section was knee-high, but dry and yellowed from the heatwave we had been having. I let Archie off and he flew around, leaping over hummocks and scrabbling under bushes. Dr Cullen laughed at his seemingly aimless and frenetic wheeling and dashing. Getting straight down to business, I asked the doctor how she was coping. 

“I don’t know if I am. I’m just moving through the days. Working most of the time. Eating. Sleeping. Running. Showering. Repeat to end. It all seems a bit empty and pointless, really.”

“I don’t know what to tell you. Except the usual cliches¾”

“That it’ll get easier? That it’ll wear off? That time heals all?”

There was an anger and annoyance in her tone. I was about to apologise, when she beat me to it. 

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m a tetchy so-and-so these days. You’re only trying to help me feel better. Sorry.”

We watched Archie in silence for a while. His tumbling through the grass had raised a couple of mistle thrushes from a young willow. He ran beneath them, his long ears flopping goofily. Dr Cullen then surprised me by reaching into the outside pocket of her shorts (they were of the faux-military type) and pulling out a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. Picking up on this surprise she said: “I know. I’m a fucking eejit. I shouldn’t have started on these again. But after everything . . . What can you do?”

She offered me one, which I refused, lit up and we returned to watching the dog, who was now sniffing with great interest a pile of straw bedding and horse manure which had been dumped there by the Travellers. The blueish smoke of her cigarette hung in the air about us. Something about the heat, the cigarette smoke, the birdsong and the whoosh of traffic from the nearby Dublin Road made me feel as if we were standing with our backs to the sea on the Costa del Sol. All that was missing was the smell of deep-frying calamari. 

“You try to make sense of things,” said Dr Cullen, “and the penny never drops. You never get there. I now know what ‘senseless’ means. A senseless death. A senseless murder. There’s no squaring the circle. No answer. Senseless.”

I had no reply or observation to make to this. I let the silence hang in peace over us. Only after Dr Cullen had taken a couple of drags on her cigarette, I asked her where she was off to next.

“Oh. Another fucking by-pass. In Tipperary. They’ve skirted around a Norman motte-and-bailey, cleverly enough you would think, but initial surveys show that they’ve put the road going straight through a largish rath.”

“Interesting. Should keep you busy, anyway.”

Dr Cullen didn’t answer. She had another drag on her cigarette and blew the smoke in the direction of Archie.

“I was only saying to myself a couple of weeks ago, before Rob was killed,” she said, “that this was almost the perfect life. Good, interesting, useful work. A great team. Decent weather. The thing with Rob. It was like . . . you know that term ‘honeymoon period’?”

I nodded.

“It was as near damn perfect as I’d ever had. I was even thinking of moving in with him. I’d grown fond of Mountain View. Now I don’t ever want to see this place again.”

She blew her smoke out with disgust.

*****

I walked Dr Cullen back to the dig and said my farewell. I wished her the best and said I was always there if she needed to chat. I knew, though, that unless we bumped into one another by chance in Dublin Airport or on Grafton Street or on a beach in Lanzarote, we would never speak or meet again.

“She’s gone out of our lives forever, Archie,” I told the dog as we walked home across the green. “No more huggies from Dr Cullen for you!”

I thought of the dig, the Labacally – the witch’s bed. Of how people who had taken something from there or disrespected the place had had no luck; the archaeologists who were nearly crushed or had fallen ill; my pothead neighbours; Lucas; Dr Cullen. For the latter pair things had gone in the same manner as for the Kellys, around whose old homestead Archie had just been bounding. I had wanted to ask Dr Cullen what she now thought of the curse of the Cailleach, but realised it would have been crass and insensitive to do so. I would have run the danger of trivialising Rob’s death by linking it to a something only referred to in jest by Dr Cullen’s crew.

“A wipeout,” I said to Archie. “Revenge. Don’t mess with the Cailleach.”

I paused to let him sniff around the old, bifurcated ash tree on the western edge of the green.

“I don’t know if you or I will ever set foot in that court tomb.”

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Labacally – The Witch’s Bed: Chapter 18 of 19

“At one time we shared the same gods, you know? You mentioned Kali, the goddess of war. Does she remind you of anything in your language?”

“Well, cailleach is a wise woman or a hag,” I said. “It’s similar to ‘Kali’.”

Delight spread across his face and he replied, “And I read that in Ireland there is Sliabh na Cailligh, which has a cave very much like this one.”

A conversation between Manchán Magan and a Brahmin priest he met in a meditation cave on the lower slopes of Nanda Kot in the Himalayas.

From: Manchán Magan. (2020). Thirty-Two Words for Field : Lost Words of the Irish Landscape. Gil, Dublin, Ireland. ISBN: 9780717187973

*****

Lucas woke with the light of the rising sun streaming in through his curtains and warming the room. He was waking early these past few days. He felt a power and energy in the mornings that he had never felt before. Yesterday, his parents had been shocked when they found him down in the kitchen showered, dressed and breakfasted before them. They had to almost haul him out of bed most mornings. 

Lucas knew it was She who had changed him. The statue wasn’t a normal statue. He knew that as soon as he got it home and cleaned it up. It had a presence, an aura of raw power. It watched and sensed and gave out what he could only call awesome, heavy vibes. He knew that She wanted certain things from him. And the start of it was that he get off his ass and make something of the day. 

He hopped out of bed and pulled the curtains open, allowing the sun to illuminate the shelf on which he had placed Her. The matt black stone of which She was made seemed to absorb the sun’s rays. No light was reflected back. She was made of basalt; Lucas had looked it up, his Junior Cert geography book finally proving useful for something. She was exactly sixteen centimetres high and six across at Her widest point – the hips. Hair streamed from Her featureless face down Her back to Her buttocks, which were rounded and prominent, like Kim Kardashian’s or Nicki Minaj’s. She also had a big, rounded belly, but not the kind of shape if She were pregnant. The lines of Her vulva were heavily emphasized below this. But it was Her breasts that were Her most striking feature. As he had told the boys, they were enormous.

He could not think of a celebrity with tits as big as Hers. Just thinking about their equivalent in a flesh-and-bone woman made his morning erection harden and throb even more. He stripped, walked over to the shelf and knelt down before it.

Staring at the statue, he said “this is for you” and began pulling at his penis.

After he came onto the floor, he bowed in a reverence that would have surprised any of the teachers he had ever had and cleaned up. He showered, dressed, had breakfast and left the house.

Just at the entrance to the estate, as he was getting into the song playing in his ears – from a throat music album that he came across when he searched for “tribal ritual” – he felt a presence behind him. He looked around and saw it was Rob and stopped and regarded him with a what-can-I-do-for-you gaze. He paused the music but did not remove his ear pods.

“Lucas, me aul’ friend,” said Rob. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you.”

The older man, dressed on that sunny summer’s morning in his running gear, paused for effect before continuing.

“I have to say – I didn’t think you had it in you. In a way, I’m impressed. I thought you guys were too thick to pull something like this off.”

“I’d love to know what you’re talking about, soldier boy, but I’ve to get to school.”

Rob clenched his fists. He thought about how much he would love to beat the boy senseless. If they weren’t there on the corner with morning rush hour traffic streaming by, he would at least have given Lucas a bang on the ear. The boy made to walk away.

“You know what I’m talking about, chubs. You and your bum boys got into the dig on Friday night. You made your clever little diversion with the fire, dragged us all over there and then got into the dig without being seen. But we know it was you. You can’t fool archaeologists. They know when the ground has been disturbed. You weren’t so clever there were you?”

Lucas laughed the sneer that had been raising hackles and testing patience since he was a toddler.

“Is you girlfriend upset?”

“You leave Dr Cullen out of this.”

“We all thought you were gay. Before you started boning her.”

I’ll beat the head off him, here and now, in front of everyone, Rob thought. He gave a deep breath to control himself.

Groups of kids in the Monaleen school uniform and their parents passed them. A few community college students walked by, turning around and looking to see what trouble Lucas had got himself into now.

“If you took something, you’d better leave it back.”

“Or what?”

“We’ll involve the guards. I’m giving you a chance.”

Lucas had thought about this. He was sure the guards would not be called. It would be too embarrassing for the skinny bitch archaeologist. It would mean that her dig wasn’t complete. Like a jigsaw puzzle missing a piece. And she wouldn’t want the world knowing this. 

“I took nothing. Go on and call the cops. I’ve nothing to hide.”

“One more time. Give back what you took, or the guards will come knocking on your door. And then your father won’t be too happy. I’ve heard how he beats you.”

“I can take all the beatings in the world if it means you’re grinding your stinky teeth. I bet your girlfriend blames you for what happened.”

Rob’s face darkened even more, if possible. His self-control was being severely tested. “You’re an ignorant little fucker! I’m going to make sure you and your bumchums’ lives are a misery until you give back whatever you took. I’m going nuclear on you!”

Lucas had had enough. He didn’t need to be listening to idle threats from a loser like Rob. He turned and began to walk away.

“You fat fuck!” he heard from behind him. “I’m not finished with you.”

He kept walking until a force dragged him back and spun him around. Rob’s strong hands gripped his shoulders and pushed him up against the wooden fence that separated Mountain View’s neighbouring estate from the road.

“Let go of me, loser,” spat Lucas, “or I’ll call the cops myself.”

Rob’s fingers dug into the flesh of Lucas’s shoulders until the boy blanched and squirmed in pain. When the boy was on the brink of tears, Rob let go and stepped back from him.

“This is just a taste of what’s in store for you,” he growled. “Every time you leave your house, I’ll be there. I’ll make your life a misery.”

Lucas had a thought: What would She want him to do?

Time slowed. It seemed as if he was floating above his body. He saw himself, squashed up against the fence with his heavy schoolbag on his back, the jumper of his uniform puckered where Rob had squeezed him. And Rob, standing now on the edge of the footpath as far away from his dirty work as possible. Further up the road, beyond the bunches of schoolkids dawdling to school and workers hurrying to the industrial estate by the river, the number 304 bus trundled towards them.

It would only take me to brush him with my schoolbag.

Lucas stepped away from the fence into the middle of the footpath. Looking past Rob to get the timing right, he said “goodbye loser” and, with that, deployed a manoeuvre he had been using since his very early schooldays – bashing someone with his schoolbag by executing a swift and powerful turn of the hips.

Rob was a big man, but the unexpected impact of more than six kilos of books achieved the effect of knocking him off balance and forcing him to step off the footpath – just at the moment the 304 was passing. He was caught by the front bumper, went under the chassis and was rolled over by the front and back left-side wheels. The car tailgating the bus – an Audi A6 with an impatient businesswoman driver – also went over the body, as did the Renault Scenic behind this. The body stayed under the wheels of the Scenic until the car was lifted off by a garda recovery vehicle several hours later.

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Labacally – The Witch’s Bed: Chapter 17 of 19

“You’re sure someone was digging around in there?”

“Listen. I’ve been around digs for over fifteen years. I know when a hole was dug and filled in five thousand years ago, so I sure as fuck know when someone has dug into a trench a couple of days ago and infilled the hole.”

Dr Cullen was exasperated. It was as if Rob didn’t want to believe her, that he had more faith in his cameras and his NW crew than her. His face of disbelief alone made her want to kick him hard.

“My cameras saw nothing. No alerts from them all weekend.”

“Well. Someone got into my dig and interfered with it. They must have got past them unseen somehow. They’re not all-seeing are they? We’re not talking about the eye of Sauron here are we?”

They were in Rob’s kitchen. It was evening time and the usual pre-prandial snogging had been supplanted by discord. There was no talk of either of them making dinner or ordering in. It was all about the dig and whether someone had managed to sneak in there and do their own bit of digging. Rob was at the kitchen sink, looking unseeingly out into the bare garden. Dr Cullen was at the table cupping a bottle of beer in both hands. It was another warm evening, with the pressure uncomfortably low and the threat of thunder borne by grey-brown clouds overhead.

“I’m just thinking,” said Rob. “Remember I had to go out on Friday night to see what the story was with that fire behind the last row of houses?”

“Uhu.”

“The fuckers. They wouldn’t be that smart.”

Rob shook his head and smiled wryly. 

“What do you mean?” asked Dr Cullen.

“Could it have been a diversion? That fat Polish kid and his buddies. I caught them a few weeks ago trying to climb into the dig. Could they be smart enough to use the fire as a diversion to get me and the men out of the way while they got into the dig.”

“I suppose,” said the doctor slowly. She knew little of the ingenuity or otherwise of suburban teenage vandals.

“We found no one at the fire. Usually there’d be a gang of kids drinking and smoking pot telling me and the lads to go fuck ourselves. But this time there was nobody. As if¾”

“As if the fire was a diversion.”

“Exactly. And somehow, while we were all up there standing the fire into the ground, they got past the cameras and snuck into the dig. Do you’ve any idea what they might have dug up?”

“No. But, in a sense it doesn’t matter. It’s the fact that they disturbed a scientific excavation. The couple of cubic feet of soil that they dug and infilled are useless to us now. The strata have been broken. That hole is going to be a black spot in our data. It happens. Not often, but it happens. It’s just fucking frustrating. I’d love to get my hands on these guys.”

“Don’t worry,” said Rob. “I’ll have a little chat with Lucas.”

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Labacally – The Witch’s Bed: Chapter 16 of 19

Barry Roche, Irish Times, 12th of November 2020

Investigation Launched after Cork Standing Stone Reinstated by Farmer and Druids.

Skib farmer says stone has been put back exactly as it was before it was knocked by bull.

An investigation has begun into a west Cork farmer who reinstated a fallen Bronze Age standing stone on his land with the help of two druids. The stone had been knocked over more than a decade ago by a bull who was using it as a scratching post. The National Monuments Service confirmed it had begun an investigation into the actions of Donal Bohane on land rented from his cousin at Coolnagarrane, Skibbereen . . .”When you look back to 2009, things seemed to be very good but we have had every sort of problem, particularly over the last few years when animals got sick. In August, we had this really bad flooding and we lost 18 acres of maize when the field was flooded to a depth of nearly five feet,” he said. “At times you would laugh it off but I decided to make inquiries so I contacted some folklore experts and they told me it would be okay to re-stand the stone. One of them put me in contact with these druids in Kerry so they came down and performed a ceremony when we re-stood the stone.” Jan Tetteroo and his wife Karen – members of the Grove of Anu, a local branch of the worldwide Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids – travelled from their home in Glenflesk, Co Kerry to perform a druidic ceremony as the stone was re-instated with the help of a bulldozer. “We did what we call a druidic ceremony where we connect with the elements and the land and the directions,” said Mr Tetteroo. “We made it clear in our ceremony that we wanted to make sure any ley lines that run along the land were not blocked by the fallen stone and we invited whatever seen and unseen creatures were in the area for their aid to stop the streak of misfortune that Donal had suffered on his farm.”

*****

As soon as darkness fell on Friday night, the first part of Lucas’ plan – of which he was exceedingly proud – kicked in.

A woman living in Phase 5 texted the RA WhatsApp group: “There’s a fire behind our row. In the waste ground.” 

Within seconds, responses started to flow in.

“It’s been very dry lately. I’d be worried it’d spread.”

“Is it big?”

“Are there people around it? How many?”

“Will I call the fire brigade.”

“They’ll be at it for the whole summer if we don’t do something about it tonight.”

“Bloody bush drinkers!”

Rob’s text put an end to the flurry: “Me and my men will go down there right now and sort it out.”

It was Kristov and Nicholas who had set the fire. Their instructions from Lucas were to make as big a fire as possible in as brief a time as possible. 

“You’ll need dry sticks,” he had told them in the planning meeting the previous week. “Start collecting them now.”

Every evening after school of the week before D-Day (as Lucas had christened the “operation” to raid the dig) the pair had rambled over the Y and beyond collecting likely tinder for the fire and bringing it to the driest of their caves for curing. By Thursday evening they had enough dry wood to fill two fertiliser bags.

On the Friday evening, they bought a box of firelighters from Centra and waited in the pipes for the text from Lucas. As soon as Lucas deemed it dark enough, the text came through. “Go, go, go,” it said. 

Kristov and Nicholas grabbed a bag each and hurried towards the spot deemed the most strategic for the setting of the fire, one as far away from the dig and Rob’s trio of arboreal cameras as possible, but still within sight of the back of the Phase 5 houses. This would ensure that when Rob and the NW emerged to “arrest” the suspected bush drinkers responsible for the fire, they would be a good five hundred meters away from where the real action was.

Trevor’s role was to keep watch on Rob’s house and warn the rest when he and the NW “scrambled”. Thus, the beginning of sunset saw him emerge from his house on his bicycle and spend the next half an hour or so cycling around the green and the yellow houses, keeping watch. When he saw a group in high-vis jackets gathering at the corner of the green nearest the yellow houses he got his phone out and wrote “the chickens have flown the coup.” And when this group moved into the Y, he pressed the Send icon.

This was the signal for Mouse Breen to get climbing!

Kitted out all in black, and wearing a black beanie hat, Mouse had been concealing himself in the cave nearest the dig. Beside him was the mastermind of the night’s assault.

“Don’t fuck this up, Mouse,” warned Lucas. “As soon as you cover the third camera give the signal and I’m gone.”

Mouse hurried to the first tree. Earlier on, while it was still light, Lucas had tied white string around the trunk of each of the trees which housed a camera. These scraps of twine shone in feeble light coming from the near half-moon that hung in a sky struggling to free itself from the clouds and allowed Mouse identify his target rapidly. He removed the string and set to scaling up this first tree’s narrow trunk. He had not climbed a tree in the dark since he was a young child. Halfway up he found that he was enjoying himself. Instead of having to plan his upwards assault, he moved among the branches on instinct, feeling out likely limbs to hold as he swung and turned his body. The planning for four, five or more steps ahead which he had been trained to do in his club and later at national and UK workshops was necessarily set aside. It was like he was a toddler again! 

The tree he climbed was an alder. Mouse considered them generous trees – plenty of strong vertical trunks and twisty sideways branches. There was no need to stretch, almost no call for high-level balance or gripping. There was always something solid to hold. And the bark was obligingly dry. Getting up to where the camera was, about two storeys up, was a walk in the park. He reached the grey box with its rubberised weatherproof carapace in less than thirty seconds. Ten seconds later he had blocked the camera lens with the pre-cut duck tape and was on his way downwards. Not two minutes passed before he had repeated this act with the other cameras and was texting Lucas: “Done.” Now it was a question of waiting. He picked a comfortable bough beside the third camera and sat down, still slightly nervous that something might go wrong and that he would be caught, but happy with the work he had done.

It’s all up to me, now, thought Lucas.

He hurried to the eastern end of the dig, that which was farthest away from the gravel path, gateway, flood lights and prying eyes of the yellow houses. Breathless, he took the rucksack he was wearing off his back and pulled out a pink, petite, rope ladder Trevor had taken from his little sister’s tree house. Getting over the fence would be the trickiest part of the whole plan and Lucas hoped he would be able to do it with the aid of the ladder. For the past week, he had been attempting to build up his upper body strength with a series of routines, spending an hour each evening lifting five-kilogram hand weights in fifteen different ways to bulk up various muscles. He could feel the effect these routines were having in terms of stiffness and muscle ache, but he still wasn’t sure whether he was functionally stronger than the last humiliating time he had tried to scale the fence.

He threw the ladder on to the fence so that it took hold of the top spikes and dangled downwards, just reaching the crispy long grass outside the fence. After giving it a tug and hoping it would take his weight, he began to climb the ladder. Not being attached at the bottom, it wobbled, but Lucas found himself able to reach the top easily if he steadied himself by holding on to the fence.

Here’s the tricky part, he then thought.

Kneeling on the spaces in between the spears and holding on to the top rail with one hand, he pulled up the ladder with the other, made sure the top of it was still caught by the spikes and threw it down the other side of the fence. Carefully gripping the spikes, he turned and stepped down on to the ladder. He lowered himself slowly and it was all he could do to keep himself from yelping with delight as he planted both feet on the brown earth of the dig.

You did it! he said to himself, feeling a pride and happiness that were almost strangers to his emotional lexicon. He quickly surveyed the scene inside the dig and moved towards his target. After reconnoitring the dig a few times in the planning stages of his raid, he had already decided where he was going – the patch of ground between the southern “leg” of the cairn and the fence. It was the farthest from the dig’s entrance, the patch least visible from outside the dig from all available approaches from the estate – and the darkest. The stones of the tomb, all taller than himself, would provide concealment, even were somebody to walk right up to the gate using the path. 

It was in this spot also where the dig was still active. There was a trench as deep as he was tall, running along the whole southern side of the tomb and where he had seen all the archaeologists concentrating their efforts in the past week.

There must be something interesting there, he had thought.

Reaching the long trench, Lucas located the access ladder and clambered down. Once below, he removed his backpack and took out a hand trowel borrowed from the garden shed at home, and a torch he had found in a drawer in their utility room.

Showtime, he said.

He held the torch in his left hand, focused its beam on a patch of earth and began digging in with the trowel. He didn’t know what he was after, but he knew he’d know it when he found it. He had never paid much attention in history class. There would be bits of bones, broken pottery, maybe coins. He wouldn’t mind finding coins. Or weapons. A sword. Or a dagger. Even an arrowhead. Or a crown. A gold crown. Or jewels. He could sell those. Buy a PS5 and a huge TV and a gaming chair.

The first dozen scoops of earth contained nothing, even when he chopped through them with the trowel’s blade after he had dumped them down beside the hole. He had ordered Mouse to text him five minutes after he had seen him make it over the fence. He began to worry that he wouldn’t have enough time to uncover some treasure. 

Then, the tip of the trowel scratched off something and Lucas’ heart gave a jump. He pushed forward with the trowel and felt resistance. He probed the surface with its nose – dangdangdang. Something substantial was there! He cut a side-plate-sized ring around where he thought the object was, carefully inserted the trowel into the marked earth and dug out a circle. He could see a shape, darker than the soil in which it sat, oblong in form, perhaps ten centimetres long by three wide and thought it may perhaps have been a spearhead. 

Excellent! he thought.

Not wishing to damage it, he dropped the trowel and gave the object a tentative tug with his right hand. It didn’t budge. He began to tear away the soil around it with his fingers until he could grip it from underneath. Taking firm hold of it, he pulled once more. This time it came up. Lucas looked at the object in puzzlement. It wasn’t a spearhead. Or a dagger. It was so caked with soil that he couldn’t tell what it was. Just as he set about rubbing away the soil to reveal its shape, his phone vibrated in his pocket. His five minutes was up. Time to go!

With the trowel, he pushed the soil he had removed back into the hole and smoothed it down so that it looked like it had never been disturbed. He put the object in his backpack along with his torch and trowel and clambered up the ladder. He gave a quick peek to see if the coast was clear, scuttled to the rope ladder, climbed over the fence, removed the ladder and was soon standing under the tree hissing up at Mouse.

“C’mon, Mouse. Uncover the cameras. We’re done!

*****

“I bet Rob and those dweebs are still standing around the fire figuring out what to do!” said Kirstov.

“They’re not the brightest!” added Nicolas. “When they arrived at the fire they just pulled up and looked at each other as if they expected to find, like, this mega party going on around the fire. Some macro fiesta or something!”

“Yeah,” said Kristov. “They didn’t know what to do. Just looked totally puzzled. We really got them.”

They were outside the Centra opposite their school, a common hangout for teenagers at weekends – and a good fifteen minutes’ walk from the locus criminis. If the fire brigade or gardaí were called, they would have the alibi of the purchase and sucking of Centra’s slurpies to present. The three separate prongs of the night’s operation had been ordered by Lucas to make for Centra as soon as their particular part of the plan was finished with.

“So you fools hid in the bushes like a pair of queers watching dopey Rob stomp on the fire? I told you retards to head straight for here. No waiting around.”

“We were well hidden, Lucas,” said Kristov.

“Yeah, we were miles away. There was no chance they could have seen us,” said Nicolas.

“Yeah, well . . .” said Lucas. He didn’t want to be too harsh with his gang. They had done well. The mission had been a success. They had gotten a result. He could feel its weight in his backpack.

“It’s a pity Mouse couldn’t hang,” said Trevor. “He’s sound. For a first year.”

“Are you in love with him or something?” mocked Nicolas. 

“Shut up, you braindead,” said Trevor.

Conversation broke off for a time, while everyone sucked on the straws of their slurpies. The cars whooshed by on the road outside the little retail park. It was a busy Friday night in Castletroy, with everybody seemingly moving somewhere – to a barbecue, a house party or a restaurant. The pub opposite was hopping, with the hubbub of drinkers in its beer garden resounding off the small shopping centre’s arc of metal and glass. The Italian chipper beside the pub had a queue going out its door. 

“So, what did you find anyway?” Kristov asked Lucas.

Lucas had said nothing of his find to the others, had been evasive, wilfully mysterious. He liked holding knowledge from the gang. He liked the power and attention this gave him. And he wasn’t going to let it slip easily.

“Yeah, c’mon Lucas. We’re dying to know. Is it a dagger?”

“Or gold?”

“A horn?”

Everyone looked at Kristov and laughed.

“A horn!” said Trevor to him. “What would you know about horns? Your balls haven’t even dropped yet!”

“You wouldn’t know what to do with a horn if you got one,” said Nicolas.

“Shut up!” said Lucas. “It isn’t a horn. OK?” He looked around. Waited until a couple of girls coming out of Centra were out of earshot. “It’s a statue. Like a tribal thing. Of a woman. And she’s got huge whatsits.” He made a gesture with his free hand, cupping an invisible breast, to indicate what part of the anatomy was a whatsit.

The Bake Sale Bullies laughed.

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Labacally – The Witch’s Bed: Chapter 15 of 19

I found out about Dr Cullen and Rob’s romance from Declan (who else?). We had met by chance out on the green, once more in the context of walking our respective dogs. He seemed to be bursting to impart his news. He didn’t even bother with the usual small talk and pleasantries.

“You heard the latest hot gossip?” he blurted.

I told him I was unaware of any gossip, but to “hit me”.

“Rob and Dr Cullen are seeing each other!”

“Ah, there’s been rumours about that since the dig started. I’m sceptical.”

My comment failed to deflate Declan’s glee. His eyes shone. He smiled with the joy of a tattler with a meaty morsel to share as he tackled my disbelief.

“Her truck is outside his place on a permanent basis now. Every night these past couple of weeks. They say she’s all but moved in with him.”

“There could be a perfectly innocent explanation why she’s parking her truck outside his place. Security reasons. Maybe her battery is flat.”

“Oh, you’re so innocent,” said Declan. “The only thing flat there is Rob – flat out from fla-ing her!”

I did not like this kind of vulgar and malicious talk.

“Have they been seen together?” I asked. 

Declan’s eyes twinkled even more brightly and his smug smile widened.

“They have.”

He paused, inviting a “where” from his interlocutor. I did not oblige.

“On two occasions. Number one: Madge from number seven saw the two of them in the Cornmarket. Table for two. Candles. Intimacy aplenty. Hand-holding. Kissing across the table. Sharing of food. Feeding each other. She said that she wouldn’t have been surprised if they did that spaghetti thing from 101 Dalmatians.”

Another pause for effect.

“Number two: they were seen in the Crescent Shopping Centre by Agata. She followed them. They had bags of shopping. Including food shopping. And then went into that fancy burger joint, what’s it called? Rockin’ Joe’s. And Agata says that the two of them were skipping around the place like newborn lambs. So now. Do you accept that there’s something going on?”

“Perhaps they’re just friends,” I said. The evidence did point towards the pair being romantically involved, but I did not want to give Decan the satisfaction of being right. Too often his gossip was based on unreliable or downright false information, but he nonetheless spread this with as much authority as the rare fragments of watertight news he managed to get his hands on. 

“Friends me Barney,” he said dismissively. “What more proof do you need?”

*****

The search for proof saw me rouse a sleepy and confused Archie and barely give him a chance to yawn and stretch his legs before slipping his harness over his head, clipping the lead on and yanking him out on to the street. It was six o’ clock in the morning. A Friday. The evening before, I had come up with the plan to walk past Rob’s house at the crack of dawn in order to verify the presence of Dr Cullen’s rig. It was pathetic and I saw myself as just as low, if not lower, on the scale of nosy parkerness as Declan, but I had to know for myself – see for myself, I suppose – that what he had told me was true. Confirming that her truck was parked outside Rob’s house before the world was awake would do it for me.

I was disappointed with myself, angry even: I was jealous of Rob. And possessive of Dr Cullen. I saw her as mine and questioned the right of someone like Rob to have the privilege of her company and caresses. Even though I did, deep down, believe what Declan had told me, a part of me was very willing to be disabused of this belief. If Dr Cullen’s car was not outside Rob’s place, there was still hope for me. Dr Cullen could still be mine! Even though she would never be mine, because I would never dream of being unfaithful to my wife. But if I couldn’t have Dr Cullen, nobody could. As I said: pathetic.

I rarely walk through the part of Mountain View where the yellow houses lie. It is a warren of short, narrow streets that branch out to terminate in a pair of cul-de-sacs. If you walk to the end of these, you have to turn around and retrace your steps in order to exit. Curtain twitchers have two chances to see you. And I always felt under observation when walking by the yellow houses. It was from the yellow houses that Rob drew most of his NW squad. The few property owners among those dwelling in the yellow houses tended to be among our estate’s most ardent nimbyists, paranoiacs and security nuts, possibly spurred on by the fact that they had had the experience of living cheek by jowl with some rent supplement tenants who genuinely needed watching – people who would almost literally steal the eye out of your head.

Not to arouse suspicion, I took Archie to the green first and let him off the lead, allowing him sniff and run around for a bit. At the top of the green, where it merged into the Y, he defecated and I was glad to collect his droppings. The fact that he performed there on the green meant that he would not do so outside Rob’s house – a scenario which would see me loitering beneath Rob’s bedroom window for up to a minute while Archie composed himself, engaged in the action of squeezing his bowels, and performed his post-defecation scraping ritual. 

It was a fresh May morning. The dawn was clear and full of promise, with a red orb inching up over the Y and only a few weak, trailing clouds in the sky. Me and Archie’s shadows spread far along the green as I hooked the lead on to his harness and we entered the yellow houses.

Not having any reason to ever call to his house, and not being friendly with him or even particularly liking him, I didn’t know where exactly Rob lived. I had a rough idea, though. I took the first left, which led me down a row of ten, tightly nestled terraced houses and, thereafter the second right, which brough me into a small close where twenty houses made an intimate arc. I immediately saw Dr Cullen’s rig in the driveway of house number sixty eight, snuggled up beside what I knew to be Rob’s black Ford. 

As I passed the house, Archie did what I dreaded he might: stopped for a second poo. When I bring him for a walk, I always have four poopie bags fastened around the handle of his extendable lead. He very often does two poos on a walk, sometimes three, and on rare occasions it has come to pass that he has forced a fourth out. The first time he did this, I was forced to scoop up a very sloppy turd with a tissue. I vowed that this would never happen again – hence the four-bag policy.

I silently cursed him as he squatted and swivelled on his back paws, fixed me with a gaze of intense, almost pleading concentration and prepared his bowels for a movement. With every muscle in his sleek body straining, he pushed a yellow, sausage-sized motion onto the footpath. He regarded this, trod a careful a half circle around it and scrunched himself up for part two of poop number two. While he did this, I snuck a peep into Rob’s house. The front room’s curtains were open and I could see all the way through into the kitchen, which was lit up by a dim light – possibly that of the extraction hood or the spotlights over the sink. I wondered was there someone up. Both Rob and Dr Cullen struck me as potential early risers – they both jogged – and I cursed myself this time for not taking this into account. I could have brought Archie for a midnight walk.

While Archie finished up, I saw a shape – that of a woman – moving past the kitchen’s patio door. I looked away, untied a bag from the lead and set about picking up Archie’s excrement. The dog lost interest in sniffing his doings and, with me bent down in the act of carefully capturing every last trace of faeces, stepped into Rob’s driveway to turn his attention to examining one of the front wheels of Dr Cullen’s rig.

When my job was done, I stood up. The stink coming from the poopie bag was unpleasant – cloying and meaty. I would usually tie these bags as soon as I had filled them, but not wanting to dally any longer in front of sixty-eight, I decided that this could wait until I was back on the green. If my goal was to leave the vicinity of Rob’s house as quickly as possible, Archie had other ideas. Dr Cullen’s tyre was of immense interest to him, to the extent that even in the face of my hissing and tugging he refused to be led away from it. I grew impatient and began to pull hard on the lead. He dug his heels in. I took a few steps towards the close’s exit, yanking on the lead. The dog would not budge.

I caught a movement from the corner of my eye and looked towards the front window of Rob’s house. Standing there in a very short dressing gown, holding a cup of tea or coffee and bearing the widest of grins and the most bemused of expressions was Dr Cullen, very obviously finding Archie’s interest in her wheel and refusal to be led away from it hilarious. She waved at me, bold as brass, definitely unashamed to have been “caught” sleeping over in Rob’s house.

I waved back, mustering what must have looked like a sheepish grin. I gave Archie the hardest tug in my armoury and he shifted. With another nod to the form in the window I led Archie out of the close, out of the yellow houses and on to the green once more. I was never as relieved to reach there.

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