Beads of perspiration ran down Kate’s face at her Ju-Jitsu club’s dojo early on a Saturday morning following her final consultation with Doctor Mike Bloomfield.
Murt Butler grinned when he walked in and saw her steady a swaying punch bag. He figured he was part of the reason she decided to join Southside Ju-Jitsu years earlier. When she made Superintendent rank, he replaced her as Detective Inspector in charge of criminal intelligence analysis. Kate rated him competent but unlikely to set the world on fire. While they got along, she cast a jaundiced eye over the intelligence analysis he shared with her surveillance squad. He sauntered in her direction; his barrel shape giving lie to an active life.
‘Good to have you back, Renshi!’
She turned toward him, her gloved fists raised.
Butler swayed to avoid any strike that might come his way. ‘Stall the digger, only saying hello.’
‘Oops! Apologies Murt,’ she smiled, lowering her arms. ‘I’m working on getting my strike focus back to what it was.’
Her noisy punch bag session had been winning approving glances from clubmates delighted to have her back in the fold. On Bloomfield’s advice to make physical exercise part of her daily routine, Kate had reconnected to the sport she loved. She resumed light training weeks earlier and as a long-time member and former junior All-Ireland champion, Kate held trainer status. She was getting to know the new faces at the club and the solid work from earlier sessions was paying dividends.
‘Still missing your Ma, I’m sure,’ Butler’s broad Dublin accent muttered awkwardly, his eyes avoiding hers.
‘Every day, Murt. Thanks!’
Without another word, she turned and ripped rapid punches and kicks at the heavy bag; each snap, jab and leg sweep accompanied by the deep-throated fury of exertion. Butler pushed on to the changing rooms and by the time Kate steadied the swaying punch bag a second time, perspiration mixed with tears streamed down her face. This time she stood her ground. Rather than run and sob at the mere mention of her mother’s death, she took a breather on a bench to the side; undid the towel wrapped around her neck, and wiped her face. Slowly, she calmed her breathing and by the time Butler re-emerged, ready for his training session with junior members, she was finishing a cool-down session on the mats.
‘When are you back at work?’ he asked.
‘I’m using up my annual leave before I lose it. I’ll see you soon.’
He extended an arm to help her upright. ‘Who’s minding the shop?’
‘Ron and Digger.’
They exchanged bows. Keeping her composure was another small victory. This was her life now, a new normal, taking one step at a time and claiming a foothold in that world. She checked her phone in the changing room. A Hiya text from Angie. At the gym, chat later. She stretched, stripped, and headed for the shower.
That evening Detective Angie Harrington cut a petite figure perched on the corner of a sturdy wooden desk in the squad room of the Surveillance and Intelligence Unit, the Dublin squad’s official title. Hair in a pixie cut, raven black tonight, leather jacket, and slashed black jeans, all liable to change on a whim. Most figured her for the right side of twenty-five. In fact, later that year, her birthday would see her into her third decade. She nonchalantly swung her legs, waiting for her audience of male and female Garda colleagues to be seated. They arrived in dribs and drabs for the final training group briefing. Chair legs scuffed on the squad room’s gray-painted concrete floor. They’re edgy! Time to get moving.
‘Oi! Settle down. Listen up.’
The noise abated. She had written the groupings for the late-night training run on the whiteboard behind her and read each out. Wish the boss was here. What am I supposed to say next? Kate was freshening up the unit with new blood. Usually, at the final part of their two-week immersion into the world of surveillance, she would breeze in and gee the candidates up with a rallying pep talk before they headed out. Tonight, it fell to Angie to do it. Okay, deep breath!
‘This is no ordinary tour.’
Feet shuffled, throats cleared, nervous whispers. By any stretch, the final part of their training would not play like an average tour of duty.
‘Assume nothing, expect anything!’
Surveillance training courses routinely had a seventy-five per cent failure rate but being picky paid long-term dividends. Squad veterans needed to learn whether the newbies functioned well or folded under pressure. Kate’s number two, DI Dan ‘Digger’ Rooney was already in the field preparing curve balls that would scare the pants off some of the eager beavers.
Her phone vibrated on the desk. A message alert. Shit! Hope it’s not about Flynn. She had struggled to get him settled before the babysitter arrived. Keep talking.
‘Assume someone’s watching you all the time.’
MISNEACH the message read. Fuck! Not now!
Double-check and pause. She ignored her notes and wrapped up the briefing.
‘I repeat, your performance will be monitored. Know your role, and stick to your task. Good luck!’
The clattering of chairs signaled the rookie group’s dispersal toward the basement garage to pick up cars, motorbikes, and vans for transport. One unlucky candidate was given a blue Dublin rental bike and told to make his way to the city center on it, another got a LEAP card to use on buses and trams.
Misneach! Courage in the Irish language. Kate had shared the rarely-used coded warning with her months earlier. It demanded immediate action. Anyone receiving it knew to only use secure phones, no radios, and to get to a pre-determined meet-up location urgently.
If she ever needed the boss it was now. Weeks earlier, when Kate’s boyfriend sprung a surprise weekend away on her, it was Angie who nudged her into taking the time off. The boss had not been her usual sure-footed self of late. Hard to blame her given how her life had been upended.
MISNEACH, she re-texted Digger from the empty room via their secure messaging app.
‘Roger,’ he responded.
Tonight’s training op had drained everything from the fleet. Op orders dictated that squad members should never use personal transport on missions. Needs must! Rapidly, she unscrewed the registration plates on her Honda Rebel 500 motorcycle and replaced them with a false set. Her partner, Eileen nagged her to ditch it now that they had Flynn to think about. Lose this baby? No way! She loved the bike’s lightweight and blacked-out look, perfect for tonight’s covert call-out. She pulled on her black helmet, clipped the strap, flicked the visor up, and gunned the bike into action.
Close to the ramp she jabbed the red button that cranked the up-and-under garage door into life, revved the bike’s engine, and waited. Underneath her helmet, she grinned. Letting out the clutch, she eased off the brakes and surged up the ramp toward the night-time city. Let her rip!
The outer walls of the squad’s base were ivy-covered and blended perfectly with its neighbors in the wooded valley that had the river Liffey flowing through it. It connected the suburbs of Chapelizod and Castleknock; two tiny villages in the past that were gobbled up by Dublin’s urban sprawl.
Routinely, she began an anti-surveillance run. She crossed Chapelizod Bridge and throttled up the steep hill on the other side leaving the slumbering village behind. She cut left at the top, bypassing Ballyfermot, and rode toward the Naas road where she turned left again onto the old city approach road. Don’t hit a tram line. Over Grand Canal Bridge, she took a winding route through Inchicore toward the city center, sticking to the speed limit, and constantly checking for a tail.
She wound through light traffic past Heuston train station, onto the city quay. On the other side of the river, two chimneys at the Guinness brewery belched steam into the night sky and the city center was less than a kilometer away. Traffic lights ahead glowed orange. Snoop check! She skewed the Honda hard right. Car horns blared as she cut two lanes and sped across Watling Street Bridge. On the other side, she slipped right and pulled over to the edge of the footpath.
And we wait! None of the traffic in her slipstream followed. A line of cars from the traffic lights behind her flowed past. Angie held firm. A second line moved off. Time to go! She tagged onto the last car in the line and further along the quay doubled back over the river. Her destination, Phoenix Park, lay dead ahead.
The arrival of autumn heralded the return of murky nights. She throttled back and leaned forward, peering into banks of rolling fog. A herd of fallow deer roamed freely through the huge public park. Halfway up the main road, a large buck chased a rival directly into her path. She dodged smartly left, mounting a walking track to avoid it. No thank you! Not tonight. Back on the main road, she turned left at the Phoenix monument and took the winding road past the Papal Cross. Riding in low visibility was grueling. Up ahead the narrow road split left and right. Thank Christ! She cut right.
The periphery car parks of Saint Mary’s Hospital were cloaked in a dank, gray gloom. Transformed from a British military school in the 1920s post-Treaty era, its isolation was one of the reasons Kate nominated it for an urgent night-time rendezvous. Angie pulled alongside Digger’s van and killed the bike’s engine. She undid her helmet’s chin strap and tapped the side door. It slid open.
‘Jump in,’ he whispered.