A man in a long overcoat walked into the bar. ‘Who’s the murderer here?’ he shouted.
Conversation lulled. A good portion of the room turned to look at him.
‘No one’s a murderer here, Jerome. Have you the right pub?’ answered one of the men at the bar after a short pause. There were a few giggles from the room.
‘That’s Mr. Maxwell to you, Gallagher.’ said Maxwell. He opened his jacket and pulled a pipe from the inner pocket. ‘And isn’t it interesting that you out of all these barflies would speak up at a time like this?’
Gallagher turned back and supped his pint. ‘Well I’m not a murderer anyway,’ he muttered.
Maxwell tapped his pipe on the heel of his boot, leaving a small puddle of water on the black granite tiles. ‘I’m here this evening,’ he announced, ‘to reveal the identity of the killer of Raymond Hughes. The gardai have been alerted, and are on their way, but first I knew you’d want to hear my reasoning, especially since so many of you are personally involved.’
‘Are you sure Raymond Hughes is dead, Jerome?,’ offered the barwoman. ‘I heard he went to London to work on the buildings.’
Maxwell isolated one man standing by the fire. ‘I don’t believe we’re acquainted,’ he said.
‘I’m just in town for the building cont—’
‘Jerome Maxell is my name. Your companion here knows me well, don’t you Mulryan? I introduced him to a little thing called “building regulations” back in the early nineties.’
‘Those tiles were grand before you went climbing over them, Jerome,’ said Mulryan.
Maxwell nodded at the newcomer. ‘Our friend here has a bit of a problem with private investigators getting in the way of his shenanigans. Here’s my card.’ He handed a small grey rectangle to the man, who read it dutifully.
‘So here we are,’ said Maxwell, turning back to the room at large. ‘A room full of suspects and not a saint among ye. It was difficult to narrow the search, as you can imagine.’ The crowd looked around like it was trying to imagine.
‘Mr. McGrath!’ exclaimed Maxwell swivelling on the spot. ‘Everyone here is well aware of the dealings between yourself and the late Mr. Hughes in spring of last year, when he sold you five lambs that were dead in a week from pneumonia.’
McGrath looked up from the crossword. ‘That was Ray’s father sold me those lambs. He sold me forty-five lambs, and only five of them died despite the snow. It was a grand batch.’
Maxwell nodded. ‘It was the forty lambs I delayed mentioning that was my ultimate reason for discluding you from my considerations.’ He removed his hat. ‘It would be a terrible deed to end a life for the sake of five lambs,’ he said expansively.
McGrath nodded also. ‘Yes… it would?’
‘And Mary Raheny!’ Swivel. ‘I’m delighted to find you here tonight!’
Mary put down her glass. ‘Hello, Jerome.’
‘How are your music lessons going this weather?’
‘Fine, Jerome. I hope you’ve been practicing your fiddle like we talked about.’
‘I, Ms. Raheny, am not the focus of this evening’s enterprise. The room has, I’m sure, taken note of your attempted diversion. I wish to make those among us here who may not be aware, that Mary Raheny taught accordian to the deceased from the ages of approximately twelve through fifteen.’
‘Ray was a grand little box player. I’d always wished he kept it up, but girls put an end to that. Now he’s in London.’
‘Grand he was, Ms. Raheny. Grand he was, indeed. A little too grand, could it have been? Was he, in fact, so potentially grand that he’d the potential to unseat a certain someone from her perch at the top of the table for sessions in this very pub?’
‘He gave it up four years ago, Jerome. And there’s room for two accordion players in every session. I’d welcome it.’
‘It’s well you’ve spoken up, Ms. Raheny, but I’m way ahead of you. It’s the very facts you’ve mentioned that reveal that you are almost certainly not Raymond Hughes killer. You may go back to your vodka and Britvic.’
‘Thanks Jerome. Should you be getting home at this stage, do you think?’
‘Doug Fontana!’ Maxwell turned, one more, abruptly. ‘The American import!’
Doug sighed. ‘I’ve been living here since I was fourteen, Jerome.’
‘Of course you have, Doug. We all know that. “Playing the long game, is he?” many of us have wondered. Especially when you began cleaning up at the races every month in town. “What kind of American,” I said to myself, “knows a nag from a derby winner?”’
‘My family bred horses back home. I grew up with them. I’ve two uncles who train racehorses.’
‘Apaches, were they?’ Maxwell laughed loudly. ‘Apache Indians?’ He sobered. ‘Raymond Hughes knew a bit about horses, didn’t he Fontana?’
‘My name’s actually Fontaine.’
‘He knew enough, maybe, to recognise a bit of race fixing when he saw it? Especially when the winnings were all going to a Yank with a few farriers in the family tree?’
Doug reddened. ‘That’s actually a fairly serious allegation, Jerome. I think it might be time you went back up to the house.’
Maxwell slapped his knee. ‘Relax, Fontana. Relax! I have already deduced it wasn’t you who did away with poor Mr. Hughes. But only because I discovered the murderer’s true identity. And I’m expecting him at any moment!’ He pointed dramatically towards the door.
Ten minutes passed. The bridge club returned to their cards, and Maxwell had a Fanta at the bar. Eventually the pub door banged open, and in came Garda Sheehan, removing his hat and tapping it against the doorframe.
‘How’s Gerry?’ said the barwoman.
‘Grand, grand,’ said the garda. ‘Cold one tonight.’
‘Ladies and gentlemen, Raymond Hughes’s killer!’ announced Maxwell.
‘Evening, Jerome,’ said the garda. ‘Sister Grace has been after you.’
‘How, you might ask, could someone like Garda Sheehan, a supposed pillar of our community, be involved in the extinguishment of a decent young man like Mr. Hughes?’
‘Ray’s in London, Jerome,’ said Garda Sheehan. ‘He’s home next week to help his dad with the calving. You can see him then for yourself.’
‘It may be known to very few of you, but Garda Sheehan was seen leaving this parish with Raymond Hughes in the passenger seat of his Ford Mondeo on the last morning the deceased was seen alive.’
Gallagher turned from the bar. ‘Give it up, Jerome, would you? You’re a noisy hoor.’
‘And not only that, but I’ve reason to believe that Garda Gerry Sheehan has been the last individual seen with a number of young men who’ve disappeared from this townland in the last two years. We have an epidemic of unsolved disappearances in this village and only one man’s to blame!’
‘I was dropping him to the ferry, Jerome. I dropped them all to the ferry. Come on, let’s get you home.’ Garda Sheehan took the hat from the bar and put it on Maxwell’s head, tying it carefully underneath his chin.
‘Who can we turn to,’ cried Maxwell, ‘when the guardians of the people are the wolves in the flock?’
‘Would you like some fresh bubbles for your pipe, Jerome?’ said the barwoman. She took the pipe from his hand and filled it with a dab of washing up liquid and a drop of water, then put the chewed end into Maxwell’s mouth.
‘Come on Jerome, it’s bedtime up at the house,’ said Garda Sheehan. He took Maxwell by one arm and led him towards the door.
‘Justice will be done! Justice will be seen to be done!’ exclaimed Maxwell to a chorus of goodbyes as he disappeared into the night.