J.J. Liddy and his best friend, Jimmy Dowling, often had arguments. J.J. never took them seriously. He even considered them a sign of the strength of the friendship, because they always made up again straightaway, unlike some of the girls in school, who got into major possessive battles with one another. But on that day in early September, during the first week that they were back in school, they had an argument like none before.
J.J. couldn't even remember now what it had been about. But at the end of it, at the point where they usually came round to forgiving each other and patching it up, Jimmy had dropped a bombshell.
"I should have had more sense than to hang around with you anyway, after what my granny told me about the Liddys."
His words were followed by a dreadful silence, full of J.J.'s bewilderment and Jimmy's embarrassment. He knew he had gone too far.
"What about the Liddys?" said J.J.
"Nothing." Jimmy turned to go back into school.
J.J. stood in front of him. "Go on. What did she tell you?"
Jimmy might have been able to wriggle his way out of it and pretend it was a bluff, but he had been overheard. He and J.J. were no longer alone. Two other lads, Aidan Currie and Mike Ford, had overheard and had come to join in.
"Go on, Jimmy," said Aidan. "You may as well tell him."
"Yeah," said Mike. "If he doesn't know he must be the only person in the county who doesn't."
The bell rang for the end of the morning break. They all ignored it.
"Know what?" said J.J. He felt cold, terrified, not of something that might happen but of something that he might find inside himself; in his blood.
"It was a long time ago," said Jimmy, still trying to retract.
"One of the Liddys . . ." Jimmy said something else but he mumbled it beneath his breath and J.J. couldn't hear. It sounded like "burgled the beast."
The teacher on yard duty was calling them in. Jimmy began to walk toward the school. The others fell in.
"He did what?" said J.J.
"Forget it," said Jimmy.
It was Aidan Currie who said it, loud enough for J.J. or anyone else to hear. "Sure, everyone knows about it. Your great-granddad. J.J. Liddy, same as yourself. He murdered the priest."
J.J. stopped in his tracks. "No way!"
"He did, so," said Mike. "And all for the sake of an old wooden flute."
"You're a shower of liars!" said J.J.
The boys, except for Jimmy, laughed.
"Always mad for the music, the same Liddys," said Mike.
He began to hop and skip toward the school in a goofy parody of Irish dancing. Aidan trotted beside him, singing an out-of-tune version of "The Irish Washerwoman." Jimmy glanced back at J.J. and, his head down, followed them as they went back in.
J.J. stood alone in the yard. It couldn't be true. But he knew, now that he thought about it, that there had always been something behind the way some of the local people regarded him and his family. A lot of people in the community came to the céilís and the set-dancing classes that were held at his house on Saturdays. They had always come, and their parents and grandparents had come before them. In recent years the numbers had increased dramatically with the influx of new people into the area. Some of them came from thirty miles away and more. But there was, and always had been, a large number of local people who would have nothing to do with the Liddys or their music. They didn't exactly cross the street to avoid J.J. and his family, but they didn't talk to them either. J.J., if he'd thought about it at all, had assumed it was because his parents were one of the only couples in the district who weren't married, but what if that wasn't the reason? What if it had really happened? Could J.J. be descended from a murderer?
The foregoing is excerpted from The New Policeman by Kate Thompson. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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