Oh, Quirke said. Right. He looked as if he were trying not to laugh. Anyway, he said, never mind about me, what are you doing, down here among the dead men?
Mal had a way of bulging out his eyes and drawing upward sinuously his already long, thin form, as if to the music of a snake charmers flute. Quirke had to marvel, not for the first time, at the polished luster of that hair, the smoothness of the brow beneath, the untarnished steely blue of his eyes behind the pebble glass of his specs.
I had a thing to do, Mal said. A thing to check.
Mal did not answer. He studied Quirke and saw how drunk he was, and a cold glint of relief came into his eye.
You should go home, he said.
Quirke thought to dispute thisthe morgue was his territorybut again suddenly he lost all interest. He shrugged, and with Mal still watching him he turned and weaved away among the body-bearing trolleys. Halfway across the room he stumbled and reached out quickly to the edge of a trolley to steady himself but managed only to grab the sheet, which came away in his hand in a hissing white flash. He was struck by the clammy coldness of the nylon; it had a human feel, like a loose, chill cowl of bloodless skin. The corpse was that of a young woman, slim and yellow-haired; she had been pretty, but death had robbed her of her features and now she might be a carving in soapstone, primitive and bland. Something, his pathologists instinct perhaps, told him what the name would be before he looked at the label tied to her toe. Christine Falls, he murmured. You were well named. Looking more closely he noticed the dark roots of her hair at forehead and temples: dead, and not even a real blonde.
he woke hours later, curled on his side, with a vague but pressing sense of imminent disaster. He had no memory of lying down here, among the corpses. He was chilled to the bone, and his tie was askew and choking him. He sat up, clearing his throat; how much had he drunk, first in McGonagles and then at the party upstairs? The door to his office stood opensurely it was a dream that Mal had been there? He swung his legs to the floor and gingerly stood upright. He was light-headed, as if the top of his skull had been lifted clear off. Raising an arm, he gravely saluted the trolleys, Roman-style, and walked stiffly at a tilt out of the room.
The walls of the corridor were matte green and the woodwork and the radiators were thick with many coats of a bilious yellow stuff, glossy and glutinous, less like paint than crusted gruel. He paused at the foot of the incongruously grand, sweeping staircasethe building had been originally a club for Regency rakesand was surprised to hear faint sounds of revelry still filtering down from the fifth floor. He put a foot on the stair, a hand on the banister rail, but paused again. Junior doctors, medical students, nurses beef to the heel: no, thanks, enough of that, and besides, the younger men had not wanted him there in the first place. He moved on along the corridor. He had a premonition of the hangover that was waiting for him, mallet and tongs at the ready. In the night porters room beside the tall double doors of the main entrance a wireless set was quietly playing to itself. The Ink Spots. Quirke hummed the tune to himself. Its a sin to tell a lie. Well, that was certainly true.
when he came out onto the steps the porter was there in his brown dust coat, smoking a cigarette and contemplating a surly dawn breaking behind the dome of the Four Courts. The porter was a dapper little fellow with glasses and dusty hair and a pointed nose that twitched at the tip. In the still-dark street a motorcar oozed past.
Copyright © 2006 by Benjamin Black. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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