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An ex-cop must save the woman he’s sworn to protect from an ancient Irish curse.
Ex-cop Finn O’Grady hasn’t been home in years. But the woman he swore to protect is convinced an ancient curse has put her and her son in deadly danger. O’Grady has seen too much evil on earth to believe in the supernatural. And then the killing starts . . .
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In the town of Kilmeaden in Ireland, just west of Galway, on a rainy October night, little Bobby O’Connor was lying fast asleep in his warm bed. His mother, Bridie, went up to check on him. She stood in the doorway, watching his breathing, his peaceful sleep. She reflected on the quiet contentment of her life, just herself and her little boy.
She went back downstairs and picked up her sewing, listening to the rain hammering against the windows.
Then another sound…A cry from upstairs, a thump, and then Bobby’s footsteps, fast pad-padding down the stairs. He appeared in the doorway, white as a sheet, terrified.
Bridie sprang to her feet. “What is it?” she asked him, gathering him into her arms. “My boy, whatever is the matter?”
He could hardly speak. Eventually he managed, “He had a green mask. Like leaves. And he was singing. A horrid, horrid song, like a lion growling…”
This hit Bridie like a punch to the guts. “Who?” she asked, but she knew the answer.
“In the window,” the little boy said. “I heard the singing. I woke up. And then I saw him through the window. I called for you—the man was laughing. I ran, I ran downstairs.…” He burst into tears.
“Hush now, little one,” she said, holding him close. “You’re safe now. It was a bad dream. Nothing but a dream.”
She took him upstairs to her big double bed and lay down next to him. Soon he settled back to sleep.
Bridie lay awake, trembling.
A bad dream, she thought. If only it was.
As soon as dawn broke, she picked up her phone and dialed a number.
In a tall, sleek, glass tower block in the City of London, Finn O’Grady heard his phone ring. The pink of the new day tinted the City landscape, catching the watery flicker of the Thames. O’Grady had been sitting, watching the CCTV screens of the sleeping buildings, waiting for his night shift to end.
He looked at his phone.
He almost didn’t answer it. But it was six in the morning and she’d been in his thoughts for most of the night. Like every night. Even though he hadn’t seen her for three and a half years. Three years, six months. And eight days.
“Hi,” he said, his voice neutral.
“Thank God.” Her voice was a sigh of relief.
“What is it?”
“It’s here,” she said. “Oh, Finn, thank God you answered. I didn’t know who else to call, who else would understand.…”
“You know what. Bobby saw it in the night, at his window. I told him it was a bad dream. He believed me last night. He won’t believe me when it happens again.”
O’Grady was silent.
“You’ve got to come back,” she said.
“You know I can’t.”
“But—the curse. We need you.…” Her voice caught in a sob.
“That’s an old tale. An old folk story…”
“Finn, please believe me.”
“I promised I’d never come back. And I keep my promises.”
“What about another promise you made once?”
“I’m an exile, Bridie.”
“It’s an exile you chose, Finn. And you can choose to end it.”
The call clicked off.
Finn O’Grady stared at his phone in the rosy autumnal dawn.
The sleek towers of the City of London glittered in the first rays of the sun. In front of O’Grady sat a bank of CCTV cameras, flickering grimy images.
This is what I’ve become, he thought. I was the top cop in Galway—now I’m watching warehouses storing computer kit. And all because I held out for the truth, for justice.
“An exile you chose,” she’d said.
He got to his feet, paced up and down.
And if I’d chosen otherwise? What would it be like? To have a home, a garden, a potato patch. A wife…
He stopped his pacing. He remembered his mother’s words as he played out in the back yard when he was a boy. “I won’t be keeping you here, Finn boy,” she’d say. “A nomad, that’s what you are. A restless spirit. You belong to the whole world, not to me.”
A nomad, he thought. Belonging nowhere.
O’Grady gazed out of the wide, bright window.
A night watchman, paid to guard the wealth of companies against those who would try to take it.
How far from my mother’s dream of warriorhood, of might and right.
And now this…
He stared at his phone.
In his mind, the pleading, desperate voice of Bridie O’Connor.
“It’s here,” she’d said.
He knew what she meant. The Salter curse, which came through her father’s line, before she married into the O’Connors. Bridie’s grandfather, James Salter, was English. He was said to have stolen land in Galway that had belonged to an Irish family. At the time the locals had a story of the ancient Green Man. They believed he would protect them from the English incomers. The Green Man was invincible. In the ancient folk song they try to kill him by earth, air, fire and water, but he always rises up again.
James Salter showed no interest in the stories. He expanded the farm, ignored the locals, claimed he didn’t give a damn what these inbred savages thought of him.
His only son, Richard—Bridie’s father—was different. Richard was a gentle soul, a solitary child who grew up to be an academic—a historian at the university. Much loved locally, he seemed to carry the guilt of the stolen land, the opposite of his bully of a father.
It wasn’t surprising that old Salter was unpopular. Nor was it surprising that the locals used these tales to express their sense of injustice.
What was surprising was that decades later, at Bridie’s window, her little boy had seen something resembling the Green Man of the stories.
O’Grady was brought back from his thoughts by a crash of doors and a beep of security gates.
“All right?” Mo and Ahmed tumbled through the doors and thumped tubs of hot coffee onto their desks. “Quiet night?”
“Quiet night,” O’Grady agreed, handing over a large bunch of keys. Mo was bearded and trim; Ahmed was tall and broad-shouldered, his shirt tight over his muscles. O’Grady sometimes wondered what they made of him, with his ten years on them.
He said his farewells and went down the back stairs into the yard. The huge steel gate slid open to let him out.
His flat was in East London, two dingy rooms on a road which never slept. The dusty windows let in minimal daylight and the warring aromas from the artisanal bakers and the cheap fried chicken shop below.
O’Grady took off his jacket. He pulled a comb through his chestnut-brown hair. A glance in the mirror showed a tall, muscular figure, clean-shaven, blue-eyed.
A cowboy, Bridie had once called him. “You calling me names?” he’d asked. “No,” she’d laughed, shaking her head. “From the Westerns, the old films. You look like a man who’s got what it takes. That’s what I mean.”
He looked at the image in front of him. He wondered what Bridie would see now.
He slept fitfully, dreaming of Ireland. Dreaming of Bridie, remembering their happy times before she married Stuart, before little Bobby came along.
At four in the afternoon he woke, got up, boiled the kettle, made tea. He sat at his table, stirring the spoon around in his mug.
Bridie would be wanting an answer. But what could he say to her?
A nomad, my mother would call me, before I knew the meaning of the word. “A warrior,” she’d say, watching me playing in the dust. “One of the ancients.”
I was her beloved only child. Running round the yard with my wooden sword, slaying dragons. Important work, I thought at the time. The dragons were real enough to me.
And then I grew up, fell in love. But I’d catch Bridie watching me as my mother had, as if she too was thinking that one day she would have to let me go.
And then came the time when she said to me, “I’m a woman who needs to be a mother. I need to find the man who’ll give me that.”
Soon after, Stuart O’Connor appeared on the scene with his fancy motorbike, a Suzuki Intruder, bought from a dealer in Raheen who turned out to have stolen it. But Bridie was happy enough being whisked along the country lanes.
The last time he’d seen Bridie had been in the yard at Caffrey’s stables, a set of reins looped over one arm, little Bobby toddling at her feet, her brother Mikey in the distance shoveling manure.
She’d gone up to him, looked into his eyes, taken hold of his hand. She was about to speak.
Stay. Don’t go.
He’d waited for the words.
Instead, she’d shaken her head, squeezed his hand, then turned and walked away.
She didn’t look back.
He’d taken the next flight to London.
O’Grady checked his phone, picked up the address of that night’s job from his company.
As the sun set across London, he made his way back to the City, back towards the river. He thought about the fields beneath his feet, the medieval markets, the Roman wine cellars and garrison stations. He looked upwards at the brand-new towers of shimmering glass.
By ten o’clock, he was sitting alone on the back stairs of a storage company. He could feel his pistols, Glock 17s, one in each pocket. It was a cool clear night and he sat out of sight, by the metal fencing of the warehouse yard.
The night was quiet. Just the occasional plane, its tiny dotted lights against the sky. He could hear Bridie’s voice in his head: “I didn’t know who else to call.…”
He felt a wave of rage.
Bridie wants me to be what I used to be, the man she could rely on.
The moon had risen, a perfect crescent. He wondered if they could see the same moon in Galway.
Mikey Salter stared up at the perfect crescent moon as it rose behind Tynan’s bar, down the lane from the stable yard where he worked. He walked to his car, steadily enough, he thought, one foot landing safely in front of the other. It’s not as if anyone’s going to know.
Start the engine, pull out of the pub car park, put on the radio, Bowie, isn’t it? “Golden Years…” He found himself singing along as he pushed the car up a gear and sped around the bends in the dark lane.
“Mikey, you’ve had enough,” Griff the landlord had said, two or three pints before. But the old country lane was familiar, and anyway, who else was going to be on it at that time of night?
Something reared up in the darkness, across the road. A block. A tree, he realized, as he jammed on the brakes and felt the tires spin. The car swerved and stopped, inches from collision.
“Now what?” Mikey Salter said, out loud. He got out of his car. A huge tree trunk, right across the road. How the devil had it got there?
It was a still night, with an autumnal chill in the air. The crescent moon was crisp against the dark sky.
Then he heard it. A weird, guttural singing, a deep voice. A song, sounded like Gaelic, he thought, like the old folk songs his dad used to play on those funny old recordings. It seemed familiar, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
A step, a crunch of a boot behind him. He turned and faced the barrel of a shotgun, glinting in the moonlight.
- On Sale
- Nov 7, 2017
- Page Count
- 144 pages
- Hachette Book Group