Time was running out for T.J. McMullen.
For the first time in his life he felt the severe pressure of duty and the strain was plainly visible on his plump red race.
There was no way out for him.
Garda Tom Joe McMullen moved slowly through the village of Ballydaw with the words of the sergeant still ringing in his ears....
“The Super is on his way down here to crack the whip, and unless you have something to show him after a year’s work there will be heads rolling . . . and believe me McMullen your head will be first.”
Since Tom Joe McMullen had taken up duty in the village, he had never issued a summons to any man or woman and now when he was forced to blot his copybook with the impending visit of the Super, he was unable to bring himself to the point of pinning a summons on some unfortunate. McMullen’s philosophy was simple. The town was comparatively quiet, and as there were no Baby Face Nelsons or anyone showing that potential he firmly believed in leaving things as they were and not to stir up unnecessary trouble. For this reason the people of Ballydaw took warmly to Tom Joe McMullen and the publicans were all very appreciative of his attitude and rewarded him suitably whenever they were given an opportunity – and McMullen never denied them that!
McMullen unlike his fellow garda – a young starry-eyed fellow who had just come down from the depot, had no ambition to put bars on his shoulders at this stage in his life. His only ambition was to work out his days in his adopted village and retire in Ballydaw – and that day was not too far away now. But summonsing a villager now would really put the cat among the pigeons. It was this fact above everything else that plunged McMullen into deep despair.
As he passed the Town Hall he remembered all the opportunities he had let slip through his hands when the tourists were about . . . . . defective cars, bald tyres, drunk driving, even the occasional sex scandal.
Yes he had let them all sail by!
As he leaned against the gate of the Town Hall his mind began to race – race to every avenue of his brain seeking to extradite himself from this desperate dilemma, but it always came back to his original thought that the sacrificial lamb would have to be chosen from amongst his own flock.
“What has to be done must be done” he kept repeating over and over again to himself trying frantically to reassure himself. He straightened his shoulders and pledged to net someone before the day darkened. He ran over a list of likely candidates in his head and came to the conclusion that Chalky White would be his best option. McMullen calculated that Chalkie had more enemies in the village than almost anyone else and this justified a confused mind in making him his number one target. So with a brisk step he set out for Chalky’s farmhouse. He passed the village Co-Op, struggled up the cobbled hill and panted out the few hundred yards into the country and was soon outside Chalky’s farmhouse. Luck was on his side – Chalky’s van was parked under a high bush. Like a trained guerrilla McMullen moved under the cover of the bush towards the van. His eyes lit up! The windscreen was as naked as a new born babe. Sighing with relief he moved cautiously towards his victim’s front door. Chalkie with his natural gift for sensing trouble was at this stage half-way down the path. McMullen dipped like a hawk.
“I see Mr. White that your van is not taxed, I’m afraid that I will have to report.”
“What do you mean report” Chalky cut in sharply.
“That bloody van is taxed. . . .If you opened your two bloody eyes. .”
Chalky checked himself as he moved to examine the windscreen. Sure enough the tax disc was missing. Furiously he tore the keys from his pocket cursing continuously as he did so and proceeded to open the door. When the door creaked open he pushed his head inside and picked the disc from the floor of the van. Pushing it under McMullen’s nose he shouted.
“Take it back with you to the station and have it examined by the doctor.”
McMullen was stunned. Without reply he scurried off down the hill his tail firmly between his legs. Though his hands were still shaking he fought off the temptation to go into ‘The Grey Badger’ and restore his equilibrium with a ball of malt. However bad the situation would be returning to the station without a summons, the smell of alcohol on his breath would signal his final doom.
Time was slipping by!
The gloomy sun was now reading two o ‘clock in the sky and hurrying along McMullen felt that all nature was conspiring against him. Suddenly he was wrenched from his surroundings as the Sergeant’s bull face flashed before him once more . . . . he knew he had no business returning to the station unless he had a name firmly scratched into his little black book. He knew the public houses would be opened after hours – but he could not wait that long, and in addition, he did not wish to suffer the scorn of the village publicans. At four o clock utterly dejected and beaten he threw in the towel and headed back to the station. At this stage he was prepared to face the music and sergeant Maguire was the man to sing it out loud and clear especially when his own neck was on the chopper.
Maguire’s two mad eyes lit up. The flesh that hung from his neck reddened to boiling point as he blasted his voice left and right round the station hammering the desk whenever he got near it. Still shaking he fell back into his chair but rose almost immediately and moved his head towards McMullen.
“You’re going out there and you’re going to get a booking.”
Still grinding his teeth he fell back into his chair and stared at the empty desk in front of him. McMullen scrambled out the door cursing the sergeant, the super and the first day he ever joined this Godforsaken outfit. But cursing was no answer to a ranting raving madman of a sergeant. In desperation McMullen found himself on a path for St. Finians Church with the words of his long deceased mother bubbling in his head. Remember when everything fails and the world is crumbling at your feet find the ear of St. Anthony.
McMullen knew that the good saint had a permanent residency in St. Finians. When he entered the Church he hardly recognised the inside at all – it had been renovated during the summer and St. Anthony had been promoted to a little chapel of his own.
This raised McMullen’s hopes a little higher. He lit a candle, asked his petition of the saint and waited with bowed head. He remained in this position for some time, half expecting a blinding flash of inspiration but nothing was coming from the saint’s quarters. Eventually McMullen concluded that this Saint had more important matters on his mind at this time and nosily scrambled out of the pew. He threw a flaring smirk in the direction of the Saint as he left the little chapel and emerged into the main body of the church. He paid little attention to the few muttering women on either sides of the aisle, as he headed for the big mahogany doors that let him back out into the cruel world.
He ambled aimlessly along the main street and like MANNA FROM HEAVEN there it was before him!
A huge black swishy-looking car parked right on the junction.
“A visitor’s car” he cried out.
Nothing could be more perfect. His blood raced as he went about plastering a ticket on the windscreen and proceeded to write town all the details in his black book. He was not about to take any chances with this piece of good fortune. Triumphantly he started back for the station, hardly noticing the hill as he skipped along. Arriving at the station he stopped, adjusted his tunic and pushed out his chest. Gleefully he stood before the sergeant. Before he could open his mouth the sergeant burst out.
“McMullen where the hell have you been . . . the super has taken a heart attack and his car is abandoned on the Main Street . . . get down there right away and recover the bloody thing before anything happens to it.”
As McMullen ambled down the hill; he thought about the super and the ambulance screaming towards the city hospital.
He gave a wry smile.
This St. Anthony could be a very useful ‘Old Bucko’.