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Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly (Detective Sean Duffy #6)
Author:Adrian McKinty

“What’s that supposed to mean, Da?”

“A lot of people think the first words spoken on the surface of the moon are ‘That’s one small step for man – that’s one giant leap for mankind.’ But it’s not. It’s not even ‘That’s one small step for a man’, which Armstrong claims he says. That’s what Armstrong said when he first stepped off the bottom rung of the ladder of the lunar lander, but him and Aldrin had been talking in there for an hour by then.”

“What is it then?” Jeanie Coulhouln asked, on the edge of her seat.

“I’ll tell you what else it’s not, it’s not ‘Houston, the Eagle has landed’, either. Everyone thinks it’s that, but it’s not that,” Dad insisted.

“OK that’s what it’s not. What’s the right answer?” Jeanie asked.

“Well,” my father began, smiling at us beatifically like the Venerable Bede. “Not many people know this, but as the lunar lander, the Lem, as it was called, was touching down on the moon they had a little light to let them know when they’d actually touched down. It was the contact light and as soon as they touched down on the surface Buzz Aldrin had to tell Armstrong that the contact light was on so he could turn off the engines. So they touch down and the light comes on and Aldrin says ‘Contact light’, ergo the very first words spoken on the moon were ‘Contact light’.”

“Are you sure now, Alfred?” Big Paul said, poised with his pen. “This’ll be the first time we’ve ever won outright.”

“I’m sure,” Dad insisted.

We wrote our answer on the card. The bowling club wrote down their answer and we both handed the cards up to Marty.

Marty grabbed the microphone and dramatically shook his pinched, aged face from side to side. “Ladies and gentlemen, you are not going to believe it! Both teams got the wrong answer! Both teams got it wrong so this week there’s no clear winner and we’re going to divide the pot. The bowlers wrote ‘That’s one small step for man’ and the golf club lost their heads completely and wrote ‘Contact light’, but the right answer, is, of course: ‘Houston, the Eagle has landed’!”

When we got home the rain had stopped, so Beth, Emma and Mum met us at the beach at the end of the lane.

“How did it go? Did youse win?” Mum asked.

“I don’t think Dad wants to talk about it, there was a bit of a shouting match at the end there, let’s just get inside and change the subject,” I said quickly.

Dad, who was still red in the face, said nothing and marched down to the library, where we heard discordant and angry music that might well have been Bax and Bix.

The next morning I packed for the pilgrimage to Station Island with sleet and hail hammering the windows. It was the first week of March but we were still firmly in the grip of winter. I sat on the window ledge and caught my breath. For the last few weeks I’d been having trouble catching my breath in the mornings. If I wasn’t worried about a diagnosis of cancer or emphysema I would have gone to the doctor before this. I’d cut way down on the smokes, maybe it was time to cut them out completely?

“How are you doing, Sean?” Beth asked and before I could answer added: “You shouldn’t look so gloomy, I think this will be great for you and your Dad.”

“You really want to know how I feel?”

“Is it going to be something positive?”

“I have nothing positive to say. Will you take two negatives?”

“No.”

“Jesus, Beth, I really don’t want to go on this bloody trip. I only agreed because I thought he’d forget all about it.”

“Sean! Phone!” my mum shouted from the living room.

I walked down the hall and picked up the receiver. “Hello?”

“Sean, I’m really sorry to bother you on your holiday.”

It was Detective Sergeant McCrabban. I’d recognised his dour, sibilant Ballymena intake of breath before he’d said a word.

“That’s OK, Crabbie old son. It’s always a pleasure to hear from you.”

“How’s your trip going?”

“It’s all right, Crabbie. It’s pouring, but, you know, that’s to be anticipated in Donegal. Everything OK there?”

“Yeah, everything’s fine.”

“So to what do I owe the pleasure of this call?”

“Well, you told me to call you if anything interesting came up.”

“And has something interesting come up?” I asked expectantly.

“There’s been a murder.”

“What sort of a murder?”

“Someone killed a drug dealer.”

“Doesn’t sound so interesting.”

“No, but they killed him with an arrow. Shot him in the back with an arrow, so they did.”

“Injuns?”

“Well …”

“Or that miscreant from Sherwood Forest who gives the local law enforcement agencies so much difficulty?”

“Here’s the bit that I thought might get you intrigued. This is the second drug dealer that’s been shot with an arrow in as many days.”

“Two drug dealers. Both of them shot with arrows?”

“If you want to be technical about it – and I know you do – they were actually crossbow bolts.”

“From the same crossbow?”