If I Can Make It There

In New York for the UN General Assembly, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro had to eat pizza on the sidewalk because he hasn’t been vaccinated….

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Jair Bolsonaro was in a good mood.

As he had expected, his speech to the UN had been a huge success. World leaders had been stunned into admiring silence, too awestruck even to applaud as he explained to them that Covid was a hoax, that global warming was just a spell of good weather and that cutting down the rainforests was ridding the world of orcs.

He felt that he had earned himself a night out and, waving away the offer of accompaniment from his bodyguards, the strongman of Brazil headed out to the cool night and the constant hum of the city that never sleeps, possibly because of the constant hum.

At first he was not impressed. Broadway was not all that broad, there was nothing especially big about the apples in the delis, and he was disappointed to learn that the New York Knicks is not a sex shop.

He passed a pizza parlor. The window display was not inviting- under a garish yellow strip light was what looked like a beige toilet-seat cover smothered in melted zit – but the smell was wonderful. He opened the door and strode toward a table.

“Whoa there, buddy,” said a voice. “You can’t just walk in here and sit down.”

Bolsonaro looked around. Behind the counter was a young man whose name badge said he was Luca and whose tight white t-shirt said he worked out. Bolsonaro glared contemptuously at him.

“I can sit where I like,” he said arrogantly. “I am Jair Bolsonaro.”

Luca raised one eyebrow.

“President of Brazil?” said Bolsonaro, a little less arrogantly.

“Sure you are,” said Luca, “and I’m the Pope’s watchmaker.”

Bolsonaro frowned. “That’s not an actual job,” he said.

“Which is why I’m working in this dump,” said Luca. “Anyway, I ain’t interested in what you do, I just need to know your status.” He pointed to a small sign that read ‘No Dose, No Dish’.

“That’s not very pithy,” said Bolsonaro, despite himself. “It should say ‘No Prick, No Pizza’.”

“You’d think,” said Luca, “but there are some things you can’t say even in New York. Anyhow, show me your proof of vaccine.”

Bolsonaro sneered. “I’m not vaccinated,” he said. “The vaccine is made of magnetized snail ooze, and the CIA use it to -”

“Yadda, yadda, yadda,” said Luca. “Out.”

Bolsonaro was stunned. “You can’t treat me like this,” he snapped. “I am the most powerful man in South America.”

Luca folded his arms, and Bolsonaro noticed how this made his biceps bulge.

“That may be so,” said Luca quietly, “but you ain’t the most powerful man in this room. Trust me on this.”

Bolsonaro turned to storm out, flaring his nostrils furiously, but that flare involved taking in a lungful of pizza aroma. He turned back.

“Can I get one to go?” he asked, sheepishly.

Luca sighed. “Sure,” he said, “but you’ll have to wait outside. What do you want?”

Bolsonaro looked up at the lurid pictures on the menu over Luca’s head. “I’ll have the Hawaiian,” he said, adding, because he felt it was a New York thing to do, “and hold the pineapple.”

Luca sighed again. “One ham pizza, then,” he said. “Now, out.”

Bolsonaro gave him a twenty and stepped outside, where it had begun to rain. He turned up the jacket collar of his expensive suit and stood gloomily for twenty minutes until Luca pushed a cardboard box through a small window. Bolsonaro took it and began to trudge along the street.

The rain got heavier.

Bolsonaro hurried in under an overhang that ran the length of an office building. He took the pizza from its box and put the box on the sidewalk. He sat on it with his back to the wall, resting the pizza on his knees. It’s going to cost a fortune to clean this suit, he thought. He pulled one slice from the wheel and took a bite.

“How you doin’?” said a voice in the darkness.

Bolsonaro looked around in shock. A figure in a hoodie was sitting a few feet away, drinking wine from a bottle in a paper bag. It waved the bottle at him and pointed at the pizza. “Wanna share?”

Bolsonaro found he could only nod. The man scooched over beside him and handed him the paper bag. Bolsonaro tore off half of the pizza and gave it over in return. The man patted him on the knee in thanks.

I’m just going to throw the suit away, thought Bolsonaro.

He sniffed cautiously at the wine. It had a bouquet redolent of cabbage, tear gas and Guinness fart. He took a gulp, and gasped as his mouth filled with the taste of liquid banshee.

He stared morosely into the light reflecting in a street puddle.

“I’m the President of Brazil,” he muttered.

“Whatever,” said his new friend.

 

 

First Footprint in the Snow

A bioscience company aims to genetically resurrect the woolly mammoth, and to place thousands of them back on the Siberian tundra ….

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Doctor Mira Daniellova looked at the huge beast lying on the floor of the disused aircraft hangar and took a long, anxious breath.

The hangar housed the lab in which, for the past ten years, she had pursued her dream. She had chosen this site, far out in the wastes of the Siberian tundra, partly to be near where the work would culminate, and partly because it was far from any village likely to be populated by people with pitchforks, flaming torches and a narrow-minded approach to experimental resurrection.

For her dream was to revive the woolly mammoth. She hoped that they would restore the ecosystem here, that they would re-fertilize the grasslands that once flourished, and that they would produce enough wool to rid the world forever of the nylon jumper, since she was especially susceptible to attack by static electricity.

Now she turned to her assistant, whose name was Igor – not because of stereotype, but because this is Russia, where the name is common.

“It’s time,” she said.

She felt that Igor should have pulled a huge lever, that there should have been a crack of thunder, that a jagged finger of lightning should have leapt from her equipment to the prone body, that several of the jars around her should have spontaneously exploded. Instead Igor simply nodded and pressed a key on his computer.

At least it was the return key, she told herself.

They both held their breath. The computer screen showed “Please Wait” for a few seconds, then ran updates, shut down, restarted, and showed a photo of an Amsterdam canal. That’s Windows 10 for you.

Igor sighed, logged in again, and re-ran the program.

Nothing happened.

Mira’s shoulders slumped. She stared despondently at the giant inert face of the creature before her, fighting back tears.

Suddenly one huge eye opened.

“It’s alive!” she breathed, and found she had to fight an urge to add “mwa-ha-ha” to the sentence.

The mammoth climbed to its four feet, and Mira for the first time felt a sense of just how truly huge it was. It stared wildly around, dazzled by the garish artificial light, and lumbered its way across the hangar towards the huge door at the far end.

“The doors are locked,” said Igor.

“Pitchforks?” asked Mira.

Igor looked embarrassed. “Well, you never know,” he said. “Anyway, it’s trapped.”

The mammoth ripped the door off its hinges with its trunk.

“Or not,” said Mira.

The hut filled with icy Siberian air. Mira and Igor struggled into coats as the mammoth stepped out into a shrieking gale. It lifted their Ski-doo between its great curved tusks and hurled it aside, where it exploded. It then did a mammoth dump, in both senses of that phrase, before heading off across the wastes in search of somewhere colder.

Mira and Igor stood at the doorway, watching as it slowly faded away into the darkness.

“There it goes,” said Mira, “first of its kind.”

“And last,” said Igor. “We’ll never catch him without the Ski-doo.”

“Her,” said Mira. “And we don’t have to worry about catching her. She’s pregnant.”

“What? How?”

“You really don’t want to know,” said Mira.

“So you haven’t just created one?” said Igor. “You’ve created a whole species?”

Mira smiled. “They say if your dreams don’t scare you,” she said, “then they aren’t big enough.”

“Or you’ve never seen Jurassic Park,” muttered Igor.

 

 

 

 

 

Baby Brain

Britain’s NHS has apologised for issuing guidelines urging expectant mothers to prepare a “special meal” for their partners to avoid them feeling “left out”. The guidance has now been withdrawn, but this is what it said…

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  • For breakfast add curry powder and sprouts to a bowl of Sugar Puffs. This should induce morning sickness.
  • Lemons, tomatoes, chocolate, cheese and peppermint are all causes of heartburn. Mix them all into his daily smoothie.
  • Replace his tea with Gaviscon. Give him twelve mugs a day, so he always feels he needs to pee.
  • Feed him so much and so often that he can no longer see his shoes. If this doesn’t work, hide his shoes.
  • Like you, he may get cravings. His will probably be for steak and chips. Ignore this and give him macaroni and custard.
  • Tell him he has to give up drink for nine months. That should put an end to this nonsense.

Yes Sir, We Can Boogie

The Irish Government has announced that the ban on dancing at weddings is to be lifted, provided the public “exercise reasonable precautions”. This is a brief summary of what that means…

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As the Bride and Groom are by definition now part of the same household, the First Dance is allowed.

When the Best Man and Chief Bridesmaid join the dance they should wear masks. This is to put an obstacle in the way of Best Men, who seem to believe that it is one of their official duties to “shift the bridesmaids”.

The Macarena is highly recommended. You can move your arms without coming into contact with anybody else, and at every jump and turn you find yourself facing the back of someone’s head.

Guests should clear the floor when the Bride’s aunt and uncle decide to show off their jive. This is for health and safety reasons, though not to do with Covid.

Protective gloves must be worn during conga lines.

Do not dance to The Birdie Song, it makes you look like a gobshite.

Dad dancing is allowed, as no-one will go within two metres of him while he’s doing it anyway.

 

 

Horse Sense

Ireland will conduct a horse census for the first time later this year…

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Q1. Is your name:
a. Traditional (Dobbin, Blue)
b. Grandiose (Sovereign Princess, Thundercloud)
c. Sponsored (Kellogg’s Frosties III, Toilet Duck)

Q2. Are you:
a. Chestnut
b. Piebald
c. A horse of a different colour

Q3. Sex:
a. Stallion
b. Mare
c. Gelding, and pissed off about it

Q4. Is your occupation:
a. Racehorse
b. Carriage or cart puller
c. Little girl’s pony (hobby horse)

Q5. State your highest level of qualification:
a. I’ve won the Derby
b. I’ve won a rosette at a gymkhana
c. My farts can be heard two fields away

Q6. If you were led to water, would you;
a. Drink it
b. Bathe in it
c. Stop suddenly and propel your rider into the water

Q7. Do you like Dressage:
a. No

 

 

Getting Elephants

Sri Lanka has passed a new law banning the drunk driving of elephants (Irish Times)…

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It is a story that is replicated every Friday in pubs across the world. Rihaan went in for one drink after work, but one drink became several as he fell into company, fell into conversation, fell into the fireplace on his way to the toilet.

It was after that that Rihaan reckoned it was time to go home. Friends suggested that he get a taxi, but Rihaan would not hear of it.

This was because his elephant was parked outside the pub. Not all of the story is replicated across the world.

Waving goodbye to the group he went outside to where the elephant, Vimtu, was patiently waiting. Rihaan tapped Vimtu’s side, the elephant sank onto its four knees, and Rihaan pulled himself aboard. He settled into the howdah, pressed his heels gently into Vimtu’s sides, and set off into Friday evening Colombo traffic.

This was not as foolhardy as it sounds. There is a great deal of difference between the drunk driving of a car and an elephant. There are many skills, needing a clear mind, involved in driving a car. The sole skill to driving an elephant is the ability to duck under lines of washing.

But driving one while drunk was now banned in Sri Lanka, so Rihaan’s heart sank when he saw the police checkpoint ahead. He took a deep breath and fixed his face with what he hoped was a cheery smile.

Constable Sharvil walked slowly towards him. His tie was slightly askew and his hi-viz jacket was crumpled, an effect he achieved by stuffing it each night into a small wastepaper basket. This was because Sharvil secretly modelled himself on Lieutenant Columbo from the TV. A lot of policemen in Sri Lanka’s capital do.

He looked at Rihaan’s wide-eyed rictus, which looked as if he were trying to hold in a fart.

“Good evening, sir,” he said. “Been drinking, have we?”

“I don’t know if you have,” replied Rihaan, “but I’ve only had a couple.”

This attempt at humour did not go down well. Sharvil sighed and took a breathalyzer from his pocket. “I’ll have to ask you to blow into this,” he said.

He held it up. Rihaan, leaning over perilously, reached down. Their hands were two feet apart.

Sharvil sighed again, and went and fetched a small ladder from behind the checkpoint sign. He propped it against Vimtu’s hide and began to climb.

Rihaan panicked. He pressed his heels again into Vimtu’s sides, and the elephant walked slowly forward. Sharvil and his ladder stood horizontally against nothing for a second, Wile E Coyote-like, then toppled face first to the ground.

Sharvil got angrily to his feet, ran to a passing auto-rickshaw, and climbed in beside the startled driver.

“Follow that elephant,” he snarled.

The chase took some time, as the three-wheeled rickshaw took corners like a supermarket trolley, while Vimtu took them by taking them out. Sharvil’s driver weaved through the trail of debris left by Vimtu’s progress, not gaining at all, but as Sharvil looked around at where they were, he smiled.

They were approaching the Kelani River.

Up ahead Rihaan looked around at where they were, and smiled.

They were approaching the Kelani River.

Rihaan reckoned they could wade across the river and escape. He dug his heels in, hard.

“Go, Vimtu!” he shouted.

Vimtu looked ahead at the river, its waters swollen by monsoon rains. He dug his heels in, hard.

Hurled from his howdah, Rihaan landed five feet in front of the elephant. He came down hard on his buns, as the bag in which he carried Vimtu’s food had accompanied him through the air. One bun rolled from the bag, spun on its edge like a hub-cap after a car crash, then settled. Vimtu calmly picked it up and put it into his mouth.

The rickshaw came to a stop behind them. Sharvil had a brief row with the driver about the possibility of a fare, then walked slowly over to the groaning Rihaan, carefully loosening his tie as he did so.

“just one more thing,” he said. “You’re nicked.”

 

 

 

Call Me, Call Me Any, Anytime

The iPhone 13, due for release next month, is expected to use satellite communications to allow its use in coverage “dead zones”…

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…. Lassie woke instantly, and began to race towards the house. then she heard a voice from behind her.

“Mom? Hi, it’s Timmy … yeah, look, I’ve fallen down the well.”

Lassie smiled to herself, and went back to dozing happily…

-o0o-

… shivering as the shrieking wind battered the tent. Captain Oates climbed slowly to his feet.

“I’m going outside,” he said. “I may be some time.”

Scott’s eyes widened with surprise and with the crackling sound of tiny icicles breaking. Oates took his phone from his pocket.

“It’s my Gran’s birthday,” he explained. “I always give her a call.”

-o0o-

… at last the celebrating Trojans slept, leaving just a small group of sentries around the horse – not for fear of attack, but simply to stop it being graffitied.

The night was passing without incident, and one of the sentries was just taking a deep breath to yell “four o’clock, and all’s well” when from deep in the belly of the giant horse came the tinny sound of the ringtone version of the theme tune to Zorba the Greek…

-o0o-

… “Heuston, we have a problem,” said Lovell, a lot more calmly than he felt.

“Say again?” came the reply.

“We have a -” he looked over at Swigert, who gave him a thumbs-up. “Actually, it’s ok, Heuston,” said Lovell, “Jack Googled it.”

-o0o-

As he stumbled across the foot-burning sands he suddenly saw the glint of water, blinding as it was hit by the midday sun, and the obligatory single palm tree.

He was sure it was a mirage, but headed towards it anyway. He cried – or would have, had his body contained enough moisture to make tears – as he discovered that it was real, an oasis far out here in the desert.

He fell face first into the small pool, and drank and drank.

Then he logged onto TripAdvisor. “The water was warm, and there was no sparkling option,” he wrote. “Two stars.”

-o0o-

Deep in the forest, something stirred.

It was the witch, gloomily stirring her cauldron.

She had built a cottage of gingerbread so that she could attract children, and eat them. Why she didn’t simply eat the gingerbread is not clear.

And her plan had worked, almost. Hansel and Gretel had arrived, but, before she could begin her Bond-villainly complicated plan of fattening them up (with food, which again she could have eaten herself) they had taken a selfie outside her cottage, with her glowering at the door, and posted it on Instagram.

She’d had to let them go.

 

 

 

The Girl with a Flint Earring

65,000-year-old cave paintings discovered in Spain prove that Neanderthals had a fondness for creating art, making them possibly the first artists on Earth…

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Ogga (image by me)

Ogga’s flowers were dying.

Ugg had given them to her for her birthday in a heart-melting and frankly startling gesture of affection. She had placed them in a small earth pot, watered them everyday, and stared into them and into nothingness whenever he was out hunting, their beauty soothing her uneasiness until his safe return.

Now they were wilting, as if weighed down by the burden. Soon they would be gone, and Ogga knew not when she might get more, since there were no calendars and she had no idea when her birthday would next arrive.

She stared at the flowers for a long while, surprised at the tears filling her eyes. Then she picked up a pot filled with a thick, gloopy liquid, the result of an unsuccessful attempt at inventing gravy to soften the taste of roast stoat. She looked around for something soft to dip into it, found the tail of, well, a stoat, and began to paint an image of the flowers onto the cave wall.

Hours passed like seconds. When she had finished she stood back and looked at the picture, holding the stoat brush vertically in front of one eye, because that is what artists do. She frowned at the dull monochrome of her creation, then spread some of her liquid onto a piece of slate and, by adding crushed herbs, chalk and animal blood to various areas she created a palette of coiours. The flowers on the wall came to life under her flitting brush as their leaves gleamed green, their stamens flecked with white, their petals flamed red.

Ugg arrived home, dragging two rabbits, a deer, and a stoat. He sniffed the air, stared at the wall, then spoke warily.

Ugg (image also from me)

“Uh oh,” he said. “What have I done wrong?”

Ogga frowned. “Why would you think you’ve done anything wrong? ” she asked.

“Well firstly, I don’t smell any dinner,” said Ugg, “and secondly you seem to have hurled my flowers so hard at the wall that they’ve stuck there.”

Ogga laughed and pointed to the bowl beside her. “No, look, they’re still here,” she said. “I just put a picture of them on the wall too.”

“I see,” said Ugg, who didn’t. “Will they wash off?”

“I don’t want them to wash off,” said Ogga. “I want them to stay there. They make the place look pretty.”

Ugg shrugged, a imperceptible gesture since he had no neck to speak of. “If it makes you happy,” he said.

Over the next few weeks the cave’s walls filled with Ogga’s art – a picture of fruit, some lilies in a pond, a night-skyscape that was merely an oblong of woad with specks of pigeon-poo dotted about it. She moved then into portraiture, painting a picture of Ugg that secretly unnerved him, since it’s eyes followed him around the cave and he felt as if he was haunting himself.

He was more unnerved by her next suggestion, that she get Abbs the village hunk to pose naked for her, and his expression, a monalisa stony stare with added eyebrow, persuaded her to drop the idea.

Ogga’s art soon attracted notice, and Ugg got used to coming home to find villagers moving slowly around the cave, pausing before one painting after another and nodding gravely. Others then started to take up the practice, and to move it in different directions. Some painted animals, usually dead ones, since live ones would not keep in pose. Some painted historical scenes, though since history was quite short back then they tended to have titles like Aargh Stubbing His Toe On A Rock, Last Week. Others went for imagination, painting non-existent fantasies such as Round Thing That Makes Pushing Something Easier and Small Piece Of Clothing To Wear Under Your Fur To Keep Your Arse Warm.

Others tried to portray inner turmoil, producing daubs of darkness with titles like Loneliness, Fear of Spiders in a Supposedly Alpha Male, and Mixed Feelings on your Mother-in-Law Being Mauled by a Mammoth.

Ugg tried to join in, but quickly gave up after the village mocked his portrait of Ogga, in which she had one eye higher than the other and both boobs pointing off to the left.

Sadly, he was a man ahead of his time.

 

 

 

 

 

Like Taking Candy

Traffic was heavy on the motorway, according to the radio, as David set out on his morning commute. Since this commute, however, comprised eight steps from the kitchen to the spare bedroom, David didn’t care. These days the only jam he met in the morning was on his toast.

He pushed open the door to what was now his office, set his tea on the desk, and nudged the mouse to nudge the computer awake. He sat down and looked out into his garden. A robin was hovering, resting on the sky, as he pecked at the fat-ball in the bird feeder. David smiled.

He loved working from home.

He had thought it would be hell, that he would sit in his little room drowning slowly in a sea of isolation and bad wi-fi, and he had been wrong. The hell, he now realised, had been the forty-five previous years of his working life, in a series of jobs linked by the common thread that they had all been in the city centre, twenty gridlocked miles away.

He had risen in the dark for over nine months of every year, although none of his jobs had involved feeding livestock, delivering milk, or turning on the light in a lighthouse. He had slumped sleepily on crowded buses while people beside him rang other people to loudly tell them that they were on the bus. He had trudged to the office through the gale that habitually howled down the river, head bowed and one shoulder dipped as if he were trying to force open an invisible door. He had sat under harsh lighting and freezing air-conditioning. He had tried to concentrate while surrounded by shrill ringtones, barked laughter and loud conversations about Love Island, all of which are part of what is apparently called ‘the hum of activity’. He had put up with soul-draining drudgery, since drudgery was all there was.

Now as he worked he could listen to music, shout aloud at ludicrous emails, wear elf slippers. He never got rained on.

He didn’t see his workmates anymore, except on Zoom, but he didn’t miss them as much as he had thought he would, because he saw more of Margaret.

No longer did he leave the house before she had woken up. No longer did he go exhaustedly to bed at nine-thirty, leaving her to sit alone for the rest of the evening.

They now spent more time together than they had since they had been courting. They called themselves the Bubble Buddies, and walked together, laughed together, watched rubbish together. They hadn’t been as close for a long time.

David had been transformed from a gloomy man counting down the years to retirement to a happy man wondering if he need ever retire at all. He could stay doing this forever, maybe cutting down the number of days as the years passed.

He was fitter than he had been in decades. He walked every day. He hadn’t been to the pub for seven months. He hadn’t eaten a Chinese takeaway in over a year. He hadn’t had a Crunchie in fifteen months. He hadn’t –

He hadn’t had a Crunchie in fifteen months. And it had just hit him why.

He hadn’t been to the Childline box in fifteen months.

The Childline box in the office was a cardboard display like an old cinema usherette tray. It was stacked with chocolate and sweets, presumably donated by local shops, and had a little slot on the side where you could put in your money. On Tuesdays someone would come, refill the box and take the money away for the charity.

Monday in the office was free fruit day. Word would go around that the fruit had arrived and the young, health-conscious people he worked with would rush to fill bowls on their desk with bananas and grapes. David would ignore all of this, but on Tuesdays one or other of the young people would notify him when the Childline box had been re-stocked, and they would all watch and smile affectionately as he bolted from his desk with a fistful of coins (from his weekends, in the pub) to buy a chocolate bar for each day for the rest of the week. He always took whatever Crunchies were available, before moving on to Twirls or Lion Bars. His colleagues then would shrug off their health regimes and forage too from the box until all that remained were the Skittles, the confectionery version of the last kid picked for a football game.

David had done it to feed his inner child. That real children had benefited had been a happy by-product that he had never really thought about.

He thought about it now. Childline were no longer getting money from him. They were no longer getting money from any office in the city.

And at the worst possible time. He had read about the increased number of calls that they were taking. He imagined the stress of being trapped, now full time, with an aggressive parent. He imagined the stress of living with parents who were good and loving but who now were struggling with bills and unemployment, and whose frightened, furtive sobbing fed frightened, furtive sobbing in their kids. He imagined that there were things he couldn’t imagine.

He looked out of the window. The robin was now pecking contentedly at nuts that David had provided.

He turned to his computer, searched for the Childline page and clicked ‘Donate’.

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Childline Ireland and Childline UK have been busier than ever during the pandemic, providing help 24/7 for children faced with difficult and stressful situations. The work that they do is wonderful.

Under Lock and Keyboard

Under new legislation Irish police will have the power to compel people to provide passwords for electronic devices when carrying out a search warrant…

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They had been in Jimmy’s house for an hour now, behaving as if their house-search training had been based entirely on 1970s cop shows.

They had ruffled piles of paper, mostly takeaway menus, on the kitchen table. They had opened CD cases. They had held books up by the spine and shaken them. They had gone through his wife’s underwear drawer. One had dipped a pinky finger into a jar marked “Sugar” and licked it hopefully.

They had asked for the keys to the filing cabinet, which he had handed over. The top drawer was full of old copies of Playboy. The bottom drawer contained a deep fat fryer.

Eventually the two uniformed officers stood and looked at Detective Sergeant Maguire.

“Found anything?” asked Jimmy, smiling.

“Not yet,” said Maguire.

“That’s because there’s nothing to find,” said Jimmy. “I’m not a criminal, but -”

“You’re one of the biggest coke dealers in Dublin,” said Maguire.

“True,” said Jimmy, “in that I sell Coca-cola wholesale to supermarkets. You wouldn’t believe how much money that git Ronaldo has lost me this week.”

Maguire snorted, though not in a coke way.

“As I was saying,” said Jimmy, still smiling, “I’m not a criminal, but I’d imagine that they don’t leave details of bank accounts, suppliers, storage facilities lying around on pieces of paper. You don’t write down really important things like, for example -” he looked straight into Maguire’s eyes – “where your kids go to school.”

Maguire met his gaze. “Indeed,” he said quietly. “Which is why we need the password to your laptop.”

Jimmy’s smile froze, but only for a second.

“You’d be wasting your time,” he said. “I don’t use it, I just got it so the wife could watch Netflix during lockdown. I’m not a techie at all. I’ve never even seen Cats on YouTube, which apparently is a big thing, though I don’t know why, I heard the film was shite.”

“Well then,” said Maguire, “you won’t mind giving us the password.”

“Can’t remember it, to be honest,” said Jimmy. “I think it might be ‘password’.”

“Nobody is dumb enough to have ‘password’ as their password,” said Maguire. One of the policeman reddened briefly.

“Well, then we’re stuck, aren’t we?” said Jimmy. “Perhaps it’s 1234.”

“Now look,” said Maguire, “our warrant means that we can demand-”

“Try ‘Amy’,” said a voice.

Jimmy turned in shock. His wife Linda was standing behind him.

“‘Amy’?” said Maguire, turning to the laptop.

“His girlfriend,” said Linda stonily.

Maguire typed, and shook his head. Jimmy breathed out, slightly.

Linda looked coldly at Jimmy. “‘Amy1999’ then,” she said. “She’s twenty-bloody-two.”

Maguire typed again, and stared in excitement at the screen. “It’s all here,” he said. He looked up at Jimmy. “Details of bank accounts, suppliers, storage facilities.”

“You might find that one deposit account has a zero balance,” said Linda. Jimmy’s mouth dropped open.

Linda smiled at him. “You must have been hacked, love,” she said. “It seems that criminals are just not nice people.”