usty Deutsch’s name was, much like her hair colour, pure fabrication.
Her red ringlets glowed against the dark wood of the pub’s interior like embers in a fireplace. Bruen watched her approach from his customary corner, and with each step her face aged a year. Close-up, she was fifty, maybe fifty-five, and visibly tired of life. He counted
the rings under her eyes
the creases at her mouth
the broken fingernails
as she pulled out the chair and took a seat.
“Ken Bruen?” Her eyes were wider than they ought to be.
Bruen nodded. “Nice to see you, Rusty. Congratulations on winning the competition.”
There was almost a blush. A shade darker and it would have matched the dye in her hair. “I’ve read all the Jack Taylor books. When they announced the contest, I entered straight away.” She smiled. Her teeth were crooked. “I had no idea you lived in London. Well… I know you and Jack Taylor aren’t one and the same, but…”
“You thought Galway?” Bruen smirked playfully. “It’s a well-known fact that all the best Irishmen don’t live in Ireland. I also don’t get through quite as many of these as Jack does.” He held up his glass and peered through it at Rusty. She was trapped in amber for a moment.
Rusty’s features mellowed with the evening, until she approached the colour of the faux marble statues standing on the bar. She told Bruen about her job, her ailing mother, thanked him profusely for the chance to meet him. After her third gin and tonic, the whites around her eyes had turned pink.
“Do you know why I read your books?’ she asked.
“No. And I don’t care as long as you pay for ‘em.” Bruen smiled.
“My husband was in the Gardaí, he was a policeman, like Jack Taylor.”
Bruen swilled his beer and wondered: Is she a
When she brushed the red out of her face self-consciously, Bruen asked whether they should go.
utside, the rain spattered as from a paintbrush. Bruen flipped his collar and held the door for Rusty, who exited and then stood, bouncing on the heels of her feet, beneath the illuminated pub sign.
“Sure, let me give you a lift home,” he said. Two beers were as many as he would allow into the driver’s seat of his Volvo. Rusty climbed into the passenger side, and after the hollow thunk of door-metal, they made their way onto the slick street.
“He died a few years ago. In the line of duty is the phrase they use, I suppose.”
“Your man? Sorry to hear such a thing.”
They passed under a low-set bridge and graffiti glared at them.
“Were you in the Gardaí?” she asked.
Bruen spun the wheel gently and shifted back into second.
“Me? No, never. There’s three things you can be as a son of Ireland:
I took option two and disappointed both the Holy Mother and my own holy ma.”
They climbed a ramp onto the motorway.
“Well, my other half ran with the bad crowd; that’s what he used to say. That’s what did him in, I spose.” Rusty glanced over at Bruen. “Sort of like Jack.”
“Jack’s not a nice fella, Rusty.”
Bruen imagined Jack Taylor’s face, the face he saw when he sat down at his laptop to write. Caved in and pock-marked, thinning white hair like the dying stroke of a paintbrush. Always a pint of beer in his hand.
“Jack’s only in it for himself,” Bruen added. “Wouldn’t make a good husband.”
Rusty Deutsch laughed.
They were close to Finchley Park and not far from the address that Rusty had given him. They pulled off the motorway and the lanes merged into one, trees sprouting up by the side of the road.
“What happened?” Bruen said it quietly, as though the words were tiptoeing past him as he spoke. “Was he shot? Or stabbed. Stabbing is more likely, in Ireland.”
“He drowned.” Twitching his head sideways, Bruen saw that Rusty had turned away from him. In the dim light of the streetlamps,
her hair seemed to writhe, Medusa-like. Bruen fixed his eyes on the white lines of the road ahead.
he trees were red herrings. Rusty’s mother lived in a concrete housing estate that towered above the borough, a long-lost symbol of Thatcher’s Britain. Perhaps he should set a novel in London after all, Bruen thought.
“My best to your mother,” he said.
Rusty clutched her purse and opened the door. As she climbed out, in her narrow, angular bones and the tumble of red on top of her head, there was something approaching art.
“And don’t get too hooked on Jack Taylor – he was never a good Guard, nor much of a man.”
“I never said he was,” Rusty replied, and slammed the car door.
Bruen wound down the passenger window and called out: “But he reminds you of your man?”
“I hated my husband, Ken. And he hated me.” She was taking baby steps backwards in her plastic high heels. “He always preferred blondes, you see?”
Rusty pivoted and a shadow swallowed her, from head to toe, until just the clicking of her shoes