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Kevin Barry
Kevin Barry

Kevin Barry's story collection There Are Little Kingdoms won the Rooney Prize in 2007. His short fiction has appeared widely on both sides of the Atlantic, most recently in The New Yorker. City of Bohane is published by Jonathan Cape in April.

City of Bohane
From 'City of Bohane'

Kevin Barry

I

OCTOBER

 

1

The Nature of the Disturbance

 

Whatever’s wrong with us is coming in off that river. No argument: the taint of badness on the city’s air is a taint off that river. This is the Bohane river we’re talking about. A blackwater surge, malevolent, it roars in off the Big Nothin’ wastes and the city was spawned by it and was named for it: city of Bohane.

            He walked the docks and breathed in the sweet badness of the river. It was past midnight on the Bohane front. There was an evenness to his footfall, a slow calm rhythm of leather on stone, and the dockside lamps burned in the night-time a green haze, the light of a sad dream. The water’s roar for Hartnett was as the rushing of his own blood and as he passed the merchant yards the guard dogs strung out a sequence of howls all along the front. See the dogs: their hackles heaped, their yellow eyes livid. We could tell he was coming by the howling of the dogs.

            Polis watched him but from a distance – a pair of hoss polis watering their piebalds at a trough ’cross in Smoketown. Polis were fresh from the site of a reefing.

             ‘Ya lampin’ him over?’ said one. ‘Albino motherfucker.’

             ‘Set yer clock by him,’ said the other.

            Albino, some called him, others knew him as the Long Fella: he ran the Hartnett Fancy.

            He cut off from the dockside and walked on into the Back Trace, the infamous Bohane Trace, a most evil labyrinth, an unknowable web of streets. He had that Back Trace look to him: a dapper buck in a natty-boy Crombie, the Crombie draped all casual-like over the shoulders of a pale grey Eyetie suit, mohair. Mouth of teeth on him like a vandalised graveyard but we all have our crosses. It was a pair of hand-stitched Portuguese boots that slapped his footfall, and the stress that fell, the emphasis, was money.

            Hard-got the riches – oh the stories that we told out in Bohane about Logan Hartnett.

            Dank little squares of the Trace opened out suddenly, like gasps, and Logan passed through. All sorts of quarehawks lingered Trace-deep in the small hours. They looked down as he passed, they examined their toes and their sacks of tawny wine – you wouldn’t make eye contact with the Long Fella if you could help it. Strange, but we had a fear of him and a pride in him, both. He had a fine hold of himself, as we say in Bohane. He was graceful and erect and he looked neither left nor right but straight out ahead always, with the shoulders thrown back, like a general. He walked the Arab tangle of alleyways and wynds that make up the Trace and there was the slap, the lift, the slap, the lift of Portuguese leather on the backstreet stones.

            Yes and Logan was in his element as he made progress through the labyrinth. He feared not the shadows, he knew the fibres of the place, he knew every last twist and lilt of it.

 


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