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Published: 20 December 2023.

by Gerry Gaffney

This story contains swearing, sexual references and arson.

Line drawing of a burning car

When Christopher walked into the locker room Jimmy was still sitting on a bench in his gym gear, staring at his phone.

“I thought you left ages ago.”

“Got sidetracked looking up how to take off a sweaty t-shirt. Did you ever notice how men are really awkward taking off t-shirts and jumpers and stuff but women make it seem so simple?”

“Yeah, but that’s because they practice the whole time. You know, before they to out, like. Putting on one dress, taking it off, putting on a blouse, taking it off. Putting on a yellow jumper, taking if off and putting on a red one. If you had that amount of practice you’d be good, too.”

“And they can take off their bra with one hand without taking off their shirt.”

“Ah, yeah, so can I.”

“And how the fuck do they smell good when they’re exercising? You know, when you’re running round St Anne’s Park and you pass a bloke it’s just sweaty but women manage to smell of soap or perfume?”

“I suppose, Jimmy, that’s because they must use a spray or roll-on before they go out running. If you’re that worried about it you could do the same.”

“No, then people would think I was gay.”

Christopher laughed.

“Maybe. Anyway, did you find out how to take off sweaty t-shirts?”

“Not really, there’s a few videos but I think I’ll just continue to do my usual.”

He grabbed his t-shirt from the back of his neck and yanked it up to his shoulders. It stuck to him in places and he pulled and pawed at it, puffing and grunting, until he got it clear of his head. Finally he emerged and shoved the t-shirt into his gym bag. He looked glum.

“You could always ask Ruth to give you a training course in t-shirt removal.”

“No. We split up.”

“You mean she dumped you?”



“Sunday. Said I don’t have enough ambition. Whatever that means.”

“I think that means money,” said Christopher. “So... I suppose that means she’s available?”

“Fuck off,” said Jimmy.

“Is she serious? I thought you were like heading to get married and everything.”

“Yeah, she is. I think. I don’t know if she’s shagging someone else.”

“Did she buy new knickers and stuff recently?”

“How the fuck do I know?”

“Well if she did that’s a sure sign.”

“Are you talking from personal experience?”

“I’m a man of the world, Jimmy. I watch reality TV. Unnecessary purchases of underwear means shagging someone else. Especially if it’s expensive.”

“I don’t want to think about it.”

“Hey, what are you going to do about your tattoo? I fucking told you not to get it you moron.”

Jimmy’s level of glumness deepened. His shoulders drooped.

“I don’t know. Maybe get it removed?”

“That’d take ages. And it’d cost you hundreds of euro. It’d be cheaper to pay Ruth to get back with you.”

“That’s not going to happen.”

“You could get another girl called Ruth.”

“What, and tell her I like her so much I got her name tattooed on me arm before I even went out with her?”

“You could say it was destiny and you always knew you’d end up with someone called Ruth.”

“I could change it to Ruthless.”

“Well that’d be true. But only if you put a hyphen in it, you know?” He delineated the words with his hand – “Ruth and Less.”

“Very funny. Yeah, but ruthless might be okay.”

“Sorry Jimmy but you’re not tough enough to have ruthless as a tat. You’d have to go full gangster and you haven’t got that in you. How about Truth?”

“What do you mean?”

“Your tattoo. Get it changed to ‘Truth.’ You can tell people that it’s your motto or something. You know, I always tell the truth, that sort of thing.”

“Then I’d be lying about a tattoo that says ‘Truth.’ That’s kind of ironic or something isn’t it?”

“You could change it to ‘ruthful.’”

“What does that mean?”

“It means sorry, or something like that. You don’t like that one?”

“Well, sorry for getting a ‘Ruth’ tattoo, that’s for sure.”

“Anyway,” said Christopher, “they can never match the ink. It’s like if your car gets scratched, you can’t just paint one door because it’s never the same colour, not really. You have to paint the whole fucking thing. It’s not a brilliant job to start off with, to be honest. The letters aren’t all lined up nicely. Your best bet is a cover-up job. You know, turn it into a drawing or something. A boat maybe.”

“Why would I want a fucking boat on me arm?”

“I don’t know, why would you want your ex’s name on your arm?”

“Fair point.”

“Listen,” said Christopher. He looked around to make sure nobody could hear him and dropped his voice almost to a whisper. “Are you interested in making a bit of cash?”

“Is it legal?”

“It’s five hundred euro cash so draw your own conclusion.”

“What is it?”

“All you have to do is drive a car out to the South Wall and torch it.”

“Jesus Christ, I don’t have any experience at that sort of thing. Why do you want that done anyway? Whose car?”

“It doesn’t matter whose car. It’s an insurance job, car’s worth more if it’s stolen and burned out.”

“I don’t know, I’m not a criminal.”

“Ruthless, that’s what you were a minute ago. It’s a victimless crime. Nobody gets hurt. You get paid. My man gets his insurance money. Insurance company gets fucked over. Justice. Win-win. It’s even good for the environment because my man wants an electric.”

“Why don’t you do it so?”

“Because I am a person who is known to be associated with the person whose car it is. I would naturally come under suspicion. But you are not known to be associated with that person.”

“Why not?”

“Because you don’t even know who it is. All you have to do is pick up the car from Coolock, drive it to the South Wall and torch it. There’s an e-scooter in the boot, you can ride back to the city on that, nobody’ll pay any attention. Just keep your hoodie on in case there’s CCTV cameras anywhere. And gloves for fingerprints, just in case. I’ll collect the scooter from your gaff in a couple of weeks.”

“I don’t know,” said Jimmy.

“You know what your problem is? No fucking ambition, no wonder Ruth dumped you. Look, final offer, six hundred euro. Half now, half when it’s done.”

Jimmy wavered. “Why the South Wall?” he asked.

“Don’t know, that’s what I’ve been told. I suppose it’s remote from the city, but you can easily ride to Ringsend or Sandymount. And if someone reports a burning car it’ll take at least 15 minutes for cops or fire brigade to get there. There’ll be a can of petrol in the car and a lighter.”

Christopher looked around again, then counted out three hundred euro and placed the notes on the bench beside Jimmy.

After a moment Jimmy took the money and put it in his gym bag

“Good man. Here’s the details.” Christopher handed over a set of car keys and a card with an address and a description of the car.

“Make sure you destroy that card. Pick up the car between eleven and twelve tonight and do it all straight away, no detours. My man will report the car stolen at 1am when he gets home.”

It was a miserable night and Jimmy was already cold and wet by the time he walked from the bus stop to the address in Coolock. He found the car easily, a few years old, looking as if it had not been well cared for. But it drove nicely. Comfortable leather seats and a decent growl from the engine. It took him 20 minutes to drive out to the South Wall, carefully keeping within the speed limit. The tide was high and waves were breaking over the sea wall. There was one other car in the parking area, but it seemed to be empty. Jimmy parked as far away from it as he could. He waited a few minutes but there was no sign of activity. He opened the small can of petrol and poured it over the upholstery.

He was shaking with nervousness. He was about to set the car alight when he remembered the e-scooter was in the car boot. Jesus, he thought, that would have been a disaster, I’d have had to walk home. He went to the back of the car. He couldn’t find a keyhole or a switch to open the boot. The wind and rain made it even harder to see and he felt himself begin to panic. He kept glancing nervously at the other car, wondering where its occupants were.

After a few minutes he gave up and got back in the driver’s seat to look for a switch to open the boot. He couldn’t see the controls in the dark. In a rising panic, he flicked on his lighter to try to find a switch or button. As soon as the spark flared, the fumes in the car lit up with a whoompf. His hoodie caught fire and he tumbled out of the car. He rolled around on the ground and luckily after a few moments was able to extinguish the fire. The interior of the car was thoroughly aflame. He got up and ran as quickly as he could towards the walking path to get off the road. Once he was on the path he stumbled through the dark and rain for nearly an hour until he finally reached Sandymount.

The burn on his arm was agonising. He was cold and found it hard to think, but he knew he needed medical attention. He caught the C2 bus to Accident & Emergency at St James hospital. He smelled of petrol and burnt flesh and hair, but he stayed at the back of the bus next to an open window, his arm throbbing and aching.

The next day Christopher came to visit and to give him the other three hundred euro.

“How are you feeling?”

“Okay now with the painkillers. My arm is the worst, it’ll have to get dressed every day for a few weeks. It’ll be months before it’s better.”

“It’s kind of funny,” said Christopher.

“How is it funny?”

“You went to an awful lot of trouble to get rid of a tattoo!”

Jimmy looked at him. “That’s the other arm.”

Copyright © Gerry Gaffney 2023