Dad has his Bon Jovi tape on again. He likes a bit of Jon Bon and the boys while we’re waiting for my brother. The music makes him feel like a getaway driver from a film. This is a hard enough feeling to fake when you drive a Citroen Saxo, (two doors, not four). For a while there he even wore a bandana and a jeans jacket with the sleeves ripped off. There were thin, white threads like feathers sprouting from his shoulders as if the stuffing was coming out of him, or his wings had fallen off.
“What in God’s name are you wearing, Samuel?” said Mammy the first time she saw him in his bandit gear. “You look like a woman in that get up.”
(She said the word ‘woman’ to sound like ‘wee man’, which is the way they say it round here).
After this Dad quit wearing his jeans jacket. “Too conspicuous if the cops catch us,” he said. He said this as if he’d considered all the angles and arrived at the decision by himself. My Dad couldn’t choose left over right without consulting Mammy first. Still, I could tell it was a relief for him to get a jumper back on. He’s never done well with the cold. It brings him out in red pimples like he’s taking an allergic reaction to himself.
It’s always cold round here, even in the summer. When we have enough money, or my brother gets too old to sell, we’re for moving to Australia.
“They’re crying out for skilled workers over there,” says my Dad, “and it’s always roasting. Most folks have a swimming pool in their back garden.”
I sometimes wonder which of his skills Dad thinks is the best: gutting chickens, waiting in parked cars or thieving money off young, married couples. I know better than to ask.
“Them Australians will be lucky to have us,” I say. Dad reaches over the driver’s seat to give me a backwards high-five.
He hasn’t noticed yet that the fabric on the corners of the Saxo’s front seats has been gnawed away to reveal the yellow padding beneath. I have done this with my teeth while we are waiting. There is nothing to do in a parked car and Mammy will not allow me to sleep.
“You’ve to be on your toes, Paddy,” she says, “primed and ready for action.” By this she means that I’m the one who’s to fold the front seat forward and let my brother in the back when he comes running. I am, what you might call, an integral part of the whole operation. I’d feel a lot more important, though, if I had a gun or some sort of disguise.
Five grand off the Montgomery’s in Portstewart.
Another five from the folks in the big bungalow outside Lisnaskea.
Six grand in Markethill last December.
Eight thousand euro from the Gormans in Portlaoise, (the only time we’ve ventured into the Free State).
Plus ten thousand or so in jewellery and small, untraceable electronic items which my Mammy is selling on eBay. She is using a false name of course, lifted from a girl in Larne who used to do her hair.
Mammy’s careful to keep a fair amount of distance between one family and the next. There’s always the fear that a couple might have told someone about us, especially in the country where there is little else to be talking about. We go backwards and forwards across the province putting wee adverts in the local papers: “Struggling to start a family?” “Frustrated by long waiting lists for adoption?”
Mammy has a mobile just for the adverts. When it goes off the ringtone is the theme tune from The Littlest Hobo, which is a programme about a travelling dog she used to watch when she was a wee girl. The song always makes her smile, even when she’s just been shouting at my Dad. She knows to answer the phone in her sad voice because the calls are always about my brother.
“Yes,” Mammy says. She can sound like she’s near crying on the telephone, “I’m at my wits’ end. I can’t give the child what he needs. I’m heart feared his Da’s going to come home and lay into him again.”
She always gives them a price straight off, something around the twenty grand mark. This is what they decided my brother was worth. He’s not a baby anymore. We could ask more for a baby. They’re better value for money because you get longer with them. We don’t have a baby and Mammy’s too old to have another one. Besides, how would we get it back if it couldn’t walk?