“See you,” said Firkitt without looking at her.
“Hang on, Beth,” said Ihaka, “me and Igor have run out of things to talk about.”
“Like fuck we have,” said Firkitt. “I'm just getting started.”
“Give it a rest, Firkitt,” said Van Roon. “This isn't the time or the place.”
Firkitt pulled a cry-baby face. “This isn't the time or the place,” he whined. “I'll be the judge of that. It so happens I've got some stuff I want to share with big boy here, so feel free to bugger off.”
“You might as well,” Ihaka told the others. “This is like therapy for him. It'll get worse before it gets better.”
Having had a brief but vivid reminder of why she didn't miss being a cop one little bit, Greendale couldn't wait to get out of there. Van Roon offered to see her to her car.
Firkitt was in full, toxic flow before they were even out of earshot: “Do you ever think about what a fucking loser you are? I mean, mate, you had everything in your favour: you were the man on the spot, you'd put in the hard yards, you had the new DC on your side. On top of all that you're a Maori and, as we all know, it's not a level playing field these days. Three capable white blokes and a deadshit Maori go for a job, Hori gets it every time. That's what the fucking world's come to. So you have to ask the question: what sort of a cunt would you have to be to have all that going for you and still blow it?”
Firkitt rocked back on his heels, hands in pockets, awaiting Ihaka's response with an expectant half-smile. He's had a few, thought Ihaka, but he's not pissed. He knows what he's doing: he's seeing how far he can push me.
“I've got to take a piss,” said Ihaka.
Firkitt followed Ihaka into the toilet, hovering on his shoulder. “You know what really fucked you, right? Harassing that poor bastard whose missus got cleaned up by a boy racer. Christ, that would have to be the dumbest fucking thing I've ever heard of. Even you brownies can't get away with that sort of shit. I mean, you can have your little sluts on tap, bone them up the arse with a baton if you want. That's fine; we understand you people like that sort of thing. But deciding you don't need a scrap of evidence to know some eastern suburbs big shot took out his wife, following him around, barging in on him at some ungodly hour, fuck me.” The diatribe ended in a jarring cackle.
Ihaka registered that none of the stalls were occupied. He stepped up to the weeping wall. Firkitt followed suit, still snorting with amusement. As Firkitt unzipped, Ihaka threw a hard, fast elbow, spearing it into the side of his jaw, just below the ear. Firkitt bounced off the wall, his knees gave
way, and he slid face first into the trough of the urinal. Ihaka unbuttoned his jeans and took a long, leisurely piss. The drainage flow encountered an obstacle, but the obstacle didn't seem to notice.
Ihaka washed and dried his hands and walked out of the toilet. Firkitt still hadn't moved.
He left the bar without looking left or right and got a taxi home. Home was an Edwardian bungalow in a quiet cul-de-sac near Eden Park, one of a number of houses in the streets between Dominion and Sandringham Roads which were built for troops returning from the Turkish campaign. He went into his shed, found a hammer, and pulverized his cellphone, partly because he wanted to be incommunicado, partly because he blamed the cellphone for the way the evening had turned out. He had a ham and cheese sandwich, made a thermos of coffee, and threw a few items into an overnight bag. Forty minutes after leaving Worsp's farewell, he reversed his car out of the drive and headed for the harbour bridge. He was almost certainly over the limit but his head was clear. Besides, he firmly believed that he drove better with a few beers under his belt than most civilians did stone-cold sober.
Ihaka went north to his family's bach, an authentically dilapidated pole house at Tauranga Bay on the south head of Whangaroa Harbour, where he spent the next thirty-six hours sleeping, fishing and sitting in the sun. He didn't think about the Firkitt incident or the likely consequences because he was a fatalist and it wasn't in his nature to fret over things that couldn't be undone or potential developments that he couldn't control. On Sunday afternoon he drove back to Auckland. The checkout girl at the Victoria Park supermarket was the first person he'd spoken to since getting out of the taxi.
There were twenty-three messages on his answerphone. If there'd been three or four he might have listened to them. He showered and had a couple of beers while he marinated some chicken thighs, scrubbed new potatoes and prepared a salad. When he was ready to barbecue, he switched to red wine.
Ihaka was a latecomer to wine, as he was to cooking. Wine had been something other people drank and their rituals and palaver stirred up the dormant class warrior in him.
Recently, though, he'd begun jettisoning some of his fixed ideas, particularly the ones he'd carted around since his state-house childhood. What was the point of trying to improve your lot in life if you wouldn't let go of the habits and prejudices that epitomized everything you were trying to outgrow â fast food, slop beer, bad attitudes, wilful ignorance? A bloke just had to keep in mind that wine wasn't meant to be drunk quite as fast or in quite the same quantity as beer.
He ate dinner on the veranda with family noises floating over the back fence. Lately, he'd also revised his attitude to other people's kids. They used to be bratty little attention-seekers; now they were a reminder that the normal world was a very different place from the war zone he worked in. In the normal world people did an honest day's work and watched their kids grow up and died of natural causes.
He'd just finished cleaning up when the doorbell rang. As a rule he ignored the doorbell on the basis that the few people he didn't mind turning up unannounced would just let themselves in, while the rest could fuck off. Sensing this caller wouldn't be easily discouraged, he went to the door. His visitor was the Auckland Police District Commander, Superintendent Finbar McGrail.
They contemplated each other for a few seconds. “The fact you're not wearing a tie tells me this is a social call,” said Ihaka. “But since when did you make social calls?”
“It's not a social call.”
Ihaka stood aside to allow McGrail into his house for the very first time. They went down the corridor to the kitchen/ dining room. McGrail's eyebrows arched as he took in the house-proud orderliness, the spotless bench, the fresh basil on the windowsill above the sink, and the wine glass and open bottle of Pinot Noir on the table.
“If you weren't here, Sergeant, I'd assume I was in the wrong house. I was warned to expect squalor.”
“You've been talking to Van Roon, right? The day he made DS, he swore he wouldn't set foot in here again until I'd had the place steam-cleaned.”
“That was two years ago.”
“Shit, so it was,” said Ihaka. “I must get him around some time.”
“What brought about the change?”
Ihaka shrugged. “Personal growth and development. Either that or a mid-life crisis.”
“A bit early for that, isn't it?”
“Could be a bit late. My old man dropped dead at fifty-one.” He pulled a chair out from the kitchen table. “Take a seat. Can I get you something â a juice or a cup of tea? Or a wine?”
McGrail, who was virtually teetotal, sat down. “I'm fine, thank you. You obviously know why I'm here.”
Ihaka sat opposite him and poured himself another glass of wine. “Well, yes and no. I know why someone's here. I'm surprised it's you.”
“Firstly,” said McGrail, “Charlton can't deal with this because of his relationship with Firkitt. Secondly, it reflects the seriousness with which we're treating this matter.
Thirdlyâ¦ Well, frankly, Sergeant, this isn't going to go well for you, and I wanted you to hear that from me. Charlton wants you charged with assault.”
“He'd have a hard time making that stick,” said Ihaka. “No witnesses, Firkitt's word against mine.”
“What's your version?”
“He followed me into the dunny mouthing off, had a bit of a turn, fell over, and clonked his head on the way down.”
“Really?” said McGrail. “So why didn't you go to his aid?”
“Because he's a cunt. I wouldn't piss on him if his hair was on fire.”
“Funny you should say that,” said McGrail. “He claims that's exactly what you did do.”
Ihaka took a gulp of wine to stop himself laughing. “Well, he's wrong. But next time he finds himself face-down in the pisser, he might want to be upstream rather than downstream.”
A pained expression rippled across McGrail's face. “I'd have to say, Sergeant, that's a somewhat threadbare account. Fortunately for you, however, a witness for the defence has come forward.”
“And who might that be?”
“Ms Greendale. According to her, Firkitt was going out of his way to be provocativeâ¦”
“An element of racism, by the sound of it. Not for the first time, you're fortunate that your friends look out for you more than you look out for yourself. Ms Greendale would be a very credible witness, should it come to that. But it won't come to that. No one emerges from this sorry affair with any credit, so it's in all our interests to put it quietly to rest.”
“But? There is a but, isn't there?”
McGrail nodded. “Charlton's fallback was to put you through a full disciplinary process with a view to demotion or dismissal. I pointed out that such a process could hardly ignore Firkitt's conduct or Ms Greendale's evidence, so he might very well end up killing two birds with that stone, one of them being his pet raptor. His final, non-negotiable position was that you leave the Auckland district, with immediate effect.” McGrail looked at his watch and stood up.
“So that's that, eh?” said Ihaka. “I'm gone?”
“Well,” said McGrail, “one of you has got to go, and I don't mean either you or Firkitt. I mean either you or Charlton. That's the way he's framing it, and I'm afraid you don't even have a starter's chance in that contest.” He looked down at Ihaka, who was staring into his glass, swirling the wine. “You know what's so galling about this: Charlton and Firkitt have won. This is precisely the outcome they wanted.”
“Yeah,” said Ihaka. “I worked that out a while ago.”
“So why the devil play into their hands?”
Ihaka looked up. “Maybe I've had enough. Maybe I also wanted this outcome â or something like it.”
“Good God, man,” spluttered McGrail, “you could've just put in a request for a transfer.”
Ihaka smiled. “Where's the fun in that? Besides, just more paperwork.”
McGrail shook his head in wonderment. “The Lord's not the only one who moves in mysterious ways. So do you have somewhere in mind?”
Ihaka picked up the wine bottle and studied the label. “Where exactly is Martinborough?”
It didn't occur to Ihaka to wonder if promotion and the passing of time would have changed Finbar McGrail. Why would it? During the years they'd worked together, McGrail had changed so little that you had to wonder if he'd discovered the secret of eternal early middle age. Apart from crow's feet at the corners of his eyes and the odd grey hair, he looked pretty much the same the night he came to Ihaka's house to cut him loose as he did the day they met.
There was no magic formula. McGrail stayed trim thanks to relentless jogging and an austere lifestyle. And while some sneered, behind his back, at his drab attire â he had half a dozen cheap suits in various shades of grey, and wore short-sleeved white polyester shirts all year round, donning a cardigan knitted by his wife when it got cold â Ihaka had a sneaking (and undeclared) admiration for his boss's lack of vanity. Although Ihaka despised meanness and operated on the principle that if you spend more than you earn, someone will eventually bring it to your attention, he soon realized that McGrail wasn't averse to spending money per se. He was just averse to spending it on himself.
So when Ihaka was shown into McGrail's office he couldn't help gawking at the sleek, elegant figure who emerged from behind the desk with a smile and an outstretched hand.
No two ways about it: McGrail had had a makeover. He'd gone management.
Not a trace remained of the public-service clerk look â the geek specs, the blind man's haircut, the man-made fibres and pastel shoes from Asian sweatshops. His hair had been cut by someone who didn't think the object of the exercise was to remove as much as possible as quickly as possible. He was wearing Armani glasses, a white linen shirt with French cuffs, greenstone cufflinks, a navy-blue suit with a delicate pinstripe which fitted so perfectly it had to be tailor-made, and a plush, rich-red silk tie. Ihaka was no expert but he was pretty sure the watch on McGrail's left wrist was the same one Leonardo DiCaprio had been endorsing in the in-flight magazine. In his former life McGrail had been perfectly happy with cheap digital sports watches that looked as though they were designed by the people who make the plastic junk which falls out of Christmas crackers.
Equally amazingly, he'd put on weight. The beautifully cut suit couldn't hide the swell of paunch, and a fold of throat flab bulged over his collar. His previously chalky complexion now had the pink tinge common among self-indulgent men of a certain age.
Seemingly oblivious to the scrutiny, McGrail shook hands, led his visitor to a sofa, and evinced close interest in life in Wairarapa.
“Well, it certainly looks as if it agrees with you, Sergeant,” said McGrail, almost jovially. “Would I be correct in thinking you've lost weight?”