Clancy opened his eyes to the morning and shut them quickly. At the same time he pulled the blanket over hls face to make sure he was protected against the light should he be idiot enough to open them again. Clancy had a blinding headache. He lay without moving for what seemed an eternity, waiting for the demons inside his skull to stop their hammering. When the throbbing eventually became slightly more bearable, he stretched an arm out from under the covers to reach for the clock on the bedside table. With a bit of luck he might manage to lever one eye open sufficiently to get some idea of the time: better than waking Eileen and having to endure a catalogue of her complaints and endless nagging. The realisation that the table was not where it should be brought panic and a swift return of the drumming inside his tortured head.
He was left with no choice. Eileen it had to be. Hadn't old man Nugent threatened the sack if he dared to clock on late just one more time? The second shock was Clancy's undoing. Reaching over to the other side of the bed to touch the familiar bulk of soft, yielding flesh beneath its layer of brushed nylon, his fingers struck an immovable force, and he cried out in fear and pain. Some fool had removed Eileen and exchanged her for a brick wall. Forgetting the need to keep his eyes closed, he pushed back the blanket and in the harsh glare of a naked light bulb, looked up into the grinning face of his enemy, Constable Seamus O'Flaherty.
"Slept it off, have we?" the officer said. "Welcome to the Ritz. No expense spared", and he handed Clancy a large enamel mug of tea and a thick slice of bread and margarine. Not renowned for his wit or smart repartee, Clancy kept his mouth shut, watched the broad retreating back of the officer, and gave a sigh of relief as the door clanged shut and the key grated in the lock. He dropped the bread on to the floor, cupped his hands round the mug and greedily gulped down the sweet, dark brew, savouring its healing warmth. When he had finlshed! he set down the mug, reached up and ran a hand cautiously over the top of his head. There it was, the small raised lump hidden beneath his thatch of red hair. The cause of Clancy's headache.
Spending the night hung?over in the local lock?up was no new experience and he was well?known to most of the officers on this patch as well as the town's crusty old magistrate. Only this time was different. To start with, Clancy had touched not one single drop of Donovan's Fine Old Irish the night before, and what was more, Sergeant Murphy and bully?boy O'Flaherty both knew it. The throbbing in his head reminded him of the time he'd slapped Father O'Malley's mule on the rump before trying to saddle him up for the reverend gentleman's regular Sunday afternoon visits to the miserable parishioners who had dared to duck out of morning Mass. He knew the moment the mule turned its head and fixed him with the whites of its evil eyes, that the brute had it in for him. It was up with his newly shod hind legs before Clancy had a chance to get out of the way. Lying on his back in the straw, wondering what had hit him, unaware that the whole episode had been witnessed by Father O'Malley himself, he had come to his senses to hear that gentleman of the cloth pronounce, 'tis the Wrath of God on you, and serve you right for using a shillelagh on a poor defenceless creature'. That had been the first and last day of Clancy's Sunday afternoon job. He wasn't all that sorry. Hadn't he applied for it only to earn enough for the washing machine Eileen had set her heart on? He'd spent that night in the safe care of Ballyminty lockup, after drowning his sorrows following a solid three?hour grilling from his wife's sharp tongue.
This time he knew it was no hangover for it was like the concussion he suffered at the heels of Father O'Malley's mule, and he might have laughed if it didn't hurt so much. He conjured up a vision of beefy, middle?aged Sergeant Murphy and the equally hefty, younger P.C. O'Flaherty. It was a known fact in Ballyminty that both craved promotion. With the Inspector due to retire before the end of the year, Murphy was already boasting about stepping into his shoes and his frlend O'Flaherty stood every chance of gaining his stripes at the same time. A smile didn't hurt as much as a laugh might and Clancy tried it on for size. His moment of triumph the previous night might well have put paid to his two enemies hopes, seeing he had been instrumental in ruining their plans.
At 5.45 am. exactly, fifteen minutes before the two night?duty policemen were due to hand over to the early turn shift, enemy number two, Sergeant Paddy Murphy, unlocked the cell door, the smile on his face so wide you could have mistaken it for a yawn. "You're free to go, Clancy. We won't be laying any charges against you this time". Clancy touched the tender spot on his head and winced. "Whenever I've had a skinful you always leave me to sleep it off" he pleaded hopefully. "Drunk and disorderly's one thing, up before the Court next day, pay your fine and that's that. But what did we catch you doing last night, Clancy? All those hours of hard work Seamus O'Flaherty and me put into growing petunias and geraniums to show the honest, decent citizens of Ballyminty we were set to win this year's award for the best?kept Police Station in the County', the Sergeant's bass voice rose higher than Dublin's finest soprano, while at the same time his face took on the colour of a boiled beetroot. "You took your nasty little scissors and cut the heads off every bloom in five tubs, two windowboxes and all the trailing lobelia out of the hanging baskets. And the Chief Superintendent himself due to make his officlal visit this very day. "I wouldn't be in your shoes when law abiding Ballyminty folk find out who has lost them the award. Proud of their station they are". Murphy's voice was quieter now, the beetroot colour slowly receding.
Oh! and Clancy, a word of advice. If you know what's good for you, I wouldn't be after telling a soul how that thick carrot top you call a head managed to connect itself with the toe of Constable O'Flaherty's boot".