A Rare Day in Dillon
It was a beautiful crisp winter morning in late November. The people in the quiet village of Dillon were busy going about their usual business. The school kids gathered at the bus stop on the green, waiting to be chauffeured to the local primary and secondary schools located some ten miles away. The parents with vehicles and the time to spare drove their kids to school. Every weekday for a brief time between eight am and quarter past, Dillon took on the appearance of a busy little town. Then quite suddenly the school bus and the cars and their still half-asleep occupants would disappear, and Dillon would return again to its more familiar muted state.
It was a Tuesday morning that began like any other. After the noise of cars and buses faded out, the delivery vans would arrive. First the milk truck would drop by with a selection of dairy products for the supermarket. Next Brennan’s bread would make an appearance. Other suppliers would do their rounds delivering meat to the butcher and various drugs for the local chemist. This was the beating heart of Dillon; the village green surrounded on one side by a chemist, a shop, a butcher, a hairdresser, a GP, and a post office. On the other side a neat row of white washed cottages, complete with thatch roofs and large front gardens with iron gates, each one painted a different colour.
To the right more houses, only these were two storey dwellings with an unpainted plastered finish that gave them a dark earth-like complexion. Opposite to them at the other end of the green was the petrol station that still provided fuel only; no groceries or other conveniences. Besides, fuel drivers could pump up their tyres, and wash their cars with a hand power wash for a couple of Euros. Beyond that was Saint Joseph’s parish church and cemetery. Beyond them was Christie’s, the local pub. Beyond Christie’s was the road out of Dillon; a road that many of its citizens have travelled over the years never to return, except for Christmas visits and funerals.
Still despite the inevitable flight of its brightest and best residents to greener shores and busier and bigger towns, Dillon somehow managed to survive. There always seemed to be another generation willing to keep breathing life into the village.
Everyone knew everyone else in Dillon; it couldn’t be any other way. Despite the odd temporary spat between the villagers they mostly got along; they had to, life would be unbearable otherwise. Rows would occasionally occur over innocuous things like hurling and football match results, or responsibility for organising church events. The heated exchanges would soon simmer down and be forgotten.
Dillon was never really troubled by crime. Every Saturday night the younger locals would return drunk from the pubs and clubs of Athlone nearly thirty miles away. They could be loud and rowdy with occasional fisty cuffs on the village green that never lasted very long, or resulted in any major injuries. Dillon’s residents were not stupid people or isolated. They kept abreast of events on TV and the net like everyone else in the country. They were aware of the deteriorating state of rural Ireland since the economic nosedive of 2008. They heard and read of the encroachment of criminal gangs from Dublin, and the tinker gangs scouring the countryside looking for easy pickings.
The stories scared them individually and collectively. Each resident lived with the fear of being attacked in their homes. In Christie’s they often gathered and debated the changing times and how best to defend themselves. The debates would usually go on until they got drunk and weary of the subject. Like a lot of rural towns and villages, the people of Dillon knew an attack of some sort was bound to happen sooner or later. There was a sense of inevitability about it, and everyone felt it.
The silver Avensis pulled into Dillon’s green and circled around it once then pulled alongside the kerb not far from the post office. The occupants, two men, kept the engine on while they calmly absorbed their surroundings. Separately they had been here before, each travelling alone and in different cars. They had driven the length and breadth of the province over the past year, familiarising themselves with the highways, byways and short cuts of Leinster. They knew their way around now and felt at ease on country roads.
They had successfully carried out several house burglaries, supermarket raids and post office robberies. They had yet to fire a single shot from their sawn-off shotguns. So far, they had amassed a small fortune; more than €80,000. They were pleased with their progress and relieved to have cleared their drug debts using the stolen cash. They had only intended to prey on the country dwellers until the debt had been cleared, and the threat on their lives removed. Now that both those goals had been achieved, they should have left it at that.
It was the simplicity of their modus operandi, and the surprisingly high yield that surprised them. They were hoping to get €10k cash from the house jobs; they ended up getting four times that. They were amazed how much cash was to be found in people’s homes; stuffed inside boxes or left in drawers or in large envelopes behind wardrobes. There was jewellery too and lots of it. Mostly gold rings, bracelets and chains, but occasionally some nice diamond encrusted wedding and engagement bands.
Not all jobs yielded a return though; some houses were quite deceptive in appearance. On the outside they had wealth written all over them. Exquisite stand-alone mansions sitting on an acre of beautifully landscaped garden, usually with some Alders, Ash or Elm trees strategically placed so as to please the eye, without blocking the homeowners view of the front or rear perimeters. At first the thieves targeted only these monolithic country homes as they assumed they would contain the most valuables and hard cash. They soon discovered that most of these plush dwellings were owned by people acutely aware of their valuables and rarely if ever kept them lying around. They had them in safes hidden somewhere in the home or stashed in some safety deposit box.
It didn’t take long for them to realise it was the more modest abodes that had the cash and jewels. These were the homeowners who were neither wealthy nor extravagant, but who had accumulated a certain amount of valuables over the years. They foolishly got too used to keeping a certain quantity of those valuables in the house ‘just in case.’ They have a certain mind-set that will never trust everything they have to a bank. Some referred to it as emergency money or rainy day cash, but whatever they called it they always had a certain amount of it hidden somewhere in the house. The only problem was their houses were not the mansions of their richer neighbours in the surrounding county. There are only so many hiding places in an average sized house; give a veteran burglar twenty minutes inside and he’ll find those valuables or the cash, sometimes both.
They only did burglaries for the first few months but grew greedier as the pressure on them mounted back in Dublin. Their creditors got more and more impatient and unwilling to listen to their excuses, so they upped the ante and began knocking off post offices, credit unions and building societies. It was a struggle and for a time they didn’t think they would make it, but in the end they successfully wiped the debt. To achieve this they left many homeowners feeling permanently unsafe, and many post office employees with frightening memories. That didn’t bother them though; they felt nothing for other people.
One day they got talking and as they discussed their futures they realised that targeting the countryside was a lot easier than operating in the city. After lengthy discussion they agreed to continue persecuting the rural communities of the East with their criminal activities. Their reasoning was simple; they were good at it, it was quite lucrative and they hadn’t been caught so far. And now that they were used to putting on the desperado act with the shotguns, holding up small town post offices and credit unions seemed relatively easy and risk free. Sure, the return in Dublin was far greater but so were the risks; their friends in prison were proof of that.
They knew the roads in and around Dillon well enough by now and their plan was the same as always. First they would break into the local houses between 8.15 and 8.45am and steal whatever they could carry out in their back packs. Then immediately afterward they would hit the post office and demand all the cash. Between 9.00 and 9.05am was usually a good time. Escaping would be easy and they could reach the dual carriage to Dublin by 9.15 when the worst of the early morning congestion would have passed. Once in Dublin they’d ditch the car and go their separate ways on foot, hopefully each of them carrying a back-pack containing a sizeable bounty.
Key to their operation was no confrontation with the public. Their strategy was to get in and out of the houses without anyone spotting them; that part was easy. Then get in and out of the post office while only one staff member was behind the counter, with no patrons present. That part may not be so easy. Dillon’s surrounds had changed quite dramatically in recent times.
Several housing estates had been built around Dillon during the Celtic Tiger years when land prices took off. A single acre went for close to quarter of a million, so a few of the local farmers cashed in while the going was good. The developers and farmers had a field day but none of these boom time estates were built with any quality of life in mind; they had few amenities of their own. The result was that the people living in them used Dillon for the supermarket and services. This was good for business although the locals never took to these new faces appearing in their village. They would never get used to them and rarely interacted with any of them. Most worked in Dublin and kept themselves to themselves.
Some mornings Dillon’s post office could be quite busy with these Celtic Tiger blow-ins; usually Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons. The thieves were confident that there would be cash behind the counter this Tuesday morning; dole day. They didn’t want to take the chance of waiting too long though. Better to hit it early and be gone early before the blow-ins arrived to collect welfare payments.
The thieves had learned not to over-think their plans either. They knew anything could go wrong at any time. A flat tyre, have-a-go-heroes, a traffic jam on the motorway because of some freak accident, anything can go wrong. There comes a point where you just have to bite the bullet and do it. They had the nerve, and as much local knowledge as they were ever likely to get without giving themselves away. They knew nerve and quick reactions play the greatest part in any job; they determine everything whether things go according to plan or not. They had Dillon sussed as best they could, they knew the escape routes well enough, and Tuesday was the most lucrative day to do it. So now they just had to get on with it; no more discussion.
Dixie arrived at eight o’clock as usual. He busied himself with his Tuesday morning routine. Meanwhile Thompson the butcher arrived in his premises and got to work reviewing orders and preparing meat displays. The supermarket was already open and their staff was tending to the needs of early morning commuters.
The thieves left their car armed with their shotguns and a Taser in case of any noisy or aggressive dogs. They made their way around the backs of the two storey houses. The first house was an easy entry. Without much force the back door gave way and they were in. One of them looting the downstairs, the other taking care of the upstairs, they ransacked it within minutes. They packed a small quantity of cash and some jewellery then left the house and jumped the faced into their neighbour place. They repeated this process several times until the entire row of houses had been plundered. There were no precious stones to be found, but they estimated two grands worth of gold trinkets and cash.
They made their way around to the car and dumped the stolen cargo in the boot. They got in and drove around the green to the post office, parking a few yards down from it on the opposite side of the street. They watched the green door of the post office. They could attempt to kick it in but risked setting off an alarm. They knew old Dixie would have to open the door eventually, so they waited as planned. The only question now was how big the queue was gonna get outside the post office. How many people were they gonna have to threaten? They would be mostly dole recipients; how co-operative will they be? From previous experience they knew that there was telling what kind of crowd they would get. They could be entirely passive and smart. Then again, they could be foolish heroes who just can’t help themselves; the kind who’ll risk their own lives over 10 or 15 grand. The thieves agreed to aim low if they had to shoot any heroes. Get them in the legs, no body shots if possible, and definitely no head shots.
It turned 8.55am and sure enough the first dole claimants arrived and took up their positons; four of them, all male stood chatting. Within a minute of their arrival several more, armed with supermarket coffee, joined them in the queue. The thieves observed them and did not panic; it was still a manageable crowd. They knew what to do, begin with plenty of roaring and point the shotguns at them. Any trouble makers would be dealt with quickly. One good clip around the ear for a courageous dole-ite with the butt of the shotgun should subdue him and the others. Failing that they’d have to fire a round into the air. Failing that…well they’d have to let someone have it in the legs. Who knows how these things will go?
The car clock turned 9am and right on time Dixie opened the post office doors. There were few pedestrians around now and little traffic. The robbers exited their vehicle and made their way to the entrance with their balaclavas concealing their identities. They marched into the post office and took it in turns to bark threats and orders at both Dixie and the customers. The customers appeared to be a fifty-fifty split between natives and foreigners.
“Get down on the floor! Get the fuck down!” The natives hit the deck quick enough, but a couple of the foreigners displayed a strange resistance to the orders of the armed robbers. “Do what you’re fuckin’ told or ya won’t get out of here alive! Down…get fuckin down!” They roared the threats at them the same as the others, but the two males seemed weirdly unperturbed by the threats of violence directed at them.
Confused and angered by their behaviour the taller, heavier, powerfully built robber belted one of them across his temple with the shotgun handle. The assault made a disturbing sound as solid wood connected with human skull. The man collapsed and his skull made a second distressing sound as his head bounced off the hardwood floor. His friend took a step backwards and had a puzzled expression rather than a fearful one. The same robber lashed out with a kick and struck him in the groin. The foreigner doubled over and onto his knees. The thief then struck him square on the top of his head with the gun knocking him out cold. Meanwhile the smaller, skinny robber was busy harassing Dixie. He had the shotgun pointing down at one of the local citizens.
“Open that fuckin’ door right now or I’ll fucking hurt one of these people…do ya’ hear me? Open it!”
The thief was screaming so loud Dixie became terrified and began pleading with him.
“No, no, no…dear God man don’t do that…I’ll open the door…I will….I’ll open it.”
The thief waited for Dixie to unlock the inner office door. He was frightened and his heart was racing way too fast. In his panicked state he forgot the combination.
“Open the fuckin’ thing…stop your messin,” the robber yelled.
“Dear God I’m trying…I’m trying to think of it…the number…the code.” Dixie’s voice quivered with fear.
“What the fuck are you waiting for old man? Just punch it in and open it! I swear you’ll be fuckin sorry….hurry up! The raider’s voice was now at screaming pitch.
“Sweet Jesus I’m trying to remember…please…let me try again….dear God help us.” The old man was almost in tears and struggling to catch his breath.
Meanwhile the other patrons lay on the floor and did not dare make any sudden movements. A collective silence engulfed them; they did not make any sounds. There was no screaming or pleading, but there was real fear and self-preservation.
The skinny robber kicked the code locked door then lowered his voice and spoke through the glass customer window. “Old timer,” he growled. “I swear this lady here is gonna get shot if you don’t open that door right now. Do you fuckin’ hear me in there? Are you fucking deaf or what? Open that….”
The security door suddenly popped open and Dixie stood white as sheet waiting for whatever came next. The thief pushed the door all the way open then and grabbed Dixie by his collar.
“Safe. Open it now. No messin’ do ya hear? Don’t make me hurt someone. Do it now!” Dixie opened the main safe and the robber threw his backpack at him. “Fill it up now, no messin’.”
Dixie began emptying the bundles of fivers, tenners, twenty-notes, fifties and hundreds into the backpack.
“How we doing in there?” the tall fat thief demanded to know.
“We’re doing fine, almost there,” skinny small thief replied.
“Come on now, hurry up…is that the lot?”
Dixie could barely breathe but managed to reply. “That’s it….that’s all there is…I swear, I’m not lying….there’s no more.” Dixie’s eyes began to fill with tears.
“Close the fuckin’ bag up…..do it, stop gawping at me!” Dixie closed the bag with trembling petrified hands, and had to struggle desperately to control his bowels and kidneys.
The robber snatched the bag from him and left the room. “Right, we’re good to go,” he said calmly to his accomplice. The two men left the post office and jogged to their car. They jumped in and drove off making short sharp screeching sounds as they made their way around the green. Within seconds the car was out of sight and racing towards the motorway bound for Dublin.
The patrons of Dillon’s post office slowly and carefully got on their feet. Some of them peered out the post office window scanning the green for signs of the armed raiders. Dixie sat slumped on his chair behind the counter with one hand on his chest, rubbing it in clockwise circular motions. He tried to catch his breath while simultaneously muttering short prayers. “Dear lord….dear God. Sacred heart.”
The whole incident probably lasted less than three minutes but to everyone involved it felt a lot longer. A few of the local lads tried to examine the injuries of the two men on the ground. They were both barely conscious but the locals tried to talk to them anyway. “Can you hear me?” said Christy, a twenty year old local. “Call an ambulance,” he shouted to his friend Liam already who already had a mobile in his hand. “I’m on it now,” Liam said with a shaky voice then began talking to the operator.
“Someone call the guards,” Christy pleaded to the others in the room as though he had forgotten his own mobile in his pocket. A blow-in with a Cork accent began dialling for the guards. “I’m calling them right now man.” Then there was silence for a moment while everyone tried to comprehend what had just happened.
The post office door opened with force and startled everyone. It was Eddie Thompson the butcher, and right behind him was Graham Beattie who ran Beattie’s supermarket. A few of Beattie’s and Thompson’s staff were with them. Suddenly the small postal room was filled with people asking questions and not really listening to any answers, as though all questions were purely rhetorical.
“Jesus are ye ok?” Thompson shouted looking from one frightened face to another.
“Christy, are you ok?” Beattie asked, and then looking down at the two semi-conscious foreign men exclaimed “oh my God they look bad.”
“Someone call an ambulance,” Thompson said still shouting with fear and excitement.
“They’re on it,” Christy said pointing to his friend and the blow-in who were still communicating with the operator.
With the emergency services called people focused on the two injured men but there was little they could do. They applied tissues from their pockets to the cuts on the men’s heads which were small but bleeding quite freely.
“Dickie auld stock…how you doing?” Thompson said putting his arm around Dickie’s shoulders.
“Lord God…I thought they were going to kill us all Eddie…I thought…” he voice trailed off.
“Breathe easy now Dixie…breathe man breathe….sure you’ve had a terrible shock.” They all felt helpless and words were all they could reach for. “The dirty bastards,” Thompson said through gritted teeth. “They’ve no mercy, not for old or young….coward scum.”
It didn’t take long before the residents of Dillon were gathered outside the post office and around the green. They stood together in collective fear and shock, and complained about the response time of the guards and the ambulance service. “In the name of Jesus this is ridiculous. They call themselves emergency services…for fuck’s sake. This is a bad joke.”
It was twenty minutes before the ambulance arrived and twenty five before a single garda in a marked car appeared. The paramedics began treating the injured parties in the post office, while the lone garda began taking statements. Every few minutes he would speak into his walkie-talkie attached to his collar, either to convey instructions or to receive them. The garda was a local named Michael Crowe but everyone knew him as Birdy. He was having a hard time trying to cordon off the scene of the crime, but a more difficult task was taking statements.
The two injured men were of no use to Garda Crowe, they were clearly in no condition to talk. Local boy Christie and his friend were the first ones he spoke to, they looked like the most capable under the circumstances.
“Christie, I know you’ve just had a terrible shock, but if you can answer just a few questions for me now it would be a big help in catching these bastards. I’ve got to Christie. Will you talk to me?” Christie nodded his head.
“Good man it won’t take long, sit down here a minute.” Holding Christie by the arm Garda Crowe led him to the butcher shop window sill and sat him down. “You’re not injured Christie, you weren’t assaulted right?” Garda Crowe hunkered down in front of him.
“No, no…they didn’t touch me, I’m fine Birdy, just got a bad case of the shakes right now.” Birdy reached out and held his arm.
“Of course you do, that’s to be expected. Listen Christie how many of them was there?”
“There was two of them,” Christie replied.
“Are you sure there wasn’t a third, maybe outside the door or in the getaway vehicle?” Christie paused for a moment.
“Just two Birdy, that’s all I saw.” Birdy’s radio went off and he answered it reluctantly.
“Yeah copy that but I’m taking a statement now so it’ll have to wait.” Christie’s friend Liam came over and sat on the sill beside him. Birdy eyeballed him for a moment but said nothing. “Sorry Christie, so there was two of them. Now did you get a good look at these guys? I need a description.”
Christie took a deep breath. “Well Birdy it happened so damn fast I can’t say I got a good look, but I’ll do my best. Now let’s see…both wore black balaclavas and black jackets.”
Birdy started scribbling in his notebook while Liam reacted to this statement immediately. “No Christie the balaclavas were brown and the jackets were blue…dark blue Birdy.” Birdy stopped scribbling. Christie stared at his friend with indignation.
“Liam they were in black from the waist up. I know what I saw and I’m not colour blind.” There was a sudden tension in the air.
“Neither am I Christie and I was there too; look Birdy their jackets were blue alright.” Christie’s expression turned from shock to anger.
“No it’s not alright, and don’t you write that down Birdy. This fella must have been hit in the head unbeknownst to me and himself. The fucking jackets were black and so were their hats…I mean their masks…I mean their…oh you fucking know what I mean.” Birdy decided to intervene before Liam could continue the spat.
“Jesus lads don’t start arguing, it’s not the time or place for it. Christie you tell it first in your own words and Liam you can give me your version after, right lads? Ok…Christie go again.”
“Like I said they were in black from the waist up; the jackets were like those fleece tops you see around, you know the ones with zip up collars.” Birdy wrote it down word for word. “They both wore blue jeans. Don’t ask me what type, Wranglers, Coopers…whatever. They were jeans Birdy. They both had white runners on…just plain ordinary runners.” Liam sighed and made it obvious then whispered “wrong.” Christie glared at him.
“What? What the hell is wrong with ya? The man said to tell it in my own words and that’s what I’m doing. So will you shut your hole and stop muttering like a fucking old biddy?”
“Lads…come on…focus, focus,” Birdy said raising his voice a notch. “Now Christie what about height and build? Picture the first one and describe him.” Christie paused again and was amazed that he had to try and think so hard about an incident that only happened minutes ago. “Oh I’d say the first lad, the one who decked the two boys, was 6ft easily. And fat…he was a stocky fucker Birdy, probably an ex-boxer I’d say. He swung that shot gun around and floored the two lads no trouble at all to him. Fearless he was Birdy…a horrible cunt.” Birdy turned a page and continued writing notes. “And the other one Christie, what was he like?” Christie paused for thought again. These questions seemed far more difficult to answer than they ought to be.
“The second lad was small, smaller than me, I’d say maybe 5ft 7 or 8 inches. He was a scrawny looking runt with a high pitched voice. He sounded more like a woman than a man. He had a big gob on him though. It was him doing all the shouting. He terrified poor old Dixie. I glanced up at one point and I seriously thought Dixie was gonna have a heart again.” Birdy ignored the last part about Dixie. “So the second lad was 5’ 7”, skinny with a high pitched voice.” Birdy finished scribbling then looked up at Liam. “Ok Liam your turn, go for it.”
“Well first of all I wouldn’t describe the big one as fat. He was big and powerful like a wrestler, but I think fat would be the wrong word for him.” Christie rolled his eyes, Birdy ignored him. “I’d put him at 6ft 2 or 3. Broad shouldered and with a deep voice. A brutal voice if you know what I mean. And he wasn’t wearing blue jeans Birdy. The small lad was but not the big guy. He had track suit bottoms on and they were navy. His runners were white with black stripes at the side; they were Adidas Birdy. And his jacket was black but it wasn’t a fleece. The little fella wore a fleece but the big guy had one of those padded jackets on. What do ya’ call ‘em again – puffer jackets. And it was navy like his track suit pants…and it had a hood too Birdy. The little guy was 5ft 6” I’d say, he had the navy blue fleece top and the blue jeans and the white Adidas as well.” Liam looked at Christie and then back to Birdy. “And both their balaclavas were brown Birdy. I’m sure of that.” Birdy noticed Christie’s face beginning to flare up. Birdy raised his hand and Christie stopped himself from interrupting.
“Ok let me just run through this real quick. One was tall, 6’ 2” with a deep voice, wearing a navy puffer jacket with a hood, navy track suit pants, white Adidas runners with black stripes. The other was 5’ 6” and wearing a navy fleece, blue jeans and white Adidas with black stripes. Both wore balaclavas either black or brown.”
“So you’re just gonna assume Liam’s version is more accurate than mine, is that it Birdy? Like I can’t be trusted, is that what you’re saying?” Birdy stood up and put his notebook in his shirt pocket.
“Not at all Christie, I have your version too and both will go on the record.” Christie sounded upset like he was personally offended.
“Tracksuit pants? I was there too and I didn’t see any fuckin’ track suit pants. As for the balaclavas, Jesus you need a trip to the optician Liam. They were black Birdy, as black as fuckin coal.”
“Ok Christie, ok. Now did either of you see their car, even a glimpse of it?” The two boys shook their heads in unison. “No Birdy,” Christie said. “Not even a glimpse Birdy,” Liam said. Birdy smiled at them.
“Well you two can agree on that much at least. Thanks lads, and look we may need to talk to ye again, but for now that’s it. Ye should go home now boys, you’ve had a big shock. If ye need me for anything you know where to reach me.” Birdy turned to walk away then stopped in his tracks. “Oh one more thing lads…they were Dubs right?” The two boys did not hesitate to answer.
“Dubs Birdy…for sure,” said Christie.
“We can agree on that too Birdy. They were Jackeens alright.”
Birdy nodded, walked back to his car and relayed details of the two assailants back to the station house. “I’ll let you know about the car as soon as I find out,” he told the station garda. “Give me a minute.” He hung up the radio and made a beeline for Thompson and Beattie.
“Boys, can I’ve a word over here.” He ushered Thompson and Beattie away from the main gathering outside the post office. They stood in a circle and Birdy took his notebook out again. “Lads I know ye weren’t in the post office when it happened, but did either of you see the getaway car? Time is of the essence now boys, know what I mean?” The two men looked at each other to see who should go first, then Thompson took control.
“Well Birdy I was down in the cold room when most of the commotion happened, and I honestly didn’t hear a thing until it was too late. When I came out front again I saw the two blackguards running across the road. So I stopped what I was doing – I was laying out some salmon fillets behind the counter Birdy… anyway I stopped. I walked around the counter and the next thing I heard a screech of tyres and that’s when I saw it. It was one o’ them Toyota Corollas Birdy. Silver it was, metallic finish on it. Fine car, very fast, took off like a rocket.” Birdy wrote it all down, repeating certain words to keep up with Thompson.
“How about a reg plate Eddie? Did you get a look by any chance?” Thompson scrunched up his face as if he was dreading the question. “Jesus Birdy I was just thinking about that before you came over. I only caught a glimpse but I think it had Galway plates. 08G33…but for the life o’ me I can’t remember the last two digits Birdy.”
Birdy noted the partial registration. “Any distinguishing features Eddie? A dent in the body work, a broken indictor, a missing hubcap, stickers on the back windscreen, anything?”
Eddie paused and tried again to replay the getaway scene in his mind. He did his best to picture the car but could recall nothing more. “Afraid not Birdy, sorry now but I really can’t think of anything.”
Birdy flipped over the page on his notebook. “Don’t worry Eddie I know how it is believe me. These things happen so fast.” Birdy turned his attention to Beattie the shop keeper. “Right Graham, go for it. Tell it like you saw it.”
Beattie cleared his throat and raised his voice a notch as though he were on camera. “Well now Birdy it’s like this, and with all due respect to Eddie here, it wasn’t a Corolla. It was a Toyota alright but it was an Avensis and it wasn’t silver Birdy, it was grey. And it certainly wasn’t metallic, it had a matte finish Birdy, like that car there. Beattie pointed to a Ford Focus parked across the street with a black matte finish.”
“Ah now hang on a minute Graham. Jesus I know I wear glasses but my eyes aren’t that bad yet. The car had a shiny finish on it.” He turned to look at Birdy. “It was a metallic paint job Birdy. He turned to look at Beattie again. “And I don’t know how you can say it was an Avensis. Sure doesn’t my own brother drive one o’ them, I think I know an Avensis when I see one Graham.” Beattie looked uncomfortable and he didn’t like Thompson’s condescending tone, he never did like his tone. Especially opposite other people; he felt it was disrespectful. But Thompson wasn’t finished. “As for the colour, well now look Birdy…as far as I’m concerned the car was silver.”
Birdy finished writing then tried to show some authority. “Look lads it’s not a competition alright. It’s just a statement and I appreciate your time and your help, and it’s a big help believe me lads. Now Graham did you get a look at the reg number?”
Beattie began nodding his head emphatically. “I did Birdy, I did. And again with all due respect Eddie the reg number was 08G3875.” Birdy began repeating the plate number out loud, “3–8-7-5.” He looked up at Beattie. “You sound pretty sure of yourself Graham. You got a good look at it did you?” Thompson looked at Beattie with a scowl on his face. “I’m certain Birdy, and I memorised it because I knew by the sounds of those tyres that they were up to no good. I had just stepped outside the shop to start cleaning the windows and they sped right past me. I got a bit of a fright when I saw their masks. It was like a movie Birdy. Anyway I made note in my head of the plates. And I’ve got a bloody good memory Birdy. I’d remember that reg even if was last year I saw it. That was the number, no doubt about it.” Thompson rolled his eyes in disgust but said nothing. “Any distinguishing features Graham?” Birdy asked.
“Well I don’t know if you can call it a feature Birdy but there was a lot of mud along the near side of the car; splatters of it, like it had driven through a wet field or a construction site.” Birdy finished scribbling.
“Ok lads,” said Birdy. “It was a Toyota; we can agree on that much right? The colour was silver or grey, with a metallic or matte finish. The reg was 08G3875. Muddy along the sides. Now tell me…saloon or hatchback?” There was a pause then both men replied, “saloon Birdy.” Birdy added it to his notes. “We’ll leave it at that then gentlemen and thanks again. Fair play, now I better go call this in.” He turned and began walking towards his car then stopped and turned around again. “Oh one more thing lads. They were wearing balaclavas right?”
“They were Birdy,” said Thompson.
“Balaclavas Birdy, no doubt,” said Beattie.
“And what colour were the balaclavas?”
Both men answered promptly. “Green Birdy,” said Thompson.
“Yeah green Birdy, military style,” said Beattie.
“That’ll do, thanks lads. I’ll be in touch.” Birdy went back to his car and radioed the station with more details of the robbery. After a brief conversation with the station house he headed back to the post office. Some locals had taken Dixie into the butcher shop and were trying to comfort him.
“Mind now….mind,” Birdy commanded as he pushed through the circle of locals that were surrounding the post master. Birdy sat down beside him. “How we doing now Dixie?”
Dixie had managed to get his breath back. “I’ll live Birdy….just about. I got a hell of a fright. My heart is not good as you know Birdy, so all I kept thinking was…what if I get another attack. What if it’s worse than before…I’ll be a goner.”
Birdy put his hand on his shoulder. “You’re gonna be alright Dixie. You’re a lot tougher than you think, and so is that heart of yours.” Birdy took out the notepad and pen from his shirt pocket. Without any further sympathy he got down to business.
“Listen Dixie, I know you’ve had quite a shock but I need to ask you a couple of questions. While it’s still fresh in your mind Dixie, do you understand?” Dixie nodded and raised the glass of water to his lips that the locals had given him.
“Good, good man.” Birdy looked up at the crowd around him. “Folks we don’t need an audience for this. Will ye wait outside and I’ll be out shortly. I’m gonna need statements from everyone, so don’t go anywhere. Please now, thank you.”
The locals begrudgingly did as they were told and congregated outside the butcher shop window. Birdy turned his attention back to Dixie. “Right now Dixie I want you to take your time with this ok? Tell me what the raiders looked like Dixie. How many of them were there and how were they dressed?”
“There was only two that I saw. If there was a third I never saw him. I was sorting out cash for a customer when I heard the shouting. I had taken my glasses off to sort the cash. I’m near sighted Birdy…you know that. So I always take the glasses off when counting out the notes. Anyway when I heard the commotion I went to put my glasses back on and that’s when the robber suddenly appeared right at the window. Everyone else was on the floor. Honest to God, for a moment Birdy I thought it was all a joke. I couldn’t believe it was happening. Anyway the robber pointed a shotgun straight at me Birdy.”
Dixie had to pause and take another sip of water. Birdy could see the fear in him but he had to try to get what he could from him. He couldn’t stop the interview though he hated having to put Dixie through it. “You’re doing fine Dixie, we’ll get there.” Dixie put the glass down.
“He kept yelling at me Birdy, but sure I couldn’t even tell what he was asking at first. His accent was that thick I swear I didn’t know what he was saying. He was a Dub, there was no mistaken that.” Birdy tried to help. “Was he wearing a mask Dixie?” Dixie didn’t hesitate.
“Of course he was Birdy; one of them balaclavas with two very angry looking eyes peeping out of it. They were mean eyes Birdy and he had a mean voice.” Birdy scribbled in his notebook and without looking up said, “what colour was his balaclava Dixie?”
Dixie paused for a moment. “Black Birdy, it was a black one.”
Birdy looked up at him. “What did he say to you Dixie? Can you remember anything at all?” Dixie frowned and sipped some more water. “Well he kept telling me to open the door, but sure Birdy I was so scared didn’t I forget the code….” Dixie suddenly started weeping. Birdy placed his hand on Dixie’s shoulder again but he wasn’t going to be deterred by his tears.
“It’s ok Dixie, I know how it is and we’re gonna catch these bastards. I promise you that, their days are numbered.” Birdy picked up the glass of water. “Dixie take a sip of that, good man.” Dixie sipped some more water and wiped his eyes with a handkerchief. He couldn’t look Birdy in the eye; he felt embarrassed.
“Jesus Birdy I don’t know…how can people do such things? Are they bloody mad in the head?”
“Some are Dixie, most are just greedy and lazy. You were saying you couldn’t remember the code.”
“That’s right Birdy, my mind went blank with the panic I was in. And I could feel my heart speeding up and that was scaring me even more. I started thinking about Helen at home and the fright she’d get being told I had dropped dead from a heart attack during a post office raid. She’d be inconsolable Birdy.”
“She would Dixie, no doubt about it, but that didn’t happen and you’re gonna be fine and so is Helen. And I’m going to drop you home myself after this so you can be with her. But first let me just wrap this up Dixie. Can you remember anything else about this guy? How was he dressed Dixie?”
“Jesus I can’t think Birdy….I think he was wearing a sweat shirt, dark…maybe black or dark blue Birdy, I’m not sure.”
“And trousers Dixie?” Birdy pressed him.
“Jesus I really can’t be sure. There wasn’t time Birdy…I think maybe dark trousers as well…navy or black, I can’t say.”
“And his shoes Dixie, did you get a look at them?”
“I don’t…oh wait I remember them alright. They were white coloured runners Birdy. With black stripes…I remember now cause I saw them when I was bending down to empty the cash from the safe.”
“Good man Dixie.” Birdy finished scribbling. “And he kept shouting at you Dixie?”
“He did, he kept roaring at me to open the door and tried telling him I couldn’t remember the code. But every time I said that it seemed to make him angrier and he would shout even louder. And of course that just made me even worse. That lunatic bastard, may he rot with all his money.” Dixie started to get angry and Birdy preferred him that way. Better to be angry than scared and sobbing.
“Oh he won’t get to spend much of it Dixie, I can tell you that.” Birdy then lowered his voice and took a quick glance around him. He was pinning his hopes on his next question.
“Dixie, how about the CCTV cameras, were they on this morning?” Dixie’s angry expression changed again, this time to a look of bewilderment mixed with more embarrassment.
“They’re still not operational Birdy. Head office said they were due to be fixed last Thursday. But sure they’ve been saying that for weeks. They’re not working Birdy. Nothing I can do about it. That’s not my fault. All I can do is keep reminding them of it and I’ve been doing that Birdy.”
Birdy did his best to hide his disappointment. It would have been nice to get the armed raiders on camera, even if they were masked. One decent clip of them aired on TV would always result in some phone calls to the confidential line. But descriptions rarely gave them any leads. People have to see the robbers to motivate them, describing them rarely has much impact.
“I know you have Dixie, and maybe now those fools in head office will listen to you. So you got the door opened eventually Dixie?”
“I did Birdy thank God, or I might not be alive right now. Or worse one of the locals out there would have been shot. That’s what he threated Birdy. To shoot someone out there, the coward.”
“Of course he is, sure only a coward would do that,” Birdy said.
“Anyway it came to me… out of sheer fright it came to me. I got the door open and in he came, quick as a shot and started barking more orders. ‘Open the safe…do it now….no more fucking around…come on…come on!’ That kind of thing. Luckily I got the safe open quicker than the door Birdy.” Dixie managed to break a weak scared smile, then he took another sip of water. Birdy smiled back and patted him on the shoulder.
“You’re a brave man Dixie and you did the right thing. There’s no point in antagonising these fuckers once they start.” Birdy let Dixie catch his breath again.
“Dixie how much do you reckon they got? Do you have a figure?”
“All of it Birdy, they got the lot – €17,000. Pension money, benefits, the lot.” Birdy made a note of it.
“Ok Dixie my colleagues are on their way to examine this place for any forensic evidence. You should contact your supervisor and let them know what’s happened. Tell him to talk to me if he wants confirmation. I’ll be right here. After that close up shop and I’ll get you home to Helen, ok.”
“Oh God I forgot with all the excitement. You’re right; I’d better ring in Birdy. Let them know.” He got up and walked to the door to ask Beattie if he could use his phone. Birdy followed him outside. “Good man Dixie and thanks for your help, it means a lot I can tell you.”
Birdy walked to his car and sat in to talk to the station and relay some more information. He felt foolish passing such vague details back to his colleagues, but he couldn’t do much else. He then kept guard outside the crime scene to make sure no-one came in or out. Forensics arrived some time later. There were two of them and Birdy let them get on with their routine. Another colleague showed up in a marked car more out of curiosity than anything else. He and Birdy chatted for a while then the other Garda took off. Birdy took some more eyewitness statements. None of them had exactly the same details of the robber’s clothing or car model, and nobody could provide any other information that might prove useful to the investigation of the crime.
Then over the course of the day returning workers approached Birdy to inform him that their houses had been broken into. He spent hours taking more statements about missing jewellery and cash, and trying to offer words of comfort to those on the verge of tears. The forensic team kept them out of their homes while they tried to look for finger prints and other clues.
Birdy knew the chances of ever catching them were slim at best. At worst, no chance whatsoever. In the end, between the post office and the house jobs, they got away with over €21,000. But the money never really mattered. Dillon is a rural village, and they have neither the man power nor the political power to protect themselves. It wasn’t the loss of money they were concerned about, but the fact that outside of Dillon the rest of the country could not care less. They were alone in the world and they knew it.
For months afterwards the people obsessed over the post office raid. Old, middle aged and adolescents talked about it. Residents had extra locks fitted on their doors, and security lights installed front and rear. Neighbourhood watch signs appeared on every second lamppost and CCTV stickers adorned every living room and porch window. Some locals went to bed scared at night, some younger people did too.
For months not a day went by when someone did not ask Birdy about the raid. “Any word on those thugs Birdy?” they’d ask. Birdy would tell them the truth, he couldn’t lie to them. There were never any developments in the case and yet they kept asking. It went on like that for six months and then one day no-one asked him about it. Some locals treated Birdy differently after that. They weren’t cruel to him, but they didn’t feel the same way about him after the raid.