by Phil Rowan
Harps & Tears is a dark humour thriller that centres on Bronkovski: a Polish American nuclear scientist whose wife left him for a Jewish environmentalist. He is furious, and intent on revenge against the state of Israel. When we meet him, he is making a nuclear bomb in rural Ireland's West Cork for ruthless Islamic activists.
We start with US journalist Rudi Flynn arriving in Dublin. His editor in New York is really into the Land of the Harp. She wants all he can send her on Celtic Tigers and New Irish Women. Flynn, however, is more interested in a lead he has on the embittered nuclear scientist, Bronkovski, and what he may be up to in West Cork.
Our frequently wayward journalist is lured in and seduced by Irish charm and blarney - although he is aware of a powerful Dublin businessman, who knows Bronkovski, and who has politicians and cops in his pocket. Flynn's local contact, Muldoon, is up for a bit of devious blackmail, and our guy's hotel receptionist, Siobhan, agrees to seduce and probe the emotionally challenged nuclear scientist. Middle East money is funding an assassin in West Cork, while in Dublin an Israeli academic is targeted. There are ruthless rogues everywhere, but Flynn has a few cool female allies - and as his local contact takes a crucial call, mayhem is averted in rural Ireland.
In the piece below from my Harps & Tears story, my character Flynn is talking to Claire at a Dublin cafe. They have only just met when she tells him a little about Hans - a previous owner of the cafe. He was once, she says, an SS guard at Auschwitz. But when the Dutch requested his extradition, the Irish Government stalled, and after a while Hans disappeared to Brazil. What interests me about this piece is that it is actually based on a true story. The Dutch man, Hans, had a cafe in Dublin called The New Amsterdam. He had been an SS guard at Auschwitz and showed his appreciation to the Irish Government, who let him stay for a while in Dublin, by presenting the Dublin Gardai with untrained wolf hounds who bit everyone - including their handlers - during Cuban missile crisis demonstrations.
'I'm Claire,' the friendly woman beside me at a Dublin cafe says when we've smiled at each other. She has interesting blonde hair and she's folding down a page on what looks like an accountancy manual.
'And I have an assessment this evening,' she explains.
Well, I'm Rudi, and I'm here ostensibly to cover the New Ireland. Only I want you to stop me if I start talking about my wife, Angela, who recently went off with her friend Eva ... because all of this has left me floundering like an emotional wreck who needs serious help.
'This is an interesting place,' Claire says when I order coffee with a croissant.
I'm trying to be cool as I take in her dark red heels and a small dolphin that's tattooed discreetly around her finely boned left ankle.
'You bet –'
'No ... I mean here – where we're sitting.'
OK – it's a cafe with a courtyard, where maybe an Irish poet sat and agonised over verses that might one day immortalise the guy or his girl, or the occasional bliss of living.
Am I being sceptical, or what? A French chain now owns the cafe, which is called La Laguna. Once though, according to Claire, the proprietor was a charismatic Dutchman called Hans. He came to Dublin in the early fifties, where he was regarded initially as a novelty, for he was a tall, gentlemanly sort of guy who spoke with a funny continental accent. His wife, Elsa, apparently made nice pastries, and his fashionable coffee bar was a popular meeting place for well-heeled women who wanted to meet and socialise in agreeable places.
'It was looking good for Hans,' Claire tells me, 'but then an Auschwitz survivor came forward to declare that our Dutchman had been a guard at the infamous concentration camp. The authorities in Holland apparently wanted to interview him in connection with several hundred wartime deaths.'
During his time in Dublin, however, Hans made some influential friends – particularly amongst the wives of politicians from the nearby parliament buildings at Leinster House. So the Irish Government refused a Hague request for extradition on the grounds that the evidence was tenuous. While Hans claimed it was all down to mistaken identity.
Later, according to Claire, when the fuss died down, the Dutchman decided that he wanted to make a small gesture of appreciation to his Irish friends. His 'thank you' came as three large pedigree Alsatian dogs, which he presented to the Commissioner of the Garda.
'My mam said there were pictures of him in all our newspapers on the day he handed over the dogs at the Garda Headquarters in the Phoenix Park,' she tells me. 'They were fine, expensive animals by all accounts – only they hadn't been trained for anything in particular. So when they were let loose on a crowd outside the American Embassy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, they bit everyone they could get their teeth into, including their clueless Garda handlers ... would you credit that?'
I'm sitting speechless with my coffee cup suspended over the saucer and my croissant untouched on the plate in front of me.
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