The pink jangled in the mouth of the pocket and ran back up the table, but the white broke up the reds neatly enough. "Go to it," said the Big Guy, "it's yer birthday." I took one last glance at Dooge being backed down the stairs by Bobby, waving his free hand and trying to explain that he was on important state business. I was smiling a little as I bent to pot a red and clip the black out in to the middle of the table. I hate to do that to Dooge - wait, let's be honest, I like doing mat to Dooge. For the past two weeks he's been hopping around like his feet were on fire, trying to get to the Big Guy with another of his bright ideas that end up with us all looking like mugs, and the Big Guy in particular.
This time I've got Peter Prendergast on-side and we've managed to keep Dooge out of harm's way.
I put the black away and strolled around the table to meet the cue ball coming back up to where it could see the reds. The Big Guy didn't get back to the table for the rest of the game.
It was about an hour later - I was 23 down, with just the blue, pink and black on the table - when the two slack-jaws came in. They came in quietly and the first we knew of it was when one of them gave the black a thump with his fist and sent it clatttering into the blue that the Big Guy was lining up.
"A fine example to the youth of me country, you are," said the tall one. "We want our money back," said the smaller one.
Dooge. The petty little blister had got his revenge, blabbing on the whereeabouts of the Big Guy. I just knew thats what happened.
"Thirty-five pounds, you bloody hustler," said the tall one, "give it back if you don't want your thumbs broken."
I sighed. "Garr-et, you didn't, you promised me you wouldn't." He shrugged and made a funny shape with his mouth.
I've warned him, it's not worth it, I said, cut it out. He's weak, that way. About ten minutes after the election the Big Guy had a snooker table moved into Leinster House, just down the corridor from his office. Helps him relax, he says, helps him think. He's in there every chance he gets. There's a Cabinet meeting and Barry Desmond starts yapping out of him and everyone knows he's going to keep at it until the hinge on his jaw seizes up, the Big Guy says excuse me, he has an urgent meeting with some ACC executives hand they don't see him for three or four frames. (Big Guy told me once that in two years he's yet to underrstand one complete sentence that came out of Barry Desmond.)
Trouble is, he's good, and he can't resist a hustle. Someone comes to the Dail on a delegation or just for a gawk, sooner or later they trip over the snooker table. Oh yes, says the Big Guy, we got that in for the Labour chaps, remind them of their mis-spent youth - well, I suppose we could, now that you mention it, though you'll have to tell me which colour I hit first, just let me get a club - oh, a cue, is that what you call it? Two games later he's a quid down and he suggests maybe raising the stakes ...
"Thirty-bloody-five quid, you shark," said the taller one. They looked like Young Fine Gaelers to me. Maybe that's because all Young Fine Gaelers look like pigeons born to be clipped. They were both toting snoooker cues, heavy end up.
Usually I can argue the slack-jaws out of it but this pair looked like they wanted someone's blood (all Young Fine Gaelers look like they want someone's blood). So I pushed the lightshade, hard. It caught the taller one about an inch above the left ear.
He didn't say anything until he reached the floor. Then he began crying. The smaller one was saying something about c'mon then, I'll claim the two of yeo "Three," I said. He looked puzzled for a second, but that was all sorted out for him when Bobby's cue made contact with the back of his head.
The whole thing put the Big Guy in a bad mood for the rest of the evening. I took him into the Shelbourne and poured drink into him, but that didn't work. He got more and more miserable.
I took out my press clippings and showed them to him. The one from the Sunday Tribune with the piece by David Andrews arguing in favour of big pensions for ministers who already have big salaries. Dave argues that if we don't pay big bucks we won't get the best talent to forsake careers in private industry and work in the service of the public. I love it. Unless we lash outthirty, forty, or fifty grand a head we won't get the kind of talent that has brought the country to the great condition it's now in! If we don't shell out that kind of money they'll all slope off and find jo bs that will pay them as much, if not more! Where,' I ask myself, would the likes of Michael Noonan pull that kind of bread? Barry Desmond? Who would pay Gemma Hussey that order of folding green?
But the stinger is the clipping from Bruce Arnold's column in the Indo.
The one where Bruce argues that teachers should not receive a pay increase. Bruce loves teachers. Bruce thinks we need a special calibre of person to teach our young. Bruce is afraid that if we pay teachers too much money we might attract the wrong kind of people into the trade.
Now, you put Dave and Bruce togeether and even the Big Guy, for all his problems, couldn't resist a chuckle.
After I'd jollied him for a while we got around to talking about the ACC. I told him, strictly on the QT, that it was Jim Dooge who got hold of the internal documents and slipped them to Irish Business. Dooge wants to mess, fair enough. Wagons fixed while you wait.
The Big Guy needed to clear his head, so we went for a walk, across by Stephen's Green. There was a crowd of maybe eighty or a hundred standing in front of the Wolfe Tone statue. At the front of the crowd Eamonn McCann was nodding thoughttfully. "So ," he said, "all things connsidered, you don't hold out much hope for an Anglo-Irish initiative?" The statue slowly, sadly, shook its head. "Game ball," said McCann. •