By Alan Glynn
He stood looking out of the bedroom window. Through the bushes at the end of the garden, he could see several figures moving back and forth. He opened the window and was just barely able to make out voices, whispers, hushed murmuring. He closed the window and went quickly to the front of the house. The street was quiet. Too quiet for this time of the afternoon. There was a large unmarked truck parked directly in front of his nextdoor neighbour’s house. There was no traffic.
Up the street, to the right somewhere, a dog was barking.
He went downstairs and back into the livingroom, where he’d been working earlier. The TV was on. There seemed to be some confusion. A studio announcer was holding a hand over one ear. There was an awkward pause. But as if they’d been waiting for him to come back, a voice then said, “Okay, we’re ready now,” and then the picture cut to an exterior, a street scene.
It was just up the street, in fact. At the corner. He recognised the houses in the background.
A reporter stood beside a water-hydrant and stared into the camera. After a pause he started speaking. “The police have cordoned off the entire area. They have blocked entry to Cherryvale Drive, and have completely surrounded number thirty-five, the home of a Mr. Joseph Brande. Adjoining houses have been evacuated.”
Brande went over to the window and peered out through the lace curtains. On the garage-roof of the house directly across the street there was a man peering back at him through the lens of a telescopic rifle. Brande didn’t move, but stood for a few moments – defiantly almost, his hands in his pockets. Then he stepped away from the window and walked over to the sofa. He sat down with a sigh and reached out automatically for the remote control. He held it in his right hand and directed it limply at the screen, but didn’t change the channel.
Brande had let all of this happen. He had simply let it happen. He could have stopped it at any point. He could have picked up the telephone, spoken to someone in charge, explained himself, drawn attention to their error. But he hadn’t.
He could stop it now if he wanted to.
Something was holding him back, though. He wanted to think – as he sat there on the sofa, unable to take his eyes off the screen – that maybe what was holding him back was some kind of recklessness in his character, a romantic attraction to danger, a death wish. But really, he suspected, it was probably all quite banal, a dumb fascination with how random the mistake was, curiosity about just how far the whole thing was going to go, a form of vanity even.
The desperate nation-wide search for the man who had entered various supermarkets around the country and injected lethal doses of poison into various foodstuffs had been going on for over forty-eight hours. It had come to a head in the previous two when the man had left a vital clue for police in the form of a scribbled note on a sheet of copy paper. On the note – which was found pinned to a supermarket noticeboard – were the words “Death to Consumers,” followed by an ominous list of dangerous chemicals.
Police were baffled, but a quick-witted detective soon noticed something at the top of the page. He spotted what was, apparently, a light impression remaining from a previous page. There was only the merest trace, but by placing some carbon paper over the area and rubbing hard he was able – in a matter of seconds – to tease out what apppeared, clearly, to be an address: 35 Cherryvale Drive, Dublin.
It didn’t take long for the police to find out who lived at this address and within an hour or so they had completely surrounded the house and put in place a crack team of specialists: marksmen, bomb disposal experts, toxicologists, PTSD therapists. Police had intended the operation to be covert, but given the scale of the thing, they found it impossible to keep the media away, and before long commentary of the proceedings was being broadcast live on national television.
A police spokesman was making a statement before the cameras. He was surrounded by a group of reporters who were all taking notes, holding out microphones and jostling each other for position: “I am not at liberty to give you any details at this time but suffice it to say that we are approaching the situation with all due caution. We believe this Joseph Brande to be a very dangerous man. He is apparently in possession of large quantities of lethal chemicals, and . . .” – here the spokesman paused – “as we have seen, he is perfectly capable of using them.”
Brande snorted at the television screen. He did live at 35 Cherryvale Drive, it was true, but he certainly wasn’t in possession of any chemical substances, apart maybe from the tin of paint stripper he had in his shed at the bottom of the garden. And thinking about it, he didn’t even know if that technically qualified as a chemical. He didn’t know anything about chemicals. The simple fact was that the whole thing had been an appalling mistake. Brande wasn’t the man the police were looking for at all, and it would later emerge – much to everyone’s embarrassment – that the address of the so-called Grocery Killer was 35 Cherrydale Drive.
For the moment, though, 35 Cherryvale Drive was where it was all happening, and although the indications weren’t exactly clear, it did seem as if everything was set to resolve itself in a fairly straightforward manner. Police felt safe in assuming that Brande, having taken the phonecall, and having been seen looking out of his bedroom window, understood the situation he found himself in – although analysts would later be divided on the issue, some arguing that despite appearances there must also have been a certain level at which he quite obviously hadn’t understood the situation at all.
Brande’s first inkling that anything was amiss had been earlier in the afternoon. He’d been in the living-room going over a sales report and listening to the radio when out of the blue the telephone had started ringing and then, abruptly, stoppping. This had happened several times in quick succession, after which there’d been a pause of a few minutes.
At the next ring, Brande managed to get to the phone in time. A man with a quiet voice introduced himself as a Detective Inspector and said that the house was completely surrounded.
Brande was taken aback and tried to speak, but he faltered and was unable to come out with anything coherent. Then he tried to feign a laugh, but it didn’t come off. After a few moments, the man repeated what he had said and added that there was no possibility of escape.
Brande didn’t know how to react to this. He said nothing and just stood there in shock. Then – concluding that it was a hoax – he put the phone down, took it back off the hook and walked away. But as he was returning from the hallway into the living room, a newsflash came over the radio saying that the police had located the whereabouts of the so-called Grocery Killer. He resided at 35 Cherryvale Drive in Dublin. He was there now, the voice on the radio was saying, and police had completely surrounded his house.
Brande’s immediate impulse had been to get on the phone again and demand an explanation, or rush out into the street and see what was going on, but something held him back. He stood in the middle of his living-room, listening to the radio, transfixed. His stomach was jumping and he felt a slight weakness in his legs. It was a curious sensation, physical but also dreamlike, hallucinatory, and not at all unpleasant. In fact, Brande wasn’t even sure that he wanted the feeling to end, and it wasn’t until they actually mentioned his name, some moments later, that he managed to snap out of it.
As he listened, he lowered himself slowly onto the sofa. “It can now be revealed that the man widely known as the Grocery Killer is one Joesph Brande of 35 Cherryvale Drive in the Drumshanliss area of South County Dublin. Brande, forty-four and a sales representative for a clothing company, is married with three children and has no criminal record. Neighbours have expressed shock at the news and have said that although Brande was quiet and kept to himself they would never have imagined him capable of anything like the recent atrocities.” The newsflash ended by saying that live coverage of the Cherryvale siege would be commencing shortly on Network 2.
Brande reached out to the little transistor radio on the coffee table and flicked it off. Then he picked up the remote control for the TV and tuned in to Network 2.
The coverage hadn’t started yet. There were ads on.
It was at that point that Brande had decided to go upstairs and have a look around for himself.
Now, on screen, the police spokesman was appealing for anyone with information to come forward. “We need all the help we can get with our enquiries,” he was saying, “and naturally we want to build up a psychological profile of this man before we take any drastic action . . .”
The spokesman’s appeal was followed by an aerial shot of the Cherryvale housing estate – and sure enough, from his sofa, Brande thought he could hear the distant whirr of a helicopter. In the centre of the grid, there was a small area of houses that was surrounded by a dark, undulating ring of what he supposed were policemen, reporters and members of the general public.
They then cut back to the studio where a sort of command centre had been set up, with a panel of commentators and analysts, as well as a backdrop complete with ‘Cherryvale Siege’ graphics. The presenter said they were about to take a commercial break but not to go away because they had just recorded an exclusive interview with Mrs. Miriam Brande, the Grocery Killer’s apparently estranged wife.
There was a quick current affairs jingle and then an advertisement came on for frozen pizzas.
What did they mean estranged?
Brande got up and headed for the kitchen. He opened the fridge and stood staring into it for about a minute, his mind in complete turmoil. Finally, he pulled out a can of beer and went back into the livingroom. On his way, he passed a mirror and caught a glimpse of himself. He was unshaven and dishevelled and wearing an old tracksuit. It crossed his mind to run upstairs and change but he quickly dismissed the idea.
He sat down on the sofa again, cracked open the can with one hand and reached out for the remote control with the other.
Brande’s wife, Miriam, looked older on TV somehow. It was strange, he had seen her only that morning, but he almost didn’t recognise her. She seemed nervous and shaken. Maybe it was just being on television, he thought, because surely under the circumstances they wouldn’t have had time to make her up – though she was wearing a dressy beige suit and Brande could have sworn she’d left the house that morning in jeans and a sweater. She worked a couple of days a week for a voluntary organisation in town and nearly always wore jeans and a sweater.
She looked weird in beige.
Brande sipped from his can of beer.
The presenter started by asking Miriam what it was like to discover, after fifteen years of marriage, that her husband was, well – not to put too fine a tooth in it – a mass murderer.
“Devastating . . . devastating,” she whispered, and then started sobbing. This appeared to be all she was capable of, but after a moment she collected herself, blew her nose, and began describing how she’d heard the news. As she spoke she seemed to gain in confidence and before long she was revealing intimate details about their marriage. There had always been a barrier of one kind or another between them, she said, emotional, financial, even sexual.
“Sexual?” the presenter prompted.
“Yes, my husband was – well, I suppose is – a very . . .“
At that point, in shock, Brande let the remote control slip out of his hand. In falling to the floor, it accidently caused the channels to change and suddenly he was watching crew members of the Starship Enterprise being tossed back and forth across the bridge. Straining to breathe, he reached down frantically to get the remote but as he did so he spilt some beer on his track-suit bottoms.
Then, having retrieved the remote, he spent several desperate seconds fumbling with the buttons trying to get the right channel back. A kaleidoscope of images flashed before his eyes: Barack Obama on the lawn of the White House, an empty soccer stadium, Hitler speaking at a rally, some stock market graphics.
By the time he got back to his wife on Network 2, she seemed to be nodding stoically. “So perhaps, I don’t know,” she was saying, “maybe it wasn’t such a surprise after all”.
Before Brande had time to digest this – or even to begin imagining what she might have said – they had cut to another presenter who commenced reeling off a series of quotes about the man they were now calling the Cherryvale Butcher. Brande’s boss – ten years his junior – was quoted as saying that Brande’s work had never really been satisfactory and that the company had been carrying him for some time. A female colleague was ready to testify that Brande had once threatened to poison her. His bank manager called him a liability, and his younger brother said that he had always been selfish, arrogant and maybe even a little unstable.
The presenter then introduced a panel discussion with two psychologists, two criminologists and a sociologist.
Brande shifted in the sofa to get more comfortable and took another few sips from his can.
As the discussion progressed, however, Brande found it increasingly difficult to concentrate. He soon began feeling drowsy as well and may even have fallen into a light doze. In any case, the next thing he knew he was fumbling with the remote again, trying to turn the sound off.
Because he could have sworn he’d heard something – outside in the hallway, or in the kitchen, glass smashing, or something falling.
He listened carefully.
He was sure there was someone there, but he was so tired he couldn’t bring himself to stand up, or even move. He felt wrung out and numb, as if all of the muscles in his body had somehow been deactivated.
He looked over at the door that led out to the hallway.
Was that a shadow moving? Was there someone there? Could he hear people whispering?
“Hhhnnn?” he said, or at least thought he said. He wasn’t sure if he’d actually made any sound.
He tried again, “Hhnn.” It was no use.
He looked at the can of beer on the edge of the sofa and picked it up. He shook it gently. It was empty. He let it drop to the floor.
He glanced back at the silent television screen.
Police were huddling three small children through a crowd of reporters and photographers. Two girls and a boy – aged, respectively, about eight, seven and four.
One by one, the children were bundled into the back of a large van.
Brande gazed at the screen, but by the time it had properly registered with him that they were his children, and he’d got the sound back on, the programme had already cut to a commercial break and he was suddenly looking at a sleek Japanese car speeding across a computer-generated lunar landscape and listening to a heavy metal version of ‘It’s Only a Paper Moon.’
By the end of the commercial break, Brande had fallen asleep.
“Hey, Mr. Brande, come on, wake up.”
Brande opened his eyes.
Sitting beside him on the sofa, nudging him gently in the arm, was a young man holding a microphone. There were some other people in the room, as well. He wasn’t sure how many, but they were all in padded anoraks and holding machine guns. Standing in the doorway was a bearded man with a large camera strapped to his shoulder.
Brande looked up at the cameraman, and then over at the TV screen. He couldn’t believe it – there he was, slumped on the sofa, in his tracksuit, staring back at himself.
“There has been a mistake,” the young man said, as he stood up to address the camera. “It has all been a terrible, terrible mistake.”
Brande looked down and saw that the young man had been sitting on the remote control panel. He gazed at it in fascination. The long black unit now seemed to be glowing from the inside, and pulsating, as though it were some technological life form, in embryo, struggling to break out of its rectangular matt shell.
He reached over suddenly, picked it up and raised it towards the screen.
The reaction was immediate.
Up to that point, the men in the padded anoraks had been facing towards the camera, but now one of them turned automatically, in response to this unexpected movement, and proceeded, clumsily, jerkily – and live on national television – to riddle the man on the sofa with a hail of machine gun bullets.