As Time Goes By 27 June 1985
To be honest, I was prejudiced. I expected a couple of guys like maybe Lee Marvin and Ernest Borggnine to come off the plane. Their footsteps like a succession of explosions as they tromped their way down the corridor. Pushing old people aside as they grabbed their luggage. Skipping the taxi queue and thumping the little guy with glasses who says, "I say, there ... "
No. Two more affable chaps you couldn't meet. Eddie Pritt and Joe Miscola. "Shall we retire to the bar," said Eddie, "let those old folk retrieve their luggage first? We got lotsa time."
At first I had refused the assignnment. Get Peter Prendergast or Derry Hussey to do it, I told Garret. You want someone to babysit a couple of inspectors from the World Bank you get the boys from the charm school to do it. Me, I don't like the idea of a couple of hard lads checking out our cuffs and collars to see if we'll get anoother day out of them, or should they call in the IOUs right now.
But Garret made it a direct order.
World Bank inspectors are no pussyycats, he said, and he didn't want the likes of Derry Hussey trying to smarm his way out of trouble. He wanted his brightest Handler on this one, someeone who could speak their language if the occasion demanded.
Which is why I ended up waiting for Flight 257 from Zurich last Monnday. Derry Hussey had wanted me to bring along two little cuties from Young Fine Gael to present the two inspectors with kisses and necklets of Shamrock. Jesus wept.
Two rooms in the Berkeley Court, a connecting door, bottle of Jack Daniels in each room. And ice, lots of ice.
"Two rooms?" said Eddie Pritt.
"Only two, where you gonna stay?" I explained that Peter Prendergast had made the arrangements, and since I lived in the city I could ...
"Jeeze," said Eddie, "think poor, stay poor. Get yaself a room, sweettheart, we got business to do."
Joe Miscola poured a trio of bourrbon and rattled his ice cubes. Except for the drink, he looked like a young Mormon who was maybe gonna slip you a short-cut to heaven if you stayed awake long enough to listen to his spiel. Eddie looked like a vocalist from a 1940s swing band.
"I gotta get some Punts," said Joe, picking up the phone. I told him I'd arrange for someone to carry out the transaction for him. He smiled, shook his head and made a phone call. Then he went out for about an hour. I found out later that these guys know the places in every city in the world where you'll get the best exchange rate. In Tokyo it's a sports goods store, in Moscow it's a janitor in a hotel from which you can see Lenin's tomb, in Buenos Aires it's an optician's shop in a suburb, in Dublin it's a dry cleaning place operating over a pub on the North side.
After lunch we got down to examiining The Book. This is a slim ledger in which all of the vital financial transsactions within the Republic's economy are recorded. You've heard of "tell me the bottom line"? The Book is a whole volume of bottom lines. No complicated estimates, additions, subbtractions, compound interest, GNP or last effective count for these lads. They want to know the bottom line. The whole of the economic structure of CIE, for instance, is reduced to two lines of figures in The Book.
The lads worked their way down through the columns. (When they came to CIE Eddie scratched his nose and said, "Ten per cent?" Joe snickered and said "Fourteen." Which is how much the fares will be going up shorttly .)
After two hours Eddie closed The Book. "Whatcha think of the big picture?" he asked Joe. Joe stretched his lips in a grimace. I thought I'd better earn my pay about that time. "They're working on it," I said. "Garret's working on it, Alan Dukes, John Bruton, they're going to get the borrowing down to ... well, they'll cut the rate of increase in the borrowwing, you know, they're, they're doing their best, they're working on it."
Eddie tapped a biro against his teeth and then yawned. "Yeah, but are they serious about it, that's the quesstion."
"Yeah," said Joe, "that's the biggie."
He stood up abruptly, crossed the room and straddled a chair, his elbows on the backrest, and stared at me from maybe eight inches away. "Tell us, son. No bullshit, tell us. Are they serious about this thing, about cutting back on borrowing?"
Joe had these deep, deep eyes, coal black. I tried to look across at Eddie, at The Book, at the pictures on the wall, at the ceiling. But Joe just stared and I couldn't avoid those eyes. After a minute or two I said limply, "No, probably not. They, well,come the next election they'll say like how' things are on the up and they can proomise goodies, and they'll borrow more and ... "
"That's okay, then," said Joe, "that's okay, son."
Eddie explained later about the loan shark business. There's the hook and there's the vigorish. The hook is the capital sum. The vigorish is the interest. "The vig is what it's all about. Someone wants more hook, as long as they can cough up the vig, fine. It's when we hear someone is trying to get the hook out is when we get nervous. No more hook, no more vig, we're outta business. We hear this Fitzpatrick guy is serious about getting out from under, that's when we get serious, close the whole operation down."
"Like that," said Joe, swallowing an ice cube.
"Call in all the IOUs," said Eddie. "Kaput," said Joe.
They explained all this in the Dail restaurant, while they waited to meet the Cabinet. Eddie and Joe wanted to assess the crew.
I went back to the hotel, waited for the lads. About midnight the door opened and Eddie fell in. Joe was standing there gasping like he was having a heart attack. He bent double and I realised he was laughing.
They saw me and - being affable and courteous - composed themselves. Straight faces, coming in, closing the door, Joe pouring drinks, Eddie sitting down and holding an Irish Times in front of his face. Then Joe spluttered "Austin Deasy!" and sprayed bourbon all down his shirt. Eddie honked like a donkey. He made motions like eating from a packet of crisps. "Barry Dessmond!" croaked Joe. Joe doubled both arms back and began scratching his armpits. "John Bruuuuuuuton!!!" honked Eddie.
I closed the door behind me and walked slowly down the corridor. In the distance I could hear a duet Of "Alan Duuuuuuukes!!!" Going down in the lift, the musak was playing a reggae version of "A Nation Once Again".