Bridget startled at the cry of a rifle, followed by echoes batting off the faces of buildings. But they weren’t echoes, were they? The sound never petered off. Louder and louder the popping of the guns went off. Screams followed, but they were screams of terror and not agony. She sighed when she rounded a corner and saw tens of men in the Black and Tan regalia hooting and shooting upwards. No bodies. Small thanks. Hopefully the shots joined the clouds and held, and a rain of bullets didn’t fall down on them today. People around her hurried away from the sound, some watched from the doorways and windows of shops or homes. A woman ran past as a soldier rushed her, laughing like the devil, taunting. She wished she had her piece, give off her own crack to frighten them, give them a taste of their own medicine. Pick them off one by one so they could finally have some peace and quiet. The screaming she heard was not a frightful trill, but the roaring of a tiger when you invaded its nest, hassled its family; rage and warning in one. Her throat burned with it. The men laughed at her. How she wished she had her piece. They were lucky bastards and they didn’t even know it.
The fire protruded from windows like devil tongues, lapping at wooden walls, spitting smoke and wood as it belched the aftermath of its feast. There was a building, smoking from the top like a giant cigar sticking up from the ground. The soldiers stood in the street, the fire reflecting in their eyes as they watched the street turn into a veritable hell. Anyone who tried to help extinguish the flames was knocked back, or shot at. They watched helplessly as foreigners invaded their shops, smashed windows, looted their hard-earned goods, trinkets, money, before setting fire to the rest. It was odd that Westley should be frozen in this hell-heat. He watched as if it were a book’s imaginings played across his mind. That was the shoe shop that had fixed up his boots, the shop where he’d purchased his cigarettes.
He didn’t love the city, but he’d grown accustomed to it. He expected the shops to be where they were always, the same buildings in the same order, same homes and same people in them. It was like pressing a cigar to a painting hanging on one’s wall. Burn by burn the picture/scene faded. Not a particular favorite, and it wasn’t even my artwork, was it? But still. Still it hurt when she did it. And he had sat and watched her. Don’t mind her, son, she’s not in her right state. But as of late, it was becoming her state, wasn’t it? Hellhounds followed you wherever you go. Slowly, madness slips in. One-by-one the sheep followed the dark one, became it themselves. You’re being led to the slaughter. You’re bring on your own damnation. Hail Mary…The Lord is with Thee… Pray for us sinners now…
A fire truck cried in the distance. It should have been akin to the sound of an angels’ choir, but it seemed only to add to the wailing around him. Few people looked up, taking a break from their misery for a few seconds of hope. But it did not come their way. Had to make choices. Which street, which building, which livelihood, which life would you like us to save first? Can’t get to them all…[Bridget/Westley Standoff]
“Who is it?” Bridget called through the door. Westley hesitated. “Of for the love of—” He heard footsteps and then the door opened up. “You’ve got some nerve,” she said when she saw him. He stuck his foot between the door and jamb before she could shut it.
“Leave or I’ll scream.”
“Where is he?”
“That’s none of your business. You think I’ll tell you anything after what you did to him.”
“That’s why I’ve got to see him.”
“Ha!” she breathed in his face. Then, “Ow, stop it.” She gasped when he pushed the door. “He’s not even here.”
“Bollucks.” But he knew she was telling the truth. If Ciaran had been in the flat, he would have rushed to her side by now.
“I mean it. He’s really not here. What’s he to do with you anyway?” She relinquished her hold on the door and instead stepped out. Better to feign supremacy this way. Rather than let him keep reminding her of his physical superiority. “You already turned him into an example, haven’t you?”
His fists tightened by his side. He held back his retort. “Just tell me where he. Or—” he paused. Was he really going to—? “Or tell him to meet me—”
“Are you simple? Have you not heard a word I’ve said? It’d be a cold day in hell before he meets you after what all happened. Even if he were here. But, as I’ve told you, he’s not.”
“Where is he then?”
“Gone?” he repeated. The concept was strange. It was only a short while, but his presence had become ingrained and expected, like Sunday following Saturday. It was as if she’d told him the sun were gone. How could it be? It was always there, even if he took for granted the whys and hows of it.
“Yes, gone,” she said with a hint of satisfaction. Then she sighed. “Just leave us alone, why don’t you? All you do is hurt people, you lot.” She glanced at the fists stiff by his side. “Especially you. You’re the dangerous sort, aren’t you? Pretending you’re all noble, but you’re taut as wire— a finger-snap from breaking, you are. And you’ll take us all down with you. Leave us be. If not our home, for God’s sake, keep away from my Ciaran. Preying on the innocent like that, you’re despicable.”
Fingers found her throat, quick as a shot, as if they themselves were offended by the remark. Her words the fingers that pulled the trigger, released the shot.
Fear flickered in her eyes, but was gone just as quickly. The fire then in her eyes consumed his own, and the ice in the curse she spat doused him. No need for a spark when there was already a fire, he thought appreciatively. He pulled his hands from her.
“I’ve killed a man.”
“Of course you have,” she said, not mocking, but a matter of fact.
He smiled. “You’ve have backbone, I’ll give you that, but you’re a fool. You talk about innocence and playacting. I’m not the only one pretending am I? You’re seeing a fantasy only.” She rubbed her neck, but she didn’t say anything. He didn’t give her a chance. “You’ll know all about that money in the bible, I suppose—” he paused to relish the surprise that conquered for a fraction her features before she found herself, and the actress returned. “How does one come by such a fortune, and to what purpose, hmm? You’ll let me know, I’m sure.”
The surprise he was expecting, maybe some fury, but when she turned into her apartment like fleeing prey, Westley was shocked. But pleasantly so. He’d rattled her more than he thought. If it got Ciaran in trouble with her (if he came back), he was ashamed to say he cared little more than a smidge. He strolled home with a skip in his step and a smile on his face.
[Dying Boy/Thieving Bastard]
“He just let himself die in my arms.” He had, the bastard. Just lay there, smiling away as he bled. Refusing to be carried or cared for. “Please leave me. It’s so peaceful, suddenly,” he whispered through the rattling in his throat, and refused to let Westley go. Held him arm tight, until the fingers lost their strength, and his arm fell limply onto Westley’s lap. He’s shook the bloody bastard for a minute after, calling him a coward and a quitter, and what about your family?
“He must have known his time was up and made peace with it.” Reasonable, yes. Ciaran was always that, wasn’t he?
“You’re supposed to rage against death, not go with such easy acquiescence.”
“No you suppose. It is. If you don’t fight for things, then what are you? If you give up, what do you get? Look what it got him. He could have been saved.”
“Supposing he was sick of fighting and only wanted peace.”
Westley wasn’t listening. “He just let himself die in my arms. He gave up and stuck me with the failure.”
“It’s not about you.” Ciaran stood, pushed a finger into his face. “Isn’t it enough he died in acceptance rather than in fear, and with a friendly face to look on before?”
Westley said nothing, he ruminated over the scene, tried to view it from an outsider’s eyes. But his eyes came back to Ciaran’s. They were smug, he thought, like he’d bested him in sport.
“You don’t have to look at me like that. I don’t think I’ve won anything; this isn’t a contest.” He shrugged. “It’s just an observation.”
“Yes, well,” Westley mumbled. “Save the observations for the psychoanalysts.”
“People like Freud?”
Silence. “You haven’t heard of Freud,” he said, disbelief turning midway to belief. “You haven’t heard of Freud.” Ciaran frowned at the tone. Westley hastened on. “Doctors who listen to you talk and then tell you what’s wrong with you.”
“I just did that. Should I have charged a fee?”
Westley rolled his eyes. “You didn’t exactly give me insight into my character.”
“Wait.” Ciaran held up a finger, scrunched his eyes shut. When he opened them, the smugness was there for real. “The qualities we deride in others are the ones we despise in ourselves. So when we punch and yell and shout names, we’re really punishing ourselves/ wishing punishment on ourselves/ or perhaps to right the wrong in the other which we cannot fix in ourselves. Was that insightful?”
“Cheeky bastard. Were you pretending to be dull this whole time?”
“When did I pretend? I can’t be held responsible for your assumptions.”
Right, he thought. He had assumed it.
“The railways are stopped, didn’t you know?”
“What? Why?” Then, “Oh,” when he saw Westley’s expression. “Your people, then.” Westley frowned, but didn’t say anything. The boy was obviously troubled. His eyes flickered for a moment in thought. “You lot have automobiles, don’t you?”
“No,” Westley answered, not to the direct question, but the request/idea forming. “You’re not taking one of our trucks. What makes you think I can even get a hold of one?”
“You’ll think of something. I know it wouldn’t be the first time one of you’s taken one.”
“I’ll not think of something. I’m not stealing from my sergeants for you.”
“No?” Ciaran was a breath away now. He had his hands on Westley’s lapels.
Westley looked straight on, shook his head firmly. “No.”
“Alright then.” Ciaran patted his chest, then withdrew. That’s when Westley noticed something blinking silver between his fingers. “Maybe you just need a little incentive…” He smiled, the something silver slipping down into his grip. He waved Westley’s cigarette case with a grin on his face.
Thieving bastard, Westley thought. Ciaran’s smile became Cheshire-cat wide when he said it aloud. He was angry, with himself mostly for being so foolish (hadn’t walking the London streets taught him anything?). But secretly—yes, secretly, for he wouldn’t let it show in his face—he was almost endeared. In the very least, it gave him something to do with his weekend.
The vest felt unnaturally heavy. He felt along the silk inside until his hands skimmed across several lumps underneath that shifted around as he pushed them. Curious, his fingers flicked over the vest until he felt a thin opening. He pulled out a sack filled near to the drawstring with pounds and guineas and several folded banknotes, white with green borders, some with blue. There were too many. A shuffle of feet, and he quickly replaced the items, tossing the vest aside.
Ciaran sat down beside, inspecting his cap. He was silent awhile as the questions ran circles in Westley’s head. There was no plausible reason he could conceive for a barman to have that kind of money, and hidden. “That look like a pull?” Ciaran asked.
Westley pushed the hat from his face and stood, stretching his limbs until they cracked. He looked down. Ciaran still fingering the tweed in search of a hanging thread. “Come,” he said, pulling Ciaran up. “Is Bridget home?”
He looked down at my hand still on his. But a dog barked in the distance and our heads turned at the sound. “She’s still at Sin e, isn’t she?” he said finally, and his eyebrows told of his confusion. But something else, as well. Suspicion, perhaps. “Why? What do you want with Bridget?” He fell too easily against Westley when he was tugged and looked wide-eyed up at him. Those eyes fluttered like he was blinking particles from them. Then one blink, two, slowly.
“No,” Westley told him, then, “We’re going to your house. Come.” Tugging the hand he hadn’t let go. Ciaran followed silently with an air of defeat.
At the door Westley let his hand go, assured he would follow. The barking dog turned out to be an emaciated terrier the color of sodden mustard seeds, dirt clinging to his fur like it were his natural coloring. He limped over, and Ciaran bent down to pat him. Curious, as Westley’s first reaction would have been to shoo the flee-ridden thing away, he watched as a play-fight ensued. The terrier nipping at Ciaran’s boots, begging to be roughhoused. Ciaran, ever obliging, repeatedly egging the pup toward him and slinging it down. With a final rub of the hungry belly, Ciaran righted himself. He looked at Westley with a twist of the mouth that was awkward apology, before walking ahead. “Keeps the mind off the pain, play does,” he informed. Westley, not sure if he meant the dog or himself or just intended it as a generic statement, followed with no comment.
Conscious of the eyes of their fellow street-strollers, Westley walked several paces behind so that their attachment would not be readily identified. Nobody gave Ciaran a second glance, but eyes drew to his own uniform like a compass needle to due north. Some set weary in their faces, quickly drawing back. Others latching on to him like a snake eyeing a mongoose, or the other way round, daring him to do or say something. Westley smiled at the bravado. Perhaps they wondered why he traveled alone. He let them wonder, eyeing the back of Ciaran’s jacket while fishing in his own for a fag so it looked as if he weren’t.
When finally they stood before their half-shack, Ciaran looked back, seemed almost surprised to see Westley suddenly at his shoulder. Westley had to nudge him out of a reverie when they reached the door. Him hesitating before placing the key in the lock. Resting a hand on Westley’s arm that quickly fell when Westley nudged by him in.
The room was just as he had seen it last. Perhaps there were different books opened now, he did not know. Ciaran directed him to the chair (Westley sat on the cot instead) and hovered as if he didn’t know if he should offer to put the kettle on or stand by for questioning.
Westley stretched his arm out, flicked his fingers. Come. Ciaran did not move. Too gently. “Come,” he said brusquely, and the boy did, slowly, one step, another. Then stopped, stood in front of Westley who fingered the end of his shirt with both hands. A foreign heartbeat almost made its way through the fabric to his fingers, his ears, slow and thick. The measured drawing of breath. His grip tightened, then– he tugged down.
Ciaran slept on the cot as Westley smoked a cigarette. Half his face was mashed into the sheets, mouth pulling up into an accidental smirk. He looked utterly ridiculous, like a child— almost the elf Bridget called him— but with the whorls of smoke twisting like wisps of cloud about his face casting it in an ethereal, almost seraphic light. He wrinkled his nose, and Westley stubbed the butt out. It seemed preposterous that this face should be capable of deceit, that its owner possesses any kind of duplicity. Yet, the vision of money and the uncertainties they stirred lingered, suspended like a hook in water. Was there bait at the end or not? Would only a simpleton not grasp it?
He found a bell sitting atop Bridget’s bookshelf and did not stop to wonder why, merely placed it on Ciaran’s sleeping back. Subtlety forgone for the sake of necessity. He could easily play it off as a laugh.
They hadn’t searched Bridget’s room as thoroughly as they could have. The door was closed but not locked. He pushed the door forward inch by inch waiting for a squeak that thankfully did not come. It was barely bigger than the bed itself. A book sat open-faced on a table beside the bed, with penned words and markings that turned out to be notes made on what appeared to be a play. To weep? and What motivation here? and Fall to floor in grief here were among them, with arrows and circles and underlined parts he assumed to be important. But not to him. Beside that, there was only a Bible.
He turned to the bed, as he recalled they had not had the chance to search it with Ciaran lying on it. Was that her intention? A search beneath yielded nothing but shoes and the occasional orb of dust. He slid his hands beneath the mattress but felt nothing extraordinary. Upending the mattress offered similar results. He thought he heard a sound, almost like the rattle of a bell and quickly righted the bed, pausing to listen. But there were the soft, snuffling snores of Ciaran and nothing more.
Looking around the room at a loss, his eyes eventually returned to the Bible and playbook. The playbook— opened, lovingly marked, dog-eared— made sense. The Bible was pristine, and that gave him pause. He recalled what Ciaran had said about neither of them being particularly religious, yet… He flipped the cover open; it was a virgin bible, undoubtedly for show. But a bible designed for display at one’s bedside made no discernible sense. He held it, letting his fingers flick the pages in one go. A knitted casing fell suddenly from the center where there was now revealed to be a large rectangular hole cut through the center. The sack fell to his feet with a muted thump. A familiar thump with a less familiar weight. He knew what it was before he tipped it.
More banknotes fell to the floor, sliding listlessly across the grain. There was only the bullish gasp to alert him to Ciaran’s sudden presence. He looked from the bible dangling from Westley’s fingers to the money strewn across the floor.
He had an inane thought. “The bell?” he asked stupidly. Ciaran ignored him, stooping to shift the money into his hands like they were fish suddenly tossed from their river which he hoped futilely to save. “Where did you get the money?” Silence, but for the shuffling of paper and palms. “What is the money for, Maguire?” he demanded. His mind supplied scenarios: an IRA hideout cleverly tucked away in a dilapidated flat, wads of money to purchase bombs and guns used to kill his own mates. When Ciaran failed to respond right away, he stepped forward. His head snapped up and the look on face halted Westley. There was anger there, of course, which was foreign enough, but something else he didn’t quite recognize.
Through this revelation, the niggling suspicions that had batted at his reason suddenly solidified into full certainty, as if the boy’s reaction itself were validation.
His blood boiled with the betrayal of trust and his own inanity at having so misplaced it. “Where did you get this money?”
“That’s none of your business,” he spat. “You lying, limey ba— ”
“I’ll make it my business.”
He halted, the rage wilting. It was a threat, heavier than it might otherwise have been, had this been a normal spat, had Westley not the uniform to back the statement up in a grand way. He could tell Ciaran knew, and his shoulders slumped with the gravity of the knowledge. His features contorted into an emotion Westley suddenly realized he had never truly seen on him before: fear. With pinched eyes and mouth, it did not sit well on his visage, fitting him as absurdly as a wedding dress, utterly unrecognizable to Westley. It was for the first time, he finally comprehended, real.
He recalled to his mind’s eye all of their previous encounters, sifted through them like they were minerals among the sand and he in hopeful prospect of gold. The trembling, the doe-eyed looks, the easy acquiescence, the supplicating gestures. Juxtaposed with the real thing, it seemed stupid of him to have thought them true; all were so obviously, unmistakably feigned. The boy was a thespian, to be sure. What did he have to gain from this charade, but to make Westley look the fool? Pull the wool across his eyes and blind him to the deception, the criminality occurring right in front of him. But to go so far as to…
You lost me a guinea that night.
Within an instant a switch went off in his mind. And here they took Ciaran to be the Volunteer and Bridget the whore, when all this time…
He couldn’t tell the exact moment Ciaran read the new understanding in his face, but when Westley looked up, he knew that he had. His face had fallen, like he knew his game was up. When their eyes caught, however, Westley quickly looked away, unwilling to see him in this light, disgusted with him; but not before he saw the steel come over him again. The boy stepped toward him, for what purpose he did not know, and he stumbled back. Not from fear but an unwillingness to be touched by him. Deviant, the voice echoed in his head. He turned, marched out the door, jumping the steps to be out of the verminous place quickly before he really did catch something from it.
“You dropped something,” he said, pulled his lapel aside, and a silver glint met Westley’s eye. It registered suddenly that this was his own cigarette case, that he had left it in the flat when he’d run away—no, taken his leave. I’ll tell them where and how you dropped it if you go and do something stupid like getting me in trouble… Westley could fill in the blanks of that statement.
In a moment of panic, he looked around; his fellows at his side looking curiously on, the crowd of faces surely looking in their direction, and the smug, suddenly sinister-looking elf face. The first punch was a shock even to himself. But the second came just as easily, as if predicated on the first, which really, he only did to shut the fellow up before he got carried away with himself. Too shocked to even react. Hunched, with hand one to his cheek and his arm clutching his stomach, he looked a sorry sight. With Bullock looking ready to dive in on the weakened fellow like a vulture. Westley toppled the boy over easily with a one-handed shove, leaned down to feign a harsh threat, slipping the cigarette case into his pocket as the boy hissed at him to go and fuck himself. Trying not to look directly at the boy or else he may go blind. For in that moment, he was brilliant. Through the cloud of anger precipitated by his fear of discovery, Westley saw the boy’s dignity shining through, even as he lay a dirty heap in the dirty street. He would not be goaded into reckless rebellion. Still, as Westley was shooed away with rough hands in a shower of spit and insults, he couldn’t stop the smile that sprung on his face, coaxed to full bloom by the sun of Ciaran’s defiance. He was pregnant with pride
Fingers tucked hair beneath the rim of a tweed baker boy cap, tugged down over the eyes. To be both inconspicuous and not suspicious was a precarious line to walk. If you tried too hard not to be noticed, you may as well have a sign over your head. The key was to draw enough attention. Yes, just a casual hello, how are you? to passers-by, saunter by as if there were not a care in your head, or adversely look mildly preoccupied—run the list of things you had to purchase (milkeggsbread) or chores you had to complete (dustlaundrydinner).
Nobody looked twice at the figure blowing hot breath on cold fingers before they were shoved into the pockets of a threadbare jacket. Too engrossed in their own thoughts, actions, lives to so much as catch eyes or wave. The ones who noticed would have the image out of their heads within the next second.
Cinch in the brows, adopt the rough smirk. That’s right, lady, skip to the other side of the street. Look like a tough corner-boy and people kept away all on their own. Don’t draw attention, head straight, don’t draw attention. The B and T’s HQs up the street, only. Just a little longer, turn onto Lower Glanmire, there you are.
A whistle sounded. Hurry all you stragglers. A train rattled off sedately the beginning of its course. When was the next coming in from Dublin? Ten minutes at least, said a woman beside. Had I spoke aloud?
Another whistle came minutes later, the slowing huff of the engine as it pulled to a stop. The last car, they’d said. Under the—yes, there, that one with the burn mark—X marks the spot. Before anyone comes on, hurry, will you! A crowbar to the floorboard, fingers slipping across the grime, feeling under for, aha! Slip it into your coat, slick as can be. Hurry now, walk don’t run. Ah, conductor! Next one’s to Mallow, you say? Haha, sorry sir; wrong train, thank you sir.
The way back was a different walk altogether. Hiya, how you doing? Top of the morning to you too. One hand in a wave, the other in the pocket. Sweaty fingers on cool glass. Still there. Just pop into the gents nearby, check for sure. An ink bottle sat on the sink. A slip of paper slide out easy enough, spread across the wall to spill its secrets. Good, good. They’ll want this ten minutes ago. Hurry now, but don’t smile too big. The uniforms don’t like us too happy… Ha, fuck them, they know nothing! Nothing at all.
The first thing that hit him when he pushed through the doors to Sin e was the smell. It had been so long since he’d been in a public house he’d nearly forgotten the overwhelming aroma of drunkenness: 3 parts whiskey, 2 parts bodily odors, 1 part desolation under the mask of mirth. The air was sagging with the weight of bodies seated side-by-side, swaying, or dancing to the beat in their own heads, coalescing with the sounds and smells and sights that flickered like a motion picture. One could only guess at which sense went with what image.
One image was familiar, however, and he filled in the sensations associated with it: Ciaran standing there with his head down- the silence radiating off him. Westley could fill in the scent of earth and soap, the heat rolling off him, the smoothness of his hands. He was behind the counter rolling a rag around in empty glasses. It was a wonder Westley spotted him at all, as he seemed adept at making himself invisible. But that was it, wasn’t it; he only gave himself the appearance of self-imposed obscurity, when really he stood out like the light in a rainstorm. So conspicuous.
Bullock brushed by him, eager to get, as he put it to the pack of them, “beer in my belly and a girl in my trousers.” The four of them— Pritchett, Williams, Davies, and Westley— had nodded; they all felt rather the same need. They only truly had a shot at the one though, as no respectable Irish girl was going to have them. While the women wouldn’t look twice, the men couldn’t stop. As soon as they entered, heads turned, bodies separated like the Red Sea; not to make room for them, no, but to be apart from them. They may have to accept them into their pubs, but it wouldn’t be with open arms. When they had taken their seats, nobody rushed to take their orders, though nearly every eye in the place was on them. Westley hadn’t expected anyone to come to them. Bullock called for attention. There was a brief discussion between an older gentlemen—presumably the proprietor—and Ciaran. The man said his piece, inclined his head, and gave boy a push. Send the poor fellow to the dogs.
But Ciaran didn’t look the part of the whipping boy. He walked over, quick as shot, smile up to the sky. “How might I be helping you?” He blinked as he searched each face for the spokesman, resting on Westley’s for a half a beat longer than the rest.
Bullock snorted out a bullish laugh after they each gave their order. “I’ll never get used to that knock-kneed manner of speaking. Never can understand what it is they’re saying half the time.” Westley felt Pritchett bristle beside him. The comment had a dual target. He had teased Pritchett about his Northern accent on more than one occasion; “all in good fun.” Did he have lots of it! And at the expense of others.
Ciaran, if he had heard, was tableau blanc. He delivered our drinks individually, waving as the door opened up to admit a new patron and a gust of cool air. “Is there anything else you’ll be wanting?”
“Yes,” Bullock said, swiveling his head. “Her.”
Bridget was slipping her coat from shoulders as she joined Ciaran behind the counter. “Ciaran!” She kissed him on the cheek. He wiped her lipstick off with the back of his hand, as she trotted off to hang her coat.
Ciaran followed our eyes. “Were you after asking her something?”
“Only, we’d like to be served by someone a little more pleasing to the eye, if you know what I mean.” Then he winked. “You can understand that.”
Ciaran sent Bridget over, but Westley saw him casting glances their way from the other side of the bar.
Ireland was deceptively cold. It possessed the kind of tableaux that bespoke of spring and fecund warmth. But the bright greens and ethereal sunlight only served to trick one and failed to prepare one for the bite of autumn; it wasn't so much wind as stale, stable air that clung to the skin like wetted cloth, touching not only exposed throats and noses, but also seeping through to catch the rest in unbidden caresses, to lay hands beneath the shield.
Pritchett shivered theatrically. “Why’s it have to be so bloody cold? I'm freezing my tits off.”
Westley laughed dutifully. “Something you want to tell me there, Pritchett? You had tits this whole time and been holding out on us?”
“As you will then; freezing my knackers off.”
Westley stuck his hands into his pockets and thought briefly of home before he stopped himself. It wasn't home anymore. “It's not like England, is it?” he said. “England may be grey and dreary much of the time, but at least one knows what one's in for, eh?”
Pritchett hummed in agreement, and they continued walking. Captain Byron had sent several of them on patrol. There had been some form of recent surge of IRA activity in the area, the auxiliary cadets had assured them. Pritchett and Westley had been sent across the River Lee to inspect the slums around North and South Main Street, through Barrack Street. They came upon the first house in their queue shortly. It was more of a shack really, with its crumbling, dirt-caked walls. The stench of body and bodily functions was enough to set Pritchett gagging. “Alright,” Westley said authoritatively, “Let’s get this over and done with,” and pounded on the door.
The rounds went as expected. People were aggravated at having been disturbed and having their homes invaded, but most let them in hoping to avoid an altercation. Several followed Pritchett and Westley as they swept from room to room, pretending they knew what they were looking for; “something suspicious” was the command, but the image to them was nebulous at best. What was suspicious? thought Westley. An ax one might use to chop wood? A butcher’s knife? The guilty parties they were hoping to catch were hardly going to have their grenades or Enfields lying around waiting to be discovered. If they didn’t know specifically where to look—that is, unless the RIC can read their minds– they were not going to find anything. He told Pritchett it was mainly to keep the locals on their toes, a demonstration of power and control. The women seemed to know this, and rather than allowing us the opportunity to exhibit our authority by busting in when entry were refused, they heeded the requests and kept silent vigil at each doorway. Silent but defiant. Certainly not frightened. Westley respected that. More than a few had words to say. Some asked what they were inspecting for, what they thought they were going to find in poor family’s home.
One man had called the bluff when Westley asked for entry by simply saying “no” with an irreverent smile on his face. Having avoided rebuffs so far, the two were at a loss. Westley knew Pritchett, a pleasant enough fellow unless slighted, would rather avoid confrontation, but both knew that they could not go back to the Constable Byron with a “Sorry, the man told us he wouldn’t like us searching his house.” Moreover, neighbors witnessing the scene may become emboldened and set off a chain reaction of similar snubs and acts of defiance. That would create future problems for all of them, he knew, when the other officers got word.
“I’m sorry, sir, but we are required to inspect the premises,” he said firmly, pushing past the man. Pritchett followed, as did the man with a string of curses and invectives, which were dutifully ignored. Had he tried to refuse again, Westley thought, etiquette would have left me as quickly as piss does a racehorse.
Two hours later, they had made their way toward some less than posh homes on Barrack Street. They were easy enough, as most barely had more than one room that contained all the furnishings of the bedroom, kitchen, and sitting room. As they made their way toward one particular home that looked not even half a house, Pritchett whispered in his Leeds way, “Bit seedy, innit?” Which is to say, it was more of a stage whisper. Westley laughed as Pritchett wrinkled his nose; with each step, trying not to brush up against anything.
“Never took you for a particularly fastidious man.”
“Eh?” he said weaving around a puddle of dubious origins on one particular step. “Ah, yeah, never know what you might catch. Besides, cleanliness is next to godliness and all that rubbish.”
“Only the devil here then,” he quipped. Then both slipped back into silence as they pondered this. As they neared, they heard a loud female voice bellowing unknown words in Irish lilt. Curious, they both walked briskly to the door, listening as singular words transformed into almost-phrases as they drew closer:
“Good… merry… evil chance… merry love… fiddle… merry love to dance!”// “Anarchy… upon…world… blood-dimmed tide…Ceremony of innocence is drowned.”
Pritchett shot him a look both amused and perplexed before knocking and interrupting whatever the woman was going to continue with.
“Who’s there?” she asked brusquely.
“Blake and Pritchett with the RIC, miss,” yelled Westley. “Would you mind opening the door for inspection?”
“And if I say I mind?”
“Don’t force me to make it an order.”
“As you please—”
The door opened to reveal, to surprise of both men, a pretty girl with red hair cut into a fashionable bob that circled her delicate, oval face. She had an ill-fitting dress, which still did nothing to hide her womanly figure. She had a moderate bosom, but her cinched waist and thick birthing hips gave her the shape of a violin, a figure that would not be hidden by loose cloth.
“Come on in then,” she said, waving them in with an affected flourish. “Don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, lads, but I don’t expect you’ll be finding it here.”
Westley nodded his thanks. “I’ll check this room for now. You look in the bedroom, alright?” he told Pritchett, dropping his voice to a whisper. “And for God’s sake, stop gawking!”
“I will when you do,” he laughed, but followed the order, shooting him a crass wink as he stepped into the bedroom, rubbing his palms together conspiratorially. The girl followed him, no doubt to make sure he didn’t raid her knickers drawer. Meanwhile, Westley opened and scrutinized every surface and cabinet within the makeshift kitchen (which was merely a small sink with a couple soiled dishes and a stovetop with a small cabinet above filled with pots and pans) and then the living room which consisted of two chairs, a cot, two tables, a small oak desk that looked home-made, and a good-sized shelf of books just above it. The books that didn’t fit covered pretty much every other raised surface. He moved to inspect an opened one with a nice green binding resting on one of the end-tables; it looked like architecture; there were sketches of buildings done from different angles that slipped out when he flipped through. All the atlases and architecture books, plays and books of poetry, was she a pseudo-intellectual; who did she hope to impress?
Pritchett called out and followed. When he entered the bedroom he saw the girl standing akimbo in front of her bed, while Pritchett tried to get by her.
“She’s hiding someone,” he informed Westley, and following his gaze, Westley found a human-shaped lump under the covers.
“I’m not hiding anyone,” she said in harsh whisper, “He’s right there, plain as can be. Now hush up or you’ll wake him!”
“I have every intention,” Westley told her, moving further into the room. “Who is he?”
“And be careful what you say; I saw no ring on that finger of yours,” Pritchett warned. Not stern, but counseling.
“Fine, he’s not my husband, he’s—”
“And don’t say brother. He looks nothing like you.”
“Cousin,” she said smartly.
“You’re lying.” The girl looked sharply at Westley as he shook his head. “No, I don’t care,” he told her, walking around her to inspect the lump, amazed that the man hadn’t woken up yet. “You and your friend are going to be in a lot of trouble if you lie to us. Who is he?” The girl rolled her eyes and remained stubbornly silent as he lifted the covers. He stumbled from shock when what greeted him were a familiar face and mop of brown hair. Even with his eyes closed he recognized him.
“What’s the matter?” Pritchett asked. “Is he one we’re looking for?”
“No,” Westley answered quickly. “I mean, I don’t recognize him. Just lost my footing.”
“Then we’ll need a name, won’t we?” Pritchett said. “Who is he?” This directed at the girl.
“A friend,” she huffed, as the body in the bed began to stir.
“Now listen,” said Pritchett, getting impatient. He was all kittens until you messed him about. Integrity, he called it, that stirred him. “I don’t bloody care if he’s a john or your sweetheart. We just have to know he’s not a Volunteer, and the way you’re acting–”
“He’s not! He’s not, I swear! You can have your look of the place, just let a sleeping man lie will you?” She rushed to the wakening man, who was not so much a man as Westley had believed, when the darkness had dimmed his features. In the light, with his wide, pup’s eyes, he looked much younger. He’s have wagered the boy was seventeen if he were being generous, slightly younger than Pritchett himself. Oh God, a mere babe.
“Hey, kid,” Pritchett told him as the girl stood protectively beside him, a vice-like grip on his bicep– and had Westley had grasp on his mind at the time he would have laughed at Pritchett calling anyone kid. “We’ll need your name.”
“It’s Ciaran,” the girl answered as the boy maintained bemused silence. “Is that all you’ll be needing? He’ll not be on your list.”
“That you’re Christian name or family name? Or did God grace you with just the one?” Pritchett asked, holding a peremptory finger up to the girl to forfend any input she may have.
“Maguire,” the boy answered, voice hoarse from sleep. “It’s Ciaran Maguire.” He furrowed his brow at the ground before looking first from Pritchett to the girl beside him. The same lilt to the words, but slower than the girl’s, dragging. “What have I done?”
He could see Pritchett scrolling through his memory for a clue before he turned. “Name’s not on the list, is it? At least, it doesn’t sound familiar. Could be lying though…”
“Yes,” Westley confirmed, “but…” A flash of memory, the initials CJM carved crudely into the spruce hip of a violin, floating in the periphery of his brain. A memory he couldn’t very well explain.
The boy—Ciaran Maguire—looked at Westley suddenly. He could see the recognition steadily creeping into the sleep-addled brain, and quickly averted his eyes.
Pritchett cleared his throat, fiddling with a dilemma himself. He was reluctant to take anyone in if didn’t have to. But his partner’s sudden silence was forcing him to be the heavy. They both knew what would have been done– what was expected of them— by the other constables: anyone acting with this amount of suspicion would have been summarily taken into custody. No temporizing.
“We’re going to have to take him in,” he said, almost like a suggestion waiting for confirmation.
Westley could feel three sets of eyes on him though he accepted none of them: Pritchett’s searching; the girl’s beseeching; and the last ponderous. This one bespoke, with the strength of its aura, even without acknowledgement, of threat. He was going to have Westley out, he knew it. You take me in, I won’t be going alone. Being an IRA rabble-rouser wasn’t the only offense the British punished.
“I don’t think that will be necessary,” he said after clearing his throat. He looked quickly at Pritchett, giving no answer to his questioning look.
On the way out, Pritchett raised the question again, verbally. He was quickly reassured that the boy was just that: a boy, and a simple one at that. I know what I’m doing, Westley’s look told him, and his being the boy’s senior forced him to believe, to trust Westley’s judgment above his own reservations. Only protocol would have prompted them to take the boy in; as it stood, their soldierly intuition made them entirely certain the boy wasn’t a threat.
“The girl on the other hand,” Pritchett said meaningfully once they were outside the apartments. “A friend, she says. The boy was nearly naked in that bed. Damn shame, her being taken.” He shook his head ruefully.
“Yes, damn shame,” Westley repeated offhand. He needed to be rid of Pritchett for a few minutes’ time and pondered how to go about it without provoking suspicion. Forgoing cleverness, he simply told him, be right back, have to take a piss. He walked toward an alley as though he meant to relieve himself there, and when Pritchett turned around to curiously survey the street, he snuck around the shack again. He pounded on a window and yelled for them to open up. When it opened, it was Ciaran there, leaning on the sill as if he had expected Westley. Wherefore art thou…?
As usual, the boy didn’t say anything, simply raised innocent eyebrows. Westley wrapped his fist around the boy’s forearm and pulled him so that he had to lean forward or tumble out. “Same place, same time,” was hissed in his ear. “You and I have some things to clear up.” Then he shoved the boy back through the window before his rescuer could come check what was the matter.
He got no response.
He knew he would be there.
He still did not know what the old factory used to produce. Was it shoes, perhaps no longer in fashion, forcing its owners into bankruptcy? Maybe it was an iron mill and striking workers expedited its shutdown? It did not matter, because now it produced nothing. With the fire, even evidence of its past endeavors was obliterated. As he stood before it, the façade looked to him like a cardboard box, brown and fragile, poised as if even a gentle rain would cause it to sink in on itself.
And yet it stood as he entered. The acrid smell of scorched and rotting wood hit him like it hadn’t before. There wasn’t the previous aroma of wood and ash that reminded one of winter and fireplaces. Except, suddenly, he did smell smoke.
The boy stood with his back against the wall, watching with a cigarette between his fingers. He quickly stubbed it out on the wall at his elbow, placed it carefully in his pocket, but he did not say anything as Westley walked toward him. He had a herringbone eight-piece cap on that gave him a newsboy look, and the brown material mixed with his hair in the darkness so that his head looked large and abnormally shaped.
“Is Ciaran Maguire even your real name?” He felt certain that it was, that he hadn’t the guile to deceive them. The boy saw the inquiry for what it was, a stalling tactic, and shrugged as if to say, Why would I lie? And that was the question that had dogged Westley. It was not that he needed to bring the boy here to insure that he kept his mouth closed. He wanted to make certain his previous clemency was well-placed.
“You’ll not say anything,” he told him. It wasn’t a question, and the boy didn’t pretend not to know what Westley was speaking of. He didn’t say anything, but Westley didn’t need him to. He would do as he said. Westley could make life difficult for him as well. He bore the uniform that proved it. “If I find out you’re lying after all…” He let the threat hang between them. Truthfully, he had no plan for exactly what he would do for punishment, if he made Westley regret letting him go, but the mystery would make it more frightening, not hollow, he told himself. “You’re not the only one with leverage, are you? You’ll think they’ll believe anything you say? My commander’s like a wolf; he just needs a hint of a scent—” He’d heard some Irish ladies say it once. “Doesn’t matter the veracity. You’ve been to that creamery on MacCurtain Street…? Oh, that’s right, it’s not there anymore, is it?”
The boy turned his fey-shaped eyes up, wide as a full moon they went, before flickering like a machine processing material. Then slowly: blink. Blink.
“Good.” You’ve realized. You’ve got something to lose… “I could have you in for breaking curfew right now,” he reminded when the thought occurred to him. That’s right. Could take him in right now and be done with him. That really got the fright in him. His eyes turned into the moon again and he backed up, as if to run but made it as far as the wall in an awkward crab walk.
Fucking coward, thought Westley with more venom than was called for, and suddenly wanted to punish him for it, to beat the fear right out of him; show him what it really meant to be afraid.
“You came here for a reason.” The air became warmer, drifting in through the holes in the wall, wrapping itself around his exposed throat, heating him to the bone. “No.” He put his hand on the boy’s shoulders when he looked about to scramble up. Held him down until the shoulders relaxed and he looked up. The moonlight streaming through the window cut into his face, created a smirk in the folds of his wide eyes. “Go on then. Persuade me.”
Commuters chat idly in anticipation of the 6:00.
Pigeons alight on silhouetted branches.
A scrap of paper drifts in with the thrust of stale wind.
It circles about the wires
That stretch like sinews in the sky above
The steel railway skeleton, never landing.
It is not green or marked with any significance,
So its pristine and faceless figure wanders unfettered
With a small gust into the sepulchral mouth of the bridge,
And the air resonates with the rattle and call
Of a train that isn’t mine.