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.”