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.