Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The Lovers - A Father Tom Story

Father Tom carried two kitchen chairs outside and positioned them in a pool of bright sunshine. The meadow beyond the dry-stone wall was ripe for a hay harvest, and the gentle breeze made the grass blades sing as they danced in celebration of the summer. He closed his eyes and let his ears do the seeing while cosmic rays warmed the few exposed parts of his skin. He could hear children playing in the distance, cry's of excitement grew and fell depending on the whim of the wind. Somewhere in the hedgerow a pair of sparrows chattered as fat bumble bees hummed while they hopped among the clover.

"I've never seen a happier man," said Jane, and he opened his eyes lazily. He smiled at her and took the mug of tea she was holding toward him. She sat on the second chair and straightened her apron before turning her face to the sun, it was as if she were washing in it.

"That is a glorious feeling," she said and sipped her tea.

"That it is," he agreed and closed his eyes once more.

After a time Jane spoke, "Would you not think of putting on a pair of shorts, you must be baking in those black trousers."  Tom looked down at himself and agreed he wasn't dressed for the weather but he had become so accustomed to his uniform that he barely noticed it any more. To feel the touch of the sun on his legs would be lovely but his legs were not something he wanted to share with the world, and definitely not with Jane. Anyway, he didn't own a pair of shorts.

"I don't think that would be appropriate," he said with a smile and was surprised at the frown that crossed Jane's face.

"Who says?"

"What do you mean, who says?"

"Who says its inappropriate for a priest to wear shorts on a hot day?"

Tom had to think a bit. There's no rule saying shorts were forbidden, and plenty of priests wore them on holidays, but this was not a holiday, it was just a particularly warm summer evening and he was sitting in the middle of his parish with one of his own parishioners for company.

"I guess the people, what they would think, I think," Father Tom was getting muddled up with all the Thinks.

"And what about you? What do you think?"

"I think there is nothing wrong with a priest wearing shorts if he wants to, which I don't by he way. Anyway, I don't own a pair of shorts," said Tom taking a sip of his tea and looking away into the sky.

Jane sat silently but he knew what she was getting at. The other day they had a particularly heated discussion about some of the more archaic rules of the church. Jane was in favour of a more liberal interpenetration of cannon law, a point of view that Tom actually favoured but something had made him argue the churches stand on matters. As the discussion progressed they each became more intent on making their point and Father Tom feared he may have gotten too feverish.

As the minutes ticked by, the heat was building and Tom felt beads of sweat form between his shoulder blades. Without thinking he undid his collar and opened the top two buttons of his shirt.

"Careful now Father, what would people think?" said Jane taking the empty mug from his hand and walking toward the kitchen. She can be a right strap that one, thought Father Tom to himself and opened another button in silent protest.

***

Sunday arrived and Father Tom said Mass in what can only be described as a heat wave. By the time he was half way through he would have gladly opted for a pair of shorts under his robes, even if it would have given Jane bragging rights for a year. The folks in the congregation were fairing no better as they sweltered in their Sunday best. The ladies had it slightly better than the men, at least they had the option of wearing those light flowing summer dresses that were in fashion. One young lady in particular stood out among the crowd as she wore a bright yellow dress which danced above her knees every time she changed position. The whole thing was held up by nothing more than a few gossamer threads of material curving over her tanned shoulders. She was the picture of youth, health and vitality, a condition not lost on the young man seated by her side. He couldn't keep his eyes off her and they spent most of the time holding hands, whispering sweet nothings and looking deeply into each others eyes. Father Tom envied the young couple their zest for life and was not the slightest bit put out that they paid little attention to what he was saying. In Tom's eyes, young love was the closest thing to Gods paradise on this earth.

After the end of Mass, Father Tom went to mingle with the people exiting the church and was just in time to see the lovers running hand and hand towards Brennan's Glen and the brook which babbled in the shade of it's overhanging trees. He was so caught up in the magic of that moment he didn't see Michael O'Brien coming. When the little man tapped him on the shoulder Father Tom nearly jumped out of his skin.

"Mr O'Brien, you startled me."

"Sorry about that, Father. You were miles away, you must have a lot on your mind," said the tax man, his substantial belly stretched the buttons on his waistcoat to their limit.

"I guess I was," said Father Tom regaining his composure.

"Was it about those two?" asked Mr O'Brien nodding his head at the young couple vanishing into the distance.

"As it happens, it was."

"I knew you'd have noticed. It's just not right you know."

"What's that, Mr O'Brien?"

"Them, and they way they were carrying on."

"Oh?" Father Tom said not understand exactly what the man in front of him was getting at. Father Tom didn't particularly like Mr O'Brien, he thought he was a bully if the truth be know. Father Tom had never forgiven him for the way he treated Tony Ryan. But as Father Tom was in the business of forgiveness, it was not a feeling which rested well with him.

"Canoodling," he said snidely, wrinkling up his pudgy face.

"Canoodling?" asked Father Tom, not that he was confused, but the use of the word canoodling seemed very prissy coming from the lips of Michael O'Brien.

"Disgraceful, at Mass of all places," O'Brien said, hooking his thumbs into his waistcoat pockets putting ever more strain on the fabric.

"Ah, I see."

"Not right is it, Father? Not the place."

"I guess not."

"I knew you would take it in hand. Have a word there, Father, like a good man," O'Brien said smiling believing their thoughts were in accord, and slapping Father Tom on the shoulder like some good old boy. Father Tom felt his dislike of the man solidify into a cold hard lump in his gut. As Mr O'Brien walked away, Father Tom tried to catch a last gimps of the lovers but they were gone.

***

Over dinner Father Tom recounted the story of the young couple to Jane, including what Mr O'Brien had said after Mass. Jane chewed her food thoughtfully as she considered the issue.

"I don't see what they did wrong," she said at last.

"It's not so much what they were doing but the way they were with each other."

"What way were they?" asked Jane, raising an eyebrow as if knowing Father Tom was holding something back. She watched him intently as he mentally tried out ways of explaining himself before discarding them as inadequate.

"It's hard to explain. They glowed."

"Glowed? Really?"

"Well, yes." Tom looked at Jane but she didn't say anything, she just smiled a knowing smile and watched him with twinkling eyes. Father Tom felt a blush rush up his neck and duck under his beard. He knew he had said too much, and she was looking at him like he was a giggling teenager. He felt like a giggling teenager. Why had he ever told her at all?

"Glowing or not, its not appropriate behavior at Mass. I'll have to have words with them before the next service, stern words," said Father Tom, sawing at his meal with vigor and avoiding the mocking eyes of his companion.

"Tea?" she asked after a few moments, signaling that she had moved the conversation on. Tom sighed inwardly and nodded.

"That would hit the spot," he said and Jane cleared the plates. As she walked through to the kitchen he herd her mumble happily to herself, "Glowing, by God."

Tom felt his blush reappear with a vengeance.

***

At the following Sunday Mass Father Tom made it his business to be around the gate as people arrived. A few minutes before the service was due to begin he saw the youngsters turn the corner and walk down the street. Thankfully some of the heat had been blown out of the summer by a stiff westerly wind and the young lady's dress was far more modest than before. Tom felt his face break into a beaming smile as they approached. 

"Good morning to you," he called.

"Good morning, Father. Unusual to see you out here, shouldn't you be getting ready?" said the young man with honest good humor.

"I'm just on my way in as it happens. You're Cillian Duffy, aren't you? Sally Duffy's lad?"

"The very one, don't say you've forgotten me? Its not been that long," he said with a beaming smile that was just as infectious as Mr O'Brien's nastiness

"And who is your lovely companion?" asked Father Tom extending his hand to the young lady.

"Father Tom this is Ellen, my fiance," said the young man with immense pride. The young girl radiated at the word and looked adoringly at her fine young man, and Father Tom felt his heart melt.

"Congratulations!" he said with genuine delight and pumped the girls hand even harder while placing a paternal arm around Cillian Duffy.

"It's a lucky thing we've bumped into you, Father, because we're not just home for a holiday. We wanted to ask you if you'd do the honor of marrying us?"

"Me?" 

"Please say yes," chirped the young lady gripping Tom's huge hand with both of hers. "It would mean so much to both of us. Cillian never stops talking about you. I was sure he was making half of it up but now I've met you in the flesh I know nobody else would do for the biggest day of our lives. Please Father," she blurted out without taking a breath.

"Well… of course!" 

The three of them stood laughing at the door of the church until Father Tom remembered he had to get ready for Mass. "Goodness gracious, I'm so late, call round to the house tomorrow and we'll work out the details." Father Tom raced away around the back of the church, flustered and very very late.


When Mass eventually started, Father Tom was in rare form and delivered it with gusto. About half way through he saw Cillian lay his arm along the back of the pew where Ellen sat and he saw the scowl which landed on Mr O'Brien's face and refused to budge. That look was like a tiny black cloud hanging in a perfectly blue sky, and Father Tom knew he would have to talk with Mr O'Brien afterwards.

As it happened Mass was only just over when the door of the sacristy opened, Father Tom hadn't even had a chance to disrobe before the livid civil servant barged in.

"I thought you were dealing with those two?" he demanded.

"Really, Mr O'Brien, don't you think you are over reacting slightly?"

"Over reacting? I don't believe you are condoning this behavior?"

"What behavior, what have they actually done, Mr O'Brien? Its not like they are …"

"What about all the cuddling and whispering and all that. It's disgraceful and I bet they're not even married. You'd never catch me and the Mrs doing anything like that and I don't appreciate having it shoved down my throat at Mass either."

"As it happens, they're engaged."

"Engaged is not married and I'd expect you to under stand the difference. That's what's wrong with the world today, they are all at it." 

"Pardon?"

"At it, that's what they call it these days," ranted the red faced man. "Sex! Fornicating! Lusting! Debauchery! FUCKING! It must be stopped and stopped now!"

"Oh, come on, you're being ridiculous."

"Don't call me ridiculous!" ranted Mr O'Brien buffing out his chest and talking down to Father Tom in his most demeaning manner.

"Mr O'Brien, would you please keep your voice down."

"I will not, Father. I most certainly will not!" The fat little man turned on his heel and flounced out the door not even bothering to close it behind him.

"Oh, dear," sighed Father Tom turning away only to be confronted by a pair of grinning alter boys.

"He said fucking," giggled the ginger haired one and savored the word on his tongue. Father Tom looked to heaven and said a silent prayer for patience.

***
Cillian and Ellen arrived bright and early at Father Tom's house, bubbling over with enthusiasm for their coming nuptials. They all sat in the kitchen discussing dates, and venues for the wedding while Jane fused over the young couple with tea and cake. After an hour filled with joy and laughter, Father Tom had no choice but to broach the issue of Mr O'Brien.

"Cillian, you grew up here and you know how conservative some of the people are?" said Father Tom with a face so long he looked like a blood hound. He paused and prayed that the young man would save him from this misery.

"Yes?" he said, clearly not knowing where Father Tom was going with his halting ramble.

"Well…"

"Well?"

"Well, there has been a complaint that during Mass…"

"What are you trying to say, Father?" asked Cillian, as the couple looked at him with doe eyes. Behind them he could see Jane's worried face as she shook her head in the negative. But he knew he had to do it, it was his duty.

"Well, some people seem to think you are too, well, affectionate." On hearing the words ringing in his own ears, Father Tom felt as if he had pulled the trigger on Bambi. The look of perplexity floated on their faces. Slowly their smiles melted and were replaced with shamefaced embarrassment. It was then Cillian seemed to remember their clasped hands were resting on Father Tom's kitchen table and he released his grip. His hand vanished under the table, folded into his lap like a scolded puppies tail. Father Tom stared at Ellen's abandoned fingers, floating on an ocean of crouched tablecloth, and felt his heart break.

"It's nothing …" said Father Tom trying to rescue the situation but the light which had shimmered so wonderfully between the young lovers dimmed before his eyes until only hollowness remained.

"It's fine," said Cillian, slowly getting to his feet. "I understand, honest. We better be getting along," he said and went to touch Ellen on the shoulder but his fingers stopped short as if Father Tom's words formed a physical barrier about this lovely woman. Jane jumped to the rescue and ushered the young couple out, cooing soothing words as she went, while Father Tom sat impotently at the table.

When Jane returned she gave him the most withering look and the silence of her lips lashed out with a fury that no words could match. In the hall, the telephone erupted into life and Jane seemed glad of the interruption. When she returned, her eyes had softened as if the gravity of her feeling had been eclipsed by an even greater doom.

"It's the Bishop, and he's hopping mad."

***

Hopping mad had been a pale description of the Bishop's mood. Mr O'Brien had been burning his ear off about a house of disrepute masquerading as a house of God and had even threatened to launch an audit into the accounts of the diocese. Once the Bishop's fury had burned itself out, Tom explained as best he could what had actually taken place and said he had just spoken with the young couple in question.

It wasn't good enough. Something had to be done about Mr O'Brien before he unleashed the full power of the Internal Revenue on them all. The Bishop told Tom he was to do a strongly worded sermon the following Sunday on the importance of chastity and morality in modern society. Tom tried to reason with him, but the Bishops mind was set.

Night after night Father Tom worked into the early hours trying to pen something that would satisfy the Bishop and Mr O'Brien, while at the same time soothing his own conscience. In the end he came up with a relatively mild rendering of the churches moralistic teachings.

When Sunday arrived, Father Tom walked the short distance to the church with a heavy heart. He sat robed in the sacristy for such a long time that the same ginger haired boy who had giggled so much the week before, tugged on his sleeve and said in a worried voice, "They're waiting, Father."

Father Tom stood and made his way to the alter. He looked over his gathered friends and saw Cillian and Ellen half way back the church, seated side by side but with their hands held demurely in their laps. They smiled warmly at him but that golden glow which had enveloped them, and all around them, was sadly missing. On the other hand, Michael O'Brien perched himself in the very front row, with a smug grin plastered over his face. Father Tom blessed all that had gathered in the name of the Lord and felt alone for the first time in his father's house.

Eventually he neared the gosple and asked people to stand.

"Peace be with you," he said and raised his arms in the normal manner.

"And also with you," everyone answered in unison.

"Let us offer each other the sign of peace." As he watched people turn to each other and shake hands along the rows, he felt like Judas. He saw Michael O'Brien pompously squeeze every hand within reach.  

The Gospel seemed to be finished in a flash and it was time for his sermon. He drew out the two pages filled with his scrawl and read the first words, What is love? Father Tom could not rip his eyes from those words and he felt his hands grip the sides of the podium with such force he felt his nails dig into the timber. After a long time he looked up at a sea of confused faces.

"I have a confession," he said, and murmur ran through the room. 

"I stand up here every week and tell you how to best live your lives. I tell you to forgive those who do wrong, when I don't always do it myself. I tell you to be charitable and to be kind to your fellow man. I tell you to honor the Lord in your actions and live in the light of his love. I am a fraud!"

A gasp went up from the crowd and people began to whisper as Father Tom walked from behind the podium taking with him his sermon. Father Tom held it up and shook it, "This is my what I came to tell you today and it starts with the words, "What is love?" but its all a lie. It's not a sermon which was written with love in my heart, it was one which was written with sorrow, pain and fear at its core." 

Father Tom gripped the sheets and ripped them to shreds and when they were the size of confetti he threw them high in the air where the pieces rained down on the front few pews and the odious Mr O'Brien. By now everyone in the church thought Father Tom must be having a breakdown or something but he had never been surer he was doing the right thing and that the man above would be smiling.

Father Tom climbed down from the alter and stood in the middle aisle. "What is love?" he asked, and gazed around at the stunned people. "Love is doing the right thing even when its not popular, love is standing up to bullies and defending the weak. Love is when you hold others in your heart so tightly that you make the worst days better by just being together." Step by step he moved further down the church until he was speaking to a circle of faces trained on him from every side. He had stopped in front of Cillian and Ellen, who were as stunned and shocked as anyone in the room.

Father Tom continued in a softer tone, a tone that spoke directly to them while addressing the room in its entirety. "Love is never letting go of that hand, no matter what anyone says." Then he smiled. It was the smile that broke the spell and Cillian took Ellen's hand in his and kissed her delicate fingers. Big fat tears rushed down her cheeks and her chest fluttered as she did her best to keep her happiness inside but she clung to her man as if she had just been plucked from a deserted island. Tom turned and strode to the front of the church and mounted the steps to the alter.

"There is so much pain and sorrow and loneliness in the world, this is the one place where we come to feel loved. Loved by our Lord and loved by our neighbors. Reach out, make a difference in someones life today, don't let the tiny minded people stop you showing affection." The room was completely silent when Father Tom raised his hands and said, "Please stand."

As one, the room rose.

"Let us offer each other the sign of peace."

People looked around at each other, not sure what to do, all except for Cillian and Ellen who knew exactly what to do. They wrapped their arms around each other and hugged as if there was nobody watching. The silence was broken by a single person clapping manically at the back of the church. There, standing in the doorway as proud as punch was Jane, applauding as if  her life depended on it. One by one others joined her until the noise was deafening, but that was not the end of things. Wrapped up in the emotion people began to follow the young lovers example until the whole room was a laughing clapping hugging frenzy.

From the corner of his eye, Father Tom spied the boiling face of Mr O'Brien, that was until he was nearly knocked on his backside by the flying form of Mrs O'Brien. As he stood there with his wife hugging his neck and laughing uproariously, his daughters trying to encircled them both with their ample arms, the true miracle of the day happened, he smiled and hugged them back.




If you enjoyed this story, you can find more of Father Tom's adventures in one volume.

https://www.amazon.com/Misadventures-Father-Tom-Squid-McFinnigan-ebook/dp/B01AGW4PU2



Friday, 8 July 2016

Thirty Pieces of Silver - Fear and Consequences

Jimmy Kingston heard the same radio announcement as Detective Adams. Unlike the detective's feelings of anger, Jimmy felt a wave of triumph surge through his body. His inner voice crowed with delight. That'll show the fuckers. That's what happens to people who mess with Jimmy Kingston. What the hell did they think would happen? They'll think twice before crossing me again. Despite the confidence of his inner monologue Jimmy felt a tug at the base of his stomach, a nugget of doubt crouched all the way down there like a stowaway in his soul. He knew if he turned his mind on that throbbing point he would see that all was not rosy in the garden. He might learn to fear the reaction of the Griffins, or the guards. Had he started something he couldn't stop? Would the prize be worth the price?

The Ferryman’s evil little Nokia vibrated on the kitchen counter. Jimmy opened the message, which was short and sweet. “Job done. Payment tomorrow, I will give time and place as needed.”

“Cold bastard,” thought Jimmy laying the phone back down. He’d pay the psycho gunman and have nothing more to do with him. Jimmy didn’t like dealing with people he couldn’t control, and nobody controlled that mad man. That speck of doubt in his gut, grew a little bit bigger.

***
Pete Byrne was in Mullingar when he heard the news about the shooting in Dublin. By now, the details were playing every hour on every news station. The victim hadn't been named but never was the word 'injured' mentioned, which screamed dead in anyone’s language. Just like his boss, Pete was full emotions, but unlike Jimmy’s wave of triumph, Pete’s feeling of joy was never ending. The face which stared back from the rearview mirror was stone cold but inside he felt like dancing. The war was on, it was his time, it was the only time his life made sense. There was something in him which craved the heat of battle. He'd been born in the wrong century, the wrong millennium. Pete was a warrior, pure and simple. When he didn’t have a foe to smite, he felt lost. In those in between times the blackness was so permanent, he nearly didn’t recognise it any more. The only time he fully appreciated how sad his life had gotten was during moments like these. It was like he had been woken from a coma and remembered what it was like to be alive.

Inside, Pete Pit-bull Byrne was dancing. Dancing on the graves of his enemies, fallen and yet to die.

***
The Garda station conference room, which had been full at the last meeting of the taskforce, was overflowing. Adams had to jostle his way to the front to begin the briefing. The room was muggy with body heat which only added to Adams discomfort at having to address a crowd. He spotted the Chief Leaning against the door, nearly the exact same spot he himself had chosen for the first meeting. This time the chief had no words of encouragement for the men gathered. Adams knew that as you rose through the ranks of any police force your job became less about law and more a game of politics. The chief was a good politician and he knew when to leave the sabre rattling to others. That way if the war was lost, the general would keep his head.

As Adams approached the rostrum, the room grew quitter.

“I’m not going to waste time going over every detail of the case at this time but as you all know, John Griffin was murdered this morning. All indications are that this is an escalation of the feud between the Kingstons and the Griffins. The hit was extremely professional, so much so we believe the killer may have had some military training. Small calibre bullets, close range and any one shot could have been fatal.

We know the killer is right handed because of the point blank shot to the victims left temple. The getaway bike was discovered in a nearby park, it had been set alight with propellant. Sadly the fire brigade had already extinguished what they though was a blazing bush by the time the bike was noticed. Forensics are examining the bike and several other items discovered there. There is a team doing an inch by inch search of the projected escape route as we speak.

This killer hasn't left much in the way of physical evidence, no finger prints, no spent shell casings. Most of the forensics departments hope's are pinned on the sleeping bag left covering John Griffin. It would appear the shooter had disguised himself as a wino so he could lay in wait for Griffin to arrive. We hope to be able to lift some hair, skin or fibres from the bag that we can use. We hope any DNA gathered can be used to cross reference with the defence force data base. 

I don’t have to remind you that there is another side to this investigation. This is not the pinnacle of the event like most murder cases, this could well be the beginning of a landslide for us. It is vital that we step up the controlling actions already in place. The chief has approved some increase in manpower, but with so many key players, keeping tabs on everyone will be a job and a half. Let’s get back out there but be careful. If these guys weren't carrying weapons before, they sure will be now. We want no dead heroes over this.”


As Adams gathered up his papers there was a muted round of applause followed by an explosion of talking. The atmosphere was electric, everyone wanted a piece of such a big case. It took him a further half an hour to get out of the room with various colleagues stopping him to ask questions, share ideas or just dig for more information. Adams had a bad feeling about the way things stacked up between the Kingstons and the Griffins. He had said as much to the Chief but his words fell on deaf ears. "There was just no money in the kitty," was the answer he had got. The small increase in manpower he had told the team about was nothing more than an insult and he'd only got those few hours by begging. Adams felt bad about covering up the departments penny-pinching but he wasn't about to bring down the moral of the team.

Everything pointed at a hit man with professional training. Adams could name at least a dozen guns for hire in the city but this job had all the hall marks of one man. The Ferryman. They'd been gathering bits of information on him over the years but he was very careful. He always planned his hits down to the last detail. He was an accomplished marksman and at least four fatal head shots from distance were attributed to him. He was erratic in his actions often doing several jobs in the space of a few weeks then vanishing for years. Adams had a feeling that during the quite periods the man was operating someplace else in the world. A few years back he plotted the prison time of all know hit-men to see if any one matched all the dead zones in the Ferryman's calendar. In the end he had ruled out all of them as possibilities. Running around the city was a deadly killer, ruthless and careful, without a name or a face. Adams felt they had a few days, a week at the most, before the Ferryman would vanish again. He was up against the clock no matter which direction he turned.

***

When Darren got home and told Clare what had happened at the school, she broke down in tears. At first she fussed over him, consoling the loss of his brother, but soon her concern turned from his feelings to their future. As the hours passed her words became less comforting and more cajoling as she worried about what would happen next. He tried to reassure her that everything would be fine, that she was over reacting, but it wasn't enough. Her harrying got worse in response to every assurance he gave her, more demanding. She knew what he was, who he was, the day she got together with him, so what was her problem? He tried explaining the reality of his life but she would not listen. In the end he snapped and yelled at her to shut the hell up. He knew his words were far too harsh, but she was doing his head in.

At six in the evening, he loaded his car with a moody Clare and an unusually quite Martin. He needed to go and check on Emma and the kids, she would need her family around her today. When he got to the flat complex there were so many cars it looked like a motor dealership. Four of their, his, most senior men were standing guard at the gate, vetting everyone coming to pay their respects. They looked uncomfortable in suits which had not seen an outing since their last day in court. As Darren approached, the men stood forward one by one to shake his hand and offer their heartfelt sorrow at what had happened, they all offered to do anything that was needed, anything. It was a show of sorrow but also one of loyalty to the new king. The king is dead, long live the king thought Darren. It was a role he didn't want but one which had been forced on him regardless. What could he do, he was trapped by expectation and family loyalty.

Darren climbed the stairs with Clare and Martin following along behind him. Each step felt unnaturally heavy, the climb had never seemed this far before. When he reached the top balcony, John's door stood open and a huge crowd lined the walk way. People stood on both sides talking softly, drinking beer, or cups of tea, as they wallowed in the grief of his family. Darren ran the gauntlet of handshakes and half hugs. Every forced Sorry for your loss, and lingering embrace was like having his soul whipped with thousand razor blades. He smiled through the pain and was un-naturally thankful to reach the sanctuary of a dead man's the flat in the end. Inside, the apartment was a hive of activity. Female neighbours and friends were doling out tea, food and drinks to every person that appeared at the door. In the tiny sitting room which normally rang with the voices of playing children, Emma sat unmoving in the corner, her three shocked and crying kids gathered in her arms as if she was afraid to let them go. Clare brushed past Darren and rushed to kneel beside Emma. She took the whole brood in her embrace and a fresh flood of tears gushed forth from both women.

It was all too much for Darren. He needed some space to come to terms with what had happened but propriety said he had to be here. He grabbed a beer from the fridge and popped the lid off it. He leaned against the counter and stared into space. The people flooding the apartment seemed to sense his mood and most kept a respectful distance. Through the door of the sitting room he could see Clare consoling Emma and giving him infrequent glances loaded with fear and annoyance.

The crowd parted and Terrance appeared in the hallway. He was wearing his trademark army coat but his face was that of a broken man. John had been more than a brother to Terrance, he had been a father and a God. Terrance half sprinted across the tiny room on his gangly legs and threw his arms around Darren's neck.

"Why? Why?" was all he could manage between sobs. Darren knew there was nothing he could say to ease his brother's pain. What was the point in telling him the truth, which was this tragedy or another even worse had been coming since the day John crossed Jimmy Kingston. Darren held his brother and felt his skinny body shudder with grief and all he could think to say was, "I don't know."

As Terrance let his sorrow out in the only safe place he knew, his brothers arms, Darren heard Tony's voice on the balcony outside. He must have been the one that brought Terrance along. After a lifetime of listening to Tony, Darren didn't need to see him to know his brother was as high as a kite. There was that manic note in his words and the rushed way his sentences spilled out told him everything he needed to know. Terrance was getting himself under control and he lifted his head from Darren's shoulder and wiped his running nose on the sleeve of his green jacket. Darren patted him on the shoulder but his attention was trained on Tony's threaten words which rang around the flat, until the source of all that bile appeared in the kitchen door.

"We'll tear the Kingston's world apart," he ranted and poked a defiant finger in Darren's direction as if everyone was privy to the conversation playing in his drug addled brain. Darren didn't say anything and Terrance looked from one brother to another in bemusement.  

"We'll do it for John, well burn the whole fucking place down!" Tony yelled grabbing Terrance by the shoulders to give him the full benefit of the madness seeping from his bloodshot eyes.

"You hear me, boys? Are you with me?" but the brothers remained silent. 

"JESUS CHRIST! Your brother is dead, MURDERED by those scum and you stand there doing nothing?"

"No of course not, you dipshit!" yelled Darren and a hush ran through the flat. Darren became aware of every set of eyes and ears which were trained in his direction and thought better of his outburst. He stepped forward and grabbed Tony to pull him close. In a dangerous whisper he hissed, "Of course we're going after them, all of them, but this is not the time to go shouting your mouth off. I don't even know half the people here. They could be touts. Just keep your trap shut, and we'll talk properly after we see right by John. Got it?"

This time it was Tony who was silent.

"GOT IT?" Darren yelled and everyone within earshot jumped, including Tony.

"Yea, I got it alright." said a mollified Tony, but the fire of resentment was glowing hot under his skin. A blush rushed up from his collar and he slapped Darren's hand from his jacket. Tony didn't like being told what to do by anyone and that went double for his brother. Darren had enough of Tony's bullshit, and the insincere words of people he didn't even know. If John were alive he'd throw every last one of them off the balcony.

Tony puffed out his chest and fixed his jacket while looking down his nose at him. Darren felt his blood boil and without meaning to he balled his hand's into fists. Sensing trouble, Clare appeared in the hall and said, "Darren" in the same snotty way she gave out to Martin.

Fuck them all he thought and pushed past Tony knowing he had to get out of the kitchen fast or there was going to be blood spilled. He wanted to hurt someone, he needed to hurt someone, and he was afraid it might be his brother.

"Where you going?" called Clare, as Darren stalked toward the door.

He didn't answer, but his face said all that was needed. There were no outstretched hands this time to slow his departure, one look at Darren Griffin sent everyone scuttling for cover. He was a bomb about to go off.

Darren strode between the parked cars filling the yard and spotted the unmarked cop car idling across the road in an instant. He could see two men inside watching his every move. When he stormed down the footpath and away from the apartment block, he knew they would have to make a decision. Stay and watch what was going on at the flat or follow him. When he got to the end of the street he glanced over his shoulder and they hadn't moved. Darren was sure they would have called in his departure so that someone else could pick up his tail. He knew the whole city was on high alert after the shooting and if he was going to give them the slip this was his chance. He rounded the corner as a taxi appeared. He hailed it and for once the driver stopped when he was needed. Darren dived into the backseat and closed the door.

"Where too buddy?"

"Anywhere but here," said Darren under his breath.

"Sorry?"

"Dun Laogharie."

"You catching a ferry?" asked the driver pulling away from the kerb.

"It might be the best thing for everyone if I did," mumbled Darren, looking out the window sadly.

The driver was good, he knew when to mind his own business so he turned up the radio slightly. They didn't speak for the rest of the journey. The car passed through the gritty heart of the city, were the smog stained brick buildings cut out the sun. Garish splashes of spray paint defaced roller shutters, bus shelters and buildings. Marks of the bored and the abandoned of society, who's poverty did nothing to dim their need to make an impression on the world. As the journey continued, the streets widened, classic iron railings replaced timber hording and barbed wire topped walls. Elegant bay windows looked on broad thoroughfares bordered with majestic trees and manicured flower beds. Street by street, the houses retreated further from the road as front gardens began to appear and the price range flew toward the stratosphere.  Soon they were tracking the coast out of the city and into exclusive suburbs. Darren got the taxi to drop him off at the head of Dun Laogharie pier. The pier was a huge arm of concrete that stretched nearly a kilometre into the bay. Darren turned his collar up against the stiff breeze coming off the bay. Black clouds gathered on the horizon and a hint of mist hung in the air. He walked the length of the pier, encased in his own personal thunder storm. When he reached the end he clambered over the breakwater, climbing down the steep rock face to sit just above the water line.

Waves rushed in as the water was pushed by wind and pulled by the moon. Gulls squawked in the sky and bobbed on the foam flecked water. Darren felt a tear cross his cheek. Now that he was finally alone, away from the expectations of his family, of his friends, of himself, out here with only the gulls to see, he could be himself.

Eventually, sitting on the cold damp stone numbed his backside and roused him from his melancholic stupor. Hours had passed and night was drawing in. He was cold and needed some heat but wasn't ready to go home yet. He wasn't ready to face the heart break that flowed from Emma, or the fear that spilled from Clare's eyes, or the hatred that spewed from Tony's mouth. He wasn't ready for any of that, yet. As he walked back along the pier, the answer rose above him like a Phoenix into the night. Ablaze with twinkling lights, the Royal Marine Hotel guided him back to shore.

The bar was old worldly elegant with miles of polished brass, deep leather upholstery and red velvet drapes. Darren levered himself into one of the swivelling high stools and ordered a double brandy from the man behind the counter. The staff were dressed in stiff collared white shirts, black waistcoats and floor length black aprons. They looked like they'd been teleported from from the eighteen hundreds. Darren lifted the snifter of brandy and drained it in two go's.

"Same again when you're ready." Darren knew he'd softened his north-side accent when he spoke and dropped the ubiquitous 'Buddy' which would've normally finished every such request north of the River Liffy. Darren wasn't ashamed of who he was, but the last thing he wanted tonight was attention of any kind. The bar man laid the drink on the counter and Darren could feel the barman raking him up and down with his eyes, trying to decide if the hard drinker was going to be a problem. Darren raised his eyes and smiled.

"Thanks."

The barman took for the drink and strolled to the end of the bar. He may have placed some distance between them but Darren could tell by his body language that he was uneasy. This time Darren sipped his drink and gazed into its golden depths.

"You won’t find the answer in there." The voice was smoky and full of mischief. Darren looked up and saw the woman for the first time. She was sitting two stools away, stirring a tall drink, lazily.

"It's as good a place as any to look," he said, turning away.

"It can't be that bad surely?"

"It is and I'm not in the mood to talk about it," said Darren.

"Suit yourself," said the woman turning away and the note of hurt was hard to miss in her voice, she was about to stand when Darren said, “I didn't mean any offence. It’s been a bad day and I came here to get away from it all. To escape."

The woman settled back into her chair but didn't say anything.

"Let me buy you a drink, to say sorry," he said, needing some company all of a sudden. He didn't want to be with his family, but he realised he didn't want to be alone either.

The woman checked a slim gold watch before saying, "Sorry, I'm meeting someone." Darren looked around and made a show of inspecting the room.

"I think he's stood you up."

She smiled a reassured smile, "He'll turn up."

"Boyfriend?"

"Something like that," she said taking a long swallow of her drink.

"Go on, have a drink with me. I could use the company."

"Maybe later," she said finishing her drink and standing. Darren looked over his shoulder and a guy in his mid-sixties wearing a business suit was shuffling nervously near the door.

"That's your boyfriend?" he asked, his eyebrows arching in surprise.

She leaned in as she passed, tendrils of her musky perfume tickled his nose, "More of a client."

The mischievous smile was back and she crossed the floor with a models walk. Her elegant black dress clung to her hips as they swayed hypnotically. Darren laughed quietly to himself. Trust him to sit beside a bird on the game, but what a bird, pure class.

Just for a moment he'd forgotten all about John, the Kingstons, Clare and even his brothers. For one fraction of a minute his mind wandered, distracted by a vivacious woman in a slinky black dress, but that minute was gone. Everything loomed up at him again, bigger and more vivid than before. His frown returned and his head bowed once more as he tried to lose himself in the depths of his brandy glass.

He was thinking about ordering another when he became aware of the barman standing in front of him. "Good timing,” said Darren, tipping the rest of the brandy down his throat and pushing the glass across the bar. The barman pushed a blank envelope into the spot where the glass had stood.

"For you," he said, leaving the envelope and picking up the empty brandy balloon. "Same again?"

"Yea, go for it," said Darren, taking the envelope and ripping it open. A key card fell out with a piece of hotel note paper. Darren unfolded the note which read, Room 221, midnight, you bring the drinks.

"The saucy mare," Darren whispered to himself and dispite everything that had happened that day a smile creased his lips. Perhaps it was just what he needed, a little time with someone who knew nothing about him, who knew none of his problems. Yea, why the hell not?

Darren looked up as the bar man began filling his glass.



"Hay, Buddy. You better make that a single."

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Thirty Pieces of Silver - Man Down

The shooting call had landed on Adam’s desk a couple of minutes after nine am and he'd sprinted straight to his car. He hadn't even reached the crime scene when the radio DJ informed the world of a gangland style shooting outside a north side primary school. The idiot just stopped short of naming the victim. Adams slapped the steering wheel and cursed the man. There would be pandemonium at the school already without attracting the attention of every ghoul on the north side of Dublin. He found out all too soon that his fears were only the tip of the iceberg.

When he arrived at the gates of the school there were a number of uniformed officers trying to keep control and failing miserably. There were screaming children, shouting parents and worried looking teachers everywhere. As the teachers tried to keep control of the terrified kids, the officers were doing their best to keep hysterical parents out of the crime scene. Every second that passed saw the mob of mothers and fathers grow. Some parents had had enough and broke through the crime tape to storm the school and rescue their children. It was descending into a riot.

Detective Adams walked up to one of the officers and flashed his warrant card. A look of relief spread across the sweating man's face. Adams looked over the officer's shoulder and saw the cause of all the commotion, slumped against a wall in a spreading pool of blood, half covered by a sleeping bag.

“Did you cover him up?” Adams asked the officer.

“No, just checked for vitals and left him exactly as he was,” said the Guard, holding out his hand to stop an on rushing mother who had bailed out of a car without even parking it.

“There must be a side gate, send one man around to man it and let all parents enter the building that way. There is no point in trying to stop an unstoppable tide,” said Adams and the man nodded hurrying over to one of the others to get things started.

It took a few minutes but soon the crush of worried parents vanished and Adams was finally able to set up a secure perimeter. Every minute, more and more backup was arriving but he was still delighted to see Sims duck under the yellow hazard tape and make her way over.

“Who is it?” she asked.

“No idea yet, I’ve just managed to get the place locked down. I guess there is no time like the present to find out.” Both Adams and Sims delved into their pockets and took out see through plastic gloves to put on. Adams surveyed the area around the body before going near it. He didn't want to tread on any evidence such as bloody foot prints or any sort of dropped material. He carefully picked the spots to place his feet and approached the corpse. When he was close enough, he hunkered down and lifted the edge of the sleeping bag with the tip of a finger.

“Shit,” was all he said.

“Who is it?” asked Sims.

Adams dropped the material back into position carefully and stood up. “John Griffin.” Adams picked his way back from the body and began sweeping the scene, while Sims took out her notebook to record what he saw.

“No shell casings,” he mumbled and began to examine the wall behind the victim visually.

“Two possible projectile craters three and a half to four feet off the ground. They could be the result of missed shots or a through and through.” Sims scribbled his findings in her book as Adams continued to comb the area. Adams dropped to his haunches again and examined something else that caught his eye near the base of the wall.

“There are shards of something brown, plastic I think, and they have some blood splatters on them.”

“How many?” asked Sims

“A good few, twelve or more.” Sims nodded her head to say she had it recorded. After walking the grid twice more Adams found nothing else of interest so he stripped off his gloves.

“You better make a note of all vehicle registrations within sight, we might be lucky and one might belong to the shooter. Both sides and can you make a sketch of their positions while you are at it.”

As Sims busied herself, Adams walked back to one of the officers who were manning the scene when he arrived.

“Are those witnesses?” he asked, inclining his head to a group of about six people standing inside the yard being chaperoned by a loan officer.

“Yes, sir. That was all we could find who would talk. I'm sure some legged it.”

“Not much you could have done in the circumstances.”

The officer nodded his head but looked at his feet. Adams knew he was feeling guilty about letting the scene get out of hand in the beginning, but there was nothing anyone else could have done. Adams gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder and walked toward the group in the yard. As he approached they all turned their attention on him. One or two of the women were still crying.

“I’m Detective Stephen Adams. First off, I want to thank you all for co-operating with the officers, and apologise for any delay you might be suffering. I know this is extremely upsetting for you all but we will have you out of here as quickly as we can.  I am going to get a room in the school so we can take an initial statement from you, while everything is fresh in your minds. Whoever did this needs to be taken off the streets and something you noticed might be the key we need to get him.” There was a round of muted nodding from the group and Adams strode away in search of the principle.

Ten minutes later they had secured three classrooms for use and Adams had divided the witnesses up, each one being singly interview by a member of the force. Adams himself was floating between the interviews, reading the statements, looking for common treads, or any substantial clue.

The interviews weren’t even half over by the time Adams heard the sounds of fighting coming from the front of the school. He rushed out to see several of his officers trying to restrain a man and a woman who were fighting to get through them. Adams ran over and interceded. Yesterday Darren Griffins eyes had been filled with fury, today they were overflowing with anguish.

“Let me through!” he yelled and rushed forward again. This time he crashed into Adams, chest to chest, but got no further. The woman at his shoulder let loose a primal scream which dropped into gut wrenching cry as she crumpled to the floor. She point at the man’s hand extending from under the dirty sleeping bag and tried to say something, but the sobs rushing up her throat crushed any possibility of the words being intelligible.

“Is it him? IS IT HIM!” demanded Darren Griffin, nose to nose with Adams, as pregnant tears rolled down his cheeks. Adams nodded, and every ounce of pain which flooded the smaller man’s soul showed on his face. The flush of rage vanished from Darren Griffin as shock robbed his body of all its power. Adams felt the man in his arms sag, and he found he was holding him up, not holding him back.

“Is he…”

Adams nodded again, this time the nod crushed the man in front of him completely. Adams dropped his arms away and Darren Griffin shuffled backward. He drunkenly staggered toward the woman and collapsed besides her, taking her in his arms, he held her as their grief flowed out.

At that moment the forensics team, wearing white boiler suits, flooded the scene, taking over with professional coolness. In moments, a protective enclosure was erected, shielding the world from tragedy.  Suddenly, something came over Emma Griffin, her crying stopped as if it had been sliced through with an axe, her eyes grew wide and she pushed Darren Griffin violently aside and sprang upright. She rushed at Adams taking him by surprise when she grabbed his jacket with incredible strength.

“Zoey, my Zoey. Where is she?” Adam's mind reeled, he'd not even considered a kid would be involved, and he should have.

“I… I don’t know, she must be inside.” Emma Griffin bolted toward the gate of the school where a uniformed officer, unaware of who was coming, moved to block the way.

“Leave her through!” yelled Adams just in time, because if the man had not moved aside, he would have been flattened by the power of Emma’s terror. The child’s name rang through the corridors of the school as she searched. Then they just stopped and Adams knew that Zoey was in her mother’s arms.

All around the mechanics of death and investigation gathered speed while the world moved on by. By piecing together all the individual witness statements Adams was getting a fuller picture of what had happened. John Griffin had parked to drop his daughter at the gate, when returning to his car he was confronted by what appeared to be a bum. There were shots and the bum walked away and mounted a trial bike and left the scene. One witness saw the bum crossing the road holding the sleeping bag, which prompted Adams to declare a second crime scene on the far footpath.

The coroner had since arrived and they were making preparations to move John Griffins body. Every second of the operation had been observed by the stoic figure of Darren Griffin, who stood unmoving against the crime scene tape. Adams felt sorry for the man. Darren Griffin was a criminal and there was no doubt that this shooting was a tragedy of their own making but he was also a brother. John Griffin was a father, a husband, a brother and a son. The life they had chosen would do nothing to diminish the grief those people would feel. Adams walked to where Darren stood and stopped beside him watching the empty gurney vanish behind the protective enclosure.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” said Adams, but Darren kept his eyes on the unfolding action across the barrier line. After a few moments of strained silence Adams added, “We will do everything we can to catch the man that did this.” He felt the man beside him turn, and Adams swivelled his head. Darren Griffin’s face was a mask of hatred and his eyes danced with madness. “You better be quick if you want to get him before me.”

“That won’t help anyone in the long run. It won’t bring John back, will it? You’d be better off telling us what you know and let us nail this guy.”

“Like that will ever happen.”

“Stay out of this Darren, you’ve been warned.”

“Or what?”

“Or it will be you behind bars, not the guy who pulled the trigger.”


“That fucker will never see prison, you mark my words!” spat Darren Griffin.

The flap of the protective enclosure was held back and the covered form of John Griffin was wheeled out. With practiced efficiency, he was loaded into the back of a windowless van and taken from the scene. Darren turned and walked away. Now his brother had left, nothing the authorities might do seemed to matter to him. Adams knew that the Griffin brothers would never co-operate with a police investigation and he knew that they would never let the murder of John Griffin go unanswered either. Adams didn't need to be told who ordered the hit, but the key to bringing down the Kingstons was to get the shooter.


Darren was right, this killer would be lucky to ever see the inside of a jail cell, he was more likely to end up face down in a shallow grave. It was up to him to get the guy first.

Monday, 4 July 2016

What remains in the dark of the night

Life is fleeting. It runs through our fingers like fine dry sand. The harder we grip, the more tiny grains float away on the endless winds of time.

The sad reality of our existence is that nothing is permanent. In the beginning, the well of youth seems vast, too vast to ever exhaust. Tentatively we lower the pail of our innocence into those black waters and take a sip of adventure.

As the years pass, we dip our bucket quicker and faster, sloshing that vital elixir carelessly in our haste for gratification. We draw more and more from the well until one faithful day we see a glimmer of stone shimmering below the surface. Some suffer a moment of dread, some refuse the truth of their eyes, some bow their head in resignation. There is an end after all. Now, we hesitate with our hand on that frayed rope, knowing there is so few fills left. In that moment we know what we have lost.

Parents vanish from our lives, siblings are mislaid among harsh words and caustic looks. Treasured belongings tarnish and rust, lovers grow weary, skin creases and folds while lushes locks turn grey, adorning morning pillows. The only thing which remains constant is our honor. In the cold dark of night, when we see only a hand full of drops in our bucket, the deeds of our past come to stoke the fire in our soul.

Will we be comforted by a lifetime of love. Will we feel reassured by way we treated our fellow wanderers on this path of life or will we be haunted by envy, gluttony and greed. Will abandoned friends, jilted lovers and resentful family be the people that litter our memory.

Who knows, perhaps a little of both.

Life is fleeting, so while there's water in your pail, drink carefully, and in the dead of night may your honor keep you forever warm.