“The darker blue looks good with your eyes.” Jenna, back from checking the handbag sale, held a tie up with both hands, draping it across the bridge of my nose.
“Thank you. They’re not usually worn that close to the eyes but if it gets us out of here—”
The tip of the tie whipped my ear as my wife spun to see what nut was yelling behind us.
“This gentleman?” from the security guard standing next to Old Yeller (okay, young yeller, but that doesn’t flow the same.)
The guard took a step back and measured the guy with his eyes.
“Him. Right there. In the suit I know he didn’t buy here because we don’t sell anything that sharp.”
Jenna did semaphore with the tie. “What did my husband do?”
The hand on my knee was firm. Then, it was crushing. Then, it started to slide the kneecap right off. Despite the pain, I didn’t cry out; in a bizarre comedic moment I wondered if the thing shoved against my ribs was called a ‘silencer’ for more than one reason.
Another survival tip for you, kiddies: no matter how funny you find yourself, don’t smile when the bad guys are interrogating you under physical duress. They don’t like it, and things go downhill fast.
Mr. Big (as in the leader) gestured vaguely toward the bathroom hallway Siobhan had gone down (where was she??) and Mr. ReallyBig the thug dragged me from the booth and shoved me ahead of him down the hallway toward a greasy door at the end.
I had a little more experience with being meekly led to the slaughter, and I wasn’t walking to my own funeral this time. Better to be shot in a room full of people than in a dirty alley (or maybe the alleys in Galway aren’t dirty; I didn’t remember) or down by the ocean where they’d never find you.
I say I had experience with the concept. I had none with the execution of it. I jerked away from Mr. ReallyBig and ran for the door. Which was locked. I think. I don’t know; it wouldn’t open.
The pain in the back of my head was amazing. At first I thought he’d shot me; then I realized he’d just slugged me with the gun. Not enough to knock me out; contrary to what you see in the movies, that takes more than a light tap. But enough to make me reconsider my flight and, instead, bend over with my head between my hands. I’m no tough guy, I’m an academic, remember?
Never believed in situational ethics. While I sympathize with Jean Valjean, he was still a thief. There are plenty of grey areas in life. Honesty isn’t one of them. Honesty is binary: anything you do is honest, or it’s not.
People make mistakes, sure, but if someone steals, and then all they do about it afterward is feel badly, they’re a thief. It’s a fundamental character defect.
A half-penny candy becomes Enron. I’m not kidding and I’m not exaggerating. Bend the twig and get a crooked tree.
Someone who’ll steal is bent. Bent is bent. Thieves aren’t known for veracity.
Bent is bent.
So when I say “it’s been bothering me,” what I really mean is that you can directly attribute some of this blathering and confusion to the severely disrupted emotional condition I’ve been in since I discovered that someone I feel strongly about, and could feel more strongly about with only a hint of a nudge, didn’t share my rigid moral character.
If that doesn’t make sense to you I suggest you don’t waste any more time on this tale than you already have.
If it does, you’ll know what it costs me to admit I stole something once, and why I’ve locked the memory away.
Knob turned, I listened for any sounds.
In the absolute still of the church Niall’s breathing behind me was louder than anything behind the door.
I pushed it open and stepped into the dark.
Accidental stumblings indeed.
As the lights blinded me, I don’t know who was more startled when we collided, me, or Conor Dubin.
I whipped around as the church door slammed. My glimpse of the spot where Niall had been standing was now a glimpse of a heavy wooden door.
Then, it was the inside of the storeroom door, and I was on the wrong side of it with some people I desperately wanted not to see.
I had the urge to leave. So far Siobhan had done nothing but avoid my questions, drag me cross country, and rebuff my advances. What kind of relationship was that?
I was so close. So close to finally being smart. Or, close to smart finally doing me some good.
I hadn’t even seen them come in; I was getting comfortable in my environs and not paying attention, or maybe I was so focused on deciding whether Siobhan was dangerous or not that I didn’t have the mental energy to watch for other enemies, if they were enemies.
“Dr. Martin, please, don’t go yet. We should talk.”
The speaker couldn’t have kept me there if he’d wanted to; he was the second smallest man I’d met in Ireland, after the ex-Mr. O’Quinn. His compatriot was another matter. A giant, in acres of Armani, he had me sitting back down and slid against the far edge of the booth as if I hadn’t existed.
The big hard lump in his pocket had smacked my elbow hard enough to hurt. A big metal lump, not even in a holster. Sloppy, but probably effective.
I decided not to go yet. I didn’t decide whether we should talk.
Standing where I’d been instructed, I scanned the room. There was too much room at my back for my liking, but no one was expecting me, personally, just someone standing right there. Other than to tell me to look where all the other red-blooded men were looking, Rose had been silent on anything more about Heather. Apparently it was important for me not to show any sign of recognition. I’d be contacted, Rose had said.
Since it was the only job I had, I tried not to mess up standing in that spot.
Yeah, there wouldn’t be much story here if I’d been able to conquer that monumental task.
When she came around the far corner of the bar I almost shouted. Her eyes slid over me like I was a boring patch of wallpaper. Over twenty years, I’d know her anywhere, even in a dimly lit club.
So, of course, I blew everything, and shouted her name.
Coming from the giant moth in my dream, it sounded strange.
Once I got my eyes open and saw it was coming from a thirty-something woman standing a safe distance away from me, looking very proprietary and possessive, it made more sense.
“The gate.” Yeah, my mouth can even do that with total strangers. I wasn’t awake yet.
“Very funny. Who are you and what are you doing in my yard, on my beach, in my chair?”
I didn’t completely mistrust her, but I was having an even harder time accepting that she just happened to be coming out of the garda station as I was heading in (although, how could anyone possibly have known where I was, or where I was going, when I didn’t know?) or that she was just a journalist looking for a story. In fact, I only had her word for O’Quinn’s death or anything else she’d told me.
It’s hard not to act suspicious, when you are. Probably just as hard as not acting interested in a woman, when you are. In the hour to Ennis, what was happening in my head must have become obvious to Siobhan.
We stopped to stretch our legs in Ennis. I popped into a pub to use the gents’, and when I came back to the van, Siobhan was waiting behind the wheel. As I got in the left side, there was a copy of ‘An Phoblacht’ on the seat.
I raised my eyebrows at Siobhan.
“A few pages in; under ‘Other News’ . . . ”
I flipped through the pages until Michael Seamus O’Quinn was glaring at me from the center of the right-hand page. The article was short and uncomplimentary, to both O’Quinn and myself.
“They’re not shy about convicting me of his murder, are they?”
Couldn’t she have asked them? Ah, maybe she did. Slick operator, this one. Nobody was catching her unawares.
“I’m checking on the surveillance equipment you checked out. It’s overdue.”
“Well, as I told you young man, they haven’t come yet.”
At this point, I expected a blue police box to land in the yard so David Tennant could take me somewhere, which made even less sense than this. After two heartbeats, I gave up on the Tenth Doctor and returned to Ms. or Mrs. Millhone.
“Who hasn’t come yet?” I almost added “ma’am” but fewer words felt safer.
“The vandals who’ve been stealing my grapes.”
She was now perilously close to making sense.
“You borrowed the equipment to watch for vandals stealing your grapes.”
“Certainly. Isn’t that what it’s for?”