Through the Fog (Chapter 10)

It’ll make more sense if you start with Chapter 1.

Through the Fog

Winding dirt lane, winding paved road, bridge, more winding; it should have been a peaceful drive through what I now remembered was one of the most beautiful places on earth: the Gaeltacht; the Irish countryside in the west where they still spoke the ancient language.

But this wasn’t the way we came last night; no, the night before, must have been. We’d been heading south, and we were heading south again; Atlantic to our right.

Growing up in San Diego, we studied California history every single year in school. After while I got tired of the story about Balboa proclaiming the ocean ‘pacific’ because it was so peaceful. As a kid, I’d been in that ocean, and it knocked you down, dragged you around, and generally played rough.

But now, seeing the Atlantic, I knew I hadn’t had a clue. It gave every impression that it had roared 3,000 miles from Nova Scotia just to tear the rock off Eire’s west coast. The waves were ferocious, sending spray 20, 30 feet in the air. And this was a pleasant sunny day. I didn’t want to be in that cottage down there on a stormy night.

But someone had; they’d done it for, oh, thousands of years, if my years of study were worth anything. What kind of people must they have been to tough it out in a place where the wind and the sea were always trying to kill you? And yet, my clearest impression of the average Irishman was friendliness. Not the pseudo-manners everyone in California has, skin deep over a what’s-in-it-for-me attitude. No, these people had a fundamental love for their fellow man.

It must have been difficult for the bulk of the peaceful Irish folk to see a handful misuse their passion for their country in violence. It was a Pandora’s box, getting into the millennia of struggle between the people of this island and what they called their oppressors.

There were no easy answers for the religious and political struggles; struggles which have gone on for longer than men’s memories.

I loved the history of Ireland, the countryside, the language. But I’d never understood the twisting of that passion into a reason to kill others. Maybe I had too many generations of peace behind me.

Here’s hoping for just a little more peace ahead of me.

We’d passed through Portmagee, on the mainland side of the bridge, and headed out through the sprawling fields of cottages behind it. Up and over the hill which had been its backdrop from my bedroom window, down the other side to Ballinskelligs Bay.

More tough guys had made it out there, outside the bay. Skellig Michael: the westernmost habitable land in Europe, where 900 years ago those tough guys had built a monastery and lived out their days in piety, on a spiky little bit of rock plopped in the unpeaceful Atlantic. Vikings had a tendency to come and kill them off, but somehow the monastery had proven tougher than the Vikings or the sea; it probably had more visitors each season in modern times than lived in it throughout its entire history.

The cousins surprised me by making a stop at a building which claimed to be the Skelligs Chocolate Company, facing the bay. Possibly a front for some nefarious organization? Well, perhaps dark chocolate with a whisky and red pepper center was nefarious, but I could handle it. Fearghal was generous with his chocolates; almost friendly, passing them out like, well, like candy. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a big Irish thug in ecstasy over a chocolate truffle with a champagne rose center. I mean, they were good, but this was a side of the cousins I hadn’t been exposed to, and it humanized them. Until now, they’d just been Dope and Pally, the thugs who were trying to hurt me.

Now, suddenly, sitting in the back seat sharing silly little chocolates, it clicked in my head that these two were those fellow-man-loving Irish I’d grown to love. Sure, O’Quinn was a fanatic; a nut case, to some extent. But his cousins weren’t criminals; the only time they’d even been unkind to me had been driven by fear of their cousin. Can’t say I blamed them, looking at it from that side of the mirror.

Great; here I was, feeling all friendly toward my kidnappers. Well, maybe it went both ways.

“Don’t get chocolate like this in the States.”

“Bah. Americans haven’t got a taste bud among ’em. Fizzy tasteless beer, bacon’s all fat and no meat, everything so sweet it makes me puke. And water in their whisky! I ask you, Niall, did you ever see an American actually drink whisky without putting two drops in a full glass of water? Why bother, I ask you. Why bother? When I drink water, I just drink water, and when I drink whisky, well, I drink whisky, by God!”

Fearghal took his food and drink seriously, apparently.

“Yer fergetting one American who drinks like you, Fer; this’un put you under the table, like, didn’t he?”

“Shut it, Niall. He cheated and you know it. No flaming American could hold that much good Irish. He was pouring it on the floor or into my glass, more like. He never -“

Niall’s laugh stopped his brother’s diatribe. We’d turned away from the inlet to our right, and headed through the low mountains just a few miles from the ocean. We were passing through a village with the unlikely name ‘Sneem’, and Fearghal apparently decided to put his whisky where his mouth was, so to speak.

Screeching to a stop at the curbside, he jabbed a finger at Niall. “We’ll walk right in there and see who drinks who under which table, ya tea-sipper!” Niall reddened, but it looked more like embarrassment than anger.

“You know I promised mum I wouldn’t drink. Watching you pour it down the way dad did was too much for her, and now look at you!”

“Ah, shut it, Niall. If you think our American friend can outdo me, I say you won’t last five minutes, tea-sipper.”

It was beginning to look like I might just benefit from two universal emotions: pride, and brotherly antagonism. Niall dragged me out his side of the car like a rag doll, and we marched into the pub Fearghal had pointed out.

Being late morning and in a small town, it wasn’t quite as crowded as it could have been, but it certainly wasn’t empty. Fearghal bought a bottle of Paddy and brought it to the table with three glasses.

“You cheat and I’ll slug you” to me, and “Pour ’em out, while you’re still conscious” to Niall.

This was incredible. This morning I was fearing for my life, disoriented and despairing. Now I was having a drinking contest with two Irish oxen.

I think it was better this morning.

Except, the first shot went down like lemonade. Niall almost choked; Fearghal made the usual whisky-burn face, but I didn’t feel a thing. I wondered if maybe being beaten up or losing my memory had affected my taste or something.

After the third, Niall stopped pouring. Ten minutes, and he was already too unsteady to pick up the bottle. Tea-sipper.

Fearghal and I finished off the bottle, pouring for each other. It was like drinking water; I mean, it tasted fine, good Irish whisky (American is distilled once, and tastes a bit like corn husks; Scotch is distilled twice and tastes like much improved corn husks; Irish is distilled thrice, and tastes like the good Lord stirred it with his own finger.)

Okay, it was starting to affect me a little.

Fearghal made his way unsteadily to the bar and came back with another bottle. It’d been half an hour of steady pounding, and he was clearly the worse for wear. I should have been incoherent, but there it was: I could drink a pair of Irish oxen under the table, and I knew it. Guess there was no reason for that memory to resurface before now.

Then, another joined it: this was how I’d escaped from the cousins back in the States. That’s what the jibes in the car were about; somehow, we’d all gotten trashed in a bar, and I’d been in good enough shape, comparatively speaking, to get away.

As every good con man knows, when a trick works, you use it.

“You mush be ready to puke with a stomach full o’ chocolud and all that whisky” I prodded Fearghal. I hoped I sounded drunk; hard to make it sound convincing unless he really was drunk.

“Just you shut it and pour. You look like you slept face down in a field, you do.”

Aw, it was too easy. Five minutes later he was green, really truly pale green. He stared, sweating and uneasy, then kicked his chair over backwards and ran for the gent’s.

Niall turned slowly to watch, a sickly smile slowly touching his lips.

I ran. .

You know in dreams how your feet never seem to move right, probably because in reality they’re tangled in the sheets? Yeah, like that. I made it to the door, but I wasn’t exactly sprinting. I wanted to glance back to see how close Niall was, but I didn’t dare turn.

I made it to the car, knowing it was pointless but having to know.

Unbelievable. Stop thinking like a paranoid American. Over here, they really do leave their keys in the car when it’s just outside the pub.

I was a block away before Niall and his wretched-looking brother made it into the middle of the street in front of the pub, staring after me like lost sheep.

Leave a Reply