Through the Fog (Chapter 14)

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

Through the Fog

It was a mile or more to the road proper, and a mile up that through a residential area to anything that looked like a town. Killarney was big, but there should be signs pointing the way to the garda station.

The town seemed to be on my left. There was plenty of traffic now on what seemed like a main road heading north and south. I trudged up toward town, trying not to think about being hungry and tired and not feeling my best from too much to drink, when was it, this morning. This morning? How is that possible?

The main artery I was on dumped onto High Street, which had a hopeful name. I soldiered on, deeper into what looked like the center of town. Past the huge church on the right, past the pubs and shops; I wished I could stay and visit. Killarney seemed just the right size: small enough to be friendly, but not so small you had to go out of town for this, that, and the other thing.

A sign up ahead said “Garda” with an arrow pointing straight up. I assumed the gardai were ahead, rather than in heaven, and passed St. Anne’s Road to Rock Road. There at the corner of New Road, was the station.

It wasn’t going to be easy explaining why I was wandering the Irish countryside with no identification. I wasn’t sure whether or not the cousins would have reported their car stolen; I still wasn’t sure how nefarious they were, nor how dumb. Or smart. I wasn’t particularly proud of the 45 Euro in my pocket, and I was generally feeling lousy, physically and mentally.

I must have been looking for someone to turn to, or in retrospect, it’s not likely I would have been so susceptible, even to someone as attractive as she was.

As I stood outside the garda station screwing up the courage to go in and face the music, a cute little redhead burst out the door with a not-very-pleased look on her face. I should have stepped out of the way, but I was focused elsewhere. A sweatshirt and jeans can look sloppy and casual, or they can looked practiced and stylish. It might have been the new-penny copper hair or the huge eyes glaring through it, but jeans and a sweatshirt had never looked so good.

Or so close; despite the fact that I was staring I didn’t realize that she didn’t see me standing right in her path. I’ve never been run into so pleasantly.

“Get out of—eh? What are you thinking coming here? Move; come on, move!”

I wasn’t exactly struggling against her, but the shocked look on her face when she looked into mine, the surprising strength when she grabbed my arm and spun me away from the station; it all took a second to absorb.

“Um, do I know you? I mean, I hope so, really I do, but I’ve had some issues with my memory lately—”

“Shut up. Not here. Can’t you move any faster?”

I didn’t think so without running, which I wasn’t up to after all I’d been through the past 48 hours. But we were moving quickly enough that exchanging pleasantries was out of the question.

We rounded a corner and plunged into a pub. The redhead dragged me to a table in a dark corner.

“Sit here. Don’t move.”

As I said, I must have been looking for a friend, or maybe someone else to take the helm for a while. I was more than happy to do as she said. Yeah, if she’d been a balding middle-aged man I might have been less happy, but it was working, either way.

She returned with two pints of Guinness and a basket of fish and chips.

“You keep your back to the door and pretend we’re eating dinner.”

“Uh, aren’t we?” I was, anyway. Or was it breakfast? No, that’d been way too much whisky. Suddenly the Guinness was less exciting.

“Camouflage. In case they saw you.”

“Who saw me? Nobody knows—”

I froze. Had they followed me? I whipped toward the door.

“Turn around, turn around; d’ya want them to see you?”

I whipped back.

“Who? Who do you think is after me?” It was getting harder to stay ahead of all this. Who was she and why did she care if they, whoever they were, saw me?

“The garda, fool. Your photo’s big as life on the wall inside. Even if you didn’t kill O’Quinn, they’ll make it hard for you.”

“Kill who? What? Wait; stop; slow down. Try it slowly; small words, short sentences. Maybe explanatory gestures. What the devil are you talking about!?”

“Quiet! Calm down! Sorry, I was just so shocked to see you almost walking in to give yourself up I sort of panicked.”

“Give myself up? Start farther back; I still feel like I walked in in the middle of the movie. Why don’t we start with who you are, and then progress to why you care who I am, and then maybe I’ll understand why I should be running from the police instead of running straight to them for help.”

“Oh, that would be brilliant, wouldn’t it, being wanted for murder and all.”

“Wan—murder? Stop it; stop. Back up, and tell me what’s going on, or I’ll go take my chances with someone who has their story straight.”

“Fine; fine. We’ll back up; we’ll take it nice and slow and maybe you’ll grow some sense in the meantime.” She slurped down almost half her pint without much effort. I have to say, I was impressed.

“I’m a reporter, Siobhan Quinlan. Independent; that means I write stories and sell them to the highest bidder; or try to, at least. Right now, you’re the hottest story in the county, maybe the Republic. Anything to do with the IRA gets bigger font sizes than it deserves these days.”

“You’re wandering again. There’s no IRA, at least not here, not in my life. So what’s this about murder and what’s it got to do with me?”

“Michael O’Quinn was found dead last night not quite floating under a bridge in Killorglin. He had your passport and US driving license. Nobody’s saying you killed him. They just keep using the word ‘murder’ in the same sentences as your name.”

“And how do you know all this?”
“I listen. Writing’s only a small bit of my job; knowing where to listen, when to listen—that’s the part that makes me better than average.”

“And are you better than average?” My mind may have wandered slightly. She may have noticed.

“As a reporter, much. As anything else, you’ll never know. I’m not picking you up here, I’m picking up a story. I can help you keep clear of trouble, but not for long. But as long as I can, I want to know what’s going on. I want your story, exclusive. There’s big doings behind whatever happened to O’Quinn, and five minutes with you tells me you didn’t have anything to do with his death; you’re just not smart enough to have offed Michael Seamus O’Quinn.”

She was still just as cute, but I was liking her less.

“You’re not seeing me at my best. Honest. I’m tired, hungry (still), and in the past 48 hours I’ve been kidnapped, roughed up, and chased across the country. I’ve been in planes and cars and boats and sheds and castles, and had way too much to drink and nowhere near enough to eat. And one too many knocks in the head. Yeah, one too many. And now I’m stuck with a member of the fourth estate talking about whether or not I’m a murderer when I’d much rather be talking about her.”

Uh, that wasn’t supposed to slip out. I very nearly slapped my hand over my mouth.

“Yeah. Stifle it. You’re not my type; I prefer my murderers up front and arrogant. They’re easier to write that way.”

“I’m not—”

“I know; I know. ‘I didn’t do it, officer, honest I didn’t!’ We’ll cover that later. First, let’s get out of here and find someplace quiet to talk. And wipe the smirk off your face; I said talk. I said ‘quiet’, not ‘private.’ Sit down; wait half a mo’ while I check outside.”

Maybe I was too worn to control the expressions on my face; maybe I was too hopeful. Either way, the cat was out of the bag, and I don’t know if you’ve ever tried putting a cat in a bag, but if you think the first time is tough, try putting one back after you let it out. Doesn’t happen. Not without unpleasant personal injury, it doesn’t.

She came back just close enough to tug at my coat. “C’mon, c’mon.”

We stepped into the sunshine, which felt warmer after the dark pub. The brisk walk left down the pavement was warming too. Yes, I was warming right up, yes I was.

Stifle it, she’d said. Okay, I’m stifling.

We slipped down an alley between a news shop and another pub (how would you give directions in a small Irish town? “It’s just past the pub.” “Which one?” “Patrick’s.” “Which Patrick’s; Patrick Finley or Patrick O’Sullivan or Patrick Kearney?” I may have mentioned the one-too-many blows to the head . . . )

Her car, an Opel Meriva minivan, was parked behind the news shop in the alley. Without thinking I walked to the right side.

“Good; you drive, I’ll write.”

“Uh, sorry; wrong side. I don’t know where we’re going. Shouldn’t you drive? Wait; write? Don’t most reporters use little recorders these days?”

“One, I’m not most reporters. Two, I can take shorthand faster than you can talk. Three, shut up, get in, and drive. Then you can talk all you want, as long as you keep it interesting.”

I shut up. I got in. I drove.

I talked.

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