Mermaid in a Bowl of Tears
Release date: June 1, 2007
Publisher: Starry Night Press
Print pages: 768
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Mermaid in a Bowl of Tears
Conversations With a Gull
WHAT’LL YE HAVE?” The bartender, clothed like an impeccably starched penguin, looked as though he’d rather be anywhere than stuck behind the bar at a three hundred dollar a plate political fundraiser. Casey Riordan, bowtie and top stud of his crisp white shirt undone, knew the feeling all too well.
“Have ye got any Connemara Mist?” Casey asked as he sat on one of the highly cushioned brass stools next to the bar.
“Aye, ten-year malt, sixteen-year reserve, an’ the special blend.”
“Give me a double of the single malt,” Casey said, rummaging in his tuxedo jacket for a cigarette before remembering his wife had rather pointedly removed them, saying they ruined the line of his suit. He sighed audibly, and the bartender set a pack of cigarettes in front of him.
“Thanks,” Casey said gratefully, tapping one out and sliding the pack back.
“Take a couple,” the bartender said, “ye’ll need the fortification.”
“Look that thrilled to be here, do I?” Casey asked.
“About as thrilled as I feel, an’ I’m gettin’ paid,” the man replied, setting a generous tumbler of whiskey on the polished wood of the bar.
Casey picked the glass up, sniffed appreciatively, and took a sip. It slid gold and warm down his throat, leaving tendrils of fire in its wake.
“What bit of Belfast are ye from?” the bartender asked, opening a split of champagne and setting it in a silver bucket of dry ice.
“The Ardoyne,” Casey said, and swallowed the remainder of his drink, closing his eyes around the taste, feeling the welcome heat in his belly. “An’ yerself?”
“Donegal, little village up near Malinhead, population of about eighty an’ that includes the sheep,” the bartender replied- with a wistful smile. “How long have ye been over?”
“A few months,” Casey said. “How about yerself?”
“Do ye get homesick?”
“Sometimes,” the man shrugged, “though when I was home I couldn’t wait to get over here an’ now that I’m here I wonder what the rush was. How ‘bout yerself, longin’ for the old sod?”
“Aye,” Casey looked down into his empty glass, “at times.”
“The land of milk an’ honey not all ye expected?”
“Not entirely, but then I suppose home’d not seem the same to me now either.”
The bartender set the bottle of malt whiskey in front of him. “Have another- it’s on the house, least I can do for a fellow countryman.”
The bartender whisked a rag over the spotless gleam of the bar. “I went back home the once, an’ it was as if I belonged neither here nor there. I’ve a foot in both worlds but I’m not standin’ firm in either if ye’ll know what I’m sayin’.”
“Aye, I’ll know,” Casey agreed, “yer a man without a country.”
Just then, a voice at his left elbow said, “Cognac. Hennessey if you’ve got it.”
“Boring crowd,” drawled the voice, and Casey knew without turning his head what he would find- floppy blonde hair, long thin-bladed nose, ice-blue eyes, and a jaded, world-weary expression. He poured himself another two fingers of whiskey and stared straight ahead at the vast array of bottles lining the mirrored wall of the bar.
“Say, can I just have the bottle as well? Good man-” as the bartender, now expressionless and silent, placed the cognac at the man’s elbow. “Good turnout, though, and plenty of old money; Eliot should do well for himself tonight.” A long, slender hand- pale and refined- stuck itself in front of him and Casey sighed.
“Charles Reese-David, though everyone calls me Chip.”
“Of course they do,” Casey muttered, giving the hand the briefest of shakes and then, taking another swig of his drink, turned most reluctantly towards the voice that had already saturated the floor with its dropped r’s.
The man looked exactly as he’d predicted to himself- hopelessly overbred English, though his ancestors had likely come over with the Mayflower. Casey wondered if everyone on that particular boat had looked this way, bloodless and effete, yet somehow still managing to convey an innate superiority.
“You look familiar,” the man continued as Casey turned back to his drink. “Were you at Harvard? I was in Law there. Went to Choate as a boy, is that where I know you from?”
“Don’t think so,” Casey said with as much politeness as he could muster, hunting in his inside pocket for his wallet. The bartender shook his head at the bills and Casey returned the money to his pocket with a nod of thanks. He was just sliding off the stool when the man next to him let out a long, low whistle.
“Get an eyeful of that will you?”
Casey turned and saw the object of the man’s interest making her way across the floor of the ballroom. In a roomful of heirloom jewelry, she wore only a pair of tiny ruby earrings and a plain silver band on her left hand. She stopped to have a word here, two there, smiling and charming the people who’d paid and paid well to get on the political express train of Eliot Reese-David.
“She’s my brother’s PR person if you can believe it. Bastard’s always been terrifically lucky with women. Even he couldn’t believe his luck, though, when Love Hagerty gave her to him for the campaign.”
“Gave her?” Casey said raising his eyebrows; his tone making the bartender look up warily from the case of Cristal he was unloading. Charles Reese-David, however, had no such instinct and continued heedlessly on.
“Yes. She’s Love Hagerty’s piece on the side, apparently- married to one of his thugs. Eliot’s had no luck with her at all. He’s hoping to change all that when he goes to Washington, though. Thinks maybe she’s afraid of Love Hagerty; in Washington, she’ll be at a safe remove- even that backroom-dealing Irish crook’s tentacles can’t stretch all the way there.”
“Mr. Hagerty’s a born an’ bred Bostonian, I believe,” Casey said lightly.
Chip snorted derisively. “There’s an old Beacon Hill saying about that- ‘you can take the mick out of the bog, but you can’t take the-”
“Bog out of the mick,” Casey finished coldly.
“Heavens, is she coming this way?” Chip straightened up, shooting his cuffs and casting a surreptitious glance in the mirror over his shoulder. “Met her at Eliot’s office a few weeks ago. Apparently,” he smiled dreamily, “I left an impression.”
“I don’t doubt that,” Casey said, his voice coming as close to friendliness as it had all night.
The object of Chip’s interest reached them a moment later, gave him a polite ‘hello’, and sliding her arms around Casey’s neck, tucked her face into the curve of his shoulder and said, “Casey, take me home will you?”
“Aye I’ll take ye home; are ye all finished with yer business for the evenin’, then?” he asked, sparing a sideways glance for Chip, who was looking even more bloodless than he had a moment before.
“Mmhm,” she said sleepily, “Eliot can manage on his own, it’ll only be the stragglers left soon anyhow and I’m exhausted by this crowd.” She slid one hand inside his loosened collar and whispered silkily, “Take me home to bed.”
“Yer goin’ to cause a scandal woman, can I not take ye anywhere?” He said with mock sternness.
She whispered something else in his ear and he found to his consternation that he was blushing.
“Is that even legal in Massachusetts?” he asked. “Ye have to remember this place was settled by Puritans.”
“I think,” she said, tongue touching the rim of his ear in a highly distracting manner, “that several of them are here tonight.”
“Well I’d best get yer wrap before I’m forced to carry ye out of here over my shoulder,” Casey said with a grin, noting that Chip was still staring in stunned disbelief at the two of them.
When he returned with the coats he found his wife in conversation with Eliot Reese-David the Ivth and took a deep breath before approaching. He’d loathed the man on sight, something in his Hibernian soul recoiling from the very first meeting. Eliot was old Yankee, Boston Brahmin all the way. Like his brother, he was Choate and Harvard educated, housed on Beacon Hill, heir to a fortune that exceeded the fiscal resources of many small nations, and far, far too fond, Casey thought- watching with fury as the man laid a hand on Pamela’s shoulder- of his wife.
“Ready then?” he asked, settling Pamela’s plush black velveteen jacket around her shoulders.
“Pity you have to leave so soon, we didn’t even have a chance to chat,” Eliot said to Casey, his eyes like two ice chips.
“A great pity,” Casey returned, the heavy sarcasm in his voice lost on none of them.
“Well Pamela,” Eliot turned a much warmer aspect on his public relations assistant of the last two months, “we pulled off a very good evening here, I’d say.” The man managed to make the we sound distinctly cozy and Casey had to bite his tongue sharply.
“You, Eliot,” Pamela said, “it’s your baby now, there’s only a week left until the election and then you’re off to Washington and I’ll go back to working for Mr. Hagerty.”
“We’ll see,” Eliot said, and Casey thought of how he’d dearly love to throw the man the length of the bar.
“Good night, Eliot,” she said and there was just the slightest edge of dismissal in her voice, as though she had laid a hand on his arm and pushed him gently, but firmly, away.
The man blinked, a slight flush staining his face. “Good night.”
Pamela tucked her arm through Casey’s and leaned into his side in a gesture of casual and sure intimacy that was not lost on their two-man audience. Casey smiled and nodded goodbye in a way that managed to be dismissive, and then at the last moment leaned back towards Chip and said, “’-Twasn’t at Harvard we met, for I wasn’t schooled there, as ye may have guessed.”
“Indeed,” Chip said frostily; “Where were you schooled?”
“Streets of Belfast, an’ then I matriculated up to a little institution called Parkhurst, on the Isle of Wight. Was there at the invitation an’ leisure of her Majesty the Queen. Class of ’68 got my degree in the finer points of how to take a man’s life, or how to make him wish I had.” He paused for a moment, his dark eyes making certain contact with Chip’s pale blue ones. “If ye feel a certain fraternal fondness for yer brother, I’d advise ye to tell him that my wife is well taken care of an’ in no need of his attentions. D’ye, understand my meanin’?”
Chip nodded, Adam's apple bobbing up and down nervously.
“I see yer a fast learner. Good fer you, it’s a valuable survival skill,” Casey said in a deceptively amiable tone before turning to escort his wife out of the ballroom.
“You really think the man will win?” Casey asked after they’d hailed a cab and begun the long ride from Beacon Hill to South Boston.
“I certainly hope so,” Pamela said, wrapping her arms around his waist and laying her head on his shoulder, “I only wish Congress sat in Zimbabwe or some equally remote place.”
“Ye know he’s goin’ to ask ye to come to Washington with him, don’t ye?”
“I’ve already turned him down twice.”
“The sleeven bastard!” Casey said, vehemently. “Ye know why he wants to take ye there?”
“Of course,” she said lightly, “for my diverse talents. Now let’s not talk about him anymore, it’ll ruin the rest of the night. And I have some very specific plans for tonight.”
“Do ye then?” Casey said as a hand found its way underneath his onyx-studded shirt.
“Oh yes, Mr. Riordan,” she said and removed the loosened bowtie with one tug of her fingers, “I do.”
“Well then Mrs. Riordan,” he stifled a gasp as a hand slid down the front of his impeccably creased trousers, “we’d best get ye home quick like.”
HOME WAS AN OLD walk-up triple-decker in Southie. Pamela and Casey occupied the top floor of the shabby red-brick Victorian, and so, as Pamela had optimistically said, had a view to the stars. Casey was less romantic in his view and saw a rundown hovel with slanted floors, where the windows were so thick with ice that, even now in November, a man couldn’t see out of them. The pipes groaned like an old man on his last legs, and the stairwell stank of beer and piss. Pamela belonged here about as much as a priceless diamond belonged in a cesspit, Casey thought, sitting on the bed and taking off his cufflinks, studs, and shirt, before lighting a desperately needed cigarette. He hated the damn place, but it was what they could afford on their wages and still have enough left over to put in the bank for the house they hoped to buy some time in the near future. Still, it pained him to keep her here.
He sighed and leaned against the wall at the head of the bed. The room was bathed in blue light from the neon sign across the street and he watched Pamela in the dim- as she took off her pumps and pulled the pins out of her hair. She headed for the bathroom to take off her makeup and begin all the mysterious rituals that she couldn’t seem to go to bed without.
“Don’t,” he said huskily, “undress out here. Undress for me.”
She looked over her shoulder at him, giving him a glance that made his breath stop in his throat. Then she reached for the zip on her dress.
Her back was blue-brushed ivory in the night, the dress a delicate, slithering web that dropped slowly to her hips and then, aided by her hands, fell to the floor.
He took a deep breath as he saw the stockings and the garters, all frothy lace, that held them up. She was slender and supple, but she had a woman’s body, the stuff of which a healthy male’s fantasies were made.
She unclipped the garters, one snap at a time, her hair falling over one shoulder, black ribbon against the white lace of her brassiere. She rolled the stockings down with slow deliberation, making an art of it. He stubbed his cigarette out, stood, and walked across the room. He stopped only inches away, drinking in her scent, feeling her heat, not touching.
“Cold?” he asked softly.
“No, I can feel your eyes on me,” she drew a shaky breath, “touch me, Casey.”
He rested his hands on her shoulders, hooked his thumbs under the straps of her bra, and slid them slowly down her arms.
“All those men lookin’ at ye tonight,” he said and ran his lips feather-light down the side of her neck, “an’ I know what they’re thinkin’, that they’re imaginin’ ye like this, an’ still they don’t know the half of it. I sit there,” he ran his hands down over her collarbone, across the pale skin of her chest, “an’ I think ‘if ye knew the truth of her, boy, ye’d go mad. Ye wouldn’t be able to breathe or sleep proper again if ye knew what it was to touch her so,” his hands came around and under, spreading across her belly, his voice like rough silk in her ear as she leaned back into his chest, “ye’d be addicted for life, ye’d be like a man drugged, never able to get enough.” She moaned softly as his hands, rough with calluses, slid up to cup her breasts.
“And what about the women looking at you?” She asked, reaching behind her to unfasten the button on his trousers.
“What women?” His tongue flicked the edge of her ear. “I didn’t see any other women there tonight.”
“Well, they saw you. Women always look at you.”
“Do they?” he asked, hands slipping inside the rim of her little white panties and pushing them down until they fell to the floor and she stepped daintily out of them.
“Oh do they? They look at you like alcoholics look at whiskey.”
“An’ what do ye think when they look at me?” he put an arm under her knees and swung her up, depositing her on the bed.
“I think…” she undid the zip on his pants, watched them fall to the floor, and then pulled him over onto the bed. “I think- don’t even imagine it, sister, ‘cause he’s mine, every inch mine and you couldn’t handle him anyhow.”
“Do ye, then?” Casey murmured, tongue making butterfly kisses on her navel and then proceeding down until she gave a sharp cry, crumpling the sheets in her fists and arching up to meet his questing mouth. She tangled her fingers in his hair, gave it a gentle tug, pulling him up, guiding him urgently between her legs.
“Patience, Jewel,” he said, easing in slowly, gasping at the tight, fevered fit, raising her hips for deeper penetration, their bodies already moving in an undulating rhythm that threatened to push them both over the edge in short order.
“Mmmnn,” Casey said in not-convincing protest, ceasing his movement altogether, “I plan to take it slow. It’s just you an’ I, darlin’, an’ the night is long.” He thrust with slow deliberation and she cried out, arching off the sheets, head turned to the side, hair drifting across her face. He loved this moment best of all, when she was all soft and hot beneath him, crying his name like she was in pain and only he could bring her release. He thrust again deep into her and she arched tightly to him, giving a soft, shattered sob, arms flung out to the sides. He collapsed against her, face buried in her neck as she wrapped her arms around him, all sweet, living, burning cells.
The night was never quite long enough however, Casey thought sometime later. The hands-on the clock at their bedside read four a.m. He swung his legs over the side of the bed, bowing his head and rubbing his face with his hands.
“Do you have to go?” Pamela’s arm wrapped around him from behind, hand stroking the soft skin of his belly.
He picked her hand up, kissed the back of it firmly, and laid it down on the sheet. He glanced back at her. “Ye know I do.”
“It’s barbaric the hours he makes you keep,” she said grumpily, sitting up and pushing her hair away from her face.
“He keeps them himself an’ longer many nights.”
“What sort of business is done at four in the morning?”
“Ye know I don’t question Love about his business.”
She sighed, twisting her wedding ring about her finger. “Maybe we ought to question it, Casey.”
“An’ both be out of work?” he asked lightly, pulling his shirt on and buttoning it up by feel.
“I left a letter on the table for you yesterday,” she said, changing tack. He could hear the sheets rustle softly as she laid back.
“I saw it,” he said shortly.
“Damn it, Casey- how can you be so stubborn? He’s your brother.”
“I know who he is,” Casey said, rolling up his cuffs, “an’ the last time I saw him he told me to stay the hell out of his life. I’ve done my best to honor his request.”
“And now he wants to patch things up. Why won’t you at least read his letters?”
“Because they’re addressed to you, not me. I take that as a fairly broad hint.”
“It’s only because he knows you’d throw his letters away unread.”
Casey sighed. This topic was not new to the two of them and it was an issue they could never see eye to eye upon.
“How is he, then?” he asked, tucking his shirt into his pants and reaching for his cigarettes.
“Good, though he’d be better if you’d at least give some signal that you know he’s alive.” She paused, and he sensed there was something she wanted to say to him but hesitated to do so.
“Ye’d best out with it or it’ll go straight to yer spleen- that’s what my daddy used to tell us.”
“It’s just that- well what with Siobhan and Desmond coming for Christmas I thought it would be nice if Pat and Sylvie could come as well.”
He was silent for a long moment, digesting this shocking suggestion.
“I suppose ye can ask,” he said gruffly, “but I doubt the boy will accept yer invite.”
“He already has,” she said quietly.
Casey sighed and turned around to look at his wife. Her eyes slid swiftly away from his gaze.
“An’ may I enquire what bold little tale ye told him to get him to agree to come?”
“It wasn’t,” she said with slow reluctance, “entirely a tale.”
“Oh.” He quirked his eyebrows questioningly, “half fable an’ half-truth, was it then?”
“I only told him what I know to be true,” she said defensively, drawing the sheet up over her breasts. Casey tugged it back down firmly.
“Ye once told me it was harder to lie when yer naked, darlin’, so now that yer naked,” he cast an appreciative eye along her length, “tell me what it is exactly that ye’ve told my brother?”
She tugged vainly at the sheet, which he held tight in his fist.
“Only that you were sorry and that you missed him.”
“Forgive me if I can’t see where the nugget of truth is buried in yer little story,” he said, voice rich with sarcasm.
“You do miss him,” she said softly, “I know you do. I’ve lived with you every day for over a year now ,Casey, I know what the silences say as well as the words.”
“Alright,” he admitted, “I do miss the little bugger but I’ll not say as I’m sorry. What I said to him still holds true, he’s stirrin’ up a cauldron of snakes with that organization of his, an’ what I said was said out of concern for his safety- for his damned life, truth be told. But he’s too stubborn to see truth even when it comes armed with a bullet.”
She reached up and stroked his face softly, her eyes searching his own. “He’s like his brother that way, aye?”
He caught her hand in his own, pressing the knuckles hard against his lips. “Can ye not allow a man his illusions every now an’ again, darlin’?”
“Not when it’s this important. He’s your family, Casey, and I want family around this Christmas,” she said firmly, eyes suddenly dark and opaque, like heavy green glass.
“Is this about the babe, then?” he asked, voice subdued, hand stilled against hers.
“No,” she said too quickly and then, with her free hand, dashed away a quicksilver glitter of tears, “maybe, I don’t know. We’d have our baby soon, you know if I hadn’t lost her.”
“Aye,” he lowered himself onto the bed beside her, stroking her hair back from her forehead in a soothing motion, “I know. She’d be a bitty wee thing, but she’d come in a rush like most Riordans. But darlin’, it wasn’t yer fault. Ye know what the doctor said-”
“Oh yes,” she said in a gritty voice, “I know what the doctor said. I also know they say the same damn words to every woman who loses a baby, it’s just nature taking care of things, there’ll be more babies- but it doesn’t matter, it’s all just words and I wanted that baby. It was just a bit of blood and bone to him, but Casey, it was our child, someone we created out of love, and I wanted that particular person.”
He put his lips against her forehead, felt the pulse of her blood in the veins under the fine skin, and closed his eyes against the sting of tears. It still took him unawares, this flood of sudden emotion for someone he’d never known, never would know. Someone who’d had a steady, thrumming heartbeat, rapid like the whir of a hummingbird’s wings. Someone who, though unseen, had been felt by his hands, turning and fluttering under the small mound of his wife’s belly. Son or daughter, it hadn’t mattered to him, only that it was their child.
The thought of that night was like a knife cutting a valley through his heart. He’d been away, working late as usual, when Love himself had come out to the warehouse where Casey was supervising the unloading of a shipment from the Caribbean.
He’d known something was wrong at once- Love would never have shown his face at the warehouse otherwise. He liked to keep a safe distance from the grittier aspects of his business. The gritty aspects were Casey’s job.
The baby had already been removed to the morgue by the time he’d arrived at the hospital, Pamela sedated, drifting in and out of drug-induced sleep. But she’d felt his presence, half-opened her eyes, and whispered, “Sorry, so sorry, Casey.” And then as he’d leaned down to comfort her, she’d said, “Make them give me my baby; they won’t let me see our baby.”
And so he’d gone to the nurses and asked to see the baby, and been told politely that it wasn’t policy to allow the mothers to see the baby when the child was dead. It was better for the mother, they’d continued if the child remained a stranger.
In a voice that seemed to emerge from someone else’s throat, he’d told them in no uncertain terms that he would see his child, and see it now. And the nurse, quite obviously frightened by something in the dark, grief-stricken face in front of her, had acquiesced, calling a doctor up to speak with him. When it became clear that the doctor would be unable to dissuade him from his purpose, the baby was brought to Casey on a cold steel cart, covered by a sheet reeking of disinfectant.
He’d held the tiny, otherworldly, pearl-pale body that would have been his daughter and thought he’d die from the pain of it. Then he’d wrapped her carefully in the coarse cloth, placing the translucent, frond-like fingers against the impossibly fragile chest. She was covered in a soft golden down, her tiny ears no bigger than the pad of his thumb- delicate, wee pointed ears like an elf. Her eyelids were milky blue and sealed perfectly against a world she would never see. He’d taken her then to her mother, saying in a rough voice, when the nurses protested, that a mother had a right more than any did to say goodbye to a child she’d carried in her own body.
He’d gone in the hospital room, closed the door behind him, and locked it. And due to the interference, in low and charming tones outside the door, of Love Hagerty, it had stayed locked all night. He later learned that Love had made a substantial donation to the hospital in order to buy them a little privacy.
Eight hours they’d had, the three of them. Eight hours with the baby tucked carefully between the two of them on the narrow hospital bed.
Somewhere in the wee hours Pamela had said, “I’d like to name her Deirdre.”
“It’s my mother’s name,” he’d responded in surprise.
“I know,” she’d answered quietly and bent to kiss the terribly still form between them. “Do you object?”
“No,” he said, and so the tiny, translucent girl with the ears of an elf had become Deirdre. Deirdre of the Sorrows, how tragically fitting, he’d thought.
Eight hours, the minutes unfolding like the petals of a flower which has only a night to bloom. Eight hours to say hello and goodbye and all the things in between which need a lifetime to be said.
With dawn’s light, he’d unlocked the door and watched as people in stiff, starched uniforms took his child from her mother’s arms. Watched with a clarity that was painful, edged in a sharp, hard light that seared his eyes; and yet still could not comprehend that he was not to be anyone’s father, and yet would be a father for all the rest of his days.
Beside him, the clock’s hands pointed halfway between the four and the five. Beneath his lips, Pamela’s forehead had cooled, her breathing even and deep. She was asleep, tear trails soft silver lines radiating out into her hairline, where small puffs of blue-black curls had absorbed and hidden her grief. He gave a small prayer of thanksgiving that she was well again, that she had begun, as impossible as it had once seemed, to laugh again, to respond to outside influences. Then he got to his feet, exhaustion deep in every cell, and trod, barefoot, toward the kitchen.
The kitchen faced east towards the water and beaches that seemed unimaginable from this vantage point. The room was filled with a soft, ashy light, the silver coffee pot glowing hazily on the counter by the sink. Casey lifted his hands to rub them over his face and was caught short by the scent of Pamela’s skin on his palms. He closed his eyes to breathe more deeply and wasn’t surprised by the thickening of his throat this time. He’d gone soft of late he supposed when something as small as the smell of a woman’s heat on his hand could cause such a rush of gratitude and wonderment. But then, this was not just any woman, this was his wife, and he loved her with a primal ferocity that shocked him at times.
Faith found him in such small moments. He had wondered at first why it came at all to someone who had never found it in easy supply and then had thought that perhaps it was the convenience of it, for he’d more to lose now than ever before.
He drank his coffee standing, feet cold on the patched linoleum, and contemplated the meeting that was before him. He wasn’t, it could be fairly said, looking forward to it in the least.
He took his rapidly cooling cup of coffee over to the window, scraped away the frost that had gathered in the night, and looked down at what lay below him. Running off to the south into the housing projects of Old Colony, Old Harbor, and D Point was Dorchester Street. To his left, and slightly out of view, was Broadway, a street lined with grocery and liquor stores, coffee shops, and barrooms that were filled to overflowing most nights. Directly facing him was a neon shamrock, gaudy green and buzzing in the dim light. Graffiti lined the dingy brick walls of most businesses and decorated the labyrinth of triple-deckers down turgid alleyways and on street fronts, where afternoons found tired mothers half-heartedly supervising the play of their offspring from the vantage point of crumbling stoops.
Against the dark blue morning sky, a gull rose and fell on the air currents, a greater black-back who’d wandered inland, seeking more exotic fare than the incoming ships could provide.
Casey took a slice of bread from the paper-wrapped package on the counter and un-hasped the kitchen window. The sash gave with a shriek of protest as he levered it up with his shoulder. He winced, hoping the noise wouldn’t wake Pamela. He waved the bread out in the morning air, sucking in his breath as the chill of it flowed past him through the window.
Attracted by the noise and movement the gull swooped in closer for a fly-by inspection, gave him a cursory once-over, and returned in a graceful arc to take the chunk of bread. It settled on the fire escape railing and set to gulping this unexpected morning treat.
“Up with yer thoughts, were ye?” Casey asked softly, watching as the bird tucked its sooty feathers in with a quick ruffle.
The gull eyed him beadily, a torn strip of bread hanging from its ocher beak.
“Not to worry, beag cara, I’ll not hurt ye.”
The gull tilted its head to the side, the red dot on its beak no more than a darker blot in the faint light.
“Ah, ye’ll not have the Gaelic, then?” Casey asked conversationally. “I’ve only called ye ‘wee friend’, so there’s no need to be lookin’ at me as if I’ve insulted ye.”
If the gull had a discernible eyebrow, Casey felt certain it would have raised it at this point.
“It’ll be a rare hour to be up an’ about for either gull or man, ye’ll admit, though?”
The gull bobbed its head from side to side and uttered a soft coo-uh, coo-uh, its pinkish legs doing a funny little sidestep in time with the bobbing head. It looked hopefully at his coffee cup. Casey smiled.
“My daddy always said ye should offer food to yer company, said ‘twas the least ye could do for them, considerin’ they were trapped in yer home for politeness sake an’ would have to listen to ye whether they liked it or no’.” He tore off another strip of the mealy bread.
“Now ye understand, ye’ll owe me the kindness of a listenin’ ear,” he told the gull, holding out the bread. The bird hesitated only momentarily, keeping a wary eye on the broad calloused palm from which it received its meal.
“In Boston for the winter, are ye? It’s not so bad as cities go, though ye might want to look for a better neighborhood than this one.”
He took another slug of coffee, which was distinctly bitter now, handed the gull another piece of the bread, and turned his gaze toward the outlines of the neighborhood. A light was on here and there, wakeful babies with exhausted parents, drunks stumbling home believing the last of the dark would hide their sins, and people that simply could not sleep. There were streets here, particularly in Southie, where he could almost believe he was back in Belfast.
But it wasn’t Belfast, and the streets here were not controlled by political mobs, instead, they were controlled by the actual mob. Everything that stretched below him- the buildings, the streets, and the people inside the graffiti-littered brick homes- were owned lock, stock, and smoking barrel by his boss, Lovett Hagerty. Including the building, he and his wife were housed in.
The two of them had arrived in Boston on a beautiful September day, exhausted, uncertain, and in Pamela’s case, four months pregnant. Love Hagerty had sent a car to meet them at Logan airport, had arranged their housing, and had found Pamela a doctor, and Casey a job within his own organization.
The pregnancy had surprised the both of them. Pamela had only missed her monthlies the one time and so when the doctor told her she was four months gone, with a child due to arrive early in the new year, she had been, to say the least, surprised. As had he. After surprise had come a sneaking happiness- that had made both of them discuss the future with anticipation and a fragile hope.
Pamela had gone to work for Love Hagerty soon after their arrival. Casey viewed the job offer with some cynicism. He was used to men staring at his wife, used to the desire that rose unbidden in their eyes even as she passed them in the streets. Generally speaking, though, a sharp look or an arm about her shoulders made them turn away, faces flushing with shame. Not so with Love Hagerty. Pamela had assured Casey, however, that she could handle Mr. Hagerty, and so had gone to work on a campaign that was faltering in its final furlong toward Election Day. Replacing an assistant who had suddenly, and rather conveniently, Casey thought, found herself quite ill.
The work itself had put Casey’s antennae up. Pamela’s own father had been involved in Irish American politics and she had been, in part, groomed for the rough and tumble etiquette of that world. Casey knew this only after long, late-night conversations about his wife’s childhood. How Love Hagerty had been so certain that she would fit this world like an ivory hand within a velvet glove- was something that worried him a great deal. There was, however, little use gainsaying the woman when she made her mind up to a task. And he trusted her implicitly, even if he trusted Love Hagerty less and less with each week that passed.
Shamed as he was to admit it, he had been surprised to find Pamela within her element in the world of Boston politics. She knew how to smooth ruffled feathers, cajole money and time from the wealthy, and make every constituent feel as though their vote was the only one that mattered. She was a priceless asset; he only wondered how Love Hagerty had so swiftly and clearly seen that which had astonished him.
The baby they had begun to build an entire world around was lost a mere month later. Through it, all Love had expressed concern, sent flowers, and small treats, and finally, one afternoon arrived on their doorstep to lure Pamela back into the world of politics he had instinctively known would be her saving grace. While grateful for the return of his wife to the world, Casey had been less pleased about the method employed. For Love Hagerty, smooth and polished as sapphire on the outside, was, behind the sparkling façade, a much darker stone altogether.
Love, who had dreams of one-day dwelling in the governor’s mansion, had a crooked finger in every pie South Boston had to offer. Though his own fingers, should they be inspected, were squeaky clean. Love controlled the neighborhood, but he did it intravenously, through the corrupt line of Blackie Brindle.
Blackie, who ran his office out of the back of a pub called The Shamrock and Shillelagh, was feared and respected throughout the whole of South Boston. Born to first-generation Irish immigrants Blackie was raised on the streets of South Boston, where the code held that a man took care of his own and kept his mouth shut about all he knew and saw. As Love Hagerty’s right-hand man, he oversaw the vast majority of sports betting, numbers running, loan-sharking, and drug dealing that occurred south of the Fort Point Channel. And that was not to mention the prostitution rings, paid protection, and deals that were cooking between Southie and Boston’s North End, where Giulio Bassarelli and his family held court- and the reins of power- for New England’s mafia.
“Do ye know what it is to have knowledge of things that ye’ve no wish to know, to have things that ye’ve seen an’ heard be a burden?” Casey said softly, the last piece of the bread lying on his palm.
The gull took the bread, less cautious now. Ruffling its feathers, it sank down onto webbed feet to enjoy this final bit of breakfast.
Born to a Republican family in a hard neighborhood, incarcerated in a British prison for five years, Casey was no stranger to trouble. But he’d never really felt as frightened as he did this moment. Belfast was a tough city, but he understood its rules, knew which streets were safe and which were not. Even prison, though terrifying, had operated within a set of parameters that he learned to adjust to. South Boston, and the two men who had a stranglehold on its streets and rundown tenements, was a different kettle of fish altogether. Just when he thought he had a grip on things, they shifted, presenting him with a whole new face, unfamiliar and unwanted. On his own, he could manage, but now he had a wife to take care of, and it was this fact that made fear a constant presence in his life.
The gull stood and stretched, giving its wings a couple of flaps, while stretching its neck out towards Casey with a questioning look.
“I’ve no more, wee fella,” Casey said, showing his hands to the bird, palms up.
The sun was no more than a watery hint against the mirror of sky as the gull took its leave, the underside of its wings catching a fleeting green glow of the neon shamrock.
Casey watched until the bird became a mere speck caught between the rising sun and the sea, and wished fervently that he could leave his own troubles behind with such ease.
He stood, shut the window, and glanced wearily at the clock above the stove.
Blackie was waiting; it was time to go to work.
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