The Two Faces Of A Gift Horse
Prologue - Dawning of a New Era
The old fisher chugged into Ballharr harbour at first light. By the time the boat’s fenders nudged against the jetty’s stone wall the sky had turned from inky blue to purples and oranges promising a day ahead replete with good fortune and optimism. None of the morning fortitude was lost on Lynch who smoked a cigarette whilst he stared from the stern of the boat at the sunrise in awe.
It wasn’t like him to be so taken with such things. ‘It’s going to be a glorious day, Fergus. It’s no ordinary dawn. That there is a symbol of a new era.’
‘Aye, it sure is, Lynch. Glorious.’ Fergus gave Lynch a curious sideways glance as he clicked on the bilge pumps.
‘As sure as onions make hard men cry, eh Fergus.’
‘Aye, don’t they just.’ Fergus tied off the boat.
Lynch finished his cigarette. He flicked the smouldering butt into the sea, stepped up in two easy silent strides with his cranefly like legs, from the deck to the transom and onto the pier, turned towards the boat. ‘Pass me The Black Bag will you Fergus?’
‘Aye, I will.’ Fergus rooted about in the cabin and pulled out a rotund rubber water proof black holdall and passed it up to Lynch whose spooky silhouette loomed above him, his long coat billowing in the morning breeze. ‘You look like the messenger of doom up there.’
Lynch laughed. ‘Not today, Fergus. Today I am the messenger of peace and happiness. Today I’m announcing that generations of tyranny and hardship are to be replaced with long awaited freedom and prosperity.’
‘Aye, right you are, Lynch, right you are,’ replied Fergus as he reached up to turn off the boat’s lights, as was his habit. He paused because despite the darkness earlier, they’d not used them that morning. Lynch watched from above as Fergus then sprinted about the wee boat tying spring and dock lines, adjusting fenders and generally making the boat safe for Ballharr’s tidal harbour.
Lynch set down The Black Bag to retrieve a hose from the other side of the pier and pulled it over to the old boat as Fergus cut the diesel engine bringing an eerie silence to the dawn proceedings. Gulls appeared and squawked overhead perhaps there because of the fishy briny smell of the harbour or in hope that the boat had brought a catch. As Lynch hauled the hose to the side of the boat, Fergus left the small cabin with a mop and bucket and bottle of bleach. He poured the bleach into the bucket, took the end of the hose and waited for Lynch to turn on the tap. He filled the bucket and began to scrub all surface areas thoroughly, his activities carried out in rehearsed and hasty ease. Lynch watched over him smoking another cigarette. Fergus emptied the bucket over the side, rinsed the boat down, put everything away and joined Lynch on the pier as Lynch recoiled the hose. Then both, Lynch with The Black Bag in one hand, and Fergus lighting a cigarette, walked towards the small village of Ballharr, the only town on Ballharr Island, lit from behind by the rising sun.
‘Ballharr will never be the same again,’ said Lynch stopping beside a roll top bin.
‘Aye, It won’t. Never again.’
Lynch set The Black Bag onto the pavement, bent down, unzipped it and pulled out six empty five litre plastic Coke a Cola bottles and several cardboard tubes. He swung the lid of the skip open releasing a whiff of fox piss and rotting food, and placed these items into it.
‘Fuck, that’s whiffy,’ said Fergus.
Lynch rolled it shut with a bang that echoed around the quiet sea front. He bent over, zipped up The Black Bag, took the handles in his right hand and proceeded on their walk.
‘You’ll have to restock that bag,’ said Fergus.
‘Aye, that’s a fact,’ said Lynch. ‘Though if our cards have been played the way I reckon then we may not be needing The Black Bag again.’
‘That’s a bit of a rash statement coming from you, like.’ Fergus looked at Lynch as if Lynch had suggested that they’d never again drink Guinness, smoke cigarettes or sneak round to Arlene O’Hanlon’s cottage of sin ever again.
Lynch thought about that for a moment as they walked. ‘Yep, a tad rash, Fergus, indeed.’
They continued on their journey past the town’s wee pub with the broken signage. Lynch looked up to see what it was called today and the loose hanging letters said, ‘Laim Dogs.’ Lynch shook his head, said, ‘fucking kids,’ and continued walking. He stopped at the front of a little sweet shop called Tierney’s. Lynch pulled the handle down gave the door a good push and a little bell tinkled their arrival, needlessly as it turned out, as Mr Tierney the owner, a short roundish woman with curly hair tied in a scarf and apron to match, was there to greet them.
‘Good morning to you, Mrs Tierney and I must say that you’re looking as fresh and promising as this wonderful morning.’ Lynch sniffed the air of sugar and fruit flavours, mixing with the smell of cooking pork floating in from the inner door.
‘Oh, you tease, Mr Lynch and good morning to you both. Isn’t that a grand morning, indeed.’
‘That it is, Mrs Tierney,’ said Lynch.
‘Aye, it’s a humdinger,’ said Fergus.
‘The others are waiting for you out back. I’ll bring you a fresh cuppa and I’ll expect you boys will be hungry.’
‘You expect right, Mrs Tierney,’ said Lynch.
‘Hungrier than a famished ferret,’ added Fergus.
‘Good. Sit yourselves down and I’ll be right with you.’
Lynch and Fergus headed along a narrow low corridor to a dim and smoky room at the rear of the little seafront terrace sweet shop, Lynch having to bend at each of the two door lintels on route. The flowery wallpaper in the room hadn’t changed since Lynch had first entered this wee room twenty odd years ago, except to darken with constant absorption of nicotine and grease. Two others were waiting at a teak dining table, mugs of coffee in front of them set upon picture mats, beside emptied breakfast plates showing barely a smudge of the runny eggs and sausage fat that had decorated the plates minutes earlier.
‘Mick, Brendan,’ nodded Lynch sitting down at the head of the table without removing his long coat.
The larger of the two, Mick, nodded back. His huge hands held a tiny china teacup between thumb and forefinger like it was taken from a doll’s house. His movements appeared ponderous and clumsy yet he handled everything with unusual dexterity and gentleness. He set his cup upon the saucer without a sound.
Brendan, who was potbellied and rotund, half stood, hoisted his trousers up an inch, sat again and asked, ‘job done?’ He wiped his greasy hands through his black greasy hair, pulled a Major from a pack and lit it with a zippo.
‘Job done, Brendan,’ confirmed Lynch.
‘Jobs a good’un,’ said Fergus who walked around the table then back the other way.
Lynch waited for Fergus to settle, eventually taking a seat beside Lynch. ‘You’re like a fecken blue arsed fly Fergus. Will you sit at peace?’
Fergus smiled as if he’d just been complimented on achieving some mighty dangerous and difficult deed.
Mrs Tierney returned with, for such a little woman, an impossibly heavy looking tray of bacon, sausages, eggs, fried breads, coffees and toast. ‘I’ve got out my best Royal Doulton china for youse’uns as you seem to be in good chipper about something.’
‘That we are and thank you very much, it’s greatly appreciated, Mrs Tierney,’ said Lynch helping himself to a napkin in readiness. ‘This looks delicious, as always, and I hope these lads have shown you their full appreciation?’
‘Oh they have indeed, Mr Lynch.’
Lynch glared at the others and with added effusiveness they all thanked Mrs Tierney again. Mick jumped up to take the tray from her and passed it along to Lynch and Fergus who got stuck in. The others waited until their feast was over, cigarettes lit and coffees being sipped from Mrs Tierney’s fine English bone china before they began.
‘So?’ asked Mick. ‘O’Boyle?’
‘He was Boyle not O’Boyle. Boyle, as you know well, was no more Irish than this English china mug.’
‘Aye, English bastard,’ said Fergus.
‘So he’s gone?’ asked Mick.
‘The Routen Wheel,’ said Fergus.
‘So then it’s ours. Just the legals to be finalised?’ asked Brendan.
‘Just the statutory notice period. An advert will go out once The Guarda has confirmed he’s not coming back - which shouldn’t take long as his canoe’s going to be found this morning washed up on the rocks - after which we have six months to wait. Then it’s ours.’
‘Six months.’ Mick shook his head.
‘Six months is nothing,’ said Lynch. ‘We’ve been waiting for six generations. We just need to sit tight and say nothing. At that suggestion silent contemplation fell upon the room.