with a Gull
An excerpt from Mermaid in a Bowl of Tears
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 and sat on one of the
highly cushioned brass stools next to the bar.
year malt, sixteen year reserve an’ the special
“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.
Casey said gratefully, tapping one out and sliding the
couple,” the bartender said, “ye’ll need the
thrilled to be here do I?” Casey asked.
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.
the glass up, sniffed appreciatively and took a sip. It
slid gold and warm down his throat, leaving tendrils of
fire in its wake.
“Where are ye
from?” The bartender asked, opening a split of
champagne and setting it in a silver bucket of dry ice.
Casey said and swallowed the remainder of his drink,
closing his eyes around the taste, feeling the welcome
heat in his belly. “An’ yerself?”
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
months,” Casey said. “How about yerself?”
“Do ye get
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
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
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
know,” Casey agreed, “yer a man without a
Just then a voice at
his left elbow said, “Cognac, Hennessey if you’ve
crowd,” drawled the voice and Casey knew without
turning his head what he’d 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.
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 off his drink and
turning 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
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
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
jewellry 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.
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 heedlessly continued on.
“Yes. She’s Love
Hagerty’s piece on the side apparently, married to one
of his thugs. Eliot’s had no bloody 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 though 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
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
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 creamily, “I left
“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 slid her arms around Casey’s neck,
tucked her face in the curve of his shoulder and said,
“Casey, take me home
“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.
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
“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
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 icechips.
“A great pity,”
Casey returned, the heavy sarcasm in his voice lost on
none of them.
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 cosy
and Casey had to bite his tongue sharply.
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.”
Eliot said and Casey thought of how he’d dearly love
to throw the man the length of the bar.
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,
Harvard we met for I wasn’t schooled there, as ye may
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
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
“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
“Ye know he’s goin’
to ask ye to come to Washington with him, don’t ye?”
turned him down twice.”
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
“Do ye then?”
Casey said as a hand found its way underneath his onyx
“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 walkup
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
sometime 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 a healthy male’s
fantasies were made of.
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
“No I can feel your
eyes on me,” she drew a shaky breath, “touch me,
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 callouses, 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.
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
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 some time
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.”
“But four in the
morning Casey? What sort of business is done at four
“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
“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
addressed to you, not me. I take that as a fairly broad
“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 on.
“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
“Ye’d best out
with it or it’ll go straight to yer spleen-- that’s
what my daddy used to tell us anyhow.”
“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
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
“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
“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
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
everyday for over a year now Casey, I know what the
silences say as well as the words.”
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’
“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
“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
“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
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
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. And
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, 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 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
Somewhere in the wee
hours Pamela had said, “I’d like to name her
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
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
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 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 lay 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 Harbour 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 three-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
unhasped 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
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 ochre
“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
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 side
step 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
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, particularily 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 graffitti-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, had found
Pamela a doctor and Casey a job within his own
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 the 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 attenae 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
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 governer’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, who ran his
office out of the back of a pub called The Shamrock
andShillelagh, 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 righthand 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 laying 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
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
The gull stood and
stretched, giving its wings a couple of flaps, while
stretching its neck out towards Casey, with a
“I’ve no more wee
fella,” Casey said, showing his hands to the bird,
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 off 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.