It was nearing dark when we returned to the little island where I’d first met O’Quinn. We meandered a bit farther than I had with the cousins that first night, through a tiny hamlet, and then north up a sheltered road for half a mile.
Siobhan pointed toward two identical white cottages. “Around back” We parked and went inside.
“This cottage is yours. Officer McGuinn will be babysitting you. I’ll be next door for a bit, and he’ll bring you over when we’re ready. In the meantime, you change your clothes.” She tossed a bundle from the table.
It was the suit I thought I’d left permanently in Galway. The one Siobhan had paid to have cleaned in Lisdoonvarna.
Apparently she’d had the process undone.
“It has to look realistic. Oh, and I suspect it smells realistic, too. Enjoy.” She already was.
She stepped out and closed the front door. Officer McGuinn stood, all seven feet of him, and finally spoke. “Miss Quinlan suggested you might object to your change of clothes. She asked that I assist you if necessary.” He smiled. I didn’t realize so many of the Irish knew that trick of looking like a shark when they smiled. Smiling used to be such a happy, innocent thing. They’d turned it into a threat. Someone should do something about it; really they should.
Rob and Mossie weren’t smiling like sharks; they were just grinning like the fools they were. I guess when you’re not the one putting on smelly rags you’d hoped never to see again, it’s pretty funny. I wouldn’t know.
The coat felt heavy. I hefted it in my hand, and looked at McGuinn. “Kevlar, it is. Herself said if you were going to get dead, she was going to do it. I assumed, in my official capacity, that she was making a joke, as, in my official capacity, I could not condone threats of violence.” I wished he’d stop smiling.
Sure, you’d think a bullet-proof suit coat would make you feel secure. Of course, you weren’t going into a situation where you’d even need a bullet-proof anything. Helpful hint #437: if you have a choice between Kevlar lining, and being miles away from people who might even seriously consider shooting you, the latter is preferable. For one thing, I’ve never personally tested this Kevlar stuff, and for another thing, they wouldn’t let me wear it over my head or legs. I hear getting shot in the legs hurts, just like getting shot anywhere else.
I hear getting shot in the head doesn’t hurt at all. It’s one of many theories I’d prefer not to challenge.
Siobhan returned with a team of storm troopers; at least, they looked like Imperial Guards. All in black, helmets, scary stuff like that.
“Just backup, in case something goes wrong. We’d prefer not to tip our hand, since it’s unlikely Dubin would have any incriminating evidence with him out here.”
“Showtime, Dr. Martin.” She crooked a finger at me in a manner which, under other circumstances, I would have found enticing in the extreme. In this case, it made me wonder if sharks have fingers.
She’d crossed to the rear door and opened it. She held it for me, and we stepped into the darkness outside.
The second cottage was dark, and all the lights went off in the cottage we’d been in.
Most Americans never see dark like this; almost anywhere in the States you’re near enough to a big city that there’s a little bleed from the city lights against the clouds.
Not here. Closest town over 10,000 was nearly 100 miles away, and sixty per cent of the surrounding area was ocean. So, when I say we stepped into darkness, I mean, when Siobhan reached out to grab my sleeve, I jumped three feet and squeaked like a mouse.
“Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!! Gracious, have you no sense at all? I’d rather we didn’t get separated until I want us separated.”
“I don’t want us separated at all.” I do wish my mouth would shut itself.
The tugging at my sleeve tugged me to a stop. Then we started down the road again.
“Funny; yesterday, you were marvelously talented at separating yourself from me.” She actually sounded hurt. Funny how being in the dark with someone lets you talk differently than you might if you could look into their eyes.
“I’ve learned a bit since then. Like how maybe I owe you my life.”
“You might recall a certain incident in Galway . . . “
“Yes, yes; I know. It’s just that, in the past few days—”
“I know; I know. Kidnapped, beaten, starved, threatened, starved some more, and I hear you even tore the knee of your favorite suit. Causes severe brain damage in the average American, or so I hear.”
I jerked her to a halt.
“I’m sorry. Yes, I’ve been all those things, and it’s harder than you realize. I don’t know who I am; not really. Sure, I know my name, but I don’t know me; the me I really am. I don’t even remember if I have any friends; I even had to ask Rob if I was married, just to be sure.”
“And why does that concern you just now?” I ignored that, almost.
“It’s just that, it’s really disorienting; I mean, it would be, under any conditions. But everything else is upside down, too.”
“What does that mean?”
“I’m not a stranger to your country. I’ve spent so much time here I feel Irish myself, despite secretly being from good English stock.” (“No such thing,” she interrupted.) “This is the place I was always going to settle down and have a family and watch my grandchildren grow up.”
For a change, she was quiet.
“I can’t explain it, since I wasn’t born here, but the first time I came to Ireland, when I got home, I got homesick. For here. I moped around for days until I realized what it was, and started planning a trip back almost immediately. It was almost two years before I could arrange it, and it drove me mad. I bored everyone I could with my slide show of that first trip, but I couldn’t get enough of seeing those places again in my mind; of talking about them. Kept ’em real, until I could come back and make sure of it. Two long years, it took, but when I finally made it, I swore I’d live out my days here if I could.”
“You remember all that?” It seemed like she really wanted to know.
“I do. It’s funny; once in a while, I think of something, and it’s there. It’s like reaching into a box, and pulling out something you knew was in there, but you don’t know how you knew it was in there. Gah! It’s maddening! These little bits float up to where I can almost reach ’em, and then they’re gone.”
“When this is all over, I promise, we’ll have our best doctors give you a good going over.”
“When this is all over, I’m hoping to go home. And not in a pine box.”
I waited for a response. I waited some more.
“You’ll not be going home in a pine box. Not on my watch.”
She tugged my arm and we started down the road again.
“I won’t have any way to speak to you until this is all over, so I’m going to say this now: when we’re all finished with this business, we’re all finished; you and I, I mean.”
“Heh? What? Is there a you and me?” She swore under her breath. “No.”
“Well, what did that mean?”
More tugging and stopping.
In the darkness, I heard her sigh. “Tell me something: that morning at the perfumery, why did you spend every farthing you had in a single go? Explain that, and I’ll explain myself as well.”
I pictured that morning; her copper hair glinting in the morning sun; the smell of the tea, the scones, the flowers; the trivial conversation about Irish weather and food and the Burren; the intimacy of sharing a night in an ancient dolmen; the gut-wrenching need to make that morning last forever.
I realized, now, that I was infinitely more frightened of her rejection than I was of someone pointless like Conor Dubin doing anything to hurt me.
I realized, too, that if Conor Dubin had his way, I’d never have another chance to let her reject me. It was either a walk across a burning bridge, or burn, myself, and never know.
“It was a fantasy. In my head, that morning will be forever. And when you’ve got forever, who needs money?”
I still hesitated about committing myself. “Go on.” There was nothing sharky in her voice; not now.
“Well, I don’t have any clear memories of that exact place, but I know I’ve spent time in the Burren. It’s always felt timeless to me, and somehow, when we were there together, I imagined for a few minutes what it would be like to spend forever with you.”
Bridge Burns: Film at Eleven.
I expected burning bridges to make noise; this one was silent; as silent as the night was black.
“I still do; wonder, I mean. I realize I don’t even know who I am; I might never get it all back. But the part of me that’s ‘me’ is still here. And it still wants to live out its days, here, home, in Ireland. And I think it wants to live out its days with someone very much like you; or, at least, to have the chance to see what life with you would be like.”
I waited. I breathed; I realized I’d been holding my breath. I waited some more, and breathed some more. She tugged at my sleeve.
But this time, she slipped her hand into mine, and we continued down the road in the dark.
Somehow, it felt like a sunrise.