Authors: Bartholomew Gill
A Peter McGarr Mystery
Great, good-hearted companion
and loving friend.
We miss you.
CLEMENT FORD HEARD the phone ring in the hall of…
FORD KNEW THE boat—or at least the type—since he had…
AT THE DOOR of his cottage, Clement Ford did not…
MIRNA GOTTSCHALK HAD been born on Clare Island in 1941,…
FORD STAGGERED AND fell again. He had imagined the descent…
THERE WAS NO light in Packy O’Malley’s tiny cottage by…
CLARE ISLAND WAS just as Peter McGarr remembered it—a bright…
THE FORD COTTAGE lay some two miles from the harbor…
MIRNA GOTTSCHALK SAW the man approaching from at least a…
AS THE ROVER wheeled slowly along the rutted boreen, McGarr…
A TRIED PATIENCE was Detective Superintendent Bernard McKeon’s condition exactly.
JUST BEFORE DAWN, Angus Rehm cut the auxiliary engine and…
WHEN DETECTIVE SUPERINTENDENT Hugh Ward opened his eyes the next…
COLM CANNING THOUGHT his head was one of the bells…
JUST AFTER NOON, Noreen McGarr stopped the car at the…
“IS SIGAL A Jewish name?” Ruth Bresnahan asked Hugh Ward,…
THE TURRET ROOM of the Clare Island lighthouse was like…
PETER McGARR WAS waiting in the wing chair in Mirna…
MIRNA GOTTSCHALK WAITED until after dinner to tell her son…
WITH A CRASH and a curse Colm Canning arrived at…
NOT MANY YEARS ago, a large new ferry had been…
“DID YOU MANAGE to meet that boatload of young women?”…
BERNIE McKEON’S BRIEF touch with serenity was over, he could…
WHEN HUGH WARD got back to the office in Dublin…
AS HAD ANGUS Rehm. He was clutching the VHF scanner/decoder…
CLEM FORD WAS at a loss what to do. Anchored…
WHEN THE THREE people walked into the office of Monck…
TWO DAYS LATER, while lying on the beach at the…
McGARR GLANCED UP at Maddie. She and some new-found friends…
McGarr closed the sheaf of photocopied pages and handed it…
HE DID NOT knock. With the barrel of his automatic…
SEVERAL MONTHS LATER, after having taken Lugh Sigal to gyms,…
, writing of Clew Bay, County Mayo, in 1842:
The most beautiful view I ever saw in the world…. The mountains were tumbled about in a thousand fantastic ways and…the bay…which sweeps down to the sea, and a hundred islands in it, were dressed up in gold and purple, and crimson with the whole cloudy west in a flame. Wonderful, wonderful!
CLEMENT FORD HEARD the phone ring in the hall of the Clare Island cottage that he had occupied now for over fifty years. He glanced at the clock on the mantel—4:15.
“Strange hour of the afternoon to be ringing up,” said his wife, Breege, who was sitting in the other wing chair across the hearth from him.
Like a cracked red eye, a mound of peat was glowing in the fireplace, the white smoke tracking quickly up the flue. Outside a chill wind that had brought drenching rains was whining through the eaves. It was the last gasp of a wild and wet spring, Ford hoped. Apart from the clock, the clicking of Breege’s knitting needles was the only other sound.
“Shall I answer it?”
“No, of course not,” said Ford, clenching his pipe between his teeth and grasping the arms of the chair. “I’ve always answered the phone round here, and I’ve no intention of stopping now.”
“Mind your poor knees. Or are they feeling better today?”
Ford glanced at her. Although her hands were moving at a furious pace, her star-burst blue eyes, which he had always considered the most beautiful he had ever seen, were staring up into the shadows on the other side of the room. Breege had been blind since birth.
A dark woman with long, finely formed features, she was thin with good shoulders that had remained square even as she had aged. In fact, with only a touch of gray in her jet black hair, Breege scarcely looked a day over fifty, though she was nearly as old as Ford himself.
woman in everything, she kept herself, her house, and all she touched shipshape. And he loved her still, as he had from the moment she and her aunt had pulled him half-dead from the sea all those years ago.
“If you must know, my knees are beyond hope, says the specialist in Dublin. So there’s no sense discussing the subject further. If I don’t use them, they’ll seize up, and then we’ll be in the soup right enough.” One blind and the other a cripple who was now pushing eighty, Ford thought.
In spite of his age, Ford’s shoulders and arms were still well muscled and strong, and he easily pushed himself up from the chair. He had to wait a tottering moment, however, before knowing if his legs would bear his weight, which was twenty stone. A massive man by any measure, he had “shrunk”—Breege was wont to tell people who asked—to six feet six inches tall. “I can see him diminishing by the day,” she’d say with a slight smile.
“Well, whoever it is, they know enough to keep ringing,” she now observed.
The phone was maintaining its manic, two-ring jingle in the hall.
“Maybe it’s one of the children calling.” The Fords had no offspring of their own, nor had they raised any. Yet their mantel was filled with framed photos of several dozen young people in various stages of growth. “We should really get one of those radio telephones that Mirna rang up on the other day,” Breege continued. “She bought it in Westport, and she can even carry it up to her pasture and down to the harbor. It’s rigged to one of the American satellites. I’m afraid I’ll never understand how it happens, but she sounded like she was sitting where you are, Clem.”
It was the last thing they needed, Ford thought—as he moved stiffly—another modern device that would put him on his duff and keep him there, until the both of them were ready for some “home.” Ford planned to live at least as long as
Breege, who needed him more than she knew.
How? By staying active. “Chinese exercise,” Breege’s own maiden aunt had called it, and Peig O’Malley had died at an even hundred years. “I’ve had to hack, scratch, and claw for everything I’ve ever needed,” it was her wont to say, “and ’tis
that’s kept me fit.” And would Ford too, if he could just persevere and fight through the pain. Clare Island practices had saved him once before and would keep him alive now, if he let them.
“Hah-loo. How may I help you?” Ford said, forcing a bit of affability into his voice. His accent was decidedly British.
“Clem—Paul here. I’ve got another one for you.” A distant relation of Breege, like so many others on Clare Island, Paul O’Malley meant another boat. His was the highest dwelling on the harbor side of the island and commanded nearly a complete view of the surrounding sea. As a shut-in, he was known as the “eyes of Clare Island,” and he phoned Ford whenever any vessel of size put into the harbor.
For the favor, Ford bought O’Malley the odd pint when the quadriplegic’s parents took him out for an airing. Also, it was believed that Ford had performed several extraordinary services for the large clan, who had inhabited the island at least since the notorious Grace O’Malley of Elizabethan times.
There was the matter of Padraic “Packy” O’Malley’s surgery in Dublin, where he was taken after having caught his hand in the winch of his lobster boat. A specialist had to be flown in from London, but miraculously the bill had arrived at Packy’s tiny cottage marked “Paid in Full.” When Packy had inquired by whom, he was told a “giant Englishman” with a great white beard, though Ford had denied everything. He made mention of his modest lifestyle in the cottage that Breege had inherited, the three meager fields that he farmed assiduously, and the fact that he did not own even an automobile. Or a boat.
Also a number of O’Malley children had been sent to universities in Ireland and abroad, courtesy of the anonymously endowed Clare Island Trust. Businesses on the island and in County Mayo, of which Clare Island was a part, had been
started, churches repaired, and libraries supported through the Trust.
And it seemed that whenever Clement Ford was informed of a native Clare Islander or a good cause that was in need, the matter was set to rights, later rather than sooner. There was always an appreciable lag between Ford’s learning of a problem, and its happy resolution. Clare Islanders, who believed they knew the source of the bounty, called it “the Ford gap.”
Ford now thanked Paul O’Malley and inquired after his health and that of his parents. “Will I see you at the hotel?”
“Saturday, as usual.” It was the night Paul was taken to the island’s only hotel for a bit of a gargle. “Nine sharp.”
“I’ll stop round, and we’ll have a jar.”
“I’d like that. Bring Breege.” Perhaps because they were both disabled, the two cousins got along famously and seemed to buck each other up.
“Sure, I couldn’t get out of the house without her.” Ford rang off and reached for his storm anorak and hat. To Breege he called, “I’m stepping out for a moment, dear heart. Don’t hold tea—I might be late.”
“Who was that—Paul?”
From the cabinet beneath the hatrack, Ford added the pair of Zeiss night-seeing binoculars that he had treated himself to when last in Dublin. They were heavy, bulky, and had cost the better part of two thousand quid. As always, he had trouble fitting them under the rain gear.
“Don’t you think you could stop this foolishness after all these years?”
It was a question that Ford had often asked himself when having to go out into weather like this. But he always came up with the same answer: He had been placed in trust, as he thought of it, over the cargo that he had brought with him to the island in 1945. It wasn’t his. In fact, after the passage of time and all the changes that had taken place in the world, it probably wasn’t anybody’s.
But the uses it could be put to were important to Ford. Granted, the impulse to acquire the cargo had not been selfless. But during his long recovery from the pummeling that the ocean had given him, Ford had realized that there was
something operating in the world that was bigger than he or his personal needs. That something had saved him. And it had given him Breege and Clare Island, which was like a kind of paradise. It was right to use the resources at his disposal to serve that something. And so he had.
The others that Ford had, well, “stolen” the cargo from? They were predators and would never forget. As long as even one of them was still alive, there was a chance that he might be out there in the harbor someday, and Ford had to guard against that possibility, if not for himself then for Breege and for the Trust.
“I’ll try to make it fast.” But all depended on how quickly the crew of the vessel would show themselves on deck.
Ford lowered his head and glanced at himself in the hatrack mirror. With his full beard and long hair, which was now going white, he looked rather like Father Time. His nose was long and beaked, his cheeks now hollow with age. Snugging the woolen fisherman’s hat over his brow, he clamped his pipe between his teeth. “Good-bye!” he called, opening the front door.
But before he could amend his words, Breege snapped, “Don’t
say that! You know how I don’t like it.”
“Well, I hope it isn’t cheery, and the storm drives you home. I’ll hold your tea.”
“I said don’t. Don’t!”
“And who are you, out on a fool’s errand, to tell me anything at all.” Breege stood to take herself into the kitchen at the back of the cottage.
As Ford closed the door, he saw her reach toward the table beside the chair, her fingers feeling for the diamond ring he had given her all those years ago. The surround of brilliant sapphire stones was just the color of her eyes, and too large to wear when knitting. “Foolish man,” she muttered, as she slipped it on her finger.
The blast of the storm staggered Clem Ford the moment he stepped out of the small vestibule that was necessary protection on an island that fronted the Atlantic Ocean. Between his home on Clare Island and New York lay nothing but ocean, over three thousand miles of it.
Still, Ford paused out of habit, while the wind buffeted him, to push the small Judas stone against the edge of the door. Glancing up, he scanned the ragged edge of the storm front that was sweeping in off the ocean from the northwest.
Like a black curtain—dark and impenetrable—it was closing down over the brilliant tones of the setting sun. More tellingly, the barometer had begun to plummet. Reaching toward the panel of instruments that he had fixed above the frame of the door, Ford tapped the glass face. They had lost a full inch of mercury in the last hour; the storm would strike soon and hard.
Ford pulled the hood of the anorak over his woolen hat and knotted the scarf about his neck. It might be high time for early summer on the calendar, but Nature heeded her own schedule. Bitch-goddess that she was, she would do as she list.
Turning, Ford launched his large body into the gale.