Adrift in The Artist's Studio

Adrift in The Artist's Studio
"More Color! More Color!"

Monday, February 23, 2009


The heavy lorry trundled north on the Link Road to Kells . The driver of the lorry was dressed in gaudy showman’s clothes: a bright green wool jacket, a black pinstriped waistcoat of cheap shiny silk with a great looping silver watch chain dangling from it. He wore no hat or cap and he had an unlit cigar jammed in his jaws.
Painted on the sides of the lorry like great garish rolling banners were circus images in five or six bright colors. There were clowns both happy and sad, lions, fat ladies, acrobats all frolicking round three stylized rings. On the rear of the lorry was stenciled St Brigid Brothers Circus Show.
“If you are stopped by the Gardai,” the red-headed witch had said, “simply tell them you’re the circus bound for the Fun Fair, you can’t tarry for you’re late setting up the tents. Then pull out your money roll like a boss barker and slip him a hundred pounds.”
The driver had a roll of money in his trouser pocket, and inside his jacket he carried not a pistol, and thus one possible means of escape, but a radio device with a single large black button. Hidden under his crotch was a live fragmentation grenade, as a failsafe. In no case, the red-headed witch had said, will you be going to the Gardai, nor to MI5, but rather straight to your Maker with no middlemen to quibble over the flesh and bones that cover your soul. If it makes it easier for you, the witch had said, think of your wife and daughters in that Londonderry basement, and what my men will do to them if you fail us.
Oh, sure I’ll not fail you, Miss, thought the driver, who fought to keep control of himself, fought to stay conscious with the blood pressure splitting his head open, struggled to keep the screams inside. “But I will see you in Hell, you bitch,” he muttered.
Kells town came into view. All he could think of was the Unfinished Cross, and how Maire had tried to corral the girls as they’d dashed screaming and happy in their summer frocks, back and forth between the broken cross and the Round Tower, and how proud he’d been that day to be a man under an Irish sky.

Ciaran’s legend was airtight and so he had no trouble entering the country at Dun Laoghaire. In fact all he got for his modicum of worry was a passing glance at his British passport (doctored special in London, along with the rest of his funny papers) and a nod from the Customs Inspector: just another merchant seaman from Liverpool. And Ciaran had the accent to prove it, had he been required to open his mouth and speak.
Ten minutes later he stood on the walk before the Town Hall. His sea bag thrown over one shoulder, Ciaran removed his his cap and let the sun touch his face.
A young garda approached him.
“Ní hé lá na gaoithe lá na scolb,” said the garda.
Ciaran was careful not to twitch the hand that held the cap, for it would be a dead giveaway that he understood the young garda’s words as a windy day is not the day to be fixing your thatch.
“Sorry, officer, I don’t speak the Irish,” said Ciaran, and he pulled a long face. “I was trying to recall the way to the Merchant Seaman’s Rest.” It was a code, one he’d been instructed to use upon first contact with any man on the street.
The garda stared at him with a blank face.
“Between Kelly’s and Crofton, and if you’re at George’s you’ve wandered too far.”
Then the garda nodded to him, looked him up and down in case anyone was watching, and strode off along his beat.
Ciaran placed his watch cap back upon his head. Still his hair stuck out around the edges, and blew in the breeze of late afternoon. No day indeed to be after fixing the thatches, he thought. He set off in the general direction of the streets the garda had named, but it had been a code: his contact would be a man named George Croft.
He strode briskly until he was hidden between the dark buildings of the harbor city.

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