Thursday, March 31, 2011
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Thursday, March 17, 2011
“We got ourselves in a bit of a standoff, so we do...” The Irish thug on the stoop was surprisingly calm, considering Dorcas was still holding her blade jammed hard under his ribcage. “Would you feel better if I let you take me musketoon?”
Dorcas considered this. She was hesitant to reach for it, because she was afraid a shift in position might give him an opening to either grab her or hit her with the weapon. But on the other hand, I really do have the tiger by the tail right now. Gonna have to do something.
She put her hand on the weapon firmly, ready to pull him into her blade if he made a sudden move. He was taller than she, but judging by his lean, rangy build, and the way had the gun slung across his broad shoulders, a hard yank on it would pull him off balance. He kept his thumb in the trigger guard and his raised hands open, fingers spread to show they were otherwise empty and unready to fight.
“Take it.” He said, sliding his thumb slowly out of the metal loop.
“You try anything and I swear I’ll kill you.”She tightened her grip on both the gun and the knife handle, giving him a nudge with the latter to remind him of his precarious position. “I’ll leave your dead white ass right here on the stairs.”
“Aye, I’m getting that.”
She slowly pulled the musket from across his shoulders and backed out of his reach, leveling the barrel at his chest. “What do you want?”
“Well...It was me intent to help you with the door....well...that and if I hadn’t stayed, Connor most likely would have.”
“He seems to think your intent was to attack me. And he clearly knows you better than I do.”
The young man grimaced unhappily and shook his tousled ginger head. “Actually, lass...no he doesn’t.”
“You’re telling me you don’t know him, now?”
“He’s me brother.” The man muttered, a disgusted edge in his voice. Ignoring the weapon aimed at him, he turned towards the stuck door and put his shoulder to it. It moved another squealing inch. “Aye, got a problem here, sure. So...” He said conversationially, peering beyond the door into the dank darkness within the tenement. “You play fiddle down at Pete’s place.”
Wha...? Startled, Dorcas’ mouth fell open. “You mean Almacks? The dance hall? Uh...yes. I play...violin.”
“You’re very good.” He was stooping, straining his arm behind the door at something she couldn’t see.
An unpleasant realization hit her. “Did you...did you follow me home?” She stepped back in alarm and re-aimed the big barrel, which had started to droop, back up to his chest.
“No.” He planted both hands firmly on the door frame, braced one foot against the door, and shoved steadily with his leg. The door slid slowly open, scraping and squeaking the entire way.
“Then why are you really here?”
“Because I live here. I need to pick up more balls.” He turned and gently but firmly took his firearm out of her startled hands. “Tha’s not loaded, lass.”
Her mouth dropped open and she stared at him. I'd say he has all the balls he needs and then some. She crossed her arms, cocking her head at him. There is probably close to a thousand people living in this building. I guess it’s possible I’ve never seen him here. Especially if he keeps different hours...which considering that he’s wearing gang markings, I imagine he does.
His face broke into a cocky grin. “How stupid do you think I am?” He winked and gestured to the now open doorway. “After you. Mind your step, Mr. Scarano is passed out paralytic drunk in the hallway once again. He’s layin’ against door. And I smell vomit..you know, the usual...so...stay to the left. He’s made a right holy show of it in there.”
He really does live here. She stared at him, not moving.
He gave her a comical shrug and flopped down on the seatwall, looking up at her. “Are you goin’ in?”
She thought about this. She felt fairly certain that if the man had meant to attack her, he could have done so while she was holding his unloaded weapon on him. He hardly would have handed her a loaded weapon, so she felt inclined to believe his claim that it wasn’t. Hell, he did get rid of his pig brother...he wasn’t obligated to do that. Still, not sure I want a Roach Guard I’d held at knifepoint and then at gunpoint knowing where exactly I live... “No.”
He gave her an exasperated look and cocked his head. In the dim amber light, she could see that his eyes were a deep blue. Normally, she didn’t like blue eyes. They were pale and untrustworthy, and belonged to people who looked at her as if she were less than human. This man’s eyes were a deeper color, like indigo dye, and twinkled with amusement.
“Fair enough, lass.” He nodded. “So if we’re gonna sit here, I don’t supposed there’s any danger of me...” He gestured at the violin case."I mean, would you possibly let me...."
Is he serious? She raised an eyebrow at him.
He raised one as well and held out the musketoon to her.
I must be out of my skull. This violin is the difference between starving and not starving. She held out her instrument case and let him take it from her, taking the gun from him once again.
“You play?” She said incredulously, watching him reverently open the case. It was more an exclamation of disbelief than a question.
“Aye...well...it’s been a while.” He said softly, his long, slightly freckled fingers running over the chalky white haze that marred the instrument’s narrow waist, plucking the strings and listening, adjusting them. He found lump of rosin inside and deftly rubbed it over the horsehair of the bow. “I don’t know if I can even...” He gently swung the instrument to his shoulder, and drew the bow across the strings, his eyes closing in what Dorcas thought was something akin to quiet ecstasy. He played each string, listening to the tone of each, the sweet, heartbreaking sweep of pure sound seemingly even more beautiful for the filthy squalor of the decaying tenement before them. When he reached the high E, it took her breath.
Then he bounced the bow like the Irish in the dancehall did when they were playing reels or jigs, and a jaunty tune she was pretty sure she’d heard before awoke from the strings. Hesitantly, as if his fingers had to remember what they were doing, and then more confidently. She smiled in spite of herself, intrigued. She didn’t play this style, and in fact normally didn’t care for this style. But it was interesting to hear her violin played this way.
He finished the tune, his eyelids slowly opening as he smiled at her. She was pretty sure his eyes were brighter than they had been. “Thank you, lass.” He said, his voice suddenly quiet and fragile.
Dorcas was not quite sure what to say. She cleared her throat. “That’s one I like” she said with a forced casualness, trying to place the tune in her mind. Trying to make him think she didn’t notice the emotion that transfigured his face, that twisted her soul inside her. “Beggarman, or Rigadoo...or...?”
He was carefully placing the instrument and the bow back into the case, closing the latches and holding the case out to her. He had a look of pure gratitude on his face, and he didn’t answer. She suspected he didn’t want her to hear his voice break.
“How about I call that tune Red Haired Boy?” She said charitably, abandoning her curiosity and with it, the need for him to answer. “I’ll remember that.”
Is this how the reel Red Haired Boy, otherwise known as The Jolly Beggarman or The Little Beggarman got it’s name? Well, anything’s possible I suppose, but to my knowledge, no. What I do know is that traditional and folk tunes and songs morph and change and get renamed all the time. Sometimes they’re called “So and So’s Favorite.” Traditional songs oftentimes go by many names.
I particularly love the tune Red Haired Boy, and often request we do it when I am involved in an Irish session. Once, when it was my turn to call the tune, I said “Let’s play Red Haired Boy”, and the fiddler beside me said “Ah, Danny Pearl’s Favorite.” I gave him a questioning look, so he explained why he’d called the tune that.
You may recall hearing about Daniel Pearl, the journalist who was murdered in Pakistan by Al-Qaeda. What you probably didn’t hear was that Pearl played bluegrass fiddle, and was particularly fond of the tune, too. So his session buddies decided to honor him by renaming the tune, and passing word of the renaming to any other session musicians they played with.
The new name had trickled all the way to a hole-in-the-wall Irish pub called the Publick House way down in South Carolina.
So the next time I was in a session where someone requested Red Haired Boy...well...you all know what I said.
*Special Thanks to Fred for helping me out with some historical details on firearms!
© 2010 Regina Shelley
Thursday, March 10, 2011
“Oh.” the leering Irishman sneered. “I see how it sodding is. What do you wan’ me to tell Flannagan? You decided to take your wee laddie out for a little exercise so you’re runnin’ a bit late?”
"He didn't say what you think, lass, and he was talkin' to me anyways." Rifle said evenly, not looking at her. “Connor. Come here to me, lad.” He put a calming hand on the shoulder of his menacing companion and firmly turned him so they were facing each other. “We both know you’re stopping at the Red Door for another drink before we meet Flannagan and the lads. Go wait for me there.” He put up a finger. “Not a sodding word more. We could fight about it here, sure, and then we show up so banjaxed and torn up the Chichesters have an easy job of just finishing it up and killing us. And you know sodding well we’ll run into them. And maybe Father Vallon's lads as well. They’ll be after the shipment, sure.”
Thursday, March 3, 2011
"So how's it look up there, Bugs?" The kitchen table had been dragged over to the burned end of the kitchen, and Saint stood on top of it, squinting up into the charred hole left by the fire. "That sod look like it's alive to you?"
"Hard to say. None of it's very green, but it's been cold, so..." Tommy's muffled voice floated down through the sunshine-filled void. "Most of it looks like it might come back after a few rains. Maybe we'll just have to replace what was on the corner...oh...oh, look at that..."
Lily watched warily from the sink, where she was washing the breakfast dishes. She wasn't happy at the soil, dead grass, and charred bits that had floated down onto the floor she and Fiona had so carefully cleaned, but it couldn't be helped. The damaged sod roof over the kitchen had to be fixed, and a dirty floor could be easily swept. She knew that whatever had transpired between Fiona and Storm, however, would not be as easily swept away.
Between Storm's sullen silence and Fiona's forced cheerfulness, breakfast had been excruciating. She'd never been so happy to be able to tackle a sink full of dishes alone in her life. She didn't have to go into the house to know that Fiona and Mr. Lynch were behind the closed door of the office, arguing heatedly. And while she honestly could not imagine such a scene, she would almost think that Mr. Storm had either wept or was on the verge of it when he'd earlier walked into the kitchen for breakfast.And when he walked back out minutes later, he was livid to the point of being terrifying. She couldn't help but wonder how Mr. Wash had fared going after him.
Being beaten to within an inch of his life and then the prospect of public execution hadn't been enough to crack Storm's control, so she knew the news that his job might be in jeopardy would hardly have been enough to push him over the edge.
Did Fiona...tell him? That she's leaving?
Clumps of dirt sifted down past the charred timbers, and Saint ducked his head forward, narrowly avoiding a faceful of soil. "The hell you doing up there?"
"There's a lot of white grubworms up here." Tommy said.
"Well, we don't need to dig 'em out now. You can play with your crawlies later. It's raining dirt down here."
"Taking me back someplace I don't wanna go." Saint muttered as he worked. His hands were black with soot and earth as he felt along the damaged beams, pressing hard, searching for instability. Dirt clumps scattered and broke on the table and floor.
"Tommy," Lily called worriedly. "Please don't fall through the roof. Be careful."
"Don't you worry Miss Lily. It's pretty sturdy." He called back, his voice filtering dully through the hole and the remaining sod. "It is...uh...pretty sturdy...isn't it Saint?"
"Mostly, yeah." Saint said, tugging at a support beam. "Don't crawl right up to the hole...but I don't think your weight's gonna break anything. Mostly lost some of the flat pieces holding the sod up, I think." He glanced at Lily, raising his eyebrows at her. "I guess if we gotta fix a roof, it's handy having these lightweight express riders to send topside, eh?"
She forced a chuckle she didn't feel. "I reckon it is."
"Little Miss...Hand me my hat, willya?" More crumbled sod fell into his hair. "I'm gonna end up with sand in my eyes...." Dirt rolled off his shoulders and fell on the tabletop around his boots.
She dried her hands and picked up the black hat that lay on the bench. He'd taken it off so he could see to work above his head, but without it, he was taking a lot of dirt in the face. She walked over and held it up to him.
"Thanks." He took the hat from her and frisked the remaining debris from his hair, leaving a sooty smear across his forehead. "You don't look happy." He jammed the hat onto his head.
Because I'm not happy. Not right at this minute, anyways. For one thing, I like it here and don't want to have to lose my job. She sighed. "The job. Fiona. Storm... Breakfast. You know."
Saint crouched down so he was more or less face to face with her. "Those two have been bickering like an old married couple as long as I've known 'em."
"It was different today." She reached over and briskly brushed a rootlet-filled clod off his shoulder.
A gout of dirt suddenly poured through the hole, exploding on the crown of Saint's hat. Lily yelped and scrambled backwards.
"Sorry." Tommy's muffled voice filtered down to them sounding sheepish.
"What did you do?" Saint shifted from beneath the hole, brushing himself off.
"There's...well...a whole bunch of Darkling beetles...."
Saint huffed, exasperated, throwing up his hands and shaking his head at Lily. "Can you believe this?"
Lily took Saint's hat off and shook it out before placing it back onto his head. "Tommy...?"
"Likes bugs. Yeah." Saint unfolded his legs and sat on the table far enough away from the hole that any new avalanches would miss hitting him. "There ain't no point in pretending we don't know about Storm and Fiona, so I ain't telling you anything new. It's just getting to the point..." he paused, an unspoken thought flickering across his features. "...where they can't pretend it's nothing anymore." He reached up without thinking and mopped his face with his fingers, leaving black smears. "...what?" He said, noticing the amused look on her face.
"Mr. Saint, you just..." she smiled in spite of herself. "Here." She took the hem of her apron and gently scrubbed at the offending smudges. "You just smeared soot all over your face."
"Gonna get a lot dirtier before we're done, you know." He protested softly, but nonetheless leaned forward obediently, letting her work. His dark eyes settled on hers briefly before closing.
He really did have wonderful eyelashes. They lay on his cheeks like feathery black shadows. In fact, his entire face was a contrasting mix of soft and harsh. Rough stubble on smooth olive skin, a beautifully sculpted nose slightly bent from being broken in a brawl. She felt the sandy grit atop his cheekbones and in the hollows of his eyes, acutely aware of the warmth of him against her fingertips as she swept it away.
The night of the fire seemed almost like it had happened a lifetime ago. She thought of the way he'd hauled her through the falling embers and suffocating smoke, dumping her out of the window before him. How quickly he'd become incapacitated, how he'd lay retching and gasping in the garden for air when they'd pulled him out. She was nothing to him, just some plain-featured, skinny little girl he barely knew, and yet he'd run into a fire for her knowing what it would do to him.
And nobody was in the least surprised he'd done it.
"So..." He opened his eyes and looked at her, snapping her out of her thoughts. There was a forced casualness in his tone. "You and...Hungerford?"
She felt a warmth flooding her face, although she wasn't sure if it was the mention of Bender or the proximity of Saint's dark gaze that had triggered it. Maybe it's both. She shrugged self-consciously. "I don't know, Saint." She stammered, suddenly embarrassed. "I like him. He's nice." And how is this any of his business? She thought defensively. Bold question from a man who regularly comes home with lip rouge on his collar. "And he's not my beau, if that's what you're asking. I'm here to work, not...look for...that." She was actually glad in a way about the pink smudges and the scent of feminine perfume wafting from his shirt when she had laundered it. The idea that he had a sweetheart made her less nervous around him, made him off-limits. Made him safer to be around. She was still afraid of him. Maybe even more than she had been before she'd gotten to know him. But now she was afraid for an entirely different reason.
She drew in a deep breath, studying his face. “That’s about the best I can do without any soap.” She forced a smile.
The fewer possibilities I have regarding Saint the better.
© 2010 Regina Shelley