Thursday, March 17, 2011

Red Haired Boy, Part 2 (prequel)

“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, 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 know, the 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.

“’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 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

Red Haired Boy: Part 1 (prequel)

Dorcas Smith noticed the doorknob on the front door to the tenement was, once again, ripped out of the door. He brother had repaired it the first three times it had happened, but this time, the doorknob was nowhere to be seen. She shouldered her battered violin case, got a better grip on her satchel, and gave the door a tentative shove with her open palm. 

The bent hinges groaned in rusty protest and the peeling, partially rotted door lurched only a few inches open, hanging on what was left of it’s hinges. She surveyed the new damage and sighed, shaking her head in disgust. This is gonna take two hands....

She glanced around the quiet, late-night darkness of the street, wondering if it was safe to put down her bags. Things around here had a way of growing legs with a quickness, and she couldn’t afford to lose anything, especially the violin. In fact, having it out in the open where people could see made her feel like a target. 

“Dammit.” She muttered, watching two young red-haired men saunter up the street. She bumped the door with a hip, but all that succeeded in doing was making it scrape an inch across the uneven and cracked wooden floor behind it, the hinges squealing. 

The men glanced her way, and one of them gave a derisive guffaw. “Tha's one way to keep the darkies out.” His accent was heavy, his words slurring.

Had Dorcas been with her brothers, she would have been either nonplussed or infuriated by the comment. But now, standing alone on the dark street having attracted the attention of a couple of armed ruffians, all she felt was fear. Her hand went to the shiv beneath her coat, noting with growing panic the blue stripe each of them wore on their pants legs and the rifle one of them toted against his shoulder. Roach Guard. Irish thugs. She was trapped on the stoop, unable to open the door or get out of the entryway and flee down the street. She gave the door another fruitless shove. 

“Connor, shut up.” The taller one with the rifle muttered. “Tha’s not how you were raised.”

“Oh, we’re gonna be fecking gentlemen, eh?” The man leaned against one of the seatwalls flanking the doorway, looking Dorcas over. “I'm raised right now, so I am. How 'bout it, brown girl?"

She gripped her knife, keeping it hidden, holding her case before her like a shield. She glared at him, meeting his eyes, sizing him up. He’ll be expecting a shot to the nuts...go for his eyes if he makes a move....they never count on that and spend all their effort guarding their berries...

“Lad, this isna part of the job. Leave off.” Rifle said firmly. “Look, go along with ya, I’ll catch up.”

“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?”

“Jaysus! Will you just go?” 

“You’re a cute hoor, so you are." The shorter man spat at his companion. "Suppose I’m in the mood to get me oats as well, eh?” 

What did he just call me? Why did I not listen to Ethan? Why did I not stay in tonight? Dorcas pressed her back against the jammed door, gripping her knife so hard her hand started to sweat. Her fear warred with her outrage. Taller one might be easier to stab in the side...with any luck, that’ll bleed enough to put him down fast and keep him down, if I get him under his ribs... "I'm not a wh..." 

"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.”

The man called Connor stared up at his taller companion. “We’ll talk about this later, Georgie Fecking Washington,” He growled. 

“Aye, so we will, lad. Get a pint for me, I’ll be along.”

“Sodding tosser.” Connor gave Dorcas one last reproachful look over his shoulder and sauntered down the dark street, his gait self-conscious and cocky, like a dog who didn’t want anyone to know he’d been bested. “Wanker.” 

The remaining man looked up at Dorcas. “I’m sorry about that, lass.” He stepped up to the tenement stairs towards her and gestured towards the door. “If you want to go inside...”

She stepped swiftly towards him, and jammed the shiv firmly against his side, right under his ribcage, pressing  hard enough to get his undivided attention. “I will dump your filthy mick guts right here on the sidewalk, you piece of...”

“Jaysus, lass!” The man froze, gasping in pain as she dug the point into him. “I was gonna ask you to hold me rifle so I can see to the door.” 

“How stupid do you think I am?” 

“Clearly not as stupid as I am. Ouch!”  He didn’t move, holding his hands open, his thumb threaded harmlessly through the trigger guard of the weapon slung behind his neck and across his shoulders. “Lass, I might need that liver later, any danger of you easin’ off....?”

“Give me one good reason I shouldn’t open you up and leave you for the rats right now. Pig!” She hated this man, hated what he represented. Violence and fighting and killing over nothing much important. The painted blue stripe on his pants told her he was on his way to yet another confrontation with gangs of others like himself. He’ll probably kill tonight and some other piece of filth might kill him. Life was cheap here, but it was because of people like him that it was so. She narrowed her eyes at him, forcing herself to calm down. He was a head taller than she was, wiry with strong shoulders. The dim light of the lamp beside the doorway reflected and highlighted a headfull of messy copper curls, gave his colorless face a haint’s ethereal pallor. Trash. Devil. Scum...Maybe I should let him just go on to the hell he's headed to...maybe they’ll all just kill themselves off and be done with it...

“Well, lass...” he said, clearly choosing his words carefully. “I think a pretty compellin’ reason is that if you do, you’ll be stuck out here in front of the aul' Brewery alone with a pricey fiddle, a pretty face, and a jammed door.”

© 2011 Regina Shelley