St. Patrick's Gargoyle, p.3Katherine Kurtz
"Uh, Paddy?" he called.
Templeton whirled toward the source of the voice and took an involuntary step back at the sight of the tartan lump on the floor in the rear of the car.
"Get in, get in," Paddy ordered. "We haven't got all day. Or - actually, we do, but you know what I mean. Let's please get going."
Templeton got in. After pulling into the alley, he returned briefly to close and lock the garage doors, then resumed his seat behind the big steering wheel and put the car in gear. The tartan lump bulged a little taller behind the slit between the two front seats as the old car started moving forward, but Templeton tried to pretend it wasn't quite so close, and concentrated on his driving.
"Take us over by the quays first," Paddy said.
"Whatever you say."
The winter day was glorious, with bright sunlight glaring on streets left wet from the previous night's light snowfall, but they had to contend with heavy traffic as soon as the big car left the alley. Morning rush hour was always formidable in downtown Dublin, and in December never really let up until after the stores closed in the evening. Christmas shoppers on foot only added to the congestion, vying with vehicles at every intersection and also along the streets between. The pedestrians were not inclined to look where they were going, or to watch for cars trying to go there first.
The shiny black Rolls Royce limousine with its sweeping fenders and huge headlamps drew appreciative stares as soon as it emerged from the alley, but Templeton was used to such attention, and mostly tried to ignore it. He hoped that his tartan backseat lump was not attracting too much attention. As he approached the very first cross street, he had to stop to let a flock of pedestrians surge across, against the traffic signals, and he glanced impatiently in either direction as he waited, starting to look for old red cars. As he shifted his gaze forward again, he thought he caught just a glimpse of the little gargoyle on the hood also turning its head to look.
He blinked and looked again, but the little gargoyle was staring straight ahead.
"Uh, Paddy?" he said over his shoulder, as he put the car in gear again and eased forward, starting to signal for a right turn down the next lane.
"The little guy moved."
"Of course he moved," Paddy said from underneath the blanket. "What good would he be if he didn't move?"
"I thought you said he wasn't alive."
"He isn't," Paddy said. "At least not in the sense you're probably thinking. He's sort of like an extension of me. Think of him as something like a compass needle. He's going to help us look for the bad guys."
"But-won't people notice?"
The question elicited a snort of amusement. "What's to notice? On a day like this, it's a trick of light - and they'll only catch that out of the corners of their eyes. Besides, they're busy shopping. Just drive."
"Right," Templeton muttered, making the turn. "Uh, can I ask you something else?"
"Is your name really Paddy?"
"No, but you probably couldn't pronounce the real one," came the slightly amused reply. "Besides, we're not supposed to tell. If you'd prefer Pádraig, that's fine by me. We can pick what we're called, but we tend to go by names connected with the places we guard. That's easy enough, where churches are concerned, but some of the secular buildings are a mouthful - and you wouldn't believe some of the newfangled place names the town planners think up."
Templeton chuckled despite the somewhat bizarre nature of their conversation, grunting as he cranked down his window and reached out to free up one of the lighted trafficator arms that served as turn indicators on the old car. Even some of the old place names were, to put it mildly, unusual.
"Does one of you guard the Peppercanister Church?" he said with a grin, rolling the window back up. "That'd be a mouthful, for sure."
"If that were really its name, I might agree," Paddy replied. He found himself rather liking Francis Templeton. "I don't suppose you know its proper name? Most people don't."
"You mean, its saint's name? Lemme see," Templeton said. "No, I used to know, but the old memory isn't what it once was."
"How about a hint?" Paddy said. "The Church considers him the first Christian martyr."
Templeton chuckled as he wheeled the Rolls around a corner, threading his way toward the quays. "Now, that I remember. It's Saint Stephen. And I notice that you didn't really say whether there's a gargoyle there - which is what I suppose I'd expect, regardless of whether this is all real or just a figment of my imagination. But that's all right," he added, glancing at the tartan lump in his rear view mirror. "I’m rather enjoying this. How about Phoenix Park? I think I've seen some carved faces up there."
"No, they're just Watchers. They can't move around, the way gargoyles can. There're some great Watchers in O'Connell Street. The ones on the Irish Permanent building are pretty dozy, but you should talk to the sphinxes on the Gresham Hotel. Now, they're smart! And they don't miss much that goes on."
"Really," Templeton said, trying to take it all in. "How about the Egyptian slaves out in front of the Shelbourne?"
"The ones that hold up the lamps?"
"The very ones."
"Not those, my friend. Sorry, but sometimes a lamppost is only - well, a lamppost."
"Oh," Templeton said.
"Yeah, don't assume that every carved critter you see on a building is a Watcher, much less a gargoyle. And don't assume that, just because you can't see a gargoyle on a building, there isn't one there."
"I see," Templeton said. They were creeping eastward along the quays with the flow of traffic, approaching the great lantern dome of the Four Courts, with its guardian statues along the riverfront skyline-Moses flanked by Wisdom, Justice, Mercy, and Authority. Templeton jutted his chin in their direction.
"Those guys would have a pretty good view up and down the river," he said. "Are they Watchers?"
"A couple of them are," Paddy confirmed. "Some of them like to work in teams."
"That makes sense," Templeton said. He glanced tentatively in his rearview mirror at the tartan lump in the back seat. "And would it be fair to say that if there's a gargoyle assigned to guard the Four Courts - and I’m not asking whether there is or there isn't, mind you - he maybe hides in the dome or something?"
Paddy's throaty gargoyle chuckle must have sounded very like a low growl, for the old man cast a quick, wary glance over his shoulder and briefly cringed in his seat, making the old car swerve momentarily.
"Hey, easy!" Paddy said. "That was amusement."
"Could have fooled me," Templeton muttered.
"Believe me, you'd know if I was offended."
"Well, what was-"
He broke off as a garda motorcycle loomed suddenly off the car's right - rear fender and cruised alongside, its helmeted rider casting an appreciative eye along the expanse of shiny black lacquer but not even looking at the tax and insurance disks on the windscreen - both fortunately current. Grinning, the guard caught Templeton's eye and nodded before roaring off to disappear into Arran Street. Templeton relaxed visibly.
"Don't worry, you won't be stopped," Paddy said.
"Oh, not by him," Templeton said. "That was Tommy Moran. I drove this car for his sister's wedding."
"No, you won't be stopped," Paddy repeated. "It doesn't matter whether they know you or not. You're on official business with me."
Templeton started to give him a funny look in the rear view mirror, but a break in the traffic ahead gave him opportunity to accelerate through the intersection where
Capel Street met the Grattan Bridge across the Liffey- though he had to brake immediately when they had gotten through the traffic signals. Templeton glanced in his mirror again as they resumed creeping along Ormonde Quay- which seemed to have a surfeit of cars of every color except red.
"Uh, Paddy," Templeton said after a moment, "what you said about 'official business'do the guards know about you?"
"Well, can they see you?"
"They can see that you've got something in your back seat," Paddy replied. "But it wouldn't occur to them to get curious."
"Remember how I told you that we gargoyles used to be avenging angels?"
"Well, forget about the avenging part, unless we get really ticked off, but think about what angels do. We deliver messages. Sometimes the message is not to notice us in the course of our other duties."
"Then, why am I driving you around, if you can make people not notice you? Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I haven't enjoyed myself this much in yonks."
A snort of what Templeton hoped was mirth came from underneath the tartan blanket.
"Look around you," Paddy said. "How many people do you see?"
"Er, lots," Templeton replied. Just approaching the intersection with Abbey Street, he had to jam on the brakes as the Ha'penny Bridge disgorged a lemminglike surge of holiday shoppers apparently determined to disregard the pedestrian signals.
"Make that 'Too damned many!'" he added, under his breath.
"That's right," Paddy said. "And even I can't be sure of watching all of them at once."
"I suppose not," Templeton agreed. He tried to look annoyed as pedestrians filled the crosswalk and even swarmed around the car, only belatedly accompanied by the distinctive beepbeeping sound that gave pelican crossings their name, but he found himself responding with good humor to the looks of friendly curiosity and nostalgia that greeted the old car.
"They just don't look," he said, when they were underway again. "I think somebody gets knocked down here along the quays just about every week."
"It wasn't much different in the old days," Paddy replied. "Then, it was carriages, and jaunting carts, and occasional dandies on horses. Turn up O'Connell Street next. Junior saw an old red car."
Templeton dutifully turned north into the broad, tree-studded boulevard of O'Connell Street, skittishly squeezing between a tinker's horsedrawn cart laden with sacks of peat, and a green doubledecker Dublin bus belching diesel fumes; but the "red car" turned out to be a delivery van for a local merchant. Most of the other red vehicles they saw were far too new to be described as "bangers." Recent legislation requiring yearly inspection of vehicles more than ten was taking a lot of older cars off the streets.
"Paddy, you said you'd guarded Dublin for a long time,"
Templeton remarked thoughtfully. "I reckon you've seen a lot, over the years."
They were cruising past the bulletpocked facade of the General Post Office, which everyone called the GPO - perhaps the most famous building in Dublin. It was from the GPO, with the marks of gunfire still showing on its fluted columns and Ionic portico, that the Irish patriot Patrick Pearse had read out and posted the proclamation of Irish independence, during the famous Easter Rising of 1916.
Pearse, James Connolly, and thirteen other leaders of the rebellion had later been executed by a British firing squad at Kilmainham Jail, but the seeds sown during the six days of that rebellion had borne the fruit of liberty three years lateralas, not without another three years of bickering, partition of the Ulster counties, and the punctuation of a yearlong civil war. The legacies of this tumultuous beginning were still healing, and Templeton had lived through much of it. He and the Irish state were nearly of an age.
"Actually," Paddy said, "I didn't see much of what went on here." He peered down Henry Street distractedly as they passed. "I was guarding my cathedral. But I heard all about it from some of the other gargoyles, and I watched some of the other fighting from my bell tower. When the Four Courts got burned, a few years later, I could see the flames leaping up, across the Liffey. I only saw smoke when they torched the Custom House, but both of them burned for days. You could hear the stone cracking, when they began to cool down. It was pretty sad."
"But - if your lot're meant to guard buildings, why didn't you stop it?" Templeton asked. "When the Four
Courts burned, we lost records and archives that were irreplaceable."
"Liberty almost always has a cost," Paddy replied. "Mere buildings are the least of the price."
They were gliding past one of the city's many memorials to Charles Stewart Parnell, known as the Great Liberator, and circled slowly around the square named in his honor, still on the lookout for red bangers. The square itself compassed a jumble of baroque Georgian buildings known collectively as the Rotunda: a complex of assembly rooms, theatres, and the first purpose-built maternity hospital in the world. Along the far end of the square stretched the winterbleak Garden of Remembrance, dedicated to all who had died in the cause of Irish freedom.
Across from that garden, gargoyles guarded openly from the heights of Findlater's Church, a Presbyterian edifice on the corner where Frederick Street met the square, but Paddy didn't point them out to Templeton - though he knew they were aware of his passage.
"It isn't my job to interfere with the greater tides of free will," Paddy went on, as they skirted the garden and turned back along O'Connell Street again, passing beneath the gaze of the sphinxes on the front of the Gresham Hotel, earlier identified as Watchers. "It is my job to see that, ultimately, the scales of justice always end up weighted in favor of Truth.
"That means that sometimes I have to stand by and do nothing, while the scales readjust," he said, noting several red cars pulled to the curb at Earl Street - none of which qualified as bangers. "But it also means that, occasionally, I get to kick ass - which is what I intend to do when we find the men who roughed up my verger and stole my silver!"
The old man said nothing as they passed again before the gaze of the Watchers atop the GPO-Hibernia, Mercury, and Fidelity - apparently sobered by the talk of the Troubles of the past; but as Paddy directed him to turn along the quays again, following a smart horsedrawn carriage toward the Custom House, Templeton could contain himself no longer.
"Uh, Paddy," he said tentatively. "I've been thinking about what you said back at the Four Courts, when I asked whether a gargoyle maybe hid in the dome. You said you were amused, not angry. Do you mind telling me what was so funny?"
"Well, it wasn't exactly funny - though I was amused. It's just that gargoyles don't 'hide.' We simply take care not to be seen, unless there's a good reason. But if there were a gargoyle assigned to guard the Four Courts - and I’m not saying whether there is or there isn't - that would be a fair assumption."
"Fair enough," Templeton said. "Well, if there isn't one, there ought to be. I can't think of a better vantage point along the river until you get to the Custom House - especially if you guys prefer old buildings." He glanced at the tartan lump in his rearview mirror. "I don't suppose you'd care to comment on the Custom House?"
Paddy chuckled again, but this time Templeton only grinned.
"I believe that the phrase used by politicians is, 'I can neither confirm nor deny.'"
"Right," said Templeton. "Then, I suppose it would be useless to ask how many of you there are - gargoyles, I mean."
"Enough," Paddy replied. "Afraid I can't be more specific than that. Like I told you, we gargoyles used to be avenging angels - and the Boss made lots of those. But once He got past His divine vengeance phase, He reassigned a lot of us. It was partly the stonemasons' idea, when they started building churches. Eventually, I expect we'll all get reassigned to even different duties, as man evolves spiritually. But meanwhile, we have our orders. Turn up that street, and we'll have a look over by Connolly Station."
Paddy and his newly recruited associate continued to cruise the streets of Dublin all through the day, looking for some trace of the battered red car and its passengers. After a while, the little gargoyle took to nodding off, and Templeton had to keep waking him up by sounding the horn. That always turned the heads of other drivers and pedestrians alike, who would gaze nostalgically after the elderly Rolls Royce, driven by an even more elderly whitehaired gentleman wh
Meanwhile, Templeton listened to the tales Paddy told him of old Dublin, and some of the things he had seen over the centuries. In return, recalling their earlier conversation regarding weddings, Templeton reminisced about driving the old Rolls as a wedding car, back when both he and the car were not so old. In those days, his wife would bedeck the car's long, elegant hood with broad white ribbons festooned from the hood ornament to the front corners of the roof. Inside, in the little crystal vases on the side pillars, she would even put fresh roses she had grown in their own garden, in shades specially chosen to complement the bride's color scheme.
"It made the day that bit more special for the bridal couple," Templeton said. "And when the weather was fine, I'd crank back the sunroof so they could enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. The brides liked that, because the breeze from the open sunroof didn't mess up their hair the way an open car or even an open window would have done."
Paddy recalled gazing down at open sunroofs above other brides, from his perch above St. Patrick's, and agreed that it was a fine custom though he kept looking for the elusive red banger.
"The best wedding, though, was our youngest daughter's," Templeton said, as they cruised past the Catholic Pro-Cathedral in Marlborough Street. "She was married right here. My godson drove the car that day. He's with the Garda Síochánaa detective of some sort. When I’m gone, he'll have the car, since I haven't any sons. That was the only time I ever rode in the back seat." He smiled in reminiscence. "I’m biased, of course, but my Aisling was probably the most beautiful bride I've ever seen - apart from her mother, of course."
"I think most fathers feel that way," Paddy said. "Do you still drive for weddings?"
"Only for friends. I only ever did it as a hobby, anyway. I was a banker, before I retired. Fairly good at it, too."
This revelation elicited a lively discussion of current banking scandals in Ireland, followed by the old man's sometimes scathing observations on local political figures. At around half past one, Templeton briefly pulled into a petrol station to refuel and grab a sandwich and cup of coffee. After that, they resumed their patrol of the city, looking for suspicious red cars.
St. Patrick's Gargoyle by Katherine Kurtz / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes