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St patricks gargoyle, p.4
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       St. Patrick's Gargoyle, p.4

           Katherine Kurtz
 
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  But as teatime approached, long about four o'clock, and the evening shadows began to close in, no progress had been made on their quest. By the time the lights in the huge castiron street lamps began to come on, competing with the strings of colored fairy lights that decorated the city at this time of year, the old man had about decided that all they had managed to accomplish, besides spend a pleasant if odd day swapping yarns - and the Irish were good at that!- was to burn up nearly two tanks of petrol and confirm the impression in most observers' minds that dotty old men who drove around in ancient cars were wont to talk to themselves. They had ranged from Santry to Harold's Cross, and from Ringsend to Palmerston, out past Phoenix Park, and were back near their starting point, creeping through heavy traffic in one of the less salubrious parts of north Dublin.

  "Listen, Paddy, this has been really good craic, and I've really enjoyed the outing," Templeton said, as he switched on the car's big Marschal headlamps, "but it doesn't look like we're going to find your bad guys. That car could be behind any of those garage doors we've passed. Or they could have headed right out of town."

  The tartan lump that was Paddy stirred slightly behind

  Templeton, suddenly aware that Junior had perked up and was really interested in something not far ahead.

  "Slow down," he said. "Junior's onto something."

  "He what?"

  "He smells the silver. So do I. I told you, we get attuned to the things that belong in the buildings we guard. Go down that street! I think we're getting close."

  Startled, Templeton peered out at the little gargoyle perched on his hood. It was bouncing up and down and squealing, madly flapping its left wing like one of the old car's trafficators. And at the far end of the indicated side street, a battered old red car had just nosed out of a car, park, its rust-eaten front bumper pointing in their direction. Beside and slightly behind it, two rough-looking men wearing flat caps and ratty, out at the elbows jackets were rolling a heavy chainlink gate back into place.

  "That's them, that's them!" Paddy cried, one scaly arm emerging from under the red tartan blanket to point emphatically through the crack between the two front seats. "They must've holed up for the day! Turn left!"

  "That's a one-way street," Templeton objected. "I can't go down there."

  "You want 'em to get away? Turn!"

  "But there's a traffic warden watching!"

  "Turn now!"

  "You're going to get me a ticket!"

  "They're going to get away if we go around. Turn!"

  Muttering under his breath, Templeton turned the big car ponderously into the side street. It was very narrow- an alley, really - and the old Rolls was very tall and very wide. As the big car crept almost silently closer, headlamps probing twin cones of yellowy light into the alley's deeper shadows, the little gargoyle settled down to smoldering indignation on its perch on the radiator cap, glowering from behind its shield as one of the men did a double take at the sight of the approaching Rolls.

  "Hey, you, back it out!" said the man, gesturing belligerently as the big car rolled to a halt about two car-lengths back from the banger's front bumper. "Can't you read? This is a fookin' one-way street."

  "I doubt he can read," Paddy whispered from between the two front seats. "At least not the Commandment that says 'Thou shall not steal.' Tell him to back out!"

  "He'll kick out my headlamps," Templeton protested.

  "Oh, I do hope he tries!" The gargoyle's tone held more than a hint of gleeful anticipation. "I’m just looking for an excuse! Tell him!"

  Warily the old man cranked back the sunroof and levered himself to a standing position, elbows supported on the sunroof opening; the alley was too narrow to really open either of the wide doors. The second man, behind the shouter, had a pillow sack over one shoulder, bulging with something just about the right size and shape for a couple of big church offering plates.

  "That's it, that's it!" Paddy whispered, as the little gargoyle began flapping its wings wildly, like an excited moth. "I can really smell it now! You've got to delay them until that traffic warden gets here! And get her to call the guards! Brazen it out!"

  With a nervous swallow, Templeton shook his fist at the man.

  "You back out, if you can!" he taunted. "I know it's a one-way street. And I also know what you've done, you- you hooligan!"

  A look of guilt mingled with astonishment and panic flashed across the face of the first man, and the second threw his bundle into the back seat of the red car with a snarl and pulled out a hurley stick. The expressions on the two men's faces, coupled with the sack Templeton had seen, were enough to convince him that they had, indeed, found the right men.

  "Get the hell out of here, old man!" the second man said defiantly. "I don't know what you're talking about."

  "I’m talking about the breakin at St. Patrick's!" Templeton said boldly, heartened to see that a delivery van had just pulled in behind the red car, and a very beefy driver was leaning out the window to see what the holdup was.

  "Get that pile of shit out of here before I kick out one of those fancy headlights!" the first man said.

  "He'll be sorry if he tries," Paddy whispered.

  "You'll be sorry if you try," Templeton repeated, though not with quite the same conviction.

  "Oh, and I suppose you 're gonna stop him?" the second man chimed in. "You and who else?"

  As the two started forward with obvious intent, Paddy muttered, "Get down. You don't wanta see this..."

  Templeton collapsed back into his seat with alacrity and ducked down behind the steering wheel, gasping as he felt something jostle past his shoulder in a flurry of powerful wings.

  What happened in the next few seconds was never altogether clear. The first man did, indeed, launch a booted kick at one of the big headlamps, but it never connected.

  Instead, he found himself buffeted sharply backward with a forcible whoof! of suddenly exhaled breath, by a shadow-blur that pummelled him head over heels with repeated smacks of heavy, leathery wings.

  The second attacker fared no better. He yelped as the hurley stick was invisibly wrenched from his hands in midswing and he, too, was jolted abruptly into the maelstrom, where both men seemed to tumble, legs and arms akimbo, in something approximating a localized tornado. Simultaneously, the horns of the Rolls, the red car, and the delivery van behind it started blaring.

  Almost in the blink of an eye, it was over, with both men left dazed, bruised, and bleeding on the ground, whimpering with pain and fright as they tried to clutch at all the hurting parts of their bodies at once. Templeton had not moved, only clinging numbly to his steering wheel as the scenario unfolded, his eyes wide as saucers.

  "It's days like this that I really do love being a gargoyle!" Paddy declared, when his shadowform had whooshed back through the open sunroof to burrow under the tartan blanket again. "But I decided not to hurt 'em too much. I’m feeling mellow today. Besides, you could've had a lot of explaining to do."

  Which was no more than the truth. The blaring horns were drawing attention from both ends of the alley, including that of the traffic warden. The astonished driver of the van, after pounding in vain at his stuck horn button, got out of his vehicle and came striding past the red car to see what was going on - and pulled up short at the sight of the two men moaning on the ground.

  As the traffic warden squeezed past the Rolls with a similar reaction, she glanced back queryingly at Templeton. At that moment, the Rolls's horn ceased, and the old man lifted his hands in an eloquent shrug of mystification.

  "I have no idea what happened," he said, half-standing again to poke his head through the sunroof. "They just seemed to trip and fall down. Drunk, I suppose. But I suggest you call the guards. I think you may find that those are the villains who robbed St. Patrick's this morning."

  With that, Templeton sank back into the driver's seat and carefully reversed the big Rolls out of the alley, doing his best to look nonchalant. The traffic warden was already punching
numbers into her mobile phone, warily watching the two moaning suspects, and the driver of the van was standing over said suspects and prodding with a booted toe whenever one of them showed any sign of trying to get up. The scene was also attracting a growing crowd of curious bystanders, but none of them seemed to take particular interest in the departing Rolls Royce or its elderly driver.

  When Templeton had pulled away from the mouth of the alley, leaving all the commotion behind, he reached up and adjusted the rearview mirror.

  "So, where to now?" he asked, as a tartan-shrouded lump loomed slowly upright behind the two front seats. "St. Patrick's, I presume?"

  "St. Patrick's will be just fine," Paddy said, before sinking back into the leather upholstery to enjoy the ride.

  A quarter-hour later, mostly satisfied with the day's resolution, he had skittered into the shadows beside St. Patrick's and launched his shadow-essence back up the side of the bell tower to resume his customary post behind the crenellated battlements.

  From there he watched somewhat wistfully as the stately old Rolls Royce slowly disappeared up St. Patrick's Close and new snow began to fall in the lamplight. Evensong was in progress in the cathedral below, gathering the faithful to prayer. And as the sweet treble voices of the boys from the Choir School lifted in pure praise, Paddy wondered whether his path and the old man's would ever cross again.

  Chapter 5

  Snow was beginning to fall in earnest as Francis Templeton eased the old Rolls around the curve at the end of St. Patrick's Close, just out of sight of the cathedral, and pulled to the curb in front of Marsh's Library. Casting a last darting glance in his rearview mirror, he set the hand brake and shifted into neutral before allowing himself a somewhat tremulous sigh, briefly leaning his forehead against the steering wheel between his two gloved hands.

  His thoughts were still whirling after the events of a day that seemed less and less credible with each passing minute. The euphoria of the past several hours had already begun to give way to disbelief, but despite the outlandishness of it all, he could not remember feeling this contented in many a year.

  His reverie was rudely interrupted by the splat of very wet snow against the back of his neck, coming in through the open sunroof.

  "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!"

  Mouthing further mild oaths under his breath, he cranked the sunroof shut briskly and gave his collar a shake, then brushed at the snow speckling the leather seat beside him - though the fact that the sunroof had been open at all did tend to confirm that at least some of what he could sort out from the whirl of extraordinary memories had been quite real. Ordinarily, he would not have dreamed of opening the sunroof on a day like this. The snow was coming down in great, fat clumps, splatting audibly on the windscreen and almost obscuring the little dragon - or was it a gargoyle, after all? - perched on the radiator cap.

  "Phyllida," he said softly, curling gloved fingers around the steering wheel, "this has been the most astonishing day...."

  Which hardly began to describe it. Parts of it - dashing about the city in search of evildoers, bringing them to justice - almost had the feel of the comics he had devoured so avidly as a child, growing up between the wars, full of boys' adventures and tales of derringdo and the escapades of superheroes who seemed almost tame by modern standards - at least until today! Briefly he wondered how he could have lost that sense of excitement, even as another part of him scoffed.

  Gargoyles. Right!

  Yet he had opened the sunroof at least once, even if the rest was sheer fantasy. But did he really believe he had done it because a gargoyle told him to?

  He took another look at the mascot on the car's radiator capsurely just an ordinary chrome dragon holding an enamelled shield! - then glanced somewhat dubiously in the rearview mirror again, craning his neck this way and that to inspect the whole of the rear passenger compartment. He could see no one there now - if, indeed, there had been anyone earlier.

  But then his gaze was arrested by a sight that caused him to slowly turn and stare. Though the back seat was, indeed, unoccupied, a rumpled swath of red and black tartan lay squarely in the middle of the back seat, one fringed corner spilling onto the carpeted floor.

  The implication elicited a little gasp, for he always kept the tartan rug neatly folded on the shelf beneath the rear window. He certainly would never have left it in a heap in the back.

  Worming around so he could reach over the back of the seat, he stretched until he caught a handful of the tartan wool and pulled it up into the front seat. With it came the scent of roses, so unmistakable that it caused him to look sharply at the little crystal vases on the side pillars, half-expecting to see some of the fragrant tea roses his wife had always placed there when he was driving for a wedding. Over the years it had become their custom for her to tuck a matching bloom into the buttonhole of his coat before he set out, in reaffirmation of their own wedding vows.

  But there were no roses, and had been none for far too many years. Memory stirring nonetheless, he crushed the armful of tartan to his face and merely breathed deeply of its perfume, her perfume - all too quickly gone.

  But even that fleeting scent had transported him back to that breath-stopping first sight of her in the local parish hall: his own bonny Maeve, like a vision from some pre-Raphaelite painting, with hair like a cloud of flame, and dancing blue eyes that crinkled at the corners, and a smile of such sweetness and honesty that even the darkest fears must yield before it. The tartan rug had been her first shy gift to him, that last Christmas before he went off to war, bought with her modest earnings from pulling pints part-time at The Brazen Head, in Bridge Street - bold work, in those days, for a girl of good family, but she was one of five, and times were hard.

  After the war, they had courted in Phyllida and picnicked on the rug, held one another under its warmth, and later, their daughters had played on it. In time, many another bride had sheltered under its warmth; when the car's heater was not sufficient to stave off wintry chills. She had given him more costly gifts during the years of their long and happy marriage, but few that he treasured more.

  "Ah, darlin' girl," he whispered, for his sense of loss had never diminished. But a faint smile lingered on his lips when, after a few seconds, he folded the rug somewhat clumsily and laid it on the seat beside him, letting his hand rest there as he reluctantly dragged himself back to his present contemplation of... gargoyles.

  Shaking his head, he breathed out with a sigh, glancing again at the falling snow, at the mascot on Phyllida's radiator caphad a wing just moved? - at the fat snowflakes floating through the glare of his headlamps. Then he resolutely put the old car back into gear and released the brake, and carried on to the end of the road, into Kevin Street.

  But though he had intended merely to head back to the garage he rented for storing the car, instead he found himself threading his way back around to the cathedral, once again circling into Patrick's Close to draw up beside the second of the two iron gates on the south side. Pedestrians gave the shiny black car curious looks as they hurried past, heads hunched down into collars against the snow, but Templeton paid them no mind, only setting the brake again as he cautiously cast an appraising gaze over the shadow-etched angles of the old building.

  He had no idea what he expected to see. Nor, given the strangeness of everything else that had happened that day, had he been quite sure what to expect when he pulled up here a few minutes earlier. He did vaguely remember cranking open the sunroof; but he had almost missed it when, without preamble, something had whooshed past him in a flurry of dark, leathery wings and disappeared, quick as a flash, like a squirt of ink against the paler shadows under the lamplight.

  A gargoyle?

  Right, Francis, he told himself. Sure, and it's early Alzheimer's. Your mind is going, and you've just spent the day driving around Dublin and talking to yourself. You'll hear about this, when the word gets out!

  He heaved a sigh and craned his neck to look up at the floodlit tower that wa
s the spire of the cathedral, wondering whether there really was a gargoyle up there. The clock in the tower began to strike the hour, and he remembered reading somewhere that the tower's other bells were quite extraordinary - not the oldest in the city, but certainly the finest. He had often heard them ringing as he drove by, but he didn't remember ever noticing any gargoyles on the building.

  Not that he had ever really looked that closely, he had to confess. In fact, even though the cathedral was one of the oldest churches in Dublin, and one of the most famous, he had never even been inside. Oh, he had delivered many a bride to its doorstep, over the years. On a few occasions, when the heavens frowned and rain pummelled down on a day slated for a wedding, he had even gotten as far as the side door, holding a big black umbrella over fretting bride and anxious father.

  But back when he was a boy, it hadn't been done for a Catholic even to set foot in a Protestant church. Back then, a lot of things hadn't been done.

  Of course, it wasn't done, either, to hold conversations with gargoyles - but so far as he could tell, he had spent most of the day doing just that. Maybe. Either that, or he really was going barmy.

  It was all too much for him to take in just now. He was hungry, he was tired, and it was getting cold, just sitting here, even with the engine running and the heater going. Time enough to think about gargoyles when he'd gotten Phyllida back to her garage - or when he'd checked in the paper tomorrow to see whether there had even been a breakin at St. Patrick's.

  With a shake of his head, he released the brake and continued on through Patrick's Close again, leaving the cathedral behind as he headed north to thread his way through the heavy evening traffic. On a whim, he stopped for an evening paper before returning to the garage, and gave it a perfunctory scan after he had put Phyllida away; but he could find nothing about St. Patrick's Cathedral save a mention of the schedule of services over the weekend.

 
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