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St patricks gargoyle, p.5
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       St. Patrick's Gargoyle, p.5

           Katherine Kurtz
 
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  Perhaps on the news, then. In fact, remembering that no one would be home for supper anyway, he decided he would stop for a pint on the way home, and see if there was anything on RTÉ about a burglary at St. Patrick's. His daughter and son-in-law were going to an office Christmas party tonight, and both his grandsons would be out with their friends - which meant that his own supper would be something he could heat in the microwave. No doubt it would be tasty enough, because Aisling was an excellent cook, as her mother had been, but being on his own meant that there was no urgency about getting home.

  Besides, he could hole up in a back booth and have another look at the paper. Maybe he had missed something, the first time through. And he always enjoyed chatting with his friends, especially at this time of year.

  But his local pub was disappointingly quiet for a Friday night - probably a combination of the snow and the proximity of Christmas - and the RTÉ News at Six had only the usual reports about the peace process in the North and the latest wrangles with the European Union and how many shopping days there were left until Christmas. Watching footage of the crowds in Grafton Street and O'Connell Street - much of which he had witnessed firsthand during the day's peregrination - she was particularly glad he had already finished his own Christmas shopping, and even had everything wrapped. Though his pension didn't allow for lavish gifts, he chose each one with care, and the recipients were always pleased - or at least they said they were.

  But there was nothing on the news about the cathedral, or a breakin there, much less about gargoyles. Nor did he find anything when he went through the Evening Herald a second time, even fortified by a second pint of Guinness. After a third, with a couple of friends who finally showed up after the stores closed and no more shopping could be done, he reluctantly made his way home to the empty house and his solitary meal.

  At least it was something he liked: leftover lasagne, with lots of cheese topping - hearty fare, for a cold winter's evening, and a far more generous portion than his doctor would have approved. Since Aisling ordinarily kept him strictly to his prescribed diet, he decided that she must have felt guilty about leaving him on his own. There was even a helping of Christmas pudding for dessert, with a side portion of custard to heat in the microwave and pour over the top. And that made him feel guilty, for he'd already had three pints of Guinness, when he was meant to limit himself to one.

  Pleased nonetheless, he finished assembling his tray and carried it into the library with a certain sense of self-indulgence, to enjoy his treat in front of the TV. On a pensioner's income, having a second TV was also something of an indulgence, but in a household dominated by football-mad teenage boys and a son-in-law who shared his sons' passion, he had found that a separate set was the only way he could be sure of sometimes getting to watch what he liked. He was especially partial to old films, preferably in black and white - and as he settled into a comfy leather chair and flipped through the channels, he soon found a favorite on BBC 2. The lovely Mrs. Muir, in the guise of Gene Tierney, would be most agreeable company for enjoying a forbidden treat on a cold December night, even if he did find himself mildly envious of Rex Harrison's dashing seacaptain character.

  He settled down to eat his meal, enjoying the firm and likewise enjoying the ambience of the library itself, one of his favorite rooms, with its book - crammed shelves and well-waxed wooden panelling, its smell of leather bindings - all nostalgic legacies of another, more gracious era, very like the one in the film. These days, having a room set aside as a dedicated library was as much a luxury as the house itself: a somewhat eccentric Victorian confection in a no longer fashionable part of the city, most of its once extensive gardens now occupied by rather graceless terrace houses built during the thirties.

  At the time, in the aftermath of the Great Depression, he had greatly resented his father's decision to sell off the surrounding land - and even that had not averted the need for a vast scaling-back of their lifestyle, though they had managed to hold onto the house. Glancing now, however, at the silver-framed photo of a handsome man in military uniform, he could well appreciate the sacrifices made by the elder Templeton to keep his family from suffering the same deprivations endured by so many others - and even then, economies had been necessary.

  Yet he remembered those years between the wars as happy ones, despite economic hardships and the vague rumblings of a powerful German military machine taking shape far to the east. Business college had been just feasible for the young Francis Templeton, only son among three daughters; and he had still been a student when Hitler invaded Poland and triggered the Second World War.

  Of course, in what was then known as Eire, the "sovereign independent and democratic state" recently constituted from the former Irish Free State, it had been called "the Emergency." The Irish government of the time had also declared official neutrality in the conflict - unable, in those first restless decades following Irish independence, to countenance any semblance of alliance with a country so recently a bitter enemy, even against so odious a common threat as Hitler.

  It was a shortsightedness only recently fading away, as the Irish gradually came to accept that the islands of Ireland and Britain were natural economic partners, even if separated by the Irish Sea and somewhat differing cultural traditions. But even at the time, there had been many Irish men and women of keener vision, who recognized that, whatever the residual bitterness from centuries of British rule, the scope of German military aggression on the Continent was a threat even to "neutral" Ireland, perched on the far edge of Western Europe. Templeton's father, a veteran of the Great War, had rejoined his old regiment soon after war was declared, and Templeton himself had enlisted a year later.

  Sadly, the senior Templeton was not to survive the war; but young Francis, though wounded, had returned a decorated hero, to inherit Phyllida and the old house, take up a career in merchant banking, and marry his darling Maeve. The rambling Victorian pile had been their matrimonial home, filled with laughter and the happy muddle of bringing up four bright, spirited daughters in an Ireland still finding its confidence as a newly independent state. And after her death, rather than give it up entirely, he had thought it far better to share the house with the youngest of those daughters and her family.

  The decision did mean that the house was no longer really his - but neither was the responsibility, though naturally a goodly portion of his pension went toward helping with groceries and the like. He also did most of the gardening, other than cutting the grass - which wasn't a great deal, but he was insistent that no one but himself should tend Maeve's beloved roses. Upstairs, he had kept the second-best bedroom with its connecting bath, and downstairs, he could count the library as essentially his personal preserve, since the rest of the family were far too busy to have much time for books.

  Those books, he realized, as he finished his dessert, were what he really had been after, when he brought his meal into the library instead of taking it in the kitchen or the family room. He hadn't been paying a bit of attention to his film. While he normally would have relished immersion in the romantic interplay between the charming Mrs. Muir and her ghostly sea captain, his gaze kept ranging along the spines of the oversized art books lined up on the library's lower shelves - and wondering whether any of them might tell him something more about gargoyles.

  He decided he could put it off no longer. After depositing his tray on the floor beside his chair, he retrieved several large-format photo books on Dublin and settled back into his big leather chair.

  Not that he expected he would find very much. Gargoyles, so far as he could remember, were mostly associated with Gothic buildings - and Dublin, even though settled for more than a thousand years, was mostly a Georgian city. Ireland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had attracted some of Europe's finest architects, names as notable as James Gandon, Edward Pugin, Richard Castle, and the Adam brothers, but they had mostly preferred to work in a classical idiom.

  Of course, a few buildings did sport gargoy
les - at least the carved kind. Templeton had spotted several of them during his day spent driving around the city, and confirmed a few in his perusal of photos of Dublin.

  But whether those carved shells housed entities like the one he had glimpsed in Phyllida's garage - or whether any of the day's experience had sprung from anything besides his own imagining - remained to be seen. "Paddy" had declined to confirm or deny specifics about any of the other gargoyles who allegedly guarded the city - and the existence of Paddy himself was not altogether certain. Templeton certainly wanted it to be true; and he had to admit that the reflection of armored angelic splendor he had glimpsed in Phyllida's door did seem unlikely to have come solely from even the most fevered imagination. It had all certainly seemed real....

  Yes, and Father Christmas seemed real, when you were a kid! he told himself sternly. And when somebody claims to have seen the fairies...

  On second thought, he decided that a claim to have seen the fairies, while it could be drink-induced, was apt to contain at least a grain of truth. Few folk in Ireland would be so bold as to totally dismiss the possibility that the Little Folk still walked abroad in the land, especially as one got farther outside the cities. Not even the Church made pronouncements on such subjects, so he certainly was not willing to reject the notion.

  Nor was the government. Quite recently, he could remember reading how the proposed route of a major motorway down in County Wicklow had been shifted to avoid interfering with a traditional fairy ring.

  As for gargoyles, Paddy had said that they used to be avenging angels - which made sense, Templeton supposed, if one accepted that after the advent of Christ and the New Testament's teachings, the need for avenging angels had decreased. Templeton had no idea how many angels God was supposed to have created, before the Beginning. (He did recall reading that numbers in the Bible were rarely precise, and often symbolic or even notional, rather than literal.) He certainly couldn't imagine that a loving or even a merely just God would simply do away with angels that were superfluous to His needs.

  Nor could he imagine redundant angels, lounging about in heaven and doing nothing except maybe praising God. The Bible did say that certain kinds of angels did just that, but again, Templeton couldn't imagine that this information was meant to be taken literally, despite what various churches had said, over the centuries, regarding a variety of subjects. Surely such angels would be reassigned to more useful occupations. Maybe even as gargoyles.

  After pausing to make himself a mug of hot chocolate, he spent another hour or so browsing through some of the many books he had collected over the years, including several that featured architectural photographs of the city, but it seemed that gargoyles were, indeed, in short supply. He found some on the tower of a big Presbyterian church in Parnell Square, and a tiny one on the Unitarian Church in St. Stephen's Green, and a bigger one on the front of University Church, next to Newman House. He also spotted what looked like real, functioning gargoyles on the rainspouts above the cloister enclosure at the Dominican Priory in Dorset Street.

  Then there were a few somewhat ambiguously carved figures that might or might not be gargoyles - and lots of possible Watchers. It didn't look like St. Patrick's Cathedral even had any of those, much less gargoyles.

  Frustrated, he broadened his field of search. A book on Chartres Cathedral presented a wide assortment of quite striking gargoyles (though none of them looked like Paddy), but those were in France. There were also gargoyles on several English cathedrals - but none of that gave him much insight regarding the possible existence of gargoyles in his own beloved Dublin.

  As to whether any of said gargoyles might be capable of independent movement - much less that they were actually angels in disguise - well, he had never, ever heard of such a possibility. He did seem to recall that a few years back, gargoyles had briefly captured popular imagination by means of a Disney film and a children's animated TV series - he definitely remembered action figures and lunchboxes and stuffed toys underfoot among his grandsons' boyhood clutter - but surely that didn't qualify as proof of their existence outside such fantasies.

  By the time the clock in the hall began to strike midnight, with no sign of the family's return, he was starting to feel a bit of eyestrain, so he decided to call it a night and head up to bed.

  Chapter 6

  Templeton slept late the next morning, not rousing until his daughter came and knocked on his door. "Da, are you awake?" she called. "It's half past nine. Will you be coming down for breakfast?"

  He rolled over and looked at the clock, then sat bolt upright in bed. He had not meant to sleep so late. Phyllida desperately needed a wash, after her rather extraordinary outing of the previous day. And memories of that outing made him scramble out of bed immediately. He had even dreamed about gargoyles - and he almost never dreamed. "I'll be right down," he called back. Twenty minutes later, showered, shaved, and dressed, he was making his way downstairs to the family dining room. There, ranged at one end of the long table, his daughter's husband, Kevin, and both grandsons were already tucking into the hearty breakfast Aisling served up on Saturdays in the Gallagher household: a traditional Dublin fry, featuring eggs, rashers, sausage, and black pudding, along with grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, and fried bread.

  Wistfully contemplating the rather more frugal fare he could expect, Templeton sat down resignedly and flapped open his napkin, settling it on his lap. In times past, he might have shared in the same tasty but cholesterol-laden repast that the others were enjoying, but his doctors had long since forbidden such culinary indulgences.

  "'Morning, Da," his son-in-law said amiably, echoed by the greetings of both boys, who were young teenagers. "You're down late."

  Templeton only nodded as he gulped down a handful of pills with his orange juice, glancing out at a brilliant morning.

  "I was having a good sleep," he replied, reaching for a slice of brown toast. 'These days, that's rare enough. Dreamed a lot, though." He was not about to mention that the dreaming had been about gargoyles.

  "It looks like a fine day," he went on. "I hope tomorrow's as good. I've got a Malta 'do' in the afternoon- Christmas reception over at the Nuncio's. Marcus has offered to play chauffeur, so that the lads and I can arrive in grand style. Besides, it's impossible to drive in spurs. He said he'd come over around noon and help me give Phyllida a bath."

  Both boys started to snicker, but they quickly subsided at a sharp look from their father. Marcus was Templeton's favorite godson, only child of one of his closest and oldest boyhood friends - sadly, now passed on - and as keen an old car enthusiast as Templeton himself. The fact that he was also a detective usually elicited awe mixed with excitement on the part of the two Gallagher lads, not mirth. Maybe it was the spurs. Before Templeton could inquire as to what might be so amusing, Aisling came in with his egg and a fresh pot of tea.

  '"Morning, Da," she said cheerily. "Tea this morning, or coffee?"

  "Tea, please, since it's fresh."

  He watched her pour it, casting a resigned look at the lonely-looking rasher accompanying the single boiled egg she had put down in front of him, then began whacking the top off the egg with meticulous efficiency.

  "Francis was saying that he and Marcus are going to wash the old car today," Kevin said to Aisling as she sat down at her place. "I guess it got a little muddy, with all that driving around in the slush yesterday."

  Templeton glanced up sharply. All four of them were looking at him oddly.

  "Da, what were you doing?" Aisling said softly. "Bridie McCutcheon said she saw you driving along O'Connell Street, talking to nobody, and Eamon Docherty saw you chattering away in Dawson Street, with not another soul in the car."

  "Spying on me, were you?" Templeton said with some bite.

  "No, I wasn't spying on you. But when friends who care about you see you acting strangely, they become concerned. Maybe it's time you gave up driving. You could always-"

  "I'll not give up driving."

  "
But Francis, you're eighty-two years old, and you've got a dicky heart," Kevin said. "And it isn't as if that old car is easy to drive."

  "That old car is a 1929 Rolls Royce limousine - older than you are and almost older than me," Templeton retorted, "and I've been driving it all my adult life. Furthermore, my doctor thinks I’m quite fit enough to drive."

  "Da, it isn't your physical fitness that worries us," Aisling said gently. "If you've started talking to yourself..."

  Her voice trailed off suggestively, and Templeton wadded up his napkin and flung it down beside his plate, all further thought of breakfast fled.

  "If you're implying that I’m going barmy, I'll thank you to put such thoughts out of your head. In fact, I had an excellent day yesterday. I was - singing, if you really must know."

  "Singing, Grandda?" one of the boys piped up.

  "Yes, singing. The last time I heard, there was no law against that, even for old age pensioners!"

  "But, Grandda," said the other lad, "Phyllida doesn't have a radio."

  "I bought one yesterday," Templeton said, thinking fast. "Besides, you don't have to have a radio, in order to sing along. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, do I have to explain everything I do to the likes of you?"

  "Jason, Michael, don't bully your grandfather," Aisling said quietly, motioning the two boys out of the room when they would have protested. "Darling Da, we aren't trying to gang up on you. Maybe you're getting distracted. You could have an accident. You could kill someone. You are getting on."

  "And I've still got all my marbles," Templeton said. "And a clean driving record. I like to sing. And sometimes, I just like to drive around and look at the city. It's a marvelous old town, Dublin. I was - thinking about the old days, when your mother and I used to swan around in Phyllida." Which was true, in part. "There was a lot less traffic then, of course."

  "Da..."

  "I was remembering your wedding day, too," he went on, hoping he could restore peace. "Phyllida never carried a more beautiful bride."

 
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