St. Patrick's Gargoyle, p.6Katherine Kurtz
"I'll not argue that," Kevin agreed, with an uncomfortable glance at his wife. "But we do worry about you, Francis - driving all over Dublin in that old car, burning up petrol..."
"It's my petrol to burn, and it doesn't cost you a penny," Templeton pointed out mildly. "At eighty-two, driving Phyllida is one of the few pleasures I have left. I hope you're not saying that you begrudge me that?"
"No, no, of course not..."
"Besides, I've already told you that Marcus is driving tomorrow - not because I don't think I’m fit," the old man added. "But I have to wear spurs with my uniform, and I can't drive in spurs."
"Da, we know you love the old car," Aisling said. "Just- be careful, if you're going to do much extra driving."
"I’m always careful," Templeton muttered.
Not looking at her, he folded his rasher of bacon into a piece of toast to make a small sandwich of it, chewing off a substantial bite as he got up from the table.
"Egg's gone cold," he muttered, by way of explanation. "So's this, but that's fine, for a sandwich. I'll take it with me."
"Da, please finish your breakfast," his daughter began. "I'll make another egg."
"Don't fuss," he said. "I'll pick up something else on the way to the garage. Marcus likes sweets. I'll be back in time for dinner," he added, relenting enough to come and kiss her on the forehead before heading for the door.
Marcus already had tea made and the heater lit when Templeton got to the garage. The shipping forecast was blaring from an old radio perched on a shelf above the workbench, and Marcus himself was ensconced on a stool beside it, dark hair disheveled and the sleeves of his navy sweatshirt pushed up to the elbows, surveying the old car with a critical eye as he sipped at a mug of tea. He turned at the sound of the garage door opening, raising his mug in wordless greeting as the older man eased the door open far enough to slip inside. His pleasant, open face lit in a boyish grin as Templeton produced a plastic sack of fruit scones from one of the capacious pockets of his waxed jacket and deposited it on the workbench, also tossing his cap onto one of the pegs above.
"Oh, good, I was hoping you'd bring something to go with the tea," Marcus said, setting down his mug to help Templeton shed his jacket.
"Couldn't come empty-handed, now, could I?" Templeton said. "How long has that tea been made?"
"It's a fresh pot," Marcus replied. "Sit yourself down and I'll pour you some."
"I will, that. I had a row with Aisling and walked off without having any at home. Have we got butter for the scones?"
"No, but I brought some of Mum's strawberry jam."
To Templeton's relief, Marcus did not pursue the matter of the row with Aisling, busying himself with the tea - two sugars and a liberal splash of milk, the way both of them liked it - while Templeton fussed with the knot in the neck of the sack of scones. Marcus Cassidy was thirtyish - Templeton could never remember exactly how old - unmarried as yet, and shared his godfather's passion for sweets as well as vintage cars. Fortunately, his active life kept him from putting on weight. Though his late father had been an extremely successful barrister, and Marcus himself had qualified as a solicitor, the son was focusing his energies on the enforcement side of the law that had been his father's passion.
Now well into a successful career in the Garda Síochána, and currently assigned as a protection officer for government officials as lofty as the Taoiseach and the President, the lad was of that new breed of gardaí seen increasingly in Ireland in the past several decades: university-educated, multitalented, socially poised, and utterly dedicated to his chosen profession.
But he also made time to enjoy himself, with a variety seldom seen in the same individual. He played on a garda rugby team, but was also a passionate opera enthusiast. His own light tenor, had he bothered to train it, might have carried him to modest success in that field, and he could pick up a fiddle or a tin whistle and jam more than competently with professionals who made a living at it.
His attraction to the vintage car hobby had been nurtured since early childhood. His first time behind the wheel of Phyllida had been at the age of about five, sitting on a cushion on his godfather's lap and with his father in the seat alongside. Both men had proudly watched him take his driving test in the old car on the day he turned eighteen. He had passed it on the first try.
This lifelong affinity for old cars, coupled with his professional connections, had given him the cachet to be drafted as an occasional driver of the somewhat less elderly state landaulette owned by the Irish government, which was rolled out for particularly important state occasions. (Official drivers were usually drawn from the ranks of the gardaí or the army.) A mere fifty years old, the big blue and black Silver Wraith had carried presidents, princes, prime ministers, and other state visitors - and Marcus had driven not a few of them. For that matter, when more than one vintage car was required for a given state function, Templeton sometimes drove lesser dignitaries in Phyllida, "I love just looking at this car," Marcus said, returning his gaze to the old Rolls Royce as he opened the jar of jam. "I love driving her even more. I’m looking forward to tomorrow. She does need a bath, though. It looks like you had her out and about in the snow."
"I suppose you're going to lecture me, too," Templeton said a little defensively. "Can't a fellow sing along with his radio, just because he feels good?"
He delved into another pocket of his waxed jacket and hauled out a sleek new Walkman radio trailing near-invisible ear buttons on wires, depositing the contraption almost defiantly on the workbench beside the bag of scones.
"My grandsons had the brass to point out that Phyllida doesn't have a radio," he said. He did not point out, however, that this state of affairs had only changed in the last hour, during a detour into the electronics shop beside the bakery where he bought the scones.
Marcus only raised a quizzical black eyebrow. "I take it that your venture into automotive karaoke has been seen as eccentricity," he said mildly.
Templeton snorted. "Busybodies! Aisling's spies reported back to her in a matter of hours. You can't sneeze in Dublin without somebody saying 'God bless you' in Kerry. I'll not give up driving, Marcus. I’m not going gaga!"
"I know that."
"You mean nobody told you that I was talking away to myself yesterday in the car? Everybody else in Dublin seems to think so."
"Nope, can't say I'd heard," Marcus said with a faint smile. "Were you? - talking to yourself?"
"No, I was singing," Templeton said stubbornly. "Naturally, I talk to Phyllida sometimes," he admitted. "All of us with old cars talk to them sometimes, usually when they're misbehaving. Not that she was misbehaving yesterday. She ran perfectly."
"Then, there's nothing to discuss," Marcus said cheerily. "You want to pass me one of those scones? I can't say that jam is quite as satisfying as butter or clotted cream, but at least if Aisling has her spies lurking hereabouts, she shouldn't be too upset. A bit of sugar's better for us than all that cholesterol!"
"True enough," Templeton agreed. "But we still won't tell her."
Somewhat mollified, he scooted his stool closer to his godson and joined in what had become a ritual on Saturdays when Marcus wasn't on duty. While they ate, Marcus told Templeton about his week.
"Oh, it was the usual madness, what with the holiday traffic - and the snow didn't help. We had a state visit, to start the week. That kept us busy. And later in the week, we had two ambassadors present credentials up at Áras. Tonight, the President has a Christmas reception for staff, but I’m not working, so I'll not worry about it."
"You must be the fair-haired boy, getting the weekend off," Templeton remarked with a grin.
"Yeah, but it doesn't happen very often," Marcus replied. "We're nearly all working New Year's, of course, what with everybody worried about the millennium bug and such, but wouldn't you know I’m also working Christmas? Not that I really mind. Give the married lads and lasses time off with their fami
"Any prospects?" Templeton asked a routine question, to which he expected a routine answer.
Marcus grinned. "I've been meaning to tell you about that."
"Oh?" Templeton looked at him in somewhat surprised question.
"Well, there's this rather smashing doctor I met at my sister's wedding this summer. She's training as an emergency consultant. Long-distance courtships aren't my favorite thing, especially with both of us working odd hours, but she doesn't seem to mind being seen with a professional cop."
This obvious understatement brought a pleased smile to the older man's lips. "Sounds promising, Marcus. Well done! Where's she working?"
"Liverpool, of all places, finishing her qualification. But she's Irish, and she wants to come back here to practice- though there aren't many proper trauma-management facilities in this country, as yet. It's still a fairly new specialty even in the UK, though they've had emergency specialists in the States for years. She's hoping they'll open a facility down in Loughlinstown, and she can get a foot in the door there."
"That would be convenient enough," Templeton said. "She sounds like a most intriguing young woman. Does this paragon have a name?"
"Cáit," Marcus said with a grin. "Cáit O'Conor."
"Brunette. About up to my chin." He indicated her height with the flat of his hand. "Brown eyes, nice figure, long legs... and a wonderful wit. She's kind, and compassionate..." Marcus's voice trailed off with a sigh, obviously smitten. "This could be it, Francis."
"Well, for your sake, my boy, I hope it is," Templeton replied. "I look forward to meeting her." Smiling, he reached across to clasp the younger man's shoulder. "Now, let's get this car washed before the afternoon gets away from us."
Templeton carefully avoided any further mention of their earlier conversation regarding his driving fitness. Nor could he immediately figure out a casual way to ask Marcus about the breakin at St. Patrick's. Instead, while they hand-washed the old Rolls with buckets of warm water and leathered it down with a succession of soft old chamois cloths, he stuck to the safer subjects of Christmas plans and the estimable Cáit and speculations about possible millennium problems.
By the time they had finished, the car's black lacquered side panels and doors gleamed like obsidian mirrors, but reflected only the commonplace clutter of the garage. As Templeton gave the little gargoyle a somewhat gingerly polish, he found himself wondering whether he was, indeed, going off the deep end. Could he really have only imagined what he was so sure he remembered from the day before? It wasn't exactly the sort of thing you could ask a guard, even if he was your godson: Tell me, Marcus, have you seen any gargoyles around the city?
But maybe Marcus at least could tell him whether there really had been a breakin at St. Patrick'sor he could find out. The younger man was hidden behind the other side of the car, bent to wipe down the wheel covers, and Templeton kept his head down, too, as he carefully framed his question to sound casual.
"Marcus," he said, "I have a professional question for you. Have you heard anything about something odd going on at St. Patrick's Cathedral in the past day or so?"
"What kind of 'odd?'" Marcus replied, looking up.
"Oh, a mugging, a breakin, maybe a burglary..."
"No, why do you ask?"
Templeton kept his head bent over the little gargoyle he was polishing, whose ruby eyes seemed no more than red enamel in the flat glow of the fluorescent lighting overhead.
"Just wondering. I was driving past there yesterday morning, and I saw an ambulance and a garda car pulled up at the side door."
Which he hadn't, but that's what the gargoyle said had happened.
"Dunno," Marcus said. "Maybe somebody croaked at morning prayers. I can maybe find out, though, if you're really interested. What time would that have been?"
"Oh, early," Templeton said. He polished the already shiny radiator grille with his yellow duster, waffling while his mind raced ahead to concoct the plausible story line. "It was just getting light, but rush hour was already starting."
"Hmm, sort of eight - ish, then. Pretty early start."
Templeton shrugged. "I was supposed to show the car to a prospective client, but he didn't turn up. Since I already had the car out, though, I figured I'd drive around a bit. Traffic was mad, as it always is, this close to Christmas, but it was a fine day, even with the snow."
"True enough," Marcus agreed. "We had to escort some diplomats from the airport. It turned out to be the kind of day that Bord Fáilte loves to tout in the tourist brochures. This time of year, they don't come much prettier."
Templeton found himself smiling. Marcus had the public relations side of his job well in hand, always aware of the public impact of what went on around him.
"You ever been inside the cathedral?" Templeton asked.
"Oh, yes. Lots of times. In fact, I was on duty that day when the President stirred up such a kerfuffle by taking Communion from a Church of Ireland priest."
"You think that was right?" Templeton asked. He stopped polishing to lean on one fender of the old car.
"Not for me to judge," Marcus replied, sidling over to the next wheel. "The press mostly neglected to point out that her family was with her, and they took Communion, too. It happens more often than you might think. But to hear the Hierarchy carry on, you'd think she'd committed a mortal sin."
"Well, maybe not 'mortal,'" Templeton replied, taking the orthodox line. "But Catholics aren't supposed to take Communion in a Protestant church."
"Not strictly speaking, no," Marcus agreed, "but I’m afraid I can't get all that agitated about it. We're all Christians, aren't we? Seems to me that it should be a matter of individual conscience. This island has been torn apart too long by old grudges, and people keeping the letter of the law instead of the spirit-and a lot of them don't even keep the letter of the law."
"Careful, counselor. As a member of the Garda Síochána, the Guardians of the Peace, it's your job to enforce the law."
"Well, there's civil law and there's moral law," Marcus replied. "I'll not be drawn into a debate with you about the technicalities of the Church's teachings, because you Knights of Malta are true devils when it comes to arguing the Hierarchy's side of things." He gestured toward the little gargoyle holding the Malta shield on the end of the car's long hood. "But I hope I'll never lose sight of the fact that the two may not always be one and the same. Besides, I've taken Communion in a Protestant church myself," he admitted. "Cáit is Church of Ireland."
"Aha," Templeton murmured. "All now becomes clear."
"Now, don't you start harping on me!" Marcus said, standing up to wave his chamois at Templeton. "Mam has already given me an earful. It just doesn't make that much difference to me - or to Cáit. These days, you'd think that parents would be glad if their children have any faith."
Templeton had finished with the front end of the car, and moved to a perch on one of the stools for a short breather, thinking that the preceding exchange had sounded a lot like something the gargoyle might have argued, the day before.
"Well, I'll wait to see if it gets serious, before 1 consider flexing whatever godfatherly influence I might have," he said, though it sounded like the relationship was already more serious than Marcus had first hinted. "In the meantime, maybe I'll even have a closer look inside St. Patrick's, take a proper tour of a Protestant church. It is part of our national heritage, after all. That occurred to me yesterday, when I was driving past. I've stuck my head in the door lots of times, what with delivering brides over the years, but I've never actually gone all the way inside."
"Then, you should," Marcus said with a chuckle, as he bent back to his wiping of the wheel covers. "I think you'll find that Protestant churches aren't so very different from ours - especially Saint Patrick's. It's been Roman, in its day, you know. In fact, I know a lot of Roman Catholic churches that seem more Protestant."
"That's what I've heard," Templeton
Marcus cocked him a sidelong grin. "Look out, Francis. You're mellowing in your old age."
"At least I’m not in my dotage," Templeton replied, returning the smile. "I wonder if St. Patrick's has any gargoyles," he added, in what he hoped was a casual aside. "It's Gothic, after all. A Gothic cathedral should have gargoyles."
How's the rest of your afternoon?" Templeton asked Marcus, when they had finished wiping down the last of the car's bright - work and were laying out the last of the sponges and chamois to dry. "Nothing special planned. Why do you ask?" "Thought I might just do that tour of St. Patrick's. "What, today?"
"Well, why not? It's a nice day." Marcus plucked at a fold of the sweatshirt he was wearing and made a face, also lifting a sneaker-clad foot at the end of a long, lean leg clad in faded blue jeans.
"Not exactly dressed for proper sightseeing, am I?" he said.
"Nonsense. Tourists dress no better. Besides," Templeton added, taking inspiration from the gargoyle's somewhat more relaxed attitude regarding churches, "maybe God would rather have people in churches - even Protestant ones - than have them worry about what they're wearing."
"Fair enough, since you put it that way," Marcus agreed. "You obviously were paying attention during our earlier discussion. You want to take my car? No sense getting Phyllida all muddy again, after we've just given her a bath."
"However, if we did take Phyllida," Templeton said, "we could park right outside the cathedral, instead of around the block. Nobody questions a vintage car pulled up outside a church. We're checking things out for a wedding."
"Yes, and if there's already a wedding there today, we create a traffic problem."
"Thus speaks my godson the cop."
"Your godson the cop can put a business card on his front dash, and nobody will bother his humble little Honda," Marcus retorted, though he was smiling. "Come on, Francis. You're just being cantankerous for the hell of it!"
"Somebody's got to keep you on your toes!"
St. Patrick's Gargoyle by Katherine Kurtz / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes