Cold November winds were blowing down from the north and mom and dad didn’t get out much these days. They appreciated company in the house so, most of the time, it suited to have someone staying with them and I got the feeling mom wasn’t looking forward to the day I shifted all my gear into the new house being built just a couple of miles down the road. Things were generally working out well, until mom started fussing.
Three months had passed since I returned home from Europe. Three months in which I had finally changed my life from one hampered by anger to one generally at ease with the world. Radio and television news broadcasts constantly told us about the progress of the fragile cease-fire in Northern Ireland but, privately, I had my doubts about the chances of peace taking a firm footing over there. Not just yet. There didn’t seem to be the will to do what was needed to achieve the sort of real peace that lasts. Maybe time would improve the chances. Or more suffering, as Mother Theresa had suggested. On a wider scale, however, it no longer really mattered to me, no longer bothered me as it had done such a short while before.
I was flying regularly now and I was enjoying it. The airline was expanding its network of air routes and I had just returned from a staged series of flights through South East Asia. I’d had a lay-over in Vietnam and I spent two days in Ho Chi Minh City waiting to bring a return 747 flight back to the States. I was too young to have been in that war so it had been a fascinating experience to see the country that fought against us and won. It struck home to me that a country brought to its knees by that devastating war was now fast bringing itself back to life again through its own efforts. Poverty and deprivation was still widespread but the will to rise back out of the ashes was strong amongst the Vietnamese people. It took me very little time to warm to them and to see that there was a strong will amongst the people to help themselves; a determination to avoid crying too long into their own empty soup bowls and, instead, to succeed by virtue of their own efforts. I flew out of Vietnam with a fervent wish that, one day, the people of countries like Bosnia and Ireland will do the same, make that same effort to put the past behind them and live in the present.
I felt a hankering to get out of the house one cold morning, early in my three-day rest period after that Asian trip. A mist hung over most of the city and outlying areas, the product of mixing chill northerly winds with damp sea air. No weather to be out of doors too long. The new house wasn’t yet ready and mom and dad were doing their best to make life as comfortable as possible but mom fussed a lot, as most moms do, and I needed to get away without causing any offence. On a sudden whim I went down town to see Chief Hanson. It seemed like a good excuse to get me away from the house for a few hours.
I hadn’t seen him face to face since I started the job with American Interstate because he’d been over in New England for some months, taking care of his own aged father who was invalid and refused to move west. Anyhow, I knew that he was back at his desk now, so I just wandered in off the street and threw my wet coat over a convenient chair.
Hanson was enjoying his mid-morning coffee and scanning a copy of Playboy. When he saw me he jumped to his feet, grinning at me like one big cuddly bear who’d found his porridge just to his liking.
“How you doin’, Chief?”
“All the better for seein’ you again, Henry.” He grasped my hand warmly. “Jeez, but you’re lookin’ well. You got my wedding present, did you? Sorry I couldn’t be there in person but you know how it is.”
“Sure, Chief. I know. How’s your pa?”
“Cantankerous as ever. Say, I must get over to your parents place one o’ these days son. See your own mom and pa… and meet the little lady.”
“Sooner the better, Chief.”
“So, what you been up to?”
I took one of his more comfortable seats and stretched out my legs. He flopped down behind his untidy desk while I went on, “Nothing exciting. Been flying aeroplanes again. Generally getting on with life. And…”
“Enjoying being married?”
“Great.” He lowered his eyes slightly, a sure give-away that there was something awkward to come. “Heard all about what happened in Ireland. You ready to forget it all now?”
“Forget it? No, I’ll never forget it, Chief.” I scratched my chin thoughtfully. “But I sleep easier at nights these days knowing what it was all about. I feel less twisted up in my mind now, and that’s one big bonus, I suppose. Of course, I wouldn’t have figured it out at all without you putting your big footprints all over things.”
He feigned surprise. “What did I do?”
I leaned towards him. “You know damned well what you did. You set me up, Chief. That job application. You set me up for it.”
He didn’t flinch. “Maybe I did. I heard about the new house you’re buying, by the way. Looks like it’s a good job you’ve got yourself if you can afford a new house like that.”
“Sure it is. But that’s not why you set me up, is it? The truth is, you knew I’d start digging with Terri McDolan. And you knew she would lead me to the priest. I figure you had it planned out all along. Why did you do it, Chief?”
Hanson breathed out long and slow. “Not much else I could do, Henry. Not if I wanted to help you and keep my own job at the same time. I made enquiries but I hit some sore spots. Someone high up the government ladder warned me off digging any deeper. Told me to back off or start calculating how much pension I got coming. I figured it had to be up to you after that. Hell, I felt a mite guilty about the whole thing and I tried to find out about that Irish American place, remember?”
“It was a ticklish business all round.”
“Sure. All I could do was to point you in the right direction. Did I do that?”
I loosened up. “Yeah. You sure did that.”
“And you did well, Henry. You sure did well when the chips were down.”
“Yeah. Not bad for an Air Force drop-out. Eh?”
“You’re no drop-out, son.” He was looking at me intently now. “Whatever I said about you, I was wrong. You got what it takes.”
“Thanks. I love you too, Chief.”
We changed the subject after that, went on to talk more about the new future I’d got set up. I told him about how things were at home and he sure sounded pleased.
About an hour later I headed back to mom and dad’s house. It was still raining when I pulled into the driveway and looked towards the lounge window. Penny was there, just as I expected her to be. Just as she always was every time I got home. And she was waving to me. I grinned and waved back and then she patted her stomach to let me know that the baby had been kicking again from the inside. A scan had shown that he hadn’t suffered none from the beating Penny had taken. It gave me this nice warm feeling to know we were going to have a family of our own.
One day, in the years to come, he’d be kicking a ball about our own back yard and I’d take him down to LA airport and show him the airplanes. And then he’d go to school with all the other kids in our district. And he’d play with all of the kids on the block, whatever their background.
He’d learn to grow up in peace.
Penny came out to meet me on the porch and I kissed her long enough to tell her, yet again, that nothing was going to change between us now that we were married. She needed that reassurance and it pleased me to give it. Made me feel comfortable because I was adopting the role of protector.
“There’s a letter for you,” she said, pointing to the hall table as we went inside.
It was from Michigan and I knew straight away what it was. I’d hired an investigator up there to look into the Bodine family history and he’d managed to trace other descendants of Pierre Boudine.
“What’s it about, Henry?”
I tore open the envelope and read through the opening paragraph. “It’s about a woman called Mary O’Callaghan.” I scanned on through the letter. “Well, well fancy that.”
“Don’t keep me guessing. What about her?”
“Mary O’Callaghan emigrated to America in the last century. She came from a small village near Killarney. She grew up in that area around the lakes.” I looked at Penny and saw the puzzlement in her face. “I went there to see a man called Whiteman.”
“Is that important?”
“I’ll tell you all about it. One day.