The Llakor Project - Year Two Chapter Ten: The Next Sound You Hear
We arrive in Edinburgh, or at least the outskirts of it, in the evening. Charlie’s Mom puts out the fatted calf, or at least the fatted lamb, for her guests. She pretends that it’s because its been so long since she saw Charlie, but she is delighted to see me. Fortunately, there is nothing wrong with her trade craft and she treats me exactly like a new aulde acquaintance rather than someone she has considered to be a second son for the better part of thirty years.
Charlie’s Da made a bundle as an engineer for the offshore oil companies and then retired and made an even bigger bundle designing specialized equipment for the North Sea oil rigs and building the computers that handled the equipment and creating the programming that ran the computers that ran the equipment. He used all that dough to buy what some people call a “heritage property” and what I call a “fucking castle” as in the very first time I came to visit Charlie, I got out of the car and right in front of his mother I said, “Christ on a bloody cross, Charlie, you live in a bloody fucking castle!”
This started a mild iniquity which still rankles with Charlie. I had come to Scotland to visit, the summer after I saved Charlie’s life. My Ma had made sure that I had a wardrobe proper for a visit to my new rich friend, although it practically became a neighbourhood project as the left over and out grown clothing of dozens of my older cousins and other kids from the neighbourhood was picked over and the best pieces assembled or in some cases taken apart to be sewed together into new clothing. Tragically, like many Irish Belfast neighbourhoods, there were a fair number pieces in my wardrobe that had been the second best suit of one of the kids on my street - their best suit having been buried with them.
So, as my Ma had taken great pains to explain to me at length, in detail and on a couple of occasions while she was “instructing” me behind with a wooden spoon to drive home the lesson since I was plainly not listening to her words based on my... my behaviour, I was to represent the Neighbourhood and my Clan and my Country and my Religion and few other things that always came out of my Ma’s mouth in clearly capital letters. In short, I was to be a Gentleman and a Scholar and to Behave Myself at all times accordingly.
All of which is to say, that when I called Charlie’s house “a fucking castle,” I wanted to just rip up the cobble stoned driveway, crawl underneath and slowly die. I tried to stammer out an apology, but Mrs. Stuart would have nothing of it, “It’s all right Sean, it is a fucking castle, and I can tell you that it is a pain in the ass to heat in the winter.” Charlie was scandalized, “Mom, that’s the first time that I have ever heard you say ‘Fuck!’” He immediately got cuffed upside the head, “You will not use the language around me young man!” “What? But Sean did?” an outraged Charlie replied. As I remember, Mrs Stuart considered her son carefully, “That’s different. Sean saved the life of my only son. He showed leadership and bravery in doing so and ended up paying a bitter price when that bigoted Ulster magistrate sent him to jail for breaking that thug’s arm. He has earned the right to swear in my presence. You have not.”
Right there. On the spot. Dret la la, as my Montreal friends would say, I fell in love with Charlie’s Ma, Mary Stuart. Ever since, Charlie has complained (although never in her presence, in fact if possible never while she was within a hundred miles of him) that she is biased towards me and uses a double standard. Or as he puts it, “When it comes to you. she has a blind spot the size of the Grand Canyon.”
The truth of it is, that I believe that Charlie’s Ma gets me right well, better than anyone else that I have ever met. It was barely a joke, back in the day, when I flirted with her and threatened Charlie’s Da that if I had been around twenty years earlier that I would have carried her off and stolen her away from him. During the days when Charlie were at our wildest, when I couldn’t trust my own conscience, it was hers that I used. What would Mary think of me if I did this? - was my barometer. I could face a mirror, any mirror without flinching. Except for the mirror in her eyes. If I couldn’t face those at the end of an operation, it was an operation I was not prepared to take.
Which is not to say that Mary expected me to be an angel, or rather that she did, but that her definition of an angel was rather different than mine. When I was formally “Green Booked” and made a full Provo, I asked permission to recruit Charlie secretly from two people. One was the chief of the Belfast Brigade, the second was Charlie’s Ma.
I remember clearly her looking at me as though she was staring deep into my soul and I flinched, wondering how I could have the gall to ask for her to give up her son to a cause that was not theirs. But I knew that I needed Charlie, in the same instinctive way that I knew which neighbourhood kids to pick for my “Sweet Sixteen” soldiers. The rule being that when you reached sixteen you were off the force, because the British mostly wouldn’t arrest you if you were under sixteen, mostly. I was a good judge of talent and I always had these weird hunches what talents that I would need to get things done. My own little bit of the sight, as we call it.
Mary Stuart had her own bit of the sight. At least, she always saw me clearly. “Sean, the day that Charlie disappeared in Belfast. I knew that something was wrong an hour before the telephone rang. I just started crying for no reason. It scared Charles to death. He told me later that it was almost a relief when the phone actually rang to tell us that Charlie was missing. I knew, without being told, that Charlie had been attacked. And I convinced myself that he was dead. So, when they called us to tell that Charlie had been rescued by a group of “teenage Irish hooligans” I remember that was what they called you Sean. Every day since then has been a gift. A gift from you Sean, to me, of my only son. But I always knew that there would come a time when you would come back to me and ask me to return that gift to you. You’re a selfish man, Sean Casey. Brave, generous to your friends, loyal, all of those things. But you will use people for your own purposes, Sean and use them up if need be. You’re a selfish man.”
I remember bowing my head. It was true. It didn’t matter, but it was true. I asked, “Does it bother you, what I will be asking Charlie to do?”
This is where Mary Stuart surprised me, “No Sean. I can understand, better than you think, what it is to fight for your people. I may not approve of your methods. There is Martin’s path and there is Malcolm’s path. You walk Malcolm’s path. If you didn’t, you would never have been able to save Charlie. But if I am any judge on these things at all, you are on the side of the angels... in fact there be a cold hearted Devil in you that will use people up and throw them away, but there is also an Angel in you, Sean.”
“An Angel, Mary? I am not going to be doing very angelic things,” I remember saying.
Mary Stuart looked at me and smiled sadly at me, “You need to read your Bible more, Sean. The angels may have worked for God, may work for God, but that doesn’t mean that they are nice. They carried swords around for a reason,” and then she slapped me HARD, the once and only time she has ever done that or anything similar to me. “So, you do what you have to do, Sean. But you keep my Charlie safe. And if I ever find out that you have let him do drugs, I swear to all that’s holy I will turn you both into the British myself.”
As I say, I love that lady. She is one of only three people in the world that knew that I wasn’t dead. Just living as though I was dead in Montreal with a new face and a new name. I couldn’t trust my own Mom with that information. I let her die thinking me dead and I couldn’t even attend her funeral to ask her forgiveness, but Mary Stuart I knew I could trust to keep my secrets.
Charlie is one of the few fixers in the world who would bring a crew home to meet his Mother, but the truth is that his Mom is one of the shrewder judges of character that I have ever met. She has always been quick to spot hidden strengths and draw them out of people and she has always been good at spotting someone who is likely to break under pressure. early on, Charlie and I learned to our dismay that if Mary said that someone was a coward, we would find out that she was right often during that very operation.
We also discovered that she had a unique talent for discovering traitors. On two separate occasions, she told us that she didn’t trust someone. On both occasions, when we investigated further, we discovered that her mistrust was reasonable given the fact that the person in question was a double agent, in one case working for the British, in another case working for the “old” IRA. It happened on a third occasion, but in that case we barely even bothered to stop to think. We just hauled him to the half acre back yard, on the first possible moment and threw him off the cliff to the sea. Years later, in Montreal, I found out that the third man was a British agent who had gone under cover and had never been heard of again.
It turns out that Mary and George go way back. She doesn’t know Felix, but they are quickly chattering over dinner like old pals. It is a bit of a surreal dinner party to be having dinner with Charlie’s Ma while her dinner table is surrounded by crooks and scoundrels, but I am greatly reassured by the fact that she clearly accepts both George and Felix. In my own way, I trust Mary’s sight almost more than I do my own. I know that I need a Driver and a Cracker. Thanks to Mary, I know that I can trust this driver and this cracker.
Over tea and dessert, Charlie announces where we have to go to tomorrow: a building site in Edinburgh, to recruit our explosives expert.
“Who are you going to see in Edinburgh, Charlie?” asks his Ma. Normally, she stays out of operations matters, but Charlie is not exactly being discreet and she (quite rightly) has concluded that Charlie isn’t keeping it a secret because there is no secret to keep.
“You remember Dario, Ma? He’s handling the demolition for the old Crisco Tower on Somerset.” says Charlie and the minute he says Dario, my eyes and Mary’s both go wide in horror, though for different reasons.
“The Mad Bomber? You’re going to visit the Mad Bomber?” cries Mary in anguish.
“Ma, he did apologize for that and it was an innocent mistake,” scrambles Charlie, clearly regretting having spilled the beans and refusing to make eye contact with either of us.
“Why is this Dario called the Mad Bomber?” asks George suspiciously.
“When we were kids, Dario wanted to help Ma who was busy replanting her rose bushes for the winter from the front of the house to the green house. The only problem is that he slightly miscalculated the amount of explosives needed to safely pop the rose bushes out of the soil,” explains Charlie.
“Slightly miscalculated?” You can practically see the steam coming out of Mary’s ears, “On my prize rose bushes?”
I decide to set the record straight, “Dario planted explosives under four of the rose bushes. Two of them ended up in the lake on the other side of the property. The third ended up landing on the greyhound of Colonel McTavish’s. It was the Colonel’s prize hunter. Poor beast was never the same again. The fourth rose bush was never seen again. I’m firmly convinced that it was the first British rose bush ever to achieve orbit.”
“Lies! Lies, damned lies and exaggerations!” roars Charlie.
“Are you denying that Colonel McTavish’s greyhound Chumley was not hit by a flying rosebush?” I ask, trying desperately to arch just one eyebrow in full Spock manner.
“Well, yes,” admits Charlie to general laughter. “But he was on our property chasing a squirrel. He was a trespasser!”
Personally, I am more concerned about the fact that I have know Dario since child hood. He grew up on my street. I’m sure that my new face will fool him, but I worry about him recognizing my voice.