Monday Evening: Rose’s Perspective
Usually when a man offers to buy me a drink, my responses range from a curt, “No, thank you” to “Fuck off, you wanker”. I suppose you can take the girl out of Belfast, but she’s still Irish.
In my line of work I hardly ever settle in one place long enough to establish a relationship and I’ve no interest in one night stands. There’s something about this man’s eyes, though, that makes me accept his offer. That, plus the fact that I’m truly considering giving up my old life and setting up something more respectable, more stable. Something legal.
“That’s very kind of you. I’d love another.”
“Northern Ireland?” he asks.
“Indeed, Belfast. Have you been?”
“I have. The company I work for has an office in Derry.”
I’m smitten. Or, at least, impressed. Most call it Londonderry, the official UK name. But locals, at least the old ones, still call it Derry. For an American to call it by the true name is an unusual thing for sure.
As the bartender brings our drinks I ask, “And what business are you in?” Something I don’t normally ask, since it inevitably leads to being asked the same, which I won’t want to answer. Like I said, though, there is something about his eyes…
“We do marketing and public relations. The Derry office is focused on helping Irish companies gain market share in the U.S. Particularly, there are a couple of distilleries we’ve been working with.”
“I have to say I’m in favor of that. I’m a fan of the whiskey from home.”
And, as I knew he would, “What is it that you do?”
“I’m somewhat between positions at the moment. Any openings at your place?”
“Well, actually, we’re always looking for talent. What’s your background?”
Now, I can’t very well tell him that, up until very recently, I’d been a killer for hire. Not over our first drink together, at least. “Sort of, ah, freelance personnel management, you might call it.”
“Interesting. My name’s James Michael, by the way…James Michael Hennessey.” He extends his hand and I shake it. Firm grip, but not too tight, and the timing is just right. We release simultaneously. Go ahead, Freud, have at it.
“I’m Rose O’Leary. Very pleased to meet you Mr. Hennessey.”
“There’s something familiar about you, Rose O’Leary. Familiar, but also intriguingly different. Wait, O’Leary from Belfast? Any relation to O’Leary Trucking?”
What to do. You see, the truth is O’Leary Trucking is the cover business for my family’s illicit enterprises. My Da, Owen, founded it as a way to launder the income from his gun running and drug activities, and as a way to account for all the men who worked for him. I’d gotten my own start in the murder for hire racket there, having eliminated several upstart young drug dealers who failed to pay Da the proper tariff. It’s amazing how easy it is to get close to a man when you’re a 17 year old girl with freckles, a quick smile and a short skirt.
“Cousins of mine”, I say, figuring near the truth would be the safest path.
“And how long have you been in the States, Rose?”
“About 5 years. Most of that I’ve been working out of Chicago, just recently arrived here in your fair city.”
The bar we are in is called The Overlook Tavern, though I can’t imagine why since it’s on the ground floor and doesn’t look over anything but the sidewalk. My apartment is in the building directly across the street. I have quickly acquired the habit of having dinner and a drink here before going home at the end of a day exploring the city. The bartenders are all friendly and, up until tonight, I’ve found it to be the sort of place where strange men don’t try to pick up young women who’re just trying to enjoy a quiet whisky. Behind the bar tonight is a lovely woman I’d seen a week previous, Sophie. Seems she works just Monday nights. She approaches us now to inquire if we’d like another round.
“Not for me, thanks”, I say. “Time to be heading home.”
“And you, James Michael, another Guinness?” asks Sophie.
“I will take another, yes please and thank you.” Then, in a half-whisper directed to me, “Sophie’s my mom, by the way. She owns the place. So when I offer to buy you a drink, really we’re getting it on the house. Are you sure you can’t have another? Even a glass of water? I’m really enjoying our chat.”
Those damned eyes. “Well, I suppose I could take another whisky. Maybe over ice this time. Since it’s not costing you anything.”
“Haha, very good. Hey, mom, my friend Rose would like another whiskey, on the rocks, please.”
Sophie shoots us a smile as she pulls the Guinness from the tap. “Your mother is quite young looking, James Michael. I wouldn’t have guessed she could be old enough to have a son your age.”
“And what age do you suppose I am, Rose? I should tell you, my mother’s family are notorious for their youthful appearance. There are some that say my great-grandfather may have made a deal of some sort with a Leprechaun back in County Cork. I don’t believe that, of course. I think it’s more to do with the Guinness.”
“A much more logical explanation, certainly. Let me see now….” I take his hand and turn it over to look at the palm and the fingers. “No calluses to speak of. Soft, as a matter of fact. I’d wager you’ve not done much manual labor in your life.” I look closely at his face, keeping hold of his hand. “No noticeable wrinkles or lines around the eyes or mouth. Ah, but a lovely dimple when you smile. Isn’t that adorable?”
“You’re a flatterer, I see. Any guesses yet? Or do you need to do further examinations?”
“I’m ready to make a guess. I’m taking into consideration your previous confession that the barmaid is your mother…and the owner of this fine establishment. I’ll say you’re just about 30 years old, but looking a good deal less than that.”
“Remarkable. You’ve hit it on the nose.”
“Well, to be honest, your class ring with the giant 1997 helped a great deal. I assumed 22 years of age at graduation, and did some simple arithmetic from there.”
“Clever, funny and beautiful. Quite a combination. Toss in the brogue and you’re practically irresistible.”
“Now who’s flattering who, Mr. Hennessey? Don’t forget, your mum’s just over there.”
All in all, we both seem to be quite enjoying ourselves, but I’m not prepared to let myself get attached just yet. I’m tired and the third whisky is having its effect.
“I thank you and your mum very much for the drink, James Michael, but I should really be heading home.”
“You’re very welcome, Rose. It was a pleasure chatting. I’d very much like to continue our conversation another time.”
“Well, I believe I’d enjoy that myself. I assume you come here fairly often? Family connection and all…”
“A fair assumption. I expect I’ll be here again tomorrow evening around this time. Perhaps you’ll give me the opportunity to guess your age.”
“Perhaps I will. Good night, James Michael. Good night, Sophie, thank you very kindly.”
I walk out into the night, cross the street and enter my apartment building. As I’m riding up in the elevator I realize I’m whistling, have been since I left The Overlook. True, I’ve had one more whisky than my usual, but that’s not enough to make me silly. Whistling is not something I normally do. Something about James Michael Hennessey, though. As I fall asleep in my bed, I imagine he’s there with me, and it’s nice.
Tuesday Evening: James Michael’s Perspective
Tuesday nights at The Overlook are usually about as exciting as yesterday’s toast. But tonight I’m meeting Rose O’Leary, from Belfast. I spent all last night and all day today thinking about running my fingers through her black curls, and kissing her lips. When she caught my attention here last night she had the curls held up on the back of her head with one of those butterfly clips, and she was wearing a plain black t-shirt and jeans. I’d never seen a more naturally glamorous woman. Now I see her walking toward me wearing a short, sleeveless yellow dress made from some sort of shiny material. It’s like looking into the sun. High heels in a color to match the dress. Her hair hanging in thick curls, like an ebony halo around her heart-shaped face. You could say she’s kicked the glamour up a notch.
“Hello, there, Rose O’Leary. You look stunning.”
“Hello, James Michael Hennessey, and thank you very much for noticing.”
“What will have you to drink this evening? Whisky?”
“Lovely, yes, please. Is it still on the house, without your mum on the bar?”
“Indeed. Tonight we have the pleasure of being served by my brother in law, the redoubtable Declan. Hey, Dec”, I call, “a whisky for the beautiful lady, please.”
“Truly a family affair. How long has your mother owned the place?”
“Just a couple of years. She’s tended bar here since before I was born, though. In fact, she met my father here, serving him drinks. Place was called The Golden Cup then.”
Declan brings us our drinks. “Dec, this is Rose O’Leary, from Belfast, by way of Chicago. Rose, my brother-in-law Declan.”
“Pleased to meet you, Declan. A good Irish name. I feel almost like I’m home.”
“Pleased to meet you, Rose. I should warn you about James Michael. If you haven’t already noticed, he’s a talker. You can’t believe half what he tells you about himself, and nothing that he tells you about me. And whatever you do, don’t leave any cash or valuables lying around. He can’t be trusted.”
“Ah, thank you for the warning. I’ll be sure to keep my guard up.”
“Thanks so much for the support, Dec, much appreciated. Now be on your way. Have you had dinner, Rose? The prime rib here is top notch.”
“Let me guess, the chef is your grandfather?”
“Haha, no. No family members in the kitchen. I used to wash dishes and bus tables, when I was in school, but that’s a few years ago, as you know.”
“And, Declan the brother-in-law…is he your sister’s husband, or your wife’s brother?”
“Interesting. Is that your clever way of tricking me into admitting that I’m married?”
“Could be. Wouldn’t be the first time a married man flirted with a single girl from out of town.”
“Fair enough. Truth be told, he’s not technically a brother-in-law yet. He and my sister Kay have been hanging around each other so long it’s as if they’re married, but there’s no ring, and no contract as of yet. And I, Miss Rose O’Leary, am entirely unencumbered by either spouse or girlfriend. I am 100% available.”
“You are a talker, Declan was right about that.”
She smiles, and I hear angels singing. As she sips her whisky I find myself fascinated by the curve of her neck as it slopes toward her shoulder.
“I have a confession to make, Rose.”
“Ah, confessions already. So early in our acquaintance. You’ve only got 4 toes on your left foot? You’re about to be sentenced to a long jail term for embezzlement? You’re a Republican?”
“Nothing like that, no. I confess I have a very strong desire to touch your hair.”
She smiles. “I’ll not stop you.”
I reach up and tuck one curl behind her ear. “It’s lovely.”
“It’s wild and rebellious.”
“Yes, exactly. Is that because it’s an extension of you? Are you a wild and rebellious Rose?”
“I suppose I can be.”
“I have another confession. I know that you’re Owen O’Leary’s daughter.”
She doesn’t smile. “Oh, dear. You’ve done some research, have you?”
“A bit. I called my co-worker in Derry. He says there was talk for a while that you were working for your father when you were just a teenager, but that no one has seen or heard from you in some time. You’re something of a mystery there, in fact.”
“So, I’m wild, rebellious and mysterious. Does that make you more interested in getting to know me, or less?”
“Oh, more. Much more.”
“And what, specifically, would you like to know?”
I hesitate, sensing the fragility of this new acquaintance, as she called it. Did I go too far by asking my Derry contact to look into her background? Having done that, was I wrong to tell her about it? Why should I care who her father was, anyway?
“Rose, you fascinate me. I’m not even entirely sure why. Something about you, though, has me entranced. I apologize, I shouldn’t have snooped. It’s none of my business who your father was, and you’ve every right to be upset with me. I plead guilty and ask your forgiveness.”
“I accept your plea, and postpone sentencing for the moment. What do you know about my father?”
“I know he’s believed to have been behind most of the crime in Belfast from the early 90s up until his death a few years ago. That’s according to headlines in the newspapers when he died. I know most people who know who he was were afraid of him, are still afraid of O’Leary Trucking. The distillery I told you my company has been working with tells us the reason they want to expand into the US is that they won’t pay O’Leary Trucking’s extortion, and can’t get local distribution without them.”
“My father wasn’t a good man, but he was a good father to me. I went to work for him when I turned 16, doing what you might call ‘odd jobs’. Five years ago, as you know, he died, and I took the opportunity to move to the States, to get away from my uncles. I found work in Chicago with some associates of my father’s, but the last assignment they gave me left a bad taste in my mouth. So I decided to come east and try to start over. I’d understand if you’d rather not get involved with an O’Leary, especially given your business in Ireland. I do thank you for the drink.” She begins to stand, and I lay a hand on her arm.
“Wait….one more confession. I know we just met yesterday, but I think I’m falling in love with you.”
“Love, is it? Let’s not rush, things, Mr. Hennessey. Tell you what, have your friend Declan pour me another whisky, and then you can tell me your life story, since you already know mine. If it’s love we’re working on, it’s only fair if I know as much about you as you do about me, don’t you think?”
Tuesday Evening, part 2: Declan’s Perspective
Here’s the thing about James Michael. In most areas of his life, he’s the most level headed person ever. A lot like his sister that way. And he’s smart; if anything, maybe too smart. But in his personal life, and especially when it comes to women, he’s downright stupid. Believe me, I know a thing or two about stupid. When he came in tonight and told me he was meeting a girl - “a raven haired beauty from Ireland”, he told me - I was both curious and worried. In the past, his idea of beautiful has basically been any woman that will speak to him. But when this girl walked in wearing that little yellow dress, I had to admit, she’s a looker.
They’ve been over there for a while now, at the dark end of the bar. She’s on her second whisky, he’s on his third Guinness, when he calls me over.
“Dec, help me out. Rose doesn’t believe me. Tell her I’ve never had a serious girlfriend.”
“It’s true. All his girlfriends have been comedians, not a serious one in the bunch. Serious girls would never go out with a clown like this.”
“Interesting. I guess I’ve no chance then, I’m rarely even amusing.”
She’s as likable as they come. Cute, sexy, smart, quick witted. Drinks her whisky neat. Like a dream come true for ol’ James Michael.
“Another strike against you would be the fact that Declan never dates attractive women.”
“Oh, now Declan, I’m not prepared to be flirted with by two men at the same time.”
“Fair enough. Will either of you be ordering anything to eat this evening?”
Tuesday Evening, part 3: Rose’s Perspective
“Well, that was a fine meal, to be sure. You were right about the prime rib, James Michael.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
As Declan takes away our empty plates, I realize my hand has been resting on James Michael’s for I don’t know how long, and I’ve no desire to move it.
“I like your eyes, James Michael. They’re kind.”
He blushes a bit, but doesn’t look away. I take this as an invitation, and lean in to kiss him on the cheek. He, apparently, takes this as an invitation, and turns his face slightly so my kiss lands on his lips. Neither of us seems to mind a bit.
“Rose, would you like to get out of here, go someplace where we can be alone? I know I would.”
“Indeed, I would James Michael. Indeed, I would.”
I’ll not tell you more of what transpired that evening.
Wednesday Morning: James Michael’s Perspective
Yellow morning light seeping around the edges of pale blue curtains.
Ceiling fan rotating slowly directly over my head.
Walls painted light green, with a white chair-rail.
Curly black hair covering the pillow beside mine, the face of an angel hidden within the tangles.
Gently, I brush the curls away and kiss the cheek of this miraculous vision.
She smiles, eyes still closed, and says, “I must have died and gone to heaven.”
“If you think this is heavenly, wait until you taste the breakfast I’m about to cook for you.”
She moves closer to me, pulls her arm more tightly around my chest. “You’ll have to escape this bed first.”
“I suppose breakfast can wait.”