Samhain


On the table in front of the two men there was a pint glass filled to three quarters with what to all intents in purposes looked like blood.

There was no coincidental culmination of constellations. There were no portents of imminent disaster.

This was the most extraordinary event that occurred in the history of Ballyshockney.

A one bank town, the bank manager and the Garda Sergeant sat opposite one another.

John Pat O’Connor, the outsider, sat with his head in his hands opposite his good friend Peter Fogarty.

John looked impassively at his companion. He had an order of things and he was mulling in his mind over how all had been upset. If only the media had not been involved, but there were a lot of ‘what ifs’ now that they were in this situation.

It was up to these two friends to put their heads together to figure out how exactly they were going to extricate themselves from the quandary they were now in. Quandary was a euphemism in truth.

Peter was not sure how this would be, but he was willing to discuss all the options with his friend who usually could find a solution to any problem. He was his confidante.

If only Molly and Deirdre had not taken the opportunity to trip up to Dublin on the train to do some shopping, things would not quite have got out of hand they way they did he thought.

John too was not quite sure how he had got here. To this situation. To this difficulty. And how was it going to be handled.

John was all together different from his friend. He was a man governed by his emotions, by instinct, by impromptu action. He spent his life deviating from the norm. It was something he really did have to keep in check.

He knew it. He always had to check himself before he spoke. Before he acted. Always taking a deep breath and then proceeding.

His impetuous nature might get him into trouble and he knew that this was his weakness. He prayed to God that he could keep everything controlled. And now there was this dilemma to solve.

The sergeant knew the bank manager for many years now. They were from neighbouring towns and indeed they played sport together since they were teenagers. Hurling it was for this was the country of the sliothar and the caman. They were on the same team that won the U15 county championships in 1975.

It was a golden age. The Great Paddy Murtagh who played on the county team that reached the semi finals two years in a row was the captain. The team then split up.

They both played for Ballyshockney until aging man troubles in their middle thirties limited their capacity for exertion. They followed the game still with a passion.

They were neighbours where they worked, not next door exactly, but were on either side of the post office, Murphy’s bar and the chipper.

This was the hub of the town and the police station and the bank were more places of social gathering than of business and crime prevention that you might expect in another bigger place. They were places you were guaranteed a cup of tea during the day. And a chat for this was a small social community.

The Celtic Tiger had barely touched the town of Ballyshockney apart of course from the new estate just on the east side of town. It was filled with those who commuted to the city to work. This was just within the forty mile commuter belt of Cork.

John and Peter were great friends and although different in personality they would share their great passions. Hurling first. Then football, although the county team left much to be desired on this front. Then racing. Both of them would lay a bet, although it was mainly for the fun and the competition between the two.

And the pint. Of course, both of them loved a drink and they would talk about all that entered their minds on the odd evening out when both of them were not working. For both of them liked their work and would spend more time than was warranted, as per the contract of employment, at their daily tasks.

The sergeant also liked the odd ball of malt and would chase down his creamy stout with a smaller glass when he was out on a particular celebration.

It was he that would read voraciously. From his reading he would digest esoteric information of all sorts. Indeed he was the one of the two who had the greatest mental capacity for knowledge. They would sit over a pint for hours and discuss what he had been reading recently.

The sergeant was in his uniform. He was working. He had no hat on of course because he was inside, but it lay on the empty seat in the corner in case he needed to rush out. He needed a hat in the chilled air of the night. He always had to remind himself not to forget to bring it.

The bank manager was not working. He had no specific uniform to wear to work anyhow.

But he was dressed in character. Those of you who know the novels of the Irishman Mr Stoker would have instantly recognised who he was dressed up as. Yes, he was, of course, the infamous Romanian count.

He had draped over his shoulders a long black cape. His painted face was eerily white. In his mouth were some false joke teeth with two lengthy incisors protruding down onto his lower lips. They were not too uncomfortable because he had a habit of leaving his mouth open. Something that led some to believe that he was not as clever as he truly was.

The most damning thing was absent from the face of the bank manager. When he had walked into the station, the Sergeant had observed and remarked on the dark red blotches of liquid streaks on his chin.

Instinctively, they had been wiped clean with the sleeve of the cloak. In the mind of the sergeant they remained. They were the most crucial evidence of incrimination of the alleged crime if any such crime truly did exist.

Perhaps the incidental of the discovery of the bank manager by the sergeant with possible blood streaks on his face and in the possession of a pint glass of a liquid that looked like blood could be dismissed on a day after a night such as was. It was Halloween after all.

Two other factors needed to be included into the equation to be considered in the muddled mind of the sergeant.

The first was perhaps the most macabre of evidences. Mrs Joan Maguire had been recently buried that week. She was the wife of the town victualler Joe Maguire, also deceased in the last year, and now the business had been taken over by the two sons. It was the Maguire twins who provided the town with fresh meat and fowl for consumption.

Her body was deathly cold in the interred earth of her final resting place for the best part of a week now. Her fresh grave with its earthy protuberance upwards still above ground level. It was scheduled for its concrete monument, a host of angels, to be fitted the following week.

It was with considerable shock that her grave was discovered opened again earlier that evening by Mr Darby who was paying his customary evening visit to his wife lost now for five years or more. He finished work at five, would repair to the graveyard to pray for five minutes or so and then he would return home to eat his fill of liver and onions and roosters he grew himself in his plot in his garden.

The decaying body of Mrs Maguire was discovered supine and exposed on the bare ground. The sergeant was called immediately to the scene and on cursory examination he noted two rather strange markings on the side of her neck. It looked to him like teeth marks. He did immediately think that they were canine indentations and that was his conclusion. So he arranged for the body to be re-interred immediately.

The second factor that threw a spanner in the works was Mrs Ann Rice. She was from the estate and her husband was a commuter to the main city branch of the self same bank as the bank located in the centre of Ballyshockney. The two men were employed by the same bank and they were on cordial terms despite not being overly friendly towards one another as they from different generations in banking.

She was trouble and it was a serendipitous and unfortunate encounter that involved her in the whole affair.

Young Ann was five and the sweetest young thing you could ever encounter. A wee pale blonde with hair down her neck and large pools of the bluest eyes. A future heartbreaker the sergeant thought to himself.

There was no doubt that she could only dress herself as a princess. And so she was a princess and because of her tender years she was accompanied most early on her ‘trick or treat’ parade. Just after dark it was when they set out.

The sergeant’s greatest passion of all was for history. Perhaps history is the route of all calamities.

The Aztecs used to drink chocolate with spices he had said over pints. Perhaps he should not have told his friend of these things but he did.

The bank manager was prone to one specific weakness. His wife was his logic on this matter. She was not around but shopping in the big city. He was a victim of the attainment of perfections.

His first error was to dress up as Count Dracula on Halloween night to get ‘into the spirit of things’.

His need for perfection was sated by the exactness of his dress. He looked indeed like the vampyre.

Three coincidences were required to bring the complete picture to fruition.

The first was the likeness in visage of the bank manager to a certain snooker player often seen on the BBC called Mr Ray Reardon. Indeed he was oft mistaken for this man when abroad in other towns or when he ventured to various bank meetings and went on certain excursions. So he too truly had the visage of an ancient bloodsucker.

The second coincidence was the knowledge both men had about the Aztec chocolate drink. The bank manager had made such a concoction and it was sitting on the table right now. It was just a chocolate drink coloured red and not a pint glass full of blood. It had the colour, thickness and viscosity of blood but tasted the bitter sweet of chocolate. The sergeant had tasted it and it was true.

The third coincidence and most damning of all was the first little visitor to the bank manager’s house that night on Halloween Night. It was all a misunderstanding.

Offering a drink that looked like blood to a five year old was a grave mistake in retrospect. Two hysterical females named Ann Rice, one five and the other thirty seven, fled down the avenue of his drive screaming aloud for all and sundry to hear.

They were inconsolable until they had run home. Mrs Ann Rice first phoned the Tribune and told her story. Then she called the sergeant and she ordered him, ordered mind, to go and arrest the bank manager.

The sergeant had waited till morning because he needed to be vigilant on the night of fireworks and there was none to take his shift. Also he knew that there was no way that this story was true and he was waiting for things emotional to settle. He invited his friend the bank manager in for interview at 10am the next morning.

And so there was seated in front of the two men this glass of alleged blood and a dilemma. The story was sensationalised by the Tribune in the morning edition.

The lead on the front page was a story of blood curdling vampires. The bank manager of Ballyshockney was possessed by a legion of the undead. He ransacked the warm grave of the recently interred body of Mrs Maguire the wife of the former victualler of the town. Her two twin sons were now running the business and supplying the area with meat and poultry.

This was elaborated upon in the story because the Maguire boys were good advertisers with the paper.

The vampyre then plundered the body of the unfortunately deceased and allegedly sucked her blood dry.

Then adorned in an outlandish and fiendish costume of the un-dead offered the blood of his unfortunate victim to a young seven year old girl.

Both the girl and her mother were terrified out of her wits by the whole experience, but the local Sergeant failed to act and apprehend the culprit before he returned to normal humanity with the rising sun.

More issues of the paper were sold that day than any other issue of the Tribune ever. There was even copies seen circulating in some of the neighbouring counties.

The journalist who wrote the piece went on to achieve fame as a script writer on Fair City.

Mr John Pat O’Connor took a sip of the chocolate drink and sighed with pleasure at the taste. He smiled at his own misfortune. The only course open was resignation.

© Conor Caffrey 2010

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