Authors: Claire Kilroy
In memory of John Long, 1944–2010
riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.
Sir Tristram, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, had passencore rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war:
First day of evidence
‘Please state your name for the record.’
Don’t be coy, Fergus.
‘Mr St Lawrence, you claim your stopover in Dublin was unscheduled, yet the next day you attended a business meeting in the airport Hilton with the property developer Desmond Hickey?’
It is true that I ran
Second day of evidence
‘Mr St Lawrence,
Not for a number of weeks,
‘What happened to the pony?’
Stop. Poor Prince. The damage.
Third day of evidence
‘Mr St Lawrence, when did your directorship of Castle Holdings commence?’
The date is on the paperwork in front of you.
‘Mr St Lawrence, what precisely is the nature of your relationship with the financier Mr Deauville?’
Ha! What a question!
‘Just answer it, please, Mr St Lawrence.’
I’m not sure I can, Fergus
‘Mr St Lawrence, can you clarify the extent of Desmond Hickey’s involvement with Mr Deauville?’
No, Fergus, I cannot.
Fourth day of evidence
‘Mr St Lawrence, on the matter
‘And further to this “fee”
Yes, and fairly promptly too
‘Do we understand you correctly, Mr St Lawrence: you are asserting that Mrs Hickey—’
Please don’t call her that.
‘That is her name.
No. She had no interest in construction,
‘Mr St Lawrence,
Yes, Fergus, that is correct.
Is that a trick question?
‘And how long
We had it by the time we made it back to Howth.
‘Thank you, Mr St Lawrence. That will be all for today.’
Are you sure?
Are you sure that will be all?
Fifth day of evidence
‘Mr St Lawrence,
‘Where does this Larney individual fit in to all this?’
Is that a riddle?
‘I’m afraid it’s just you, Mr St Lawrence.’
St Patrick’s Day
Sixth day of evidence
‘And at what point did Dominic Dowdall enter the picture?’
I’m sorry, who?
Oh, him. Yes.
Seventh day of evidence
‘To return to this
That would be my general understanding
‘This is the same barbeque
I wasn’t present
‘And was it possible for M. Deauville to attend?’
‘Can you confirm
Yes, that is my signature.
‘So you signed a contract to purchase the north County Dublin farm that morning?’
Yes. First we signed the contracts
Eighth day of evidence
‘Mr St Lawrence
That would be correct
‘This would be the day
Ninth day of evidence
‘To return to the issue of the—’
Fergus, Fergus, Fergus, Fergus
Fergus, it gets worse
Final day of evidence
Mr St Lawrence, during this period
Oh absolutely, Fergus.
‘Thank you for your time
Do you think?
About The Author
By The Same Author
âPlease state your name for the record.'
Don't be coy, Fergus. You've known me since I was yay high. I beg your pardon? Oh. It's like that, is it? I see. Very well. As you wish. This is going to take longer than expected, but then, you lot are running on a pricey meter. Two and a half grand a day, I hear. Well, Fergus â I mean Justice O'Reilly â my name, for the record, is Tristram St Lawrence. Tristram Amory St Lawrence, the thirteenth Earl of Howth,
, hill of sweetness. I was â I am â the only son your old pal, the twelfth Earl of Howth, managed to sire, and not from lack of trying. People have been saying a lot of bad things about me in the press. I am here to say a few more.
What brought me back to Ireland? Good question. An act of God, or maybe the other fella. That was back in 2006. I had not set foot on this green isle for twelve years. I agree, Fergus: it is a long time in the lifespan of a comparatively young man, particularly one with such ties to the locality. Personal reasons kept me away. Personal, personal, unspeakably personal. This is neither the time nor the place.
I was en route from a conference in Birmingham to one in Florida. That is how I used to spend my life, travelling from one point on the globe to another, keeping my nose clean. As you are probably aware, I am by profession an interpreter. I was engaged in that capacity by large international institutions such as the IMF, the EU and the ECB. The Troika. I do all the major European languages.
No, I cannot tell you what the Birmingham conference was about and not because the subject matter was
sensitive, but since I am unable to recall a word of what has been said once the sessions are called to a close, such is the level of concentration translation demands of me. The interpreter is the medium through which other people's thoughts and arguments pass. The key is not to engage with those thoughts and arguments. If you allow them to capture your curiosity for even a fraction of a second, you will lose the next sentence. And then you're in trouble. The whole thing backs up. One must hollow oneself out. One must make of oneself the perfect conduit. This is a trick I have mastered.
It used to drive Hickey mental when M. Deauville and I conversed in what he called foreign â it was second nature to me to respond to M. Deauville in his language
, which depended on what part of the world he was calling from, for he travelled constantly too. Hickey thought I was concealing something from him and generally I was, just as generally he was concealing something from me. In short, I was recognised as the best at what I do, and had I spent the rest of my life on the international conference circuit, I would not be before you giving evidence today. They said my gift was uncanny. That was the word my clients used in their various mother tongues.
, uncanny. Sometimes I thought they intended it as a compliment, but other times I wasn't so sure.
M. Deauville? No, he wasn't my employer, as such. And no, I wouldn't describe him as a colleague either. He was more what you'd call a consultant. And we all know who Hickey is.
The plane was not long in the sky after take-off from Birmingham. The cabin crew had commenced their in-flight service, that is to say, an air hostess was reversing a leaden trolley down the aisle. âA drink, sir?' she enquired when she reached me.
I smiled sadly. âNo, thanks. I'll have a cup of tea, please.' I released the catch of my tray table and lowered it into position.
I was sitting in the window seat. The flight was full. A mother and son occupied the two seats next to me, the
in the middle seat and the boy on the aisle. He kicked the back of the chair in front of him as he played his computer game, just as someone was kicking the back of mine. The stewardess leaned across to pass me tea in a plastic cup. I added two capsules of hydrogenated milk and looked at it. The water hadn't been boiled. There are moments when I lose heart in the whole endeavour. That was one of them. Strapped into a bucking chair for the next seven hours, contemplating that cup of grey tea. A limescale scum was forming on the surface. I put the cup down and set my watch to Eastern Standard Time.
Then the tea blew up. It erupted out of the cup into my face. A scream of fright from the other passengers â the plane had taken a hit.
I gripped both armrests. The impact was followed by a blast of freezing air. I turned to glimpse a fracture in the plastic casing of the ceiling. A shard of metal had punctured the cabin. The gash was spurting electrical cables and frills of silver foil.
The plane began to shake violently. Several of the overhead bins sprang open, disgorging cabin luggage onto the aisle. The oxygen masks dropped, a dangling yellow crop of them, swinging and jerking in synchronisation. Hands reached up to pluck them like fruit, so I plucked mine and strapped it onto my face. Through the window, I saw that the engine was on fire. The pain in my ears was excruciating.
The plane entered a nose dive, juddering with such force that I thought our seats would come unbolted. It kicked to the side and the drinks trolley went lunging in the direction of the cockpit. The stewardess went lunging after it, swinging from headrest to headrest to keep herself upright. Beneath the flaming engine, the lights of a city had appeared in the darkness.
The captain said something on the intercom but we couldn't hear him over the noise. I pulled my mobile phone out of my pocket. It was switched off and I couldn't remember which button switched it on. I literally could not begin to make sense of the digits. The city beneath us was rapidly approaching. I made out the grid of roads. This is it, I thought. To hell with it. I peeled the rubber mask off my face and released the seat belt. I squeezed past the mother and son and went lurching down the aisle, tripping over the fallen hand luggage.
âGet into your seat, sir!' a stewardess shouted at me when I made it to the front. âGet back into your seat immediately, sir!' Then the cabin lights went out.
I followed the emergency strip lighting and located the trolley. It had been locked down. The first drawer was crammed with miniature cans of soft drinks. I had to shove it shut to get at the contents of the next one down. âSir, get into your seat,' the flight attendant shouted from the jump seat. âWe are preparing for an emergency landing. Get into your
' It was an American carrier.
The nose of the plane lifted. We were horizontal once more. âBrace for impact,' the captain shouted, loud enough that we could hear him this time. The third drawer down contained the hard stuff, tiny bottles of spirits, a casket of priceless jewels. I grabbed an amber one. My hands were shaking so hard that I could barely break the foil seal.
The collision with the ground catapulted me clear of the trolley. The groan of brakes was catastrophically loud and then the thrust reversers kicked in. It seemed the earth itself was grinding to a halt, such was the force of the resistance. The cells in my blood vibrated, the teeth chattered in my head.
The plane finally came to rest. Somebody applauded but no one joined in. The bottle of precious amber had shot out of my sweaty palm. I rolled onto my belly and groped around on the floor but in my heart I knew it was already too late.
âLeave the aircraft, leave the aircraft,' the captain was chanting.
We were evacuated via emergency slides. A fleet of fire trucks had assembled on the runway to hose down the burning engine. Firemen hoisted us off the base of the slide and sent us reeling towards the flashing lights and coaches waiting beyond. âKeep moving, keep moving,' they ordered us as we were hustled along. A sign over the terminal building shone yellow in the distance.
, it said.
âAre you hurt?' M. Deauville wanted to know as soon as I got the phone up and running. It rang literally the instant it located a network. He must have had my number on redial. I could barely hold the phone to my ear with the shake in my hand. Our emergency landing had made it onto the news â the television screens in the terminal were broadcasting
of the flaming aircraft. They said it was an emergency landing but it felt like a crash. Journalists were interviewing passengers behind me. âNo,' I assured M. Deauville, âI amn't hurt, but I .Â .Â .'
I thought about the amber bottle. I couldn't stop thinking about the amber bottle. The cool heft of it in my hand, the tiny pocket of sanctuary it promised. If I could just squeeze myself into the amber bottle and screw the lid back on, seal myself off. âI think I'm in shock,' I told M. Deauville, âbut it's nothing physical.' Actually, I'd broken a rib and deserved as much. There was no need to fuss.
Several passengers were taken to hospital with minor injuries and the rest of us were transferred to an airport hotel. It was a miracle, people remarked to each other over and over on the coach; a flock of worried sheep. A miracle, an absolute miracle, they bleated, until soon I was bleating it myself. Then I was on my own again, separated from the herd. The elevator bell
and I limped out onto a hushed hotel corridor hugging my aching side. I stared at the arrows on the wall. Bedrooms 600 to 621 were this way, and bedrooms 622 to 666 were that. I read the number on my key but for the life of me, I did not know which way to turn.