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An Irish Country Wedding
By Patrick Taylor
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2012 Ballybucklebo Stories Corp.
All rights reserved.
Diamonds Are Forever
"Kitty O'Hallorhan," said Doctor Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly, looking into those familiar grey eyes flecked with amber, "you don't look a day over thirty-five, and you're lovely." Her silver and black hair shone in the sunlight filtering down past the buildings on Belfast's Royal Avenue. Her tailored grey suit, with its slim, knee-length skirt, accentuated her figure. God, but she was looking well.
She shook her head. "You're an old flatterer, Fingal, a soft-soaper. You know I'll not see fifty again, but thank you."
"I'll always see you as twenty-two, the way you were when we were youngsters, always, and that's because," he hesitated, "I love you."
"Thank you, Fingal," she said. "Thank you for loving me, and thank you for telling me. I do love you so much."
He bloody well nearly bear-hugged and kissed her there and then. Instead, he continued walking with Kitty at his side and thought about how on the drive here from her flat they'd discussed the progress of Donal Donnelly, one of Fingal's patients, who was being nursed by Kitty, a senior sister on the brain surgery ward of the Royal Victoria Hospital. It had made O'Reilly happy to discuss a patient with her. He was looking forward to these kinds of professional conversations when she became his wife, on July 3, 1965, and that was only a little more than two months away. He gave a hop and a skip, grinning as he did.
"Fingal," Kitty said with a smile, "will you stop acting the lig?"
"I'm happy," he said, guiding her through the midmorning crowds of shoppers, office messengers, and delivery men. Traffic growled, and he heard the ting of the conductor's bell as a red double-decker bus pulled away from a stop. The air was heavy with exhaust fumes. A flock of starlings wheeled and jinked in unison across the sky. He pointed to a glass door on which SHARMAN D NEILL. JEWELLERS AND WATCHMAKERS was etched in gilt letters. Watches, barometers, brass telescopes, and jewellery were displayed on velvet mounts in the window. "This is it," he said.
The lighting was subdued, the carpet thick. Glass jewellery cases were arranged around three walls. A door at the back led, O'Reilly presumed, to offices or storerooms. The air had only a trace of mustiness. Two staff members wearing short black jackets, pinstriped trousers, and highly polished black shoes stood waiting. The place exuded the confidence of a business that had catered to the upper classes for decades. Young men, O'Reilly thought, probably felt intimidated here, and their immediate concerns would be whether their budget might stretch. He was worried himself.
He and Kitty were the only customers.
An assistant glided across to them. He wore rimless spectacles.
"Sir? Modom?" His voice was reverential, his accent affected. "May I be of assistance?"
"Rings," O'Reilly said, surprising himself by lowering his voice.
"Certainly, sir." The man glanced at Kitty's gloved left hand. "Would that be dress or engagement?"
O'Reilly cleared his throat. His collar seemed to be tighter. "Engagement, please."
"How lovely. May I wish sir and modom every happiness?"
"Thank you," Kitty said.
O'Reilly wanted to tell the man to mind his own damned business and get on with selling them a flaming ring. He wanted to get this transaction completed. And it had been ages since, to his housekeeper Kinky Kincaid's amazement, he had refused the mixed grill she'd offered to cook and simply grabbed a quick cup of coffee and a slice of toast this morning in his hurry to get to Kitty's flat. Now he wanted his lunch.
The shop assistant moved behind a glass display case. "If I might enquire, would we be looking for a solitaire, a cluster, a trinity or bezel setting, a specific precious stone ... perhaps modom's birthstone? Something," his lip curled, "semiprecious?"
Jasus, O'Reilly thought, in 1939 when I bought Deirdre her little ring it was just a gold band with one tiny diamond. Back then men bought the ring before they proposed, but today O'Reilly had brought Kitty to pick hers. He smiled at his soon-to-be wife and knew for certain that Deirdre O'Reilly, née Mawhinney, his young bride of six months who had died in the Belfast Blitz of 1941, would approve of Kitty, be glad for him and his newfound happiness. "Kitty?" he asked.
She smiled at him. "If it's all right with you, Fingal, I'd like something simple."
"It's your choice."
"It can be bewildering," the shop assistant said. "Might I suggest a nice cluster with a central half-carat blue diamond?"
O'Reilly heard the condescension in the man's voice. "Kitty?"
"No, thank you. I've really got my mind set on a well-cut solitaire, S12 clarity, I or J colour grade —"
O'Reilly's mouth fell open.
"— of slightly less than half a carat." She turned to him. "Blue diamonds are the most expensive. Prices rocket at the half- and full-carat mark. It takes a hell of an eye to tell the difference between a smaller stone and I don't want to bankrupt you, dear."
O'Reilly grinned. He'd ask her later where she'd learnt her gemology.
"Modom ... modom knows her diamonds." There was awe in the shop assistant's voice.
Kitty inclined her head and said, "And I'm not fussed about the setting as long as it's platinum, the ring is gold, and the stone is good quality."
The man leant sideways and grabbed a set of sizing rings from the top of the case. "If I may?"
"Certainly." Kitty removed her left kid glove and gave him her hand. After using two rings the assistant said, "Size A and a half." He smiled. "I believe I have exactly what we need. If you'll excuse me?"
The second he'd left, O'Reilly asked, "Where in the hell did you —"
"Dublin's National College of Art and Design, remember? I was there before I started nursing, and I took a course on jewellery design."
He hugged her. "Do you know," he said, "I'd completely forgotten you'd been there. It is a year or two back." A year or two? More like thirty, he thought, but said, "And thank you for thinking of my wallet too."
"Fingal O'Reilly," she said, "not being extravagant on a ring doesn't mean you love me any less. You can't measure love in carats or colour. Pounds and shillings."
His throat felt tight and he swallowed. "Thank you, Kitty. Thank you for that." And he wasn't sure if he was thanking her for her understanding of how much he loved her, her solid business sense, or both. He heard a discreet cough and let Kitty go.
"I think this may be what modom requires."
O'Reilly watched as a ring was slipped on Kitty's finger. It fitted perfectly. He swallowed. From now on, Fingal would be the only man to put rings on Kitty's finger. Size A-1/2 at that. The second one, in July, would be plain gold. He'd pick that himself. Mrs. Kitty O'Reilly. He liked the sound of it.
She took it off. "It's absolutely beautiful."
"That's the ring you want?" O'Reilly asked.
"Yes, please. It's exactly what I had in mind."
"You don't want to look at any others?"
She shook her head.
"We'll take it," O'Reilly said.
"Just a minute, Fingal." Kitty spoke to the assistant. "May I borrow your loupe?"
"Certainly." He gave her a monocular magnifying eyepiece, which Kitty screwed into her right eye socket.
What the hell now? O'Reilly wondered.
She scrutinised the ring. "There's a tiny flaw in the stone," she said, handing the loupe and the ring to the man.
He examined the diamond. "Modom is right. I do apologise. Shall I —?"
"No need. I love the ring. We'll take it." She looked him in the eye. "But I'm sure you'll adjust the price."
"Good," she said. "Now, I'll wait outside while you take care of paying, dear." She lifted her glove and left.
Typical. O'Reilly had been going to suggest she go. He didn't want her to know what he paid.
"I'll box and wrap it, sir."
"Please. And the bill."
"Of course, and there will be a twenty percent discount because of the flaw."
"And if sir doesn't mind me saying, he is a very fortunate man." The assistant looked at the door through which Kitty had vanished to a jangling of bells. "Your fiancée is a remarkable and very beautiful lady."
"I know," said O'Reilly, trying not to sound smug. "By God, I do know."
He paid, took his little parcel, thanked the assistant, and left.
Kitty linked her arm through his. "Thank you, darling. Thank you."
"Not yet," said O'Reilly. "We're going to Mooney's on Corn Market. It's not far. You can thank me after I've given it to you properly, you've put it on, and I've toasted you with a pint of black velvet."
"Guinness and champagne. You'll love it." He set off at a brisk pace. "I'm buying lunch too."
They crossed Royal Avenue and headed along Castle Place. "By the way," he said, "are you free this weekend?"
"I'd like you to come down, show your ring to Barry and Kinky," he said, "the rest of the crew at Number One, Main Street, Ballybucklebo."
"I'd love to."
"Great." He pushed open the door to Mooney's Pub. "I know the barmen here," he said.
The place was packed, smoky, and noisy. "Black velvet. Two pints, Andy," O'Reilly roared in his quarter-deck voice, "menus, and a dozen oysters on the half shell to start with. My belly thinks my bloody throat's cut."CHAPTER 2
And Strangled in the Guts
What on earth was that clattering? Barry Laverty — Doctor Barry Laverty — was enjoying a cup of tea after lunch, but now he frowned and listened. Probably that demented cat Lady Macbeth knocking something over. He rose from the table wondering how O'Reilly was doing up in Belfast with Kitty. He'd been like a child going on a school outing, so impatient he hadn't even eaten a proper breakfast, which for O'Reilly was unheard of unless there was an emergency. And it would have to have been a life-threatening one at that for the big man to forgo his vittles.
The clattering stopped, but now he could hear retching. A patient must have come into the house unannounced.
Barry crossed the hall and looked into the surgery. Empty. He hurried to the waiting room, but although the plain wood chairs and God-awful rose-patterned wallpaper were there, the room was deserted.
More sounds of retching were followed by a moan, and this time Barry knew where they were coming from — the kitchen. He ran to the back of the house and flung open the door. The room was warm and the stench of vomit smothered the cooking aromas. A saucepan lay on the floor with peeled and diced potatoes forming a small archipelago in a pool of spilled water. Mrs. Maureen "Kinky" Kincaid, Doctor O'Reilly's housekeeper, stood clutching the edges of the sink. Her silver chignon was in disarray, tears streamed down her cheeks. "Ohhh Lord Jasus," she gasped.
"Kinky, are you —" he began, then stopped. "Are you all right?" would be a bloody silly thing to ask, almost as stupid as "What's the matter?" He was a doctor, but it didn't take one to see that Kinky Kincaid was not well. He took a breath, resolved to behave like the doctor he was and sort out what needed to be done without wasting time mouthing platitudes. He moved to her and put an arm round her shoulders. "It's all right," he said. "It's all right. Let's get you sitting down."
"I'm sorry, sir," she said, and hiccupped, "but I've been taken over all funny, so, and I haven't finished getting tea ready for himself and you. And him with no breakfast." She dragged in a deep breath and shuddered. "I'll be grand if I could sit down for a shmall-little minute, so."
"Don't worry about tea," Barry said. Typical of Kinky to be thinking about "her doctors" and their next meal rather than herself. He knew he should get her into the surgery and onto the examining couch, or onto her own bed, but Kinky was what her fellow County Cork people would describe as "a powerful woman" and that did not imply slimness. He wasn't strong enough to oxter-cog her to the surgery or to her quarters in the next room. "Let's get you sitting down, Kinky Kincaid." He turned his head away as her shoulders shook and she threw up. "Sorry, sir," she said, and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
He felt her sag and with his hands under her armpits lowered her to the tile floor. He looked around. Laundry was piled nearby. He grabbed an armful and a plastic basin. Barry made a heap of the clothes, including, he noticed, a pair of his own trousers. "Lie back, Kinky. Put your head there." He set the bowl beside her.
"Thank you, sir." Her pinafore was splotched, her lips caked.
Barry dampened a tea towel, squatted beside her, and mopped her face. "Can you tell me what happened?"
She took a shallow breath, then said, "I was grand all together until about twelve thirty. I'd nearly finished getting lunch ready when I got a sharp pain. Mary, Mother of —" She clutched her lower belly and moaned. "There it is again."
"Tell me about the pain," he said. He took her pulse. The skin was clammy and her pulse rapid.
"It came on like a terrier pouncing on a rat, so, and it gnawed at me and kept on grinding, then it went away. That —" She inhaled. "— that was a blessèd relief for I was able to serve your luncheon on time, so."
Kinky, you're one brave woman, he thought, but asked professionally, "Can you show me where it hurts?"
She pointed to her left groin. "There, sir, and it does be back there now. And it's coming in spasms."
Barry glanced at his watch. One thirty-five. He frowned. Her vomiting had suggested the relatively innocuous acute gastroenteritis, often called stomach flu, or "the abdabs" by the locals. But while the disease might cause vomiting, clammy skin, and a fast pulse, it would not cause pain in the place Kinky was describing nor pain that came on so suddenly. "Have you ever had trouble there before?" he asked.
"Not like this. Once in a while if I've been lifting things or hoovering I'll get a bit of a grumbling there, but, och, sure don't I usually sit a while and then work it off?" She managed a weak smile. "My ma taught us that you should always try to work pain off, so. Not give in to it."
"And you've never mentioned it to Doctor O'Reilly?" He knew Kinky would not voluntarily consult him, Barry. She'd consider Doctor O'Reilly's assistant much too young.
"Och, Doctor Laverty, dear," she said, shaking her head. "Sure wasn't it only a shmall-little ache, and didn't it always go away, and amn't I at an age when you must expect such things? Another fourteen years won't I be seventy and if I'm spared I'll be playing in overtime then if you believe what the Good Book says about us being given three score years and ten?"
"Go on," he said, "tell me more about what's happening now." Her description of the pain and its situation had given a hint.
"Just a bit before you came, sir, I had another fierce one, a spasm like a hot knife in exactly the same place. I dropped a pan of potatoes. A few minutes later another one came and then —" A tear fell. "— I embarrassed meself. I threw up, so." She struggled to sit. "But I'm nearly better now —" She coughed. "— and soon I'll clean up."
Excerpted from An Irish Country Wedding by Patrick Taylor. Copyright © 2012 Ballybucklebo Stories Corp.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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