Read an Excerpt
A Nuala Anne McGrail Novel
By Andrew M. Greeley
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1996 Andrew M. Greeley Enterprises, Ltd.
All rights reserved.
"DERMOT MICHAEL," Nuala screamed on Sunday afternoon as she dug her fingers into my arm, "Turn off here! There's terrible things happening! Men dying everywhere!"
I had been listening to the five o'clock radio news. Another art-gallery robbery in the River North area — this time at the Thalberg Gallery at Erie and Orleans. Third robbery this month. Police were speculating that the robbery might be linked to the opening of the Monet exhibit at the Art Institute. What nonsense!
I turned off the radio and left Lake Shore Drive at 31st Street as I had been instructed.
Nuala Anne McGrail (aka Marie Phinoulah Annagh McGriel) is fey. Or psychic. Depending on your perspective. She would rather say simply that she "sees things." She is a holdover, albeit a gorgeous one, from the mists and myths of Celtic antiquity, a woman who in olden times would have been honored as a seer, a prophetess, even a minor goddess. Or perhaps burned as a witch.
Now she's an accountant.
Incidentally, her name should be pronounced as though it were spelled "Noola." The double O must be drawn out and said with a certain touch of the bog and the mists and the rain and the sea about it, which is very hard to do, though my brother George the Priest got it right the first time.
She is not fey often, as least as far as I know. When she is in one of those — what should I call them, "conditions" — I take her seriously. Usually it means that we are going to be involved in solving a mystery from the past and maybe one in the present, too. I use the term "we" loosely. Nuala is not only fey, she is also a detective.
She buried her head against my chest.
"Make them stop it, Dermot Michael. Make them stop it."
I put an arm around her, always a pleasant experience.
"It will be all right, Nuala. Just hang on to me."
We turned into the Lake Meadows housing development, one of the first integrated middle- and upper-middle-class rental developments along the South Shore of Lake Michigan — high-rise glass and steel buildings à la Mies van der Rohe, elegantly landscaped and protected by high fences to keep the natives out. The people — men, women, and children — who were outside on the lawns enjoying the mild Memorial Day weather seemed a subtle mixture of white, black, and brown. Racial integration, as someone once said, against the poor.
"What is this place?" she demanded.
Nuala was wearing white tennis shorts and a dark red T-shirt which proclaimed "Galway Hooker."
"It's the Lake Meadows development," I said, "a well-maintained proof that you can have racial integration so long as you limit it to one social class and build big fences."
"Oh," she said meekly.
"Nothing more," I continued.
"You'll be thinking that I'm nothing but a frigging eejit, Dermot Michael."
She actually said "frigging," the word represented her effort to clean her vocabulary from the Dublin street language which was the lingua franca of Trinity College of the University of Dublin.
"I'd never think that, Nuala." I cuddled her close and stroked her long black hair.
"You would, too." She began to sniffle. "Won't you be wanting to send me back to the bogs?"
"Woman, I will not!"
She continued to sniff.
I should also say a word about how she pronounces the English language, lest I drive you out of your frigging minds with attempts to reproduce the actual sounds. The Irish language generally lacks a "th" sound, no equivalent of the Greek "theta" of the Anglo-Saxon "thorn" (often spelled as "Y" as in "ye" olde taverne, but still pronounced "th"). So in all words involving a "th" you are likely to hear from someone Irish the sound "t" or a "d" or more likely a subtle mix of the two. Nuala might say, for example, "I'm not going to take off dis binkini ding just because you want a midnight swim. What would your moder dink if she found out?"
Actually, she never said anything like that to me, worse luck for me, perhaps. But if she had and I were reporting it, I would have substituted the "th" sound. Nuala resolutely refuses to try to put the "h" sound in the "th" words.
"I know that English has a frigging 'th' sound," she says, "but it ought not to have."
Paradoxically — and perhaps perversely — she pronounces the letter "h" as "haitch" — as do all the other Irish.
How can I describe this astonishing young woman to you?
Should I say that she is the most beautiful woman I have ever met and surely the most beautiful that I have ever held in my arms?
"What was this place," she said as she snuggled closer to me, "before it was your frigging Lake Meadows?"
"Slums, I guess."
"Did anything terrible happen here?"
"Maybe the Fort Dearborn massacre, though I think that was a little farther north."
"What was that?"
"The first settlement in this city was at the mouth of the river — downtown, as we call it now. The army built a fort there to protect the settlers from the natives and from the Brits. They called it 'Fort Dearborn' after a town near Detroit. During the War of 1812, after the Brits had captured Detroit, the commander of the garrison most unwisely decided to abandon the fort and retreat to Vincennes, down on the Wabash River in Indiana; not the last tragic mistake the American military made. The Indians killed them all shortly after they left the fort. It's represented by one of the four stars in the Chicago city flag."
"How many people died?"
"About forty, I think."
"A lot more than that here."
Yesterday evening at Grand Beach, she whispered into my ear, "Isn't it nice that your sister-in-law Tessa is expecting another child and himself a boy, with them already having three girls!"
"Who told you that?"
"No one." She put a finger to her lips. "'Tis a secret."
I once described her as looking like a pre-Christian Irish goddess — Bride or Bionna or Sionna or Erihu or Maeve or one of those gorgeous and terrifying women. I'd never met one of them, however, so that was my hyperactive fantasy. It's always hyperactive when Nuala Anne is present. The child — she isn't quite twenty-one yet — is strikingly beautiful. Her cream white face and breast-length black hair stop you first and make you want to see a lot more of this young woman. Her face, slender and fine-boned, is the sort that stares at you from the covers of women's magazines — except that the cover women don't usually have a haunting hint in their deep blue eyes of bogs and druids and old Irish poetry. The bottom half of her face is a sweeping, elegant curve which almost demands that male fingers caress it with reassurance and affection. However, the center of the curve is a solid chin which warns trespassing — or potentially trespassing — male fingers that they had better not offend this young woman, or they will be in deep trouble.
Her body is that of a beauty-contest entry. In a fairly modest bikini of the sort she had worn most of this weekend at Grand Beach, Nuala stopped traffic. Women as well as men gaped. But the bodies of bathing beauties usually lack Nuala's grace and intense athletic energy. Her body and her face are almost always in movement, so it is hard to say what she's like in those rare moments when she is at rest.
Except some adjective that she would probably furiously reject — like delicious.
As I was calming her down after her fey attack, I thought about reaching under the T-shirt and caressing the smooth, soft skin of her belly, a liberty I was permitted on occasion. On almost any occasion I wanted, as a matter of fact.
Lake Michigan is quite cold at the end of May. Although she'd been warned yesterday that the water temperature was in the high fifties, she had charged down the stairs, tossed off her robe, and dove into the water. We locals would have screamed and run out. She, however, had swum out maybe a hundred yards with a powerful crawl, turned around and swum back in. She emerged from the water triumphant, a tall, willowy hoyden.
"Dermot! Me robe!" she had ordered. "Sure, isn't it refreshing now! A lot warmer than the Atlantic Ocean or the Irish Sea!"
She didn't add, since my family was standing around awestruck, that when she and her mother went swimming in the Atlantic, they often wore nothing at all, at all. "If the men can do it, why can't we?"
Nuala was the youngest of six children born in an Irish-speaking family in Cararoe, way out on the end of the Connemara peninsula. Her mother was in her very early sixties and still a quite attractive woman, promising that Nuala's beauty would change but not fade.
"Sure," I had said once, in a mood to make trouble, "if I came upon the two of you in that condition, wouldn't I want to look at your mother first. Anyone can be beautiful at nineteen."
"And wouldn't that show you had good taste?" she had said dismissing my dirty fantasy with a brisk sweep of her hand.
"Feeling better?" I asked her as we waited at 31st and Cottage Grove.
"It's fading now. ... Don't I feel like such an amadon, and me with these crazy spells?"
"I don't think you're an amadon, Nuala Anne," I said, stroking her right arm tenderly.
"I don't care what you think," she said. "I think I'm a nine-fingered gobshite."
"Last time I counted, you had ten fingers."
She laughed and then I laughed with her.
She kissed me and pressed her body against mine, her marvelous breasts taunting my chest.
"Dermot Michael Coyne, aren't you the dearest, sweetest, most wonderful man in all the world!"
"I'll buy that," I agreed.
What is the nature of my relationship with Nuala Anne? Well, that's a fair question, isn't it now? Obviously I'm hopelessly in love with her and have been since I had first encountered her on a rainy night in O'Neill's pub down the street from Trinity College.
I had heard her discussing me with a young woman on the beach earlier in the day.
"Live with Dermot Michael? Ah, don't be daft. I don't live with him, I don't sleep with him, we're not engaged, we're not about to be engaged, we're not courting, and we're not walking out. I'd say that we're half-keeping company."
I had thought that was a fair enough description of our relationship.
The other child had said something I didn't hear.
"Isn't he respecting me freedom, and meself a greenhorn here and almost a child?" she had replied.
The other young woman had laughed. But I couldn't tell whether Nuala was being ironic.
In fact, we love each other. I plan to marry her some day. Even though in Dublin she said she'd never marry anyone because as she had argued, marriage and family only meant more suffering and loss in your life. Still, as far as I can tell, she plans to marry me, too, though I never hear a word about that from her. She'd probably marry me next weekend if I asked her. But she's new in America and she has to get her feet on the ground and find out whether she wants to be an accountant or a singer or an actress. The young women I know in Chicago usually don't marry these days until they are in their late twenties, the men often in their early thirties. We have lots of time, I tell my family, all of whom fell in love with her at first sight. Maybe when she's twenty-five and I'm thirty or so, she'll be ready to make the kind of commitment that marriage requires.
They tell me that I'm an incorrigible Irish bachelor. How can you be an incorrigible bachelor at twenty-five? I ask them.
"She'll get you long before that, Derm," says my brother George the Priest, with whom Nuala often compares me, unfavorably.
"That will be as may be," I said, using one of Nuala's favorite lines.
I turned on the ignition, backed up the car, pulled out on 31st Street, and drove down Vernon, which is what Cottage Grove becomes in Lake Meadows. Then I turned around and went back to 31st and on to the Drive. I was driving her home on Sunday afternoon, instead of Monday, because Nuala was singing on Sunday and Wednesday nights at the Tricolor (pronounced Trickcolor), an Irish pub on Webster Avenue between Clybourn and the Chicago River and not far from Southport Avenue and Belden Place, near where Nuala lives. I didn't altogether approve of that because the crowd at the Tricolor was a little thuggish for me, and their republican sympathies a little too noisy.
Moreover, chances were that most of them were illegals. Immigration usually left the Irish alone because they were too busy ferreting out Hispanics and Asians and sometimes Poles. Still, sometimes they do try sweeps of the Irish. While Nuala was here quite legally on a Morrison visa she'd won in the lottery and had her own precious green card, I was afraid that the INS might deport her before we could stop them, especially since these days Americans are back into xenophobia.
By "republican," I don't mean as in Bob Dole or Newt Gingrich or Phil Gramm, or other such unspeakables. I mean as in the Irish Republican Army. There's a cease-fire now in Ireland, though the Brits look like they're going to mess it up again. Still, the loudmouths at the Tricolor, safely far away from Belfast or Derry, boast about blowing up Brits.
"Sure, aren't all those gobshites a bunch of eejits?" Nuala says, dismissing them. "Besides, Dermot Michael, you've seen me in a street brawl; you know I can take care of myself. And anyway, is it any of your frigging business where I sing?"
That was a gotcha.
I had no claim on her, she was telling me, none at all. Not yet anyway.
I didn't like the way some of the rough young men looked at her either. Still they all shut up when she sang.
I don't look like a thug. I'm blond, clean-shaven, and kind of bland looking, though Nuala says I'm a giant and dangerous hunk. The dark, hirsute punks at the pub would think I was a pushover, not realizing that I had been a linebacker and a wrestling champ at Fenwick High School. I once threw three such thugs into a plate-glass window on Pembroke Road in Dublin; and, to be candid, I was itching to do it again.
"None of your macho violence in me pub when I'm doing me singing," Nuala warns me in an authoritative tone that Pope John Paul II himself might envy. "Not unless I ask you to."
"Yes, ma'am," I say docilely. Still, when I go into that pub, I'm aching to punch someone. Testosterone, I suppose.
On the Drive we headed north towards the wondrous Chicago skyline, a pastel pink watercolor in the weakening glow of the spring sunlight.
"Will I ever get used to seeing that?" Nuala said. "Or will I be a greenhorn forever?"
In the canyons of the Loop, Nuala always looks up at the tall buildings, awestruck. I keep her out of trouble with the traffic, pedestrian and vehicular.
"I like you as a greenhorn, and I hope you never take the skyline for granted," I said.
"I don't know why those things happen to me," she said slowly. "I don't want them to happen, and they usually don't do any good."
"A touch of Neanderthal gene, maybe."
"Weren't they cavemen?" I didn't have to look at her to know that she was ready for an argument.
"And women," I added. "They seemed to have coexisted with our kind for maybe a hundred thousand years. Some people say we interbred with them, and some say we didn't. They weren't quite as much into talking as we are. ..."
"Then I can't be one of them."
"So some people think that they communicated by some sort of telepathy, which was very useful for them, but not so useful for us."
"Whatever happened to them?"
"You get a lot of theories. Some say we killed them off, though there's no trace of that. Others say that they died because they were not able to compete with us for resources, though we seem to have coexisted for at least tens of thousands of years. Others say we absorbed them through mating and that each of us has a touch of the Neanderthal in him. Or her. Neander, by the way, is the name of the river in Germany where they found the first remains of their kind."
"Wouldn't you hope it was love, not hate?"
"You would indeed."
"You know so much, Dermot Michael and yourself without an honest job."
I don't work, at all, at all, you see. Nuala is secretly proud of this, but she passes up no opportunity to needle me about the fact.
Excerpted from Irish Lace by Andrew M. Greeley. Copyright © 1996 Andrew M. Greeley Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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