A bundle of tissues lay on the front seat of Gus’s car. Eating apple tart was a messy affair. A full one devoured whilst sitting in a vehicle, was the work of a glutton. He removed the last streak of apple from both chins and tossed the tissue on the growing mound. A glance at the mirror confirmed that he’d cleaned the crease between them, and licking his lips he thought, that was nice. I’ll give the second one to mother. He hopped out of the car, brushed away the stray crumbs from his clothes and strode towards Lavelle’s pub.
The outside facade suggested that it was a traditional man’s pub, untouched by the Celtic Tiger and Bacardi Breezers, his type of establishment. He walked in and immediately grinned as he surveyed the dimly lit and sparsely furnished interior. A single customer at the counter slouched on one elbow over a glass, his other hand to his rear, scratching his behind. He looked up at Gus, grunted, then took a sip of air from the glass and banged it on the counter. Gus smiled, a ripe mark ensconced at the counter with a thirst and an empty glass, this would be too easy. He walked past him and pulled out the adjacent stool, its cast iron legs grating on the stone floor. The mark looked up through his glazed alcoholic eyes and spat on the floor in front of Gus.
‘That’s Gerry’s stool.’
‘Oh, sorry, is he gone out?’
The mark’s was the only glass on the counter.
‘Nope, he won’t be in today. His dole money has run dry. No mon, no fun!’
Gus leaned on the stool, ‘Dole day was only yesterday, wasn’t it?’
The mark gagged and spat again, ‘That’s the truth, try telling the government fuckers. You couldn’t get half a hangover on what they pay us. Shower of lazy bolloxes.’
‘You’re right about that, I lost my job three months ago and I haven’t got a cent out of them. Can I rent Gerry’s stool? It looks well-worn and experienced. Would a pint and a half one cover the expense for an hour or two?’
The mark opened his mouth and grinned through his single tar stained tooth, ‘A temporary arrangement while you keep the stool warm for Gerry.’ He banged his glass on the counter and shouted, ‘Marietta, a pint and a Paddy, and whatever my friend, GT, requires. I’m Mouse, Mick the Mouse, what name will I put on the rent book?’
Before he could reply, a stern looking Marites arrived. With elbows sticking out defiantly, she glared at them. ‘Mouse, if you ever shout like that again, I’ll tie your tail to the back of the bread van and see how good you’re at shouting then.’
Mouse doffed his imaginary hat. ‘Begging your pardon, Marietta, but the taxman here has a rebate for me and insists on me buying him a drink with it.’
Gus struggled to keep the apple pie below deck. Laughing, he ordered two pints and two Paddy’s.
Marites looked at Gus suspiciously, shook her head in resignation, poured the drinks, took payment and glanced back over her shoulder before returning upstairs.
‘Cheers, GT,’ said Mouse, as he did a Houdini with the whiskey before Gus had placed the change into his pocket.
Gus sipped, weighing up how best to proceed. He decided to play it by ear and seize an opening when it came. Mouse was a strange fish for sure, but Gus had detected a sharpness and underlying intelligence that suggested that he would not be a pushover. This diagnosis was quickly confirmed.
‘Have you lived in Castlebridge all your life?’
Mouse replied, a steel resonance to his squeak, ‘Who says I live here?
‘I might, depends who is asking.’
Gus inwardly groaned. It was going to be a long afternoon and his stomach did not feel in the best of order. ‘Only making conversation with my landlord’s drinking partner, where is the harm in that?’
‘Are you from the dole office?’
‘How can I prove it?’
Mouse scratched his tooth as he seemed to consider GT’s identity crisis. ‘Show me your hands.’
‘Feck off, what would that prove? Go away and eat some cheese.’
Mouse stood and raised his fists, ‘Fucking dole man, show me your hands or I’ll beat the bejesus out of you.’
Gus could have knocked him over with half a feather, but acquiesced for the sake of peace. Mouse carefully examined Gus’s hands before making his judgement, ‘No biro marks, but your hands are soft. Are you a priest?’
Gus pounced on the Mouse. ‘Lord, no, if you want me to prove it, we can go up to the church and ask the local priest.’
‘Can’t what? Would you spit it out, Mouse?’
Mouse spat on the floor and grinned, ‘Can’t, Father Brennan isn’t around.’
‘How do you know? Were you at mass this morning?’ not bloody likely.
Mouse rasped, coughed for at least a minute and spoke as though laryngitis had set in, ‘I need a packet of fags and a pint to wash it down. Any chance of some rent in advance?’
Marites was summoned, cigarettes and drink purchased and while Mouse was outside polluting the street, Gus loosened his tie and hung his jacket on the back of the stool. He’d finally met his match.
‘You were saying something about Father Bacon,’ said Gus when Mouse returned.
‘Was I?’ double spit, ‘Father Brennan you mean, are you half deaf or something?’ a third of a pint sunk, ‘What about him?’
Gus took off the tie, stuffed it in his jacket pocket and opened the top button of his shirt.
‘What are you doing? Marietta doesn’t allow strippers in this joint. You’re not going to get frisky or something, I’m no queer.’
‘Who said you were? What about Brennan?’
Mouse looked long and hard at Gus, opened his mouth, rolled his tongue over his tooth and looked as though a lengthy speech was imminent. Gus leaned a little closer, ready to receive data, be it intelligent or otherwise.
‘Back in a minute, I need a fag’
For fucks sake!
Mouse returned reeking of cigarettes, which happily concealed the numerous other odours that emanated from this particular rodent. ‘GT you ask more questions than a priest, are ya a bishop?’
‘Mouse, if you want any further rent, then tell me about Brennan or I’ll move to the stool the other side of you.’
‘You can’t do that! That’s Larry’s stool and a much more valuable property as it has a cushion, rent is double on that one.’
Unable to take any more, Gus rose and went to the toilet. Urinate he did, relieve himself of frustration he could not. Enough, I’ll try another pub! Returning to the bar, he lifted his jacket and put it on. He grasped his glass, and staring straight ahead, he sunk the last drop.
‘See ya Mouse, find a new tenant this one has to go.’
Mouse grabbed him by the sleeve, ‘Brennan has done a runner. Every morning after mass, he usually has a few pints in the backroom, but not these past few days.’
Gus settled back onto the stool. Using his practiced state secret whisper,
‘Why has he vamoosed?’
Mouse spat regular before replying. ‘The priest has fathered a child with a married woman, and he old enough to be her father. I knew he would come to no good when he stayed…’
Lips were closed and permanency stitched across Mouse’s face. Gus called Marites, another two pints secured, he changed tact. ‘Is he a womaniser?’
Like the parting of the red sea, Mouse’s barriers came down and his tooth vibrated as each charge was levelled at Father Brennan.
‘He is, and a bad bastard as well. Some clever-shite is even writing a book about him, full of sex and dirty pictures.’
For the tenant and his thirsts benefit, Mouse blessed himself with his cigarette lighter. ‘That poor woman, Maggie, feeling sorry for him after all the gossip that travelled the parish, she has let him into her knickers.’
‘That’s terrible! Who is Maggie?’
‘Sure, she is his housekeeper. The two of them packed their dirty bags and left a few days ago. Even the sheep aren’t safe with a randy priest like him around.’
‘He likes sheep?’
‘Aye, and goats; hates cats and mice. Fish as well. He spends that much time at the river, I expect he gets a blow job from any willing old trout. He is a tranny as well, a feckin weirdo.’
‘No, ya clown, a tranny likes wearing women’s clothes.’
Gus called Marites. Mouse’s glass needed fuel. They had moved onto gay orgies when Sean arrived at the counter.
‘Good afternoon, gents. What are ya blathering about, Mouse?’
‘Nothing at all, this fella here, GT, was asking about Father Brennan and I was just telling him what a fine priest he is.’
‘GT?’ enquired Sean.
Gus stuck out his hand as he rose, ‘Gus O’Louglin, I am doing a piece about village priests, for the paper. Shame he is not around, no matter, I’ll try the priest over in Elmwood.’