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Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly (Detective Sean Duffy #6)
Author:Adrian McKinty

“Milk,” I said, putting the carton on the kitchen table. “And I’ve brought Dad his paper,” I added quickly, before nimbly exiting and leaving them to it.

My father also had taken to Beth and he discovered that he enjoyed the company of his daughter-in-law and granddaughter so much that while we were here he even, temporarily, lost all interest in his beloved golf and bird-watching. At night he would talk to us in low tones about Emma’s prodigious achievements in ambulation, speech and the manipulation of wooden blocks.

“Talking at six months! And almost walking. You can see it. She wants to walk. Standing there, thinking about it. She said ‘Grandpa’! I heard her. That girl is a genius. I’m serious, Sean. You should start speaking to her in French and Irish. She’ll be fluent by the time she’s one. And you should have seen her make that Lego tower. Incredible …”

My parents’ cottage faced the ocean and at the far end of the house there was a little soundproof library with a big double-glazed plate-glass window that looked west. Dad’s record player was over twenty years old and his speakers were shite, but his collection was eclectic and pretty good. Since moving to Donegal he had discovered the works of the English composer Arnold Bax, who had spent much of the 1920s in Glencolumbkille.

I walked down to the library, found a comfy chair to look through the local newspaper and put on Bax’s really quite charming “November Woods”. Dad came in just after the strange, muted climax which was so reminiscent of the instrumental music of the early Michael Powell films.

“Hello, Sean, am I bothering you?”

“No, Da, not at all. Just listening to one of your records. Arnold Bax isn’t bad, is he?”

“No, you’re right there. He’s wonderful. There’s a lightness of touch but it’s not insubstantial or frivolous. His heyday was the same time as that of Bix Beiderbecke. It’s a pity they couldn’t of played together. Bax and Bix. You know?”

“Yes, Dad,” I said, stifling a groan.

He sat down in the easy chair next to me. He was sixty-five now, but with a full head of white hair and a ruddy sun-tanned face from all the birding and golfing, he looked healthy and good. He could have passed for an ageing French flaneur if he hadn’t been dressed in brown slacks, brown sandals (with white socks) and a “Christmas” jumper with reindeers on it.

He handed me the Irish Times crossword and a thesaurus. I gave him the thesaurus back. “That’s cheating,” I said. “What clue is bothering you?”

“Nine down.”

“Nine down: ‘Melons once rotten will drop off branches.’ It’s somnolence, Dad. It’s an anagram of melons once.”

“Oh, I see. This is the world’s worst thesaurus anyway. Not only is it terrible, it’s terrible,” he said and began to chuckle with such suppressed mirth that I thought he was going to do himself a mischief.

“Are you still on for tomorrow?” he asked. “I’ve been sensing that you don’t want to do it, son.”

My father’s senses were completely correct. I didn’t want to do it. Tomorrow we were driving to Lough Derg, about fifteen minutes inland from here, where we were going to get the boat over to Station Island for the St Patrick’s Purgatory pilgrimage. You could do the pilgrimage twice a year: in the summer (which is when nearly everyone did it) or during Lent. The whole thing had got started 1,500 years earlier when, to encourage St Patrick with his mission among the Godless Irish, Jesus Christ had come down from heaven and shown St Patrick a cave on Station Island that led all the way down to Purgatory. Ever since then it had been an important place of pilgrimage for devout Catholics from all over Europe. My father had never been a devout Catholic but his interest in Lough Derg had been kindled by Seamus Heaney’s new book-length poem “Station Island” about his own pilgrimage to Lough Derg. Heaney’s poem and his slew of amiable interviews all over Irish TV and radio had made the place sound spiritually and philosophically fascinating and in a moment of weakness I had agreed to my father’s request to accompany him; but now, of course, that we were on the eve of our journey I was not bloody keen at all. The idea of spending three days fasting and praying with my dad while walking barefoot around a damp, miserable island with a bunch of God-bothering weirdos didn’t sound like my idea of fun.

“Oh, Sean, I’m glad you’re still enthusiastic. It’ll be good for all of us. Beth, Mary and Emma will get some quality time together and you and I will get closer. Maybe even closer to God, too.”

“I thought you didn’t believe in God. That’s what you told Father Cleary.”

“Well, Sean, when you get to my age, you think to yourself that there’s more things in Heaven and Earth … you know?”

I didn’t know if I believed in God either but I believed in St Michael the patron saint of policemen and I owed my thanks to The Blessed Virgin, who, I reckoned, had helped change Beth’s mind about the abortion in Liverpool nearly a year ago.