Line of Descent chapter 5
Krupmeyer drove the car he had hired on his arrival at the airport outside Dublin into Braghan. He parked it in the small triangular car park in the centre of the village, got out and locked it. He decided to look around before finding a place to stay. Walking back to the stone bridge he had crossed over coming into the village, he looked over the side, down into the water. It was shallow and clear with a fine clean bottom. Nearby a group of children waded around knee-deep in it. They were laughing and splashing around in the sunshine, trying to catch fish in the glass jam jars they carried. Catching sight of him, they waved. He waved back smiling.
He turned around and leaning against the stone side of the bridge, surveyed the village. It had grown up about the shallow river crossing, as had so many villages the world over. Two roads met and joined to cross over the bridge. A few miles away was the ancient monastic settlement of Glendalough. That, the spectacular mountain scenery and the speckled trout in the rivers formed the economic basis of the village today. Tourism and trout fishing. The village itself consisted of a few houses, a pub, a petrol station, a few shops and the old stonework bridge in the middle of it all. A large coach full of tourists passed through the village on its way to the monastery. He leaned back as it thundered past him. Here and there a few gaudily dressed visitors wandered between the shops, searching for postcards and other tourist junk.
He decided to call into the pub for a drink and to find a place to stay. Walking back across the triangle, he entered the pub. After the blazing sunshine outside, it was dark and cool. He sat on a stool at the bar and looked around. There were only a handful of people in it. The barman fished a spirit glass out of the cleaning sink and walked down the bar to him, all the time drying it on automatic pilot.
‘What will you have?’ he asked, giving the glass a final lick of the cloth and storing it on a crowded rack overhead. He stood looking at Krupmeyer and waited while he leaned over the bar and looked at the array of bottles. The choice was bewildering and he took his time in deciding.
‘I’ll try a shot of that one’ he eventually told the barman, pointing at a particular bottle of Irish whiskey. With an easy smile, the barman turned to get the drink. Krupmeyer considered whether to ask him about Robert Conner, but rejected the idea. There was no rush. Instead, he asked him whether he knew of a place he could stay in the village.
‘Well there’s no hotel or anything like that here. Mrs. Harkin across the way there puts up people for Bed and Breakfast. You can try her if you like. There’s nowhere else in the village that takes in people. Over for the fishing are you?’ asked the barman, who, being an ardent fisherman, could conceive of no other earthly reason why anyone would want to stay there.
‘I sure am’ replied Krupmeyer. It was a perfect cover for the area. He could stay a few weeks getting to know the place and studying Canfield from afar before making his approach.
They discussed fly fishing and which flies were currently catching the trout while Krupmeyer finished his first drink. By the time he ordered the second, he and the barman were well on the way to establishing the quick friendship peculiar to fellow fishermen the world over. Despite his entreaties, the barman would not accept a drink stronger than a mineral, as he called it. Krupmeyer finished his drink and left for Mrs. Harkin’s, with the instruction to “tell her Des sent him” ringing in his ears.
He walked through the village, following the barman’s instructions until he arrived at Mrs. Harkin’s house. Outside hung a sign announcing it as the Avoca guest house, with a smaller sign hanging underneath with “Vacancy” written on it. Whoever had done the vacancy sign had done a bad job of it. The letters were uneven and childish. He knocked on the door. It was opened by a tiny little woman who greeted him with a big open smile that was like bottled sunshine. He explained that he was looking for a room and that Des had sent him. She told him that he was lucky and to come in. She beckoned him in with quick birdlike motions of her hand.
He followed her into the interior of the house. It was small. Krupmeyer felt like a clumsy giant following the little old woman. She bustled down the hall into the living room, all the time keeping up a non-stop stream of chit-chat. She introduced herself as Winnie. Nobody called her Winifred, which was a silly name anyway, she explained. He introduced himself. His surname seemed to provided her with a momentary puzzle. Krupmeyer. Krupmeyer. She repeated it several times, as if getting used to it. Finally satisfied that she had his name down pat, she asked how long he would be staying. He said he thought a week or so, it depended on the fishing. She told him her rates, which he agreed were very reasonable considering the cost of living and things. She hoped he’d like his stay and not to worry about getting up early for his breakfast, you’re on your holidays don’t you know, whenever you’re ready.
They went upstairs to his room. It was at the front of the house with a window facing the main street. Looking out of it, he could see the whole of the village. It was perfect. She told him to come back down for a cup of tea when he had settled in.
He went back to his car and moved it to in front of the house. Very soon, he had emptied the car of his baggage and rods and was sitting in the kitchen drinking a cup of tea with her as she rambled on. He sat and listened. She talked about mainly local things, occasionally stopping to explain the background to events, or to ask his opinion. She told him she had a great uncle who had gone to America. New Jersey, was it near where he lived? No, he explained, it was some distance away. It was supposed to be a great place over there still. He agreed it was.
They were interrupted by the sound of the front door opening. A shadow of concern passed over her face. Heavy slow footsteps sounded in the hall. A large man appeared at the doorway to the kitchen. He stood there at the threshold looking in, as if waiting for permission to enter. She got up quickly, crossed the room and taking him by the hand led him into the room to a seat at the kitchen table. ‘Michael James, this is Mr. Krupmeyer’ she said indicating to Krupmeyer. ‘He’s a very nice man who’ll be staying with us for a few days. This is my son Mr. Krupmeyer.’
Krupmeyer started to reach across the table to shake hands but stopped when he saw the signs of instant alarm in the man’s face.
‘Pleased to meet you, Michael James’ he said, changing from a handshake to a friendly wave in mid motion. Mrs. Harkin looked at him with a nervous smile. Her eyes were apprehensive. She was trying to tell him to take it slowly, not to alarm him. Krupmeyer understood.
‘Michael James is the only man around here who knows all of the best spots to fish, isn’t that right Mickey?’ she said putting an arm around his shoulders and squeezing him. He relaxed under the flattery and gave a small childlike smile of embarrassment.
‘Ah, that’s not true, Ma’ he said, but he was pleased at the praise none the less. She insisted he did and poured him a cup of tea.
They sat, drinking tea and talking. She was careful to draw Mickey into the conversation, asking him direct questions or what he thought of this or that. She treated him like the grown up he would never quite be. Krupmeyer watched and warmed to them both. Mickey was a gentle child trapped in the body of a middle‑aged man. As time went by, Mickey started talking to Krupmeyer more. He had relaxed with the new person in his world and Krupmeyer was careful not to scare him. Eventually, Mickey hesitantly offered to show Krupmeyer a great spot to fish.
‘Oh, I don’t think Mr. Krupmeyer needs any help, Mickey’ she said quickly, looking anxiously at Krupmeyer.
‘That’d be fine Mickey answered Krupmeyer, smiling reassuringly at Mrs. Harkin. ‘In fact, it’ll be a great help having a local expert along. You can tell me the best flies to fish.’
Winnie looked at Krupmeyer and asked him if he was sure, that it wouldn’t be too much trouble for him. Krupmeyer reassured her. It wouldn’t be any trouble at all.
Mickey beamed. ‘We could go this evening, if you want’ he offered hopefully. Krupmeyer said that would be fine. Mickey left immediately to get his tackle ready.
‘He likes you’ said Winnie. ‘You’re very good with him. Are you sure it won’t be any trouble?’ He reassured her again that it wasn’t. Really it wasn’t. They finished their tea and Krupmeyer went upstairs. He spent the rest of the afternoon unpacking his bags and sorting through his fishing tackle.
When he came down the stairs, a head poked out of the kitchen immediately. It was Mickey. Krupmeyer wondered how long he had been waiting there for him.
‘Are you ready Mr. Krupmeyer?’ he asked. Krupmeyer told him he was and to call him Gus. Winnie came out of the kitchen carrying a packet of sandwiches neatly wrapped in grease-proof paper. She handed them to Krupmeyer.
These’ll keep you going’ she said. ‘I’ll have your dinner for you when you get back.’ They went outside and stored the waders and rods carefully in the boot of the car. With a final wave to Winnie, they set off.
Mickey directed while Krupmeyer drove. They soon turned off the main road and stared down a succession of narrow country lanes. Krupmeyer wondered what they would do if they met a car coming the other way. There was hardly enough room for his car as it was. Finally they stopped at Mickey’s direction. There had not been a single signpost since they left the main road. He parked the car hard up on the tiny verge at the side of the lane. After setting up the rods, they climbed over the stone wall at the side of the road, careful to avoid snagging on the rusty barbed wire on top of it. It had clumps of what looked like grey cotton wool stuck to the barbs. ‘It’s the sheep’ Mickey explained. They walked across a pasture that sloped down to the river. Mickey explained that the best spot was upriver from here and they could fish their way up to it.
They waded in, with Mickey being given the lead at Krupmeyer’s insistence. He worked the stream forty yards ahead of Krupmeyer. Krupmeyer watched him. When he fished he was transformed. For such an awkward man, his casting, despite looking laborious and stilted, was gentle and perfect. Time and again he placed the fly in exactly the right spot without hardly disturbing the water. At the beginning he occasionally glanced back at Krupmeyer to give him a shy smile but soon he only had eyes for the water. His whole attention was given over to it.
Krupmeyer waded along behind him, casting into the channels between the long tresses of river weed pulled into straight lines by the flow of the river. Mickey caught the first fish. Krupmeyer struggled up behind him with the net and Mickey carefully steered the fish around and into it. Mickey tucked his rod under his arm and stood in the river holding the fish in both hands. He examined it quietly for a moment. With a businesslike jerk of his hands, he broke its back and put it in the catch bag without a word. Krupmeyer wondered what he had been thinking about but could not read his expression.
They fished on until the light started to fail. Mickey had caught another two fish and Krupmeyer a couple as well. They waded to the bank and headed back to the car. The drive back to Braghan was taken up by Mickey’s animated descriptions of the fish he had taken. After the silence of the fishing, the words gushed out of him, childish and full of enthusiasm.
When they got back to the house, Winnie greeted them with a big hello. She insisted on looking at all the fish and flattered them shamelessly, especially Mickey who swelled with embarrassed pride. She told them they could have them for dinner tomorrow.
The evening meal was a very happy affair. The food was good and the conversation lively. Winnie was genuinely interested in the fishing and had Krupmeyer and Mickey recount in detail how each one was caught. Winnie asked Krupmeyer did he know any film stars. She seemed to have an idea that America was a country only slightly larger than Ireland and that everyone there knew or were related to one another. Nothing he said could seem to shake the idea from her head. They best he could come up with were a few Senators and their indiscretions. Winnie was suitably scandalised. The meal passed quickly. Krupmeyer insisted on helping out with the washing up despite Winnie’s protests. They watched television afterwards until Mickey started falling asleep. Winnie shooed him off to bed and went to make tea for herself and Krupmeyer.
They sat in the Kitchen drinking the tea. ‘He’s not really very strong, you know. The fishing always tires him out’ she said. Krupmeyer nodded and said it was a good interest for him to have. She agreed. Krupmeyer felt tired himself. After the transatlantic flight and the evening spent fishing he was looking forward to bed himself.
‘He likes you, I can tell. I hope he doesn’t get too attached. It hurts him when guests he likes go home.’ Krupmeyer felt his eyes starting to close.
‘The man who taught him to fish lived here for nearly a year and it took Mickey months to get over it when he left. He was heartbroken. Heartbroken. That’s why I won’t take people in for long now. It’s too hard on him when they leave.’
Krupmeyer nodded understandingly, fighting back the fatigue that was creeping over him.
‘Ah now, there was a fine man. A nice man. A Yank like yourself. I’ll never understand why he had to leave.’
Krupmeyer came alert quickly.
‘An American?’ he queried.
‘Well not exactly,’ she replied ‘from Canada. Ontario in Canada.’ Ontario bordered onto upstate New York, where Canfield had grown up. He would be familiar with Ontario. It would make a good background for a cover story. His excitement increased.
‘Maybe I know him, what was his name?’ he asked casually, trading on Winnie’s peculiar ideas on the size of America.
‘Bob Conner’ she replied. Krupmeyer grinned. Of course. This was the only place in town a visitor could stay in. He should have asked sooner. And here it was, falling into his lap like a ripe plum.
‘Do you know him?’ she asked. He said he did not and asked when Conner had left Braghan.
‘Oh, it’s six, maybe seven years now. And not a letter or card. He promised Mickey and it wouldn’t be like him to break a promise. No, I sometimes wonder if something happened to him. I asked the Guards but they weren’t bothered. I do hope he’s all right, even if he hasn’t got in touch. It wasn’t a girl or anything like that, though there were one or two lassies around here who took a shine to him. I miss him myself.’ She paused and Krupmeyer waited patiently as all good interrogators do, for her to continue.
She tilted her cup and examined the tea leaves in the bottom of it. She smiled in reflection. ‘I remember well the first day I saw him. Standing there at the front door with his suitcase. He was a bag of bones. There wasn’t a pick on him. So I says to myself, there’s a man needs feeding up.’
She leaned towards Krupmeyer to share a confidence. ‘He’d been ill, you know. He never said what exactly but it was something to do with the nerves. Suffered from terrible nightmares, just like Mickey. You’d hear him at night calling out. I used to give him one of Mickey’s pills to settle him down. Ah, there were a few bad nights at first but he settled down and put on a bit of weight, thank the Lord.’
Krupmeyer listened intently as she talked on. Up to now, all he knew about Canfield he had learned from the notes the Colonel had given him. None of it was personal, none of it gave him an impression of the man. As she talked an image formed. An image of a man who had not been in good shape when he arrived in Braghan, despite all the work they’d done on him after his escape. Winnie and Mickey and the small coziness of their world had been good for him. He asked her where he had gone.
She shook her head mournfully. ‘I’ve no idea. We came back from eleven O’clock Mass and he was gone. There was nothing but a note and some money on the kitchen table. It just said he had to go away. It was a terrible shock.’ She shook her head slowly.
Krupmeyer heard the hurt in her voice. She lapsed in to silence. Krupmeyer felt sorry for her. So sorry that he was tempted for a moment to tell her more about Canfield but decided it would only worry her more.
‘Well, it’s time for bed’ she declared suddenly, snapping out of her reverie and standing up from the table to pick up the empty cups. ‘You must be bushed with the trip over and all.’ He said good night to her as she stood at the sink and rinsed out the tea cups.
Upstairs he lay awake in his bed thinking. Canfield had lived in this house for a year, slept in this bed. The image of Winnie looking after him sprang to mind. Winnie standing by the bed here with one of Mickey’s pills and a glass of water. Talking to him, soothing him. Bringing him back from the nightmares to the small room in the small house. In his own way, Canfield had been just as damaged as Mickey and she had known it instinctively and lavished as much love and affection on him as on her own son.
But he had left. It could not have been easy for him to leave them. He must have known how much it would hurt. He would not have done it unless he thought there was no choice. But why did he do it? Was he running from his own government, didn’t he trust them? It was the only explanation Krupmeyer could come up with. After all Canfield had been through, trusting anybody would not come easy. Krupmeyer lay there thinking until he fell asleep.