Line of Descent chapter 6

Chapter 6

Krupmeyer woke and got dressed. He went downstairs and into the kitchen where he could hear Winnie’s voice. She was reading the newspaper to Mickey as they sat eating breakfast. They were on the sports page and she was reading out the details of a soccer match. Her voice rose and fell, lending a dramatic emphasis to the article, reading it as though she were a radio commentator. Mickey listened intently as he sat eating some of the trout they had caught yesterday. She had grilled it. Winnie took off her reading glasses and asked if he wanted the same for breakfast. He said that would be fine and sat down.

The trout was good. Throughout the meal she read snippets of the newspaper, occasionally stopping to squint at the newsprint before continuing. He sat there afterwards finishing off his cup of tea. He told Winnie he had promised to look up some relatives of a friend of his when he was in Ireland and was going to drive into Dublin that day. He asked her where the main Post Office was. She said in O’Connell street. It was the biggest street in town, right in the centre, you couldn’t miss it, she said.

He drove into the city, criss crossing the centre until he found the right street. He parked nearby and walked back to the imposing building that contained the Post Office. Inside it, he went to the phone directories. To his delight, he found there were only two directories for the whole of the country. Sitting down at a desk, he looked up Robert Conner. There were only thirty-four Robert Conners listed. He carefully wrote down their addresses and telephone numbers in a neat column in his notebook. Crossing to the counter, he changed a note for coins and walked to the telephone booth at the end of the row and rang the first number on the list.

A lady answered. He asked if he could speak to Bob Conner. She said he wasn’t there, could she take a message? He explained he was a visitor to the country looking up an old army buddy who had moved over here from the States. She told him he had the wrong Robert Conner. Her husband wasn’t an American, she explained with a laugh. He thanked her politely and moved on to the next number on the list. If Robert Conner answered the phone, Krupmeyer explained he was calling on behalf of the Harkin family who were trying to locate a Robert Conner, to tell him Winnie was ill. The pattern was repeated with minor variations throughout the afternoon. By the end of it, he had eliminated twenty-eight names from the list and been back to the counter for more change several times. The remaining six numbers had not been answered when he rang. He decided to try them again that evening.

He finished the afternoon looking about the town, stopping to buy a magnifying glass for Winnie. It was early evening when he got back to Braghan. Winnie was pleased with the magnifying glass. She told him he shouldn’t have bothered, spending his money like that, but fished out the morning newspaper and tried it out immediately. She called to Mickey to come see the glass Gus had brought back from the city. She showed him how to use it. He settled down to inspecting a picture of a football melee, his brows knitted as he slowly inspected the players in detail through the glass.

After dinner Krupmeyer crossed over to the pub to renew his acquaintanceship with the barman. It was full to bursting point with locals and tourists. Shouldering his way through the throng and smoke towards the bar, he ordered a drink and got more coins for the pay phone that was mounted on the wall of the corridor that led to the toilets at the back of the pub. By ten o’clock he eliminated all but two of the remaining names from the list.

He had also been inveigled into joining a group of fishermen by the barman. They were a lively group. The evening passed quickly and he enjoyed himself despite occasionally having to fight his way back through the crowd to the pay phone to retry the numbers that had not answered. Each time he returned from the phone to the group, they ribbed him mercilessly. They had decided he was trying to get in touch with a girl. He let the idea blossom and played along, defending himself vigorously against charges of being too eager. By the time the pub closed he still had not got an answer from the two remaining numbers. Both the addresses were in Dublin. He decided to try them tomorrow and if there was still no reply to go to the addresses. At the end of the evening, he weaved his way back to the guest house and his bed.

The next day he drove into Dublin again. He stopped at a bar on the outskirts and tried the two numbers again. There was still no reply from either of them. He showed the barman the addresses and got directions for the nearest one. It turned out to be not too far away. He drove there following the directions and parked outside.

It was in the middle of a row of terraced houses. He knocked on the door for a while but there was no answer. He tried the house next door. The door was answered by a woman drying her hands with a kitchen towel. He used the story of looking for his old army buddy on her. No, he was mistaken, Mr. Conner wasn’t an American. He apologised telling her he had two addresses and showed her the other one.

She told him it was in the north of the city and gave him directions to the area, he could ask someone for more directions when he got there. Getting back in the car, he followed her directions to the north of the city. When he got there, he stopped to show a bunch of kids the address and asked if they knew where it was. After much giggling and consultation they came to a consensus and told him how they thought he could get there. He drove on, following their instructions with absolutely no faith in them. To his surprise, he ended up at the correct address. Again there was no reply to his knock. He went next door. The man who answered explained that Mr. Conner had passed away a fortnight ago and certainly hadn’t been an American. He seemed to be offended at the very suggestion but then again he looked like a sour old goat, thought Krupmeyer.

Krupmeyer sat in the car considering his next move. He had not really placed much hope of finding Canfield through the telephone directory. As he had worked his way through the list, the conviction had grown that Canfield would not give away his location so easily. His disappearance had been too complete, his separation from the Harkins too harsh and final. But it was always worth eliminating what you could.

Ordinarily the next move would be to see if he could be found through his driving license. Back in the states he had contacts in the Motor Vehicle Registration department in Washington, who would have looked up the name for him. But here he did not have any contacts. He would have to find one.

He drove back to a row of shops he had passed. He was in luck. One of them was a paper shop with a Post Office in the back. He went in and asked for an application form for a Drivers License. The man behind the counter extracted the correct form from a drawer under the counter. Krupmeyer asked where he was to send it to when he had filled it in. The man explained the address was on the back. All the licenses and registrations were handled in the new computer centre in Dublin, he explained proudly. Krupmeyer thanked him and left. Outside, he asked a passing man for directions to the street named on the back of the form. He got there half an hour before twelve and parked a hundred yards down the street from it on the opposite side of the road. He settled down to wait for the lunch hour.

At five past twelve a group of twelve or so people left the building. They were chatting and laughing and did not notice him leave the car and follow them at a discreet distance. They did not go far, just to a big pub at the end of the street. As they settled around two adjoining tables, he entered and sat with his back to them at a smaller table adjacent to theirs. He ordered a lunch and spent the next hour eating it in a leisurely fashion, all the while listening to the group behind him.

They were a happy noisy bunch, mainly in their middle to late twenties. All through lunch they kept up a lively banter as they ate. He listened intently. After a while he could pick out the voices of the dominant individuals. The lunch meal was a time-honoured tradition and each by now had their established roles to play in it. Some were the wits. Some were the butts. Others said little or nothing. There were several running jokes which were revisited to good-natured groans from the group. By the end of the meal, he had a good idea of the main personalities. He had kept his back to them for the entire meal and was careful to let them leave before he did. He went back to the car and drove back to Braghan.

When he arrived back there he decided to pass the afternoon by visiting the nearby ruins of the monastic settlement at Glendalough and think over what he had heard. The tourist guide had described it as a haven of peace during the dark ages. It had survived for hundreds of years while outside chaos had ruled. Like an eye in the storm. Of the men who go to war, not many actually see combat. Those who do are marked for life by it. What used to be just scenery becomes terrain, to be judged at first glance for its defensive or offensive characteristics. After that you can relax and enjoy the scenery. His practised eye could see the natural defensive qualities of the location. Bounded on three sides by sharply rising mountains and on the fourth by a narrow entrance, it would have been easy to defend. On the valley floor there was lots of flat land and two big lakes well stocked with fish. Food and water were available without venturing outside the safety of the enclave.

As he walked around it, he thought about the group of people he had eavesdropped on that lunch time. One of them seemed promising. Her name was Helen. She had been moaning about how badly paid they were. By the end of the month she said she was living on fish fingers. They had teased her about spending too much money going out. She’d replied saucily that she wasn’t going to spend her life like a dried up old stick. A girl was entitled to some fun. There was a cheeky sexuality about her, a couldn’t give a damn rebelliousness that the group pretended to disapprove of but secretly admired. If any of them was going to bend the rules for him, Krupmeyer felt she would be the one. At the end of the afternoon he went back to Winnie’s. He fished that evening with Mickey.

Next day he drove back into Dublin and positioned himself at the same table in the pub before the group arrived. He listened to them throughout the meal but this time he took the risk of looking them over. Picking a time when the barman was busy, he walked up to the bar and while waiting for service, had a good look at the group. Helen turned out to be a diminutive blond. As she talked, her hands flew all over the place. She had a dazzling smile and often leaned back in her chair, peals of laughter escaping as she savoured some particularly salacious piece of gossip. She was not exactly beautiful when examined critically but appeared to be. It was a personality thing that worked because she radiated a certain subliminal sexuality. Krupmeyer liked the look of her. After lunch he went back to the car and waited the afternoon for her to come out of the office. When she did, he followed her home. She went into a house set in a row of terraces. Krupmeyer got out of the car and walked up the steps of the house to look at the names written on cards beside the bell buttons. One of them was a Miss H. Doolin. It was the only one with the initial ‘H’ on it. He went back to the car and watched the house for a while. When nothing much happened after an hour, he drove back to Braghan and spent another evening fishing with Mickey.

The next day was Friday. Krupmeyer had decided to make his move then. He spent special attention on his appearance that morning. After a bath, he carefully picked out his wardrobe. He wanted to look his best. As he stood in front of the mirror examining himself critically, he smiled ruefully. It was like attending his first prom again. He told Winnie he might be late tonight and set off.

The pub was packed. The Friday lunch time drinkers were there in force. The group still occupied the same two tables but the press of people around them constricted it to two-thirds its usual space. Krupmeyer took his usual table but this time sat facing them reading a newspaper. He looked carefully at Helen over the top of it and waited. Eventually she sensed the pressure of the watching eyes and glanced in his direction. Their eyes met and he smiled as if noticing her for the first time. She smiled back, breaking the eye contact after a moment to listen to a remark addressed to her by someone in the group. Krupmeyer resumed reading his paper. Moments later he looked up to find her eyes on him. Touche. He smiled more openly and nodded to her before getting back to his newspaper. He finished his drink and rising, went up to the bar with his empty glass for another. He pushed his arm through a gap in the crowd at the bar and waved his glass at the overworked barman. While he was waiting, he felt a pluck at his sleeve. He looked around. It was Helen. Behind her the whole group watched them silently, scandalised and yet waiting with baited breath to see what would happen next. She held an empty wine glass and offering it to, him asked if he could get her a drink, she couldn’t get through the crowd to the bar she explained with an apologetic smile. Sure he could. They began to chat while waiting for the overworked barman to get around to them. Krupmeyer hoped he would take his time.

‘You’re an American’ she announced. ‘I can tell from your accent.’ He admitted it and said he was over here on business. ‘But no pleasure?’ she asked with a mock provocative roll of her eyes. She did it very well. He laughed. As they talked the crowd milled around them, pressed them together. By the time they had arranged a date for that evening they were practically pushed up against each other. Krupmeyer had no complaints about that. Someone in the group called to her, it was time to go back to the office. She left him with a backward wave. He never did manage to get the drinks.

He picked her up that evening at the flat. He told her he didn’t know the city and was in her hands. Where did she think they should go? They set off to a pub that she liked. It was crowded but not unpleasantly so. There was a live band playing nothing but fifties rock and roll music the whole evening. She forced him out onto the tiny dance floor and had great fun teaching him how to jive. By ten o’clock they were both tired and he suggested they go somewhere quiet for a meal. They set off to an oriental restaurant she knew. The meal was good. She dared him to try using the chop sticks. He impressed her and amazed himself by being very good with them. After the meal they sat and talked over coffee. She was good company. The conversation ranged near and far, but each time it turned towards him he diverted it away skilfully. He could see she was intrigued by his reticence. He wanted her to get good and curious.

He escorted her to the steps of her flat. The good night kiss was long and passionate. They went upstairs and made love. At some point in the evening they had both known it was going to happen. Krupmeyer’s desire for her was as strong as hers for him. She was passionate and inventive taking time to build her own pleasure as well as his. She came in racking spasms her head thrown back in ecstasy. They lay drained afterwards, intertwined and cuddled up from the cold of the night with nothing but the top sheet pulled up about them. They talked as lovers do.

She ran her fingers along the ugly jagged scar that ran diagonally across his chest. She asked him about it. He started explaining about a terrible accident with the can opener but she stopped him with a playful slap of irritation. She wheedled him until he explained how he had got it. He remembered the day well. He had been packing flak jackets around the feet of a grunt who had just discovered that he was standing on the detonator of a land mine. The grunt was white with terror. The rest of the platoon was hurriedly stripping off bits of body armour and passing it over to Krupmeyer.

‘He must have moved and it went off’ he explained simply. He would never forget the white heat of the blast picking him up and dropping him on his back in the paddy field. Fly man, fly. He had lain there in the ankle-deep water watching in numbed shock as his buddies had packed his chest with field dressings. There was blood everywhere and he couldn’t feel a damn thing. He could not believe it was all his. I’m the hero of this movie, it can’t be happening to me. The last thing he remembered about that day was being dumped onto the cold aluminium floor of the Huey and the Crew Chief leaning over him telling him he was going to be OK, it’s the Freedom Bird for you man, back to the World. His eyes had wandered everywhere, but not once settled on Krupmeyer or his ruined chest. That was when he had really got scared.

She sensed his deepening mood and cuddled him tighter. They made love again but this time more leisurely and more tenderly. She sat on top of him and slowly ground her hips. He watched her breasts bob and felt the surge of pleasure slowly building in his loins. She leaned over and their mouths met. His hands wandered over her back finally settling on her haunches which they gripped and kneaded. They came together in a mutual orgasm which flung her backwards off his chest. She sat there swaying for a moment looking down at him and started to giggle self‑consciously. He did too. She got off him and they lay together quietly for a while.

She asked him what he was doing in Ireland. He told her she would not believe him if he told her. Try me she suggested.

‘I’m looking for a man’ he told her.

‘Aren’t we all, sweetie’ she replied in a playful imitation of Mae West’s voice. He smiled and slapped her playfully on the bottom in pretended irritation.

‘You’re not kidding me, are you?’ she asked.

‘Definitely not’ he replied. She propped herself up on one elbow and regarded him seriously. He could see the wheels turning over in the pretty blond head. After a moment she said, ‘You want me to look him up on the computer, don’t you?’

‘Yes’ he replied simply, returning her stare. She had worked that one out quick, he thought, his respect for her wits rising. This was it. She would either decide to help or turf him out immediately.

‘Why are you looking for him?’ she asked after a moment. She watched him carefully as he replied.

‘He ran out on his wife, taking their kid with him. She wants the kid back but first I’ve got to find him. He’s over here somewhere.’ She looked at him deciding which way to go. Eventually a rueful smile played over her lips.

‘So this great whirlwind romance was just a way to look him up?’ she asked.

‘Not exactly’ he replied evasively, pretending to avoid her eyes.

‘Don’t try to weasel out now’ she replied rolling on top of him and gripping his throat with her hands.

‘Admit it’ she said applying some pressure with both her thumbs. He did not say anything.

‘Admit it’ she repeated tightening her grip and shaking him. He finally nodded and said he was a low down skunk. ‘You are indeed’ she said in an even voice and leaned down to kiss him. They made love again.

They spent the weekend together. It was a long time since he had been seriously involved with a woman. Somehow or another, the feeling had grown up in him that he was not going to form any permanent attachments and he had come to accept that. The women he’d dated had sensed it too and either needed nothing more or moved to men who were more prepared to develop a casual affair into something more serious. He’d had a string of take it or leave it affairs since he and Jeanne had parted but Helen was something new. He felt elated and high. He liked her a lot and as far as he could tell she liked him. Was there any future in it, he wondered? He pushed his worries aside and determined to enjoy the weekend in her company. Between bouts of love-making they shopped and drove out for a long walk over the windswept plains of the Curragh. They ate out every night. Helen was interested in the theatre and dragged him out to see a play. Despite himself he enjoyed it but refused to admit it to her in the restaurant they dined in afterwards.

Monday finally came as it always does to ruin idyllic weekends. She went off to work and he stooged around the flat all morning. She had promised to bring back a printout of all the Robert Conners on the computer. He felt impatient and paced around restlessly. To his surprise, he realised the impatience stemmed more from a desire to see her again rather than for the list of names. Finally, not being able to stand the waiting any more, he put on his jacket and left to look around the city.

He spent most of the afternoon in a bookshop. He had always been an inveterate reader and could spend hours looting a library or bookshop, as Jeanne, his ex‑wife, had put it. He was looking for a book for Helen. She had mentioned that Garbo was one of her favourites and he eventually found a book packed with black and white stills from her pictures. The poses were corny but he admired the lighting. By the time he got back to the flat, she was already home. She wanted to make them a meal but somehow they ended up in bed. Afterwards they sat in bed comparing the names and addresses on the printout to the list he had compiled in the Post Office. There were no new names. She got up to rustle up some sandwiches while he wondered what to do next.

Wherever Canfield was, he was not living under the name of Conner. Assuming a new identity was not as simple as most people thought. It was not enough to just call yourself by a different name. Eventually you would have to produce a birth certificate or other documentation if you were going to live under that name for a long period of time. Assuming the name of a dead person no longer worked, there were too many checks nowadays. On the other hand, taking the name of a living person was even more risky. If you applied for a Driving License and they already had one, alarm bells would start ringing. A living person would be best. Helen returned with the sandwiches and they sat there munching the sandwiches, discussing the problem.

‘Why not take the name of somebody who’s gone abroad for a long time, say a Missionary?’ she suggested.

‘Nope, too risky’ he replied with a shake of his head ‘they might come back at any time.’

‘Then how about someone in a long-term institution, someone who’ll never get out?’ she suggested. He was about to dismiss the suggestion when it came to him.

‘Brilliant, you’re a genius’ he exclaimed and grabbing her head in both hands planted a kiss on her forehead. It was Mickey, he would be perfect. Canfield knew him and the area the came from. Obtaining a copy of the Birth Certificate would not have been too difficult. He explained to her that Conner had come into contact with a mentally handicapped man named Michael James Harkin. There was no danger of Mickey applying for a Driving License. The only thing Mickey represented a danger to, were the trout in the rivers of Wicklow.

The next evening she returned with a list of all the Harkins on file. There wasn’t a Michael James she explained with disappointment to him. He took the list from her and looked down it to check for himself. He had been so damn sure and just could not believe it. He scanned through it carefully.

There was a James Michael Harkin though. That was him decided Krupmeyer with a grin of success. He had just put in a further twist to obscure the trail. The license start date was six months after Canfield had left Braghan and the age of the driver was thirty-four at the time. The timing and ages matched Mickey. He had found him. James Michael Harkin, Coole, County Donegal. He explained to her and they decided to go out for a meal to celebrate.

They went back to the Chinese restaurant. This time he challenged her to use the chop sticks. She tried for a while but finally gave up in a fit of giggling. She told him about a holiday she had been on to Donegal where Canfield was living. She could not remember ever having been in a place called Coole. They swapped holiday stories through the meal. At the end he presented her with the book he had bought her.

To his disappointment, she did not seem to be too happy with it. She leafed through it distractedly. ‘Is this the going away present at the last supper?’ she asked in the quiet way that people use when the answer is important to them. He was caught unprepared by the question. The whole affair had developed so fast that he had not had time to think about it. He knew he liked her a lot and had not been sure how deep her feelings were. Now she was telling him.

‘Not if you don’t want it to be’ he replied, making the commitment.

‘I don’t want it to be’ she replied, mimicking his stilted reply. They finished the meal and went back to her flat.

That night their love-making was quiet and subdued. He had decided to go to Coole the next morning. He did not know how long it would take but would keep in touch. Somehow, he was beginning to miss her already.

They kissed good-bye on the steps of her house the next morning and he drove off to Braghan to collect his things before going to Donegal. He thought about her on the drive. The leave-taking had been hard on both of them. He was tempted to turn around. ‘Jesus, I think I’m in love, by damn’ he finally admitted to himself and hit the steering wheel with the flat of his hand.

© Pointman

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