This is not a Harry Potter fan fiction. I had to say that because I think most of the people following me on here are HP fans. But feel free to read on in any case, I think it's an interesting story even if you aren't a Ballykissangel fan. :)
Smoke and Mirrors in Ballykissangel
A Ballykissangel fan fiction loosely based on Agatha Christie's novel 'They Do It With Mirrors'. Ballykissangel and the Ballykissangel characters were created by Kieran Prendiville and are owned by BBC and World Productions. No rights are asserted in the creation of this work, other than the right to distribute this piece of fan fiction itself. (In other words, you didn't write it, don't try to pass it off as yours!)
"Father, I have something to tell you." The male voice on the other side of the grille in the confessional spoke in a hoarse whisper.
Peter Clifford nodded -- an automatic gesture, unable as they were to see each other. "Go on," he said encouragingly.
"It concerns Niamh. Niamh Quigley – Egan," the voice added, as if correcting itself.
Peter sat up a bit straighter.
"Someone wants to harm her."
"If you know something, you should go to the police," Peter said in all seriousness.
"No!" the stranger said quickly. "I don't know anything for sure. It's just a feeling. Please. I didn't know who else to go to." He sounded hurried and nervous.
"Is this a confession? Have you done something? Are you tempted to do something?" Peter was a bit confused.
"God knows what I've done I have my reasons for. I just don't want to see Mrs. Egan come to any harm."
"Well, if you'd like to step outside, we could discuss this—"
"No!" Peter heard the man standing up with a rustling of material. "I'm sorry, I—Just keep an eye out for her, will you, Father? I don't want her to be hurt."
The curtain on the other side of the confessional swished open, and heavy footsteps clacked quickly across the tiled floor. Peter pulled the curtain on his side back in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the mysterious informant, but the next parishioner was already entering the confessional.
"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned."
Peter sat back down, disturbed and distracted by the incident.
"Good afternoon, Father," Kathleen trilled. "Will this be all?" She began ringing up Peter's purchases.
"Yes, thanks, Kathleen. Any good news?"
"Oh, have you heard about the Convention of Irish Brethren?" she said with a hint of pride.
Peter frowned goodnaturedly. "No, what's that?"
"A gathering of our good, Irish monks. 'Tis taking place up in Bally-Na-Cleogh this weekend. They've come from every county, even Ulster. I've already caught a glimpse of one tour bus come through this morning."
"Really? That's quite interesting," Peter commented politely. "Oh, is this new?" He indicated a small cardboard box with a slit in the top that stood next to the cash register. On the side was an emblem and 'Wicklow Catholic Charities' printed in bright, primary colors.
"Oh yes, I do feel that we should support our local charities," she simpered. "Any change you can spare will go directly to needy Catholics in our area. There you are, that will be fifteen-thirty."
"Sounds like a good cause. You can just add the change from this transaction here." He handed Kathleen a note.
"God bless you, Father," she said as she opened the register, put the note in and took out some coins, then dropped them into the cardboard box. "If only everyone were as generous. You might mention something in your sermon this Sunday." She packed up his items in a paper bag.
"I'll take it under consideration, Kathleen," he promised. "It's a good principle to begin charity at home."
"Amen, Father. That it is."
"I'm surprised they're lodging here." Peter was watching Assumpta with amusement as she dealt with six men in long brown robes over at the hotel desk.
"Not enough room at the inn," Niamh said as she slid a plate with the lunch special in front of Peter. "Or in this case, at the monastery. Sure, they're boarding at every B&B from here to Dunatree."
"I didn't mean just that. I meant Assumpta letting them have rooms here at all. I thought she'd sworn off the clergy after those three golfing buddies of Father Mac's."
"Hard coin speaks volumes, Father. She needs the business."
The pub door opened behind Peter and a small, dark-haired man with a three-day growth of beard and a dirty tweed cap came in, his shifty eyes darting around the room before they alighted on Niamh, who was pulling a pint.
"Niamh Quigley!" he shouted.
Niamh looked up sharply. "That's Mrs. Egan to you, Mossy Phelan."
"You're still your father's daughter, aren't you?" he said, coming over to stand next to Peter. "Where is the old fox? He's been avoiding me. It's owing me money, he does. He won't weasel out of it this time."
"I'm not my father's secretary," Niamh said, setting the pint down in front of Peter, who was watching the exchange with interest, not unmindful of the incident in the confessional from the day before.
"But you'll tell him I'm after speaking with him, won't you, Missus?" Mossy bored his gaze into Niamh's.
"You'll have to take it up with him, as I said. Now either order something, or be off with you!" Niamh put her fists on her hips.
"I'll be back, you can mark my words." He looked around at the other patrons, who by now had all fallen quiet and were watching him. "Good day to all of you. Father." He nodded his respect to Peter, tapped one finger to his cap, and left.
"What was that about?" Peter asked Niamh.
She shrugged, seemingly unconcerned. "I have no idea. I try to keep out of my father's business." She moved off to serve someone else down the bar.
As Peter watched her, his eye slid automatically over to Assumpta, who was trying to sort out the room keys. Peter laughed to himself, thinking once again of Father MacAnally's friends. Well, at least there was no play rehearsal for them to barge in on. Peter felt his ears becoming red at the memory. At that moment, Assumpta looked over at him and rolled her eyes. Peter smirked and raised his glass to her.
"I'm back, I'm back!" Assumpta banged open the pub door, juggling two large cardboard boxes. Peter jumped up from his stool and took one from her.
"Where is everyone?" Assumpta asked as she dropped the other box heavily down onto the bar top. For a Friday night, the pub was surprisingly empty. Aside from Peter, Padraig, and Brendan at the bar, and a young local couple at a dark table in the corner, there was no one else there.
"It's been quiet," Niamh said, shrugging, as she began to pull bags of crisps out of the box and stow them under the bar.
"You see?" Assumpta said to no one in particular. "This is why I didn't want to give those rooms to the friars. In bed by six o'clock they are, and fasting to cleanse their souls as well, no doubt." She took the second box from Peter and carried it into the kitchen. "Oh, Niamh, I have your prescription here!" she called over her shoulder.
"Prescription?" Peter asked, again alert to anything being possibly amiss with Niamh. "Is anything wrong?"
"I'm a bit anemic is all, Father," Niamh said. "That and Ambrose and I are trying for another baby," she added with a sly smile. "Vitamins and such."
"Ah," was all Peter said, looking back down at his drink with an embarrassed grin. Padraig and Brendan nudged each other and chuckled.
Assumpta came back out and tossed a white paper bag to Niamh. "Ah, shush, the two of youse!" Assumpta admonished them. "You'll be glad for another desk filled in your school, Brendan!"
"Sure, Assumpta. If I'm still teaching then. I'm up for review again."
"Oh, pshaw! You've nothing to worry about, Brendan Kearney," Niamh said. "You're the best teacher this town has seen in all the years I've been here."
"He's the only teacher this town has seen since you've been here," Padraig quipped in his deep, gravelly voice.
"That doesn't mean he's not a fine teacher," Niamh said stubbornly. "Don't you worry, Brendan. You'll pass the review with flying colors. Who's on the board now?"
"Doc Ryan, Father MacAnally, Georgie O'Donnell, Wanda Connor, and Osh Kirby."
"Those are all fair people, Brendan. Niamh's right, you have nothing to worry about," Peter said.
"Oh, I didn't say I was worried," Brendan said, and he certainly didn't seem to be particularly concerned about anything at the moment.
"Well, speak of the devil," Padraig mumbled, as just then the pub door opened and Father Mac came in.
"What's that, O'Kelley?" the priest asked sharply, hardly had he closed the door firmly behind him.
"Nothing, Father," Peter jumped to Padraig's rescue. "We were just discussing Brendan's upcoming review by the school board."
"Hmph," Father Mac grunted. "Mere formality, waste of everyone's time, if you ask me," he grumbled. "That's not why I'm here, in any case." He stepped up to the bar and eased himself down onto the seat next to Peter. "Niamh, I'm after your father," he announced.
"Him and half the town, seems like," Padraig commented into his beer.
"What's that?" Father Mac turned to Padraig.
"Nothing, Father," Padraig said more clearly. "Just seems like a lot of people are looking for Brian Quigley, is all."
"Is that so?" Father Mac's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "And why would that be?"
"Oh, the usual reasons," Niamh said lightly, wiping down the bar in front of Father Mac. "Can I get you anything, Father?"
"Whiskey, please, Niamh. Usual."
As she moved away to fill the order, Father Mac inquired pointedly: "And who was it asking after Brian?"
An uncomfortable silence filled the air. Finally, Peter supplied, "Mossy Phelan was in earlier. Something about being owed money."
"Ach, Mossy's always on about someone owing him money," Father Mac said with a dismissive gesture. "More often than not it's not even true. True enough, when does the man even have two cents to rub together himself, much less loan it out to others?" Niamh set the small tumbler of golden liquid down in front of him.
"Right you are, Father," Padraig said. "Slainte." He raised his glass.
"Slainte," returned Father Mac and took a sip of his own drink. "Although, one has to admit," he continued, smacking his lips, "Brian Quigley's had more than his fair share of money troubles through the years."
"If so, it's only because he's too trusting," Niamh said with a troubled expression. "He's just had bad luck with unscrupulous business partners."
"Still," Father Mac said, but left the rest of his opinion hanging.
"Anyway, I don't know why everyone thinks I know where he is," Niamh said. "I haven't seen him in three days." She looked at Peter with sudden fear. "You don't think anything's happened to him, do you?"
Peter was about to answer something noncomittal yet comforting, when Father Mac spoke up: "I'm certain he's fine, Niamh, I didn't mean to upset you. I have actually had him on his cell phone several times today, but the connection keeps breaking up, or else his battery runs out. So he says, at any rate. I have my doubts," he said and finished up his whiskey with a grimace. "You will let him know I need to talk to him if you see him, won't you?"
"Of course, Father," Niamh promised.
"The same goes for the rest of you," Father Mac said, looking around. "Not that I expect Quigley to listen to good advice, he's never followed it before." And with that cryptic comment, he bade everyone a good night.
"Strange," was all that Brendan said once the priest had left.
"Oh, leave it be, all of you," Niamh scolded. "My father's business is just that, his own." She scowled and went to collect the empty glasses from around the room.
"Right, I'll just be in here unpacking if you need me," Assumpta said, going into the kitchen.
"I'll help you," Peter volunteered and followed her.
"It's just this one box, Peter," Assumpta said once they were in the kitchen. "Nothing heavy, just some cleaning supplies."
He pulled the box open and started handing the items to her. "What do you make of all this business with Brian?" he asked in a confidential tone.
Assumpta shot a look at the door to make sure it was closed. "Nothing at all. Like Niamh said, Brian's business is his own. As long as it doesn't affect my business, I don't want to know anything about it." She went into the pantry, carrying plastic packages of rubber gloves and sponges.
Peter hefted the large box into his arms and brought it over to the pantry, where he stood in the doorway. "But it seems to have something to do with Niamh," he said in a low voice.
Assumpta made a skeptical expression. "You think? She said she didn't know anything about it." She took a bottle of cleanser from him.
"I'm not so sure. He's her father, after all. She could be covering for him."
"And so what if she is?" Assumpta seemed annoyed with the entire subject. "It'll just be another one of Quigley's little schemes blowing up in his face. He'll end up with pie on his face, maybe a minor financial setback, and things will go on as usual."
"You could be right," Peter said doubtfully. "I just... I don't know, I'm worred about Niamh. With a new baby and all..."
"She's not pregnant yet, Peter!" Assumpta said with a laugh. "Or maybe she is, I don't know. She hasn't said anything yet, if so."
"I've had a bit of a tip..." Peter admitted reluctantly. "Nothing concrete, but... Would you keep an eye out for Niamh?"
"What in the world is that supposed to mean?" Assumpta paused with her hand on the box in Peter's arms.
"I'm not sure myself. I just have the feeling that something's brewing, and Niamh might be in the middle of it." He tried to convey his disquiet by means of a penetrating look, but Assumpta looked away suddenly and rummaged in the box.
"Whatever trouble Brian Quigley's in, he won't let it touch Niamh, not if he can help it."
"I hope so," Peter said, wondering what had caused Assumpta's apparent discomfort. "But you know Brian, he can be blind when it comes to making money."
"Sure, if you say so, Father," she said lightly, turning away quickly with the last of the supplies. "Thanks for the help," she tossed back over her shoulder, clearly indicating that the conversation was over.
Peter felt slightly confused. Had he missed something? "Sure," he said awkwardly. "I'll just... leave the empty box here on the table then, shall I?"
"Yeah, yeah, that's great," Assumpta said loudly, over the sound of shifting things around in the pantry.
The rest of the weekend passed uneventfully. The monks had celebrated Mass at the church on Saturday evening, rounding off the service with a medieval choral number, which Peter had enjoyed immensely. He'd checked up on Niamh a couple of times over the weekend, but by the end was feeling quite silly. Whatever the mysterious parishioner had meant by his warning, it had certainly blown over by now.
Now, Sunday evening, he was due to meet with Father MacAnally in a few minutes to discuss the coming month's scheduling. It was a warm night, and the vestry had heated up during the day, so he'd opened the narrow, leaded windows wide to try and catch a bit of a breeze.
Presently, he heard voices outside, one of them clearly being Father Mac's, and the other, he decided after a moment, Brian Quigley's. He couldn't quite make out what was being said, but the voices were louder than one would expect for an exchange of pleasantries, from which Peter surmised that there was some disagreement.
The few scraps of the conversation that wafted in disturbed Peter greatly. It seemed to have something to do with Niamh and Ambrose. He leaned closer to the window, but couldn't make out much more than " ... come clean ..." "... Ambrose ..." "... hurt Niamh ..." "... thought of that before ..." "... accuse me ..."
And finally, he heard Brian Quigley's parting shot loud and clear: "You do what you have to, Father, and I'll do the same!" After that the sound of hard shoes on gravel, and the main church door opening.
"Oh, that man has some gall!" Father Mac fumed as he entered the vestry. His face was bright red, and there was a line of sweat on his brow.
"Who?" Peter asked innocently.
"Brian Quigley, that's who," Father Mac said through bared teeth. "One of these days..."
"Father, wouldn't you like to sit down? Your heart..." Peter took Father Mac's arm solicitously and led him to a chair. "Maybe some water...?"
Father Mac waved Peter off. "I'm fine. Or I will be after tonight. He's left me no recourse. This has to be passed on to the proper channels."
"Is it anything I can help with?" Peter asked, concerned. "I couldn't help but hear you mention Niamh..."
Father Mac frowned. "Eavesdropping, were you? I'm not surprised. Out of respect for the family, I'm afraid I can't share anything more. I've likely already overstepped my authority in doing as much as I have. Now, let's get this scheduling out of the way and I can be about the rest of my business."
Peter didn't push the point, but he was distracted and unhappy, agreeing to all of Father Mac's suggestions without paying much attention to what he was saying. So there was something going on with Niamh! Something that involved Brian. Was this what the man in the confessional had meant? And who was going to do something that might hurt Niamh? Brian? Father Mac? Or Ambrose?
Peter was glad when Father Mac finally dismissed him, saying he needed privacy to make a phone call and that he would lock up when he was done. Troubled, Peter wandered down to the pub, hoping to find out more, or at least to have someone talk sense to him and dismiss his fears.
When he got there, though, far from being a refuge and oasis of friendliness, it appeared to be the scene of a loud and heated argument between Brian Quigley and Mossy Phelan.
Assumpta was standing between them, one hand on each man's chest, apparently in an attempt to stop them from coming to blows.
"All right, all right, fellas!" she shouted. "Take it outside!"
"You heard her, Phelan!" Brian roared. "Outside!"
"You ain't getting rid of me that easy, Quigley! I'll leave when I've got me money and not one second before!"
"If you don't the both of you leave my pub on the spot, I'll have the gardai after you!"
"Fine!" Before anyone else could react, Brian had grabbed Mossy by the collar and pulled him around the bar and into the kitchen.
"Hey! You can't go in there, that's—" Assumpta ran after them and pushed against the door, but it didn't give. "I don't believe it!" She turned around and gaped at the gawking onlookers. "They've actually gone and bolted my own door!"
"Do you want me to break it down, Assumpta?" Padraig asked gamely.
"No! I certainly do not. Just what I need, more repair bills. Just... go about your business, everyone," she said crossly and stomped away.
But far from losing interest, the small crowd – which included Niamh and Brendan -- sat still as mice and with bated breath, listening to the argument continuing behind the closed door, of which every word came through into the pub loud and clear. It seemed that Mossy Phelan was insisting that he had done some services for Brian and never received payment. What the nature of those services was remained vague, but there was repeated mention of 'trouble with the law' if Brian didn't pay up, and soon. Brian didn't seem to be putting up much of a defense; the main content of the audible conversation involved Mossy going on at some length about honor, trust, and a good businessman's reputation. Brian hardly seemed to be able to get a word in edgewise.
Peter stood as close to the kitchen door as he could get, listening intently for some mention of Niamh, but she didn't seem to figure at all in this scenario. At one point, he noticed a man he didn't recognize poke his head in and catch Assumpta's eye, at which she slipped out with him; Peter was curious, but didn't want to leave his post in order to find out what was going on. Still, he kept half of his attention in the direction Assumpta had gone, and he registered a couple of loud bangs that sounded like something being unloaded from a truck. A short while later, Assumpta returned, brushing her hands on her jeans, and Peter relaxed: She must have taken some delivery. Although it was dark already, pretty late for normal delivery hours.
In the meantime, the argument in the kitchen seemed to be going in circles, with neither party either giving or making ground, and presently, a great thump, as of a chair being knocked over, could be heard, followed by a metallic crashing.
"Oh for the love of--!" Assumpta exclaimed, rushing over to bang on the door. "Open up in there! You'll be paying for any damages, Brian Quigley!"
"I think it's time to call in Ambrose," Peter said loudly over everyone's heads. "Brendan?"
"I'm on it," the schoolteacher said, and was out the door in two long strides. As he left, Liam wandered in, a goofy grin on his face.
"What's going on?" he asked loudly, taking in the crowd gathered around the kitchen door.
As one, the entire group shushed him, not turning away from the door for a second. Liam climbed up onto a bar stool and bothered the man standing next to him for an explanation, but before he could say anything, the kitchen door was unbolted, and Mossy Phelan and Brian Quigley came out, both red in the face, Brian mopping his brow. He had his arm around Mossy as if they were best friends, and announced to the assembly: "This here is a good man. I'm sorry for the upset, folks. Sometimes it just takes a—" but the rest of his speech was lost as Brendan burst back in, crying out, "It's Father Mac! Call an ambulance—and the gardai!"
Immediately, tumult ensued. Peter pushed his way through the crowd that was trying to spill out the door, bellowing out directions: "Padraig, keep everyone out of the way! Let me through, I know CPR!"
Brendan, however, blocked the doorway and shook his head at Peter, the shock evident in his features. "All you'll be able to give him is the Last Rites, Peter. Looks like he was shot in the face."
END PART 1