CHAPTER TEN: ENCOUNTER WITH DESTINY

 

For Tricia Kells the New Year was to prove of special significance.  Not only did she get married to her fiancé, an Irishman from Cork, but she also returned with him to Ireland, where she duly took up a position as Office Skills Tutor in a small business college on the outskirts of Dublin.  He, too, had found congenial employment in another, albeit more prestigious, institute of learning nearby and, together, they were quite satisfied with the progress both their public and private lives were making.

     Ireland was altogether more to Tricia's liking than England, especially since the last few months of her stay there had been marred by the mysterious disappearance of her two closest friends, presumed dead, and the corresponding grief of their bereaved husbands.  Poor Dennis Foster had more than once sought her sympathy in the ensuing period of his bereavement, and so, too, had John Gray, whose own precious wife had shared the same mysterious fate as Julie.  How Tricia regretted that she hadn't been able to offer them more help at a time when they so desperately needed it!  She almost felt personally responsible for the fate of the two women, whom she had grown accustomed to regarding as the best friends she had ever had, since, without her suggestion that she and Julie dine together in the 'Three Lanterns' on that fateful Tuesday in December, none of what followed would have happened.

     But what exactly had happened?  That, alas, she had been unable to establish, in spite of her presence with Julie on the day in question.  Her uninquisitive nature, coupled to the understandable reluctance which Julie had shown to divulge any information to her concerning the handsome stranger seated behind them in the restaurant, had left her in some doubt as to the nature of the proceedings which followed.  She hadn't even taken a good look at him, and what little information she could subsequently impart to Dennis Foster about his physical appearance was another source of shame and guilt to her, insofar as a more detailed description would probably have led to his arrest by now.  As it happened, the police hadn't been able to trace him on the basis of the scant information she provided, and so everyone, including her husband, was in the dark as to what actually became of both Julie and Deirdre over the ensuing few days.  The fact that they had probably met with a violent death ... was certainly the chief supposition on everyone's lips.  But since conclusive proof of it had yet to be established, there was still the possibility that they had been brainwashed into joining some out-of-the-way religious cult, in which they were now hiding.  And yet, knowing them as she did, it was rather difficult for Tricia to grant this possibility much credence, even though it had a certain paradoxical appeal to each of the bereaved husbands, if only because it kindled a faint hope of recovery and rehabilitation of their missing wives in due course.  Somehow the thought that the mysterious stranger, with his shabby jacket and leather bag, was an abductor of young married women ... didn't seem plausible.  Yet neither, oddly enough, did the idea that he was a murderer.  The enigma continued.

     In Ireland, however, Tricia was to some extent able to put it all behind her and, with her husband's assistance, begin to build a new life for herself.  She was respected as an able tutor in her own college and had achieved, on the whole, satisfactory results from her students, who were embarked on a one-year course of elementary typing and word processing.  The first couple of years back in Ireland had been the hardest, what with the strange locations and everything.  But now that she was in her third year of employment there, things were becoming a good deal better, both personally and professionally.  Her husband, Michael Keenan, was also profiting from his work and had introduced into the study of philosophy some exciting new names on the intellectual horizon, including, from Ireland itself, a certain James Coughlin, whose largely philosophical books were currently creating a national ferment in intellectual circles.  Ever since the publication, over two years ago, of Coughlin's first book, Michael Keenan had hailed him as an outstanding genius who was destined to have a seminal influence on the future development of political, religious, social, cultural, and other thought in Ireland as a whole, and this prediction, at the time shared by few others, was rapidly bearing fruit, as each successive publication increased its author's reputation as a revolutionary thinker of the first rank, destined, some were already saying, to become the future leader and saviour of his country.  For not only was Coughlin in favour of a united Ireland; he was in favour of an Ireland that, abandoning political republicanism, would eventually embrace transcendentalism, in many ways its religious counterpart, and so become one of the world's foremost cultures in the centuries to come.  Of course, he had his detractors, and not only in Northern Ireland.  But there could be no denying that he was gaining a greater influence over his Southern contemporaries than virtually any other Irish writer, past or present, and had become something of a national conscience, a moral inspiration to his growing ranks of followers, among whom could be numbered many revolutionaries and leading intellectuals whose disaffection with the republican status quo was well known.

     For Tricia Keenan, the influence of Coughlin's books was hardly less keen than with her husband, and she, too, had come to the conclusion that Ireland's future salvation to a large extent depended on the implementation of his teachings, which made no bones about the need for a new religious stance, one centred in self-realization and scornful of traditional Christian criteria of worship.  She, too, had come to acknowledge his Messianic status and was anxious to hear him speak in public, as he increasingly did these days, to sympathetic audiences up-and-down the country.  As yet, she hadn't seen a photograph of him and was therefore curious to discover what this man, whose books were already a part of her daily life but who scorned media publicity, actually looked like.  Consequently an opportunity such as the one that now presented itself ... in the form of an appearance Coughlin was making in Dublin to address an audience on the future of religion ... was not to be wasted, and, in her husband's company, she set off by bus, one Friday evening in July, from their suburban Inchicore home to attend the lecture in person.

     When they arrived at the venue - one of the largest public halls in the city - there were already several hundred people inside and, although not quite filled to capacity, it was impossible to obtain a seat near the front, where the speaker would be most visible.  Resigned to an inferior position, the Keenans took seats a few rows from the back and waited, with baited breath, for the coming man to make his appearance.  Tricia was especially excited since, unlike her husband, she had never heard him talk before.  She wondered what kind of an accent he would have.

     At last, however, the moment came when James Coughlin appeared on stage from one of the wings, striding purposefully towards a waiting lectern in the centre.  An expectant hush suddenly descended on the audience, as he stood before them with a gentle smile on his face and a folder of notes in his hands.  These he duly placed on the lectern and, following a brief personal introduction, proceeded with his lecture, which he delivered in a soft Surrey accent, almost cockney in places.  He would begin, he said, with the development of religion from its pagan roots to its contemporary flowering in transcendentalism, pausing, en route, to discuss the intermediate, and therefore humanistic, nature of Christianity and its promise of a better world to come, the sort of world that he believed he alone was qualified to establish in the wake of the bankruptcy of republican ideals, with their secular disregard for religious values and, not least of all, the facts of religious life in Ireland as a whole.  Already, the audience was under his spell and no-one more so than Michael Keenan, who sat entranced by the flow of words which issued from the stage, as from Heaven itself.  Beside him, however, his wife had a very different expression on her face - one more suggestive of puzzlement than of rapt attention.  For she was beginning to wonder where she had seen that face and heard that accent before, since the longer she looked at him and the more she listened to his voice, the greater became her conviction that she had in fact encountered them  somewhere before.  But where?  She knitted her brows in cogitation and then, all of a sudden, like a flash of lightning, it struck her, momentarily blinding her to everyone else, including her husband.  She had seen that face and heard that accent in the 'Three Lanterns' on that fateful day, over three years ago, when Julie had abandoned her for his company!  It was he, Peter Morrison, whom Julie had gone off with - he, the would-be saviour of his country!

     Suddenly the thought assailed her that this same man, who under a pseudonymous name was now delivering his messianic lecture to the crowded hall, must be the reason behind both Julie's and Deirdre's subsequent disappearances, and therefore if not their killer then almost certainly their abductor.  But how could one man abduct two women, especially two such intelligent and self-willed women as them?  Automatically, as if by a miracle, the scales of doubt fell from Tricia's eyes and she realized that the man on the stage was none other than the murderer of her former friends, that the whole idea of abduction had been a gross mistake.  For Peter Morrison, alias James Coughlin, had been described, on the flyleaf of his latest book, as a married man, and his wife's name was Moira.  There could be no question of his having abducted anybody, least of all for sexual reasons.

     Horror-stricken, Tricia rose to her feet and, without saying a word, hurried towards the rear exit.  Her husband, hardly noticing her swift departure, turned round in his seat in order to see what was happening.  But, before he could call after her, she had already pushed her way through the exit door and dashed out into the street beyond.

     Once on the pavement, she began to run towards a bus that was slowly heading in her direction.  It stopped some thirty or so yards back and she was able to climb aboard, although she had started to shake like an October leaf and could only just manage to pay her fare.  She realized that she would have to get home as quickly as possible, no matter what her nervous condition.  A minute's delay and she might break down, confess there and then that Coughlin was a double murderer, and thus put the ideological future of her country in jeopardy.  She continued to shake all the way home, and when, finally, she got indoors and staggered up the stairs, it was with the sole intention of killing herself that she approached the bathroom cabinet for the necessary means.  To delay would be fatal, since she would eventually have to explain to her husband why she had run out of the hall in such a panic.  And if he didn't then call the gardai, which seemed unlikely, she knew that, left to herself, she most certainly would, thereby bringing ruin and disgrace upon a man who had already become something of a national hero, and whose continual freedom appeared to be of the utmost importance to the future deliverance of Ireland from its moribund past!

     Arriving home in a perplexed state of mind himself, Michael Keenan called after his wife and then rushed straight upstairs, to find her lying unconscious on the bathroom floor in a pool of blood, an open razor and a half-empty bottle of sleeping pills at her side.  After a failed attempt at reviving her, he rushed back downstairs and phoned for an ambulance. 

     At the hospital he was allowed, after the doctors had done what little they could, to sit by her side, although she was still unconscious and seemingly beyond recall.  Once or twice she seemed to revive and to recognize him, but then she would relapse into her private hell again, oblivious of anything anyone, including the doctors and nurses, said to her.  Only on the point of death did she momentarily revive, and it was then that her husband made a last, desperate attempt to communicate with her.

     "Trish darling, it's me, Michael," he said, in his most compassionate voice.

     "No, it's him," came the feeble semi-conscious response from the dying woman.

     "It's me, darling," Keenan insisted, more hopeful than surprised.

     "No, it's him, he's the one," Tricia faintly repeated, and, with a dying gasp, she turned her head away and expired.

     A doctor placed a consoling hand on Keenan's shoulder as he bowed his stricken head over Tricia's body, unable, in his deep misery, to fathom what her last words could possibly mean.  Evidently they had been a symptom of delirium!

 

    

LONDON 1981 (Revised 1982-2010)

 

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