When Rose Met James Michael

6c

By Brian Mosher,

Rose:

Usually when a man offers to buy me a drink, my responses range from a curt, “No, thank you” to “Fuck off, you wanker.” I suppose you can take the girl out of Belfast, but she’s still Irish.

I’ve never settled in one place long enough to establish a real relationship, and I’ve no interest in one-night stands. But something had happened recently to change my perspective, and now I was considering giving up my old life and settling into something more respectable, more stable. Something legal.

Also, this man had the most beautiful eyes. So, I decided to accept his offer. “That’s very kind of you. I’d love another.”

“Northern Ireland?” he asked. “I believe I recognize your accent.”

“Indeed, Belfast. Have you been?”

“I have. The company I work for has an office in Derry.”

I was smitten. Or, at least, impressed. Most people call it Londonderry, the official UK name. But folks who live there—at least the old ones—still call it Derry. For an American to call it by its true name is an unusual thing, for sure.

Behind the bar was Sophie, a lovely woman I’d seen working there a week previous. As she delivered our drinks, I asked James Michael, “And what business are you in?” This is a question I don’t normally ask, since it inevitably leads to being asked the same—and I won’t be able to honestly answer. He had such beautiful eyes, though, and I wanted to find out what was behind them.

“We do marketing and public relations,” he told me. “The Derry office is focused on helping Irish companies gain market share in the US. Specifically, there’s a distillery we’ve been working with.”

“I have to say, I’m in favor of this effort. I’m a fan of the whiskey from home.”

As I knew he would, he asked, “And what do you do?”

“I’m somewhat between positions currently. Any openings at your place?” I joked.

“Well, we’re always looking for talent. What’s your background?”

Now, until very recently, I’d been a killer for hire. Something I couldn’t very well admit—certainly not over our first drink together. The last time I’d killed had been just three months before, although that had been out of necessity rather than as a job, and I deeply regretted it. Poor Trudy, the cute waitress in that middle-of-nowhere diner did not deserve to have her life cut so short for no reason other than that she might one day be asked to testify against me. That was the moment I realized I needed to quit the business.

The last job I’d been hired to do—the one I was pursuing when I crossed paths with Trudy—I walked away from without completing. Partly out of feelings of guilt, partly because I had come to realize the target of that job had already been victimized enough by life and circumstances beyond her control.

That life was behind me, but not so far behind. I still carried a small handgun in my purse, just in case—or out of habit, I’m not sure which. And I was still always on guard against being recognized by someone I might have worked with or for.

In the end, I gave James Michael the answer I’d been giving for years whenever faced with this question. “Freelance personnel management, you might call it.”

“Interesting. My name’s James Michael. James Michael Hennessey.” He extended his hand, and I shook it. His grip was firm, but not too tight, and the timing was just right. We released simultaneously. (Go ahead, Freud, have at it.)

“I’m Rose O’Leary. Very pleased to meet you Mr. Hennessey.”

“There’s something familiar about you, Rose O’Leary. Familiar, but also intriguingly different… Wait a minute: O’Leary from Belfast? Any relation to O’Leary Trucking?”

And now I had a critical decision to make. You see, O’Leary Trucking was the cover business for my family’s illicit enterprises. My late father, Owen, initially founded it to launder the income from his gunrunning and drug activities—and to account for all the people who worked for him. I’d gotten my own start in the murder-for-hire racket there, eliminating several upstart drug dealers who failed to pay the proper tariff. It’s amazing how easy it is to get close to a man when you’re a seventeen-year-old girl with freckles, a quick smile and a short skirt.

“Cousins of mine,” I eventually said, deciding something near the truth would be the safest path.

“And how long have you been in the States?”

“About five years. Most of that time I’ve been working out of Chicago. I just recently arrived here, in your fair city.”

The bar we were in was called The Woodridge Tavern, and it was as warm and comfortable a place as you can imagine. I had recently signed a three-month lease on an apartment in the building directly across the street, and I’d quickly acquired the habit of having dinner and a drink here before going home at the end of a day exploring the city. The bartenders were all friendly, and until tonight I’d found it to be the sort of place where strange men didn’t try to pick up young women who were just trying to enjoy a quiet whiskey.

Sophie approached us to inquire if we’d like another round.

“Not for me, thanks,” I said. “Time to be heading home.”

“And you, James Michael?” asked Sophie. “Another Guinness?”

“I will take another, please. And thank you.”

As Sophie walked away, James Michael half-whispered to me, “Sophie is my mom. She owns the place. So, when I offer to buy you a drink, we’re really getting it on the house. Are you sure you can’t have another? Even a glass of water? I’m really enjoying our chat.”

Those damned eyes. “Well, I suppose I could take another whiskey, since it’s not costing you anything. Maybe over ice this time.”

“Very good. Hey, Mom,” he called out to Sophie. “My friend Rose would like another whiskey, on the rocks, please.”

Sophie shot us a smile as she pulled some Guinness from the tap.

“Your mother is quite young looking,” I told James Michael. “I wouldn’t have guessed she could be old enough to have a son your age.”

“And what age do you suppose I am, Rose? I should tell you my mother’s family is notorious for their youthful appearance. There are some who say my great-grandfather may have made a deal of some sort with a Leprechaun back in County Cork. I don’t believe it, of course. I think it’s more to do with the Guinness.”

“A much more logical explanation, certainly. Let me see now.” I took his hand and turned it over to look at his palm and fingers. “No calluses to speak of. Soft, as a matter of fact. I’d wager you’ve not done much manual labor in your life.” I looked closely at his face, keeping hold of his hand. “No noticeable wrinkles or lines around the eyes or mouth. Ah, but a lovely dimple in your cheek when you smile. Isn’t that adorable?”

The dimple grew deeper as he said, “You’re a flatterer, I see. Any guesses yet? Or do you need to do further examinations?”

“I’m ready to make a guess,” I said, still holding his soft, clean hand. “I would say you’re just about thirty years old, but looking a good deal younger thanks to your great-grandfather’s deal with the leprechaun.”

He chuckled. “Remarkable. You’ve hit it on the nose!”

“Well, to be honest, your college ring with the large 1997 engraved on it helped a great deal. I assumed twenty-two years of age at graduation and did some arithmetic from there.”

“Clever, funny, and beautiful. Quite a combination. Toss in the brogue and you’re practically irresistible.”

“Now who’s the flatterer, Mr. Hennessey? Don’t forget, your mother’s just over there.”

All in all, we both seemed to be quite enjoying ourselves, but I wasn’t prepared to let myself get attached just yet. I was tired, and the third whiskey was having its effect on me.

As I drained the last drops from the glass I said, “I thank you and your mum very much for the drink, James Michael, but I should really be heading home.” I stood up and placed my purse strap over my shoulder.

“You’re very welcome, Rose. It was a pleasure chatting with you.” James Michael stood as well, and we shook hands again. “I’d very much like to continue our conversation another time.”

“Well, I believe I’d enjoy that myself. I assume you come here often? Family connection and all.”

“A fair assumption. I expect I’ll be here again tomorrow evening around this time. Perhaps you’ll give me the opportunity to guess your age?”

“Perhaps I will. Good night, James Michael. And good night, Sophie,” I called out as I headed for the door. “Thank you very kindly.”

I walked out into the night, crossed the street and entered my apartment building. As I was riding up the elevator, I realized I was whistling. Had been since leaving The Woodridge. True, I’d had one more glass of whiskey than usual, but not enough to make me silly. Whistling was not (still is not) something I normally do. There was something about James Michael Hennessey, though. As I fell asleep in my bed, I imagined he was there with me, and it was nice.

James Michael:

Tuesday nights at The Woodridge were usually about as exciting as yesterday’s toast. But I had plans to meet Rose O’Leary, which felt quite exciting indeed. When she’d caught my attention at the bar the night before, she’d had her dark curls held up on the back of her head with one of those butterfly clips, and she was wearing a plain black t-shirt and jeans. I’d never seen a more naturally glamorous woman. Now I saw her walking toward me, wearing a short, sleeveless yellow dress made from some shiny material. It was like looking into the sun. High heels in a color to match the dress. And her hair was hanging in thick curls, like an ebony halo around her heart-shaped face. You could say she had kicked the glamour up a notch.

I stood up from my barstool to greet her. “Hello, Rose. You look stunning.”

“Hello, James Michael. Thank you very much for noticing.”

We settled into our seats at the end of the bar and I asked her, “What will you have to drink this evening? Whiskey again?”

“Lovely, yes, please.” She glanced around the room. “Is it still on the house, without your mum on the bar?”

“Indeed. Tonight, we have the pleasure of being served by my brother-in-law, the redoubtable Declan. Hey, Dec,” I called. “A whiskey for the beautiful lady, and another stout for me, please.”

“Truly a family affair,” Rose said. “How long has your mother owned the place?”

“About five years. She’s tended bar here since before I was born, though. In fact, she met my father here, serving him drinks. It was called the Golden Cup then. She used to be here almost every day or evening, now she’s cut back to just Mondays.”

Declan brought our drinks, and I made the introductions. “Dec, this is Rose O’Leary, from Belfast by way of Chicago. Rose, meet Declan O’Dowd.”

“Pleased to meet you, Declan,” Rose said. “Another good Irish name. I almost feel like I’m home.”

“Pleased to meet you, Rose,” Declan said. Then, with a mischievous smirk, “I should warn you about James Michael. If you haven’t already noticed, he’s a talker. You can’t believe half of what he tells you about himself, and none of what he tells you about me. And whatever you do, don’t leave any cash or valuables lying around. He can’t be trusted.”

Declan and I have known each other so long we’re like brothers. We’re always bantering like this, playfully insulting each other. For a moment I wasn’t sure if Rose would understand Declan was only kidding. I needn’t have worried.

“Ah, thank you for the warning,” she said with a sly grin. “I’ll be sure to keep my guard up.”

“Thanks so much for the support, Dec,” I said sarcastically. “Much appreciated. Now be on your way.”

Declan smiled, pleased with himself, and headed to the other end of the bar.

I turned toward Rose and asked, “Have you had dinner yet? The prime rib here is top notch.”

“Let me guess. Your grandfather is the chef?”

I laughed. “No, no family members in the kitchen. I used to wash dishes and bus tables when I was in school, but that’s a few years ago, as you know.”

“And Declan, your brother-in-law. Is he your sister’s husband? Or your wife’s brother?”

“Is this your clever way of tricking me into admitting I’m married?”

“Could be. Wouldn’t be the first time a married man flirted with a single girl from out of town.”

“Fair enough,” I admitted. “Truth be told, he’s not technically a brother-in-law yet. He and my sister Kay have been hanging around each other so long, it’s as if they’re married. But there’s no ring, and no contract. And I, Miss Rose O’Leary—” I doffed an imaginary hat and performed a mock bow “—am entirely unencumbered by either spouse or girlfriend. I am one hundred percent available.”

“You are a talker. Declan was right about that.”

She smiled then, and I heard angels singing. As she sipped her whiskey, I found myself fascinated by the curve of her neck as it sloped toward her shoulder. “I have a confession to make, Rose.”

“Ah, confessions already. So early in our acquaintance.” She paused to think. “You’ve only got four toes on your left foot? You’re about to be sentenced to a long jail term for embezzlement? You’re a Republican?”

“No. I confess I have a very strong desire to touch your hair.”

She smiled the sweetest smile I’d ever seen. “I’ll not stop you.”

I reached up and tucked one wayward curl behind her ear. “It’s lovely.”

“It’s wild and rebellious,” she said, somewhat ruefully.

“Yes, exactly. I imagine because it’s an extension of you? Are you wild and rebellious?”

“I suppose I can be.”

A moment passed while I continued to admire her hair and weighed my options regarding a second, potentially dangerous confession. Right or wrong, I decided the truth would be the best choice. “Rose, I know you’re Owen O’Leary’s daughter.”

Her smile disappeared. She looked down at her whiskey glass. “You’ve done some research, I see.”

“A bit. I called my colleague in Derry. He says there was talk for a while that you were working for your father when you were a teenager, but no one has seen or heard from you in some time. You’re a bit of a mystery there, in fact.”

Her voice became unreadable, flat and icy, as she said, “So, I’m wild, rebellious, and mysterious. Does that make you more interested in getting to know me? Or less?”

“Oh, more. Much more.”

Her eyes narrowed a bit and her lips curved up slightly at the corners, which I felt signaled a thawing of the ice. “And what, specifically, would you like to know?” she asked.

I hesitated, sensitive to the fragility of this new acquaintance, as she called it. Had I gone too far by asking my Derry contact to investigate her background? And had I been wrong to tell her about what I’d learned? Why should I care who her father was, anyway?

“Rose, you fascinate me. I’m not entirely sure why. Something about you, though, has me entranced. I apologize, I shouldn’t have snooped. It’s none of my business who your father is, and you have every right to be upset with me.” Hoping to lighten the mood, I placed a hand on my heart and said, “I plead guilty and ask the court’s forgiveness.”

“I accept your plea and postpone sentencing for the moment.” Rose seemed to be weighing how to proceed, but she hadn’t left so all was not lost. “What do you know about my father?”

“Only what was in the newspapers when he died. I know he’s believed to have been behind most of the organized crime in Belfast from the early nineties up until his death a few years ago. I know many people were afraid of him—and many are still afraid of O’Leary Trucking. The distillery my company has been working with tells us the reason they want to expand into the US is they refuse to pay O’Leary Trucking’s extortion and can’t get local distribution without them.”

Rose looked around the room for a moment, as if buying time. She ran her finger around the rim of her whiskey glass, then lifted it and took a sip.

Turning to face me she spoke slowly, “My father wasn’t a good man, James Michael. But he was a good father to me. I went to work for him when I turned sixteen, doing what you might call ‘odd jobs.’ Five years ago, as you know, he died. I took the opportunity to move to America and get away from my uncles. I found work in Chicago with some associates of my father’s, but the last assignment they gave me left a bad taste in my mouth. So, I decided to come east and try to start over.” She turned back toward the bar and slipped her hand inside the small purse that hung from the back of her chair. “I understand if you’d rather not get involved with an O’Leary, given your business in Ireland. I do thank you for the drink.”

She began to stand, but I laid a hand on her forearm.

“Wait, please. One more confession,” I begged, deciding to gamble it all. “I know we just met yesterday, but I think I’m falling in love with you.”

“Love, is it?” she said with a laugh as she sat back down and placed both hands on the bar, alongside her empty glass. “Let’s not rush, things, Mr. Hennessey. I’ll tell you what. Have your friend Declan pour me another whiskey, and then you can tell me your life story, since you already know mine. If it’s love we’re working on, it’s only fair I know as much about you as you do about me, don’t you think?”

Declan:

Here’s the thing about James Michael: In most areas of his life, he’s the most level-headed person ever. A lot like his sister that way. And, he’s smart. Maybe too smart. But in his personal life, and especially when it comes to women, he’s downright stupid.

Believe me, I know a thing or two about stupid. When James Michael told me he was meeting a woman— a “raven-haired beauty from Ireland”—I was both curious and skeptical. In the past, James Michael’s idea of beautiful has been any woman who would speak to him. But when Rose walked in wearing that little yellow dress, I had to admit she was a looker.

They’d been there for almost an hour, at the dark end of the bar, when he called me over. I’d noticed what seemed like a tense moment a while before—she had seemed on the verge of leaving, but had apparently changed her mind. James Michael can be charming, in his way.

As I approached, he said, “Dec, help me out. Rose doesn’t believe me. Tell her I’ve never had a serious girlfriend.”

“It’s true,” I said. “All his girlfriends have been comedians. Not a serious one in the bunch. Serious girls would never go out with a clown like him.”

“Interesting,” she replied, playing along. “I guess I’ve no chance then. I’m rarely even amusing.”

She was as likable as they come. Cute, sexy, smart, and quick witted. Drank her whiskey neat, too. Like a dream come true for ol’ James Michael.

“Another strike against you would be the fact James Michael never dates attractive women,” I added, with a wink.

“Oh, now Declan. I’m not prepared to be flirted with by two men at the same time.”

“Fair enough.” I reached under the bar for some menus. “Will either of you be ordering anything to eat this evening?”

Rose:

“Well, that was a fine meal, to be sure,” I said as we finished eating dinner. “You were right about the prime rib, James Michael.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

As Declan took away our empty plates, I realized my hand had been resting on James Michael’s for I didn’t know how long, and I had no desire to move it. His relaxed manner and obvious sincerity had almost completely disarmed me. I mean, not literally. The gun was still in my purse. But for the first time many years I almost wished it wasn’t.

“I like your eyes, James Michael. They’re very kind.”

He blushed a bit but didn’t look away. I took this as an invitation and leaned in to kiss him on the cheek, aiming for the spot where his dimple was hiding. He apparently took this as an invitation, and turned his face slightly so my kiss landed on his lips. Neither of us seemed to mind a bit.

He gently brushed my check with his soft hand, then replaced the same rebellious curl behind my ear. “Rose, would you like to get out of here? Go someplace where we can be alone? I know I would.”

“Indeed, I would James Michael. Indeed, I would.”

I’ll not tell you more of what transpired that evening.

James Michael:

Yellow morning light was seeping around the edges of pale blue curtains.

A ceiling fan was rotating slowly, directly over my head.

The walls were painted light green, with a white chair-rail.

Curly black hair was covering the pillow beside mine, the face of an angel hidden within its tangles.

I brushed the curls away and kissed the cheek of this miraculous vision.

She smiled, eyes still closed, and said, “I must have died and gone to heaven.”

“If you think this is heavenly, wait until you taste the breakfast I’m about to cook for you,” I said as I began to roll out of bed.

She moved closer to me, pulled her arm tightly around my chest. “You’ll have to escape this bed first.”

Rolling back to face her, I wrapped my arms around her. “I suppose breakfast can wait.”

Brian Mosher is a writer and poet whose work has appeared or will appear soon in Rituals (from Anomaly Poetry), Coneflower Cafe, Written Tales, Oddball Magazine, eMerge, Alien Buddha Zine, Esoterica Magazine, Half and One Magazine and Verse Wrights. His poetry chapbook, “Dreams and Other Magic” (2023) is published by Alien Buddha Press.

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