Paid in Full

By Bosley Gravel

 

Irish Crevan wiped up a puddle of beer with a dry rag; the stranger dropped a gold coin on the counter.  He looked up–she could have been from the old country, a great bramble of red hair snarled around her head, giving it a kind of unbalanced appearance, as if her thin white neck was not up to the task of keeping her head from tilting to and fro.

“Whiskey,” she said.  “And not the rot-gut.”

Crevan picked up the coin, and examined it in the scant light.  It was early in the evening yet and the only patrons were working on bowls of fried potatoes served by the China Boy who Crevan had employed to both cook and clean.  The coin had a hole in the center, as if a nail had been driven through it.  He bit down, and felt it give, then turned it over in his hand.  The coin looked like it had been through a lot more than she had.  She wore new blue denim pants, a loose calico blouse that covered her good bits (though there was evidence enough of their ample mass), and around her neck a leather string disappeared into a valley of freckled flesh.

“It’s real,” she said.

“I don’t have change,” he lied.

“That’s okay, gimme me a full bottle of hooch, and the rest is for the house.”

“Yes, ma’am.”  She must be drunk already, he thought.  She could have bought a case of whiskey when the supply train came in. Then again, she’d have to wait as much as a month.  Maybe she was just crazy; traveling alone in the West could do that to a person.  He put a fresh bottle on the bar, pulled the cork, and a found her a clean glass.

“Sourdough Iona they call me.  I can see you wondering about that name, about the coin too.  Not much gold like that in these parts.”

Crevan nodded and dropped the coin into his till, where it clanked heartily.

“You think I’m a fool, I could have bought six bottles of whiskey for that.  Well, let me tell you, Mr . . .”

“Irish Crevan,” Crevan said.

“. . . Mr. Irish Crevan, let me tell you–that gold always comes back to me.”

“Is that right?”

“How is it said? Ní bhíonn airgead amadáin i bhfad ina phóca.” Sure, me and that coin get parted, but the foolish must blow off in the breeze, and the gold comes right back to me one way or another.”

Crevan poured two fingers of whiskey into the glass, and pushed it towards Iona.  Perhaps she had another gold coin or two, and if not, she certainly had much softer treasures hidden about her body.  She took the whiskey down in a single swallow and smacked her lips to reveal a row of straight white teeth, sullied only by a missing incisor.  He poured her another drink; she let it sit for the moment.  As she looked over her shoulder at the patrons eating with their hands, the China Boy swept up peanut shells and broken glass. 

“I see you’re an honest man,” she said, “and a fellow Bog-jumper.”  She tugged gently at her leather necklace, pulling it up until the end was revealed: a tiny handmade box that looked strangely like a doll’s coffin.  She unclasped it, set it on the counter the long way down.  It looked as if the lid might slide open; she took her whiskey again, and showed Irish Crevan her best smile.

“What is it?” he asked, and filled her cup again.

“A buttery spirit,” she said cheerfully.  “When I was but a wee servant girl back in Ireland, I, as often as not, would help myself to the master’s wine—”

Iona emptied her cup; Crevan filled it.

“That is to say, this Clurichaun would torment me to no end because of this minor indiscretion—”

“A leprechaun?  What did he do, then?” Crevan said with a smirk.

“Indeed, one of the small folk.  He would pinch my most delicate parts when I rested.  If you catch my meaning, sir.”

Crevan’s smirk was now stuck fast, he said, “And I suppose, Sourdough Iona, that is what is in that wee box?”

“The same,” she said and quaffed her whiskey where it compounded to a grin.  “Listen then,” she put her ear just above the tiny box.  “He snores.”

Irish Crevan waved her away to give him space, and when she was clear put his own ear down until it almost touched the box.  Faintly, very faintly, but unquestionably, he heard a noise very much like the snores of a drunkard who had finally found some peace in the evil brew.  He pulled back sharply, as if his ear had been burned.

Iona poured whiskey into the cup and pushed it toward Crevan.  He looked at it for some seconds, then to the box, then drank the whiskey down, and let it settle.

“It’s a beetle,” he said, “or clockwork.”

He nodded up and down; she mimicked his movement, then shook her head the other way.

“Isn’t though, I lured him with a thimble full of whiskey on the windowsill, just like my Ma’s Ma said.  Next morning, I found him asleep, the whiskey gone, of course.”

As evidence, she produced a well worn porcelain thimble from her pocket, and set it down next to the little box.  With a steady eye and hand, she took the bottle of whiskey, and filled the thimble without spilling a drop. 

“Best to have a drink for him, he’ll be full of piss when he finds out I gave his piece of gold away . . . again.”

“Again?”

“Oh yes, how do you think it comes back to me?  It wasn’t but ten days ago I traded it for this new set of clothes.  And it wasn’t but ten hours ago, I traded it for bottle of Dr. Sneevle’s Motion-of-the-ocean-love-potion-strong-devotion-sweet-notion-fix-it-all-elixir, with just a touch of laudanum, of course.  And it wasn’t but ten minutes ago I bought a bottle of whiskey from the trusting Irish Crevan.  This Clurichaun and I, we treat each other well enough, we both wanted to be away from the old country, the stinking bogs, the starvin’, the warring, and the church.  We belong to this warm dry land now, and it belongs to us, as I to him and him to I.  But he does love his gold, and he always gets it back.”

“I see then,” Crevan said, and gave the little box a sharp rap with his fingertip.

“You mean to wake him up?” she asked.

“If there’s a leprechaun in there, I’ll give you the coin back, lassie, and with great pleasure.” 

He matched her drink.

“There wasn’t much left of the tailor’s shop when he was done.  The tailor was afraid of thieves and locked up his coins in an old iron safe box.  It’s never proper for a lady to be overly gruesome, but I’ll say the fellow spun the lock-wheel with the only two fingers and thumb, all that he had left—”

The box on the table jumped, just as Sourdough Iona raised up her hand to illustrate how the tailor had spun the lock.  She screwed up her face into a comically grim rictus.  Crevan jumped back both eyes on the box, but it was still now.

“–that is to say, he was all too happy to return the coin,” she said lowering her hand.

“And what of Dr. Sneevle?” Crevan said, his Adam’s apple bobbing.

One drink for her; one drink for him.

“Dr. Sneevle, he was a smart man, educated one would imagine, being a doctor and all.  Maybe the buzzards and the worms will benefit from all that learning, now.  Because he sure won’t.  I’ll tell you, too, there are few things his Motion-of-the-ocean-love-potion-strong-devotion-sweet-notion-fix-it-all-elixir won’t cure.  And he saw whole lot of them all at once.”

She pondered distantly, meeting Crevan’s eye; she licked her teeth and smiled.

“A really smart man,” she said rather softly, with much reason, “A truly smart man would just hand back that gold piece, and spare himself the trouble.”

She took the final jolt of amber liquid from the bottle, and turned it over on its side, spit once to her left, and grinned, shaking her bramble of hair.

“Now it could be, it’s like you said, I’ve got clockwork in the box.” She tapped it, doddering, showing the whiskey had at least some effect on her hands, if not her speech.  The thimble full of whiskey nearly toppled from the vibration. 

“Careful,” Crevan said, “careful now.”

“Could be,” she tapped again, and the box shook a little in response–so Crevan thought, “Could be I’ve got it on a bit of horse hair, sleight of hand, like a three card marney dealer, and I’m making it dance and jitter . . . or it could be, just the other way around, and every word I say could be true, eh’ Irish Crevan.  So, sir, what’s it going to be?”

Irish Crevan turned, looked to the bottles on the shelf behind him, then to himself in the mirror, then just to the side of himself where Sourdough Iona grinned in the reflection, then to his till.  He sucked up the smells of the bar, whiskey, old barf, hay, fried potatoes, and the smell of hard men who worked hard days.  Finally, he grinned.

“Iona,” he said, as he pulled the lever on his cash box and waited for the bell.  “Your whiskey is bought and paid in full. I’m paying you to not tell me what’s in that wee box.”

He put the coin down, and slid it to her.

“It’s been twenty years since I believed in fairies,” he said.

She carefully picked up the coin, and hooked it on her necklace through the hole, then very carefully picked up the little box, and hooked that on her necklace and tucked the whole works into those freckled folds of white. 

She carefully picked up the thimble, tipped her tiny cup to Irish Crevan.

“Then goodnight,” she said, winked and drank down the last of the whiskey.

“Goodnight,” he said.

Sourdough Iona stood and curtsied.  And, despite the volume of whiskey in her belly, walked a straight line to the door and took her leave.

 

____________________________________________________________

 

Bosley Gravel, eclectic hack writer, was born in the Midwest, and came of age in Texas and southern New Mexico. He writes in a variety of genres. His fiction focuses on the absurdly tragic, and the tragically absurd. He likes good black coffee, nightmares, Billie Holiday, and that hour just before the sun comes up. Look for his debut literary novel “The Movie” from BeWrite Books (for pre-Christmas Release), and see a catalog of his published fiction at http://www.ripcot.com.

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Published on June 27, 2009 at 9:46 am  Leave a Comment  

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