The Runner

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“Nice place you got here, I must say. You’ve done well for yourselves. A bit underground and dark like. But grand. Think they’d call this a growlery, where you can put your feet up and enjoy a pint and complain about the government.”

Sean settled back in the comfortable easy chair and glanced around the rec room. He held a glass of porter from which he drank a small sip.

“That’s a tradition here in this country as well, Sean,” his host replied taking a long pull on his own pint and draining the dark liquid nearly by half. “Slamming the regime.”

“And how are the boys, Liam? Grown lads now, eh?”

“That’s right, Sean, you wouldn’t have seen them these past ten year, would you? Thick as thieves, they are. Gavin is twenty-five y’know, and Ferhghal’s a year behind.”

“Grand. Brilliant. Work together, play together?”

Eilis with detectable reverence in her voice said, “Oh, that they do. They even moved in together.”

Liam took another taste of the dark malt and said, “Family. That’s what it is. Family is all that counts, y’know.”

“Well,” Eilis continued, “This country suits them.”

“This city, y’mean.” Liam was not defensive; he was merely explaining. “San Francisco is like nectar to bees when it comes to young people having their nights out. The two of ’em got an apartment and Gav has his own little computer programming business with Ferhghal in school at university. So we help him along. Doesn’t earn anything much to speak of.”

Eilis took over the conversation. “We have been able to take them back six times over the years to meet their gramps. But the Old Sod means nuttin’ to ’em. It’s all the here and the now and the iPods to them.”

In the background a fiddler wove an ancient tune and the three listened quietly for a moment. Then Liam stood and walked over to the liquor cabinet. He retrieved a brown quart size bottle and two glass tumblers. Sean lowered the pint from his lips when he saw the pour and saluted with his beer glass.

Liam handed one shot over and lifted the other, inhaled deeply through his nostrils and bared his teeth with a grin. “Ah, ’tis mother’s milk it is. A single malt you can be sure.”

Sean looked at Eilis as if she might want a spot, but she smiled weakly. “Oh, no, I’m a Pioneer. Well, at least ye quit tobacco,” she said firmly. “Ye have done, ha’n’t ye Sean? I know Liam has these past five year I think it’s been, hasn’t it dear?”

There was a brief silence in which Sean did not reply and Liam feigned indifference. He did not want his friend to think it mattered to him, because it did not matter whether or not he continued the habit. At last Liam said, “Now, now Lesh, don’t be botherin’ the man. You’re always botherin’ and pokin’ and sneakin’ and askin’ what none of us men folk want to tell or reveal.”

Eilis rose to her feet, straightened her skirt nonchalantly. “That’ll be his Majesty’s hint it’s time for me to do me shopping.” She held her hand out for Sean to bid goodbye. “I’ll see you when I get back, won’t I?”

Sean looked at Liam for the answer. Liam shook his head no, said, “Sean has an appointment to keep. We have some business to attend and then he’ll be off. So no, but if not this visit, certainly in a few months when he comes round again, right Sean-o?”

The Scotch was about to meet Sean’s lips when he halted before swallowing. He lifted the glass in acknowledgment toward Eilis and with a gentlemanly gesture and a great big smile said, “Right-o to that. Goodnight, Eilis. Was great having a chatwitcha.”

As soon as the door was firmly shut behind her, Liam rose and bolted it. “Can’t be too careful,” he said mysteriously as he pulled a thin cigarette from his breast pocket. “Tobacco, yes, I quit. Smoking dope I d’n’t. Care to toke one up with me?”

Liam lit the joint and inhaled deeply, passed it over to Sean. A new piece of music began playing in the background. The lyric refrain was “Send lawyers, guns and money.”

Sean said delightedly, “Warren Zevon. I loove it! Reminds me of me youth.” He held his breath and passed the joint back.

Liam accepted it, said, “Y’know what’s really boring? James Taylor singing ‘Going to Carolina in my Mind.’” He sucked in a lungful and with the exhale added, “Really really fookin’ boring.”

* * *

Gavin was engrossed in the computer screen.

Ferhghal said, “You know you’ve got a problem bro. Ever since I started working for Kroc you have been pissing away your money on some really stupid spreads.” A few seconds elapsed with no response. He said insistently and loudly, “Are you listening to me? Hunh? You listening?”

Gavin tore his nose away from the screen only when Ferhghal’s hand grabbed the mouse and held it from him. “Gimme that back. I’m in the middle of an important workout here. I have to pick Miami over Green Bay in five minutes and get you out the door or the Crocodile won’t take my bet. Why the hell doesn’t he use email or a cell phone like everyone else? I’d have more time if he’d take book the modern way. What is he, a fuckin’ Luddite?”

His brother released the mouse with the validity of the argument. “That’s what I’m talking about, Gav. You don’t give a shit that you lost ten big ones this week, do you?”

The money fact caused Gavin to react. “It’s deductible.”

Ferhghal sneered at this. “How the hell are your gambling losses deductible?”

“It isn’t gambling. It’s research. I asked my accountant. I write game programs. I have to play the games if I expect to make a great internet app.”

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