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Boston Banshee: A St. Patrick’s Day Mystery Short Story

IN THE March 14 ISSUE

FROM THE 2015 Articles,
andMysteryrat's Maze,
andTerrific Tales
SECTIONS

by Nancy Brewka-Clark

Enjoy this never before published mystery short story.

“Okay.” Jackie squinted at the greasy card she’d just picked from the pile of trivia questions. The bartender, Timmy O’Toole, always pulled the pack out once a year and spread the questions under their yellowed laminated coats around the bar at random, a clump here and a clump there. “What’s small and green and has a wicked sense of humor?”

“That lizard from the insurance ads,” the guy sitting next to her said. “Actually I’d like to pop him one in the mouth. Rubs me the wrong way, you know?”leprechaun

“The answer’s a leprechaun. You’re not driving, are you?” Jackie asked as Timmy set down another green beer in front of him. Even she had to admit that the more you drank, the better those boiled dinners tasted later on, slabs of corned beef as stringy as they were salty, stewed cabbage the sickly hue of a faded Celtics banner, potatoes as gray as the March snowbanks.

“Yeah. No. I mean maybe I’ll get lucky.” The guy hid his leer by burying his mouth in the head of pea green foam.

“Yeah, maybe you will,” she said. Sliding off the stool, she murmured in his ear, “Gotta go out for a smoke. Save my seat.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure.”

Digging her stiletto boot heels into the icy sidewalk, Jackie scanned the cars parked up and down the narrow street. Sam was out there somewhere. They’d been together so long she could feel him watching her even if there wasn’t a single thing to prove it. Somehow he’d know that she found the guy she’s been dreaming of for months. He always knew. “Back off,” she addressed the cold night air. A few snowflakes whirled down, big lacy ones like they were left over from last month’s holiday. “Let me do this. Don’t ruin it.”snowy street

When she walked back into the bar, she saw with a little thrill of satisfaction that the guy had kept her seat for her. So, she still had it after all. “Hey,” he called, “Red, over here, remember?” When he grinned, his teeth flashed like a pirate’s, white in the dark stubble of a three-day beard. “Thought you gave me the slip.”

“No way.” Sliding onto the stool, Jackie stifled the urge to fluff her curls, professionally colored just that morning to a rich auburn. She’d sprung for the emerald contact lenses a few years ago when she’d been on a similar hunt. Already knowing the answer, she asked, “So, you from around here?”

His accent was almost as thick as a TV comic’s when he said, “Yeah, I’m from Southie, born and raised there in a triple decker right by the old Expressway.”

“A triple dekkah,” she said, hoisting the bottle of non-alcoholic beer to her lips. “Yeah, me, too, except I’m from across the river. Cambridge.”beer

“Oh, hoity-toity, huh, pahked ya cah in Hah-vahd Yahd and all that?” He laughed at his own stale joke.

“Not exactly.” She leaned in toward him. “You superstitious?”

“Huh?” He drew away from her a little, as if the question offended him somehow. “What’d you ask that for?”

“I don’t know.” She shrugged, lifting the bottle to her lips. “I guess it’s the tattoos.”

He looked down at his hands like he’d never seen them before. “What about them?”

Maybe she’d jumped the gun, shown too much interest too fast, but there was no point in trying to backpedal. It would only make him more suspicious and the last thing she wanted was for him to up and leave. Sam would rub her nose in it forever. “Celtic knots are really cool, that’s all.”celtic knot

The guy smiled a little, flexing his fingers before bunching them into fists. “See, when I do this, they look like brass knuckles.”

“So they do.” Jackie batted her fake eyelashes at him. “I’ve got a shamrock tatt, you know.”

“Yeah?” He grinned. “Where?”

“You shouldn’t be asking those things.” She let her shoulder in its thick black leather jacket rub his for an instant. “There’s more than one kind of luck, you know.”

“Hey.” He pulled away a little. “Don’t want to hear about it.”

“Bad luck, you mean?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

“Why? You figure you’ve had more than your share?” She leaned into him again.

He shrugged. “Hey, I’m Irish. We roll with the punches,” he laughed, “when we’re not throwing ‘em.”

“So, you’re a fighter, not a lover?” Jackie let her hand hover above his for a moment before pressing the palm of her hand against the tattoo. “I thought Irishmen were both.”

He looked from their joined hands into her face. “Say, what’s your name again?”

“I was baptized Josephine Bridget O’Shea.” She wiggled a little on the stool, happy with her lie. “But they call me Banshee.”

He frowned. “Banshee. Man, that’s a weird nickname. Isn’t that, like, a werewolf or something?”

Her red mouth opened wide in mock surprise. “Is that what you think?” She hummed a little under her breath before picking up the emerald bottle. “Do I look like I sprout fur and go around howling at the full moon?”bar evening

He had the grace to look embarrassed. “So, what’s a banshee?”

“Wait.” She held up a hand. “Before I go telling you my life story, how about you at least tell me your name?”

“Bill. William Xavier Kelly.” He gulped the last of the beer and held up the mug. “So, why Banshee?”

“It’s a long, crazy story, William Xavier Kelly. You really want to know?”

She watched his eyes flick to the big-screen HDTVs mounted on the corners above the bar, Celtics vs. the Clippers on one, Bruins vs. the Kings on the other, sound turned off so that the athletes spun and jumped and pumped their arms at random. “Sure,” he said. “Tell me. I got all night.”

“First why don’t we get a couple more beers? I’m buying.” After Timmy put the bottles in front of her and swept the two tightly folded twenties off the bar, she said, “So, when my great-great-great-grandparents got off the boat from County Cork–”beer pulls

“Whoa.” He held up a hand. “I said all night, not all month.”

Jackie pretended to laugh. “Well, anyway, we all know that in those days Boston had no use for the Irish. ‘No Irish need apply,’ that’s what the signs said. They started thinking they’d escaped the Potato Famine only to starve to death over here. But, you see, Bill, my many-times-removed granny had the Sight. You know what that is, right?”

“I’ve heard of it,” he said flatly. “But I don’t believe in it. Nobody can see the future.”

“Well, the thing of it is, some people can.” When he snorted, she said, “People from all walks of life, not just dirt-poor Irish, started coming round to ask Granny one question. And they’d pay her for the answer. You see, she was a real-life banshee.” She stared him straight in the eye. “She knew when people were going to die.”

“Get out.” The guy took a mouthful of beer, hunching over it like a caveman protecting a bone he’d pick clean in private.

“She could take one look at a person and tell them how many years, how many months, even how many days they had left. Sometimes the news was good, very good, ‘Oh, never be frettin’, Mrs. Peabody, ye’ve got annither thirty-two years and seven months afore y’ meet yer Maker,’ and then other times…”beer

She let her voice drift away in the buzz and roar.

“Other times, what? She scared them to death on the spot?” Bill laughed.

“You tell me.” Jackie’s emerald eyes bored into his. “It’s come right down the line, like red hair and green eyes. You know what? William Xavier Kelly’s going to die.” Leaning even closer, she whispered, “Tonight.”

When she reached into her jacket, he tried to jump up but the crowd was penning him in. Still trying to back off his stool, he took a swing at her snarling, “You’re crazy, lady.”

In an instant half the bar was down on him like a pack of dogs on a ferret. As the guy struggled to break free, Boston Detective Jacqueline Mary Noonan flashed her badge. “What are you so scared of? You’re not William Xavier Kelly. You made him up. And, hey, guess what? I’m not a lady. I’m a cop. Peter Vincent McNally, I’m arresting you for indecent assault and battery, assault on an elderly person over sixty and robbery.”

As she read him his rights, Jackie remembered the misery he caused in the short time he worked as a night porter in the nursing home where her mother resided. As she cuffed him, she thought for the thousandth time how brave her mother had been. She’d pretended to be in a drugged sleep while hands tattooed with chains of Celtic knots roamed over her before removing the gold cross at her throat, her diamond engagement ring and her wedding band.

Just as she started to push the guy through the crowd, her longtime partner Detective Samuel Clancy barged through the door on a blast of cold air, waving his badge. When their eyes met, she mouthed, “Happy St. Patrick’s Day.”

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.

Nancy Brewka-Clark’s first short mystery appeared in The Boston Globe Magazine in 1983. Her most recent mystery, Is Jim Dead?, was performed as a flash comedy in 2013 at the Brooklyn College Department of Theater Gi60 International Theatre Festival. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 JimNo Gravatar March 14, 2015 at 12:26pm

This is a great read- short and what a twist. I’m going to look for more of Nancy’s work. Highly recommended!

Reply

2 Nancy ClarkNo Gravatar March 16, 2015 at 4:33pm

Thank you so much, Jim.

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3 Earl StaggsNo Gravatar March 15, 2015 at 7:05am

Neat story, Nancy, with good characterization.
A recent post from Earl Staggs: AN INTERVIEW WITH TALL CHAMBERSMy Profile

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4 Nancy ClarkNo Gravatar March 16, 2015 at 4:33pm

Earl, I appreciate your comments-thank you.

Reply

5 Madeline (M.M.) GornellNo Gravatar
Twitter: @mmgornell
March 15, 2015 at 10:43am

Good story! Enjoyed a lot.

Reply

6 Nancy ClarkNo Gravatar March 16, 2015 at 4:34pm

Madeline, Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and for liking my work.

Reply

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