|The reaction reserved for unexpected guests|
The errand was an escape, and Fr. Kevin was grateful for it. He was sick to death of watching Ian entertain the ladies with amusing little anecdotes and pun-ny witticisms , and when he pulled out a length of clothes line to do some silly rope tricks, the priest knew he needed to get out. Maureen's request to run over to the deli to pick up some items for supper afforded him an excuse to leave, and though he offered to walk the twelve blocks to the Mega-Mart on 5th and Central, her insistence otherwise found him making due with a short jaunt to Schiller's and the Beckett's apartment above it.
He was determined to lengthen the experience as much as possible, so he made it a point to stop along the way to chat with neighbors, admire the current state of their vegetable gardens, and gush over photos of the latest grandchildren. When he finally reached the deli a block and a half away, he had managed to whittle away nearly an hour, and a text from his sister reminded him she was still waiting for her groceries, and that dinner was now going to be later than planned.
Mo had asked him to retrieve her small roaster from under the sink, and he headed toward the back of the property to make his way up to their flat. As he unlocked the door, he heard the distinctive clang of metal on metal coming from the large garage situated a few feet from the main building. He stopped in mid-step, alarm settling itself around him. The structure was his brother-in-law's private space, a venue you did not breach uninvited. Several months ago, Beckett had gutted the small brick building, creating a personal gym and office of sorts, a spot he often retreated to when the confines of the small studio apartment felt restrictive. He doubted more than a handful of people had ever been inside, he himself only given a brief stationary tour when the remodel was finished. The fact that someone was inside now, when Beckett himself was off somewhere with the Fay, was a serious situation
Fr. Kevin reached for his phone, first impulse being to call the Sheriff's office about a possible break-in. Then, he abruptly shoved the cell back into his pocket. He knew his brother-in-law. The last thing he'd want was for a bunch of his underlings milling about his stuff. When it came to privacy, Beckett was near psychotic, and so the priest decided to investigate on his own before involving anyone else. Maybe it was just one of the Schillers, inside with landlord's privilege, or possibly a neighborhood kid bent on mischief.
He tip-toed across the tiny plot of grass, careful not to step on his sister's patch of rose garden, and peered into the corner of the window. Instead of seeing inside, his own reflection stared back at him. What looked like ordinary windows to the outside world were instead paned with a kind of special privacy glass. It should have surprised him, but it didn't. There had always been something odd about Ted Beckett. He'd known the man nearly three years, thought of him as friend, if anyone could use that term to describe Ted, and considered him family since his marriage to his sister. But as far as personal information went, the guy was pretty much a complete stranger. He held his personal history, as well as his emotions and thoughts, completely in check, and the few glimmers Kevin had of the man's personality left him troubled.
The view being blocked, the priest pushed his ear against the glass, trying instead to distinguish what might be going on by sound alone. He could still hear the rhythmic bang of what was surely weights, and the underlying sound of someone breathing deeply. Whoever was inside was obviously using one of the weight machines, and that realization caused him to relax. It was unlikely a thief or someone up to no good would take the time to use exercise equipment. Before he could process that thought, he found himself in a choke hold, his source of air cut off, and something cold and metal poking in his ribs.
Roxanne tried to concentrate on the conversation at hand, something about brewing ale, a long complicated dissertation that Maureen seemed more interested in than she. Instead, she was focused on his hands. Large and strong, callused, and deeply tanned. The hands of a man who worked out of doors. She watched as he used them to describe the process of fermentation, nodding just enough to give the impression she was paying attention.
Charming and sweet, he had tried to entertain them with some rope tricks using a piece of old clothes line that he found in the cluttered rooms over the rectory garage. Though he was quite good, all she could think about were those hands. The long slender fingers in control of the rope, the way his thumb slid over the fibers, the cording of the muscles when he pulled both ends tight. How it might be to have those hands on her came to mind. It had made her go all gooey inside, the room suddenly too warm despite the air conditioner in the window blowing directly on her.
It was utterly ridiculous. The whole situation. She was still recuperating from surgery, banged up and bandaged, a tangle of tubes still running from both arms, confined to a hospital bed in a strange bedroom. No. Not strange. Kevin's bedroom. In the rectory. With Ian's beautiful hands sitting across from her. It was too weird, and it made her sweat.
Across the room, Maureen pulled out her phone, and checked the time. "I wonder what's keeping Kevin? He's been gone almost an hour already. At this rate, it'll be after 7 before we eat dinner." She pecked out a text message, and then rose from the chair, heading toward the door. "I'm gonna go down and put some water on to boil. Hopefully, my errant brother will return soon with the groceries." She turned and looked at them both, and catching Roxanne's eye, the flush to her cheeks, grinned. "You guys good to wait until dinner, or should I fix a little snack?"
Food? No. No food. How could she think about food with those hands resting on the side of the bed, inches away from her. "I'm fine, Mo. I'll just wait until dinner's ready."
The afore mentioned hand snaked out across the short expanse of bedding, and took hers, twining the fingers between his before she could pull away. "I too shall wait in anticipation of your culinary delights, Madame. And until that time arrives, I shall sit here and feast myself upon Miss Roxanne's beauty."
For a nano second, he couldn't breath, the arm a vise across his wind pipe. Then it loosened, and a low voice whispered in his ear. "Damn, O'Kenney. Sneaking up on people is a good way to end up dead. Never saw you as the Peeping Tom type."
He recognized the voice, and his relief was tempered with a tinge of annoyance. "You're back, I see. Why are you hanging out here by yourself? We've been worried sick about you...especially your wife."
Beckett stuffed the gun back into his waistband, and shrugged. "Yeah...I understand that. I needed some time alone before I rejoined you all."
"Why? What's wrong? Where have you been? And what does the Fairy Queen have to do with all of this?"
The Sheriff motioned towards the door, and moved inside, with Fr. Kevin a few steps behind him. He felt a little squiggle of pleasure at being invited into his brother-in-law's inner sanctum, and then berated himself for acting like a little kid with hero worship. It took a few seconds for him to realize that he still was hearing the same sounds of the weight machine and breathing, despite the fact that no one was using them. Beckett hit a button within a panel on the wall, and the noise stopped. He shut the door, and a lock clicked into place.
"You have a sound track for your gym? Really? That's pretty weird, even for you."
Shrugging again, he replied, "It worked, didn't it? You never saw or heard me coming." Then opening a cabinet, he pulled out two glasses and a bottle of Jameson Special Reserve and raised them toward the priest in question. Kevin nodded, and for a few moments neither of them spoke as the Sheriff raised the glass in quick toast, and the two men threw back the amber liquid in one smooth gulp.
Beckett took a spot in a leather chair behind a large wooden desk, and signaled that the priest should take a seat as well. Kevin grabbed a wooden chair and dragged it to a position near the desk, and noticed for the first time, two large parchment scrolls leaning against the wall. He waited for the man to start speaking, but instead Beck ignored him, focused instead on an open lap top in front of him. Finally, he could wait no longer, and asked, "Aren't you going to tell me where you've been for the last 24 hours?"
His eyes never left the screen, but he answered, "24? Has it been that long?"
"Uhmmmm...yeah. You disappeared yesterday in the middle of dinner. We had no idea what happened to you. One minute you were speaking to She Who Was All, and then...poof...you were gone. With no information at all about where you went, or when you would return. Mo's besides herself with worry, you know."
He felt a prick of guilt, because that wasn't actually true. His sister was oddly calm about the whole thing, and when he revealed that Brian had given him no useful knowledge regarding Beckett's situation, she had stated most confidently that her husband was fine, and would return when he could. How she knew this, he had no clue, but she seemed privy to information he lacked and was decidedly
vague about how she had gathered it. But Maureen was his brother-in-law's weak spot, his Achille's heal, and he had hoped to guilt him into some kind of response.
" I regret having to worry my wife, but it couldn't be helped. Besides, its good training for her."
It was a strange response. Training? For what? As her husband was in law enforcement, it was expected that he would at times be putting himself at risk. But Dollyville had very little crime, and it was unlikely his job as Sheriff caused her much angst. Beckett had proved himself more than capable of taking care of himself in perilous situations. Why would she need training for times her husband disappeared? Little warning bells went off in his head. That ever building, niggling worry that there was something about the man he was completely missing.
Fr. Kevin pushed all that out of his head for the moment, and concentrated on the issues at hand. "So then...where were you?"
"Frankly, you wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"I wouldn't believe you? How can you say that after all I've been through! Or have you forgotten I spent days...weeks...in someone else's body! Someone else who officially had been dead for a 150 years! That wretched watch is still my damn responsibility! I, of all people, am perfectly capable of taking you seriously."
Beckett thought about that for a moment, and then must have agreed. " I was in what they call "I idir".
Kevin quickly did the Gaelic translation. "The In Between?" What...is that some kind of Middle Earth place?"
"Apparently so. It is the home base for the Fay. A very strange place indeed."
The priest sat stunned for a moment. After all he had been through in the past year, after all he had seen, the fact that a place like that actually existed should not have shocked him as much as it did. Yet it stopped him cold. As a kid, he had been drawn to the old legends, Celtic folklore, and the classic writings of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. He had lost himself in tales of dragons and magic, of wizards and epic battles between things unseen. Hardly appropriate reading for one destined to the service of the Church, but a joyous, guilty pleasure none the less. Now in hindsight, he wondered if his penchant for such things weren't part of some Divine plan. "So it's real then? A real place. What a wondrous thought."
"I can't say that was my first reaction. I'm not particularly fond of being hijacked against my will. That whole concept will take some getting used to. Some serious retraining."
It was the second time he had used that word. Training. It struck Fr. Kevin as odd, until he remembered the photo he had seen in the Sheriff's office. The one in which a younger Beckett was standing amongst a group of men in fatigues, somber and stern, sunglasses hiding his eyes. He had never much talked about his past, glossing over any questions about his time in military service. Kevin had once asked his sister about it, and she too had changed the subject. Why this all was coming to mind now he wasn't sure.
"Someday, you'll have to tell me all about it...the I idir... but for now, I'm dying to know what it is she wants from you. All this Black Knight stuff is pretty strange." He glanced at Beckett's face, usually a mask of bland indifference, and caught a sense of wavering, as if he could not decide how to proceed. There was a tangible feeling of tension in the room, making him oddly uneasy, and Kevin went to diffuse it using the only method he knew...humor. "Wait...let me guess. She wants you to rescue a magical damsel in distress." There was no reaction, and so he continued. "In an ivory tower. And to do so, you need to slay an evil wizard."
Beckett's stricken face caught him off guard. Hitting the obvious truth was the last thing he'd expected. The Sheriff ran a hand through his hair. "You are more astute than I ever gave you credit for, O'Kenney." He left Kevin with his mouth hanging open, and moved to the far end of the garage to a wall that held a series of weights and pulleys. "I need to explain something to you, Kevin. But I need your absolute assurance that what I say remains strictly between you and I. As a priest, as well as my wife's brother."
He suddenly felt ill, and any attempt at humor evaporated like rain on a steamy August afternoon. Fr. Kevin knew with an uncanny sense of resolution, that whatever Beckett was going to tell him, it would change things between them forever. "Of course, Ted, you have my word on that. Completely."
He fingered one of the metal brackets, and the wall slid back. It took a few seconds for the priest to fully comprehend what he was seeing. The wall behind the sliding panel held a large variety of weapons, everything to small handguns to automatic weapons, with a smattering of odd looking daggers and knives. There was even what appeared to be a small rocket launcher, if his memory of action movies served him right. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to say in light of this revelation, and so he went for the obvious. "What is all this...this stuff?"
"They're weapons. All of them."
"Duh! I can obviously see that. But why are they here? In your garage? I know that as Sheriff you need some type of protection, but this..." He pointed to the rocket launcher thing, "...well, this just seems like overkill."
Beckett looked directly at him, and their eyes locked. "I work for the government, Kevin. I have for a number of years. I use these things...this equipment...in that capacity."
The words floated around in his head, with him trying to make sense of what it was the man in front of him was trying to say. Pieces of the puzzle began to fall in place. The extreme sense of privacy. The strange group of friends. The way he made things happen that were out of reach for ordinary people. And the ability the man had to change his demeanor, his personality, at any given instance. The words sounded goofy coming off his tongue, but he said them anyway. "So...what you're telling me here is that you're some kind of government spy?"
Beckett stood for a moment, his face grim. "Spy? No. Not spy. More like assassin."
Copyright Victoria T. Rocus 2015
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