“Naked you say? Found wandering beside the road? A touch of frostbite…no, you don’t need to go into any details, Abbie. Thanks for letting me know.” Father John frowned as he replaced the handset of the phone. There was no avoiding it. He was going to have to have a word with Sean O’Reilly.
“I couldn’t help overhearing,” said Maggie, his housekeeper. With her ear pressed against the oak door it was unlikely that she had missed any of the conversation. “Was that another one of Sean O’Reilly’s victims? I don’t know why they don’t take the man to court. That would soon put an end to his foolishness.”
“And if it was you, Mrs MacFlint, would you stand up in court and tell the world what an idiot you were to fall for Sean’s daft tale?” Father John shrugged a heavy jacket over his shoulders. He reached out for a hat, cramming it down over his grey hair and wound a scarf around his neck.
“You’ll know where to find Sean, I take it? Just make sure you’ve something in your wallet, Father John.”
Sean had become part of the fixtures at The Bog’n’the’Banshee, almost hibernating in a small dark corner of the public bar. The walls were covered in black and white pictures of long dead boxers of dubious fame and reputation. The low ceiling was marked off into sections by low beams.
Father John slid into the seat opposite Sean, sliding a small glass of whisky his way.
“Bless you, Father,” Sean lifted the glass in a salute before tipping the golden liquid down on one swallow.
“I thought you might like to know that Abbie phoned a while ago.” Father John sipped his drink slowly, swirling the whisky around his mouth. “From the hospital.” He patted his pockets searching for his pipe, giving Sean time to process the information.
“That’ll be about Oscar Prentice, I take it. Glad to know that man is still in the land of the living. It serves the fool right. Maybe he’s a little wiser after his stroll…”
“Across the Bridge of Heaven, you mean?” Father John had heard about the tale Sean was punting from his seat in The Bog’n’the’Banshee. It amazed him that anyone would be so gullible.
It was a pretty bridge about a mile out of the village. It was certainly an old bridge, grey stone, with ivy scrambling over the sides. Underneath tumbled the Shiffy River, clambering between rocks in a noisy roar. There was something about the quality of light that shimmered on the opposite bank around about dusk. A scattering of wild rose bushes provided a heavy sweet scent.
“Sure it is the Bridge of Heaven,” whispered Sean. “You can see the gold of the streets glimmering in the evening sun, and smell the incense from the eternal temple. ‘Tis the back door, so it is! St Peter, bless his soul, may stand at the Pearly Gates, swinging the keys of the Kingdom in his hand watching as the righteous enter on their knees, but it is the not so righteous that slink in across the bridge. Does it not say in the good book that God loves us all? He does too! But it wouldn’t be right to be seen greeting the fallen ones alongside of the righteous. That’s why there is a back door, so to speak, the Bridge of Heaven.”
Sean, with his honey tipped words would lure in his listener.
“I shouldn’t be telling you this,” Sean glimpsed behind his shoulder, as if the boxer in the black and white photo might be listening, “but if you were to cross the bridge at sunset, you could just sneak a peak at heaven and be back before sunrise. Who knows, you might not want to spend eternity there! Think of some of those sour faced, pious cousins who’ve gone before you!”
Who indeed could resist a glimpse of heaven when put like that?
Naked? Well it didn’t take much to remind them of the words of the sentiment – “Naked I came into this world, naked I leave.” After all it was only for a few hours. Sean always offered to take good care of their belongings.
“Do you think that Kieran MacConnely has any idea that his great-great-grandfather built his farm on the edge of heaven?” asked Father John winking at Sean.
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