Collecting for the Firm
"It's all there," said Patrick, placing a grimy sports bag underneath the table.
The bar was too dark and noisy for anyone to notice Patrick or his bag, but Patrick's contact was clearly uneasy none the less. The short man shuffled awkwardly on his stool and pulled his green felt hat down to cover his eyes.
"A thousand?" asked the contact. His thick Irish accent made it sound like "a tao-sand".
"Like we agreed." replied Patrick. Sweat covered his upper lip, and dripping into his eyes. He wiped it away with the back of his hand. He was shaking.
"Took your sweet time so ya' did," said the contact, and took a sip from the half pint of thick black ale that sat in front of him, condensation running down its sides. The gold rings on his fingers clinked against the glass as he put it down, dark flecks of the ale dripping from the tips of his long red moustache.
"It wasn't as easy as I thought," said Patrick. He smiled a weak fake smile and laughed nervously. Wiping sweat away from his forehead, he found his mouth was suddenly very dry.
A passer-by collided with Patrick from behind, shoving him forward into the table. The half pint glass rattled, Patrick grabbed for it instinctively. The contact's hand, no bigger than a child's, landed on top of Patrick's. Patrick swallowed, and felt his hand twitching uncontrollably.
"I don't like it in here," said the contact, letting go of Patrick's hand. "Too many people."
"I want my daughter back," implored Patrick suddenly, his voice quavering.
The contact lifted up his green felt hat and took a slip of yellow paper from underneath. He slid it across the table towards Patrick. As he did so, tiny flowing letters appeared in black ink.
"Go that address, and tell them Flanagan sent you."
Patrick grabbed the piece of paper and shoved it into his shirt pocket.
"That's it. Now be off with ya, leave me with to count me payment."
"What if something goes wrong ..."
"Nothing will go wrong, unless I open this later and find that there something wrong with me payment. You're not the first young lad to find himself with a payment to make to old Flanagan you know. Didn't your mother ever teach you about the old firm, son?"
"I never believed her," said Patrick, "I thought it was a children's story, a stupid made-up reason for me to be afraid of the dark and not to talk to strangers."
Patrick's eyes grew misty for a moment at the thought of this mother, now long dead, and how she would have admonished him for not telling his daughter the stories about the creatures that she called the "Old Firm". Ireland's leprechauns had just been a motif that appeared on Saint Patrick's Day tankards and hats to Patrick, a tacky part of his Irish heritage that he tried to deny.
"You're not going to make that mistake a second time are ya, wee lad?"
"No, no I'm not."
Tapping his pocket to make sure the paper was secure, Patrick slipped out from behind the table and began to shove his way through the crowd towards the doors of the pub. At the table, out of sight of Patrick now, his contact reached down and stroked the handle of the suitcase lovingly.
"A thousand four leaf shamrocks," he whispered, "All mine."