Celtic Remnants

Celtic Remnants by Deborah O'Toole is a powerful novel of enduring love and betrayal set in the political turbulence of Ireland, glamour of London and wilds of Scotland.

From Chapter Ten

November 1992

London, England



SIR DAVID LANCASTER settled back comfortably in his linen-covered office chair. He set the palms of his hands on the shiny, polished surface of his desk and pulled the chair closer in. His gaze wandered to the telephone messages neatly clipped together on the right side of the desk, the yellow color of the paper catching his eyes. There was also a stack of letters waiting to be signed and returned to his secretary, Jade Agulary. The letters were addressed to various charities which David and the Earldom of Lancaster sponsored, all worthwhile and all deserving.

David's eyes roved around his modest corner office. There were tall plants in the two corners of the room, with a bookshelf in between. Although he could have afforded sumptuous working space on Woods Mews in Mayfair, he had elected to lease a rather sparse office in Chelsea, in a building he shared with other business individuals. There was a small, simple couch with a coffee table and two end-tables on either side. No marbled fireplace and no oaken bar. David desired no ostentation, but rather practical and effective simplicity. He was also conscious that expenses incurred in the office were paid for by the Earldom of Lancaster. He had no intention of giving himself any unnecessary fringe benefits just because he was Viscount Locksley.

As he reached for the telephone messages on his desk, the office door opened from the outer reception area. His secretary Jade stepped into the room and quietly shut the door behind her. She was carrying a steno pad and a mug of hot tea for David. She smiled as she approached the desk, handing over his morning cuppa.

He sipped the scalding liquid slowly, enjoying the generous amounts of milk and sugar Jade added, well-knowing his preferences. Then he set the mug on the desk and looked at her.

"How was your weekend?" he asked in a slightly clipped tone. David had the typical upper-class Oxfordshire accent, speaking from the back of his throat rather from the mouth.

"I had a smashing weekend, boss. I went to Cheltenham to meet my boyfriend's parents. They were awfully nice, very sweet. They seemed to like me."

David smiled at her. Jade was tall and slender with amber-colored eyes and dark red hair pulled into a simple pony tail. The skirt of her dark gray pin-striped dress suit came just above her knees. She was completely professional, at ease in her own skin. He relied on her calming influence and sharp efficiency.  She reminded him of a typical English girl with peaches and cream complexion, a self-deprecating sense of humor and an infectious laugh.

"Not much to do in Cheltenham, is there?" David commented, his eyes twinkling.

"Not really," Jade admitted, looking into his blue eyes. She simply adored David. She considered him her boss, of course, but he was also a friend.  She could always count on him. "Cheltenham is very quiet and relaxing," she continued, sitting down in the chair in front of the desk, steno pad on her lap. "You could use a weekend like that."

He laughed. "Don't I know it," he said ruefully. "I just might take you up on it one of these days."

"You're more than welcome anytime," she said, meaning it. "Did you have a rough weekend in Oxfordshire again?"

"To say the least," he replied grimly. "However, I do believe I finally brought my father around to the practicality of getting rid of that monstrosity of an office in Mayfair. It was costing a bloody fortune every month, and to what purpose? This new office is much more suitable and economic, and I think old Dad saw my reasoning once I laid out some hard facts and figures on paper."

Jade nodded, watching him as he drank from the tea mug again. Six months ago, David had closed his father's office in Mayfair and moved to the less grandiose establishment on Chester Row in Chelsea. It had come as a great shock to the Earl, who had kept the office in Mayfair for many years, but he told David to use a free hand in reorganizing the administrative aspect of the Lancaster Earldom. David's first task had been to muck through the legalities of being freed from the Mayfair office lease, which had been no small feat.

"How did your father react when he saw how much money you've been saving by moving here?" Jade asked, smiling.

"Dad didn't believe it." David responded, shaking his head slightly. "But by the end of the day on Saturday, just before high tea at Amber Court, reality set in.  Actually, I think the old boy was quite proud of me when he saw the figures I put in front of him. I am saving him a fortune, you know, and he's not one to condone throwing money away, no matter how solvent the family is. That's exactly what he was doing before I moved us to Chester Row."

Jade nodded her agreement. She admired David's persistence and the way in which he managed his father's business affairs, not to mention his consulting work for the Museum of London. David was a busy man who seemed to thrive on hard work and long hours. It was almost as if he were driven somehow, anxious to squeeze out every minute of every day and put it to good use. He could be unrelenting, and without question he expected those who worked for him to be the same. Yet he was unfailingly loyal and worked no one around him any harder than he did himself. He was also extremely generous to Jade. Her salary had nearly tripled in the last year. It wasn't as if she hadn't earned it, because she had. She recalled the many times when she worked long hours in the office during the day, only to accompany him on his various evening engagements which often went on into the early hours. She would never think of trying to get out of the events, any more than she would ever be disloyal to him. David inspired trust and loyalty in other people automatically. It made Jade, and others, go the extra mile for him.

David Lancaster was a special man, Jade admitted to herself. She had never known anyone quite like him, and suspected she never would again.

He finished his tea and then reached for the stack of letters on his desk. "We'd better get down to business, I suppose," he said, anxious to begin the day. "I'll sign these letters first, and then we can go over the messages you left for me. Okay with you?"

"Fine with me," Jade said, well accustomed to his headlong switches from simple conversation straight into the task at hand. "You have a few appointments scheduled for today, too," she reminded him gently.

He grimaced. "Great. We'll get to that later."

She watched as he scanned each letter quickly before signing them with his fast, hard script. The letters were courtesies, responses to requests from various businesses which the office dealt with every day. David had many friends and contacts in London, and he unabashedly used every one of them to garner support for the dozen or so charities administered by the Earldom of Lancaster. It was an ongoing part of the work he did every day. While others might leave the mundane tasks to underlings, he preferred to peruse each letter quickly before signing his name to them.

Jade settled back into her chair, crossing her legs comfortably as she waited for him to sign the letters, knowing he would not take long. This gave her the brief opportunity to observe him covertly, which she enjoyed doing from time to time. On the first occasion she met David four years ago, she had been weak-kneed by his good looks and his kind, persuasive charm. He had long, slender legs and a trim waist, with a slightly muscled upper body and dark blond hair, which fell slightly curled to his collar. He seemed to have a perpetual dark shadow of a beard, even though Jade knew he shaved at least twice a day. His lips were full and finely developed - highly kissable - and his nose was long and thin, slightly flaring at the nostrils. He had short sideburns on the tops of his cheekbones, and she knew he kept those trimmed, too, but they grew as quickly as the hair on his face at a daily rate. He was a fine specimen of masculinity, but rarely flaunted it.

David was no common punter, Jade thought with a smile. He was extremely blessed in almost every way possible. He was good looking, wealthy, charming, intelligent, hard-working, compassionate and considerate, loyal to his family and friends, intelligent and intuitive, and to top it all off he possessed one of the oldest and most respected noble titles in England. By order of his birth he was Viscount Locksley, next in line to inherit the Earldom of Lancaster. He seemed to have it all, but Jade knew his social life was somewhat drab, apart from the endless charity events he organized and attended, as well as the annual social parties in Oxfordshire. His personal life puzzled her. David had been briefly engaged to Lady Victoria Eddington, daughter of Earl Colchester, but the relationship went by the wayside quickly. Now Lady Victoria was betrothed to one of David's few titled friends, Sir Robin Grantham, Viscount Hartley. David, Victoria and Robin had remained good chums. As far as Jade could tell, the friendship among the three was warm and sincere. No artificial saving face there.

David finished signing the letters and slid them across the desk toward Jade. Next, he picked up the telephone messages, thumbing through them quickly. He paused suddenly, his expression turning somber.

"Clive Bender rang me?" he asked quietly.

"Yes," Jade replied. "He wants to see you today. I told him you had some other appointments and might not . . ."

"Ring him back and tell him I'll see him," David interrupted her.

"But, what about . . ."

"I don't care about my other appointments. Cancel them if you have to. I need to see Mr. Bender." David's tone was short and brusque, and not like him at all.

"I'll call Mr. Bender was soon as we're through here," Jade said.

He nodded. "Good." He held up the last message. "Bart wants me to meet him for lunch today?"

"Yes. One-thirty at Patisserie Valerie on Compton Street. Will you be able to go?"

"Only if it fits in with Clive's schedule," David responded thoughtfully. "Ring up Clive first, and if that leaves me free to meet Bart for lunch, so be it. Then call Bart and confirm."

"Will that be all for now?" Jade asked, scooping up the signed letters on the desk.  "No dictation this morning?"

"No. Not yet, anyway," he replied, still appearing to be deep in thought. "But please do ring up Clive right away and let me know when he can come round."

She stood up from her chair. "Sure, boss. I'll call him right now."

"Thanks, love."

THERE WAS AN enclosed stairway in the Chester Row professional building, but the lift was in constant use, gliding from the first floor to the sixth all day long. The structure housed an odd mixture of solicitors, psychiatrists, a rape crisis hotline, marriage counselors and a medical supply company.

David shared the second floor with two solicitors and a psychiatrist. His was the first office when coming off the lift. Jade's desk was situated outside his office door. The only indication to the nature of David's business was a small, hard-plastic sign which was attached to the door: Lancaster Holdings, Chelsea SW1, 738-7190, and in smaller letters underneath: David Locksley, Director. He was reluctant to advertise his connection to the Earldom publicly unless it benefited his charitable endeavors, thinking it a bit upper-handed. He preferred to be more subtle in business, so he settled for using the name Locksley because most people did not associate it with the Earl, unless they were titled themselves.

Clive Bender was compact, wiry and soft-spoken. He was not a handsome man, but rather blandly average. He was in his late thirties with short, curly brown hair and brown eyes. His nose was knobbed in the middle section as if it had been broken once or twice. He was dressed neatly in gray corduroy trousers and a cream-colored knit pullover.

He entered the reception area from the elevator, brushing his jacket shoulders and then looking directly at Jade. Her eyes narrowed as she saw Clive walk toward her slowly.

He stood in front of Jade's desk. She was used to his quiet presence when he came to the office, along with his prompt punctuality. It was ten o'clock in the morning, right on the dot. She smiled cordially at him, but did not rise from her desk. She knew she was taller than he was, and didn't want to make him uncomfortable by towering over him.

"Is Locksley ready for me?" Clive asked, his tone neither unfriendly nor hospitable. Just matter-of-fact.

"Yes," Jade stated. "He's waiting in . . ."

"I'll show myself in," Clive cut her off. She blinked as Clive went through the door, shutting it softly behind him.

DAVID STOOD AT his office window, looking down on the barren birch trees which lined Chester Row. He heard the office door open, and turned around to see Clive Bender. The man returned the gaze, his expression unreadable as he waited for David to speak. Remembering his manners, David waved his hand in the general direction of the small sitting area.

"Please take a seat," David said. "I'm anxious to speak with you."

"I'm sure you are," Clive replied, his tone noncommittal. He sat on one end of the small couch, keeping his back straight and resting his hands in his lap.

David joined him, sitting on the opposite end of the couch. "Would you like something to drink? A cup of tea, perhaps?" David asked politely.

Clive held up one hand. "No thanks, I'm fine. I just had a big breakfast."

"Very good. Now, to the business at hand. Do you have any information for me yet?"

"I do," Clive replied guardedly. "But this was no easy job. In fact, it was a bit more than I bargained for."

David furrowed his brow. "Did you run into some kind of trouble?"

"Yes and no," Clive responded. "You asked me to find a lady you knew in Ireland ten years ago. Right. Easy, especially with the basic information you provided, such as the general area where you thought the lady in question might be. Easier still, it seemed, because you knew a relative of hers. Ordinarily, that would have been enough to get the job done."

"But it wasn't?" David's tone was light, yet expectant.

"Not really," Clive crossed his legs and leaned back into the couch. "I found the relative all right, just like you said, but she wouldn't tell me anything. She wouldn't budge an inch in either direction."

David nodded. "I suspected as much when I told you about her."

Clive snorted. "I've been tracking people for a living for a long time now. Finding someone named Ava Egan in Ireland should have been easy enough, but there's one little thing you forgot to tell me."

"Such as?"

"You never informed me you were after the Ava Egan."

David was surprised. "What do you mean - the Ava Egan?"

"Oh, she has other names, too," Clive continued. "I found that out right quick."

David was bewildered, speechless.

Clive stared searchingly at him, and then asked: "Do you have any bloody idea who we're dealing with here? Do you have a clue as to who Ava Egan, et al, really is?"

David shook his head, genuinely puzzled. "I don't understand you."

Clive broke in. "She's a bleeding terrorist, Locksley. Your Ava Egan is an Irish militant, a bona fide terrorist. What in sweet Christ's name would you want with the likes of her?"

"What?" David was shocked.

"I had a time finding all of this out, mind you," Clive admitted sourly. "You don't mess around with these people, or ask too many questions about them. Lucky for me, I have an old mate who lives in Belfast, and he knew who Ava Egan was almost before I got the name out of my mouth. And then he got scared."

"There has to be some mistake," David protested. "I met Ava Egan twelve years ago in Monasterboice, Ireland. She was only seventeen at the time. She was staying with her aunt, Siobhan Egan, who runs the Blackwater Inn. It's about eight miles from my family vacation home in Cullen."

Clive nodded. "Right. I spoke with Siobhan, very briefly. Told her I was a friend of Ava's, and that I was looking her up for old time's sake."

"What did Siobhan say?" David wanted to know.

Clive shrugged. "She had questions of her own, Locksley. She was very suspicious of me, and asked where I knew Ava from. Before that, she wouldn't even admit that she knew Ava herself, so I made some headway. I had to think fast, and then I remembered you telling me Ava was from Eglinton, near Londonderry. I told Siobhan I knew Ava from there, a long time ago, and then she had more questions. What was my name, who was my family in Eglinton - Jesus, she went on and on. She never once really answered one of my bloody questions."

David smiled involuntarily. He remembered Siobhan Egan only too well. It sounded as if she had not changed one bit: defensive, protective, coy, street-smart and cagey. Not even twelve years had made a difference in her, it seemed.

"This isn't funny, Locksley. I had a hell of a time getting out of the situation with Siobhan. She wouldn't let me off the hook. I know she thinks I'm up to no good. She's probably already contacted someone - maybe even Ava herself - and God knows what will happen if I'm fingered in some way."

"I know it's not funny, Mr. Bender," David said smoothly, but he was still smiling. "Please, how did you arrive at the conclusion that the Ava Egan I'm seeking is a terrorist? All you really have is heresy from an old mate. Do you have any actual proof?"

Clive smiled thinly. "I'll let you be the judge, Locksley." He stood up and removed a folded piece of paper from his back trouser pocket. He handed it to David and sat down again.

David looked at the paper blandly, and then began to unfold it slowly. Clive watched him intently, waiting for confirmation that he found what David was seeking. Clive realized he hadn't actually found Ava Egan physically, but he knew who she was, as did every bloody copper and government official in Great Britain.

David stared at the grainy photograph, which was centered in the middle of the letter-sized paper. His eyes darted to the writing underneath the picture. He had to read it several times to properly comprehend the words:

WANTED: Ava Francis Egan for suspected murder, kidnap and property destruction in the name of the IMC (Irish Militant Council), a self-proclaimed political organization attempting to rid British military presence in Northern Ireland. Ava Egan is considered armed and extremely dangerous. A reward of £50,000.00 is being offered for information leading to her capture and arrest. Contact the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in Belfast at 457-0232, or Scotland Yard in London at 0800 789 321.

David let his eyes return to the photograph. He knew it was Ava, without a doubt. A bit older, certainly, but not much different from when he saw her last. She had the same dark hair, the same pert nose and arched eyebrows. Even in the picture she appeared to be sarcastic and taunting, her lips slightly twisted into a sardonic smile. He allowed his mind recall her demeanor: Come hither, her eyes beckoned - Piss off, her mouth snapped - I dare you, her facial expression challenged - I love you, her voice whispered - I need you, her eyes cried again - I hate you, her mind screamed - You're nothing to me, her entire body language seemed to say.

"How old is this photograph and where did you find it?" David asked shortly.

"I don't know how old the picture is," Clive replied. "But it's plastered all over Belfast, with some in Dublin. Christ, even Garda in the Republic are looking for her."

"Has she ever been caught?" David pressed. "Has she ever been jailed?"

"Never," Clive said flatly. "That's the odd thing. Most of the IMC members have been caught and jailed at one time or another, but not Ava Egan. That's why the authorities on both sides want her so bad. She'd be a real feather in some copper's hat. However, she always seems to be a step ahead of anyone who's looking for her."

"She's too smart to get caught," David thought to himself. "What else did you find out?" he continued out loud, his voice a bit strained. "Surely you have more than this."

Clive glanced at David. "I have more, but not much."

"I'm listening," David said calmly, laying the wanted poster face-up on his lap.  He continued to stare at her face.

"You know about Siobhan Egan," Clive said, lighting a cigarette. "As much good as she was in helping me." He paused. "Do you mind if I smoke?"

"Go ahead. It doesn't bother me."

Clive took a deep drag. "Ava has a sister, her name is Sophie Egan. She's a few years younger than Ava."

David narrowed his eyes. "Yes, I knew that, but I don't remember Sophie very well."

Clive laughed harshly. "Sophie is a nun. Jesus, talk about extreme opposites in two sisters. Do you believe it?"

David was momentarily stunned. "A nun? Sophie is a nun?"

"Yes. A Catholic nun."

"Is there any other kind?" David asked wryly.

"She teaches at a private girl's school in Connemara. The whole place is run by a bunch of nuns."

"What's the name of the school?" David asked, watching the ash on Clive's cigarette grow longer and longer.

"Kylemore Abbey."

"Did you go there? Did you speak to Sophie?"

"Not yet."


Clive exhaled a stream of smoke. "I haven't had time yet," he groused.  "Christ, Locksley. I just found out about Sister Sophia two days ago. I figured you'd want to hear about it before I traipsed off back to Ireland."

"You're quite right," David agreed apologetically. "That was our agreement. All exchange of information is to be made in person, never by telephone or written message. Sorry, I didn't mean to jump you."

"I don't think you fully appreciate the spot I've put myself in," Clive said petulantly. "They're dangerous people, the IMC. Murderers, most of them, although you'd never know it if you met one of them on the street. Ironically, the majority of them are God-fearing Catholics who attend Mass regularly." Clive shook his head, taking another puff on his cigarette. "I was lucky when I connected with my old mate in Belfast. He's in the know about what's going on with the group. But now he's scared to death. He thinks somehow or other the IMC will find out he's been talking, and that they'll finger him for a hit. Or me, for that matter."

David smiled gently, trying to stay as calm and courteous as possible. "I completely understand your position, Mr. Bender," he said. "I simply had no idea Ava was involved with  . . .  a terrorist group. Until now, that is. Rest assured, you will be more than amply compensated for your efforts."

"I know. I trust you. Otherwise, Bart Quantrill wouldn't have led you to me."

"Does your mate in Belfast know if Ava visits Kylemore Abbey? To see Sister Sophia?" David rose from the couch as he spoke, retrieving a small crystal ashtray from his desk. He set it down on the coffee table in front of Clive, and then resumed his place on the couch.

Clive flicked the long ash off his cigarette. "He's not sure. Actually, no one knows for sure. Ava has never been seen near Kylemore Abbey, but that doesn't mean she hasn't been there."

"Exactly," David said flatly. He eyed Clive. "Anything else?"

"Just one more thing."


"It seems wherever Ava goes, she's with some chap named O'Casey," Clive said, crushing out his cigarette in the ashtray. "Apparently, he's part of the IMC, too. My mate said O'Casey is a big one - tall, bulky and blondish, built like a freight train. But I don't have a picture of him yet."

David was startled. He had completely forgotten about the inimitable Timothy O'Casey. How could he fail to remember trusting Tim, Ava's ever-present shadow? The doe eyes, the immovable and utter loyalty to Ava? Doe eyes, yes, but also watchful and attentive eyes.

David looked at Clive again. "You've done very well, Mr. Bender. Thank you. Are you planning on pursuing information to be had at Kylemore Abbey?"

Clive nodded. "Yes, of course. I have a flight scheduled for Dublin in three days."

"Do you have enough money?"

Clive hesitated. "Well, now that you mention it . . ."

"How much?" David asked bluntly, rising again to walk back to his desk.

"Whatever you think is right, Locksley."

David sighed. "Come on, Clive. Don't go shy on me now."

"Five thousand pounds," Clive blurted out.

David did not even flinch. "Are you keeping track of your expenses versus what I actually agreed to pay you?"

"Yes. Would you like to see my accounting now?"

"Not yet. Perhaps after your visit to Kylemore Abbey," David said pointedly.

"I'll have my papers and figures with me the next time I come to see you," Clive promised.

Clive waited as David wrote out a bank draft, quickly and concisely. "Can I ask you a question, Locksley?" he said tentatively.

David looked at him, pausing in his task. "Yes?"

"Why don't you talk to these people yourself?" Clive asked curiously. "Why don't you go to Kylemore Abbey or the Blackwater Inn on your own? If you knew them once - even though it was a long time ago - surely they would talk to you  . . ."

David's eyes became hooded and his voice turned cold as he completed the bank draft. "Mr. Bender," he began. "I hired you to find a woman named Ava Egan, by any means possible. My reasons are my own, and have nothing to do with you. You do not have the right to question my motives. I consider my request to be a private and confidential matter. And my reasons are certainly none of your concern."

Clive reddened. "Of course.  I  - I just  . . . "

David walked back over to the couch and handed Clive the bank draft. "This should cover you."

Clive took the draft and stood up, still flushed with embarrassment. "I'm sorry if I offended you, or went over the line," he mumbled, shoving the draft into his trouser pocket. "But you have to admit, it's a very curious situation."

David smiled stiffly, but his voice was formal. "Quite. But then, that's part of your job, isn't it? Mystery and curiosity?"

Suddenly Clive became defensive, his voice coming in a stubborn lilt. "Yes Locksley, and you can't say I haven't done my job. But now that you know who I'm dealing with . . . I mean, the IMC for chrissakes, can you cut me a little slack? What if they finger me, and come after me? It's a possibility one of them - even your Ava - will track me somehow, with questions of their own. What then? I won't risk my very life, by God. No sir, not for this, not for finding some lady you used to know. If they find me and ask me questions with a gun to my head, or a knife to my throat, what do I tell them?"

"You tell them you were hired to find Ava," David said softly.

"Yes, but by whom?" Clive persisted. "What do I say if they ask me who?"

David sighed. "I hope it will never come to that, but if it does  . . ."

"It will come to that if they find me," Clive snapped. "Siobhan Egan has probably already contacted Ava, and they'll be watching for me the minute I go back into Ireland.  Hell, they might even be tailing me now  . . ." He looked ill at ease at the prospect.

"Tell them  . . ." David groped for words, not wanting Clive to know the truth, if at all possible. "Tell them you were hired anonymously by someone who claims to have known Ava Egan many years ago, but that you don't know why. That's all you need to say, and you'll only be half-lying, right?"

Clive still seemed uncertain.

David saw his hesitation, so he continued in a taut voice: "Only reveal my identity if it becomes necessary. If you feel your life is in real danger, then tell them the truth. Inform them, plainly and simply: it is imperative I speak with Ava Egan. Please stress how important it is that I see her, and her alone.  Reassure them it is a completely private matter, and has nothing to do with police manhunts or official investigations."

"Doesn't this Ava know you're a Viscount?" Clive asked, visibly relieved David had given him leverage in case he was found and questioned by the IMC.

"Yes," David replied, his voice brittle. "She knows me by the name of David Locksley, too. At least, I hope she remembers."

"Fair enough," Clive conceded. "Sorry to put you through such hoops, but I hope you understand my position."

"I do," David said. "And I apologize . . . I didn't realize this might become dangerous for you. I swear, Mr. Bender, I had no idea matters were . . . that Ava Egan was part of a group like the IMC. I'm not one to keep abreast of Irish politics, so I wasn't aware, you see?"

Clive nodded. "I'll just be bloody careful. I'll try and get back to you within a few days or a week, at the most. Is that all right?"

"Yes. Contact me whenever you need to. Do so in person here in my office, or at my home in Marylebone. Even when I'm in Amberwood, if you have to."

"Righto, Locksley. I'll be in touch."

Then Clive Bender was gone. David was left standing where he was, his past memories washing over him.



CELTIC REMNANTS ©Deborah O'Toole. All rights reserved.

"Celtic Remnants" may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the author. "Celtic Remnants" is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.