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 Eighteen

Christmas 1992

Pikestaff Lodge, Daviot, Scotland


THE TOOL SHED on the grounds of Pikestaff Lodge was freezing cold. It was late in the evening on Christmas Day when Tim made a quick trip to check on Jeff and Mike to see how they were faring. He found Jeff alone and huddled by the door, an old blanket draped over his shoulders. The first thing Tim noticed was Jeff's hands. They looked cut in a few places, and there appeared to be remnants of blood on his knuckles.

Tim stood over Jeff, who looked up at him with a blank look on his face. Three - or was it four? - hours had passed, and Jeff had made his patrol around Pikestaff twice since apprehending Clive Bender, trading off with Mike. Bender was no longer a threat. Mike and Jeff had decided to "eliminate" the problem. Apparently, Tim did not agree.

"What do you mean, you eliminated Clive Bender?" Tim exploded. "Are you off your nut? Bender once worked for Locksley, and he is well known in London as a private investigator. Do you think no one will notice he just disappeared and not look into it?"

Jeff stood up, letting the blanket fall to the ground. "We discussed it, Mike and me," he defended himself. "Do you think we offed him just for the hell of it? He was bound and determined to find Ava, or traces of her, so he could get his hands on the reward money. We could have let him go, sure, but then what? If we kept him, where could we hide him? In a snow bank? Tell me, Tim, what would you have done?"

Tim started pacing the narrow confines of the shed. He lowered his head and closed his eyes briefly. For as long as he had been in the IMC, the thought of killing and the actual act itself had turned his insides out. Perhaps not for the sake of self-defense, but the premeditated scenario of outright murder went against his inner morality, despite the situation he found himself in. He would kill to protect Ava in a heartbeat, and he supposed that's what Jeff and Mike had done. But Tim was alarmed, and almost sick with uneasiness.

Tim stopped pacing and asked: "Where is the body?"

Jeff stared at Tim, and then let out a breath. "At the bottom of Loch Ness."

Tim narrowed his eyes. "Who the Christ took the body there?"

"I did," Jeff said weakly. "I had Bender inside the shed, and when Mike came back we talked about the situation. There was no safe alternative, O'Casey, I'm telling you. The man was a liar, and he would have said anything to save his skin. If we had let him go, or even kept him here, he would have flapped his gums the minute he was out of earshot. You know how we all trust out inner instinct - Ava, too - and both Mike and I were sensing the same things from Bender. He would have squealed, and the coppers in London would have been on Locksley like the plague. We assumed it would eventually lead to Ava somehow, and we weren't prepared to take any chances."

Tim began pacing again. "You did the right thing," he finally said, much to Jeff's relief. "I'm sorry I blew my cork, but the news was unexpected. I agree. I would have done the same had it been me. Bender was a bloody nuisance and a menace. Did you get anything out of him? Was he alone?"

"He said he was alone in Daviot. He met Pikestaff's caretaker at the pub in the village, but insisted it was just a friendly chat over a pint. I didn't believe him, and Mike also had doubts."

"We can't go roaring through the village and off anyone who might have met Bender," Tim scoffed. "We need to ride it out. If someone starts sniffing around again, we have to leave - plain and simple. I don't like this one bit, Bender showing up. I think we should leave anyway, but I have to let Ava decide. And I need to call Ned."

"I think so, too," Jeff replied, relieved Tim had calmed down. Whether O'Casey knew it or not, his sheer size and presence was highly intimidating.

Tim walked to the door of the shed. The wind was starting to pick up, rattling the door on the hinges. "How did you off him?" he asked quietly.

Jeff lowered his eyes. "Mike held his head by the hair, and I slit his throat. He struggled quite a bit, but . . ."

Tim held up his hand to stop the explanation. "That's all I need to hear, thank you. And you took the body to Loch Ness? How?"

"Loch Ness is only about a mile away," Jeff said. "I wrapped the body in an old tarp, and drug it to the shore. I weighed it down with several rocks - tied them on, actually - and slipped the body into the water. It floated out about twenty feet, and then sunk."

"Did you make sure no one saw you drag the body?"

"It was still snowing, and dark. I went through areas with trees and snow-covered shrubs mostly. I saw no one. Visibility was very poor in some spots, but I was able to find my way. You know I've always been good at navigating myself."

Tim nodded. "Ned said you could find your way out of a wet burlap sack in the middle of the Irish Sea."

"It's the truth."

Tim rested his hand on the doorknob of the shack door. "Let me speak with Ava either tonight or in the morning. We have to make some decisions, and I definitely have to call Ned Fermoy."

"I'll wait to hear from you."

Tim hesitated. "Again, I'm sorry if I blew up on you at first, lad. I meant no harm."

"I know," Jeff responded. "And it's all right."

Tim smiled quickly and then was gone.

Jeff exhaled deeply. Tim O'Casey was one of the most dichotomous people he had ever known. On one hand, Tim gave the impression of being rather slow and quiet, and yet underneath was an astute mind. He had the uncanny ability to assess situations swiftly and accurately, much like Mike Creed did. O'Casey also lived and breathed to protect Ava Egan, and he made no bones about it.

And Ava was a legend in the IMC, Jeff knew. She had devoted nearly her entire adult life to the Irish cause for independence and had done her share of selfsame protection watches for other people within the organization. Her loyalty and tenacity were unmovable, and yet her sudden coldness toward a betrayal within the ranks was just as unshakable.

Jeff would protect her life as well as he would protect his own, and Ava would do no less for him. The simple facts of the matter calmed Jeff somewhat. He huddled down on the floor again, wrapping the cold blanket around his shoulders.

He dozed fitfully as he waited for Mike Creed to return from his watch, or to hear some word from Tim O'Casey that it was time to leave Scotland.

TIM HAD TO narrow his eyes when he entered Ava's bedroom just past dawn the day after Christmas. At first it was because of the dim light in the room, but secondly it was the sight he beheld when his eyes adjusted to the duskiness. He had always known in the back of his mind Ava was still in love with David Lancaster, even after all the years of bitterness and professed hatred on her part. When Tim asked her about it sporadically in the past, she had hotly denied it in defense of herself and wouldn't even allow Tim to tease her about it. Now the proof was in the pudding, so to speak, but he was still shocked beyond mere words.

He stepped closer toward the bed, and still Ava did not stir from her slumber. Her head rested on David's shoulder as he lay on his back. He was sound asleep as well, so soundly Tim could barely hear him breathing. In all the years he had known Ava, Tim knew her to be a light sleeper. She had always been awakened by the slightest noise throughout their childhood and into her time with the IMC, but not this morning.

Tim cleared his throat loudly. He hated to wake her, but it was imperative they get moving quickly.

Ava's eyes fluttered. She turned her head from David's shoulder to look at Tim. She seemed startled to see him, but made no move to extract herself from David's arms.

"What are you doing in here?" she asked groggily.

"Faghail sinn air thoir," Tim replied simply, switching to Irish just in case David was feigning slumber.

Ava came fully awake. She gently pulled away from David, her eyes lingering on him briefly. With her arms, she turned her lower body so she was sitting up and facing Tim from the bed, the sheet pulled over her upper body. They spoke in Irish.

"What happened?" she asked.

"Bender came snooping," Tim snapped. "We don't know how he tracked us to Daviot, but if he managed to find us, others will. I called Ned, and he said we need to get out of Scotland right away and return to Dublin."

"What happened with Bender?" Ava pressed. "Did Jeff and Mike get a hold of him? Did they question him?"

"Yes, but they weren't able to get anything." Tim hesitated, unwilling to reveal more at the moment. Typically, she prodded him.

"What did they do with him?"

He sighed. "They removed him. That's all I can say right now, if you catch my drift. Ava, come on, we have to pull together and leave as soon as possible."

She bit her lip. She knew they had to leave, but she was torn. David was beginning to stir next to her. There was little time, but somehow she had to explain to David and Chee she was going to disappear again. She had to do it carefully, yet quickly.

"Go and wake Siobhan and Sophie," she said, almost in a whisper. "They have to leave as well, but not with us."

Tim nodded, his eyes resting on David. "Co dha fein?"

Ava shrugged. "I'll tell him. Now please go, Tim."

As soon as Tim left the room, David touched Ava's arm. "Tell me what?" he asked groggily. "I heard the tail-end of Tim's rude intrusion, his Irish gab. What's going on?"

She looked down at David from her position on the bed. He appeared ruffled, but happy. There was a slight smile on his lips. She felt a stab of regret as she knew her coming words would destroy his contentment. Yet she had to be honest with him. He had known their interlude in Scotland was not permanent.

"Tim and I have to leave right away," she said bluntly, wincing as his face fell. "Please don't ask me for details, because I can't give them to you. Chee has to leave as well, but she'll go separately with Siobhan and Sophie."

"Just like that?" David asked her, aghast. He pulled himself up to face her.

"If I stay much longer you can visit me in Brixton Prison," Ava replied. "I'm serious."

He leaned closer to her. "But after the night we just spent together . . ."

"What we did last night does not change the fact I'm wanted by the law," she said, trying to be patient. "Time is of the essence right now."

"You'll contact me again?"

"Yes, never fear. I'm not about to forget . . . what we did. Please, David. Help me get up."

He leapt out of the bed, his mind racing with emotions and a myriad of wild thoughts. Just hours ago they were locked in one another's arms. He did not want their time together to come to an end. He wanted to take her and Chee and spirit them to safety under the protective guise of the Lancaster name. He knew he could pull it off, if Ava would only give him half a chance, but he also knew now was not the time to broach the subject with her.

He helped Ava move her legs so they were hanging off the side of the bed. "Please get my pants and shirt," she asked him. "The clothes are in the closet. I saw Bart hang them, if you can imagine." Trying to inject levity into the situation, she said: "Bart would make quite a ladies maid if he wasn't a doctor."

"I always thought Bart would make a good nurse," David tried to sound cheerful as he retrieved her dark trousers from the closet. He returned with the clothes, ready to help her dress. "Shouldn't you ask him for extra medication before you go?"

She glanced at him as he slid the pants up both her legs. "I can get my hands on a wide variety of medications in Ireland," she laughed. "Oh, David, if only I had the time to tell you the little details of my everyday life. I can get anything I want, within reason. Mind you, I don't take advantage of it very often, but I know where to go."

"I should have known," he muttered as she fastened the buttons on her trousers.

"I heard you," she said. "I thought you were being awfully brave."

"What else can I do?" he demanded. "Would you have me beg you to stay, or plead with you to run away with me?"

"Run away to where?" Ava scoffed as he pulled her dark blue sweater over her head. Her voice was muffled when it came forth again: "Where can the son of an Earl run away to, may I ask?"

"I have the money to go anywhere," he informed her as he pulled the sweater all the way over her head, stretching it down her torso. "We can change our names, start a new life together."

"I already have different names, remember?" she mocked him. "Why would I want another? David, money or identity is not the problem, and you know it. Please help me up."

He helped her stand slowly. "I love you Ava," he said simply. "That's all I want you to know right now." He sighed. "I'd wait for hell to freeze over rather than lose you again."

"You won't lose me again," she whispered, reaching out to touch his face. "I'll be in contact, I promise."

Before David could respond, Tim burst back into the room. "Siobhan and Sophie are packing," he informed Ava, giving David a casual but dismissive glance. "I told them to wait until this evening before they leave."

Ava nodded. "Good. I have to talk to Chee, and then we can go."

"Mike and Jeff are waiting for us outside," Tim continued.

"I have to talk to Chee," Ava snapped. "Give me five minutes, will you?"

"I'll get her," Tim said shortly. He left the room.

Ava held onto the bedpost near the foot of the bed, looking at David. He could sense she had a favor to ask him. It surprised him that he understood her silent signal. "The gift Chee gave me," she said. "Will you keep it for me? Just for now? I can't take a lot with me at the moment, but I know you'll keep it safe."

"Of course," David said. He felt so helpless. He wanted to stop her, shake her out of her insanity and her bizarre life. Instead, he kept silent, knowing such actions would only worsen the situation.

"The book is in the drawer in the bedside table," she said. "Please take it back to London with you. As soon as I can arrange to see you again, I'll get it back."

It occurred to David he never asked Ava where she lived. Did she have a conventional flat, or did she continually travel like a vagabond? There were so many questions, but no more time in which to ask them.

She read him as well as he had read her. "I'll answer all of your questions in due course, David," she said. "Never fear. You may hear more than you care to on that auspicious occasion."

They both heard Tim out in the hallway. David went to Ava quickly, grasping her by the shoulders. "Please be careful," he implored, moving his mouth to hers. "I love you."

"I know," she mumbled against his lips.

Tim came into the room, a sleepy-eyed Chee in tow. Chee saw her mother in David's embrace, and her demeanor changed. She smiled tremulously, but then frowned when she noticed her mother was dressed. Having lived through Ava's sudden disappearances many times in the past, Chee knew the signs. Tim coming for her in a hurry should have alerted her.

"You're leaving." Chee cried as she sped across the room to her mother. David released Ava, and she enveloped Chee into her embrace.

"I'm afraid so, love," Ava told her daughter sadly. "You know how much I hate it, but I have to go."

Chee choked on a sob, burying her face in her mother's chest. She despised it when Ava had to leave her, and she wanted to cry and beg her to stay, but she knew it would only upset Ava and postpone the inevitable. Chee was aware Ava was consumed with a large amount of guilt because of her lifestyle, and although Chee played along and pretended not to know what was really going on, she did understand and it only served to make her own guilt that much stronger. She always refrained from referring to the truth, as it would horrify Ava to admit it to her, and would only make the situation worse than it was. Chee breathed deep of her mother, trying to get as close to her as possible.

Ava stroked the top of Chee's tousled head, tears streaming down her face. "I'll come to Kylemore in a few weeks, okay?" she said, trying to steady her voice. She gingerly extracted herself from Chee, wiping away the child's tears. "It'll go fast, you'll see."

Tim felt his heart breaking as he watched the desperate scene unfold between mother and daughter. Tim abhorred this bit of their leave-taking, as he always did. He could never quite get used to it, and he turned his head to look away. His own tears threatened to spill, but he had no intention of letting Locksley see such a display.

David felt helpless, yet again, as he saw Chee step back from her mother, trying to be brave. He wanted so much to console his own daughter, but he knew she would reproach him if he tried. They were not familiar enough, and they hadn't spent nearly enough time together. He wanted to shout his frustration out loud, but instead he stepped forward and cleared his throat.

Ava looked at him.

"Why don't you let me take Chee back to Kylemore?" David asked her. "We can catch a plane out of Edinburgh. I'll rent a car at Shannon Airport and then drive Chee and Sophie to the abbey. I can also give Siobhan a lift to Monasterboice."

Ava hesitated. Her first instinct was to deny David his request, but she had come to see him in a different light the last few days. He would not betray them, and she knew he would protect Chee with his own life if need be.

"Oh, please yes, Mummy," Chee spoke up, her voice hopeful. "It would be wonderful if David took us home. Can he, please?"

Ava nodded. "Okay. But all of you need to be especially careful."

"We know, mother," Chee stated, rolling her eyes.

David met Ava's eyes and smiled. "Chee is safe with me. I promise you that."

"Ava," Tim interjected. "We really have to go."

Ava bent down to kiss Chee. "Take care, love. I'll see you in a few weeks, okay?"

Chee hugged Ava tightly once again. With great reluctance, Ava removed herself as Tim came forward to help her. She turned to David and spoke quietly: "Thank you, David. I'll be in touch."

"I'll be waiting," he replied lightly, his eyes trying to soak her in.

After Ava and Tim slipped from the room, Chee ran into David's arms and began to heave great sobs. He tried to quell her anguish, and realized for the first time he was able to console his own daughter in her time of need. His heart swelled with emotion as he clutched her tightly to him. He swore in that moment he would never let Ava and Chee down, no matter what happened. They were his life now, and he would never give them up again. No matter how bizarre or strange their life might be - snatched moments of togetherness, or months on end with no contact - he would treasure each and every second. At least he would be with them, and he was willing to pay any price for all of the stolen minutes, hours and days.

David held Chee tightly, resting his cheek on top of her head gently. He closed his eyes and let his own tears fall. It was a long time before either of them roused from the comfort of their mutual embrace.



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.