The Professor Dunne Mysteries,
Book One, ‘The Simple Matter of the Elusive Illusionist’
Sandra woke up.
‘I don’t know about anyone else,’ she said, ‘but I could really eat something.’
Chuck looked in his rear-view mirror.
‘Absolutely, Sweetheart,’ he said. ‘I was just thinking the same.’
He turned to the Professor.
‘What about you, Prof?’ he said.
Professor Dunne stiffened slightly before relaxing. It would be extremely rude to take an elderly American to task for being over-familiar while he was driving down a motorway at 120 kilometres per hour. Despite her annoyance even the Professor felt that this would be going a step too far.
‘I could eat,’ she said instead. ‘I could probably eat something.’
‘Well, good,’ smiled Chuck. ‘That’s settled then, three probable somethings coming right up.
The Horse and Jockey Hotel in Kilnoe, Co. Tipperary was completely full. Well, almost. Our three travellers followed a young girl who led them through the busy dining room. She stopped at a small table covered in piles of napkins, bottles of ketchup and pots of mustard, placed everything on the table along a shelf just above it and arranged four odd chairs around the table.
‘But there’s only three of us,’ said the dismayed Professor.
‘There is for now,’ the girl replied, ‘but you never know.’
‘I think we do,’ replied the Professor, her hackles rising.
The girl smiled and didn’t reply. She was well used to feisty pensioners getting crabby over the poor conditions in the dining room. Chuck and Sandra sat down. Chuck smiled at the girl.
‘Could we have a look at the menu, please,’ he said kindly. ‘We’re starving hungry and looking forward to something traditional.’
‘No need,’ replied the girl, putting her pad and pen back in her pocket. ‘Everything’s gone, we only have coddle left. We’ve got two coaches on their way to meet a cruise ship at Cobh and they cleared us right out of frozen fish and chicken wings.’
‘What a frightful combination,’ said the Professor.
‘Oh,’ said the girl. ‘Not together, Miss, you can’t order them together. You can only have one or the other.’
‘Or neither,’ said the Professor, ‘as we’ve been beaten to them by hordes of hungry holiday makers, haven’t we?’
The girl looked around the crowded dining room.
‘Pilgrims, Miss, not holiday makers. They’re pilgrims.’
‘Pilgrims?’ said the Professor. ‘What on earth would pilgrims want with frozen fish?’
‘It’s Friday, Miss,’ said the girl, wishing her shift would miraculously end here and now.
‘Of course it is,’ said the Professor. She looked at Chuck and Sandra. ‘I guess we’ll have to make do with three plates of coddle, please.’
Sandra looked slightly perplexed. She smiled at the girl.
‘What’s in a coddle, please.’
The girl smiled back, probably pleased that she was speaking to someone else. The Professor had really put the wind up her.
‘Coddle,’ she said as kindly as she could. ‘Not a coddle.’
‘Oh,’ said Sandra sheepishly. ‘What’s in coddle.’
The girl smiled, pleased with the small victory she managed to win.
‘Bangers and rashers and spuds and oinons and herbs.’
‘Bangers?’ said Sandra. ‘What on earth’s a banger?’
‘I believe it is another name for a pork sausage,’ replied the Professor, herself uncertain about the appropriateness of such a word on a menu. ‘It doesn’t sound very appetising, does it?’
‘That’s all we have, Miss,’ said the girl. ‘It’s that or nothing pie.’
Chuck went to say something but Sandra stopped him.
‘Three bowls of coddle, please, she said.
The girl smiled.
‘Cutlery is on the shelf above your head. You have to order drinks at the bar over there.’
Over there seemed far too far to have to travel.
The coddle quickly arrived and before anyone had time to ask for anything else three bowls of thin-looking stew with small pink lumps of sausage bobbing in a broth alongside waxy potatoes were expertly plonked down in front of them.
‘It’s a local delicacy to add ketchup to the coddle,’ said the girl as she sidled away to serve another table. ‘Enjoy!’
‘That looks tasty,’ said a voice to the Professor’s right. She looked up to see an orange-hued man with a huge silver quiff sit down opposite her. ‘I’m fond of a bit of coddle,’ said the man.
‘I’m sure you are,’ replied the Professor, her senses quickly recovered. ‘Perhaps you might take your aforementioned fondness for coddle to another table? I’m sure the coaches are leaving very shortly.’
‘They probably are,’ replied the orange man, ‘but I’m not with them. I’m on my own.’
‘I’m not surprised,’ replied the Professor. ‘You can’t just sit down next to people and start a conversation as they’re about to eat their coddle without so much as a please or thank you.’
The man pointed at the girl.
‘She said this was the only seat left in the entire dining room and because you were such a lovely old lady you really wouldn’t mind if I ate my lunch with you.’
‘Well she was wrong,’ said the Professor. ‘In fact that poor, misguided girl could not have been wronger if she had tried.’
‘Wronger,’ smiled the man. ‘Is that a real word?’
‘It is now,’ snapped the Professor.
‘Joxer Flanagan,’ said Joxer Flanagan as he shook Chuck and Sandra’s hands. ‘Lead singer of the Joxer Flanagan Star Times Showband, formed in 1967 and still going strong today.’
‘A showband?’ said Chuck politely. ‘You must have some interesting stories about life on the road?’
Joxer’s eyes lit up. The Professor’s dimmed somewhat darker.
‘Well funny you should say that,’ smiled Joxer. ‘Did I ever tell you about the time that I …’
‘I’m sure you already have,’ said the Professor. There was an edge to her voice that even seasoned members of the Professor’s inner circle would not have recognised.
‘I’m not quite sure what you mean, Mum,’ said Joxer. ‘We have never met before, have we?’
The Professor stiffened.
‘Oh, you would know if we had ever met before, you self-inflated, pompous old fool.’
‘Professor …’ protested Sandra.
Joxer waved Sandra’s protests away.
‘I’m fine here,’ he smiled. ‘Let the lady have her say.’
The lady. The lady! Professor Dunne considered tipping her bowl of coddle over the conceited singer’s head. The trouble was if she missed she might spatter her travelling companions and that would never do. She took stock of the oaf sat before her.
He was tall and even though his skin was orange-hued he was handsome. This made it even worse. Being the lead singer of a showband, he was more than used to being adored. His hair was beautifully coiffed in the sort of well-oiled quiff that would make most men jealous, not least those in their later years. Even though she would never dare to admit it to anyone, this pompous prig looked a lot like an Irish Rock Hudson. You’ll never those words issue forth from my lips, she said to him in her head.
Fortunately, the girl returned and saved everyone sitting at the table, especially the Professor, from ‘the lady’ having her ‘say.’
‘What can I get you?’ she asked Joxer.
As the Professor watched, Joxer turned slightly to one side and spoke quietly out of the side of his mouth. The Professor thought he looked perfectly ridiculous. The girl blushed slightly and almost curtsied.
‘Well, my dear,’ drawled Joxer, ‘I guess I’ll have a bowl of whatever these good folks are having.’
Joxer’s accent was somewhere clearly in the midpoint between Mullingar and Michigan. Even Chuck was taken aback by the jarring oddness of Joxer’s accent.
‘Are you one of us?’ he asked.
Joxer turned to Chuck and smiled.
‘Why most certainly, my fine fellow, whatever one of us is.’
‘I meant American,’ Chuck continued.
‘So did I,’ continued Joxer without missing a beat. ‘I have always been American in everything I do and have done, the difference being that I was born here instead of there.’
‘And where is here exactly?’ asked the Professor.
‘Dublin by way of Roscommon.’
‘So why pretend to be American?’
‘I’m not pretending, I’m simply demonstrating the full range of my stagecraft.’
All Rights Reserved Barnaby Taylor 2018