Chapter Four: The Vanishing.
Fate has a dark sense of humor but she must have been in particularly fickle form when she chose Christmas Day to take Fintan from his family.
Fintan knocked on Mark's door and opened it wide enough to pop his head in.
“Are you going to stay in bed all day, Lazybones?”
“Jesus, Dad; it's only seven o'clock!”
“Oh, well in that case, stay there! I thought you'd be interested in seeing your Christmas present, that's all.”
Mark threw his eyes up to heaven and swung his legs out of bed. Fintan grinned. “I thought so. See you downstairs.”
Mark shuffled into the living room five minutes later rubbing his eyes.
“He’s down in the games room,” said Bree.
Mark continued down the stairs to the room beside the garage where the snooker table, dart board, jukebox and various other diversions resided. His jaw fell open.
Standing against the far wall of the games room were three early-80s video arcade cabinets.
“Oh … my … God,” said Mark, now wide awake. “Defender, Pac-Man and Battlezone. Where did you even find these?”
“Oh, I got in contact with an old guy who used to run one of the arcades in Wicklow when I was your age. He had them in his shed. Your mother and I got them restored.”
Mark grasped the joysticks on the Battlezone cabinet and looked through the periscope. “I’ve never even seen one in real life. Does it work?”
“Oh, it most certainly does!” said Bree from the door. “He was up most of the night playing it. I’m surprised he didn’t wake you.”
Fintan shrugged and put on a mock sheepish look. “I just wanted to make sure it was working OK then I got hooked trying to beat my old high score.”
Mark rushed over and hugged him. “Ah, thanks Dad. These are amazing!”
“You’re welcome, Son. Don’t forget to thank your mother too. She did most of the spade work looking for replacement circuit boards on the Internet for that Pac-Man machine.”
Mark ran over and grabbed Bree in a bear-hug. “Thanks Mum. I love you.”
“You’re welcome, Mark. I love you too. I must do given the amount of time I’ve wasted on that little yellow bastard.”
Mark looked shocked. “Who? Dad?”
Bree burst out laughing and back-handed him gently on the chest. “No, you ninny! Pac-Man!”
Mark turned to see Fintan leaning on the snooker table in convulsions of laughter. Mark reddened then snorted with laughter himself.
“Oh Mark,” said Fintan, wiping his eyes, “that was priceless. I’ve been called a few things in my time but never a little yellow bastard.”
“Oh God, I’m such an idiot sometimes,” said Mark chuckling.
“I’ve called him worse,” said Bree. “You’d want to hear what I called him when he arrived with those three arcade machines covered in cobwebs. Well, anyway Mark, I hope you like them.”
“Aw, you guys are the best,” said Mark, and the three hugged together in the door of the games room.
“Now,” said Bree, “get back upstairs and get some breakfast then you can play Little Yellow Bastard or Big Green Tank to your heart’s content.”
Fintan walked into the games room later that morning and found Mark glued to the Battlezone machine.
“What’s your score?”
“Ah, I’ve just restarted. Those missiles that come screaming down from the mountains keep killing me.”
“Yeah, they’re tricky. Took me a while to get the hang of dodging them.”
“Um-hmm,” mumbled Mark as he wrenched at the steering controls. “Ah flippin’ flip! I’m dead again! Do you want a go, Dad?”
“Actually, I thought we’d get out of the house for a while.”
“Yeah? Where d’you want to go?”
“How about going for a drive?”
“Ah, nowhere special. Let’s just hit the road and see where it takes us. I’m sure your mother would be just as happy to have the house to herself for a few hours.”
“Will we take the SUV or the Porsche?”
Mark grinned. “Oh, the Porsche. Definitely the Porsche.”
Fintan headed for the door then paused, a smile playing at the edges of his lips. “’Flipping flip?’ Really? Is that what you say when I’m not around?”
“Sure. What else would I say?”
“Yeah, right!” said Fintan. “Go get your jacket and say goodbye to your mother. I’ll see you in the flippin’ garage.”
Fifteen minutes later Fintan and Mark reversed out of the garage, drove down the long avenue and out onto the coast road. They headed south then inland towards south-west Wicklow, turned off the Sat Nav, and tried to get themselves lost; a feat they often attempted but rarely achieved. After an hour they found some back roads they’d never been on, and an hour after that they came to a small town.
They drove through slowly, the low suspension of the Porsche grazing the speed-bumps. The town was almost empty but as they approached a pedestrian crossing opposite a church, a man in a black suit crossed. The Porsche glided to a halt. As the man passed the front of the car, Mark saw a flash of white at his collar: He was a priest. But he was the weirdest-looking priest Mark had ever seen: His head was shaved except for the back where the hair was plaited into a long ponytail, and a large crucifix was tattooed on the side of his neck. A gold earring in the shape of a strange symbol hung from the priest’s ear. He looks more like a Kung Fu master than a priest, thought Mark. The priest’s eyes wandered over the car then onto the people inside. They took in Mark for a moment then flicked over to Fintan and widened. Mark sensed Fintan stiffen in his seat. The priest’s step faltered for a moment then he kept walking. He gave a slight nod to Fintan which he returned almost imperceptibly. They recognized each other, no doubt about it; but Mark had no idea how. His father wasn’t religious and it seemed unlikely he’d know a priest in a remote country town.
“Who was that, Dad?”
Fintan looked at him, his brow furrowed.
“I’ve no idea Marco; just some priest.”
“Don’t you know him?”
“No. How would I know him?”
“Oh, I just thought you recognized each other.”
“No Marco, I’ve no idea who he is,” said Fintan, and drove on; his face gone pale and his lips tight.
Later that afternoon Fintan got a phone call which he took in his study. A short while later he walked into the kitchen, cellphone in one hand, coffee cup in the other.
“Listen guys, I know it’s bad timing but I have to go out for a few minutes.”
“Oh Fintan!” said Bree, “Not just before Christmas dinner! You’re always doing this. Can’t it wait 'til after we’ve eaten?”
“Well, not really. I want to enjoy my Christmas dinner with you guys and have a couple of glasses of wine. I can’t do that if I have to drive afterwards.”
Bree glared, her head shaking slightly. Fintan raised his shoulders and held out his palms.
“Look, I need to go to the office and email some house-plans to a client. He wants to show them to his father-in-law over dinner. I’ll be gone half-an-hour, max.”
Bree, who knew every nuance of her husband’s body-language, noticed his coffee cup hand: the pinkie was tucked up over the next finger; a sign he was nervous – or lying. She stared at him tight lipped and shaking her head then threw her eyes up to heaven. What’s the point of arguing? He’s going to go anyway.
“Go on. But remember you said ‘half an hour,’ OK?”
“Of course. Half an hour. Love you.”
He kissed Bree then turned to Mark and grabbed him in an unusually tight hug.
“Love you too, Marco.”
“Wow Dad, you’re crushing me.”
“Man, the height of you! I don’t even have to bend down to give you a hug anymore.”
Fintan looked into Mark’s eyes and held the gaze for a moment; then a moment longer. Something about the look troubled Mark.
“Listen Marco, when I get back I’ve got something to tell you. I was waiting until you were old enough but I think today’s the day.”
“What is it, Dad?”
“I’ll tell you when I get back. Gotta dash. Love you guys. Half an hour.”
Then he was gone down the stairs to the garage. Mark went through to the first-floor living room. The sky was darkening over Wicklow Bay and there was rain on the hills. Moments later Fintan’s Porsche appeared from the garage and Mark watched the rear lights disappear down the avenue.
And Fintan was gone.