Maggie’s go to setting when she was worried was Full Organizational Mode.
Michelle observed this in amusement as she sipped her white wine and watched her friend reorganize the bottles behind the bar for the third time in the last twenty minutes.
The clock above the cash register read 2:15AM. Maggie McGee’s had been closed for over an hour, and the two women were the only ones in the place.
Maggie was so engrossed in what she was doing that she didn’t appear to be aware of Michelle’s presence, even though she had poured her wine only moments earlier.
“I’m trying to figure this out,” Michelle finally broke the silence. “Are you organizing them by color now?”
Maggie turned around with a smile. “Very observant. I’m arranging them by the colors of the bottles, and then within that grouping, by the color of the liquor inside said bottles.”
Michelle raised an eyebrow and took a sip of wine to wash down that information.
Maggie turned her attention back to the bottles, but continued to speak. “Before that, it was alphabetic by company name. The first run through was organized by country of origin within a further grouping by continent.”
Michelle whistled. “I’m hoping this is a coping mechanism rather than a full blown meltdown.”
Maggie chuckled and left the bottles alone. She grabbed a wineglass from the rack, and poured herself some of what Michelle was drinking. When she offered to top off Maggie’s glass, her friend indicated that she was fine.
“It’s my Ma’s fault,” Maggie explained as she leaned against the bar. “When I was a wee lass growing up in Ireland, Ma had a tendency to lean full tilt into the organizing whenever she was worried. As a result, we had the most organized house in the country, if not the entire UK.”
Michelle smiled, but knew not to interrupt.
“My Da and uncles were members of a local organization that…” she paused while she searched for the right words. “Well, let’s just say they made their feelings well known on a global level about how much they disapproved of England’s presence in Northern Ireland.”
Michelle raised both eyebrows once she had decrypted what Maggie had just revealed.
“Of course at that age, I knew nothing about politics or what my Da and uncles were really doing. All I was told was that they went on ‘camping trips’ that sometimes lasted a few days or even a couple of weeks.”
“As soon as they would leave, Ma would start organizing again. I was keen enough to understand that she was worried about Da, but I couldn’t comprehend why. I’d ask her why she was worried when we both knew Da and the uncles were experts at camping.”
“Ma would shoo me away, and tell me to say extra prayers just in case the bears were out and angry this time of year. I thought my Ma was daft since there were never any reports of bear attacks in Ireland.”
“Da and the uncles would always return and regale me with wild tales about their camping trip. Ma would tell them not to fill my head with crazy stories, but I wanted to hear every last detail. The second they returned, Ma stopped organizing and went back to being herself. She also clung to Da like she had been afraid that she would never see him again.”
Maggie paused here to take a long sip of wine. The bar was absolutely silent and Michelle hung on every word because she knew there had to be a twist coming.
“One day, Da returned from his camping trip without my uncles. Ma was in a state of utter panic. I was just happy to have him back safe and sound, but I was suddenly very concerned about the possibility of a bear attack.”
“That night, they explained that we were going to America the very next day to visit our relatives. We’d been talking about his trip for as long as I could remember, but I didn’t think we’d ever leave Ireland. Apparently, one of the perks of Ma’s organizational skills was that bags were already packed with everything we’d need for the journey.”
“I wasn’t even allowed to say goodbye to my friends or pack up my favorite things. At first light, we were on the way to the airport. A few hours later, we were over the Atlantic Ocean on the way to my new home. I had no idea at the time that I’d never return to Ireland other than as a visitor years later.”
“Wow,” Michelle finally broke her silence, but really didn’t know what else to say. She had just learned things about her friend’s past that no one else would never be allowed to know.
“Please don’t judge me based upon whatever sins my loved ones might have committed a lifetime ago,” Maggie pleaded.
Michelle smiled reassuringly. “I’d never do that. If I did, I’d have to hate you for the way your boyfriend treats mine on a daily basis.”
“Fair play!” Maggie complimented her and laughed.
It was like the tension had suddenly been broken, but it was clear that neither woman was ready to let down her guard and relax.
“Thank you for sharing that with me,” Michelle said. “I was always curious about what brought you here, but I didn’t want to intrude on the past.”
“And for that I thank you,” Maggie countered. “It’s not that I didn’t trust you, it’s just that it could be a lot to digest, and Americans seem to have various preconceived notions about the Troubles in the old country.”
Maggie refilled both their glasses. This time, Michelle was happy for more wine.
“I take it you’re worried about Bruno,” Michelle tossed out there as she pointed in the general direction of the constantly rearranged bottles behind the bar.
“You are very astute, my friend,” Maggie answered with a sly grin and then pulled a set of rosary beads from her pocket. “This is my second set since he left. I wore down the beads on the first one from praying so much.”
Michelle wasn’t very religious, but she got the gist of how much praying it would take to damage beads that were created strictly for the act of prayer.
“I don’t worry about Chip when he’s here. He’s a great detective who exercises extreme caution at a very dangerous job,” she said as she returned the rosary to her pocket.
“Except, of course, when my boyfriend gets shot while working with him,” Michelle teased.
Maggie’s jaw dropped. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it that way…”
Michelle patted her hand to assure her she was just joking.
They both took a drink to help deal with the memories of the day that Irish Tony had almost killed both their men. If they hadn’t already been close friends at that point, they certainly would have been after they spent so much time together in the hospital.
“I know that every night, Chip’s going to come home to me,” Maggie explained. “It’s just this sense I have that. No matter what happens during the day, he’ll be there in the bed next to me that night, and all will be well with my world. Now, however, he’s off in DC working with that FBI agent, and it unnerves me to no end.”
The mention of the FBI agent piqued Michelle’s interest.
“The mystery case that Wally frets about constantly because he can’t understand why Bruno won’t trust him with it,” Michelle added.
Maggie nodded and drummed her fingers nervously on the bar as she wrestled internally with whether she should tell Michelle anything.
“It’s not that Chip doesn’t trust Wally…”
Now Michelle nodded. “I get that, but surely you must understand how Wally feels…”
“Chip will be so upset if he finds out I said anything, but I can’t keep this bottled up inside anymore,” Maggie almost pleaded. “Do you promise not to say anything to Wally?”
Michelle nodded emphatically. “Of course. You can tell me anything…”
Maggie let out a heavy sigh as if she was about to unburden her soul and lift the weight of the world from her slight shoulders.
“Chip has received some alarming correspondence,” she said barely above a whisper as if she feared Bruno would somehow hear her. “It’s connected to something from his past, and he wants to protect his current life from that event. That’s why he’s being so secretive.”
“And the FBI is helping him track down the sender?” Michelle asked as her mind worked feverishly to connect the pieces.
“Something along those lines,” Maggie said with a slight shrug because she knew she could not give away too much. “I know he wants to tell you and Wally once he has more information, but at the moment they’re still trying to confirm if the threat is even real. If you ask me, it’s damn real enough if it has Chip going to the FBI for help.”
Michelle quickly realized it was her job to act as best friend here and console Maggie, rather than to continue to try to pump her for information.
“Everything is going to be okay,” Michelle promised. “He would never put himself in a situation that wouldn’t allow him to be able to protect you.”
Maggie nodded that this made sense, more because she wanted it to be true than anything else. She chugged the rest of her wine to help make that logic sound more like reality.
“Wally assumes that this case has to do with that bank robbery back in August since the FBI will often get involved in those kinds of cases,” Michelle told her. “I’ll make sure he continues to think that, and I won’t tell him a word of what you shared with me.”
Maggie managed a weak smile. “Chip figured Wally would believe that as well. He says there’s no reason to get Wally all worked up about a threat that might not amount to anything.”
Michelle nodded her understanding. “That’s what he does. He puts the welfare of others before his own. I can see why you tolerate his other abhorrent qualities.”
Maggie snorted out loud at that one.
“Thank you. That’s exactly what I needed.”
Their bonding was suddenly interrupted by headlights washing across the interior of the bar as a delivery truck turned down into the alley.
“Are you sure you’re okay with what we’re about to do?” Michelle quickly switched gears as the reality of their current situation hit her.
“Definitely,” Maggie answered without hesitation. “It’s what Chip wants, so it’s totally fine with me.”
Michelle smiled. The main reason she was at the bar at this hour was to make sure that Maggie was in agreement with the plan. Somehow, however, she had allowed herself to get distracted. She wanted to be mad at herself for losing focus, but then she realized that she preferred having a friend with whom she could bond like this.
There was a knock at the side door.
“Let’s do this then,” Michelle suggested.
Maggie nodded and picked up a ring of keys from next to the cash register. Michelle then followed her towards the door that opened into the alley.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Wow! I hung on every word of this!! Not only do I have a better understanding of Maggie, but I’m so curious as to what’s going on with the delivery truck. I’m so intrigued with the mystery!! Very well done, Austin!! 👏👏
Thank you! I’ve been waiting for the right moment to reveal Maggie’s secret past and this seemed like the perfect, unexpected time to do it…
We needed this insight into Maggie. Thank you, Austin, for continuously bulking up our story. Yes, now it’s ours, not yours!!
Thank you, Mark. I’m sensing that the follow up novel has more breadth to it than the original. I’m hoping that’s a good thing. The first novel introduces us to the characters and focuses on Bruno’s investigation. This second novel expands on the universe and tells us more about its residents…
now we know Maggie a lot better –
Yes. I just finished the first pass at the next chapter and we learn something personal about Vlak that I might have stolen from my own high school experience… 🙂
I’m so hooked on this story I just keep wanting more and more. Loved learning more about Maggie, she’s actually one of my favorites 😁
I’m so happy to hear that. I purposely didn’t revealed much about the characters in the first two serials. I wanted them to grow as the stories progressed…