THE DOPPELGANGER PROJECT (PART ONE)
The Folkies on Tour
(We’ll do anything for money)
Sunday night was Folk Group night. The drill went something like this.
The gang would arrive outside the parish church and wait to be let in the side entrance by the sacristan. They would hurry through the sacristy, politely genuflect when passing the crucifix, set up the sound system and arrange the little stools that had been provided for them by the church council.
There would be a quick run through the various hymns that had been chosen the previous Wednesday, followed by a respectful silence while they awaited the identiy of the priest who was to say Mass. If it was Fr. Meldon or Fr. (Papa) Geaney, they would be out in less than forty minutes. If it was Fr. McGennis, you could add another fifteen on top of that. His sermons went on forever. You want to understand the concept of eternity, go sit through one of his homilies.
After Mass, there would be a swift packing up of microphones, a rapid sorting of chairs, a gathering of song sheets and a mad dash for the exit, complete with polite genuflecting, once again.
Then, it was over to the pub.
Sunday night was pub night for the St. Monica’s Parish Folk Group. Everyone, without exception, got shit-faced. Except during Lent, when there would be three or four who would abstain for the forty days and nights of the pre-Easter fast. James, the folk-group leader, attempted Lent once, but found that neither it nor alcohol-free lager was to his liking. It was the longest forty days of his life. He’d been miserable company during that time. Even his mother wished he went back on the beer.
Going to the pub after Mass was like meeting your fans after you’ve performed at a rock concert. The Folkies, as they were called, had their groupies. They were, however, of the older generation: the little old ladies who wore tea cosies on their heads and carried rosary beads as a fashion accessory; and the elderly gentlemen who hoped that the gang were the vanguard of the next generation — the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
Fat chance of that happening.
All the same, they took their liturgical work seriously. Most of them believed in some sort of God, but when it came to the pub, the social aspect took over. It was only natural for that to be the case. They were just a group of teenagers after all.
There was money to be made as well. Weddings were their speciality. They pulled two of those gigs every month, and all funds were lodged into the special Folk Group account in the local Allied Irish Bank in Edenmore. (Except for that one time when James, Fiona, Jacqui, Derek and Micka drank a day’s fee over in the Concorde. There was uproar from the others when they found out, not because the money hadn’t been lodged, but because they had missed out on a session.)
So, the Concorde Lounge Bar was where it all happened. And it’s where this story begins — with an invitation to County Mayo and a remote island off the coast of Achill.
“Who’s bleedin’ round is it?” asked Thomas ‘Jacko’ Jackson, a tall, skinny lad whose three passions in life were beer, his girlfriend Emer, who was sitting beside him, and Rod Stewart. “Someone put a hole at the bottom of my glass and all my beer has fallen out.” He raised his glass to show the rest of his friends that it was, indeed, empty.
“I’ll get them in,” said Sean Fitzsimons, who’s freckled face was at odds with the bleach-blond highlights he’d recently got done with his hair. The love of his life, Pamela, Emer’s sister, was in the toilet, probably thinking about what she’d get done to her hair the next time she was due for an appointment.
“Cheers,” said James. “I’ll have the usual, but if I give you the money, can you get me a sambuca as well?”
“What do you want to drink that shite for?” asked Sean. “It’s like drinking cough medicine.”
“It makes for a fine chaser with my Heineken,” James replied, “and it’s nearly last orders anyway. A bird never flew on one wing.”
“Do you want crushed ice with that.”
“No, I only take that with Galliano.”
“You can tell you’re a barman, James. All these fancy drinks and shit. I’ll be right back. Everyone else okay?”
The rest of the gang said they were all right, and off Sean toddled.
There was Vivienne Mahon sitting with Brian Clarke; Celine McAuley with Liam Parrott; and the love of James’s life (though she didn’t know it yet), Claire Cullen.
That made ten. There were others in the Folk Group, but they weren’t in the Concorde the night Fr. Meldon came over with the good news. It was Emer who spotted him.
“Sketch,” she exclaimed, warning the rest of the gang. “It’s Padre Peter.”
Fr. Peter Meldon was the Folkies’ spiritual adviser and it was rare that he ventured into the pub. He liked to think of himself as a trendy priest, smoking cigars (until a bout of glandular fever put paid to that) and riding around on his Honda 50. He organised retreats for the group once a year and on more than one occasion had to confiscate alcohol from the overnight bags. He tried to look after their best interests, but at times he was fighting a losing battle.
When he got to their table he looked like he’d had a glass or two of the altar wine. James had smuggled a bottle of it out once and found it to be rancid piss. He poured it over his mother’s flower bed the next morning. They didn’t last too long after, he was sorry to say.
“Do you remember that retreat we went on last year to Achill?” he said to the group in general.
“Yeah,” said Celine. “That was the greatest time. It was an awful pity you didn’t play strip poker with us that night. You’d have lost more than your collar.”
Peter pursed his lips. “I went into a heavy sleep that time, Celine. I’m convinced someone spiked my cocoa.”
“No one did anything of the sort,” said Pamela McAuley, who had just returned from the ladies toilets. She had fiddled with her hair yet again. She was the oldest of the McAuley sisters, and by far the most attractive, but she lacked the playful nature that her sisters, Emer and Celine, had. Sean was nuts about her though.
“Well, that’s by the by,” Peter remarked. “I’ve been made an interesting offer by a certain party from that neck of the woods.”
“What kind of an offer?” asked Brian Clark. He was a small lad, but well-built, and fancied himself as a bit of a drummer boy. His hero was Roger Taylor of Queen, but his style was more Animal from The Muppet Show. He’d been going out with Vivienne since he broke up with his long-term girlfriend Anne. James was a touch jealous though, he’d always fancied Viv. Then again, James fancied every girl who gave him the time of day. Claire was just the latest in a long list of unrequited love interests.
“The owner of a house on Goat Island is going on holiday to America in a month’s time. His house is in need of repair and would like to know if all of you could come over and carry out the necessary refurbishments.”
Jacko’s interest was piqued. He was a painter and decorator by trade, but times were bad and jobs were few and far between. This was 1985 and Ireland still hadn’t recovered from the recession of six years previously. He’d been thinking of fecking off to the States himself, but his father had died the year before and he didn’t want to leave his mother on her own just yet.
“All of us?” he asked.
“That’s what it says on the invitation. I have it here.” Peter took an envelope from his trouser pocket. A set of keys fell out, along with a wine screw. “Let me read it to you. Oh, hello Sean. Be a good lad, and go up to the bar for me, will you? Ask for a small sherry.”
“Fuck sake,” said Sean, and off he toddled again.
“Right,” Peter continued. “Ahem..’I wish to cordially invite the following ten members of St. Monica’s Parish Folk Group’…and he goes on to name all ten of you that are here, strange that…..’to Goatherd Manor, Goat Island to carry out some vital repair work. I’m reliably informed by those in the know that you are the best this parish has to offer. Full board and expenses will be provided and a more than competitive remuneration package will be offered, should you accept this invitation. I await your reply’…he signs it Lord Wistbury Karkoff, Earl of Goatherd.”
Peter put the letter back in the envelope and addressed the group again.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“I’m in,” said Jacko. “Sean’s my partner, so he’s in too. And we don’t go anwhere without our women, so they’re in as well.”
“The rest of you?”
Celine and Liam looked at each other, shrugged and then nodded their heads. The remainder of the group followed suit. James looked a bit concerned though.
“I’ve used up my holidays, Peter,” he said, “but I think I can pull a sickie.”
“Won’t be the first time you did that,” Claire said. She was tiny, but had the face of an angel. The voice of one too, if truth be told. She sang most of the solos and could also play guitar. If church musical groups could have rock-chicks, Claire would be theirs.
“I’ll get away with it as well,” James replied. “My mother owes me for grassing me up the last time.”
“So, are we in agreement then?” Padre Peter asked.
“We’re in,” replied the group in unison.
“We’re in what?” Sean had come back from the bar with more drink and has missed the goings-on.
“We’re going to Achill again, Sean. Next month.”
“Rapid,” replied Sean. “I can get my own back in strip poker.”
The Kremlin, Moscow.
General Yuri Kafelnikov received the call he was expecting. The KGB supremo had given his consent to activate “Projekt Doppelganger”, and was awaiting a progress report.
“Have you good news for me, Comrade Slavinski?”
“Yes, Comrade General,” said the voice on the other end of the phone. “The subjects have been chosen and will head for the island in a matter of weeks.”
“Is our mole in place?”
“Ready and waiting futher instructions.”
“I shall inform the Chairman. Good work, Comrade. Long live Mother Russia.”
“Da, long live the Soviet Union.”
Kafelnikov poured a glass of cold vodka and raised a toast to the painting of V.I. Lenin, which hung over the fire-place. “Soon the world shall be ours, Comrade Lenin. Soon the world shall belong to Communist Russia.”
He knocked back the vodka and flung the glass at the fire-place. It didn’t smash, however. It bounced off the grating and ricocheted into Lenin’s portrait, where it landed, right between his eyes.
Great shot, he thought.
(c) James McShane 2010
Continue to part two here