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True Friendship

Story ID:3011
Written by:John Ward (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Family History
Writers Conference:$500 2007 Family Memories Writing Project
Location:Dublin Ireland
Year:1923
Person:John Ward and Dr. Nell
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Despite terrible hardship and cruel injustices suffered at the hands of the British occupation in Northern Ireland, my Grandfather, John Ward, managed to retain his sense of humor, his compassion for others and his love of life.

When my father was a little boy of about five, the family was put out of their estate onto the road with their entire serving staff; given only a kitchen table and a kitchen chair. That is what the law allowed. They were told to head south and south they went.

In the Republic of Ireland John Ward built several businesses that resulted in small fortunes, which he would lose and then rebuild. When the family was successful, there were always friends with whom to celebrate their success, when the family was impoverished most of those friends seemed to melt away. My Grandfather once said to my father: “Son, when you have a pound note in each pocket, you’re walking between two friends.” Despite this cynical observation, my Grandfather loved people and always gave the benefit of the doubt.

During one lucrative period in the family’s life John Ward started to notice that a friend of his, Michael Flaherty, was starting to look very strained. He never asked him why, but would try to get him to come to the house for a meal or to join him in a game of golf. Michael would always decline with the excuse that he was very busy.

As time passed Michael began to look worse. He was drawn and haggard looking, obviously under tremendous strain, but still, he never came to John or imposed on anyone for advice or help. At last John Ward could not stand the way his friend was deteriorating and one day he took him aside and said: “Michael, you are my friend and I would have to be a blind man not to notice that there is something fierce troubling you. Michael, remember, I am your friend and if there is anything I can do, let me know and I’ll do it instantly.”

Michael looked at him with baleful eyes and said: “Johnny, I thank you from the bottom of me heart, but I fear there is nothing for it. I cannot impose upon you for I am in a pickle of my own making and cannot get out.”

“Michael,” said John, “there is no problem that cannot be solved if there is a solution at all. You’re not dying are you?”

“No Johnny, alas I’m not. I would that I were though, I’d be a damn sight better off dead.”

John said: “Oh Michael, it grieves me to hear you talk so. What about Katie and the boys, would you leave them to fend for themselves in such a hard world?”

Michael looked ready to weep when he said: “Oh Johnny, you touch at me poor old heart now. I couldn’t do that and that is the only reason I am still alive and able to talk to you now.”

“Then talk man,” my Grandfather said gently, “Let me shoulder some of your burden. By God I have shoulder enough for both of us.”

Poor Michael Flaherty could not contain himself at that point and burst into tears saying: “Johnny, there is a man and a woman and they have me over a barrel. They are blackmailing me about something I am ashamed to describe, but they’ve been bleeding me dry and I’ve paid all I have and I’ve even borrowed money putting me land and home up as collateral. I am near broken Johnny and I’ve got nowhere to turn.”

My Grandfather thought for a while and said: “Michael, I don’t care what they have on you and I don’t want to know. In my judgment, you’re a good man. I know you through and through. But what they’re doing must stop. How much do they ask of you each time?”

“Oh they come regularly and usually I can scrape together five hundred pounds, but I am skint now Johnny and they’ve called for a meeting.”

“Look Michael, whatever they have is useless if you go to the police, because once the word is out, they have nothing to threaten you with.”

“Yes,” said Michael, “but what they have could ruin me and destroy my family. I cannot get the police involved.”

“Exactly when do they want to meet next Michael?”

“This Saturday night at the Hound’s Tooth Hotel and I haven’t the cash for them Johnny, I am sure ruined.”

“Can you contact them Michael?” asked my Grandfather.

“Yes, we meet at a public house on O’Connell Street.” said the hapless Michael Flaherty.

“Michael it’s just Wednesday, give me a day to think on it and I’ll get back in touch with you, but I want you to know, we will fix this come Saturday, have no fear of that!” said my Grandfather as he watched the first light of relief come into poor Michael’s eyes. “We’ll meet tomorrow night here at the office and I’ll tell you what we’ll do.”

“Oh Johnny, if you could take this crown of thorns from me head, I would be much obliged to you, but please, whatever you do, don’t go to the police!”

“Don’t you worry Michael, go home and get some rest tonight. I believe I feel the first inkling of a plan touching my heart.”
With that the men parted and John returned to speak with his stalwart friend and partner, Dr. Nell.

The next evening they both came to meet with Michael at the office. When they entered, Michael was there alone and he nodded saying: “Johnny, Doctor Nell.”

“Well now Michael, I have discussed this with Dr. Nell and we are in accord. What I would like you to do is to contact these people and tell them that you have stolen ten thousand pounds from the company safe and it’ll be theirs if they will bring all the evidence they have and give it to you.”

“Ten thousand pounds! Where in the name of the seven protestant orphans of Ring’s End will I get ten thousand pounds?” asked Michael, with sweat breaking out on his forehead.

“Don’t worry, you won’t have to. The amount is a fortune and they won’t be able to resist it. You will carry a small suit case as if you have the money. The reason you’re going to offer them so much is so they’ll be sorely tempted and more likely to agree to your terms.”

“My terms?” asked the confused Michael.

“Yes, your terms are these: They must come and bring every piece of evidence they have against you and you will hand over everything you stole, the entire ten thousand pounds. If there is anything missing they will not get the money. If they bring it all they get the money and they now have the knowledge that you robbed your employer to use against you into the bargain. This will make them feel safe and give them something on you for the future. Tell them you have no money left. They have broken you taking five hundred every three or four months, but they may have the money you stole to save your family the embarrassment of being exposed.”

“But Johnny, they may withhold one or two of the letters they have - written in me own hand.”

“Michael, you know what they have and if they hold anything back, you tell them the deal is off.”

“But what if I do and they go to the police?” asked the frightened Michael.

“Don’t give that another thought. Leave that to the doctor and to me. Now make arrangements to meet them tomorrow night at the pub and tell them what I told you.”

Poor Michael went off, his shoulders slumped feeling less sure than the night before, but with a slim ray of hope that his friends would help him. As the doctor and my Grandfather left the building John said:

“Doctor, it’s time to see Paddy O’Conner at the police station.”

“Didn’t you tell Michael you’d not go to the police?” asked Dr. Nell.

“Yes, I did and I intend to keep that promise. I just need to borrow something for a play I am going to be in.”

Saturday came and Michael had made the arrangements as well as his feverish mind would allow. He had rented a room at the Hound’s Tooth Hotel where the meeting would take place. John and Dr. Nell came to the room an hour before the meeting and secreted themselves behind the long, heavy curtains. At the appointed time, Michael Flaherty arrived with his small suitcase. It had a substantial lock on the outside as if it contained something valuable. They spoke in whispers until they heard the sound of footsteps approaching the room.

Michael opened the door and there stood an attractive woman in her thirties and a craven looking con-man who seemed also to be in his thirties. His thick black eyebrows met above his hawkish nose and his thick hair was greased back with “Dapper Dan” hair cream from America. This man spared no expense on his appearance. He had a confident leering smile on his face, the sort of arrogant smile one sees on the face of a school yard bully who knows he has put the fear of God into all and sundry.

The woman looked bored and hard. She had the eyes of a woman who had seen more than any human should have. She dressed in a provocative fashion, wearing clothes that were much too young for her. She was also trying to follow the styles of the American States. She looked like a misplaced “Flapper” with long beads and a band around her head. She took out a long cigarette holder and stuffed a cigarette into the end without lighting it. John thought he might guess what trouble Michael was in.

Michael greeted them the same way he greeted John and Dr. Nell: “Alma, Reginald.”

“So our good friend Michael Flattery pulled a big job now did he?” asked Reginald rhetorically. “Wants to get the goodies back now, is that it?”

“Give it to him Reg, let’s get out of here.” said the provocative Alma.

“Just a second sugar… where’s the dough Mickey?” asked Reginald.

“It’s here,” said Michael clutching the case as if it held the treasures of all Arabia in it. “but I have to have everything Reginald, or I will not give you a cent and I’ll start shouting the place down!”

“You wouldn’t do that Mick, not with what I could show them.”

“I’m at the end of me rope Reginald. I can’t take any more. Either you give me all, or the deal is off!”

“Reggie come on, we can get out of Ireland, we can go to America and start over. Stop toying with him, we agreed.” Alma was using her thighs and hands to convince Reginald.

“Right you are sugar, I know. Fine… Michael, this is your lucky day. I have decided, through the goodness of my heart, to let you buy it all back with that ten thousand pounds you have. Let me see it…”

“Let me see the evidence first, I must confirm it’s all there or I will not deal.”

“Give it to him Reg, let’s go.” said Alma.

“Here it is Mick; all of it, in this envelope, now give us the dough!”

“First put it out on the bed” said Michael clutching the bag even tighter, “I’ll not give you this money until I see everything on the bed!” he said nodding at the bed near the curtains.

Reginald hesitated, but took into account that he was there with a runt of a man that he could easily overpower, so he pulled the documents out of the envelope and walked over to the bed against the curtains. John saw Dr. Nell tense as the man drew near and saw rage in his eyes, but he shook his head quickly and the doctor relaxed.

When the documents were on the bed, Michael Flaherty, still clutching the case, walked over and said: “Yes, that seems to be everything.” At that signal my Grandfather and Dr. Nell burst into the room from behind the curtains, my Grandfather flashing Paddy O’Connor’s badge and shouting, “Stand where you are, police! You are both under arrest!” At that the two tricksters bolted for the door. Dr. Nell and my Grandfather lunged after them, but allowed them get away with a few blows to the man’s head and back so that they would think they just pulled off the escape of a lifetime.

When they came back into the room they found Michael with the documents of his blackmailing in his arms looking exhausted, but relieved.

“Well they’re gone Michael and you’ll never hear from them again.” said John. “How can you be sure Johnny” asked Michael, “how do you know they won’t try again?” John sat next to Michael on the rust colored bedspread and put his arm around him:

“Because, Michael my fine friend, they think you have told the police, they think the police know all and are now after the blackmailers. They will never show their faces here again and they think you have confessed so there is nothing to hold over your head anymore. You’re a free man Michael. Go back to your wife and children and live a good life as if the whole thing never happened.” The relief in Michael’s eyes was overwhelming. Both men lifted him to his feet and together the three of them headed for the bar to celebrate Michael’s new stress-free life.