Francis Xavier and the Devil
Memory; summoned to his father's study; a room no one entered without invitation.
It was always night in the study. Thick dark curtains; forest green? always drawn, ceiling to the floor on two walls. No light could penetrate those heavy curtains, not in, not out, hiding the two small windows.
On one wall were bookshelves; mahogany, floor to ceiling, filled with books he could not touch, though occasionally throughout his life, as a gift, his father might bring one to him, expecting him to study it and be able to answer questions.
He dreaded books, they were another opportunity for him to disappoint his father.
It was winter, his ninth winter. He remembered the fire burning in the grate, the smoke of the wood adding to the smoke of the thick cigars the men were smoking.
The study, dark and thick and heavy with smoke, the windows behind the curtains slightly opened, to beg cold air into a room one could suffocate in. A room of power.
All the men wore dark suits, real suits; jacket, vest, tie, collar, cuff links. Men, important men, always dressed in suits. Always.
The men filled the two sofas, the four chairs.
His father on his chair, behind the desk, a mahogany desk. Uncle Seamus by the door inside. His son, Young Seamus, stood outside.
And he, nine year old Francis Xavier Kirkpatrick, summoned to the study.
He was dressed in his best suit, hair slicked down, face scrubbed. The door was opened for him by Young Seamus.
He remembered to stand tall, walk in measured step.
He was introduced to the men, looking into their eyes, repeating their names to himself, then saying, "Good to meet you, Mister---" and clasping their hands in a firm grip.
The words of his father chanted in his mind;
"Meet their eyes, plumb their souls, notice if their eyes meet yours, and how, notice their handshake, how they extend their arms; you can learn a lot about man from a handshake, learn it."
Francis Xavier met each man, beginning with the man who sat on the first chair to his left, going up the sofa, to the next man on a chair, crossing above the heavy coffee table to another chair, another sofa, a last chair, thenturning t o face his father.
"That is all, Xavier." His father said.
He was always called Xavier. His father shared his name and was called Frank or Francis. His mother was another Frances, and so he had to be Xavier.
He did not resemble his father but his mother. It made him feel obligated to please his father.
"Thank you, Father," Xavier replied, turning to the door, nodding to Uncle Seamus as he opened the door, then to Young Seamus in the hall.
Stepping out of the study was returning to his house. For his father's study was not part of the house, only part of his father.
The hall was bright with sparkling cedar floor, throw rugs here and there, and his room, at the end of the corridor, sharp with winter's frosty air, for he hated smoke, hated heat, preferred to tremble under layers of cloth or a blanket than to sweat.
He entered his room, so neat it seemed an exhibit. He removed his best suit, hung it next to his second best, the one he wore if this one was unavailable or the function he was to attend was second best.
Beside it was his third best suit, the one worn to Church. His fourth best was what he wore to run an errand when a pair of short pants and sweater would not be suitable.
The fourth suit was too small, if he had a brother it would be passed down. But he had no younger brother, three older sisters, only one still home.
Xavier pulled on his night shirt, climbed into bed, going over every second of his presentation to men who would later be called the 'Irish Mafia'.
His father was an important man in politics. Politics was a term that meant power. Somber Power, like that of the church; funereal power, life and death.
Francis Xavier Senior had been an Alderman but with as much power as mayor. Xavier always wondered why his father didn't run for mayor but supported small men, men who deferred to him.
There was a knowledge in that he'd learn, just as he had learned which of those men in his father's study he couldn't trust, who was weak, and who was strong. Whose approval he must get, whose opinion didn't matter; all from just a
He must be able to place each man into a setting, for tomorrow morning his father would question him. And he must know his answers; and how to answer.
Rush Into Manhood
Perhaps if his father had lived, if he'd had older brothers he wouldn't have found himself the man of the house at eighteen. A man who had been a son, a frightened son, a son who didn't measure up, not tall or broad or physically strong enough to please Big Francis.
At eighteen, Xavier was a man with no job, no trade, needing to rely on those men he'd met in his father's study to insure he and his mother maintained a semblance of gentility.
And then there was Prohibition.
A man with a boat could make a great deal of money bringing liquor in from Canada.
He'd taken everything he had, borrowed from everyone he'd known, and bought a boat, hired a captain, the nephew of one of those men in the study.
The first trip of that boat to Canada, knowing if anything went wrong he would be ruined; that was the night he met the Devil.
Now, the Devil
The Devil looked like any recent Irish immigrant; though a bit thicker than most, and spoke as if he'd spent his life reciting Shakespeare.
The Devil was sitting by the waterfront, smoking a cigarette, looking at the sea.
Xavier hadn't seen him. He had been so caught in thought, wondering if he should
even be here, for the boat was not due for at least an hour.
Xavier was dressed in what was left of his finery. All his suits were third best, his coat old and a bit short in the arms.
"And what can I do for you, Francis Xavier?" The Devil asked.
At first Xavier thought him a chap from the neighbourhood, perhaps the father of a friend, or someone who knew of, but did not know, his father.
He looked at The Devil, who seemed no more than any other man, and didn't answer.
The Devil extended his hand in which was a flask; and though Xav ier didn't drink, and certainly didn't want to drink from whatthe stranger put to his lips, he felt forced to take it and drink, ordering himself not to allow any of the liquid to enter, but unable to prevent a mouthful racing down his throat.
It was as if he had no sovereignty over his hand or mouth, as if his brain controlled some other body.
"A nip on a cold night--" The Devil said and smiled. He had, unlike almost everyone Xavier knew, a mouth of good white teeth.
It was the teeth that caught him, for no one was a man grown who hadn't lost a few, or they weren't yellow or grey. Xavier wondered if they were false, but he'd never seen false ones fit as good and look as natural.
"Now tell me what you want, Francis Xavier, and I'll give it to you."
He took another wee nip and passed the flask back, but The Devil said; "Keep it. Think of me when you use it."
"Who are you?" Xavier asked.
"Oh, ye know the answer to that one." The Devil smiled.
"And what do you want?" Xavier said with more courage than expected.
"And ye know the answer to that one, as well," came the reply.
As one who rarely drank, the liquor had rather a strong effect upon Xavier. He remembered almost nothing until waking up in his bed sometime the following afternoon.
Almost nothing, but a thought, words of his father;
"Fools ask for here and now, but what of the future?"
Instead of asking that the boat arrive safely, instead of asking to be rich, he had asked for the future.
Asking for sons to be rich and powerful, for daughters to make marriages with rich and powerful men. For his family to hold a place of respect and power. Power was the chant. Power now, power tomorrow, passing in his blood as his genes.
His exact words he didn't remember, but the smile and nod of The Devil he did.
His boat returned safe and full and his product was sold quickly and for great profit. He paid off his creditors with a touch of interest, and ran the boat two hundred and seven times without a mishap.
And that is when he was sure the man on the docks was The Devil.
For no one could run one boat on two hundred and seven trips, and always get through, always make a profit.
Xavier became frightened and decided to sell the boat and Go somewhere else and Do something else. As if by changing residence or career he could eradicate the bargain.
By this time Xavier was married, father of three sons and three daughters. But he left his family on the East Coast and went to the West, silently repudiating all The Devil had given him.
He never said this to his wife, never inferred he was deserting her and their children. He sent money for her, made a few phone calls, but had decided to leave his life in the city he had been born, for this new city and new life.
He met many women and had affairs and dabbled in businesses all of which succeeded. Even when he tried to lose money, he succeeded. Clearly, The Devil was still with him.
He became bored with success, bored with his mistress, bored with power, and realising he couldn't run away from himself, (or more certainly, The Devil), returned home to his life.
He was swept into politics, and as his father, always was behind the scenes, yet, in charge. Decisions were his to make, and he made many, some, very bad ones.
But he never suffered.
He never was condemned, not publicly for actions which cost lives, which were morally bankrupt.
It was as if he could turn his back and the scene of suffering would be whisked away as a Hollywood Set, so when he turned around, it was an quiet landscape.
Then the blocks began to fall.
His first born, a daughter, was misdiagnosed by a world famous surgeon, and reduced to helpless cripple. One little mistake, one life virtually ended.
Three years later his eldest son was killed in a traffic accident. Frank had fallen off the sidewalk, headfirst, into the path of a bus in such a manner that although there was no one near him, it seemed he had been pushed.
His second son wanted a career in politics and Xavier had to bribe and trick and twist and threaten, pulling in all his markers, so that at the end of the day, though his son was successful, Xavier did not own a friend in the world.
And three years after that, this beloved son was killed.
Just like that.
No warning, just gone, leaving a wife and two small children.
Xavier suffered that death more than any other. Before he had healed, his second daughter's marriage collapsed in scandal of every kind of perversion, which splattered the family name.
For the wife was not Penelope O'Brian, but Penny Kirkpatrick O'Brian, daughter of, sister of; always Kirkpatrick.
His wife, the long suffering Margeret, she who'd been with him through his rum running days, through his years of abandonment, through his adulteries, his coldness and cruelty, decided to die.
She took to her bed and willed herself to die. There was nothing wrong with her, doctors had said, and Priests reminded that suicide was a mortal sin. But she died.
One son remaining, one daughter remaining, and Xavier sitting on the ruins of ambition, burying his wife.
A few years later his daughter, Heather, was brutally raped. She became catatonic and was committed to a Sanatorium.
His last remaining son drowned in a boating accident.
Now it was the turn of the grandchildren. One killed, one ravaged by cancer, one in prison, one a drunkard, one a drug addict, another, the best of the generation, dying strangely.
Xavier had a stroke, lost the ability to walk and to speak, but could look at the flask as he sits in his wheelchair, and count the cost