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
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. From pajamas and robe into a suit before
coming in for breakfast. Removing a jacket was a statement.
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,
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, re-
peating 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, then
turning to 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 less, 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
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 re-
moved 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
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 neighborhood,
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
Xavier didn't drink, and certainly didn't want to drink from what
the 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
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
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?" He said with more courage than
"And ye know the answer to that one, as well," came the
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.
He remembered that. 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
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
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 Sanitarium.
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