Chapter 1 of ROAN : Tales of Conor Archer

At the Derry Air

He jumped from the bus at the corner of Michigan and Monroe. Too slow, not going to make it to work on time. Gripping his tin whistle like a runner’s baton, Conor Archer darted through the pedestrian traffic of downtown Chicago. Five blocks to go; three minutes to do it in. Music at the DerryAir was waiting.

Conor could see the bar from blocks away, one of those “authentic” Irish pubs beloved by Irish Americans and Celtic wannabes. Just enough Guinness on tap and enough lacquer on the tables to create the illusion of Ireland. Of course it helped that the bartenders and service staff were all Irish imports. Soft brogues could always be heard above the din of the crowd. A little bawdy like all haunters of the Magnificent Mile liked, but nothing too out of the ordinary.

Except Conor shouldn’t be there. Too young by several years. But he got away with it for two reasons. He looked older; dark eyes, dark as the depths of Lake Michigan, beneath a mop of thick black hair. That helped but not as much as Fintan Carr’s blessing. Fintan was the owner of the DerryAir and heard Conor playing on the street the year before for dimes, nickels, quarters and the occasional buck. He knew talent, so he asked the kid to play with the off-night band. When Dun Aengus wasn’t performing, Fintan cobbled together a group called Selchie and had Conor play the tin whistle.

Still, he shouldn’t be there—especially not tonight. Not on the day his mother was dying. They shared a flat on the South Side, near St. William’s. As with most kids from a single parent family, Conor was fiercely protective of his mother.

Man, he hated cancer. Sapped her beauty faster than a sponge sucked up water. Finola had been a looker once; Conor kept a picture of her as a young woman in his bedroom, just to remind him that the wasted wreck on the hospital bed in the living room had not always suffered, had not always hurt.

As Conor understood it, his mother came from a little County Kerry town twenty years before, a single girl from Ireland without a penny or friend to her name. Came to the big city, and met a man there. Willie Archer was his name. She told him she had distant relatives in a little town named Tinker’s Grove, Wisconsin, in the southwest part of that state. They went to visit. She was welcomed; Willie was not. And on an autumn day, he disappeared. When Conor was born a few months later, his mother took him to Chicago. She never returned to the little town in Wisconsin. The embarrassment was too much back then. Different times. Now she was dying.

“You’re late, lad,” growled Fintan from back of the bar.

“Sorry, man,” said Conor, forcing a smile to his face. “Won’t happen again.”

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