Banshee

Title: Banshee

Author: Martin Ross

Type: Casefile; St. Patrick’s Day theme

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: Mulder recalls his college days, and a case

that screamed to be solved.

Spoilers: Fire

Disclaimer: The X-Files is the property of 10-13

Productions, Chris Carter, and Fox.

Special Agent Dana Scully stared in horror at the

pile of pink, pungently aromatic flesh before her. It

was half-covered in leaves, and she gasped as she

nudged them aside and exposed the tissues.

“Mulder,” she breathed. “This is deadly. Look at the

fat deposits.”

Her partner nodded cheerfully, mouth crammed with

corn beef and cabbage. “Try ih wif da gree’ beer. I’s

Atkins-frien’ly.”

Scully turned to the tall stein of emerald-colored

brew next to her steaming plate. “When you told me

you were taking me out for a special St. Patrick’s

Day dinner, I foolishly assumed you were taking me to

O’Mara’s Publick House for the peppercorn sirloin and

maybe some black-and-tan pudding. Not a slab of

sodium, cholesterol, and gristle buried in soggy,

overcooked cabbage.”

Mulder swallowed. “It’s all you can eat, you know.

Did I tell you that?”

Scully scanned the array of cardboard shamrocks and

leprechauns stapled to the booths of Flynn’s Capitol

Mall Pub. “I mean, Mulder, is this what our cultural

awareness has come to? Look at me – a redheaded,

Irish-American cop. But no one in my family ever

traveled to Ireland, I don’t know a single word of

Gaelic, and my priest’s name is Wozjehewski. We’re

not a melting pot – we’re like a bad cheesy

casserole.”

“C’mon, Scully, what’s wrong once a year with our

getting in touch with the Irish inside us?”

“The Irish inside us.”

“You know what I mean – the joyous, gregariously

poetic, romantic part of ourselves we button up

during our humdrum, workaday lives. Besides, on a

purely personal level, the Celtic culture is a

virtual smorgasbord of preternatural petit-fours.

Leprechauns, faeries, wraiths… Perhaps no

technologically advanced western nation is so steeped

in its belief in the unknown.”

“And thereby, I assume, hangs a tale?”

“Ah, sure, and you must have psychic abilities. . .”

**

“Well, if it isn’t the pride of Oxford Yard,” Nowicki

murmured, appearing as always in the corner of my

eye. “Things’ll kill you, son.”

“Special Agent Nowicki,” I nodded, collecting my

coneful of fish and chips and turning away from the

stall. Special Agent Kenny Nowicki was pale and

flabby, and I doubted he followed any of his frequent

avuncular health tips. “Actually, I plan to secret

this into my aberrant psych prof’s meat pie while

he’s not looking, so I can take the course over.”

“Want to be careful, Fox – Prof. Winton speaks very

highly of your skills in profiling.”

“Ah,” I said. “Have to go to the chemist’s and get

some digitalis for the dear old chap.”

This was back in the mid-’80s – disco was thankfully

dead but Reaganism was alive and kicking. I was in my

final year at Oxford, a Yank among the dons in self-

exile from trickle-down sociology, the ghost and the

demons that had dogged my adolescence, and my father,

who’d seemed as relieved to ship me off as I had been

to flee.

Three years later, I was a regular at every pub

around Oxford town, frequently tucked into a corner

discussing serial killers or the latest item in the

Fortean Times with my mentor, Dr. Byrnes, my equally

twisted and scholarly mates, or the girl I’d been

seeing.

(“Phoebe.” Scully stated it matter-of-factly, laying

it out on the table with the fatty corn beef and the

wilted cabbage.)

Phoebe Green, budding criminologist, determined

someday to become the Terror of Scotland Yard.

Nowicki, some kind of Bureau recruiter who’d surfaced

a month earlier on campus, was equally as determined

to put me in a black suit and J. Edgar Hoover decoder

ring.

“Some piece of work, that thesis you did for Winton

last term on the Lecter case,” Nowicki continued,

trailing me without stepping up his pace. “You could

probably snag an assistant directorship within five

years, you quit screwing around and came aboard.”

I turned, smiling. “Agent Nowicki, I’d love to talk

wiretaps and illegal searches over a couple

Guinnesses, but my girlfriend and I are blowing town

for the weekend, and I have to pack.”

“Where to?” Nowicki asked lightly.

“Pip, pip, Agent Nowicki,” I murmured, stepping it

up. He didn’t follow me – he never did.

**

“My, you already have your own agent-cum-major domo

attached to you,” Phoebe noted as our train trundled

toward the Dublin Ferry landing.

“I think I shall name him Jeeves.”

“Ugly Americanism at its worst. Quite seriously,

though, Fox, what are your intentions? Is there a

going market for freelance behavioral

scientist/occultists in the States? Or do you intend

to make a career of chasing flying saucers?”

I’d made the mistake one amorously candid night of

baring my soul, including the raw and aching part

where Samantha had been ripped away. The evening had

ended with a pint or so too many and a sacrilegious

episode at the grave of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

“Just evasive future coppers,” I responded lightly.

Phoebe sighed heavily, shook her head in resignation,

and turned to the green blur of Northern England

outside her window.

“Come on,” I finally murmured, reaching for her hand.

She refused it at first, then sighed and squeezed my

fingers.

“Me, evasive,” she mused. “You’re very likely the

most unfathomable mystery I’ll never solve.”

**

“Pop, this is Fox and Phoebe,” Ryan called out as he

shut the sounds of rush-hour Dublin outside.

Garren O’Mara was a large, simultaneously soft and

hard man. Ryan had told me his dad had nearly made

the pro soccer circuit as a young man, before a blown

knee had sentenced him to life in a foundry.

Ryan’s childhood home was a sorely neglected monument

to his late mother. Dried flowers – flora left to

die, not the artfully arranged flowers you might find

in a foofy boutique – languished in dusty glass vases

in long-forgotten corners.

“Fox,” O’Mara grunted, a smirk momentarily contorting

his bleak, monolithic face. He gave Phoebe the once-

over, turned, and ambled back to a filthy, ramshackle

chartreuse armchair. In seconds, Ryan’s father was

burbling and occasionally chortling over the antics

of a gaudily dressed comedian and his scantily clad

nurse.

“Well,” Ryan grinned, as if his father had performed

an oft-repeated trick. “William,” he shouted. “Get on

out here!”

I heard a pot clang in the kitchen down the dark hall

beyond the living room, and a dissipated, broken-

nosed version of Ryan lurched into the room. He

ignored me and inspected Phoebe from head to toe, a

look of frank envy momentarily souring a reckless and

hung-over grin.

“And you’d be Ryan’s chums from the school,” William

said, wiping wet hands on his jeans. “Supper’s just

about on – just beef and potatoes, I’m sure nothing

fancy like the fare they feed you at the college.”

“Stow it,” Ryan sighed.

“Yeah, guess I better watch myself in this company,

eh?” He tossed his father’s smirk at me, nodded, and

lurched back to the kitchen.

“Ah, home,” I breathed.

“Sorry,” Ryan smiled sheepishly. “Pop’s been pretty

much into his telly since Mum died, and William,

well, he’s got a hollow leg and a chip the size of

County Kilkenny on his shoulders. Always got to drink

harder and fight harder than any of the other

blokes.”

“If only he could cook harder than any of the other

blokes,” I commented to Phoebe later, as we washed

the dishes. The boiled beef had held more water than

the Titanic, and the potatoes were soft and

flavorless. Garren O’Mara was now drowning out Benny

Hill in the living room. William had disappeared for

the pubs before the food reviews could come in.

“Used to cook up a storm with Mum, when he was a

lad,” Ryan recalled. “They were great, good friends –

he’d help her out in the garden and in the kitchen —

until the old man decided he was turning into a nancy

and devoted himself to making William into the

gallant young man you now see.”

I glanced out the kitchen window. Beyond a yard of

anemic brown grass was a bare patch of clods and

long-dead vegetation. “I take it your father doesn’t

have the same green thumb.”

Ryan darkened. “It was a sore point for him, Mum and

her flowers. That was how she coped with him, I think

– the gardening, making these beautiful dry flower

arrangements. He was constantly grousing about the

flowers and garlands about the house. Said they gave

him hay fever.”

I wondered if perhaps Mrs. O’Mara had had more than

one way of coping with her brutish husband. “When did

your mom die, Ryan?”

“Three years ago,” Ryan murmured, leaning on the

kitchen table. “In fact, that’s part of why I asked

you to come for the school holiday.”

“I was curious,” I grinned. “Considering we haven’t

exchanged more than about five sentences over the

last two years.”

Ryan shrugged his athletic shoulders and glanced at a

cheap plastic clock mounted by the pantry. “Phoebe

told me you were into, ah, rather queer crimes –

supernatural stuff and the like. Well, I wondered if

you might, well, give me an opinion on a sort of

unexplained phenomenon.” He glanced again at the

clock. “It ought to be starting any minute–”

Ryan was interrupted by what I first assumed to be a

siren keening low in the distance. Phoebe nearly

dropped a plate as the sound grew into a human, but

somehow inhuman, female wailing. Somewhere in the

anguished sobs and lamentations were words I couldn’t

quite make out.

The wailing continued for at least 10 minutes, and

then trailed off into a low moan and silence. I was

unable to determine from where the cries emanated –

it was as if they came from nowhere and everywhere at

once. Phoebe and I stood in shocked silence.

I looked to Ryan, heart pounding with mild fear – and

exhilaration. “What,” I breathed, “was that?”

“Been happening every night, round about 7:30, for

the last three years,” he explained. “I think it’s my

Mum.” His head jerked toward the living room. “I

think he killed her, and she wants us to know it.”

**

“The banshee is a centuries-old Irish legend,” I told

Phoebe later in the upstairs hallway. “A disembodied

female voice, sometimes anguished and plaintive,

sometimes vengeful and menacing. According to the

literature, the banshee is supposed to be a woman who

has been torn from her family prematurely. There are

two types: The spirit whose love for those left keeps

her earthbound, guarding and protecting them; and the

banshee seeking to torment the one who took her life

from her.”

Phoebe, at the threshold to her room, smiled

tolerantly in a style I later became accustomed to.

“And which kind do you believe this particular

banshee to be? Anguished or angry?”

“Given the dynamics of this happy home, I’d be

inclined to believe a bit of both.”

The front of her terry robe was gapping, and I was

becoming eager to end this chat. But she shook her

head sadly. “Fox, how do you expect ever to gain any

credibility in forensics or law enforcement with this

paranormal rubbish? You sound like one of the London

tabs. I shudder to think of your first interview with

the FBI.”

“You sure it’s disdainful shuddering?” I suggested,

leaning into the heat of her. “I know a cure for

banshee jitters.”

Phoebe pecked me on the lips. “Night, Love.” I

retreated just in time to avoid a faceful of

splinters.

**

“And you would be Mr. Fox Mulder?”

I looked up to see an impressive paunch with a nearly

bald block of a head and a cauliflower nose floating

above it. A short white scar framed the left side of

his graying brush mustache.

“Yes, sir,” I responded, determined to stay on his

best side.

“Detective Inspector Dobbyns,” the Dublin policeman

murmured, stepping around me to the battered chair

behind his battered desk. “They keep you gathering

dust very long here?”

“No, sir – everybody was very accommodating.” In

fact, I’d been cooling my heels for 20 minutes with

only amused stares and curious glares to keep me

company.

“The squad prides itself on impeccable service. Now,

Mr. Mulder, I understand you would be here inquiring

as to a homicide case we investigated three years

ago. Are you a relation to the late lamented, or has

guilt or spontaneous remembrance of a pertinent fact

brought you here today?”

“I’m a friend of the victim’s son – we attend Oxford

together. I’m studying criminal psychology, and Ryan

asked me to see if–”

“Danny!” D.I. Dobbyns barked suddenly to a tall cop

next to a file cabinet. “Do we have any locked room

murders at hand presently? Untraceable poisonings?”

The tall cop shook his head, glancing at me.

Dobbyns turned back to me. “Tis a shame. To have an

Oxford-trained American criminologist named Fox at my

disposable and no unfathomable riddles or nefarious

schemes for him to sniff at.”

I smiled as I rose. “May the road rise up to meet

you, sir.”

“Ah, sit down, Mr. Mulder,” the D.I. chuckled,

indicating the guest chair. “The wife’s taken me off

my whiskey and sweets, so I have to find some sport.

Besides, Marty says you’re inquiring as to the O’Mara

case. That one always bothered me a bit.”

“Why?”

Dobbyns studied me carefully. “You’re a friend of the

family, is that right?”

“Just Ryan. Just the victim’s son.”

“Ah, what the hell. Never could prove it, but I

always had a bad feeling about the husband – felt

like maybe his bein’ off with his mates at the soccer

match while his wife was dying at home was a mite

convenient for him. The poison was administered in

Mrs. O’Mara’s afternoon tea – we found residue of the

substance in her cup.”

“What substance?”

“Ah, yes – you are the forensic whiz kid, aren’t you?

Glycoside, lad – a heart drug if you got a bum

ticker, deadly poison if you don’t — and a

reasonably high concentration of it. Mrs. O’Mara

tended to prefer her tea loose – used one of those

thingies—”

“An infuser?”

“Yes, that. She was down to the last dregs of her

supply that day – kept it in one of those crockery-

type affairs — and we suspicioned someone had

slipped the poison into the jar. How well do you know

Mr. O’Mara?”

“I’ve met him,” I said, dryly. “I won’t leap from my

chair to defend his honor.”

“Indeed. Well, as I’m sure is true in the States, the

loving spouse is not infrequently the focus in many

homicide investigations. And a more tantalizing focal

point one could not wish for. Many’s the time the

boys’d drop in on the O’Maras to maintain the

neighborhood peace, and Mrs. O’Mara was no stranger

to the local dispensary. But, as an erudite Oxford

criminalist such as yourself might guess, all of our

attempts to remove the problem from, well, the

‘situation,’ were fruitless. And we didn’t let this

out, but the late lamented showed signs of brutality

— two broken fingers, according to the police

surgeon, broken after death.”

“So you liked Garren for the murder. Or you would

have liked him for it.”

Dobbyns’ mustache shifted. “I will confess, I would

have liked to have clapped the irons on old Garren.

He was all that the world hates in an Irishman –

drunk, foul temper, and as mean as an old boar off

his feed. Unfortunately, that’s no longer enough for

Her Majesty’s Bench. While I could picture Garren

O’Mara bludgeoning his dear wife or knocking her down

the front stairs, poisoning did not quite suit the

man. Not to mention that we could find no evidence of

him purchasing or otherwise securing the glycoside.”

“Any other suspects? The sons?”

“Your friend Ryan was completely in the clear – he’d

been on holiday with his chums for the previous week

in the south. The other boy, ah…”

“William?”

“Yes, that. Well, young William appeared to have a

bit of what you might call a furtive nature about

him. Sensitive lad.”

“Sensitive?” I gasped.

“You don’t think all that bluff and swagger of young

William’s isn’t just a performance for his sorry old

man? I’m sure you’ve spied that limp of his, and at

the time his poor mother was killed, he was nursing a

knot on his neck near the size of a hedge apple. And

all of the neighbors swore the boyo was devoted to

his mother, which I’m certain endeared him to old

Garren. There was some talk of him being involved

with a woman – an older woman. A neighbor lady told

us as how she’d seen him and what appeared to be some

older woman roaming the house whilst his folks were

out.”

“An older woman?”

“The neighbor lady described her as ‘dowdy,’ dressed

like a middle-aged woman. One of the fellows came up

with the rather weak theory some strumpet had got her

hooks into young William and talked him into doing

something dire to get his mother out of the picture.

But we couldn’t find any sign of such a relationship,

and what would this older woman have gotten out of

William or his dear mother? You’ve seen their

palace.”

“So the case just went unsolved.”

“Until you walked into our hallowed halls, praise the

Lord above. Now, how might you convince me to blow

the cobwebs off this woefully neglected casefile?”

I took a breath. “I assume you’ve heard of banshees…”

**

“And that, I assume, is when you found yourself on

the street, wondering why the good inspector couldn’t

simply open himself to the possibilities.”

Mulder frowned bleakly at Scully. “Hey, I was young.”

Scully sputtered. “Oh, yeah – things have really

changed.”

The band was warming up now – three reedy young men

with wispy facial hair plucked out test notes while a

fetching but strongly built redhead caressed the

mouthpiece of her lute. Mulder eyed the lute player

with interest.

“Yes, things have really changed,” Scully repeated,

more darkly.

**

I nearly dislocated my shoulder yanking on the

O’Mara’s doorknob. Ryan had told me to just come back

in when I finished sightseeing, that he’d leave the

door unlocked. I rapped on the weathered frame, and

in a second, Ryan’s ruddy face appeared beyond the

yellowed lace curtain.

“Thought you were gonna do the town,” he breathed,

with what I perceived to be a slightly plaintive

tone. That’s when I noted Ryan’s cheeks were ruddier

than usual, and he seemed winded.

I smiled. “Got hungry, and I left my money in my

jeans.”

Ryan nodded wordlessly, and jerked his head toward

the kitchen. As he turned, I could see the back of

his sweatshirt was tucked half in and half out of his

jeans. It took a second longer to realize the shirt

was on backwards. I quickly scanned the living room

and parlor for Phoebe.

Garren O’Mara was sitting up at the kitchen table,

his broad back to us. I could smell cold meat and

mustard.

“Mr. O’Mar—” I began, heading for the chair opposite

him, then stopped dead.

Ryan was raiding the fridge. “Hey, Pop, why don’t you

go easy on Will. Some day, he may just decide to give

you a good thump on the–”

“Ryan,” I advised quietly. He turned, and all blood

fled his cheeks.

“Dear Lord,” he whispered, staring wide-eyed into his

deceased father’s equally wide eyes. Garren O’Mara’s

jowly face was locked in a look of terror, his

fingers locked into a fear-mangled sandwich. Mustard

had oozed between his digits.

Ryan collapsed into a chair, his jaw slack. “It

must’ve been the row he had with William when he came

in from the pub. Don’t know what it was about, but

there was an awful commotion, and I could hear

William stomp up the stairs. I suppose it was one

tantrum two many for ‘im.”

As I examined O’Mara for any sign of foul play, I

unconsciously recorded Ryan’s strangely secondhand

report of the domestic disturbance and the fact that

Phoebe still hadn’t shown herself.

“Or maybe one too many manifestations,” I mumbled.

“Oh, come on,” Ryan snorted, irritably. “So now, you

think he was murdered by some kind of wraith or

spirit? Mum?”

“Look at his face, Ryan. That’s pure horror. Maybe

this time, she actually materialized.”

“God’s sake, Fox!”

“What are you boys –?” Phoebe halted in the kitchen

doorway. Her sleek hair, I noted, was neatly brushed.

Too neatly, as if she’d just had to. . . “My God. Is

he. . .?”

“That he is,” Ryan said quietly.

Phoebe rushed into the kitchen and threw her arms

around Ryan’s neck. “I’m so sorry.” She caught my

eye, and the look on Phoebe’s face made me glance

away, something sharp but shapeless forming in my

gut…

**

The wake for Garren O’Mara was held two days later at

the O’Mara residence. It was attended largely by

solicitous neighbors, friends of Eileen O’Mara who

periodically cast neutral eyes toward the photo of

Garren on the long-unused hearth, and Garren’s

coworkers – a morose lot drawn primarily to the table

of donated food. The parish priest dropped by for a

few moments, stumbled over an anecdote or two about

Garren’s infrequent episodes of humor and humanity,

and hastily left us with the distinct impression the

dear departed would not be chatting up his deceased

wife any time soon.

The police had come to call after Ryan summoned an

ambulance for his father. D.I. Dobbyns was not among

them.

Neither had Eileen O’Mara made an appearance since

the passing of her surviving husband.

The police surgeon cleared the air of any homicidal

suspicions a day later, when the post-mortem revealed

that a life of red meat, cheese, potatoes, and fried

pub food had laid waste to Garren O’Mara’s arterial

network. I made no mention of my own theories on the

case – Ryan preferred to believe his father had

stared horror-stricken into the face of his own

mortality, rather than that of his dead bride – and

Ryan busily attended to his father’s arrangements

while William nestled into a cocoon of silence and

Phoebe and I avoided conversation and contact where

possible.

“You’d be the young American fellow?” I looked

around, and then down, at the diminutive old woman

whose face was as finely webbed as the lace shawl

about her shoulders.

“Yes, ma’am,” I smiled, transferring my whiskey glass

to my left hand and grasping her thin fingers

delicately. “Fox Mulder. I’m a friend of Ryan’s.”

“I’m Maureen Cragan – I live a door to the south. Tis

a shame, for the boys, I mean, even if he was an

awful creature.”

“Mr. O’Mara?”

“I suppose it must sound awful – I’ll have to say a

dozen Hail Marys tonight.” I then noticed her

worrying a rosary in her arthritically clawed left

hand. “I knew Eileen and her people when she was but

a child, and what she ever saw in that brutish ogre

is anyone’s guess.” Mrs. Cragan waggled a finger at

me, rattling her rosary. I leaned over, and could

smell fermented barley on her breath. “I still

believe he did ‘er in.”

“What makes you think so?”

“There was a lot odd went on in this house. The old

bastard would just whale something awful on those two

young boys, on the least little provocation. She was

the peacemaker, Eileen was, always getting between

Garren’s belt and the children, and sometimes losing.

But always cheerful on the outside, she was – always

had a kind word to say, brought me over one of her

beautiful garlands whenever I had a birthday or one

of my sisters or brothers passed on. I don’t think

she had any idea William was carrying on with that

brazen woman under her own roof until the day she

died.”

I steered her toward the couch. “I’d heard you’d seen

them together. You sure they were having a romantic

relationship.”

“Well, I never saw them locked in the throes of

passion, if that’s what you mean. But she looked as

if she was old enough to be Eileen. I suspect that’s

what they were going on about so the day she passed

on. I was having my afternoon tea and crocheting when

I heard an awful row going up next door. I’m not a

prying sort, but I caught a peek at the two of them

through the side window. They were yelling and crying

to beat the band, the both of them, then he stormed

out. I went about my business, and after a while, she

came out to tend to her flowers and shrubs.”

I perked. “That seems strange. I mean, that Mrs.

O’Mara would have a violent argument with her son,

then just start gardening.”

“That was like her – surrounded by heartache and

misery, retreating to her little patch of beauty out

back of the house. Garren hated that – that she had a

refuge from him. I noticed the day after she died –

when her body was barely cold – that the miserable

old beast had ripped everything out, every flower and

stick.”

I eyed the beads between her gnarled fingers as a

notion took hold. It was a disturbing notion, but it

made sense.

“I don’t want to seem forward, Mrs. Cragan…” I began.

“I wonder if you could answer a kind of strange

question for me, and then do me a great favor.”

A second later, I caught sight of both Ryan and

Phoebe staring curiously as I escorted Mrs. Cragan

through the front door.

**

I found William on the rear stoop, sucking

thoughtfully on a Player. As I lowered myself onto

the step beside him, he looked up, startled.

“Want one?” he stammered, proffering the pack. I

shook my head. “Had to get away for a few, you know?

Pop’s mates are as bad as those old biddies from the

block. Telling me what a fine man my old man was,

like the old bastard had a friend down at that plant

of his. They just come for the liquor and the eats.”

“Must’ve been pretty rough after both your mother and

your brother left you alone here, huh?” I asked.

William looked straight ahead, blowing a plume of

smoke. “The old man just kept getting meaner and

drunker every night, so I’d stay out with my chums

’til all hours. ‘Cept however late I’d get home, he’d

still be up drinking. And the more she screamed at

him, the more he’d drink, mostly ’til he’d pass out

in that chair of his. Guess Ryan still thinks the old

man killed her, eh?”

“I know he didn’t directly. So do you, don’t you?”

William froze, then pitched his cigarette into the

scrubby grass and jumped up. “Now you’re saying I

killed my own Mum? I ought to smash your face.”

“No one killed your mother, William,” I said calmly

but firmly. “You know that. You came home after your

argument with her the day she died, didn’t you? But

the poison had already done its work.

“See, there were three really weird things about your

mother’s death. One was the broken fingers — fingers

broken after her death, as if something were removed

from them. You accidentally broke them prying the

rosary out of her hand. As a good Catholic woman,

she knew what she was doing was a mortal sin, and was

praying for forgiveness when you found her. You

didn’t want anyone, especially your dad, to know she

had committed suicide.”

William glared down at me for a long second, and a

tear rolled down his stubbled cheek.

“Then there was the question of why after a violent

and tearful argument with her son, your mother went

out to her garden. I think the answer to that puzzle

ties in with our third mystery: Why your father would

have torn out your mother’s garden after her murder.

It’s a totally illogical act. Unless someone was

getting rid of some evidence.” I pointed toward a

bare spot in the corner of the yard. “What was back

there, William?

“I’m guessing an oleander shrub. Oleander nemeris is

one of the most toxic plants on earth – one leaf is

enough to kill you. And there were a number of

oleander leaves in the garland she gave Mrs. Cragan

for her last birthday.

“Your mother took an oleander leaf, maybe two, from

the shrub out here and ground it into her tea. When

you were young, she’d probably told you and your

brother to be careful around some of the plants back

here. You’re smarter than you want anyone around you

to know — when you realized she’d poisoned herself,

again to protect her, you tore out anything the

police might be able to trace to her death. If anyone

spotted you, they’d probably chalk it up to angry

grief.”

William was now sobbing silently, hands over his

face.

“William,” I said. “William, look at me. You need

help. This is too much to carry alone. And I don’t

just mean the knowledge of your mother’s suicide or

what blame you believe you have to shoulder in it.”

“And what do you mean?”

I looked up. Ryan was standing over me, his square

jaw tight, his arms crossed over his chest.

“What do you mean, Fox?” he asked.

I rose and turned to Ryan. “I mean that your brother

needs help. He’s been sitting on a secret for years.

He’s confused, and he’s in pain.”

Ryan’s eyes didn’t leave mine. “That true, William?”

Eyes raw, his brother nodded.

“You go on ahead in, William. Everyone’s leaving, and

we’ll talk shortly.”

William sniffed and headed past us. I patted his arm

and he made a weak gesture in return.

“All right, Fox,” Ryan said as the door closed. “You

want to tell me why you’re playing psychiatrist with

my family? You have a complaint with me, why don’t

you talk to me? It’s about Phoebe, right?”

I shook my head. “Whatever, Ryan. You’d better talk

to your brother. He’s a mess.”

“And what’s wrong with him?”

I headed past Ryan. “I think you should talk to him

yourself.”

An iron hand locked on my forearm. “What’s wrong with

my brother?”

I explained it as concisely as I could.

Ryan nodded.

And then he broke my nose.

**

“I took the train back to Oxford the next morning,

alone,” Mulder said. “Phoebe said Ryan needed

consolation. I suggested he needed something else.

And that was pretty much it. I saw the two of them

together around campus a few times over the next

month or so, and then I saw them not together. Phoebe

and I eventually talked it out, and we agreed to be

friends. Which, of course, means she agreed. We

graduated, Phoebe went to Scotland Yard, Agent

Nowicki offered me free dental and I joined the FBI.

Another beer?”

Scully nodded slowly, then frowned and shook her

head. “Wait a minute. What happened to the banshee?”

“There was no banshee,” Mulder said. “Never was.

That’s my point. The subconscious often sometimes

grabs onto superstition and cultural belief when the

truth is too much for the conscious mind to grasp.”

“Are you trying to tell me William O’Mara

manufactured the banshee?”

“Not consciously. There are reams of case studies

documenting poltergeist phenomena linked to

psychokinetic activity. I think William’s bottled-up

emotions and impulses finally spilled out in the form

of psychic energy.”

“Just what was this terrible secret he was keeping,

anyway? What did it have to do with Eileen O’Mara’s

death?” Scully snapped her fingers. “The banshee was

William’s subconscious way of punishing his father

for his role in his mother’s death. Did he kill

Garren?”

Mulder shook his head. “You mean, scare him to death?

No. I think Garren O’Mara died of a mixture of

cholesterol, booze, and mental overload. I don’t know

why William decided that day to face his father –

maybe it was Ryan’s visit, the realization of the

potential he was cheating himself out of – but in the

words of Brother Jack, old Garren just couldn’t

handle the truth.”

“Which was?” Scully breathed, impatiently.

“Let’s profile William O’Mara, Scully. A sensitive

boy, close to his mother, not too interested in

sports or manly pursuits until his father beats the

living snot out of him. Then he starts to

overcompensate, becomes a swaggering drinker.

According to his brother, a terrific cook who

purposely botches a meal to perpetuate his manly

image.”

Scully winced, fingered the cross about her neck. “No

wonder it was such a tinderbox, William and his

father boxed up in that cramped little house. A

devout, Irish Catholic family; a blue-collar,

testosterone-driven father. Of course, he’d try to

deny his homosexuality.”

Mulder leaned back as the band launched into a

melancholy ballad of love and glory. “If it had only

been that. Eileen O’Mara was the backbone of their

family – she had been for years. I don’t think the

news of William’s homosexuality would have been

enough to make her commit one of the gravest of

mortal sins in Catholicism.

“No, let’s take this a step further. I began to

suspect something was very out-of-whack about William

the first time I met him. He virtually ignored me

when we were introduced, but he practically gave

Phoebe a complete physical exam. And there was a look

on his face of pure, unadulterated envy. At the time,

I thought he envied me for having this drop-dead

gorgeous girlfriend.”

“A little horsey through the face. . .” Scully

mumbled.

“Focus, Scully. I was wrong: William’s envy had

nothing to do with what I had that he couldn’t. It

was what Phoebe had. I’m sure you’ve heard of

dysphora. An extreme form of gender confusion, apart

from homosexuality or transvestitism. William had a

far less violent but no less emotionally wrenching

form.

“At the wake, I asked Mrs. Cragan if she’d ever seen

William and this unknown lover of his – the dowdy

woman who dressed like William’s mother – together,

at precisely the same time. The answer was no. I

think the day she died, Eileen O’Mara walked in on

her son and the ‘other woman.’ She’d been keeping the

peace in her family for years, battling first to

please her implacable husband, then to keep her sons

safe from Garren. When she realized what kind of all-

out war was about to break out between Garren and

William, I think Eileen had reached the end of her

endurance.”

A raucous burst of applause marked the end of the

band’s set. Scully’s brow wrinkled as she absorbed

her partner’s comments, and she was startled when the

tall redhead from the band materialized at their

booth.

“Fox,” the woman exclaimed warmly. She locked Mulder

in a firm embrace; he smiled sheepishly. The lute

player beamed happily at Scully.

“And this would be your partner, Dana.” Scully’s hand

was encased by firm fingers. “She’s quite a lovely

little thing – I hope you don’t mind me saying so,

dear.”

“Not at all,” Scully flushed. “And you are?”

“Eileen,” the musician sang. “Your friend and I are

good chums from ‘way back.”

“Everything going well, Eileen?” Mulder inquired.

“Happier than. . .” She glanced mischievously about

the pub and its faux-Gaelic décor. “Happier than

Paddy’s pig. Look, I got to touch up my blush a bit

before the next set.”

“Live long and prosper, Eileen,” Mulder winked. The

woman kissed his cheek and moved on with the

slightest of limps.

The mug was almost to Scully’s lips before her eyes

widened. She lowered the glass and stared at Mulder.

“Eileen?”

Her partner smiled crookedly. “Ryan was pretty pissed

off when I told him about his brother, but he

realized William needed some counseling and made sure

he got it. Luckily, socialized medicine, while often

shoddy, allowed William to afford the psychotherapy

and surgery he needed to exorcise his demons.

“See, Scully, William’s subconscious mind filtered

his inner fears and torment through his own cultural

context. The banshee that haunted the O’Mara clan

wasn’t Eileen, watching over her broken family or

indicting her unpunished murderer. It was the woman

inside William, literally screaming to get out.”

end

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