The train was full. He was glad he booked his seat, online. There were eight added carriages for this Friday evening trip to Cork and it was full. standing room, only, full.
Booking a seat seemed a betrayal, smacked of conniving and planning. At least, that’s how he felt when he turned up in the carriage and pointed out the reserved notice on his seat and the designated number on his ticket. There were rumbles, shuffling, dragging but he held out, he knew what this seat would mean for him, and then he got it. Up yours, suckers, in your face, he suppressed and eased out a contented, barely audible, sigh.
Drink flowed. It was the eve of St Patrick’s day and, while one third of the passengers were regular commuters on a visit, a business trip or going home, the majority, the other two thirds, were on their way to a WBO Super Middleweight title fight, in Mill St, Co Cork, an arena better known for its indoor equestrian gymkhanas.
Steve Collins, was a local boy, a Dubliner, done good. A champion, already – he relinquished his title of WBO World Middleweight to fight Eubank – he had nothing to prove to anyone, but himself. Eubank was undefeated but the Gods were with Collins, it was a day after St Patrick’s day and there was a mystic guru, in the form of Dr Tony Quinn, in the Irishman’s corner. A lot of mind games were played against Eubank, the dandy showman.
1.10pm, close to time, a rustle in the aisle and a tall, distinguished man, in a tweed cap and a Donegal tweed suit of blue with gold specks, leaned across me to address the man in the seat nearest the window, who, it was now apparent, was doing a terrible job of pretending to sleep. ‘Excuse me, me oul’ flower,’ the tall man said, ‘you’re in my seat.’
The flower in question arched the eye closest to the proffered ticket, he gave up, the game was up. There was a ribbing cheer from his friends, as their ousted companion slunk from his perch. Our man offered the inside seat to the tall man but he said, No, Dermott, go on, you take it.
“So, PJ,” he said to him, “of all the seats, in all the trains, in all the world and you found the one next to me, what are the chances?”
Laughing, PJ Mara, corporate PR guru and occasional confidante to successive heads of state, flopped in to his seat, turning to address him, “Dermott, I don’t know what you’re implying. I’d say there were two chances and Slim’s out of town.”
Condensation wasn’t pouring down the windows behind him, it was an ironic drool, a slurry of sarcasm. “You’re on your way to the fight, then?” he asked and Dermott was surprised by Mara’s opening gambit, it was artless in extreme. “No, I’m catching a train to Kerry this evening, to climb Carrantouhill,” Dermott replied, his facetious reference to the tallest mountain in Ireland, he felt, was enough to halt the flow of bullshit.
But Mara was a seasoned campaigner. With just a wisp of a smile to acknowledge the ironic retort, he rested a pair of bifocals on his nose, opened that day’s Irish Times and started reading.
One hour down the track, neither of us has spoken. The crowded train carriage is awash with spilled beer and cheer, there’s a sing song in full swing, then Mara made his opening gambit. “How long are you in the ‘Herald, now, Dermott?” “Two months,” he said, and it was true. “You’ve made quite an impression in two months.”
He was being ‘plammased’ and by a master at his trade, too, but why? ‘Plammas’ was a phrase drawn from the Gaelic that meant he was being licked, all over, like he was a choc ice, by one of its slickest practitioners. His guard was up.
“I was lucky, there were a lot of things going on,” he answered; Mara, media guru would know a public row between the country’s top chat show hosts and then a celebrity studded opening night in Dublin for Riverdance, The Show, was enough to put a go-getter, hungry hack in a gossip column, in the limelight. Sure enough, his first month in the job was hectic and the pace never abated, particularly after those stories hit the pages of The Diary.
“Did you enjoy Riverdance?,” he asked him and this, he knew, by instinct or design, was where this story takes off. ‘You’re working for them?” the young reporter asked Mara. “I am,” says Mara, “or, at least, the producers and the show’s investors.”
“It’s a huge hit,” the reporter said, “your investors must be very happy with themselves, they’ve struck gold.” Waiting for an answer, he was struck by Mara’s grimace. Was he being played or had he hit a vein of gold of his own digging.
“How are things backstage in Riverdance, behind the scenes? I hear there are plans to stage it in the West End before the year’s out?” He could see Mara wait, a pulse point in his temple beat a rhythm, Mara looked at him, turned his face away, then turned back, smiling.”
“Flatley is causing them terrible problems. He’ll bankrupt them before the show gets off the ground,” and even as Mara voiced these words, the reporter knew he was landed, hook, line and sinker, flouncing and flapping about on the deck, waiting for Mara. It was just a chance encounter, he knew.