In the prohibition-era, supernatural noir novel, The Big Cinch, Sean Joye, a young veteran of 1922’s Irish Civil War, has made his way to his brother’s place in the United States and into the employ of an ambitious judge. The courthouse charwoman, Mrs. MacSweeney, decides he’s just the person to rid the place of some troublesome haunts that only she can see. She shows up at Sean’s brother’s pub to convince him to do his duty.
Mrs. Mac’s Ghost Problem
Mrs. Mac’s whiskey seemed to take effect and she tucked into her dinner like a starving person. “I’m a God-fearing, Christian woman. I’ve never been a drinker. I marched with the temperance ladies. I’ve no truck with the devil or his wiles. But the new courts building is cursed. I’ve felt it since we moved in. And it’s getting worse. The vile things are bolder every day.”
“But why do you think I can help you with ghosts?”
She considered her words.
I waited, anointing my fish with malt vinegar. We batter the cod here, as Grandmother Joye did. No soggy breadcrumbs. Makes all the difference.
“I say ‘get thee behind me, Satan.’ But I was cursed with a bit of the Sight, I suppose,” she said at last. “‘Twas worse when I was a girl. But when you came outta the lobby this morning, I could see their mark on you. They’ve claimed you as one of their own.”
One way or the other, the fae are responsible for humans with the Sight—a knack for seeing the unseen and knowing the unknown—and we recognize each other. Perhaps outright, or maybe just an attraction to a kindred spirit. But in those days, I refused to look at many things I could plainly see.
“Do you want pie? I want pie.” I half stood and waved at Maud. “Is there apple?”
Mrs. Mac sopped up the grease on her plate with a bit of bread and popped it into her mouth. “No one believes me. I’ve about been sacked for warning folks.”
“What can I do?” I had a thought. “Shall I find you a priest?”
She about choked on her Bevo. “The Church of Rome has no answer here, boy.” She looked pleased though, as Maud brought warm pie with cheddar cheese. “No offense. I know it’s the way you was raised and you don’t know no better.”
“None taken.” I agreed to coffee at Maud’s suggestion and the child poured it for the two of us. “So, not saying you are right or wrong about me and what I might see or feel or know—”
“I want them to leave me alone. To go back to Hell and leave me be. Seeing as you know them, I thought you could tell the haunts that.”
I couldn’t deny I’d run smack dab into the Veil before. But I didn’t need this bother right now. I didn’t want it. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I just don’t see how I can help you.”
Her faded blue eyes turned bright with anger. She gripped her fork like a weapon. “‘Tis a shame you’re marked for damnation.”
Grandmother Joye’s Beer-Battered Cod
Sometimes people use cornmeal or even breadcrumbs to prepare fried fish. But, according to Sean, that would be wrong.
- 2 pounds fresh or frozen Icelandic cod (If frozen, unthaw completely.)
- Salt and pepper to season fish
- 1 ½ cups flour, plus more for dredging the fish
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon dried dill
- 1 egg, beaten
- 12 oz Smithwick’s Ale (Or any mild ale or lager. Grandmother doesn’t like the effect of high heat on stouts or IPA.)
- Melted lard or shortening or vegetable oil
- Malt vinegar, lemon wedges, and tartar sauce as desired
Pat fish fillets dry and cut into individual portions. Lightly salt and pepper them, then dredge in the flour.
Thoroughly mix 1 ½ cups of flour, baking powder, salt, and dill together with a fork.
Stir in the beaten egg and enough beer to make a thin, pancake-like batter.
Submerge each piece of dredged fish in the batter briefly, then set aside for a few minutes while oil heats. (This is messy work. Take care the fish fillets don’t fall apart)
Using a heavy skillet, melt the cooking fat to a depth of ¼ to ½ inches. Heat at moderately high heat until shimmery. Test the oil temperature with a spoonful of the batter. If it cooks up to a golden-brown dollop in about 60 seconds, the oil is ready for the fish.
Avoid crowding the pieces in the pan. Cook on each side about 3-4 minutes (depending on thickness of fillet) until golden brown. Grandmother didn’t have an instant read thermometer, but the fish would have an internal temperature of 145 degrees F.
Serve hot with malt vinegar, lemon wedges, or tartar sauce. Fried potatoes (chips) are the traditional side dish.
BIO: Kathy lives and writes in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Her hometown and its history inspire her fiction. When she’s not thinking about how haunted everything is, she enjoys hiking, crafts, and cooking for her family. Her novel, The Big Cinch, published by Montag Press, continues the supernatural noir Sean Joye investigations described in her novella, The Resurrectionist, and novelette, Water of Life. All stories are available as paperbacks and e-books from Amazon.com and paperback from Barnes & Noble. Wolfhearted: A Novella is a secondary-world, YA fantasy. Follow her on Instagram at kathylbrownwrites, Facebook at kbKathylbrown, and Twitter at KL_Brown. Kathy’s blog, Kathy L. Brown Writes the Storytelling Blog, lives at kathylbrown.com.
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