Published 5 years ago
Connor Mulrooney sauntered into the members-only back room of the North Philly Irish Pub with his usual swagger, grabbed a Guinness and settled into a seat that may as well have held a Reserved sign. His chair, the one he always occupied during their weekly gatherings, notably sat right next to Billy’s — not that Connor or anyone else expected the boss to show up. He rarely did anymore, not since "The O’Sullivans," the television show bearing his name, had become a hit.
After Billy, whose continued presence was all but guaranteed, Connor had arguably the least reason for concern. Not only had he emerged as the de facto heir to head the North Philly Irish Faction should anything happen to Billy, but he enjoyed the added security of being portrayed by the most well-known actor in the cast. Nevertheless, he came to the viewing party every week to show his solidarity with the rest of the North Philly crew.
As always, they joked and razzed each other to cover their worry over which of them might next fall victim to the show’s writers, famous for dispatching characters with abandon. And this week held more cause for anxiety than usual. It was the season finale. Last year’s had ended in a bloodbath, with four regular characters killed in a shootout with a crosstown rival.
Danny Noonan, the senior man in the room, rambled non-stop, a sign of his nervousness.
"Did I ever tell you guys about watchin’ Rocky Balboa run the steps of the art museum? And I don’t mean the movie scene, I’m talkin’ about the real deal. Every day he did that, rain or shine. A guy like that deserves a movie. Yeah, that was a good one. And it wasn’t just ‘Rocky’ — a lot of good movies have come out of Philly. Let’s see, there’s ‘Trading Places,’ ‘The Sixth Sense,’ ‘The Philadelphia Story’ of course — y’know, my grandpa said he knew one of those fellas..."
"You wanna shut up now? It’s coming on," Connor said, tossing a peanut at Danny’s head and grinning at him. All the guys chuckled, including Danny.
The opening sequence rolled, the main title fading in over video of Philadelphia landmarks, followed by the episode title.
"Did you see what they did there? They called this episode ‘Solstice’ and it’s the end of a season," said Jimmy McFadden, an enforcer respected more for his muscles than his mind.
"It’s also the actual solstice, ya dim bulb," chimed in top lieutenant Rory Flynn. "December 21st, the longest night of the year?"
The acting credits began to slide by. "Joe Balco, Natalie Simmons, Claire Walsh, Evan Baxter..."
"Oh look — Billy, Kathleen and the kids are in the show," Danny said. "Big surprise there."
"Stephen Williams, Bradley L. Richardson..."
Rory exchanged a discreet fist bump with Hughie Keller.
"Peter McKinley, Don Snyder, Colin Bowers..."
Jimmy shook hands with Brian Doyle, and they joined the others in clapping Danny on the back. Although his actor’s name appearing in the opening credits didn’t guarantee that a character would survive, the tension in the room noticeably eased.
"Casting by Andy Schumacher...editing by Joyce Fallow, A.C.E...."
The technical credits continued: production designer, director of photography, producers, executive producers, creator, writers, director. But "And Michael Benjamin as Connor Mulrooney" wasn’t to be seen.
By the time Danny said, "Hey, Connie, I’m sure it’s a mistake," Connor was backing toward the door, his handgun out.
"Which one of you asshats is supposed to do it? Huh? You thought I wouldn’t figure out I’m being set up?" He swept the pistol back and forth, ready to shoot anyone who drew a weapon.
The telephone rang. Connor took advantage of the fleeting distraction to bolt to his sports car and fishtail out of the parking lot.
Inside, Rory picked up the receiver.
"Let me talk to Connie."
"He isn’t here, Bill. Took off like a bat outta hell when he saw."
"Damn it! He doesn’t think it was me behind this, does he?"
"I don’t know...it kinda seems that way."
"We gotta reach out to him, let him know he’s safe."
"I’ll try, boss, but it’s gonna be tough."
Jimmy’s shout interrupted the conversation. He pointed at the television.
"Look, it’s him!"
A long shot showed that Connor had fled the city and was speeding erratically down a rural road.
"We can’t go out and search for him — it's too dark to make out any landmarks," Rory said. "I’ll try his cell."
"Yeah, okay. Keep me updated," Billy said before hanging up.
The guys watched as the camera honed in on Connor's phone lying on the passenger seat. It beeped, and Rory’s name and number blinked on the display. Connor hesitated, then snatched up the phone and scrutinized it. While mulling whether to answer, he missed a sharp curve, swerved to correct, and plunged over an embankment. His car was swallowed by a bramble-covered ravine.
The program cut to a commercial. Over the next 47 minutes, Connor appeared only in flashbacks of previous episodes. Frustration mounted, especially for Danny, who had brought Connor up in the organization and considered him family. He flailed at the screen.
"He was right, he was being set up — but by them, not us! Damn writers!"
The final scene opened with a wide shot of the brush Connor had crashed through, which remarkably looked undisturbed. Snow fell, covering the skid marks and filling in the tracks. The camera panned down slowly through the bushes to show Connor suspended upside down, pinned in place by the car crumpled around him.
"Solstice," he whispered, the trace of a smile playing across his lips. "The longest night..."
The image faded to black, then the credit popped up: "Special Appearance by Michael Benjamin."
"So that’s it? What are we supposed to do now?" Jimmy said, throwing up his hands.
"The only thing we can," Rory replied. "Wait for a new season."
* * *