Bandit of the bark forces Vinny to abandon protocol
Burly bus driver abandons his chariot to right a grievous wrong
Christmas trees awaiting a good home. Photo: Bart Maat/EPA
Business was brisk, so brisk that Vinny Fitzpatrick was reminded of the old gag about money growing on trees. On this crisp Saturday morning, it certainly was. In his first hour, he’d sold five Christmas trees, while Brennie, who was sharing the shift with him, was on four.
“It’s like taking candy from a baby,” quipped Vinny as he waved adieu to another satisfied customer.
It helped that the traffic through Dolan’s Supermarket in Vernon Avenue was both plentiful and sluggish. Every car, either entering or leaving, couldn’t fail to notice the verdant cluster of trees, or hear Vinny’s bell-ringing and throaty bellow.
He could have been Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist. “Oyez, oyez. Christmas trees for sale, all proceeds to St Vincent De Paul, every single penny. Oyez, oyez…..”
The trees were Fraser Firs, a popular variety due to their sturdy branches, pleasant scent and modest shedding. Priced at €40, the cost was unchanged since the ‘Clontarf Christmas Charity’ began in 2010.
All local traders chipped in to purchase the festive firs – even Dublin Bus was squeezed for a few bob – and the money raised was passed directly to a good cause. Deep into the three-hour shift, there was a brief lull, during which Brennie dashed into Bunter’s Café to grab two teas.
He offered Vinny the option of a cream slice but the burly bus driver patted his belly and passed. He had lost 11 pounds in his fitness kick and wasn’t for turning, yet.
As Vinny enthusiastically whistled O, Holy Night and straightened up his trees, he heard a chirpy voice call out, ‘Hey mister, will you do us a job lot?’
“Paul’s the name, I’m with the HSE Support Services. I heard you were here and the trees were walking out the door. I can see why. These are mighty fine firs you’ve got.”
Vinny nodded in agreement. “They are, indeed. Imagine you could fit a fair few of them into your trailer there. I’m Vinny, by the way. How can I help you?”
The visitor grinned. “Vinny and Paul, for the Vincent De Paul, what a combo! The thing is, I need a dozen trees to drop around to day centres for the elderly on the northside. Will you cut us a deal?”
Being a generous soul, Vinny did the mental maths.
“Tell you what. You can have a dozen for €350. That’s a saving of €130. I can’t be any fairer.”
Quickly, hands were shook, smiles exchanged and the precious cargo was laid flat out on the floor of Paul’s pick-up. Reaching for his pocket, Paul’s face dropped.
“‘Ah, no,” he wailed. “I’ve left me wallet in the office in Bunratty Road. Give us half a tick Vinny, and I’ll be back.”
Vinny was about to protest but other customers were nosing about, there was no sign of Brennie and, anyway, Paul seemed like a sound fellah. “Sure,” he said. “See you in a bit.”
Soon the pick-up was gone, headed up Vernon Avenue towards Artane, with a dozen of the finest firs on board. As the minutes ticked by, and then half an hour, it slowly dawned on Vinny that he’d been hoodwinked.
For the final 15 minutes he busied himself peddling another three trees and he also engaged Gladys Cadwalader in a lengthy conversation, which was worth a €20 contribution for the SVP.
It was only then he told Brennie of his cheery visitor, the 12 trees and the tale of the missing wallet. Brennie, a bank worker who knew from painful experience the tricks of the trade, put an arm around his pal. “You’ve a big heart Vinny, sometimes too big. Yer man has done a runner. You won’t see hide nor hair of him again.”
As he clocked on for an afternoon shift on the 130 bus, Vinny was seething for allowing several hundred euro worth of stock slip through his sausage-like fingers. “I’m a thundering eejit,” he muttered.
His mood hadn’t improved on the first run out of the city and he was still cursing himself when stopped at the lights at the junction of Mount Prospect Avenue and Clontarf Road. As he waited to turn left, he glanced across to St Anne’s, and his blood chilled.
There, by the familiar water feature, hawking Christmas trees was a figure Vinny was sure he knew: Paul the tree thief.
“Good grief, Moncrieff,” said Vinny aloud.
Against all protocol, Vinny pulled his chariot to the side of the road, in between stops, and blurted apologies to the startled parcel-laden passengers. With that, he shot out of the cabin with a nimbleness which belied his 56 years.
Seconds later, he had crossed over the road into St Anne’s and was bearing down on the tree thief.
“Hey you,” he roared. “Hold it right there, buddy.”
As Vinny chased after him, he spied a makeshift sign which read: ‘Finest Trees For €50.’ “The rotten louser,” thought Vinny.
As the bandit of the bark zig-zagged among the throng headed for the Red Stables Market, Vinny knew he was never going to stick on his tail.
After a bit, he beat a dignified retreat to find a cluster of firs, his firs, all in perfect condition. He counted them. There were seven in total – the loss was bearable.
A few minutes later, Vinny was back in the bus, breathing heavily, where his stunned passengers, mostly females weighed down with parcels, were waiting. Vinny did a head count, fore and aft. He had seven bodies on board. After a pause, he piped up. “Right you lot, follow me. Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go.”