Home > The Searcher(5)

The Searcher(5)
Author: Tana French

   “Gonna fix it up,” Cal says. He’s trying to bump the second runner free, but it’s holding fast; this desk was made right, way back whenever.

   “Wasting your time,” Mart tells him. “Have a look on one of them adverts websites. You’ll pick up half a dozen of them for nothing.”

   “I only need one,” Cal says. “And I’ve got one.”

   Mart clearly considers arguing the point, but he decides to drop it in favor of something more rewarding. “You’re looking well,” he says, eyeing Cal up and down. Mart was predisposed to approve of Cal from the start. He loves conversation, and over his sixty-one years he’s sucked all the juice out of everyone around here. Cal is, from Mart’s point of view, Christmas.

   “Thanks,” Cal says. “You too.”

   “I’m serious, man. Very slender. That belly’s melting offa you.” And when Cal, patiently rocking the drawer runner back and forth, doesn’t answer: “D’you know what’s doing that?”

   “This,” Cal says, nodding backwards at the house. “Instead of sitting on my ass at a desk all day.”

   Mart is shaking his head vigorously. “Not at all. I’ll tell you what it is. It’s the meat you’re ating. Them sausages and rashers you get off Noreen. They’re local; so fresh they’d hop off the plate and snort at you. They’re doing you a power of good.”

   “I like you better than my old doctor,” Cal says.

   “Listen, would you. That American meat you were ating back home, that’s chock fulla hormones. They pump those into the cattle to fatten them up. So what d’you think they do to human beings?”

   He waits for an answer. “Can’t be good,” Cal says.

   “They’ll swell you up like a balloon and put tits on you like Dolly Parton. Mad yokes. The EU has them all banned, over here. That’s what put the weight on you to begin with. Now that you’re ating dacent Irish meat, it’ll fall off you again. We’ll have you looking like Gene Kelly in no time.”

   Mart has apparently picked up that Cal has something on his mind today and is determined to talk him out of it, either from a sense of neighborly duty or because he likes the challenge. “You oughta market that,” Cal says. “Mart’s Miracle Diet Bacon. The more you eat, the more you lose.”

   Mart chuckles, apparently satisfied. “Saw you heading into town there yesterday,” he mentions, just in passing. He squints across the garden at Kojak, who is getting serious about a clump of bushes, scrabbling hard to jam his whole front end in there.

   “Yeah,” Cal says, straightening up. He knows what Mart is after. “Hold on.” He goes inside and comes back out with a pack of cookies. “Don’t eat ’em all at once,” he says.

   “You’re a gentleman,” Mart says happily, accepting the cookies over the fence. “Did you try them yet?”

   Mart’s cookies are elaborate constructions of pink fluffy marshmallow, jam and coconut that, to Cal, look like something you would use to bribe a five-year-old in a great big hair bow into quitting her tantrum. “Not yet,” he says.

   “Dip them, man. In the tay. The marshmallow goes soft and the jam melts on your tongue. Nothing like it.” Mart stashes the cookies in the pocket of his green wax jacket. He doesn’t offer to pay for them. The first time, Mart presented the cookie run as a once-off, a favor that would make a poor old farmer’s day, and Cal wasn’t about to demand a handful of change from his brand-new neighbor. After that Mart treated it as a long-established tradition. The amused slide of his eyes at Cal whenever he takes the cookies says he’s testing.

   “I’m a coffee man,” Cal says. “It wouldn’t be the same.”

   “Don’t be telling Noreen about these, now,” Mart warns him. “She’d only find something else to take off me. She likes to think she’s got the upper hand.”

   “Speaking of Noreen,” Cal says. “If you’re heading that way, can you pick me up some ham? I forgot.”

   Mart gives a long whistle. “Are you after getting yourself into Noreen’s bad books? Bad move there, bucko. Look where that landed me. Whatever it is you done, get you down there with a bunch of flowers and make your apologies.”

   The fact is, Cal wants to stick around home today. “Nah,” he says. “She keeps trying to set me up with her sister.”

   Mart’s eyebrows shoot up. “What sister?”

   “Helena, I think she said.”

   “God almighty, man, then away you go. I thought there you meant Fionnuala, but Noreen must like the cut of you. Lena’s got a good head on her shoulders. And her husband was tight as a duck’s arse and he’d drink the river dry, God rest him, so she’s not suffering from high standards. She won’t go mad if you bring your muddy boots inside or fart in the bed.”

   “Sounds like my kind of woman,” Cal says. “If I was looking.”

   “And she’s a fine strapping lass, too, not one of them scrawny young ones that you’d lose if they turned sideways. A woman needs a bit of meat on her. Ah, now”—pointing a finger at Cal, who has started to laugh—“that’s your filthy mind, that is. I’m not talking about the riding. Did I say anything about the riding?”

   Cal shakes his head, still laughing.

   “I did not. What I’m saying”—Mart settles his forearms on the top bar of the fence, getting comfortable to expand on this—“what I’m saying to you is, if you’re going to have a woman in the house, you want one that fills a bit of space. It’s no good having some skin-and-bones scrap of a girl with a mousy wee voice on her and not a word out of her from one day to the next. You wouldn’t be getting your money’s worth. When you walk into the house, you want to be seeing your woman, and hearing her. You need to know she’s there, or what’s the point in having her at all?”

   “No point,” Cal says, grinning. “So Lena’s loud, huh?”

   “You’d know she was there. Away with you and get your own ham slices, and ask Noreen to set up that date. Give yourself a good wash, shave that wookiee off your face, put on a fancy shirt. Bring her into town, now, to a restaurant; don’t be bringing her down the pub to be stared at by all them reprobates.”

   “You should take her out,” Cal says.

   Mart snorts. “I’ve never been married.”

   “Well, exactly,” Cal says. “Wouldn’t be right for me to take up more than my share of loud women.”

   Mart is shaking his head vigorously. “Ah no no no. You’ve it all arseways, so you do. What age are you? Forty-five?”

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