Home > The Searcher(9)

The Searcher(9)
Author: Tana French

   “Sure, they oughtn’t to give you a gun anyway,” Barty the barman told him, when he pointed this out.

   “Why not?”

   “Because you’re American. Ye’re all mental with the guns, over there. Shooting them off at the drop of a hat. Blowing some fella away because he bought the last packet of Twinkies in the shop. The rest of us wouldn’t be safe.”

   “What would you know about Twinkies?” Mart demanded, from the corner where he and his two buddies were ensconced with their pints. Mart feels a responsibility, as Cal’s neighbor, to defend him against a certain amount of the ribbing he gets. “It’s far from Twinkies you were reared.”

   “Didn’t I spend two year on the cranes in New York? I’ve et Twinkies. Horrible fuckin’ yokes.”

   “And did anyone shoot you?”

   “They did not. They’d better sense.”

   “Should’ve done,” one of Mart’s buddies said. “Then we might have a barman who could put a dacent head on a pint.”

   “You’re barred,” Barty told him. “And I’d’ve liked to see them try.”

   “There you are, then,” Mart said triumphantly. “And Noreen doesn’t stock Twinkies anyhow. So let this fella have his rifle, and give him his pint.”

   The pub, identified as Seán Óg’s by lopsided Celtic letters above the door, is in the same down-at-heel cream-colored building as the shop. During the day people wander back and forth, buying cigarettes to take back to the pub or bringing their pints into the shop so they can lean on the counter and chat with Noreen, but at night the connecting door is locked, unless Barty needs bread and ham to make someone a sandwich. The pub is small and low-ceilinged; it has a red linoleum floor with the occasional fraying piece of carpet positioned apparently at random, an eclectic assortment of battered bar stools, splitting green PVC banquettes around rocky wooden tables, a wide variety of beer-themed bunting, a plaque mounted with a rubber fish that sings “I Will Survive,” and a cobwebby fishing net draped from the ceiling. Whoever put up the net distributed a few glass balls artistically inside it, as a finishing touch. Over the years patrons have added multiple coasters, a rubber boot and a Superman figure missing one arm.

   Seán Óg’s is, by its own standards, buzzing tonight. Mart and a couple of his buddies are in their corner, playing cards with two unprepossessing young guys in tracksuits whom they’ve acquired somehow. The first time Cal saw Mart and his homies bring out the cards, he expected poker, but their game is something called Fifty-Five, which they play with a speed and ferocity out of all proportion to the small piles of coins accumulating on the table. Apparently the game flows best with four or five, and when no one else is available, they try to rope Cal in; Cal, knowing when he’s outclassed, stays clear. The young guys are going to lose their wages, if they have wages, which looks unlikely to Cal.

   A parallel group of guys is sitting at the bar, arguing. A third group is in another corner, listening to one play the tin whistle, a fast spiraling tune that makes the others tap their hands on their knees. A woman called Deirdre is sitting on a banquette on her own, holding a small glass in both hands and staring into space. Cal is unsure what exactly Deirdre’s deal is, although he gets the general gist. She’s somewhere in her forties, a dumpy woman with depressing dresses and an unsettlingly vague stare in her large droopy eyes. Occasionally one or another of the old guys will buy her a double whiskey, they’ll sit side by side and drink without saying a word to each other, and then they’ll leave together, still in silence. Cal has no intention of inquiring about any of this.

   He sits at the bar, orders a pint of Smithwick’s from Barty and listens to the music for a while. He doesn’t have the names in here straight yet, although he has most of the faces, and the gist of the personalities and relationships. This is excusable, given that Seán Óg’s clientele is a shifting bunch of clean-shaven white guys over forty, all wearing more or less the same hardy trousers and padded vests and ancient sweaters, and most of them looking like cousins; but the truth is that, after twenty-five years of maintaining an intricate mental database of everyone he met on the job, Cal enjoys the lackadaisical feeling of not bothering to remember whether Sonny is the one with the big laugh or the one with the cauliflower ear. He has a good handle on who he should avoid or seek out, depending on whether he’s in the mood for talk and what kind, and he figures that’s plenty to keep him going.

   Tonight he plans to listen to the music. Cal had never encountered a tin whistle till he moved here. He is unconvinced that he would enjoy the sound at, say, a school concert or a police bar in downtown Chicago, but here it seems fitting: it sits right with the warm, uncompromising raggedness of the pub, and makes him keenly aware of the quiet expanse spreading in every direction outside these four walls. When the grasshopper-skinny old musician brings it out, a few times a month, Cal sits a couple of stools away from the talkers and listens.

   This means he’s halfway through his second pint before he tunes in to the argument going on down the bar. It catches his ear because it sounds unusual. Mostly the arguments in here are the well-worn kind that can be made to stretch for years or decades, resurfacing periodically when there’s nothing fresh to discuss. They involve farming methods, the relative uselessness of various local and national politicians, whether the wall on the western side of the Strokestown road should be replaced by fencing, and whether Tommy Moynihan’s fancy conservatory is a nice touch of modern glamour or an example of jumped-up notions. Everyone already knows everyone else’s stance on the issues—except Mart’s, since he tends to switch sides regularly to keep things interesting—and is eager for Cal’s input to mix the conversation up a little.

   This argument has a different ring to it, louder and messier, like it’s one they haven’t practiced. “There’s no dog could do that,” the guy at the end of the bar is saying stubbornly. He’s little and round, with a little round head perched on top, and he tends to wind up on the wrong end of jokes; generally he seems OK with this, but this time he’s turning red in the face with vehemence and outrage. “Did you even look at them cuts? It wasn’t teeth that done that.”

   “Then what d’you think done it?” demands the big bald slab of a guy nearest to Cal. “The fairies?”

   “Feck off. I’m only saying, it was no animal.”

   “Not them fecking aliens again,” says the third guy, raising his eyes from his pint. He’s a long gloomy streak with his cap pulled down close over his face. Cal has heard him say a total of about five sentences.

   “Don’t mock,” the little guy orders him. “You’re saying that because you’re uninformed. If you ever paid any notice to what’s going on right above your thick head—”

   “A crow would shite in my eye.”

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