“Brennan,” I mutter, as he puts down his empty glass, “slip out the back and circle ‘round.”
He nods and slides out from the table, ostensibly heading for the washroom. I fill in with the necessary distraction and step over to the bar. “How much do we owe you?” I ask.
“Let’s see . . . ” she says, her eyes no longer following Brennan as she starts punching numbers into the till. “Three of the stew, two half pints, and a Coke, plus taxes . . . that’ll be 25.30.”
Wow, good deal. I peel off three notes and hand them to her saying, “Lunch was excellent—thank you.”
She smiles and rings in the sale, then starts collecting change out of the cash drawer.
“No, no—keep it,” I say.
“Well, thank you, sir!”
Time to take a risk. I chuckle, and lean in conspiratorially, dropping my voice so neither Keely nor the other patron at the bar can hear. “Look, maybe you can help me. We’re new around here—thinking of doing some business with the girl’s family. We keep getting dirty looks from people, any time we’re with one of them or even mention them—any idea what gives?”
She eyes me—then Keely, still at the table—and very quietly says, “It’s nothing. People around here”—she glances over to the other patron, but his attention seems focussed on his glass—”tend to be a little superstitious. The Coey’s, they have some very big dogs. Sometimes they roam about and, well . . . people think they see strange things. And, with the Coey’s no’ being Catholic, well . . . Declan—the man in here earlier? He’s convinced the Coey’s are some kind of evil. If you catch him when he’s drunk enough, he likes to talk of”—her voice drops to barely a whisper—” werewolves.”—I force my breathing to remain even—”And he’s got a few of the others thinking the same.”
She shakes her head and rolls her eyes. “It’s all a load of cattle dung, if you ask me, but that don’t stop people talking.
She lays her hand on my arm and leans in a little closer. “I don’t think you’ve got anything t’ worry about. The Coey’s seem nice, respectable people, every time I’ve had dealin’s with ‘em. They keep to themselves, mostly. That can make people nervous.” She winks at me and adds, “People around here—they like to talk. If you don’t give ‘em things to talk about, they make ‘em up for themselves.”
I lay my hand over hers and squeeze it gently against my arm. “Thank you—I appreciate your candor.
“Werewolves . . . ”—I roll my eyes—“now that’s funny.”
We share a quiet laugh and I walk back over to the table. Keely’s just finishing the last of her Coke. The door of the pub opens and a couple of women step in. The first’s face lights up as she sees the publican. “Mary!” she exclaims, and she and her friend walk over to the bar, exchanging warm greetings as they go.
Brennan steps in around the door, nods once, and steps back out.
“Need to use the washroom?” I ask Keely. I’m careful to keep the . . . whatever . . . out of my voice. She shakes her head.
“Let’s go, then.”
She gets up and we walk to the door. This time, I take the lead. Even with Brennan out there, no point being careless.
We step outside. With the exception of Brennan, and someone filling up their tank at the petrol station, across the road, there’s no one in sight.