“We passed this place on the way in,” I say to no-one in particular as I climb out of the car. Across the road, about thirty yards away, is the petrol station we stopped at.
Maybe it’s best if we get inside quickly.
Keely climbs out and looks around, her eyes settling in the same direction I’m looking. I’m hoping I’m being paranoid, but she seems nervous.
“Something wrong?” I ask. I feel Brennan’s focus snap to me at the words, and he catches his door short, just before it closes.
But she turns back to me and smiles. “Nah.” She steps around me and . . . bounces toward the pub door. Brennan waits silently for an explanation. I shrug, close the car door, and follow her.
Morning flips to dusk as we enter, and it takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the gloom. The place reeks of stale beer and old carpet, but there’s an overtone of fresh stew, so I guess it can’t be all bad. A couple of patrons at the bar are nursing a pint each. One looks like he’d been laughing when Keely came in, interrupting him. He scowls at me, and returns to his beer.
The publican looks up from her pour. “Good morning to ya, gentlemen, and welcome.” She glances over to Keely and back to me, “I’m sorry, but I’m gonna need to see proof of age for her.”
I shake my head, and reply, “She’s not of age. We’re just here for some lunch. Is that okay?”
She nods and smiles. “Oh, that’s fine then. Have a seat and I’ll be right over.” She returns to her pour, and I turn to find Keely already settling in at a table. Facing the door.
“Nuh-uh,” I say to her and direct her to the other side of the table with my finger.
“Aw, come on,” she whines, but I hold firm—I watch the front door, Brennan watches the back. She gets the wall, furthest from the action. The sooner she figures out her place in this, the better.
With a loud groan, she pulls herself out and slides in on the other side of the table. Brennan scowls at me again as he settles in beside her.
Our host arrives, all warmth and sunshine, and nods around the table. “Gentlemen, m’lady, we have a couple of pots on today—a very nice lamb stew, with potatoes and carrots;”—Keely grimaces at the mention of lamb—“and a delicate fish stew, trout with potatoes and leeks. Both come with fresh soda bread—made it m’self, this mornin’—and, of course, we have an all day breakfast, if you prefer. So, what can I interest you in?”
Her gaze settles on Brennan—perhaps only natural, as he is visibly the eldest at the table—but he directs her to me. I smile, and almost laugh, at the weirdness of being first. But, at least he’s consistent.
“I think I’ll have the fish stew,” I say to her, “and a pint of Smithwick’s, please.”
Brennan follows: “The lamb. And a pint of Guinness.”
Finally, Keely: “Can I have the fish stew, please.” She glances at me again—as if for permission—and adds, “And could I get a some chips with it?”
“Chips? I’m sorry, dear—we don’t turn on the frier for lunch—there’s just not enough people in.”
Keely’s face drops, as if she’d just received the worst news ever.
“There’re potatoes in the stew, love . . . ” the publican adds. Unhelpfully.
Keely shakes her head, then recovers suddenly. She looks over to me again, her face alight with new hope. “Can I have a Coke, then?”
I burst out laughing. Where the hell have they been keeping this poor girl?
Her smile is suddenly bright again—it’s remarkably unguarded for someone her age. But, then, I guess she has every reason to want us to like her.
“Then I’ll have the fish stew and a Coke!”
The words are barely out of her mouth when her gaze shifts off our host—past her, toward the bar—and her smile drains away. I follow her gaze. The other patron—the one who scowled at me—is standing halfway between the bar and the door. He’s glaring at Keely. His body is tense.
“Is there a problem?” I say, leaning back in my seat so he can fully see me.
His eyes meet mine, for an instant, before he looks down and mutters something under his breath. I catch the word, “abomination”, more from the way his lips move than from the sound.
He steps to the door, glares at Keely again, then at me, and stomps out.
I exchange a glance with Brennan—his eyes are a question, but I shake my head in reply—and settle finally on Keely. She’s still watching the door.
The publican laughs—a bit uncomfortably—and returns to us. “Oh, don’t mind him—he’s had a few too many already this mornin’—always makes him grumpy. I’ll be right back with your drinks.”
The moment she’s gone, Brennan leans in. “I don’t like it. We should leave.”
He’s probably right.
“Keely?” I whisper to get her attention. She turns back from the door, and slips a giggle on over what is clearly worry. “Do you know him?”
She watches me for a moment, then shakes her head once.
“This isn’t the first time today a local has made odd comments about your family.” I feel Brennan’s gaze sharpen, but I ignore him. “Should we leave?”
She watches me for a moment—nervous, I think, but I’m having trouble reading her—and finally says, “No.” She holds my gaze as she says it.
I look over to Brennan, who says with his eyes everything I know I should be thinking.
But we’re all hungry, and we won’t be here for long. Besides, how much trouble can she possibly get us in?
Yeah, that’s always a safe thing to think.
I call over to the publican, “I’m sorry, we’re in a bit of a hurry. Can you make those half-pints, please?”