Fatal Roots – Sheila Connolly

The pounding at the front door woke Maura from a sound sleep. Did she have to answer it? She’d put in a late shift at the pub the night before, and she hadn’t planned to show up this morning until opening time. The pounding came again, and she could hear a female voice call out, “Hello? Anyone at home?” Irish accent, so she was probably local, or at least Irish. Maura managed to pry her eyes open. The sun was shining, always a wonderful thing in this part of the world. She had few visitors, and unfamiliar women of her own age were rarely among them. The visitor didn’t sound scared or panicked, so she wasn’t looking for help. Maura sighed and sat up slowly, then came to her feet and walked barefoot to the front window on the second story, the one over the door below. She pushed it open and leaned out. “Can I help you with something?” she said. The young woman below shaded her eyes. “Are you Maura Donovan?” “Yes.” “Any relation to Michael Sullivan?” Who did she mean? Maura wondered. The man who had owned the house that was now hers because he’d left it to her in his will, or a living one she knew nothing about? What she did know was there were a lot of Sullivans in the area, and probably quite a few named Michael. “Not if you’re looking for the man who used to own this place.

I never met the man, but this used to be his property. Why do you want to know?” “If you’re the owner, I’d like to talk with you. Before you ask, I don’t want to buy it or sell you anything, but I’m studying archaeology, and I’d like to explore your land, if that’s all right with you.” Maura sighed. The only archaeology she knew about in the region was the Drombeg stone circle, which the Mick who worked for her at Sullivan’s Pub had shown her when she first arrived. She hadn’t gone looking for any more, because she didn’t have the time, and she wouldn’t even know what she was looking for. But it couldn’t hurt to talk to someone who had managed to track her down to a small townland in the out-country. “Let me put on some clothes and I’ll be down.” “That’d be grand. Thank you!” Maura dug out a mostly clean pair of jeans and a shirt from the pile waiting to be washed.

Laundry was something she seldom got around to doing. She also pulled on socks and shoes, because the house was shaded by old trees and the floor downstairs was made of concrete, so it was always cold, even in summer. She made it down the rickety wooden stairway against the back wall and opened the door to the stranger. “Come on in. I’m Maura. Who are you?” “My name’s Ciara McCarthy. I’m working on a postgraduate degree in the Department of Archaeology at University College Cork, and my thesis will be on early Irish ring forts in Cork.” “Uh, slow down for a second. Please,” Maura interrupted. “In case you can’t tell, I’mAmerican, although my grandmother and her son—my father—were born near here.

I’ve been in Ireland just over a year, and I haven’t seen much of it. I’ve never been to Cork city, except for the bus station. I don’t have a college degree, and I haven’t got a clue what a ring fort is. So you’ll have to start at the beginning and explain all this to me. Why is it you want to talk to me? Oh, and would you like some breakfast? Coffee?” “Yes, please. And forgive me for barging in on you like this, so early, but I really want to get started, and the weather’s been so nice lately I hate to let it go to waste. I’ll give you the short version. Ring forts are the most common archaeological monuments in rural Ireland, and most of them date to the early Middle Ages, up to about the year one thousand AD. There’s still a lot of controversy about who made them and why, but there are lots in Cork. One thing that makes them even more intriguing is that there’s a lot of folklore attached to them, and the people on whose property they lie treat them with respect.

You might say they’re scared of them, and even nowadays they leave them alone. That is, they don’t just plow them under to give their cows more room.” Maura poured boiling water from her kettle over the coffee grounds in her coffeepot and found two mugs. “Bread okay? Because that’s about all I’ve got to eat at the moment.” “That’s fine. You want me to keep explaining?” “Yes,” Maura said firmly, as she sliced the bread and added a chunk of local butter to the plate before setting it in front of Ciara. “First of all, they’re circles, but they’re not usually made of stone. So you might not notice the ring forts if you drive past them, because they’re big and not very high and they’re often overgrown with brambles and the like, but once you recognize them you’ll find them everywhere. Others are long gone, or have been raided for building materials, mainly in the past. But there are maps that were made in the middle of the nineteenth century, when more of them were still intact, that show them all over, and I’ve been tracking these down.

Once I think I’ve found them all, I plan to analyze their locations, how they relate to each other, how close or far apart they are—things like that. What do you know about your property?” Maura placed a second plate with sliced brown bread and a chunk of butter on the table, then sat down. “Not a lot. I told you, I don’t know much about Ireland. My grandmother moved to Boston before I was born, with my father, and then he died, and she raised me. I guess she was worried about how I’d get by once she was gone. She knew Old Mick Sullivan, who owned this place. He was some kind of distant relative, and he had no family to leave it to, so he and my grandmother fixed it that I’d inherit it, but she never told me. I didn’t find out until I got here. Old Mick also owned a pub in Leap, which is now mine, and it’s where I work.

But I haven’t had time to do much exploring. As for this property, I signed a bunch of papers, and I know there are a lot of bits and pieces of land that belonged to Mick scattered around, but I couldn’t tell you where they are, or if there’s anything on them that would interest you.” “Not a problem! I’ve got copies of the old maps, and I can tell you that nothing much changes around here, except maybe somebody puts in a new road. Like the one at the bottom of the hill on the north side—that’s relatively new. Your cottage here is just over a hundred years old, I think, and it’s probably not the first house on this site.” “And there were people living here and building these ring fort things like a thousand years ago?” “Roughly,” Ciara said. “So I came here to ask if you’d mind if I did some surveying of where there are any old structures. It may be that there are none on your land, but I’d bet money there are some nearby, and it’s kind of hard to guess who owned which pieces or how much, back before anybody was writing history down. I won’t be in your way, but I thought it would be polite to ask your permission.” “No problem.

I’m not here much anyway. I’m at the pub from opening to closing. I’m still learning the business, and sometimes we’re shorthanded.” “You live here alone?” “Yeah, mostly. Look, I don’t mind if you want to poke around. I don’t have anything worth stealing, and I’m sorry I can’t tell you more about what’s in this neighborhood. You might want to talk to one of the guys who’s at the pub a lot—we call him Old Billy, and he was a friend of the former owner Mick. He’s over eighty, but his memory’s sharp. Or Bridget down the lane—she’s as old as Billy, and she’s lived right around here most of her life, and she seems to know everybody and everything. Maybe they won’t know where to find these fort things, but they can tell you where to look.

” “Thank you for the suggestions. This is my first real field survey, and I want to learn as much as I can and record all the details. It’s a challenge, you know?” “I’m sure it is. You said you already have maps?” “I do. Luckily the property boundaries haven’t changed much. Do you know how much total acreage you have here?” “Not at all. I just signed whatever papers the lawyer handed me. Old Mick had lived here all his life, I gather, and his ancestors before him. I don’t think he sold off anything. Or farmed it, for that matter—I’ve been told he made his money at the pub.

He didn’t seem to need much, and he wasn’t keeping cows or sheep. Some of the other owners here do. How long do you think this will take you?” “Longer than I have,” Ciara said ruefully. “Are you staying around here somewhere?” Maura asked. “It’s only an hour to the university, so that’s not a problem. Though I’ve enlisted some university friends to help, with photos and the like. And this county is a large one.” “Well, let me know if you need someplace to crash now and then. And I guess I’d like to know more about a place that’s mine. Owning something like this is still pretty new to me.

” “I could show you the basics, on your computer.” “Uh, Ciara, I don’t own a computer. I barely know how to use one.” “Oh. Well, I can bring my laptop along, though the images wouldn’t be very large. But it might be useful to you to know where your land is. From what I can tell, sometimes local farmers are looking for a little extra grazing land, and they might pay you to use it.” That was something Maura had never considered, but she’d never learned anything about farming when she was growing up in Boston. She could tell a cow from a sheep, but that was about as far as it went. “It’s mostly cows, I think.

There’s a creamery up at Drinagh that’s pretty big. Sometimes I see their milk tankers go by on the main road.” “There are several major ring forts scattered around Drinagh. And other places too. There’s still so much we don’t know about them! But one thing seems clear: people still believe there’s something supernatural around them. Sometimes they’re called fairy forts.” “What does that mean?” “That you shouldn’t mess with them. I’ve read that up until several years ago farmers were destroying a lot of them, but bad things started happening to them, like tractor accidents or sick cattle. So in the past decade or two they’ve stopped tearing them apart. Which is good for me.

Same thing’s happened with new construction, close to the towns. A company wants to build a new factory where there’s a fairy fort, but they can’t find any local workers to build it because the workers are scared of what might happen to them.” “Sorry, but that sounds weird to me.” “Weird but true,” Ciara said, smiling. “I treat the ring forts with respect, but I’d like to know who built them and why. I make sure I don’t do any damage. So, do you have to get to your pub?” “I should leave soon, and I need to shower. Feel free to go wherever you want, although I can’t tell you how my neighbors will react, since I haven’t met a lot of them, but like I said, Bridget—she lives in the yellow cottage just downhill—loves company, and I’m sure she can tell you a lot of about the history of this townland, which is Knockskagh But I would like to know more about what you’re looking for, and what you find.” “I’ll print out the maps for Knockskagh, so you can see where the circles might be or once were. I’m really glad you don’t mind my wandering about.

I’ll get out of your hair now. If you’d like to see where I’m guessing your land is, maybe we could take a walk in the morning? If you’re in the pub most of the time?” “It’d have to be early, but you may have noticed the sun comes up pretty early in June. Come by and maybe we could spend an hour or two checking things out.” “Thank you!” Ciara swallowed the last of her bread, drained her coffee mug, and all but bounced out of her chair. “And thank you for the breakfast. I hope I’ll be seeing more of you.” “I’d like that,” Maura said, mainly because it seemed polite, although she wasn’t sure she’d have to time to chase down old circles in the fields. But she should know something about the property she’d inherited, and about the history that came with it. “I’ll be up early. And I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it doesn’t rain.

” “Tomorrow, then,” Ciara said, and made her exit. Maura sighed. What had she let herself in for? She knew vaguely that she had more land than the small piece the cottage sat on, but she had had no intention of looking for it, much less doing something with it, and nobody until now had come to ask her about it. But after more than a year in West Cork, maybe she should know more about where she was living, and its history. Did they teach that in schools around here? In Boston, her history teacher had devoted about two class hours to the American Revolution, and Lexington and Concord and Paul Revere. But, she realized, she didn’t have any knowledge of the history of West Cork, apart from the bit about the O’Donovan who supposedly jumped his horse over the ravine next to the pub—a story she took with a grain of salt, because she had doubts about whether any horse could have made that jump. But it made a nice dramatic story and people still remembered it. Were fairy forts in the same category? She might as well go with Ciara at least once and find out what all the fuss was about. Chapter Two Despite Ciara’s interruption, Maura arrived at Sullivan’s before anyone else. Admittedly, business would be pretty slow early in the day, but she welcomed the time to clean up the place.

A couple of months earlier Rose Sweeney had persuaded her to expand the kitchen and make it usable, and the improvements were moving along slowly but steadily, although Maura still had no idea when they would be finished. Maura had inherited Rose along with the pub, and though she was still a teenager, she had proved to be a hard worker, and she knew more about running the place than Maura did. In addition to her shifts at the pub, she was now taking cooking classes in Skibbereen. Whether they would ever progress to serving more than sandwiches was still an open question, but Maura was giving Rose free rein to get the old kitchen up and running. Fancy dreams were one thing, but reality was something else. Sophie and Niall, a sister and brother she’d met and kind of rescued earlier in the spring, were working at two different restaurants in Skibbereen, with the promise to return to Sullivan’s if business ever picked up. Maura wasn’t holding her breath, but she was keeping her fingers crossed. Rose had met Sophie while they were taking the same cooking class in Skibbereen, and Maura knew Sophie had real talent as a cook. Niall had turned out to be a great bartender, and he was beginning to attract a younger crowd, not to mention more women. There were rooms upstairs, but under Old Mick they had been neglected for a long time.

Maura hadn’t quite made up her mind whether to offer them as a plus for employees, which weren’t easy to find, or whether to actually rent them out. She gave Ann Sheahan at the Leap Inn across the road first rights to any paying guests, not that she and Ann had discussed it, though she had volunteered to take Ann’s overflow, if any. But Maura’s main hope was that her current staffing would be adequate to cover the summer tourist season until the kitchen remodel was finished. Mick Nolan, her sort-of boyfriend was the next to arrive. “Yeh’re in early, Maura,” he commented. “It was wild last night.” “And profitable, I hope,” Maura said. “I was planning to sleep in, but I had an early visitor.” “Someone yeh know?” Maura shook her head. “Nope.

Although most people who find me up in Knockskagh usually do know me, because my cottage isn’t exactly easy to find if you don’t know where to look. This was a grad student at the university in Cork. She wants to do some archaeology work on my land. Of course, apart from the cottage, I have no idea where my land actually is. I got the impression when I first found out about it that there are small pieces scattered all over the place up there, but I’ve never looked for them.” “Could be,” Mick said. “The English often set it up that way, a while back. They weren’t happy about giving away any land at all to the Irish, so they made it hard for the farmers to use it without wastin’ a lot of time. Imagine herding your cattle from field to field every other day.” “Mick, I don’t know squat about managing cattle.

I grew up in Boston, remember? No cattle there. But I can see your point. It wasn’t an efficient way to do things, if you were a farmer. Are things better now?” “Some,” Mick said. “Or there may be fewer dairy farmers, with larger land holdings—there’s a lot of milk comes from this part of the country. So what’s this Cork woman lookin’ for?” “Ring forts, she said. About which I know exactly nothing.” Mick smiled. “How long is it yeh’ve been in Cork?” “Over a year now, more or less, but I never have the time to wander around the countryside looking for things I don’t even recognize. You know about ring forts?” “I do, but I grew up in this county.

Pay attention when yeh’re drivin’ around and you’ll most likely see a few of the bigger ones. There’s one just over the hill from yeh, on yer way to Ballinlough, but the road’s crumbling away now, so yeh’d have to walk it.” “Right past that lovely piggery, right? I’ll keep that in mind. Anyway, the woman’s name is Ciara McCarthy, and she says she wants to do some serious surveying—find as many of these things as she can and figure out how they relate to each other. If they do. She also said something odd.” “And what would that be?” “That there’s something weird about ring forts, like they’re sort of haunted. People leave them alone, mostly.” “The fairies don’t like to be disturbed,” Mick said. Maura looked at his face to see if he was joking.

He wasn’t smiling. “You too? Seriously? Should I be watching for fairies? And what would they look like?” “Depends on what yeh believe. There’s a long history of fairy folk in Ireland, and there’s plenty of people who believe in ’em. Or half believe, in case it’s true. There’s those as have wireless connections and satellite dishes, but they still won’t mess with a fairy tree.” “And what the heck is that?” “Usually a hawthorn tree, or an ash. Yeh find them at the edge of a field, standing alone, or in the middle. It’s said to be bad luck to harm them. Do yeh not know the name of yer townland?” “I can spell it, but that’s about all.” “It’s cnoc sceach, though the Irish spelling won’t be the same as you’ve been writin’ it, and not what yeh’ll find on a map.

It means ‘hawthorn hill.’ If yeh come upon a single tree, don’t hurry to cut it down.” “Great,” Maura muttered. “So now I’ve learned about at least two things that bring bad luck if you harm them. Isn’t there anything positive around here? No good luck?” “That’s a whole different kettle of fish. Find yerself a book about Irish fairies, why don’t yeh? And promise yeh won’t be cuttin’ down any trees or messin’ with any circle yeh may find.” “Fine, I promise. I wasn’t planning to cut down any trees anyway. Should this Ciara person worry? Or do you think she knows about the old traditions?” “If she’s done her research, she should know. Wonder what the university has to say about them?” “We didn’t talk about it, but she asked me if I wanted to go along with her tomorrow morning— she said she’d show me where those scattered pieces of my land are.

And she’s got some old maps, which show the circles, some of which are probably gone now.” “Take yer time. We’ve enough people workin’ here now to cover the crowds here.” Maura wondered how she would handle trekking through fields. And bogs—she’d already discovered the hard way that there were upland bogs you couldn’t see until you sank a foot into one. She’d been raised in a city—one with sidewalks—and she still had a lot to learn. She hoped Ciara knew more than she did, because she didn’t relish the idea of trying to haul her out of the mud. And how did Ciara feel about cows? Because it was all too likely that these big circles she was looking for would be smack in the middle of a field full of cows—and their by-products. “Is there anyone she should stay away from? I don’t think she’ll wander through any herds of cows, but she might spook them by accident and tick off the farmer who owns them. She seems to be a city girl, like me.

” “She was smart enough to let yeh know she’d be lookin’ around your place. Maybe the uni gives instructions to its students, so they don’t get themselves shot.” “People around here really do that?” “Not often, but it happens.” “I’ll be careful, I promise. Do you think your gran Bridget would know about the fairy circles?” “She would have done, when she was young. Like yeh say, it may be that a lot of ’em are gone now, and she’s not up fer walkin’ far. But I’m sure she’d love to talk about ’em.” “I’ll tell Ciara. So, do we have a few quiet days to look forward to?” “We might. Fer a lot of our foreign visitors, their kids are still in school, so June’s not the best time fer ’em.

Come July we’ll be busier. Might be a good time to start servin’ food.” “Rose told me she was going to look for some used cookware at the farmers market. Might save some money.” “She’s a smart girl. She’s likely to find some pieces at a good price, and there’s not much need for a lot of things, nor do we have the room to spare. She should keep her eyes open fer plates and such, unless yeh want to spend all your time washin’ dishes a few at a time.” “Not my favorite thing,” Maura told him firmly. “It’s almost opening time. I’m going to open the door and let the place air out.

” She went over to the front door and pulled it open. The building was old, she knew, and so were all the doors, and the windows were old too. The interior was kind of shabby, but it felt comfortable. And the tourists seemed to like it. The local customers didn’t pay it much attention, but they seemed to feel at home, and often they came in for a pint. And it looked authentic, not because it had been decorated that way, but because the pub had been in business for a long time. She stepped outside the door and looked up and down the road. It always surprised her that this was a national highway, since she seldom saw more than a couple of passing cars at once. The weather was unexpectedly lovely—exactly what visitors wanted to believe Irish weather was like, with blue skies and green hills and a lot of cows in the meadows. The air smelled of hay, not auto exhaust, with a dash of cooking food from the closest restaurants and cafés.

Mick joined her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “It’s a fine day,” he said, staring out across the harbor. “That it is. I hope we get more of them.” “I think we’ve got company,” he said, nodding at a car that had pulled into the parking lot of the Inn across the road. A woman climbed out the driver’s side, and a girl who looked like a teenager came out the other side, loudly slamming the door behind her. Maura looked at the older woman, then looked again. “That’s Helen, isn’t it?” “Yer mother? I’m guessin’ it is,” Mick replied. “And the other person?” Maura didn’t really expect Mick to answer, but she had a pretty good idea, although she was having trouble believing it. “I think that’s my sister.

Or half sister. What on earth are they doing here?” “Looks like yer goin’ to find out.” Maura debated between retreating into the darkness of the pub behind her or pasting a smile on her face and welcoming her mother. There was no reason not to choose the second option; Helen had spent some time with her earlier in the year—for the first time in Maura’s life—and they had parted on good terms, she thought. But the question of bringing her half sister along hadn’t come up. If she remembered correctly, the girl’s name was Susan, and she was about ten years younger than Maura. Maura was pretty sure they had little in common apart from Helen. But there had to be a story behind her being here, because Maura didn’t really think Helen had brought Susan along just for fun. Susan didn’t look particularly happy to be here at the moment. By the time Maura had run all those thoughts through her head, Helen was only a few feet away.

“Helen!” she called out. “I didn’t expect to see you here again anytime soon. And this must be Susan?” The girl stared blankly at Maura but didn’t answer. Maura was ready to declare that for Susan, this was not a fun vacation trip. “Maura, it’s good to see you,” Helen said, and gave her a cautious hug. “I would have given you some warning, but this all came up so quickly I didn’t get a chance. It’s about the hotel.” That might explain a few things, Maura thought. “Listen, come on in and have some coffee or something, and we can sit down and talk about it. It’s not very busy at the moment.

” “Thanks, I’d like that. Susan and I took a red-eye flight overnight, so we haven’t slept, and I’m pretty sure I’m not very coherent at the moment.” Maura stepped back and held the door open as Helen and Susan entered. “Mick, you remember Helen. And this is her daughter—her other daughter—Susan. Can you start some coffee?” “Happy to. Helen, it’s good to see yeh again. Find yerselves a seat and I’ll bring yez the coffee when it’s ready.” Helen aimed for a table in the front corner. Susan followed, without looking at Maura.

Maura waited until they were settled, then took a chair. “So, change in plans for the hotel?” Maura began. “Did your group vote to keep the hotel or dump it as fast as they can?” “They voted to keep it, for now,” Helen said, “but they’re going to revisit the question after a year. Since John is … no longer involved, they gave me control for now, but I already know it won’t be easy.” “And you brought Susan along this time?” Maura asked, trying to think of any reason that would have been a good choice. “Yes. Tommy’s going to some wilderness camp, but Susan didn’t want to go to a camp. Her father and I thought sitting around the house stewing all summer was a bad idea, so I told her she’d come with me. She’s never been outside the country before.” And she’d never met me, Maura thought.

“Did you tell her about me, and how we met?” “Hey, I’m right here,” the girl protested. “No, Mom never talked about her life before she married Dad and had me and my brother. Then she dumped the whole story on us, all at once, right after she got back from her last trip here. I didn’t want to come, but she didn’t give me a choice.” Maura swallowed a smile. “Hey, kid, she never got in touch with me at all. When she left Boston, I was too young to remember her. So you could say she dumped her history on me too, only a few months ago. We’ll have to compare notes.” Susan’s eyes widened—apparently she hadn’t expected Maura to see her side of things.

“Good idea. Mom says we’ll be around for a while.” Mick slid coffees across the table and retreated silently. “So, Helen, what’s your plan?” Maura asked. “You staying at the hotel? You thinking of making changes now that you’re in control?” “Yes to the first question. I want to take the second part slowly, but I realize this is peak tourist season, so I may not have that luxury. I’m sure I’ll keep busy, but I’m not sure what Susan will find to keep herself busy.” “Rose should be in soon—remember her? She’s pretty close to Susan’s age. And I’ve hired a couple of kids—brother and sister—which really helps. And we’re working on the kitchen.

So, I warn you, Susan—if you don’t find something else to do, I’ll put you to work here.” Susan just looked glum. “Great. I can go home and tell my friends I’ve been working in an Irish pub all summer.” “And what will they think about that?” “I don’t really know.” “We can play it by ear. Helen, are you heading over to the hotel now?” “As soon as the caffeine kicks in. I don’t think I can stay awake much longer.” “Thanks for stopping here first. It’s good to see you.

And to meet Susan.” Helen downed the last of her coffee and shepherded Susan back to their rental car. She pulled out carefully, and then they were gone. “Well, that was interesting,” Maura said to Mick. “She gave yeh no warning?” he asked. “Not a word. We parted on fairly good terms, I think, but she never discussed bringing Susan with her. Poor kid—what the heck is she going to do with herself while her mother is working? She seems a bit young for a job.” “That I can’t say. But Rose was no more than Susan’s age when she started workin’ here,” Mick pointed out.

“Mick, I think Rose was born older than Susan. We’ll see.” The morning passed quickly, with a small but steady flow of customers. It was close to noon when Maura noticed a girl standing on the other side of the road, staring at her. Susan? Then the girl looked quickly in both directions—where there were no cars at all—and crossed. “Hello again, Susan. Are you looking for something?” Maura asked when the girl was close enough to hear her. “And you’re Maura, the big sister, that nobody told me about.” Susan’s tone was edgy. “Can I come in?” she asked.

“Half sister. Sure. Come on in. You want something to drink? There’s coffee or tea or soda.” “I just want to talk,” the girl said, brushing past Maura. Mick looked up when she walked to the bar, then looked at Maura, who shrugged. “Hello, Susan. Did Maura ever introduce me? I’m Mick. I think I’ll go clean up in the back room,” he said, and went through the doors in back. Tactful of him, Maura thought.

“Bar or table?” Maura asked the girl, who was looking increasingly unsettled. “Bar, I guess. And coffee.” “Pick a stool, then. I’ll get the coffee. Oh, wait—some rule somewhere says I’m supposed to ask you if your mother knows where you are.” Susan snorted. “We flew in yesterday, stopped here, went to the hotel. Mom took a nap, then told me she had an afternoon meeting to go to. I left.

” “So of course you decided to come back to my ratty pub?” Maura asked, as she filled a coffee mug. She set it on the bar and pushed a sugar bowl toward the girl. “How’d you get here?” “Taxi. I asked at the desk. Look, this isn’t easy. My mother didn’t tell me I had a sister living in Ireland until she announced she was taking me to Ireland, like, the next day.” “Well, don’t feel sorry for yourself. I didn’t meet her officially until earlier this year. She just kind of showed up. At the time she didn’t happen to mention she would be back here now, much less with you.

Your father and brother didn’t happen to come along too, did they?” “Nope, girls only. My brother had other plans anyway.” “How much did she tell you about me, when she got back?” Susan sipped her coffee, made a face, and added more sugar. “Not much right away. I know she felt bad about dumping you, but she’d made a whole new life and she didn’t seem to know what to do. Then her job sent her back here, and she decided to bring me. Don’t ask me why.” “I’d guess some mother–daughter bonding thing. Either that or she thought you’d get yourself into trouble if she left you alone. We don’t have to be friends or anything, and you don’t have to like me.

I’m glad to meet you, and I’ll answer whatever questions you ask, but it can end there. So, call your mother and tell her where you are, before she calls the gardaí. That’s the police. You have a mobile, right?” “Well, yeah, of course.” “Then call, and maybe we can go find something to eat.” Silently Susan fished her phone out of a pocket and headed for a corner, where she made a call. From what little Maura could hear, it didn’t go well. But why would it? Susan had sneaked away in a country she’d never seen before, to find Maura, whom she’d barely met and had heard of only weeks earlier, and hadn’t bothered to tell her mother where she was going. Not a smart thing to do, anytime or anywhere. Even Maura knew that much. Susan returned after about three minutes. “Meeting’s over. She’s going to come here as soon as she can get ready. She’s pissed.” “She has every right to be. You didn’t tell her I had any part in this, did you?” “Why would I do that? This was my idea, and I got here, didn’t I?” “You did. But she may lock you in your room for the rest of the trip.” “I haven’t got anything else to do,” Susan muttered, her voice sulky. “Well, let’s take care of the food—we have time to get some before she gets here. But you’ll have to settle for Costcutter bread and butter, or something like that. We can walk—it’s just up the street.” “Whatever.” “Mick?” Maura called out. He appeared quickly. “What’s going on?”


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