“James, I mean James Riley, the owner, said Web had been there, but with a couple strangers. We’ve been meeting there for a while, every time Web came out to have another confabulation with the jerk who was selling the house there in Pacoima, so James kinda knew us both. He was in the same time I was; served some of the same places, so we kinda hit it off. And knowing how Web loves all things Irish, he just sorta adopted us both; old enough to be our father, James is.”
“He said something seemed odd, like Web didn’t like these guys, but he wouldn’t just get up and leave. They weren’t physically keeping him there, but it was pretty clear they weren’t gonna let him just walk out. The big one came and got a full bottle of Jameson’s and said something about teaching tea-sipping Yanks a thing or two.”
“He said ‘tea-sipping’?” I laughed.
“Yeah, James laughed, too; he knows how seriously you take your tea ever since you refused to drink his.” Then, to Mossie, “He also knows about Web’s infinite capacity for alcohol.”
Mossie glanced at me, then back at Rob.
“No, I don’t mean he can drink a lot before he’s drunk. I mean, I’ve seen him down half a bottle of Jameson’s during lunch and never notice it. Doctor said something about his body refusing to absorb the alcohol. I’ve tried to get him to make me some money on bar bets but he won’t.” He was kidding; we’d both joked about it, and I’d always been cautious about letting anyone know how much I could drink, and besides, neither of us needed the money.
“What? D’you remember something?”
“Ah, these bits just keep coming back at odd times, usually after a nap, or when I’m least expecting it. Just remembering really clearly that we used to joke about that, and how it was your idea to keep it mum about how much I could drink.”
“And I was right; these guys never knew what hit them. James said after the first bottle the smaller guy was face down on the table, and the bigger guy was weaving like a country line dancer when he came back for a second. He said he felt like you were doing this on purpose, so he let the guy have it; he’s not the type to serve drunks, even if one of ’em is you.”
“Somewhere I have the feeling you’ve taught me that slipping away from an enemy is better than obvious flight. Something like that.”
“Right. If there’s enough of an unknown quantity involved, get out without letting ’em know you even realize they’re the enemy. Make it look like an accident, or casual. Whatever it takes; if you can get out by stealth, it’s always better than getting out by direct confrontation.”
“Sensible” injected Mossie. “So, he drank those two unconscious and fled.”
“That’s what James said. Only I’ve never seen him drink that much; it’s not something he does just because he can. Hey, d’you suppose that’s what caused your memory loss? I mean, normal people can have blackouts when they’ve had too much—is it possible with your bizarre chemistry that instead of blacking out just that time slot, you lost it all?”
It was a thought. It was the first feasible (to whatever limited extent) explanation I’d heard.
“Could be. I wonder if a doctor could confirm that?”
“Or if he could tell us whether it’s reversible?”
“Time for that later, gentlemen; right now, I’d like to know, Rob, why you were here waiting for Web, which will explain, I assume, why he’s had this burning desire to come to Galway.”
Rob grinned. “You couldn’t keep him away from this place if you tried. Only place on the west coast you can hear live music every single night, even in winter. Part of Web’s research involves song lyrics, and he’s loved the music ever since he was a kid. We’ve closed down this place more times than anyone but the two owners. If he were a homing pigeon, this’d be his Irish home.”
I looked around, as if seeing the pub for the first time. It felt right; like someplace I would ‘home’ to. I liked that feeling; so different from the not-home feeling I got from the little house in LA.
“Last trip, Web got an invitation from Trinity College to look at some musty old book” with a broad grin at me “he’s been wanting to see. To make the time slot they’d allow, he caught an earlier flight and apparently assumed I’d know where to find him. Good thing I know how to track people down or I’d have just sat here until he remembered me.”
“So why didn’t you track me down this time? Where’ve you been, Mr. Super Detective?”
“First, I’m not a detective, I’m in security; there’s a difference. Second, I did try to track you down. When you weren’t here and they hadn’t heard from you, I decided to give it a day. Next morning, your name was in half a dozen papers in an article about that creep O’Quinn who’d been hounding you. If you didn’t allow me to test all my recording equipment on your phones, I wouldn’t have had enough information to show the police you couldn’t have murdered him.”
I was stunned. “So, they don’t think I killed him?”
“Course not! Ridiculous. But when they found your passport and license in his pocket, they had to at least ask, right?”
I tried to digest that. It was chewy, and not very tasty.
“So, I’ve been running all over the country, hiding from the police who would have protected me from those thugs here in Galway?”
“It would seem so” offered Mossie. I noticed he was still taking notes. I hoped he’d share. (He did.)
A thought, one of few I can claim as my own, occurred to me. “Driving south from Galway, what, day before yesterday, we ran out of gas, and two goons in a dark car scared me into running halfway across the Burren.”
Rob put his head in his hands. “You dope. Y’know, for someone so smart, you’re sure not sometimes.”
“Yeah, I hired some friends of a friend to keep an eye out for you. They followed you into a restaurant here in town, and watched as those two scaries dragged you out the back door. They were about to, ‘intervene’, shall we say, when the good-looking cop nailed the big one with a car door and whisked you away.”
His eyes widened.
“The cute redhead you say he’s in love with?”
Mossie nodded, and smiled a really irritating smile. “The same.”
Rob whistled. “Just like the tea, huh? Top quality, no matter the price.”
“Waddya mean?” I was still trying to grasp his calling Siobhan a cop.
“She’s one of the top security agents in the country. Works with the Special Detective Unit and the N.B.C.I., the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, on all kinds of protection systems and like that whenever they suspect the IRA’s involved. Mind like a steel trap, as they say, and a real man-eater. My guys called me when they saw you running off into the wild hand-in-hand with her—” He grinned and waved his hand, palm toward me. “Just kidding; they didn’t say that. But they said it looked like you were together on purpose, and they figured if you were with her, you were in better hands than theirs. They honestly thought you were in on some secret government thing, and I didn’t tell ’em any different. I just thought to myself that you had a reason for what you were doing, and decided to wait here.”
“But now, I’m not so sure you knew what you were doing.”
Neither was I. I’d managed to slip away from the person most able to help me.
Even more, I was realizing that the way she’d behaved in the hotel in Lisdoonvarna might not have been an act.
I really, really, had to stop being such a dolt.