The chap behind the bar, whose name should have popped into my head but didn’t, gave me a nod between the heads of hair at the bar. I held up one finger, which he seemed to be expecting, and headed around to the table I’d sat at with Rob and Mossie. It was empty, which was a pleasant surprise, or completely expected—I’d walked past a couple empty tables to get here; most of the patrons were lining the bar where service was faster.
I sat, looking out the back windows at the sunshine. It had been cool on the ocean at Inverin, but here in mid-City Galway it was warm enough to take my jacket off inside. Agh; that suit coat. If I’d had money, I’d have gone out and bought yet another suit of clothes. I only hoped that when Rob tracked me down he’d have my clothes.
As I looked out the window, a willowy blonde blocked my view briefly. She stood with her back to me, looking out the window. Allowed me a good long look at her close-cropped hair, puffy quilted jacket, ultra-short leather mini-skirt, and extensive leggery that went all the way down to some rather aggressive heels.
Whoever she was looking for apparently wasn’t in the street out back of the pub, but instead of turning to go, she strolled over to my table.
“‘scuse me, anyone sittin’ here?” The mirror shades hid her eyes, but her crimson lips were smiling.
I didn’t want to seem unfriendly, but I didn’t want to have to disentangle myself from anyone when the cavalry arrived.
“Um, actually, my, um, wife, she, we, um, —”
“Oh, shush, honey, you ain’t married. No ring, and besides, you’ve got the look.”
Her drawl wasn’t quite Texas; Arkansas, maybe. More hillbilly, less drawl. There was nothing hillbilly about the rest of her. I shushed, she sat.
“I figger if my friends have stood me up, I can sit with a good-lookin’ fellah for a few minutes, if I buy him a drink, kinda like renting space, ‘kay?” She was waving at the publican as if she were hailing a taxi. It did interesting and educational things to her halter top.
“You’d best keep those eyes on my face, friend, or some redhead somewhere’ll be mighty upset.”
The lips hardened into a straight line I knew all too well, even before she slid the sunglasses down her nose to look over them at me. At least the eyes were smiling now.
She put a finger to her lips, and shook her head slightly.
Somehow she managed to keep up a steady patter of ridiculous information about her two brothers who had left her in the middle of Galway to go off and look for ‘wimmin’; they were visiting from Pine Bluff Arkansas, and since their name was Beatty and that was Irish, they sorta figgered they should see Ireland some day, and she had, and she was done, but her brothers had developed a taste for redheads and wouldn’t go home and she by God wasn’t gonna leave without ’em.
Every time she said something even remotely witty I took the opportunity to let out the choking laughter that built up inside me; a combination of relief, even joy, at seeing her, and genuine amusement at her disguise. I truly hadn’t known it was her, never having had the opportunity before now to properly inspect her legs or, uh, the haircut; that’s what I hadn’t seen.
She was incredible; sometimes I forgot that I wasn’t really talking to fellow American traveler Raquel Beatty (“can you believe that moniker, ‘Raquel’, what are people thinking when they name their kids nowadays?”)
She obviously had a plan, and sitting here establishing the persona was part of it or she wouldn’t be putting so much into it.
After the drinks were gone, she reached over the table and laid her hand on mine. It was, to put it mildly, enjoyable. She slid her glasses down again, and drawled “Any chance you could walk a girl back to her hotel? I get so lost on these winding streets, and my two dopey brothers have probably found what they were lookin’ for, so I may as well head back for a nice bubble bath, y’know what I mean?” Between the sparkling blue eyes and the little kiss she made with her lips at the end of the sentence, I wondered if she was still acting. Either way, the walk to ‘her hotel’, whatever that turned out to be, was going to be excruciating. If I’ve mentioned that I didn’t remember any serious relationships, I’ll mention now that it wasn’t for lack of interest. Interest, just now, was at an all-time high.
She stood up, bending over the table to slide her seat back, and at the same time watching my eyes, which I made real sure were watching her eyes right back. She went to the bar and paid James (there it is! same as at Riley’s; is that right? have to check with Rob) and then barely paused as she passed my table to waggle her fingers in a ‘come along’ gesture.
She was already waiting outside the rear entrance when I stepped out. She put her arm through mine in a fairly possessive gesture, and pushed me northeast, toward Shop Street, the direction we’d taken to Rob’s room at the Victoria.
She was silent until we got to the crowds of Shop Street, and then said in a completely flat voice “Any reason you know of that we couldn’t reminisce about old times, friend?”
“None. I mean, I’ll talk about anything you want, tell you about a little trip I’ve just taken, if that’s what you wanna hear.”
“None that I know of.”
She exhaled like she’d been holding her breath. “I’ll keep these stupid shades in case someone’s watching; they probably are; but we weren’t sure if he’d bug you or not. And we sure didn’t want his goons seeing you come right back to the redheaded lady cop, right?”
“Aw, I kinda like willowy blondes anyway.”
“Good, ’cause, like most men you haven’t a clue, but red’s not my natural color.” She beamed an enormous smile up at me. I tripped over something (probably my own feet) and gaped with my slobbery mouth open.
“Why is it even the most intelligent man can’t tell the difference between a dye job and the real thing? I mean, I get my hair done by the best, so a casual observer won’t notice, but you’ve had plenty of time to study me pretty well, and you honestly thought the red was real. Men.”
I was busy absorbing this whole hair-color thing, so I let that slur pass.
Blonde. Eh; what difference does it make? She could be a redhead any time I wanted. Opened up all kinds of possibilities. If she could be a blonde from Arkansas, a redhead from Ireland, maybe she could be a brunette from wherever. Yup; possibilities did indeed open up.
“I’ve got a room at the Victoria now, but we’ve wired up Rob’s room so he and Mossie and my blokes can see and here everything that goes on, just in case Dubin tries any funny business. Or in case you do.” She found herself amusing. I didn’t let on that I had in fact been considering funny business.
She’d made me temporarily forget that sometime in the immediate future I had to either point her to a way to get Dubin, or perjure my reputation publicly.
Or, failing that, die of food poisoning, Dubin-style.