The small village of Kilbane is hosting a poker tournament at the local pub, and card sharp Eamon Foley, a tinker out of Dublin, is set to win the tournament. But when Foley is found at the end of a rope, it’s time for the garda to take matters into their own hands. Macdara Flannery would lay odds it’s a simple suicide, but Siobhán suspects foul play, as does Foley’s pregnant widow. Perhaps one of Foley’s fellow finalists just raised the stakes to life and death. With conflicting theories on the crime, tensions are running high. Soon it’s up to Siobhán to call a killer’s bluff, but if she doesn’t play her cards right, she may be the next one taken out of the game.
Release date: February 26, 2019
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 304
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
Murder in an Irish Pub
Perhaps the moniker had nothing to do with his mad card skills, and his wandering eyes were to blame. Siobhán wasn’t a gambler, but she’d bet his pregnant wife wasn’t happy about that.
Siobhán stepped out into the fresh spring night, locked the door to the bistro, and flipped on the light above their sign. NAOMI’S BISTRO was carved on a wooden plank, written in black script and outlined in her favorite color, robin’s egg blue. Looking at it always gave her a rush of pride, that comforting feeling she was home. Like many families who ran businesses in Kilbane, Siobhán and her siblings lived in a flat above the bistro, melting the lines between work and home like a hearty ham-and-cheese toastie.
She stepped onto the footpath and took in the white tents being erected up and down Sarsfield Street. This weekend would deliver a double dose of excitement, coupling the poker tournament with the annual Arts and Music Festival. Starting tomorrow, the place would be alive with paintings, and carvings, and Irish dancing, and handmade wares, and musicians staked out on corners, making heads bob and feet tap.
There was something so delicious about closing a street to traffic, and ambling down it without fear of being mowed over by a lad with a twitchy foot. Twilight was descending, injecting purple and red streaks into the Irish skies. The sound of hooves caught her attention. Sixteen-year-old Amanda Moore was leading her prized racehorse, Midnight, down the street, holding the rope gently, her father striding proudly beside her. Only two years old, he’d already won the Cork Races and was favored to win many more. He was all shiny black and sinewy muscle. Gorgeous. Siobhán wished she had time to stop and nuzzle the horse, but the games were about to begin.
She felt a tad guilty as she passed the tent for Naomi’s Bistro, imagining her brother James hard at work, until she spotted him sparring with Ciarán, the runt of the O’Sullivan Six litter. They held their tent poles aloft, thrusting and slicing through the air, locked in a deadly duel. James gave her a nod and a wink, while she resisted the urge to warn them about losing an eye.
Just ahead, a line snaked out of O’Rourke’s Pub, and lads itching to part with their wages clustered around the betting shops. The air was thick with the smell of curried chips and easy money. Piles and piles of money. The winning purse was a quarter of a million euro. Not to mention all the side bets that were being made, deals done in the shops, and deals done on the footpath, and deals done in the dark. She shuddered to think of the men who would bet it all, feverish with hope, only to end up losing everything but the shirts on their back, and sometimes they lost that too. If only it was hyperbole. Betting could spike a fever in some men, and those stricken with the worst of it had lost tractors, and cars, and houses, and cattle, and eventually wives.
Across the way, Sheila Mahoney was puffing on a cigarette outside of her hair salon, platinum blond hair streaked with green, spy glasses perched over her ample bosom, as if she planned on peering in on the games from a distance. She spotted Siobhán, held up a strand of her hair, and mimicked hacking it off. It had been ages since Siobhán had paid her a visit. She absentmindedly touched her cap as she stared at Sheila’s new black-and-white sign: CURL UP AND DYE.
Siobhán turned her attention to the pub, and her heart sank when she saw the line. There were so many people they crowded out the front window sporting Declan’s collection of Laurel and Hardy memorabilia. O’Rourke’s was an institution in Kilbane, as it well should be. Declan had been serving pints, and holding court, and hearing confessions longer than Father Kearney. He was as respected as he was feared, which was why his pub was chosen to host the games. If lads got too riled up, one could count on Declan O’Rourke to settle them down. Menace and knacks would not be tolerated, not in his pub.
Garda or not, this crowd looked as if they’d toss you into the street for cutting ahead of the line. Siobhán was relieved when she saw Maria’s pretty face pop up in the window and gesture to the patio. By the time she reached it, Maria was waiting to usher her in through the back. Tonight it paid to have dear friends who worked in the pub. “Hurry. Round one will be starting, so.” They pushed their way through the sea of bodies until they could duck behind the counter. Siobhán loved the long polished oak bar with its scratches and dents, initials, and dates, secrets embedded like fossils in the water-marked swirls.
Maria plunked down a pair of wooden crates so they could stand on them and see over the heads to the poker tables. What Maria lacked in height, she made up for with her big personality. She was not one to miss out, and she’d have your head if you dared exclude her.
Siobhán scanned the room for Macdara Flannery, not sure if she was looking for her detective sergeant or her lover, feeling foolish when she spotted him in plain clothes. Their eyes locked and her heart gave a squeeze. That tall man, that messy hair, those blue eyes, and that lopsided grin he flashed like a weapon. She worried once again if any of them had seen her sneaking out of his flat in the early hours of the morning. He was her superior, and romance was forbidden. Yet they persisted.
She looked away first, heat crawling up her neck. She hated to admit it, but ever since their romance had become clandestine, it had added an undeniable excitement, a rush that fueled her days with an extra spark. It was hard enough to prove oneself as a female guard, and not a day went by when she didn’t berate herself for the risk they were taking. For the first time in her life, she could relate to drug addicts. The inability to stop. The insatiable craving for more.
Why didn’t he tell her the uniform wasn’t required? Her eyes flicked around the room, clocking the other guards. Not a single one had put on his or her uniform. She was like that lone eejit at a party who passed over a pretty cocktail dress for a rabbit costume. Three months as a guard and Siobhán was still making rookie mistakes. She took off her cap, letting her auburn hair cascade down, and unbuttoned the top few buttons on her starched white shirt.
“Thatta girl,” Maria said, letting out a wolf whistle. Siobhán laughed, and was trying to think of a retort, when her thoughts were interrupted by Rory Mack, who was hur-ricaning his way through the crowd.
“Hold the games.” Rory’s deep voice carried above the din. He was a former rugby player and still looked every bit of it. Well into his sixties, he’d maintained his bulk and swagger. His face sported the ruddy complexion of a man who drank as many pints as he served. Siobhán stole a glance at Declan O’Rourke, whose pale face showed no such tinge of red. He’d managed to serve his product instead of guzzling it, and for a second she felt a strange flush of pride. “I propose we move the poker games to Sharkey’s.” Rory was the owner of the rowdy pub just outside the town walls. A big fan of Sinatra’s version of “Mack the Knife” (and given his surname was Mack), he, in turn, named his pub Sharkey’s. (Others teased the name was meant to draw predators to his pub, with all the blood in the water from lads drinking and fighting.) It was that kind of pub, and given that it was housed in an old stone building that Siobhán adored, and they always had a good turf fire going, she wished it was more of a respectable establishment. It certainly used to be when Mikey Finnegan owned it. But three years ago Mikey retired to the hills of Donegal, and Rory Mack swooped up the old stone pub, changing its name and reputation forever.
“We’ve been through this,” Macdara said. “We’re not debating it again, Rory.”
Rory pivoted to Declan, extending a meaty hand. “Sharkey’s is far enough away from the festival that if the crowd gets unruly, we’re better equipped to handle it.” His hand flexed as if his fists were the equipment he had in mind.
Macdara didn’t flinch. “It’s not going to get unruly.”
“You’re a fool if you t’ink dat.”
“That’s ’Garda Fool’ to you,” someone called out.
Macdara had to shout to speak over the laughter. “Not another word, Rory. You’ll get plenty of lads in for a pint when the night rolls on.”
“You’re going to regret it.” Rory shook his head and threaded his way out of the pub, the door slamming behind him. From the small stage in the corner, a microphone screeched. There stood a middle-aged man, with a protruding belly and shock of white hair. He wore a navy blazer and white shirt. Siobhán recognized his referee uniform from watching poker tournaments on telly. If she judged him on his face alone, she’d be tempted to call him a silver fox, but his body had gone the way of a lazy dog. He stepped forward, and pointed to the three round tables with ten chairs each. “Let the games begin.” Whoops and hollers rained down as pint glasses were hoisted up. “Ranked third place, first out the gate is Shane Ross. Or as some like to call him, ’the Shane of Spades.’ Known for his ability to bluff. Keep your eye on dat one. A dark horse, but my money’s on him.”
Applause rang out as a slouched man in his twenties, with floppy brown hair, raised his hand, acknowledging the crowds as he ambled to his seat. His face was stripped of all emotion as if he’d drained them at the door. A bluffer. Siobhán felt excitement bubbling in her. What would it feel like to be a card shark? Would she be a bluffer? Who was she kidding, her face turned scarlet at every turn. Would that be an asset? Or a tell? She wanted to believe it would be an asset, but she knew it would be a tell.
“Ranked number two, hailing from London, England, Miss ’Queen of Hearts,’ the lovely Clementine Hart.” A stunning black woman, garbed in a bold red dress with a plunging neckline, lipstick to match, and knee-high black boots, strolled out, waving to the crowd. This was not a woman wishing to blend in with the men, and Siobhán started the applause. Clementine took her time pulling out her seat, then lowered herself into it as if she knew all eyes were on her, before crossing her legs and folding her hands delicately on top of her knee. Siobhán had an instant girl crush and couldn’t take her eyes off her.
“Imagine the life she has,” Maria said, her voice a mixture of awe and jealousy. Siobhán was doing just that. Fancy restaurants, piles of bags from Marks and Spencer, a lovely flat with a view of Big Ben, and a sporty little car dragging a string of admirers from her hubcaps.
“And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for, the number-one-ranked player in all Ireland. The lad needs no introduction, outta Dublin, please welcome Eamon Foley.”
His nickname went unsaid, but Siobhán could feel it bouncing around the room as Eamon Foley strode out. The Octopus. Handsome was an understatement. He had that thing they called star power. Tall, with wavy dark hair, and a vicious smile, he strode to his table in a black leather jacket and mirrored sunglasses. The glasses were forbidden during the games, and Siobhán had a feeling that’s exactly why he was wearing them. The intimidation factor. She made a mental note to buy herself a pair. She could wear them when interrogating her siblings. Once he sat, he took off the glasses and tucked them in the pocket of his jacket. His eyes were a startling green, and for a hot second they locked with Siobhán’s. He saluted her.
“Oh, my God,” Maria crooned beside her. “You lucky duck.” She reached over and pinched Siobhán on the back of her arm. Siobhán swatted her with the back of her hand, and didn’t dare look in Macdara’s direction, although she could feel his eyes on her too. In fact, everyone was suddenly looking at her, the lone eejit in uniform spraying out pheromones.
The Octopus dropped his salute and grinned at Siobhán, and she wanted to grin back, but she’d lost all feelings in her lips. And then the moment was gone. His eyes left hers and traveled through the crowd, as if they were all his competition and he was sizing them up.
Dealers dressed in black materialized with stacks of chips and tidy decks of cards, holding them aloft by the tables, waiting for word to set them down.
Maria leaned in, her breath hot on Siobhán’s neck. “How do you play this game again?”
Declan, who had been standing at the end of the bar keeping an eagle eye on his establishment, was suddenly by their side. He delighted in educating people. He began explaining the game of poker and its endless variations. Texas Hold’em. Five-card draw. Five-Card Stud. Seven-Card Stud. Lowball, highball, wild card, kill game. “Sometimes,” he said, his eyes sparking, “a joker is added.”
Siobhán’s gaze traveled over the players. “Or several.”
There was a rhythm to the games as sure and steady as music. The swish and smack of the cards. The clink of the chips. A gasp or moan as each hand was revealed. Pint glasses piled up, along with anticipation, as players were eliminated, one by one. Some of the losers were good sports, bowing out with a friendly wave, while others had to be dragged from the tables raging and cursing. Before they knew it, round one had whittled down to the favored three: Shane Ross, Clementine Hart, and Eamon Foley.
The coordinator appeared at the microphone. “Those were some games. Boy ya, boy ya! Ladies and gentlemen, we’re down to the final three of round one. They’ll play each other in one last game this evening, to reestablish their rank for the start of the morning rounds.” He leaned in with a wide grin. “A fresh round of victims, that is.”
Laughter and cheers ensued as the top three gathered at the center table. A petite waitress with a waterfall of blond hair fawned over the Octopus, offering him a bottle of water. It was obvious she was taking her time, twirling the bottle as if it were a baton in a one-woman parade. Her skirt was short and her legs were long. Clementine stared daggers into the poor girl until she retreated. Siobhán glanced over to the stools by the windows, where a very pregnant Rose Foley was perched. If she was jealous of the waitress fawning all over her husband, she didn’t show it. Her focus was out the window as if she was counting the seconds until she could escape. She looked weeks past her due date, and Siobhán found herself thinking they’d better hurry up and finish this hand before the wee thing popped out.
Rose wore a yellow maternity dress and her soft brown hair was piled in a messy bun. It painted the picture of a sweet lass, which was why it was so jarring that her mouth was set in a thin line. When she turned her gaze back into the room, her eyes looked as hard as two black stones. Perhaps she was unconsciously imitating her husband’s poker face, but once again Siobhán got the feeling Rose Foley would rather be anywhere but here. Feet up, mug of tea, baby born already. Siobhán hoped that was the case, for the black cloud above her head couldn’t be good for the little soul.
The last cards of the night were dealt. Anticipation hovered in the air until Shane Ross pushed a few chips into the center. Clementine did the same, using her long red fingernail. The Octopus hesitated, then bulldozed his entire mound of chips into the center. “All in!” Declan exclaimed. The crowd tilted forward, eager to see what Shane and Clementine would do.
Shane went all in.
Clementine stared. She uncrossed her legs and leaned on the table, for the first time blending in with the boys. Hearts suspended in the throats of those who watched and waited, but she paid them no mind. Then she leaned back with a sigh and shoved her remaining chips into the pile.
Shane laid down his cards. The coordinator hovered by the table, announcing the verdict. “Two pairs. Sevens and fours.”
Clementine smiled, then gently fanned hers out. “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.”
Maria elbowed Siobhán. “I love her.”
“Three jacks,” the coordinator bellowed. The crowd hummed. Three jacks. “All the boys” indeed. Siobhán found herself digging for the rules of poker. Three of a kind beats two pairs.
All heads swiveled to the Octopus. He broke out in a grin, sending goose bumps up Siobhán’s spine. He slammed his cards down with a satisfying smack. A gasp was heard, and then two. Even the coordinator seemed too stunned to call it. Maria shoved Siobhán off her crate.
“You’re a giant, get over yourself.” Siobhán was tall, but a giant? She resisted the urge to shove Maria, who was feverishly piling Siobhán’s crate onto her own and climbing on top. “Declan. Binoculars,” she barked like a surgeon.
Declan tossed a pair to Maria, who held them up like a pirate spotting treasure on a distant shore. She called out the hand: “The ace of spades, ace of clubs, eight of spades, eight of clubs, and a joker.”
This time Declan gasped, a sound Siobhán had never heard in her life. “What?”
Declan crossed himself, and when he finally spoke, his voice was gruff. “Dat’s ’the Dead Man’s Hand.’ ”
“ ’The Dead Man’s Hand’?” Siobhán had never heard of it.
Clementine Hart shot out of her chair. “Impossible.” She pointed at Eamon. “Cheater!”
“Joker’s wild,” the Octopus sang. “Would you look at that! I’ve got the Dead Man’s Hand, but I’m still alive. And jokers are wild, so that’s a full house, if I do say so m’self.”
Shane Ross looked as if he wanted to overturn the table. He had emotions after all. “I smell a cheat.”
Eamon screeched his chair back and folded his arms across his chest. “You really think I wanted the Dead Man’s Hand?” He shook his head. “I’ve had enough bad luck in me life.” He glanced at his wife.
Siobhán poked Declan. “The Dead Man’s Hand?”
Declan crossed his arms. “It’s a legend in poker. Black aces and black eights, with a hole card.”
“A hole card?” He might as well have been speaking a foreign language.
Declan waved his hand. “It means it doesn’t matter what the last card is. But this time it does. It’s a joker. Jokers are wild, so he can pair it with the aces for a full house.”
Siobhán was still lost. “Is it bad luck or good luck?” The Dead Man’s Hand. Definitely doesn’t sound good.
Declan’s eyes lit up. “Legend has it ’Wild Bill’ Hickok was holding that exact hand when he was murdered.”
Wild Bill Hickok. Another thing for her to Google on a long list of things she was never going to Google. Clementine and Eamon shot to their feet, shouting as they circled each other.
“Look!” Shane Ross pointed at Eamon’s chair. The crowd moved in.
“What is it?” Siobhán asked Maria.
“There’s a deck of cards sitting on Eamon’s seat,” Maria narrated.
“A cold deck,” Shane said. “He switched them out.”
Eamon whirled around and looked at the deck of cards on the seat. “That’s not mine.” He held his hands up as if that proved his innocence. Was it an act? Was he bluffing? Siobhán couldn’t tell.
“That blond tart,” Clementine said. “Was she the one who slipped you the cold deck?”
Heads swiveled. The blondie waitress was nowhere to be seen. The one-woman parade had vanished.
Eamon’s face was now scrunched in rage. So much for his poker face. “I’m being set up!”
The coordinator stepped forward, clutching the lapel of his blazer. Clementine bulldozed his path. “You’re the referee.”
“Coordinator is my official title,” he said with a grin. Then he tapped his chest. “Nathan Doyle.” He bowed.
Clementine didn’t seem to care about his name. She was on a mission. “You must immediately disqualify Eamon Foley for cheating. He switched the decks.”
“Prove it,” Eamon said. He pointed at Clementine. “She set me up.”
“Me?” Clementine was indignant. “If I was going to set someone up with a good hand, I would have chosen me.”
“Someone did.” He looked at his seat as if it had betrayed him. “Would I have jumped up if I was hiding a cold deck under me leg?”
He had a point there. Nathan Doyle appeared terrified of angering either player. He threw a desperate look to Macdara.
Macdara stepped out from his post in the corner. “Everyone sit down. Sit down and calm down.”
Clementine stormed to the table. She pointed to the cards on the table, then held up the cold deck. “They’re identical. This was a switch operation.”
“I had nothing to do with that,” Eamon said.
“The Dead Man’s Hand?” Clementine said. “You expect us to believe that?”
“Someone might be taking the piss, alright, but it isn’t me.” Eamon held his arms up and began to bounce like a boxer celebrating his knockout victory. “The jokes on them—or the Joker’s on them, I might say—because I’m still number one!” Patrons cheered and fists pounded on tables.
“Why don’t we compromise,” Nathan said, attacking his eyeglasses with his handkerchief. “Let’s throw out the results of this game. You can replay it in the . . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...