The Long Lost Sunset
A haunted hotel. A mysterious plot. But who is running out of time?
Scotland, 1991. Dan is too busy working to have a relationship. So, when a paranormal investigation takes him to Edinburgh, at least he can catch up with old friends. But when he overhears a mysterious plot, he discovers another reason to stay.
Dan enlists the help of a friend with strange abilities but doesn’t like what he finds. Soon, the hotel fills with secrets and he doesn’t know who to trust.
When a ticking clock points to danger, Dan must decide whether to leave the only person he has ever loved.
Is it a matter of time before Dan’s heart is broken or is the situation deadlier than that?
The Long Lost Sunset is the second book of The Falling Awake Mysteries, a captivating, character-led series that blends amateur sleuth crime story with an exploration of human connection. If you like compelling characters, city skylines and a hint of the paranormal then you’ll love Jenny Cutts’ intriguing novel.
Buy The Long Lost Sunset and start the clock today.
Release date: October 1, 2021
Publisher: Stopped Clock Press
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The Long Lost Sunset
I open my eyes and scan the blocky Dublin rooftops ahead of me, the muffled blue-grey dawn at my back. I’m standing on top of the dome of the Museum of Archaeology and I’m feeling very alone.
The silent city spreads before me, oblivious. Everywhere, a bland backdrop of a morning, pungent with black brewery scents, unspools across the sky.
The normal sounds of city life seem sponged away by the muffling winds unfurling around me, but I know they just aren’t there. I’m used to this, but still. Breezes catch at my hair with tingling twists and cool my skin with gentle moisture; a soft, impish tickle at my neck, a grazing kiss at my cheek. The slow rumble of the river floods my ears with its distant, rolling churn.
I see the city stretching out before me, shaded with precipitous crevices; perfectly pointed brickwork folding in origami angles, hidden ravines that plunge to the streets below. I wish I had the binoculars – but I let Zoya take them with her.
I pivot slowly as I scour the view, careful not to smash through the oculus or slip off the dome. I wonder, for a moment, if the low, whispered rumble is the sound of the distant river or the pumping of my blood. It’s surprising how quiet a city can be when all the people have disappeared.
I make my way to the corner, where the round part of the building meets the square. Grappling with the Palladian wedding-cake cornicing, I clamber down to the storey below.
Here, I inch along the curving ledge, clinging to each marble column as I pass. I reach a position above the main entrance and stop. I’m about fifteen metres above the ground still, but I feel a bit more relaxed, tucked in here. I sit in the space under a window and let my legs dangle over the edge.
I look across at the mirror-image National Library, the same colonnade, balcony, columns and dome. I want to describe it as looking like a long-lost twin – but these buildings have been staring at one another for a century. Long, maybe, but not lost.
I let my gaze rise above the rooftops to the blank patch of sky. I think about the library and the museum and the all-sorts-of-everything that must be trapped inside: the shelves of books containing all those immortal thoughts of dead men; the discarded objects used by ancestors; the bones.
All those lives, preserved and packaged and catalogued, lingering long after death. And me, sitting among them, and nobody even knows that I’m here.
I laugh out loud at my own patheticness, suddenly splitting the silence. The sound echoes through the square.
A speck of movement behind the library catches my eye. I think I see someone darting along the far edge of its dome, mostly obscured from my view. It can only be her, can’t it? I move position and crane to spot the disappearing figure and then I’m falling – the hard, thick stone of the balustrade hurtling, suddenly, toward my head.
The next moment, Reed wakes with a jolt, in a narrow single bed. He has been churning the sheets over and over in his sleep. The thin, grey morning tells him that it is still really early, and the small room reminds him where he is – the tatty bed and breakfast on the other side of the river. He decides to get out of there and go for a walk.
Hastily dressed in his clothes from the day before, he strides along the pavement with no particular plan. Gulls tug at fast-food wrappers. He walks along, lost in his thoughts.
Even now, as the city starts to shake itself for a new day, he is trying to outpace a loneliness he thought that meeting Zoya would have killed. If it was her that he had seen in the dreaming, why was she running away? She had said she wanted to travel solo for a while so why was she still in Dublin? And if it wasn’t Zoya, then who else could it possibly have been? His thoughts loop while he walks. The soles of his Converse slap sonorously on the paving stones.
Crossing the O’Connell bridge, the wide green ribbon of the river interrupts his puzzling, strobed with the fall of daylight and churning its water against old algae-greened stone. He realises he must be heading to Kildare Street – drawn back there for no reason that makes any sense.
He notices the gradual swell of the waking city: delivery vans reversing; the whirr of street sweepers at kerbs; the hiss and growl of engines marking the incursion of bus timetables into the dissipating night.
Rounding a corner at a junction on the south side, he is stopped by a wall of air.
A dark blur has appeared at his feet. Now it is forming into a chillingly recognisable shape. A man lies spreadeagled on the paving slabs. A man who seemed to materialise out of thin air. A man whose crumpled frame looks like it fell from the sky, narrowly missing Reed’s head.
Reed looks up and sees a scaffold-clad building. He looks down and sees the man on the pavement still, straggly, sandy hair flung across the face.
Reed makes the mental adjustment from the word ‘man’ to ‘body’. His feet haven’t moved an inch.
He remembers his own sense of falling and the impossibility of bracing for the impact of stone smashing into skull. It feels as though the dark-clad figure could be his own shadow self – but it just lies there, bleeding and becoming more real with every passing second. More real and more surreal at the same time.
Reed makes an effort to flip realities in his mind – the one where he idles on rooftops isn’t real and the one where a dead man lies by his feet, is. A small crowd is gathering in the street.
He stares at the man, feeling thankful that he cannot see the face. This is Reed’s second dead body and, apparently, they don’t get any easier to see. He finds himself in a ring of people – early risers who have rushed over to help. He hears cars being left in the middle of the road and shouting and emergency calls being made.
Reed has no idea how much time has passed but sirens can be heard. A sergeant arrives and starts taking control. The group are encouraged away from the accident and Reed’s feet finally unstick from the spot. The body is obscured by a tent.
‘We’ll be wanting to find out what any of you saw soon enough, but we need to move you back now. Are you alright, madam? It’s a terrible thing, yes. Please move back now. Give the man some respect.’
Reed allows himself to be moved on with the crowd, but, in the jostling, slips away. He walks around a corner, turns up a dark alley and leans his forehead against the wall. Maybe he had had a premonition of this happening – a dream about a fall.
Reed catches himself before his thoughts stray into supernatural territory. He doesn’t believe in any of that. For him, physical reality is weird enough as it is.
He gently bangs his brow against the wall. He’s aware that a man has plunged to a messy death on the pavement and that he’s still somehow making it all about him. The man landed close though, almost close enough to kill him too. He leans over and vomits against the bricks.
Reed pauses at the path into the cemetery and checks the newspaper clipping in his pocket – right place, right time, right funeral.
The graveyard is dotted with monuments of long-forgotten deaths. The dropping, age-softened headstones seem to sway in motley procession toward a once-distant boundary wall. Winter-shed, earth-baked plant matter mulches in the creases of graves and paths and roots.
The mossy stone wall beside him recedes over the rise of a hill, interrupted by small tangles of gnarled yew trees and sturdy, fluttering oaks. He can still detect the faint smell of warmed asphalt tumbling across the holy ground from the suburban streets beyond its clutch.
He can see the group of mourners near the top of the hill standing in twos and threes, gathering for the interment. He walks slowly toward them for a closer look but has decided not to join in. The sky is shining a bright, daring blue and strong sunlight cuts dark shadows at their smartly shod feet. It’s inappropriately sunny for a funeral but many are clad in thick, black coats. Some are wearing dark glasses to protect against the sun’s glare and to hide tear-swollen eyes.
Reed hangs back, staying away from their gravel-rattling, twig-snapping footsteps as they accumulate quietly at the place where the dug earth reveals its soft, dry richness and where their dearly beloved will be laid to rest.
He scans the crowd. A group of friends in black suits and skinny ties are wearing shirts so white they seem to reflect the spring sunshine. A family of five are arranged in a tight huddle, the parents looking glum and the teenagers bored. A couple stand sedately, side by side, tightly holding one another’s hand. One man stands alone, periodically shaking his head.
Reed stops at the corner where the path joins the main thoroughfare through the graveyard and wonders what to do with himself. Noticing a fallen vase on a nearby grave, he bends down to right it, standing the clouded pot upright and replacing the scattered flowers. He reads the shallow, weathered inscription, now barely veined into the lichen-patterned stone: ‘Love is a light that never dims.’
When Reed straightens up again and looks at the mourners, he sees something that makes his mouth fall open in puzzled disbelief.
Standing apart from the women linking arms to one side and an elderly couple on the other, is a lone figure – a tall man, a little overweight, a head of springy curls. The man wipes a tear from his eye and looks across the sweep of gravestones. His chest rises and falls as he steadies himself emotionally with a sigh. The heavy physique, the sure-footed stance, the wayward hair – he is the spit of Dan Mather. But what’s he doing here in Dublin?
Mourning at a funeral is the obvious answer, Reed realises, but what’s Dan’s connection with the man who fell to his death?
A lazy caw catches his ear and Reed becomes aware of crows perching, almost invisible, in the tallest oaks by the crematorium; a family of quiet shadows, shuffling in the leafy branches.
Reed sees a stone bench in cool shade, under the porch of the crematorium, and decides to wait for Dan there.
As the interment finishes and the group processes slowly down the path toward him, Reed watches for Dan in the crowd. He spots him, now wearing mirrored sunglasses, offering a supportive elbow to an elderly woman as they walk over an uneven patch. As he gets nearer to the crematorium, Reed can clearly recognise his friend. He only saw him five or six months ago in Shilly-on-Sea.
In the shadows, Reeds stands, planning to talk to Dan as he goes past. Further up the path, Dan pauses to polish his sunglasses with a hankie, turning away from the sunshine to see without squinting. Reed seems to have been beaten to it – one man is walking up the slope against the tide of mourners, making a beeline for Dan. Reed sits down again.
Holding up the glasses to check that they are clean, Dan sees someone approaching in the mirrored lens. The colours and shapes resolve themselves into a convex version of a very familiar face. He turns to see Marcus, as effortlessly handsome as ever, and wearing one of his naturally charming, broadest-of-broad smiles.
‘I don’t think I ever saw you looking so smart, Dan. It’s like you’re in fancy dress.’
‘Didn’t recognise me, eh?’
‘No,’ Marcus says, ‘I’d recognise you anywhere.’
‘Weren’t you at the funeral…?’ Dan asks.
‘I was hiding at the back.’
The last mourners to leave the graveside walk down the path beside them, a couple of women linking arms. The one in her late thirties with long sandy-coloured hair slows by the two men.
‘Oh, Marcus, I didn’t see you. Thanks for coming; you too, Dan. Will we see you at the wake?’
‘Of course, Nuala.’
Dan puts a comforting hand on her shoulder. ‘The Claddagh?’
‘See you there,’ Dan replies, echoed by Marcus.
The women walk on down the path.
‘Nuala asked me to do a reading at the funeral,’ – Marcus runs a hand through his wavy hair and seems to avoid Dan’s gaze for a moment – ‘but I couldn’t… and I just couldn’t… stand to watch… that.’
His eyes flicker toward the recently dug grave near the top of the hill.
‘No, watching them lower your friend into the ground… It’s not… great. Did you see much of him?’
‘Off and on. I met up with Fintan a few weeks ago – well, a couple of months, I suppose… What about you?’
‘Not for years,’ Dan replies and sighs.
‘What about us?’
‘Too long, Marcus, too long.’
They turn and tail the other mourners, who are walking out of the cemetery in dribs and drabs. Reed sees them deep in conversation and decides not to interrupt. He stays in the shadows and consults the scrap of paper again.
Dan and Marcus are sitting by the duck pond in St Stephen’s Green. Their black suits stand out against the greenery. The varnish-flaked slats of the bench they are sitting on shine sparsely in the sunshine.
Lunch-breakers have long since returned to work, teenagers sit on the grass holding hands, and older couples walk past, carrying their jackets. Spring is colouring the park.
They have found a quiet spot by the water, in a bright clearing where the afternoon sunshine pushes through the dappled foliage and the sky is framed with leaves. The city traffic is muted by a wall of tangled trees, their sharp-cut leaves merging with the feathery prickles of spiky bushes. Two swans glide elegantly by.
‘Remember at uni that time the three of us tried to spend the night in Fletcher Moss?’ Marcus asks.
‘And when the police caught us breaking in and we were giving our names–’
‘The two of us told them our names–’
‘Like the obedient citizens we are–’
‘But Fintan came out with some elaborate false name–’
‘Very elaborate,’ Dan qualifies.
‘What was it…? Lord… something.’
‘That’s right, Lord Humphry…’
‘Smythe!’ Dan agrees.
The two mourners laugh.
There is a watery splash as a pair of ducks take to the green, silt-laden pond.
‘No, Humphington!’ Dan continues, correcting himself.
‘Yes, Humphington. Lord Humphington Smythe.’
‘What tickles me is that Humphington isn’t even a name.’
The ducks glide by, casting arrow patterns in their wake.
‘Got to admire his creativity.’
‘Sounds like something out of a portrait,’ Dan remarks. ‘Well, you would know.’
‘I don’t think I ever painted a lord…’
‘No, and you still wouldn’t have,’ Dan points out.
They laugh so loudly that the teenagers by the bushes disentangle themselves and slope away, holding hands.
‘Do you remember,’ Marcus continues, ‘the police thought we were wrecked because we couldn’t stop laughing?’
‘Definitely one of those can’t-make-eye-contact moments.’
‘Yeah. For hours. You and me, we couldn’t look at one another or we’d set each other off.’
‘And I was so worried they would kick us out of university!’
‘That’s right,’ Marcus concurs, remembering.
‘Jesus, I was such a swot.’
Further along the path, a rabble of pigeons engage in beak-to-beak combat over some morsel of rubbish on the floor. Dan and Marcus are quietly remembering the old days. The leaves overhead flicker in the gentle breeze.
‘That was such a Fintan thing to say though,’ Dan says, after a while.
‘Always making up names and far-fetched stories…’
‘Telling people he was wildly implausible things he was not… Didn’t he go into a lecture theatre once and start teaching the class?’ Marcus wonders.
‘I’d forgotten about that!’
‘He didn’t know anything about Victorian literature… God knows what he was saying to them before the real lecturer kicked him out!’
‘“Assuming identities” basically,’ Dan elaborates, ‘though I’m not sure “impersonating an academic” is a crime.’
The friends laugh again. Marcus’s buoyant waves flop forward on his brow and, as he pushes them back, Dan notices that recent years have begun to speckle the black with grey.
The scrabble and peck of the pigeons picking over the dusty, foot-worn path is scattered by the gentle panting of an old dog, his tongue flopping happily from a wide, canine smile.
‘Yeah, Karen thought he was a geography student for three months – and she was actually going out with him!’
‘Oh yes, Karen,’ Dan says. ‘I saw her at the funeral. Does she still work with you in Edinburgh?’
‘I’ll catch up with her at the wake.’
A sombre silence stretches around them. A pair of pensioners linking arms seem to sense it and cease their chatter as they pass. Beyond the frame of foliage, a pink streak is gradually colouring the sky, like the soft creep of watercolour on cotton paper.
‘Looks like it might be a glorious sunset,’ Marcus says. ‘Can’t we just sit here and enjoy it?’
Dan looks at his watch. ‘We don’t want to be too late. They’ll be expecting us,’ he counters, sensibly.
‘Look.’ Marcus points at a small, nondescript cloud. ‘That one looks like Barbara Cartland.’
Dan smiles. He wonders how many surreal cloud descriptions they have swapped over the years – and how many years have elapsed since the last.
They look at one another and share the same rush of memories. It bubbles over into laughter that nobody else would understand.
They laugh again, even louder than before, falling about on the wooden bench before composing themselves with deep breaths and eye wipes and scale-descending sighs. Dan dares to look at his friend beside him, noticing a slight wiggle to Marcus’s thick dark eyebrows that predicts the next wave of laughter. It breaks when Marcus sees the forced seriousness that Dan is willing onto his own face. They laugh again and look away from one another. Dan leans forward and covers his eyes with his palms. Marcus looks away, folding his arms and clasping his square jaw with a large hand that covers his quivering mouth.
Gradually, their mood calms to match the water’s placid surface in front of them and their poses relax. Dan looks around, watching some people strolling across the small bridge.
‘Catriona’s not with you?’ Dan asks, watching the cloud drift out of sight.
‘No, Trinny couldn’t get away.’
Dan remembers Catriona and Fintan chatting away in the corners of various parties in an assortment of student digs. He watches Marcus pulling at the neck of his collar and tie.
‘I detest wearing ties.’
‘Yes,’ Dan agrees, taking off his own tie, ‘this has got to go.’ He looks at Marcus. ‘You not taking yours off?’
‘Better not,’ Marcus replies, ‘I don’t want to upset anyone.’
‘Who would be upset?’
‘Oh, you know. Fintan’s sister…? I already said no to giving that reading. I just want to do the right thing and not upset anyone.’
‘Well, there is a dress code…’ Dan remembers, a sunny glint returning to his eye.
Marcus reaches for the bag beside him. ‘Who do you want to be? The chimney sweep or the clown?’
Dan closes his eyes. ‘Surprise me.’
The Claddagh pub is full of people wearing interesting hats. They contrast with the black clothes that mark them out as mourners. A fluttering sonata of conversation swirls around the room, punctuated by the pressurised hiss of fonts filling glasses.
Dan and Marcus are standing by a wall, wearing a conical hat with pompoms and a battered top hat. Marcus looks dashing in his chimney sweep beaver, whereas the clown hat looks comical perched on top of Dan’s unruly curls.
They look around the room, observing princesses, cowboys, jesters and more; the hat wearers displaying a selection of moods and expressions and drinks. Dan spots his old friend Karen wearing a black witch’s hat and making her way toward them.
‘Dan! Good to see you. Nice hat,’ she says, smiling, ‘I always thought of you as a pointy head.’
‘You too,’ Dan replies.
‘You always thought of us as a witch?’ she queries, raising an eyebrow.
Dan smiles. ‘I meant – good to see you.’
Karen curls her vodka-tonic-bearing arm around Dan’s shoulder and stands on tiptoes as they embrace. Marcus makes space for Karen between them. The three of them look around the room.
‘Not your typical wake, is it?’ Dan says.
‘Fintan wasn’t your typical man,’ Marcus responds.
They all sip their drinks.
‘No, he wasn’t. I’m glad people are going along with the hat thing,’ Dan says.
‘Me too,’ Karen agrees.
‘It’s what he would have wanted,’ Dan summarises, cradling his beer.
‘Yes, it’s literally what he wanted,’ Karen says.
The group are joined by a tall man in his fifties with a long face and a pint of Guinness.
‘Never seemed the type of fellow to have a funeral plan,’ he says.
‘No, he just told us all the time, you know,’ Karen responds. ‘Sorry – this is… Mickey, wasn’t it?’
She introduces them.
‘Mickey Moran,’ he confirms, shaking the men’s hands.
‘When he died,’ Karen explains, ‘he would want everyone wearing costumes, he always said. Nuala got us to tone it down to just hats, you know.’
‘He wanted it all. The light and the shade. Such a luvvie,’ Marcus comments, raising his whisky momentarily in memory of his friend.
‘I didn’t know he was into amateur dramatics,’ Mickey says.
Dan thinks Mickey probably knew Fintan through work, whatever line he had been in recently. Not construction work though, he thinks, with a slight shiver, imagining the scaffolding and the pavement.
‘Come on,’ Karen responds, a bit too loudly, ‘his whole life was one performance after another.’
Dan notices that her eyes are welling up.
‘Sorry, I need another drink,’ she says, looking toward the brass-edged bar.
She moves away before Dan can offer to get her one and Mickey closes the gap, forming a triangle with the men.
‘The oddest thing about this wake isn’t the hats,’ he says, quietly angry, ‘it’s what nobody is talking about.’
‘What do you mean?’ Dan asks.
‘Well, falling from a building like that, in the night, when you didn’t even work there, it’s not your normal sort of death, is it?’
‘What are you getting at?’ Marcus asks, softly.
‘Well, look at us all, standing around, wearing party hats…’ Mickey says.
Dan notes that Mickey isn’t actually wearing one.
‘… trying to celebrate his life… when Fintan clearly… didn’t.’
Dan and Marcus look at him, feeling chills and thinking, again, about the horrible manner of Fintan’s death.
‘Sorry, lads. It’s just, this country. Makes me angry sometimes. All these men… and everyone has to pretend it was an accident.’
Mickey contemplates the dark liquid in his glass, then takes a gulp.
‘A cover-up, you mean?’ ventures Marcus, quietly.
‘Murder?’ Dan says, his voice almost a whisper.
Mickey swallows and looks at them, shaking his head gently. ‘No, lads. Oh, you probably don’t know. You’re English, aren’t you?’
Mickey fixes them a serious look and lowers his voice to a hush.
‘Suicide’s illegal here. Excuse me.’ Mickey walks away, perhaps leaving the wake entirely.
Dan and Marcus exchange a glance and, when they see the expression in one another’s eyes, look away again. This time it isn’t about trying not to laugh.
The wake has reached that point of the evening when alcohol-lubricated throats are opening up, gradually raising the volume. There is a collective change of key from minor to major, though some sit and think and sigh. Elbows fall heavier on tables, drops of whisky spill and peals of laughter swell.
Karen is returning to their corner with a fresh vodka swirling around in her glass. She looks composed again.
‘Hey, isn’t that that hippy woman from university? With Nuala?’ Karen is pointing to a woman in a flowing pastel dress with silky, silvery hair. ‘What’s she doing here?’
‘She’s his godmother,’ Marcus says, ‘or was.’
Nuala and the willowy woman are making their way over.
‘Hello all. Thanks for coming,’ Nuala says in a strained voice. ‘Do you remember Glenda? She was in Manchester the same time as all of you.’
‘Hello. Dan, isn’t it?’ Glenda turns to Karen. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t remember you.’
‘This is Karen. I’m not sure you would have met…’
‘You were the scientist, weren’t you?’
Actually, it was computer science, Dan thinks, so she’s half-right, but he doesn’t correct her. He greets her with a friendly expression.
Glenda continues. ‘Sorry, that’s just how I remember Fintan’s friends. You were the scientist and Marcus was the artist. I remember, you two seemed like chalk and cheese on the surface but were always thick as thieves. Had you seen Fintan recently?’
‘No, I’m sad to say,’ Dan replies, ‘not for years.’
‘Not for years,’ Marcus echoes.
‘Well, I remember you,’ Karen says, spikily. ‘Didn’t you hang out in our house for a while, waiting to hear if you’d lost your job?’
‘Karen, it’s probably not the time…’ begins Marcus, trying to deflect the antagonism he can recognise in her voice.
‘Something to do with Fintan getting access to one of your patients’ notes.’
‘Clients,’ corrects Glenda.
‘Glenda probably doesn’t want to rake through all that right now…’ Nuala asserts.
‘That’s okay,’ Glenda cuts in, ‘I like straight talkers.’ She smiles warmly.
‘Marcus,’ Nuala takes his arm, ‘can I have a quick word? Let’s leave these straight talkers to their straight talking.’
Marcus allows her to turn him aside from the group for a more private conversation, though they don’t walk out of earshot.
‘Well, the truth can be painful,’ Glenda is saying and proceeds to dish out some words of wisdom from the world of therapy.
Dan can hear Nuala raising a tricky topic with Marcus, at his shoulder. ‘…it’s just that I can’t help thinking he was in some sort of money trouble… You lent him some money recently, didn’t you…?’
Dan’s attention snaps back to the conversation he is actually in. Karen is being confrontational again.
‘The truth? You look like you live in a fairy tale… Where’s your hat?’
‘Karen!’ Dan interjects.
Glenda is laughing gently and doesn’t seem to have taken offence. ‘Oh, I didn’t bring a hat. I don’t really like pretence.’
At this, Karen lets out a guffaw and Dan realises that his old friend is quite drunk.
‘Now I remember,’ Glenda continues, her tone still pleasant, ‘weren’t you the girlfriend?’
‘No, I wasn’t. And, whoever I was going out with at the time, I wouldn’t have been “the girlfriend”. I’m not anybody’s “the girlfriend”!’
‘You’re right. I’m sorry, that wasn’t a very feminist thing for me to say.’
Glenda has a look of concerned empathy on her face. Karen’s conical hat has slipped to one side.
‘This fucking hat!’ She yanks it off her head.
‘Come on,’ Dan says to Karen, taking her shoulder gently, ‘let’s get some air.’
He directs an apologetic expression to Glenda, who bows her head graciously and steps aside, then walks Karen out of the group and through the throng and onto the street.
Outside in the rapidly cooling evening, Reed sees Dan and a woman exit the pub. They lean against the wall and Dan helps the woman to light a cigarette. The woman looks like she is crying and talking intently. Dan rubs her shoulder. Reed hangs back and blends in with the background, not wanting to interrupt. The shadow of an alleyway covers him as he watches them talk.
Later, the remaining mourners have settled into groups around tables. Hats have been removed or swapped. Ties have been loosened and a few shoes kicked off. Faces are shining, hairstyles unravelling, and tables are wet with spilled drink.
A booth by the window empties as one group leaves.
‘Shall we?’ Marcus asks.
‘Karen,’ Dan calls, attracting her attention, ‘want a seat?’
She whirls around. ‘No. I think it’s time I send myself to bed. Marcus, want to share a taxi to the hotel?’ She looks from Dan to Marcus and back again. ‘No. No, you stay. You two have got a lot of catching up to do. Dan – it was lovely to see you again, man. I hope the next time is under happier circumstances. Marcus – I’ll see you for breakfast. Have a…’ – she searches for an appropriate word, then shrugs – ‘…evening. Have an evening.’
‘Will you be okay?’ Marcus asks, ‘Let me…’
But Karen has left the pub before he can finish the sentence. A minute passes when the men contemplate chasing after their friend.
‘Will she be okay?’ Dan says.
‘Yeah. It’s everyone else that needs to look out.’
They settle into the booth facing one another. They look each other in the eye and soft smiles spread across their faces.
‘Okay,’ Dan says. ‘Well. Let’s… have an evening.’
He holds up his glass of Glenmalure whisky.
‘To Fintan,’ Marcus replies, matching the gesture, ‘he really had some evenings.’
‘He certainly did. To Fintan.’
They clink glasses.
Pausing with the whisky at his lips, Marcus adds the local salutation.
‘Slainte,’ he says, looking Dan deep in the eye.
Dan returns his friend’s gaze.
Outside, Reed watches them through the window. He sees two drinkers leaning together over bright glasses and a shadowy carousel of bodies moving in the pub beyond. An amber glow colours the stone slabs around the frame and illuminates the window box of swaying flowers with a strange, day-for-night tone.
Shirted lads who smell of strong spicy aftershave briefly interrupt his view. They ramble past, shouting to one another, in search of the main drag and a young crowd. They don’t notice Reed standing in the shadows, exhaling a miasma of smoke into the air, the sharp, bright point where tobacco meets fire dropping lazily in his fingertips. The drunken shouting of the young men seems at odds with the cosy scene playing soundlessly before him across the lane.
The rocky stone presses uncomfortably at his back and the night air prickles the follicles at the nape of his neck. One hand is warm in his pocket, the other cold around the cigarette. He stubs the butt out and raises his collar against the chill. He watches, wondering why he still hasn’t gone inside to talk to his friend.
Within the glow of the pub, the two men look wrapped in conversation; leaning toward one another, animated and calm and jovial and intense. He watches them talking and laughing and mirroring each other, sip for sip, the bright, shining whiskies wetting their lips.
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