Liz and Harry seemed to have lost the power of speech, so I made the in­tro­duc­tions

The Courier & Advertiser (Perth and Perthshire Edition) - - COMMENT - By Ha­nia Allen

Lunch was over and we had an hour to kill be­fore our tour. We de­cided to have a drink in the lounge. I’d peeked into the room on the way to the restau­rant. One end was el­e­gantly fur­nished with cof­fee ta­bles, ma­roon­coloured so­fas and a baby grand. Cream cur­tains, held back with sashes, framed the large bay win­dows. The other end served as the bar, with taller ta­bles, wooden chairs, and re­cesses in the wall that gave drinkers a mea­sure of pri­vacy. As this was Mon­day, the room was spot­less and the dark red car­pet smelt of sham­poo. I won­dered idly what it would smell like by Fri­day.

Harry, who never wasted time when some­one men­tioned a drink, marched into the room.

“My God.” He stopped dead. “Who is that Ado­nis?” Liz was peer­ing over his shoul­der. “Ooh Harry, he is rather gor­geous,” she mur­mured. There was only one per­son in the lounge.

He lay sprawled in a chair, one arm slung lazily over the back pulling his jacket open and strain­ing the shirt across his chest. His legs stretched end­lessly, the an­kles crossed in such a way it was im­pos­si­ble not to see the Bart Simp­son socks.

Tai­lored

His silk suit was su­perbly tai­lored, pos­si­bly even hand­made, and gave him the air of a Chicago gang­ster. Apart from the socks, his other con­ces­sion to in­di­vid­u­al­ity was the bub­blegum-pink tie, which he fin­gered softly as though need­ing to check the qual­ity.

His hair was ex­pertly cut and, I sus­pected, de­lib­er­ately tou­sled. De­spite his re­laxed fea­tures, there was some­thing dis­turb­ing about him, some­thing I couldn’t put my fin­ger on.

He got to his feet. I was con­scious we were star­ing. I walked over, smil­ing awk­wardly. “I’m Mag­gie Ste­wart.”

There was a pause as he took his gaze off my hair. “Mike Mol­loy,” he said, in a strong Ir­ish ac­cent. “At your ser­vice.”

He smiled eas­ily, as if to say, “Any time, and as of­ten as you like.”

Liz and Harry seemed to have lost the power of speech, so I made the in­tro­duc­tions.

“De­lighted,” Harry beamed, fi­nally find­ing his voice. He hur­ried for­ward, hand ex­tended, and pumped Mike’s arm. “May we join you?”

“Of course,” Mike said warmly. We took our seats. “You peo­ple with a group?” he said, look­ing at no one in par­tic­u­lar.

“We’re with Leo Tullis,” I said. “He told us there’d be an­other mem­ber of the Ed­in­burgh party here. That would be you?”

“That’s right,” he said softly.

“So where have you flown in from?”

“I was in Stock­holm all last week. It made sense to stay over the week­end and fly to Kiruna this morn­ing.”

I glanced at his clothes, won­der­ing why, north of the Arc­tic Cir­cle, he was dressed like a banker. He caught me look­ing and smiled rue­fully. “These are my work clothes.”

I smiled back. “I’d gath­ered that.” I hes­i­tated. “Is it a Swedish com­pany you work for?”

“Mane Drew.” There was a hint of pride in his voice. “The name’s fa­mil­iar. IT con­sul­tancy?” “They’re one of the big­ger Scot­tish com­pa­nies. They ser­vice most of the south of Scot­land.”

“But you’re work­ing in Stock­holm?”

“I helped Mane Drew set up a branch there last spring. The irony is that, although I work out of the Ed­in­burgh of­fice, I’m hardly ever there.”

“Your ac­cent’s not Scot­tish, though,” said Liz. “You’re Ir­ish, aren’t you?” She was gaz­ing at Mike, her ex­pres­sion de­lib­er­ately soft­ened.

Mis­chievous

I rubbed my mouth so he didn’t see the smile. When Liz dan­gled her charms, it worked with most men, but I was cu­ri­ous to see how this one would re­act.

He flicked a speck of fluff off his lapel. “Well now, I was trans­ferred to Ed­in­burgh 18 months ago from our Dublin branch” – he looked up at Liz – “to in­ject a lit­tle Ir­ish tal­ent into Scot­land.”

“In­deed,” Harry said, un­der his breath.

“I flew here af­ter my morn­ing meet­ings.” Mike glanced down at his pin­stripe. “Some ee­jit sent my lug­gage some­where else, which is why I’m dressed like this. I need to get some ski gear.”

He leant back, cross­ing his legs. “This hol­i­day was a last-minute de­ci­sion,” he said, laugh­ing. “I’m won­der­ing what I’ve let my­self in for.”

“You had to work this morn­ing?” Liz said, pout­ing. “Poor you. On the first day of your hol­i­day, as well.”

“It wasn’t that bad. Mainly pre­sen­ta­tions. I slept through most of them.” A mis­chievous look came into his eyes. “The last one was given by some woman, an A-type fe­male. She’d pinned her hair up, twisted in this funny way, it was. Well, in the mid­dle of her talk, the pins came loose and it be­gan to un­wind. You should have seen the faces, es­pe­cially on the women.”

Harry was hang­ing on Mike’s ev­ery word, his eyes glazed.

“So the hair­pins came out, one by one, and her hair fell over her shoul­ders. It was a good trick, and no mis­take. Cer­tainly got every­one’s at­ten­tion.”

“You thought it was de­lib­er­ate?” I said coldly, sud­denly sym­pa­thetic to­wards a woman I’d never met.

He laughed then, a deep res­o­nant sound. “Come on now, all women do it. I know one who lets out an­other but­ton be­fore a talk. She never gets asked any ques­tions, be­cause no one’s paid any at­ten­tion to what she’s said.”

“Sounds like you don’t be­lieve in equal­ity of the sexes,” Harry said, in a tone of play­ful ad­mon­ish­ment.

The cor­ners of Mike’s mouth lifted, dim­pling his cheeks, mak­ing him look like a boy. “Not only do I be­lieve in it, I’m fight­ing to get it back.”

It was im­pos­si­ble not to stare into his eyes. The brown irises were flecked with am­ber, the ef­fect both fas­ci­nat­ing and dis­con­cert­ing.

When he smiled, which was of­ten, his eyes glowed with a warm con­fi­dence: Mike Mol­loy wasn’t a man whose ego needed con­stant mas­sag­ing.

Un­nerv­ing

He was watch­ing me, ap­par­ently wait­ing for my re­ac­tion. “So how do you all come to know each other?” he said, when no re­ac­tion was forth­com­ing.

“Mags and I were best friends at school. We lost touch and then met up” – Liz turned to me – “when was it now? I can’t quite re­mem­ber.”

“A cou­ple of years ago,” I said, look­ing at Mike. “That’s it. We lit­er­ally ran into each other in Jen­ners, at the Jan­uary sales.”

Mike con­tin­ued to watch me. The ex­pres­sion in his eyes was un­nerv­ing.

“So what’s it like liv­ing in Swe­den?” I said, for some­thing to say.

He shrugged. “On the plus side, no one cares if you’re a Catholic or a Prod.”

“And on the mi­nus side?”

“Swedes don’t know how to party – I’ve been at bet­ter wakes, to tell the truth – so you have to make your own fun.” He grinned.

“Last Satur­day, I hooked up with a group of Yanks. We spent the evening drink­ing in ho­tels. It was a blast. I spent most of Sun­day sleep­ing it off.”

More on Mon­day.

Ice­ho­tel, avail­able on Ama­zon Kin­dle, is Ha­nia Allen’s de­but novel. Her sec­ond book, The Pol­ish De­tec­tive (Con­sta­ble, £8.99), is the first in her new se­ries fea­tur­ing DS Da­nia Gorska and is set in Dundee.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.