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Weekend in Lisdoonvarna: An Irish Mystery Short Story

IN THE March 7 ISSUE

FROM THE 2020 Articles,
andMysteryrat's Maze,
andTerrific Tales
SECTIONS

by Rosemary McCracken

Enjoy this never before published Irish mystery short story in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

Joe Killoran ran a comb through his hair in front of the bedroom mirror. At the age of fifty-one, he still had most of it, although it had grown thinner on the top, and the brown had turned to silver at the temples. There were more lines around his eyes as well, but he decided they added character to his face.

“Looking good, Joseph, m’boy.” He frowned at his reflection. “Well, not too bad.”

He took a deep breath, buttoned his sport coat over his paunch and picked up his duffle bag. He locked the front door and hurried down the walk, thankful that the neighbors’ curtains were drawn. They wouldn’t be telling Maeve they’d seen him leaving the house this early on a Saturday morning.

As he pulled onto the motorway to the west country, Joe’s thoughts turned to his wife. Maeve had left for Paris the previous day. A girls’ weekend, she had called it: shopping for clothes and drinking wine. She traveled a lot throughout the week with her new marketing job at the distillery—to the United Kingdom, parts of Europe, as well as throughout Ireland. Now she was away for the weekend.

Maeve had been distancing herself from him. She never walked down to the pub with him in the evenings anymore. And as soon as their daughter left for university in America the previous month, Maeve started complaining about his snoring and moved into Deirdre’s bedroom.

Now Joe had serious doubts that Maeve was spending the weekend in Paris with her girlfriends. There’s another man. She’s going to ask me for a divorce. He tightened his grip on the steering wheel, his knuckles bleaching white.

beerHe breathed deeply to calm himself. He wouldn’t let the green-eyed demon consume him as it once had. Not long after they were married, he and Maeve were having a few pints at their local when a tipsy bloke made a pass at her. That triggered something inside Joe. He leaped on the man and pummeled him, sending him to hospital. Maeve had been horrified. He vowed it would never happen again, and he kept his word, difficult as it had been, whenever his wife drew long looks from men.

Outside Galway, he stopped for a cup of tea, and tucked his wedding ring into the inside pocket of his sport coat. Back at the car, he took a small gun, a gift from an American cousin, out of his duffle, and stashed it in its holster under the driver’s seat.

gunAt just past noon on this drizzly Saturday in September, Joe found the village of Lisdoonvarna positively heaving with people. Live music blared from every doorway on Main Street. Party-goers filled the sidewalks, many of them much younger than he had expected: girls and boys around Deirdre’s age.

A banner was strung across Main Street. Fáilte! Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival, it read, Europe’s Biggest Singles’ Event. This looked much more promising than internet dating. If Maeve was about to ditch him, he figured he had the right to have some fun.

A plump, silver-haired woman smiled at him behind the reception desk at the Grand Hotel. “I’m Siobhan,” she said, “and you were wise to make a reservation. There’s not a room to be had in town.”

She threw him a shrewd look. “So, you’re after finding yourself a wife, Mr. Killoran.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Ah, not exactly.”

“Just takin’ a look, are you?” Her blue eyes twinkled. “Well, you’re allowed that. And plenty of others be takin’ looks too. We’ve a French film crew here making a documentary about the festival. And Channel 4 will be doing interviews all weekend. Maybe you’ll find yourself on TV.”

Joe resolved to avoid all cameras. It would be a fine thing if Maeve or one of her friends saw him on the evening news or in the newspaper.

Siobhan gave him a wink. “But should you change your mind and decide to look for love, you’ll want to fill out an application with Willie Daly, Ireland’s most famous matchmaker. You’ll find him in his office at The Matchmaker Bar.”
Joe took the keycard she handed him.

“Let me know if there’s anything we can do to make your stay more comfortable,” she said. “The biggest Irish country stars are in town this weekend. The music goes on till the wee hours.”

***

After freshening up in his room, Joe was back on the elevator with a spotty-faced young man and a cart full of luggage.

“You’re here for the matchmaking,” the lad said.

“I’m here for the craic,” Joe told him. “I hear this town knows how to party.”

The lad rolled his eyes. “If it weren’t for this job, you’d never catch me in Lisdoon in September. The town is packed with tanked fifty-year-olds acting like they’re fifteen.”

“Plenty of tanked twentysomethings in town too,” Joe shot back.

“So there are.” The boy sighed. “And next week, we’ll have the Outing Festival for the gay folk.”

Joe’s first stop was Meg Maguire’s, where a group was playing Clancy Brothers’ tunes. “A lot of young people in here,” he said to the bartender.

“Ah, love has no age barrier,” the man said. “Last night, I served a gent from Sydney, Australia. He’s eighty-four, and looking for his fourth wife.”

A group of young people came in singing “Whiskey in the Jar.” “Where can I find an older crowd?” Joe shouted over the racket.

The bartender scratched his shaven head, appraising him. “You’ll be wanting the tea dances,” he said. “They’re at The Spa Wells.”

“The Spa Wells?”

“Where the wealthy used to come to take the cure in the mineral waters. They tarted up the old buildings a few years ago, and the afternoon tea dances are held there. There’s a sign on Main Street pointing the direction.”

In the market square, Joe passed bronze statues of a fiddler and a bodhrán player performing for a bronze couple who
were stepping into a waltz. A stone path off Main Street led down to red-and-white buildings, where he found a three-piece combo and a dance in full swing. The number ended, and the women, ranging from late middle age to well into their eighties, returned to their seats. The men circled the room to make another selection.

“Where can I get a pint?” Joe asked two women seated at a table near the door. They were both on the wrong side of sixty.

“You won’t find liquid courage here, my dear,” said the woman with wild magenta hair. “This is a tea dance. For the abstinent or those drying out.”tea

The strawberry blonde beside her gave Joe a smile. “I’m Nuala.” She gestured to her friend. “And this is Christine.”

“Aren’t you going to ask one of us to dance?” Christine wanted to know.

“I’d trip all over your feet,” Joe said. “Truly, I’m a terrible dancer.”

“I expect you’re looking for a lady somewhat younger than us.” Nuala gave Christine a knowing look.

“Or maybe you’re not up for a mature woman,” Christine said.

Joe grinned. “A mature woman could be a handful.”

Both women nodded.

“Well, if you won’t be having dance partners,” Nuala said, “you may need the matchmaker’s help. I hear he charges fifty euros, or maybe it’s only forty. Whatever, it may be worth your while.”

“Have you ladies met with Willie Daly?” Joe asked.

They shook their heads. “We’re party girls, here for the craic,” Nuala said. “It would just be a bonus if we met Mr. Right.”

Joe wasn’t looking for Ms. Right, but Ms. Right Now would be grand for the night. But perhaps Nuala had a point about consulting Willie.

He bade the women goodbye. Outside, the stone path was wet with fresh rain. He made his way back up to Main Street.

The Matchmaker Bar, painted bright yellow, was next door to the Imperial Hotel.

The band was playing traditional Irish music to a room jumping with people. “Lookin’ for Willie?” a burly man shouted into his ear. “His office is over there.” He pointed to the snug in the back corner.

A lass in skin-tight jeans told Joe that Willie was with a client. “But he shouldn’t be long,” she said. “Take a seat at the bar and fill in this form.” She handed Joe a piece of paper.

Joe ordered a pint of Guinness. With the glass in front of him, he filled out Willie’s matchmaking form, giving his name, his age, and his interests. “It’s not a lifetime commitment,” he muttered.

Ten minutes later, the lass summoned Joe to Willie’s office. He shook hands with a white-haired leprechaun, and handed him the form and a wad of euros.leprechaun

Willie glanced down at Joe’s paper. “So what would you be lookin’ for in a lady, Joe?”

“Late thirties, early forties. Nice personality. Good looks wouldn’t hurt.”

Willie put a hand on a stack of papers bound up with tape and a shoestring. “This is my lucky love ledger. Touch it with both hands and close your eyes.”

Joe did as Willie told him, feeling silly.

“You’ll likely be married within six months,” Willie said. “But if you’re already married…” He gave Joe a wink. “…your wife will kindle new feelings in you.”

Willie stood up and looked out at the crowd. “People still need help making a good match. Internet dating doesn’t work with everyone. Joe, see the blonde in the blue jumper beside the piano? Have a dance with her.”

Joe looked in the direction of the piano. and saw a woman with big blond hair and a pair of oversized sunglasses.

“I’m not one for dancing,” he said.

“Go on with you, lad.”

Joe shook his head.

Willie added Joe’s form to his love ledger. “Check back with me tomorrow. You’ll need to be patient while I find you the right woman.”

Speed dating had to be quicker, Joe thought as he left the snug. He glanced at the blonde Willie had pointed out. Must be something wrong with her eyes to be wearing sunglasses indoors.

The rain had started again. Joe pulled up the collar of his sport coat and hurried over to Mary Immaculate Secondary School. The gymnasium was packed with card tables with two chairs at each table. He gave a woman in a tweed suit the ticket he had purchased online, and she filled out a name tag.

“You have three minutes to chat up your date,” she said, handing him the tag. “When the bell rings, the men move to
the tables on their left. The ladies keep their seats. Write down the names of anyone you’d like to know better. If there’s a match, we’ll email contacts to both of you.”

Joe felt relieved that he wouldn’t be rejected in person.

She took him to a table where a brunette with a bad perm was seated. Cara Fitzwilliams, her name tag said. She told him she lived in Cork, that she was a veterinary assistant and she had five cats. “They’re my best friends,” she said.

Joe sneezed. He was allergic to cats.

“And what about you, Joe?” Cara asked. “Where are you from? What do you do?”

“I’m a teacher in Dublin.”

“What level?”

“Secondary school. Mathematics.”

The bell rang. “Be sure to write down my name, Joe,” Cara said. “I wouldn’t mind having a meal with you the next time I’m in Dublin.” She scrawled a phone number on the back of a business card and handed it to him. He scuttled over to the next table.

Forty-five minutes later, Joe had chatted with a dozen women, not one of them as good-looking as Maeve, and collected a dozen cards. Speed dating was hard work, he decided. He wanted a bit of fun this weekend, not the third degree.
On his way out, he spotted the blonde with the sunglasses at the back of the room.

“What ladies are on your list?” asked the woman at the admissions table.

“No list.”

“Fussy, are you?” She sniffed. “With your attitude, I’m sure you’re not on anyone’s list either.”

Joe spent the next few hours cruising the bars. The more Guinness he downed, the fiercer the action on the dance floor seemed to get. There was no way he was venturing into that melee.beer

He found himself chatting with an attractive redhead seated on a bar stool. Her name was Janet, or maybe it was Janice. “You don’t dance, Joe?” she asked.

“Can’t,” he said. “I have two left feet.”

“There’s nothing to it. That’s a slow number they’re playing. Come out on the floor and we’ll just sway to the music.”

Holding a pretty woman in his arms and swaying to the music sounded easy, and very nice. “Okay,” he said, and let her lead him onto the dance floor.

“Ouch!” she cried. “You stepped on my foot.”

He stepped on her feet several times before the song ended. “Fancy getting a bite to eat?” he asked when they returned to the bar.

Janet suddenly remembered she was meeting friends for dinner. “Bye, Joe,” she said, gathering up her jacket and handbag. “Have fun in Lisdoonvarna.”

He looked down at his big feet, and realized he had never danced with Maeve since his clumsy attempt at their wedding. She’d complained that he’d ruined her white shoes.

Across the room, he saw the blonde in the blue jumper. She was still wearing her big sunglasses. A man in a blue-checked shirt came over and asked her to dance. She glanced at Joe for a moment, then followed the man onto the dance floor.

Joe turned away to study the other women in the room, but his gaze kept returning to the couple as they spun around the dance floor. As if I care. He downed the beer in his glass in one gulp, and switched to whiskey.

When the blonde and the man in the checked shirt finally left, Joe staggered out after them.

He turned to the blonde on the sidewalk. “You can take off your glasses. The sun’s gone down.”

“Mind your step, Joe,” she said, “or you’ll fall flat on your face.”

Joe stared, his mouth open, as she and the man melted into the crowd on the sidewalk.

In the market square, he emptied his guts on the feet of the bronze bodhrán player. He was leaning back on the bench beside the lamp post, his eyes closed, replaying the words the blonde had spoken, when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“You came back to me, m’darlin’.” He opened one eye, and saw the spotty-faced lad he had spoken to in the hotel elevator.

“I’ll help you back to the hotel, sir,” the young man said.

“Where’s the blonde?” Joe mumbled.

“There’s no one here. But it’s started to rain and you should get inside.”

The lad helped Joe hobble down the street and into the Grand Hotel.

“Where’s your keycard?” the boy asked when they were in front of the elevators.

Joe reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the card.

The doors to an elevator opened. The lad gave Joe a gentle push inside. He hit a button on the elevator wall and slipped out.

***

When Joe opened his eyes the next morning, his head was pounding and his mouth was stuffed with cotton wool. He’d been fluthered the night before, and sick as a dog. With a start, he thought of the blonde with the dark glasses. Who knew his name. Yes, she definitely knew his name; it hadn’t just been the drink addling his brain.

A glance at his watch told him it was nearly nine o’clock. Time to shake his stumps.

In the hotel dining room, Joe forced himself to eat toast and marmalade, and washed it down with plenty of orange juice and coffee. The blonde and the man, sporting a green-checked shirt today, were seated across the room. She had changed into a tailored navy jacket and a white blouse, but she was still wearing her dark glasses.

The sight of them sharing a quiet breakfast was unbearable to watch. The woman held out a basket of sweet rolls, and her companion took one. She held out the bowl of butter, and he took two pats. Their intimacy cut into his heart.
Joe pushed himself away from the table. He checked out of the hotel, and headed for the car park. He stowed his duffle in the boot of his car. Then he removed the small gun from under the driver’s seat. Making sure it was cocked, he slipped it back in its holster and onto his belt.

On his way back to the hotel, Cara from speed dating waved at him. “Hello, Joe! Coming on the singles’ ramble on the Burren?”

“Not today. Have to get back to Dublin.”

In lobby, he spotted the blonde seated in an armchair. A carry-on with wheels stood on the floor in front of her. She jumped up when the man in the checked shirt crossed the room, and followed him to the back door of the hotel.

Fuelled by fury, Joe hurried after them.

He found them behind a silver Nissan in the car park. The boot was open, and the man was stashing the carry-on inside it.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Joe asked.

The blonde turned to face him. She had removed her sunglasses, and her eyes were an amazing shade of blue. The blue eyes that had mesmerized Joe twenty years before.

“You know this fella?” the man asked her.

“My husband, Joe.” She pulled off the blonde wig, and ran a hand through her short auburn hair.

“You aren’t in Paris with the girls,” Joe said.

“I’ve been keeping an eye on you,” she said coolly. “I saw your emails to Lisdoonvarna. I know all about your internet dating.”

She paused. “We’ll talk some more in Dublin, Joe, but I’ve had it with you.” She turned to the man. “Let’s go.”

Joe’s jealous fury had burned acid into his soul. He reached for the gun. “I won’t let that happen!” he cried, and fired a shot. Blood blossomed like a rose on Maeve’s white blouse. She crumpled to the pavement.gun

“You feckin’ eejit!” the man screamed.

“If I can’t have her, no one will,” Joe yelled.

“Jaysis, I was giving this woman a ride to Dublin, nothing more.” The man held up his hands and started to back away.
“You’re insane, that’s what you are.” Then he turned and started to run.

Joe knelt down, placed the gun on the ground and cradled Maeve’s body. He kissed her lips, laid her gently back down.

“You’re an eejit, Joseph. You’ve lost Maeve, and you’ll never be able to explain it to Deirdre.” A tear trickled down his cheek.

“Till death do us part, darlin’, those were our vows,” he whispered. “Till death do us part.”

He heard the wail of sirens in the distance, then looked back down at Maeve. “Be with you soon, m’darlin’.”

He picked up the gun, pressed its barrel against his temple and squeezed the trigger.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories (including more Halloween ones) in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Be sure to check out our new mystery podcast too with mystery short stories, and first chapters read by local actors. A new episode goes up next week!

Rosemary McCracken writes the Pat Tierney mysteries. Safe Harbor, the first novel in the series, was a finalist for Britain’s Debut Dagger. It was published by Imajin Books in 2013, and followed by Black Water in 2013 and Raven Lake in 2016. “The Sweetheart Scamster,” a Pat Tierney story in the collection Thirteen, was a Derringer Award finalist in 2014. Jack Batten, the Toronto Star’s crime fiction reviewer, calls Pat “a hugely attractive sleuth figure.” Rosemary lives in Toronto and teaches novel writing at George Brown College. You can learn more on her website.

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