Whisper Island, Ireland
I’d encountered plenty of culture shocks since I’d swapped my cheating husband and my career in the San Francisco PD for a remote Irish island. Discovering that used car salesmen were the same slick sons-of-guns all over the world was almost a comfort.
I fixed the proprietor of Zippy Motors with a hard stare. “I’ll give you three hundred bucks, and not a penny more.”
“Aw, come on, Maggie. A man’s gotta eat. This little beauty will zip you around—just like our slogan.” Jack Logan treated me to the killer smile that had left a trail of broken hearts across Whisper Island in the years before he’d developed a beer belly and a comb-over. I remained unmoved.
“The car’s fit for scrap metal,” I said. “Before I shell out any money, never mind your insane asking price, I need to know the vehicle will survive the couple of months I’m staying on the island.”
“Sure it will.” Jack spread his palms wide in a gesture that was presumably designed to put his customers at ease. “Would I sell you a lemon? I value my reputation.”
I rolled my eyes. “Your reputation stinks. You’re still in business because you get an influx of clueless tourists every summer who are willing to rent one of your wrecks for the season.”
The salesman’s composure faltered. “Now that’s a bit harsh.”
“But true. I’m Lenny’s friend, remember? Your cousin’s told me all about you.” And the parts Lenny hadn’t told me, I could guess. Jack wore designer clothes and reeked of expensive aftershave. I glanced up at Zippy Motors’ battered sign. Somehow, I doubted Jack funded his flash lifestyle with the money he made from selling and renting wrecks.
I strolled around the Ford Fiesta, examining it for obvious patches of rust. “Today’s your lucky day, Jack. I’m in need of a cheap ride, and your establishment is on the island if there’s any issue with my purchase.” I made eye contact. “You do offer an after-purchase warranty, right?”
The man’s Adam’s apple bobbed. “Uh, sure, but nothing will go wrong with the car.”
“For your sake, I hope not.” I patted the ancient vehicle, and it didn’t fall apart under my touch. I took this to be a good sign. “Cash, I presume?”
Once I’d completed my transaction with Jack Logan, I slid behind the wheel of my new-to-me ride and drove out of Smuggler’s Cove. I hung a left at the crossroads on the edge of town and headed in the direction of my new home—a sweet little holiday cottage on the far side of Whisper Island. As a thank-you for my help in solving a murder mystery, my aunts and friends had pooled their resources to pay for three months’ rent on the cottage, thus treating me to an extended vacation on their island. I’d moved in last week. After spending six weeks living with my aunt Noreen and her menagerie of animals, I was still getting used to the silence.
The drive across the island took thirty minutes. I took it slow, soaking in the sights. The snow we’d had earlier in the winter hadn’t lasted long, and now that it was early March, the first signs of spring were starting to show. The days were growing longer, and a few flowers had begun to bloom. As the road wound around the edge of the cliffs, I passed woodland and rolling green hills before finally reaching the gates of my new residence.
My cottage was part of a complex of eight holiday homes named Shamrock Cottages—although I had yet to see any evidence that shamrocks grew in the vicinity. Built on a slope, the cottage boasted a spectacular view of the sea through my front windows. Each cottage in the complex had a fenced-in garden with just enough room for an outdoor table and chairs. There was also a communal playground, as well as a shared games room, neither of which I’d had reason to use.
When I drove through the gates of Shamrock Cottages, Noreen was waiting on my doorstep. She wore a wide smile on her face and balanced a tray of freshly baked scones in her arms. My mouth watered at the sight. Since moving out of her house, I’d started to skip breakfast. Not smart, but it had helped me lose a few of the pounds I’d gained while living with Noreen and eating her enormous portions. Bran, my aunt’s lively Border collie-Labrador mix, danced by her side, tripping over Noreen’s large bag in his excitement to see me.
The instant I stepped out of my car, Bran bounded over and treated me to an obligatory crotch sniff. “Cut that out,” I said, bending down to pet his soft fur. “You’ve gotta learn manners.”
“Too late for that, I’m afraid,” my aunt said with a laugh. “I’ve tried everything. On the plus side, he only does it to people he likes.”
I scratched Bran under his chin. “While I’m honored to be liked by you, Bran, I wish you’d show your affection for me in some other way.”
As if he understood my words, the dog treated my hand to a generous lick. I gave him a last pat and drew my key from my jacket pocket.
My aunt squinted at the car and then leaped back in horror. “Please don’t tell me you went to Zippy Motors.”
“They’re cheap, and I’m low on cash.” I slammed the driver’s door and strode toward the cottage door, Bran at my heels. “Mmm. Those scones smell divine.”
My aunt clucked with disapproval. “Don’t change the subject. Jack Logan is a snake. I buy cheap cars, but even I won’t go near him. I’m convinced he’s laundering money at that place.”
“It’s a done deal now,” I said cheerfully. I unlocked the door and relieved my aunt of the tray. “Want to come in for a coffee? Because I’m totally eating one of these scones.”
“That would be lovely.” My aunt bounded into the cottage with an agility that belied her fifty-six years. “I have some housewarming gifts for you.”
I raised an eyebrow. “More? You’ve already given me enough towels to dry a family of six.”
Noreen bounced on the spot, making her jet-black curls dance. “These gifts are of a livelier nature. Literally.”
I sucked in a breath. “Oh, no. Not the pet thing again.”
“Just hear me out before you object. You could do with some company now that you’re out here all alone. Bran can act as a guard dog.”
I placed the tray on the kitchen counter and shook my head emphatically. “You’re not foisting the dog onto me. No way. Besides, I live next door to a policeman. What could be safer than that?”
My aunt clucked in disapproval. “Sure, Sergeant Reynolds hasn’t moved in properly yet. Even when he does, he’ll hardly ever be home. He’s working crazy hours in pursuit of those eejits who keep sneaking onto farms and causing havoc. Did you hear about Paddy Driscoll’s sheep?”
“Clearly, I’m behind on island gossip.” I switched on the coffee machine and got out plates and coffee mugs. “What happened to Paddy’s sheep?”
“They were given a makeover last night.”
I looked at my aunt over my shoulder and slow-blinked. “What does a sheep makeover involve?”
“They were dressed in knitted outfits made out of acrylic yarn.”
“Wow.” I whistled. “An animal activist on a mission?”
“Maybe. At any rate, Paddy’s chief issue was the fact that the pattern on the sheep’s outfits was the Union Jack.” Noreen’s lips twitched with amusement. “Not a flag likely to please a man of Paddy’s political persuasions.”
I recalled the huge Irish flag painted on the wall of Paddy’s barn, and the various pro-I.R.A. sentiments the grumpy farmer had uttered in my presence. No, he wouldn’t be pleased to find his sheep wearing the British flag.
After I’d made a cappuccino for my aunt and a double espresso for me, I placed two of the scones on plates and put everything on the table. On autopilot, I retrieved one of the doggie snacks I kept for Bran’s visits from the drawer under the sink.
“I’m serious about you adopting Bran,” my aunt said, watching me feed the grateful dog his treat. “You’re the one taking him on most of his walks these days.”
“It’s not fair to the dog. I’m only on Whisper Island until May.”
“Until the end of May,” my aunt corrected, as though the distinction made all the difference in the world. “Why don’t you take him until then? He’ll be great company for you and the cats.”
“Cats?” My voice rose in a crescendo. I sucked in a breath and scanned the kitchen for evidence of feline habitation. My gaze came to rest on the big carrier bag at Noreen’s feet, and I groaned out loud. “Oh, no.”
Inside the carrier bag, six kittens snuggled against their mother, snoozing peacefully in a basket.
“Seeing as you rescued Poly’s kittens, I thought you’d like to have a couple of them to keep you company. They’re not ready to leave their mum permanently yet, so I brought her with them.”
“A couple doesn’t mean six. Besides, Sergeant Reynolds rescued one of the kittens. I just helped.”
“Exactly.” My aunt beamed at me. “Rosie is the one on the far left. I’m sure she’d love to come and live with you.”
“Not happening, Noreen. I love you to bits, but the animals are leaving when you do.”
My aunt grinned across the table and spread a generous helping of strawberry jam over her scone. “I’ll wear you down, Miss Maggie. You just see if I don’t.”
Before I could utter another protest, the familiar splutter of an old VW van drew my attention to the kitchen window. Through the glass, I saw my friend, Lenny, park his van at the entrance to Shamrock Cottages. Like my car, the van had seen better years, and better paint jobs. Lenny’s recent decision to paint it psychedelic purple hadn’t enhanced the vehicle’s appeal.
“Lenny just pulled up,” I told my aunt. “I’ll go let him in.”
When I opened my front door, Lenny was ambling toward me, carrying a large plastic bag. He stopped short when he saw my new car and circled it as one would a feral beast. “Aw, Maggie. You went to Jack’s place? What did I tell you about that guy?”
“That he’s a crook and a swindler and to run far and fast,” I replied. “And although Jack’s cons list outweighs his pros, he’s cheap and easily intimidated.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about the easily intimidated part,” Lenny said, tugging on his scraggly beard. “He’s bold enough to drive a brand-new Porsche around the island one minute, and plead poverty to the Inland Revenue the next.”
“I take it Jack isn’t keen on paying taxes?”
“That’s one way of putting it. But enough about my idiot cousin. How are you doing? All settled into your new home?” My friend’s easygoing smile lit up his thin face, transforming him from homely to kinda cute in a geeky sort of way. We’d been buddies since I’d spent my summers on Whisper Island as a child. Although we’d lost touch as adults, our friendship had picked up where we’d left off when I’d returned to the island in January.
“It’s fab. I like it so much it’ll be hard to leave when the lease is up.” I nodded in the direction of the kitchen. “Want to come in for a coffee? Noreen’s here, and she brought scones.”
“I can’t stay. I have to go to Paddy Driscoll’s place to fix his computer.” He held up the plastic carrier bag. “I thought I’d swing by yours on the way and give you your housewarming present.”
“As long as it’s not a pet, we’re good,” I quipped, remembering the basket of kittens with a sinking sensation in my stomach. I had a feeling Noreen would wear me down.
“No worries.” Lenny’s bony face split into a grin that brought a twinkle to his pale blue eyes. “I thought you needed a little greenery.” He opened the bag and removed a leafy potted plant…a leafy potted cannabis plant. “I thought it’d liven up your new home.”
“I can think of more legal ways to liven up my cottage.” I shot him a look of exasperation. “Have you forgotten I live next door to a police officer?”
Lenny’s grin faded. “Oops. I didn’t think of Reynolds.”
“You don’t say,” I said, deadpan. “Even if I was inclined to keep it, I have an unfortunate track record with plants.”
Bran and my aunt emerged from the kitchen. Upon seeing Lenny, the dog gave an excited bark and raced over to give my friend a thorough crotch sniff.
“Maggie’s not joking about her knack with plants,” Noreen said, pulling on her coat. “She killed a cactus while she was staying with me.”
I grimaced. “Guilty as charged.”
Lenny laughed and scratched Bran under his chin. “Maybe you’ll have better luck with this particular variety of plant.”
When she’d buttoned up her duffel coat, Noreen squeezed my arm. “I’d best be off, love. I need to get to the café and relieve Kelly. I’ll collect you at six-thirty for the Movie Club meeting. Will that suit you?”
“Six-thirty sounds good.” I noticed a conspicuous absence of kittens in her carrier bag. “Whoa. You’re not leaving me with the cats and—” Bran abandoned Lenny and rubbed against my legs, silencing me with the plaintive expression in his doggie eyes. I bit back a sigh. Who could resist that look? “Do you want to stay with me for a while, buddy?”
Bran’s response was to lick my hand. Man, that dog knew how to pull at my heartstrings.
“If you’re keeping Bran, you can hardly turf out the cats,” Noreen said as if the matter was decided. She paused when she noticed the plant in my arms. “Oh, that’s a beautiful bit of greenery.”
I laughed. “A beautiful bit of greenery that’s destined for the garbage can.”
“Oh, no.” My aunt looked horrified. “You can’t do that. I’ll take it home with me.”
“Noreen, that’s not a good idea.”
“It’d look great in your house,” Lenny said straight-faced. “It’d add class to the joint.”
I shot him a warning look. “Don’t listen to him. Take my advice and get rid of it.”
“Nonsense,” Noreen said. “I have loads of plants. It’ll fit right in.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but my words were drowned out by the roar of a motorcycle crunching up the gravel drive. Sergeant Liam Reynolds pulled up outside his cottage and leaped off his bike.
“Uh-oh,” Lenny whispered beside me. “Now we’re in for it.”
The words I muttered beneath my breath were less polite. “What possessed you to show up here with a cannabis plant?” I whispered.
“I’m sorry,” Lenny whispered back. “I thought it would give you a laugh.”
Reynolds, also known as Sergeant Hottie—okay, known as Sergeant Hottie by me—removed his helmet and revealed close-cropped dark blond hair and a face that would have been movie-star handsome but for a nose that had been broken more than once. To my annoyance, a jolt of desire set my blood humming.
“Cooee,” my aunt called. To my horror, she held up the cannabis plant for Reynolds to see. “Look what Maggie gave me. Isn’t it lovely?”
Oblivious to the policeman’s slack-jawed expression, my aunt got into her car, waved to us, and drove off with the cannabis plant on her passenger seat.
From The Postman Always Dies Twice by Zara Keane, Copyright 2017