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You ever heard of the Twelve Pubs of Christmas? Or the cult of the Christmas Jumper? This piece began life within a set of Christmas short storie but ended up within Black Marigolds, the second book in my ‘Moss Reid’ series.

I’ve snipped it back here, to make it fairly standalone, as a piece half-way between a short story and a book extract. It’s 2,467 words long. 

The scene takes place, as it happens, on the night of 18 December 2013. Exactly a year ago today…

* * *

Even at the best of times the highways and byways of Smithfield and Stoneybatter can feel like a cross between Hip City and Ballinasloe Horse Fair. It was an even more raggedy confusion this evening.

The homely pub I was in could be confusing too, from its slightly higgledy-piggledy layout to the sharp contrast between the front bar with its ancient wooden snug areas and the refurbed lounge at the back. The pub’s very name could confuse you: “Walshes” in the stained glass windows and doors, plain “Walsh” on the main sign outside.

Walshes. A relaxed kind of place in which Detective Chief Superintendent Foyle could have a quiet snifter; he did here too, in this very pub, in the latest season of Foyle’s War.

After an unproductive afternoon and a blackmail case that made no sense, I needed to chill out with a pint. At the bar counter. Because at a table you might have to small-talk with someone opposite; at the counter at least you could be alone with your thoughts. Alone in a crowded bar: that could almost be the title of an art exhibition.

Despite the crowd she’d spotted me already. She was well on too, and sopping wet like most of the customers.

Maggie Dardis. Soaked and frazzled – apart from her hair of course, as impeccable as ever: long black hair with an impossibly straight fringe. As for the rest of her, while she might have started off as pretty as a picture (a Renoir, a Monet perhaps) she’d ended up as a Jackson Pollock with the paint still wet.