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Note from Mel: Merry Chrimbo! Here’s a little piece featuring my PI character Moss Reid. It’s three pages long (1,500 words)…

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“And they nicked every single roll?”

“Like I told you,” Jack tells me. “All from the gents, third time this week. The toilet paper and all the soap.”

I scratch my head. This really is a dirty business.

We’re sitting in the dining room of Jack’s Place. First thing on a Friday morning – Jack wants to keep our tete-a-tete private before the staff arrive in their dribs and drabs. Nobody likes to see a private investigator hovering around as they try to work. And it will be fierce busy this lunchtime, with the Christmas rush and all that.

Mind you, Jack’s Place isn’t the kind of joint to do turkey, mash, sprouts et cetera (the et cetera are all the trimmings with gravy). He’s more “a reduction man” as they might say. An assiette of this, a tranche or quenelle of that, un méli-mélo all done à la something or other.

But don’t let the fancy menus and snazzy grub fool you. Underneath the posh food and starched linen, Jack has enough grief on his plate at the moment.

Austerity scars people. All those tiny nicks and scars, so many of them over the past six years that you can begin to read them like a map. Jack Breslin’s business has been through a thousand tiny cuts. They have left deep furrows in his face. And in his bank account.

His partner Donna died of cancer last year. She was his business partner too. The kids are both at college, trying to get a good degree before they emigrate. My chef mate Arnaud filled me in on all this yesterday, so Jack and I have no need to discuss it now.

Instead, Jack tells of how it’s hard to find decent qualified chefs at the moment; there’s a severe shortage of them in town, and doubly so in the run-up to Christmas. Then there’s the rent and the rates and a thousand other headaches when you’re trying to produce top-notch grub to a high standard, plate after plate, table after table, night after night. A severe lack of loo paper is the last thing Jack needs.

You can’t afford to have all the soap and loo rolls disappearing from your restaurant night after night. Besides the bottom line, customers complain; the health inspectors don’t like it either – food establishments have had a closure order for less.

So we head off towards the jacks. Jack’s jacks, as it were. Other countries have their words for it – the john, the restroom, bathroom, washroom, the bogs – but only the Irish call them the jacks.

From the dining room, a door leads to a small annexe. This in turn has separate doors for Mná and Fir. The ladies and gents.

The similarity of “Mná” and “Man” confuses tourists. It can lead to embarrassing situations. You have to determine whether you are a mná or a fir. “Mná” isn’t a misspelling of “man” but the Irish for “women”. The Ladies.

We step into the scene of the crime: Fir. The Gents. Continue…