The Dog and Duck was depressingly sombre and smelled of paint. If it had been redecorated recently he wondered what the hell it had been like before, that the owners considered this to be an improvement. It was virtually empty. The three obligatory old men were lined up on stools, staring gloomily into their beer glasses. A barmaid, who was chatting with two girlfriends at the other end of the bar looked up as he came in. She said something to her friends and moved slowly and resentfully to face him across the sticky, veneered surface of the counter.
“Yes?” she said in a tone calculated to drive all but the most desperate back out the door. She gazed up at him from under her fringe of limp blonde hair. Johnathan wondered when it was he’d gotten so old her fashionable hairstyle seemed unbelievably dumb. It’s right in her eyes, he thought, Jesus!
“Do you do meals?”
“Food’s finished,” she said.
“What about rooms? Do you do rooms?”
For an answer she yelled suddenly and deafeningly into a doorway behind her; “Mu-um! Mum!” and went back to her friends without saying another word or even looking in his direction. He didn’t have long to wait, an older, fatter version of the girl appeared in the doorway and regarded him with suspicion.
“Do you do rooms?” Johnathan repeated. “Please?”
“In the summer we do. Bed and Breakfast. No call for it out of season.”
“Is there anywhere that does?”
She shrugged and looked shrewdly at him, judging his level of desperation. “Nowhere I know of, ‘cept for that motel up on the main road. I’d have to air a room, make up a bed. Fifty pounds and I’ll do you a sandwich now and a cooked breakfast in the morning. Take it or leave it.”
Fifty pounds? Sweet Christ! “Ok, I’ll take it.”
“Cheese or ham?”
“The sandwich. Which do you want?”
“Oh, um cheese.” Johnathan said, thinking there might be less chance of food poisoning that way. The thought of the kind of ham she might serve; limp and soggy and full of veins, made him feel ill.
“Visiting?” someone asked as soon as she’d gone. Johnathan turned to see one of the old men was looking in his direction. He was about sixty with bright, dark eyes and a small, wiry physique. Thick grey hair stood up like a hedgehog’s prickles on his head and his face was very tanned, the skin leathery with deep laughter lines around the mouth and eyes.
“Came to see a friend of my Dad’s,” Johnathan said. “Maybe you know him? Robert McCarthy?”
“Robbie? Yep I know Robbie. Came to pass on best wishes? He’s doing ok. Be out in a week, so he says. Said he could stay with me, you know, while he gets the insurance sorted out. Bad business – young scum from the estate I reckon.”
“Oh, you know him pretty well then?” Johnathan said and held out his hand. “I’m Johnathan Taylor. He knows my dad, knew my dad I mean. Glad to hear he’s ok. The taxi guy told me about the fire.”
“So you didn’t know before?” the old man frowned. “Only just heard? So why did you come down here then? You’ve come a ways.”
“My dad’s passed away,” Johnathan hesitiated. ‘Don’t tell anyone about this...not even James’. What the hell. This old guy’s not going to do anything. “Told me Robert was keeping something for me at his house.”
“I’m sorry.” The old man’s mouth turned down and he spoke with genuine sympathy. “You don’t want to stay here,” he continued, lowering his voice. “Food’s crap and so’s the service. Didn’t used to be so bad, but her old man ran off with the pot-washer – Polish girl named Marika or something. I got a spare room.”
“Sorry,” Johnathan said. “I mean thanks, but...”
The old guy held out his hand. “Pete McCarthy. Robert’s my brother. So you see it’s all in the family. So sorry about your dad; I didn’t really know him but he seemed a decent sort. Him and Robbie knew each other in the army, did you know that? Way back when they were seventeen – National Service. You’ve come a fair way, like I said. Robbie’d never let me hear the end of it if I let one of Jacob’s boys stay at the Dog, and neither would my wife.”
“Ok,” Johnathan said.