Available 8 December, a brilliant debut novel from Sean Gleason....
Sometimes you need more than divine intervention when too many secrets are about to spill.
Just like Paris, Martie didn’t see sabotage coming up behind her. Someone spread lies about her and got away with it because she didn’t look over her shoulder, too focused on the road ahead. It was a cut-throat business and she should have learned from experience but it happened again. Just like Paris, she was too stunned to open her mouth and counter the claim that she was going in a different direction. She had been so sure, so confident that the financing for her own restaurant was in place. So certain, and the next thing she knew she was meeting her replacement. Never again. Standing in front of the ‘Help Wanted’ sign, Martie vowed to turn it all around and crush anyone who stood in her way.
If it meant starting over from the bottom, going back to the line, she would start at the bottom. And she would be ruthless. No more being nice. Where did that get her, but where she was, at a restaurant that was scheduled to open in less than a week but was not even close to meeting the deadline. Maybe it was a mistake, to apply. Maybe the place would never open and she was wasting precious time. Maybe she would be turned down for being overqualified like she had been at every other place she’d tried for the past two months. And maybe not. Martie walked around the ladder leaning against the wall, where an electrician was tussling with a light fixture. She was nearly impaled by a falling screwdriver.
“Hey, watch it,” the electrician said. “Can’t you read the sign?”
A strip of yellow caution tape barred her way. Looking up, she noticed a banner draped over the entryway. “Sign? ‘Grand Opening’, that sign?” she asked. “Not grand, or not opening?”
“The sign on the f-ing door, the one that says not to use the door. The door behind the caution tape. That door,” he said. He reached for a drill while holding up the fixture but his arms were too short for the job. The lamp came away and swung from a thin wire while the bright yellow tape across the doorway parted, to flutter on the spring breeze. Martie turned her head away before the end snapped in her eye.
What had been grunts muffled by the door exploded into a full scale screaming match that was more profanity than useful words. Threats and curses flew, accusations of slave-driving countered by assertions of sabotage. The dangling light fixture swung like a pendulum in the spring breeze, scraping away at the freshly painted facade. A combatant in dust-coated jeans took note of the damage and yanked the lamp down. Standing in the open doorway, he shook it as if he meant to club his adversaries.
“Everyone’s being careful, Mac? Everyone’s being careful? This is what you call careful? All this care is bankrupting me, for Christ’s sake.”
He marched back outside to confront the electrician, who was too busy tugging at wire nuts to pay the madman much attention. “Hey, Riordan, you lose something?”
“Thanks, Mr. McKechnie,” Riordan said, returning to his task as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. “You done for the day?”
“For the day? I’m done for the fucking rest of my life,” McKechnie said. Turning to Martie, he barked, “You want something?”
“Just curious,” Martie said. She canted her head towards the sign in the window. “You must be the man I should talk to.”
“Yeah, lucky me.” He looked her over and the hint of a smile creased his cheek. “Come on back.”
Sawdust drifted from his brown hair and settled on his shoulders, adding a touch of red oak to the grey haze of plaster and stone. His right hand looked swollen, as if he had punched something. Or someone. “You might want to ice your knuckles,” Martie said.
“No big deal,” McKechnie said. “Air compressor fell on it.”
The front door opened into a small entry that was common in the Midwest, a spot to trap the cold air in winter and keep a draft out of the restaurant. Martie pulled on the handle of the inner door and took note of its etched glass inserts, partially hidden by a large sign. It was easy to read, even backwards. Big letters scrawled with a thick black marker declared that no one was to use the door until further notice. It was signed by Brendan McKechnie, President, McKechnie Construction. She almost crashed into the ladder, and the painter standing on it, that blocked the way.
“Are you sure it’s not broken?” Martie said as she skirted the hazard.
Piles of debris created an obstacle course from the foyer to the bar room, a clear indication that the pub was not close to meeting the opening day deadline. A hostess stand stood forlorn and alone, out of place in a small forest of plastic sheeting that covered what Martie guessed were stacks of chairs. A group of carpenters were putting their backs into shifting pieces of an antique bar into place. An older man, probably the foreman, filled a nail gun but paused in his chore to give McKechnie a look that was not anger, but pure mockery. He made a show of connecting the hose to the air gun and McKechnie swore under his breath.
“The kitchen is state of the art. Come take a look,” McKechnie said.
“Thank you, I’d like to see it,” Martie said.
“But I can’t take the credit. I’m following the advice of a restaurant consultant,” he said. “Did I introduce myself? Brendan McKechnie. Proud owner of McKechnie’s Pub.”
She had heard of Brendan McKechnie from her former employer, a force in the local restaurant industry, who regaled his culinary staff with tales of a clueless building contractor who thought he could be a restaurateur because he watched the Food Network. An idea took shape in Martie’s mind. If she played it right, she could be back where she wanted to be in no time. She would have to be cold-blooded, calculating, and as callous as the bastard who ruined her plans, but she had to do what was necessary to salvage her future. There would be one less restaurant in town before she was finished, and it would not be hers going under.
He steered her to the left, and Martie slowed her pace. Something about the room’s layout felt very familiar, with a small stage tucked into the corner near the front window. When she reached the back she saw a pair of snugs exactly where she expected them to be, but she could not have known they were there because she had never been in the place before. The kitchen doors opened on a corridor, and Martie was certain that if she kept walking straight ahead she would find herself in a dining room half–paneled in oak, with walls an earthy tone of green. A shiver crept up her spine.
With confidence that was all for show, she pushed the swinging door with her hip and entered a kitchen in absolute anarchy. A battle for control was being waged between three cooks, a sure sign that the pub was not going to open on time, if ever. With Brendan’s hand growing puffier by the minute, she ignored the shouting and snatched a towel from one of the warriors. She headed towards the ice machine, realizing that she knew where it was because she had sketched out the kitchen plan for her ex-boss when he asked her to design her ideal kitchen. So he had used her again, made her think she was doing all that work for herself when he only intended to sell her plan to someone else and keep all the profit. Never again.
While she settled the ice onto Brendan’s knuckles, Martie gave the kitchen a quick glance. She could make it hers, and establish a base of operations that would be unassailable, but could she get that far before the reunion? The baby she had given up for adoption was expecting to meet a birth mother who had climbed to the top of the cooking industry, and to get back to where she was when he first contacted her, she would have to get Brendan wedged firmly under her thumb. She had skill and knowledge, but there were other chefs out there who were hungry for acclaim. Martie had something else that Brendan needed, and needed desperately, or so her sources said. Without an influx of cash, the place might not open. And Martie had the money, a lifetime’s worth of scrimping and saving so she could open her own place. Brendan was going to be in her debt, and once she had him pinned, the restaurant was as good as hers.
Pans rattled on the burners and a pair of cooks faced off in a culinary battle, each vowing to show the other how to cook chicken. The rest of the line cooks stood off to one side, not sure which camp to join. A third contestant for the role of head chef demanded mirepoix, but no one raised a knife to the pile of celery and carrots on the cutting board.
“I think I need a drink,” Brendan said, examining his injury.
“Are you sure? Do you want to get that x-rayed or anything?” Martie asked. A plate crashed to the floor and a shouting match erupted. “Too many cooks, right?”
Brendan shrugged. “I figured they could sort it out.”
“If they don’t stab each other to death first. I wouldn’t count on any of them knowing enough to make a peanut butter sandwich.” Martie glanced at his hand. “Still pretty swollen. Can you make a fist?”
The sound of air hammers cut through the cacophony of battle. Martie followed Brendan back to the bar, where the carpenters were nailing trim around the bar back while a crew of painters followed on their heels, filling the holes with putty. A sharp prick of deja vu made her shudder. Even the bar itself was familiar, with a century’s worth of Guinness rubbed into its finish.
“Might as well pull off the molding and crate up everything,” Brendan mumbled. “This is all headed to foreclosure.”
Stacked in the far corner was a forest of marble-topped tables that brought to mind Bewley’s Oriental Cafe in Dublin, where she once lingered over coffee with fellow prep cooks, dreaming of culinary glory. She made a circuit of the room, taking in the scene. A shaft of sunlight sparkled on the etched glass of the front door, a lovely work of art featuring twining ivy and shamrocks. This was the first time she had seen it, she was certain. Then there was the bank of French doors separating the bar room from the patio. Poking her head through an open door, she realized that the patio was not at all familiar, just an area that looked like every other outdoor dining venue. It was common to use French doors in a restaurant, to give a room some spatial flexibility, and there were probably hundreds of establishments that had banks of French doors. Her imagination was getting the best of her. The notion that she had been in this place before was the result of stress and low blood sugar, not reality.
Brendan waved a weak, defeated farewell to the laborers as they stowed their tools, the bar installed with such skill that it seemed to have always been there. The empty liquor shelves were out of place, and Martie had an urge to put a few bottles out, to set the stage and imagine how the place was going to look in a few more days, when she was running it. She peered over the edge of the bar and found a trap door in the floor that led down to a storage room. Someone was rattling around in the basement, another worker finishing up, but she didn’t feel comfortable enough to climb down the ladder and help herself. Not yet, at any rate.
“Can I ask you a huge favor? Could you hang out a minute, until I make sure I can move my hand?” Brendan asked. “Might need a ride to the hospital if I can’t grip the steering wheel.”
A turn to the left, to enter the waiting area for the dining room, and Martie gasped in shock. She had been here before. Not here, of course, in this new building, but in another place exactly like it. The wood paneled wall and the stairs that climbed to the second floor had been copied, down to the millimeter. The fireplace with its glass fishing floats from the beach at Spanish Point, the upholstered armchairs drawn up to the hearth, it was the pub in Miltown Malbay where they stayed last summer. Separate rooms. Separate planets would have been a better idea.
Walking up the stairs brought it all back, the fierce argument followed by a lapse in judgment that was beyond stupid. She entered the office, too disoriented to sit still, while Brendan stretched out on an old sofa. The lace curtains hanging in the windows were identical to the ones that hung in her room above the Miltown pub, although the accommodations were not replicated in Brendan’s version. What if he had been there at the music festival and overheard everything, all those everythings she could not fully recall because she drank herself blind to erase the misery and ended up in bed with a man she’d only just met. She could not dare comment on the similarity or say a word about Miltown Malbay.