“Tea? Anyone in there for tea?”
I’d cracked the door open just enough to peek out. My first thought upon meeting Kitty Claymore was, holy f**k-balls, she’s bat-shit crazy. Her eyes were glassy and unfocused, but her smile reminded me of her daughter. Kitty was a walking, talking, age-progression drawing of Faith in forty years. Except eternal youth didn’t sit so well on Kitty. Time appeared to have taken its toll in other ways. As in, mentally. In her carefully arranged graying hair, she’d clipped some elaborate hairpiece that involved peacock feathers and blue robin eggs. Her dress hung off her, much too large for her thin frame, yet perfectly clean and ironed. Over it, she wore an apron with Claymore Inn embroidered over the breast.
She looked right through me and held up a silver teapot. “Piping hot, it is. You’ll want to blow on it a while.” She breezed into the room as if floating on air and flipped over the teacup sitting on my dresser. “There’s toast.”
I looked around confused. “W-where?”
She pulled a burned piece out of her apron pocket and laid it down with the utmost care beside the steaming cup of tea. Then she pointed at it, as if it had been there all along. “There.”
“Looks…great. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, love. How long have you been here? Have you met my husband yet? Don’t let him put you off the place.”
Kitty’s question sent a tingle up my neck. Apparently my initial judgment of her wasn’t far off, but I felt guilty for having such harsh thoughts when her condition appeared serious. I didn’t known how to respond. “N-not yet,” I mumbled.
“You will shortly, I’d say.” She patted her hair. “And my Shane? You’ve run into him, have you?”
“Right.” Suddenly, she looked lucid. Not to mention, highly amused at my abrupt answer. “Well, don’t go planning the wedding just yet.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. Unless the reception involves a cage match.”
“Not a bother.” She smoothed a hand over the bedspread. “Don’t judge him too harshly, though. He’s had a hard go of it, my son. Stuck in the mud with two crazy birds when he was born to go full speed ahead.”
She looked up at me then and I’d watched clarity flee from her expression. “Well, I’ll leave you to your tea. Mind your tongue, now. It’s piping.”
Every morning since, we’ve gone through the same routine. She knocks on my door at eight o’clock sharp, tea in hand as she floats around to each of the empty guest rooms and doles it out. Half the time, the tea is ice cold, not that I would drink it anyway. I’m a coffee person to the bone. But I get the feeling she’s the one who cleans my room each afternoon, so I make sure to pour it down the sink so she won’t know I leave it untouched.
It didn’t take me long to fall in love with Dublin. I’ve purposely neglected to buy a map, kind of wanting to get lost. The first few days, I walked aimlessly along the River Liffey, stopping when something or someone interested me, snapping photographs. Scoping out the most convenient one hour photo center to develop my film. One afternoon, I fell asleep near the lake in St. Stephen’s Green, a lush park in the middle of the bustling city center. I woke when the sky opened up and soaked me to the skin. Thankfully, my camera was in its waterproof bag, or my beloved Nikon wouldn’t have made it past that first week.
It took me three days to find Grafton Street, the main shopping area tourists flock to like hipsters to a vinyl record sale. At first the buzz of activity and crowds didn’t appeal to me, but with so much to look at, I couldn’t resist setting up camp on the sidewalk to observe. One particular street act had kept my attention longer than most. A well-hidden aspect of these buskers’ performance was to pickpocket members of the crowd.
They were good. I never would have noticed, except I was in photographer mode, watching the crowd instead of the act. One member of the duo played a battered guitar, his thickly accented voice captivating the smiling onlookers trying to soak up the local flavor. While he sang Irish folk songs, his partner in crime walked through the crowd and took advantage of their inattention, pilfering wallets and dipping into purses as he went. I could tell they knew each other by the subtle eye contact they made between each song. The thief would raise his eyebrows or shrug depending on what he’d managed to pull in.
The guitar player chose a woman from the audience then, kissing her hand and twirling her in a circle. Her group of friends, including an indulgent husband, applauded and snapped pictures.
One of them was handily divested of their iPhone.
“Dance for me, wouldya, sweetheart? Folks, isn’t she a picture?” More cheering. More stealing. He plucked a few chords on his guitar. “Right. Now I can tell she’s got Irish blood in her. Would you like to know how I’d make such an assumption?” A chorus of yeses. The guitar player leaned toward the crowd as if imparting a great secret. “Her husband looks like he needs a bloody drink.”
Everyone laughs as I snap a picture of the pickpocket snaking his hand into a woman’s purse, removing a sparkly pink wallet. The crowd shifts, and I see the woman is holding the hand of a little girl. A frown mars my forehead and the shutter of my camera goes off. My sight is briefly obscured through the viewfinder as the shutter goes off, but as soon as it returns, I see the pickpocket looking directly at me. He signals the guitar player to wrap up the act with a quick slash of his hand across his throat. Casually, I hope, I replace my camera in my bag and stand to leave.
“Hold on, now. Just a moment.” It’s the guitar player.
Cursing my f**ked-up luck, I paste a bored expression on my face and turn. “Hmm?”
The pickpocket comes to stand at his shoulder, looking around furtively. Probably for cops. They’re both midtwenties, possibly even brothers, with scruffy, light brown hair. Guitar Player is attempting a beard that’s having a difficult time growing in evenly. Behind them, the crowd has dispersed as if it were never there.
“Mind if I see your camera, pet?”
“Why, so you can steal it?”
I expect them to react with affront or deny that I’d clearly caught their con in progress, instead they both laugh. Guitar Player begins to play the opening strains of “American Woman” on his broken-down instrument.
“No, I just want to make sure you got my good side,” the pickpocket answers jovially.
My eyes narrow as I try to figure out their game. Apparently they’re not at all worried about me alerting a police officer. Not that I was planning on it.
I have a soft spot for thieves, you see. My sister is one. Thieving is how we managed to escape the hell of Nashville and make a new life in Chicago. One night, Ginger came into the tiny bedroom we shared, clutching a bag containing fifty thousand dollars in cash, wide-eyed and shaking, but determined. Our mother had been transporting money for an unsavory character, but made a pit stop midtransit to get high and pass out on the couch. Some people would call what Ginger did “stealing.” I call it ingenuity. We were in Chicago before the sun came up and when it did, we were living new lives. We were in control of our futures.
Still, soft spot for thieves notwithstanding, shouldn’t these buskers be at least a touch concerned that I’ll sound the alarm?