people on the street began to seem. Part of this was psychological — his reaction to the location — but not all of it. This place was dark; it was well shadowed. Things had always been different here.

Marc had a theory that some places were always in shadow, no matter how hard the sun was shining. The Concrete Grove was a joyless estate. Apart from the poverty and the criminality that bred here, there was another layer of darkness that could be sensed rather than seen. He thought of a dark sea lapping against concrete pilings, the waves occasionally slopping up onto the land and breaking it away, slowly encroaching. But that wasn’t quite right. The analogy was close, but not precise enough to communicate exactly what it was he felt.

He drove the car along Beacon Grove Rise, following a couple of other vehicles that had left the crematorium just before them. As he drove, he was struck by the way things never changed around here. It was like a film set that had not been taken down when the production company moved on, and people had moved in to set up home inside the two-dimensional backdrop. There was a sense of impermanence, yet also the belief that everything would remain as it was now, as it had been since the estate was built.

He parked the car on Grove Terrace, in a spot opposite the small row of shops. When he glanced over at the newsagents, a short Pakistani man with thinning grey hair raised a hand in an informal wave. Marc smiled and nodded. The man turned away and went inside his shop.

“I suppose we have to go in, don’t we?” Rose was staring along the street at the Unicorn pub. His eyes were narrow and his lips were pursed.

“We don’t have to. I could take you home if you like.” Suddenly Marc was afraid. He didn’t know what had caused the fear, but it was there, gnawing away at him and unsettling his emotions.

“Thank you, but no. It wouldn’t be right. I should at least show my face.” He turned towards Marc, a tentative smile now playing at his lips. “Could I buy you a drink?

“No,” said Marc. “But I’ll buy you one. Come on, let’s get in there and raise a glass to your brother, the miserable old bugger.” He smiled and patted Rose’s arm.

They got out of the car and walked slowly along the street, not saying anything, just content to be silent. A few people entered the pub ahead of them, and when the door opened Marc heard the sound of many voices speaking at once, competing for attention, before it swung shut again.

They reached the pub doorway. Marc glanced at Rose. The old man nodded and Marc opened the door and stepped into the Unicorn.

He’d been inside the Unicorn a few times before, with Harry Rose. The old man had enjoyed a drink, and this place was just a few doors along from his house so had served as his local. Those times, clientele had been thin on the ground — just a few old men sipping bitter and studying racing forms, or the occasional young wannabe gangster spending his drug money and trying to play the big man in an infamous watering hole. Marc knew of the Unicorn’s reputation. Even in Far Grove, where he’d been raised by Uncle Mike, the place was spoken of as a roughhouse bar filled with hard men and aging prostitutes who’d take you to a nearby side street and gobble you for the price of a pint.

These days the place had lost its edge, but the essence of that hostility remained, wedged like ancient mortar into the brick joints. Even today, packed out with old men and women who were seeing off an old friend, there was the sense that violence might kick off at any given moment, triggered by nothing more than a change in the temperature or a rogue air current drifting in through an open window.

“What are you having?” He turned to Rose and leaned in towards the man, so he could hear a reply over the clamour.

“Whisky, please.”


“Well, I wouldn’t say no.”

Marc elbowed his way through the crowd and towards the bar. The two members of staff on duty were struggling to cope with the rush, so he had to wait a while before catching the barmaid’s eye. She raised her eyebrows to signal that she’d made a note of his presence and finished off pulling a pint of mild for an old man who looked drunk already.

The man paid for his beer and staggered away from the bar, slopping half the contents of his glass down the front of his shabby suit jacket. The barmaid moved over to where Marc was standing.


“A double whisky and a bottle of Becks, please.”

She turned and bent over to the low-level cooler box, opened the glass door and took out a cold bottle. Marc stared at her enormous backside, unable to look away. The thin waistband of her tight black trousers had slipped down to reveal the lacy edge of her underwear and the flesh of her ample waist formed a bulging muffin-top around the beltline. She straightened and poured the whisky from the optic: two aggressive jabs with the glass.

“Anything else?” she asked as she turned back to him and placed the drinks on the wet bar. She had a pretty face but her dyed blonde hair was tired and dried out. Her makeup failed to hide the scars of a hard life.

“That’s all, thanks.” He took a sip of his beer straight from the bottle. It felt good, like a soothing balm for whatever might ail him.

Marc paid for the drinks and made his way back over to Rose. The man wasn’t standing where he’d left him and he felt stranded for a moment, gripping the two drinks and scanning the interior for a sighting of his companion.

Rose waved to him from across the room, where he’d managed to squeeze onto the end of a long seat at the edge of a table cluttered with empty pint glasses. Marc made his way over to the table, dodging elbows and spirited hand gestures. He reached the safety of the table without spilling a drop and set down the drinks before spotting the low three-legged stool Rose had commandeered for his use.

“Thanks,” he said, grabbing the stool and sitting opposite Rose at the narrow wooden table.

“Cheers,” said Rose, raising his glass. “Here’s to Harry.”

“To Harry,” echoed Marc, lifting his bottle and taking another drink.

The level of conversation inside the pub had settled to a lower volume. Now that everyone had a drink they were beginning to settle in and find a rhythm.

“I’m glad you called me to let me know about Harry,” said Rose. “I’d never have forgiven myself if I’d have missed his funeral.” His eyes were glazed. Marc wasn’t sure if the whisky was working already or the man was holding back tears.

“It’s okay,” said Marc. “To be honest, I was only doing what Harry asked me to do.”

Rose put down his glass. “What do you mean?”

“He’d asked a couple of times that I call you if anything happened to him. He knew he was ill. His heart wasn’t good. The doctor had told him that he shouldn’t make any long term plans.” He took a drink, licked his lips. “So he gave me your number and asked me to make you sure were informed when it happened.”

“Shit,” said Rose, wiping the back of a hand across his eyes. “We really were stupid… stubborn and stupid and intractable.” He gulped down the rest of his whisky. “My round,” he said and rose to his feet. “Same again?”

Marc finished his bottle. “I might join you in a whisky,” he said.

“Good lad.”

He sat and looked around as he waited for Rose to return with the drinks. Making mental notes, he studied the other people in the pub. It was the curse of a writer, this constant logging of minor details. He was unable to be anywhere without mentally listing character traits, quirks and twitches, even the dun colour of the wallpaper behind the heads of a chatting couple.

Most of the customers were the wrong side of middle age, but there were a few younger people present. Only about a third of the people here had been at the funeral, so Marc assumed that the rest of the group was made up of regulars and those who knew Harry but not well enough to attend the service. A bunch of kids in their early twenties occupied the bay window, talking in low tones, their faces hidden by the peaks of baseball caps. He watched a man and a woman as they kissed in the corner by the cigarette machine; her lips mashed against his teeth and Marc caught a glimpse of her tongue as it snaked into her partner’s mouth.

He wasn’t quite sure when he felt her gaze — even later, when he thought back to this moment, he could not be certain of the exact moment that he noticed her — but he gradually became aware of a vague warm sensation at the back of his head. Turning, he looked past the crowded bar and saw a tall, thin woman leaning against the wall by the jukebox. He’d caught her eye just as she looked away, but he knew that she’d been staring

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