I didn’t really know if Tabitha was her real name, she and I had traded only a few e-mails over the previous weeks. I never asked for her last name and mostly just talked about the details of my visit. I’d been introduced to her after mentioning online somewhere that I was planning to visit Cork on my next trip to Ireland and was hoping someone might have some recommendations. A few people suggested things to see or places to stay, and someone suggested I meet up with a friend of theirs who could show me around. The introduction was brief but as the date of my trip got closer we talked more frequently. Mostly loose planning– I’d email her once I was settled in my hotel and we’d meet up for drinks later that evening. It wasn’t a date, simply she and some friends often met up near where I was staying and I was welcome to join them in wherever the evening might lead.
I flew into Cork from Amsterdam. It was raining, I heard it does that a lot in Cork. My flight was early and I still wasn’t sure what timezone my body was in so I went straight to the hotel for a midday rest. I sent Tabitha a message that I’d arrived and asked for confirmation and the details about the evenings festivities. Then I crashed. Hard. I laid down for what I thought would be a 30 or 40 minute nap and woke up 6 hours later, though it felt like only moments. When I woke up I found that she’d replied and the plan was to meet up around 7pm at Mulligan’s Pub which as promised was barely a block from the front steps of my hotel. About the same time I read this I noticed my clock telling me it was almost time to meet already. I could see through the window it was already dark and still pretty wet so I grabbed my coat and headed out.
Outside it was doing that really annoying mist/rain you are often faced with around Europe. I didn’t have an umbrella but pulling up my jacket collar did a pretty good job of keeping me dry for the short walk. I got to Mulligan’s and found the place to be mostly empty. As the name might suggest it was a typical Irish pub that you might find in a larger city nestled between a bunch of hotels. I’m not trying to suggest it was boring, just that by looking through the windows it looked exactly like every other Irish pub I’d been to in many places around the world that weren’t Ireland. Either those other places were damn faithful recreations or Mulligan’s was trying to meet travelers expectations. My first thought was that I was too early, perhaps I’d set my clock wrong in this new timezone and showed up an hour early. Since I didn’t really know anyone I was supposed to meet being the first on there felt a little odd so I decided to keep walking and made my way to a bookshop a few storefronts down. The shop owner confirmed my watch was correct so I decided to kill some time browsing the books while I waited for others to show up. I walked past stacks of Joyce, Swift and Beckett which again seemed to be tailored specifically to what tourists visiting the city might be looking for.
I wasted about 20 minutes in the shop before returning to the pub to find it much like I’d left it, still short of anything you’d call a gathering. Upon walking in I noticed a girl about halfway down the dark wood and polished brass bar which ran the entire length of the place that I assumed correctly to be Tabitha. I introduced myself. She seemed relieved and explained that her other friends has canceled on her and she was just speculating with the obligatory white shirt black tie wearing bartender if I was going to stand her up as well. I ordered a drink to prove I wasn’t planning to turn around and leave her there alone. She told me how throughout the day her friends had canceled one by one and she’d considered just telling me it was off altogether but didn’t want to ditch me my first night in a new city. I said I appreciated it and made some jokes about how I’d never trust her friends again though. I’m not sure the sarcasm translated.
We continued our small talk and I offered to buy the next round. She noted that she’d only been drinking lime in soda water but if I was up for it we could relocate to a bar with a little more local flavor. I was happy to hear that the place we were in wasn’t the best Cork had to offer and accepted. I left some Euros for the bartender and upon looking outside was delighted to find that the mist had turned into full fledged rain. Luckily Tabitha had an umbrella large enough for us to share as it turned out we were walking to the next pub. On the walk she informed me that the place we’d just been was the default pub to meet visitors but where we were headed was actually the place she preferred to hang out. It didn’t have a name because about a year ago it had been shut down for health code violations and the owners had simply boarded up the windows, removed the sign, and then stayed open for business. Anytime the health inspectors would come by asking questions they’d simply claim to be hosting a private party of friends and employees and not technically open to the public. Half the time this would work, the other half of the time everyone would be kicked out and they’d remain closed for a few days until the owners felt it was safe and opened back up again.
Before going nameless it had been known as The Filthy Bastard or something equally awesome.
Yes, this sounded much more interesting already.
We walked for about 20 minutes before getting there and it was about as rundown as I’d hoped. By now it was very dark and this part of town seemed void of streetlights. With most of the storefronts on the street being sealed behind spray paint covered security gates that didn’t look like they’d been opened in months, the lights and loud music coming from this unnamed pub was hard to miss. The moment I stepped inside I knew Tabitha’s stories about the joint being shut down were legit. There were holes in the half painted red walls, which looked like they could have been the result of someone falling or more likely being thrown into them. Some holes had band posters them that had been duct taped on to partially cover them. This was a half ass attempt at best, but still had some unique charm. The sound system was a boombox sitting on the bar which itself was nothing more than raw plywood and 2x4s. Due to the humidity from the rain and poor ventilation inside everything was a bit damp, though given the make up of the place I wasn’t convinced that under other circumstances it would feel any different. The other patrons, of which there were many, were dressed mostly in black and there was no shortage of exposed tattoos. This may have frightened some people but it actually reminded me of many of my favorite places in the US. This place was gross, but in a way it was far more comfortable than the pomp and show pub we’d just left.
We made our way to an empty spot on one end of the bar. Tabitha mentioned that her friend was working so the drinks would likely be free, then took my order and went to say Hello. I noticed her pointing me out to the bartender. I assumed she was rattling off any of a a list of complements, safe bet right? She returned a few minutes later with my drink and a water for her – that was when I started to think something was a little odd. Going to bars had been her idea, I’d suggested coffee, yet this was now the second bar of her choosing and she’d been drinking water the whole time. Who turns down non-alcoholic hang out options in favor of alcoholic options but then doesn’t partake in said alcoholic options? I didn’t know, but it was enough to get my attention.
She told me more about the pub while we sat there with our drinks. Bands sometimes played there and the current owner had taken over when the original owner disappeared a few years ago. As we talked I noticed she kept checking the time on her phone, and offered me several more drinks which I declined. By now I was more than a little suspicious, call it spidey senses or whatever but something just felt off. I wasn’t sure what for, but it seemed very much like Tabitha was waiting, or expecting something.
At exactly 11pm she grabbed her bag and said she’d had a lovely evening but now had to leave due to an early shift at her job the following day. “Luckily, my car is parked right around the corner and since it’s still raining and I’m going that direction I’d be happy to drop you back at your hotel” she offered. When I accepted she added “We have to walk through a dark alley to get there, but don’t worry I’m not going to try to jump you.” That was the first time the thought had crossed my mind and I laughed off the suggestion but I started connecting some dots on my own which made me think it might not have been such a silly suggestion. The drinks, the far away dive bar with her car conveniently located nearby were all questionable in their own right but there was another piece that I hadn’t assumed to be part of this puzzle until just now.
Two months prior to this I’d received some negative comments on an blog post I’d written – feedback which had quickly turned threatening. Someone calling themselves “Union” started off by suggesting I was lucky not to be in the same country with him or he would have to find me in person and make his displeasure very clear to me. I’d ignored it at the time, as I always do with these kinds of vague internet threats. Thinking back now though, I remembered that in his last comment he said he would be keeping an eye out for me when I was passing through his neighborhood in the future. We had traced the IP address he was posting with back to Ireland. I hadn’t thought about this since it happened but suddenly it was all I could think about.
The article was about a body that had been found in a dumpster in Los Angeles. More specifically it was about the media coverage of a body that had been found in a dumpster in Los Angeles. There was a long history of of shoddy coverage of these kinds of things, mostly due to one outlet trying to beat the others to reporting something shocking. In doing so they’d post stories with literally no details, and I’d written an article making fun of that fact. This commenter, Union, claimed to be a relative of the deceased and was none to pleased at my making light of the situation. He’d gone so far as to say he would make my family feel the same pain he had, which could be taken as a death threat. I’d ignored the threats and the situation because my article was clearly mocking the media, I hadn’t named any names, and honestly people talk a lot of shit online that they would never think of doing in person. I’d filed these comments in the same place as others I’d received in the past, in my “forget immediately” file.
Could this really be related? It seemed like an overly complex plan if it was some kind of set up, and who keeps a grudge like that over comments online anyway? I told myself there was no way it could be connected but I wasn’t putting a lot of stock in my own reasoning at that point. Tabitha and I walked down the street and into a long dark alley as she had promised. We were still talking but I can’t remember about what, all I remember was trying to listen though our voices and through the rain for the sound of anyone else around us and convince myself I was over reacting. This became easier when we got to the end of the alley and in fact found her car just where she said it would be. As we quickly climbed and and got out of the rain I told myself how silly I was being for even considering something was up.
Even so, Tabitha seemed to be acting weird. This was my expert opinion after knowing her for all of 4 hours. If it seems like the conversation has been light so far that’s because it has, we barely talked about anything all night. Passing small talk about whatever happened to be right in front of us at the time or throw away travel stories but not much else. As soon as we got in the car she changed tone completely and basically turned into a tour guide. Every building and street we passed she had a story about and provided me some bit of history, if it wasn’t so totally different than our conversation for the rest of the night it would have been interesting. We turned right onto the street where my hotel was I thanked her for a fun evening and pointed ahead to which hotel I was staying at.
And she drove right past it.
Without even slowing down.
* This post is part of a series of serialized posts that would have been chapters in a book I never finished writing. I’m calling it ‘Bits and Pieces’ at the moment. Click here for info about this as well as links to the other stories/chapters.