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The Mystery Solvers of Derry

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“I can’t believe you guys nearly got run over and we missed it.”

“You don’t need to sound so excited, Michelle!” Clare grumbled, setting down the tray of hot chocolate mugs. They’d wound up skipping out on a café visit the previous day, instead choosing to hunker down in fear of the ghost-driver at the Devlin house, which was nearest.

“Did Dicko cack himself?” Michelle grinned. James rolled his eyes.

“I did not.”

“Leave him be, Michelle,” Erin sighed. “He already got an earful off his ma when we called her this morning to tell her how the flyering went.”

Michelle raised an eyebrow. “For nearly being run over by a ghost-van?”

Erin pursed her lips, glancing at James, who was expressionlessly staring down into his mug of hot chocolate. “For not getting a picture.”

Michelle looked disgusted, and thankfully changed the subject. “So what did the peelers say?”

“I honestly think they thought we were making it up,” Clare said discontentedly. “I really would have thought they’d believe us at this point, given how many other things we’ve been right about, but there it is. Either way, we didn’t get the licence plate, and I doubt there was one to begin with. If it was a ghost, it probably didn’t have to register the vehicle seeing as it’s, you know, existing on a different plane, and if it wasn’t -”

“If it wasn’t, he’s not likely going to drive around running wains over with a number on his arse we can look up and trace back to his identity,” Michelle agreed. She took a frustrated slurp of hot chocolate. “Fucking Christ, I miss the days when we could just yell ‘I know your mother!’ at the pricks to make them back off.”

As Michelle continued to bitterly expound the increased ballsiness of Derry’s ‘supernatural’ population, Erin glanced at James’s hand, clenched on the table next to her as he leaned on folded arms, and cursed her traitorous heart for skipping a beat as she reached out to brush his fingers with her own.

“Hey,” she said softly. He started, and glanced at the place where their hands met. “You alright?”

“Fine,” James replied, blinking at her. “Just… a little tired…”

Erin ignored his obvious attempt at evasion; he’d not been tired at all when they’d entered the café. “Your Ma shouldn’t have said that to you,” she muttered. “It wasn’t fair of her.”

James seemed to sink into his jumper, and Erin knew what he was going to say before he opened his mouth. “She’s my mum, Erin.”

“Mammies are not always right,” Erin informed him sternly, squeezing his hand. “Case in point, my ma and Aunt Sarah still buy me and Orla matching outfits for Christmas. Just ‘cause she’s your ma, it doesn’t mean she’s right to tell you off for not gettin’ a photograph of the ghost van that tried to feckin’ kill us .”

The corner of James’s mouth curved up slightly, and he shifted his hand so she wasn’t patting it anymore so much as holding it. Erin forced down the sudden heat that threatened to rise in her cheeks and stroked her thumb gently across his knuckles. “Thanks, Erin,” he said, his voice quiet but full of gratitude so genuine that it made Erin’s heart ache for him. How could Kathy Maguire live with herself after treating him this way?

“How come you’re holdin’ James’s hand, Erin?” Orla inquired abruptly. Erin narrowed her eyes, remembering the implications Orla had drawn from her last read of Erin’s diary.

“His ma’s bein’ a dick again.”

“Hey!” James complained, but made no effort to extricate his hand from hers.

Orla looked disappointed. “Oh. I thought -”

“So how was your date with Con Kearney?” Erin asked loudly, before anything catastrophic and life-ruining could be spoken aloud.

Orla lit up. “Oh, it was soooooooo cracker, Erin! He brought me a bouquet of plastic straws!”

Clare tilted her head and wrinkled her nose. “Come again?”

“Drinkin’ straws, like. For them to melt together with their lighters,” Michelle clarified.

“Finally, evidence that something can be horrifying and sweet at the same time,” James mumbled.

“I was a bit worried he wasn’t going to show up, y’know, ‘cause he was really late to Chicago Pizza Pie Factory, but he was just havin’ some trouble gettin’ enough straws for the bouquet.”

“Pizza pie, that’s romantic,” Erin snarked.

“It’s the most romantic dinner in Derry yeh can afford without a fucking trust fund,” Michelle pointed out. “Well, second-most romantic, but we’re still banned from Fionnuala’s.”

“You’re kidding, right?” James said flatly. Michelle, Orla, Clare, and Erin all shook their heads.

“The way to any Derry girl’s heart is a fish supper that’s been properly salted,” Clare said seriously. James made a face.

“I’m doomed, then,” he muttered. Michelle looked like a shark that had scented blood.

“Oh my fucking god, you fucking fancy someone!” she hissed. James’s doomed expression abruptly changed to that of a hunted deer.

“No I don’t!”

“Jesus fucking Christ on wheels, you do! You absolutely fucking do!”

“I don’t!”

“Who is it, James?” Clare inquired, more politely than Michelle but just as nosey. “You can tell us, I promise we won’t judge.”

“I promise nothing,” Michelle muttered.

“I don’t fancy anyone!” James insisted. “I swear!”

James stared imploringly at Michelle and Clare, eyes wide, and they stared back at him, disbelieving and gossip-hungry, but Orla was staring right at Erin, who hurried to school her face into something neutral and disinterested, praying to every relevant saint she could think of that her expression had not mimicked the upset sinking sensation in her chest. But Orla’s gaze wasn’t nosey for once - her empathetic disappointment was clearly visible, and try as she might to ignore it, it was impossible for Erin to pretend she hadn’t caught sight of the flicker of pity in her cousin’s hazel eyes.

“Would you keep it down!” someone hissed, and Michelle broke off to glare up at the person looming over their table: Granda Joe’s bingo-and-pub-quiz nemesis, Maureen Malarkey.

“Some people come here to relax in peace an’ quiet, not listen to the unladylike shouting of wee halions like yerself,” the old woman grouched. “Far too much freedom it is, wains thinkin’ they can run wild wherever they want, not a thought fer anyone else. Then again,” she added, critically looking over Erin and Orla, “you’d be Joe McCool’s granddaughters, wouldn’t you? It’s a pity the ill manners seem to run in the family.”

The five friends had been scowling up at Mrs Malarkey throughout this little outburst, and upon the insult towards Granda Joe, Michelle put up her well-exercised middle finger at the woman, who spluttered furiously and shuffled out, glaring back at them.

“Old bitch,” Michelle muttered.

“That was out of line,” Clare agreed. “I pray to God I’m not that horrid when I reach that age.”

“You could never be that horrid, Clare,” Orla reassured her. “You’re like an anxiety-flavoured cupcake with sparkly rainbow icing.”

Clare blinked. “Th…thank you?”

“You know, that got me thinkin’ there,” Orla continued, slurping the last of her hot chocolate. “What if Maureen Malarkey was the ghost driver? She hates wains enough.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Erin muttered, but Michelle was nodding slowly, her familiar mischievous grin spreading across her face.

“You might be onto something there, Orla. Maybe her son’s sent her something over from America that she’s usin’ to drive the van! He sent her that magic pen, didn’t he?”

“He did,” Orla confirmed. “Granda’s still ripping about it.”

Clare looked sceptical. “What would he send her that could drive a van?”

“I don’t know, some kind of robot maybe. Our Ryan told me they have all this cracker technology in America that they’ve not brought over here yet.”

“If Maureen Malarkey had a robot, would she really be usin’ it to run down wains in Derry backstreets, Michelle, I mean, come on…”

As Clare and Michelle continued to argue about the likelihood of Maureen Malarkey using American technology to try to kill children with a ghost van, Erin found herself filled with a rare gratitude towards Orla, who was now occasionally chiming into the debate in between fishing for marshmallows from her drained mug. Moving to sip her own drink, Erin realised abruptly that she was still holding James’s hand, and at this, let go of his fingers as if they’d burned her. He shot her a swift, concerned look (mingled with something that looked a bit like his disappointed face, but what would he have to be disappointed about?) and she covered her clumsy move by wrapping both hands around her still-warm mug and drinking deeply, telling herself that it was a good thing he fancied someone else. Or at least, it ought to be.

It would make it much easier to not fancy him herself.

 


 

Erin’s Diary

8th September

11am

I finally have a moment to myself to write; we’re in the library going through bloody internet records of white vans involved in serious accidents in the last few months. The idea behind this is

  1. It’s generally easier to fake a haunting with some basis in fact behind it.
  2. Orla and Michelle are hoping for confirmation that Maureen Malarkey had close enough proximity to an accident to turn it into the basis of a haunting.

I reckon the girls can handle it between them for now. So, Orla, if you’re reading this (which you shouldn’t be!) please at least keep this bit to yourself. Because it’s embarrassing, and I don’t need the girls finding out about this.

ESPECIALLY JAMES.

Okay. Here goes. I think you were right. No, scratch that. You were right.

I fancy James.

Which is ridiculous, because he’s English. (See list overleaf. Oh, Christ, I really went with ‘reasons fancying James would be a good/bad idea’, not ‘evidence I do/don’t fancy him’. God.) But what’s worse is that…

He fancies someone else.

I should have seen this coming, right? He fancied Katya and she’s basically my complete opposite. All dark hair and makeup and clothes and straightforward (if completely incorrect) opinions. And she wasn’t from Derry either. James has made it pretty clear that he finds everything about Derry weird.

That probably includes me.

I need to just get over this. It’s stupid. The only thing worse than being ‘the girl who fancies her best friend’ is being ‘the girl who fancies her best friend who doesn’t fancy her back’.

At the sound of approaching footsteps, Erin slammed her diary shut and whipped it into her pocket, lest someone catch a glimpse of the embarrassing truth she’d just admitted to. Fortunately, it was not one of her friends. Unfortunately, it was someone she was even less pleased to see.

Tina O’Connell stuck her pointed nose in the air upon sighting Erin. “What,” she sneered, “holed up in the library instead of out threatenin’ first years or hangin’ about with your thick-as-shit cousin?”

“Orla’s not thick,” Erin replied coldly, reminding herself that reaching across the table and throttling Tina would be a mistake in several different aspects. “Don’t you have a sister to watch terrorising some poor wains somewhere?”

“She’s goin’ a square-go with Rhonda Gallagher later,” Tina said, sounding quite bored. “Wouldn’t miss that. But I’ve got this fucking pointless history homework and I don’t fancy a detention if I leave it. I’ve seen the fannies who get themselves detention, and I don’t fancy joinin’ you.” She left with a smirk, and Erin scowled after her.

Arrogant wee brat, she thought. She was just reaching for her diary again, replaying the conversation with Tina in her head so she could complain about it properly, when something the girl had said flicked a switch in her brain.

She’s goin’ a square-go with Rhonda Gallagher later…

A square-go with Rhonda Gallagher…

Rhonda Gallagher.

Indeed, if Erin had been a cartoon character, a little yellow lightbulb would have appeared, glowing, above her head.

“Girls,” she hissed, hurrying back to the computer her friends were clustered around. “I’ve thought of something -”

“Where the fuck have you been?” Michelle demanded, sounding more confused than cross. “I thought you were right behind me.”

Erin subconsciously straightened her jacket to hide the diary-shaped bulge in the inner pocket. “Thinkin’,” she said, deeming it the answer least likely to arouse suspicion or diary-violation. “I ran into Tina O’Connell, though, and she gave me an idea…”

“That wee dick?” Michelle raised an eyebrow. Next to her, Clare looked equally bemused by this announcement. Orla was working on a piece of candy necklace; Erin forced herself not to glance at James.

“It was just something she said, and it made things click. Why would anyone bother settin’ up a ‘haunted van’ in the first place? If they just wanted to scare folk away from the area, why not dress up as a normal ghost? Why use a van?”

Michelle squinted at her; Orla looked up from her candy necklace with a frown. Erin could feel James’s eyes on her, but she kept her own gaze on Clare, whose eyes had widened dramatically, clearly having sensed where Erin was going.

“Storage!” Erin explained excitedly. “Vans have loads of storage in the back, and you can move a whole bunch of stuff around the city in it. Whoever it is is probably using it to smuggle stuff out of Derry, or into Derry, who knows, but it’s a perfect plan! And who would be smugglin’ stuff around here?”

Michelle had caught on too, her mouth open in a perfectly round O. “You don’t think…”

Erin grinned victoriously, nodding. “I think the ghost van is smuggling weapons for the IRA.”