Extract from The Grass Tattoo by Catriona King

An extract from The Grass Tattoo by Belfast author Catriona King

Maggie stared across the white portico’ed square, bored. Wednesdays always bored her; they lacked the prison-break excitement of a Friday, or even the long-suffering martyrdom of a Monday. They were just boring.

It was a cold, wet Belfast morning, and she would happily have stayed in bed, reliving last night’s dream of Christian Bale, mask and all. Why they expected her in for eight she’d never understand! Nothing worthwhile ever happened this early; every journalist knew that.

She pulled a soggy pencil out of her moth, examining it slowly for an unchewed portion, and then popped it back in, satisfied, returning to her view. At least that wasn’t boring.

A full wall of windows extended her cubby-hole of an office via a trompe-l’oeil, across the wide piazza of St Anne’s Square. A little known gem set deep in Belfast’s city centre, behind its namesake Cathedral.

What had once been elderly banks and offices had morphed in the city’s buzzing Cathedral quarter, with a myriad of new additions to the arts and entertainment scene. There were hotels and restaurants, theatres and galleries, clubs, and coffee houses in the old style. It was a western Mecca for the tourists who poured in from all over the world. Belfast was booming, and this time for the right reasons.

She glanced idly across the elegant vista, planning her next coffee break and noticed a lithely handsome man entering the Metropolitan Arts Centre opposite, its lean, arrowed stone and glass fitting perfectly into the square’s smooth design.

The man looked…well, she wasn’t actually sure what he looked, but he looked something, and he made her feel shy somehow, without knowing why. Then she realised what it was – he looked arty. Art men had always attracted her, and made her shy. There was something so uncontrolled about them, and she liked to be in control.

He sensed her gaze and smiled up at the window, in a reckless, Christmassy way. She could feel her blush rising, but before she could react by hiding or waving, her desk phone ran noisily, reminding her that she was at work.

She grudgingly removed her pencil and lifted the receiver just as he disappeared through the centre’s sliding doors. Another failed romance.

‘Hello, Derry…’

She stopped herself abruptly, remembering that she had left the Derry Telegraph two months earlier, and then started again.

‘Belfast Chronicle news desk, Maggie Clarke speaking.’

The line was quiet apart from a faint clatter of crockery and murmured voices in the background. She imagined the caller in an up-market cafe.

She tried again. ‘Hello, news desk. Can I help you?’

Again, quiet. But now there came the sound of breathing and it occurred to her that it might be a prank: her kid sister ‘nuisancing’ her during a free class. She was just about to say ‘Kim’ accusingly, when the caller finally spoke. he voice surprised her. It was a man’s voice, strong and deep, and at another time she might even have said sexy. But the main surprise came from its accent, formed many miles from Belfast.

‘You will find Irene Leighton at your Stormont.’