Chapter Three

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Uma noticed out of the corner of her eye, that Troy Jackson was watching her intently. He sat with the fishermen who'd witnessed Tarah's death and their wives. It was unnerving. Once, Uma even missed a note because she caught him staring at her. Did Tarah's twin know about their relationship? Even though Troy lived overseas, and their interests diverged, the twins were quite close. It stood to reason that Tarah might have told him about her affair with Uma. If he knew, did he not approve?

Before the funeral, Uma and Troy hadn't seen each other since they were seventeen. Back then, Troy was an easygoing, intelligent sort. That gleam of intelligence was still there but there was something stern about the look in his piercing eyes. Ten years was a long time, she mused silently, and people do change.

Strutting his stuff in brown slacks, a blazing white dress shirt, and new-looking dress shoes, Troy was debonair without trying. He kept his dreadlocks tied back into a neat ponytail, which unsettled Tarah because it made the resemblance between him and Tarah seem so much more pronounced.

She saw Rosa, Evan's wife, a born and raised local, beckoning to her from the kitchen.

Rosa, who was plump and lovely, and wore her thick black hair in neat cornrows, gave Uma a pleading look as she approached. "The cow head soup is finally ready," she said breathlessly. "Could you help us serve?"

Uma understood Rosa's desperation. Cow head soup was a popular local delicacy and everyone on the pub would want a bowl. "Of course," she managed a smile. "I can help."

She went into the kitchen where several men and women were busy over boiling pots and grabbed a tray from the pile on the counter.

"Here comes the first bowl," said a young man Uma recognized as Gavin, the sous chef from the restaurant on Baker street.

He scooped a ladle full of soup into a round white bowl and pushed it toward Uma, who placed it on the tray. Then he scooped another ladle full.

"Quite a crowd," he commented chattily.

"Yeah," Uma gifted him a ghost of a smile. "Tarah was well-loved."

"She was one of my favorite customers," Gavin said. He stirred the pot and dipped the ladle into the soup pot again. "She will be missed."

Uma could tell by the way his expression softened, he was being honest and not just saying it out of courtesy for the dead. Bolstered by this seemingly simple exchange, Uma brought the loaded tray out into the pub. She made a beeline for the table where Troy was sitting.

"Cow head soup?" She offered. "As I recall, it was an old favorite of yours."

Troy smiled up at her and nodded. "You remembered."

"Yeah," Uma grinned reluctantly. "I remember a lot of things."

Uma served up a bowl to Mack and his wife Clarice and to Maurice Maguire, the lanky fellow who'd moved to the seaside village from the mountains to become a fisherman five years ago.

Once her tray was emptied, Uma turned to go back to the kitchen for more but before she could leave, Otis Meyers came staggering over. He was an unsavory sort. Disheveled. Mean. Perpetually drunk.

"I saw it," he slurred loudly. "The monster took her. Right off the deck o' the ship."

Uma's heart lurched. "What did you say?"

"Tarah." The man blinked, red watery eyed. "It snatched her right off the deck!"

"What's this guy talking about?" Came a voice behind Uma.

Uma's head whipped around. She hadn't noticed Troy walk up to stand behind her. He was looking to the fishermen who looked at each other then to the floor.

"Otis is just a drunk." Mack spluttered. "You can't take anything he says seriously."

"Otis," Troy addressed the drunken man in a quiet voice. "Maybe you've had enough to drink tonight."

"I saw it!" Otis jabbed at the air towards Uma. "Looked it right in the eye!" He started cackling drunkenly. "Ain't enough drink on this island to make me forget it."

The room went silent. All eyes were on Uma, Troy, and Otis. The tension that filled the air was so thick, Uma thought she'd choke on it.

"You wanna come up in here and try to make a mockery of my sister's death?" Troy advanced on the older man.

"Troy," Uma pleaded. "Otis is just a drunk. He doesn't mean anything by it."

"So what?" Troy frowned down at her. When did he get so tall? "You think I should just laugh it off and let it go? You think it's funny? You think this is a joke?"

"You know I don't!" Uma's eyes blazed. "Fine," She pushed past Troy and the teetering drunk. "You two can hash it out for all I care."

She didn't catch whatever it was that Otis said next. There was a loud thwack! Then Otis was on his ass, clutching at his bloody nose.

"Ow!" He yelled. "You broke it!"

"That's enough!" Mack jumped to his feet and grabbed Troy by the arm. "Somebody please, clean this drunken idiot up and get him out of here!" He begged the gaping crowd as he propelled Tarah's angry brother outside. "Jesus, Troy! Get a hold of yourself!"

Just like that, the festive mood that had irked Uma drained out of the air. Guests started leaving one by one, precious cow head soup be damned. Uma went back to the kitchen.

"Looks like the party's over." She looked around the kitchen. There were still pots of food waiting to be served. "What'll you do with all this food?"

"Don't worry," said Rosa. "Guess what'll be on top of the pub's menu for the next three days?" She came over and took the tray from Uma. "Thanks so much for your help, Darling. Why don't you get some rest? You look like you could use it."

On her way out, Uma snagged a bottle of Disaronno from the unmanned bar. Evan would surely miss it, but he'd have a pretty good idea of who took it too. Uma didn't know of anyone else in the village who drank the stuff. Evan had only started stocking it after she'd asked.

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