It was the Tuesday before Christmas Day when The Case if the Cock-Headed Man walked into No Alibis, the finest mystery bookstore in all of, um, Belfast.
In some ways he was lucky to get me, because with business being so quiet I had resorted to letting my mother woman the till for that short part of the day when she could manage to keep off the booze, i.e. between the hours of nine and eleven twenty-nine in the morning. If he had walked in ten minutes earlier he would have walked straight out again, because while still undoubtedly sober, Mother is not one for suffering fools or anyone gladly and she's gotten ten times worse since her stroke. She has always been ugly and mean, but she used to restrict her glares and tempers and violence and sarcasm to members of her immediate family, but since the stroke she has expanded her circle of viciousness to include distant cousins, vague acquaintances, most other members of the human race and several dogs. Mother is wired differently to you or me. A stroke usually affects just one side of the body, but she has lost the power in her right leg and left arm, making her appear lopsided from whatever angle you care to look at her, although most people don't, and stagger from side to side like the drunk she is when she tries to walk. It is funny to watch her. When she's drinking she now only has to consume half as much as before to get legless. And half of that again usually drools out of her mouth on to her blouse, because another side effect of the stroke is the loss of all feeling in her lower lip.