Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Thirty Pieces of Silver - Jimmy Gets Squeezed

Jimmy only needed to drive by the Garrison to know he was in big trouble. A cordon of heavily armed officers were searching every car that tried to enter or exit the road and his own house looked like the scene of a movie shoot. There were cars and vans all over the place and a constant stream of officers were leaving his home with sealed evidence sacks. He didn't even consider stopping, even if they found nothing they would keep him tied up for hours or even days. The way things stood with Kenny and the Griffins he needed to be on top of things. He drove on intent on checking his other businesses. He racked his brain trying to remember what had been at the house and if there was anything incriminating to be found. He was normally very careful about covering his tracks but he had been distracted over the last few days and this raid was the last thing he had expected. The more he thought about things the more he felt he was in the clear, but there was a nugget of doubt that would not go away.

As he drove by each of his shops he found a similar scene unfolding. More police, more computers and records being loaded into cars and vans. They were going all out to pin something on him, that was for sure. His last call was to his accountant's office. If Jimmy was being honest with himself, he didn't have much time for the man, but he was a necessary evil. He parked his car up the street and walked the last hundred yards to the office building. He soon spotted his overweight balding accountant standing on the street outside his office while several pretty office workers stood beside him. The man was a sleaze and Jimmy wondered how the women put up with his ogling and lewd comments. I guess they knew him for what he was, a spineless limp-dick.  A grim faced guard stood on the front step, Jimmy continued his walk with his hands pushed deep into his coat pockets, his collar turned up against the breeze. The clouds boiling above the city had thickened and were turning dark. Jimmy could feel the first few cool touches of moisture on the tips of his ears, the harbinger of rain to come. He angled his path so he would pass between the Guard and the accountant. He was nearly on top of the group when the accountant spotted him. The man’s mouth opened and Jimmy threw him a savage look which killed any words on his lips. He gave a flick of his head which said, Follow, then continued on up the street.

As he waited at a crosswalk for the light to turn green his puffing accountant caught up and moved in beside him. Despite the chill in the air the man was starting to sweat.

“What’s going on?” asked the number cruncher running his hand across his forehead.

“What the hell does it look like?” snarled Jimmy under his breath without looking at the man. The light on the crosswalk turned green and they moved on as if walking in the same direction. "What are they going to turn up in that rubbish tip you call an office?"

“Nothing! Nothing that they shouldn’t find anyway. I did exactly as you told me, I processed your business lodgements and expenses as they were presented and didn't look too hard at anything.”

“What exactly were they looking for?”

"They didn't tell me much, more or less pushed me out of the office and slapped a search warrant on me."

"Try and remember if there was anything shandy in the books. These lads are out to nail me to the cross."

“Well, there's all your banking details. Your business accounts, the daily cash payments from each business, all the purchases. Everything is up to date. You are VAT compliant, tax returns are up to date, all the wages are above board, rates are paid on the nine properties…”

“Hang on,” said Jimmy, stopping and taking the man by the elbow, “I only have eight shops.”

“There's the warehouse as well,” stammered the man.

“I paid for the warehouse out of my own pocket, it had nothing to do with the shops!”

“How was I to know that? All I know is that a rate demand came in a bundle of post from one of your places and I paid it along with a few other council charges. I wrote it off against the profits. I thought you would be glad.”

“You idiot!”

“It was just a rate cheque,” said the man trying to shrug out of Jimmy's grip.  A tightening band of panic wrapped itself around his chest and began to squeeze, he could hear the blood rushing through his ears as it raced up to bring oxygen to his failing brain. There it was, the crack in his dam which could bring his whole operation crashing down around him. He had been shipping in drugs and arms to that warehouse for a few years and any one of them could have been traced by the Gardai or even Interpol. Jimmy felt his vision blur slightly and had to shake his head to get his eyes adjusted, unfortunatly they focused on the man who might have ruined him.

Jimmy's fist shot out as fast as a vipers strike and the only reason the second punch missed its mark was because the accountant had crumpled to the ground as soon as the first one landed.

"You madman, you hit me," cried the man as he cupped his bleeding nose. Jimmy kicked out at him and the fat office worker squirmed away on his elbows.

"What's the point," Jimmy said to himself and turned away.

“It was deductible!” yelled the accountant.

That was when Jimmy turned back and landed a half dozen solid blows as the man did his best to curl into a ball. He was panting hard when he moved away and people gave him a wide berth on the street. From behind him he heard the bleeding sniveling heap of suit puddled on the footpath whimper “deductible” as if it was the answer to everything.


Jimmy strode past the accountant's office without giving the gaggle of secretaries or the guard a glance. It was only a matter of time before they found those deductibles and were lead straight to the warehouse. For once the Griffin’s might have done him a favour. If they'd not hit his courier, he'd never have moved his operation. There would have been millions in uncut drugs, a whole arsenal of weapons and God knows what else waiting to be discovered. Even now there was more than enough trace evidence to cause him bother as well as all the paperwork from the deliveries he had brought in labeled as car parts. That paperwork would lead them to his contacts in Europe and if that happened he would be finished, they would never do business with him again. If the right copper got nosey enough there was no telling where that one deductible may lead.

He reached the car and started it up. He wanted to get back to the hospital and let Kathleen know what was going on, he also had to get Pete out to that warehouse and deal with the evidence. He had only eased into the heavy morning traffic when the petrol warning light flashed on the dashboard. It was not his day. He had to go a mile out of his way to find a petrol station. He popped open the fuel tank lid and filled up while his mind ran through all the problems he was facing. When the pump clicked in his hand he secured the cap and went to the shop without even checking the amount on the clock. The little porta-cabin that acted as a shop was dirty and grease marked. Behind a small counter a teenage boy lazed with his feet thrown up on a gas heater, he was reading a music magazine that looked far too loud for Jimmy's liking. He took out his wallet and placed his credit card on the counter. The boy signed as he stood up but his fingers flew across the buttons on the keypad with practiced efficiency and the card was slid into the slot on the bottom. He spun the keypad so it faced Jimmy and said, "You're number, Bud." Jimmy punched in his four digit pass code followed by the green enter button. The machine paused for a moment then spat out a small slip of paper which the boy read.

"Declined," was all he said, it was said in a tone of voice that made it clear that nothing in this world suprised him any more.

“Do it again,” Jimmy said scowling at the attendant.

“Declined, again,” said the kid handing back his card.

“Ridiculous,” said Jimmy digging through his wallet and tossed a hundred euro on the counter. He stormed off without waiting for his change. By the time he reached the car he knew what had happened. The scumbags at CAB had frozen his accounts. He had every credit card know to man in his wallet but they wouldn't get him the steam from a cup of coffee. He flicked through the cash in his pockets which came to three hundred and eighty quid. It wouldn’t get him to the end of the week. He needed to get money and he needed it now.  That was when his next big problem came to mind. He had millions burred on an old abandoned farm in the Wicklow mountains. The farm had belonged to distant relative of Pete's and when the old man had passed away, Jimmy acquired the land. It was his secret stash. The thing was, that's where he moved the drugs and guns to after the Griffins hit his shipment. Now all his eggs were in one basket and there was no way he could go near the place with all this heat on him. He was back on the road again when the solution to his cash flow issue occurred to him, Joey.

Jimmy pulled into the side of the road and dialed Joey’s number. As the phone rang as the first heavy rain drops dive-bombed his windscreen. The call was answered on the third ring which was good, at least the boy wasn't trying to hide from him. Before he could even get a word out Joey was babbling.

“Jimmy I’m so very very sorry. You know there's no way I'd ever do anything…”

“Calm down, Joey, take a breath,” he said trying to sound friendly. He didn’t want to send the kid running. He heard the boy take a few deep breaths trying to get rid of the shake in his voice. Jimmy could hear traffic in the background so where ever he was, he was still in the city.

“Better?” he asked.

“Yes, thanks,” said Joey who sounded like a whipped puppy.

“Pete told me what happened.”

“And you know I will pay back every cent!” pleaded the boy, the shake was back in his voice. Jimmy thought he might even be crying.

“He told me that as well but there might be no need. Do you know who has your sister?”

“No,” the boy said, this time Jimmy could actually hear the sobs in his chest. “He's going to ring later and tell me where to go.”

“I know who has her and I am going to help get her back for you,” said Jimmy throwing the drounding boy a life line. All he had to do was grab on and get pulled in.

“You’ll do that for me?” the change in his voice was miraculous.

“Of course, Joey, why wouldn’t I.” said Jimmy but as soon as the words were out of his mouth he knew he had said too much.

“Well...” said Joey and Jimmy could imagine him running through all the thousand reasons Jimmy Kingston wouldn't help him. He had to try and reassure the boy and quick.

“Look, this guy is serous, and you’re only a kid. You’re out of your depth. Tell me where you are and I'll come meet him with you. He won’t be so flash when he is facing me I can tell you.”

“I don’t know…” The boy was wavering, standing on the edge not knowing whether to jump or walk away.

“Joey, don’t you trust me?”

“Of course, Jimmy. Of course I trust you but she's my sister. I can’t take any chances. He said he'd kill her.”

“And he will, Joey. You can be sure he will, unless you turn the tables on him. It’s the only way.”
A long silence followed, so long Jimmy thought the connection had broken.

“Look, Joey…” Those simple words seemed to make up the boys mind.

“I can’t! I’m sorry Jimmy. I have to do what he says. I’ll pay you back every cent, on my life!”

“Joey!”

It was too late, he was shouting into an empty line.

“Fucker!” Jimmy yelled smashing his hand against the steering wheel. That was the moment the heavens opened and rain thundered on the roof like a thousand tiny drummers calling him to hell. Jimmy looked through the rivers of water flowing over the windscreen as disjointed shadows ran for shelter. It was as if the world were populated by specters, and they were all out to get him. The walls were crushing in on him from all sides and he could see no light at the end of the tunnel. He had never felt such a blanket of doom rest over him before, it was hopeless utterly hopeless.


On the drive back to the hospital Jimmy explored every avenue of escape in his mind and found them all blocked. By the time he parked the car he knew there was nothing he could do to stop the coppers finding the warehouse, the only thing he could do was send Pete over to make sure it was as clean as possible. His stash should be safe for the moment but he would have to bide his time in using it. The real heart of the problem was the Griffins and this bloody war. That was what started it all. On the drive over he had made some big decisions and had a plan of sorts. It was a crazy plan and a desperate move. The fact was, he was now a desperate man.


Nothing much had changed with Kenny except that the doctors said they were happy with his progress and were going to reduce the sedatives and start bringing him round. When he told Kathleen what was going on she took the news in her stride. That was Jimmy's business and Kenny was hers. He always admired the way she could compartmentalize the different parts of her life and get on with things. After a while he went out and joined Pete who was sitting on a chair in the corridor. The big man was silent as always, only saying what was needed to be said. Pete never wasted words. When Jimmy was sure there was nobody listening he said, “CAB are all over the place, they could be hitting you soon?”

“I'm sorted, Boss they will find nothing on me.”

“They know about the warehouse.”

“What?”

“That grease ball accountant only went and declared a rate payment on the company books.”

“That is a hell of a fuck up.”

“You’re telling me. I need you to get a few boy's over there and clean it up, burn the fucking place to the ground if you need to.”

“Right anyway.”

“Before you go, have you a piece on you?”

“Of course, its in the car."

"I need to have it for a while."

"There is no need, Boss. I am here to protect Kenny."

"It's not that, its something else."

"You think its clever to be packing with all this heat on you?"

“It’s a chance I've got to take. I won’t need it long.”

“Let me take care of it, Boss.”

“Not this time, Pete. I have to do this one alone.”

“Sounds like a terrible idea, whatever it is, but you're the boss,” said Pete standing and walking away. He was back a few minutes later where he handed over a PPK as casually as he might hand a man a newspaper. Jimmy slid the pistol into his jacket pocket then poked his head into Kenny’s room to tell Kathleen he was going out for a bit. She just nodded and went back to staring at her sleeping boy in the bed. Jimmy watched them both for a second and knew what he was about to do was for them. It was the only way he might fix things.

As he was about to leave Pete stopped him and handed over two loaded ammo clips but Jimmy waved them away.

“If I have to pull the trigger, it’s already too late.”

Pete looked even more worried at this and shook his head slowly while the clips vanished into his pants pocket.

“Let me come,” said the big man. Jimmy smiled and patted his friend on the shoulder.

“You worry too much. I’ll be back in an hour.”  As Jimmy left the hospital the downpour became a torrent. He was soaked to the skin by the time he reached the car. He started the engine and turned the demister on full. The gun weigh heavily against his leg and gave him no reassurance. He was putting every thing he had on a long shot, and he knew it.

Half an hour later, Jimmy ducked into Little Nero’s CafĂ©, a place he had often talked about but had never actually seen. He flicked his dripping hair out of his eyes and looked around. The restaurant was busy and warm. The windows had fogged up so much that little dripples of water were running down the inside of them. At the shining stainless steel counter a mob of kids were waiting to be served as the staff behind the counter tried to cope with the lunch time rush. Jimmy let his finger rest on the trigger guard of the gun in his pocket as he scanned the booths. There was an outside chance he would find the Griffin brothers here, but it was better than landing up to one of their homes. Sometimes backing a long shot can pay off because sitting in the end booth, alone, was Darren Griffin. He had his back to Jimmy and by the way his head bobbed Jimmy knew he was eating.

Jimmy walked casually down the restaurant and slid into the booth. Darren's eyes widened as he registered who had just sat down. Both men remained completely still and Jimmy saw the look in Darren's eyes change from one of wonder to one of rage. In the end it was Darren who made the first move, he let his cutlery drop noisily to the table top. 

"Ah! Easy now Darren," said Jimmy raising the distinctive shape in his pocket over the table top. Darren's eyes flicked down, then back up again but there wasn't an ounce of fear in them. The Star newspaper lay open on the table between them and an all day breakfast steamed on a plate in front of Darren Griffin.


“What do you want?” he asked without looking at the gun which Jimmy lowered below the level of the table. Neither man need be told it was aimed directly at Darren Griffin's guts.


“To talk.”

 At this Griffin smirked and picked up his cutlery again. He speared a section of sausage and dipped it in the runny yoke of the egg before popping it in his mouth. He looked away from Jimmy and began reading his paper again. When he spoke he didn't look up from the big breasted girl who posed on page three.

“Our talking days are over. What makes you think you'll walk out of here alive?”

“A room full of school kids,” said Jimmy nodding toward the front of the shop, “and this.” Jimmy tapped the gun against the bottom of the table. Darren wasn’t one bit fazed and continued to eat and read, in fact he turned over the page disinterestedly.

“You came to talk. Talk.” he said at last.

“This feud has gone far enough. We’ve both made bad decisions and we have both suffered because of it.”

“Suffered? You killed my brother!” said Griffin glaring across the table. Jimmy knew he was only holding himself back by pure will. He had often seen hate in a man’s eyes but never before backed up with such reckless resolve.

“And you’re boys put my son in the hospital, he may never walk again.”

“At least he’s alive, for now.” It was Jimmy’s turn to feel hate burn him to the core. He felt his finger slip inside the trigger guard and the hammer click back one notch. He wanted so much to blow a huge hole in the smug bastards’ guts. Slowly he let the pressure off and regained control of himself. Yea, he could blow Darren Griffin away and with a room full of witnesses he would be in jail within the hour. Where would that leave Kathleen and Kenny? It would leave them helpless. Yes, Pete was a good man but how long would he be around if there was no money coming in, or no business to run. He was hardly going to babysit his family from the goodness of his heart. Jimmy knew he had to put an end to this now or it was never going to end. All of this remained unsaid. Darren leaned forward and put his elbows on the table.


“Don’t think you can waltz in here and talk your way out of what you did. You killed John in cold blood in front of his daughter. Kenny was lucky, if I had gotten my hands on him I would have sent him back to you in pieces. I still might.”

“And where does it stop? You kill Kenny, I kill Terrance, or Clare or Martin. You kill me, I kill you. What does it solve? Nothing, and when it’s all over, when all the bullets are spent, the world will be just the same, just some other bunch of guys getting rich and all us filling holes in the cemetery. Let’s find a way to finish this thing before any more people die needlessly.”

Darren pulled his elbows off the table and shovelled bacon into his mouth. As he chewed he stared and Jimmy thought he saw a slight change in the man’s glare. It was still hate filled but at the same time there was a thoughtfulness in it.

 “And what do you suggest?” he asked at last before picking up a chipped mug and taking a long slug of his milky tea.

“I give you what John wanted all along, O’Connell Street. Everywhere between there and here is yours”

“That’s old bread, it’s is already ours and you flaming know it.”

“Only because I’ve not tried to take it back.”

“Still not good enough.”

“So what do you want?”

“I want it all, north and south, and the way I hear it the coppers might beat me to the punch on taking you out of the show. Had an early morning visit did we, Jimmy? Is that the real reason you are over here with your begging bowl in your hand?” It seemed Darren had some fairly good sources. Jimmy leaned back against the seat and wondered could he have been the one to rat him out? It only took him a moment to dismiss the thought. The likes of Darren Griffin would rather cut out his own tongue than talk to the filth but he had a point. His position was badly weakened by the actions of today, more than even Darren knew. Jimmy could walk away on his own terms and perhaps later he could get into the big money end of things, importing wholesale. It might not cost him anything to give Darren what he wanted.

“There is no way I am giving up my routes in and out of Ireland,” said Jimmy not wanting to give away everything just because a thug like Griffin had him backed into a corner. Even now there was defiance in is core which could not be denied.

“I’d have to talk it over with the lads.”

“Not good enough. It’s a one-time offer. When I get up from this table it’s gone.”

“Then I say go fuck yourself.”

“Even if I give you this?” said Jimmy sliding a piece of paper across the table.

“What’s that?”

“That is the man that killed John. You think about it.”

Jimmy slid out of the booth, the tip of his pocket trained on the centre of Darren’s chest. Darren mopped up the remains of egg yoke with buttered bread and popped it into his mouth.

“Have we a deal?” asked Jimmy as he stood out of arms reach.

“I said I’ll think about it. If we do, you will know.”

“How will I know?”

“You’ll still be alive tomorrow,” said Darren and locked Jimmy with merciless eyes.

There was nothing more to say. He had played his best card. The Griffins would go for it or they wouldn’t. Jimmy walked away keeping his eye trained over his shoulder on Griffin. He eventually found himself standing in the pouring rain again, thankfully without any extra holes appearing in him which was a minor miracle.

***
The Ferryman spent most of the day moving his belongings from his rented apartment to the lockup he owned outright.  By the time he had tied up all the loose ends of his life it was four in the afternoon. He returned to the derelict factory, unlocked the padlock that secured a door on the north side of the property and went inside. The rotting roof was doing a terrible job of keeping out the rain. It actually looked like a dozen tiny storms were being housed in the vast building as the rain poured in and splashed on the concrete floor. He picked his steps carefully and made his way to the room housing the captive woman. He found her sitting exactly where he had left her. Her head thrown forward as if she were sleeping and her blond hair hung down around her face like a curtain. He noticed the concrete under the floor was stained dark, there must be rain coming in somewhere close by. He moved forward and the woman’s head jerked up. She glared at him with terrified eyes, she’d been crying and her mascara had run across her cheeks to stain the gag in her mouth. As he got closer he got the pungent smell of ammonia. The wet patch around the woman was not rain, it was piss. The Ferryman gave the puddle a wide berth, not wishing to get it on his shoes.

“This will all be over soon,” he said as he circled the woman. She tried to say something but her jaw was locked from hours of being gagged. He could see the skin on the corners of her mouth must have split with the pressure as there were traces of blood. He lifted her phone from the ledge where he had left it the night before and dialled her brother. The kid picked up on the third ring.

“I’m here, what do you want me to do?” His voice was shaking, halfway between hysteria and anger. There was muffled talking in the background and the sound of a TV or a jukebox. A burst of laughter rang out in the distance. The Ferryman imagined the boy killing time in a pub waiting for him to call.

“Be in front of the Energy Theatre at five. Do you know where it is?”

“Yea, out near the docks on the south side of the river.”

“Be there at five, I’ll call again.”

“Wait...” The Ferryman killed the connection and placed the phone back on the ledge. He didn’t worry about leaving finger prints because his hand were encased in plastic gloves. He moved away toward the office. He had preparations to make before the boy arrived.  At five he was ready and called the boy again, this time there was traffic noise in the background when the boy answered.

“Are you at the theatre?”

“Yea.”

“Have you got my money?”

“Yea.”

“Are you alone?”

“Of course I’m alone.”

“Good, I will be watching, if you are lying she dies.”

“I’m not lying.”

“Go south on Macken Street until you get to Pearce. Stay on the line.” The Ferryman listened as the boy walked. He could hear his breathing and the rustle of clothes. In the background he could hear people talking as they passed and traffic on the street. The Ferryman directed him at each junction until he was at the top of Sandwith Street.

“Can you see the arch going under the railway line?” The Ferryman asked as he mounted a rusted metal stairs leading into the upper reaches of the building.

“Yes its right in front of me.” By now the Ferryman had reached a filthy window on the top level of the building where the glass was broken. He looked though it and could see the same railway arch.

“Go through then take the first lane on the left.” There followed a few seconds of walking and the boy appeared under the arch. He was dripping wet, wearing a blue tracksuit with a gym bag hung over one shoulder. The boy had his collar turned up against the rain trying his best to protect the phone held to his ear. The boy looked left then took the lane as he had been instructed without once looking behind him. The Ferryman waited where he was and watched the arch but nobody else appeared. The boy had come alone.

“Right, I'm through and in the lane,” prompted the kid looking for his next instruction.

“Half way down on your left there’s a door. Come through and close it behind you.” The Ferryman started the climb back down to the ground floor. On the line he heard the heavy metal door close.

The boy said “I’m here.”

“Wait.” The Ferryman said as he moved into position. He withdrew the revolver from the waistband of his jeans and levelled it at the door. It was the same gun he had used on John Griffin, fully loaded and ready for action.

“Come straight on,” he said into the phone then removed it from his ear. He wouldn't need it any more. The Ferryman could hear the boy’s footsteps as he kicked rubbish and stood on glass. He was making no attempt to mask his approach. As soon as he appeared in the door the Ferryman pointed the gun at him. The boy instinctively raised his hands over his head. His eyes flicked from the gun to his sister who sat only feet away.

“Drop the bag.”

The boy slid the bag off his shoulder and let it drop to the floor.

“And the phone.”

The boy tossed his phone on top of the bag.

The Ferryman nodded toward the chair facing the woman. “Take a seat.”

“Has he hurt you?” The boy asked his sister as he moved toward the chair with his hands still raised in the air. The woman on the chair shook her head. The boy stood staring at her with wounded eyes as if he was torn between doing what he was told and rushing to help her.

“I said sit,” said the Ferryman firmly. The boy shakily eased himself down on the rusted metal chair.

“You have the money now let her go,” said the boy his eyes red from crying and his face pale under the vacant gaze of a gun barrel.

“Put your feet in the plastic loops and pull them closed,” said the Ferryman indicating the twin plastic bindings attached to the enclosed metal legs of the chair. The boy did as he was told. The woman on the chair tried to say something but it was unintelligible.

“She’s done nothing. Please just let her go.”

“And I will. Now, reach behind you and slip your hands into the loops on the back of the chair. The boy looked over his shoulder and saw the cable ties hanging from the metal frame on the back. He reached behind and shuffled around until his hands hung inside the circles of thick black plastic. The Ferryman moved around behind him, keeping the gun out of arms reach and he pulled the plastic bands tight with ratcheting clicks. Once that was done he moved behind the woman, taking care to avoid the wet patch under her chair and undid her gag with a flick of his fingers.  

“Why did you come, Joey,” she cried now that the gag was gone, tears running freely down her cheeks.

“He said he'd kill yea?” answered her equally emotional brother.

“You’re daft! Now he has the two of us. He will kill us both!”

“He only wants the money and I couldn’t leave yea, sis. I love yea.”

“I love you too, but you shouldn’t have come. You should have gone to the guards.”

While this was going on the Ferryman had made his way over to the bag on the ground. He expected to find neatly bundled notes but instead the inside of the bag contained a mess of dirty clothes and lose banknotes. He fished out the notes and started to stack them in bundles, not quite counting them but judging how much was there. The bag was empty long before he felt he had a full twenty thousand. He turned it inside out and ripped the cardboard lining from the bottom to see if there was more cash underneath. He was light, by a long way. The Ferryman stood and felt rage build up inside him. He drew the revolver and stormed over to the boy.

“Where is the rest of it?” he demanded aiming the gun directly at the boy’s forehead. Behind him the woman screamed, and the boy tried to squirm away from him.

“It’s all there, that is all there is!” he yelled closing his eyes as if that would stop lead ploughing through his brain. The Ferryman drew back the hammer and heard it click in place.

“IT’S NOT ALL THERE! WHERE IS THE REST OF IT?”

“It was Scobie! He spent it, that is all I got back!” The Ferryman lashed out, the heavy gun crashed into the boy’s cheek, slicing it open.

“How much? How much is missing?”

“Three Grand, might be a bit more,” said the boy choking back his pain. Snot and blood ran down his face while the blond woman tied to the chair behind him cursed and screamed. The Ferryman moved back a step and thought. The reality of the situation was, he had what he had, and he wasn't getting any more. It was time to call it a day and get the hell out of dodge. He walked into the office and came back holding a small black computer satchel. He dipped his gloved fingers inside and withdrew a large Zip-lock bag.

“What’s that for?” asked the boy, panic looming large in his eyes.

“The cash you dope,” said the Ferryman moving over to where he had stacked the lose notes and began putting them into the bag. When they were all inside he zipped it closed and stashed it inside the computer bag. He walked around behind the woman where he could keep an eye on the boy. He reached behind himself and pushed the gun back into his waist band and adjusted his top.

“It seems we have come to the end of our road, young man.”

“Don’t shoot us,” whimpered the boy. A look of surprise spread across the Ferryman’s face as he held up both hands to show they were empty.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he said and smiled. The boy tied to the chair seemed to relax a little but the Ferryman could feel fear radiating off the woman. It was delicious.

“You should have listened to your sister,” he said dipping his hand into the computer satchel, drawing out another large clear plastic bag. The Ferryman dropped it over the woman’s head and she began to trash. As quick as lightening he had a cable tie around her neck and he pulled it tight.  As she trashed the bag was sucked in and out by her struggle to get air into her lungs. The boy lost all sense of reason as he screamed and fought to free himself. The blond pulled with all her strength against her bindings but they were not about to break, instead her skin split and blood flowed from the cuts she was sawing into her flesh. She was going to die, and it wouldn't be fast or painless. The Ferryman touched her shoulder and thought he could feel the life begin to rush out of her body. He smiled and moved toward the boy who was arched forward and howling like a wild animal, long trails of spit hung from his gaping mouth. He drew another plastic bag and cable tie from the bag and grabbed the boys hair in his fist and shoved it backward. All the fight seemed gone from him as he blubbered incoherently. The only word the Ferryman could make out was, No.


“It was never going to end any other way,” said the Ferryman as he eased the bag over the boys face.

***

All of Joey's worst nightmares had come to pass. His sister, the only person who had ever loved him, was dying before his eyes and there was nothing he could do about it. It was a vision that seemed to last forever. Every time the plastic covering her face sucked in, and no air reached her lungs, her body was racked with terrible tremors. He could only imagine the agony she was going through and wished with the last ounce of his sanity for it to pass.  He wished the man would pull the gun, put it to her forehead and blow her brains out. This was beyond torture.

Mercy was the last thing this smiling madman had on his mind. Joey could see it in him, he enjoyed the pain, he savored her suffering and Joey knew he was going to share her fate. There was no strength left in his body when the man yanked his head back. All was lost. He felt the cold touch of plastic on his skin and the world became blurred. The looming killer's face smiled at him through the plastic and he waited to feel the bite of the noose which would steal him from this world. At least then the pain would be over.

That was when the world turned red.

None of it made sense, his ears were ringing but Joey didn't know what the sound was. He thought it might be his mind playing tricks on him in the last seconds of his life. The man who had been about to kill him crashed down on him spilling them both to the ground. Joey could feel warm slickness spread over his body and wondered if the man had shot him after all. If he did, it didn't hurt like he though it would. The man lying on him groaned and tried to crawl away, that was when Joey saw feet approach under the edge of the bag. None of this made sense. Joey flipped his head back and the bag half came off his face. Now he could see the blood, it was everywhere. Three men gathered around the fallen killer as he tried to crawl leaving a long streak of red where he passed. One held a gun, while the others began pounding the man with pickaxe handles. Joey heard the crack when the man's skull broke and eventually the body didn't move when they hit it.

"That's for John," said the one with the gun at last and he looked in Joey's direction.

"Please, help her!" cried Joey and he saw the man look at the twitching woman tied to the chair. He walked over and Joey wished the man would hurry. He ripped the plastic and stood looking down on Sarah for a minute. Joey called to him, "Is she alive?"

The man turned and walked over to where Joey lay and squatted down. "She's not good, I don't know," the man said and there was genuine sorrow in his voice. Joey couldn't stop the sob's coming.

"Please, please, please, get some help."

The man stood up and walked over to where Joey's phone lay on the floor. He picked it up, dialled, then asked for an ambulance saying a woman was not breathing and gave the address and directions to the factory. When that was done he simply hung up. The man twiddled the phone in his hand as he walked over to Joey and said, "Handy things these, even have trackers on them these days." That must be how they found him. What Joey didn't understand was why they would want to.

The man looked down at Joey and said, "I know you, don't I? Do you know me?"

Joey began to nod yes when the man said, "No you dont! You've never seen me or them, you got it?"

This time Joey nodded furiously. The man smiled and said, "I'm going to pull this back down and when the coppers ask, you never saw what happened just a load of noise and shapes, you got it?"

Joey nodded again and Darren Griffin smiled before he pulled the plastic bag over his face turning the world red once more. There was nothing Joey could do now but wait and pray that the ambulance got there in time.


The ambulance crew arrived shortly afterwards and although Joey could not see them he shouted that his sister was the one that needed help. He could see the shapes bobbing around through the plastic as they worked frantically. He heard beeping and a hurried conversation over a radio. It was soon after that the air filled with sirens. Joey had no choice but to lie there on the ground and hope they could save her, The room soon filled with voices and the bag was plucked from Joeys head by a big man in a suit.

"Are you hurt?" he asked.

"I'm alright, is my sister alive?" asked Joey trying to look around the man to see what was going on. The chair Sarah had been strapped to was now empty and he caught a glimpse of her being hurried away on a stretcher with an oxygen mask strapped over her face.

"She is in a bad way, no point in telling you a lie," said the man, his scared face doing its best to be kind. "Hang tough there for a minute and we will get you cut out of those things. I have to record the scene first, is that OK?"

"Yea what ever just hurry about it, I want to see her." The big man stood up and opened his phone. The camera light came on and he made a slow pass around Joey, the bag, the tie-wraps holding his feet and hands, then he did the same on the chair that had held his sister, finally he did a long sweep over the body laying on the floor a few feet away.

"What's your name?" asked the big man while cutting through the plastic cable ties with a pocket knife.

"Joey, Joey Clark."

"And who is that over there?" he asked. Joey knew he was talking about the body of the killer.

"I have no idea. He flipping kidnapped my sister. I was bringing him money to let her go and he did this to us?"

"Right, that has you free, Up you come," said the Guard as he cut the last binding away. "Try not to touch anything, we will have to wait over here for a bit."

Joey followed the big man away from all the carnage and they settled themselves on an abandoned work bench. The Guard took out his notebook and began writing down what Joey had already said.

"Right, so this fella kidnapped your sister and demanded a ransom?"

"Yea."

"You don't mind me saying but you don't exactly look like you are rolling in it."

"The money he wanted wasn't mine. I was just holding it for someone."

"Who?"

"I can't say."

"Ah, come on, Joey. There is a dead man with a hole in him and a mushed head over there. It wasn't natural causes for sure. You could be looking at murder or conspiracy to commit murder."

"I was strapped to a flamen chair. He was the one who tried to kill me and might have killed my sister!"

"Yes, and that is why you need to tell us everything you know. Who were you holding the money for?"

"Alright, alright. You will find out anyway. It belonged to Jimmy Kingston."

"Well I'll be damned. Haven't I just come from his house. How much?"

"Twenty grand but there was some of it missing. I think there was about seventeen left, its over there in that black bag," said Joey pointing to the computer satchel on the floor near the body. The Guard went over and used his pen to lift away the flap and peered inside.

"Looks like everyone is after that money because its not here."

"What! It was, I saw him put it in there!"

"We'll come back to it. Who knew where you were bringing the money?"

"Nobody. I didn't know myself. He called me and directed me where to go. I didn't have time to tell anybody where I was going."

"So explain how that happened?" said the Guard pointing at the body again.

"That fucker put a bag over my sisters head and tied it. He had that bag over my head when something happened. I heard a bang and he fell on me. There was blood all over the place and on the bag, I could't see a thing. There were voices, a few of them and I could hear a fight. I called out for someone to help my sister and they must have, I guess, because I heard someone talking to an ambulance and then they were gone."

"Did you see any of them, height, build, colour?"

"You stick your head in that thing and see how much you see."

More and more people were arriving all the time and the big guard flipped closed his note book.
"I'm going to get one of these guys to run you into the hospital where you can check on your sister and get looked over yourself. They will have to take your clothes and take some samples before you can get cleaned up, is that alright."

"Yea, what ever, I have nothing to hide I just want to check on Sarah."

The big guard called over a uniformed officer and a guy in a white jump suit. After a quick word he waved Joey over.

"Go with these guys and they will bring you to your sister. I have to caution you that you are a materiel witness in a serous crime and as such we we will have to interview you further once you have been seen by the medical personnel, do you understand what I have told you."

Joey nodded and the big man patted him on the shoulder. "I hope she's alright."

Joey followed the two men to a squad car. Joey and the man in the white boiler suit sat in the back while the uniformed officer drove. During the ride over to the hospital the man sitting beside Joey took swabs from both his hands, scrapings from under his finger nails, and samples of the blood on his clothes and skin.

As soon as they arrived at the hospital Joey asked for his sister at the desk but the lady could only say she had been admitted and was in the emergency room receiving treatment. Joey was ushered into a cubicle where the officers asked him to remove all his clothes and shoes. Joey was happy to strip off the wet things. The officer gave him a set of green scrubs to wear but there was no shoes. He had just finished dressing when a doctor entered.

"Are you Mr Clarke?"

"Yes, how's my sister?"

"Perhaps we should get you checked over first."

"No, there is nothing wrong with me I just want to see Sarah."

The doctor looked pained and said, "I am sorry to have to tell you this, but Sarah didn't make it." Joey felt his knees go weak and he swayed. The guard was quick to react and eased him into a chair beside the bed. The doctor moved forward and sat on the bed beside him. "Her brain had been starved of oxygen for far too long. There was nothing that could be done."

Joey felt like he had been hit with a car. He felt cold, his skin broke out in clammy sweat and his stomach began to heave. He dived for the bin just in time as the contents of his stomach came racing up his throat.

"I will be back in a moment," said the doctor while the Guard poured a glass of water from a pitcher on the bedside table and handed it to Joey. Soon the doctor came back with a syringe in his hand but Joey waved it away saying "I'll be fine. I just need a few minutes."

"If you're sure."

Joey nodded. The doctor and the guard walked out of the cubicle and pulled the curtain closed. Joey lay down on the bed and curled into a ball. He began to cry but tried to do it quietly as he knew the Guard was standing only a few feet away. Sarah would be alive right now if he had listened to her. He may as well have killed her with his own two hands. He lay there and let pain and guilt wash over him. He had nobody left in this world now, he was completely alone and Joey knew in his gut he deserved it. It was a punishment he would carry with him for the rest of his life.

It might have been an hour later when he pushed the curtain aside and looked at the Guard standing there. "Can I see her?"

"I'll go and find out," said the man kindly and walked out toward the reception area. He came back a few minutes later and nodded. "She is this way." He followed the guard all the way down the corridor where he stopped outside the last door on the right. He stood to one side and looked at his shoes. Joey raised a trembling hand on the handle and pressed down. Inside, the curtains had been drawn and the room was silent. One light was on over the bed and the shrouded figure lay in a pool of light. Joey walked across the room on bare feet and felt his knees begin to fold again. He steadied himself against the edge of the bed and the sheet covering Sarah moved slightly, revealing a few strands of her beautiful hair. Joey took them up and rolled them softly between his fingers. They felt exactly as they always had, it was like that part of her was still alive. At last he let her hair drop back on the pillow and took the edge of the sheet in his fingers. He stayed like that for a long time and in the end he pulled it up, covering those few strands of hair. Who ever was under that sheet, it wasn't his sister. He didn't want his last memory of her to be a face distorted by death at the hands of a mad man. Joey closed his eyes and remembered how she had looked at him before he left for London. That was his sister and that was how he was going to remember her.

Joey turned and walked from the room. When he was outside he said to the guard, "I'm ready to go now."

"Are you sure?"

Joey nodded. There was nothing here for him now.  

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Devil Appears








My mind's in a mess, so cluttered with worry
Can't handle the stress, reasoning's gone blurry

The strings of my mind, break one by one
Myself I must find, livings no longer fun.

Falling through darkness, no landing in sight
This world is my weakness, my eyes see no light.

Is it angels I hear, or devils in the dark
Tell me what to fear, the flood or the ark.

The tightening noose bite's into my neck,
God, cut me lose, I shouldn't die yet.

No air in my lungs, I'm weakening fast,
My life's just begun, that step was my last.

The Devil appears from deep in his lair,
Now that I'm here, I wish I were there.


The Original Paper - Circa 1988

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Scarlet

Scarlet has been in my life for as long as I've been alive. The early years are hard to remember, those images are faded by time and age. What remains are fleeting snapshots snatched from childhood with the corner of my eye. A ghostly figure built of fairy dust, starlight wishes and hope. I remember raucous laughter while she was chased during tag and I recall an image of whirling limbs as she attacked sun warmed ocean waves. Mostly I remember her shoes. Patent leather and ruby red. Of all the things I remember about her, those shoes are the clearest.

Time is cruel, the way it takes a perfect moment and moves it along. It happens slowly, like the tiny drip destined to reduce an iceberg to the size of an ice cube. Ironically, the passing of time instilled even more sparkle in Scarlet, if such a thing were possible. She was kind and welcoming, familiar and mysterious, she was one of us but yet she was apart. All the girls all wanted to be her friend while the boys, well, we didn't know quite what to make of her, but we knew she was special. As her years moved into double digits she was rarely seen without a wine-red coat which had a hood framed by a band of white fur. Homage to her name I guess.

It was during my college years that Scarlet really bulldozed her way into my life. It was a time filled with excitement, adventures and new experiences. She rose like a shooting star to become the queen of all she surveyed as well as queen of my heart. Every dance she attended was more ecstatic for her presence, every conversation she took part in, more memorable. It was like she infected the people around her with exuberance. To say we were friends would be stretching the truth a long way. I was more like a Moon, slowly circling her distant friends while she was the Sun, the great hot centre of all existence and how I wished to crash into that Sun and feel the burning magnificence of her beauty.

I watched her from afar and became more and more enamoured. It was hard not to notice how the steady drip of time gifted her previously slender body with curves designed by a genius. It is said that hunger is the best sauce and for her I was starving. I imagined how it would be to taste her full red lips, a sensation only a dream could do justice and a dream I would never wish to wake from. I fell deeper and deeper in love with her without even realising it. That was until the terrible day arrived. It was the day she turned her gaze on me, terrible in the most magical way. At first I thought I was mistaken, a hallucination of my own making but I was wrong because a few days later, it happened again. 

I am not sure how to describe what happened between us, I guess the best way to put it is that she was my everything, while I was but a distraction. I should have seen it but I was blind, blind to everything but her. What started, started innocently and oh so slowly. A sideways glance, a half formed smile, a nod of recognition, a passing touch and then disastrously we spoke.

Even on those lucid moments when I felt my feet skidding on a dangerous path, I dismissed the notion. How could I not, the ride was so thrilling. She would copy her notes from me after skipping class and repay me with a smile. She would eat half my lunch before parting with a kiss on the cheek. Along with another thousand tiny things I felt blessed to be included in.  What did sting were the nights out at a movie or a club or a pub. These were always crowded affairs and I hated them all for encroaching.

It seemed we were never alone and I would always have to share her attentions with the world. Slowly a cold thought began to prod my mind. Was it real? Was she my one? I wanted to listen but I was in too deep. I kidded myself that I was equal to the challenge and one day it would be right. I had no idea this dream was spiralling into a nightmare.

It was a Saturday and Scarlet wanted to see a rock band in a neighbouring town. I begged my Father and eventually he loaned me his car. I never felt so proud as I did the moment I drew up at the club with a goddess by my side. As the engine died she twisted the rear view mirror toward her so she could apply a fresh coat of lipstick, red of course. Her tongue made lushes sweeps over the gloss and I would have died for a taste. When we walked through the doors of that club the world changed, nothing would be the same again.

The music was thunderous and the room was jammed with people. Scarlet let out a little yelp and dashed into the throng on the dance floor. For the rest of the night I caught glimpses of her as she danced wildly before the band. She would come back to me when she was thirsty but her eyes never tired of sweeping the room. By the end of the night she was amid a crush of new found friends, some girls, mostly men and she bathed in their reverence. When the last encore was played and time had been called she appeared dragging a hesitant girl and two eager men in her wake. 

"I told them they could come back with us. It's alright, isn't it?" It was now she choose to unleash her full power on me and resistance was futile. I nodded my assent and felt something die inside the way it did every time she did this to me. 

The road home was dark and bushes whipped at the passenger door when misjudged a bend. I lifted my foot slightly off the gas and let the car coast through the turn. Scarlet sat half turned in her seat so that she could yammer drunkenly with the strangers in the back. All the words were slurred and spoken far too loudly. I had nearly stopped listening when the guy behind me said, "Hay, is this as fast as she goes, Driving Miss Daisy?"

The comment stung and I felt my ears go hot but I resisted the urge to press down on the accelerator. I was going fast enough.

"YEA! Miss DAISY!" howled Scarlet into my ear and followed it up with a high pitched cackle. They were all laughing now and I looked across at her, my dream, my nightmare. 

Her lips were still as red as they had been at the start of the night but the beauty was gone.  Before my eyes she was transformed into a horror, a witch or a vampire. She was a demon that was sucking the life from me and the realisation snapped something inside my mind. I gripped the wheel tighter and dropped down a gear. The engine revved high and I slammed my foot all the way to the floor. Under the car I felt the tyres shimmy then grip. We shot forward and all four in the car cheered.

The rev counter hit red and slammed her up a gear. Scarlet rocked in giddy abandon banging on the dash while screaming, “Faster." I slid the car into a bend letting the bite of the tyre's draw me round where we should have tipped over. The people in the seat behind me were stunned into silence and the only thing that could be heard was Scarlet's manic laughter above the screaming engine. 

Who's Miss Daisy now’ I thought as I drove the speed even higher. Pleas to stop came from behind me but it was too late. They'd forced me and now they were going to pay the price. I do believe I'd gone a little bit mad and it was only when a solid wall of hedge appeared in the distance that sanity reared its head again. I was going too fast to make the turn and I knew it.


I slammed on the breaks and locked out my arms trying to control the wild animal the car had become. I felt the back slide out and slam into the mound of earth that bordered the road. Time slowed down as the rear wheels rose into the air. I was sure it was going to flip over when it stalled, seeming to float for an age. When it came back down, it came down hard rattling my eyeballs. I blindly fought the wheel and felt another huge jolt followed by a third. Mercifully all movement stopped and I sat there paralyzed by fear. There was no sound, nothing, all I could see before me was a spider web of shattered glass. Slowly I looked to my left and Scarlet had her head thrown back, her mouth agape, pointing at the roof. Why was it so quiet?

Slowly my brain began to leave in new sensations as it came to terms with what had just happened. If I'd not been crazy before I surely was now. When the sound returned it was a gale of laughter that filled my ears, not screams. It was then that I finally accepted that Scarlet was insane, deep down, drag you to hell, crazy.

The years following that night have not been easy. I know Scarlet, my Scarlet, nearly destroyed me. In my bones I know she'd do it again if I gave her the chance, but it’s not easy. She's deep inside me, part of me, always there. These days when I catch a glimpse of her on the street or in others arms, I make myself see her for what she is, a great red dragon waiting to rip me apart. 

Even now, there are times I dream of impaling myself on her razor sharp claws, but resist, just.  

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Thirty Pieces of Silver

Jimmy Kingston chased after the ambulance as it rushed toward the hospital. He tucked the nose of his car right up against the bumper of the thing and followed it through intersections, red traffic lights and all manner of insane manoeuvres but that changed when they pulled into the hospital grounds. While the emergency vehicle zoomed straight up to the covered entrance of the Accident and Emergency unit, he had to divert off into a warren of car parks to search for a space, a task that was harder than it seemed. By the time he found a place to leave the car he had a ten minute walk back to the main entrance.

When he got inside there was no sign of Kenny. Without asking for directions Jimmy made his way through to the treatment rooms and searched for himself. It was not long before he spotted Kenny in the middle of a huddle of doctors. The room was big, ringed on the outside by beds and treatment areas while the middle of the room housed what could pass for the command deck of The Starship Enterprise.

For once, Jimmy didn’t barge in head first, he knew he had to let the doctors do what they must. If he went barging in it would only complicate things. He found a chair by the wall and sat down to wait. About twenty minutes later the cluster of lab coated medical staff splintered, each intent on their own particular tasks. Jimmy stood to intercept the oldest of the group.

“Excuse me, Doctor,” said Jimmy standing in the man’s path. Instead of looking annoyed or harried, the silver haired man smiled, closed the file he was reading and gave Jimmy his full attention.

“How can I help?” he said cheerfully. Jimmy liked the man instantly. His calm, his control, was reassuring in the circumstances.

“I’m Kenny’s Da. Can you tell me what's going on, is he going to be alright?”

“Ah! Mr Kingston, I was on my way to ring you as it happens. Let’s take a seat for a moment,” the doctor said directing Jimmy to the chair he'd just vacated. Once they were seated the doctor smiled and folded his hands loosely over the peach folder resting on his knee. Before he began, Jimmy noticed the smile slip, it was replaced by a countenance hovering somewhere between sombre and deadpan.

“Kenny is in a serious condition but it could be so much worse. Honestly, he is one of the luckiest men I’ve ever come across. A fall from such a height is nearly always fatal or debilitating to such a degree that life would be forever altered. It would seem that the way Kenny fell was key to his good fortune. His velocity was substantially reduced but the big saving factor was hitting the shopping unit the way he did. On impacted the roof crumpled, as the glass exploded air was expelled. Basically the shop acted like one huge airbag.”

“Thank God! So he will be alright,” he said feeling a wave of relief wash over him.

“At the present moment, the signs are good. His reflexes are all positive but that is not to say he's out of the woods. There is substantial soft tissue damage along the spine and the swelling is hampering our ability to rule out spinal damage completely. We have scheduled an MRI but what we must do is give Kenny’s body time to settle. When the swelling subsides we can assess what long term issues he may be facing.”

“Hang on, are you saying his spine might be damaged?” That word rocked Jimmy to the core. In his mind he saw wheelchairs and a lifetime of disability for his son.

“All things considered, there’s a good chance of some damage. It’s the extent which is unknown,” said the doctor, he looked down at his hands and folded them a little tighter, allowing Jimmy time to process what he'd just been told.

“How long before you know?” asked Jimmy, a crack creeping into his voice.

“The scan will tell a lot but it may take a week or more for the swelling to dissipate fully.  Kenny could have a long hard road ahead of him, I think it’s best to prepare yourself for that.”

“Does he know?” asked Jimmy nodding toward his son’s bed. The doctor looked over, his face was unreadable.

“He hasn’t come straight out and asked, so we've said nothing more than he’s a lucky lad. I think he knows he might be in trouble, but he's not ready to face that yet. Right now it's best to concentrate on keeping his spirits up. There is no point in worrying him about something which can’t be fixed or may not exist at all,” said the doctor. He rested a reassuring hand on Jimmy’s shoulder and rose to his feet.

“If you need anything just ask. We’re here to make sure Kenny gets the very best care.”

“Thanks for that,” nodded Jimmy, but his heart was sinking through his gut as if it had turned to stone. He felt sick, physically ill. It was a sensation he could never remember feeling before.

The doctor walked away and Jimmy made his way over to Kenny’s bed. A pile of clothes lay a chair beside the bed. They had been cut away by the look of them. An oxygen mask covered Kenny's face and there were dozens of cuts on his exposed skin where the exploding glass had bit. His head and neck were secured between padded boxes, it looked like his son was jammed in a huge vice. Jimmy could see straps under the blanket and he knew they were there to stop Kenny moving. Jimmy rested a hand in his son's forehead. The skin was clammy and grey, his eyes flickered under heavy lids, as if he were dreaming. A monitor near the bed beeped rhythmically. An IV needle was taped into Kenny’s forearm and a small smear of blood stained the sheet.

“Kenny,” Jimmy said, his voice low, the boy didn’t move.

“Kenny, it’s me,” he tried again. A nurse appeared.

“He can’t hear you but that's normal. We've given him something to help him sleep. It’s best if he does. He'll be more comfortable and he won’t move as much.”

“I want to stay with him?”

“Of course. Would you like a cup of tea?” she said with a smile. Even in hospital the power of a good cup of tea could not be underestimated and it took some of the sting out of his pain. It was just the kind of thing his mother would have said, she was a great one for the cup of tea.

“That would be nice, thanks,” he said giving the nurse a thankful smile.

When she'd gone Jimmy moved closer to the bed and looked down on Kenny. He felt guilty about all the times he'd been so hard on the lad. He was trying to do right by him, in his own ham fisted way. Life was tough and he wanted to be sure that Kenny was ready for it. Now look at him. His life was only starting and it had nearly been snuffed out. Jimmy pulled up the blanket, covering the exposed cuts and bruising. He realised that his greed, his love of power and money had caused this. He could have lost Kenny today. He sat on the destroyed pile of clothes and looked at his flesh and blood.


“I’d give anything to go back to yesterday,” he said quietly to himself. Could that ever happen he wondered? Was it possible to stop what had begun before the price got too high? Jimmy settled into the chair and watched his son sleep and thought about what could have happened.

Two hours later the doctor reappeared.

"We're taking Kenny down for his scan now, Mr Kingston."

Jimmy got to his feet but the doctor placed a hand on his shoulder and said, "There is nothing you can do for now. The procedure could take several hours and after that we are going to get Kenny settled into a ward. It might be best to go home, get a little rest or something to eat, there are long days ahead of you."

"I really don't want to leave him, Doctor."

"He's going to be sedated the whole time. Its better you're fresh for him when he wakes up." Jimmy looked at Kenny and knew the doctor was right. There was nothing he could do.

"I'll be back later."

"Check in with reception, they'll let you know which ward he's in."

"Thanks Doctor, look after him, will yea?"

"Of course, Mr Kingston."

Jimmy made his way out of the treatment area. The first thing he saw when he entered the waiting room was Pete and at least four of his guys pacing up and down like caged animals. Pete walked toward Jimmy and asked, "How is he?"

"Not good," snapped Jimmy his normally short temper surfacing.

"Ah, Hell," said Pete shaking his head.

"We could have been putting him in a box," snarled Jimmy letting Pete feel the sharp side of his tongue. He needed to lash out, to vent the fear which had invaded his body. He couldn't afford to be weak and after all he paid Pete and his bunch of gorillas enough, they should have been there to protect his lad.

"I'm getting out of here for a while, make sure nobody comes near this place."

"Nobody will get within a mile,"

Jimmy started walking away when Pete spoke again, "Boss?"

"What?"

"There is one other thing," said Pete shuffling on the balls of his feet.

"Go on!"

"It's Joey. He's missing. He flew back in with the money today so I went round his flat to collect and the place was in darkness. No sign of him or his sister. I went round to the hair salon where she works and they said she left as normal after work. I got them to ring her but nothing, same for Joey. I left a man at their flat but still no sign."

"Joey's not stupid enough to rip me off. He'll show up," said Jimmy, dismissing Pete's concerns with a wave of his hand.

"I just thought you should know," said Pete turning to his men, his ears burning from the way he'd been spoken to. Jimmy walked out the door, his missing twenty grand bothered him slightly but it was nothing in comparison to what he was facing now. He had to go home and break the news to Kathleen.

***

Dawn rose over the city and a cool mist swirled among the buildings. Nothing but windblown trash was moving on the street when a cavalcade of police vehicles swarmed out of the station gates, a half dozen unmarked units leading the way. Adams had barely slept, his brain wouldn't let him. The meeting with Judge O'Donoghue had gone well. He signed the warrant with little more than a glance at the paperwork. The rest of the evening was a blur of phone calls, strategy meetings and briefings. It had been well after midnight when Adam's head hit the pillow. Five am the whole task force assembled for a final run through. Door knock was scheduled for six am across the board. Holding teams would move in on the closed business premises of Jimmy Kingston as well as the offices of his accountant. They would make sure nobody interfered with evidence while the main bulk of the forty strong task force took Kingston's house, and vehicles apart, brick by brick if necessary.

Sims occupied the passenger seat while three battle clad breech officers sat in the back. Two of them cradled sledgehammers and pry bars while third had what looked like a large briefcase attached to a number of steel bars. It was actually a hydraulic door spreader and ram. Adams himself had seen Jimmy's new door being installed and was able to give some good intel to the breach team. It was a reinforced steel core door with a multi lock system. There had been some discussion about using a water charge to blow it but Adams had vetoed the idea. He did not want to be facing a media storm if someone happened to be behind the thing when it blew. Either the door would go with the ram or it wouldn't.

The element of surprise was vital, they needed to be in the house before Jimmy, or anyone else, had the chance to purge computer drives, break up phones or burn documentation. The main job of these security doors was not keeping out a determined force, it was to give the people on the inside time to get rid of evidence.

Adams thought the city was beautiful at this time of the morning, innocent even. They rolled through the streets while thousand slept only feet away. He felt like a knight leading out a war party from a slumbering castle to catch an enemy unaware. He glanced over at Sims who was nervously picking at the stab vest she wore, tension spilling out of her fingertips. He on the other hand felt calm. He was on the move, taking action, it always steadied him.

He pulled up a few streets from The Garrison, a pre-determined rally point. He let the engine run while he stepped out of the car to watch the convoy of vehicles arrive. The gathering happened wordlessly and the radio strapped to the shoulder of his own stab vest hissed with static, but nothing more. When he was satisfied everyone was in place he raised his hand to the armoured personnel carrier holding the breach team and it moved away from the kerb to fall in behind him as he moved out. Adams was leading this assault himself.

He turned into the The Garrison in second gear, his engine a low steady hum. He did not want to give away his presence until the very last second if possible. He slipped easily over the speed bumps and drew to a halt outside Kingston's house. As one, the doors of both vehicles opened and remained open as the team silently dispersed. Adams stood back as the three black clad men who had been in the back of his car quickly arranged themselves at the door. Dual hydraulic rams were positioned at knee and head height while the third man knelt beside the drive unit. Once they were ready the team's leader nodded at Adams. It was his moment.

Adams moved forward and tapped on the door with his finger before announcing in a voice that could not have been heard three feet away, "Gardai, We have a search warrant for this premises, open the door." After the slightest pause he did the same again then stood back.

The man with the hydraulic box flicked a switch and a powerful battery operated pump hummed. He pressed a button and both rams moved, forcing themselves against the door frame, spreading it wide until they reached the limit of their power. The men holding the rams, dropped to the ground and retrieved their hand held sledges. Splintering wood and creaking concrete told of the incredible power of the device. Another switch was flipped and a second bolt moved forward on bar, driving the door inward, bending and twisting bolts and hinges. When the device was at full extension, the hammer men moved forward and struck, driving the door all the way in.

The breach team rushed in one behind the other, riot shields and weapons drawn. They stormed the house shouting "Gardai," and securing one room after the other. The word "Clear" indicated each room secured. Adams and Sims entered on the heels of the team, standing in the hall while the team did their work. A grey haired woman in her late sixties appeared on the landing, pulling a dressing gown around her, shock on her face. The breach team rushed past her and searched the upper floor of the building. Adams moved forward and addressed the woman.

"I'm Detective Stephen Adams, we are executing a search warrant of this premises, among others. Are you Mrs Kingston?" The woman shook her head and pulled her robe tighter, in much the same way her lips pinched into a scowl.

"Her mother," was all she said.

"Detective Sims will accompany you to your room so that you can dress. You are not permitted to remove anything from the premises and must follow her instructions precisely. Do you understand?" The woman on top of the stairs nodded and Sims went up to take her to the room. Adams looked around the down stairs, the place was completely empty. The officer in charge of the breach team approached Adams.

"The old woman is the only occupant of the house. It’s clear from rafter to floor." Something was not right about this. Jimmy Kingston should be here, he nearly never left the house.

"Did it look like someone left in a hurry?"

"No sir, just nobody home."

"Thanks. You can radio the search teams to come on up. You had better take up a position on the head of the road. Search every car coming or going. This place is a rabbit warren and most of the residents are on Kingston's payroll."

"Yes sir," said the man following his team out the ruined door.

The old woman came down the stairs wearing a light jumper, slacks and house slippers. Sims directed the woman into the sitting room and Adams followed. When the lady was seated Adams asked, "Where's Jimmy and your daughter?"

"At the hospital, with Kenny. They've been there all night."

Adams hadn't thought they would spend the whole night there, it surprised him. He expected to catch Jimmy sleeping. It might even be a good thing. If he was not in the house there was no way he could have interfered with any evidence. They might just hit the mother load.

"You'll have to remain in the house for the moment. Hopefully this won’t take that long," said Adams to the old lady as search teams moved in. Adams turned to them and said, "Start in the roof lads, work your way down."

The house was soon bursting with people. A steady stream of sealed evidence bags started filling van's to be ferried away from the scene. Adams caught a glimpse of Inspector Kelly as he quickly rifled through tons of bank and phone records found in a press in the kitchen. If the smile on his face were anything to go by, the possible bill facing Jimmy Kingston just jumped from a million and into the millions. This was going to sting hard and Adams only wished Jimmy was here so he could see the look on his face.

***

Joey woke up with a splitting headache. The bedside table was covered with empty miniature bottles of booze but they sure packed a full size punch. His stomach churned when he tried to sit up. He barely made it as far as the bathroom when a fountain of liquid vomit exploded from his mouth. He lay for a long time with his head resting against the cool foot of the toilet, his closed eyes couldn't stop the world from spinning. Eventually he forced himself to stand and splashed cold water on his face before drinking water directly from the tap. Two minutes later he was vomiting again.

Once he'd showered he felt better, but that feeling vanished when he looked at his phone. Like he expected there were a dozen missed calls from Pete and several messages, the contents of each became more and more threatening. The core message was always the same, "Where's our money?"

Joey thought about shutting off the phone but he needed it on in case the lunatic holding his sister rang. His finger hovered over Pete's name but he couldn't make himself press down. As if by magic, the phone sprang to life in his hand, Pete Pit bull Byrne himself.

He slid his thumb over the screen and held the phone to his ear.

"Where the hell have you been?"

"I was just going to call you," said Joey, thinking it was actually the truth, nearly.

"I don't care. Where the hell are you and you better have the money."

"I have the money but there's a problem. Someone snatched my sister and they’re going to kill her unless I hand over the money." The silence on the other end lingered. Joey didn't think that Pete was all that bright if the truth be known, but at least he wasn't shouting.


"Who?"

"I don't know, he didn't say but he sounded like a poncy fucker."

"Where are yea?"

"You must think I'm thick? You would be around here in a second."

"That's not your money, Joey. Don't be stupid. Jimmy will kill yea," said Pete, his voice soft now as if he was talking to his stupid kid brother, giving him solid advice.

"And if I don't Sarah dies! Tell Jimmy I'll work for him for the rest of my life to pay back the cash, anything he wants, but I got to get Sarah back, I got to! If that's not good enough, tell him he can kill me. I'll give myself up as soon as she is free."

"Joey don't ..."

Joey didn't give him a chance to finish. He hit the red button and threw the phone on the bed as if he was afraid it would jump up and bite him. Five seconds later it rang, a minute later it rang again. Joey turned the volume down and tried to ignore the vibrating in his pocket while he gathered his stuff. It was time to get moving.


"HOW MUCH!" he said, or more accurately yelled, when the receptionist pushed a bill toward him with Mini Bar charge of €237 euro printed nice and big.

"You had quite the night," she said snottily and began clacking on her computer with a dismissive air.

"I thought they were included in the room, yea know, competently."

"I think you mean complementary and no they were not. You paid Room Only which means you only get the room."

"Yes, but they were in the fucking room, how was I to know?"

"If you're refusing to pay the bill I'll have to call the Guards," she said in a way that made it clear she had the number already half dialled.

"I'll pay it," said Joey angrily ducking down to extract a few notes from the cash in his bag. He mumbled Robbing bastards under his breath.

"I heard that," said the woman. Joey stood and pushed the notes across the desk, his face burning red. She made change and shoved it back with a disgusted snarl on her lip. Joey took his change and shuffled away toward the door. As he pushed it open the corner of his eye caught the dirty look the girl was sending his way. He couldn't help himself, he turned back and roared, "Robbing Bastards!" then ran as fast as he could.

***
Jimmy was alone with Kenny when Pete opened the door and said quietly, "Boss."

Jimmy stood and stretched, it had been a long night. He followed Pete out into the hall and spotted Kathleen coming with two cups of coffee. He took one from her and said, "Thanks love." She had taken the news of Kenny's attack a lot better than he thought she would, in fact she had been a rock of sense. She calmed him down when the doctors came back with nothing new after the scan. All they said was, "It will take time." He was about to blow a gasket when she rested an arm on his and said, "No news is good news." It had been just the right thing to say at just the right moment.

She went back inside and left them alone in the corridor.

"Joey has been in touch," said Pete.

"I knew he would," said Jimmy taking a sip of his coffee.

"Someone's kidnapped his sister and want's the cash in return for her," said Pete as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Jimmy felt the coffee catch in his throat and nearly went down the wrong pipe. It make him cough and a little came out his nose.

"What the hell? You told him that was not his money."

"Of course but he's determined to save her. He is not taking my calls now."

"I'll kill the little bastard!"

"I told him that too."

"This is crazy! Nobody knew he had the money except me and you."

"And a few of the boys."

"You think it could be one of them, looking to make a quick score and let the kid take the ride for it?"

"Na, not our lads"

"You said that about Collins and look what happened there?"

"I never liked Collins there was always something wrong with him. Anyway, Joey said the guy talked like a ponce."

"Hang on, he knew," said Jimmy walking down the corridor and back up again. He always thought better when his feet were moving.

"Who?"

"The Ferryman. He knew Joey had been ripped off. I told him."

Pete knew that this was one of the times to be quite. That was when Jimmy's phone rang in his pocket. He fished it out and looked at the number. It was his accountant.

"Yea?"

"Jimmy. I can't get into the office. CAB have it sealed off under bench warrant. I think you better get over here."

"You better have nothing in there that I won't like!" snarled Jimmy into the phone knowing what a lazy bastard his accountant was.

"Of course not!" said the man in a way that made Jimmy sure he was lying. He punched the off button savagely.

"Greasy git!" he roared, causing a nurse to glare at him from the far end of the corridor.

"What?"

"CAB are raiding the accountant's place. You can bet they are over at mine as well! Stay here with Kathleen," Jimmy said as he raced away toward the exit. He had to see what was happening.

***

Darren eased his eyes open.

"Oh Jesus," he said and rested the heel of his hand against his forehead to try and quell the way it throbbed. If the Irish Sea was made of porter, he thought, he could have drunk it dry last night. He leaned into Clare's side of the bed but it was empty, which gave him an idea. She was sure to have some painkillers in her bedside locker, women are always taking those things. He rolled over and pulled the drawer, rummaging through it without lifting his head from the pillow. He had pulled out a makeup tubes, hair brushes, hair straighteners, scrunchies, lip balm, before giving up his contact with the pillow to raise his head. He rummaged through the drawer and right at the bottom he came across a package of Paracetamol.

"You beauty," he said and pulled out the shiny green box. He flopped back down on the bed and opened the box but noticed something stuck to the back of the package. He pealed it free and read the name not believing what he was seeing. Detective Stephen Adams. A dab of dried pasta sauce smeared the card, it was the same one he had thrown into the bin the other day. What the hell was Clare doing with it?

His headache forgotten he threw back the covers and put his feet on the ground. He flipped the card over in his fingers again and again before turning back to her drawer, searching it completely, eventually dumping the contents out on the duvet. There was nothing else, even so the card was enough. Had she been snitching on him? No way! He couldn't believe that.

He snatched a pair of jeans and pulled them on. She'd better have a damn good answer. He walked down the hall and into the kitchen. Clare was doing the washing-up while Martin ate scrambled egg and toast at the table.

"Morning, want a coffee," she said over her shoulder.

"What's this?" he asked holding up the card, somehow managing to keep his voice level. The blood drained from her face when she saw the small white piece of cardboard he was holding.

"Well? What are you doing with this?"

"I...I don't...”

"Don't what, Clare? Don't know how it got in your bedside table? Don't know how it jumped out of the bin? Or is it you don't believe I found it?"

"I was scared, alright! I thought I was losing you and I didn't know where to turn..."

"So you turned to him?"

"NO! I just kept the card in case."

"In case of what?"

"In case something happened and I needed help, you needed help."

"These people don't help the likes of us," he said waving the card and he felt his words echo back off the walls. He didn't know when he'd started shouting but one look at Martins huge scared eyes told him it had been a while back. He laid the card on the kitchen table and rested his hands on either side of it. He let the words swim before his eyes, Detective Stephen Adams. He knew Clare didn't come from the place he'd come from. To her the law was there to help. In his life the law only tore families’ apart, separated parents from children, rewarded weakness with pain and took what they wanted when they wanted. In Darren's opinion, the cops were as twisted as any criminal walking the streets of Dublin. He could to see things from her point of view but he knew that if they were to have any future together she would have to see things from his.

When he looked up, Clare had moved away from the sink and had two bubble flecked hands over Martin's shoulders, protecting him, reassuring him.


"This is my life. I'm a good man but not one that is measured by the rules these people make. I told you yesterday that you are first for me and always will be. That's all I can promise. It is time for you to make a decision, a real hard one," he said pushing himself away from the table and walked to the front door of the apartment. He unlocked it and opened it full before turning back to Clare.

"If you want to be with me, there is no safety net, there's no white knight coming to save the day. In this life we help ourselves, we look after our own, and only family counts. If that's not what you want, the door is open. Use it."

He hung his head and walked back down the hall to the bedroom. His head spun, this time it wasn't from the hangover. What had he just done?

He heard a chair scrape on the kitchen floor, and movement, but no words. Seconds passed to become minutes while he sat on the corner of their bed. How he wished she would appear in the door and take him in her arms, but she didn't. Then came a noise that chilled his bones, his own front door closing followed by silence, a silence so dense it was a living thing.

No! She couldn't leave, he had to get her back. He bounded from the bed and raced down the corridor. He skidded to a stop a few feet into the living room. Standing there by the kitchen table was Clare with Martin in her arms, his forehead rested against her blond hair. On the kitchen table was the policeman's card, ripped into a thousand pieces and heaped in a tiny pile.


"You're all I need," she said, before he scooped them both into his arms.