Monday, 23 September 2019

Violet


Violet’s finger pinged off the alarm and flopped back on the pillow. She didn’t have to open her eyes; she was a snooze-button ninja. For ten minutes she floated in a narcotic state; half in, half out of sleep. When the chime sounded a second time, she knew she had to get up.

She threw back the curtains to be treated to a near perfect sunrise peeping over the trees. Three years she’d had this view and it still made her smile. To anyone else it was just a back garden. A strip of grass with a water feature and a deck. The difference was, it was her back garden.

Violet. She never liked the name, but didn’t have the nerve to do anything about it. She’d grown up in a family where little was expected of her, and in fairness, she did little to dissuade them from the idea. It was easy to hid in the shadow of her siblings’ ambitions, but she never counted on being there forever. Every day she bowed under the yoke of her name, the more imbedded in her skin it became.

The ghosts of her past made her shiver. She threw them off, along with her night-wear, and headed for the shower. She dressed quickly; added just a touch of makeup, then tied her hair in a ponytail. She looked at herself in the mirror and wondered for the millionth time – who is that girl? She could easily pass for nineteen, not her actual twenty-nine. Her eyes were a touch to big, making her look innocent or startled. Her face was slim; her cheeks held a thimble-full of shadow, without appearing gaunt. Nothing on her face stood out, making her…ok.

She flicked a stray hair out of her face and wondered what Jim saw in her? Ok, was never an adjective to be used on him. He was tall, towering a full foot over her. He could talk to anyone; and that smile? That man was a knee melter. But he wasn’t perfect. Oh no! He was a little full of himself; cock-sure her mother would say. He could act like a spoilt teenager when he didn’t get his way. Mind you, she didn’t mind letting others take the limelight, never had. 

The only time she ever put her foot down was over this house. Jim had wanted to invest in a studio apartment in the city centre; all shiny surfaces and exposed brick, but it was as big as a shoe-box.

“It will double our money in no time,” he’d said. To her, and his, surprise, she flat out refused to consider it. If they were putting money into anything, it was going to be a house. She never let Jim in on her reasoning, but she refused to budge. Every time he tried to talk her around, she just looked at him with her eyes wide open, and her lips clamped shut. Eventually he gave in, and they started looking at three bed semis in the suburbs.

The driving force behind this defiance was simple. All her life she had to share a room. First with her older sister, then the younger. Even when she moved to the city she had to share. That claustrophobia was what pushed her into working two jobs, and Jim’s arms.

It was a seedy place, all dark corners and loud music, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. The owners were just about staying on the right side of the law by offering a never-used food menu on the alcohol-soaked counter. She knew they must have been paying off someone or else they’d never get away with running a nightclub on a restaurant licence. The very first night she bumped into Jim; literally. 

She was rushing around a corner with a crate of Heineken when she crashed into him. It was like running into a wall. She bounced off him and landed on her ass while he seemed to barely feel the impact. He rushed forward and scooped her from the ground, his forehead lined by concern.

“I’m so sorry! Are you alright?” he asked, as he deposited her back on her feet. She was covered in dust and before she could say anything, he was swiping away the smudges. It was clear he wasn’t thinking about what he was doing, because the fingers sliding over her legs felt just like her mother’s. Then it clicked with him and his face went red. He jumped back a step, the hand he’d been using on her, held up in surrender.

“I wasn’t…” he said, and then his words faltered. Whether he was, or wasn’t, didn’t matter. She wasn’t going to make a fuss about it. Not on her first night.

“I know,” she said and smiled. She picked up the crate, checked she’d broken none of them, then said, “Got to go,” and scooted past. As she rounded the corner she glanced over her shoulder and saw he was staring after her, his hand still held up; which was sweet. Despite his black security jacket, she thought he looked like a college kid, only XXL size.  

After that, he always seemed to be around, calling over for a chat, keeping an extra eye out when the punters worse for wear. Violet thought he was like that with everyone, she never for a minute thought he was interested in her, not her. Some of the other girls started teasing her about her, Bodyguard, but she only said, “Get away, would you,” and blushed intensely.  When he did ask her out, he had to do it four times because she kept saying, “You’re messing,” and walking away.

They had a date, then another, and then they slept together. It was still dark when he left her that morning. She sat for ages in her bed with a growing sense of doom.

“He’s got what he wanted now. That’s the last I’ll see of him,” she said, burying her head under a pillow. She didn’t hear from him all day. Not even a text. The walk to the club that night was the longest she ever had to make, and her heart sank when she didn’t see him standing at the door. She’d been right, he’d legged it. She nearly turned around and went home but she needed the money.

Inside, the music was already deafening but the crowd was sparse. She searched for him, but he wasn’t there. Probably out with some other girl, or laughing about her with his mates. She took her coat off and handed it in at the cloakroom. The girl behind the counter smiled and gave her a naughty wink.

Jesus, she knows! Oh God, I’m such an idiot! she thought, and hurried away. Money or no money, she wasn’t sure she could bare the humiliation of the whole place laughing at her. She ducked under the bar hatch and was stopped dead in her tracks. Beside her till was a huge bouquet of flowers, and even from here she could see the lettering on the card.  Love Jim.” Her heart nearly burst.

That had been five years ago, and they were five good years. They’d had rough patches, every couple did, but Jim was always there for her, looking out for her, protecting her, loving her, and she felt so damn lucky.
***

The front door opened and she heard keys clatter into the bowl. She looked out and watched him lean against the wall as he kicked off his shoes. His shirt had two buttons open and his clip-on tie was hanging from the pocket of his jacket. “You’re late,” she said, and he looked up.

“Yea,” he said, tiredly. “Another lock in! I’m getting sick of it.” His shoes are off but his jacket is still on. He looks tired, but not the grey kind. There was colour in his cheeks to counter the bags under his eyes.

“Why didn’t you leave them at it and come home?”

“I couldn’t, could I? What if it kicked off? And it’s not like we don’t need the money,” he said, rubbing his hands through his hair as he passed her.

She felt the sting of that last comment. Jim always maintained the house was too expensive and that she spent too much doing it up. He might be right about that, but…she couldn’t explain what it meant to her, even though she had tried a few times.

“Why don’t I take on some shifts again,” she said, sipping her coffee and reaching out a hand to touch his shoulder.

“No,” he said, moving out of her reach as he took another step toward the stairs.

“Why, no? The bills are my responsibility as well.”

He stopped and turned toward her, his face stern and set. “I told you before, I’ll take care of it. You do enough already. People will say I’m sponging off yea if they see you working two jobs.”

“I don’t care what people say.”

“But I do. Look – I’m tired. I’m going to shower and sleep,” he said. The words were sharp enough to sting but not shock. She reverted back to a habit of a lifetime and clamped her mouth shut and looked at him with Bamby eyes. “Don’t do that,” he said, partly annoyed at himself, partly at her. She looked down into the mug and sipped again. His stocking feet thread softly up the stairs and after a few minutes the shower started. She sipped her cooling drink and stared into space.

She could go upstairs and look through his pockets but what was the point in that. She’d seen the smudge of foundation on his collar and a hint of Opium in the air that swirled around him. Always Opium. She hated that God-Damn perfume. Searching pockets would give her nothing because she already knew everything, everything except a name. In reality, she didn’t need another name to hate, her own was enough.

She never told anyone Jim was cheating because she knew what they would say. They’d make reassuring noises and say, stay strong. They'd ask aloud how Jim could do such a thing, while inside they would wonder why it took so long. Violet didn’t need to hear any of that, she didn’t need false reassurances or pity, because above all things she was a realist. She knew that Jim believed he was saving her from the heartache of watching him leave. Truth is, he’d been gone a long time, only his body stayed behind.

He might stay a month, he might stay a year, but he already has one foot out the door. And that was ok. The thing was, Jim never really understood her, neither did her mother, her father…the world. She might look innocent and crushable, she might be the picture of a shrinking violet, but she wasn’t. She was much tougher than that. They should have called her Edel, like the Edelwiss. That survived in the harshest environments, put up with being trampled and crushed, spent nine months droning in snow and still it bloomed. That was the flower for her.

She flipped off the light switch, stroking the wall lovingly before leaving for another day at the grindstone.   

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Mrs Right


Heart to Heart Dating



Name:  Darren K                                                              Interested in - Ladies: 30/45
Status:  Divorced                                                              Build: Athletic
Smoker: No                                                                      Pets: Must love Dogs
Looking for: Serous Relationship                                    Drinker: Social

Intro:
Hello everyone. I’m Darren. I’m a forty-seven-year-old, divorced dad of two. I enjoy eating out, walks on the beach, and cosy nights in. I’m adventurous and active. I’m looking for someone to share life’s challenges with.  I have a great sense of humour, and if you love to laugh, then I can’t wait to meet you.

I know it’s a bit cheesy, but I still believe in love and hope that someone out there believes in it too.

Messages to:        Darren K
Sugarfairy35:     Love your profile pic. 😊 Call by my page and let’s see what happens??? LOL

LovelyLucy:       I love Dogs!! And Walks on the Beach!! Where’ve you been all my Life!

GuestUser125:   Dear Darren,

When I saw your photo, I was kinda shocked. To be honest, I didn’t know what to do. But the long and the short of it is, you deserve love, and I hope you find what you are looking for.

However,

There are one or two minor discrepancies, that I think you should clear up, before anyone reading this decides to take up your offer of, a cosy night in.

The first one is easy. Darren, you’re fifty-two, not forty-seven. Perhaps it’s the blackouts? If you added all those up, you could easily be excused for mislaying five years. I’m delighted you’ve seen the error of your ways, and knocked the benders on the head. If you hadn’t, I’m sure your liver would have imploded.

I have to say, I was touched you acknowledged the boys so prominently. Like a great Dad, you put them first. If I had known that signing up to on-line dating was going to have this effect, I would have encouraged you to do it way sooner. Billy says, Hi. He’s the five-year-old…remember. He was so upset you couldn’t make his birthday. He kept you a slice of cake.

I did spot one other thing you should fix on your profile. Whether you like it or not, Darren, you’re still married…to me! Hell, we only separated three weeks ago. I can’t believe you’re out there, looking to jump into bed with the first bimbo you can lay your hands on! God bless whoever that will be! Unless things have changed drastically, she’s in for the most mundane ten minutes of her life.   

So, that’s all I have to say on the matter. Best of luck finding the next Mrs K. To expedite your search, I’ll be contacting our lawyer in the morning, and get the ball rolling on the divorce. While I’m at it, I’ll ask him to remind you that you haven’t paid as much as a penny for the kids’ food, clothes or housing, since you walked out. You deadbeat!

Hugs and kisses,
Your Missus.

Sugarfairy35:  BURN!!!!!!!!!   LOL

Friday, 12 April 2019

Retribution

There was a hint of dawn in the sky. Tom should have been stiff from hours of sitting, or bored from watching the empty sidewalk in the side-mirror of his van, but he wasn't. He'd thought about this moment for seventeen-years. He'd planned it, dreamt of it, obsessed of it and today it was going to happen.

He stretched his fingers inside the black leather driving gloves, making sure they would not slip when the time came. A folding sunscreen filled the windscreen, hiding him from the front and tinted side windows made him basically invisible inside the cab of the van. He was content to wait, that's what prison had given him. Time to be patient.

A flash of movement in the wing-mirror attracted his attention. Tom knew it was the Judge by the way he moved. He half-jogged, half wobbled down the street. His extended gut swinging around inside an expensive Lycra exercise suit. Even though the day had still to begin he was wearing sunglasses, because in the Judge's opinion, important people should see, not be seen. As the Judge neared, Tom could see the last seventeen-years had aged the man who had taken his life apart, but that would buy him no sympathy. It was too little too late.

Tom rested his hand on the door-handle and waited. The Judge slowly closed in on the van, his head thrown back, looking down on the world as he passed. Three strides away, two, one...Tom threw the van door open nearly knocking the man into a hedge.

"Hay! Watch what you're doing, idiot!" the Judge yelled before properly looking at Tom, and when he did the shock showed in his face even though Tom couldn't see the man's eyes. He tried to get past the door but there wasn't enough room.

"What do you want?" the Judge cried, shrinking back from the man in the mask who was closing in on him.

"Justice," said Tom, quietly then rammed the tazer into the man’s chest and pulled the trigger.
***
Tom didn't know how long it would take the Judge to come around. He had poured a vial of Rohypnol into the man's mouth after he went down on the pavement, and at least some of it went in. It made transporting the Judge easy and quiet. Now he waited and watched the man move fitfully on the hard-concrete floor.

It was evening when the man finally sat up and rubbed his face, trying to get his brain to clear. Tom sat across from him, the warehouse was vast and bare. The Judge wasn't tied or gagged, but he was as caged as Tom had ever been. Slowly, the Judge started putting things together. Tom stood and moved to a spot where the Judge could see him.

"What have you done to me?" he asked, his voice slurred like a drunk.

"The same thing you did to me, taken away your freedom," Tom said, the mask he was wearing reflecting some of his words back at him making his voice sound...different.

"What do you mean?" asked the Judge, his mind still battling the drugs.

"You locked me up, now I've done the same to you."

"No way I'm staying here," the Judge said struggling to his feet. His fat-packed thighs were ridged from lying on the rough concrete floor. The Judge staggered toward the door and Tom did nothing to stop him. He simply waited. 

After ten minutes of pointless tugging, the Judge gave up trying to force the door and began searching for another way out. Tom knew he was wasting his time. The windows were twelve feet up the wall and there was only one door. Eventually the Judge returned to where Tom stood, some of his superior attitude starting to return.

"What is your name? Do you know how much trouble you're in?" Tom didn't dignify either question with a reply.

"I haven't seen your face, it’s not too late to let me go and walk away from all this."

"You took seventeen years of my life! How can I just forget that?"

"I was only doing my Job, if every..."

"NO! If you'd been doing your job, you would have seen that the case against me was bullshit! All you saw was a black man, a poor black man, which I am, but I'm also an innocent black man!"

"So, you came for revenge?"

"Exactly."

"If you're going to kill me, why didn't you do it back on the street. Why bring me here?" asked the Judge and Tom wondered if he was trying to logic his way into a better place than he stood?

"I'm not going to kill you," Tom said, and in his head the words sounded more than generous. 

"So why?"

Tom strode up and down before the Judge, enjoying having the power he'd been denied for so long. "Did you know that the first prisons came into existence in Babylon? Before that, justice was extracted through...retribution. An eye for an eye, a life for a life. You took my freedom, now I want yours."

"You can't leave me locked in here!"

"I can, and I will," said Tom. "But I'm not as cruel as you. Firstly, you have your own cell, and one much bigger than the one I had to call home. And second, I've left you a way out." Tom pointed at a manhole cover, slightly ajar.

"Down there?" he asked incredulously.

"It's another thing I learnt during my forced stay inside. During Roman times, prisoners were kept under the city, in the sewers. So, you've a choice. You can stay in here, with no food, no water. I think you might last two weeks, or even a month. It's up to you, but I'll tell you this, a minute down there is going to feel like a year," Tom said pointing at the manhole.

With nothing else to say, Tom walked to the door and unlocked the padlock. He heard the Judge rushing toward him. He swivelled and drew his tazer. 

"Back!" he said, stopping the Judge a few feet away. With the weapon trained on the Judge's chest, he unhooked the lock and opened the sliding door just enough to step outside. With one swift movement the door clanged shut. The Judge hammered the inside of the door, crying for release, but Tom knew he wouldn't be heard. There was nobody to hear him. The only thing that came through here was thousands of tonnes of human waste from the city in the background.

Tom opened the back of the van and threw his mask, gloves and black jacket inside. He removed the false plates and tossed them in. They clanged off the portable welder as they vanished. Tom looked at the line of manhole lids stretching away into the distance. Each one welded shut. That fat human turd was going where he belonged, The Judge might make it out, he might not, either would be fine by Tom because he had his retribution at last. 

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Rock Bottom - part 5

         
  Clare’s scream hurt Kate’s ears. Her brain was stuck in neutral, unable to make sense of what she was seeing. There was no masked attacker, or axe-wielding mad-man; only Clare scrabbling around on the floor amid a cluster of dropped muffins.
            “Jesus, I’m sorry...” she said, dropping the knife.
In between gasped breaths, Clare managed to say, “You scared the hell out of me!”
            “Sorry...” but her explanation was interrupted by a cry from above.
“MOMMM!” cried Toby from the landing.
            “It’s OK baby, Clare fell over, go back to bed,” she called up to him. After a few seconds she heard Toby’s bedroom door snick closed and she knew he’d gone back to bed. Kate was embarrassed beyond words. She didn’t know how to explain the last twenty-four-hours to her friend or even which part of the story would be the worst.   
            Still breathing hard, Clare said, “If you didn’t like muffins you could have just said!”
Kate looked down at the woman lying in her hall and wondered if Clare was a living saint. How could she be so understanding? Seconds passed in silence before they both started to laugh hysterically. It was out of control laughter, petering on the edge of madness, but it was just what Kate needed.  
            “Come on, I’ll make tea,” she said helping Clare up.
            “Tea? Tea! You better do better than tea! Where’s the corkscrew?” Clare said, dragging Kate toward the kitchen.
            “It’s only gone breakfast time!” 
            “I don’t flippen care! Get alcohol in me or I’m out of here,” she said, and she wasn’t joking. What the hell, after the night she had who could condemn her for drinking so early.              It took two hours and a bottle of Pino Grigo to get through her story. Clare listened; she gave a prompt here and there for more detail but mostly she was happy to let Kate tell her tale.
            “...and after all that, I though you were someone...well...someone bad,” Kate finished, trying to explain why she’d jumped out with a knife. She lifted the glass and drained the last of her wine.
            “You had no idea any of this was going on?” asked Clare, twirling the stem of her glass between her fingers. Kate felt a tiny spark of annoyance flare within her but she reminded herself that Clare had every right to be suspicious. She was only saying to her face what everyone else would say behind her back.
            “Not a clue,” she said sadly and looked into the depths of the empty glass.
            “But Barry...he knew?”
            “No way! He would never get involved in anything like that!” she blurted and heard the sharp tone in her words. She was jumping to Barry’s defence because she knew her husband, despite what that woman guard said.
            “If it wasn’t you...or Barry, who could it have been?”
            “I think we were set up,” she said leaning her elbows on the counter as if sharing a deep dark secret with Clare.
            “Set up?”
            “Yea, someone Barry pissed off at work or a competitor who wanted him out of the way. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me.”
            “God! Do you think so? It’s a bit extreme don’t you think?” Clare said sitting back as if knocked on her haunches by the idea.
            “Not really. The house is empty a lot of the time. How hard would it be to break in and plant that stuff and then tip off the cops? We haven’t touched that lawnmower in weeks.”
            “Or...” she asked, leaving the word hang in the air.
            “Or what?” Kate asked, not seeing where Clare was heading with that lingering question.
            “Or Barry did know about it.”
            “No way!” she said, turning away from Clare and swiping the wine glass from the counter. She opened the door of the dishwasher and placed the glass inside. She knew she was hiding from Clare...and her question. What if Barry did know?
            “Ok, girl. Take it easy. I was only saying that I’ve been married to Jimmy for fifteen years and that idiot still can’t get my birthday right. Everyone has secrets,” said Clare to her back.
            “There’s a big difference between forgetting a birthday and secretly being a criminal mastermind,” she said, turning around to face her friend.
            “I guess you’re right,” said Clare, clearly saying it to appease her. She happened to glance at her watch and then leapt from the chair. “Oh, Jesus! Is that the time? Jimmy’ll think I’ve skipped the country...Oh shit! Sorry! I didn’t mean...”
            “Get lost, will yea. I’m not made of glass.”
They hugged and Clare left the house pulling the ruined door after her. Kate felt better but she was glad to be on my own. She didn’t want to have to put on a brave face for the world, she just didn’t have the energy. She was frightened, and scared. Despite what she’d told Clare, she had doubts. The only way to know for sure was to ask Barry. She picked up her phone and dialled Barry’s number, but his phone was still powered off. She looked at her watch and it was nearly three in the afternoon, surely he’d be out of court by now? All she could do was wait.  
***
The builder arrived a while later and did a lot of head scratching while he looked over the job.
“No way can I fix that door. I can order a new one to match your windows but it’ll take a while. Do yea want me to put in a temporary one for you until it’s ready,” he asked, taking the pencil from over his ear and started scratching out numbers on the back of a cigarette box.
“I just want to be able to lock the thing. I don’t care what it looks like,” she said and heard how ratty she sounded but the stony glare the builder gave her confirmed it. “Sorry. That was rude,” she said and she meant it. “I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
The man’s eyes softened. “I know, I got broken into myself,” he said kindly.
“Go ahead and order the replacement, but do you think you can get the temporary one up before tonight?”
“I’ll just work out the price for yea,” he said, getting his pencil moving again.
“The cost doesn’t matter,” she gave him a pleading look.
He looked sorry for her and tucked away his bit of cardboard. “Sure I can. Let me just measure up and nip down the builders’ yard. We’ll have you back in business in no time.
When the builder had gone, she went into the kitchen and found Toby sitting sullenly at the table. A dish of macaroni and cheese was turning gold in the oven and the smell of it was warming the kitchen, but it couldn’t warm the heart of her little boy. She had tried to talk to him earlier, but he remained near mute. It was starting to worry her.   
“You ok Tobs?” she asked. He gave one sad nod. On the worktop her phone rang before she could ask him anything else. Barry she thought and rushed to answer the call. The number on the screen wasn’t his. Her thumb hovered over the green button. It might be the press, or the cops. She didn’t want to talk to any of them, but it might be Barry calling from another phone. The hope of that was enough for her to swipe on green and say, “Hello?”
            “Hi Honey.” Thank God, it was him. She felt her Knees go weak and she eased herself back against the counter to steady herself.  “Barry...Barry. Are you ok? Are you coming home?”
            “I’m fine, Babes. How are you and the kiddo?”
            “We’re ok,” she said stifling a sniffle as she looked over at Toby. She didn’t have to tell him who was on the phone, he knew. His eyes were wide and excited, I could see him ready to jump off the chair with delight, but he waited to hear more.
“What’s going on? Why is this happening to us?” she whispered into the phone, turning away from Toby so he wouldn’t see the sheen of tears on her face.
“I don’t know, I wish I did,” he said, and his calm tone made her feel a hundred percent better. He always had a way of calming her down when she was about to go off the deep end. Kate thought that might be what she loved most about him. He was a rock.
“Are you coming home?”
“They refused bail,” he said sadly.
“Why? What do they think you’ll do?”
“Run away I guess.”
“There has to be something we can do. I’m going to go straight to the court and see who I can talk to,” she said, jumping to Barry’s aid as if he were in the headmasters office or something.
“I’m not at the court anymore. They have me at Mountjoy. They let me make a call while my transfer paperwork is being processed. I don’t have much time sweetheart, I just wanted to hear your voice.” He was whispering and Kate could hear the nerves in his voice. She could imagine him looking over his shoulder the way he did when he was uneasy.
            “Jesus, Barry, what the...”
            “I can’t explain anything now but I asked my lawyer to get you a visiting order as soon as possible. Promise you’ll come...it’s important.”
            “Of course....” He sounded so scared, I’d never heard him like this before. She swallowed her tears and steadied her voice before saying, “I’ll be there.”
            “Good...good,” he said sadly and then before he could say anything else the line went dead.
            “Barry?”
            Her husband, the love of my life was out there...scared out of his skin...and there was noting she could do about it. She felt the foundations of her life shift under her feet but the beseeching look Toby was wearing stopped her short of melting down completely. She sniffed back her tears and painted a smile on her face.
            “Daddy said to give you a huge hug,” she said rushing forward to scooping Toby up in her arms. She hugged him close and held him long, so he couldn’t see her glistening eyes.
            “Is he coming soon?”
            “Soon, Baby...soon.”


Chapter 2

            Kate didn’t sleep much that night and Toby insisted on sharing her bed. In the morning she found a visitation notice waiting on her phone. She called over to Clare’s a little after nine and told her what was going on. Clare was more than happy to have Toby for a few hours but I she wasn’t her normal chirpy self.
“Is everything ok? You look down?” she asked, and Clare’s eyes drifted to her shoes. Kate had an awful idea she knew what was coming next.
            “Do I?” she said touching her face. A second ticked by and her cheek quivered a little as if she were trying to keep some dreadful emotion inside. Then she said, “Jimmy had a right go at me last night.” Kate knew it and she bet she could guess why.
            “About me?”
Clare didn’t answer, she didn’t have the heart to, but she nodded her head shallowly. “I don’t want to cause trouble for you guys. I will get someone else to look after Toby...or I might take him with me,” after all this was not Clare’s mess to sort out, it was hers.
            “He said I was a fool for getting myself mixed with you,” and I could see how much pain it caused Clare to say those words. Deep in my heart I knew that Jimmy was right. If the shoe were on the other foot, I’m not sure I would be as supportive as Clare had been. I hoped I would be but that could be wishful thinking.
            “Jimmy might have a point. I don’t know what’s going to come of all this. You might be better off staying as far from Barry and me as you can get. I’d never hold it against you.”
            “But I’d hold it against myself! What kind of a friend would I be if I did that?”
“A good one! No...a great one. No matter what!” Kate said throwing her arms around Clare’s shoulders. They hugged each other like sisters for a long time and Kate could feel her neighbour crying silently into her hair.
When they pulled apart, Clare wiped away her tears with the back of her hand and looked up to heaven as she got herself back in control. “That’s not fair, you got me crying now!” she scolded to hide her embarrassment. When she had a grip once more she replaced her smile and grabbed Kate by the shoulders. “Friends don’t run out on each other. They stick together, come what may. I won’t tuck my tail between my legs and cower like Jimmy wants me too. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me, Darling.”
            “Look...” Kate started to say, about to insist she look after her own life first but Clare beat her to the punch.  
            “Look my arse! Drop Toby over...no arguing. If Jimmy wants me to be someone I’m not then he should have married a different woman.”
            Kate felt like crying but this time from happiness. Clare’s words were like a turbo-boost to her soul. If Clare could be so brave, then she could be brave too. Kate started to sniff a little and Clare took her hand. She did know what to say to Clare but luckily enough, Clare had words enough for both of them.
            “I won’t lie to you; this whole thing scares the shit out of me. There is a part of me that wanted to do what Jimmy asked and then blame him for it. But the truth is, this is my time to show myself who I really am. You need me and I’ll be there for you...no question.” Kate threw her arms around the best woman in the world and held on tight, just like she wished she could have hugged her dad the night before. Perhaps he had sent Clare to her knowing he couldn’t be there himself. Kate looked up through watery eyes and said a silent prayer, thanking him for looking after her.
***
            The drive into town was much different than her trip home by taxi. Today Kate was dressed in her own clothes, she had money in her purse and an expensive car under her. It’s was frightening how naked she felt when a few trivial belongings had been denied her. She didn’t believe it was possible to end up in a strange place and not a penny to her name. She knew it happened to people...but not people like her.
 Today she would get to talk to Barry and between the two of them they would sort this mess out. Traffic around the centre of Dublin moved slower than lava. Soon she turned off the broad monument-lined streets, onto the grimy back-alleys which lead to this city’s dirty little secret. Mountjoy Jail was built by the British but it was more home to some Dubliners than any flat would be. Drugs...poverty...hopelessness....apathy, were the keys which unlocked this mansion of misery. As she moved deeper into the northside of the city the buildings were coated in smog, the pavements were littered with rubbish and the residents looked like they were likely ex-inmates or soon be ones of the place she was headed.
She found a parking spot and walked the last few streets to the prison. You’d expect such a place to be hidden away in some hard to reach spot but that’s not the case. Around a perfectly ordinary corner a robust limestone structure loomed out of the urban landscape.  The stone was filthy and mottled with algae. The windows were barred and although she craned her neck Kate couldn’t see a roof above the buttress of stone. Imbedded in the wall was a huge double door, bedecked with iron studs. It looked like a door that would stand fast for a thousand years. Kate walked towards it, but a sign directed her to a humble steel door that lay open close by. She’d never set foot inside a prison and had no idea what to expect when she crossed over the threshold.
            The first thing that surprised her about Mountjoy was how open it was. She’d expected to be confronted with miles of bars and thousands of locked doors. Inside it was surprisingly normal, a bit like one of the schools she’d gone to as a child. The floors were tiled and the windows high off the ground. The vaulted roof was miles above her head and instead of an armed guard behind bullet proof glass she was met by a rosy cheeked man seated at a timber desk.
            “All right my love, who are you visiting today?” he asked and rested his hand on his chin.
            “Barry Rusk,” she said and her lips had gone so dry she had to lick them. The man ran his pen down his list before stopping at a name and the man looked up at her with dancing eyes.
            “Kate Rusk?” he asked and smiled at her. She nodded. The man pointed at the drivers licence she held and smiled. Kate felt like such a greenhorn. She quickly handed over the licence and stood with her hands clamped over her bag. She became aware of a presence at her shoulder and tuned to see a white-haired lady standing there with at least three coats on. The guard looked around Kate and smiled warmly.
            “Morning Bridgit, you go on ahead, I’ll sign you in.”
            “Cheers, Dan. How’s the mussus?”
            “She’s good, swears she wants to go back to work but I think she’s addicted to Opra,” the guard quipped, and Kate heard the old lady chuckle as she walked towards a door at the end of the room. She saw the guard find the woman’s name on the list and sign Bridget O’Brien in the box beside it. When he looked up he caught her watching.
            “She can’t write,” he said by way of explanation. He turned the clip-board toward her and tapped the end of his pen against a box waiting for Kate’s name. She signed and noted her hand wasn’t as steady as she would have liked.
            As she handed the pen back the man said, “First time?” Kate nodded again, she seemed to have been struck dumb. “It’s nothing to worry about,” he said and pointed to the door the old lady had gone through. “On you go.”
            Kate got to the door and looked inside. The room was ringed with curtained cubicles. Standing beside a table was a pretty female warder who waved her forward. The woman was young and so dainty it was hard to imagine her being surrounded by hardened criminals. Her hair was pulled back in a tight pony-tail and it danced as she moved. She asked for Kate’s visiting order and waited while the documents were produced. She made a few notations on her clip-board, without smiling or showing any sort of emotion.  
            “Have you brought anything for Mr Rusk?”
“No,” she said and felt her face go red at the question. She’d never even thought about that. Should she have brought him something? Money? Food?
“Empty your pockets into the tray, please,” the officer said, and watched as Kate’s belonging started to fill the container. The woman noted down everything Kate had passed over on her clip-board and then pointed at her shoulder and said, “Bag, phone and coat as well, please.”  When all of that was done, the lady passed the receptacle through a hatch in the wall and got Kate to sign a receipt.
“You get it back once the visit is over. Can you step this way?” the warder asked walking toward a cubicle. Her pony-tail was hypnotic, it was so glossy, it glowed while it danced in time to her movements. Once both women were inside the space with the curtain drawn the woman donned a pair of rubber gloves and said, “You can get undressed now.”
Kate had expected to be searched, but stripped? If her face betrayed how shocked she was, the woman standing before her pretended not to notice. With shaking fingers, she started taking off her clothes. The impassive guard took each item and examined it thoroughly. By the time Kate was down to her bra and panties she was scarlet with embarrassment.  “And the rest,” said the lady with the cold eyes. At that moment Kate wanted to grab her clothes and run from this horrible place – but she couldn’t. She had to see Barry and if this was what it took, she would have to endure it. Kate slipped off her bra and dropped it in the guards outstretched hand. Then with one finger Kate slid down her panties, using her other one to cover her modesty. As the young woman examined her underwear Kate stood there like a statue of Aphrodite, one hand across her breasts, the other over her penny. Her mother had always called it that, “got to mind your penny.” Kate thought this was the worst moment of her life.
“Hands out by your sides,” the woman said as she ran her rubber-clad fingers through Kate’s hair. Stiffly she complied and the guard grabbed one breast and lifted it away from her chest. Kate drew in a sharp, startled breath but shock kept her silent. The young warder didn’t seem to notice as she grabbed Kate’s other breast and casually flipped it over. Then she was forced to open her mouth for inspection, spread her fingers and then show the souls of her feet.
“Squat please,” the guard said.
“What?” This was a step too far.
“Squat. All the way down. Elbows on knees and legs apart.”
“Is this really necessary?” Kate demanded.
“Only if you want to continue with the visit, otherwise you can get dressed and go home,” said the woman and it was clear that she didn’t care one way or the other what Kate chose to do.
Kate moved her legs a few inches apart. “Further,” the woman said, tapping Kate’s ankle with her boot until she was happy. “Down you go,” she said and produced a long-handled mirror which she used to examine...well she’d rather not think about what she examined.
“You can dress now. You’ll be brought to the visitor’s room shortly. Always follow the warder’s instructions. When the prisoners are brought in, you’re not permitted to have any physical contact, do you understand?” Kate nodded at the ghastly girl, not wanting to share one word with her. “If you hear a siren you must remain seated while the prisoners are removed, then you’ll be escorted from the building. Do you understand this?” Kate nodded again.
When she emerged from the cubicle there were a half dozen people waiting at the far end of the room with a large man inspecting his watch. She joined them and waited silently. After ten minutes the big man sprang to life and unlocked the door behind him.
“Follow me, everyone,” he said walking us across a small cobbled yard where he unlocked a steel door. They all managed to fill the corridor before he locked the door behind them,. The door made a clang that echoed off the walls. There was nothing soft in this place, not the walls, not the door, not the people. The guard unlocked another door and reviled a room filled with tables. She sat there and fidgeted, waiting for Barry to appear. Inside she was a boiling cauldron of emotions. She was worried about Barry being locked up in here, angry that this had happened to them at all, frightened about what lay ahead for both of them. She experienced every type of emotion possible except one...happiness.
A clang of metal roused her from her thoughts and a line of men entered the room. In the middle of them was Barry. His eyes locked on hers and she’d never been so relieved to see anyone. He gave a weak smile and came across the room to take the seat on the opposite her. His skin was grey, as if he hadn’t slept in days. She guessed that was only to be expected. He had dark rings under his eyes and his hair was uncombed. He was dressed like all the rest, in a light grey tracksuit and lemon-coloured bib. She smiled and tried to say hello, but the word wouldn’t come out. Instead she started to sob. More bloody tears was she ever going to stop crying.
“It’s ok, baby,” he said and reached across the divide to take her hand in his.
“No touching!” yelled a mean looking man standing at the top of the room.
            Barry snatched his hand back but the shock of being yelled at stifled my blubbing. Barry looked at me with wide concerned eyes. “Are you coping, Kate?”
            “Not much choice, have I?” she said, sounding like a sulky, self-obsessed, teenager.
            “I know, I know,” he said, sitting back and looking around to see who might be listening. He was as jumpy as anything, what must he be going through? She couldn’t imagine and hoped she’d never know.
            “Is it...well...is it alright in here?” she asked and as soon as she had, she knew it was a ridiculous thing to say.
            “Alright?” he said leaning over the table. His eyes grew hard and unkind. “I haven’t slept a wink, not one single second. I shouldn’t be in here, it full of.... scum. I’ve got to get out and quick. They stabbed a guy last night and everyone just carried on as if nothing had happened, not even the guards. It’s a fucking animal house in here.”
            “Jesus, that’s terrible. You should say something,” she said.
            “Say something? To who?” She knew he was getting ratty, he always did when he was tired. She wished she could climb over the table and take him into her arms. She loved him with all her heart, and seeing him like this was killing her.
            “Sorry,” she said and he huffed and folded his arms.
            “What did you tell the cops?” he asked at last.
            “What could I tell them? I know nothing.”
            “That’s good,” he said as if he was talking to himself not her.
            “How did that stuff get into our house anyway?” she asked knowing that this was the question she’d come all this way to ask. Barry’s eyes flicked up at her and there was fire behind them again.
            “How the hell would I know?” he demanded, and she felt relieved beyond words. She knew he could have nothing to do with such a thing. It was her turn to lean across the table but this time with excitement. She laid out her theory about a rival business trying to get him out of the way by planting drugs and then informing the cops. At the start, Barry looked sceptical but the more she spoke the more excited he got.
            “Yes. Yes! You could be on to something. Have you told anyone?”
            “No, should I?”
            “Yea, the very minute you get home. I want you to call that cop…Adams. Tell him everything you told me.”
            “Who do you think would have done this to us?”
            “To me, Baby, to me. The list is as long as my arm. Even Jack Bradly said he was going to get me when I under bid on the Easton Quay contract.”
            “Jack Bradley? From KWB?”
            “Yea, him. Tell Adams that as well. You could say you heard him threatening to stitch me up on the phone, or something.”
            “But I didn’t?”
            “Do you want me out of here or not?”
            “Of course, I do?”
            “So, you heard him say it!”  Barry was telling her to lie to the guards. She’d never lied to a guard in her life. But Barry was right, she needed him out of this place. What did she care if it was a lie or not. After what the guards had put them through she’d never look at a guard in the same way again.
            “I heard it,” she said, and Barry smiled at her.
            “Good girl. With you by my side I’ll be home by the weekend. You know I love you.”
            “I love you too, sweetheart.” Her hand moved toward his but before she could reach it the warder’s voice rang out.

            “Time up. Say your good byes.”
Around the room there were sorrowful smiles and the sound of scraping chairs. Barry stood up and began to turn away.
            “Toby misses you,” she called after him. He paused and looked back at her. It was like he didn’t know what to say. It was only now she realised Barry hadn’t asked after his son once.
            “Tell him, Daddy’ll be home soon,” he said and then walked away with his shoulders hunched. She watched his yellow bibbed back vanished and wondered if that was that just another lie she was supposed to tell.
***
            By the time Kate got home it was well after five. She called the police station, but Detective Adams had already left. As she hung up the phone, Toby turned away from the TV and asked, “Will Daddy be home tonight?”
            “Not tonight darling, but soon,” she said and saw the hurt in his eyes. She added, “He said to tell you he loves you and misses you loads.” Toby turned his head back to the TV but she knew he wasn’t actually watching it. She decided not to pursue it any further because anything she might say would either be a lie or a pipedream. Instead she busied herself with dinner for the two of them.
            She was in the middle of setting the table when the phone rang.
            “Hello?” she said tentatively, hoping it wasn’t some crank or a journalist looking for a quote.
            “Mrs Rusk, it’s Amy from the office. Sorry for calling you so late but...well...I just need to know what to do?” Kate had forgotten all about Barry’s work committments. Even if they hadn’t actually heard what happened they would be worried because of Barry’s sudden absence.
            “Oh, Amy! I’m so sorry. I should have been in touch before now. You must be wondering what’s going on.”
            The girl was very quick to jump in with a denial, “I’m not being nosey, I just need someone to approve a few contract details.”
            Kate smelled the distinct aroma of the gossip mill. “Why didn’t you ask for Barry, instead of telling me?” she asked and heard the girl on the on the other end of the phone grow silent. She was trying to make up her mind what to say.
            “People have been talking,” she said cryptically but Kathy knew exactly what she meant. People had been talking about Barry being arrested for drugs offences.  Either they were either psychic or someone in the industry was spreading rumours from the moment the Guards broke down their door, or earlier. It seemed to confirm her theory that they had been set up by a business rival of Barry’s ore even someone in their own company. How hard would it be for someone working in Barry’s office to lay their hands on his keys and make a copy of the house key? That would explain the absence of any damage to the doors.
            “Who’s been talking Amy?” she snapped.
            “Not me! I can tell you that. Look, if this is a bad time I can call again tomorrow.”
            “I’m not blaming you, Amy. I just need to know who has been saying what? Its very important! What have you heard?”
            “I...I. I don’t know if I should say.”
            “Amy, please. Just tell me,” she said, trying to keep her voice calm so she wouldn’t scare the girl off.
            “It’s all over the place. They say Barry was charged with having drugs! Someone saw him in court and well...now everyone knows.”
            “Who saw him, Amy! Who was it?”
            “Jim Murphy, he was there lodging an appeal for a planning refusal and he saw them bringing Barry into the dock.”
            “Murphy? The architect?”
            “Yea. Look, please don’t tell him I told you. You know how nasty he can be.” Nasty was right, and spiteful. Barry put a lot of work his way, but Kate never believe the man was grateful. It was like he was jealous that Barry was the boss where he was just a hired hand.
             “Of, course I won’t tell him, but I need you to know that Barry had nothing to do with those drugs. Someone wanted to make it look like he had and I’m starting to understand why
            “Sorry?”
            “It doesn’t matter. What did you need approval on?” Kate asked, turning the conversation away from Barry. Amy seemed glad.
            “A client is looking for a ten percent reduction on a price before he would sign up. Barry would always make those calls and I didn’t think I should ask any of the junior guys, well, not without running it past you.”
            “You did the right thing. Can it wait till tomorrow morning? I can call in after I drop Toby off at school and take a look?”
            “Could you? That would be great!”
            “Sure. I’ll be in about ten. You might have on of the others on hand to explain technical things to me if necessary, but don’t make a big deal of it. Barry will be back in the office in a few days.”
            “Thanks Mrs Rusk.”
            “And Amy?”
            “Yes?”
            “I want you to let people know that Barry had nothing to do with any drugs and that he will be back before the end of the week. You got that?” she asked and the you got that at the end of the question was a command not a suggestion.
            “You can count on me!”  the girl said and Kate felt it was like counting on a three-legged donkey winning Ascot.
            “See you tomorrow,” she said and hung up the phone. The rest of the night passed very very slowly. More and more hypothesis were firming up into possibilities. The names Jack Bradley and Jim Murphy kept pinballing around in her brain. There was no way they were connected but either of them could be savage enough to ruin another man’s life just to line their pockets. Jack or Jim, which one was him? Tomorrow, after she’d seen Amy, Kate decided it was time to make her way to the garda station under her own steam. This time, she would be the one asking the questions and she’d no intention of letting things lie until she had the answers she wanted.
***
            Barry shuffled along the with the other men leaving the visitors room but his mind was completely absorbed with the story Kate had told him. Successful business man is shanghaied by jealous rival, using the authorities to do their dirty work. It sounded like a story that might appear on page twenty-four of the Sun but page twenty-four would do just fine. All he had to do was introduce a reasonable element of doubt and he knew he could beat this rap. Kate mightn’t know it, but she just might have saved his skin. For the first time since he got here, he felt a glimmer of hope.
            The prison warder at the front of the queue opened a gate with a six inch key and stood to one side, allowing the men to take off their yellow bibs and dump them in a crate at his feet. Barry did exactly the same and walked into the heart of The Joy. He looked around and had to pinch himself. It was like walking onto a movie set. He had seen this room a dozen times in different movies because Mountjoy had actually been used in dozens of films. In the name of the father had been his favourite. Danial Day Lewis was a master. He looked up at the triple row of thin balconies, running the length of the hall, and the wroth-iron staircases rising up to meet them. He half-expected a hunched-shouldered Lewis to appear above him with one hand flicking a wave of black hair out of his eye, and making that eye-tick he had mastered in mimicking Jerry Conlon.
            The faces that peered down on him from above were far less welcoming than the hapless and harmless Conlon. Barry tucked his neck into his shoulders and pushed his hands into his pants pockets while he made his way back to his cell. He gave the pool and table tennis tables a wide berth on his journey as these seemed to be courts for the kings of the landings. He was aware of less-than-veiled looks as he passed, but he didn’t care as long as they left him alone. He mounted the first set of iron steps and climbed them to the second tier of cells. His was the fourth down on the left and so far he’d had it to himself but that seemed to have changed when he ducked inside the low doorway. Sprawled out on the top bunk was a skinny guy with a skin-tight haircut and a thousand tattoos. As Barry crossed the threshold, the man let the magazine he was reading sag so he could assess who was arriving.
            “Alright, buddy?” he asked in a long-drawn Dublin accent.
            “Hi,” said Barry quietly as he eased himself into the lower bunk and drew his legs up on the blanket.
            “You been down the fanny farm?”
            “Sorry?” asked Barry not recognizing the words but something told him there was a joke in there somewhere and that joke was directed at him. He could tell by the cock-sure way the kid spoke that he was a hardened inmate, not a new fish like him.
            “The Fanny Farm! Wives and Girlfriends! You know...the visitor’s room.”
            “Oh...yea. Good one. Yes, just back.”
            “Not much chance of a BJ sadly, not unless you can swing a conjugal.” For the second time in under a minute, Barry had to ask the question, “Sorry?”
            “You know!” said the man swinging his legs over the edge of the bed and dropping to the floor so that Barry could see all of him. “Conjugal visits,” he said, miming rhythmic thrusting of his hips. “The old wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am.”
            “I don’t think I’ll be here long enough for that,” said Barry turning toward the wall, and hoping the guy would get the message and sod-off.
            “Found a way of getting out, Barry?” the guy said, his tone not friendly anymore. Barry didn’t remember saying his name and her turned his head to look at the man. The friendly shit-eating grin was gone from his face and only rock solid determination remained. The guy watched him with black, unblinking eyes and his fight-hardened muscles bounced under the skin of his arms.
            “I’ve...”
            “Shut the fuck up, wanker! Mr Bell send’s a message.”
            “Look...” The guys fist shot out faster than a viper and crashed into his jaw.
            “Did I say I wanted to hear from you?” Barry rubbed his throbbing face and said noting. The rock-hard psycho ducked his head under the bunk, so he could talk without raising his voice. “Like I was saying, Mr Bell want’s you to know, if you mention one word about him, one fucking word, he is going to long long time making you regret it!
            “I said nothing!” cried Barry and the guy didn’t seem to care if anyone heard him or not.
            “Good, and you better keep it that way! Keep your mouth shut, pay back the money you owe...”
            “What money?”
            “You lost a lot of product! Someone’s got to pay!
            “You got to be kidding me?”
            “I love a good joke,” said the guy breaking out his ear to ear grin again. “Have you heard this one?” As a punchline to the sentence the man grabbed the top bunk and cocked his leg as if he were about to kick start a motorbike but instead, he kick-started Barry’s face. Again and again, the runner landed, pulping his lips and nose until Barry felt the world start to swim. Funny enough, after the first blow, it didn’t hurt that much. As darkness swam up to take him to sleep, Barry had a second to wonder if he would ever wake up, then silence prevailed.