Darren drove in silence, letting his mind pry at the latest crazy stunt John and Tony had gotten him dragged into. In truth, Darren knew his brothers were feral, and would get him killed one day, but that didn’t mean he had another route to take. Like it or not, he was a Griffin from skin to bone, nothing would ever change that. He knew he could see the world differently than his brothers, that didn’t mean he could change the path that had been laid out for him. He might see the doorways to a peaceful existence passing him by, but just as surely, he knew they would be slammed in his face, if he ever had the audacity to try and take one of them. Not only that, but it would also mean cutting himself off from the world he knew, the world which accepted him, as he was. Such vision was just as much as curse, as it was a blessing. John never worried about such things, he like the life he was living, and would never seek out any other.
By the time Darren dropped John outside his house, he had made peace with the war they'd started today. What mattered now was to win at all costs. John opened the door of the car but paused before getting out.
“Are you alright?” he asked Darren.
“This isn’t the way I would chosen things to be, John, but it’s the way things are,” Darren said. John smiled and got out of the car without saying a word. Darren drove away, feeling neither fear nor excitement, anticipation nor dread. He merely accepted what would be, would be. He abandoned the car with the keys in the ignition, and the door open. Darren knew it would be wrecked, or torched, before he even reached his flat. Darren strode along the street, streets which were more his home than any house, trying to figure out where this would all end up. He glanced over his shoulder, now and again, more out of habit than fear, but its better to be safe than dead, he hated being on edge all the time.
He checked behind him once more when he reached the cast iron gate that guarded the entrance to his apartment block, nobody was following. He pressed a code into the keypad, and the electromagnet released the gate. Darren climbed the stairs until he reached the top floor, his floor. It might be a flat in a north Dublin suburb, but it rivalled any other flat in Dublin in its finish. The door was four inch thick, solid mahogany, with a mirror finish. Inside, the flat was a vast open plan space, bedecked with stylish furniture and décor. Clare was standing behind the ironing board, a sizeable stack of folded clothes were already done and waiting to be put away, while a hamper, half full, still lay at her feet. She rested the steaming iron in its holder, when the solid door closed behind Darren.
“You were gone a long time, I thought you were only going to meet John?” she said, concerned but not nagging.
“I did, earlier, but he had something he needed doing,” Darren said, sliding behind her to give her a hug and a kiss on the neck. She tilted her head away exposing that little place behind her ear that she to have touched, by finger or lip. He felt her melt back in his arms and he could feel the tiny fluttering of her heart under his encircling arms. A faint hint of perfume lay sweetly on her skin, complementing the most wonderful smell on the planet, her smell. Darren inhaled deeply, rubbing his nose along the line of her neck, where it vanished into the thick forest of blond hair that cascaded down her back. He drew her wonderful aroma deep inside his lungs and held it there, holding her essence deep inside his body, knowing that nothing else would ever make him feel as alive as the sensation of having part of her within him. When he exhaled, he imagined a sliver of her soul passing over his lips, and out into the universe. It reminded him that in the end, we all only borrow time and happiness, it can never be owned. He rested his head on her shoulder and let worry cloud his mind once more.
She rested a hand on his arm, and stroked the lean muscle that twitched beneath his pale skin, “Are you alright, Darren?” she asked, her voice sweet and serene. He didn't answer straight away, causing her to turn in his embrace.
“What is it, Honey?” she said, stroking his head as it rested against hers.
“What is it, Honey?” she said, stroking his head as it rested against hers.
“John wants to expand the business into O’Connell Street,” he said, without lifting his head.
“O’ Connell Street belongs to Kingston,” she said, drawing away from him a little, her face creased with concern.
“I know,” said Darren, straightening up and running his hand through his hair.
“I hope you put him right?” she said.
“It’s too late, he already made the first move.”
“Without telling you, without asking what you thought.”
“He knew what I’d say, I guess that was why he didn’t ask,” Darren sighed.
“There must be something you can do to stop John, it’s too dangerous to try and take over a patch like that. Jimmy Kingston will never let O’Connell Street go. It’s too valuable.”
“John isn’t asking, he’s taking. Tony knocked over Kingston’s man in Zoe’s a few nights ago, and today we hijacked his main supply drop. Like I said, it’s too late.”
“Oh God, what's he done?” Clare said, walking away, holding her face in her hands and sitting on the couch, the forgotten iron, spitting clouds of steam into the air at regular intervals. Darren didn’t say anything, but he moved over to sit beside Clare, resting a comforting hand on her back, as she searched for answers that weren't to be found. She turned to look at him, her face was ashen now,
“Don’t get involved with this, Darren. It’s John’s mess, let him deal with it.”
“I can’t do that, and you know it,” Darren said, removing his hand from her back.
“Why? Why must it be you?”
“It’s who I am. It’s who we are. I, we, are the Griffins. They need me, and I need them just as much, can’t you see that. If we don’t stand together, we have no chance at all. You knew who I was when you decided to be with me, nothing has changed,” he said, a little steel creeping into his voice.
“Yes it has, everything has changed, Darren. Can’t you see that? I love you, Martin loves you. What kind of a life will it be, if every time you walk out that door, it might be the last? It'd be like having my heart ripped out every day, again and again, until it happened for real. Please, Darren, Please don’t do this to me,” she said, throwing her arms around his neck, and he felt her body shudder, as the tears came.
“Come on, Clare. It’s not that bad,” cooed Darren, taking her in his arms and squeezing her tightly.
“Look, the last thing anybody wants is a running battle on the streets. There might be a way to reach some kind of compromise, and I promise you, if I can, I will get the boys to look for a way out of this. But I have to stand with my brothers, Baby. I can’t desert them, just like I could never desert you. Nobody is going to take me from you, I give you my word,” he said, lifting her head and kissing her quivering lips hungrily.
She pulled away from him after a while, her mascara running in dark rivers down her face.
“Promise?” she said.
“Promise?” she said.
“I promise,” he said, and was rewarded with a weary smile.
Inside, Darren knew it was a promise that was going to be nearly impossible to keep. Clare was right, Jimmy Kingston would never give up O’Connell Street, and John would never back down, once he had put his mind to something. Darren could only hope that some of them would be left standing by the time it was all over. For a second, he considered taking Clare and Martin, and running away from the whole thing, but that feeling passed as quick as it had come. His destiny was not written in the stars, it was written in the grime and filth of the streets he had been born on, the ones he still called home. His tribe needed him, his time to be counted had come, and Darren would not falter in the face of the enemy, no matter what.
Across the city, Pete sat alone in his Jaguar, listening to the radio, while he watched children fight over the highest position on the climbing frame in the playground at the center of the park. Jimmy’s car glided up beside Pete's passenger door, and stopped. Pete was about to get out, but Jimmy’s door opened and he got out looking around, checking the few cars parked in the tiny gravel area for occupants. Pete knew they were empty because he had done exactly the same thing fifteen minutes ago. Once Jimmy was happy he opened Pete's passenger door, and ducked his head inside.
“Fancy taking a walk?” he said. It wasn’t a question that needed an answer. Pete got out of the car, clicking the button on the key, remotely locking all the doors. He followed Jimmy’s as he slowly strolled through the gate and into the park.
“Did you get it all stored away, boss?” asked Pete when he was level with Jimmy’s shoulder.
“Yea, it was all there and safe as houses. I sent out a new delivery, to replace what we lost this morning.”
“How much did they get?” asked Pete, pulling up the zipper on his jacket a little more to keep the cutting breeze out.
“Eighty thousand, street value.”
“Scum,” snarled Pete, his noes wrinkling up.
“You know what I can’t figure out, how they knew were the drop was going to happen,” said Jimmy. Pete knew better than to offer anything. He just walked along, shoulder to shoulder while Jimmy let his mind worry at the problem at hand.
“I think we have a snitch, Pete,” he said at last.
“But who'd do that?”
“There were only a few people that knew where that drop was going to happen. Me, you, Kenny, Niall and Fergal.”
"Any chance someone could have told someone else?” said Pete, and he quickly added, “I know I didn’t.”
“Could have, I guess, but its more than likely someone who knew for sure, and I sure as hell know it wasn’t me,” said Jimmy, giving Pete a chilling look.
“You don’t think it was me?”
“Don’t be stupid, of course I don’t. But we better keep an eye on Niall and Fergal.”
“Niall's still in the hospital with a crushed leg, and they nearly beat Fergal to death when they took down the score, they'd hardly do that to someone that was feeding them info.”
“They might have been trying to cover their tracks.”
“Hell of a way to do that, nearly killing them both.”
“Just keep an eye on them after they come out of the hospital. See if they do anything out of the ordinary.”
“I will, do you want me to pay the lad’s a visit in the hospital?”
“Na, just keep an eye on things. Don’t go tipping our hand. If we knew who it was feeding the Griffins info, we could use it to our advantage,” said Jimmy, walking on like he had nothing better to do than taking a stroll in last hours of sunshine. Across the park, the excited squeals of the playing children, filled the air with unbridled joy. Jimmy looked at them and smiled in the direction of the playground.
“Can you ever remember being that young, Pete?” Jimmy said, nodding toward the playground.
Pete looked across the park and frowned. “Do I remember being a Kid, you mean?”
“Yea,” said Jimmy, still smiling.
“I guess I do,” said Pete, not understanding what Jimmy was on about. Sometimes Jimmy had a habit of talking in riddles. Pete didn’t always understand him straight away but Jimmy always got to the point, at one stage or another. Pete knew he just had to wait and all would be revealed, that was why Jimmy was the boss.
“Everything seemed so simple where we were kids. Look at them, pushing and shoving each other down the rungs of the frame, always trying to be king of the castle,” said Jimmy, stopping and giving the playground his full attention. “It seems nothing's changed, after all, we're still trying to get to the top of the climbing frame, and when we're there we will do anything to stay there, Pete. These Griffin’s want to knock me off the top of my castle, and this time, there'll be more than a few scraped knees to show for it.”
“I guess so, boss,” said Pete, still not getting what the Griffins had to do with a playground full of kids.
“How do you stop people trying to knock you off the top of the climbing frame Pete?” asked Jimmy, turning to face Pete.
“Push them back down?” asked Pete, feeling sure he was right.
“No, Pete, not them, him. You get the first little runt that has the balls to try and climb to your level, you get that first dozy bastard, and you throw him all the way to the bottom, as hard as you can. That’s what you do, and let everyone else in the playground see it happening, that is how you stay King of the Castle,” said Jimmy, his eyes alive with cold fury.
Pete understood what Jimmy was saying, and nodded. Jimmy patted him on the shoulder before striding away toward the car, leaving Pete alone in the middle of a kid’s park, thinking dark thoughts of blood and death.