Friday, 8 July 2016

Thirty Pieces of Silver - Fear and Consequences

Jimmy Kingston heard the same radio announcement as Detective Adams. Unlike the detective's feelings of anger, Jimmy felt a wave of triumph surge through his body. His inner voice crowed with delight. That'll show the fuckers. That's what happens to people who mess with Jimmy Kingston. What the hell did they think would happen? They'll think twice before crossing me again. Despite the confidence of his inner monologue Jimmy felt a tug at the base of his stomach, a nugget of doubt crouched all the way down there like a stowaway in his soul. He knew if he turned his mind on that throbbing point he would see that all was not rosy in the garden. He might learn to fear the reaction of the Griffins, or the guards. Had he started something he couldn't stop? Would the prize be worth the price?

The Ferryman’s evil little Nokia vibrated on the kitchen counter. Jimmy opened the message, which was short and sweet. “Job done. Payment tomorrow, I will give time and place as needed.”

“Cold bastard,” thought Jimmy laying the phone back down. He’d pay the psycho gunman and have nothing more to do with him. Jimmy didn’t like dealing with people he couldn’t control, and nobody controlled that mad man. That speck of doubt in his gut, grew a little bit bigger.

***
Pete Byrne was in Mullingar when he heard the news about the shooting in Dublin. By now, the details were playing every hour on every news station. The victim hadn't been named but never was the word 'injured' mentioned, which screamed dead in anyone’s language. Just like his boss, Pete was full emotions, but unlike Jimmy’s wave of triumph, Pete’s feeling of joy was never ending. The face which stared back from the rearview mirror was stone cold but inside he felt like dancing. The war was on, it was his time, it was the only time his life made sense. There was something in him which craved the heat of battle. He'd been born in the wrong century, the wrong millennium. Pete was a warrior, pure and simple. When he didn’t have a foe to smite, he felt lost. In those in between times the blackness was so permanent, he nearly didn’t recognise it any more. The only time he fully appreciated how sad his life had gotten was during moments like these. It was like he had been woken from a coma and remembered what it was like to be alive.

Inside, Pete Pit-bull Byrne was dancing. Dancing on the graves of his enemies, fallen and yet to die.

***
The Garda station conference room, which had been full at the last meeting of the taskforce, was overflowing. Adams had to jostle his way to the front to begin the briefing. The room was muggy with body heat which only added to Adams discomfort at having to address a crowd. He spotted the Chief Leaning against the door, nearly the exact same spot he himself had chosen for the first meeting. This time the chief had no words of encouragement for the men gathered. Adams knew that as you rose through the ranks of any police force your job became less about law and more a game of politics. The chief was a good politician and he knew when to leave the sabre rattling to others. That way if the war was lost, the general would keep his head.

As Adams approached the rostrum, the room grew quitter.

“I’m not going to waste time going over every detail of the case at this time but as you all know, John Griffin was murdered this morning. All indications are that this is an escalation of the feud between the Kingstons and the Griffins. The hit was extremely professional, so much so we believe the killer may have had some military training. Small calibre bullets, close range and any one shot could have been fatal.

We know the killer is right handed because of the point blank shot to the victims left temple. The getaway bike was discovered in a nearby park, it had been set alight with propellant. Sadly the fire brigade had already extinguished what they though was a blazing bush by the time the bike was noticed. Forensics are examining the bike and several other items discovered there. There is a team doing an inch by inch search of the projected escape route as we speak.

This killer hasn't left much in the way of physical evidence, no finger prints, no spent shell casings. Most of the forensics departments hope's are pinned on the sleeping bag left covering John Griffin. It would appear the shooter had disguised himself as a wino so he could lay in wait for Griffin to arrive. We hope to be able to lift some hair, skin or fibres from the bag that we can use. We hope any DNA gathered can be used to cross reference with the defence force data base. 

I don’t have to remind you that there is another side to this investigation. This is not the pinnacle of the event like most murder cases, this could well be the beginning of a landslide for us. It is vital that we step up the controlling actions already in place. The chief has approved some increase in manpower, but with so many key players, keeping tabs on everyone will be a job and a half. Let’s get back out there but be careful. If these guys weren't carrying weapons before, they sure will be now. We want no dead heroes over this.”


As Adams gathered up his papers there was a muted round of applause followed by an explosion of talking. The atmosphere was electric, everyone wanted a piece of such a big case. It took him a further half an hour to get out of the room with various colleagues stopping him to ask questions, share ideas or just dig for more information. Adams had a bad feeling about the way things stacked up between the Kingstons and the Griffins. He had said as much to the Chief but his words fell on deaf ears. "There was just no money in the kitty," was the answer he had got. The small increase in manpower he had told the team about was nothing more than an insult and he'd only got those few hours by begging. Adams felt bad about covering up the departments penny-pinching but he wasn't about to bring down the moral of the team.

Everything pointed at a hit man with professional training. Adams could name at least a dozen guns for hire in the city but this job had all the hall marks of one man. The Ferryman. They'd been gathering bits of information on him over the years but he was very careful. He always planned his hits down to the last detail. He was an accomplished marksman and at least four fatal head shots from distance were attributed to him. He was erratic in his actions often doing several jobs in the space of a few weeks then vanishing for years. Adams had a feeling that during the quite periods the man was operating someplace else in the world. A few years back he plotted the prison time of all know hit-men to see if any one matched all the dead zones in the Ferryman's calendar. In the end he had ruled out all of them as possibilities. Running around the city was a deadly killer, ruthless and careful, without a name or a face. Adams felt they had a few days, a week at the most, before the Ferryman would vanish again. He was up against the clock no matter which direction he turned.

***

When Darren got home and told Clare what had happened at the school, she broke down in tears. At first she fussed over him, consoling the loss of his brother, but soon her concern turned from his feelings to their future. As the hours passed her words became less comforting and more cajoling as she worried about what would happen next. He tried to reassure her that everything would be fine, that she was over reacting, but it wasn't enough. Her harrying got worse in response to every assurance he gave her, more demanding. She knew what he was, who he was, the day she got together with him, so what was her problem? He tried explaining the reality of his life but she would not listen. In the end he snapped and yelled at her to shut the hell up. He knew his words were far too harsh, but she was doing his head in.

At six in the evening, he loaded his car with a moody Clare and an unusually quite Martin. He needed to go and check on Emma and the kids, she would need her family around her today. When he got to the flat complex there were so many cars it looked like a motor dealership. Four of their, his, most senior men were standing guard at the gate, vetting everyone coming to pay their respects. They looked uncomfortable in suits which had not seen an outing since their last day in court. As Darren approached, the men stood forward one by one to shake his hand and offer their heartfelt sorrow at what had happened, they all offered to do anything that was needed, anything. It was a show of sorrow but also one of loyalty to the new king. The king is dead, long live the king thought Darren. It was a role he didn't want but one which had been forced on him regardless. What could he do, he was trapped by expectation and family loyalty.

Darren climbed the stairs with Clare and Martin following along behind him. Each step felt unnaturally heavy, the climb had never seemed this far before. When he reached the top balcony, John's door stood open and a huge crowd lined the walk way. People stood on both sides talking softly, drinking beer, or cups of tea, as they wallowed in the grief of his family. Darren ran the gauntlet of handshakes and half hugs. Every forced Sorry for your loss, and lingering embrace was like having his soul whipped with thousand razor blades. He smiled through the pain and was un-naturally thankful to reach the sanctuary of a dead man's the flat in the end. Inside, the apartment was a hive of activity. Female neighbours and friends were doling out tea, food and drinks to every person that appeared at the door. In the tiny sitting room which normally rang with the voices of playing children, Emma sat unmoving in the corner, her three shocked and crying kids gathered in her arms as if she was afraid to let them go. Clare brushed past Darren and rushed to kneel beside Emma. She took the whole brood in her embrace and a fresh flood of tears gushed forth from both women.

It was all too much for Darren. He needed some space to come to terms with what had happened but propriety said he had to be here. He grabbed a beer from the fridge and popped the lid off it. He leaned against the counter and stared into space. The people flooding the apartment seemed to sense his mood and most kept a respectful distance. Through the door of the sitting room he could see Clare consoling Emma and giving him infrequent glances loaded with fear and annoyance.

The crowd parted and Terrance appeared in the hallway. He was wearing his trademark army coat but his face was that of a broken man. John had been more than a brother to Terrance, he had been a father and a God. Terrance half sprinted across the tiny room on his gangly legs and threw his arms around Darren's neck.

"Why? Why?" was all he could manage between sobs. Darren knew there was nothing he could say to ease his brother's pain. What was the point in telling him the truth, which was this tragedy or another even worse had been coming since the day John crossed Jimmy Kingston. Darren held his brother and felt his skinny body shudder with grief and all he could think to say was, "I don't know."

As Terrance let his sorrow out in the only safe place he knew, his brothers arms, Darren heard Tony's voice on the balcony outside. He must have been the one that brought Terrance along. After a lifetime of listening to Tony, Darren didn't need to see him to know his brother was as high as a kite. There was that manic note in his words and the rushed way his sentences spilled out told him everything he needed to know. Terrance was getting himself under control and he lifted his head from Darren's shoulder and wiped his running nose on the sleeve of his green jacket. Darren patted him on the shoulder but his attention was trained on Tony's threaten words which rang around the flat, until the source of all that bile appeared in the kitchen door.

"We'll tear the Kingston's world apart," he ranted and poked a defiant finger in Darren's direction as if everyone was privy to the conversation playing in his drug addled brain. Darren didn't say anything and Terrance looked from one brother to another in bemusement.  

"We'll do it for John, well burn the whole fucking place down!" Tony yelled grabbing Terrance by the shoulders to give him the full benefit of the madness seeping from his bloodshot eyes.

"You hear me, boys? Are you with me?" but the brothers remained silent. 

"JESUS CHRIST! Your brother is dead, MURDERED by those scum and you stand there doing nothing?"

"No of course not, you dipshit!" yelled Darren and a hush ran through the flat. Darren became aware of every set of eyes and ears which were trained in his direction and thought better of his outburst. He stepped forward and grabbed Tony to pull him close. In a dangerous whisper he hissed, "Of course we're going after them, all of them, but this is not the time to go shouting your mouth off. I don't even know half the people here. They could be touts. Just keep your trap shut, and we'll talk properly after we see right by John. Got it?"

This time it was Tony who was silent.

"GOT IT?" Darren yelled and everyone within earshot jumped, including Tony.

"Yea, I got it alright." said a mollified Tony, but the fire of resentment was glowing hot under his skin. A blush rushed up from his collar and he slapped Darren's hand from his jacket. Tony didn't like being told what to do by anyone and that went double for his brother. Darren had enough of Tony's bullshit, and the insincere words of people he didn't even know. If John were alive he'd throw every last one of them off the balcony.

Tony puffed out his chest and fixed his jacket while looking down his nose at him. Darren felt his blood boil and without meaning to he balled his hand's into fists. Sensing trouble, Clare appeared in the hall and said, "Darren" in the same snotty way she gave out to Martin.

Fuck them all he thought and pushed past Tony knowing he had to get out of the kitchen fast or there was going to be blood spilled. He wanted to hurt someone, he needed to hurt someone, and he was afraid it might be his brother.

"Where you going?" called Clare, as Darren stalked toward the door.

He didn't answer, but his face said all that was needed. There were no outstretched hands this time to slow his departure, one look at Darren Griffin sent everyone scuttling for cover. He was a bomb about to go off.

Darren strode between the parked cars filling the yard and spotted the unmarked cop car idling across the road in an instant. He could see two men inside watching his every move. When he stormed down the footpath and away from the apartment block, he knew they would have to make a decision. Stay and watch what was going on at the flat or follow him. When he got to the end of the street he glanced over his shoulder and they hadn't moved. Darren was sure they would have called in his departure so that someone else could pick up his tail. He knew the whole city was on high alert after the shooting and if he was going to give them the slip this was his chance. He rounded the corner as a taxi appeared. He hailed it and for once the driver stopped when he was needed. Darren dived into the backseat and closed the door.

"Where too buddy?"

"Anywhere but here," said Darren under his breath.

"Sorry?"

"Dun Laogharie."

"You catching a ferry?" asked the driver pulling away from the kerb.

"It might be the best thing for everyone if I did," mumbled Darren, looking out the window sadly.

The driver was good, he knew when to mind his own business so he turned up the radio slightly. They didn't speak for the rest of the journey. The car passed through the gritty heart of the city, were the smog stained brick buildings cut out the sun. Garish splashes of spray paint defaced roller shutters, bus shelters and buildings. Marks of the bored and the abandoned of society, who's poverty did nothing to dim their need to make an impression on the world. As the journey continued, the streets widened, classic iron railings replaced timber hording and barbed wire topped walls. Elegant bay windows looked on broad thoroughfares bordered with majestic trees and manicured flower beds. Street by street, the houses retreated further from the road as front gardens began to appear and the price range flew toward the stratosphere.  Soon they were tracking the coast out of the city and into exclusive suburbs. Darren got the taxi to drop him off at the head of Dun Laogharie pier. The pier was a huge arm of concrete that stretched nearly a kilometre into the bay. Darren turned his collar up against the stiff breeze coming off the bay. Black clouds gathered on the horizon and a hint of mist hung in the air. He walked the length of the pier, encased in his own personal thunder storm. When he reached the end he clambered over the breakwater, climbing down the steep rock face to sit just above the water line.

Waves rushed in as the water was pushed by wind and pulled by the moon. Gulls squawked in the sky and bobbed on the foam flecked water. Darren felt a tear cross his cheek. Now that he was finally alone, away from the expectations of his family, of his friends, of himself, out here with only the gulls to see, he could be himself.

Eventually, sitting on the cold damp stone numbed his backside and roused him from his melancholic stupor. Hours had passed and night was drawing in. He was cold and needed some heat but wasn't ready to go home yet. He wasn't ready to face the heart break that flowed from Emma, or the fear that spilled from Clare's eyes, or the hatred that spewed from Tony's mouth. He wasn't ready for any of that, yet. As he walked back along the pier, the answer rose above him like a Phoenix into the night. Ablaze with twinkling lights, the Royal Marine Hotel guided him back to shore.

The bar was old worldly elegant with miles of polished brass, deep leather upholstery and red velvet drapes. Darren levered himself into one of the swivelling high stools and ordered a double brandy from the man behind the counter. The staff were dressed in stiff collared white shirts, black waistcoats and floor length black aprons. They looked like they'd been teleported from from the eighteen hundreds. Darren lifted the snifter of brandy and drained it in two go's.

"Same again when you're ready." Darren knew he'd softened his north-side accent when he spoke and dropped the ubiquitous 'Buddy' which would've normally finished every such request north of the River Liffy. Darren wasn't ashamed of who he was, but the last thing he wanted tonight was attention of any kind. The bar man laid the drink on the counter and Darren could feel the barman raking him up and down with his eyes, trying to decide if the hard drinker was going to be a problem. Darren raised his eyes and smiled.

"Thanks."

The barman took for the drink and strolled to the end of the bar. He may have placed some distance between them but Darren could tell by his body language that he was uneasy. This time Darren sipped his drink and gazed into its golden depths.

"You won’t find the answer in there." The voice was smoky and full of mischief. Darren looked up and saw the woman for the first time. She was sitting two stools away, stirring a tall drink, lazily.

"It's as good a place as any to look," he said, turning away.

"It can't be that bad surely?"

"It is and I'm not in the mood to talk about it," said Darren.

"Suit yourself," said the woman turning away and the note of hurt was hard to miss in her voice, she was about to stand when Darren said, “I didn't mean any offence. It’s been a bad day and I came here to get away from it all. To escape."

The woman settled back into her chair but didn't say anything.

"Let me buy you a drink, to say sorry," he said, needing some company all of a sudden. He didn't want to be with his family, but he realised he didn't want to be alone either.

The woman checked a slim gold watch before saying, "Sorry, I'm meeting someone." Darren looked around and made a show of inspecting the room.

"I think he's stood you up."

She smiled a reassured smile, "He'll turn up."

"Boyfriend?"

"Something like that," she said taking a long swallow of her drink.

"Go on, have a drink with me. I could use the company."

"Maybe later," she said finishing her drink and standing. Darren looked over his shoulder and a guy in his mid-sixties wearing a business suit was shuffling nervously near the door.

"That's your boyfriend?" he asked, his eyebrows arching in surprise.

She leaned in as she passed, tendrils of her musky perfume tickled his nose, "More of a client."

The mischievous smile was back and she crossed the floor with a models walk. Her elegant black dress clung to her hips as they swayed hypnotically. Darren laughed quietly to himself. Trust him to sit beside a bird on the game, but what a bird, pure class.

Just for a moment he'd forgotten all about John, the Kingstons, Clare and even his brothers. For one fraction of a minute his mind wandered, distracted by a vivacious woman in a slinky black dress, but that minute was gone. Everything loomed up at him again, bigger and more vivid than before. His frown returned and his head bowed once more as he tried to lose himself in the depths of his brandy glass.

He was thinking about ordering another when he became aware of the barman standing in front of him. "Good timing,” said Darren, tipping the rest of the brandy down his throat and pushing the glass across the bar. The barman pushed a blank envelope into the spot where the glass had stood.

"For you," he said, leaving the envelope and picking up the empty brandy balloon. "Same again?"

"Yea, go for it," said Darren, taking the envelope and ripping it open. A key card fell out with a piece of hotel note paper. Darren unfolded the note which read, Room 221, midnight, you bring the drinks.

"The saucy mare," Darren whispered to himself and dispite everything that had happened that day a smile creased his lips. Perhaps it was just what he needed, a little time with someone who knew nothing about him, who knew none of his problems. Yea, why the hell not?

Darren looked up as the bar man began filling his glass.



"Hay, Buddy. You better make that a single."
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