Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Thirty Pieces of Silver - Hunting Scobie (cont)

Joey laid it on thick with Mrs Jennings when he got back to her house. He told her how he knew Scobie had been bricking it at the thought of going back inside, and that he was worried he might do something drastic like scarpering, that was why he had gone looking for him. He had tugged at her heart strings by telling her there was a chance he could convince him to come back before it was too late, to face up to the music and avoid being on the run. Joey piled heartache on top of despair and watched the woman crumple under the weight of those emotions.

Eventually Mrs Jennings told him that Scobie had a cousin working in London called Ryan Hughes. She'd said they’d been close as kids and she couldn’t think of anyone else he’d know over there. She knew he worked in a pub near Kilburn but she didn’t know where he was living. The only thing she could tell him, besides his name, was that the pub was called The Elephant and something. Joey headed home to pack a bag with Mrs Jennings pleas, to bring her boy home, ringing in his ears. He'd bring her boy home alright but he couldn't promise in how many pieces. Joey strode through the streets of Dublin on rock solid legs, something he didn't think he'd be capable of a few hours ago but now he had a destination, a hint of a trail. How many pubs could there be with Elephant in their name?

When Joey got back to the flat he found Sarah waiting for him, her makeup was streaked from crying and he knew he had been the cause of that. At first he felt angry that she was making a flipping scene when he needed to focus on getting Jimmy's cash back but that feeling soon melted. Anger flew out the window and was replaced by overwhelming guilt. Each tear that fell from her alabaster chin to splatter on the coffee table was his fault. The worst thing was that Joey knew, if his Ma had been alive, she would be doing exactly the same thing. God how he missed his Ma. She always knew just what to say to make things better. He would give anything to have her here right now. He moved over to the couch and sat beside the only family he had left and took her in his arms.

“Ah, Sis. Don’t be crying. I'll get things sorted,” he said stroking her hair which was dry from the dozens of times she had dyed it to cover the grey strands. Grey he'd been responsible for if he was honest. She looked at him sadly, like she was looking at him for the last time, but she didn’t say anything just sniffed and wiped away a tear.

“I spoke with Mrs Jennings and I know Scobie is over in London with his cousin. I just got to get over there and get Jimmy’s money back. It will be alright, I promise.”

“Will it be alright, Joey?”

“Of course it will,” he said but felt the hollowness of his words. Deep in the back of his mind he wondered who he was trying to convince, Sarah or himself.

“What about the next time?” she asked

“There won’t be a next time,” he said with a conviction he had no mortal right to possess.

“Joey, you’re running money around the city for a criminal. Worse still, you didn’t even know what you were running and you still did it! He'll use you till you’re in jail, or dead.”

“I swear, once I get this cash back I'll never go near him again.”

“Easy to say but he has his claws in you and you can’t even see it. You won’t be able to stop him, and the sad thing is I can’t see a way of stopping him either. He's going to take you from me, I just know it,” she said and fresh tears ran down her face. Joey hugged her harder and felt her sob into his chest as her hands wrapped around his neck.

“We can get through this. I know I’ve let you down and been stupid but that's all going to stop. I'll find a way, even if it kills me,” he whispered into the nest of hair rubbing against his cheek. She pulled away, her red rimmed eyes held his, searching for truth and hope in their depths. He knew that if there was ever a time to turn his life around, this was it. She must have seen some of what he was feeling because she patted his hand and dried her tears, sniffing back her heartache.

“Right, you better pack a bag. I’ll see about booking a flight for you."

There was nothing he could say to take back all that had happened. All he could do was try and make it up to her in the future. It only took him a few minutes to throw some clothes into a bag and find his passport. Sarah appeared at his bedroom door with her arms folded in defeat.

“You're on a Ryan Air flight leaving in three hours, and coming back the day after tomorrow. Will that be enough time?”

“Loads.”

“Where will you stay?” she asked. He hadn't thought about that. The only thing he had thought about was finding the cash.

“I’ll figure that out after I find Scobie,” he said walking toward her. She held out a piece of paper with his booking reference number on it.

“You’ll have to print out your boarding card at the airport, and take this,” she said pressing a fold of notes into his hand.

“I can’t take that,” he said knowing that was all the money they had. He tried to get her to take the money back but she pushed it away.

“And how much have you got?” she asked after his third attempt.

Joey said nothing because that was exactly what he had in his pocket.

“You can pay me back. Go on, you better get going,” she said standing aside and letting him out of the bedroom.

“Thanks,” he mumbled.

She hugged him again, pulling him close to kiss him on the cheek.

“You be careful,” she said sternly.

“I will,” said Joey, feeling embarrassed in his sister’s arms.

She eventually released him and he walked toward the front door. He looked back as he stepped out onto the landing and the broken look she wore wounded him anew. He knew in his heart that once he got Jimmy’s money back, he’d never put her through anything like this ever again.

***

The Griffin brothers gathered around the coffin, each of them looking uncomfortable in a stark black suit. Behind them, Emma sat with her hands folded in her lap and her face grey with grief. The twins sat quietly for once. They looked sad but confused, as if they kept forgetting why they should be sad. It was the miracle of being a kid, that bouncability they seemed to possess which vanished in the growing. Little Zoey looked as if she had no such defence against the evil of the world. She looked haunted and hollow, as if someone had scooped out everything that had made her vibrant and left a thin vainer of skin waiting to crumble at the slightest touch.

Clare had tried consoling Emma earlier but nothing she said seemed to get through the wall of grief the young widow had erected about her, she was beyond the reach of words. In the end Clare had sat in the hard plastic chairs which were unique to funeral homes and watched her sway gently back and forth while her eyes stared off into space. Even now, as the remaining Griffin brothers stood guard over the body of her husband, Emma's eyes refused to be draw in the direction of her departed love. Emma's distance wasn't the only stark change in the room. Darren and Tony seemed to be different men today. There was a calm between them which she'd never seen before. It wasn't exactly a closeness, but it wasn't the barely disguised animosity that had always been a feature of their contact before. Today they stood shoulder to shoulder and seemed to take comfort from the others presence.  

The undertaker approached Darren and waited until he looked in his direction.

“If you’re ready, shall we open the doors?”

Darren nodded and the man moved away toward the entrance. In a circle around the coffin were close family waiting to greet the mourners gathered outside. Seated first in the row was John's mother, the original Mrs Griffin. She was flanked by her sisters and brothers, those that were still alive at any rate. Then after the slightest gap in the row was Emma, who loomed incredibly large in the room, like the core of a black hole determined to suck all the pain and heartache in the world toward herself. The reason for the gap between Emma and her mother in law was common knowledge. Emma told Clare that John's mother had said on their wedding day no less, that her John was a fool for marring a painted trollop such as her. Her wedding day! Emma had laughed it off but Clare knew the old woman's scorn had struck home. Emma may be tough but she wasn't immune to poison on that level. Even in light of John's death, Mrs Griffin seemed to have no sympathy for her daughter in law.

The twins and Zoey sat closest to the Griffin brothers who dominated the head of the room like three gargoyles come to life. On the left of the coffin sat various cousins inter spaced with less direct married relations including herself and Martin.

The first people appeared in the doorway and blessed themselves solemnly before looking forlornly on the fallen man in the coffin. Clare knew that behind those virtuous looks, most were searching for signs of the bullet holes that had robbed this earth of such a vibrant man. They were nothing more than ghouls in saintly disguise. Then it began, the marathon of gripped hands, stifled tears and half hugs. Hour after hour the throngs came. Clare lost track of the number of strangers who expressed their sorrow before moving on to the next person in black.

She couldn't have said what had alerted her to a change in Darren, perhaps it was the way his back straightened, or that his attention seemed riveted to an area of the queue not yet even in the room. He shook hands while looking over or around the person directly in front of him. Clare sensed trouble in the offing and wondered what he had seen. He made no effort to alert Tony who was to his left, but something was clearly wrong.

Clare looked at those coming into the room, searching for a potential gunman, or an old enemy, or even the detective who'd called to their flat the other day, but she could see no one out of the ordinary. That was when she noticed the tall elegant woman with luscious hair falling past her shoulders moving slowly down the row of mourners. Clare was sure Darren's eyes were tracking her every move and it didn't take a physic to see why, she was gorgeous. The woman's eyes were framed by impossibly long lashes and her lips shone like rubies and although she mouthed her sorrow, there was a slight turn to the corner of her lip that suggested some hidden humour at the centre of her being. Clare followed Darren’s eye line and was sure she saw something pass between them. Darren looked uneasy, angry even. Closer and closer the woman moved until she paused in front of her man and offered her hand. She couldn’t hear the words that passed between them but Darren's gaze was locked on the willowy figure in front of him. Their hand clasp lasted longer than any other he'd shared, but the woman moved on before it was lingering. Clare knew in her heart that this was the woman who threatened everything she had built and she was moving toward her, the bitch.

“I’m so very sorry for your loss,” the tall woman said in a cultured and clipped accent that seemed exotic among the rumble of north Dublin accents filling the room.

“Thank you Mrs....?”

“Molly,” she said with a dazzling smile.

“How did you know John?” Clare asked returning her smile with interest.

“I got to know him through work, although not that well. I felt compelled to show my respects.”

Compelled? That word sounded double edged. Clare was about to ask where the woman worked when she became aware of the stalled queue of mourners and the glaring look Darren was sending her direction.

“It was lovely to meet you, Molly,” Clare said at last before extending her hand to the man standing behind her nemesis, accepting the next mumbled Sorry for your troubles.

As the mysterious Molly continued to shake the hands with the outer ring of cousins, Clare watched Darren from the corner of her eye. He was like a cat on a hot tin roof. His gaze danced from Clare to the departing Molly back to the individual who had appeared before him to grasp his hand in condolence. 

Clare knew she'd just encountered the rock which may crush love from her life, and she felt no better for the experience. Molly? What a dull name. Molly! Dull it may be but the woman it encompassed was nothing short of incendiary.

***

Pete knew it was a mistake to take Fergal Collins to the hospital but Jimmy was the boss, so he'd done as he'd been told. Even so, years of looking over his shoulder had taught him to always listen to his gut instinct and his gut was screaming out for attention. That was why he'd left one of his guy's behind to watch what went down.

The coppers had been round, that was only to be expected, but what wasn't expected was the fact that an hour ago, Collin's was wheeled out of the Emergency department under a four man armed guard. Pete knew that could only mean one thing. Once a rat, always a rat. Collins was trying to sell them out to save his own worthless skin. Pete had gone straight round to Fergal's house to make sure his old lady knew the score. If her old man talked it wasn't just his his head he was putting on the chopping block, it was all of them. As it turned out Pete never got to deliver his message. When he had turned up at the house there were two unmarked Garda cars sitting in the drive way. It looked like the whole Collins family had chosen the path they wished to take.

Pete was furious as he drove away, but nothing was set in stone yet, Collins had a long way to go before he ever made it up the steps of a courthouse. Pete considered calling Jimmy to tell him what had happened but he changed his mind. This was the kind of news best delivered in person.

When he turned the car into the Garrison and things were blessedly quite for once. He didn't know whether to be relieved or nervous. Lately it seemed if things weren't kicking off, they were about to. He parked outside Jimmy's and turned off the engine. The expensive leather seat creaked as he eased his bulk out the door and he felt a stiffness in his bones that was coming more and more often. Perhaps he was getting too old for all this stuff but what would he do then? Take up gardening or what?  He walked up the path and knocked on the door which was opened nearly instantly by Kenny. Pete felt his face harden with anger, that kid would be the death of them all.

"Did yea check the camera?"

"I knew it was you, chill out man," said the teenager walking dismissively away from the door.

"You had no fucking idea who it was!" shouted Pete storming into the house after the departing lad and slamming the door hard behind him.

"Don't be such an auld woman," said Kenny flipping him the finger over his shoulder.

"The cameras are there for a good reason, you gobshite!" Pete said catching Kenny by the shoulder and spinning him roughly to face him.

"Hey! Get your filthy hand's off me! You better remember you work for us, not the other way around. Got it!"

Pete felt his fists bunch and the kid was going to get a slap. That was when he heard Jimmy's voice behind him.

"He works for me, not you," the gang boss said evenly as he descended the elaborate staircase.

Pete and Kenny stood waiting for more but it didn't come. They were like two warring kids waiting for a parent to take sides. Instead of doing anything of the sort Jimmy waked between them with a knowing smirk on his face. Kenny waved his hands in frustration and chased after his father.

"Are you going to let his gorilla put his hands on me?"

"You probably deserved it."

"Jesus Christ. You're always taking everyone's side but mine!"

Pete saw the look in Jimmy's eye and knew some switch in his head had flipped from calm to dangerous. It always amazed Pete how fast he went from calm to deadly. Jimmy had a hair trigger, you never knew what would set him off, that was why Pete mostly chose to say as little as possible. Kenny always went a few steps too far, driving his father close to the edge but some inbuilt survival instinct stopped him in the nick of time.

"I'm not a kid any more, you need to start treating me with more respect," said Kenny to his father.

"That's rich," snorted Jimmy. "If you want to sit at the big boy table you better start pulling your weight around here."

"And what's that mean?"

"I'm fed up of watching you swan around town living it large on the back of my name and my hard work."

"It's my name too!"

"Only because I gave it to yea. You talk about respect, where is my respect?" yelled Jimmy.

"I'm sick of this shit," said Kenny walking away. Like a flash Jimmy grabbed his kid and the open-handed smack he delivered sent Kenny crashing back against the wall.

"Don't you turn your back on me!" This time, Kenny's survival instinct kicked in and he held his tongue.

"You're nothing but a spoilt rotten kid, but you're my kid and you better start remembering that. It's time you started acting your age and then you might earn a bit of respect, now get the hell out of my sight!"

Kenny hurried away toward the front door in a cloud of hurt dignity. He yanked open the door and just as he was about to slam it Jimmy snarled, "Don't dare slam that flamen thing."

Kenny paused with his fingers wrapped around the edge of the heavy reinforced door, a look of hate filled his eyes but fear of his father won the battle and he walked away leaving the door open behind him.

"Close the door, would yea?" said Jimmy  to Pete as he walked, you'd swear nothing had happened at all.

Pete closed the door and followed Jimmy into the sitting room. His boss was standing at the window watching Kenny's car leave a cloud of tyre smoke behind as he roared out of the cul de sac.

"We have a problem with Fergal Collins, Boss."

"What problem?"

"The cops have an armed protection detail on him in the hospital and another one at his house."

"What?"

"It looks like ..."

"I know what it means!" snapped Jimmy spinning around on Pete. Pete didn't react to the sharp comment, instead he just waited for Jimmy to get it out of his system. He watched the man stalk around the room muttering and making frustrated gestures with his hands before coming to a rest near the door.

"He's a dead man," Jimmy said at last.

"He was a dead man anyway, I think that is why he's turned to the cops."

"I don't believe it. This is the last thing we need. I'll get the tame coppers sniffing around and find out what he's been saying, you get a message to that snitch. Make sure he knows that if he says as much as one word, him, his bitch wife and kid, his mother, his brothers, in fact everyone he ever spoke too is dead. Tell him the only way the coppers will ever stop it happening is by burring him in the deepest darkest hole they can find."

Pete nodded and  walked out of the room. Behind him he heard Jimmy say to himself, "I should have killed him when I had him."

Yea you should, thought Pete as he closed the door.

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