Sunday, 28 August 2016

The Blacksmith and the Ruby

Morning mist hovered above the meandering river undisturbed by even a breath of air. Kingfishers darted from the overhanging trees to spear minnows through the crystal clear water. Over rock and around root the torrent babbled, filling the air with nature’s music. In the sky, birds sang to welcome the coming day as they danced on invisible currents snatching freshly hatched insects from the sky.

In the distance, another noise joined this morning chorus, the faint sound a horse and rider approaching, but the timing was askew. Cling, cling, cling, clang, rang the falling hooves. Cling, cling, cling, clang, in lazy repetition. High on the hill above the river a lone horseman appeared, his cowl drawn up to ward off the dew while his mount seemed to favour one leg, laying the hoof more gently than the others and causing the bum note. The rider paused and turned his face toward the hamlet of Rosendale, a tiny community built on the banks of the river at an ancient fording point. Smoke from early morning cooking fires was beginning to pool above the thatched roofs. The rider gently urged his mount forward with a twitch of his heal, but demanded no more than the animal was comfortable to give. Their progress toward the village was slow, but it was determined. Before long the hooded figure clopped along trails worn betwixt the sleepy houses. He rained his steed to a halt when a raggy boy appeared in a doorway.

"Good morrow, Lad, do you have a Smithy near about?" the man asked, folding back his hood so the morning sun glinted on his long golden locks. The boy looked at the mounted man with awe. It was like seeing a God walk among mortal men. He radiated power and vigour, his face was so handsome it could stop time itself and his smile was so beguiling the birds would fall from the trees at the sight of it. The boy stood slack jawed which made the rider guff with good humour.

"Ah, I see the cat has been away with your tongue early this morning," he teased which broke the spell fallen over the child.

"Aey, Mr Shipman is our Blacksmith, yonder is his yard," said the boy pointing to a cluster of mud walled buildings near the banks of the river.

"Much obliged young Squire," said the rider and he dismounted to lead his horse the last stretch of the journey. When he reached the Blacksmith's forge, the fire had not yet been stoked for the day so he tethered his mount to a post, stroking the beast’s neck with affection and blowing breaths of air across its mussel. The animal whinnied and nuzzled the man's neck lovingly.

"There, there, Girty, we'll have you fixed up in no time," he said while stroking the horse’s velvet ears with the touch any lover would envy. 

"A fine animal," called a voice, making the rider jump slightly. A bear of a man stood watching him. He was powerfully built, if not overly tall, with a thick growth of curly black hair on his chin, and more to match across his ham hock shoulders. The man smiled kindly, offsetting what might otherwise be an intimidating stature.

"Mr Shipman?"

"The very same."

"My mount has thrown a shoe and is a mite lame. Can you accommodate us with a few hours rest and a new set of iron for my friend?" asked the rider patting the animal on the neck.

"You're a stranger to these parts," said Mr Shipman. It was not a question but an observation.

"I've travelled a long road, with longer to go, but my journey is my own so I have time, and coin to spend," said the rider, taking the man’s questioning with good humour.

"Coin be coin, no matter what quarter it travelled from, you are welcome Mr ...?"

"Longsdale."

"You're welcome to my home Mr Longsdale. Come, you must be hungry," said the Blacksmith gesturing toward an open door.

"It's hospitable of your sir."

"There is pottage on the fire but I can't attest to its quality. I'm a fine worker of iron but there my talents die."

"Is there no Mrs Shipman?"

"Sadly she was taken by a fever seven winters back."

"You never took another?"

"If you knew my Mrs, you'd know there could never be another. She'd come back and haunt me should another lass ever cross my threshold," said the Smithy, his voice full of good humour and giddiness.

The tall rider nodded as if happy with the reply, then entered the home. The two men warmed themselves in front of the cooking fire while they ate oats stewed in goat’s milk and drank a tankard of cloudy ale. When the meal was finished the Blacksmith set about examining the horse's leg. She was holding it slightly off the ground, putting as little weight on it as possible.

The bushy ironworker cooed soothingly as he took her forelock on his aproned leg. He cleaned the area with a pick and nodded sagely, before gently resting the foot back on the ground

"She's not yet lame, but not far off either. The shoe was badly fitted if you ask me. It has come loose and has been chafing the poor thing with each step. We'll make a new set for your girl but I would say she should rest two nights, may hap three, before being shod again."

The tall rider nodded and although he looked pained by the length of the wait he said, "What you think best, Mr Shipman."

The Smithy pointed to an open sided hay manger near a stock field, "You may loge in yonder rick if it would please yea."

"It looks as fine as any tavern I've ever encountered," the rider said smiling through the lie. He slipped the saddle and blanket from Girty's flanks and rested them on a fence. Mr Shipman led Girty into the paddock and left her there with a friendly pat on the rump.

The hay was soft and mostly free of mice and insects. He lay back and drew his cowl around his body, feeling every mile of the road he had travelled pushing down on his eyes, the mysterious Mr Longsdale fell into a dreamless slumber.

The sun was in its final quarter when the sound of hammer on metal roused the stranger. He stretched himself and rose, calling a cheery greeting to the sweat covered Mr Shipman before strolling along the bank of the river into Rosendale itself. The village wasn't big, but it was beautiful. Pigs squealed in pens as they nosed through the mud for remnants of their last feed. Chickens ran wild in the spaces between houses. He could see children minding sheep, goats and a few thin cattle on the surrounding grassland. Women had waded into the babbling river, slapping sodden garments against the rounded rocks before soaping and rinsing them anew. The air over Rosendale was heavy with happiness which infected everyone who called it home.

The rider talked cheerily with those he passed. He purchased eggs, a creel of potatoes, a chicken for the pot and a skin full of ale. He knew Mr Shipman would insist on offering him vittles’, sadly he had been right about his cooking abilities, and the rider had seen just how bare his cupboards had been. Once back at the forge, Mr Shipman had made a good show of refusing the offered supplies but not good enough to make the refusal anything more than politeness.

***

Being a Blacksmith was a proud profession, but it was a hard one. When the Smithy had seen the tall handsome man standing at his forge, he felt uneasy. The man was too fair, too wholesome, but his smile disarmed any fear Mr Shipman may have felt.  He also treated his mount with the utmost kindness, the virtue of a good man, and when the mysterious Longsdale had appeared laden with food, this virtue was placed beyond doubt.

They shared meals and good conversation over three days but there was always something otherworldly about his guest. On the night before he was due to shoe the horse, Mr Shipman was woken by a sound he knew as well as his own heartbeat, the sound of his bellows breathing life into his forge. He rose and crept to the window. The night was moonless and none in the village stirred. The tall stranger stood before the forge, warming himself against the chill of the night. He had stoked the coal into a fiery glow and shadows danced across his face. He appeared to be speaking but there was nobody else in sight. A fountain of sparks rose from the forge and vanished into the night sky. He was very animated in his movements and Mr Shipman thought he may well be praying. That was when it happened.

One glowing spark didn't rise like all the rest, it danced around the riders head, glowing brilliantly, and growing by the second. When the spark reached the length of a man’s middle finger, the Smithy finally recognised it for what it was, a fairy. Everyone knew such magical creatures existed and were responsible for both good and bad fortune, but this was the first time the Blacksmith had ever seen one with his own eyes. His heart raced and his eyes remained glued on the unfolding scene. The fairy darted in and whispered into the rider’s ear, causing the tall man to nod and scratch his chin. The riders winning smile was nowhere to be seen, if anything he seemed to be brooding. The fairy and the man conversed as if lifelong friends, the magical creature seemed deferential to the rider. In the Smithy's mind the pieces of a puzzle clicked together and it was with fear and trepidation he realised who he had been sharing his days with. The man standing at his forge was the Fairy King!

The Blacksmith watched as the rider held out his palm and the fairy flew in a spiral down to land there. Without anger or compassion, the man closed his grip crushing the light from the tiny being. The rider held his hand stiff and unmoving for ten ticks of any clock and then his hand vanished inside his cloak. When the rider looked up, his eyes seemed to bore through the darkness and seek out Shipman. The Smithy dropped to his knees and scurried away to his sleeping mat. He didn't look out the window again until the sun rose above the tree tops, but his eyelids failed to close for even a moment’s sleep. 

That day, the Blacksmith completed the shoeing of the chestnut mare in record time. The man, or whatever he was, complemented him enthusiastically on a fine job and held out three silver coins for his work, and his kindness. The Blacksmith took the coins, gushing his thanks, but the truth of the matter was he'd gladly forgo the money if the man would just leave. Every moment the rider took to saddle his beast, and gather his belongings, seemed to last an age. When the man finally placed his foot in the stirrup the Smithy was dancing with nervousness. The stranger swept his leg over the horse's rump causing his cloak to flare. Something caught the Blacksmith's eye as it flew across his yard to land in the straw where the stranger had been sleeping. The Smithy thought about saying something but the urge to be rid of his guest was too strong. Instead he raised a hand in salute as the horse and rider strode away content in their new shoes.

Once the rider had forded the river and vanished into the woods on the far side, the Smithy sifted through the straw at the edge of his hay-wain. His hand rested on something hard and he hoped it was silver coin. When he opened his fingers he got the shock of his life. Sitting in his hand was a ruby, as big as a robin’s egg and a red as blood. The value of such a jewel was beyond imagining. He stood there, dumbfounded and for a second considered racing after the stranger to return the gem, but the thought of chasing down a being from the underworld into the darkness of those woods strained even his bravery. He rolled the ruby through his fingers and let the red beams of light play across his eyes. It was such a beautiful thing, and so valuable. He was holding a king’s ransom in his hand.

His started to walk down into the village, eager to show off his prize but doubts crowded his mind. Would they make him race after the stranger or would they believe what he saw last night? Would they want him to share his fortune? Would one of his neighbours steal up on him in the dead of the night to stave his brain in?

In the end Mr Shipman turned around and walked back toward his house. The rider may well return for the jewel so he had better keep it safe for him. There was no point in telling anyone. He lifted the hearthstone and scooped a tiny hollow from the dirt below. Once the granite slab was back in place, the Blacksmith returned to his work but his mind was filled with dancing red light.

The day passed and the stranger failed to appear. That night, the Blacksmith bolted his door, a thing he had never done before, and removed the ruby from its hiding place. Late into the evening, he watched flames dance through the gem. That night his dreams were filled with castles and banquets, fine horses and silken robes. When he unlatched the door in the morning, his treasure was hidden once more and the yard stood empty. As the hours passed and the stranger didn't appear, the Blacksmith began to believe the stone may well never be claimed.

The days turned into weeks and people started to comment on the changes in Mr Shipman. He never came into the village to share a tankard of ale with his friends anymore, in fact he never strayed more than a few yards from his home. His naturally friendly demeanour soured and those who turned up with something to mend were dealt with brusquely and none were ever invited to share an ale or a meal. Even the few copper coins he'd always been so happy to receive were being snatched with impatient hands and vanishing without a word. Slowly, fewer and fewer people called to the forge. Then came the day when the coals weren't lit at all, and Mr Shipman's house door failed to open.

The darkness that hung over the Blacksmiths home deepened and started to spread. One by one, misfortune fell on all the houses of the village. Small things at first like a lame calf or hens refusing to lay, but early in September there came a night so cold it froze the ground solid for two days. By the time it passed, every grain or vegetable waiting for the harvest was scorched black and rotting in the ground.

With no crops to gather the villagers had to resort to killing or selling their livestock. By mid-winter, famine had settled on the inhabitants of Rosendale. Over those long dark months, every family lost members to starvation or sickness. Even Mr Shipman was suffering, he had eaten the last of his hens weeks past and now stood on the brink of starvation himself, but he refused to part with or even speak of the fortune which lay hidden beneath his hearthstone. His soul was devoured by greed, his mind as black as the spuds rotting in the fields. He had the power to save himself, and all his neighbours, but he couldn't make his fingers uncurl their grip on the ruby.

It was the darkest night of January that the storm came. Shipman lay weak on his sleeping mat, floating in and out of dreams while the roof above his head creaked and swayed in the fury of the gale. When he opened his eyes and saw the Fairy King on his threshold, Shipman thought he was dreaming. He watched the handsome man stride in, sweeping the door closed behind him. With a flick of his elegant wrist every candle in the room burst into life, and the fire embers roared upward renewed by fairy magic.

"You have something of mine?" said the man sternly, standing over the now withered Blacksmith. Any words he felt could help were trapped in the Blacksmith's throat by despair. He had come at last. Lonsdale, or whoever he was, held out his hand and the flagstone before the fire began to shudder. With a pop it flipped into the air and the ruby floated across the room to land softly in the stranger’s hand. The tall man closed his fingers without looking on the gem and hunkered down to be near the Blacksmith.

"Did you think I'd be so careless with such a precious thing? Did you not imagine I knew where this lay? You're truly are a foolish man, Mr Shipman."

"I was keeping it for you," said a now terrified iron worker while levering himself into a sitting position with the aid of the mud wall. Thunder split the sky and the hut was lit up as if it were mid-day.

"You take me for a fool? You kept this for yourself, even when it could have saved your friends and your neighbours. You let so many die and for what? A pretty pebble? I gave you the chance to be different, Mr Shipman, an opportunity you squandered. You would be suffering still, but for Girty. You can thank her for my compassion. She said you had gentle hands."

Fat tears ran down the Blacksmiths face and into his wispy beard. The rider stood to leave when he heard the Blacksmith's choked cry behind him. He stopped and turned, "What was that?"

"Please, don't take it from me." crooked the sobbing man.

"This thing?" asked the rider holding out the ruby.

"Please."

"So be it," said the tall stranger with a sorrowful look and tossed the gem to the prone villager. The Blacksmith fumbled but managed to catch the gem in both hands and clutched it to his chest.

"Thank you Sire," croaked the man as fresh tears rolled down his cheeks.

"Look again," said the rider.

Shipman opened his fingers and his face was bathed in golden light. There in his palm stood a tiny fairy with gossamer wings. The creature stuck out his tongue at the Blacksmith before it zoomed upward, leaving a trail of sparkles in its wake as it shot out through the chimney.

The Blacksmith cried out in agony as he stared at the spot his ruby had just been and it was a sound that would freeze a man’s blood solid in his veins.

"Things are not always as they seem," said the rider striding out into the storm.

The next morning the tempest had passed. The village stood damaged, but it still stood. Every house would need repair, fences were down but they had no livestock to keep penned, trees had been uprooted and the river was in flood. In the heart of such devastation, the cries of delight echoing around the glen seemed strange. The raggy boy who had directed the stranger toward the Blacksmith all those months ago had discovered huge wagon sitting on a broken axle by the fording spot. It was laden with every food and animal known to man. The whole village gathered and discussed what to do. Soon, morning turned to noon, they felt the wagon must be a gift from God.

It was decided that every man woman and child in the village would receive an equal share of the bounty and should an owner appear, they would all work in unison to pay off the debt. Even Shipman who still remained locked in his house, was allocated a fair portion. His oldest friend offered to bring the Blacksmith his food.


When the man pushed open the door to the Blacksmith's home he found Mr Shipman sitting up on his sleeping mat, his body as cold as ice and clutching a garden rock in the palm of his hand.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Thirty Pieces of Silver - A Friend in Need.

Joey hurried home as quickly as he could. He stuck to side streets but even so the morning rush of commuters was unavoidable. His head hurt like hell but he tried to avoid rubbing at it with his sleeve because every time he did he could feel a fresh trickle of blood running through the roots of his hair. He was thankful for the blindness of city people, never wanting to see, never willing to get involved. A few people glanced at him before snapping their eyes back toward the footpath. Blood stained clothes and bruised skin screamed trouble, the kind of stuff nobody wanted to invite into their day. It was after nine by the time he reached the sanctuary of the graffiti mottled stairwell in his block of flats. He knew Sarah would be gone to work, at least he could clean himself up before she saw him.

When he finally got inside the flat and the door snicked closed behind him, it felt as if he had been holding his breath for hours. He exhaled deeply and felt a tiny bit of tension lift off his shoulders. He was rattled to the core by the beating Jimmy had given him, and being forced to wander the streets of Dublin with enough drugs to get a housing estate high slung over his shoulder. He took off the backpack and held it at arm’s length. The package inside the bag was bulkier than the last time and it was defiantly heavier. Jimmy must have been trying him out with that first run, a tester load, to see if he was up to the job. The urge to look inside was overpowering and he had started to open it when Jimmy's warning rang through his mind. His hand stopped and the popping of the zipper teeth echoed in the empty hall. Joey's brain raced as he weighed up the options. In the end he decided ignorance was bliss, it was better not to ask the question if you didn't want to know the answer. He yanked the zipper closed and wiped the tab clean against his top.

The way Joey figured, the less he had to do with whatever was inside, the better. If he never handled the gear then his fingerprints could never be found on it. If he never saw what was inside that bag how the hell could he be blamed for having it. They were weak arguments and Joey knew if he was caught carrying the stuff by the coppers, he was facing some serous jail time. It was clutching at straws to think they would believe he knew nothing about what he was moving around the place, but at least it would be the truth. The truth might not count for much but it might cut a few months off his sentence, if he was caught that is. Being caught by the rozzers might be a long shot but being caught by his sister was another matter entirely. Joey knew he had to hide the bag someplace Sarah wouldn't find it.

He opened his bedroom door and looked for a good hiding place. The wardrobe seemed inviting but it was far too obvious. He put the bag under the bed but after a microsecond he had it pulled back out again, it was the first place anyone would look. He put it under his pillow and covered it with the duvet but it didn't look right, too lumpy, anyway if anyone found the bag in his bedroom there was no way of denying it was his. Joey abandoned his bedroom and went in search of a hiding place elsewhere in the flat. He dismissed all the kitchen presses, Sarah would find the bag in seconds. He tried putting it under the couch but there wasn't enough room. The only other option was in the press under the TV. It was jammed with DVDs and old Xbox games, as well as his Xbox console. Sarah never looked in there, except to put away stuff he had left lying around. Joey pulled dozens of plastic cases out and wedged the bag in the back before dumping the games back on top. It was as good as he could do in the given circumstances.

He closed the timber doors and sat on the couch staring at them, as if they were going to spring open again at any second. As the minutes passed his heart rate slowed and he did his best to rationalise the risk he was taking. How many people carried backpacks in Dublin? Thousands, millions. What was the chances of being pulled in and searched by the coppers out of the blue? Slim. What was the chances of being beaten to a pulp by Jimmy if he didn't do the job? Astronomical!

He raised his hand to the throbbing point on his head and the contact made him wince. He'd better get off his arse and see how bad he looked before Sarah turned up. Joey shuffled as far as the bathroom and turned on the light in the tiny room. He looked at himself in the mirror and was surprised he didn't look worse. His top was a mess, covered in blood stains, as was his tee shirt. He stripped them both off and looked in the mirror again. This time it was worse. His jaw held the promise of a fine bruise already starting to turn a dark shade of red as the blood slowly pooled where Jimmy's knuckles had made his world swim. His ribs were aching and his skin was covered in glowing patches which were soon going to be a rainbow hue of misery. There were smudges of dried blood on his forehead, but not half as much as he thought there should have been judging by the pain which seared his scalp. Jimmy knew how to hurt a man that was for sure.

He explored the dark depths of his hair with tender fingers and found the source of his misery. Joey filled the sink with warm water and gently sponged the blood from his matted hair. It did not take long for the water to turn from clear to dark pink. After he was finished he inspected his handy work and at a casual glance, nobody would ever know that he had been near scalped earlier. The towel he had been using was covered in blood stains by now. How could he look so normal when it felt like he'd been beaten to a pulp? Over the years Joey had taken a few slaps but nothing more. He remembered the day he'd seen Pete Byrne beating the drug dealers in the back of the snooker hall, but he had never truly understood the pain those men were enduring. Jimmy had barely touched him in comparison to that, and it felt like he had been tortured. A cold sweat spread over his body, one caused by equal amounts shock and fear. At last he realised he was dealing with some very very dangerous people, a realisation that was coming far too late. These were men who would hurt him without batting an eye and even kill him without losing one wink of sleep. He had been a fool to think he was special because he had gone to school with Kenny, a royal fool.

His head swam and black rings appeared at the edge of his vision. In some primitive part of his mind he knew he was going to faint and scrabbled around with blind hands until he felt cold porcelain under his fingers. He sat heavily on the toilet, feeling dizziness rush up at him and his eyes spun in his head. His stomach churned and was sure he was going to vomit. He bowed his head and closed his eyes, breathing deeply through his mouth as a chill ran over his skin, but the dark circles at the edge of his vision paused and eventually started to recede. He sat like that for a long time, or at least it felt like a long time before he was well enough to regain his feet.  At first his movements were heavy and drunken. He staggered to the sink and turned on the cold tap, letting the sink fill with fresh water. He ducked his head and spooned the chilling liquid over his neck, letting it pour down over his naked back until he felt his strength begin to return. The cold was good, the water was better and eventually he felt half human again. He pulled the stopper and watched the liquid being sucked down the drain and he knew just how helpless that felt. He was being sucked under and there was nothing he could do to stop it. When he eventually felt good enough to let go of the sink, the hamper full of bloodied clothing caught his eye and he knew he had to do something with them before Sarah arrived home for lunch.


Joey grabbed the hamper and pulled it after him into the kitchen. He stood before the washing machine in bemusement, as if it had fallen from outer space. How hard could it be, Sarah was no Mensa candidate, surely he could figure the thing out. He pulled the little handle on the door and it swung open. No problem, what a doddle he thought to himself. After dumping the stained clothes inside and slamming the porthole closed he opened the power drawer. Three slots stared back at him in mockery. Which one should he use? Shit, why in God's name would anyone need three slots and which one was the right one to use. He ladled out a scoop of powder and held it hesitantly over the drawer. A? No B! Ah, fuck he thought and spread it over all three before dipping the cup back in the power box and adding another for good measure.

He pushed the drawer closed and waited, nothing happened. There had to be a start button on the thing someplace so Joey studied the assorted knobs and buttons arranged along the top of the machine. He may as well have been studying Egyptian hieroglyphics for all the sense it made to him and was on the verge of kicking the bloody thing when someone rapped on the front door.

He stood like a stone statue for a second, before another rat-a-tat-tat on the door prodded him into life. He scurried into the hall but he hadn't the luxury of a spy hole so he called out instead.

"Who is it?"

"Joey, it's me," replied the familiar voice.

When Joey opened the door a crack he found Scobie looking in at him like a lost puppy.

"Howyea Joey," he said with a smile which reviled a newly added gap in his teeth.

"What happened your tooth?" asked Joey through the partially opened door. Scobie explored the area with a finger and his eyebrows arched as if surprised by the loss.

"It fell out," he said, still prodding the eroded gum with the tip of his finger.

"What yea want, Scob?" asked Joey, the breeze from the open door chilling his naked chest.

"Can't yea let me in?"

"It's the flamen crack of dawn."

"Please Joey, I know Sarah is gone to work, I saw her down the salon on the way here."

"So what?"

"Come on, Joey. It’s freezing."

It wasn't freezing but Scobie was basically skin and bone, there was no meat on him to keep the heat in. He looked like a scarecrow dressed in an over-sized tracksuit. The last thing he needed today was Scobie hanging around but Joey didn't have the heart to shut the door in his miserable face.

"Five minutes," he said taking the chain off the door to open it fully.

"You're a pal," Scobie said scuttling inside. Joey closed the flat door and replaced the security chain before following his friend into the kitchen. It was only then he realised he was still holding the detergent cup and remembered the washing machine. As Scobie hovered by the counter top he went back to twisting the knobs and jabbing the buttons.

"Need a hand?" asked Scobie after a few minutes.

"This yoke is impossible," said Joey throwing his hands in the air. Scobie came around the counter top and hunkered down in front of the machine. He regarded it earnestly for a few minutes before turning a dial three clicks to the right and pressed a button in the middle of the machine. Joey was amazed to hear it start clicking and the sound of rushing water filled the kitchen.

"How did yea do that?"

"Me ma was never home, you learn these things," said Scobie shrugging his shoulders. Joey dumped the detergent cup back into the powder box and turned on his friend.

"So? What you want, Scob?"

"I got that court hearing in the morning but I can't go in like this. I'm stinking. Any chance of a shower?"

"Again?"

"It's only a bit of hot water."

"You brought your own shower gel, have you?"

"It's only a bit of hot water and a squirt of gel," the rake thin youngster said with a cheeky smile.

"A quick one but don't use all the water, I've not had a wash yet," said Joey thinking to himself that he was far too soft for his own good. Scobie was looking him up and down and in the end he asked.

"What happened to you?"

"Rough night," said Joey shaking his head, and touching the throbbing patch on his jaw where Jimmy had landed the sucker punch.

"Very rough by the look of those bruises," said Scobie nodding toward Joey's ribs. It was Joey's turn to hold up his arm and probe a tender area as if amazed at the damage he found there.

"You should see the other guy," said Joey with a sorry smile. Scobie might be a junky but he was no fool and he didn't look like he was buying one penny's worth of what Joey was selling.

"Can I go so?" he asked, nodding toward the bathroom door.

"Go on, I'll make a brew." Joey watched his friend walk away when something made his memory flash backward to the years they'd spent in school, times when Scobie was full of fun and mischief, always in bother but always happy and smiling.

Scobie had reached the bathroom door when Joey asked, "Why do you do it?"

"Do what, Joe?"

"The gear?"

Scobie turned to face Joey. A strange thing happened, the cloak of addiction slipped from his face and revelled the boy he once was. His eyes sparkled and even his shoulders straightened while he considered his answer.

"It's like touching heaven," he said at last. Joey knew about the rush of heroin, the high in the heart of that first hit. It was what made a Junkie a Junkie. They were constantly chasing that feeling and it was the reason so many of them overdosed. After a while it took more and more of the drug to reach the same place until it’s all just too much and like that, it’s over. Joey looked at his buddy and wondered about the living contradiction he had become. He may be chasing heaven, but his body was going through hell.

"It can’t be worth what you’re doing to yourself?"

Scobie smiled at him showing teeth like scattered tombstones against a dark and moonless sky, "It's not much of a sacrifice when you have nothing to lose."

"What about your health, or your family or even friends?"

Joey's words struck the skinny boy like a hammer. As suddenly as the sun had come into his eyes, it vanished. Sadness descended on Scobie as if someone had thrown a sodden blanket over him. The weight of his affliction dragging low his eyes, his mouth and his shoulders. The spark which had burned so fleetingly in his eyes spluttered and died.

"We all don't have people like Sarah in our lives you know. We can’t pick our family. Sometimes getting out of your head is the only safe place to be."

"But...”

Joey didn't get to finish his sentence, his friend vanished into the bathroom closing the door softly behind him. He'd never known Scobie to be sad at school, he was always laughing and messing around. Joey heard the shower start and with a heavy heart he filled the kettle and plugged it in. When Scobie appeared back in the kitchen his hair was still wet but he looked, and smelled, a thousand times better. Joey handed him a mug of steaming tea and they dunked chocolate biscuits with abandon.

"How do you think you'll get on tomorrow?" asked Joey in between soggy mouthfuls of chocolate goodness.

"No idea. My brief said he would make them think it was all a mistake, that I never intended to walk out with those tops. If the worst comes to the worst, he said that he'd say I was out of my head on gear and I had no idea what I was doing."

"Sounds daft to me."

"And me, but you know Judges, they swallow stuff quicker than a hooker down the Monto."

Joey laughed which made tea snort out his nose.

"You're a mad bastard, you know that," said Joey, wiping his nose with the back of his hand.

"Turning up looking like this won't help," said the skinny addict sorrowfully while looking down at his tatty tracksuit.

"Don't you have a suit or something?"

"My butler left it in for dry cleaning," snipped Scobie, putting on a snooty accent.

"I might have a shirt and pants somewhere."

"You don't have to do that, you've been too good already," said Scobie. At that moment the washing machine decided to rev up into a spin cycle causing them to raise their voices.

"I'm only loaning them to you, I want them back,"

"You're a diamond," said Scobie as Joey laid his mug down and padded away toward his bedroom. It was getting a bit chilly so before looking for the shirt and things Joey searched for a clean tee-shirt to wear. He was looking in his drawers when he heard Scobie say something from the sitting room.

"What did you say?" he yelled.

"Shoes! Could you give me shoes?"

"Hold your horses, I'm looking."

In the wardrobe he found a shirt which had had gotten for a wedding years back, but there was no sign of the pants that went with it. Eventually he found a pair of grey trousers he had used in school and they would have to do the job. They were both far too big for Scobie but he could put a belt on the pants at least. Joey walked out of his room and found Scobie shuffling around the kitchen. He seemed jumpy as he shuffled from one foot to another. The jitters were back, and Scobie was starting to chew on his tongue. Joey knew Scobie was on the way down, and coming down fast.

"Yea all right Scobe?"

"Yea, yea. Just... yea know," he said, wiping invisible lint repetitively from his arms and shoulders while dancing from one foot to the other.

"Yea, guess I do. Here, these should do the job," Joey said handing over the small bundle of clothes. "Do you want a bag?"

"Na, I've taken too much already. You're the best," he said, holding the folded clothes carefully in his arms and moving toward the front door.

"You can hang here for a while if you want," said Joey, feeling sorry for his buddy.

"Got to see a man about a dog, yea know the story," said Scobie. Joey knew exactly the story, Scobie needed to score. He followed down the hall and watched the skinny boy scrabble to unlock the front door and release the door chain. He was no sooner on the landing than he was steaming for the stairs. Joey stood at the door and watched his friend leave.

"Let me know how tomorrow goes?" he called after him.

"I will," he shouted over his shoulder with a wave and vanished around the corner.

Joey closed the door and went back into the kitchen. The washing machine had finished so he took out the damp clothes and hung them on the dryer standing in the corner of the sitting room. Joey felt uneasy, as if something was out of kilter, but that was hardly surprising after what he had been though earlier. He looked at the TV unit and knew he had to check on the bag, just to be sure. It was like turning off the iron and leaving the house, how many times do people go back again and again to check even though they know the iron is off.

He crouched and opened the door. The corner of the rucksack peaked out from beneath the scattered DVD covers. Joey prodded the bag and felt the bulk of the package inside. As his fingers rested on the deadly bulge he knew as soon as he was rid of the stuff he was going to put as much distance between himself and the Kingstons as possible. He felt dirty, contaminated by everything. He needed a shower. As he stood under the gushing water, he knew he was in trouble and that trouble was coming sooner or later. The water was just starting to turn cold when his phone rang. Joey jumped out of the shower and grabbed the thing with wet hands from the back of the toilet cistern and pressed the answer button.


"Hello?"



Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Thirty Pieces of Silver - Sins of the Flesh (Cont)

Clare thought the ringing was in her dream until Darren sprang out of bed. In a microsecond she was wide awake watching Darren's naked body stretching tall to reach a hidden compartment built into the top of their wardrobe. Seeing the silver 9mm pistol in his hand made her heart to leap into her throat. She bundled the bed clothes against her naked chest as the doorbell sounded impatiently.

"What is it?" she asked, a quiver in her voice.

"Stay here no matter what happens," he said and ran out without a stitch of clothes on. Clare bounded from the bed and grabbed a towel from the back of a chair to wrap around herself and followed. She stood at the bedroom door and craned her neck. Darren approached the front door carefully and quietly, the gun raised and ready to use. Keeping his back and feet against the side-wall he leaned his head forward to take a quick look through the spy-hole, then flattened himself against the wall. Clare knew he was being careful in case someone started shooting and hid most of herself behind the bedroom wall.

"What yea want?" he yelled to whoever was on the far side. Clare could hear a deep male rumble but she was too far away to make out what was being said. What she could see was the gun being lowered and Darren un-flatten himself from the wall to take a longer look through the peephole. The muscles on his back stood out like golf balls under his skin, but as the seconds ticked by his shoulders relaxed slightly.

"What kind of a time do you call this?" barked Darren, while his eye remained glued to to the door. More mumbled talking could be heard, this time it sounded like a different voice.

Darren backed away from the door and saw Clare watching him. She could tell he was annoyed and when he waved her back with his free hand, she ducked inside their bedroom. He heard him say, "You can wait there till I'm dressed, there is no way I'm opening the door with my knob hanging out."

When he skipped back into the room he made straight for the wardrobe to hide the gun.

"Who is it," she asked?

"The cops, put something on," When they were both dressed in jeans and tee shirts, they padded out of the bedroom on bare feet. Martin's door was open a crack and Clare could see him peeking out at them.

"It's all right, Martin. Go back to bed," she said and the bedroom door eased closed. Clare hurried to catch up with Darren and when she was at his shoulder he turned and whispered, "Say nothing."

He drew back the dead bolts, unlocked the latch and swung the door open reviling two detectives wearing bored looks, holding warrant cards out for inspection. The large man with a marked face said, "I'm Detective Stephen ..." but Darren cut him off.

"I know who yous are, what do yea want?" he snapped.

"Can we come in?" asked the big guard holding out his hand to include the smaller woman by his side. Her smooth young face was just as hard as the man's, even if she didn't have his impressive array of scar tissue.

"What for?"

"It's vital we talk to friends and family of the deceased while details are fresh in their minds."

"John. My brother you mean, not the deceased. John!"

"Yes of course. We do have to talk about John and who might have wanted to kill him."

"I know nothing about it," said Darren.

"Don't give me that, Darren. You and I both know that this didn't drop out of the blue," said the detective showing his annoyance. Darren set his face and crossed his arms but made no reply. Clare could see the guards scars start to stand out against his reddening skin. He looked like a boiler building up a head of steam. The tension hanging between the two men was not lost on the female guard as she picked that moment to speak.

"Had John fallen out with anyone lately?" asked the woman in a kind way, trying to give the men time to cool off but Clare knew she was wasting her time with Darren. When he was like this, there was no talking to him. She was tempted to say something but thought better of it. Instead she just watched while the seconds ticked away and the men glared at each other. In the end, even the woman copper had enough of the silent treatment.

"Do you not want us to catch this guy?" she asked in an exasperated tone, expecting to get agreement from a grieving brother. Clare watched Darren unlock his arms and she knew he was going to explode. She unconsciously took a step back.

"You two couldn't catch a cold!" Darren yelled stabbing the air with an accusing finger. "Why aren't you out there doing your jobs instead of standing here, harassing the family of a murdered man. It's because our name's Griffin, isn't it? You fuckers think were scum, and what's one more dead scumbag?"

"We're doing our jobs, as it happens. You're the one that's refusing to co-operate. You're the one hiding what you know. If John's killer gets away, you'll have nobody to blame but yourself." snapped the big copper.

"So you want me to do your job for yea? Is that what it’s come to? The man blew my brother away in front of a hundred witnesses and it all comes down to what I know? Get real!"

"We'll do everything possible to catch this guy, with your help or without it. Telling us what you know would be a huge step in the right direction," said the guard, his face visibly throbbing with indignation at Darren's attitude toward him.

After thirty seconds of silence, the detective had enough and turned to the woman at his side and said, "Come on, I told you this was pointless." He'd begun to walk away when he twisted and said, "I thought you'd have more sense than this. If not for yourself, for Clare and Martin." When he'd said that last bit he'd looked over Darren's shoulder and right into Clare's eyes, as if it were her he was talking too. "You are putting your family in danger by saying nothing."

"I can take care of my own," snarled Darren, bunching his fists.

"Yea, great job so far," he half laughed and stalked away leaving the woman alone on the landing. She extended a business card toward a seething Darren, "In case you change your mind."

Darren made no move to take the card so the woman let it flutter out of her fingers to the carpet and walked after her partner. Darren slammed the door and scooped up the dropped card, then stormed toward the kitchen and flung it in the bin with fury burning in his eyes.

"Who the fuck do they think they are?" he demanded and stalked around the kitchen like a caged animal. His chest was rising and falling like he had just run a mile.

"Why didn't you tell him about Kingston? You know it was him."

"Shit, they know all that without me telling them. They just want me to turn rat for them, and buggered if I'll ever do that."

"What harm could it do? Set them on Kingston. It might give things time to die down."

"You have no idea, you haven't a clue! The only thing going to die around here is Jimmy Kingston and the dog he sent to kill my brother. I don't need the likes of those two to fight my battles," he said, slapping angrily at a mug which was sitting on the table, sending it smashing into the wall.

Darren stalked away toward the bedroom, Clare sat at the table twirling the end of her tee-shirt around her finger and watching the shattered pieces of porcelain spinning slowly on the floor. What the guard said echoed around her brain. Clare, Martin, Danger. If those two could walk right up to her front door and know everything there was to know about their life, how hard was it to imagine a killer doing just the same? She didn't know much about Darren's business, she never wanted to know but she wasn't stupid. Could Darren protect her, did he even want to? She wasn't so sure any more.

Clare could feel the headache coming and she knew it was going to be a bad one. The night without sleep didn't help, or the hours of crying while she had waited for Darren to come home. She stood and opened the press where she kept her medicines. Clare punched two pain killers out of their silver foil packaging and took them dry. She swallowed and felt them stick in her gullet and she had to swallow a few more times before they completed the journey to her stomach.

The last twenty four hours had been agony, she was heartbroken over Johns death and Emma's grief, scared witless when Darren went missing and then again this morning when she saw him with the gun in his hand. But they were quickly been overshadowed by a feeling so huge, so all en-composing, it dwarfed all in her world. Betrayal. It's something a woman instinctively recognises, even if she won't admit its existence. Every woman knows her lovers touch and last night Darren felt like a stranger in her arms. Drenched with sweat, her body exhausted, she had lain by his side as he snored softly into her hair. She had tried to convince herself that she was being stupid but her mind was not fooling her heart. Hour after hour she looked to rationalise what her body knew and in the morning light, she had given up. No pretty lies she told herself could cover up that feeling.

From the moment John had died, Clare dreaded what would happen to her man. Darren had always been the steadying hand in that family, the one which walked closest to righteousness. She knew what he did was illegal, but it was an invisible wrong in her eyes. Darren was only filling a need, one which would have been filled regardless. But now things were different. Darren was the head of the family, the head of the crew, and his word was law. The hard decisions would fall to him and him alone, the responsibility lay on his door step but in the same breath those looking to curry favour would seek him out. She knew more than one woman used her body to get what she wanted from John, and she had pitied Emma for it. It looked like she should have saved the pity for herself.

Her world was falling apart. She loved Darren with every ounce of her being, but that was nothing compared to what was in her heart for her son. She wanted it all, but if it came to a decision there was only one man in her life she was willing to die for. Clare opened the bin and picked the crumpled business card from the remains of last night’s uneaten dinner. She flicked a clinging onion from it and stowed the tiny piece of paper in her back pocket while praying she'd never have to use the number scrawled across the bottom.

***
"What the hell was all that about?" Sims asked as they drove away from Darren Griffin's flat.

"Hum?," asked Adams, who was actually humming a happy tune under his breath.

"Coming down like a tonne of bricks on him. We ended up getting nothing."

"Ah, that. None of this was about asking questions. There was never a chance he'd have said a word even if he had the killers name, telephone number and address."

"So, what was the point?"

"The girlfriend, Clare. She is the weak link in his chain and there is no doubting that. Did you she her face? She is scared out of her mind."

"And rightly so. Do you think she'd go behind his back?"

"No idea but there's always a chance," said Adams winding down his window to stick his elbow out.

"So what now?"

"Breakfast I think, I could eat a horse."

"You could always eat a horse," she said, slapping the paunch which was straining the seat belt. "I meant, what are we chasing down next?"

"How do you fancy ruining Jimmy Kingston's morning?" asked Adams with a boyish grin.

Sims clapped her hands together in imitation of an excited schoolgirl. "Goody, goody, can't wait!"

"Right, that settles it. I know a cafe near by, Nero's. Great breakfast and you never know who we might spot there."

"You just looking for trouble, ain't you?" she said, smiling.

"Would I?" he feigned indignation and gunned the engine.

***
Joey had slept very badly and was awake before his alarm went off. He'd been trying to think of any possible excuse to get out of going to Jimmy's this morning, but ended up with nothing.

Me Gran is dead?

No, that wouldn't work. Jimmy knew his Gran and his Mam were long gone and Joey'd never even known his Da. A dead grandmother wouldn't knock a blink out of Jimmy.

Got locked up by the coppers?

With Jimmy's connections he'd know it was a lie within seconds.

Dying sick?

No, Jimmy would give him something to be sick about.

I don't want to?

Yea, I don't want to.

He had to get out of this mess before he got in too deep. Yea, he was shitting himself, but it had to be done. He'd have to man up and tell Jimmy, face to face, that running gear wasn't his thing. Jimmy would respect that, wouldn't he? What was the worst that could happen? Jimmy was hardly going to bump him off. It wasn't like he was in debt to the man or anything. He was Kenny's friend, a mate, not a mug.

Yea, yea. A mate not a mug, he liked the sound of that.

Joey got out of bed and pulled on his clothes. When he opened his door, Sarah's coat was still hanging in the hall. Joey couldn't remember ever being up before her in his life. He eased his bedroom door closed and considered making tea but discarded the idea. His gut was knotted and he doubted he would keep anything down. He took his jacket down from the hook, left the apartment and eased the door closed gently.

Joey knew the walk to the Garrison by heart and this morning the street was particularly quite. He didn't spot any of Jimmy's lads hanging around but that was hardly surprising considering the hour. Joey opened the little gate at the end of Jimmy's garden with trepidation and approached the brand new door. He rang the bell and waited. There was no answer so after a few minutes he rang again. A brand new close circuit camera looked down on him from over the door way but there was no sign of life inside the house. Joey sat himself down on the step to wait. Ten minutes later he heard the bolts draw back and the door was opened by Jimmy wearing only his y-fronts.

"Joey," Jimmy said groggily, rubbing the sleep from of his eyes.

"You said to be here early," said Joey sheepishly.

"I know what I said," snapped Jimmy walking away from the door into the house. Joey followed him in.

"Don't bother closing it, you're not staying," said Jimmy, stooping to pick up a backpack that lay on the floor. It was similar to the one he had been made carry the last time but this one seemed fuller. Jimmy handed it over and said, "I'll call you later and tell you want to do. Don't go poking around in it."

"The thing is Jimmy..."

"The thing is what!" snapped Jimmy, not one bit happy at being out of bed.

"I don't mind doing a favour like, but I'm not happy doing this kind of thing."

Joey never saw the punch coming. One minute he was speaking, the next he was seeing stars and looking up at Jimmy's snarling face from the floor.

"Favour?" he yelled and kicked Joey in the ribs.

"Fucking favour!" he yelled, spit flying from his lips as he kicked twice more before reaching down and grabbing a fistful of Joey's hair. He yanked so hard that joey could hear the roots pulling free from his skull. Pain rippled through his scalp, it was as if his head had been set alight. Joey grabbed at Jimmy's hand by reflex but that did nothing to deaden the agony.

"You will do exactly what you're told, you got that?" the near naked man hissed as he balled his free hand and landed it as hard as he could in Joey's guts. Joey felt slimy hot puke rise up his gullet.

"Don't you dare spew on my floor!" yelled Jimmy, his eyes bulging and his fist an inch from Joey's nose. Joey swallowed the acid filled fluid and felt the stink of it fill his nose.

"What are you going to do?" asked Jimmy in a way that made it clear he was talking to an idiot. He held a hand up to his ear, making a show of listening for an answer. Joey held his lips clamped shut as he was not sure which way his stomach contents were headed, which enraged Jimmy even more and he drew back his fist.

"ANYTHING! Anything you say!" screamed Joey, stopping Jimmy's fist half way through its ark.

"And don't you forget it," said Jimmy, dragging Joey to the door by his hair. He launched the teenager into the yard causing Joey to lose his balance. Jimmy's fingers never released his grip on the boy's hair and as he stumbled, Joey felt his follicles rip and blood run across his scalp in steaming rivers.  Jimmy ducked inside the door, snatched up the back pack and threw it at Joey where he lay writhing in the lawn.

"Don't leave your flat! Don't turn off our phone! Don't go poking in the bag and don't lose the fucking thing!" he said and slammed the door closed.

Joey ran his shaking fingers through his hair which came away sticky and red. On jittery legs he hoisted himself upright. A wave of nausea flooded him and he stuffed his hand against his mouth to prevent the vomit from coming. At last the sick feeling passed and he felt the world spinning to a stop. On the ground, the backpack full of drugs taunted him, daring him to walk away, but he couldn't. He shouldered the bag packed with life-ending misery and staggered out the gate. He had only gone a few feet when a dark colour Ford Mondeo, with the distinctive third aerial in the middle of the roof, glided past. Garda car, Joey thought and ducked his head while quickening his pace. The car stopped directly behind him and Joey heard the door open.

"Hay, young fella!"

Joey pretended not to hear and kept walking. Be cool. Be Cool.

"Hay!" This time Joey knew he had to stop. He slowly turned, the backpack full of drugs feeling like a thousand pound weight on his soul.

"What happened your head?" asked the tall man standing by the open door of the Garda car. Joey touched his scalp and felt the trickle of blood with his fingers.

"I fell, coming down the stairs. I must have cut me-self," stammered Joey, his shaky voice sounding drunk.


"Better get someone to look at it," said the guy, turning towards Jimmy's door. Joey turned and hurried away, any thoughts of being cool vanishing like morning mist.





Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Thirty Pieces of Silver - Sins of the Flesh

It was nearly five in the morning when Darren finally stumbled up the last few steps to his front door. His head was fuzzy from the brandy but at least his mind was back on steady ground.  He no longer wanted to kill his brother, or felt overwhelmed by the demands being heaped on him. Leaving Emma's flat earlier was one of the best decisions he'd ever made.

He slipped the key in the lock and a vision of Molly flooded his mind. Molly, a prim name for such a feisty woman. The vision was of her milky skin turned pink in places by his touch, laid unashamedly bare on top of rumpled sheets while her chest rose and fell rapidly in happy exhaustion. Molly. The feeling of satisfaction he had been consumed with after making love to her was being tainted by guilt now he was home. Clare's home. Sometimes he envied Tony's blinkered view of the world, taking what he wanted and allowing only one emotion at a time enter his brain. Darren felt like a man being torn apart. It was as if there were two people trapped inside his skin. On one hand he was just like Tony, only worse. He was brutal, lustful, greedy and heartless. But then there was the other side which craved honesty, loyalty, beauty and peace. Every time he did something, good or bad, these inner voices went to war, bombarding his brain with conflicting emotions so strong it was like having ice picks driven into his skull.

He twisted the lock open and in that moment guilt got the better of lust in his mind. The image of Molly, and memories of how greedily she had taken him dulled. Instead of elation he began to feel as if he was the one who had been used, not her, this despite the fact he'd left a bundle of fifties on the bedside table before he slipped out of the room while she slept. Molly?  Was it her real name? She had said so but who could tell with a girl like that. One thing for sure, she had been good for him, even saving him a little. 

He eased the door open quietly while all these thoughts rushed through his brain. Another emotion rose up inside of him, loss. Tonight in Molly's arms he had been sent back in time to when he had first been with Clare. The contrast between what they had been like in the beginning and what they had turned into was staggering. He hadn't even realised that things had changed so much or how his feelings had dimmed over the years. Where had all that passion gone? Could it return for them or were they all used up as a couple?

What ever happiness lingered inside him from his time with Molly flew like the last shadows of night before the rising sun. He had cheated on Clare and she didn’t deserve that no matter what he needed. He loved her, he knew he did and even thinking her name made him certain of that. Things had changed for them, but they had to, it was life. What was done, was done, in all senses. It was time to take a leaf from Tony's book and quash all those stupid thoughts and concentrate on what was important. Molly was a lay, Clare was the woman he loved, and that was that.

As he eased the door closed he caught a trace of Molly's smell wafting from his skin. He inhaled deeply and felt tiny parts of her invading his body once more, prodding it awake from the inside, demanding to be satisfied one more time. When the lights sprang into life his heart jumped in his chest. Clare stood in the sitting room door, her face pale from lack of sleep and worry, her eyes red from crying.

“Where have you been?” she demanded, her voice hard and ready for a fight. He felt backed into a corner, which he literally was, so his tongue lashed out before his mind had the chance to engage.  

“Out!” he snapped, the word was as hard as if it had been carved from solid stone.

“And you couldn’t have called or answered one of my texts?”

“Leave it, will yea? Haven’t I been through enough today without this?” Her mouth, which had been open to deliver another next stinging accusation, snapped shut. He knew she had been sitting worrying all night, his phone was evidence enough of that. Dozens of missed calls and texts ranging from worry to anger and back again. Darren knew she had been imagining all the things she would say when he turned up but with one stabbing sentence designed to draw as much guilt as possible, he had thrown her plan out the window. Something swam behind her eyes as her closed mouth turned into a pout. She crossed her arms over her dressing gown and adopted a look that a whipped puppy would have been proud of. Darren felt another huge slab of guilt fall from a great height to crush him from the inside out. He wanted to comfort her, to hold her in his arms and had even started to take off his coat when he remembered the tantalising musk which drifted off his skin. He had to keep her at a distance so with cold ruthlessness he leaned against the wall and mimicked her folded arm stance, keeping his face stoic.

“Someone shot my brother in cold blood, I've the whole crew looking to me for answers, Tony is off his fucking rocker and you are giving me grief? Is it any wonder I needed a few hours to myself?”

The hound-dog look Clare wore vanished. Her brow furrowed as Darren's words mowed through her emotions and a wave of desolation swept over her. Darren knew that with those few words he had turned all of Clare’s anger on herself and he felt terrible. She had every right to be angry at him and if she knew all of it, it would kill her. He loved her too much to do that, so a small lie, a tiny hurt, was the kindest thing he could do. 

“But, I was only…” she said making a tiny move forward.

Darren held out his hand like a guard stopping traffic, “I know, you were worried, but I’ve got more on my plate than that right now.”

The crestfallen look on her face deepened. Darren softened his stance and took the sting out of his words. “I know you were worried, sweetheart, and I appreciate it, but things are what they are. You've got to trust me to do what is best for us, for all of us.”

“I do, Darren, of course I do.”

“Then trust me, Babe.”

He saw her arms unlock and he knew he had to move. He pushed himself away from the wall and pretended to yawn as he walked toward the bedrooms. Her arms stopped moving as if someone had pulled the plug on a robot. He knew it was cruel but it was for her own good.

“Me head is buzzin,” he said rubbing his eyes and exaggerating his stagger as he wandered down the hall. “Would you make a brew, I need a shower to clean the stink of yesterday off me.”

“Sure, I’ll bring it down.” she said, her voice laden with worry.

Darren continued on toward the bedroom. Once inside he stripped all his clothes off and gave them a liberal spray of his aftershave before dumping everything in the laundry hamper. He stood naked in front of the mirror and examined himself front and back for marks or scratches, which there were none thank God. Molly was a professional after all. Jealous wives don’t make the best marketing tools. He jumped under the shower before it had even warmed up and scrubbed at his body. Once he had lathered himself a few times under the steaming spray of water, he felt better. It was a bit of a rush actually, like had gotten away with something. He thought of Molly again and this time the guilt was less, her devilish smile and wicked ways did something to him and felt a tingle of excitement rush through his body. Clare opened the door of the bathroom and through the steamed up shower glass he saw her lay a mug beside the sink.

Darren opened the shower door grabbed her by the hand making her spill the tea a little.

"Darren, look what you did?" she scolded. He beamed a smile at her as water dripped from his hair onto the bathroom tiles. With a gentle tug he pulled her too him and lifted her under the hissing flow of water before she could get a word out. She spluttered and blinked her eyes at the unexpected drenching.

"Darren!" she yelled playfully and slapped his naked chest. He drew her chin up and kissed her deeply and with the passion he'd remembered earlier. The woman he loved stood on her toes in a soaked terrycloth robe and melted in his arms. Passion turned to hunger as their kisses became desperate and frenzied. Without taking his lips from hers he slipped the sodden robe from her shoulders which splattered to the floor of the shower and blocked the drain hole. Darren pulled back to drink her in with his eyes. Her chest was already turning pink from the heat and her eyes were huge and longing. She smoothed her hair back from her face and by doing so exposed her long sensual neck. Darren fell on her like a starving man and they made love as the warm water slowly filled the base of the shower.