Friday, 16 December 2016

Today without Tomorrow










What would you do if there were no tomorrow?









Most of us never give the future a second thought, we assume its coming and there will be plenty for all we wish to achieve.

What if you knew there was going to be no tomorrow, or even a limited amount of them? What would you do differently should you know the last date on your calendar?

Would you change the big things or concentrate on the little?
Would you do something for another or something for yourself?
Would you chase a goal or live for the moment?
Would you give rather than receive?
Would you hold a hand, love a lover, kiss for the longest time, smile, dance, play or sing?
Would you make your dreams come true or be the dream to another?
Would you make the world you're leaving better or grab the last moments for yourself?


Tomorrow is never guaranteed. We may have a thousand, we may have none. It is only when we think about such a possibility can we truly judge the importance of what we do. It is only in the light of finality that we can weigh action against outcome. Too often I think we get caught up in the delusion of infinity which blinds us to the true treasures in life. 


Take a look at your day and ask yourself, is this want I'd do with my last? 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Let it Snow

Sometimes memories are connected to the strangest of things. It might be a smell, or a particular sound or something else entirely that whisks you back to a moment in time which will live with you forever. One such thing for me is snow, and seeing those first fluffy white crystals falling from the dark clouds above. I know most people love snow and it reminds them of snowball fights and building snowmen and frozen fingers. It reminds me of those things as well but also another more precious memory. 

When I was growing up, things in Ireland were particularly tough. Interest rates on mortgages had reached as high as twenty percent and a huge amount of people were out of work. My Dad had a good job in a factory, but when the government benefits ran out for the owners they simply pulled out and left hundreds of people high and dry.

I was only small, six or perhaps seven, and although we never wanted for anything, it didn’t go unnoticed by me that things were tight. We had to sell our nice big house and move to a tiny old cottage a bit further out in the country. It was basic to say the least. No mains water, no heating besides a range in the kitchen and there wasn't even a toilet but that didn't matter to me. It was all one mad big adventure. The great thing about being small is you don't care how new the clothes you are wearing are, of if your shoes had an owner before you. The only thing you want is to be loved, to have fun and feel safe. I had all of those things in abundance. It's not so easy on the grownups. Now that I am one I know they always want to give the best they can to their family and when they can’t, it can hurt, lots. That time was very hard on my Dad in particular who was doing everything he could to keep bread on the table. For a while he had no car and had to thumb or walk where ever he needed to go in search of work.

This particular year, Christmas was coming and I can tell you we were as excited as any kids in the country,  just dying to see what Santa would bring. By the time Christmas Eve rolled around I am sure me, my brother and my sister were testing every last nerve our parents possessed as we counted down the seconds till the man in red landed. On Christmas Eve afternoon it happened. Snow!

Some of what happened next I remember and some my Mom told me. 

As quickly as the snow began to land, my Dad vanished. Night fell and he still hadn't returned. I remember going to bed half excited about Santa coming and half worried about where Dad had got to. When the morning came, which might have been the middle of the night because what kid can sleep late on Christmas morning, we found a huge timber sled under the tree. It was big enough to take all three of us, it had a rope handle for pulling it at the front and tin runners on the bottom to make it fly down the snow covered slopes. I can honestly say that no other group of kids got a toboggan in Ireland that Christmas. Considering how little snow there ever is in Ireland, it could well have been the one and only in existence.

What we didn't know right then was that my Dad had gone to our old house as soon as the snow began to stick. He might not have been able to buy us much, but he was a wizard with his hands. In our old shed he had left some timber planks behind and he spent that whole dark night building us a once in a life time gift to have on Christmas morning. I have no idea if he walked, thumbed or drove that night, but the romantic in me always had a vision of him trudging through the night, with snow falling all around him, dragging the sled home for us.

Whenever I see snow that is the image that comes to my mind. I can honestly say that no children ever had better parents and no amount of fancy presents will ever dim the value of that sled.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Thirty Pieces of Silver - Falling Back to Earth

Kenny was fed up to the back teeth being treated like a kid. His Da never gave him credit for what he added to the business. Everyone knew who Kenny was, wherever he went he was respected and that mattered. His old man was from a different era, one where people like him skulked in back alleys and on dark corners scraping out a living. Things were different now, the world was different. It was all about brand management and image. He was the image people conjured up when they heard the name Kingston. A vibrant, dark entity which they simultaneously feared and envied. It was time his old man started realising this and moved into the twenty first century.

He'd spent the morning driving around and staying out of the house but he was getting bored. He'd called over to Joey’s place but there had been nobody there. He wasn’t going back home yet, Jimmy was like a dog, he wouldn’t say what was going on but since yesterday he had been storming around the place slamming doors and snapping at everyone. He could do without that shite. As there was nothing else to do he may as well go get himself some new clothes. It was one thing both he and his father had in common, they both liked to show off their wealth with the things they had. He heard there was a new line of Abercrombie top’s in the St Stephens Green Centre so that would kill an hour or two before he had to show his face back home again.

The traffic was light today but he generally didn’t mind if it was slower, it just gave the honeys more time to check out his ride. He parked in the multi-story car park and used the connecting walkway to access the shopping centre on the third floor. He liked the St Stephens Green Centre, it was all glass and cast iron. It glittered like a Christmas bauble all year round. Most of the accents you heard around here were D4 snobs but that was fine by him. Kenny might have to rub shoulders with the scum of this city to make a living but that didn’t mean he was one of them. He could easily see himself lashing back gin and tonics down some golf club and if the truth be known he could buy and sell most of these toffs a dozen times over. Knowing that added a cocky strut to his step. He wandered along the balcony looking at the display windows and pausing when something caught his eye. A really hot blond came out of a shop weighed down with bags and Kenny lost all interest in the windows. Instead he followed her watching the movement of her ass inside her painted on jeans. Jesus, it was like two eggs rolling around inside a hanky.


She was about to get on the escalator, with Kenny a pace behind her, when he spotted them. Two right hard looking bastards walking toward the bottom of the rising set of steps and their eyes were glued on him. Kenny may not have been a genius in school but out on the streets he would have given himself an A+ in knowing when shit was going to hit the fan. The forgotten blond vanished and the men coming up were slowed down behind a bunch of giggling school girls. It was time to get the hell out of here. Kenny turned and hurried back the way he had come. He looked over his shoulder and saw the men roughly shove their way through the pack of school kids and bound up the moving steps. So much for hurrying, time to run.

Kenny jinked past shoppers and pumped his legs for all he was worth. The sweat breaking out all over his skin was nothing to do with the energy he was burning, it was fear and nothing but fear. He would be alright if he could make it back to the car, if he got that far he was home free. He looked over his shoulder and even though the men outweighed him they were keeping up. He was only a hundred yards from the car park door when two carbon copies of the men chasing him appeared in it. They smirked evilly and walked toward him. Kenny skidded to a stop and looked back. The men behind had stopped running and were walking forward, their chests heaving. They were closing in on him like the jaws of a vice that was intent on squeezing the life out of him. Kenny was trapped. He had nowhere to go.

It was pure panic that made him climb on the hand rail and jump into the three story drop. As he sailed through the air, his hands outstretched, he had a moment to consider what would happen if he missed the twenty foot banner hanging from the ceiling. Would it hurt when he hit the cold marble floor? He hoped not for long at any rate. Thankfully the banner was suspended close to the edge and the jump wasn’t so far. His fingers found their target. As he hung there, three stories in the air, he watched the baffled faces of his chasers peer across the void at him. The first rip was only tiny but then the strained fabric gave way completely, it was never intended to take the weight of a swinging man. The bit of cloth he was cling to zippered away from the rest of the banner in much the same way you would rip a sheet of paper in half. He was rocketing for the floor but not half as fast as if he had been free-falling. The air around him filled with screams as people noticed what was happening, and only one of those voices was his. Thankfully the ripping materiel snagged on pole fixing the banner in place at the bottom and bounced him to a stop ten feet above a ground floor shopping unit. The jolting stop was too much for Kenny’s fingers and he lost grip on the shiny cloth. He plummeted the rest of the way down with his legs running helplessly in mid-air.


He felt nothing as he crashed through the glass roof but the wind was knocked completely out of him when he landed on his back in the middle of a table loaded with jumpers. He tried to take a breath but his lungs wouldn’t work. His bulging eyes could see his attackers racing along the third floor balcony toward the escalators. They hadn’t given up yet. At last his ribcage gave up its struggle and allowed him to take in a rasping breath. He had to move, he just had to. Kenny tried to push himself up but pain shot through his body like a million volts of electricity. The pain focused his mind and he realised he was not going to be running anywhere. He needed help and there was only one person he could think of calling, Jimmy. He felt around in his pocket and found his phone. The screen was cracked but it seemed to be working, thank God. With trembling fingers he dialled his father number and as he held the phone to his ear he tracked the four men running in his direction with huge eyes. Jimmy picked up on the second ring and Kenny sobbed into the phone, “I’m in trouble, Da. They are coming for me!”


He could hear Jimmy barking “Where?” into the phone but terror froze the words in his throat, they were nearly on him, and then out of nowhere two security guards appeared above him.


“Are you alright? Are you hurt?” said one man bending down to examine Kenny while his friend looked on with concern. Over the guards shoulder he saw the four attackers stop. They looked at the men leaning over their quarry and seemed to ponder their options. Give up, give up, please give up, pleaded Kenny silently in his mind. Jimmy was still barking into his ear when the four of them turned and walked away, and Kenny let out a strangled sob of relief.

“It’s alright lad, help is on the way,” said one of the guards thinking he was upset, not delighted

Kenny felt the breath he’d been holding gush out and he could finally tell his father where he was. He knew no matter how badly hurt he was, if he hadn’t jumped, he’d be dying in a pool of his own blood at this very moment. As he lay back and let the actions of the last few minutes register, he smiled because what he'd done today would go down as legend in this town. Kenny the indestructible. 

***
The Ferryman had taken less than twenty minutes to discover that the person living in the flat Jimmy Kingston had visited was called Sarah Clarke. She did indeed have a brother called Joey and she worked in a hairdressing salon nearby. He walked by it and memorised all the faces working inside.  He had lots of time to make the rest of his preparations.

At five that evening he drove a red van into the car park of the apartment block and pulled up directly beside the stairwell closest to Sarah’s apartment and waited. He felt nothing for this woman nor her brother, they were just in the way of what he wanted and what he wanted was to make Jimmy Kingston hurt. It's not often he let work get personal but there was something about the way Kingston spoke down to him which drove him over the edge. He had seriously considered making the man pay with his life but there was no profit in that. In the end he decided twenty grand would compensate him sufficiently.

He checked his watch and it was fifteen minutes to six already. He'd imagined she should have returned home by five thirty, but he was in no hurry. It was six twenty when he saw the blond woman round the corner and walk toward him.


The ferryman got out and went around to the side of the van nearest the stairwell and opened the sliding door. He was wearing a high visibility vest over working trousers and a wool cap pulled down over his head. He looked like a thousand other delivery men working across the city. The woman coming toward him didn't look at him twice. He lifted out a large brown box just as the woman drew level and backed into her. She moved between him and the van determined to get into the stairway first. Bitch thought the Ferryman as he pretended to struggle under the box, making it seem heavy. She took a step forward and he saw his moment to strike. He dropped the empty box and wrapped his forearm around the woman’s neck and pulled her backward into the van. He twisted his wrist up, his thumb pinning the carotid artery against the jaw bone and started to starve the brain of oxygen rich blood. She hit out weakly with her fists and tried to claw him with her nails but her panic made her blind. Her heals kicked against the floor but the heavy carpet he had laid over the steel muted the noise she would have otherwise have made. She began to weaken as her mind went dim. The woman lost consciousness and the ferryman wondered just how many other females had vanished just like this, never to be seen again. He soon had her hands and legs trussed up like a chicken ready for roasting, he used duct tape to cover her mouth and ensure she stayed quite during the journey. If she came round there was no way she could escape from the back of the van, he had removed all the internal handles. He needed her alive, for the moment anyway.  He jumped out and threw the box into the back of the van before slamming home the door. The whole thing had taken less than a minute. He scooped up the woman’s dropped handbag and took it with him as he walked around the front of the van and got behind the wheel. He knew a place where nobody would disturb them.

***


Joey was waiting outside the airport for a bus into town and he felt on top of the world. He had waltzed straight through customs on both sides of the journey. Yea, he had been a nervous wreck the whole way and knew he was not cut out for this kind of life style, but now it was done he felt euphoric. It was like winning the Lotto or something. He was on the pigs back now he was on home turf. All he had to do was get this bag into Jimmy's hands and everything could go back to the way things had been. It had been a blessed relief to get the money unpacked from his body and back into his bag, how the hell did women wear those things.


The phone in his pocket began to ring and for the first time in days he didn't dread seeing Jimmy Kingston's name on the screen. It turned out to be Sarah.

“Hi Sis,” he said cheerfully into the phone. It was unusual to be able to give her good news for once. “I have the money and I am on my way to drop it at Jimmy’s right now.”

“I wouldn’t do that if I was you,” said a man’s voice he didn’t recognise. Joey lifted the phone away from his ear and examined the name on the screen. Sarah, he had been right. A cold shiver ran down his spine as if someone had walked over his grave.

“Who are you?”

“I’m the man you were meant to deliver that money to in the first place, and I still want it.” There wasn't one hint of emotion in those words. A mortician’s voice.

“It's Jimmy's money, take it up with him. I'm just doing my job.”

"Said the Nazi to the Jew."

"What's that meant to mean?"

"It matters not but know this, if you hand that money over to Kingston you will never see your sister again, that I promise.” Strangely the man sounded disappointed in him, which made him seem all the more threatening.


“What have you done to Sarah,” said Joey, his voice shaking.

“Nothing unrepairable as of yet, but what will happen next is up to you,” said the man sounding dismissive of the whole thing, like he really didn't care which way Joey chose to go. Either way would do fine by him.

“If you touch her I’ll...”

“I have touched her, what are you going to do about it?” said the voice with a giggle hidden in the words. He was taunting him and Joey knew he was right, what could he do?

“I’ll kill you, you bastard, you got that, I’ll kill you!” screamed Joey not giving a damn at this stage who might be overhearing his conversation.

“That is my specialty, you stupid little boy. I could have slit your throat wide open in the bus station while you sat there in your cheap grey tracksuit and Dunne Stores runners. You're only alive because I decided it should be so, and your sister is still alive for the same reason. Deliver the money you are carrying to me and you can have her back, if not, well ...” The unfinished sentence said more than any words could.

Joey walked up and down the footpath, he felt he should be doing something but what was he to do. This fella had Sarah's phone, did he have Sarah? It might all be a trick, he might go home and find her waiting for him unaware that any of this had happened. But what if he did have her? There was something about the dead level way the man spoke which made him believe the guy was off his head and more than capable of killing his sister on a whim. If what the man was saying was true, he held Sarah's life in his hands. He knew by giving up the money he was ending his own existence but that didn't matter at all. Only Sarah mattered and he was going to get her back.

“How do I know she's still alive, or that you even have her?” he said at last.

“I’m impressed, I didn’t think you would ask for proof of life given how stupidly you've behaved so far.”

“I want to talk to my sister or the money is going straight to Jimmy Kingston,” demanded Joey.

“Talk to her you shall,” the man said and Joey heard him moving. The phone picked up footsteps as they echoed through a vast space. There was some rustling of materiel and a ripping sound accompanied by a cry of pain, fear and anger. He knew that voice, he had her. He heard the man say in the distance “Joey wants a word” and the line was filled with crying.

“Sarah, Sarah. Are you hurt?” he asked, his words were rushed and more full of longing than he thought he was capable of.

“Joey? What’s going on, why is this happening?”

“Has he hurt you, are you alright?”

“No!" followed by a sob and then a quieter "Yes. I’m ok,” she said, her words like those of a lost child and not the woman who had cared for him his whole life?

“Where are you?” he asked.

“I don’t know, he has me…” the phone was pulled away from her before she could say any more. He heard the man walk away as Sarah screamed and shouted in the background. He made no attempt to keep her quiet and didn't seem one bit phased by all the noise. He must have her somewhere he knows that she won’t be heard no matter how much she screams.

“That’s more than enough,” the cold dead voice said.

“You'll get your money. Where are you and I will be there straight away?” He was one hundred percent sure that his sister was going to die at this man’s hand if he didn't do as he wanted.

“Not so fast, I’m not ready for you yet. Tomorrow, I will call.”

“And what about Jimmy?”

“That, my boy, is your problem,” he said and cut the connection.

Joey nearly threw the phone in anger but controlled himself at the last moment. What was he going to do now? There was no way he was going to let his sister get hurt, not over a few lousy grand. The city-link bus turned the corner and pulled up in front of Joey. He was about to get on when something else registered with him. Jimmy would be looking for him, more specifically his cash. Telling Jimmy some madman had his sister would get him nowhere. If it was the choice between a tenner and saving someone like Sarah, Jimmy would take the tenner every time. He sold death to kids after all, what difference did one or two hairdressers make.

The first place Jimmy's minions would be watching was Joey's gaff. Jimmy would know the minute he set foot in the apartment complex. All that meant he couldn't go home. Sadly the same went for all his friends, he couldn't count on any of them to keep their mouths shut. He let the bus pull away without him and walked away from the terminal toward the exit. He didn’t have to go far before he came across a Holiday Inn. He took a few notes from his bag and put them in his pocket before opening the burnished brass and glass door. The lobby was busy and warm, Joey took a spot at the reception desk and waited. Eventually a prim looking receptionist glanced his way and asked, “How can I help you, Sir?” in a clipped accent that was a welcoming as a thumbtack on a chair.


“Can I get a room for the night?” Joey wasn't sure if that was the right way of putting it, he had never stayed in a hotel before. Would they even give him one if he had not made a booking?


“Let me check. Have you been delayed?” she asked as her fingers clicked at lightning speed over the keypad before her. Although she had asked him a question she was not looking at him, all her concentration was on the screen before her.


“Sorry?”


“Your flight?”


“Oh, kind of. I missed it and have to wait till tomorrow for the next one." said Joey trying to make up an excuse on the spot. He did not know if he had to have a reason for checking into a hotel but he guessed it was better to seem normal.


“We do have a room available as it happens, would you like to include breakfast?”


“I don't know, do I have to say now,” he asked. The woman looked at him like he was a fool. He felt a bit like a fool.


“Room only so, if you want breakfast you can pay in the restaurant in the morning.” she said, the sigh in her voice said she was sick of him already.

"That's grand," said Joey trying to be charming but wanting to be out of the lobby and alone with his thoughts.

“That is one hundred and seventy nine euro,” said the woman effortlessly. Joey’s eyebrows arched so high they nearly vanished into his hair. He was about to argue the rate with the woman when he remembered it wasn’t his money he was using anyway. He was afraid to even ask how much the breakfast would have set him back. He pulled four fifties from his pocket and handed them over.


“Can you fill out the registration card please,” she said indicating the box for name and address.
Joey had no intention of filling out his own name so used Scobie’s instead.

“Thank you sir,” said the woman handing over his key card and change before directing him to a bank of lifts across the room. Joey rode up the lift alone and soon found his room. It wasn’t half as fancy as he had been expecting. It was just a bedroom, a flat screen TV and a nice bathroom. It wasn’t even that big. It had a little fridge in the corner and when he opened it was stuffed full of drink and snacks. This must be why the place cost an arm and a leg he thought as he took out a mini bottle of Whisky and downed it in one go. The burning liquid lit up his throat as if it was on fire. He took a fit of coughing and was afraid the booze would come back up as quick as it had gone down. He threw himself down on the bed and thought about Sarah and all the horrible things which could be happening to her at that moment. No matter what, this night was going to be terrible long for them both.