Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Devil Appears








My mind's in a mess, so cluttered with worry
Can't handle the stress, reasoning's gone blurry

The strings of my mind, break one by one
Myself I must find, livings no longer fun.

Falling through darkness, no landing in sight
This world is my weakness, my eyes see no light.

Is it angels I hear, or devils in the dark
Tell me what to fear, the flood or the ark.

The tightening noose bite's into my neck,
God, cut me lose, I shouldn't die yet.

No air in my lungs, I'm weakening fast,
My life's just begun, that step was my last.

The Devil appears from deep in his lair,
Now that I'm here, I wish I were there.


The Original Paper - Circa 1988

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Scarlet

Scarlet has been in my life for as long as I've been alive. The early years are hard to remember, those images are faded by time and age. What remains are fleeting snapshots snatched from childhood with the corner of my eye. A ghostly figure built of fairy dust, starlight wishes and hope. I remember raucous laughter while she was chased during tag and I recall an image of whirling limbs as she attacked sun warmed ocean waves. Mostly I remember her shoes. Patent leather and ruby red. Of all the things I remember about her, those shoes are the clearest.

Time is cruel, the way it takes a perfect moment and moves it along. It happens slowly, like the tiny drip destined to reduce an iceberg to the size of an ice cube. Ironically, the passing of time instilled even more sparkle in Scarlet, if such a thing were possible. She was kind and welcoming, familiar and mysterious, she was one of us but yet she was apart. All the girls all wanted to be her friend while the boys, well, we didn't know quite what to make of her, but we knew she was special. As her years moved into double digits she was rarely seen without a wine-red coat which had a hood framed by a band of white fur. Homage to her name I guess.

It was during my college years that Scarlet really bulldozed her way into my life. It was a time filled with excitement, adventures and new experiences. She rose like a shooting star to become the queen of all she surveyed as well as queen of my heart. Every dance she attended was more ecstatic for her presence, every conversation she took part in, more memorable. It was like she infected the people around her with exuberance. To say we were friends would be stretching the truth a long way. I was more like a Moon, slowly circling her distant friends while she was the Sun, the great hot centre of all existence and how I wished to crash into that Sun and feel the burning magnificence of her beauty.

I watched her from afar and became more and more enamoured. It was hard not to notice how the steady drip of time gifted her previously slender body with curves designed by a genius. It is said that hunger is the best sauce and for her I was starving. I imagined how it would be to taste her full red lips, a sensation only a dream could do justice and a dream I would never wish to wake from. I fell deeper and deeper in love with her without even realising it. That was until the terrible day arrived. It was the day she turned her gaze on me, terrible in the most magical way. At first I thought I was mistaken, a hallucination of my own making but I was wrong because a few days later, it happened again. 

I am not sure how to describe what happened between us, I guess the best way to put it is that she was my everything, while I was but a distraction. I should have seen it but I was blind, blind to everything but her. What started, started innocently and oh so slowly. A sideways glance, a half formed smile, a nod of recognition, a passing touch and then disastrously we spoke.

Even on those lucid moments when I felt my feet skidding on a dangerous path, I dismissed the notion. How could I not, the ride was so thrilling. She would copy her notes from me after skipping class and repay me with a smile. She would eat half my lunch before parting with a kiss on the cheek. Along with another thousand tiny things I felt blessed to be included in.  What did sting were the nights out at a movie or a club or a pub. These were always crowded affairs and I hated them all for encroaching.

It seemed we were never alone and I would always have to share her attentions with the world. Slowly a cold thought began to prod my mind. Was it real? Was she my one? I wanted to listen but I was in too deep. I kidded myself that I was equal to the challenge and one day it would be right. I had no idea this dream was spiralling into a nightmare.

It was a Saturday and Scarlet wanted to see a rock band in a neighbouring town. I begged my Father and eventually he loaned me his car. I never felt so proud as I did the moment I drew up at the club with a goddess by my side. As the engine died she twisted the rear view mirror toward her so she could apply a fresh coat of lipstick, red of course. Her tongue made lushes sweeps over the gloss and I would have died for a taste. When we walked through the doors of that club the world changed, nothing would be the same again.

The music was thunderous and the room was jammed with people. Scarlet let out a little yelp and dashed into the throng on the dance floor. For the rest of the night I caught glimpses of her as she danced wildly before the band. She would come back to me when she was thirsty but her eyes never tired of sweeping the room. By the end of the night she was amid a crush of new found friends, some girls, mostly men and she bathed in their reverence. When the last encore was played and time had been called she appeared dragging a hesitant girl and two eager men in her wake. 

"I told them they could come back with us. It's alright, isn't it?" It was now she choose to unleash her full power on me and resistance was futile. I nodded my assent and felt something die inside the way it did every time she did this to me. 

The road home was dark and bushes whipped at the passenger door when misjudged a bend. I lifted my foot slightly off the gas and let the car coast through the turn. Scarlet sat half turned in her seat so that she could yammer drunkenly with the strangers in the back. All the words were slurred and spoken far too loudly. I had nearly stopped listening when the guy behind me said, "Hay, is this as fast as she goes, Driving Miss Daisy?"

The comment stung and I felt my ears go hot but I resisted the urge to press down on the accelerator. I was going fast enough.

"YEA! Miss DAISY!" howled Scarlet into my ear and followed it up with a high pitched cackle. They were all laughing now and I looked across at her, my dream, my nightmare. 

Her lips were still as red as they had been at the start of the night but the beauty was gone.  Before my eyes she was transformed into a horror, a witch or a vampire. She was a demon that was sucking the life from me and the realisation snapped something inside my mind. I gripped the wheel tighter and dropped down a gear. The engine revved high and I slammed my foot all the way to the floor. Under the car I felt the tyres shimmy then grip. We shot forward and all four in the car cheered.

The rev counter hit red and slammed her up a gear. Scarlet rocked in giddy abandon banging on the dash while screaming, “Faster." I slid the car into a bend letting the bite of the tyre's draw me round where we should have tipped over. The people in the seat behind me were stunned into silence and the only thing that could be heard was Scarlet's manic laughter above the screaming engine. 

Who's Miss Daisy now’ I thought as I drove the speed even higher. Pleas to stop came from behind me but it was too late. They'd forced me and now they were going to pay the price. I do believe I'd gone a little bit mad and it was only when a solid wall of hedge appeared in the distance that sanity reared its head again. I was going too fast to make the turn and I knew it.


I slammed on the breaks and locked out my arms trying to control the wild animal the car had become. I felt the back slide out and slam into the mound of earth that bordered the road. Time slowed down as the rear wheels rose into the air. I was sure it was going to flip over when it stalled, seeming to float for an age. When it came back down, it came down hard rattling my eyeballs. I blindly fought the wheel and felt another huge jolt followed by a third. Mercifully all movement stopped and I sat there paralyzed by fear. There was no sound, nothing, all I could see before me was a spider web of shattered glass. Slowly I looked to my left and Scarlet had her head thrown back, her mouth agape, pointing at the roof. Why was it so quiet?

Slowly my brain began to leave in new sensations as it came to terms with what had just happened. If I'd not been crazy before I surely was now. When the sound returned it was a gale of laughter that filled my ears, not screams. It was then that I finally accepted that Scarlet was insane, deep down, drag you to hell, crazy.

The years following that night have not been easy. I know Scarlet, my Scarlet, nearly destroyed me. In my bones I know she'd do it again if I gave her the chance, but it’s not easy. She's deep inside me, part of me, always there. These days when I catch a glimpse of her on the street or in others arms, I make myself see her for what she is, a great red dragon waiting to rip me apart. 

Even now, there are times I dream of impaling myself on her razor sharp claws, but resist, just.  

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Thirty Pieces of Silver

Jimmy Kingston chased after the ambulance as it rushed toward the hospital. He tucked the nose of his car right up against the bumper of the thing and followed it through intersections, red traffic lights and all manner of insane manoeuvres but that changed when they pulled into the hospital grounds. While the emergency vehicle zoomed straight up to the covered entrance of the Accident and Emergency unit, he had to divert off into a warren of car parks to search for a space, a task that was harder than it seemed. By the time he found a place to leave the car he had a ten minute walk back to the main entrance.

When he got inside there was no sign of Kenny. Without asking for directions Jimmy made his way through to the treatment rooms and searched for himself. It was not long before he spotted Kenny in the middle of a huddle of doctors. The room was big, ringed on the outside by beds and treatment areas while the middle of the room housed what could pass for the command deck of The Starship Enterprise.

For once, Jimmy didn’t barge in head first, he knew he had to let the doctors do what they must. If he went barging in it would only complicate things. He found a chair by the wall and sat down to wait. About twenty minutes later the cluster of lab coated medical staff splintered, each intent on their own particular tasks. Jimmy stood to intercept the oldest of the group.

“Excuse me, Doctor,” said Jimmy standing in the man’s path. Instead of looking annoyed or harried, the silver haired man smiled, closed the file he was reading and gave Jimmy his full attention.

“How can I help?” he said cheerfully. Jimmy liked the man instantly. His calm, his control, was reassuring in the circumstances.

“I’m Kenny’s Da. Can you tell me what's going on, is he going to be alright?”

“Ah! Mr Kingston, I was on my way to ring you as it happens. Let’s take a seat for a moment,” the doctor said directing Jimmy to the chair he'd just vacated. Once they were seated the doctor smiled and folded his hands loosely over the peach folder resting on his knee. Before he began, Jimmy noticed the smile slip, it was replaced by a countenance hovering somewhere between sombre and deadpan.

“Kenny is in a serious condition but it could be so much worse. Honestly, he is one of the luckiest men I’ve ever come across. A fall from such a height is nearly always fatal or debilitating to such a degree that life would be forever altered. It would seem that the way Kenny fell was key to his good fortune. His velocity was substantially reduced but the big saving factor was hitting the shopping unit the way he did. On impacted the roof crumpled, as the glass exploded air was expelled. Basically the shop acted like one huge airbag.”

“Thank God! So he will be alright,” he said feeling a wave of relief wash over him.

“At the present moment, the signs are good. His reflexes are all positive but that is not to say he's out of the woods. There is substantial soft tissue damage along the spine and the swelling is hampering our ability to rule out spinal damage completely. We have scheduled an MRI but what we must do is give Kenny’s body time to settle. When the swelling subsides we can assess what long term issues he may be facing.”

“Hang on, are you saying his spine might be damaged?” That word rocked Jimmy to the core. In his mind he saw wheelchairs and a lifetime of disability for his son.

“All things considered, there’s a good chance of some damage. It’s the extent which is unknown,” said the doctor, he looked down at his hands and folded them a little tighter, allowing Jimmy time to process what he'd just been told.

“How long before you know?” asked Jimmy, a crack creeping into his voice.

“The scan will tell a lot but it may take a week or more for the swelling to dissipate fully.  Kenny could have a long hard road ahead of him, I think it’s best to prepare yourself for that.”

“Does he know?” asked Jimmy nodding toward his son’s bed. The doctor looked over, his face was unreadable.

“He hasn’t come straight out and asked, so we've said nothing more than he’s a lucky lad. I think he knows he might be in trouble, but he's not ready to face that yet. Right now it's best to concentrate on keeping his spirits up. There is no point in worrying him about something which can’t be fixed or may not exist at all,” said the doctor. He rested a reassuring hand on Jimmy’s shoulder and rose to his feet.

“If you need anything just ask. We’re here to make sure Kenny gets the very best care.”

“Thanks for that,” nodded Jimmy, but his heart was sinking through his gut as if it had turned to stone. He felt sick, physically ill. It was a sensation he could never remember feeling before.

The doctor walked away and Jimmy made his way over to Kenny’s bed. A pile of clothes lay a chair beside the bed. They had been cut away by the look of them. An oxygen mask covered Kenny's face and there were dozens of cuts on his exposed skin where the exploding glass had bit. His head and neck were secured between padded boxes, it looked like his son was jammed in a huge vice. Jimmy could see straps under the blanket and he knew they were there to stop Kenny moving. Jimmy rested a hand in his son's forehead. The skin was clammy and grey, his eyes flickered under heavy lids, as if he were dreaming. A monitor near the bed beeped rhythmically. An IV needle was taped into Kenny’s forearm and a small smear of blood stained the sheet.

“Kenny,” Jimmy said, his voice low, the boy didn’t move.

“Kenny, it’s me,” he tried again. A nurse appeared.

“He can’t hear you but that's normal. We've given him something to help him sleep. It’s best if he does. He'll be more comfortable and he won’t move as much.”

“I want to stay with him?”

“Of course. Would you like a cup of tea?” she said with a smile. Even in hospital the power of a good cup of tea could not be underestimated and it took some of the sting out of his pain. It was just the kind of thing his mother would have said, she was a great one for the cup of tea.

“That would be nice, thanks,” he said giving the nurse a thankful smile.

When she'd gone Jimmy moved closer to the bed and looked down on Kenny. He felt guilty about all the times he'd been so hard on the lad. He was trying to do right by him, in his own ham fisted way. Life was tough and he wanted to be sure that Kenny was ready for it. Now look at him. His life was only starting and it had nearly been snuffed out. Jimmy pulled up the blanket, covering the exposed cuts and bruising. He realised that his greed, his love of power and money had caused this. He could have lost Kenny today. He sat on the destroyed pile of clothes and looked at his flesh and blood.


“I’d give anything to go back to yesterday,” he said quietly to himself. Could that ever happen he wondered? Was it possible to stop what had begun before the price got too high? Jimmy settled into the chair and watched his son sleep and thought about what could have happened.

Two hours later the doctor reappeared.

"We're taking Kenny down for his scan now, Mr Kingston."

Jimmy got to his feet but the doctor placed a hand on his shoulder and said, "There is nothing you can do for now. The procedure could take several hours and after that we are going to get Kenny settled into a ward. It might be best to go home, get a little rest or something to eat, there are long days ahead of you."

"I really don't want to leave him, Doctor."

"He's going to be sedated the whole time. Its better you're fresh for him when he wakes up." Jimmy looked at Kenny and knew the doctor was right. There was nothing he could do.

"I'll be back later."

"Check in with reception, they'll let you know which ward he's in."

"Thanks Doctor, look after him, will yea?"

"Of course, Mr Kingston."

Jimmy made his way out of the treatment area. The first thing he saw when he entered the waiting room was Pete and at least four of his guys pacing up and down like caged animals. Pete walked toward Jimmy and asked, "How is he?"

"Not good," snapped Jimmy his normally short temper surfacing.

"Ah, Hell," said Pete shaking his head.

"We could have been putting him in a box," snarled Jimmy letting Pete feel the sharp side of his tongue. He needed to lash out, to vent the fear which had invaded his body. He couldn't afford to be weak and after all he paid Pete and his bunch of gorillas enough, they should have been there to protect his lad.

"I'm getting out of here for a while, make sure nobody comes near this place."

"Nobody will get within a mile,"

Jimmy started walking away when Pete spoke again, "Boss?"

"What?"

"There is one other thing," said Pete shuffling on the balls of his feet.

"Go on!"

"It's Joey. He's missing. He flew back in with the money today so I went round his flat to collect and the place was in darkness. No sign of him or his sister. I went round to the hair salon where she works and they said she left as normal after work. I got them to ring her but nothing, same for Joey. I left a man at their flat but still no sign."

"Joey's not stupid enough to rip me off. He'll show up," said Jimmy, dismissing Pete's concerns with a wave of his hand.

"I just thought you should know," said Pete turning to his men, his ears burning from the way he'd been spoken to. Jimmy walked out the door, his missing twenty grand bothered him slightly but it was nothing in comparison to what he was facing now. He had to go home and break the news to Kathleen.

***

Dawn rose over the city and a cool mist swirled among the buildings. Nothing but windblown trash was moving on the street when a cavalcade of police vehicles swarmed out of the station gates, a half dozen unmarked units leading the way. Adams had barely slept, his brain wouldn't let him. The meeting with Judge O'Donoghue had gone well. He signed the warrant with little more than a glance at the paperwork. The rest of the evening was a blur of phone calls, strategy meetings and briefings. It had been well after midnight when Adam's head hit the pillow. Five am the whole task force assembled for a final run through. Door knock was scheduled for six am across the board. Holding teams would move in on the closed business premises of Jimmy Kingston as well as the offices of his accountant. They would make sure nobody interfered with evidence while the main bulk of the forty strong task force took Kingston's house, and vehicles apart, brick by brick if necessary.

Sims occupied the passenger seat while three battle clad breech officers sat in the back. Two of them cradled sledgehammers and pry bars while third had what looked like a large briefcase attached to a number of steel bars. It was actually a hydraulic door spreader and ram. Adams himself had seen Jimmy's new door being installed and was able to give some good intel to the breach team. It was a reinforced steel core door with a multi lock system. There had been some discussion about using a water charge to blow it but Adams had vetoed the idea. He did not want to be facing a media storm if someone happened to be behind the thing when it blew. Either the door would go with the ram or it wouldn't.

The element of surprise was vital, they needed to be in the house before Jimmy, or anyone else, had the chance to purge computer drives, break up phones or burn documentation. The main job of these security doors was not keeping out a determined force, it was to give the people on the inside time to get rid of evidence.

Adams thought the city was beautiful at this time of the morning, innocent even. They rolled through the streets while thousand slept only feet away. He felt like a knight leading out a war party from a slumbering castle to catch an enemy unaware. He glanced over at Sims who was nervously picking at the stab vest she wore, tension spilling out of her fingertips. He on the other hand felt calm. He was on the move, taking action, it always steadied him.

He pulled up a few streets from The Garrison, a pre-determined rally point. He let the engine run while he stepped out of the car to watch the convoy of vehicles arrive. The gathering happened wordlessly and the radio strapped to the shoulder of his own stab vest hissed with static, but nothing more. When he was satisfied everyone was in place he raised his hand to the armoured personnel carrier holding the breach team and it moved away from the kerb to fall in behind him as he moved out. Adams was leading this assault himself.

He turned into the The Garrison in second gear, his engine a low steady hum. He did not want to give away his presence until the very last second if possible. He slipped easily over the speed bumps and drew to a halt outside Kingston's house. As one, the doors of both vehicles opened and remained open as the team silently dispersed. Adams stood back as the three black clad men who had been in the back of his car quickly arranged themselves at the door. Dual hydraulic rams were positioned at knee and head height while the third man knelt beside the drive unit. Once they were ready the team's leader nodded at Adams. It was his moment.

Adams moved forward and tapped on the door with his finger before announcing in a voice that could not have been heard three feet away, "Gardai, We have a search warrant for this premises, open the door." After the slightest pause he did the same again then stood back.

The man with the hydraulic box flicked a switch and a powerful battery operated pump hummed. He pressed a button and both rams moved, forcing themselves against the door frame, spreading it wide until they reached the limit of their power. The men holding the rams, dropped to the ground and retrieved their hand held sledges. Splintering wood and creaking concrete told of the incredible power of the device. Another switch was flipped and a second bolt moved forward on bar, driving the door inward, bending and twisting bolts and hinges. When the device was at full extension, the hammer men moved forward and struck, driving the door all the way in.

The breach team rushed in one behind the other, riot shields and weapons drawn. They stormed the house shouting "Gardai," and securing one room after the other. The word "Clear" indicated each room secured. Adams and Sims entered on the heels of the team, standing in the hall while the team did their work. A grey haired woman in her late sixties appeared on the landing, pulling a dressing gown around her, shock on her face. The breach team rushed past her and searched the upper floor of the building. Adams moved forward and addressed the woman.

"I'm Detective Stephen Adams, we are executing a search warrant of this premises, among others. Are you Mrs Kingston?" The woman shook her head and pulled her robe tighter, in much the same way her lips pinched into a scowl.

"Her mother," was all she said.

"Detective Sims will accompany you to your room so that you can dress. You are not permitted to remove anything from the premises and must follow her instructions precisely. Do you understand?" The woman on top of the stairs nodded and Sims went up to take her to the room. Adams looked around the down stairs, the place was completely empty. The officer in charge of the breach team approached Adams.

"The old woman is the only occupant of the house. It’s clear from rafter to floor." Something was not right about this. Jimmy Kingston should be here, he nearly never left the house.

"Did it look like someone left in a hurry?"

"No sir, just nobody home."

"Thanks. You can radio the search teams to come on up. You had better take up a position on the head of the road. Search every car coming or going. This place is a rabbit warren and most of the residents are on Kingston's payroll."

"Yes sir," said the man following his team out the ruined door.

The old woman came down the stairs wearing a light jumper, slacks and house slippers. Sims directed the woman into the sitting room and Adams followed. When the lady was seated Adams asked, "Where's Jimmy and your daughter?"

"At the hospital, with Kenny. They've been there all night."

Adams hadn't thought they would spend the whole night there, it surprised him. He expected to catch Jimmy sleeping. It might even be a good thing. If he was not in the house there was no way he could have interfered with any evidence. They might just hit the mother load.

"You'll have to remain in the house for the moment. Hopefully this won’t take that long," said Adams to the old lady as search teams moved in. Adams turned to them and said, "Start in the roof lads, work your way down."

The house was soon bursting with people. A steady stream of sealed evidence bags started filling van's to be ferried away from the scene. Adams caught a glimpse of Inspector Kelly as he quickly rifled through tons of bank and phone records found in a press in the kitchen. If the smile on his face were anything to go by, the possible bill facing Jimmy Kingston just jumped from a million and into the millions. This was going to sting hard and Adams only wished Jimmy was here so he could see the look on his face.

***

Joey woke up with a splitting headache. The bedside table was covered with empty miniature bottles of booze but they sure packed a full size punch. His stomach churned when he tried to sit up. He barely made it as far as the bathroom when a fountain of liquid vomit exploded from his mouth. He lay for a long time with his head resting against the cool foot of the toilet, his closed eyes couldn't stop the world from spinning. Eventually he forced himself to stand and splashed cold water on his face before drinking water directly from the tap. Two minutes later he was vomiting again.

Once he'd showered he felt better, but that feeling vanished when he looked at his phone. Like he expected there were a dozen missed calls from Pete and several messages, the contents of each became more and more threatening. The core message was always the same, "Where's our money?"

Joey thought about shutting off the phone but he needed it on in case the lunatic holding his sister rang. His finger hovered over Pete's name but he couldn't make himself press down. As if by magic, the phone sprang to life in his hand, Pete Pit bull Byrne himself.

He slid his thumb over the screen and held the phone to his ear.

"Where the hell have you been?"

"I was just going to call you," said Joey, thinking it was actually the truth, nearly.

"I don't care. Where the hell are you and you better have the money."

"I have the money but there's a problem. Someone snatched my sister and they’re going to kill her unless I hand over the money." The silence on the other end lingered. Joey didn't think that Pete was all that bright if the truth be known, but at least he wasn't shouting.


"Who?"

"I don't know, he didn't say but he sounded like a poncy fucker."

"Where are yea?"

"You must think I'm thick? You would be around here in a second."

"That's not your money, Joey. Don't be stupid. Jimmy will kill yea," said Pete, his voice soft now as if he was talking to his stupid kid brother, giving him solid advice.

"And if I don't Sarah dies! Tell Jimmy I'll work for him for the rest of my life to pay back the cash, anything he wants, but I got to get Sarah back, I got to! If that's not good enough, tell him he can kill me. I'll give myself up as soon as she is free."

"Joey don't ..."

Joey didn't give him a chance to finish. He hit the red button and threw the phone on the bed as if he was afraid it would jump up and bite him. Five seconds later it rang, a minute later it rang again. Joey turned the volume down and tried to ignore the vibrating in his pocket while he gathered his stuff. It was time to get moving.


"HOW MUCH!" he said, or more accurately yelled, when the receptionist pushed a bill toward him with Mini Bar charge of €237 euro printed nice and big.

"You had quite the night," she said snottily and began clacking on her computer with a dismissive air.

"I thought they were included in the room, yea know, competently."

"I think you mean complementary and no they were not. You paid Room Only which means you only get the room."

"Yes, but they were in the fucking room, how was I to know?"

"If you're refusing to pay the bill I'll have to call the Guards," she said in a way that made it clear she had the number already half dialled.

"I'll pay it," said Joey angrily ducking down to extract a few notes from the cash in his bag. He mumbled Robbing bastards under his breath.

"I heard that," said the woman. Joey stood and pushed the notes across the desk, his face burning red. She made change and shoved it back with a disgusted snarl on her lip. Joey took his change and shuffled away toward the door. As he pushed it open the corner of his eye caught the dirty look the girl was sending his way. He couldn't help himself, he turned back and roared, "Robbing Bastards!" then ran as fast as he could.

***
Jimmy was alone with Kenny when Pete opened the door and said quietly, "Boss."

Jimmy stood and stretched, it had been a long night. He followed Pete out into the hall and spotted Kathleen coming with two cups of coffee. He took one from her and said, "Thanks love." She had taken the news of Kenny's attack a lot better than he thought she would, in fact she had been a rock of sense. She calmed him down when the doctors came back with nothing new after the scan. All they said was, "It will take time." He was about to blow a gasket when she rested an arm on his and said, "No news is good news." It had been just the right thing to say at just the right moment.

She went back inside and left them alone in the corridor.

"Joey has been in touch," said Pete.

"I knew he would," said Jimmy taking a sip of his coffee.

"Someone's kidnapped his sister and want's the cash in return for her," said Pete as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Jimmy felt the coffee catch in his throat and nearly went down the wrong pipe. It make him cough and a little came out his nose.

"What the hell? You told him that was not his money."

"Of course but he's determined to save her. He is not taking my calls now."

"I'll kill the little bastard!"

"I told him that too."

"This is crazy! Nobody knew he had the money except me and you."

"And a few of the boys."

"You think it could be one of them, looking to make a quick score and let the kid take the ride for it?"

"Na, not our lads"

"You said that about Collins and look what happened there?"

"I never liked Collins there was always something wrong with him. Anyway, Joey said the guy talked like a ponce."

"Hang on, he knew," said Jimmy walking down the corridor and back up again. He always thought better when his feet were moving.

"Who?"

"The Ferryman. He knew Joey had been ripped off. I told him."

Pete knew that this was one of the times to be quite. That was when Jimmy's phone rang in his pocket. He fished it out and looked at the number. It was his accountant.

"Yea?"

"Jimmy. I can't get into the office. CAB have it sealed off under bench warrant. I think you better get over here."

"You better have nothing in there that I won't like!" snarled Jimmy into the phone knowing what a lazy bastard his accountant was.

"Of course not!" said the man in a way that made Jimmy sure he was lying. He punched the off button savagely.

"Greasy git!" he roared, causing a nurse to glare at him from the far end of the corridor.

"What?"

"CAB are raiding the accountant's place. You can bet they are over at mine as well! Stay here with Kathleen," Jimmy said as he raced away toward the exit. He had to see what was happening.

***

Darren eased his eyes open.

"Oh Jesus," he said and rested the heel of his hand against his forehead to try and quell the way it throbbed. If the Irish Sea was made of porter, he thought, he could have drunk it dry last night. He leaned into Clare's side of the bed but it was empty, which gave him an idea. She was sure to have some painkillers in her bedside locker, women are always taking those things. He rolled over and pulled the drawer, rummaging through it without lifting his head from the pillow. He had pulled out a makeup tubes, hair brushes, hair straighteners, scrunchies, lip balm, before giving up his contact with the pillow to raise his head. He rummaged through the drawer and right at the bottom he came across a package of Paracetamol.

"You beauty," he said and pulled out the shiny green box. He flopped back down on the bed and opened the box but noticed something stuck to the back of the package. He pealed it free and read the name not believing what he was seeing. Detective Stephen Adams. A dab of dried pasta sauce smeared the card, it was the same one he had thrown into the bin the other day. What the hell was Clare doing with it?

His headache forgotten he threw back the covers and put his feet on the ground. He flipped the card over in his fingers again and again before turning back to her drawer, searching it completely, eventually dumping the contents out on the duvet. There was nothing else, even so the card was enough. Had she been snitching on him? No way! He couldn't believe that.

He snatched a pair of jeans and pulled them on. She'd better have a damn good answer. He walked down the hall and into the kitchen. Clare was doing the washing-up while Martin ate scrambled egg and toast at the table.

"Morning, want a coffee," she said over her shoulder.

"What's this?" he asked holding up the card, somehow managing to keep his voice level. The blood drained from her face when she saw the small white piece of cardboard he was holding.

"Well? What are you doing with this?"

"I...I don't...”

"Don't what, Clare? Don't know how it got in your bedside table? Don't know how it jumped out of the bin? Or is it you don't believe I found it?"

"I was scared, alright! I thought I was losing you and I didn't know where to turn..."

"So you turned to him?"

"NO! I just kept the card in case."

"In case of what?"

"In case something happened and I needed help, you needed help."

"These people don't help the likes of us," he said waving the card and he felt his words echo back off the walls. He didn't know when he'd started shouting but one look at Martins huge scared eyes told him it had been a while back. He laid the card on the kitchen table and rested his hands on either side of it. He let the words swim before his eyes, Detective Stephen Adams. He knew Clare didn't come from the place he'd come from. To her the law was there to help. In his life the law only tore families’ apart, separated parents from children, rewarded weakness with pain and took what they wanted when they wanted. In Darren's opinion, the cops were as twisted as any criminal walking the streets of Dublin. He could to see things from her point of view but he knew that if they were to have any future together she would have to see things from his.

When he looked up, Clare had moved away from the sink and had two bubble flecked hands over Martin's shoulders, protecting him, reassuring him.


"This is my life. I'm a good man but not one that is measured by the rules these people make. I told you yesterday that you are first for me and always will be. That's all I can promise. It is time for you to make a decision, a real hard one," he said pushing himself away from the table and walked to the front door of the apartment. He unlocked it and opened it full before turning back to Clare.

"If you want to be with me, there is no safety net, there's no white knight coming to save the day. In this life we help ourselves, we look after our own, and only family counts. If that's not what you want, the door is open. Use it."

He hung his head and walked back down the hall to the bedroom. His head spun, this time it wasn't from the hangover. What had he just done?

He heard a chair scrape on the kitchen floor, and movement, but no words. Seconds passed to become minutes while he sat on the corner of their bed. How he wished she would appear in the door and take him in her arms, but she didn't. Then came a noise that chilled his bones, his own front door closing followed by silence, a silence so dense it was a living thing.

No! She couldn't leave, he had to get her back. He bounded from the bed and raced down the corridor. He skidded to a stop a few feet into the living room. Standing there by the kitchen table was Clare with Martin in her arms, his forehead rested against her blond hair. On the kitchen table was the policeman's card, ripped into a thousand pieces and heaped in a tiny pile.


"You're all I need," she said, before he scooped them both into his arms.