Kate looked around at the starkly decorated room and it did nothing to lift her feeling of doom. It was painted battleship-grey and the walls were bare of any adornment, not even a window to distract her from the detectives sitting across the table. She was weary of all the questions they threw at her, not that she had any answers. She was alone on her side of the table, she hadn't asked for a lawyer, after all she was innocent, why would she need one? By her elbow a machine hummed quietly as it recorded every word she uttered. With the back of her hand she wiped away a tear, one of countless tears, endless tears and most of all useless tears.
“Who were the drugs going to?” asked Detective Adams, his arms folded over his chest as he leaned back in the chair giving the impression he never got tired of asking the same things.
“I don’t know,” she said, the machine had recorded this particular I don’t know a dozen times already.
“Where did they come from?” the big guard asked.
“I didn’t even know they were there! I don’t know how they got there! I don’t know where they were going, and I don’t know who they belong to!” she yelled and slapped the table in frustration. “The only thing I do know is that they're not mine and they sure as hell aren’t Barry's either! He wouldn’t touch the stuff!”
“I don’t think you know your husband as well as you think,” said the woman sitting beside Detective Adams. What had she called herself? Sam? Sa something...no, Sims. That was it, Sims.
“What do you mean by that?” Kate asked the woman angrily. Detective Adams flipped the folder laid before him closed and let the four legs of his chair rest flat on the floor.
“Concluding the interview at...ten-fifty-three am,” he announced for the benefit of the machine and then switched it off. He scribbled a few notes on the outside of his file. He then turned his eyes on Kate as if deciding what he should say next. The man had a presence, his face was scared but he had kind eyes.
“Mrs Rusk, your husband has told us you knew nothing about the drugs,” he said.
“I’ve been telling you that for hours,” she said and heard the exasperation in her voice. It was like this was some stupid prank that had gone too far.
The guard sighed and pushed on with what he was staying, “He said you knew nothing about the drugs and was clear on that point, but he has refused to say anything else."
"I'm not surprised. Barry would never have anything to do with drugs...neither of us would."
"We didn't end up at your house by accident and neither did those drugs."
"So?" Kate asked like a petulant teenager. It was refreshing to be the one asking the questions for a change, even if it was one of one syllable.
"Someone put those drugs in your garage, it if wasn't you, it could only be your husband."
"But why would he? Was he minding them for someone?”
“That much...hardly,” said the guard. Kate thought back to the five little packets lying on the floor of her garage. She knew nothing about drugs. Was that a lot?
“How much are we talking about?” she asked
“A lot. On the street what we found could be worth between fifty and eighty thousand euro, depending on the purity of course.”
That loomed large in Kate’s mind. Fifty thousand or more...Jesus. Those were figures that made national headlines and she remembered seeing jail sentences in double figures for less. She felt the foundation of her reason wobble a bit before reality came to the rescue. The people in the papers were scumbags, drug-dealers and criminals. She and Barry were nothing like that, they were innocent people caught up in something stupid...surely they’d see that?
“I don’t know what happened but I’m sure there's a rational explanation," she pleaded, hoping they would see how sincere she was being with them. She’d told them nothing but the truth from the moment she got here.
"If there is we won't get to the bottom of it with your husband refusing to talk," the woman said, her words more unforgiving than the man's.
The two detectives got up to leave, tucking folders under their suited elbows. Kate should have been happy to see them go but she wasn’t. Somehow when they were sitting there asking their daft questions the world made sense.
“What happens now?” she asked, and the two detectives paused.
“You’re free to go, for the moment, Mrs Rusk. Someone will come to get you soon," the man said and was about to walk away when he stopped. "I would advise you to talk with your husband. We're not the ones he needs to worry about. Someone is out a lot of money and they're not going to be happy." Then the two of them walked into the corridor and slammed the door behind them. With the clang still echoing through the room Kate collapsed back in the hard-plastic chair.
About ten minutes later a female guard with a rosy complexion appeared at the door. "Right, my love, let’s get you out of here."
The woman made inane small-talk as they walked towards the front of the police station. Was it that she was ignorant of the destruction that had rained down on Kate's life, or perhaps it was the woman's shield against the grimy world she was forced to deal with every day? Kate signed a form and her meagre belongings were returned to her. She looked around but there was no sign of Barry. She turned on her phone and tried his number, but it rang out. She was still wearing the clothes she hurriedly put on during the raid the night before. She had no keys for the house, or purse, she had nothing. She tried Barry's phone again with the same result. Not knowing what else to do she returned to the desk where a grumpy sergeant stood. She felt like a school girl approaching the principal’s office.
"Will my husband be released soon," she asked timidly.
The man gave her a cold look and said, "Mr Rusk is being kept in custody until he appears before the Four-Courts, later today." That was the final straw for Kate's self-control. She felt her bottom lip quiver and saw the look of dread light up in the eye of the stringent man on the other side of the desk. She felt helpless: standing in her nightclothes, not a penny in her pocket, nobody to help fix things and all she seemed capable of doing was crying. She saw the desk sergeant’s eyes go skyward as Kate's sobs morphed into full-on bellows of despair. This man dealt with violent criminals’ day in and day out but faced with a blubbering female he went to pieces. In a semi panic he called over the cheery woman that had brought her up from the interview room.
"Get her home, would you," he said to the woman and turned his back busying himself with the important task of tidying up papers. To her credit, the female guard didn’t flinch at the chauvinistic overtones in the man’s command. Instead she came to Kates side and placed a warm hand on her shoulder. She cooed reassurances in Kate’s ear as she moved her charge away from the desk.
It turned out there were no police cars available to take her, so the guard organised a taxi for her and even billed it to the station. Kate was deeply grateful to the kind female guard despite the fact is was her lot that locked eher up in the first place. Kate waited outside the station for her lift to arrive and was never so grateful to be out in the open. Although she had only spent a few hours locked up, it had been a few hours too many. She didn’t know how Barry could be coping any better than she was.
Half-an-hour later, a hard-worked taxi creaked its way across the city with Kate trying to make herself as small as possible in the back seat. Thankfully the driver was a taciturn individual and less than happy having a criminal in his car. The only thing he’d asked was her address and after that he was content to listen to the radio. She pretended not to see his vailed glances in the rear-view mirror, if she had been in his position she would be keeping a weather eye out as well.
The radio played middle of the road pop music, designed to lubricate the masses through their mundane daily chores. Given the way her night and morning had turned out, a mundane day seemed like heaven to Kate. Right now, she was a living contradiction. She tried to diminish her presence in the car by sitting statue still but inside her mind was in turmoil. Shocks were piled on top of shocks, half told secrets, ridiculous revelations, nonsensical allegations, complete over-reactions all hammered at her sensibilities until she was incapable of any sort of thought at all. No matter what angle she approached her situation from, no answers appeared. It might have been her own stupidity, but this was all beyond her. The more she tried to come up with a way out of her troubles, the more troubles she seemed to have.
On the car radio, the music gave way to the news. Stories of political infighting were interspaced by a bus strike and the restriction of Irish fishing rights. Then the newsreader uttered words she would never forget. “Gardai have seized of a substantial quantity of drugs in the north of Dublin City. A man in his forties and a woman in her late thirties are expected before the courts later today. In other news, the protests at the historic burial site on Tara continue...”
Jesus, hearing that made it all so real. The world knew now. They’d said a woman and man were expected before the courts, did that mean she might still face charges from whatever was going on? Could she yet end up in prison because of all this? Today had been enough, more than enough. There was no way she could survive inside jail. And what about Toby? The taxi driver glanced back at Kate and this time he didn’t try to disguise his distain. Kate looked down at her hands and folded them into a parody of prayer, refusing to meet the man’s gaze. As seconds ticked by she felt the weight of the drivers eyes lift off her and she breathed out. He could think what he liked, all she wanted to do was get home to Toby.
Outside the taxi window everything was looked so normal, college students walked toward classes with bed-head hair and hungover eyes, postmen delivered letters, an old lady dragged a wheeled carrier away from the bus-stop toward the supermarket, pigeons searched the sidewalk for crumbs. Everything was as it should be. Inside the taxi, everything was different. She was being treated like a criminal by the police: there were bags of drugs hidden in her lawnmower, armed men had broken into her home in the middle of the night, she’d been dragged away in handcuffs, her son was frightened beyond words with nobody but the neighbours to comfort him...shit she wasn’t even sure she knew who her husband was. The world inside the taxi was a fucking mess, a big one.
All her adult life Barry had been there to guide her, to answer her questions, tell her what to do, to handle the decisions. Where was he now? On his way to the Four-Courts, manacled to a ruddy-great guard is where he was, and she was sure there’d be plenty of reporters on hand to record her humiliation. This was going to ruin them completely.
With that thought came another one. What if the reporters were waiting at the house? That thought made her stomach flip. She imagined Toby watching his mother being chased down by a pack of blood-thirsty journalists, watching his parents being tried on the six-o’clock news every night, it would ruin him. Toby might still be a child, but that didn’t mean he was stupid. She straightened in her seat and did her best to gather herself. She was Toby’s mother and she needed to be strong for him, for them.
As her road came into sight she crossed her fingers. “Please, please, please,” she asked the great entity in the sky, but didn’t have the wherewithal to know what word to put after Please. Her house appeared in the distance and her weak mantra seemed to have done the business. There were no gangs of reporters or even fluttering crime scene tape to mark her home as the one now being talked about across the whole of the country. If there were any hidden blessings to this whole debacle, this could be counted as one.
“The third on the right please,” she said to the driver and he pulled up at the end of her drive way without a friendly word. Kate climbed out of the car and closed the door, delighted to be away from the mute monstrosity of a man with his judgemental eyes.
Kate turned toward her neighbours’ home, Clare’s home, her best friend. The only one she had been able to turn to in her time of need. It had taken a lot of persuasion on her part to get the Guards to allow Clare to mind Toby last night, they had wanted to turn him over to social services. Kate shuddered at the thought of it, it would be like locking him up. No matter what had happened, no matter how those drugs had found their way into her life and her home there was no way she was going to have her son become one of those kids abandoned to the incompetence of the state. The sad thing was she had no family she could fall back on. She had been an only child from a well to do family. Her Dad had passed away years ago and her mother was in a nursing home now, believing everyday was taking place in the 1950’s. Without Clare she didn’t know what she would have done.
Kate had taken three steps toward the house before the front door burst opened and Toby came rushing toward her. He was still in his pyjamas and crying so hard she couldn’t make out what he was saying. She scooped her little man into her arms and near crushed him with desperate delight. Whatever fortifications she’d built up during the taxi ride crumbled and she began to gush again. Clare appeared at the door and paused there, letting Kate comfort Toby in her own way. When she did come across, her face was drawn and concerned, her arms were folded tightly across her chest as if warding off a great evil.
Kate hoped Clare could see past all the police, and radio reports, to see the truth. They were great friends and neighbours for years, but this was something that could rock the most solid of relationships. The truth was, Kate needed Clare now more than she ever needed anyone in her life. She couldn’t blame the woman if she turned and walked back too her own house and slammed the door, but she prayed she wouldn’t. Kate had no Barry, no family, no support of any kind, she had no idea what had happened or what was yet to come. If she was forced to face it alone, she was sure she would fall apart.
“We’re not drug dealers...” she started to say before Clare cut across her.
“I know you’re not, yea stupid mare,” she scoffed and threw her arms around both, gathering them to her motherly bosom. When she let them go Clare said, “Who knew I was living next-door to Al Capone.” Kate knew beneath the joke her friend was worried, but she loved Clare for the bravado. It was just what she needed right now. Clare pointed at the house and said, “I sent Jimmy to stay at your place after the coppers left. The door’s busted and it wouldn’t lock properly.”
“You’re so good, both of you. Thanks for minding him,” Kate said nodding toward the shaking child in her arms.
“Don’t be daft.”
“Look, come over once I get Toby settled and I’ll explain everything.”
“You don’t have to explain anything to...”
“I want to. I need to talk about it. Please”
“I’ll be round later so, if you’re sure.”
“I’m sure,” said Kate as she forced a smile on her face. She pried Toby away from her so she could to talk to him.
“Really, everything’s’ fine. Those men won’t be back, ever, I promise,” she said and kissing the tip of the nose, something she knew he hated. He’d normally say Phooey and rub the kiss away. Today it just made him cry a little less.
“I’ll tell Jimmy you’re back,” Clare said, turning toward Kates home. She didn’t get far before Jimmy appeared at the door. Kate went to thank him for his help but Jimmy sprang away from her as if electrocuted. He pretended not to see her as he hurdled the low hedge between the houses and vanished into the safety of his own home. Clare’s face said she was beyond livid. Kate could see her friend’s back bunch up with rage and her hands balled into fists. When she turned around Clare’s cheeks were burning with shame.
“He’s a spineless...” she said but it was Kate’s turn to kindly interrupt the apology.
“It’s fine, who could blame him?”
“I could and will!” Clare said savagely and stormed after her absconded husband. Kate felt sorry for Jimmy; being arrested again would be a kinder fate than facing Clare in the mood she was currently in.
When Kate got inside the house she saw what Clare meant about the door. The Guards must have hit it with a sledgehammer or something. The lock had been forced in and the door jamb was all splintered. Kate closed the door and wedged a dining room chair under the handle. That was when she noticed everything else. All her belongings had been moved, drawers searched and haphazardly thrown back. It didn’t exactly qualify for term trashed but the house felt trashed to her.
Toby was still sobbing softly into her neck and she needed to do something to assure him that normal life was still going on.
“Are you hungry, baby?” she asked but he shook his head in the negative.
“Are you sure? You look sleepy, are you feeling tired?” to this he gave a nod yes and sniffled. “Come on and I’ll tuck you in for a nap,” she said carrying him up the stairs.
“Where’s Daddy?” he asked softly.
“He is still helping those people that were here find what they lost. I’m sure he will be home soon.”
“Did they look under the couch cushions?”
“What?” she asked concerned, pausing on the stairs to look at Toby. What could Toby know about this?
“When Daddy loses his car keys they are always under the cushions on the couch.”
“Oh, I see,” she said, and she had to smile at that. “It was the first place they looked and no, it wasn’t there. Anyway, there’s nothing to worry about. Daddy will be back very soon.” This seemed to make Toby a lot more...relaxed.”
Thankfully Toby’s room looked no messier than it normally did. She got him into bed and tucked his duvet tight under his chin like he liked. She was about to get off the bed when his little hand shot out and took hers.
“Don’t go, Mom,” he said. She looked down at his face and smiled.
“Make room so, I could do with a little cuddle.” She settled in beside him and felt his warm little arm come to rest across her neck. It was true, she did need this. She wanted to wish this whole nightmare day away. If only she could close her eyes and wake up yesterday, when everything in her life made sense, but that was never going to happen. She tried to close her eyes, but sleep wouldn’t come and that was despite the warmth of the bed and the gentle snores of her child. Eventually, she slipped out of the bed to make a start on reordering her world.
She put a call into a builder who’d remodelled the kitchen last year. After a bit of pleading the man promised to have a carpenter call over before the end of the day to repair the front door. When that was done she set about straightening out everything, cleaning and polishing as she went. The house felt unclean like it wasn’t hers anymore. She rubbed the surfaces so violently it was like she was trying to scrub the tarnish of criminality from her life. Deep down she knew what she was doing was useless.
The rubbish bin in the kitchen was overflowing but she kept adding more to the pile instead of emptying the liner. The reason was simple, the wheelie bins were in the garage, the source of all her heart ache. Eventually, she had no choice but to empty the thing and chided herself for being so stupid. She snatched the black bag out of the dustbin, spilling some of the contents on the kitchen floor. With harsh movements she knotted the top of the bag and approached the door to the garage. She flung it open and stood before the black void inside. Her hand hovered over the light switch, but her fingers refused to bend. Her breathing quickened, and she felt the tiny hairs along the back of her neck prickle. The air coming at her was cool and filled with the smell of paint, old oil, drying clay, rubber boots and dust. It was the smell of her childhood, it was the smell of her daddy’s garden shed. How she loved that place, nearly as much as he loved it, it was their sanctuary from the tireless disapproval of her mother. She remembered so many lost days, the two of them hiding away from the tyrant they lived with. Wet days were the best, she would never come looking for either of them as long as it was pouring down. She could still feel the hard clay encrusted workpants under her legs as she sat on his lap listening to stories of long dead Irish heroes and their deeds. His deep baritone voice making the words come alive until the pictures were unleashed in her mind as a technicolour movie. He could make the most trivial things seem enormous. She really wished he were here now, to take her on his knee and assure her that everything would work out just fine.
She took one more deep breath and flicked the switch down. The harsh florescent light flickered once, then once again before plinking into life. The blinding light chased away the ghost of her Daddy and with it any comfort he had brought her. There, in the middle of the floor lay the cause of all her misery, the lawnmower. The sight of it sent a shiver down her back and she marched past it stiffly, slamming the bag she carried into the green dustbin. She turned back and was about to storm out again when she stopped. Why was she being like this? What would it achieve? Pretending stuff didn’t exist was not going to get her anywhere. If she couldn’t even confront an inanimate piece of garden machinery, how was she going to deal with everything to come. She walked over and stood over the thing. The grass collecting basket was off and lying on the ground beside the mower. She pushed it with her foot and the opening came into view. There was nothing inside it now but dried out husks of grass. Gone were the small bricks of poison that might yet send her to prison. What a stupid place to hide drugs. The only place worse would be under the bed! It was as if....
It was as if someone wanted them found. Her jaw unlocked and hung slack, pulling the skin of her cheeks down and her eyes wide. Someone wanted those drugs found! How did the guards pick this house to search? How did they find the drugs within minutes of coming into the house and who in their right mind would hide a fortune in illegal drugs in a fucking garage? They had been set up! No, not they, Barry! For the first time, it all made sense.
Barry was always bragging about how well his company was doing. How he was the envy of other engineers. How he undercut, drove hard deals, dealt harshly with those who got between him and success. Had some of those chickens come home to roost? Some of those contracts were worth tens, no hundreds of thousands of euro. Could it be that one of Barry’s rivals had decided to plant drugs in their house, inform the guards, the watch as the rest unfolded. It was plausible, more than plausible! It had to be what happened.
Kate felt a rush of exhilaration run through her. She had to call those detectives and tell them what she’d figured out. Once they knew what she knew, they would find the person responsible, she was sure of it! She dashed from the garage to the kitchen to get her phone, but a crash echoed through the house, making her freeze on the spot. It was the chair she’d placed against the handle of the door falling over. For the second time in one day, her house was being invaded, and this time she was alone.