Sunday, 10 March 2019

Rock Bottom - part 5

         
  Clare’s scream hurt Kate’s ears. Her brain was stuck in neutral, unable to make sense of what she was seeing. There was no masked attacker, or axe-wielding mad-man; only Clare scrabbling around on the floor amid a cluster of dropped muffins.
            “Jesus, I’m sorry...” she said, dropping the knife.
In between gasped breaths, Clare managed to say, “You scared the hell out of me!”
            “Sorry...” but her explanation was interrupted by a cry from above.
“MOMMM!” cried Toby from the landing.
            “It’s OK baby, Clare fell over, go back to bed,” she called up to him. After a few seconds she heard Toby’s bedroom door snick closed and she knew he’d gone back to bed. Kate was embarrassed beyond words. She didn’t know how to explain the last twenty-four-hours to her friend or even which part of the story would be the worst.   
            Still breathing hard, Clare said, “If you didn’t like muffins you could have just said!”
Kate looked down at the woman lying in her hall and wondered if Clare was a living saint. How could she be so understanding? Seconds passed in silence before they both started to laugh hysterically. It was out of control laughter, petering on the edge of madness, but it was just what Kate needed.  
            “Come on, I’ll make tea,” she said helping Clare up.
            “Tea? Tea! You better do better than tea! Where’s the corkscrew?” Clare said, dragging Kate toward the kitchen.
            “It’s only gone breakfast time!” 
            “I don’t flippen care! Get alcohol in me or I’m out of here,” she said, and she wasn’t joking. What the hell, after the night she had who could condemn her for drinking so early.              It took two hours and a bottle of Pino Grigo to get through her story. Clare listened; she gave a prompt here and there for more detail but mostly she was happy to let Kate tell her tale.
            “...and after all that, I though you were someone...well...someone bad,” Kate finished, trying to explain why she’d jumped out with a knife. She lifted the glass and drained the last of her wine.
            “You had no idea any of this was going on?” asked Clare, twirling the stem of her glass between her fingers. Kate felt a tiny spark of annoyance flare within her but she reminded herself that Clare had every right to be suspicious. She was only saying to her face what everyone else would say behind her back.
            “Not a clue,” she said sadly and looked into the depths of the empty glass.
            “But Barry...he knew?”
            “No way! He would never get involved in anything like that!” she blurted and heard the sharp tone in her words. She was jumping to Barry’s defence because she knew her husband, despite what that woman guard said.
            “If it wasn’t you...or Barry, who could it have been?”
            “I think we were set up,” she said leaning her elbows on the counter as if sharing a deep dark secret with Clare.
            “Set up?”
            “Yea, someone Barry pissed off at work or a competitor who wanted him out of the way. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me.”
            “God! Do you think so? It’s a bit extreme don’t you think?” Clare said sitting back as if knocked on her haunches by the idea.
            “Not really. The house is empty a lot of the time. How hard would it be to break in and plant that stuff and then tip off the cops? We haven’t touched that lawnmower in weeks.”
            “Or...” she asked, leaving the word hang in the air.
            “Or what?” Kate asked, not seeing where Clare was heading with that lingering question.
            “Or Barry did know about it.”
            “No way!” she said, turning away from Clare and swiping the wine glass from the counter. She opened the door of the dishwasher and placed the glass inside. She knew she was hiding from Clare...and her question. What if Barry did know?
            “Ok, girl. Take it easy. I was only saying that I’ve been married to Jimmy for fifteen years and that idiot still can’t get my birthday right. Everyone has secrets,” said Clare to her back.
            “There’s a big difference between forgetting a birthday and secretly being a criminal mastermind,” she said, turning around to face her friend.
            “I guess you’re right,” said Clare, clearly saying it to appease her. She happened to glance at her watch and then leapt from the chair. “Oh, Jesus! Is that the time? Jimmy’ll think I’ve skipped the country...Oh shit! Sorry! I didn’t mean...”
            “Get lost, will yea. I’m not made of glass.”
They hugged and Clare left the house pulling the ruined door after her. Kate felt better but she was glad to be on my own. She didn’t want to have to put on a brave face for the world, she just didn’t have the energy. She was frightened, and scared. Despite what she’d told Clare, she had doubts. The only way to know for sure was to ask Barry. She picked up her phone and dialled Barry’s number, but his phone was still powered off. She looked at her watch and it was nearly three in the afternoon, surely he’d be out of court by now? All she could do was wait.  
***
The builder arrived a while later and did a lot of head scratching while he looked over the job.
“No way can I fix that door. I can order a new one to match your windows but it’ll take a while. Do yea want me to put in a temporary one for you until it’s ready,” he asked, taking the pencil from over his ear and started scratching out numbers on the back of a cigarette box.
“I just want to be able to lock the thing. I don’t care what it looks like,” she said and heard how ratty she sounded but the stony glare the builder gave her confirmed it. “Sorry. That was rude,” she said and she meant it. “I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
The man’s eyes softened. “I know, I got broken into myself,” he said kindly.
“Go ahead and order the replacement, but do you think you can get the temporary one up before tonight?”
“I’ll just work out the price for yea,” he said, getting his pencil moving again.
“The cost doesn’t matter,” she gave him a pleading look.
He looked sorry for her and tucked away his bit of cardboard. “Sure I can. Let me just measure up and nip down the builders’ yard. We’ll have you back in business in no time.
When the builder had gone, she went into the kitchen and found Toby sitting sullenly at the table. A dish of macaroni and cheese was turning gold in the oven and the smell of it was warming the kitchen, but it couldn’t warm the heart of her little boy. She had tried to talk to him earlier, but he remained near mute. It was starting to worry her.   
“You ok Tobs?” she asked. He gave one sad nod. On the worktop her phone rang before she could ask him anything else. Barry she thought and rushed to answer the call. The number on the screen wasn’t his. Her thumb hovered over the green button. It might be the press, or the cops. She didn’t want to talk to any of them, but it might be Barry calling from another phone. The hope of that was enough for her to swipe on green and say, “Hello?”
            “Hi Honey.” Thank God, it was him. She felt her Knees go weak and she eased herself back against the counter to steady herself.  “Barry...Barry. Are you ok? Are you coming home?”
            “I’m fine, Babes. How are you and the kiddo?”
            “We’re ok,” she said stifling a sniffle as she looked over at Toby. She didn’t have to tell him who was on the phone, he knew. His eyes were wide and excited, I could see him ready to jump off the chair with delight, but he waited to hear more.
“What’s going on? Why is this happening to us?” she whispered into the phone, turning away from Toby so he wouldn’t see the sheen of tears on her face.
“I don’t know, I wish I did,” he said, and his calm tone made her feel a hundred percent better. He always had a way of calming her down when she was about to go off the deep end. Kate thought that might be what she loved most about him. He was a rock.
“Are you coming home?”
“They refused bail,” he said sadly.
“Why? What do they think you’ll do?”
“Run away I guess.”
“There has to be something we can do. I’m going to go straight to the court and see who I can talk to,” she said, jumping to Barry’s aid as if he were in the headmasters office or something.
“I’m not at the court anymore. They have me at Mountjoy. They let me make a call while my transfer paperwork is being processed. I don’t have much time sweetheart, I just wanted to hear your voice.” He was whispering and Kate could hear the nerves in his voice. She could imagine him looking over his shoulder the way he did when he was uneasy.
            “Jesus, Barry, what the...”
            “I can’t explain anything now but I asked my lawyer to get you a visiting order as soon as possible. Promise you’ll come...it’s important.”
            “Of course....” He sounded so scared, I’d never heard him like this before. She swallowed her tears and steadied her voice before saying, “I’ll be there.”
            “Good...good,” he said sadly and then before he could say anything else the line went dead.
            “Barry?”
            Her husband, the love of my life was out there...scared out of his skin...and there was noting she could do about it. She felt the foundations of her life shift under her feet but the beseeching look Toby was wearing stopped her short of melting down completely. She sniffed back her tears and painted a smile on her face.
            “Daddy said to give you a huge hug,” she said rushing forward to scooping Toby up in her arms. She hugged him close and held him long, so he couldn’t see her glistening eyes.
            “Is he coming soon?”
            “Soon, Baby...soon.”


Chapter 2

            Kate didn’t sleep much that night and Toby insisted on sharing her bed. In the morning she found a visitation notice waiting on her phone. She called over to Clare’s a little after nine and told her what was going on. Clare was more than happy to have Toby for a few hours but I she wasn’t her normal chirpy self.
“Is everything ok? You look down?” she asked, and Clare’s eyes drifted to her shoes. Kate had an awful idea she knew what was coming next.
            “Do I?” she said touching her face. A second ticked by and her cheek quivered a little as if she were trying to keep some dreadful emotion inside. Then she said, “Jimmy had a right go at me last night.” Kate knew it and she bet she could guess why.
            “About me?”
Clare didn’t answer, she didn’t have the heart to, but she nodded her head shallowly. “I don’t want to cause trouble for you guys. I will get someone else to look after Toby...or I might take him with me,” after all this was not Clare’s mess to sort out, it was hers.
            “He said I was a fool for getting myself mixed with you,” and I could see how much pain it caused Clare to say those words. Deep in my heart I knew that Jimmy was right. If the shoe were on the other foot, I’m not sure I would be as supportive as Clare had been. I hoped I would be but that could be wishful thinking.
            “Jimmy might have a point. I don’t know what’s going to come of all this. You might be better off staying as far from Barry and me as you can get. I’d never hold it against you.”
            “But I’d hold it against myself! What kind of a friend would I be if I did that?”
“A good one! No...a great one. No matter what!” Kate said throwing her arms around Clare’s shoulders. They hugged each other like sisters for a long time and Kate could feel her neighbour crying silently into her hair.
When they pulled apart, Clare wiped away her tears with the back of her hand and looked up to heaven as she got herself back in control. “That’s not fair, you got me crying now!” she scolded to hide her embarrassment. When she had a grip once more she replaced her smile and grabbed Kate by the shoulders. “Friends don’t run out on each other. They stick together, come what may. I won’t tuck my tail between my legs and cower like Jimmy wants me too. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me, Darling.”
            “Look...” Kate started to say, about to insist she look after her own life first but Clare beat her to the punch.  
            “Look my arse! Drop Toby over...no arguing. If Jimmy wants me to be someone I’m not then he should have married a different woman.”
            Kate felt like crying but this time from happiness. Clare’s words were like a turbo-boost to her soul. If Clare could be so brave, then she could be brave too. Kate started to sniff a little and Clare took her hand. She did know what to say to Clare but luckily enough, Clare had words enough for both of them.
            “I won’t lie to you; this whole thing scares the shit out of me. There is a part of me that wanted to do what Jimmy asked and then blame him for it. But the truth is, this is my time to show myself who I really am. You need me and I’ll be there for you...no question.” Kate threw her arms around the best woman in the world and held on tight, just like she wished she could have hugged her dad the night before. Perhaps he had sent Clare to her knowing he couldn’t be there himself. Kate looked up through watery eyes and said a silent prayer, thanking him for looking after her.
***
            The drive into town was much different than her trip home by taxi. Today Kate was dressed in her own clothes, she had money in her purse and an expensive car under her. It’s was frightening how naked she felt when a few trivial belongings had been denied her. She didn’t believe it was possible to end up in a strange place and not a penny to her name. She knew it happened to people...but not people like her.
 Today she would get to talk to Barry and between the two of them they would sort this mess out. Traffic around the centre of Dublin moved slower than lava. Soon she turned off the broad monument-lined streets, onto the grimy back-alleys which lead to this city’s dirty little secret. Mountjoy Jail was built by the British but it was more home to some Dubliners than any flat would be. Drugs...poverty...hopelessness....apathy, were the keys which unlocked this mansion of misery. As she moved deeper into the northside of the city the buildings were coated in smog, the pavements were littered with rubbish and the residents looked like they were likely ex-inmates or soon be ones of the place she was headed.
She found a parking spot and walked the last few streets to the prison. You’d expect such a place to be hidden away in some hard to reach spot but that’s not the case. Around a perfectly ordinary corner a robust limestone structure loomed out of the urban landscape.  The stone was filthy and mottled with algae. The windows were barred and although she craned her neck Kate couldn’t see a roof above the buttress of stone. Imbedded in the wall was a huge double door, bedecked with iron studs. It looked like a door that would stand fast for a thousand years. Kate walked towards it, but a sign directed her to a humble steel door that lay open close by. She’d never set foot inside a prison and had no idea what to expect when she crossed over the threshold.
            The first thing that surprised her about Mountjoy was how open it was. She’d expected to be confronted with miles of bars and thousands of locked doors. Inside it was surprisingly normal, a bit like one of the schools she’d gone to as a child. The floors were tiled and the windows high off the ground. The vaulted roof was miles above her head and instead of an armed guard behind bullet proof glass she was met by a rosy cheeked man seated at a timber desk.
            “All right my love, who are you visiting today?” he asked and rested his hand on his chin.
            “Barry Rusk,” she said and her lips had gone so dry she had to lick them. The man ran his pen down his list before stopping at a name and the man looked up at her with dancing eyes.
            “Kate Rusk?” he asked and smiled at her. She nodded. The man pointed at the drivers licence she held and smiled. Kate felt like such a greenhorn. She quickly handed over the licence and stood with her hands clamped over her bag. She became aware of a presence at her shoulder and tuned to see a white-haired lady standing there with at least three coats on. The guard looked around Kate and smiled warmly.
            “Morning Bridgit, you go on ahead, I’ll sign you in.”
            “Cheers, Dan. How’s the mussus?”
            “She’s good, swears she wants to go back to work but I think she’s addicted to Opra,” the guard quipped, and Kate heard the old lady chuckle as she walked towards a door at the end of the room. She saw the guard find the woman’s name on the list and sign Bridget O’Brien in the box beside it. When he looked up he caught her watching.
            “She can’t write,” he said by way of explanation. He turned the clip-board toward her and tapped the end of his pen against a box waiting for Kate’s name. She signed and noted her hand wasn’t as steady as she would have liked.
            As she handed the pen back the man said, “First time?” Kate nodded again, she seemed to have been struck dumb. “It’s nothing to worry about,” he said and pointed to the door the old lady had gone through. “On you go.”
            Kate got to the door and looked inside. The room was ringed with curtained cubicles. Standing beside a table was a pretty female warder who waved her forward. The woman was young and so dainty it was hard to imagine her being surrounded by hardened criminals. Her hair was pulled back in a tight pony-tail and it danced as she moved. She asked for Kate’s visiting order and waited while the documents were produced. She made a few notations on her clip-board, without smiling or showing any sort of emotion.  
            “Have you brought anything for Mr Rusk?”
“No,” she said and felt her face go red at the question. She’d never even thought about that. Should she have brought him something? Money? Food?
“Empty your pockets into the tray, please,” the officer said, and watched as Kate’s belonging started to fill the container. The woman noted down everything Kate had passed over on her clip-board and then pointed at her shoulder and said, “Bag, phone and coat as well, please.”  When all of that was done, the lady passed the receptacle through a hatch in the wall and got Kate to sign a receipt.
“You get it back once the visit is over. Can you step this way?” the warder asked walking toward a cubicle. Her pony-tail was hypnotic, it was so glossy, it glowed while it danced in time to her movements. Once both women were inside the space with the curtain drawn the woman donned a pair of rubber gloves and said, “You can get undressed now.”
Kate had expected to be searched, but stripped? If her face betrayed how shocked she was, the woman standing before her pretended not to notice. With shaking fingers, she started taking off her clothes. The impassive guard took each item and examined it thoroughly. By the time Kate was down to her bra and panties she was scarlet with embarrassment.  “And the rest,” said the lady with the cold eyes. At that moment Kate wanted to grab her clothes and run from this horrible place – but she couldn’t. She had to see Barry and if this was what it took, she would have to endure it. Kate slipped off her bra and dropped it in the guards outstretched hand. Then with one finger Kate slid down her panties, using her other one to cover her modesty. As the young woman examined her underwear Kate stood there like a statue of Aphrodite, one hand across her breasts, the other over her penny. Her mother had always called it that, “got to mind your penny.” Kate thought this was the worst moment of her life.
“Hands out by your sides,” the woman said as she ran her rubber-clad fingers through Kate’s hair. Stiffly she complied and the guard grabbed one breast and lifted it away from her chest. Kate drew in a sharp, startled breath but shock kept her silent. The young warder didn’t seem to notice as she grabbed Kate’s other breast and casually flipped it over. Then she was forced to open her mouth for inspection, spread her fingers and then show the souls of her feet.
“Squat please,” the guard said.
“What?” This was a step too far.
“Squat. All the way down. Elbows on knees and legs apart.”
“Is this really necessary?” Kate demanded.
“Only if you want to continue with the visit, otherwise you can get dressed and go home,” said the woman and it was clear that she didn’t care one way or the other what Kate chose to do.
Kate moved her legs a few inches apart. “Further,” the woman said, tapping Kate’s ankle with her boot until she was happy. “Down you go,” she said and produced a long-handled mirror which she used to examine...well she’d rather not think about what she examined.
“You can dress now. You’ll be brought to the visitor’s room shortly. Always follow the warder’s instructions. When the prisoners are brought in, you’re not permitted to have any physical contact, do you understand?” Kate nodded at the ghastly girl, not wanting to share one word with her. “If you hear a siren you must remain seated while the prisoners are removed, then you’ll be escorted from the building. Do you understand this?” Kate nodded again.
When she emerged from the cubicle there were a half dozen people waiting at the far end of the room with a large man inspecting his watch. She joined them and waited silently. After ten minutes the big man sprang to life and unlocked the door behind him.
“Follow me, everyone,” he said walking us across a small cobbled yard where he unlocked a steel door. They all managed to fill the corridor before he locked the door behind them,. The door made a clang that echoed off the walls. There was nothing soft in this place, not the walls, not the door, not the people. The guard unlocked another door and reviled a room filled with tables. She sat there and fidgeted, waiting for Barry to appear. Inside she was a boiling cauldron of emotions. She was worried about Barry being locked up in here, angry that this had happened to them at all, frightened about what lay ahead for both of them. She experienced every type of emotion possible except one...happiness.
A clang of metal roused her from her thoughts and a line of men entered the room. In the middle of them was Barry. His eyes locked on hers and she’d never been so relieved to see anyone. He gave a weak smile and came across the room to take the seat on the opposite her. His skin was grey, as if he hadn’t slept in days. She guessed that was only to be expected. He had dark rings under his eyes and his hair was uncombed. He was dressed like all the rest, in a light grey tracksuit and lemon-coloured bib. She smiled and tried to say hello, but the word wouldn’t come out. Instead she started to sob. More bloody tears was she ever going to stop crying.
“It’s ok, baby,” he said and reached across the divide to take her hand in his.
“No touching!” yelled a mean looking man standing at the top of the room.
            Barry snatched his hand back but the shock of being yelled at stifled my blubbing. Barry looked at me with wide concerned eyes. “Are you coping, Kate?”
            “Not much choice, have I?” she said, sounding like a sulky, self-obsessed, teenager.
            “I know, I know,” he said, sitting back and looking around to see who might be listening. He was as jumpy as anything, what must he be going through? She couldn’t imagine and hoped she’d never know.
            “Is it...well...is it alright in here?” she asked and as soon as she had, she knew it was a ridiculous thing to say.
            “Alright?” he said leaning over the table. His eyes grew hard and unkind. “I haven’t slept a wink, not one single second. I shouldn’t be in here, it full of.... scum. I’ve got to get out and quick. They stabbed a guy last night and everyone just carried on as if nothing had happened, not even the guards. It’s a fucking animal house in here.”
            “Jesus, that’s terrible. You should say something,” she said.
            “Say something? To who?” She knew he was getting ratty, he always did when he was tired. She wished she could climb over the table and take him into her arms. She loved him with all her heart, and seeing him like this was killing her.
            “Sorry,” she said and he huffed and folded his arms.
            “What did you tell the cops?” he asked at last.
            “What could I tell them? I know nothing.”
            “That’s good,” he said as if he was talking to himself not her.
            “How did that stuff get into our house anyway?” she asked knowing that this was the question she’d come all this way to ask. Barry’s eyes flicked up at her and there was fire behind them again.
            “How the hell would I know?” he demanded, and she felt relieved beyond words. She knew he could have nothing to do with such a thing. It was her turn to lean across the table but this time with excitement. She laid out her theory about a rival business trying to get him out of the way by planting drugs and then informing the cops. At the start, Barry looked sceptical but the more she spoke the more excited he got.
            “Yes. Yes! You could be on to something. Have you told anyone?”
            “No, should I?”
            “Yea, the very minute you get home. I want you to call that cop…Adams. Tell him everything you told me.”
            “Who do you think would have done this to us?”
            “To me, Baby, to me. The list is as long as my arm. Even Jack Bradly said he was going to get me when I under bid on the Easton Quay contract.”
            “Jack Bradley? From KWB?”
            “Yea, him. Tell Adams that as well. You could say you heard him threatening to stitch me up on the phone, or something.”
            “But I didn’t?”
            “Do you want me out of here or not?”
            “Of course, I do?”
            “So, you heard him say it!”  Barry was telling her to lie to the guards. She’d never lied to a guard in her life. But Barry was right, she needed him out of this place. What did she care if it was a lie or not. After what the guards had put them through she’d never look at a guard in the same way again.
            “I heard it,” she said, and Barry smiled at her.
            “Good girl. With you by my side I’ll be home by the weekend. You know I love you.”
            “I love you too, sweetheart.” Her hand moved toward his but before she could reach it the warder’s voice rang out.

            “Time up. Say your good byes.”
Around the room there were sorrowful smiles and the sound of scraping chairs. Barry stood up and began to turn away.
            “Toby misses you,” she called after him. He paused and looked back at her. It was like he didn’t know what to say. It was only now she realised Barry hadn’t asked after his son once.
            “Tell him, Daddy’ll be home soon,” he said and then walked away with his shoulders hunched. She watched his yellow bibbed back vanished and wondered if that was that just another lie she was supposed to tell.
***
            By the time Kate got home it was well after five. She called the police station, but Detective Adams had already left. As she hung up the phone, Toby turned away from the TV and asked, “Will Daddy be home tonight?”
            “Not tonight darling, but soon,” she said and saw the hurt in his eyes. She added, “He said to tell you he loves you and misses you loads.” Toby turned his head back to the TV but she knew he wasn’t actually watching it. She decided not to pursue it any further because anything she might say would either be a lie or a pipedream. Instead she busied herself with dinner for the two of them.
            She was in the middle of setting the table when the phone rang.
            “Hello?” she said tentatively, hoping it wasn’t some crank or a journalist looking for a quote.
            “Mrs Rusk, it’s Amy from the office. Sorry for calling you so late but...well...I just need to know what to do?” Kate had forgotten all about Barry’s work committments. Even if they hadn’t actually heard what happened they would be worried because of Barry’s sudden absence.
            “Oh, Amy! I’m so sorry. I should have been in touch before now. You must be wondering what’s going on.”
            The girl was very quick to jump in with a denial, “I’m not being nosey, I just need someone to approve a few contract details.”
            Kate smelled the distinct aroma of the gossip mill. “Why didn’t you ask for Barry, instead of telling me?” she asked and heard the girl on the on the other end of the phone grow silent. She was trying to make up her mind what to say.
            “People have been talking,” she said cryptically but Kathy knew exactly what she meant. People had been talking about Barry being arrested for drugs offences.  Either they were either psychic or someone in the industry was spreading rumours from the moment the Guards broke down their door, or earlier. It seemed to confirm her theory that they had been set up by a business rival of Barry’s ore even someone in their own company. How hard would it be for someone working in Barry’s office to lay their hands on his keys and make a copy of the house key? That would explain the absence of any damage to the doors.
            “Who’s been talking Amy?” she snapped.
            “Not me! I can tell you that. Look, if this is a bad time I can call again tomorrow.”
            “I’m not blaming you, Amy. I just need to know who has been saying what? Its very important! What have you heard?”
            “I...I. I don’t know if I should say.”
            “Amy, please. Just tell me,” she said, trying to keep her voice calm so she wouldn’t scare the girl off.
            “It’s all over the place. They say Barry was charged with having drugs! Someone saw him in court and well...now everyone knows.”
            “Who saw him, Amy! Who was it?”
            “Jim Murphy, he was there lodging an appeal for a planning refusal and he saw them bringing Barry into the dock.”
            “Murphy? The architect?”
            “Yea. Look, please don’t tell him I told you. You know how nasty he can be.” Nasty was right, and spiteful. Barry put a lot of work his way, but Kate never believe the man was grateful. It was like he was jealous that Barry was the boss where he was just a hired hand.
             “Of, course I won’t tell him, but I need you to know that Barry had nothing to do with those drugs. Someone wanted to make it look like he had and I’m starting to understand why
            “Sorry?”
            “It doesn’t matter. What did you need approval on?” Kate asked, turning the conversation away from Barry. Amy seemed glad.
            “A client is looking for a ten percent reduction on a price before he would sign up. Barry would always make those calls and I didn’t think I should ask any of the junior guys, well, not without running it past you.”
            “You did the right thing. Can it wait till tomorrow morning? I can call in after I drop Toby off at school and take a look?”
            “Could you? That would be great!”
            “Sure. I’ll be in about ten. You might have on of the others on hand to explain technical things to me if necessary, but don’t make a big deal of it. Barry will be back in the office in a few days.”
            “Thanks Mrs Rusk.”
            “And Amy?”
            “Yes?”
            “I want you to let people know that Barry had nothing to do with any drugs and that he will be back before the end of the week. You got that?” she asked and the you got that at the end of the question was a command not a suggestion.
            “You can count on me!”  the girl said and Kate felt it was like counting on a three-legged donkey winning Ascot.
            “See you tomorrow,” she said and hung up the phone. The rest of the night passed very very slowly. More and more hypothesis were firming up into possibilities. The names Jack Bradley and Jim Murphy kept pinballing around in her brain. There was no way they were connected but either of them could be savage enough to ruin another man’s life just to line their pockets. Jack or Jim, which one was him? Tomorrow, after she’d seen Amy, Kate decided it was time to make her way to the garda station under her own steam. This time, she would be the one asking the questions and she’d no intention of letting things lie until she had the answers she wanted.
***
            Barry shuffled along the with the other men leaving the visitors room but his mind was completely absorbed with the story Kate had told him. Successful business man is shanghaied by jealous rival, using the authorities to do their dirty work. It sounded like a story that might appear on page twenty-four of the Sun but page twenty-four would do just fine. All he had to do was introduce a reasonable element of doubt and he knew he could beat this rap. Kate mightn’t know it, but she just might have saved his skin. For the first time since he got here, he felt a glimmer of hope.
            The prison warder at the front of the queue opened a gate with a six inch key and stood to one side, allowing the men to take off their yellow bibs and dump them in a crate at his feet. Barry did exactly the same and walked into the heart of The Joy. He looked around and had to pinch himself. It was like walking onto a movie set. He had seen this room a dozen times in different movies because Mountjoy had actually been used in dozens of films. In the name of the father had been his favourite. Danial Day Lewis was a master. He looked up at the triple row of thin balconies, running the length of the hall, and the wroth-iron staircases rising up to meet them. He half-expected a hunched-shouldered Lewis to appear above him with one hand flicking a wave of black hair out of his eye, and making that eye-tick he had mastered in mimicking Jerry Conlon.
            The faces that peered down on him from above were far less welcoming than the hapless and harmless Conlon. Barry tucked his neck into his shoulders and pushed his hands into his pants pockets while he made his way back to his cell. He gave the pool and table tennis tables a wide berth on his journey as these seemed to be courts for the kings of the landings. He was aware of less-than-veiled looks as he passed, but he didn’t care as long as they left him alone. He mounted the first set of iron steps and climbed them to the second tier of cells. His was the fourth down on the left and so far he’d had it to himself but that seemed to have changed when he ducked inside the low doorway. Sprawled out on the top bunk was a skinny guy with a skin-tight haircut and a thousand tattoos. As Barry crossed the threshold, the man let the magazine he was reading sag so he could assess who was arriving.
            “Alright, buddy?” he asked in a long-drawn Dublin accent.
            “Hi,” said Barry quietly as he eased himself into the lower bunk and drew his legs up on the blanket.
            “You been down the fanny farm?”
            “Sorry?” asked Barry not recognizing the words but something told him there was a joke in there somewhere and that joke was directed at him. He could tell by the cock-sure way the kid spoke that he was a hardened inmate, not a new fish like him.
            “The Fanny Farm! Wives and Girlfriends! You know...the visitor’s room.”
            “Oh...yea. Good one. Yes, just back.”
            “Not much chance of a BJ sadly, not unless you can swing a conjugal.” For the second time in under a minute, Barry had to ask the question, “Sorry?”
            “You know!” said the man swinging his legs over the edge of the bed and dropping to the floor so that Barry could see all of him. “Conjugal visits,” he said, miming rhythmic thrusting of his hips. “The old wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am.”
            “I don’t think I’ll be here long enough for that,” said Barry turning toward the wall, and hoping the guy would get the message and sod-off.
            “Found a way of getting out, Barry?” the guy said, his tone not friendly anymore. Barry didn’t remember saying his name and her turned his head to look at the man. The friendly shit-eating grin was gone from his face and only rock solid determination remained. The guy watched him with black, unblinking eyes and his fight-hardened muscles bounced under the skin of his arms.
            “I’ve...”
            “Shut the fuck up, wanker! Mr Bell send’s a message.”
            “Look...” The guys fist shot out faster than a viper and crashed into his jaw.
            “Did I say I wanted to hear from you?” Barry rubbed his throbbing face and said noting. The rock-hard psycho ducked his head under the bunk, so he could talk without raising his voice. “Like I was saying, Mr Bell want’s you to know, if you mention one word about him, one fucking word, he is going to long long time making you regret it!
            “I said nothing!” cried Barry and the guy didn’t seem to care if anyone heard him or not.
            “Good, and you better keep it that way! Keep your mouth shut, pay back the money you owe...”
            “What money?”
            “You lost a lot of product! Someone’s got to pay!
            “You got to be kidding me?”
            “I love a good joke,” said the guy breaking out his ear to ear grin again. “Have you heard this one?” As a punchline to the sentence the man grabbed the top bunk and cocked his leg as if he were about to kick start a motorbike but instead, he kick-started Barry’s face. Again and again, the runner landed, pulping his lips and nose until Barry felt the world start to swim. Funny enough, after the first blow, it didn’t hurt that much. As darkness swam up to take him to sleep, Barry had a second to wonder if he would ever wake up, then silence prevailed.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Rock bottom - part 4



           Barry never imagined it would come to this...never, but the hours of questioning and having a list of charges read to him, brought the situation into stark reality. This was real and there was nothing he could do, or say, to make it go away. They locked him into a cell but only after searching him from head to toe, taking away his shoelaces and belt. His bunk had a thin piece of foam covered in washable plastic, posing as a mattress. He sat heavily on the bed and wondered what would happen next.
He stared at the door, willing it to open, willing his way out, but nothing happened. After a few minutes, a metal slot in the door opened and a pair of eyes glanced over him. There was no emotion behind the look. No compassion, no anger. Just a man just doing a job. The slot slammed home and clicked into place. The light in the room remained on and he’d no idea if it was morning, or night. He’d lost all sense of time. Barry finally admitted he was no longer in control of his life, he was just along for the ride.
He slumped to the side and let his head rest on the lumpy pillow. He drew his knees up to his chest, just like Ben did when he slept. The pillow smelt of sweat and greasy hair, it was disgusting. As he felt the first sob coming, he glanced at the slot and held his emotions in check. There was no way he was going to let them see him cry. Not now…not ever. He reached down and grabbed the blanket at the foot of the bunk and drew it over him, rolling toward the wall so he could hide from the world.
When the door clanged open, he sat up and was alarmed to find he’d slept.
“Rise and shine! His Honour awaits!” yelled a guard, rapping his night stick off the metal door. Barry threw back the blanket and tried to rub the sleep from his eyes put this guard was in a hurry. “Come on! Come on! You can do your make-up on the way,” he said grabbing one of Barry’s wrists and snapping a hand cuff over it. Barry tried to pull away but the man’s grip was rock solid.
“Can I take a leak?”
“Knock yourself out, Sunshine,” the guard said, pointing his night stick at the steel toilet while holding the loose half of the handcuffs in his other hand. As Barry unzipped his fly, the man looked directly at him.
“Do you mind?” he asked, is voice dripping indignation.
“I don’t mind at all,” said the man, clearly enjoying Barry’s discomfort.
“I can’t go with you watching.”
“Then zip it up and let’s get out of here,” he said, his jaw clinching. This guy wasn’t joking. Barry instinctively knew that the night-stick wasn’t for decoration.
“I’ll piss myself!”
“I don’t care if you end up in that dock with shit coming out your ears. But you’ll be there on time! So, Piss! Or get off the pot!” he yelled, rapping the can with his baton. Barry looked at the ceiling and took out his penis. After a few half starts, he got a flow going and once he did, he couldn’t get it to stop.
“Are you trying to flood the station? Come on, finish up!” Barry got the last few drops out and managed a shake before the second manacle griped his skin. He was marched through the station, but at least they gave him his laces and belt before bringing him to a white Garda van with its back door hanging open. Barry was unceremoniously dumped inside and the door slammed shut. The interior wasn’t totally dark, there were pinpricks of light coming from various points, clearly meant for ventilation, because these openings couldn’t pass for windows. Barry felt the engine start. The vehicle rocked away and he was the only occupant. He didn’t know whether to feel honoured or apprehensive. Was his crime so serious that he was going to get one-on-one treatment? Jesus, he hoped not. Time was alien to him again, it felt like they’d been driving for hours by the time the door opened. He’d no idea where he was, he was backed up to a timber door, set in a massive granite wall. Barry was dragged out by his cuffs and hustled up the steps. He’d no time to look around before everything vanished.
Once inside, it was like he’d travelled back two hundred years in time. He was led down a rickety timber-stairs and along a vaulted hall of bare rock where condensation had pooled on the flagstones. He passed empty holding rooms, barred and big enough to hold a hundred men. Barry guessed this place was built during a time when criminal punishment was a bulk-product endeavour. Barry was dragged to a stop outside the last holding area. The attendant took the paperwork from the guard and added it to a substantial folder on his rostrum. He looked from the paperwork to Barry’s face, a half dozen time, as if permanently connecting the face to the details on the charge sheet. When the man was happy, he took a circle of keys from his belt and opened the arched gate barring the holding area. The guard who’d accompanied him from the station dragged him backward, intent on recovering the handcuffs warming his wrists. It was clear they were worth more than he was.
When the cage-door clanged behind him, Barry turned to face the others in the cell. None of them returned his gaze. There was no warm welcome among criminals here. Barry walked toward the bench ringing the wall and settled himself down. He hung his head and made a detailed study of his shoes. Unlike the relative comfort of the police cell, there was no ease to be found here. He dared not look at the others but he was constantly aware of them. Never knowing if they were violent, or like him, harmless. All he could think to do was to try and emulate their demeanour of pent-up violence and hope for the best.
One by one, the occupants were extracted and shoved up what looked like a polished timber ladder. When Barry’s name was called, the attendant at the rostrum unlocked the gate and waved him out. Without a word, he was directed upward. Barry grabbed the handrail and drew himself upward. Yet again, it was like walking from one universe to another. This one turned out to be a riotous pantomime. A dower, ruby-faced judge, sat a mile above the other players. Guards quietly shared a joke, barristers milled around importantly while the gargoyles watched on from the bleachers. None seemed to pay the slightest heed to Barry, as his head rose above the dock. A man he’d never seen before stood and addressed the court in machine-gun fast words. Barry only caught a few of phrases, but it was clear they were talking about him. A man, standing beside the Judge, stood and read a charge sheet in an equally fast fashion, which the judge seemed determined to ignore. When the diatribe was finished the Judge barked, “State your name and address for the record.” Barry did as he was bid.
“How do you plead?” asked the judge, not seeming to care, one way or the other. Barry looked at the man who’d appeared to defend him and the man shrugged his shoulders. What the hell was he supposed to do?
“Not Guilty,” he said. The judge didn’t seem surprised, but his demeanour was a little disappointed at the declaration. There quickly followed a short, rattle-fast, discourse between several members of the display, all of which viewed Barry’s presence as superfluous to subsequent events. Barry heard the word, “bail,” then he heard the phrase, “bail-denied.” That was it, Barry was on the way to the big house. The guard at his elbow pulled him toward the ladder, but Barry resisted as he scanned the gallery for Kate. What he saw rooted him to the spot. Marty Bell stood at the back of the public gallery…. glaring at him. When their eyes met, Bell drew his finger across his throat and then held it to his lips. The message was simple, but unforgettable. Goosepimples sprang into action all over his body and Barry never felt so happy to be dragged back into a dungeon.