K. A. Laity/Graham Wynd
‘But why do you want to kill him?’ Patrick tried to pay attention to the words instead of the way Simone’s low cut dress revealed her ripe breasts a little too evidently to the eye.
‘Does it matter? He has to be dealt with and I need one more in on the job.’ Simone gave him a look that made him feel both aroused and insulted. ‘Are you up for it?’
He knew what she was insinuating and he also knew that she was taking advantage of his lust for her. It had made him do stupid things before. But never killing someone. It was a big step up to go from a few shady grifts, a bit of petty larceny and the occasional minor break-ins to the ultimate crime.
Patrick had thought he could steer clear of that one. It wasn’t like they hanged a man for the crime. Anymore, that is. Back in the day that had provided the final exit for his old man. He’d sworn to his mam he’d never go that far.
But his mam had never met Simone. If she had she’d have clouted him round the ears and told him not to waste his time. ‘Water finds its level, find yours.’ How many times had she said that to him? Simone was not his level. An ocean of water lay between his expectations and her aspirations, yet somehow he thought his luck might hold long enough this time to see if she looked as good naked as his dreams had promised him.
‘I’m up for it. When do we do the deed?’
Simone smiled. It was so very cat-like that he almost expected her to purr. ‘We’re going to meet tomorrow night at the back of Chantey’s and talk the details through. No slip ups. This is well planned.’
‘Your plan or Shadey’s?’
Simone made a sound of annoyance. ‘Some from column A, some from column B. What do you care?’
‘Who else is in on it?’ Patrick thought it might be wise to know after all.
‘Not the usual lunkheads. You’ll meet them tomorrow. No need to get people yammering ahead of time.’
‘I’m silent as the grave,’ Patrick protested.
‘Is that the one your banshees howl over?’ Simone laughed. It was not a kind sound. Some women really shouldn’t laugh. They stabbed a sliver of iron into your heart whenever they did. Patrick stopped himself from making the sign of the cross, knowing what Simone would say about that.
‘Fancy a drink now?’ He thought it was a pretty smooth segue but she didn’t respond favourably.
‘I’ve got things to do. I’m no idler.’
‘Are you suggesting I’m some kind of layabout?’ Patrick felt stung but the truth was his plans hadn’t gone much further for the day than trying to talk Simone into having a drink. He figured if he just got her to let down those monumental barriers for a wee while, she might just discover his hidden charms and let him see some of hers more closely. He’d said as much to his sister Margret the day before. She had laughed too, then asked when he was going to be paying his overdue rent to her.
‘I don’t run a charity here. If you want charity, go see the Magdalens.’ Now there was a heartless woman. Of course she had been kind enough to have given him a room on the cheap, albeit in the noisy house with her sour husband and five children. On most days it was as good as a free ticket to an insane asylum without any of the comfort that suggested.
But if he could get a big score now — why, he could be his own man. It would be a novel thing. He’d been under his mam’s thumb until she died and lacking wherewithal after her funeral, his sister had grudgingly– so very grudgingly — given him a roof over his head. Literally, as his room might more properly be called an attic eyrie.
With nothing to occupy him, Patrick decided to pop along and check out the intended victim. Simone might look askance at the move, but wasn’t that what they called ‘casing the joint’? Besides the Nun & Dragon had cheaper pints than Chantey’s anyway. And far be it from him to disparage a fellow traveler but the lad at Chantey’s couldn’t pull a decent stout if his life depended on it.
Patrick chuckled to himself as he pushed the door in at the pub, unconsciously making the sign of the cross as he passed under the nun on the sign, squeezed in the dragon’s coils. He rather hoped that would be a foreshadowing of his time to come with Simone and lord knows he’d squeeze her tightly as any dragon might.
The Slovenian was behind the bar as usual, chatting to a couple of students. It was a bit off the beaten track for the uni but occasionally a few would discover the pub and try to make a habit of it for a few weeks, but they always went back to the cheap, loud vulgar places next to campus. There was only so far you wanted to walk when you were on the piss.
‘What can I get you?’ Borut had finally finished his tale of a water sprite that lived in the Black Lake. When Patrick was slow to answer, he immediately tried to convince him to order some Slovenian beer that was called something like Lash Co, with the funny accent marks that seemed entirely unnecessary. It was almost as bad as Irish.
He watched Borut pull the pint of Guinness and wondered again what the man could have done to get on Shadey’s bad side. He seemed the soul of affability with his genial air and halo of grey curls. Then again, he had to get out of Slovenia for some reason, too. At least Simone had hinted as much back in the day.
‘So why did you leave Slovenia to come here?’ He asked after the students had drifted away. ‘You always make it sound like such a paradise.’
‘It is! Mountains, vineyards, air you can breathe. Not like this city. Poisonous, isn’t it?’ Borut shook his head with regret.
‘Then why come here?’ Patrick insisted.
Borut laughed. ‘I fell in with a bad crowd and didn’t have an alibi.’ He shrugged as if that were somehow self-explanatory.
Patrick nodded. ‘Was there a woman?’
The Slovenian sighed. ‘Isn’t there always?’
Patrick couldn’t disagree. He figured all his own problems probably could be attributed to women from his mam to the elusive Simone. Probably his sister, too, as she was always nagging him to get a steady job and give up this hustling life. Let a man be. He drank his pint and imagined all the things he would do with plenty of money and Simone.
The next night they met in the back room of Chantey’s. There was Simone of course, Blue Jake, and a guy called Einar. ‘What sort of name’s that?’ Patrick asked with genuine curiosity.
‘Icelandic.’ The man gave him a challenging look that made him seem far more imposing than his height.
‘Oh, you fellas did all right in the cup. I was rooting for them when they smited England. Bloody brilliant!’
The Icelander gave him a broad grin. ‘I wish we had continued on the same. Alas, it was not to be.’
‘We’ll see what happens in four years. I know who I’m betting on. We’ll see some Renaldo tears yet—’
‘If you lads are done talking footie, could we get to the matter at hand?’
Simone sounded cranky so Patrick did his best to cheer her. ‘Anything for you, darling.’ She only made a face at that. Some women just did not appreciate his charm. But she would come around, he was certain of it.
‘Tomorrow night we are going to snatch the Slovenian. You’re not to hurt him at first if you can help it. You have to wait for word from Shadey. When we’ve got the money, then you can whack him.’ Simone smiled as if promising a story to kids at bedtime. ‘We’ve got a car that belongs to a little old lady from Lyme Regis who doesn’t even know it’s gone. You’re going to take him to a cottage just across the Welsh border — don’t worry, I’ve got the coordinates for the satnav.’
‘How will we communicate with you or Shadey?’ The Icelander asked.
Simone handed him a cheap mobile phone. ‘This is the only one. When it’s done you destroy it and chuck the sim into a river or some such place where it won’t be found. We’ll only call on this line so don’t lose it too soon.’
‘How do you know we won’t be seen grabbing him from the pub?’ Patrick thought it seemed like an obvious question.
Simone withered him with her glance. ‘That’s your job.’
They waited until closing. The night had grown rather chilly for September and they shivered a little amongst the bins and whatnot behind the pub.
‘What if he locks up and goes out the front door?’ Blue Jake asked in a too-loud whisper.
‘No, that his car there. See the Maribor sticker on the bumper? He’ll come out this way.’ Sure enough some minutes later they heard the door creak open and Borut came out, shrugging into his jacket and dangling a backpack from one hand while he locked the door with the other. They let him get over to his car and then stepped out of the shadows.
‘We need to take you somewhere,’ Patrick said, hoping he sounded like a movie tough.
Borut looked at the three of them without much expression. ‘Where?’
‘That information is what they call on a need to know basis. And you don’t need to know.’ Blue Jake tapped his palm with the tire iron he’d brought. It was an odd choice of weapon. They had to improvise. Patrick had through they’d all get guns, which alas proved not to be true. Only Einar got a gun which hardly seemed fair. When he’d protested Simone gave him a withering look. ‘Those toys are for tough boys.’
That hadn’t been kind, but he was determined to show her that he could be one of the toughs.
The Slovenian muttered something Patrick couldn’t understand then took a step toward him and swung the backpack at Blue Jake. Patrick had taken a step back just by habit when the man moved up and cursed himself at once for doing so. The backpack blocked the tire iron’s belated swing so for a moment Blue Jake looked quite put out, his one move already frustrated.
Patrick dove in to grapple with the man. When he slammed into him, he figured he’d go down but the man didn’t budge. Blue Jake threw himself onto the guy too and their combined weight knocked him back against the car. He wasn’t done though. The Slovenian brought up a knee and it connected with Blue Jake who made a sound like oof and doubled over. Patrick did his best to try to get a hold on the man’s neck just like Giant Haystacks. Kids always said wrestling was fixed and Patrick now had a feeling they were right because the smooth moves didn’t seem to have any effect at least not until Blue Jake once more added his weight and a volley of oaths to the attack.
The three of them hit the ground grumbling and writhing and then they all heard the click of a cocked gun. Looking up they saw Einar standing over them. ‘Get in the boot now.’ He looked dead tough standing there pointing that big shooter at them. Patrick was ready to get into the boot himself. He and Blue Jake let the Slovenian rise and sort of shouldered him into the boot of the Ford Festiva.
‘It’s a bit small,’ Borut said as he climbed in.
‘Sorry about that but we didn’t get to choose the car.’
‘Who did? Was it Shadey?’
‘You don’t need to be asking the questions.’ Blue Jake smirked and slammed the lid down with unnecessary vehemence. Naturally it popped open again without latching.
‘That was quick,’ Borut said.
Patrick closed the lid until it clicked. Then they all piled into the car. Patrick had made a point of declaring himself the wheelman which did t sit too well with Blue Jake who drew the back seat. ‘This back seat is about as spacious as the boot.’
‘At least you can see the sights as we drive along.’
Blue Jake snorted. ‘It’s the middle of the night.’
‘I think technically it’s past the middle of the night, if midnight is the middle.’
‘Shut up and drive.’
‘In two hundred yards turn right,’ the satnav bellowed.
‘Oh Christ, who set the voice to Brian Blessed?!’
‘He could almost hear Simone chuckling at that. Her sort of joke no doubt. There was no time to fuss with the settings. He’d make her pay for that later. For now he concentrated on getting them out of the city and on their way without giving way to the desire to shout, ‘Gordon’s alive?!’ It was difficult not to given in to temptation.
Blue Jake was snoring in minutes, a sound of infinite irritation. The Icelander, although awake, had little desire to chat. He might as well have been a Finn. It was flabbergasting how long it took to get across this country which most of the time seemed so small. Especially once they crossed the Welsh border and all attempts at order disappeared. If the satnav didn’t bark it’s orders now and then, Patrick would easily believe they were in the middle of nowhere.
Glancing off to the side where a good impression of the Hundred Acre wood surrounded them, Patrick suddenly saw a huge black dog keeping pace with them. Which seemed mad: what dog could run that fast. ‘Do you see that?’
The Icelander turned. ‘See what?’
‘That big dog. See there? Running through the trees. Look how fast it’s going.’
‘I don’t see it.’
‘Right over there. Not a hundred yards away. Going real bloody fast.’
Einar shrugged. ‘It’s probably your fetch.’
‘Fetch?’ Patrick frowned. Something lost in translation, no doubt. ‘Fetching what?’
‘No, your fetch. Your spirit animal. That’s what we call it.’
‘What, Icelanders are like Red Indians, I mean Native Americans, that’s what they say now, right? Or like Harry Potter, a whatsis.’
Einar shrugged. ‘I don’t know about all that. We say every person has a fetch. But you only see it when your fate is come.’
‘My destiny you mean?’ Patrick liked the sound of that. He was destined for greater things.
‘Your final destiny,’ the Icelander said. ‘It’s a premonition. A death sign.’
Patrick snorted. It was only because it was so late at night that he had even entertained the notion of some crazy folk magic. Silly kid stuff. ‘How do you know it’s not your fetch?’
‘I didn’t see it, you did.’ He lapsed back into silence. Patrick would have continued to question him but just then the satnav barked at him once more to let him know that the next right would bring them to their destination in one hundred yards.
The cottage looked like it had been abandoned by hobbits about a century ago. And they hadn’t got their security deposit back either. In fact to call it a cottage was a kindness it hardly deserved. Patrick supposed that was why Simone had warned them to bring torches. It hardly looked as if there would be any electricity in it, but sure enough when they staggered in and hit the switch, a feeble light shone in the dawn, hardly matching its brightness.
‘We can bring him in here,’ Einar said as they looked at the forlorn siting room, or what might at one time have been referred to in that way. They turned over what was left of the furniture and found chairs that would at least hold weight, unlike the table that fell to bits when they put it on its feet.
‘Mother Mary, I hope we don’t have to stay here long. We’ll all be covered in fungus by nightfall.’ Patrick shuddered at the thought. He had a recurring image from childhood of a corpse rotting under mushrooms in the wood that probably came from one of his dad’s stories from the old country. Or else his own criminal past. A shiver went through him again.
They went back out to the Festiva and opened the boot to hustle Borut out again. ‘Oh but I was so comfortable in there, please give me a few more minutes. I didn’t say good-bye to the toolbox. It would be rude after we were so intimate.’
The three of them shoved him inside. Blue Jake revealed the coil of rope he’d discovered in the back seat and they tied the Slovenian to the sturdiest of the crap chairs. He seemed resigned to his fate for the moment, though Patrick kept a wary eye on him.
‘I’ll call Simone,’ Einar said. ‘Hopefully the reception’s better outside.’
As he sauntered out the door nonchalantly the thought popped into Patrick’s head that there was something a bit fishy about that. What were the odds that the reception was really all that better? ‘You keep an eye on him,’ he told Blue Jake.
‘What the hell else have I got to do?’
Patrick stepped into what had been the kitchen before some epic conflagration and cocked an ear toward the broken window. Even with careful attention he couldn’t quite hear all that the Icelander said, though of course he was only getting half the conversation. But he heard one very important word: MacGregor.
Christ on a crutch, was Shadey going up against Ma MacGregor? Was he mad? The woman would skin him and all the rest of them alive and boil their briskets for Sunday dinner. She was ruthless. It made no sense. What possible connection could she have to all this?
‘You know, I think you may have made a serious error,’ the Slovenian said when Patrick stepped back into the room.
Blue Jake shook his head. ‘Don’t even listen. He’s mental, I swear. Says we’re going to hear from Ma MacGregor.’
‘Bollocks. What she got to do with you?’
‘Who do you think owns the Nun & Dragon now?’ Borut gave him a smug look.
‘It’s that other woman, Fox or something like that.’ Patrick could feel sweat break out under his arms despite the day’s chill.
‘No, not for months. I was brought in by her special to run the place. A favour owed.’
‘What kind of favour?’
‘If I told you that, I’d have to kill you.’
Something about the calm way he said it made Patrick see the great black dog running along in the back of his mind and he didn’t like it one bit. ‘Pull the other one, it’s got bells.’
At least when Einar walked back in it gave them a distraction. ‘Now all we have to do is wait.’
‘Is that right?’ Patrick said with as much sarcasm as he could muster. The Icelander just stared at him. ‘What did Simone say?’
‘That’s what Simone said. We just sit and wait.’
‘Wait for Ma MacGregor’s toughs to come after us?’
Einar stared at him with something that looked suspiciously close to pity. ‘Simone will took care with this gig. We’ll be fine.’
‘If I’d known you were going up against Ma, I’d have said you can count me out.’ Blue Jake shook his head.
‘No good will come of this,’ Borut said with mock sorrow.
‘Shut your gob,’ Patrick said a little too quickly. Why was the Icelander so chummy with Simone now? She was meant for him, she must have known that. Not some foreigner.
‘Hey, be cool now,’ Einar said, his voice as coaxing as any virgin’s promising tomorrow or the next day, any night but tonight.
‘Be cool? Who are you to tell me to be cool? I’m always cool.’
‘Hey, I brought snacks,’ Einar said, lifting a carrier bag full of groceries.
‘Snacks? What are we, five year olds to be bribed with sweets?’
‘Shut up, man,’ Blue Jake said. ‘I’m hungry.’ Einar doled out the crisps and Babybels along with cans of lager.
‘What about me?’ Borut asked.
‘You’ll have to wait,’ Patrick told him.
‘You could untie one of my hands,’ he offered.
‘Don’t you watch films? That’s how things always start to unravel. Not going to happen here.’ They munched their food in silence otherwise while the Slovenian sighed. ‘No, not going to happen,’ Patrick repeated.
‘I’d just like to eat before Ma’s guys get here. I may lose my appetite with all the blood on the floors.’
‘Shut up, you.’ It was a bit dull as insults went but Patrick couldn’t think of a good taunt against Slovenians. It wasn’t like he was a frog or a kraut. What did Slovenians eat anyway? Did they have some national dish that the people around them recognised at once? Like potatoes and the Irish forever inextricably linked. Maybe he could google it. But his phone didn’t get any service around here.
Wales: you might as well be in Antarctica except for the trees.
‘Right, we’ll take turns keeping watch. Since I drove I’m taking first sleep.’ Patrick waited for an objection but none came. He wandered around the small house. There wasn’t much left as furniture, so he took off his jacket and stretched out on the floor of a bedroom with it folded beneath his head like a pillow. He was asleep before he could remember the song that had suddenly sprung into his mind just then.
Patrick awoke from a dream of the huge black dog, immediately suspicious that all seemed so quiet when his head had been so loud. The giant gnashers flashed vividly behind his eyes and the growls made him shiver again in the cold room.
He scrambled up and went to the sitting room. Blue Jake was also asleep in his chair, head lolling like a puppet without strings. Borut appeared to be dozing as well. Einar was reading a book.
Who the fuck brings a book to a kidnapping? ‘What are you reading?’
Einar lifted the book to show him the cover. ‘This is a good one. One of the characters ends up in a bottle dungeon, which is just about the worst torture I can imagine.’ He shook his head in wonder.
‘What’s a bottle dungeon?’ The Icelander started to explain but Patrick interrupted him. ‘What’s the deal with you and Simone?’
He offered an innocent look. ‘It’s just business. Why?’
‘You sure about that?’
‘It’s not just business,’ Borut said quite loud. Apparently he had not really been dozing after all. ‘I’ve see them together. Quite chummy they looked.’
‘It’s a lie. He’s trying to manipulate you,’ Einar said, refusing to rise to the bait.
‘He was like a snake coiled around her. Or a dragon, you know.’ Borut nodded as if to verify the sight.
‘He’s just trying to provoke you,’ the Icelander said. ‘You’re not that foolish, are you?’
Patrick looked from one to the other. ‘I’m not sure I trust either of you.’
‘But you trust Simone, right? And she said stay here, stay quiet and just wait. All will be well.’
‘All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well,’ Patrick said with mock solemnity. The two men stared at him blankly. Blue Jake snored. Patrick grabbed another bag of crisps and tore it open. He didn’t really know what to think. But it was a challenge not to picture that Icelander groping his Simone. She’d probably like that hairy troll. Smiting indeed. He crunched the crisps much louder than necessary.
He had a bad feeling. Normally he might offer a wee prayer at a moment like this but the idea of appealing to Saint Jude irritated him for some reason, but nobody else came to mind immediately. There was always Brigid but somehow even she didn’t seem to suit the moment.
Einar’s phone rang again. He reached for it quickly, standing up and putting his book down. Before he could answer Patrick said, ‘Why don’t you take the call in here so we can all hear it?’
The Icelander looked at him with a little impatience. Patrick took unexpected pleasure in rattling the ice man a little. ‘If I lose the signal, Simone will be quite irritated.’
‘Let’s take that chance.’
He glared but tapped the phone. ‘Hallo?’ He turned away from Patrick and spoke quietly.
On impulse, Patrick jumped up and grabbed the phone away. ‘I want to talk to Shadey,’ he demanded. He was rewarded with nothing but silence at first. Then a familiar voice spoke to him with unfamiliar anger.
‘What is wrong with you, imbecile! Put Einar back on at once.’ Simone’s fury was audible. If she could have reached through the phone to throttle him, he was quite certain she would have done so.
‘I just want to know what you’ve got cooked up for us poor sods. Bugger me if I’m going to be cannon fodder for Ma MacGregor.’
‘You’re a moron you are, Patrick. I don’t know what you think is happening but you need to take a chill pill and let Einar do his job as well. You’re supposed to be keeping an eye on the Slovenian.’
‘Aye, well, Blue Jake has that covered.’ He hoped she couldn’t hear his snores over the connection, which come to think of it didn’t sound all that weak after all. ‘I just want some assurance from you that you’re not planning to abandon us in the case of trouble.’
A sigh, then, ‘Patrick, would I really go to all this trouble just to get you killed? If I wanted you dead I could have pushed you in front of a lorry on the high street. Now give the phone to Einar.’
Reluctantly, because he had no other bright ideas, Patrick handed the phone over to the Icelander. He got another glare in return. The ensuing conversation didn’t tell him much as it mostly consisted of Einar saying, ‘Yes, yes.’ At least it was mercifully brief. Maybe he had flown off the handle a bit. However, there could be little harm in letting Simone know what kind of man he might be underneath the easy-going exterior.
She had to reckon him a little higher on the scale now. He was a take-charge sort of fellow. Simone would see he was serious.
‘The exchange will be tonight,’ Einar announced as he thumbed the phone. ‘We have to sit tight until then. They will be phoning to make sure he’s alive.’
‘Surely now I can eat something,’ Borut said. ‘I’m really hungry. You wouldn’t want me to die of hunger before ten o’clock.’
‘You won’t die of hunger.’ Patrick was certain it could only be a ploy.
‘I also have to piss like a racehorse. Unless you want me to do it here.’ He looked ready to accommodate. Upon arrival they had all pissed up against the side of the cottage in turns. It was only natural a man would have to relieve himself, surely.
Einar finally said, ‘All right, but I am going to have the gun pointed at the back of your head the whole time. And he’s coming along to make sure nothing happens.’
‘I’m what?’ But Einar insisted so they all trooped off outside. They untied his hands and Borut amused himself with making elaborate designs on the side of the house. ‘That word? That’s what we call the English behind their backs.’
‘I don’t care,’ Patrick said. ‘I’m Irish.’
‘Are you the famous Saint Patrick? Well, you know what we call the Irish?’
‘Nothing.’ The Slovenian laughed heartily even as Einar retied his bonds. ‘The Irish are so unimportant we don’t even have an insult for them.’
Patrick felt flustered. ‘Well, we call you all Haribos. You know what they are, Haribo? Silly candy.’
Borut looked thoughtful a moment. Patrick thought the dig had got to him, but in the next moment he said, ‘But Haribo is German. We’re not German.’
‘No, don’t you get it? Maribor-Haribo. See?’
‘What if I were an Olimpija supporter?’
‘What? No, it doesn’t matter. You’re all Haribos.’
‘I think you need a little history of Slovenia. Come visit, taste the grapes, climb the mountains.’
‘What are you, the tourist board of Slovenia? Can’t we gag him?’ Patrick didn’t want to admit to being a bit nettled and went to kick Blue Jake awake while Einar situated their captive back into the one sturdy chair.
Blue Jake yawned. ‘When are we leaving?’
‘Not until late.’
Patrick wanted to do something. Mostly he wanted to hit somebody. He couldn’t decide between Iceland or Slovenia. Someone deserved it. And he was feeling peevish and rather tired. Driving all those hours and then barely getting any sleep. It hardly surprised when you got right down to it.
And hours of just hanging around. It was madness. It couldn’t last. He had a bad feeling about this. Mostly it was a desire to be in his own bed — yes, even the little twin bed in his attic room while the children shrieked below him and the television blared. He tried to imagine bringing Simone to his room. He made a face. That was not going to happen. It would have to be her place.
If it ever happened. Suddenly everything seemed rather hopeless. She probably would go with some jerk like Einar with his smooth Icelandic talk and that hair. And get that Borut. Was there anything worse than having a Slovenian laugh at you. It was bad enough being taken for English, but to have the entire island insulted as well! Never mind he hadn’t been back to the homeland since he was six. You carried your country with you wherever you went. Look at all those crass Americans, they surely did.
He blinked. Had he really seen someone through the trees? Patrick squinted into the gloom. It should be brighter by now. Bloody Wales: it seemed to have its own extra darkness that it called up whenever it was in the mood.
There! Definitely something blinking. It could be a tag on a dog or a cow, he thought but what were the odds, way out here in the middle of nowhere? At least it seemed like the middle of nowhere. He turned away from the dirty window. ‘I think we’ve got company.’
Three heads turned at once. Blue Jake hopped up and tried to look out the window with just one eye as if it somehow concealed him. ‘I don’t see anything.’
‘If it’s Ma MacGregor’s lads, you won’t see anything until it’s too late,’ the Slovenian said.
Einar shoved their captive back into a corner, away from direct view from the front. ‘One of you go run recon outside. See what you can see.’
‘Oh, one of us unarmed folks then? We should maybe run out there naked too.’ Patrick laughed. The sound managed to convey his mirth and a good bit of his anxiety too.
‘I can’t risk letting our only bargaining chip go.’
‘Well, let us watch him with the gun and you can reconnoiter outside. How about that?’
‘It’s not like I am asking you to fight hand to hand. Just see if you can see more, see what we’re up against.’
‘Oh for fuck’s sake, I’ll go,’ Blue Jake said, exasperated into action by their bickering. He ambled out the door and ducked behind the house. Patrick crossed to the back to follow his progress. To his surprise, Blue Jake lit out in the opposite direction from the road and crashed into the woods, running at a speed he’d never seen him attempt before. For a minute he just stared. Then he tried to imagine there was some sort of clever ploy the man was putting into play. But he didn’t reappear.
Bugger that, Patrick thought. He’s scarpered.
He went back to the sitting room where Einar still levelled the gun at the window. ‘He’s done a runner.’
The Icelander stared at him. ‘Who has?’
There were only so many ways to explain the same thing. After a moment it would sink in, surely. He could see the moment when the penny dropped. Then the Icelander looked grim. ‘If I see him, I shoot him.’
‘He could be in Ireland by now.’
There wasn’t much to say to that. They both squinted out the window but there was nothing to see in the Welsh gloom. Patrick couldn’t shake the feeling of impending doom. Should I stay or should I go? The song started looping in his head. ‘So, what do you think it is?’
‘Are you sure you saw anything?’
If he hadn’t had a gun, Patrick would surely hit him now. ‘Yes, I did.’
‘I bet he imagined it,’ Borut suggested.
He and the Icelander both told him to shut up. Einar frowned. ‘Well, if there is someone out there, how do we best defend ourselves?’
‘In the films they stack all the furniture up to make a barricade.’
‘Does all your experience come from movies?’
‘You got a better idea?’
They moved some of the ramshackle chairs and what was left of the table to block the window and give them some cover. The approach from the road seemed the most likely direction as that’s where Patrick had seen whatever it was he saw.
‘Can you at least give me some cheese? I’m really hungry.’
Patrick glared at the Slovenian. Though fair enough, he probably was hungry. Einar stared intently through the broken table top. What harm could there be? ‘You’d better appreciate this,’ he said while he peeled the wrapper off the cheese.
‘I promise not to bite,’ Borut said with a smile.
Just then the window shattered. Einar swore and tried to get the broken glass out of his hair. More bullets flew.
‘How many of them are there?’ Patrick crouched below the window, waiting for his heart to drop back down from his throat.
‘I can’t see a fucking thing. This country has too many fucking trees.’ The Icelander shook the blood off his hand.
‘Well, why don’t you shoot someone and at least make it less?’
‘I’ve only got six bullets. I can’t waste any of them.’
‘Six! Mother of god, why only six?’
‘Fuck you, I didn’t get an option. We were just supposed to be watching this guy until we iced him. I wasn’t going to need more.’
‘We need them now.’ More bullets rained in on them. It was hard to tell how many people were shooting but at least they were all coming from the front. ‘Hey, you don’t suppose they trying to distract us while they send someone in the back?’
‘That’s what I’d do,’ the Slovenian said.
‘Shut your face.’
It didn’t faze him. ‘I get chatty when I’m hungry.’
‘Maybe you should go check,’ Einar said.
Muttering a prayer to Saint Jude after all, Patrick made a crouch run through the bombed out kitchen and took a quick look through the broken pane and yelped.
The enormous black dog stood at the edge of the forest. Its head was massive. The body was easily as large as a Shetland pony’s. The great white teeth shone in the gloom. It had to be real.
After a moment or two Patrick realised the Icelander was shouting at him. ‘No, no one out this way.’ The big black dog stared as if it were waiting on something. Patrick couldn’t tear his eyes away. All of the sudden it turned tail and left, disappearing between the trees
That’s when the shot hit him. The force of it spun him around. He thought his shoulder had exploded. ‘I’m hit!’ A hundred war films flashed through his mind like a macabre kaleidoscope. Patrick staggered into the sitting room. ‘I’m hit,’ he repeated. Then he fell to his knees.
‘Untie me. I have medical training. I might be able to save him.’
Einar hesitated. Patrick lifted a hand to his neck where he could feel the blood pouring out. He felt dizzy. Swearing, the Icelander untied Borut and then turned back to his post. The Slovenian kicked Einar so he crashed into the broken furniture, dropping the gun. There was a brief struggle that ended with a shot. The Slovenian rose and waved his arms. The gunfire stopped at once.
He walked over to where Patrick lay. It was getting harder to concentrate. ‘Can you stop…stop the…’ he couldn’t remember what he was going to say.
‘I’m sorry. I lied about the medical training.’
Patrick began to sob. ‘Simone…’
‘Yes, she and I thought this would be a good way to get Shadey out of the picture. It seems to have worked.’ Borut patted him on the arm. ‘Sorry about this. But she’s kind of got a thing for me.’
Patrick heard a buzzing in his ears. He wondered if it came from outside. ‘Is she here?’
‘No, no. These are Ma’s guys. But she approved of the plan. Can I ask you one last thing?’
Patrick coughed. His mouth felt very wet. ‘What?’
‘Do you know how to change the voice on the satnav?’
Patrick closed his eyes for the last time.