Authors: Gerard Brennan
Brian struggled with the warped door, managed to haul it open, and smiled at Paul. “It’s afternoon, big bro, but sure...”
Paul’s hair sat perfectly in fashionable spikes. Blessed as he was with a tall, lean frame, the older brother made the naff, knock-off Firetrap shirt he wore look good. Brian ran a hand through his own unmanageable mane, and wondered what kind of gel Paul used and why the whole genetics thing was so hit and miss. A few extra inches of height wouldn’t have done Brian any harm.
Arms full and straining against the weight of his bounty, Paul pushed past Brian and went straight to the kitchen. Brian stood back as Paul reorganised the scant edible items in the filthy fridge, and filled it up with tins of Carlsberg Special Brew; rocket fuel for the homeless. Brian smiled, even though his stomach lurched a little.
When the beer was tucked away, minus two tins, Brian and Paul sat in the living room and drank warm, syrupy Special Brew.
“I called you hours ago,” Brian said “What kept you?”
Paul rubbed the small of his back. “Long story, our fellah. What’s the craic with you?”
“Fuck all. Cheers for grabbing the beer and fags.”
They banged back a couple of gulps of piss-warm rocket fuel, almost racing.
Paul belched then said: “I need help with a job or two.”
“What kind of job?”
“I have to do a few houses over the next few weeks.”
“No, I mean painting and decorating.” Paul crimped his face. “What are you like?”
“I thought we’d agreed to give that shite up. Try and figure out some other angles.”
“I know, I know. You want to do victimless crime. Wee insurance scams and all. But they take too long. And I’m not talking about robbing real people. Just a few student houses.”
“Ach, come on, wee bro! I need to get some funds together. Fast. So, for fuck’s sake, can I get an answer today?”
“What’s the rush?”
Paul looked around the room. “Look, I’ve been biting
my tongue for a while now. I just don’t think this place is good enough for us. We should move.”
“The flat’s fine.”
“Maybe it could do with a Hoover, but...”
“It could do with a hand grenade.”
“We can’t afford anything better in Belfast, Paul.”
Paul tapped his nose then pointed at Brian. “Exactly! So let’s move.”
“From Belfast? Where to?”
“Warrenpoint. Remember we used to go there when we were kids?”
“Yeah, The Point. Remember the ice cream, the amusements, the pier? Ma happy; Da less drunk than usual. Crisps and coke in the pub. Football on the pebble beach. Weren’t you always asking Ma for money to windsurf? You could finally have a go at that now. Sure the place was heaven.” Paul’s face spread slowly in a wide grin. “And, you know, sleepy wee town like that? A couple of sharp Belfast boys could make a penny or two off the local yokels.”
Brian drained his beer then crushed the can. He held his tongue and tried to think. The cogs and gears refused to spin. Paul put an arm around his brother’s shoulders and led him to the fridge.
“Look,” Paul said. “Let’s have another drink, and I’ll explain why this is the best idea we’ve ever had.”
Rachel O’Hare took a deep breath. She didn’t believe counting to ten was going to calm her down, but she gave it a shot. On the count of seven, she gave up. Her mistake was looking at him while she mentally ticked off the numbers. She should have closed her eyes.
“Sean, drop the scolded puppy look, okay? You don’t have the charm needed to pull it off.”
“But, Rachel nothing. We’re done. Deal with it.”
“Deal with it? We’ve been going out for months. This is so out of the blue.”
Rachel closed her eyes and started counting again. She nibbled on her tongue in an effort to keep it at bay. But then Sean sniffed. One of those big, watery, about-to-cry-me-a-river snuffles. It was too much.
“Out of the blue? I caught you cheating on me, Sean.”
She studied his expression in the greenish glow cast by the Toyota Celica’s instrument panel. His lower lip jutted and the corners of his mouth drooped. He sniffed again and his face seemed to crumple in on itself. Barely restrained tears glistened in his eyes. Rachel remained unimpressed. In fact, she was a little disgusted by his weakness.
A shitty chill-out dance mix whispered through the custom sound system. Rachel violently jabbed the standby button.
“Hey, take it easy, Rachel. That’s a new radio.”
“You weren’t so concerned about your precious car when Sheena Magee’s stilettos were drumming off the glove box. You didn’t even wipe her footprints off it, you stupid eejit.”
Sean looked away from her, aiming for a chastised expression.
“Maybe if you didn’t keep me waiting,” Sean said, “I wouldn’t have to go elsewhere.”
“Oh, so it’s
fault, is it?”
“Well, I’d hardly describe myself as sexually satisfied, you know? I mean, it’s been three months. You’re a good looking bird and all, but a man has needs and I’ve never gotten so much as a handjob off you.”
Rachel pushed the car’s cigarette lighter in. Sean handed her a pack of smokes. She pulled one out, but didn’t thank him.
“You have needs?
? Well, Sean, do you know what I
? I need to know that the fellah I’m seeing isn’t going to run to some blonde skank every time he feels a bit horny. I need to know that I’m not going to pick up an STD because you can’t keep your little willy in your boxers. I need somebody I can trust. And, just for the record, I’d have been happy to drop my knickers months ago. But there’s this new concept you might have heard of. Foreplay? Ring any bells? Because I’ll tell you something; with your sloppy, lager-tasting kisses, and your clumsy fumbling meat-hooks, you sure as hell weren’t ringing my bell.”
“That’s below the belt.” He smirked, squinted a little. There was no humour in the expression.
Rachel felt her lungs constrict. She’d seen that look before. Usually before some poor bastard got the fat end of a pool cue wrapped around their head over a welched bet or spilt pint. He’d not hit her before but she was sure he’d come close to it in the past. Usually when she got lippy with him. Had she gone too far this time? The idea that he might actually swing one of those callused fists at her took hold. The world slowed down.
The lighter popped. Rachel tugged it from its socket.
Aiming for a nipple, she pressed the red hot lighter against Sean’s shirt pocket. The heated coils burnt straight through the blue checked fabric and Sean screamed as it made contact with his flesh. He grabbed Rachel’s wrist and yanked. She dropped the lighter in his lap. Sean jerked and bounced on his seat. He grabbed the lighter at the wrong end and dropped it again. Whining, he sucked on the burnt fingers of his right hand and managed to snag the plastic knob with his left. He jammed it back in its socket. Eyes wide, he turned to Rachel and took his hand from his mouth.
“What the hell are you at, you mad psycho-bitch?”
Rachel shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Get out of the car.”
Rachel nodded. “Yeah, I probably shouldn’t ask you for a lift home.”
She stepped out of the black Celica and eased the door shut. Then she allowed herself a smile. Burning Sean with the lighter was not a nice thing to do. But, God, it’d felt so good. Rachel put Sean and the seafront car park behind her. She wondered if she’d ever meet a decent bloke in Warrenpoint. Her track record with car-loving, townie imbeciles didn’t offer much hope.
Paul’s heart raced with anticipation. The time had come. Saturday night, and the brothers were walking around the narrow streets of the Holy Lands. Brian wore a baggy hooded top and an old pair of jeans. Paul had traded in his usual leather reefer jacket for a tatty long overcoat. It covered his knock-off designer labels, instantly gave him that student look he desired and concealed his trusty crowbar. The boys also carried a blue plastic bag each. Each one contained a three litre bottle of cider.
“Cairo Street. Let’s do this,” Paul said.
Brian just nodded. Paul reckoned nerves were eating at his partner. Good. It’d make him more careful. Paul set the pace and they made their way slowly down the orange-lit street.
It was half an hour until midnight. Paul expected to find most of the houses in the area empty. Cairo Street was pretty run down, which meant forced entry should be easy. Rusty hinges and worn locks were commonplace around these parts. At the weekend, most of the university students went home to their parents. As they got fed and watered for free, Paul was happy to take advantage of the easy targets they’d left behind.
“So, which one?” Brian asked.
“This one.” Paul stopped dead in his tracks and turned to his right. He walked up to the front door of number 45 and grabbed the knocker. Then he pummelled the door as if it had spilled his pint.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Brian’s voice hissed low but carried a panicked urgency that tickled Paul.
“Relax, son. Expert at work here.”
“You’re a fucking looper. We’ll get lifted.”
“For what?” Paul attacked the door again. Brian fidgeted beside him but didn’t threaten to run off or ask any more questions. Paul was quite impressed with his little brother so far.
“Nobody home,” Paul said. “Follow me.”
They sauntered to the bottom of the street and Brian followed Paul into the alleyway that ran along the back of the terrace block. Paul counted under his breath as they passed a number of tall wooden gates set in a dirty brick wall.
“This is the one,” Paul said.
“What would you have done if someone answered the door?”
“What do you think the bottles of cider are for?”
“To calm my nerves.”
Paul laughed and shook his head. Brian was a hoot, even when he wasn’t trying.
“No, you stupid bollocks,” Paul said. “If Jimmy Student had answered the door I’d have asked him if the party had started. He’d tell me there was no party and I’d realise I’m on the wrong street, apologise and be on my way. The carry outs are props. It’s a new thing I’m trying. Genius, right?”
“And why didn’t you explain that earlier?”
“I thought it would be funnier this way.”
“It was funnier this way.”
Brian shook his head as Paul reached into a ragged slit in the lining of his long coat. He pulled out the black crowbar. Guessing where the deadbolt might be, he pushed the flat end into the gate’s frame. Moonlight glinted off the broken shards of glass cemented onto the top of the wall. Climbing was out of the question.
A creak and a snap broke the relative city silence as the old weatherworn wood of the gate gave up and opened. They stepped into the backyard and Paul wrinkled his nose in disgust.