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Authors: Gerard Brennan

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BOOK: The Point
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“Look at that pile of bin bags, Brian. These fucking students live like animals. No respect for property at all.”

Brian didn’t offer his opinion. Instead he closed the gate and wedged some of the black plastic bags against it to stop it from swinging open again. The little improvisation impressed Paul, but he didn’t mention it. He wanted to get moving on the next stage. This part was always a lottery. If the occupants had left the key in the opposite side of the door they’d made Paul’s life a lot easier. If not, they were stuck. He didn’t want to put in the kitchen window and run the risk of being cut to shreds on the way through it.

Paul peered into the keyhole and was disappointed to find it empty. He stood up and kicked the door in frustration. And it swung open. The rotted frame didn’t have much fight in it.

“That was cool,” Brian said.

Paul nodded and let his brother believe that his good luck was calculated. They entered the house. The kitchen looked no better than the yard. Plates with remnants of food stuck to them were stacked to precarious heights at the edge of the sink. The bin overflowed with pizza boxes and empty beer tins. The stench of sour milk filled the air.

“Tell me this house was abandoned, Paul. I refuse to believe human beings could live like this.”

Paul opened the fridge and a new symphony of stink greeted him. He looked at a milk carton on one of the filthy shelves. It had the name Mary written on it.

“This milk is still in date,” Paul said. “Someone actually lives here.”

“Jesus Christ. Let’s get this over with.”

 

Rumbled

 

The brothers rummaged about in a messy but feminine bedroom. Ruffled pink bedclothes. Bras and panties scattered about. Pretty-boy actors stared down from crinkled posters. Brian moved fast, eager to get the fuck out and start drinking. His big bro didn’t seem to feel the same sense of urgency. Paul hooked a pink pair of panties off the floor. He stretched the waistband catapult-style and flicked them at Brian.

“I’ve met whores with cleaner knickers,” Paul said.

“I’m sure you...”

The unmistakable screech of rusted hinges opening cut across Brian’s remark. Brian and Paul stiffened with alarm. They stared at each other for a moment.

Brian broke their stasis. “Shit!”

Paul reached into his coat. “Come on. Put this on.”

He whipped out a paramilitary-style balaclava and threw it to Brian then pulled down the fold of his woollen balaclava to cover his face.

Brian wrestled with the itchy knitted mask. It smelt musty, interfered with his breathing and itched his skin. Now he could add claustrophobia to the feast of emotions tying his stomach in knots. Paul thundered down the stairs in the loudest possible way.

“Who’s there?” A girl’s voice. It sounded a little booze-slurred. Brian hoped she was alone.

The girl froze at the bottom of the stairs. She was dressed in Saturday night clubbing gear. Fake tan, short skirt, low-cut top, but most importantly, on her own. She didn’t move as Paul clattered into her. Paul cursed and she screamed. Out of instinct, Brian reached down and grabbed her hands to help her up. She kicked up and out. A high heel slammed into Brian’s thigh, dangerously close to his balls. He let go of her and stumbled backwards.

“Hey, Mary,” Paul said. “Settle yourself.”

Mary crab-crawled away from Paul. “Oh Jesus, how do you know my name?”

An easy deduction. The milk told them that somebody in the house was called Mary. The clothes in the wardrobes told them only one girl lived there.

“The IRA knows a lot about you, wee girl,” Paul said. “You better stop what you’re doing.”

“What are you talking about?” she asked.

Brian felt awful. She would piss herself if Paul kept this up.

“Let’s go, Max,” Brian said. Paul, quick-witted as usual, caught on instantly.

“I told you not to use my real name, Travis,” he said. Voice threatening, he turned on Mary. “Don’t even think about calling the peelers, Mary. We know where you live.”

Paul ran to the front door, yanked it open and, after a quick look up and down the street, pulled off the balaclava and stepped out the door into the night. Brian paused, looked down at Mary and felt powerless. He wanted to comfort her, but had no idea how to do it without making things worse. A few seconds later, he followed Paul out into the night.

 

Brotherly Love

 

Paul, no longer wearing his mask, waited for Brian on the footpath outside number 45. Brian stepped out and tugged off his balaclava. His face rippled with a snarl. He stalked towards Paul.

“Not here, bro. We’ll talk back at the flat.”

“What the hell was that, Paul?”

“Just come on.”

At the flat, Paul backed into the living room with his hands raised. Brian shoved him and he fell into the armchair.

“What the fuck was that for?” Paul asked.

“You know what it was for.”

“Ach, fuck off. Maybe if she thought the IRA was really watching her she’d make the effort to do a dish or two. You saw the state of that place.”

“You were out of order.”

“Look, Brian, you can’t worry about something like that if we’re going to do this. You’re not so naive to think that getting robbed wasn’t going to upset her, are you?”

“But at least she wouldn’t have been worrying about her life being under threat.”

“Oh, really? Wake up, Brian. Ninety percent of these students move out after being robbed, to safer, cleaner houses, because they fear a return visit. We probably did her a favour.”

“Ninety percent? Did I ever tell you that fifty-seven percent of all statistics are made up on the spot?”

“A joke? Good for you.” Paul looked his brother up and down. “Listen, whether you believe it or not, if we rob that place again in a few weeks, there’ll be a different name on the milk in the fridge.”

“I just think you went too far with the IRA thing, okay?”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I was trying to save you from another kick in the swingers. I’d have thought you’d be grateful.”

“She missed my balls.”

“Aye, well you didn’t give her much of a target.”

Brian made a
you’re-so-funny
face.

“Look, Brian, I’m trying to help you here, earn you a bit of money. You know I’m looking out for you, don’t you? You’re my wee bro. The most important person in my life.”

Brian stood still. Looked down at his big brother. Paul waited patiently. He was used to his brother’s thoughtful gaps. Knew there was no rushing him when he took a moment of quiet.

“Ach, for fuck’s sake,” Brian said. “Are we going to crack open this cider or what?”

 

All Apologies

 

Brian sort of coasted along as Paul dragged him through a cluster of burglaries over five nights. The other jobs passed without any real incident and they ended up with a neat bundle of cash and some phones and laptops Paul’s fence would be able to give them a few quid for. He should have been happy. But the girl from the first job niggled at him. Poor Mary. She’d been frightened half to death by Paul’s act, and Brian couldn’t get her face out of his mind. He had to do something for her, but the best he could come up with seemed so fucking stupid.

Still, it was better than nothing.

He slid a little white envelope through the letterbox in the door of 45, Cairo Street and beat a hasty retreat.

As he bustled down Botanic Avenue he tried to imagine Mary’s reaction to what he’d just posted.

 

***

 

Mary picks the postcard up from the doormat. The picture on the front is a red-faced cartoon, the word SORRY emblazoned across the top. Mary flips the card over. It says:

“There was a mix-up. You’ve nothing to fear from the IRA. The Army Council sends its apologies.”

Mary looks confused but maybe, just maybe, a little relieved as well.

The Union

 

Paul and Brian sat at a table under a poster advertising ‘Pound-a-Pint’ night. A half-full pint stood in front of each of them. Paul thought about how well a couple of half-price tequilas would go down. He tried to wait patiently while Brian studied a list written on a spiral-bound notebook. His attempt was short-lived.

“Those fake student cards were a real money saver. One of your sharper moments, eh, kid?”

Brian glanced up at him, a slight scowl giving away his irritation at being distracted. “Aye, yeah.” He glanced down at his list again. “Can you get the loan of a van? I’ve too much stuff to carry onto a bus to Warrenpoint.”

“You won’t need that much. The house we’re renting is furnished.”

“We need a van. If we can’t borrow one, they’re not that expensive to hire.”

“That’s a waste of money.”

“I don’t ask for much, Paul, but I don’t want to lug my stuff about on public transport. So think.”

Brian took a huge slug from his beer. Paul smiled as a little firework went off in his brain.

“Actually,” Paul said. “I do know a man with a van. And he owes me a favour.”

“Great. We’ll leave as soon as you can get it, then. Okay?”

“Aye, that’d probably be for the best.”

 

A Final Fuck-You

 

Paul wore a hood and baseball cap. It was a slight deviation from his usually dapper high street attire, but it was a necessary and functional one. He’d been spying on Mad Mickey as the hippy-gangster conducted some business on the street. And, since the hoodie and baseball cap were staples of the Lower Falls dress code, a slight drop in standards made it much easier for him to blend in to the background.

Dave, the suited caveman, leant against the front of Mad Mickey’s van and sucked on a cigarette. The faint rumble of the diesel engine told Paul the keys were in the ignition.

Very sloppy, Dave.

Paul used stealth and blind-spots to negotiate his way to the van. He curled his fingers under the door handle and took a heartbeat to compose himself. If he couldn’t do this in one fluid motion he was fucked.

You’re slick, kid. Just go for it.

Paul jerked open the van door and hopped in. Dave barely had time to register the shift in suspension. Paul cranked it into reverse and Dave toppled as his support was whipped away. Mad Mickey stood, mouth agape, as Paul flew past and gave him the finger.

 

On the Couch

 

Rachel rummaged through the magazines scattered across the coffee table. She picked a grubby back issue of
The Ulster Tattler
, a magazine about cars, a current issue of
Chat
and returned to the squeaky waiting room bench. Ah, the Newry and Mourne Health and Social Services Trust. If you were skirting the boundaries of mental health problems, then the fliers and posters tacked to the pastel green walls would transport you direct to Cloud Cuckoo Land. Eating disorders, self-harm, suicidal tendencies; the mines in the field of the delicate young adult psyche.

BOOK: The Point
11.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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