Derek Fitzpatrick“Isn’t that right, Mrs. Carlyle?”

She couldn’t speak, any more than she could have let go of the phone hearing the muffled sound of her first-born son screaming and sobbing in unbearable agony. She’d felt every cut, every break as though it had been her in that chair; it had put years in her eyes and a shock of her vibrant red-brown hair would be white as snow by morning.

She cast a mute look of distress to her husband, who was sitting on the sofa nearby. He rose, walking with a steady, deliberate tread and took the phone from her hand, wrapping his arm around her shoulders.

“Hello? Yeah, you’ll get your address. Just bring us our boy.”

A soft click of the tongue came from the other end of the line, followed by drawled words in a deep American accent. “I knew you’d come around. Why throw away a good son for the waster of the family – a criminal, no less? I’m sure, Mr. Carlyle… May I call you Rob? I think I shall… I’m sure, Rob, that you understand what will happen if you get the police involved in this. We don’t need to go into unpleasantries, do we?”

Jacob and Ian’s father clenched his jaw for a moment, fingers tightening around the handset. “Just bring my boy home. You’ll get what’s coming to you.”

***

Derek smirked to himself as he slipped the phone back into his pocket.

Yeah, this was going to get messy.

He cracked his knuckles.

That was just fine with him.

***

5 minutes later, Robert Carlyle was in the Queen’s Head.

10 minutes after the call, Jacob was being lifted into the back of a grubby orange van, tourniquets tied tightly around the bleeding wounds on his arms and legs.

15 minutes and the Carlyles had a living room full of pool cues and not a table in sight.

After 25 minutes, the van swished into the little side road. A thin, grey rain was drizzling out of the sky as it pulled up at the curb and parked at an angle, shielding from open view the two men who climbed out of the back then turned, lifting down a drab grey wheelchair with a torn and bloody passenger. The driver leaned on the horn, issuing a single, drawn-out blast.

Blinds twitched up and down the street, but only one door swung open. In his mid-forties, Robert Carlyle was still an imposing figure of a man, despite a crown of salt-and-pepper hair. His shoulders were broad from a lifetime of manual labour; his knuckles were calloused and scarred and the thin white line of a knife-cut still marked a strong chin. He strode a few paces up the street. As his wife appeared in the doorway behind him, he jerked his head around and snapped “Sarah! Get back inside!”

Then he saw his son.

The sensation was like being hit in the stomach and Rob folded and clutched his belly in the same way. Matted blood had turned his son’s fair hair black. His face was purple with bruises, his lips and chin smeared with dried gore and he sat as limp as a rag doll in the wheelchair, canted over to one side with his eyes closed.

“Jacob!” He roared his son’s name, charging up the pavement inside the fence of parked cars, cobblestones racing by beneath his feet. One of the men beside the chair held up a hand to stop as his cohort drew a heavy-looking hammer from inside his jacket.

They never noticed the door of the house behind them slowly opening inwards. Then a pool cue smashed down on the hammer-wielder’s head and the street came to life.

The two men in the van’s cab climbed out swiftly, pulling out full-length batons from under the seats.

The handful of men pouring into the street had, until now, put their scrapping days long behind them but more than a few of them had seen action on the football terraces of the eighties. They held only three things sacrosanct, for all that time had mellowed them from their youth.

A man’s home.

His pint.

His mates.

Robert Carlyle’s mates were pissed and they had one battle cry.

“‘Ave it!”

The two groups met with solid, brutal strikes; flying teeth and broken bones. Biting, kicking, hitting below the belt – nothing was off limits, not for a father looking at the shattered body of his first-born son. Derek’s men fought with methodical precision, conserving their strength, but the weight of numbers was with the Carlyles and they bore them down, Rob in the forefront with his knuckles bruised and a stranger’s hair in his teeth.

***

40 minutes after the phone call, Derek took his shot.


Waking from warm and loving dreams in the wreckage of what was once a well-made bed, Dolly’s head was filled with misty, glowing memories that lit the smile on her face as she searched for her underwear.

Times Square had been a dizzying flood of light and colour and blaring car horns, but Ian’s hand, warm and solid as it wrapped hers, was all the anchor she had needed not to be swept away. The two of them stopped on the side-walk near the gleaming silver pyramid of the Paramount building, oblivious to the other pedestrians that flowed around them and the taste of her first Coney Dog was still on her lips as she smiled up at him, listening.

“So… you ready for life back home?” Ian’s grin was huge and infectious. With England and a new life only days away, the excitement of the move was buzzing through both of them and her fingers trembled with it as she squeezed his hand.

“Maybe a little twitchy still, but I guess it’ll take a while to lose that San Paro vibe. But there’s so much I’m looking forward to. Like taking Gerrard for a walk without a gun in my pocket. And doing… I don’t know… homely things! In a home we won’t have to move away from at the drop of a hat! No more running… It’s going to be idyllic.” She pursed her lips for a moment, brow furrowing in thought. “There’s stuff that scares me too, though. Like meeting your parents.”

Ian’s shoulders shook with laughter, though his eyes were invisible behind the dark glasses he habitually wore. She continued. “I can just picture your father, putting his arm around your shoulders, taking you aside.” She lowered the pitch of her voice, adopting a stern expression. “Son… I don’t know how to say this, but you’ve made a mistake! You’ve married a fuck toy, son! They’re all very well, but you should be marrying serious women with…” She started to giggle helplessly “…brown hair and their own aprons.”

His laughter faded as he leaned in close to her, his tone low and intimate, for her ears alone. “What about starting our own family?”

The jolt of sheer terror that had struck her at the time felt as far away as New York itself as she pulled on her knickers, then turned sideways to look at herself in the mirror, puffing out her stomach as far as it would go and resting her folded hands atop it. The ghost of a tender smile crossed her lips as she contemplated her reflection.

“I think you’d make a pretty terrific father, you know? You can be so very gentle… So very warm…”

He’d chuckled, blushing. “I’m not so sure, but I’d like to try.”

In San Paro, the idea would have been ludicrous; the chance of carrying a child to term was negligible in the daily barrage of wounds and bruises, the tortuous electrocutions from stun guns. Here, though… Stanley Park was full of young families just starting out; she saw the loving glow that surrounded the young mothers and felt the first flutterings of the desire in herself. The sight of them brought back memories of her own mother, bitter-sweet with loss, countered by dreams of the future, of Ian’s face alight at his first glimpse of their newborn infant, or teaching a wobbly-legged toddler to kick a ball for the first time. Or just sitting together; she in his arms, gazing tenderly at the child in hers.

She wanted it. Her terror of the agonies of childbirth seemed childish and petty now, in the way that all her fears faded away with Ian’s touch. In a year, perhaps two, they’d be ready and their marital home would become a family one.

As long as she didn’t get sick again. As long as she wasn’t crazy.

She heard a door close and bounded out of the room and down the stairs without regard for her state of undress. As she skidded into the kitchen, Gerrard barked sharply in welcome, but her eyes immediately locked on Ian’s back as he drove home the bolts on the outside door and primed the alarm.

Her voice caught in her throat. “Are we… are we leaving again?”

He glanced at her before turning back to the alarm, entering the last digits of the activation code before taking off his glasses and crossing the room swiftly to wrap her in his arms. “Not this time, love…. Not this time. Everything’s going to get better… You’re going to get better. I’m just being careful, that’s all.”

She gazed up into the green and amber of his unguarded eyes, his every word not just promise but fact to her ears.

“Now…” He patted her bottom playfully. “Be a love and go get the assault rifle.”

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