They moved together with the grace of long intimacy; hip to hip, toe to toe, swirling lightly across the dance floor like leaves caught in an autumn breeze. Dolly’s hand rested on Ian’s shoulder as they danced, fingertips that could count the threads in his vest by touch alone squeezing tighter now and again, drawing his attention to this person or that as latecomers joined the party.  The waiter with the build of a bouncer; the tall, emaciated man with the tinted spectacles and eerily smooth gait; the rotund gentleman in the expensive suit who made the speakers whistle as he walked past.

It didn’t take words, not after everything they’d been through together. A flick of the eyes, the gentle incline of a hip, an urgent indrawn breath, the warm spreading of his fingers as he drew her protectively in against him, as if with hands alone he could cover her, hide her from the spies and rivals circling the outer edges of the party like sharks around a drunken frat boy’s father’s yacht. She never lost her smile, though; an impish twinkle still reigned in her eyes no matter whom she spotted and periodically, she would press close to her husband with a twist and a bump of her hips designed to do anything but make dancing easier.

Fighting a losing battle against the urge to smile, Ian swirled her around a corner and swiftly took the chance to give her a sharp slap on the backside.  A man with short brown hair in an unremarkable style, who’d had his eyes widened by some of Dolly’s earlier antics on the dance floor and at the buffet table – Oh Jesus, that celery stick  – gave Ian a look of mock-compassion, shoulders shaking with laughter as he twirled his far more staid date past them.

They quickened their pace slightly as the song came to an end. As he bowed to his wife, flashing the smug smile he reserved for any public outing with her, Carlyle kept his eyes on a bystander reflected in the heavy, gold-framed mirror on the wall – a young man barely into his twenties, judging from the lines on his hands, but with the arrogance of a much older man in his eyes. Born rich. The only child, only son of a dynasty that cared about such things.

Fernando Innocenti. Brat. Coke-head. Thug. Terrible disappointment to his father.

And staring at Ian’s bird as the flourish of her curtsey dropped her cleavage right into his eye line.

OK, so it meant the plan was working, but he was still going to enjoy the later bits more because of it.

Dolly let him raise her out of her dip with a chivalrous hand, then turned and sashayed off in the direction of a punch bowl. He watched her walk away with a far-away look in his eye, while the laughing dancer from earlier came to stand at his side.

“If it really was two piglets under a tarp, do you think it would be so much fun to watch?”

Ian glanced away from his wife long enough to scowl at the other man. “Shut the hell up, Mike.”

He glanced back just in time to see his inattentive wife collide softly with Innocenti as he prowled to intercept her at the drinks table. She exhaled sharply and fell back, landing on her ass with a startled shriek and a bounce he thought was gratuitous even while he enjoyed the artistry. Ian started striding forward, fists clenched, a certain inexorable menace in the set of his jaw. Mike took in the scene, swinging around it like a man who does not like to put his face in the path of airborne punches, then sidling up the side of the room to lean against the drinks table and watch, dipping himself a fresh ladle of punch without long taking his eyes off the incoming fracas.

Which Ian was looking forward to immensely. His hand snapped out, tapping on Innocenti’s shoulder with just a little too much force, that edge of rage just leaking through.

Ian’s glasses reflected the brat’s face back at him as he turned from offering his hand to Dolly and looked up into the older man’s face. Something primal, male and territorial was singing fiercely in his soul as he faced the kid down.

“Oi, mate. That’s my wife you’re drooling on.”

Then his fist flew through the air like a bolt of pure joy.


She thought it had been some hours since the video and the vehement tirade that followed, when Fitzpatrick came to sit with her. She was lying just as he’d left her, on her side with her hands and feet tied behind her and tethered to her neck, forcing her to keep her body arched painfully backwards, gagged and mute with nothing to do but stare into the dark and silently weep.

He was different; neither his cool and flippant earlier self nor the raging demon of the morning… She thought it had been morning when he had her make his message for Ian, when she’d tried to escape. He sat down on the edge of the little camp bed and stroked her hair, touching her bruised cheek and tracing the trails of her tears with his fingers.

He didn’t wear his mask this time. She could see his face; the precisely sculpted mimicry of Ian she’d so obediently followed down from her window, but it looked nothing like him now. The muscles twisted differently under the skin. His scent was wrong and one eye far too deep and dark a brown. Still, she tried her hardest to pretend, telling herself that Ian was here now, that it was his touch she felt on her face, that everything would be better now. And cried a little more that it wasn’t true.

Derek’s voice was so soft she barely heard it. She tried to move her head to listen but the rope immediately began to haul at her neck; all she could do was whimper and arch back, rolling her eyes sideways to try to see her captor speak.

“I’m so very, very sorry.”

Then he got up and walked away, the stairs creaking beneath his steps, but the light from the door at the top didn’t go out.

Not immediately. Instead, it slowly narrowed and rose, climbing up the far wall of the room while heavy rhythmic clicks and scrapes drifted down the stairs, blending with the static and the ringing in her ears until she lost the sound and could only follow the light. It grew shorter and shorter as it rose higher and higher and then, almost placidly, it narrowed in from the sides and finally vanished, leaving her all alone in the dark.

Time lost all meaning. She slipped in and out of dreams, sleep several times almost causing her to strangle as her aching body tried to relax or stretch, snapping the rope taut. While awake, she simply cried; not the labored breathing and wracking sobs of a temperamental child, but the silent, free-flowing tears that come with a growing sense of despair.

If she’d lost hope entirely, she could easily have rolled onto her stomach. The throbbing muscles in her back and neck would have eventually given out and, survival reflex or not, she’d have strangled herself with her own weight. But one silent mantra kept her waiting, one heartbeat after another.

Ian will come.

She was just frightened she wouldn’t be able to hold on until he did.

It could have been minutes or hours later when she heard sounds coming again from upstairs. At first, she thought the pounding that resonated through the room was her own heartbeat, echoing inside her skull, or the footsteps of a giant, another hallucination come to join the miasma of voices, static and music that drowned her ears.

Then she thought she saw light. Just the faintest, swiftest glimmer, there then gone. Another thump shook the walls. The light was there again. Larger, stronger, infinitely more real and there was the cool touch of fresh air on her face.

Another blow and a slew of shattered bricks came tumbling down the stairs, flooding the room with dim light from the hallway above. She fixed her eyes on the light and her exhausted body shook with anticipation.

***

The red Audi was in the driveway. Carlyle ran his hand over the rear bumper as he strode past it, dry blood powdering his fingers.

The front door. His foot met the lock full force, not kicking the door open as he’d expected but tearing the whole thing off its hinges and sending it falling back into the hallway. It was too slow for him – he stamped it down with a foot and fired a shotgun blast into the hallway behind it.

Nothing. He pumped the gun with a swift flick of his arm and walked on, swiftly turning to the left to check what was once a living room, then right to scrutinize the stairs.

The shot echoed like thunder in the narrow space, followed by a low groan. He pumped a second shot into the darkness at the top of the stairs, then felt around on the wall for a light switch.

In the dim, yellowish light, he moved towards the crumpled, black-clad mass on the landing. Derek groaned and rolled over as he approached. Buckshot had torn his clothes and pounded his chest to so much red meat; his left knee seeped purplish blood into flattened pile of the carpet. Ian stared for a long moment into his own face – the solid line of the jaw bore no trace of the stubble his own chin sported, but the plane of the cheekbones, the arch of the brow, were his own. His nose crinkled and he swung the shotgun muzzle down over his foe when pain suddenly exploded in his hip, throwing him back down the stairs. He landed breathless, on his back, firing wildly once, back up the stairs, before grabbing for the wall to pull himself upright. Derek was doing likewise, clinging to the wooden balustrade with one arm, leaning against it to keep the weight off his leg, the pistol wavering as he tried to aim through shock and blood loss.

Cursing under his breath, Ian abandoned standing and simply rolled, back into the hall and dived for cover in the living room. Rapid stumbling steps came down the stairs after him. With no time to think of his wounds, Ian spun the shotgun to the thin, plasterboard wall and fired blindly through it, then reached out, snatching the edge of the open door and slammed it hard, a brief, satisfied smirk crossing his lips as he heard Derek smack face-first into it. He stepped out from beside the wall and fired right into the door, ripping the cheap wood paneling apart. Something gleamed in the new opening and Ian threw himself down, bullets ripping over his head, smashing the screen of the 1970’s television set in a spray of thin glass shards and stitching a pattern of holes into the far wall. He went to pump another shot into the wall and something jammed, the trigger stiff and rigid under his finger.

Silence fell, then he gradually picked out the sound of hard, fast breathing from the hallway, the metallic sounds of reloading.

“I didn’t think you’d be this pissed off, Ian!” Derek’s voice was clear enough through the shredded door, the American drawl sounding alien and theatrical after Carlyle’s months back in England. “I mean, come on! I’ve done you a favor! You’re young, career’s just starting and let’s face it…” He broke off to cough and the sound was wet and laden. As quietly as he could, Ian set down the shotgun and reached back, pulling the snub-nosed Stabba PIG from the back of his trousers as Derek went on. “… we’re a good-looking guy!” The laughter that followed broke occasionally to suck in air and Ian picked out the snap of a magazine clicking home. “Who needs to be tied down with a wife and a baby, eh?”

Ian ground his teeth in suppressed fury. “You’ve already signed your own death warrant, Fitzpatrick. Don’t make me want to take my time about it!”

The door flew open; he rolled and fired the PIG while bullets spat into the floor where he’d lain. He saw the sparks as the twin darts hit even as he registered a sudden, searing heat across his bicep. The swinging door hit an armchair and slammed closed before he could fire the second shot that would bring the man down. He heard Derek move back into cover, cursing as he yanked the darts from his body.

“Aw, that’s sweet! Tell me the truth though, man to man… That question that’s whirling in your head, the one that’s been keeping you awake at night… Are you scared I fucked her for her sake, or because you’re afraid she might have liked it?”

Ian grabbed the coal-scuttle and threw it at the door as it opened, the metal bucket knocking Derek’s aim wide, giving him time to take cover behind a couch that smelled of piss and mildew and start loading a set of darts into the PIG.

“Anything you touched her with, you sad little rapist fuck, anything, I will show you the insides of.”

“Aw, hey!” Another stream of bullets kicked flocking out of the sofa cushions. He heard the thud of one lodging in the thick wood of the padded armrest near his head. “It ain’t rape if she begs, is it?”

Ian gritted his teeth and popped up from behind the sofa, but rage shook his aim and only one of the two darts hit, the other harmlessly tagging the door. The charge fizzled, nowhere to go. He ducked again, avoiding the bullets that followed.

“What did you think, Ian? That you were going to get her back in pristine condition and everything would be just like it was before? Even if you kill me, think she’s gonna be so keen to suck you off now?”

Holding his breath, Ian flattened himself to the floor and crept slowly along the back of the couch, listening to Derek’s shots as they picked away at the arm covering his last hiding place. The enforcer was still talking, trying to push him over the edge, to make him lose the last of his control and become easy prey.

He worried that it was working.

“Seriously man, what did you think I’d do? Keep a hottie like that locked in the cellar and go buy porn? Learn to share your fucking toys!” He barked laughter, but Ian could see his narrowed, calculating eyes now, scanning the room.

The darts hit them. Derek screamed like a tantruming child. The second pair flew wild as Ian stood.

Then he hit the blind man in the face with all his fury. The snap as his jaw broke was audible. Breathless and soaked in his own blood, Ian fell to his knees beside him. Felt for a pulse in his throat and, finding it, poked at the wound in his chest for a response.

Nothing. He was out cold.

Ian tried to stand up again but his head was spinning, the room swooping in and out of focus, canting at precarious angles. Instead, he clutched at the floor and slowly dragged himself along the hallway, calling for his wife.

Cellar. The enforcer had mentioned the cellar.

He found it, the door open, a metal-headed sledge-hammer lying beside it. He used it as a crutch, levering himself to his feet and tottering onto the landing of the wooden stairs inside.

The room was empty.

A burst of renewed strength sent him tearing through the house, ripping the kitchen apart, overturning beds and tearing open closets.

When his strength finally failed him, he knew for sure the house was empty. He fell to his knees on the pavement outside, fists clenched, and railed up at the sky.

“Walsaw!”


Everyone moved. Swearing under his breath, Chris flexed his knees and ducked, but Carlyle was younger and faster. The butt of the pistol smashed into the bridge of Walsaw’s nose, sending vivid pink fireworks cartwheeling across his field of vision and drops of blood spattering on the Englishman’s glasses like red rain.

Sight misty and head spinning, the old cop tried to even the score, throwing his weight forward with head lowered, aiming for Carlyle’s midriff, but his ankle ran into a solid barrier, something that pulled back and out, robbing him of all remaining balance while a single searing pain ran up his calf. The floor came rushing up, interrupted by a steady zoom-in on Carlyle’s knee. It filled his vision momentarily, bringing a third explosion of pain and peaceful darkness in its wake.

That didn’t stop Carlyle finishing up with a kick to the crotch that sent Chris’ limp body tumbling over to lie bleeding on the stripped pine floor.

Breathing hard, pulse pounding more with rage than with exertion, he wiped the blood from his glasses and watched as Dolly bent to retrieve her shoe from the body, pulling the spiked heel out of the hole in the man’s calf, then rested two fingers on the old man’s jugular, lips silently counting, before lifting his eyelids and peering into the sightless orbs beneath. She nodded. “He’s alive, but he’s out cold.” She hesitated a moment, shivering. “Do we have to run again now?”

Setting his sunglasses down on the mantle, Ian rubbed gently at his wife’s shoulders for a moment before enfolding her in a long, tight hug. “Maybe. Maybe not, though. Enforcers aren’t exactly popular here in merry old Blighty, and he’s sure as hell out of his jurisdiction. I doubt anyone legit knows he’s here… not wearing that.” He nodded down at the hollow threat of the explosive vest. “Might be a way out of this yet. And I still need to talk to him about what happened in London.”

He looked down into her wide, hopeful eyes and wiped a speck of blood from her cheek with a tender sweep of his thumb as she quivered in his arms. “You alright?”

She nodded, then ducked her head, blushing, and flicked a glance back up him that sparked and smoldered like a catching blaze. He had to catch himself from laughing. “Really? Here? Now?”

She swallowed and nodded, eyes gleaming guiltily as her lips tugged into a smile and she pressed closer, hips pushing against his groin, breasts brushing upwards against his chest as she stood on tiptoes to kiss him, lips hungry, eyes hungrier. He could feel her nipples through his shirt; diamond-hard little nubs straining at her clothes as if begging to be let out.

It was getting hard to breathe for some reason, but he tried to play it casual. “Oh, I dunno.” He arched a mischievous eyebrow at her. “I’m pretty tired from all the fighting, you know…”

Suddenly, she slipped out of his arms, a blur of movement and flowing gold hair that he couldn’t quite follow with all the blood at the wrong end of his body. Then she was back again, face alight with silent laughter, holding up Walsaw’s little bubble pack of pills. Ian burst into hearty belts of laughter, grabbing his wife and pulling her in against him.

“Silly girl. Don’t need those; I’ve got you.” He ran his fingers through the sweep of her hair, looking down at her face as though capturing her look forever in his memory.

“Now get on your knees.”


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.

%d bloggers like this: