Trigger Warning: Strong profanity throughout.
The evening began to stretch over the thin line of visible sky guiding them down the narrow forestry road. The car lurched occasionally as it fell into a puddle on the badly maintained tarmac. A wide space opened up to the left and Taz pulled in between two other parked cars and a dirty white Ford Transit where three men were standing in a huddle. In the headlights, the men’s faces shone spectral, contrasting with their dark clothes. Taz turned off the engine and the ghostly apparitions vanished, replaced by ominous shadows.
“Let me do the talking, OK?” said Taz. The tall thin boy in the passenger seat held up a hand and nodded slightly to say “don’t worry,” but he sat crouched in the seat seeming unfamiliar with the ambit of his limbs arranged awkwardly in the allocated space. As Taz and the boy ambled up, the three men aligned themselves so that they were facing the new arrivals.
“All right lads? Fucking cold enough for yous it?” said Taz.
“Who the fuck is the darkie?” said Singe, the smallest of the three.
“Come on,” said Taz with disgust on his face. “This is Melissa’s brother. Jason.”
“I’m Jagged, hombres. Call me Jagged.”
Mac scoffed. “Jagged,” he repeated.
“You brought your bike’s little brother? What the fuck?” said Singe.
“OK. Hang on, hang on,” said Jacko. “Listen, eh, Jagged, could you wait in the car til we have a quick word with Terence here.”
For a moment nobody moved, Taz was staring down Singe until he twisted to look at Jason and then jerked his head back to the car before facing once again into Singe’s glare. The four men remained in silence until they heard the passenger door close.
“Is this fucking Ride Along boys or wha?” said Singe. “Bring your kid to work day is it?”
Mac scoffed. “Ride along.”
“Come on. He’s a good guy. He just got caught robbing houses.”
“What? You mean there’s fucking law on ta him?” said Singe pointing with his fingers gun-like in the direction of the car.
“No,” said Taz. “He just got away with a beating from the owner. With a cricket bat. But, em, well, Mellisa wants me to take him under my wing. So to speak.”
“It’s Taz, the mother hen, lads,” said Singe. “You bring him here? To a job?”
Mac scoffed. “Mother hen.”
“Listen,” said Taz. "What I’m thinking is, he comes along. Things happen. He pisses himself and suddenly gets a calling to be an accountant or a teacher and Melissa will stop annoying me about the little bastard and I can go back to fucking her in peace.”
Mac glanced at Jacko who was looking at the ground and shaking his head.
“Lads, you’ve got to help me out here,” said Taz. “I love fucking Melissa.”
“What’s that got to do with it, man,” said Singe. “Fuck: you love her.”
“No, I love fucking her. Fucking her is sooo sweet. She’ll let me do anything. Ass, tie her up, another girl. An-y-thing. But lately it's been yap yap yap while balls deep about the little fucker.”
Taz looked around and the three men were listening, he was getting through. “On and on she goes. About how he needs a strong influence in his life. Fucking little shit is all she can think about and it puts me off.”
“That’s psychological warfare, that is. You need to dump that bitch,” said Mac.
“And normally, any bike starts asking me to do things, it means she’s getting notions that it’s more than just fun we’re having. But I just love fucking this girl, lads.”
Singe is laughing. “You’re some fucking tool. She must be a deadly bike.”
“You can’t just turn up with some unknown to a job, Taz. It’s not on,” said Jacko.
“I know, I know but if I asked ya, you wouldn’t let him. So I am asking for forgiveness not permission.”
“I don’t forgive easy,” said Jacko.
Taz nodded — I know, I know. “Look, he’s just a kid. He’ll puke his guts up before he gets inside the house. We’ll do the job and be out before he’s recovered.”
“And what happens, say, if Jagged there is caught robbing some house again by the pigs and he decides to tell them about the activities of his uncle Terrance and friends.”
“Not going to happen. No way.”
The gloom seems to deepen as seconds tick away. Taz became restless in the silence.
“Look, any trouble with the lad and I’ll bury him myself. All right?”
“Any trouble with the lad and you’ll be buried with him. All right?” said Jacko. “Right, let's get him over here and talk to him.”
Taz turned around and waved to the car, but when there was no reaction he whistled. The boy got out and slid back up to the men.
“Listen to me, yeah,” said Jacko. “Taz explained the situation to you, right?” The boy nodded vigorously. “Good. I don’t do internships normally, so this is a one-time situation. But don’t get me wrong, you're working tonight.”
“Sure hombre, you don’t got to worry about me.”
Jacko gave Taz a look, who shows him his palms — don’t worry.
“You stick with Taz and don’t open your mouth. OK?” The boy nodded. “OK, let's go.”
All five of them got into the van, with Mac driving and Jacko in the passenger seat. Taz closed the sliding door and he and Singe and the boy sat on the floor in the back of the empty cargo bay and tried to get comfortable. Mac started the engine and reversed with speed and all three in the back fell over.
“Mac, ya bollox, take it fucking easy,” said Singe getting himself upright. Mac laughed.
“Hold on boys, it could get bumpy.”
The van was shaking and shuddering down a side road, Mac was driving but joining in with Taz and Singe in singing The Auld Triangle. Jacko was in the passenger seat with the cabin light on, examining handfuls of used notes he took from a large reusable shopping bag. Taz, even though he was singing with the others, was keeping a close eye on Jacko.
“What’s the count boss?” he shouted through the singing.
“Hard to tell, it is all loose. I’d say 50 easy, but could be 70.”
A cheer rose up from the three other men. Taz looked over at Jason who was sitting at the back of the van looking at his feet. He stood up and staggered his way to the boy and sat down beside him. Taz nodded vaguely to the front of the vehicle.
“Good night wha?”
The boy moved his head slightly in a half-shake.
“You doing all right? Feeling a bit sick?”
Jason didn’t take his eyes from his feet but gave a more definite shake of his head. The man nodded with a grim smile.
“Yeah?” he said. “Well, you know, this life isn’t for everyone, son. You don’t want to get mixed up with us.”
“Yeah, Jagged,” said Singe with a laugh. “We’re real villains. You don’t want to grow up like us.”
“You should get a job in a pub,” said Jacko. “Even The Boatman has a few darkies working there now.”
A ripple of laughter shook all the men and even Taz looked at them and smiled.
“I don’t want to run with you guys. Yous are a bunch of savages.”
The laughter abruptly ended. Jason shuffled his feet along the floor of the van to sit up better.
“Wha?” asked Taz.
The boy looked like he was holding something painful inside. He pursed his lips and looked at Taz.
“Those poor bastards were old. You left them tied up.”
“So what? They’d have called the law. What the fuck. Like I say, this isn’t for you and you should stay out of it.”
“I was robbing rich folks in big houses. Yous are stealing from fucking grannies.”
Jacko started a slow clap and everyone turned to look in his direction.
"Fucking gentleman burglar here,” he said. He fanned a handful of cash out and waved it. “I’ve got 50 Gs son, what the fuck did you get? A beating. Taz shut him the fuck up he’s annoying me.”
“I still have my self-respect. Yous are just sleazy thugs.”
Taz slapped him across the face, the force jerking his head. It shocked Jason and he gasped but slowly turned back to face Taz again.
“Mind your manners or you’ll be walking home.”
“Fuck it. I’ll walk,” said Jason standing up shakily as the van rocked down the bumpy road. “Let me out,” he shouted.
“Jason, sit down,” said Taz with a hand up to try to stop him. Jason roughly pushed it away and wobbled up the van. Balancing himself, he moved to the sliding door and opened it causing a cold gust of wind to sweep into the van and lift anything light and suck it out including used bank notes.
“Stop,” shouted Jacko when he realised what was happening, grasping for the money in the air. Mac slammed on the brakes causing everyone to jerk forward. The boy lurched into the back of the passenger seat, grabbing it to steady himself. The side door of the van slammed closed.
A large portion of the money and any bits of rubbish that were in the van were now strewn along the road for about 20 metres. Jacko jumped out in a rage and ripped open the sliding door and pulled Jason out onto the road and punched him in the face, felling him to the ground. He leapt on to the boy and started pummelling him. Punch after punch, broke and bloodied the boy’s face and the other men got out to watch. Taz put a hand on Jacko’s shoulder.
“Boss,” he said.
The unrelenting fists crashed into the pulped nose, the mashed mouth.
“Boss,” said Taz louder.
Jacko got off the boy and raised the heel of his boot to bring it down on the boy's head. Taz pulled him back away from the prone body.
“Come on, boss. You’ll kill him. Boss.”
“And you ya fucker. Why the fuck did you bring him,” frothed Jacko, pushing Taz away.
“Easy, easy. Sorry boss, sorry. Ya know. I thought he’d be cool.”
Jacko was breathing heavily and wobbled slightly leaning against the van to straighten himself. The others gathered round to look down at the bloody tatters of Jason’s face.
“Is he alive?” asked Singe.
Taz tutted and knelt beside the boy and felt the side of his neck for a pulse and Jason’s head fell away at an unnatural angle. Taz took his hand quickly away and shook his head.
“You know what this means?” goaded Singe. Taz raised himself to his feet, shaping up in front of the other man.
“Fuck you,” said Taz. “I’ll take care of it.”
Jacko hocked a gob of spit and expelled it loudly. “Did you bring a shovel?” he asked.
“Course,” said Singe face to face with Taz. “Back in the car.”
“And you’re burying him?” asked Jacko.
“Yeah,” said Taz.
“Right, let’s rescue this disaster. Come on pick up the money and let’s get this fucker in the ground so we can get home.”
“Be the only hole you’ll be getting for a while,” smirked Singe. There was a second of silence before Mac started to laugh and Jacko joined him. Singe’s face shone with glee as Taz stared at him.
“Shut up you,” said Taz finally and pushed past him and started to pick up the notes on the ground.
Anthony O’Donovan is a new writer living and working in Dublin. His work has appeared in Honest Ulsterman, An Áitiúil and Aôthen Magazine. He has recently completed a Masters in Creative Writing and is working on a collection of short stories.