BODYSWITCH

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Chapter 6

Bill Sherman poured himself a stiff scotch. He refilled Zoe’s glass and Mike Liebovitz’s. They were in Mike’s dressing room at the Running Man. Bill and Zoe had waited until the first night performance had ended before telling him. The shock was still sinking in. Mike sat with his head in his hands, numb, saying nothing. He took the scotch from Bill and sank it in one.

“I just can’t believe it,” Zoe was saying, “Kerry dead.”

Bill contained his shock and anger. “Where the hell’s Jack? Jesus, can you imagine how he must be feeling? I’m worried about him. We’ve got to find him. We’re his closest friends. We’ve got to do something.”

“The police are looking for him. Do you think he might? do you think he could?” Zoe tailed off.

“Suicide?” mumbled Mike. “No, not Jack. Christ I saw him today. Must have been a couple of hours before it happened. He’d just come from the insurance company. He was fired up. He’d just sealed this insurance deal. What about the baby?”

“They saved the baby. It’s a little girl. They said she’s holding on.”

“I want to see the baby,” moaned Zoe. ” I want to see Kerry’s child.”

“They’re informing Kerry’s parents. They’ll be devastated.”

Bill poured another scotch.

“We can’t just sit here,” Mike stood up with sudden decisiveness, “we’ve got to find Jack.”

“He ran from the hospital. He doesn’t know about the baby. He probably thinks they’re both dead,” said Bill.

“Jack lived for Kerry, and the baby.” It was too much for Zoe. She broke down, sobbing wildly. Bill put his arms around her.

“Look, I’m going to take you home then Mike and I will try to find him.”

“They’ve tried the apartment?” asked Mike.

“First place they looked,” said Bill. “Someone’s got to be with Kerry’s mom and dad.”

“I’ll do that,” Zoe pulled herself together. “I can’t just sit at home. I’ve got to do something.”

“Okay,” Bill stood up, swaying slightly, “let’s get over to the hospital. They’ll probably be there by now. Then we’ll have to think where Jack could have run to.”

“Maybe he’s at the Refuge?” suggested Mike, pleased to be doing something. He washed his make up off and changed quickly, stripping naked without any concern for the others. Despite the gravity of the situation, Zoe felt of tremor of excitement. She was appalled at herself but she could not take her eyes off Mike’s body. He dressed quickly in sweatshirt and jeans, pulled on a pair of sneakers and ran his fingers through his hair.

“Christ,” he said suddenly, “I’ve just remembered. Lorraine will be here any minute. She’s having a drink with a couple of girlfriends in the bar. I’m supposed to pick her up.”

On cue, there was a knock at the door and Lorraine put her head round.

“So this is where you’ve been hiding yourself. I’ve been kicking my heels for twenty minutes. Hi, Bill, Hi, Zoe, we’re supposed to be eating Taiwanese tonight. I...”

Lorraine picked up the atmosphere. “What?” she asked quietly. “What’s up?”

Mike went to her and put his arms around her.

“It’s Kerry. She’s dead. A hit and run.”

“Oh my God!” wailed Lorraine stiffening then collapsing in Mike’s arms. She tried to speak but nothing came.

“Come on,” said Bill, “we’re wasting time. We’ve got to find Jack before he does something stupid.”

It was just before the evening rush at the Refuge. Marcel was checking out the beds, Clyde was finishing up some paperwork.

A Chinese cook, Lee Kwo was busy in the kitchen, chanting a Cantonese love song in a tortured falsetto amid the steam of bubbling broth. There were a few new volunteers in tonight. Father MacReady was on the phone.

“No answer,” he said to no one in particular. “Strange, it’s not like Jack to be late. He had a meeting with the insurance boys today. Let’s hope the good Lord brought him good fortune.”

“He’ll be here, you can bet on it,” smiled Clyde. “This place is his pride and joy. Well, this ain’t gonna get things done.”

Clyde took a look out of the window and raised his eyebrows. “Seems like some kinda commotion down the street,” he remarked. “Looks like a truck jack-knifed or something.”

There was a heavy knock on the door and someone rattled it from the outside. Marcel shouted out. “You’re too early. Suppers not for another hour, boy.”

The knock sounded again. This time Marcel heard the distinct click of a rifle hammer. He looked around, his face troubled. “Clyde, fetch the axe.”

“What, what d’you want the axe for?”

“Just fetch it, godammit. Father, stand back. Everybody, move away from the door.”

Clyde brought a massive axe for Marcel and had picked up a heavy club.

“What’s going on?” whispered the priest.

“I dunno, but I’m sure gonna find out.”

A voice shouted outside.

“Hey, open up, man. It’s never too early for conversation.”

Marcel unbolted the door and opened it slowly. Ram John Holmes stood resplendently framed in the doorway, his opulent clothes incongruously at odds with his surroundings. He smiled broadly and indicated his three companions. They were unshaven and mean. One had a hunting rifle held tight to his leg. He was chewing furiously, eyes flicking this way and that.

“May I come in?” Ram John exuded sleek charm with an edge of danger. Marcel moved back a pace and the four walked in slowly.

“What brings you round here, Ram John. There’s nothin’ for the likes of you here,” Clyde growled.

“Hey, come on people. I think you folks do a great job. Don’t get me wrong. We’re just lookin’ for someone that’s all. We’d like to get in touch with someone who could’ve passed through your hands over Christmas. Name of Mason, Ernie Mason. Now he’s a mean bastard hey, sorry Father, I didn’t see you there in the shadows. You might not know this, folks, but I’m one of your greatest benefactors. Yeah! It’s true. I’m what is known as a guardian angel. I can see you’re surprised. I keep the peace around here. I support what you do. I make sure no one steps out of line.”

One of the heavies moved in, looking around. He walked into Marcel. For a second there was the crackle of tension. The heavy looked Marcel over. He checked out the size of the shoulders and the massive barrel chest. He took a step back.

“We don’t ask anyone’s name here, you should know that Holmes,” said Marcel shortly. “Everyone’s welcome at the Refuge.”

“We appreciate your support, Ram John,” said Clyde, “and of course we’re always prepared to take support in any form. But cash is always welcome.”

Clyde held out a plate. For a moment Ram John’s smile froze on his lips. Lee Kwo was still burbling in the kitchen. Then Ram John laughed. His companions caught the mood and laughed hoarsely. Ram John slipped a heavily ringed hand into the inside pocket of his dark blue, English tailored tweed overcoat and pulled out his wallet. Chuckling again, he pulled out a couple of hundred dollar bills and let them flutter from his fingers onto Clyde’s plate.

“I bear you no ill will, especially at this time of year. Now, it would be a great service to me, if you come across Ernie Mason to tell him his old friend Ram John Holmes has something to discuss with him. Ernie and me go way back. I just wanna talk to him about old times, old faces, old friends. Now, I expect co-operation from you folks. We all live on the street together. I have a principle. It’s a simple principle. One day I could be begging for a bowl of soup at your door. I’d like to feel you’d take me in. In return for my goodwill, I expect you to help and understand my needs. Mason is a brother, ’bout six-two, six-three, two hundred pounds with a mean streak. He’s not like me.” Ram John paused, adjusted his shoulders and signaled to the three heavies. “He don’t smile much.” Ram John’s smile faded.

He looked around one more time then turned on his heel. Marcel closed the door with a hiss of pent up a breath.

“That man makes my skin creep,” breathed Father MacReady with relief. The atmosphere relaxed again, Marcel looked at his watch.

Clyde went to the door. “I’m gonna take a look outside. There’s somethin’ goin’ on down the street.”

Clyde opened the door again, took a look around. Ram John and the boys were gone. Although he had diffused the situation with some humor, Clyde did not underestimate Ram John Holmes. He’d known him since they were kids. He knew that a lot of what he’d said was true. If Ram John didn’t want the Refuge around he could make a lot of trouble.

It was a clear night, but with that after Christmas feel. Some of the Refuge’s regular customers were gathering in doorways or huddled on street corners sharing a cigarette, waiting for the doors to open. Clyde looked off down the street. He saw the lights of the ambulance; saw the giant truck skewed across the road. He saw a small crowd of desultory watchers hanging around. He could make out the tall figure of Abraham standing on the sidewalk. The paramedics were opening the rear door of the ambulance. A shape was lying on the damp street. Somebody wearing a pale suit. You didn’t see too many suits around here, Clyde mused idly. Jack was wearing a pale suit when he stopped in this morning on his way to the meeting. Clyde sucked in his breath. He shouted hoarsely back inside he building.

“Hey. I think it’s Jack. There’s been an accident.”

Within seconds Marcel, Clyde and Father MacReady were running down the street, the priest’s old-fashioned cassock flapping in the breeze. Abraham watched them approach. They arrived panting just as the ambulance crew was taking a stretcher out of the back. The driver of the truck was explaining to anyone who would listen.

“I dunno what happened,” he wailed. “I was just drivin’, okay? This guy was just standing on the sidewalk talking to the hobo. They were having some kind of argument. Suddenly he just fell backwards. He’s a lucky bastard. He missed the front of the truck by inches. I called the ambulance and the police.”

“It’s Jack,” cried Father MacReady.

“Jesus,” shouted Marcel, “is he gonna be all right?”

“How bad is he?” Clyde asked one of the paramedics.

“Looks like concussion. We need to run some checks. Anyone know if he carries insurance?”

“I’ll vouch for Jack Madigan,” retorted Father MacReady angrily, “just get him to the hospital.”

“Okay, Father, keep your dress on,” muttered the paramedic under his breath.

“We’d better tell his wife, huh?” suggested Marcel looking around.

Father MacReady knelt down by the crumpled body as the stretcher was placed in readiness on the ground. Jack was spark out. There was a trickle of blood from the back of his head. His best suit was ripped and stained. The paramedics checked Jack over and decided he could be moved. Carefully they slid the support straps under his shoulders and thighs then in a smooth practiced movement barely moved him at all but there he was on the stretcher.

“I’d better ring Kerry. Then we’ll have to open up for business as usual,” said the priest.

The small group watched as Jack Madigan was carried into the ambulance. Few other people had stopped to watch. It was too cold to hang around. A squad car pulled up and the truck driver went over to it.

“Where are you taking him, which hospital?” asked Marcel.

“St Patrick’s. Okay, let’s go. I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a busy night.” The paramedic waved to one of the cops.

“St Patrick’s,” he shouted to him. The cop nodded.

All this time Abraham had stood silently in the background unnoticed by anybody. He watched as Jack Madigan was trundled into the ambulance. He was wondering about the consequences of his actions. He had responded to such grief and such love that it had touched his heart. But what would the results be? If he was wrong it could mean another millennia in this world. He sighed deeply as Clyde turned to him.

“What happened, Abe, you were with him?”

“Jack has had a terrible shock,” said Abe.

“I must go and phone Kerry,” said Father MacReady.

“No, you can’t do that,” stated Abraham. “Kerry is dead. Jack’s wife was killed less than three hours ago.”

They all trudged back to the Refuge gripped by a cold wintry hand. Marcel and Clyde were grim faced talking in low voices. Abraham was sitting in his usual chair while Father MacReady, now in charge of the Refuge, paced up and down in an agony of indecision. Supper was ready for the night influx. The volunteers were standing by. Some were weeping. Father MacReady was repeating over and over.

“I just can’t believe it. I cannot believe it.” Finally he stopped pacing and came to a decision.

“We’ve got to open up as normal. Jack would have wanted it that way. I’ll have to go over to St Patrick’s. Clyde, Marcel, can you handle things here?”

“Sure we can,” said Clyde, “don’t you worry about nothing.’”

“If we need help, we can call on Rosalie and the girls,” said Marcel.

The phone rang and a volunteer went to answer it. He looked up at Father MacReady. “It’s a friend of Jack’s. He’s calling from the hospital. Wants to know if Jack’s here.”

Father MacReady was at the phone in three strides. He listened, then spoke for a minute. “I see. Yes we’ve just heard. Jack’s been involved in an accident. Ironic isn’t the word for it. Thank God, he appears to be all right. Concussion they believe. He’s been taken to St Patrick’s. Poor Jack. He was obviously devastated by the news and ran to the only place he could think of for sanctuary. Yes, I’ll be over. They saved the baby! That’s fantastic. All right, I’ll see you there, Mr. Sherman.”

MacReady turned to face the others. They were all watching him expectantly.

“They’ve saved the baby. It’s a girl. She’s at St Patrick’s, too. Jack’s a father. I’d better go. I’ll come back as soon as I can and lend a hand. You’ll be wanting to go over I’m sure.”

“You’re damn right, Father,” said Marcel. “Go on now, don’t worry about nothing here. They’ll be knocking the door down any minute.”

The priest seemed momentarily confused. His big kind red face was taught with emotion. In all the years he had given comfort and solace to the broken hearted, suicidal and homicidal, he had never been touched so personally as he was now. He found himself wondering about his vocation. Maybe he was on the wrong side of the confessional. He sighed deeply, and buttoned up his topcoat. With a grunt of goodbye, he was gone.

Over at St Patrick’s it was a busy night. Casualty was bursting at the seams. Bill and Zoe clung to each other. Now they were here there was nothing much they could do. They had been interviewed by the police as had Mike and Lorraine but as they hadn’t been involved and were just close friends, there was nothing much they could tell the police.

Bill had called the Refuge and told the others the news about Jack. That about finished them off. Now they were waiting for Kerry’s mother and father to arrive. They felt empty and useless.

“Do you think we should stay here,” asked Lorraine. “I mean, it’s just all so awful. I don’t know what we can do. I don’t know if I want to be here.”

“We should stay for Jack’s sake,” said Bill. “Kerry’s parents may need some support.”

“I think we’re all falling apart,” said Zoe gazing around at the shifting mass of half-dead, wounded, crying, screaming victims. Mike was silent, lost in his own thoughts. Zoe found herself glancing at him, remembering.

A couple of paramedics burst through the casualty door, pushing a gurney.

“Jack!” Zoe stood up. The group of friends fell into line with the paramedics.

“It’s okay, we’re friends of his. We’ve been waiting for him,” explained Bill quickly.

“We’re just dropping him off. He should be OK. Severe concussion. You’ll need to speak to a doctor. Really folks there’s nothing much you can do for him.”

“He looks awful,” muttered Mike.

“We’re here for you, Jack,” cried Zoe.

They followed the paramedics to admittance and were told politely but firmly to call back when Jack had been examined.

Turning back, they saw an old couple standing bewildered in the center of a group of puking punks. They even look like each other, thought Bill.

Jaroslav and Greta Petrovich stood in the middle of the hospital reception area, confused and bereft. Their only daughter was dead. They knew that. The news had numbed them. Greta had wept, Jari had held back in order to comfort her.

How could she be dead? She was so alive. And the baby? Where was Jack? What happened? They stumbled forward, arm in arm, two remnants from another time. They approached the desk and spoke to an efficient looking nurse in a starched white coat.

“Can I help you?” smiled the nurse. She could tell at once why they were there.

“We’ve come about our daughter, Karina.” mumbled the old man.

“Kerry,” corrected his wife. “Kerry Madigan.”

“Oh yes,” said the nurse kindly. “I’ll call Doctor Wilbrahim. Meanwhile, I’ll get someone to take you to a quiet place and give you both a nice cup of coffee.”

The old couple said nothing. Nice people, thought the nurse. Why does all the shit fall on nice people, she mused glancing at the painted faces lying in various shades of puke nearby?

An orderly arrived and took Mr. and Mrs. Petrovich off down a corridor. Bill signaled to the others to follow.

“I don’t what good we’ll be but we should talk to them.”

“Why can’t we see the baby?” moaned Lorraine. She was looking at Mike and saying, I can’t take much more of this, with her eyes.

They made an odd bunch. The orderly let the others in with Kerry’s mom and dad. It got very formal. No one knew what to say. Jari and Greta sat stiffly in their chairs holding cups of coffee. They were lost within themselves. They listened to Bill make introductions. He told them about the baby. Greta perked up at this. “The baby is alive, oh thank God, thank God.”

“And Jack is here too, he was in the accident also?” queried Jari.

“No,” said Zoe. “Jack was in another accident. It’s a bit confusing. Jack’s going to need all the help he can get when he comes round.”

“Maybe he doesn’t want to come round,” said Mike half to himself.

“Maybe they will let us see the baby,” smiled Greta.

“Oh, I do hope so,” sighed Lorraine.

The door opened and Doctor Wilbrahim entered. He had his bereavement expression firmly fixed. When he saw the crowd he was slightly taken aback.

“Are you all related?” he asked.

“No,” said Mike, “we’re friends of Jack and Kerry. This is Mr. and Mrs. Petrovich, Kerry’s parents.”

“I think I need to speak to Mr. and Mrs. Petrovich alone, if that’s all right.”

“They can stay,” said Jari, quietly but firmly. “They are friends. That means a lot to us. Jack will need all the friends he has got now.”

Wilbrahim looked slightly uncomfortable. These sessions were never easy.

“Our daughter is dead, doctor,” said Greta, “did she suffer?”

“No,” replied Wilbrahim. “No, she didn’t suffer. She was unconscious the second she was struck by the vehicle. She died of internal haemorrhaging. We fought to save her, Mr. and Mrs. Petrovich. I would like to assure you of that. There was nothing we could do. I really am most terribly sorry.”

Zoe had burst into silent tears and had buried her face in Bill’s chest. Lorraine could not take much more. Mike slipped his arm around her.

“Look,” he said to Jari and Greta, “I’m going to take Lorraine home. I’ll see you all later.”

The old couple smiled at Mike and nodded. He made a gesture of farewell then took Lorraine away.

“We saved the baby,” the doctor continued. “We weren’t, unfortunately, able to tell your daughter’s husband. He had disappeared by the time we had finished the operation.”

“He’s here, doctor,” said Bill. “He was involved in a minor road accident himself. He must have been out of his mind. They brought him here. He’s still unconscious.”

Wilbrahim seemed surprised for a second.

“Well, that simplifies things in a way. I’ll keep an eye on Mr. Madigan,” he made a note then smiled at Jari and Greta, “and you have a beautiful baby granddaughter. She’s premature obviously and we’re going to keep her in intensive care in our paediatric ward for quite some time. But I’m happy to report she’s strong and fighting. We have high hopes she will develop normally. Mr. Madigan is going to have quite a surprise when he comes round.”

“May we see the baby,” pleaded Greta.

“Of course,” said the doctor. “I see no reason why you can’t all see her.” He stood up. “But first I’m afraid I have a painful task to perform.”

“You want us to identify Karina,” said Lari simply.

“Yes,” he said, “it’s the worst part.”

They all stood up.

“We want to see her,” said Greta. “She was our only child.” Tears sprang to Greta’s eyes. Lari put his arm around her and gave her a handkerchief. She dabbed her eyes.

“I’ll be all right, I’ll be all right,” she repeated.

It was much later. Greta had to lie down for a while before she was strong enough to see the baby. In the meantime, Bill and Zoe had been allowed to see Jack. He was in a room by himself. He looked far away, lying there in the starched white sheets. A drip led from his arm. His other arm and shoulder were bandaged heavily. He looked younger somehow. Bill held Zoe while they stood at the side of the bed.

“How long have we known them, I mean, him now?”

“I knew Kerry before she got married. It was me introduced her to you, that’s how you came to hire her for Insight.”

“Yeah, I remember,” said Bill.

“I can’t imagine him without her. How would you feel if I died?”

“What kind of dumb question is that?” Bill said with astonishment. “I’d be going through what Jack’s going through and will continue going through. Maybe time will heal the pain but your memories will still be there. I’d feel like part of me had been cut off, amputated. How do you think I’d feel for Chrissake?”

“Sorry, I just...”

The door opened and Father MacReady came in. He seemed startled to see Bill and Zoe. Bill had seen him before, knew him vaguely. The priest got the introductions over with.

“Father John MacReady. I’m Jack’s other half at the Refuge you might say. This is a terrible business. I’ve been with Kerry’s parents giving them whatever comfort I can. Jack’s mentioned you often. It’s wonderful that his friends are being so supportive. I’m dreading the moment he comes round although I shouldn’t say it.”

“We know what you mean,” said Zoe. “It’s almost as though he’s better off where he is.”

Father MacReady gazed down at Jack for a long moment then took a deep sigh. He shook his head. “I suppose everything is coming to an end and a new phase is beginning.”

“What do you mean?” asked Bill.

“Jack won’t want to carry on at the Refuge with Kerry gone. He won’t have the heart for it. And he’ll have his work cut out looking after the baby on a day-to-day basis. He’ll want a regular job with regular hours. He was heading in that direction anyway to tell you the truth.”

“We don’t know that,” said Zoe. “He might become totally dedicated to the work. We don’t know, we just don’t know.”

A nurse was leading the disparate group along winding corridors towards the paediatric unit. They were shuffling quietly. Each of them looked tired. It was now well past midnight. Their shadows flickered like an old movie on the heavy-duty parquet flooring, caught by the moon shining through rows of windows set along the length of the corridor. They passed one of the children’s wards and heard the snuffling sounds of sleep coupled with the disturbed sounds of nightmare.

Not far away was the entrance to the intensive care section of the unit. Quietly, the nurse took them inside, Mr. and Mrs. Petrovich first, followed by Father MacReady then Bill and Zoe.

They were in a large area illuminated by low-level lighting. A soft hum emanated from rows of equipment. There were about fifteen incubators in all, little Plexiglass wombs plugged into high technology monitoring equipment. Inside each incubator a tiny bundle of life was being nurtured. A couple of night shift nurses padded softly around checking equipment, looking like ghosts in their white uniforms. It was warm. The nurse took the party along a row of incubators. As they passed they couldn’t help but smile at the babies. Eventually they came to one at the end. Inside lay Verity Madigan, four and a half pounds and a sheen of dark hair.

“She looks just like Kerry,” mumbled Zoe, biting her lip.

“She is beautiful,” breathed Greta. “She is so beautiful.”

The two men gazed at the baby in wonder. She was tiny and she was curled up under her thin gown.

“How is she?” asked Lari.

“We think she’s going to be fine,” said the nurse reverentially. “Her vital signs are strong. She has a strong heart. It’s just a matter of time, plenty of care and a controlled increase in body weight.”

“Wait till Jack sees her,” breathed Zoe, “he’s going to be

just completely zapped.”

“Maybe it’ll help ease the pain,” remarked Bill.

“God bless her,” said Father MacReady. ” God bless her.”

Lari put his arms around Greta. “When we went to see Kerry it was the worst moment of our lives. She looked so peaceful. She was taken from us before her time. But seeing this, seeing her legacy to the world, maybe, maybe God knows what he is doing, I don’t know?”

“We must trust in him,” said Greta softly then she looked up at her husband. “I’m tired, Lari.”

“Yes my dear, we will go now.”

Slowly the party of mourners and friends weaved their way sadly back to the main hospital building. They dropped in one more time to see Jack but there was no change. Greta held his lifeless hand tightly and sighed deeply. “You poor man, you poor, poor man.”

“Where are you staying Lari, you’re welcome to come with us,” said Bill when they were back outside in the early morning chill.

“That’s very kind, Bill. We have booked into a hotel. We will call a taxi.”

“I suppose there’s the funeral to organize,” said Zoe. “If you need any help, any help at all.”

“Yeah, and don’t worry about a cab, my car’s here, I’ll drop you off. What about you, Father?”

“Don’t worry about me. My car’s here too. I’d better look in at the Refuge. They’ll all be anxious for news. Mr. and Mrs. Petrovich, I would like to handle the funeral arrangements personally. As you know I’m involved with Jack at the Refuge. I’ve known Kerry ever since they got married. I would very much like to conduct the funeral service. Come and see me at the church sometime tomorrow. We can talk then. It’s St. Peter’s, down by the East River. Make sure you get a cab straight to the door. Here, I’ll give you my number. Ring me before you come. If you have any problems, I’ll come to you.”

He pulled a notebook from inside his coat and scribbled down the number, then handed it to Lari.

“Greta and I are more grateful than we can say,” he said. “Kerry and Jack had so many friends.” He glanced back at the hospital. “You know, I never thought he was right for Karina. I always thought she’d marry a doctor or an accountant but I must say, when I see what that young man has done with his life it makes me feel proud.”

“He loved Kerry,” smiled Zoe. “They were a perfect couple.” At the thought, she began to sob quietly again.

“Come on,” said Bill, “we’re all tired and emotional. We all need a good nights sleep.”

Father John MacReady drove slowly across town, heading for the river. The decadence of the place suddenly came into focus. Maybe it was exhaustion that brought the street world around him into sharp relief. He felt suddenly old and useless, incapable of changing or affecting anything. It was at moments like these that he questioned his vocation. Maybe it was time to hang up the rosary and look for a nice quiet diocese where nothing ever happened, or maybe quit the church altogether and spend his fishing and playing golf. What’s the difference, he thought to himself, what’s the difference where you are? If you can’t affect anything here you won’t affect anything there.

He turned into the street. At first things seemed quiet. He was grateful for that. He drove up towards the Refuge. It was about two in the morning. He saw Marcel in the street with a group of guys. Suddenly there was a flurry of movement. Marcel hit two of the guys in quick succession. When they hit the sidewalk they stayed put. There were three more, trying to get in. He recognized a couple of Ram John’s heavies. This didn’t make sense. Ram John had a strange kind of street morality. He accelerated and screamed to a halt near the fracas. Piling out he remembered the fights he’d had in the streets of Dublin as a boy. He remembered winning the Irish ABA lightweight title. He was still useful as long as there were no guns. The trick was to get in fast.

He dived from the car as three of them were pounding Marcel. The fight was brutal and silent. MacReady saw Clyde lying stunned inside the door. The priest took the first one with a double fisted blow to the lower spine. As he turned, screaming, the priest hit him with a clean uppercut that sent him spinning into oblivion. Marcel heaved his huge shoulders and the remaining two attackers staggered back.

One saw MacReady and hesitated. The priest noticed the bulge inside the jacket and the blade on the hip. He didn’t wait to say a prayer. He feinted with a left and crossed with a right to the chin. An old trick but it still worked. This guy was tough. MacReady thought he’d broken his knuckles. He saw his opponent moving his hand to his jacket. He looked up. The other guy followed his gaze but missed the priest’s highly polished metal toecap kicking for his groin. With a sound like eggs cracking the guy screamed in agony. As he hit the ground, MacReady kicked again, behind the ear.

Marcel was holding the other one up with one hand, drawing back a massive black fist. When it connected, the guy’s jaw snapped in three places. Marcel looked at John MacReady with new respect.

“I never knew you had it in you, Father,” he grinned.

“I enjoy a bit of a scrap, always have. How’s Clyde? What happened here for God’s sake?”

“Just a little bit of freelancing.”

“Aren’t these Ram John’s band of merry men?”

“Round here you gotta get yourself a reputation before you can get yourself elected. Ram John’ll use these assholes for his shit work but they’ll have to do something special to join the mean machine. They were just trying to prove somethin’. This is nothin’ to what Ram John’ll do to ’em when he finds out.”

Clyde stumbled out, rubbing the back of his head.

“Caught me by surprise, sorry Marcel.”

“You’re gettin’ old, Clyde. You can’t make the moves no more,” then softly, “you okay man?”

Clyde nodded his aching head. They went inside. Two recent volunteers, both white, were frozen with fear in the office.

“It’s okay, it’s all over,” whispered Marcel. “Father John kicked their asses.”

The priest looked around the Refuge. He gazed momentarily at the rows of tired and defeated men and realized they were not even scratching the surface. He could almost hear Jack’s voice telling him that as long as everyone did one little thing to help, the world would change. But even Jack was thinking of leaving. He couldn’t blame him. How would he feel when he had recovered? God alone knew. He heard coffee being made in the back room and someone sobbing quietly in the darkness.

A voice spoke softly and the sobbing subsided. Seconds later Abraham suddenly appeared next to John MacReady.

“Abe,” said the priest. “I didn’t hear you. You’re as quiet as a ghost.”

Abraham smiled and joined the priest in the low lit back room. The volunteers had made coffee. Clyde held a cold towel to his head and Marcel was blowing on his knuckles. For a moment they all sat and sipped their coffee in silence. Then Marcel looked at MacReady. “Well?” he said quietly.

“Jack is still unconscious, but he’s stable. He’s going to be a different man when he comes round. We’re all going to have to give him as much support as we can. Frankly, I have my doubts as to whether he will stay at the Refuge. Kerry’s untimely death may even drive him over the edge. I know he was thinking of moving on, getting a regular job with regular hours. He saw this insurance business as his last major contribution to the continued survival of this place.”

“What about the baby?” asked Clyde.

“She’s going to be fine as far as we can tell. She’s three months premature. It’s going to be some time before we can say for certain but if prayer can help, then I shall be praying up a storm, believe me.”

“Meanwhile, we keep on going,” said Marcel.

“We keep on going,” said Father MacReady. “I’d just like to say how proud and grateful I am for the support given by Marcel and Clyde and by all the volunteers who help this place stagger on day by day. I don’t know what we’d do without you.”

“Shit, Father,” smiled Clyde, “you got your vocation, we got ours. If we didn’t like doin’ it, we’d be long gone.”

“What about you, Abraham?” asked MacReady. “You’re more like a trustee than an inmate. You came here like everybody else but stayed on to help. Things would be different without you. If this place closed, where would you go?”

“I have a destiny to follow. It would all be revealed so I don’t give it any thought.”

“Well, I’ve had a long night,” said the priest with a curious glance at Abraham. “I’m going home to bed, providing my car is still in one piece.”

In a darkened bedroom at the Excelsior hotel, Greta Petrovich was sleeping soundly, a bottle of sleeping tablets on her bedside table. By the window, looking out over the New York cityscape stood her husband. He had held back all this time for Greta’s sake. He had to be strong so that she could release her pain. Now he had let go. He wept silently but bitterly, crushing the curtains in his hands and twisting them. His only daughter was dead, cut down in the prime of her life. He could hardly bear it. Somehow he had to stop his heart from breaking, for Greta’s sake.

Zoe lay awake in their apartment. Her mind was churning with confusion. She was trying to make sense of her feelings. Despite her grief, she was eaten up with desires. The miscarriage she had gone through a couple of years ago had left her scarred and frightened. Sexually, Bill was adequate but that was all. Oh, she still loved him. He was a good man. But she wanted more. Images of Mike Liebovitz’s body kept intruding. She began to fantasise about making love to him, of Mike on top her, spreading her thighs, his sensual lips brushing her skin, from her nipples down to her inner thighs and then...

She turned to Bill and slipped her arms around his waist. Then she slipped her leg over his waist. She kept thinking of Mike. She imagined him making love to Lorraine. Then another powerful image shocked her semi-conscious mind. She was in bed with both of them in a writhing threesome. She began to pant. God, where are these ideas coming from, she cried to herself. Stop! stop! But they wouldn’t stop.

Bill turned, half asleep and felt for Zoe’s body. Her hand reached down in a familiar reaction. She imagined it was different. She wasn’t sex mad; few women were in the sense that men believed. But she fancied something different. She allowed her fantasy to take over completely. She imagined she was in bed with Mike. Bill moved on top of her. He was surprised by her sudden passion and a feeling of inadequacy washed over him briefly. He entered her and she began to writhe like a demon, swallowing him up. She wanted more, he knew. They had always enjoyed sex but lately, she was getting agitated, behaving strangely but she wouldn’t talk about it. He began to pump and she responded instantly, like a thoroughbred firing on all cylinders.

He just couldn’t match her passion. She screamed and Bill felt immense relief. Then he found himself taken over by the rising stem of his own passion. He began to shake. He felt powerless. Am I enough, he kept saying to himself? She wants more, I know it.

In Zoe’s confused mind, she was being made love to by a host of male icons, firstly Mike, then Sean Connery, followed by a rampant Gerard Depardieu, screaming obscenities in guttural French. But it was the image of Mike and Lorraine and her all in bed together that stayed with her as she kissed Bill her thanks and they both turned over to sleep without a word.

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