There’s a dull light in the kitchen. We can see it sneaking out, as if making its escape silently, photon by photon, into the dull hallway and the street outside. A wisp of morning light skips forward to meet it, from the grey, dawn sky. I take a step and push the kitchen door open and there’s Tina, sitting on a wood-backed, dining chair, her ankles and wrists secured by nylon ties, a cloth gag round her mouth. There’s a single light from a table lamp set behind her. The kitchen’s nothing like it was; it’s clean and white and polished. Funny, but I almost expected it to be the same. It’s hard to imagine what happened here, years ago, to Chloe, to Stevie, to all of us but it happened alright and now it’s happening again and this time it’s Tina.
We have to stop him; we just fucking have to, otherwise it’ll go on and on forever.
Wayne steps towards Tina but I grab his arm.
Tina glances to her left towards the kitchen window and we know that Tyrone is there, standing in the shadows where the single light from the lamp, maybe brought from the lounge for dramatic effect, barely reaches.
‘Come in, boys.’ Tyrone’s voice emerges as if it has a life apart, with no body and no mind to contain it; it’s just something dead and without feeling and as cold as stone. ‘Take a seat. Let’s get down to business.’
There are two empty chairs at the table, set there for us. We walk in and sit down and turn to face Tyrone who is leaning against the wall behind the door, casually lighting a cigarette.
‘Those things’ll kill you,’ I say, as if I’m breaking the ice at a weird party.
‘Still the funny man,’ he sneers.
‘Where are the people who live here?’
‘Mr and Mrs Fucking Nobody,’ he snarls. ‘What do you care?’
‘Just tell me.’
He raises his eyes and I’m not sure whether he means the upstairs room or somewhere far beyond.
‘They won’t be bothering us,’.
Wayne is unfastening the cloth round Tina’s mouth.
‘Are you okay? Has he hurt you?’
She shakes her head and stares defiantly at Tyrone. He ignores her, as if she’s not there, as if she’s of no concern. She’s played her part – almost.
‘Where’s the money?’
Wayne slips the bag off his shoulder and drops it on the floor then he starts unfastening the ties on Tina’s wrists.
‘Not so fast, Wayne’ Tyrone snaps. ‘I haven’t checked it.’ He grabs the bag and hoists it on the table and unzips it. Then he reaches inside. It’s amazing how little space that much money takes up. Twenty fifties make a thousand, two hundred make ten thousand. Two hundred notes don’t make a particularly big wedge. Fifty wedges just about fill the bag, no more.
Tyrone casts a professional eye over the contents.
‘It’s not all here. I said a hundred thousand.’
‘There’s another bag is in the car. You get it when we leave, not before,’ Wayne says. ‘Call it insurance.’
Tyrone throws his head back and laughs and I get a really bad feeling. It’s the sort of laugh someone engages in when the joke’s on someone else and isn’t funny. When he pulls a knife from his belt, steps behind Tina, drags her hair back and holds the point to her throat, no-one is laughing.
Tina doesn’t scream or cry out but she can’t hold back a whimper of fear and pain. Tyrone holds her hair tighter until the point of the blade presses against her and a trickle of blood winds down her neck.
‘Get it,’ he says and suddenly there’s no way out of this and I think we’re going to die, here in this kitchen, just like Stevie, all those years ago. Then I realise that’s the plan, and it’s what Tyrone wants. That’s his revenge. Wayne was right; he was never going to let us go.
Wayne backs away.
‘I’ll get it; just leave her alone. Don’t hurt her.’
Tyrone holds the knife tight and Tina cries out as the cut deepens.
‘Twenty seconds,’ he snaps. ‘If anyone else appears, if I even think you’re trying something, she’s dead.’
Wayne turns and runs out of the door. I can only hope now that he’s waving frantically to Slattery, and the cavalry are tumbling around the corner, falling over each other in their haste to effect a last-minute rescue. But it doesn’t take Wayne twenty seconds; he’s back so quickly I can hardly believe he’s been to the car. But he has because he’s carrying the second overnight bag which he slides along the floor towards Tyrone.
Tyrone doesn’t move.
‘There are plastic ties next to the sink,’ he says. ‘Tie him up,’ - him being me. ‘Make it tight, I’m watching.’
Once I’m tied like up a turkey for the oven Wayne fastens his own legs to the chair and then his left wrist. Only when he’s secure does Tyrone release his hold on Tina and step across to fasten the last tie to Wayne’s right wrist.
‘Well,’ he says, ‘this is nice – a real reunion.’ He lights another cigarette and walks casually over to the gas stove and I notice the brown tape on the worktop and my bad feeling gets worse. Jesus, he’s thought of everything. He tapes the gas jets open and I can hear the hiss as it escapes and starts to fill the room.
‘I saw this in a film,’ he says. ‘It’s fucking genius. I don’t know if it works but if I were you I’d hope it does. It’s the best you can hope for. Otherwise, you burn to death slowly.’
There’s a toaster on the worktop. He switches it on at the plug and takes a handful of old letters and bills which he’s secured with rubber bands. He presses them into the toaster until it clicks in place then he waits until the heaters glow red, and the papers smoulder before he turns it off again.
‘Fucking genius,’ he repeats, ‘but just to be sure...’
He opens the door which leads from the kitchen to the rear yard and drags in a gallon container which he opens. It doesn’t take the mind of an Einstein to figure it’s petrol.
He’s about to pour it around the room when he stops and puts the can down.
‘Whoops,’ he says, ‘I forgot,’ and he takes the cigarette from his mouth. ‘I might’ve started a fire.’
Then he walks across and he stubs it out on Wayne’s arm and Wayne scream and cries out and swears and tears at the ties until his wrists bleed. I can smell the burning flesh and I can see the horror on Tina’s face as she too tries to scream from behind the gag and she rocks to and fro and struggles to tear herself free. Tyrone steps back, drops the cigarette on the floor and treads on it, grinding it with his shoe.
‘I think it’s out now,’ he says.
I don’t move. I don’t make a sound. Everyone is so intent on what’s happening they haven’t noticed something. I have; I’m facing the window, and just beyond Tyrone and Wayne I see shadows, briefly, as they pass along the side of the house towards the rear door.
‘Slattery, thank God for Slattery. He’s my fucking hero.’
I’ve got to keep Tyrone’s attention away from the door. I’ve got to keep him from the petrol for a minute more.
’I start to rock the chair, forcing it back and forward and I kick and grunt. Christ, I’d sing the national anthem through a gag just to keep him watching.
He does watch too, like I’m some strange animal he wants to torment. He’s enjoying this. I try not to look towards the door but I’m aware that the handle is being depressed, centimetre by centimetre, and the door is opening and three men are stepping inside.
But it’s not Slattery, and it’s not the police.
One of them raises a handgun and points it and suddenly I go quiet and I don’t move. It takes Tyrone a matter of seconds to realise something’s wrong and he spins round.
‘Mackie,’ he says.
‘Hello, Tyrone,’ Mackie says.
He nods to Manny and points at the gas taps and Manny tears away the tape and the awful hissing ceases. Then he walks across and takes a knife from his pocket. He flicks it open and we’re free and it feels good. Wayne is nursing his arm and Tina is nursing Wayne and I’m standing watching.
‘Tyrone’s got a knife,’ I say to Mackie.
Mackie nods again and a thick set guy I recognise from the Moonlight Bar, collects it.
‘What now?’ I ask.
‘Now you sit here and you wait for ten minutes,’ Mackie says. ‘Then you call Slattery. Ten minutes, okay?’
Wayne looks up. ‘Ten minutes,’ he says.
The two men take Tyrone by the arms. He doesn’t resist. Even Tyrone knows when it’s all up, when there’s nothing left to do but act the man.
‘What the fuck,’ he says as they lead him out of the house and towards the street. I guess they’re parked somewhere further along out of sight of Slattery but I don’t know how he could’ve missed them.
Then I do.
I see Wayne looking at me and his eyes tell me.
Slattery knew they were coming, just like Wayne knew.
‘It was the only way,’ he says. ‘We had to stop him.’
‘They’re going to kill him.’
‘Anything it takes, remember?’ he says softly.
‘But not this; Jesus, it makes us as bad as him.’
‘There was no other way, you know that.’
‘There has to be. We’re worth more than this.’
I rush to the back door and fling it open and then I run, scattering bins, towards the street. I can see Slattery’s car parked back there. I can make out Slattery too but he isn’t moving. He’s just watching. When I turn I see another car and Mackie has the door open and Manny is guiding Tyrone into it. The other guy is climbing in the driving seat. For a moment, caught under the street light, I see Tyrone and our eyes meet. Then the door clicks shut and the car moves off and I know it’s heading to the building site and the trench and I guess Tyrone knows that too.
There’s nothing for me to do. I just stand for a moment and stare down the empty street. Then I hear someone walking towards me and Slattery lays a heavy hand on my shoulder.
‘There was no other way,’ he said.
‘We should’ve found one,’ I say. ‘this wasn’t right.’
He slaps my back sympathetically and we go into the kitchen together. Wayne is brewing a pot of coffee and Tina is beside him.
‘The residents?’ Slattery asks.
‘In the lounge,’ Wayne says. ‘They’re okay.’
‘They’ve got a good story for dinner parties,’ Slattery mutters.
‘They’ll never know the end though, will they?’ I say.
‘No. Are you okay, Tina?’ Slattery asks.
She nods. ‘I’m fine.’
Wayne doesn’t reply. He’s staring at the door and I sense his mind is way down the empty street outside. And now, Tina is holding him and he’s holding her and I don’t know which of them needs the other most. I feel left out and kind of lonely. Maybe I should hug Slattery.
Wayne looks towards me and I see there are tears in his eyes.
‘We had no choice,’ he says.
I want to tell him there’s always a choice but I don’t.
Maybe, I don’t believe that anymore.
‘For Stevie,’ he says.
‘Yeah,’ I say back to him, ‘For Stevie.’