Chapter 1 – The Mystery Man
Salvation, is this what we search for? A lifelong struggle to find redemption for our past. Every man needs acceptance, so we can look in the mirror and say ‘It’s ok, now’. I would lie awake many nights as a boy just listening to the faint voice of Ma’ crying and praying, but never understood it. I could never ask her why she would cry and recite those prayers, what was she asking for, and who was she asking from? I knew that it was personal to her and I had no right to question her about it. As I grew up, I realized she was searching for salvation as we all are. But how do you know when you’ve found it? No one knows but you. So when you find it, if you ever do then are you really free from your demons? One day I may know the answer!!
‘Hey Mikey, you better come down breakfast is getting cold, come on’. Mike came running down the stairs, a handsome middle aged male wearing a denim shirt and jeans. He entered the narrow hallway into the kitchen. This hallway always seemed darker than any other part of the house. ‘Come on Mike, you know I’ve got to be at work for 8.00 and Rebecca is always late for college’, Ethel said as she poured Mike coffee. Mike looked at Ethel his ‘Ma’, an elderly woman whose face showed the signs of wisdom and a harsh life. On this small table sat Rebecca the baby of this small family. Rebecca this nineteen year old who was as pretty as she was innocent, went to the local college but only to avoid having to work in this small town where small businesses were owned by local entrepreneurs who paid their staff less than minimum wage. Rebecca looked at her Ma, ‘Don’t worry, I’m ok’. Mike sipped his coffee, ‘I think your attendance isn’t great’, let’s go’. Mike got up and put on his jacket. He picked up his keys and walked towards the door, as Ethel and Rebecca hurriedly chased behind him.
Mike was a brooding man, someone of very few words with the responsibility of his mother and sister. He dropped his mother to the laundry where she had a low paid job and then drove up the town to his sister’s college. There was always an uneasy silence when Rebecca accompanied her brother, the reason was a young man called Kevin. As Mike’s wagon pulled up outside the small college, he turned towards his sister, ‘Becky, you come straight home after school, Ma gets worried about you’. Rebecca opened the door and said ‘don’t worry about me, I always get home on time’. Mike held Rebecca’s arm ‘Well, you do until you meet the Cunningham kid’, he’s older than you and a low life’. Rebecca snatched her arm away ‘He’s just someone I know, that’s it’, she had tears in her eyes. It didn’t take much for Rebecca’s eyes to fill up; Mike glared at his sister as he spoke, ‘Ain’t no Cunningham a friend of ours’. Rebecca looked down as she was scared of her older brother, she had so much to say but she only managed to blurt out ‘Maybe Mikey, one day you will say that to their face’. Mike’s face changed into a mask of anger as he once again grabbed Rebecca’s arm ‘you know what, maybe one day I will have to’. Rebecca stormed of inside her college.
I drove the wagon towards my warehouse; I was a wood merchant in this small run down town. I began working so young, to care for my Ma and sister, and was fortunate to lease this place. As I drove through the town, watching all the folk doing their normal thing, I never felt nothing for where I lived even though the old folk would say if you lived somewhere all your life, it becomes home. This never felt like home, it felt like a forced imprisonment and nothing could set me free.
‘Hi Boss’ said Hugh as Mike entered the ware house, ‘Hi, you ok’? Hugh was a likeable man who was the only person who worked alongside Mike. Hugh was a partner in the profits of this small business and was responsible for supplying the materials, while Michael normally took care of deliveries and the day to day running. Hugh was lifting some planks of wood.
‘I’m ok, but Mike we got to deliver this to Rob Cougan as soon as’!
Mike interrupts ‘He’s starting work today’?
Hugh carried the wood outside and put them into the back of the wagon, ‘Oh yes Mikey, you know he’s doing work on that old barn’.
Hugh stepped inside ‘I’ll load up, you take it down …’ Hugh stopped as him and Mike exchanged glances. Hugh hesitated as his tone changed ‘Actually, you load up and I’ll take it down to him’. Mike walked towards the back of the warehouse, ‘Its ok Hugh, I’ll go’. ‘Mike you don’t have to, its ok. Its better if you don’t go down there’. Mike stopped and faced Hugh, ‘I said its ok’.
The wagon drove down the muddy road, a bumpy and narrow path which could hardly be called a ‘road’. The outskirts of this small town was surrounded by a dense forest, which gripped this town like a beast staring at its prey, waiting to pounce. On the edge directly below the main section of the green ‘beast’, was the old barn. Mike stared at the barn as he came close, just as you would stare at an old adversary. As he stepped outside the wagon, he walked slowly towards this old shack of a barn, which like everything else in this town, has a brutal history. Mike walked closer and closer to the door just as a small Mikey did many years ago.
Mike’s heart was beating louder than they beat those drums on the fourth of July, as a little Mikey was walking with him now. Little Mike had opened the door of this barn that night, and that night seemed darker than it had been ever before. Little Mikey peered in and saw ‘Pa’ sat there on the floor, like a condemned man who was sentencing himself to death. He was pointing his own rifle towards his face and then it exploded.
I watched half of my father’s skull be blown off so far behind him that the splatter of blood could have been heard miles away. An eleven year old Mike stayed still as though he was next in line for execution. Ma was screaming as she came running behind, she flung open the door and dropped to her knees in shock. The eleven year old Mike walked closer and closer like a zombie, edging forward, pale like someone who had died himself. Suddenly, someone brought me down and covered my eyes. Never knew who had come from behind, but he was too late.
‘Hey you that guy with the stuff’? A huge looking man had appeared at the door of the barn. Mike was staring straight ahead still searching for his father inside. Mike then gazed at the workman who was standing at the door. ‘It’s in the wagon’, Mike muttered. This man who looked like he had never missed a meal in his life, called some more workers from inside who went towards the wagon to unload the wood.
Mike walked through the wilderness, fighting his way through the overgrowth of bushes and branches as he made his way to the stream. He sat down and watched the water flowing with it so many memories of when his father would bring his boys down here for fishing. Mike looked down at the water, which flowed in exactly the same way as it did all those years ago. He would listen for the faint noises and then they would come. He heard twigs breaking and ruffling of the bushes, Mike turned around but once again no-one was there. This forest was abandoned years ago, it was forbidden territory and kids would make up fables and legends about haunting and ghosts. The reality however was even more horrific than any of those stories. Mike sat on the grass, facing the stream, he would lose himself for hours in this place, like time would just disappear.
Mike drove back to the town as the evening set in, he stopped of at the ‘Shelter’, the only place where the locals would gather in the evenings. This was primarily a pool room which also offered all kinds of beverages and music. The ‘Shelter’ was like a ‘gentlemans’ club bang in the middle of the town except there were no ‘gentlemen’ in this town. The locals cared for each other like a secret society but there was little trust amongst them. A community that had been under investigation by the FBI, could only hope that their neighbour keeps their secret safe. A neighbour who has equal share in all crimes and sins. Hugh was seated at the table, ‘Mike you should never have gone down there, I was worried’. Mike sat down ‘I’m ok, just been busy’. Hugh ordered a juice for Mike which was the best drink for a recovering alcoholic. Then came that time, when even this rowdy place would become subdued just as when fighting and screaming kids get hushed up because ‘daddy’ is about to come home. In walked the sheriff, Vincent Cunningham, a tall handsome man who ran this town with an iron rod. The ‘Cunningham’ family had all been law enforcement officers at some time or another and the law was almost like their family business. They were the ‘Cunninghams’, who were like the mafia with police badges. Vincent’s father was the most powerful man as far as the people of this town were concerned, Reggie Cunningham was bigger then the President in these parts. He resigned from office years ago but was still known as the most dangerous man in this county. The father spent less time in this town as his son had pretty much taken over where he had left off. The local men would say little and would almost hold their breath when they saw the Sheriff. Vincent slowly patrolled the place before seeing Michael, he looked across at Michael and Hugh and slowly came over and sat down. He sat across the table to Hugh and Mike. Vincent took off his hat, without even looking at the men sat on the table. There was a silence, a tension as Mike felt his heartbeat gather pace. He had such a dislike for anyone with the surname, ‘Cunningham’ that whenever he would come within a few yards of one, there was a feeling that someone was gonna die. ‘We have visitors from outta town, someone interested in the church I hear’. Vincent spoke with an edge to his voice, weighing his words almost like he was mimicking a western movie bad guy. Mike looked up at Vincent, ‘Don’t know much about that, it’s your town’. Mike managed to at least make conversation but deep down he only wished to rip Vincent’s guts from inside him. Mike looked into Vincent’s eyes, those eyes were cold like steel, and many believed he was a psychopath. ‘I don’t want your Ma to talk to no-one, there are newspaper people in town and someone was at the church’. Mike continued to sip his drink, but was feeling tense as he knew anything could happen from this point. Anything really means anything, ranging from Vincent taking out his revolver and blasting Mike’s and maybe even Hugh’s brains out on the table or Mike getting taken into the lock up on some trumped up charge and have the life beaten out of him. It was all possible. Thankfully Vincent put his hat back on and stood up without saying anything. He was a menace, a man whose silence was as dangerous as his words. Mike left the ‘Shelter’ straight after and there in the parking lot, he saw Vincent with his deputies and cousin. His cousin was Kevin, the man who spent a lot of his time hovering around Rebecca. There sitting in Vincent’s jeep was his wife, Emily. She was a beautiful and elegant lady who once had a close connection to the Martyns. Emily glanced at Mike and gestured him to come over, Mike walked over to the jeep. ‘Hey Mikey, long time how are you’? Michael smiled at Emily, ‘Fine, and how are you’? Emily smiled slightly, it was a smile which covered much of her pain, ‘How’s Ma’?
Mike smiled back ‘Maybe you need to come and see for yourself’.
Emily looked back at Mike, as though she had something to say but then stopped, ‘I would like to come and see you and your sister too’ replied a hesitant Emily. Emily was hesitating as she had noticed Vincent looking around and he was now walking up to the jeep,
‘I don’t think you got any business talking with my wife’. Michael looked around at Vincent, as Emily quickly spoke ‘I have known them a long time’. Vincent looked at Emily with his numbing stare and then at Michael. Mike walked away towards his wagon.
‘Mike, we waited for you for dinner but you never came’. Ethel enquired as Mike walked down the hallway into the kitchen. Michael sat down slowly without saying anything.
Ethel then said ‘I came to see you at lunchtime, but you were not at the store’.
Michael looked up and interrupted his Ma, ‘you been speaking to some newspaper folk’?
Ethel looked surprised by the abrupt question, as she sat down. ‘What are you talking about’?
Michael replied ‘I don’t know much about it, but the sheriff mentioned it ’. Ethel’s face changed as is the case when the sheriff or any of the ‘Cunninghams’ are mentioned, ‘well that’s none of his business but I want to know where you were all day, son’.
Mike replied ‘Ma, it doesn’t matter where I was, but you take care ok’.
Ethel raises her voice ’that’s what I’ve been doing for seventeen years son, taking care of you kids and that’s why I don’t like to remember?
Mike began looking around ’Ma, no-one forgets, you can’t forget even if you don’t talk about it. I don’t want to hear about how you ‘think’ you forgot what happened’.
Ethel snapped ‘Well you will Michael, because you need to hear it, so that maybe you can get a life for yourself’, I always thought you were too small to remember much of it’.
Michael looked back at his mother as she said that, he was on edge now, the barn, the forest, Vincent all swimming around in his mind.
‘I was too young to remember, what Ma’? ‘Do you mean, when Pa blew his fuckin brains out’. Ethel slapped Michael’s face hard as Rebecca came running in, ‘Ma, what are you doing’. Michael remain seated as his eyes were fixed to the floor. Ethel’s eyes were red, ‘that’s right your father, the one man you continue to mourn’. Ethel held back her rage as she spoke slowly, her words leaving her lips with agonizing pain, ‘That one night you mourn and that is why you spent years trapped in the inside of a bottle, and the rest of them trying to find yourself in that forest but I couldn’t do that because I had two young children who needed Me’.
Ethel spoke with a weakened voice but always with a conviction and belief, ‘I forgave them because I had no time to carry all that anger around with me’, I live on but you cannot forgive and cannot move on, just like your father. I know where you were all day, hiding in that forest. He killed himself ONCE, but you have done the same to yourself a thousand times’!! Ethel stormed out of the kitchen brushing past Rebecca. Michael sat there in the same place, unable to move with his eyes fixed towards the floor. Rebecca came and sat down next to him. There was an uneasy silence as there always seemed to be when Rebecca tried to make contact with Michael. He rarely showed emotion and when he did, it would often be sudden and least expected. Michael never took his eyes of the kitchen floor, his face like stone as he said a few words ’She never wanted me, just wanted ‘him’’. Rebecca with tears streaming down her pretty face, placed her hand gently on Mike’s arm, ‘Ma loves you more than anything, we are all she’s got’. Mike glanced at his sister, he then stood up and left the house.
The night was silent as the heavens had opened and the rain poured down. Mike walked through the streets of this forgotten town, which had been largely deserted. Most conversations in the house of this broken family would end in a similar way, there were wounds that remained open and every person had their own way of dealing with them. There was no escaping the truth or the realities of a tarnished past, and this wet and dark night only served as a reminder of how that eleven year old Mikey would wake up after wetting his bed for many years to come. Every night after that night in the barn was identical to this one. He stopped for a moment as he peered through the night, and amidst the falling rain, there was a figure standing far across the street. Michael had noticed this dark figure before, who would often be in places where he went. Michael looked hard trying to recognize this mystery man, but he was like a dark shadow that would disappear as quickly as he appeared.
The mornings of Sunday, were always eventful as people of the town gathered in the local church. The choirs would sing their favourite hymns loudly, as the town would wake up to praises of God. The men would often stay away, spending their mornings sleeping and some of them already busy at work. Ethel Martyn was the pillar of the church going community, a lady who devoted much of her money and time to keeping alive the little good that remained in this town. Ethel took over these duties after the demise of her husband who had little faith in anything except in his own decision and power of execution. Ethel on her only day off would spend it very much in the church, arriving early in the morning to prepare and then would stay long after people departed. As the Sunday sermon came to an end, people began leaving the church slowly shuffling away and Ethel sat on the bench reading a few leaflets, which the church had been distributing. A lady entered and walked up to the bench, her heels could be heard but Ethel was engrossed in reading. ‘Mrs Martyn, you are Mrs Martyn right’? An unfamiliar but friendly voice enquired, Ethel looked up and saw a tall lady standing in front of her. This lady was smart, her dark hair tied up in a ponytail with only a hint of make-up. Her appearance was different, she looked like a professional, a lawyer perhaps someone from the big city. Ethel looked carefully at this lady and replied slowly ‘I am’. ‘May I sit down Mrs Martyn’? This lady asked politely, Ethel nodded her head and this unfamiliar woman took a seat next to Ethel. Ethel looked at her and commented ‘I don’t think you are from around here’. The lady smiled, a clever smile as she replied ‘No Mrs Martyn, I’m not’. Ethel replied ‘How do you know my name’? The lady answered as she put her hand in her pocket ‘Everyone in this town knows you, well they all seem to know each other, I have come before but you have not been alone’. Ethel looked abit surprised ‘Oh, why do you need me alone’? The lady answered as she showed Ethel an identity card ’My name is Kay Winters, I’m an investigative journalist. I work for a magazine called ‘Crime Speaks’, we are based in Chicago’. Ethel did not bother looking at the badge, ‘Well Miss Winters, you are long way from home’. Kay looked at Ethel, almost like she was studying her ‘I’m used to being away from home, I have some questions’. Ethel stood up as she spoke sternly ‘I don’t know you and can’t answer any questions’. Kay also stood up ‘Mrs Martyn, I would like to get to know you and I need to know what happened to your son’. Ethel walked towards the altar and replied in a raised voice ‘My son is sleeping at home, and you don’t know him either’. Kay gave Ethel a steely look as she spoke, ‘Gabriel Martyn’. ‘Do you remember him’?
Ethel turned towards Kay as she snapped ‘He was my son, of course I remember him, and you have no business mentioning his name’. Ethel was angry as she walked up to Kay Winters, ‘Miss Winters, I don’t have to talk to you about my family’.
Kay looked up towards the ‘Cross’ walking towards it slowly, she looked at the altar for a moment then looked back at Ethel ‘Mrs Martyn, you are a religious person. Can I ask you about your faith’? Ethel nodded at Kay, ‘I don’t have time to answer your questions’. Kay smiled briefly as once again she looked up at the ‘Cross’, ‘you believe the good die for our sins’? ‘I don’t because I am not a religious person. I believe that we should punish the ones who commit the sins’. Ethel looked at Kay, then she also glanced up at the ‘Cross’ in front of the church hall. ‘So you don’t believe in God, what a shame. In your world Miss Winters, the innocent get punished and that is why I believe that only God can do justice. I am sorry to say but people like you have come here before, only to write stories and sell their papers’. Kay interrupted ‘Mrs Martyn, we tell the truth and don’t just wait for God to do justice’. Ethel glared at Kay, as she had contempt for anyone who spoke ill of the church or belief in God. Kay changed her tone understanding that her honesty, which had made her a sought after journalist, was only driving away a person who was perhaps the only one who has the answers to many unsolved riddles. ‘I’m sorry Mrs Martyn, I don’t want to hurt you but I need to know the truth. Seventeen years ago, there was an investigation involving the police department in this town, they were connected to the abduction and suspected murder of eight people. This investigation was never concluded. One of the victims, was your own son. Did you know to this day, not a single man has been indicted for those crimes’. Ethel looked away as there was a pause, a silence. ‘Miss Winters, you can search as much as you want but there is nothing I can say to you’. God is the One who does justice and it will come. We only know how to take revenge. I’m not interested in that’. Kay held out her hand but Ethel looked away. This sharp and attractive woman looked around at the church, this place where murderers were welcomed by the families of those they had murdered.
Mike sat with his fishing gear next to him, even though he had little interest in fishing he still found some comfort sitting by the stream. It was a place he knew, a place in which he could remember his father and re-live memories that had drifted further and further away. Just as Ma found something in church it was here that Mike found some peace or at least a version of it. ‘Hey you won’t find much fish in this place’, Mike looked around and saw Emily standing there. She was wearing jeans and high boots with a stylish camel coloured coat. She had wavy blonde hair, like someone out of those fashion magazines or sitcoms, in fact everything about Emily was stylish and different. She was different to the women in this town because she was raised in New York. Her early childhood was spent in the big city until her father moved back here, to take care of his elderly mum. Emily had found it hard to make friends understandably and to this day she practically remains secluded. The only friends she had made were the ‘Martyns’, a friendship which turned out to be ill fated. Mike smiled at Emily, ‘What you doing here’? Emily gave a glowing smile, which would only emerge when her husband was nowhere to be seen, ‘well I thought I would track you down’. Emily came and sat next to Mike, a strange feeling for Mikey who was not used to having company on a Sunday or on most other days. This company was different, a beautiful young lady who was so charming. Mike looked away as he asked about her husband, Emily replied ‘He had to take his father across the bridge for a day, who knows’. The bridge was the exit from this town to the next, and was located on the other side of the forest. It would remind Mikey of the old bridges in the Roman movies, which was the only path of escape from the evil castle. In fact Mike goes over the bridge quite a lot in the day, in order to buy cheap timber and meet with the tradesmen from the neighbouring town. The ‘Cunninghams’ had a good working relationship with the sheriff and police department from over that side, probably because they were no better than each other. Mike felt uneasy sitting there with Emily next to him, not because she was the wife of a man who would quite easily kill a man for just mentioning his wife’s name, but because she had an aura about her. Emily was confident and content even though she had even less to look forward to than Mike did, even though she couldn’t have kids due to a miscarriage, allegedly caused by Vincent throwing her down a flight of stairs while she was pregnant. Emily lost her father soon after she got married and her mother married again, leaving this town forever. Emily being married to Vincent, was a real beauty and the beast affair. Mike had never been close to a woman, only on occasion but could never hold a relationship due to his own anxieties and complex nature. Emily looked at Mike, sensing an uneasiness but that magical smile made Mikey smile too. He had to make conversation, ‘How did you find me, I’m surprised you never got lost here’. Emily brushed of his remark, asking with an exaggerated amazement ‘Me, get lost, I know this place like the back of my hand’. Emily held out her long, slim hand and even the style in which she spoke, was different and so refined.
Mike laughed ‘Becky tell you I was here’,
‘Yes I went to the house, I knew Ma would be at church and Becky said you are abit of a fisherman’.
Mike nodded ‘Well, I have been coming here since I can remember, fishing and picking up wood is all I know’.
Emily stood up ‘Yes me too, I would come here a lot……… with you in fact and your brother’. There was a silence, a strange sad silence as even the mood of the forest seemed to change when Mikey’s brother was mentioned. Mike felt at ease all of a sudden because of the way Emily had related something to his childhood, Mike asked looking up at Emily ‘Tell me about him’. Emily tugged at the overgrown weeds in an awkward way as though she never heard what Mike said,
‘My brother, I don’t remember him much’.
Emily spoke in a lowered tone, much of the joy and life in her voice suddenly drained away ‘He was my friend’. Emily said that in a thoughtful way as though she was trying to remember whether what she was saying was the truth. ‘Mikey, you remind me of him’.
Mike didn’t even pretend to smile as he heard that,
‘I’m nothing like him, Ma probably wishes I was’. Emily sat down next to Mike ‘Well, it’s probably not such a bad thing that you are different to him’. Emily was thoughtful as she spoke but there was a sad tone in her voice. Mike had heard that tone a lot in his life, often he would hear it in his mother’s voice and before his father relieved himself in the barn not so far away from where Mike and Emily were talking, it had been in his voice too. Mike definitely didn’t want to make Emily sad, but he wanted to know,
‘Do you miss him’? Mike asked as Emily stared at her feet, she looked up towards the stream ‘Not anymore, life just teaches you to move on’. Mike looked at Emily trying to find where her sadness came from, he was used to reading people and grief was a subject he could do a university degree on. Emily suddenly sounded upbeat ‘He loved you a lot, little Mikey. We would bring you up here and have a great time’. Emily gave Mike a playful push, as Mike grinned. Emily looked towards the open space as though she was looking at the three children playing by the stream and telling Mikey what she was seeing.
‘He would blindfold himself and pretend to be a monster and run after us, I knew he was peeking behind the blindfold and would come after me. The funny thing was he was so possessive of you, Oh my God’! Emily laughed loudly as Mike allowed himself a laugh too.
‘He would not let any kid tease you, even me when I would mess with you, he would get so mad at me. Oh yes, you were his little brother and no kid could upset you. When your sister was born, he was even worse. Gabe would never leave the house. I would wait for him but he was always too busy with his little sis. I remember the time he would come running to my house and force me to go with him because little Becky was wearing a new dress’. Emily’s face changed, as her tears began to flow her voice shook ‘Gabe was Gabe’. The people who knew Gabriel like his own family, would call him ‘Gabe’ and this was almost like an initiation into the Martyn family. Mike felt the pain as Emily sobbed for a brief moment, but collected herself very quickly in a way like she was used to picking up the pieces and forget about the moment that had passed. ‘Well, you need to get back to your fishing’. Emily gave Mike a smile but Mike forgot about why he had come to the forest quite a while ago. ‘Why won’t you come home’? Mike asked Emily as she stood up. Emily looked back at Mike, ‘I miss not seeing you guys, I really do but it’s the way it is’. Mike stood up as he began picking up his fishing rod, ‘wait for me, come home and meet Ma’. Emily walked over and started to help Mike pack his things away, ‘Maybe some other time’. Mike was looking at Emily as her hair was coming across her face as she leaned over to help him, he didn’t know what to say except he wanted to stay in this deserted old forest abit longer not because he wanted to be alone but because he wanted Emily to stay with him. ‘Emily what happened to my brother’? Emily froze for a moment as she looked up at Mike, ‘I don’t know, but I don’t want to know. Gabe is gone and so are many other people I cared about, you just got to move on you know’. Mike looked confused and the answer he heard from Emily was almost identical to what his Ma would say. ‘I don’t understand’,
Emily interrupted Mikey with a soft and firm voice, ‘I never understood too, for a long time but you know when you wake up and you know about the ones who survived and you remember the ones who didn’t, then you understand it’s about the choices you make and how you deal with it’. That’s it Mikey’. Emily smiled at Mike, it was a smile that a teacher would give her student after explaining an answer to a complex question for the last time and hoping the student has no further questions.
I drove down the long road back into the town, I was jealous of him, always had been. I don’t know why, he was my brother but I didn’t know him and hardly even remembered him. I envied him, firstly I would see how Ma would stare at the chair he used to sit on while she would eat her dinner. He wasn’t even there, but her mind was focused on that chair, and I would actually be sitting in front of her, eating my food but she would almost forget to notice me. Secondly he was no longer here, that’s a plus as far as I am concerned. He is not in this shitty, forsaken town, even if he’s six foot under, he’s better off as far as I am concerned. Today, I have even more reason to be jealous of my big brother ‘Gabe’. I never saw no lady, have that look in her eyes for me, and a lady like ‘Emily’ Phew! I saw it in her eyes, she loved Gabe and that is the truth, whether she tells herself something else, I don’t know. Mike’s phone rang, he picked it up noticing it was from Hugh’s house ‘Hello’, all he heard was commotion, it was Hugh’s wife. She was crying as she tried talking down the phone, ‘Mike, he’s gonna kill me, the bastard will kill us all’. It was Jenny, Hugh’s wife. She was screaming down the phone, hysterical and out of control. Mike could hardly hear what was going on. He knew as this was an all too often occurrence at Hugh’s home. Hugh was such a mild mannered man, when it came to working all those hours with Mike at the warehouse. He had time for everyone, smiling, joking and always cheerful. In fact he was so good at charming people, it was mainly his popularity that got customers from the other side of the bridge. At home though it was a different story, the fights with his young wife Jenny were frequent and often violent. Mike would be called to calm Hugh down every couple of months and sometimes even more than that. Mike disconnected as trying to say anything to Jenny was futile over the phone. He had to get down there as soon as possible, Mike sighed as he turned down East Road, towards Hugh’s house.
Walking upto the house, he could hear raised voices and the crying of children. Hugh had two boys and a girl, who would be witnesses to the turmoil of their parents’ relationship. Mike stepped inside the lounge and saw Hugh with a hammer in his hand, he was angry and shouting obscenities at his distraught wife. He had definitely hit her, and there was more to come, Mike walked upto Hugh, ‘come on man, put the hammer down, what are you doing’? Hugh looked at Mike ‘No Mike not today, I’m gonna end it right now’. Mike put his hand forward to take the hammer, ‘don’t talk like a crazy man, your kids are watching’, give me the hammer’. Hugh’s eyes had a fury, something dangerous and volatile, Mike would always compare this Hugh to the one he worked days with. This is what we are inside, all of us no matter how we hide it or what we call it, this place had made us into this! ‘Let the kids know what a whore their mother is’. Hugh gripped the hammer tight as Jenny screamed from behind, ‘Yes I am a whore, and what are you’? Mike turned around and Jenny was standing there holding a knife to her wrist, ‘You bastard, I will end it not you’. Mike stared at Jenny as she held the knife to her wrist, and in walked her little girl. Kim was only nine years old, wearing her pyjamas and holding a toy in her arms. Mike looked at Kim, his eyes fixed on this sweet little thing, the look in Kim’s eyes, a look of fear and shock, he had seen the same look before. It was him, that night in the barn seventeen years ago. Little Mikey was standing there, all over again. Mike walked closer to Jenny, ‘What are you doing Jen, put the knife down’. Jenny’s face was marked, her eyes were sore and red. She was no longer the attractive childhood sweetheart, who could melt big Hugh’s heart with a smile and sweet word. Jenny looked at Mike, she was helpless and so tired. ‘Mike I want to end this tonight, let me do this please’. She wept uncontrollably and Mike glanced at Kim as she said in a frightened voice ‘Mama’. Mike looked back at Jenny, ‘what you gonna do Jen, cut yourself and bleed to death as your little girl watches’. Mike unleashed that little boy as he spoke to this poor woman, it was little Mikey talking out against what happened that night, ‘what is that gonna do to her, you know that? A kid never forgets blood, it stays in your fuckin’ mind till the day you die’. Jenny dropped the knife and hugged Kim as they both cried. The boys also came out and wept with their mama. Mike kicked the knife away as Hugh sat down on his sofa, he had also given up arms.
The night passed in a quiet way with Jenny taking the kids to bed and Mike and Hugh sitting on the sofa together for a heart to heart. Hugh was drinking a beer as Mike sat next to him going through the same conversation he had many times before. It was almost like a script that Mike would repeat every time he would visit Hugh on one of these stormy nights. Hugh never listened but Mike would say it anyway just to make sure he reminded Hugh of his responsibilities.
Hugh clenched his teeth, ‘She’s seeing someone, I know. She went out yesterday evening saying she’s gonna meet her mum. The funny thing is her mum calls the house tonight and tells me she ain’t seen Jenny for over a fuckin’ week. So where’s she go’? Mike knew the answer and Hugh also knew that there was someone else. Hugh didn’t know who he was or where he was. Mike looked at Hugh, ‘Just look at your kids, let her do what she wants. Hugh don’t fuck this up for them’.
Hugh looked at Mike, ‘Mike I love my kids, but you want me to sit back and take this’? Mike would struggle to answer Hugh because giving him an honest answer would not serve the purpose of keeping them together.
Later that night, Mike sat in his wagon for a while, waiting for the lights to go off inside Hugh’s house. Mike looked at his watch ’01:23’.