Don’t Call Me Darling

Luke was breaking fingers for the boss when we got the call. I was mostly watching him because that was his job and talking was my job and the talk had already been done.
+++++‘I’ll get you the money,’ Mr Irving screamed.
+++++‘When?’
+++++‘Thursday!’
+++++I looked over at Luke, a bullet-headed son of a gun that had seen too many Statham films and fancied himself an action star. Never mind Hollywood was a long way off, his shaved head was not sexy and he had the body of an indolent potato. He figured someone would discover his masculine pulchritude sooner or later. ‘Thursday good for you?’
+++++Luke grunted. That was poetry from him.
+++++‘I think the boss might find that acceptable.’ I dug the vibrating phone out of my pocket and answered. ‘Hey boss, he says—’
+++++The boss cut me off. ‘Fiona’s on her way.’
+++++‘The hell you say?’ I wasn’t one to doubt the boss, but I couldn’t quite take in the truth of the words all at once. You might as well have said Elvis was in town. If Elvis were back and gunning for the boss and anyone who stood in the way.
+++++‘Yeah, it’s her—hell on wheels. I want a welcoming committee, chop chop.’
+++++To say the boss was stingy with words would not have been an understatement, but few words were needed at a time like this. I put the phone back in my pocket. ‘Let’s go.’
+++++Luke looked all disappointed like a kid who’d been promised a puppy for Christmas, then got a bunch of underwear and socks. That and he just liked breaking things. I think it was the sound. He was a bit of a connoisseur. Whether he preferred the snap of the bones or the shrieks of the business associates, it would be hard to say. He gave me the big cartoon sad eyes and opened his mouth to complain.
+++++I knew what would stop him. ‘Fiona’s coming.’
+++++He was all business after that, dropping Mr Irving to the floor where the man moaned and cried, then slipping his discarded jacket back onto his own gorilla shoulders. For the umpteenth time I wondered where they hell Luke bought his suits, but as usual it wasn’t the time to ask. ‘Let’s go.’
+++++But turns out we were too late.
+++++‘You’re too late,’ Milo said as we pulled up at the garage. He had managed to spread motor oil across his puss today in stripes so he looked like he was joining up with Adam and the Ants. I suspected this was not the case.
+++++‘Too late as in the boss has left or—’
+++++He shook his head. ‘Boss has hunkered down. The committee left.’
+++++I could see Luke was inconsolable. But we could join in the shenanigans at least. ‘Which way did they go?’
+++++‘The industrial park out on Riverside.’
+++++‘Ah, yes, I remember it well,’ I sang and we hopped it on out there. It was as good a place as any to head off the incoming storm and between the boss and her. If I knew Fiona—and alas, I knew her well—that’s the first place she would look for him. If she couldn’t find him, she would be sure to lay waste to all the good stuff that was there.
+++++The boss hated losing his stuff almost as much as he hated the idea of getting killed. He was a reasonable man.
+++++Luke took the time to arm himself well from the compartment under the seat while I raced us across the roads. It was a good thing no one took a mind to wander around these parts on their days off, but then again there wasn’t much to interest a casual viewer. Just a lot of warehouses waiting to be filled.
+++++‘Save me the Beretta.’ I didn’t want to end up with one of his cannons. Like so many big fellas, Luke thought he needed some gigantic gun like it was a kind of matching tie and handkerchief. So much for his fashion sense.
+++++We could hear the shots before we got there. It sounded like a battle, which I suppose it was. Doubtless there would be someone within range to complain about the noise soon enough, though the filth were well-paid to drag their feet getting to investigate goings on at this—what did the city rag call it?—’hotbed of nefarious criminal activity’.
+++++The boss had that clipping stuck up on the wall.
+++++We left the car behind warehouse 3 which seemed safe enough and made our way toward where we could hear the racket. I tried to keep my head down and gauge which way the shots were coming from. Luke was in his best this-gun-for-hire mode, slipping around corners with his two cannons at the ready, just itching to shoot at something.
+++++‘We best figure out the lay of the land before we shoot anybody,’ I reminded him, following up the rear. If someone was going to shoot at us, I didn’t want to be the one in front.
+++++‘Fiona got a crew, we ain’t asking questions.’ Luke gave me that patented Statham dead-eye look. Didn’t half look silly, if you ask me. Of course nobody did.
+++++‘We might want to ask where they are relative to our guys so we don’t shoot the wrong people,’ I pointed out all reasonable like.
+++++Luke ignored me and we made our way toward the noise. I saw Chino first, so I knew we was heading in the right direction, which was just as well because Fiona must have had a big crew judging by the noise.
+++++I threw myself down next to Chino. He was a cool one. Didn’t talk much, which always threw me, but when he did it was always sensible. In this crew that was a rarity. I nudged him. ‘What riled all this up?’
+++++He gave me the hairy eyeball. ‘I didn’t ask.’
+++++‘How many we got out here?’
+++++‘Just about everyone now.’ Chino shook his head. ‘We didn’t have much warning. Who knew Fiona would make a big push like this?’ He gave me a look that suggested I might be that who.
+++++‘I heard nothing! I would have told the boss if I had.’
+++++‘Just be sure you know which side your bread’s buttered on, my friend.’
+++++‘I do, I surely do.’ Someone was getting impatient. I watched Luke scoot up around the big green rubbish tip, angling for a shot at something, anything. ‘Just seems like something must have—’
+++++A hail of bullets came and Luke went down, screaming and holding his leg. Chino swore. I hopped over crouching which I suppose sort of made me look like a big crab, but dragged Luke back out of the firing range. ‘You idiot!’
+++++‘It hurts.’
+++++‘Well, yeah, you been shot.’ The blood was gushing out of the wound but it didn’t look immediately deadly, I thought with all my many years of medical experience. ‘I think you’ll survive, Luke.’
+++++‘They’re coming this way. Time for a tactical withdrawal,’ Chino said and suiting action to word, departed. His look as he ran off suggested I consider the same.
+++++I hesitated. ‘Can you walk, Luke?’
+++++The big man looked up at me, half angry, half blubbing. The bigger they are, the harder they fall—I suppose there’s a reason folks say that. It was certainly true of Luke. ‘C’mon, mate. What would Statham do? He would man up and crawl if he had to do it.’
+++++Luke shot me a look blacker than the heart of coal at midnight. ‘Get ta fuck.’
+++++I had a moment of discomfort that had nothing to do with Luke’s anger. ‘It seem awful quiet to you?’ I couldn’t hear any shots. Maybe it was over. Maybe we won. Or maybe things were about to get a lot worse.
+++++And then she was there. Fiona was looking good for her age, hardly a hair out of place despite the splash of blood across her cheek. Damn it.
+++++‘Hi, mum.’
+++++The back of her hand hit my cheek with quite a wallop. She was always aces at that, her signature move. ‘Don’t you speak to me like that.’
+++++‘What?!’
+++++‘Where’s your father gone?’ Fiona wiped the blood from her cheek as if she could feel it dripping down, but only managed to smear it wider across the arching cheekbones. In a moment Frank and Jesse sauntered up beside her and looked at me and Luke like we were bugs under their heel.
+++++‘I have no idea.’ I’d be damned if I was going to spill the beans on the boss.
+++++‘You were always a worthless runt,’ Jesse said with a sneer. The twins looked so much like masculine versions of Fiona that it was a mite uncanny. At the moment it seemed downright dangerous, too. Too much us-and-them right now.
+++++Families: can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em—or so the theory goes. I had begun to wish that I had run away and joined the circus like I threatened when I was six.
+++++‘You must know where he’s gone,’ Fiona insisted. ‘I need to talk to him.’
+++++‘If all you wanted to do was talk, why’d you start shooting all creation?’
+++++A kind of cloud crossed Fiona’s face. I had seen that weather many times but somehow it seemed this time the dark would last longer than the light. ‘I was in a mood. Seems your father doesn’t want to speak to me.’
+++++‘Don’t take this the wrong way, mum, but can you blame him?’
+++++Frank smacked me hard, same cheek as mum. At least he could have varied the cheek to make me feel a little more balanced. ‘Where is he holed up?’
+++++‘I have no idea.’ Now James hit the other cheek. I felt a sense of vindication along with the pain.
+++++Fiona stared at me. Annoyance was getting the better of her. ‘Does he know?’ She pointed at Luke.
+++++‘I couldn’t really say—’
+++++Without warning she shot Luke in his other leg. He screamed and clutched the fresh wound as more blood dripped on the ground, pooling around him. ‘The next one goes in your eye,’ she told him, shouting to be heard over his shrieks.
+++++‘He’s at the carousel,’ Luke said, then flinched when she raised the gun again. ‘I swear!’
+++++‘Let’s go.’ Fiona wasted no time.
+++++‘What about him?’ Jesse said staring at Luke with evident distaste.
+++++‘Who cares?’
+++++I’d have thought she meant forget about him, but Frank decided it meant ‘shoot him in the hand’ which he did and left Luke screaming even more. I was a mite worried that he wouldn’t survive this ordeal after all. Seemed a shame. I didn’t really like the big lug, but it wasn’t a good way to go.
+++++Not that I had a say in the matter as I got dragged along with the rest of the family for an unexpected reunion. We were outside the pub in minutes thanks to Jesse’s lead boot. We got out of the car and they shoved me toward the door as a kind of target to draw fire.
+++++I poked my head around the door. ‘Hey boss, it’s me. And before you say anything, it was Luke what told them where you were.’
+++++‘Goddamnit, you are no child of mine.’ They were all barricaded behind tables at the end of the room. The fruit machines made their jingly noises as if uncomfortable with the silence.
+++++‘Can you at least hear her out? Preferably without shooting me.’ I blinked and tried not to cringe. I really had been a cuckoo’s egg in this family.
+++++‘Hello, Fiona.’
+++++‘Hello darling.’ There was no sweetness in the words. ‘I hear you want a divorce.’
+++++‘It’s not like we’re married really, Fiona, now is it?’ His tone started out reasonable enough, but a bit of a whine crept into it by the end. Mistake. She hated whiners.
+++++I’d like to report it was something nigh on Shakespearean, full of fire and music, catching some bit of truth about the state of the world in general and the failings of us all. I’ve told people that her last words were a film-worthy quip of ‘Til death us do part!’
+++++Makes for a better story, don’t you think?
+++++The truth is simpler. They catcalled back and forth. The guns came out. I hit the floor and covered my ears and that’s how I’m still here to tell the story. But I’m really looking for a circus. I could use a quiet life.

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Graham Wynd
A writer of bleakly noirish tales with a bit of grim humour, Graham Wynd can be found in Dundee but would prefer you didn’t come looking. An English professor by day, Wynd grinds out darkly noir prose between trips to the local pub. Wynd’s novella of murder and obsessive love, EXTRICATE is out now from Fox Spirit Books; the print edition also includes the novella THROW THE BONES as well as a collection of short stories. ‘Headless in Bury’ will be in the MISSING MONARCHS Fox Pockets anthology, ‘The Tender Trap’ appears in EXILES: AN OUTSIDER ANTHOLOGY from Blackwitch Press and the short story ‘Kiss Like a Fist’ appears in NOIR NATION 3: http://grahamwynd.wordpress.com/
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