John tried to get more comfortable as his blood, like his life, flowed steadily away from him. He shifted his weight slightly. His left arm lying awkwardly beneath him allowed him a glimpse of his designer watch. Was it really only last year that his friend, Greg, had given it to him to celebrate his 40th birthday?
The fine gold minute hand moved slowly around the black, onyx face. 5.25pm. His breathing became more laboured. His body grew colder. Using, his right hand, he tried to pull his jacket tight to his body, hoping to stem the flow of blood from the deep gash running from his neck, down into his chest . . .
Across the bedroom, the street light shone through the window, casting an eerie glow over the silver picture frame on the locker. Two smiling faces – Greg and Emily – stared back at him.
He shivered, his mind wandering back in time. Nights out in Dublin; going drinking to the latest watering hole – Magnums, newly opened, with the lights that twinkled in time with the music, while the barmen showed off, shaking Pina Colada’s for the ladies. The bouncers blocking the doorway until they decided who would be allowed to enter: if you had white socks on, there was no point even joining the queue. The Pink Elephant was so cool and only sold cans of beer, but The Bernie Inn, probably middle of the road, had been their favourite.
Their choice of disco, at the start of the night, was always about the music. But, by the end of the night, depended on how drunk and hungry they were. Then, their disco choice came down to where supplied the best grub; chicken curry or chicken and chips and peas or beef goulash. Falling into taxi’s, crawling into bed and out again for work hours later, only to get up and do the same again the following night – no hangover, no regrets – just having a good time – having fun. Girls came and went, but the friendship Greg and John shared was stronger - no girl could ever come between them!
John smiled to himself. No girl ever had come between them, he thought - until Emily . . . Blonde, blue eyes, petite - every guy who saw her wanted to protect her. That quick smile and flick of her fringe and every guy who saw her wanted her - full stop. He remembered the first night they had met. He had been posing against a mirrored wall in Club Nassau sipping from a pint of lager. A slow-set had started - normally an excuse to go to the bar for more drink – but not that night . . .
To the sounds of The Moody Blues, singing ‘Knights in White Satin’, John felt himself drawn, as if in a trance, towards her. They may as well have been the only two people in the room – until Greg, taller and leaner, had reached Emily first, leaving John to mumble to her friend,
“do you wanna dance?”
They had shuffled around the dance floor for that one song, as he watched Greg and Emily, smiling into each others eyes and laughing. He could not even remember what her friend had looked like. Some work colleague called June he had heard later. Apparently, she’d been quite upset by his rudeness – not that he had cared. He had made the minimal amount of small-talk, left early, and the rest was history.
He could see dust accumulated under the bed on the cream carpet, a rectangular box barely visible - Jesus, not their bloody wedding album!
Memories flooded back. Acting as Best Man for Greg and Emily had been the worst day of his life. ‘Best Man’ was right. He was the best man. But he should have been the one marrying Emily not Greg. He had left for the States not long after.
The weather and social life had suited him perfectly. He was a good-looking Irish man, with the ‘gift of the gab’, and an accent that the Americans could never get enough of. With his jet black hair and dark brooding eyes he had more than his share of women, some; meaningless one night stands, others; lasting some months. But ultimately, none of them really meant anything. Living in Los Angeles for the last ten years, he had only bothered to make the trip home a handful of times.
Of course, they’d all seen each other over the years, when he had come home for the weddings of close friends and family. And each time he saw Emily – walking into a church, a pub, a hotel he felt as if his heart had actually missed a beat.
He would silently watch her; the familiar flick of her blonde hair as she pushed it out of those blue eyes. He would listen intently for the sound of her laughter, storing it all away to be replayed on one of the many, long, lonely nights. They would hug, chat, catch-up on all the news. They still had so much in common. They loved the same books – both admitting to being terrified as teenagers when reading Stephen King’s, ‘The Shining’. They watched the same movies – especially anything with Al Pachino or Robert de Nero and they were both huge U2 fans.
Greg was tall, with dark blonde hair and green eyes. He was the sporty one - soccer, rugby, golf – he had thrived at them all. His passion for the game seemed to transcend to the pub afterwards drawing girls to him like a magnet. He could have had any girl – why did he have to choose Emily?
John, shorter and stockier than Greg, had been passable on the soccer pitch, but only really played to keep in touch with the lads and have the laugh and customary pint or two afterwards. It was more about the camaraderie than the game for him, he had never really cared whether they won, lost or drew - or even where they were in the league tables - it was just something to do.
He shivered, shifting his weight, as he looked down at his watch. He still could not understand where his plan had gone wrong – Greg should have been lying on the floor dead – not him!
He thought back to the plan. Fate. The chance-meeting in the old pub in Townsend Street – known more for its pint of Guinness than the other services it offered. He had watched two guys as they sat at the end of the bar, a set of house plans laid out before them, and wondered what the were up to. In the hour John was there, he had watched as they each drank a pint of the black stuff, followed by a whisky chaser – then ordered two more rounds - hardened men in the Dublin underworld . . .
He cursed under his breath as he noticed the empty, cordless phone charger on the locker. Modern technology – bloody brilliant - God only knows where their house phone is. He tried to move again. He was afraid to move his hand away from the wound, but he could see the blood seeping up his arm, the smell of iron assaulting his nostrils, making him feel queasy. If only he could reach his mobile phone and call for help, he thought, although how in hell he was going to escape from here . . .
A sharp pain cut off his breath, stopping any further movement. As he drifted in and out of consciousness, he remembered asking the bald, red-faced barman about the two men. He had shrugged off his questions, then finally snarled, “why don’t you go ask them yourself? You’ll find their number scraped into the wall out back - beside the shell of the old phone box. If you need something disposed of, give them a call, a bit like ghost busters,” and he’d given a grotesque wink.
John had feigned disinterest. But later, as he had left the gents, a little worse-for-ware, he had inched past the remains of the old black metal phone box and memorised the number.
Everything had been over the phone – no names, just the basic, necessary details. He had supplied the address, told them to kill the guy who would be in the house at 6.00pm; they had no interest in knowing his identity. They planned to ransack the house to make it look like a burglary, while he would be in the local pub with plenty of old friends, to give him a watertight alibi. So how was he lying here watching his life ebb away?
He had arrived at the house just before 5.00pm to leave the agreed sum of €50,000 under the mattress. Not much to pay for a life – Greg’s life! And what better way for him to spend time with Emily than to supply a shoulder to cry on. What could be more natural: the widow and the best friend sharing their grief, while in the process . . .
But he had lingered, looking at her clothes hanging neatly in the wardrobe, spraying her favourite perfume – “Happy” – breathing in the smell of her. He had just put his hand out to pick up the photo on the locker beside the Kazuo Ishiguro book ‘Never Let Me Go’, he hadn’t read that one yet, when he’d felt a rush of air behind him.
A strong arm reached around his neck, squeezing tight. His breath caught. His eyes bulged. The smell of stale sweat and drink assaulted his nostrils, but he tried to inhale, tried to hold on to consciousness. His bulk thwarted his attacker, as he kicked out, twisting and turning, trying to knock him off balance.
The drumming in his ears was broken momentarily by an almighty, incoherent, screech:
And then, he collapsed to the ground, as a searing pain tore through his neck and chest. He looked down to see blood seeping through his clothes, soaking them in seconds. He put his right hand up to his neck, and stared disbelievingly at the red, wet blood which ran through his fingers and down his arm. He could not form a word, it was as if his brain had stopped functioning and all he could do was watch. He recognised one of the guys from the pub as he grabbed the money from beneath the mattress and ran down the stairs and out the door. So much for making it look like a burglary!
John felt himself becoming lighter, fainter, and the citrus smell of Emily’s perfume still lingering in the air. He heard a noise from downstairs. Too late for post or junk mail, he thought. He tried to call out.
“Help.” He licked his lips, then tried again. “Help me, please, somebody help me.” But the whisper that escaped his lips was drowned out by the pealing of bells. He automatically raised his right hand to bless himself, stopping midway, as realisation dawned on him.
“Nooooo,” he screamed silently, it was so long since he had lived in Ireland that he had forgotten about daylight saving time - the clocks had gone forward last night . . .
He closed his eyes, his breathing ragged, trying to still the drumming in his head. He heard the key turning in the front door and the sound of Emily laughing,
“I can’t believe you remembered - after all these years . . .”
Moments later, he could just make out the first notes of “Knights in White Satin” drifting in the air, and Greg’s reply,
“As my ‘auld Mum used to say, “God is in the details kiddo . . .””
John gasped in pain.
A single tear rolled down his cheek as he felt his final breath escape.