THEIR BLOOD BE LAID: PART VIII

by - 6/16/2018





VIII.


Our next stop is one that takes more walking, more wandering through the dark, kicking at my nightgown as it tangles around my ankles. I watch Turner grow more and more agitated — his fingers twitch for his gun, his head swivels — until he stops short.
“Miss Tracey.”
“What?” I try to peer past him, but he throws out an arm, holding me back.
“This isn’t our territory anymore. We gotta get out. See…”
He points toward the man half-hidden behind a doorway ahead. A thin cloud of smoke hovers around his head, curling tendrils out into the summery dark. From here we can just hear him whistling a song I don’t know.
“I need to talk to him,” I say.
“What, just have talk?”
“I need to talk,” I repeat. “I have some questions for him.”
“We’re crossing over lines. This is a hell of an idea.”
Some things, you have to do yourself.
I slip around him before he can protest and walk straight out into the alleyway. The watchman’s head perks up as he hears my feet slapping against stone — first his head appears, peering around the corner, and then the rest of him, pushing off the doorway he’s leaned against and moving toward me.
He has one hand inside his jacket.
It stops when he sees me.
Cillian, at Dad’s instruction, helped teach me how to shoot a pistol. He grimaced the whole way, but he told me that it was easy, after the first time. Just like shooting a target. I’d never considered before then that Cillian had shot a man.
I’d never considered doing it myself.
My hands are steadier than I thought they’d be.
My heart is calmer than I thought it would be.
My aim is almost right, and the bullet catches the man right below the knee, lower than I meant it.
“Dammit,” Turner says behind me, as our target curses and hits the ground like a sack of flour. “Dammit. Ah, dammit, this is — shit, I…”
“Turner!” My voice cracks. “Turner, if you’d like to bring him over here so I can talk to him.”
The man heaves and shakes, fingers clutched over his shattered leg, blood spilling across his skin. I swallow hard and point the gun again.
“Stay right there,” I say.
He looks up at me with eyes so wild and shocked I nearly take a step back.
Turner, still keeping up a steady stream of curses, hauls him to his feet, eliciting another cry. “Right, let’s go talk to the lady.”
I don’t know if I can move.
I don’t know if I can even talk. Maybe I can’t do anything but think about Cousin Finn on the ground, clutching at his own knee, and the blood that circles around and around again.
Your dad.
Your brothers, your mother, your cousins, your uncles, Aunt Katherine who was never a part of any of this but might be bleeding out in an alleyway somewhere, torn to pieces. I think about all the things I’ve seen before and I let the anger grow in me until it’s something raw and throbbing, a banging against my ribs, a heat that crawls up my throat and lodges in my brain.
I look straight at the gasping, bleeding man in Turner’s grasp. He sags toward the ground, words wobbling and stuttering, face white. I try not to look too hard at his leg.
“Do you know where Connor Mullane is?” I ask him.
The man with his badly-shaved stubble and shaking fingers shakes his head.
“You don’t know anything.”
Another shake. He manages a look up at me and looks away just as quickly.
Turner frowns and gives him a good hard shake, enough to bring out a strangled gasp. “You want to answer the lady, now?”
I’m not a lady. I’m a bloody spectre in a white dress, bare feet dirty against the tile. I’m a nightmare and at the moment, that’s exactly what I want.
“I just want to know what you’ve heard, and I want to know now,” I say, leaning down to the man’s level. “Or I’m taking the other knee.”
“Y-you can’t—”
“Do you know or not?”
“He—” He struggles around the words. “Goin’ — shit — going on a raid…”
“Where?”
Where would you go if you thought you’d win and you wanted to finish things?
“Turner,” I say, hot and cold and tingling all at once.
He nods and drops our prisoner to a clumsy, moaning heap on the ground. “We’ve gotta hurry.”
He gives the man one more good kick to the side for emphasis. I look away.
Now.” I’m already too late, too slow, the opposite of where I should be.
“Hold on,” Turner says, as I start to move away. I turn around and watch him bend down and tug at the man’s shoelaces.
“What are you…”
“Can’t run around in the dark without shoes,” he replies. “I’m all for the bleeding ghost look, but I don’t want your dad after me when this is over. C’mere.”

Turner breathes an audible sigh when we pass back into our territory and familiar streets. My borrowed shoes are clunky, too big by far, but there’s security in them, and I tromp through the dark without the caution I had before.
You’re too late.
There’s nothing much to be done.
You’re going to —
“Wait.” I come to a stop. Shrink away from the nearest streetlight.
Footsteps come closer. Lots of them.
I jump out of my skin as Turner puts his fingers between his teeth and lets out a cat-screech of a whistle into the night.
“What—”
The same whistle echoes back, and Turner brushes past me.
“Our guys,” he offers. “This way.”
We meet them on the other side of a corner, in the shadows. Five or six, I think, pistols and bats and knives in hands, caps pulled down low, and —
“Áine!”
I take a step back, not fast enough to avoid being crushed in something more like a trap than a hug, tight enough to lift me off the ground. His face hits my shoulder, his breath rattles against mine, and I stop just short of smacking the hell out of him, because I’d know Cillian’s hugs anywhere.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” he says, and “I thought—” and “Áine…
I wrap my arms around his neck and hold on for dear life. “Hey—”
“You got out?”
“You did?”
“Wasn’t there, I was on patrol— Quinn told me, he was on his way back there, I don’t know…” Cillian squeezes me tighter. “We were headed that way. You’re supposed to be somewhere safe!”
“I had better things to do.” It’s a miracle I don’t sound as choked as I feel. “We need to go. We don’t have time.”
“No. Absolutely not.” He shuffles me closer to the streetlight and moves back so he can look at me. I watch his face get paler than before. “You’re not bleeding anymore. Not really.”
Ice running up and down my back, cold water sloshing through my veins. I can’t breathe from the shock of it.
“I’m not?”
I’m not. All that red has crusted and dried on my clothes, my arms, my leg, but nothing drips, nothing runs.
I make a wish and feel sick for it immediately.
“Áine.” Cillian catches my gaze. “You need to go somewhere safe, with…” he looks at my partner. “Turner. Let Turner take you back to one of the safehouses. You have to stay there.”
“No.”
“You can’t be stubborn right now.”
“I’m going to talk to Connor Mullane,” I say, clapping a hand over my brother’s mouth to muffle him, like I did when we were younger and I wanted a word in edgewise. “I need to talk to Connor Mullane. I need to get Dad back.” If dad’s still… “I want to be there for it. Please let me be there for it.”
“Áine, you look like…”
“Like what?”
“You look like a demon,” he admits.
I smack the side of his head. “You idiot. We need to go.”
“You’re sure…”
“I’m sure.”
Cillian works his jaw and looks up to the sky. For a moment, I think he might be praying. Asking something to whoever’s listening. Doing something we don’t do, in this family, because whatever’s up there abandoned us long ago with the blood and the screams and the sharp gleam off our knife blades. Cillian’s going to leave, Dad said, what feels like forever ago.
As usual, Dad was right, and I was a fool not to see it.
“We need to go,” Cillian says.
I don’t think he’s talking just to me.

“We should go in through the upstairs windows,” Cillain whispers.
I nod and bump my arm against his. “We have to get through the patrol first.”
“We’ll have to do that no matter what we try.”
Our house is a warzone.
The back-gate that stays firmly locked swings open, half-knocked off its hinges somehow. Our yard is a muddle of footprints stomped through the grass. Figures move back and forth around the house, walking guarded circles along the fence. Cillain counted three of them. I counted five, and pointed the figures sharing a cigarette on the porch where I used to lie flat on my back and fall asleep in the sunlight. Otherwise, all the windows are black. Everything is quiet.
Everyone is waiting.
Our small collection of men hover behind us. We’re watching from a building across the street, a roof abandoned to rats and collections of garbage. Behind us, Turner and one of the men pass a flask back and forth.
I wish I had a sip right about now. Or maybe the whole thing to burn some courage into my insides.
“Here’s what I’m thinking,” Cillian says. “We have to go in all at once. Get them all at once, or someone’s going to sound the alarm. We have to go all in.”
“We have to do it perfectly, is what we have to do…”
“I know. We don’t have another option. Áine, you need to stay here. Wait for us to finish this.”
“I—”
He puts a hand up to my mouth like he did when we were kids. “You can’t kill that bastard if you’re dead,” he hisses. “Just let me do this. Please.”
“You don’t want to kill anyone,” I say, shoving his hand away.
“Boss…” Turner shifts nervously.
“I don’t want to die, either. And I don’t want any of the rest of us to…” Cillian shakes his head and pulls me into a quick hug before waving the others on. “Just wait here, okay, and try not to look.”
My brother is not going to let me at Connor Mullane.
My brother is going to try to get to him first.
My brother is going to die in the process.
The thoughts hit me in rapid succession, a knocking on the back of my head, and I swallow them back as I nod. “I’ll see you soon.”
“See you soon.”
Another gesture and he’s gone with the others, melting into the shadows around the house, exchanging whispers I don’t hear. Dad used to complain about the feeling of helplessness when he sent men on a job — how being in charge meant staying at home, waiting for them to return, and how much he hated it, how he missed the thrill of a challenge. I feel the itch in my limbs now as I sag against the nearest wall and try not to be sick.
One day there won’t be any more blood.
Won’t that be nice?
I want my brother to have a chance to leave this family.
I grip the pistol tighter and start to move off the wall.
“There you are.”
A hand shuts off my scream. I try to bite down on skin and when that fails, bring my hand back, flailing at whatever I can —
Son of a—” Laslo gasps and catches himself. He gapes at me from between the gaps in the fingers pressed over his nose. Away from the streetlights he’s a half-dead figure. He’s lucky I didn’t shoot him. My finger still twitches too close to the trigger.
I remove it and slap at Laslo’s shoulder. “What are you doing?”
“Shush!” he says. “You want them to hear us?”
“You’re the one who snuck up on me, I should’ve killed you, shouldn’t I, you can’t just do that…”
“What, you tell me you’re going to try to go kill Connor Mullane and I’m not supposed to follow you? How stupid do you think I am?”
“I was hoping you’d follow instructions.”
“And I’m not one of the family servants, Áine. You basically invited me here.”
“You’re—”
“I’m a reporter,” he says, and draws himself up to his full unimpressive height, made slightly less impressive by the bloodied nose.
I stifle a hysterical laugh. “You really shouldn’t be here.”
“You shouldn’t be here either.”
“This is my house,” I say. “And they’re—”
I gesture and turn. The figure on the porch waves back at me, and I flinch back before I pick out Cillian’s features.
Laslo creeps closer. “Did they….”
I remember the knife in Turner’s hand before they left and shake my head. “I don’t know. But they’ve got the outside. I have to go now.”
And you can’t follow me, as much as I’d like you to.
Laslo tugs on his collar and considers the situation. He’s awfully close to me, again, and I don’t appreciate a bit of it, the prickling on my arm where I brush against his sleeve, the light striking across his stubbly jawline, any of it, really.
Not here and not now and not ever, ever, ever.
“Here’s the thing,” Laslo says.
Cillian waves again.
“I have to go,” I whisper. “I have to go now.” You’re already too late, most likely. But you have to make things right.
“I really just think you should wait—”
“Laslo, I have to go.” One more second and I’m not going to leave. I move away from him and toward the yard, toward my brother, Connor Mullane inside. “You need to stay away from here.”
He calls something behind me. I don’t listen. I can’t afford to listen. Not now. I slip through the gate and past a lump on the ground that I ignore. Everything shifts and churns and wiggles inside me, a scream waiting to come out, a sob I can’t afford, a shout that makes me clutch Dad’s pistol tighter. The lights are off in the house. I don’t want to imagine the scene inside. I can all too easily see red splattering the walls. .
“Come on,” Cillian whispers. He holds a blade in one hand. Something slick coats the edges. I focus on his face instead and speed up. “Come on, we’ve got to get in, I don’t think anyone called an alarm…”
A whistle cuts through the air and leaves my breath in ribbons along the way. At first it could be my head, a ringing in my ears to put some sound into the night, but it gains volume by the second, worming into my head, crawling along my skin, insistent and slick.
“Shit,” Cillian says. “Oh, shit.”
“Police.” I’ve never felt so cold saying that.
Cillian grabs my arm —
Something tumbles across the yard toward us —
Laslo’s hat — I hate his hats, I hate them, I hate that he insists on them, and right now that’s all that pops into my head, as stupid as it is — hangs off his head at a comical angle as he gets closer.
“Police,” he pants, like he’s echoing the thoughts inside my head. “Police, I called the police, that’s what I was trying to tell you.”
“Who the hell are you?” Cillian asks. The knife in his hand twitches toward Laslo.
I throw my hands up. “Don’t. He’s just — I know him. Don’t.”
“Áine, what’s he doing here?”
“I’m sorry,” Laslo says. “I’m sorry. I called the police. That’s what I needed to tell you. They’re on their way.”
“You called the police!” Cillian half-shouts.
shut up shut up shut up don’t be so loud
I should panic. I can feel it inside of me.
All that washes over me is calm of the weirdest sort.
While Cillian shouts and Laslo shakes his head I look away from the blood across my nightgown and move for the front door.

They don’t stop me.
Not Cillain or Laslo, arguing in the yard, arms waving.
Not any of the men, backs turned toward me.
Not the police converging on the police like so many flies in the black, come to swarm around the carcasses.
There won’t be any carcasses in there. I will myself into believing it as I step through the door. The too-big shoes on my feet creak into the foyer, into air that smells of wrongness and dark men and blood. From here I can see the stairs I tumbled down in fear earlier. I can even —
“Get away from the windows!
Hissing voices. Panic and scrambling and the loss of a plan. No one planned on the police. Not so early, at least. Mullane and his men work in silence unless they can’t afford it. They slip in and out and like the work to be done before it’s light.
I listen for the sounds of injured breathing as I move closer to the wall and find nothing.
Where would he be? I ask and I know already.
Connor Mullane will be where he can stomp on everything my father’s ever done. It’s not good enough to kill him. Kill his family. Watch them tear to pieces under a curse they can’t break. He’ll want to step on any trace of us. His grief is a twisted one and as I remember my father spitting blood into the sink and the drop in my stomach when cousin Casey hit the ground I don’t find it so strange, not anymore.
I make it a few steps more into the shadows before I trip.
I catch myself on the nearest side-table, biting back a shout, biting so hard I taste blood on my lip. The weight that caught against my foot is solid. Weighty. Meaty. Another shout builds up and falls into nothing.
I could bend down.
I don’t.
I could try to imagine.
I don’t.
With every breath and every footstep as I feel my way toward my father’s office, I tell myself another fact. Mouth it into the house that’s collected all our secrets.
Connor Mullane cursed your family.
Through a doorway.
Your uncle is dead because of him. Your cousin, too.
Around furniture I’d know in my sleep.
He is going to die here tonight.
As I clutch my father’s pistol tight in both hands, I find a smile.
The office door is thrown open carelessly in a way I’ve never seen before — it stays closed, whether dad’s in it or not. Lamplight spreads across the room and puddles at the feet of a few men who took up reside on our sofas, feet stretched out in front of them, guns resting on their laps or by their chairs. They pass around our liquor with a laugh.
All three of them scramble for those guns when they see me. The blood rushes from their faces one by one as they take me in: stolen shoes, blood-stained gown, gun in hand. I don’t point at them. My fingers itch for it. But I smile my widest smile instead.
“Where’s Mullane?”
I’d hoped my voice wouldn’t shake, and it doesn’t, even if the rest of me is. Just another reason not to point my gun yet.
You have to do this.
My feet have to carry me there without giving way.
“Stop there,” one of the men says.
“The hell…” another starts.
Boss!” the third shouts, and all four of wince against the loudness in his voice. “Boss, you got company!”
“You’ve got police,” I tell them. “Any moment now. Your men scattered out already.”
The one closest to me blinks. “Police.”
Police. Stay around for them, if you want.”
They don’t make a move when I walk past them. The back of my neck and arms prickle. No bullets tear through me. They just stand there, watching, letting me pass.
It’s almost a good feeling.
Dad’s office is a whirlwind of papers and books, spines stomped in, pages crumpled. One of the shelves slants at an angle where someone knocked it down. A bottle of whiskey leaks out onto the carpet, rolled on its side. Just looking into the room turns something uncomfortable in the back of my head. Wrong, wrong, wrong, it says. Get out. Get out now.
Now I lift my pistol.
Connor Mullane sighs deep and puts his feet on the desk. “You three, get out of here,” he tells the men behind me, with a wave. “Before the police catch you.”
Their footsteps thump behind me as they leave without another word.
He smiles.
Along the far wall half my family is propped up in a bound-and gagged line. Bloodied. Bruised. Tears streak down my mother’s face. Aunt Katherine is missing one sleeve off her dress and her hair tumbles in front of her face, covering one bruised eye. Cousin Finn slumps back against the wall, eyes shut, and it’s only by looking close that I see the erratic rise and fall of his chest. If my father is here I don’t see him.
And Connor Mullane smiles.
He gestures toward the chair on the other side of the desk. It’s somehow still upright. “If you’d like to have a seat for this discussion.”
I aim for the head.

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6 Comments

  1. *biting nails* With every chapter it just gets more intense.

    ReplyDelete
  2. AIMEEE DESTROYER-OF-FEELS MEESTER. I NEED THE NEXT CHAPTER NOWWWWW. YOU CAN'T JUST END A CHAPTER LIKE THAT. JUST WUT. *SCREECHES*

    (Thisissogoodohmyword.)

    ReplyDelete
  3. SHOOT HIM AINE SHOOT HIM AINE SHOOT HIM AINE!!!!

    Also, CILLIAAAAAAAAAAAN MY PRECIOUS LITTLE CINAMMON ROLL CHILD.

    #cillianisbetterthanlaslo

    ReplyDelete
  4. OH MY LORD YOU'D BETTER POST THE NEXT CHAPTER A S A P

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've just been gradually catching up on these and d a m n this is so sTRESSFUL I can physically feel my heart rate increasing I'm so attached to these characters aaaaaaa

    ReplyDelete
  6. Definitely love your blog, so inspiring.I am Following now!

    ReplyDelete

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