THEIR BLOOD BE LAID: PART VII

by - 6/02/2018




Aaaand we're getting there!


VII.



My father used to take me for walks. He held my hand and we wove through alleys I’d never look at twice, full of mud and trash and broken pavement. We found all the ways they connected and all the roads that others missed. Duck through this doorway and you’re somewhere safe. Down this way and you’ve found the sewer-tunnel, the one that goes straight to a meeting spot. We walked the same routes until I started to ask questions and then we walked them again. My feet always hurt, but those streets are a careful map in my head now, and I’ve lost the men chasing after me. I think I have. I hope I have. All I can hear is my own footsteps slapping through puddles, nightgown tearing and tangling round my legs.
left at the pub, another few rights, straight across this street, ignore the stares. Someone calls after me. I ignore them. Whether it’s a drunk or an enemy or one of Dad’s concerned lookouts, it doesn’t matter, I don’t have time to stop. I careen around another corner and fumble against a door, hitting it before I can stop myself. My shoulder smarts. I knock until my knuckles sting. Can’t catch my breath. Can’t figure out what I need to say. Need to get in before someone worse shows up and I’m killed right here on this doorstep, in the dark, alone and afraid.
The door swings open. I lose my balance and tumble forward a few steps.
“The hell—” someone starts.
“Who is it?” someone asks behind them. I’m still trying to get my balance.
“Don’t know—”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“You see this?”
“Get it out, then—”
“No no no,” I breathe. I hold my hands up to stop the men from coming closer. “Nononono wait. It’s me.”
“It’s—”
Áine Tracey,” I say, and the one closest to me steps back. He has an open, liquor-sloshed face. Barely taller than me. I think I’ve seen him before. I’ve seen most of them before. “It’s me. I need to talk to my uncle.”
“You all right?” he asks, looking me up and down, trying to put together what’s in front of him.
“Miss Áine!” one of the other men says behind him. The room is dim, cluttered, and most of them sit in a limping semicircle of chairs, passing around bottles and bathing in cigar smoke. They come here to rest once they’re off watch, to wait for further orders and news. The last time I was here I had my father with me and I still felt small. I could sink into the floor under all the stares.
“Hey, miss, you’re hurt…”
“Quinn,” I breathe again. My chest moves too rapidly and I don’t know that I’ll ever catch up. “I need to talk to my uncle, where is he?”
“Hold on, Miss Tracey, you’re hurt,” the closest man says, stepping forward. He puts one hand on my shoulder. “Sit down, now.”
“Listen, I need—”
“Your uncle, he’s on his way soon, should be in any minute now, but you’d better have a seat, you’re bleedin’ awful…”
A dusty and cracked mirror leans up against one wall. As the man helps me to toward the chairs I get a glimpse of myself through it — clumsy shaking limbs, white face, tears streaked across my cheeks, trembling shoulders, a tattered and blood-soaked white nightgown. I’m the very image of the stories Cousin Rian told around the fireplace late at night. A bearer of bad omens, a weeping woman coming to bring death.
All the fear drains out of my insides until I’m nothing but a little husk.
“Come on, give her your seat,” my new helper says. He smacks the shoulder of a younger man and sends him scrambling. I sink into the creaking chair with relief and let myself sag against it. Someone hands me a damp towel, but it sits limply in my hands, blood dripping off my fingers and onto the fabric.
“Miss Tracey.” The man crouches so he’s at my level. “Where’re you hurt? You need anything? God’ssake, get the woman a bottle, she’s half-dead…”
“I’m fine,” I manage. I want to push his hand off my shoulder, but I may fall over without it. “I’m fine. I’m just waiting for my uncle.”
“He’ll be right along. Here…”
I take a swig from the bottle without checking the label. Liquid fire sears down my throat and settles in my belly.
“At the house,” I manage. Every one of these men are watching me. Young, old, beards and scars and scuffed boots. These are the people who guard our city, who make sure our interests stay safe. Some of them I recognize. They’ve never been afraid of me before. They’ve never kept their distance. “They got into the house.”
“Damn! We’d best get out there—”
“Don’t. They’ve got my family—  everybody.”
someone sprawled out on the floor in a puddle of blood
I shudder. The man shrugs out of his jacket and drapes it over my shoulders, drowning me in a wave of coarse fabric and old cigars.
Damn,” he says again. “Everyone?”
“Everyone.”
“Gotta get out there…”
“They’ll kill them.”
“Well, maybe we’ll kill them first, yeah? Bloody hell, where’s Quinn—”
Thumpthumpthump comes a knock at the door, shuddering the wood.
“There,” someone else says.
The door is unlocked and with a scatter of swears and a stomping of boots, my Uncle Quinn is in the room. People tend to shy away from him here, too, apparently, giving him space as he tugs at his gloves and slings his gun over one shoulder. “Listen, we need more out there—”
I cut him off as I tug at his arm. “Quinn, Quinn, listen, you have to—”
Have to what?
He gapes at me. “The hell are you here for?”
Listen, they’re at the house, they got to the house, they just—”
“She’s been this way since she came in,” someone says behind me. “Don’t know if she’s hurt or not.”
“Put it down,” Quinn says.
The pistol. I see it now, as he grabs my wrist and takes the gun from me.
“Is anyone hurt?” He bends down so he’s at my level. Something dark hides behind his eyes. Bits of hair fall over his face, over his eyes, covering the scars and nicks and little streaks of blood. My uncle doesn’t care so much about appearances when he’s in the middle of a slaughter.
I stare at the red on his jacket.
“Is. Anyone. Hurt.” he repeats.
I nod my head. Simple. Up, down. Up down.
“Stay here. You three—” Quinn stands again, already waving, back to the mechanical precision that makes him so terrifying. Every so often, stories about my uncle reach me, and they’re never from the people who watched him walk toward them. “You three come on. We’ll pick up some of the others. The rest of you, watch her.”
it goes around and around and it never really stops.
I point to my gun in his hands. “I want that back.”
“Absolutely not.”
Panic rises in my throat. I stand taller. “I want it back. I need to have something with me.”
Uncle Quinn nods slowly and hands me back the heavy weapon, the one I’ve seen in my father’s hands so many times before. “Fair enough.”
Somehow, I end up back in my chair while the others leave to save my family.
Somehow, I’m hearing the door slam behind them.
Somehow, I’m freezing in the summer heat.
The man whose jacket drapes around my shoulders sits across from me, gun in hand. His leg jumps up and down to a rhythm I can’t hear. His gaze avoids mine as he takes another drink from his glass. His eyes avoid mine, and he’s picked a chair that gives him a head start, but I’ve waited long enough, and I’m fit to scratch and claw my way right out of my own skin if I have to sit here any longer.
“Do you have a name?” I ask him. My voice shouldn’t be my own. Shouldn’t be so steady.
He looks up in surprise. “Yeah. Turner.”
“Turner. I need to leave.”
His eyebrow lifts once more. He’s a good man, I think — he could be a husband, a father, someone with a life beyond this. “Can’t do that. Your uncle said—”
“My uncle is going to escalate this war. He’s going to turn my home into a slaughterhouse. He’s going to kill and kill until there’s nothing left. Do you want that? Do you think that’s smart?”
“What I think is smart…”
“Do you think it’s smart?”
His shoulders lift and collapse back down. “No, Miss Tracey, I think it’s  bullshit — sorry — I think it’s a bad move, that one. We’re dropping like flies out there.”
“Good. I need you to come with me.”
“I really don’t think…”
“Too late.” I’m on my feet, moving like I know where I am to go, with something like calm settling over my mind. “Follow me.”

Turner hovers right behind me as we wind our way through the streets. I tore a trip off the bottom of my nightgown so it’s easier to move, and with each step I’m aware of the grimy road beneath my bare feet, but the pistol stays in my hands, and with that, I may as well own the world.
“Really shouldn’t be here,” Turner mumbles, squinting against a streetlight. A cat tears across the road behind him, yowling. Something like a gunshot sounds in the distance, followed by another. Could be my imagination. Could be something worse.
“I’m sure,” I reply. Warmth slides down my face. I ignore it for the time being, and knock on the door in front of me. Once, twice, again, solid thumps sure to wake the whole house.
Now is not the time for subtlety.
“Miss Tracey,” Turner offers. “I’m thinking we should be quieter.”
“I know what I’m doing.”
His silence is a little more satisfying than it should be.
Silence. I glare at the peeling door and knock again. Once more for good measure.
Coming,” someone fusses on the other side — a female voice, I think, and not the voice I’m after, but there’s no time to process that before she opens the door.
The hard-faced woman in her nightgown standing inside the house takes one look at us and disappears back up the stairs, whispering as she goes.
“Las-lo!”
I turn back to Turner and give him a smile I hope looks genuine, because I mean it. “I need to you watch outside, all right? I’ll be right back out.”
“Miss Tracey—”
I take the stairs two at a time, tripping over my nightgown with every step. I overtake the old woman in the hallway just as a door at the end of it creaks open, whining on rusty hinges.
“What’s the matter…?” Laslo whispers, as the old woman protests, as I shove the door open with my shoulder and bully Laslo himself aside.
“Shut the door.”
His eyes go wide, sleep-glazed as they are. “What the hell are you doing here?”
I almost get words out before it occurs to me that Laslo Hugh, in this late-night moment, doesn’t have much in the way of a shirt. That’s enough to send me stumbling over a few words like the idiot I am.
“You — well — just—”
“No, listen.” His hand finds the doorframe as if for support. “What the hell are you doing here?”
The question, really, is what the hell I’m doing here, in a torn nightgown, dripping with blood, hair tumbling around my shoulders and over my face, a man’s coat draped over me, feet still bare.
The question is why the hell do I feel triumphant?
Áine,” Laslo says. “What do you need?”
I push hair away from my face. “I need you to write.”
“You need me to write.”
“About my family, specifically. All the things you’ve been investigating.” I swallow the lump in my throat, work around the cold spreading through my chest. “About my uncle, and — my cousin, maybe. About my father. I can get you documents, and I need you to write about my family.”
Laslo blinks.
Looks up to the ceiling.
Looks back at me, eyes deep and terrible, searching for something I don’t understand.
“You want me to die,” he says simply. “You want your family to go ahead and kill me, that’s it.”
You should do something about Laslo Hugh, my dad said.
“You aren’t going to die,” I tell him. “You’ve been researching this, haven’t you? Preparing? It’s your story. I just want you to go ahead and write it.”
He barely skips a beat. “Why?”
“Because my family is out of control.” I swallow again. I’m blinking too fast and I know it, even as I pull the jacket tighter around my shoulders. “Connor Mullane has my father. He has the rest of my family. He’s going to kill them if I don’t kill him first, and we’ve launched a war we can’t stop now. We need something to put a stop to this. Something to make my family pause before they all get themselves killed.”
“Put the spotlight on them. Force them to retreat back and act normal and innocent for a while, that’s what you’re saying.”
“Exactly! We’ve got an image to keep up. This has to stop before it gets any worse.”
“You’re bleeding again, you know,” he says, and moves toward me. “Again.”
I take a step back. “That’s not important. I’m trying to tell you—”
“So you’ll forgive me if I don’t get why you want to stop your own family, right? When you’re saying they’re the ones who are in trouble? Why this sounds a little fishy?”
“And you’ll forgive me if I don’t want anyone else in my house to die.”
My voice cracks on that last word — die. Like my uncle, like cousin Casey, like my father, any moment now, bleeding out cold and alone somewhere. I’ve cried all the tears I have left but I have the shaking, the terrible numbness that spreads out through my body and weighs down my bones. I can’t play the leader anymore. Not even for Laslo. Not even if things depend on it.
I stand where I am, let my shoulders droop, and try not to watch him too closely.
He runs a hand through his hair.
Groans softly.
Works the problem over until I can see his lips moving faintly, spinning words into plans.
“You want me to write.”
“I want you to expose my family,” I say. “Or try to. Then everyone calms down. Goes into hiding. I have a chance to figure things out. No one else goes and gets shot in the streets for a while. I want you to write the truth. That’s it.”
“But you don’t, not really,” he replies. “Not if it gets your family arrested. Not if it means your father goes to prison for the rest of his life. Not if it means your uncle’s shipped off somewhere unpleasant. You don’t want the article that’s going to do that.”
“No.”
“You want me to spread rumors that your family is going to pretty quickly crush.”
“Yes.”
Áine.”
“Laslo,” I say. “Please. I’ll make sure you’re safe—”
“Don’t, don’t do that.” Now he’s pacing, back and forth, working the buttons on his shirt, shaking his head. There are dark bruises of half-circles under his eyes. I don’t think I woke him up. I don’t think he’s been sleeping for a while now, based on the collection of papers scattered around and on his bed. “You know how this feels. It feels like being bought out.”
“I’m not buying you out, I’m asking for your help!”
“And telling me to make it newsworthy but not too newsworthy! That you’ll make sure I don’t get in trouble! That what, I’ll be safe from your family? You’re putting me on your payroll. I can’t do that.”
“I never said I was going to pay you.” I try to take another step toward him and find that I don’t have the energy for it. There’s not enough time, not enough time for anything, the lack of it leeching the air out of my lungs. “Please. I’ll give you papers, all right? I’ll give you documents. Whatever helps you.”
“I don’t want them.”
I don’t have time for this, I almost snap. My thoughts go to the pistol in my hands. The money I could throw his way. The man outside who would do any amount of threatening for me. All the begging and twisting I could do, even with this limited time, even on a deadline that makes me want to run run run run run with nowhere to go and nothing I can do.
I draw myself up to my full height. “Laslo, I’m asking for your help,” I say again. “Because you’re my friend. Because I can’t do this unless you help me. And whatever happens to my dad, I don’t want him to die tonight. So I’m asking you. Please.”
I can’t tell if he wants to laugh, or shout, or turn his back and ignore me altogether.
I can’t decide if I would rather storm out or kiss him, with everything I’ve got left in me.
I don’t know what he’s going to say until he says it, which is “Damn,” and then “damn it” again, and a long sigh that makes him tireder than ever.
“All right. This once, only. And I’m going to write what I want to write. And I’m going to do my very best to show things as they are. I can’t hold back.”
You can write what I want you to know, I could say, if it didn’t make my insides feel twisted and muddled.
“I have to go now,” I say. Better to leave now than say something I regret.
“You’re just going to —” he blinks. “You’re not even...wearing anything.”
I blink. “What do you think a nightgown is?”
“You know what I mean!”
“I’m sorry if I didn’t have time to get dressed before I escaped my own house!”
“You what?”
“It’s been a long night,” I tell him, and for some strange reason, I have to smile. “But I’ve got to go finish it.”
“By yourself.”
“I’ve got someone waiting outside.”
He slaps a hand to his forehead. “Of course you do.”
“I’ll get those papers to you, anything you need…” Anything I want you to need.
“That’s it,” he says. FInally, he takes a step closer to me, which is much closer than I’d like to be, funny-feelings-inside being as they are. “You’re just...running back off. Like that. To...what are you doing?”
I want to look away, but I can’t, I’m steely and tired and, strangely, unwavering. “I think I’m going to have to kill Connor Mullane.”
Shit,” Laslo says.
And then, “Sorry!”
And finally, when I don’t reply, “What’s wrong with you?”
“This,” I reply, and hold out my bloody arms. “He’s going to kill my family tonight, if I don’t stop him. We’ve had enough of that.”
“You understand that you’re killing a man, don’t you? That’s what you just said? You just said you’re going to kill a man?”
“A murderer.”
“You’re going to just walk off into the dark and kill a man,” Laslo repeats. I’m close enough to watch the disbelief flicker through his eyes and the nervous twitch his jaw in-between words. “That’s what you just told me, Áine.”
“It’ll be all right.”
“I’m not concerned about that! Just—” He reaches forward and takes me by the shoulders, looking right at me, with all the things I don’t understand. His hands slide down helplessly to close around my arms. “Don’t die.
“I don’t want to,” I joke. Or try to joke. In the moment it falls flat and collapses in a dismal heap on the floor. “I’m going to do my best.”
“You know what I think you should do.”
“I’m not going to the police. And you already said you’d help me.”
He works around something before finally keeping it to himself. “Then you’d better go on and get it over with, right?”
I don’t need Laslo to understand the things I have to do, nor should I expect it. He’s a million miles away from the family, from the tangle of threads tightening in my insides, all of it. He’s a good person, for better or for worse, and I’ve roped him into something ugly. But the accusing in his eyes is almost too much.
I swallow it all back and shrug his hands off me. “I’m leaving now.”
“Be careful.”
“As careful as I can be.”
“Maybe you should...find some clothes? Before you go and, you know…”
I look down at the blood splattered across my nightgown. In the dim light the cloth is too bright, the un-stained parts out of place. I’m a nightmare out of old family stories.
“No,” I reply, “I think this is all right.”
“That’s ridiculous.”
“I’ll be fine.”
He nods and, with a jolt like he’s surprised with himself, leans forward and sets a whisper of a kiss on my forehead. “Get out of here.”

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4 Comments

  1. *SCREECHING PTERODACTYL NOISES* I have so many emotions right now I don't even know what to do with myself!

    I'M SO SCARED.
    BUT ALSO SO PROUD OF AINE FOR TAKING ACTION.
    BUT ALSO SO SCARED.
    AND LASLOOOOOOO.

    ReplyDelete
  2. These chapters make me feel so panicked! Is everyone going to die.

    ReplyDelete

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