Read Screwed Online

Authors: Eoin Colfer

Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Humorous, #Thrillers, #General, #FIC016000, #FIC050000, #FIC031000

Screwed (8 page)

BOOK: Screwed
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What you eventually realize is, that when people blink they are mostly just blinking, not spelling out some kind of code, or when they shift away from you in bed, it ain’t because they don’t love you anymore, it’s because you have sharp elbows.

Sometimes a tiger, tiger, burning bright is just a tiger.

I know this, but still years of beatings have made this habit reflex to me.

Watch for signs. Everything means something.

In a way, it’s handy having had an abusive parent. Pretty much every bad thing I’ve ever done can be traced back to Dad on a big thick blame arrow.

For some reason I had thought myself in a detached house, out in the country a little. Maybe with a garden. Someplace the neighbors would be horrified when they found out it was a porn studio.

I cannot believe it. That house was always so quiet. Kept itself to itself and never threw parties.

But as I settle enough to take stock, I realize that my spatial sense has probably been bamboozled by the porn room’s soundproofing. I am in a New York high-rise hallway, no doubt about it. I can tell by the street noises jostling each other in the stairwell. Traffic and fat throngs of pedestrians. New Yorkers shouting terse messages into their cells, the delighted cooing of tourists getting their first glimpse of the Donald’s golden tower or the Apple Store, and a blend of Middle Eastern dialects that you wouldn’t find in Guantanamo. The smells are familiar too; street food, hot asphalt and the rubber of a million tires.

New York. Those clowns humped me to New York.

There is a tight elevator cab to my left, which would take me down to a back door but I choose not to trap myself inside. Contrary to what the movies would have us believe there is often not a handy escape hatch in the roof that is left unbolted in case of action-hero distress. If you get caught in a lift, then you are, as the gamers say, totally pawned.

It’s hard to keep up with the kid lingo. I said FUBAR to a college jock in the club recently and he looked at me like I was in black-and-white.

Tango and Cash, junior. Buy a DVD, why don’t you?

So I don’t get in the lift for that reason. But also because I have a phantom memory of being manhandled into that shaft with Fortz’s snide laughter wet in my ear and just looking at the steel door gives me the shivers.

Feck it. I’m just gonna kill them.

No. I’ve done a lot of desperate things in my life, but I’ve never killed a person when there was another way. Any other way.

That arsehole Fortz better learn from his mistakes, because next time I can’t promise this level of self-control, especially when I’ve had time to brood on the wrong done to me.

After a few breaths to steady myself I take the stairs. Three stories down past a nail spa and a meat refrigerator and I’m out on the street. I turn right and walk head down just in case there is some sort of surveillance. Putting a little mileage between me and that building is my priority. When my heart stops pounding, then I can try to figure my whereabouts. It shouldn’t be too difficult. All I have to do is ask my phone.

As it turns out, I’m way down in Manhattan on Forty-second and Eighth, which is an area I know pretty well from my years bouncing the Big Apple clubs. I could jump a cab to SoHo and get this accursed envelope dropped off, but I need a little headspace to ride out the after-tremors of combat neurosis that I feel coming my way, and also food would be a very good idea. It’s after two and I haven’t eaten a crumb.

After two? How the hell did that happen?

Krieger must have given me a shot of something in the car, to make sure I stayed out. Another reason I should have finished those guys off. I decide to ask Zeb for a thorough once-over if I make it home, to make sure there are no alien chemicals floating around my system. A lot of sedatives cause side effects unless you get them flushed. Anything from amnesia to paranoia can crop up for days after taking a shot. The last thing I need is to be wandering around, convinced that people are trying to kill me but unable to remember who exactly.

I’d probably ask a cop for help and that cop would be Dirk Fortz.

I hike the dozen or so blocks to the Parker Meridien, glad of the density of human camouflage on the streets, and grab myself a small table in the famous Norma’s breakfast restaurant.

Dirk Fortz. What kind of stupid name is that? It’s like his parents couldn’t decide if they were in Dynasty or Star Wars.

This guy has gotten under my skin in a way nobody else ever has. He didn’t just want to kill me, he wanted to go beyond that.

My hands are shaking and I hide them under the table when the waitress comes over with the menu. Sorry, not waitress. Server. The server is maybe ten years younger than me, so just about eligible for the fantasy league, with an open face and eyes that are bright with good diet or speed.

“No need for a menu,” I say. “I’ve been before. Bring me a pot of coffee and the french toast, with everything.”

The server’s smile is so wide that she makes me believe in it. If there’s one thing Americans know how to do, it’s how to make people feel welcome.

Shit, I feel like a regular and I haven’t been up the steps in years.

“French toast,” she says, writing the order on her pad. “Some comfort food, huh?”

“Yep,” I say. “I need a little comfort right now.”

I used to treat myself to breakfast here when I’d had a rough night on the doors. A lot of joints have the Best Breakfast in New York City sign in the window, but Norma’s might actually deserve it.

I read the server’s name tag. “Nothing like french toast to make a guy feel comforted, Mary. You Irish, Mary?”

Mary is thrilled with the question. “Oh my God. I am like, totally Irish. My great-granddad came over from County Wales.”

I am glad to have an excuse to smile. “That’s great. I got cousins in County Wales.”

Mary thrusts out her chest with some determination. “Well, I hope you’re hungry, cousin. ’Cause this toast will be big enough to feed an army.”

I like Mary already and if I hadn’t been recently electrocuted and abducted I might even put some effort here. But I have bearer bonds in my pocket and the truth is Mary is probably working on her tip and even if she isn’t I feel a crazy loyalty to Sofia like a bipolar angel sitting on my shoulder.

Mary strides off to the kitchen and I lay my hands on the table, daring them to shake.

Deal with it, assholes, I beam at them. You got stuff to do.

Norma’s is a lot swishier than my usual diner but sometimes you gotta tolerate a little class in the name of toast. Even at close to three in the afternoon, the high-ceilinged room is half full of businessmen loosening their ties and buttons, and out of towners here for the famous pancakes. I bet a girl like Mary could pull in a couple of hundred extra a day in tips.

Maybe I’ll offer her a job.

While I’m contemplating my server’s totally over-the-top reaction to my imagined job offer, in the real world Mary has plenty of time to grab a pot of coffee and swing back around to my table.

“Hey, cousin,” she begins, then freezes, staring at my hands. No, not my hands, something between my hands. I look down and see that I have put one of the Glocks on the table. I don’t remember doing it. Why would I do that in a restaurant? I feel a cold sweat push through the pores of my neck.

Mary is not fazed for long. This gal works in NYC.

“Oh, I get it. Irish, right? So, you’re a cop?”

It’s nice when people invent your excuses for you. I wish it happened more often.

“This is a cop’s gun,” I say truthfully, sweeping the Glock off the table. “I was just making sure the safety was on. I wouldn’t want to shoot any of your customers.”

Mary leans in close and pours me a cup of java that I know is top class just from the aroma.

“See those two guys in the corner with their eyes on stalks every time my ass swishes by?” she whispers.

“Yeah, I see ’em,” I reply.

Of course now that she has said the words ass and swishes, my eyes are going to be on stalks too.

“You can shoot those two if you like, Officer,” Mary says, and I feel her breathing in my ear, which almost cancels out the memory of Fortz doing the same thing.

The toast is everything I remember and twice as big, buried under fruit, cream and syrup, made all the sweeter by the discreet hip bump Mary throws me on the way past. It’s like tossing a bone to a drowning dog. I appreciate the gesture, but it doesn’t really improve my situation.

I go to work on the toast, which is so good that I grudgingly enjoy it even though any respite is temporary.

It’s fuel, I tell myself. There is a lot of business to get through before sundown. You still gotta make the trip to SoHo.

I put down my cutlery and think about reneging on that deal. After my brush with the wrong arm of the law, I can’t help thinking that I could go fetch my weapons’ stash out of my locker at the bus station and deal with this Mike Madden situation myself. The Irish government spent a lot of money training me to do wet stuff and quiet stuff and it would be a pity to waste that investment.

Better the devil you know, right? This touchy guy in SoHo could be some goodfella arsehole who will not give shit one about my lousy day.

I go at the toast again and pour myself another cup of coffee, feeling the caffeine opening up my heart’s throttle all the way.

Yeah. Just take Mike’s whole gang out, why not? Wouldn’t take more than an afternoon and a coupla clips.

Maybe in a war zone. But this is New Jersey we’re talking about. Plenty of cameras and concerned citizens.

And if you screw up?

Then Mike will block the club’s exits and torch the place. Jason, Marco and the girls would be gone.

Sofia. Don’t forget Sofia.

Yeah. Sofia would be as good as dead.

So, how’s about I just kill Mike? Cut off the snake’s head?

Nope. Calvin is waiting in the wings. Maybe Manny too. There are plenty more snakes where Mike came from. And these guys love to make examples.

I decide to text Sofia for no more practical a reason than to make myself feel better.

So I send: ?

That’s all, just a question mark. It used to be: Hey, what’s up? How are you? But we got a shorthand now and I guess that’s progress.

A minute later I get back: ✓?

Which means: I’m fine. How are you?

So I send: L8R?

And get back a big smiley face.

Which is good. It means Sofia’s taken her meds, or at least is not in one of her near-suicidal troughs, and she wants to see me later.

I feel a little guilty for making a date I might not show up to or be recognized at, but sometimes a man needs more than french toast to buoy him through the day’s shenanigans.

While I have the phone in my hand I check for missed calls and see there are six from Mike and three from Zeb.

Screw those guys.

My malicious side half hopes that Mike takes Zeb hostage to hurry me along. A little light torture would not go astray on that guy. Nothing life threatening, but as far as I know Zeb rarely uses all of his toes.

My Twitter icon is chirping, telling me that there is a Tweet from my psychiatrist, who is doing online wisdom now, which he assures me was inevitable, so he might as well be in the vanguard. I have never actually Tweeted, but I do follow Dr. Simon and Craig Ferguson, who is one funny Celtic fecker.

There is something compulsive about Tweets, so I read Simon’s latest:

Remember, my phobic posse: it’s always darkest before the dawn unless there’s an eclipse.

I wonder who that’s supposed to comfort.

I swipe back to Sofia’s brief final message and just the sight of that simple emoticon makes me feel a couple of degrees warmer.

Sofia. Could there be a chance for us?

Shit. I’m gonna be writing poetry soon.

My proximity sense tingles and I know someone is standing before me. I know without looking that it’s a woman. My subconscious throws up the clues: perfume, footsteps leading up to this moment, the sound of her breathing. A woman, but not Mary.

So, I look up and there’s a rich lady not three feet away, staring at me like she’s seen her maid in Tiffany’s. This gal is maybe forty but with ten years of that slate wiped clean by spas and exercise. She’s got burnished blonde hair framing her striking face, which is horsey in a good way, and a gym body being hugged very nicely by a red velour sweat suit that I just bet has something provocative writ large on the ass. I can tell this lady is rich by the glitter-ball diamond on her finger and the fact that a cluster of waiters is bobbing six feet away, worried that something might happen to her.

I have no idea what this is but I do not have time for it.

I go for pre-emptive dismissal.

“Lady,” I say. “Whatever you think—”

She cuts me off. “Mr. McEvoy? Daniel McEvoy?”

This is a surprise. Rich folk do not generally recognize me, since I let my country-club membership lapse when Enron went under.

“Who’s asking?” I ask, seeing as we’re in a noir movie.

Uninvited, the lady pulls up a chair and sits opposite.

“Daniel,” she says. “I think that I may be your grandmother.”

We must be watching different movies.

Mary pours more coffee and reinforces her earlier hip-bump with a high-beam cleavage flash because, as a professional, she knows that statistically even the presence of another female will drop my tip by 5 percent.

Get a grip, soldier. The girl is pouring coffee and you’re forty-three years old.

I can’t help it. I read layers of meaning into the actions of everyone around me. I guess it’s because sometimes it seems as though everyone around me has bad intentions toward my person. And as my shrink Simon once told me: being paranoid never got anyone killed, not being paranoid on the other hand . . .

The glam gran has slid onto a chair opposite me and is busy muting her phone so we don’t get interrupted. She orders a grapefruit juice from Mary without even glancing at my lovely server, then eases herself into the story.

“I go to the gym here. It’s really good. And I have a trainer who comes to my house. Pablo is fantastic. I’m more flexible now than I was at twenty.”

BOOK: Screwed
8.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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