The following is an extract from my book of short stories THE MISSING POSTMAN AND OTHER STORIES.
Seagulls screech at the sound of the approaching car, and its headlights pick them out wheeling away into the darkness. Martin Og shakes a fist at them as he drives to a stop near the front door of the weather-beaten cottage.
‘You might be the souls of dead fishermen but that won’t stop me blowing your bloody heads off the next time I get a clear shot at one of you’.
The only response is the inevitable splat on his front bonnet, before they vanish into the twilight. He gets out and slams the door, slinging his knapsack on his shoulder, and, ignoring the mess on the car front, limps to the front door.
He inserts a key and opens it, listening for a few moments before reaching in and switching on the room light
‘Blackie! Blackie! Where the feck are you gone to now?
The lights reveal a room that is in a terrible state; rubbish and stale food litter the table and chairs, bags of waste and empty whiskey bottles are stacked high against one wall. The paper on the walls is peeling, the photos and pictures faded. In fact the whole room looks as if it hasn’t been tidied for many years.
Against the back wall is a dresser, adorned with some faded willow-pattern crockery. An old fashioned radio sits on the dresser. Some hunting gear – a mixture of nets and traps – hang on one wall .A large square net, of the kind that sea fishermen use, hangs suspended from one half of the ceiling There is also a battered acoustic guitar and a ten-gallon hat hanging on pegs either side of the passageway. Two armchairs are situated in the shadows, one at either end of the room, their backs facing Martin Og.
He looks at them in puzzlement, first one then the other, but his puzzlement is almost immediately superseded by a look of grief when he spots the body of a dog lying between them. The dirty black beret he wears is whipped from his head, revealing a shock of white hair beneath. He lets the knapsack fall from his grasp as he hobbles towards the body.
‘Ah Blackie. Ah Jesus, Blackie…’
He picks the dog up in his arms and cradles it for a moment, then sits on a bentwood chair rocking the dog in his lap. He uses the beret to wipe the dog’s face.
He doesn’t notice for a moment as the two armchairs swivel round to face him. When he looks up he sees two figures seated in them
Both are in their early/mid twenties, and both are dressed in the trendy, designer-conscious manner of their peers. The man is cradling a shotgun in his arms; the girl has a metal strongbox resting on her lap, a handgun in her hand. She taps the box with the gun.
‘We need the key, Martin’.
‘Martin?’ He pauses. ‘Did you kill my dog?’
‘He was old’
Martin rises. ‘You killed my fucking dog…..’ The man raises the shotgun. ‘Be careful with that, it’s …not insured’.
‘Not insured, he says!’ The man laughs. ‘Look at it! What’s to insure?
‘I’ve got insurance. Lots of insurance’
‘Yeah, fire insurance’. The girls looks around the room. ‘You got any fire insurance, Martin?’
‘Martin?’ You keep calling me Martin. Who are you people?’
The girl smiles at him this time, a big mouthful of pearl-white teeth. ‘Sorry. We should have introduced ourselves earlier. I’m Zoe. And that specimen over there is Zeb. Zeb and Zoe’. She smiles again. ‘Now, you got any fire insurance?’
Martin is beginning to think he must be in the throes of a nightmare. Surely he will wake up soon? ‘No. No fire insurance’.
‘Pity. Then you could burn the place down with impunity’
‘Why would I want to do that?’
Another laugh from Zoe. ‘Well, I mean…look at it!’
‘Impunity. That’s a good word.’ Zeb laughs softly
‘You like it, Zeb’.
‘Yeah, it’s cool. Burn the place down with impunity…I like that.’
‘Bet it all goes up like a bonfire’.
‘You reckon?Maybe we should…’
Zeb rises, standing the gun in the armchair. He examines the room, looking for something to set fire to, eventually settling for one of the bags of rubbish. He takes out a lighter and tries to light it but it won’t burn. He tries another one with the same result. ‘This stuff’s flame proof. Ye-aah. Everything’s covered in shit.’ He finds a filthy-looking tea towel and wipes his hands. ‘How long since you cleaned this gaff?
I can’t remember.’ Martin holds the dog out. ‘Can I…?
Zeb returns to the armchair.
‘’You just sit there till we say otherwise’.
‘What do you want?’
‘We’re your long-lost relatives come for a visit’. This is Zoe again.
‘I haven’t got any long-lost relatives’.
‘Not now you haven’t. You just found them’.
Zeb resumes his pacing, picking up a rabbit snare that is hanging on a nail on the wall. ‘What’s this?’
‘A snare for what?
Martin snorts. ‘For catching rabbits, of course’.
Zeb examines the snare, then hands it to Zoe for her to look at.
Zoe dangles it before Martin. ‘Show us then. How it works’. She looks at the dog’s body and indicates the table. ‘Put…that over there’.
Martin puts the dog down as directed, then takes the snare and makes a loop of the wire. He holds out the finished work.
Zeb sneers. ‘That’s it? That’s fucking it?’
‘Well, the peg…’ He indicates the wooden peg at the end of the wire.
‘is hammered into the ground. That’s all there is to it’.
Martin looks troubled. ‘Here? On the floor? The peg won’t go I’.
Zeb bangs on the floor with his foot.
‘It’s fucking timber innit? You got a hammer and nails?’
‘Do it. I want to see it’.
Martin drags out a box from underneath the rubbish, takes out a hammer, then looks for nails. While he does so, Zeb takes a trap from the wall and examines it, then hands it to Zoe. Martin returns with the hammer and nails and nails the peg to the floor. The others watch him, making faces at him, till he is finished.
‘So how does it work then?’ asks Zoe.
Martin pushes the hammer through the loop by way of an answer and pulls the loop tight.
‘Aw, poor rabbit. Poor, poor rabbit’.
‘Shut up, you soppy cow’. Zeb takes the hammer and pushes it through the loop several times, each time snaring it with force. ‘Yeah…yeah’.
Zoe taps the box on her lap with the gun butt. ‘I hate to intrude, but…’
‘In a minute’. Zeb holds up the trap. ‘What’s this then?What’s this fucking toy for?’
‘It’s a trap’.
‘Like for bears? A bear trap’.
Zoe finds this idea amusing. ‘There’s no bears round here you dink’
‘I know that’. Louder. ‘I know that’.
‘Smaller animals. Foxes, badgers…’ Martin’s voice trails off.
‘Cats and dogs?’
‘I suppose…Listen, Missy-whatever-your-name-is…’
‘Rabbits? What about rabbits?’
‘I suppose so. The odd time..’
‘You a sadist or somthin’? Poor innocent animals…’
‘They’re illegal now. We don’t use them anymore.
‘Why hang them on your bloody wall then?’
Zeb, who has been fiddling with the trap during this exchange, suddenly let out a triumphant yell.
‘Ere! I know how to work this thing. Seen it on the box once’.
He pulls the jaws back and try s to set it but it snaps shut suddenly, almost catching his fingers. He jumps back. As he does so, a phone rings, startling him even more. He searches his pocket, pulls out a mobile phone, then shakes his head
‘Must be yours’.
Zoe takes a phone from her bag, looks at it for a moment, then speaks into it.
‘Listen you cow, I told you this morning not to keep ringing me’. A pause. ‘No, we won’t be back tonight. Or tomorrow night’. Another pause while she listens. ‘I don’t know…’ She turns to Zeb. ‘She wants to know if we’re there yet’.
‘Tell her to mind own effing business’.
‘Did you hear that?’ She holds the phone away from her ear andmakes a face.
‘I think she heard…’
‘Tell her we’re in Dublin….’
‘We’re in Dublin….’ She listens again. ‘She wants to know what we’re doing in Dublin…’
Zeb grabs the phone. ‘I’ll tell her what we’re doing in Dublin. We’re in Dublin because we’re robbing a fucking bank. And when we’re finished we’re off to the airport. Put that in your pipe and smoke it you old bitch’.
He switches off the phone and throws it back to Zoe.
Zoe fails to find this amusing.
‘I wouldn’t speak to my mother like that’.
‘That’s ‘cos you haven’t got a mother’.
‘Everyone’s got a mother’.
‘Who’s yours then? Go on…’
Zoe doesn’t reply, but the question clearly upsets her.
Martin, who has been listening to this exchange with growing irritation, can hold his tongue no longer. ‘You don’t deserve a mother’.
‘Who asked you for your pennyworth? You don’t come into the equation at all’. Zeb clearly likes this word. ‘Equation…good eh? We make the rules in this…this…
‘Shithole. You have no voice at all’.
‘Only the voice we allow you to have’.
‘Yeah’ Zeb taps the box on Zoe’s knees. ‘And right now we need to know where the key is.’
‘I haven’t got a key’.
‘Why would you have a box without a key?’ He looks at Zoe, ‘ Why would he have a box without a key?
‘Maybe he lost the key’.
‘Did you lose the key?’
‘Alright, here’s what we do’. Zeb takes the trap and sets it very carefully, then places it on the floor close to Martin. ‘Take off your boot. Go on…take it off’
Zoe waves her gun about to encourage Martin. He removes his boot.
‘Now put your little tootsies in the jaws’. Martin hesitates. ‘Come on, closer. A bit more. That’s it’.
Zeb picks up some assorted items, including an apple, a bolt, and a spoon, then takes a few paces back. ‘The object of this game is to see if you can manage to tell me where the key is before I spring the trap’. He laughs. ‘Spring the trap…get it? Ready? Here goes’.
He throws the spoon and misses the trap. He throws the bolt and gets closer. He shapes up to throw the apple. ‘Third time lucky’
By now Martin is convinced he is a lunatic. ‘It’s on the shelf’. He indicates the backwall. ‘Over there’.
Zeb rubs the apple on his trousers, then takes a bite and goes to the shelf.
‘Here?There’s no fucking key here’.
‘That black thing. Over there. Near the jam jar’.
Zoe, meanwhile, has been examining the box itself. ‘There’s no keyhole in this thing’.
Zeb picks up a black object the size of a cigarette box. ‘This? Are you having me on?’ He prepares to launch the apple
‘Wait! It’s a battery….yoke. You point it at the…at the box’.
Zeb points it at the box and presses a button.
‘You have to aim it …right’
Zeb tries it several times, then the box springs open.
‘A remote box…!’
‘It sends a signal…’
‘I know what it fucking sends. Question is, how do you?’
During this exchange Zoe has been examining the contents of the box. Mostly, its contents are papers, which she glances at, then throws aside.
‘Where the loot?’
Zoe finishes her search. ‘There isn’t any’
‘No dosh?’ To satisfy his curiosity he gives a quick glance inside the box. ‘Right, we need the persuader again…’
Martin, who has anticipated what Zeb is going to do, grabs the hammer and smashes the trap to bits before he can stop him. Zeb picks up the mangled trap and dangles it before him, then flings it away. He picks up the hammer and smashes the floor, close to Martin’s toes.
‘You think that busting it makes any difference?’
‘You’re an animal. You’re nothing but wild animal’.
Zoe holds out a document she has been reading. .Look at that. Look how much he paid’..
A quick glance is enough for Zeb. ‘Six thousand! He paid six grand for a car. What make is it?’
‘I can’t quite make it out. It’s Ford something or other…’
Zeb rushes to the window and looks out.
‘A Mondeo. It’s a bloody Mondeo’.
‘Paid in full by bloody cash’.
‘Where did you get the money from…Martin?Your stash under the floorboards?’
‘I don’t keep money under the floorboards’
‘Your sort always keep it under the floorboards
‘I got it from the bank’.
Zoe laughs incredulously. ‘You went to the bank and withdrew the cash, then lugged it around to the car dealer, when a nice simple cheque would have sufficed? I don’t believe you’.
‘Yes, sufficed’. Zeb rolls this word around his tongue, clearly liking it. ‘A cheque would have sufficed’.
‘It was a…private deal’.
‘Bollocks!’ Zeb takes the receipt and waves it under Martins nose. ‘What does this say? What does it say, eh?’
‘Ryan’s Motor Company’.
‘No. There. The small print. What does that say?’
‘I can’t see’.
Zeb scrunches the paper up. ‘I’ll tell you what it says. I’m not stupid- that’s what it says. Do you think I’m stupid, Martin?’ Martin doesn’t reply. ‘Where’s the rest of the cash, Martin?’
‘I told you. It was a cheque. You can’t get blood out of a stone. Have a look at the cheque book if you don’t believe me’
Zeb smiles and shakes his head. ‘Alright. Have it your way. For the moment…’