"D'ye want another wan?"

I leaned slightly away from him. "No... No, I'm fine, thanks."

So he carried on; "There's no one else who does this," he explained, his voice now sounding strangely broken, "What gives you freedom, an' security, an' a good bit o' self-control."

He squeezed me tight.

"No boy'd ever wish he didn't... I didn't... Had a day job in the city, ya know, but it wasn't enough..."

He looked up, then, at Seamus. I could almost see his eyes as red as his hair.

"...Nothing ever is in this city. We're in Dublin. In Dublin you live expensive lives..."

"That's enough, Liam."

Liam fell silent. I heard him swallow, his eyes wide, which wandered, slowly, back down to mine.

I glanced at him. He grinned.

"So, this... ring splitting Garda of yours, what was he like? A shade, that's pretty kinky, isn't it?"

I laughed, and it came out nervous.

"Ah, y'know..." I started, looking more in Braden's direction than anything, "Youngish bloke, probably in his thirties..." he sipping at a blue cigarette, as he did; "Just got divorced, pretty upset about it, and just needed another hole to make up for the one he'd lost."

Braden, Seamus, and Liam: watched me. The only sounds were those from beyond the half-pulled curtain.

Liam said, "Really?"

And I admitted, "I dunno."

Then his arm became something else. A manacle on fire.

"So you were making it up, were you?"

I saw Braden tense.

"You were lying?"

He threw the cigarette into the ash tray.

"You little lying bastard," Liam spat, and the arm came away; "I kill you, Aiden!" the hand came back at my neck; "I'll fucking kill you!"



I saw Braden lean over me to wrestle Liam away (Let me kill the lying bastard!) through a misty lens (Calm the fuck down!) Seamus' still figure the least in-focus of all (You're fucking insane!) just watching over the booth-bound squabble...

I heard Liam laughing. "I'm joking with you, Aiden."

Both settled back into their seats – and Seamus, of course, did nothing. Braden relaxed. He laughed, too.

"Blimey O'Reilly's trousers," Liam said.

"Speaking of O'Reilly," Braden said, re-seizing his fag, "Where is our wee lad?"

"I dunno," Liam snorted, "But I'd bet you anything his trousers aren't up."

"Come on, Red."

Seamus was beckoning him, his face still hard and blank. I heard Liam swallow again, too audibly, and he shimmied quickly out of the seat, darting past Seamus like he were out to get him. I watched Seamus watching him. He looked to the ceiling.

Braden put his hands to his temples and sighed; "Jasus."

"He's fucking mad," I blurted out. I clamped my hands over my mouth.

Braden laughed. "No, you're right. He's off his sally."

I found myself trembling, the soreness rising where the hand had been at my throat.

"You seem pretty used to that," I mumbled.

"Pah," Braden waved his fag hand, "We've gotta be. We've lived with 'im for four years."

That made Liam how old?

"Feels like longer. Looks like longer too, if ya know what I mean, Sea."

Seamus nodded – once.

Braden sighed and left his blue cigarette to smoke out in the ash tray. He exchanged a look with Seamus, who said, "He'll come off it," and walked away, leaving the red curtain to swing back over the booth.

"He'll come off it..." Braden repeated under his breath, and he put the suffering cigarette at peace.

Something else caught his attention: a young boy stepping slowly round to the booth. His eyes were downcast, his hair damp, his face dappled pink and white; his arms held himself tenderly. Braden didn't rush in to replace them.

"O'Reilly," he mumbled, "You know what he said about this..."

Belfast looked up at him, and his eyes were wide. They were mortified.

"Come on," Braden hissed, and he hastened up to push the lad away, at the cost of his own limp.

"But Braden..." Belfast whimpered.


"I didn't think it was... I didn't know that was gonna happen..."

"It'll be alright."

He patted him on his way, and where he went then I don't know.

But before he left, he cried:

"I didn't know it was gonna be like this..."

And he looked at me:

Green, amber, red.

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