Chapter Twenty Five

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Martha had returned to the farm with a large bottle of vodka, a litre of Jim Beam and a large pack of marshmallows.

In the meantime, Ty and I had constructed a roaring fire and the three of us sat around it with the logs spitting sparks through the dusk gloom like fireflies. 

Ty stripped the bark from some short branches with his ever-present knife, so that we could use them to toast the marshmallows. I had two browning contentedly on a stick held over the fire with my left hand, whilst my right cradled a half-full mug of Jim. 

Every time I tipped the mug to my lips, the flames were reflected and danced through the amber spirit; making me feel like I was holding a goblet full of liquid fire.

We drank hard and long. Each of us remained, for the most part, lost in our own thoughts.

I could never hold neat liquor, but that night I felt something in me that needed quenching. It might have been my feeling of loss for Sarah and my sister who both had died so suddenly. It could have been the unsettling feeling of being cut adrift from my business and all ties to the past. Maybe it was confusion and uncertainty about events that were unfolding in connection to my time in Pebble Deeping. Or perhaps, just perhaps, it was the woman who sat opposite me and stared through the firelight as if I wasn't there.

My money was on an accumulation of the lot; a full house, so to speak.

I find that booze and morose self-analysis go hand-in-hand. I occasionally turned to drink to help me achieve one of those singular moments of mental clarity that only occur when excess consumption has swept away everyday mental clutter. 

A housemate of mine from my time at university had called it a 'Beer Epiphany'; a blinding flash of insight into the mysteries and depths of the Cosmos, which could profoundly alter the recipient. A true beer epiphany was only found at the bottom of a deep glass and was as ephemeral as smoke. It would slip through the fingers and entirely evade capture the following morning when the brain tried to process the fragments of the night before. Enlightenment was likely to be lost in a foggy haze of the night bus and the kebab house queue. A wise man my friend.

No epiphany had occurred to me.

I sat with the others and said very little as we drank our way through the Jim Beam. We talked, but not in any meaningful way. I began to lose a grip on time, the odd sensation of the cold at my back juxtaposed with the warmth of the fire on my face and the bourbon in my belly.

Smoke from the fire swirled away up into the stars, making ever more bizarre shapes that danced and morphed enticingly. I watched Ty nonchalantly knock the contents of his mug down his throat and pour another. He was seemingly unaffected, carved from stone; the only thing that would get to him was the erosion of a thousand years of the wind's caress.

Despite the way events were panning out, I felt safe in the presence of Ty. He possessed an easy sense of stability, command and power. Nothing could touch me when Ty was watching my back, especially not some jumped-up loan shark from the Black Country.

I shifted my gaze and contemplated Martha with the kind of brazen stare that alcohol can produce. She sat with her knees tucked up tight to her chest and her arms wrapped tightly around her shins. Her wide almond eyes were fixed at the heart of the fire and the lids drooped slightly with sleep and booze. She was more under the influence than Ty, who looked as if he could drink both bottles of spirits then shoot the droplet of piss off a gnat's dick.

Deep down, I wanted to talk to her; just sidle over and start to whisper and not stop until I was empty. I would tell her everything; about how I felt and what she meant to me. I wanted to reassure her, cradle her in my arms and stroke her hair, telling her that it would all be fine. I longed to tell her that we would find this loan shark and help the police lock him up, far away from Pebble Deeping, far away from us.

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