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By Graham Masterton
Head of Zeus LtdCopyright © 2016 Graham Masterton
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As soon as she came teetering out of the doorway of the Eclipse Club in her short black dress and her spiky black ankle boots, her eyes circled with scarlet make-up and her hair dyed luminous green, they knew that she was exactly what they were looking for.
It was 2:25 in the morning. She was very drunk; and it appeared as if she might be on her own. She fumbled in her orange hessian bag, which had the wickedly grinning face of a pumpkin stitched on to it, and eventually managed to find her mobile phone.
The two of them were leaning against their shiny black Opel on the opposite side of Oliver Plunkett Street, smoking. They didn't cross the road immediately. They watched her frowning at her phone, jabbing at it with her glittery green fingernails, and then silently swearing because she was finding it hard to focus on the app she wanted. All the time she was doing this, she was staggering to keep her balance and repeatedly slinging her bag back over her shoulder because it kept slipping off.
Milo looked at Garret and raised one eyebrow. Both men were dressed in tight black overcoats, with white shirts and ties. Milo was short and blocky, with grey hair shaved to a carpet-like fuzz and acne-scarred cheeks. Garret was taller, with a waving black fringe like a raven's broken wing, and sunken cheeks, and the kind of thin black moustache on his upper lip that Corkonians call a 'thirsty eyebrow'.
'What you thinking, Gar?' asked Milo.
Garret flicked his cigarette butt across the street. 'Stall it for a minute, do you know what I mean? Just in case she's a scrap with her boyfriend and he'll be coming out begging her forgiveness.'
Six or seven more young people came tumbling out of the Eclipse, all laughing and swearing and pushing each other. One of the boys had painted his face dead-white like a vampire, with lipstick drops of blood dripping from the sides of his mouth. Another had a Ghostface mask from the Scream horror films perched on top of his head. Two ginger-haired sisters were dressed as witches in gauzy green dresses and a thin dark-haired girl was wearing a tattered white cloak like a bean-si.
One of the young men called out, 'Where we heading on to now, sham? It's too fecking early to call it a night and I'm gasping for another gatt.'
'Don't know, boy,' replied one of his friends. 'Wish I hadn't ate that fecking curry, I tell you. I'm just about ready to barfus maximus.'
'Well, don't you be boking over me. These are brand-new, these jeggings.'
Milo and Garret waited, but nobody came out of the club looking for the girl in the black dress. She continued to prod at her phone and after a minute or two it appeared that she had managed to send a text. She dropped her phone back into her bag and stood in the doorway of J. Casey's furniture store next door, holding on to the black metal gates to keep herself steady, and she was obviously waiting for somebody.
Milo glanced to the left to make sure there were no cars coming and then crossed the street with his hands in his pockets. He went up to the girl and said, 'All right there, love?'
'I'm grand altogether,' she replied, without looking at him.
'Okay. I got a lamp off you there and I was wondering if you needed a lift home, like.'
'No, you're all right. I just called Hailo.'
Milo raised one eyebrow. 'Okay, love. Grand. Just making sure you're okay. Looks like you've had yourself a wicked awesome party the night.'
'Not really.' The girl continued to cling tightly to the railings and although she still didn't look at Milo he could see that her scarlet eye-shadow was streaked, as if she had been crying.
'Do you live far, like?' he asked her.
'Knocka. But it's all right. My taxi's going to be here in a couple of minutes.'
'Ah, okay. Fair play. But I'm just about to go home to Gurra myself, so I could easy give you a lift. It'd be free of charge, like, and we can go right now, so you wouldn't have to wait.'
The girl looked at him at last, and her eyes were sparkling with tears. Although her make-up was a mess, he could see that she was really quite pretty, with wide-apart brown eyes and a tip-tilted nose and full, pouty lips. He kept his hands deep in his coat pockets and he gave her a shrug and a reassuring smile, as if it didn't really matter to him one way or another if she accepted his offer, and that he was only being friendly.
She lurched slightly, and gripped the railings with both hands to steady herself. She said, 'No, I don't know,' and Milo had the feeling that she was going to turn him down. At that moment, however, two more young people came out of the Eclipse – a tall, broad-shouldered boy in a red-and-green striped sweater and a brown trilby hat like Freddie from Nightmare on Elm Street, arm-in-arm with a curly-haired blonde. The blonde was dressed in a scarlet Spandex suit with huge red feathery wings attached to her back, and she had two red horns sticking out of her hair – an angel from Hell.
The boy in the Freddie costume caught sight of the girl in the black dress in J. Casey's doorway and immediately turned his back, pulling the red-dressed angel even closer to him and ostentatiously kissing her.
When she saw that, the girl let out a mewling sound in the back of her throat, like an abandoned kitten. The boy kissed the angel again, surreptitiously looking sideways at the girl to make sure that she was watching. It was then that the girl turned to Milo and said, 'All right, yes. If you can give me a lift home, that would be grand. Killiney Heights, do you know it?'
'Of course, yes. Come on, then. Give me your hand. Don't want you falling over in the road, do we, and making a holy show of yourself?'
He helped her over to the Opel, and opened the rear door for her. When she had managed to topple into her seat, he walked around the car and climbed in the other side, so that he was sitting close to her. Garret was already in the driver's seat, his dark eyes floating surrealistically in the rear-view mirror.
'My name's Milo and this is my friend Gar,' said Milo. 'What's your name, love?'
The girl was still silently sobbing. She had raised her left hand to the side of her face like a horse-blinker, so that she wouldn't be able to see Freddie and the evil angel kissing each other.
'Siobhán,' she said, miserably.
'So what's upsetting you, Siobhán? Is it that feller in the stripy jumper – your one meeting that beour with the wings?'
'He's my boyfriend,' said Siobhán. 'Well, he was my boyfriend. And that's supposed to be my best friend Clodagh.'
Garret turned around in his seat and said, in his hoarse voice, 'How about I go over and give him a good hard dawk for you?'
Siobhán shook her head. 'No. That'll only make things worse. Just take me home, please. Killiney Heights – the blue house, right at the end, by the playing fields.'
'No bother at all,' said Garret. He started the engine and steered the Opel away from the kerb. As he reached the end of Oliver Plunkett Street and was about to turn left into Grand Parade, he glanced in his mirror and saw the taxi that Siobhán had ordered on her Hailo app arriving outside the Eclipse. He smiled to himself but said nothing.
'That feen's some pedro,' said Milo. 'Look at you, girl – you're twice as good-looking as that so-called friend of yours. But if you can't trust him, like, he's not worth the full of your arse of boiled snow, believe me.'
Siobhán didn't answer but rummaged in her bag for a crumpled tissue, so that she could wipe her eyes and blow her nose.
They crossed Patrick's Bridge, over the River Lee. A crowd of young kids were gathered under one of the streetlamps, smoking and larking about and passing a large bottle of cider around.
After they had reached the other side of the river, however, instead of turning left along the embankment towards Knocknaheeny, Garret drove straight ahead up the steep slope of Bridge Street, and then turned right into MacCurtain Street, so that they were heading east, instead of west.
Siobhán said, 'Where are we going? Knocka's back that way.'
'Short cut,' said Garret.
Siobhán seemed to be satisfied with that explanation for a moment, but when Garret turned up Summerhill towards St Luke's Cross, she sat forward in her seat and said, in a drunken slur, 'This is totally the wrong direction, like.'
'I told you – short cut,' Garret repeated.
'Don't worry about it, girl, Gar knows what he's doing,' said Milo. 'This'll save him going all the way round St Mary's Hospital.'
Siobhán sat back for a moment, but when Garret indicated that he was turning right into the Middle Glanmire Road, she sat up again and said, 'No! This isn't the way at all! You have to go back! Where are you taking me?'
Milo laid his hand on her arm and said, 'It's all right, Siobhán, don't get yourself all steamed up. Everything's going to be fine. Gar has to pick up a couple of things from Mayfield before he drives you home, isn't that right, Gar?'
'That's right,' said Garret. 'I forgot them, that's all. I'd forget me own arse if it wasn't screwed on.'
'Take me back,' said Siobhán, twisting her arm away. 'I don't care what you forgot, I'm not going with you. Take me back.'
'Can't do that, I'm afraid,' Milo told her. 'This is one of them journeys that you have to go to the end of, once you've started. Bit like life, do you know what I mean, like?'
'What are you talking about?'
'Well, think about it. Once you've been given birth to, you might take a sconce at the world and decide you don't particularly like the look of it, but you can't go squodging your way back into your mamma's gee, can you?'
'Stop the car!' shrilled Siobhán. 'Stop right now and let me out of here!'
She tugged desperately at the door-handle, but Garret had switched on the central locking. She turned around and started to pummel Milo with her fists, panting with frustration, her bracelets jingling and her earrings swinging. Milo laughed – a short, abrupt bark – and seized both of her wrists, gripping them so tight that she couldn't move her arms at all.
They stared at each other for a few seconds – Siobhán's eyes were wide with fear and bewilderment, while Milo's eyes were completely dispassionate – grey-green, almost colourless, but there was so little expression behind them that they could have been made of glass.
'Please let me go, Milo,' Siobhán begged him, trying to pronounce her words as clearly as possible, and not to sound too drunk. 'I can call a taxi to take me home, or I can walk even, if you don't want anybody to know where I've been.'
'Walk, girl? You can hardly fecking stand up. Besides, we're almost there now.'
Siobhán frowned out of the window. All she could see were the grey stone walls that lined Middle Glanmire Road, and hedges. They passed the cream-painted Montenotte Hotel, with its flags and its floodlights, but then they were driving between narrow walls again.
After a further five hundred metres, Garret slowed, and turned up a steeply sloping driveway. Ahead of them, Sibohán could see a large grey house, its walls blotched green and black from decades of damp. A single light was shining in the porch, and one of the upstairs windows was lit, without curtains, but apart from that the house was in darkness. Its gardens were in darkness, too. Apart from the driveway, they were surrounded on all four sides by yew hedges, over six metres high, so that Siobhán could see only the rooftops and chimneys of the houses on either side.
Outside the front of the house stood a painted signboard, St Giles' Clinic. Garret drove around to the side of the house and then stopped.
'Are you going to let me out now?' said Siobhán.
'I thought you wanted a lift home,' Milo told her.
'I did, but now I don't. I just want you to let me out.'
'Well, all right, then, if you insist. Gar had to stop here to pick up one or two things, but if you really don't want us to take you back to Knocka —'
'I don't. Let me out.'
Both Garret and Milo climbed out of the car. Milo walked around to open the door for Siobhán, and stood patiently waiting for her while she picked up her bag and shuffled herself off the seat.
She had started to sober up now, and when she got to her feet she said, 'Jesus, I swear to God, I don't know what kind of a stupid game you two think you're playing at!'
Milo shrugged and smiled apologetically, but he didn't tell her that Garret was standing close behind her with a two-pound ball-pein hammer lifted high above her head. He was still smiling when Garret hit her on the left-hand side of her skull, with a hard, hollow crack. She pitched forward, so that Milo had to step neatly back to avoid her, like a dance manoeuvre, and she collapsed face-first on to the tarmac driveway.
'Good man yourself, Gar,' said Milo. The two of them crouched down and rolled Siobhán over on to her back. She was unconscious, but her eyes were still half-open, and the lids were fluttering. All the contents of her handbag were scattered across the ground.
'That was some fierce old wallop you gave here there, boy. Wouldn't surprise me if she was brain-damaged, and the Doc won't have to bother with all the rest of his malarkey.'
'This is a good heavy hammer, this one,' said Garret. 'I bought it at Hickey's day before yesterday. The other one was too fecking light by far, wasn't it? I always had to clonk them about a half-a-dozen times before I knocked them out cold.'
Milo took hold of Siobhán underneath her armpits and started to drag her around in a circle. He positioned her very carefully so that she was lying across the driveway with her knees directly behind the Opel's rear offside wheel.
When he looked up from doing that, he saw that a man was standing in the upstairs window, silhouetted against the light. He didn't wave or acknowledge that he had seen him because he knew that the man wouldn't respond. As far as Milo was concerned, he wasn't there, and he would never say that he had seen what Milo and Garret were going to do next.
Garret lit a cigarette and then climbed back behind the wheel of the car. Milo stepped clear, but not too far away, in case Siobhán suddenly regained consciousness and rolled herself out of position.
Garret started the Opel's engine, although he kept his door open so that he could look over his shoulder and see where he was reversing.
'All right, boy, you're fine,' said Milo, beckoning him backwards.
Garret slowly edged the rear wheel over Siobhán's legs. Her bones snapped like muffled pistol-shots, and this was followed by a soft crunching sound as two thousand kilos of car crushed her knees.CHAPTER 2
Cleona suddenly sat up in bed and said, 'Eoin! Just listen to the dogs, will you? Something's bothering them! Eoin!'
'What?' said Eoin, blurrily. 'What is it?'
'The dogs, Eoin! Listen!'
Eoin lifted his head from the pillow. The dogs' barking was indistinct, because it was raining hard outside and their bedroom window was closed, with the curtains drawn. All the same, he could hear that they were frantic. This wasn't the monotonous barking of dogs who were impatient to be taken out for a walk, or who were hungry, or thirsty. This was the sound of dogs who were panicking – almost screaming, some of them, like terrified children.
Eoin switched on his bedside lamp, threw back the patchwork quilt, and swung himself out of bed. He went over to the window, opened the curtains, and peered out into the darkness. The window was speckled with raindrops, and all he could see was the wall lights on the end of the two rows of kennels, and their reflection in the wet tarmac yard. His first thought had been that there was a fire, but he couldn't see any smoke, or smell any, either.
He opened the window so that he could hear the dogs more clearly and there was no doubt that they were hysterical. He recognised at least two of them: Bullet, the young Welsh terrier, whose high-pitched yapping was always distinctive, and the throaty barking of Trippet, the Labrador.
'What time are we?' he asked Cleona, crossing over to the chair where his jeans and his brown cable-knit sweater were hanging.
'Twenty past four,' said Cleona. 'What do you think's wrong with them?'
'That's what I'm going down to find out.'
'Well, for the love of God be careful. You can never be sure who's prowling around these days. Hold on a moment and I'll come down with you.'
'No, pet, you stay here. I'll call out for you if I need you.'
Eoin struggled into his jeans, grabbing the side of the wardrobe to keep his balance, and then pulled on his sweater, so that his black curly hair stuck up. His eyes were puffy from lack of sleep and his head was thumping. It had been his thirty-eighth birthday yesterday, and since his birthday was on 31 October, he had celebrated as usual with a monster Hallowe'en party at Hurley's.
Excerpted from Living Death by Graham Masterton. Copyright © 2016 Graham Masterton. Excerpted by permission of Head of Zeus Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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