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From Listowel, Ireland, Neil Brosnan’s short stories have appeared in magazines, print anthologies, and in digital format in Ireland, Britain, Europe, Australia, and the USA. A current Pushcart nominee, he is a winner of The Bryan MacMahon, The Maurice Walsh, (five times) and The Ireland’s Own, (twice) short story awards, he has published two short story collections: ‘Fresh Water & other stories’ (Original Writing, 2010) and ‘Neap Tide & other stories’ (New Binary Press, 2013).


Trigger Warning

“She drove straight at me; she was trying to kill me…Hey; where are we?” He blinks, his shaven head momentarily raised from the hospital trolley pillow.

“He’s all yours now, Clodagh; I don’t envy you!” The orderly says, wheeling the patient into the empty private room.

“What’s the story?” Clodagh asks, her eyes widening in recognition.

“That bitch cop drove straight at me, she…”

“Are you Michael Reilly?” Clodagh asks, glancing at the file notes relating to her most recent patient.

Mikey Reilly, but…”

“You’ve had a shock, that’s why you’re here…for observation. Have you taken any alcohol or drugs in the past twenty-four hours?”

“I’m under twenty-one; who’d serve me alcohol at this time of night? It’s discrimination! But I’m not like that; I’ll supply anyone who has the brass…” forcing his squat body to a sitting position, he swings his short legs towards the floor.

“You’re not supposed to get…”

“Give us somethin’ for the pain!”

“Where have you pain?”

“It’s every fuckin’ where! She tried to kill me…and, she tried it before!”

“Now Michael…” Clodagh says soothingly.

“It’s Mikey!”

“All right, settle back there, and I’ll see what I can do.”

“And I want to sue that bitch cop! Get me a lawyer; I deserve compo! She drove straight at me, she meant to…”

Clodagh leaves the room and enters the tiny kitchenette behind the nurses’ station.

“Did I just see the teenage drug baron being wheeled into Room Four?” Her colleague asks, rinsing her coffee mug.

“Correction, Denise; his file says he turned twenty a few weeks ago. Just my luck; he’ll need constant watching.” Clodagh sighs, dropping a tea bag into a cup.

“Is that tea for him?” Denise asks; Clodagh nods. “Ok, I’ll take it to him after I’ve popped to the loo; you can go on your break.”

“Thanks, you’re a life saver. He says he’s in pain; could you give him a couple of paracetamol, please? They might shut him up for a while.” Clodagh manages a tight smile. As the enormity of her opportunity dawns on her, the colour drains from her face. Once alone, she tiptoes back to the station, unlocks the drugs cabinet, and then slips a selection of capsules into the pocket of her uniform. Back in the kitchen, she stirs the contents of the capsules into her patient’s tea, and then rinses the empty shells under the tap before gulping them down with a mouthful of water. She makes an instant black coffee and takes her first sip as Denise returns to the kitchen.

“Go on, and take your time, I’ll text you if anything happens.” Denise says, and placing the teacup on a saucer, sweeps past Clodagh into the corridor.

Hastening through the A&E exit, Clodagh lights a cigarette and, deaf to the pre-dawn trilling of a territorial robin, holds it between pursed lips as she fishes for her mobile phone. Speed dialing, she arcs her eyes skyward, oblivious to the sickle of silver moon that brightens the balmy calm of the early June morning. Her call completed, she drains her mug and, with trembling hands, lights a fresh cigarette. The phone call has confirmed her worst fears: it seems that Mikey Reilly is intent on making life very difficult for Tara. As the possible repercussions flash before her, Clodagh winces at the irony of the situation. It was directly due to Mikey Reilly that she and Tara had first met. About seven months previously, after a late night fracas in the city, the young policewoman had presented at A&E, following a head butt from a youth who’d resisted arrest. In addition to temporary concussion, Tara had sustained a fractured cheek bone and multiple contusions to her nose and eyes.

Within a week of Tara’s discharge from hospital, a chance afternoon meeting in a city centre coffee shop had triggered a spontaneous burst of window shopping, which had led to an impromptu early-bird meal in a side-street restaurant. Ten days later, both nurse and policewoman  had thrilled their respective superiors by volunteering to work the despised Christmas and New Year shifts – the prospect of spending sundry marginal hours together being infinitely more appealing than running the annual gauntlet of parents’ questions and siblings’ innuendo. The couple had then marked Valentine’s Day by moving into their new apartment, and ever since have shared almost every out-of-uniform moment.

‘I’ll swing for the little bastard!’ Tara had announced on returning home after her St Patrick’s Day shift. ‘I know he’s not much more than a kid but he seems to be on first name terms with everybody in the bloody city between the ages of fourteen and forty. I hate to admit it, but he does have charisma… he’s so plausible, and he can turn on that naive charm just like you’d flick a light switch…you’d think butter wouldn’t melt…He was about fourteen when I first met him, and I genuinely believed that there was hope; that education might actually work. He attended school fairly regularly, played with the local football team – he even sold the club’s lotto tickets. He seemed better adjusted than some of the more privileged kids! But it was all just part of his master plan; he has always had his own agenda; all the time he was building his street-cred! If anyone ever knew how to play the system, he did! And look at him now, the proof of evolution…driving a brand new Lexus…I swear to you, Clodagh, he is probably the scariest individual I’ve ever encountered!’

Clodagh has become well accustomed to Tara’s regular rants about Mighty Mouse – their code name for the younger Reilly. There have been times when she has almost envied the variety offered by Tara’s profession, the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with the seedier side of city life. While Clodagh is all too familiar with many of the stars of Tara’s edited highlights, she has little knowledge of their roles in the bigger picture. She has, however, first-hand experience of the fallout from some of their more unsavoury exploits: she has cleaned them up, bandaged their wounds, and ministered to their injuries – both genuine and imaginary. In the course of a normal week’s work, she regularly suffers verbal and physical abuse and is frequently subjected to threats of further violence to both her person and her property. Yet, despite her access to a mountain of case files, Clodagh knows nothing of the dynamic of their community. Tara knows them all; she can name their brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, cousins, in-laws and outlaws; she can trace their pedigrees back three generations… Not only can Tara reel off who is married to whom but she can relate details of actual wedding days, what a bride wore, the number of bridesmaids and flower girls, where receptions were held, who was arrested at which, and who was hospitalized and when…

After about twenty minutes of relative calm, the persistent ringing of Mikey’s bell summons Clodagh back to Room Four.

“What’s wrong?” She snaps, unable to contain her rising anger.

“Have you any pink sauce?” Mikey mumbles between chews, while a morsel of lettuce clings precariously to his lower lip. Clodagh’s eyes widen at the scene before her: her patient comfortably propped against a mountain of pillows, his over-bed table littered with fragments of food and take-away containers. “What about that pink sauce?” Mikey prompts, fingering chips into his mouth in the wake of a chunk of chicken breast.

“You can’t…where did that food come from?” Mikey takes a long swig from a two-litre bottle of Coke and burps loudly before replying.

“My babe brought it, but she forgot the pink sauce; get me some!” Eyeing her expectantly, he chomps on a quarter-pounder burger and continues to chew noisily. Clodagh takes a couple of steps towards her patient and then pauses.

“This is a hospital; not a take-away. No, we don’t have pink sauce. Besides, it’s against the rules to bring food in here!” Mikey isn’t listening; instead, he is conveying whispered instructions to whoever he has called on his iPhone. With a sigh of despair, Clodagh grits her teeth and storms from the room.

Back at her desk at the station, Clodagh admits that, possibly for the first time ever, she can genuinely empathize with Tara’s frustration. Sitting on that bed, wolfing his food, Mikey could be easily mistaken for an innocent fifteen-year-old; yet, once he puts that phone to his ear, his features contort to those of a hard-nosed businessman. This guy is something else, a genuine leader who is equally proficient with either carrot or stick. Correctly focused, this young man could become anything. Tara’s words come to mind again. ‘His father is a money lender. I’ve seen him on dole and pension days, sitting in his Range Rover with a couple of heavies, making sure that his clients make their exorbitant repayments. Then, once he has concluded his business, he wanders in and collects his own dole, without as much as batting an eye! That bastard is a bloody millionaire without ever doing an honest day’s work in his life! That’s what we’re up against!’

“All is quiet, thank God!” Denise sighs, returning from her tour of the ward.

“What’s Mighty Mouse up to?” Clodagh asks, stifling a yawn.

“Who; oh, is that what you call him? He’s slurping a giant milkshake, wherever it came from.”

“There’s a young one ferrying grub to him, a little scantily-clad blonde; she looks about twelve. I suppose I’d better check that she hasn’t hopped in beside him.” Clodagh forces a smile and starts towards Room Four.

“I’m dying for a smoke; have you a light?” Mikey eyes her levelly as he swings his short legs from the bed and exaggeratedly hobbles towards her. She can feel his gaze wander all over her; she shudders as his focus rests on her left breast. “Clodagh,” he adds, raising his eyes from her name badge.

“This is a no smoking campus, but some people go downstairs, past A&E, and out through the side door…”

“I can’t walk that far; she fuckin’ crippled me. Look!” He undoes the belt of his dressing gown and lowers underpants to his knees. “Look!” He insists, indicating a slight bruise on his right hip. Grinning, he turns to face Clodagh, his erect penis scarcely a foot from her uniform.

“Save it for the doctor!” Clodagh hisses, taking an involuntary step backwards.

“But you’re supposed to observe…”

“Cover yourself up and go over to the window,” she places her lighter on the sill before releasing the window catch and turning towards the door.

“You remind me of that bitch cop…the little blondie ponytail…only her hair is curly…Mikey’s eyes have a glazed look; he struggles to light his cigarette. “You’re sound, Clodagh, if you ever want anything…anything!”

“How do you mean?”

“Everyone wants something, Clodagh; what do you want?”

“You haven’t brought drugs in here; have you?”

“I ne-never carry…but just say the word…and…phew, ‘tis f-fuckin’ hot in here…” He slumps against the windowpane.

“Hold on!” Clodagh adjusts the safety catches allowing the window to swing a full ninety degrees, stifling a yawn, Mikey rests his buttocks on the windowsill. Clodagh watches while his eyes droop and slowly close, and the cigarette slips from his lifeless fingers. Calling his name, she vigorously shakes his left shoulder. When he doesn’t respond, she takes a deep breath and then, raising her other hand, presses hard against both his shoulders. Her blood-curdling scream sounds an instant before the sickening thud from three floors below.

“You’re dead right, Mighty Mouse;” she breathes, retrieving her lighter after eyeing the shapeless crumple beneath the lights of the almost empty car park. “I do want something, and neither you nor your likes will take her from me. Enough is enough!”

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