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Authors: Peter J Merrigan

Rider

BOOK: Rider
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RIDER

 

By Peter J. Merrigan

 

Copyright © Peter J. Merrigan, 2012

 

3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

 

Kindle Edition

 

The right of Peter J. Merrigan to be identified as the author of this Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

 

First published 2011

 

All rights reserved.

This publication may not be used, reproduced, stored or transmitted in any way, in whole or in part, without the express written permission of the author. Nor may it be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it has been published and without a similar condition imposed on subsequent users or purchasers.

 

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any similarity to real persons, alive or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

www.peterjmerrigan.co.uk

 

 

 

For Mary, who told me
where I was going wrong.

 

And for Sooz, who told me
where I was going right.

 

 

PART ONE

BELFAST

 

Chapter 1

 

 

When Ryan’s hand slipped out of Kane’s and he fell with a suffocated gasp at his feet, Kane stood like an Edvard Munch painting, staring, as thick, dark blood seeped around his shoes. He was brought to his knees as Ryan’s bloodied hand wrestled with his leg, crimson liquid everywhere, Ryan’s chest a weeping sore, a mouth gaping to the world. His dilated eyes fixed on Kane’s and a question formed on his bloodstained lips: what had happened?

The squeal of car tires burned on the cold ground and an engine choked in the distance. And then Ryan’s ragged breathing—like an old man on a respirator—consumed him.

He gargled, blood oozing from his mouth to stain his chin and neck, his eyes wide in horror and pain.

His dark lashes flickered over his green eyes as he stared up at Kane, his lips parting and a coughed
sorry
escaping before, with a quick and rasping breath, his body limped against the stone paving, one arm draped out over the kerb, fingers curled, uncurled.

Kane’s knuckles were white as he gripped Ryan’s hand and pulled it to his face, fresh blood smearing his cheek like war paint. He wanted to say something, but when he opened his mouth he had nothing to say. He choked on a sob as Ryan’s vacant and lifeless eyes rolled up in their sockets to stare, unseeing, at the new moon. There was blood in his mouth as he clenched his lip between his teeth, tears blinding his eyes.

‘Ryan?’

Kane pulled Ryan towards himself, his back rising from the ground, and he hugged him, rocking, embracing, crying. He was dimly aware of their surroundings, the club’s doorway swinging open, the people crowding round, the screams—his screams?—that punctured the night.

His chest constricted, a cold fist crushing his lungs. ‘It’s okay, Ryan,’ he whispered, his wet lips caressing Ryan’s hand. ‘It’s okay. I’m here. It’s all okay.’

And as he began losing his mind and his soul, as he began
believing
it was all okay, a hand touched his shoulder like the hand of God, a shivering tingle coagulating under his skin, and a distant voice pursed a desolate question. ‘Are you all right?’

‘It’s okay. We’re okay. It’s okay,’ he kept repeating.

‘Are you hurt, honey?’ the voice persisted.

He licked his lips with a parched tongue, tasting sweet warm blood, and looked up at the painted face of a drag queen covered in glitter like stars.

‘Are you okay? Oh, God…Somebody call an ambulance.’

‘I…’ he began, but he said no more. He just looked at that face, his lips trembling, shoulders hunched to support the weight of Ryan Cassidy against the burden of his own pain. He closed his eyes and could feel the hot tears on his cheeks. ‘I think he’s dead,’ he said; a revelation. ‘I think he’s dead.’

* * *

 

‘Now listen, Kane…Kane?’ The stocky paramedic nudged him and smiled. Kane blinked and looked at him. ‘We’re just going to run you over to the hospital; get you checked out, okay? You’re suffering from a bit of shock. Do you understand?’

Kane looked at the mole on the paramedic’s cheek that was edging through his stubble, his lips numb. What was he talking about?

‘Are you on any medication? Have you taken anything?’ He paused. He took Kane’s elbow in his hand. ‘Come on, let’s get you into the ambulance and some place quiet, okay?’

Kane nodded stiffly and looked around. A couple of paramedics folded Ryan into a black rubber body bag and zipped it like a winking eye. There was blood on the ground. There were people on the other side of the police tape. There was a blinding camera flash. ‘What happened?’ someone asked. ‘Keep rolling,’ someone said.

The paramedics lifted Ryan on a stretcher. ‘Where are they taking him?’ Kane asked, confused.

‘Mind your head as you step up. Careful,’ said the man as he ushered him up into the back of the ambulance.

He sat, sighed, shivered. And he felt the ambulance pull away from the kerb. There was no siren. There was no emergency. His heart was already dead. And Ryan was no longer here.

* * *

 

He barely heard the police officer’s questions as he stared across the hospital room at the window in the middle of the lilac wall. Outside, in the darkness, a light rain had begun to fall, stream-like gullies glistening down the pane like tears. His eyelids drooped to the heavy time of a ticking clock somewhere behind his head and he wondered what it was they had given him. A relaxant, they had called it. Something to take away the pain.

The officer asked his question for the third time.

With a polystyrene cup of lukewarm coffee nestled in his hands, Kane twisted his head from one side to the other, his neck stiff, shoulders knotted. Eight years. That’s how long they had been together. Eight short years and nothing to show for it but a garbled spatter of memories in a shoebox, a patchwork of disembodied images and emotions.

‘I think it’d be best if this was conducted in the morning,’ a nurse said from behind him. ‘Why don’t you come back tomorrow.’ It wasn’t a question.

‘Just one more thing,’ the officer said. ‘Mr Rider, did—?’

‘Tomorrow,’ her voice insisted.

The policeman snapped his notebook shut, his heavy shoes clanking over the polished floor as he left. ‘I’ll be right outside.’

The nurse came and stood in front of Kane. ‘You must be exhausted,’ she said, her voice soft, tender. She tried to take his bloodied shirt off but he wouldn’t let her, pushing her away with his hands. ‘Okay,’ she said and she let him keep it on.

She pulled back the coarse woollen blanket and helped him sit back. ‘Is there anyone you’d like us to call? Friends? A family member?’

He looked up at her face. She was no older than him.

Her face softened. ‘Okay, we’ll talk in the morning. Why don’t you get some sleep, okay? The doctor gave you something to make it easier.’ She patted the blanket where his leg was and absently checked the watch that hung from her breast pocket.

Kane let his head fall back to the pillows and looked up at her again. He could feel the effects of the pills they had given him. Almost inaudibly, he said, ‘He’s dead. Isn’t he?’

‘The doctor—’

‘Isn’t he?’

She bit her upper lip for a second, her hands smoothing some unseen wrinkles from her uniform. ‘Yes.’ She half looked away, as though it was painful even for her. ‘Are you sure I can’t call…?’ Her voice trailed off, another sentence unfinished, another thought unsaid.

She smiled and he blinked. And she turned and left the room. For a moment Kane was numb. And then, as his eyelids drooped involuntarily, his head lolling to one side in a diazepam-induced laziness, he felt a certain calm wash over him.

With the door closed and the florescent bulb overhead switched off, the only light came from the window across the room, a soft blue-white glow cast across the floor with shadows of rain-snakes twisting through it. He turned his head on the pillow and stared at the night beyond, a cold shiver nudging up his body. A tear dripped over the bridge of his nose. Somewhere below, in the morgue, Ryan Cassidy’s pale and lifeless body was awaiting the coroner’s inquest.

* * *

 

Hazed in a sleepy confusion, he awoke from a dream of Ryan, his laughter on his skin, his sweet, warm kisses and peanut butter breath. But reality was quick to expose the truth.
A fortiori
.

He sat up, the hospital bed firm underneath him, the pillows thick and concrete at his back. He sighed. He didn’t think he could cry right then. Beyond the door of the room, he could hear a frantic voice paging an emergency. Room 6F. It wasn’t him.

After taking in his surroundings, his eyes adjusting to the dark, he slipped out of bed, pulled on his jeans and padded to the door. Outside, the police officer was asleep in a chair, stationed by his room like he was a criminal. He stepped around him. The corridor was empty. He could hear the buzz of a vending machine and started towards it.

‘Looking for the toilet?’ a voice asked. Kane turned. Sitting at the nurses’ station, an open magazine in front of her, a smile on her face, he recognised the nurse from earlier. He just blinked at her. ‘It’s down the hall,’ she said, pointing.

‘No,’ he whispered, his voice a croak. ‘I, ah, I just remembered…’

‘What’s that?’ She leaned on the counter and her excruciating smile widened.

‘There…there’s going to be the funeral. I have to get things sorted.’

‘Don’t you worry about that tonight,’ she said. From her accent, he thought she was from across the border. ‘We can recommend some things for you in the morning. Why don’t you get some sleep? I mean—’

‘Can’t,’ he managed. ‘Can’t sleep.’ He looked away from her. The vending machine served tea and coffee of varying strengths and tastes. He looked back at the nurse. She looked at him.

Her smile faded. ‘I know,’ she said. ‘I know.’ Then she indicated the policeman outside Kane’s room, her head nodding discreetly towards him. ‘They’re going to want to ask you some more questions in the morning. But if you’re not up to it…’

He nodded absently, rummaging in his pocket and producing a ten pound note. ‘You got change? For the machine?’

‘It takes notes. Only got the thing installed two months ago.’

He pushed the money into the slot. ‘You want one?’ And he punched a button.

‘No thanks,’ the nurse laughed. ‘I’m detoxing. It won’t help you sleep, you know.’

When the vending machine spat the cup into the tray and the claw pulled back, he slid the glass cover aside and picked it up, a tiny spill of hot coffee burning his fingers. He turned back to the nurse and looked at her. And suddenly his lips trembled, his eyes full of tears and coffee-steam. The coffee cup fell from his hand, splashing across the worn-tiled floor, and he sank down the wall, hunkering and hugging himself. ‘Oh, God…’ he breathed. ‘Oh, God, Ryan…’

* * *

 

Kane looked up. The police car had stopped and the officer had cut the engine. The austere block of flats leered at him. He pressed his forehead against the window, the sun warming his face.

‘This is it, right?’ the officer asked.

Kane looked at him for a second, his lips burning and hacked, his mind clotted with a thick emptiness. ‘You’ll let me know?’ he asked.

‘As soon as we have any information. Detective Thorpe will probably drop by later, when he needs you.’

Kane nodded, looking up at the flats, too afraid to get out of the car.

When he reached for the door handle to let himself out, the officer cleared his throat. ‘Look, if you need to speak to someone, a counsellor or something, you know?’ He was trying to hand Kane a bereavement information card.

Kane opened the door without accepting it and walked towards the whitewashed building. He didn’t look back, but he knew the officer didn’t drive away until he had reached the steps.

He went straight to his second-floor flat and locked the door behind him, and his eyes fell first on the large painted canvas of Bette Davis on the wall. He had bought it as a present for Ryan. A lifetime ago.

* * *

 

It took half the afternoon before he was physically able to call Ryan’s mother and her husband. He reached for the phone so many times, unable to pick it up. What would he say? How could he say it? When he finally found the courage and dialled, he got a message from their machine.
We’re off on business. David’s got his mobile if it ever decides to work. Or call Kathy if it’s important; she’ll pass a message on. Adios.

He didn’t have David’s personal mobile number, but the phone book in the bedroom had his secretary’s number, written in Ryan’s careful script.

BOOK: Rider
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