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[Cork Burning]

Bridget startled at the cry of a rifle, followed by echoes batting off the faces of buildings. But they weren’t echoes, were they? The sound never petered off. Louder and louder the popping of the guns went off. Screams followed, but they were screams of terror and not agony. She sighed when she rounded a corner and saw tens of men in the Black and Tan regalia hooting and shooting upwards. No bodies. Small thanks. Hopefully the shots joined the clouds and held, and a rain of bullets didn’t fall down on them today. People around her hurried away from the sound, some watched from the doorways and windows of shops or homes. A woman ran past as a soldier rushed her, laughing like the devil, taunting. She wished she had her piece, give off her own crack to frighten them, give them a taste of their own medicine. Pick them off one by one so they could finally have some peace and quiet. The screaming she heard was not a frightful trill, but the roaring of a tiger when you invaded its nest, hassled its family; rage and warning in one. Her throat burned with it. The men laughed at her. How she wished she had her piece. They were lucky bastards and they didn’t even know it.

The fire protruded from windows like devil tongues, lapping at wooden walls, spitting smoke and wood as it belched the aftermath of its feast. There was a building, smoking from the top like a giant cigar sticking up from the ground. The soldiers stood in the street, the fire reflecting in their eyes as they watched the street turn into a veritable hell. Anyone who tried to help extinguish the flames was knocked back, or shot at. They watched helplessly as foreigners invaded their shops, smashed windows, looted their hard-earned goods, trinkets, money, before setting fire to the rest. It was odd that Westley should be frozen in this hell-heat. He watched as if it were a book’s imaginings played across his mind. That was the shoe shop that had fixed up his boots, the shop where he’d purchased his cigarettes.

He didn’t love the city, but he’d grown accustomed to it. He expected the shops to be where they were always, the same buildings in the same order, same homes and same people in them. It was like pressing a cigar to a painting hanging on one’s wall. Burn by burn the picture/scene faded. Not a particular favorite, and it wasn’t even my artwork, was it? But still. Still it hurt when she did it. And he had sat and watched her. Don’t mind her, son, she’s not in her right state. But as of late, it was becoming her state, wasn’t it? Hellhounds followed you wherever you go. Slowly, madness slips in. One-by-one the sheep followed the dark one, became it themselves. You’re being led to the slaughter. You’re bring on your own damnation. Hail Mary…The Lord is with Thee… Pray for us sinners now…

A fire truck cried in the distance. It should have been akin to the sound of an angels’ choir, but it seemed only to add to the wailing around him. Few people looked up, taking a break from their misery for a few seconds of hope. But it did not come their way. Had to make choices. Which street, which building, which livelihood, which life would you like us to save first? Can’t get to them all…

[Bridget/Westley Standoff]

“Who is it?” Bridget called through the door. Westley hesitated. “Of for the love of—” He heard footsteps and then the door opened up. “You’ve got some nerve,” she said when she saw him. He stuck his foot between the door and jamb before she could shut it.

“Where’s Ciaran?”

“Leave or I’ll scream.”

“Where is he?”

“That’s none of your business. You think I’ll tell you anything after what you did to him.”

“That’s why I’ve got to see him.”

“Ha!” she breathed in his face. Then, “Ow, stop it.” She gasped when he pushed the door. “He’s not even here.”

“Bollucks.” But he knew she was telling the truth. If Ciaran had been in the flat, he would have rushed to her side by now.

“I mean it. He’s really not here. What’s he to do with you anyway?” She relinquished her hold on the door and instead stepped out. Better to feign supremacy this way. Rather than let him keep reminding her of his physical superiority. “You already turned him into an example, haven’t you?”

His fists tightened by his side. He held back his retort. “Just tell me where he. Or—” he paused. Was he really going to—? “Or tell him to meet me—”

“Are you simple? Have you not heard a word I’ve said? It’d be a cold day in hell before he meets you after what all happened. Even if he were here. But, as I’ve told you, he’s not.”

“Where is he then?”


“Gone?” he repeated. The concept was strange. It was only a short while, but his presence had become ingrained and expected, like Sunday following Saturday. It was as if she’d told him the sun were gone. How could it be? It was always there, even if he took for granted the whys and hows of it.

“Yes, gone,” she said with a hint of satisfaction. Then she sighed. “Just leave us alone, why don’t you? All you do is hurt people, you lot.” She glanced at the fists stiff by his side. “Especially you. You’re the dangerous sort, aren’t you? Pretending you’re all noble, but you’re taut as wire— a finger-snap from breaking, you are. And you’ll take us all down with you. Leave us be. If not our home, for God’s sake, keep away from my Ciaran. Preying on the innocent like that, you’re despicable.”

Fingers found her throat, quick as a shot, as if they themselves were offended by the remark. Her words the fingers that pulled the trigger, released the shot.

Fear flickered in her eyes, but was gone just as quickly. The fire then in her eyes consumed his own, and the ice in the curse she spat doused him. No need for a spark when there was already a fire, he thought appreciatively. He pulled his hands from her.

“I’ve killed a man.”

“Of course you have,” she said, not mocking, but a matter of fact.

He smiled. “You’ve have backbone, I’ll give you that, but you’re a fool. You talk about innocence and playacting. I’m not the only one pretending am I? You’re seeing a fantasy only.” She rubbed her neck, but she didn’t say anything. He didn’t give her a chance. “You’ll know all about that money in the bible, I suppose—” he paused to relish the surprise that conquered for a fraction her features before she found herself, and the actress returned. “How does one come by such a fortune, and to what purpose, hmm? You’ll let me know, I’m sure.”

The surprise he was expecting, maybe some fury, but when she turned into her apartment like fleeing prey, Westley was shocked. But pleasantly so. He’d rattled her more than he thought. If it got Ciaran in trouble with her (if he came back), he was ashamed to say he cared little more than a smidge. He strolled home with a skip in his step and a smile on his face.

[Dying Boy/Thieving Bastard]

“He just let himself die in my arms.” He had, the bastard. Just lay there, smiling away as he bled. Refusing to be carried or cared for. “Please leave me. It’s so peaceful, suddenly,” he whispered through the rattling in his throat, and refused to let Westley go. Held him arm tight, until the fingers lost their strength, and his arm fell limply onto Westley’s lap. He’s shook the bloody bastard for a minute after, calling him a coward and a quitter, and what about your family?

“He must have known his time was up and made peace with it.” Reasonable, yes. Ciaran was always that, wasn’t he?

“You’re supposed to rage against death, not go with such easy acquiescence.”

“I suppose.”

“No you suppose. It is. If you don’t fight for things, then what are you? If you give up, what do you get? Look what it got him. He could have been saved.”

“Supposing he was sick of fighting and only wanted peace.”

Westley wasn’t listening. “He just let himself die in my arms. He gave up and stuck me with the failure.”

“It’s not about you.” Ciaran stood, pushed a finger into his face. “Isn’t it enough he died in acceptance rather than in fear, and with a friendly face to look on before?”

Westley said nothing, he ruminated over the scene, tried to view it from an outsider’s eyes. But his eyes came back to Ciaran’s. They were smug, he thought, like he’d bested him in sport.

“You don’t have to look at me like that. I don’t think I’ve won anything; this isn’t a contest.” He shrugged. “It’s just an observation.”

“Yes, well,” Westley mumbled. “Save the observations for the psychoanalysts.”

“The what?”

“People like Freud?”


Silence. “You haven’t heard of Freud,” he said, disbelief turning midway to belief. “You haven’t heard of Freud.” Ciaran frowned at the tone. Westley hastened on. “Doctors who listen to you talk and then tell you what’s wrong with you.”

“I just did that. Should I have charged a fee?”

Westley rolled his eyes. “You didn’t exactly give me insight into my character.”

“Wait.” Ciaran held up a finger, scrunched his eyes shut. When he opened them, the smugness was there for real. “The qualities we deride in others are the ones we despise in ourselves. So when we punch and yell and shout names, we’re really punishing ourselves/ wishing punishment on ourselves/ or perhaps to right the wrong in the other which we cannot fix in ourselves. Was that insightful?”

“Cheeky bastard. Were you pretending to be dull this whole time?”

“When did I pretend? I can’t be held responsible for your assumptions.”

Right, he thought. He had assumed it.

“The railways are stopped, didn’t you know?”

“What? Why?” Then, “Oh,” when he saw Westley’s expression. “Your people, then.” Westley frowned, but didn’t say anything. The boy was obviously troubled. His eyes flickered for a moment in thought. “You lot have automobiles, don’t you?”

“No,” Westley answered, not to the direct question, but the request/idea forming. “You’re not taking one of our trucks. What makes you think I can even get a hold of one?”

“You’ll think of something. I know it wouldn’t be the first time one of you’s taken one.”

“I’ll not think of something. I’m not stealing from my sergeants for you.”

“No?” Ciaran was a breath away now. He had his hands on Westley’s lapels.

Westley looked straight on, shook his head firmly. “No.”

“Alright then.” Ciaran patted his chest, then withdrew. That’s when Westley noticed something blinking silver between his fingers. “Maybe you just need a little incentive…” He smiled, the something silver slipping down into his grip. He waved Westley’s cigarette case with a grin on his face.

Thieving bastard, Westley thought. Ciaran’s smile became Cheshire-cat wide when he said it aloud. He was angry, with himself mostly for being so foolish (hadn’t walking the London streets taught him anything?). But secretly—yes, secretly, for he wouldn’t let it show in his face—he was almost endeared. In the very least, it gave him something to do with his weekend.

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