Gu-Gu-Geoghegan — Chapter 29 of 32

Luke’s eyes bulged and his pale face reddened.

“What the fu-fu-fuck do you mean you’re not doing it-doing it any-anymore?” he said.

“Exactly what it means. I’m not doing it anymore with you. It’s over. Curtains. I’m calling time. No more Sunday visits. Period.”

“And-and-and why? Tu-tu-tell me why?”

“I got a job.”

He laughed, a cruel harsh cackle that made his eyes water and his shoulders shake. When he had finished, he looked at Farrah with disdain.

“Who-who-who the fuck would hu-hire yu-you?”

“It’s none of your business, but I got a job. A real job. And the money’s good. I won’t have to fuck you anymore for the few quid.”

These last words were like a slap. He reddened even more and took a step towards her.

“And whu-whu-what about all the uh-uh-other fu-fu-fellas you were fucking? You’ve-you’ve han-han-handed in your nu-nu-notice to them too?”

“Yeah. I’m on the straight and narrow, now. Luke.”

“Huh! You-you-you’re a slapper and you-you’ll always be-be a slapper.”

Farrah shook her head and stared Luke down. Far from being cowed by his words or body language, she remembered that she was just as tall as him and perhaps weighed more. She decided not to be afraid of him.

“No, Luke. I’m a sixteen-year-old girl who’s had some tough breaks and fallen in with the wrong type of people. I need to leave you and all the rest of it behind me. I need to start dealing with stuff or I’ll wind up bad. And whoever wants to trash-talk me can just fuck off for themselves.”

“They’re not-not-not your words,” said Luke with a sneer. “Who-who-who have you been talking to?”

“Someone who knows about stuff. Someone who cares. Someone who’s not a sleazebag.”

“If-if-if-if you’re calling me a slu-slu-sleazebag you’d-you’d-you’d want to watch your-your mouth — slag.”

They were down at the end of Farrah’s road, where a line of boulders blocked vehicular access to the field that opened on to the Shannon. It was a place where they had been meeting for a couple of years, a lonely, dark space where they could be together unseen, all the houses at that end of the road being abandoned, and which Luke could get to through the field without having to pass any occupied houses. The streetlights were perpetually out of order, local lads making sure that replaced bulbs never lasted overnight.

“I’m not calling you nothing,” said Farrah angrily. “I’m just telling you how it’s going to be from now on.”

“So-so-so we’re just-just fu-fu-friends now? It’s nu-nu-not you, it’s-it’s mu-mu-me?” His voice was mocking, notwithstanding the stutter. His face was bent into a half-hurt half-bemused expression that she had never seen before. “Is that the wu-way it is?”

With a steely look she told him they had never been friends. “You paid me to fuck you. Dress up as your fantasy women. Shave my fanny, for fuck’s sake.”

He grabbed the top of her arm with a claw-like hand. “If-if-if-if you tell an-an-an-anyone about that—”

“What? You’ll kill me.” She swatted his arm aside. “Fuck off for yourself, Luke. You’ve done your damage to me. It’s over.”

He made to grab her again but she stepped aside.

“Farrah. Ju-ju-just remember that with one-one-one click of a button I can pu-put certain vi-vi-videos up on-on-on-on the nu-nu-net. An-an-and they’ll bu-bu-be up there forever. Ju-ju-just remember that.”

“Gu-gu-go fu-fu-fuck yourself, Gu-Gu-Geoghegan,” she said, turning swiftly around and running up the street. “Gu-gu-go fu-fu-fuck yourself.”

 

Luke walked aimlessly around the estate, thought about going to Bowsie’s to drown his sorrows, but continued on. He had never had someone break it off with him before — never been in a relationship before — so he had no past experiences to draw on. But he was familiar with the feelings that ebbed and flowed in his heart: anger, hurt, a sense of injustice at having been treated unfairly, the stinging feeling of being mocked, shame. These had accompanied him all the way through school, had been like silent partners in the dismal enterprise of his life. Things had improved when he left school. The bad feelings had receded, only surfacing when people mocked his stutter in the shop or when the few girls he had had the bravery to ask out had rejected him.

Reject, rejection: those words had followed him around like a mongrel dog since the day he was born. What had his father done? His mother done? Rejected him. All those little boys who would not befriend the strange, scrawny, pale boy who couldn’t talk? Rejected him. Girls like Trish, dozens of them, who made his heart beat faster and his mind believe there was good in the world? Rejected him. And the name they threw at him in the classroom and the schoolyard, lurid, jeering faces screeching at him like apes? Reject. Reject. Reject. Reject.

And now he really was a reject. A girl he paid to spend time with him had dumped him. Mocked him. Told him to leave her alone. I lost my cherry with her, he thought.

As he walked out of the estate and made towards the old medieval town, dark and quiet now, he looked back on the few years of their arrangement. His Sunday afternoon sessions had often been the highlight of his week. Getting through the long days he put in for Francie was made easier knowing that he would be enjoying Farrah’s sweet body on the Sunday. It had started out with standard sex. Embarrassment had held him back at first, when he had fucked her quickly and perfunctorily, not thought of going beyond the missionary position. But little by little he lost his inhibitions and became more adventurous. Farrah was always accommodating — if the price was right. By the time he thought of using her to play the women he followed, he had lost all his shyness and shame and felt that anything was permissible on those Sunday afternoons.

Farrah had taken them away.

The bitch.

Tears stung his eyes. Incredulously, he wiped them away and quickened his stooped walk.

What will I do about Máire?

Fucking Farrah dressed as Máire had been the only thing keeping him sane through all the bother with Senán.

That fucking bitch has taken Máire away from me!

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Gu-Gu-Geoghegan — Chapter 28 of 32

Now, young fella,” said Vincent, “that’s enough about your troubles. It’s time for Uncle Vincent to get some stuff off his ample chest.”

Senán laughed. He had spent the duration of one of Vincent’s cigarettes filling him in on what had occurred since the Christmas holidays. There was a lot to relate — Farrah’s visit, Luke’s scheming, the plan to sort him out, Senán quitting Francie’s, and Scary Mary’s “off-the-scale nastiness” over the past week. Vincent had listened with a world-weary smirk, allowing the length and intensity of his smoke exhalations to communicate his thoughts.

He did comment on Scary Mary’s state. “She didn’t get laid over the Christmas. That’s her problem. Simple as that. Sexual frustration. Over-sexed and under-satisfied. I bet she was at home all on her ownio on Christmas night flaking into a bottle of gin and wandering around that cottage of hers like Norman Bates dressed as his mammy — crying her eyes out one minute, slashing at empty space the next.”

“Too much information, Vincent,” said Senán. “I don’t want to know anything related to what that monster gets up to in her spare time. I’ve had enough of her this week to last me a lifetime.”

“Your little friend, Luke, likes to know what she gets up to in her spare time,” said Vincent wickedly. “What was the phrase? ‘He pulls his wire while he’s looking in at her’.”

“And I’ve had enough of him too, if you don’t mind.”

Vincent took a drag on a newly lit cigarette. “Good, good, good,” he said. “Coz I want to talk about me for a while.”

With his free hand, he rearranged his Siouxsie and the Banshees Kiss in the Dreamhouse T-shirt, which the wind had blown upwards to reveal a sliver of bulging milk-white belly.

“I’ve my own trouble, you know. This fuckin’ conference in the summer. It’s a labour of love, sure enough, but it’s wrecking my fucking head. I haven’t a minute to myself between one thing and another: contacting speakers, getting brochures printed, the fucking website, the cunt who wrote the book about 4AD has pulled out, Tolhurst is humming and hawing. Hedges is still decidedly on the fence. No pun intended.”

“I don’t have a clue who any of these people are,” said Senán.

“Doesn’t matter. The gist is that this fucking conference is a world of pain. And do you think our august institution is doing anything to help me? To smooth the path for poor old Uncle Vincent? Fuck no! Any possible barrier they can put in my way, the fuckers just fling it down across the fucking road. From the lowliest, orange-faced Oompa Loompa admin secretary to the Dean of Arts herself, every fucker in this dump is just throwing spanners in the works. It’s like they don’t want the fucking thing here at all. And I don’t know why. I’m pulling tons of fucking moolah into the place. Five hundred-plus journalists, bloggers, researchers from around the world staying on campus for three days. Meals. Drinks. Sponsorship. There’ll be a Proceedings out of this. Ka-ching. Not to mention the press coverage the conference will stimulate. CureCon is a win-win for all concerned, but the fuckers here are biting the hand that feeds them.”

He pulled long and hard on his cigarette and expelled the smoke with venom into the wind. “But!” he continued. “The fuckers haven’t got me beat! Old Vincent has a trick up his sleeve. I am going to hire me a lackey. A gofer. A factotum. Call him or her — preferably her — what you will. Believe it or fucking not I’ve had some luck for once in my life and I’ve come into money. Remember that RAI grant I applied for? The one to do with conference administration in the social sciences?”

“No.”

“Well, it’s come in! I’ve money for six months to pay a young wan to do all the shit that’s driving me mad. All the donkey work. This is a great moment for me. The first time those stuck-up cunts have given me anything beyond the steam of their piss.”

“Congratulations.”

“Thank you. I’m just left with one problem — who to hire for the fucking post.”

Senán frowned before asking his friend if the person would need any qualifications.

“Qualifications? Bah, humbug! I just need a warm body to do a bit of the heavy lifting vis-à-vis the infernal paperwork, email writing and general cutting through of red tape. You know. Bookings. Reservations. Name tags. Printing. ‘At what time is your expected arrival, Mr Stephens?’ That kind of shit. I need someone with a bit of cop-on, that’s all. And tough skin if she’s tasty: she’ll have to put up with low-grade workplace sexism from her boss; a bit of leering, bottom-touching, inappropriate remarks. Nothing too heavy. The usual academic workplace sexual harassment that we’ve all gone through and we’re none the worse off for.”

“I know someone,” said Senán slowly. “You’re probably going to shoot me down, but at least hear me out.”

“Go on. Uncle Vincent is intrigued.”

“Well. That girl, Farrah—”

“The one who’s taking pipe from stalker Luke in exchange for worldly goods? The teenage hooker?”

“I wouldn’t say hooker. A teenager from a very deprived background who’s fallen into some bad habits and bad company.”

” Luke, I presume?”

“Yeah. She’s not in school. She’s done her Junior Cert. So legally she can’t be forced to go to school. And she’s no job. She’s nothing to do. And no-one will take on a young girl like that with no skills or experience.”

“And you want Uncle Vincent to step in. Hand over executive powers to some wild child from—”

“You said you just needed a warm body.”

“True. But I didn’t say I needed some sort of druggy fuck-up.”

“But she’s one of the people you study. Aren’t you some sort of expert on teenage self-harm and all that?”

Vincent laughed and took a drag of his cigarette.

“I feel I’m being argued into a corner here.”

“It’s just,” said Senán, passion and frustration in his voice, “I think the girl is in free fall. She needs some intervention to pull her out of it. And I think a job would do her the world of good. A bit of money. Self-esteem. Discipline. Responsibility. And ‘twould take her away from Luke and walking down the tracks at night with a bottle of vodka and a bag of pills. And after the six months she did with you, she might get a taste for work. Maybe go back to school. Do a cert in secretarial skills. You never know. I just think we have the chance to make a difference to one life. It mightn’t work out. She might fuck up, leave after two weeks — whatever. But at least we’ve tried.”

“Christ,” Vincent said.

“Christ, what?”

“I think you’ve sold me on it.”

Vincent was serious now, his chubby face showing a pensive expression.

“I just hope to God she doesn’t get us into trouble here. With the powers that be.”

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Gu-Gu-Geoghegan — Chapter 27 of 32

 Luke had never wanted anyone as badly as he wanted Máire Ní Mhainnín. Unlike the normal pattern his “cases” followed, the more he watched her, the more he needed to watch her. It usually went through three phases: the early phase, where the thrill of the hunt and the excitement at learning about his prey predominated, and where his feelings were akin to a lover’s infatuation; the middle phase, where he grew familiar with the women’s habits and movements so that their lives and his became intimately intertwined; and the end phase, where boredom and indifference settled over his previous feelings like dust blanketing the furniture in an abandoned house. In this final phase he often grew contemptuous of his quarry. He began to spot physical imperfections and character flaws. Little things they did started to annoy him, like how they squeezed a tea bag, or didn’t cover their mouths when they yawned, or the way they slumped on the couch when they watched TV. Connie was now a late-phase case. He would shortly grow tired of her. To complete his collection he would take a few more photos of her out running, then he would leave her be forever.

He would never leave Máire Ní Mhainnín. He had never encountered a woman like her before. The night he had watched her masturbate — Christmas night, all alone in her cottage — was the night he knew he had found someone extraordinary. At that stage he had seen her nude a number of times, watched her dressing, undressing, lathering her pale skin with cream, in a way that many men would have paid money to see. He had seen her get fucked in different ways by different men, had come when she had come, standing just a few feet away from her hopping headboard. But when she lay on her bed in the candlelight and went at herself with a large, pink vibrator, Luke knew he had found what he had always been searching for: a classy lady to whom the kind of sex he watched on the internet was a daily reality, and whose beautiful body was as much a plaything for herself as the bodies of the whores and sluts on his computer were for the men who sated themselves on their unreal bumps and curves.

Luke had gotten into the habit of masturbating while he watched Máire. He felt so concealed and safe in her garden, had grown to know every loose kerbstone, torn-up patch of tarmac and dip in the lawn that after a couple of weeks he waived the usual precautions. After that first night, when he had felt compelled to do it, masturbating to Máire became as routine as taking photos or videos while she watched TV or danced. He timed his orgasms to coincide with hers. With spit-wet fingers he would knead the tip of his glans while she and the men she brought home engaged in foreplay. When they got down to the serious business of penetrative sex he would open his fly, clench his penis and move his hand along it in time to Máire’s exertions. When the rhythm of the fucking grew frantic, Luke would pull hard on himself and stare unrelentingly at her face for signs of imminent orgasm. He would do his best to hold off coming until her features froze in the telltale contortions of climax.

He always came onto the narrow flower bed along the side of the house by the bedroom. The soil was bare, showed evidence of having been cleared of plants to lie fallow for winter. He always wondered if the soil that received his seed would be extra fertile; that perhaps come spring whatever she planted there — busy Lizzies or pansies or sweet Williams — would outgrow all their neighbours. He wondered would Máire notice anything when she dug into the soil with her trowel. Would she stop and sniff her hands, swearing for a moment that she could smell semen? Or would she note a stickiness, a viscosity to the earth she pushed aside for her plants.

That night when she took out the vibrator and it was only she and him, separated by breeze block and double-glazed windows, he felt closer to her than he had to any woman he had ever known. He thought, and almost began to believe, that she was putting on a show for him, that somehow she knew he was out there and this was her way of giving him something special. Just as when he watched her dance, he felt he was seeing a side of her that no one else ever would — the dark side of the moon, he liked to call it. With one hand on his video camera and the other on his penis, he saw her work the vibrator, saw the mixture of pain and pleasure on her stretched lips and tightly shut eyes. As his exertions steamed the cold air outside, her body glistened with sweat, her hair dampening and sticking to her forehead and cheeks. He desired to feel that sweat on him, to smell her juices and leave his semen on her body the way he left it on the earth. He wanted to stick the vibrator in her, bring her to delirium until she was soaked, inside and out, and then stick his penis in her and ride her hard — the way she liked.

He liked the feel of Farrah’s new shaved pussy. She did a reasonable facsimile of Máire with the vibrator he had bought her. For extra money she had let him come on her belly and rub the semen until her breasts and mons glistened with it. But he was tired of staging charades. Besides the cost, he knew Farrah was laughing at him, that she thought his “play-acting” sad and pathetic. The fucking he gave her was often angry, and he knew it would not — should not — be like that if he ever did it to Máire.

His fantasies now were all about picking Máire up in Dazzlers, walking her to the taxi rank and being brought back here to fuck the night away, he knowing exactly what she wanted. She’d never have better sex. He’d be gone in the morning when she woke up and she’d be left wondering about the mystery man who pleasured her so completely.

He knew the fantasy would never be realised unless he changed.

The men she picked up in Dazzlers were men, and he did not consider himself a man. His brother was a man, living free of interference from his grandparents and figures like Francie. Luke still straddled the world between boyhood and manhood, his life one long running of errands. His clothes were bought, washed, ironed and folded by his grandmother, who also decided when and what he ate. He was still on his grandfather’s car insurance and known in the estate as “the young fella of the Geoghegans”. If he was to be like the men Máire went with he would have to change: hair, clothes, watch, the works. He might even try growing a beard or a moustache — who knows? But whatever the case, the Luke who walked up to her table in Dazzlers would be a different Luke to the man-boy who looked in her window.

There was only one thing: the stutter. His speech would trip him up, as it always did. No matter how good he looked or how much bravado he mustered, as soon as he thought about saying something he would get blocked. He would stand in front of Máire in the din and darkness of Dazzlers with his mouth open and his tongue and throat clicking away. She would laugh at him or think him a weirdo — or a handicap, the word his classmates often used in the schoolroom.

He still had that number Senán had given him. Perhaps he would spend a few quid on a speech therapist to get the ball rolling on loosening his tongue.

Luke put paid to his ruminations and returned his attention to Máire Ní Mhainnín. She was sitting up straight on the couch, lit from above by the cane reading lamp with the brushed steel UFO shade, and from below by the LCD glow of her laptop. She hadn’t the TV on. He guessed she may have been listening to music or the radio, but he couldn’t hear anything. She seemed out of sorts — anxious, fretful and bad-tempered. Whatever she was at on the computer was making her frown and mutter to herself, and occasionally scream and turn her head away in disgust. She was on a deadline, clearly, and things were not going well.

He had never seen her like this before. She was always relaxed and bright-faced. She hadn’t even changed out of her work clothes, a mid-thigh-length black skirt and cherry-petal-pink blouse. The grade-A upskirt he recorded of her smooth, sinewy legs was the only silver lining to keeping vigil on a night when nothing bar trips to the bathroom or coffee pot broke the monotony.

It was ten past twelve. Luke wondered was it worth staying any longer. Having spent the evening wrestling with difficult work, she was hardly likely to have a go at herself with the vibrator. More likely she would collapse into bed without even the usual show of moisturising herself. He would call it a night, he decided, but not before making his nightly offering to her flower bed. He turned off his camera and began to fondle his penis into life. He looked at the crevice between Máire’s thighs, which darkened tantalisingly as it narrowed, and imagined slipping his hand up it until his fingers felt the soft folds of vulva. He worked away at himself, the mechanical threshing of his arm building speed until he felt a teasing heat in his prostate. He slowed and tightened his grip on the shaft, his hand like a clamp on the veins and urethra.

Soon, soon, soon, he panted. Soon, soon, soon.

He’d have his hand up her skirt any day now.

Soon, soon, soon.

He relaxed his hold on his penis and his cum hopped out onto the earth below.

Soon, soon, soon.

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Gu-Gu-Geoghegan — Chapter 26 of 32

That Tuesday, Senán did not go to work in Francie’s. In fact, he never again set foot in the shop as an employee. He sent Luke a short text message notifying him of his retirement from shelf stacking, effective immediately. The reply was just one word: Grand. As part of their plan, Trish and Senán thought it advantageous to have Luke believe that his photographs had led to them breaking up, as well as frightening Senán off having anything to do with Luke. Thus, on arrival to work on Tuesday morning Trish asked to have a word with her boss. In the store room she thanked him for showing him the photos and told him she had dumped Senán.

“He denied everything, of course,” said Trish. “Came up with some cock and bull story that you were out to get him and that the photos were a set-up. But I didn’t believe a word of that. I could nearly smell the little slapper off him. The worst thing was, he was more worried about the cops seeing those photos and finding out about him having unlawful carnal knowledge, as he put it, than splitting up with me. I say: If he’s so worried about the cops finding out about him fucking that slut, he shouldn’t have gone near her in the first place. I wouldn’t touch him after knowing he’d been with her. Anyway, it’s over. You won’t see him around here anymore. And you definitely won’t see me knocking ’round with him. Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

“Gu-gu-glad to be of-of-of help,” said Luke, with his usual deadpan face, but Trish detected a swelling of triumphant pride in his pigeon chest.

She felt bad about misleading Debs and Susan and her other friends, and even worse about talking down Senán in front of them, but she knew the ruse could work in their favour. Luke would be less on guard in her company and would not suspect she was acting as Senán’s eyes and ears in the shop, as he surely had done in the past. Senán had even suggested she make efforts to befriend Luke to get information out of him, but Trish had drawn the line.

“My skin is going to be crawling for days just having to say those words to him,” she said. “There’s no fucking way I’m pretending to be his friend. Three minutes of sucking up to him is my dose of Gollum for the year.”

They decided to give Luke a few days’ space before they implemented their plan.

“Let him think he’s home free, that he can fuck the brains out of Farrah and stalk left, right and centre without anyone bothering him. Then we’ll close the trap,” said Trish.

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Gu-Gu-Geoghegan — Chapter 25 of 32

Senán’s Monday was turning out memorable for all the wrong reasons. After struggling to hurry Farrah out of his flat, then racing into college in his old car and dropping her at the main bus stop on campus, he had arrived at his spot in the Foundation with barely time to boot up his computer before Scary Mary emerged like a malevolent wraith to summon him to her lair. Their meeting was long and fraught. They had gone cell-by-cell through a weighty SPSS analysis of owner-occupier data from the CSO, ending in Scary Mary’s terse order to scrap the whole thing and start from scratch. There were “schoolboy errors” in categorising the raw data, the degrees of freedom were “haywire”, and she told him she would have expected more from him. The original analysis had taken Senán two weeks and he had been quite pleased with the outcome, so he was none too pleased emerging from the meeting. Neither Vincent nor any other colleagues were martyrs enough to their research to be working between St Stephen’s and New Year’s, leaving Senán without anyone to whom he might vent his frustration. He stewed in his anger and resentment, knowing that a bitching session on his supervisor’s unreasonableness and draconian rule would have to wait.

As he went about constructing the analysis recommended by Scary Mary (and which he had uselessly argued was even more flawed than his original supposedly was), the only light at the end of a long and tiring day of wrestling with SPSS was that Trish would be coming over that evening. But then she texted to ask would he mind meeting her in the Barge instead, that something had come up. Making his way across to the pub, his mood was low, far from the tingling excitement of a man anticipating a lovers’ reunion.

Trish arrived late, and Senán’s humour did not improve during the half hour he spent sucking his pint of Guinness while keeping one eye on a lacklustre Premiership match. But when she stood between him and the big screen, he couldn’t help but smile and forget the day’s troubles. He was surprised that upon standing up and offering his open arms, she made no effort to move towards him and her face betrayed no joy at seeing him.

“We need to talk,” she said through gritted teeth as she left for the drink she said she needed badly. All sorts of thoughts ran through his mind while he waited. When she sat wordlessly opposite him with her gin and tonic, he asked her what was wrong.

Trish activated her smartphone, scrolled through a couple of menus and handed it to Senán. “This is the problem,” she said.

The phone displayed a photo of a teenage girl with a shock of blonde hair looking out the window of a brightly lit room.

“Fuck,” said Senán. “I’ve been had.”

“There’s more,” said Trish, anger and hurt in her voice.

With a sinking heart, he flicked through a half dozen more photos. There was a shot of Farrah looking out the window of his kitchenette, one of Senán opening the door to her, of him following her up the stairs, one of her smoking outside his door, and one taken that morning of her looking out the bedroom window wearing only bra and knickers.

“Fuck, I don’t believe it,” he snarled. “Fucking Luke. I’ll kill him. I’ll wring his neck. He’s a sick cunt.”

“When did it start?” asked Trish.

Senán, slow to answer, confused and distracted, asked her when did what start.

“You and that little slag. When did you start seeing her?”

Senán looked up from the phone and shook his head.

“You’ve got the wrong end of the stick there.”

“No,” said Trish. “You’re the one with the wrong end of your DICK! You can’t deny what’s in those photos. Fuckin’ Gollum pulled me aside today. Told me he had to tell me something. That you and that slag are going around together. Then he sent me the photos. So, wrong-end-of-the-stick your hole.”

“Listen, Trish. Whatever fucking Gollum’s told you, it’s a lie. I’ll—”

“What about the photos?”

“Listen for a minute. Please. Number one: I’m not going round with Farrah. Number two: Luke is up to some manoeuvre to get me back for rumbling his stalking. Now, listen. I was in my place last night when the buzzer rang. I thought it was you, actually. I opened the door, big smile on my face, and there was Farrah. I was surprised, to say the least.”

“I’m sure you were.”

“I’d only ever met her once before, with Luke, down the tracks. Which I told you about. Anyway, she told me I’d struck her as a nice person when we’d met—”

“I’m sure you did.”

“And that she needed somewhere to stay. She got my address off Luke’s phone. It was cold. She was fuckin’ blue with the cold, so I let her in.”

Trish gave a sardonic grin.

“You mean to tell me,” she said, “that that slapper just showed up at your door, out of the blue, after only meeting you the once — and you let her in? Go on outa that.”

“That’s the God’s-honest truth, Trish. You have to believe me. There I was, minding my own business when she appeared at my door. My plan was to get her inside, get some soup into her and then try to find somewhere that would take her in.”

“Soup?”

“She was blue with the cold. She wasn’t wearing very much.”

“Of course — that’s what sluts do. Not wear very much.”

“Anyway. I let her in. I got some food for her. She pulls out a bottle of wine—”

“One thing leads to another . . .”

“No, Trish. Stop it. Just listen.”

A sceptical look in her eye, she took a drink from her gin and tonic.

“She has a couple of glasses of wine with the few sandwiches I make her. I start thinking of who I can call. An emergency shelter or whatever. But she doesn’t want to know about it. And then I start thinking that I can’t take her anywhere: she’s drink on her, I’m the responsible adult, I’d get into shit. Can’t drive her home, can’t take her anywhere. So I tell her she can stay.”

“One thing leads to another . . .”

“No. Stop saying that.”

Senán drank from his own glass before continuing. “Then she tells me she’s going down for a smoke. When she comes back up, she’s high as a kite.”

“Fantastic.”

“Exactly. So I spend a wonderful couple of hours listening to her talking stoner horseshit. I eventually convince her to go to bed. She takes my bed; I sleep on the couch with a blanket over me. The photo of her here in her bra and knickers is coz she stripped down to go to sleep. That’s all.”

“Got a good look at her then?”

“No. No way. I was fucking terrified of anything weird happening. That’s jail time. No fucking way. So anyway. Next morning — this morning — I’m up bright and early, coz I’ve to meet Scary Mary. I get her up out of bed, she has a shower, I feed her, I try to talk some sense into her about hanging round with Luke, and getting her shit together, and I drop her off at the bus stop in the college. End of.”

“And you expect me to believe all that?”

“Yeah. You know me, Trish. I’m not sleazy. I’d never do that. To her. To you. To myself.”

Trish bit her lips. “Why didn’t you phone me? I woulda come out to you to sort that little bitch out.”

“I thought about it, believe me, but I didn’t want to drag you into it or ruin your night out with your cousins and all that.”

There was silence between them for a few moments. The commentary and cheering from the football match echoed in the half-empty pub; people were pacing their going out, waiting for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to party once more. Senán slid the phone back gently to Trish and spoke softly.

“It was a set-up, you know. Fucking Luke. He must have dropped her off in his fucking Noddymobile and hid in the bushes taking photos. Which means he must have been watching me, stalking me. I wasn’t supposed to be in Limerick last night. I only came back coz of Scary Mary’s freaker over the CSO data. Which gets me thinking. This is about two things: revenge for spoiling his little thing with Scary Mary and Connie, and a warning that he’s capable of stalking me and trying to wreck my head. The revenge part, Gollum’s revenge, was about upsetting you, Trish, and trying to split us up. Fucking with us. You thinking that I’m shagging Farrah is what Gollum wants you to think. Gollum wins if you believe him and we break up. I don’t know if his intention in sending Farrah to my place was just to get those photos, or if he really told her to shag me. But she didn’t. She didn’t even try. She didn’t make a move on me. And believe me: it wouldn’t have worked anyway. I promise I didn’t touch her. I swear.”

“You swear?”

Trish’s expression was softening, the anger melting away. She still wore a look of sadness and hurt, though. It was as if she needed more words from Senán, a critical mass of denials and reassurances to destroy the wall of suspicion that Luke had built.

“I swear. The only thing I feel for that girl is pity. She’s going to end up badly. You know Gollum is paying her to fuck him? And she uses most of the money to get high so that she can forget about her junkie mother and all that shit. I’m half thinking of reporting Gollum, he should go to prison, the fucking scumbag.”

Tears welled in Trish’s eyes, which she blinked away before starting to talk.

“I just thought of you and her. Together. And she giving you what you can’t get offa me. I guess I went a bit funny. I felt terrible and I believed Gollum. I suppose, even though I think you’re the best man I’ve ever met, I still have a shit opinion of men. I shouldn’t have listened to him. Shouldn’t have believed him for a second. Fuck it.”

Senán reached across the table and took Trish’s hand. He stroked the back of it with his thumb and then squeezed her palm hard. Although he disapproved of displays of affection in pubs, often complaining that couples eating the faces off one another in drinking establishments amounted to antisocial behaviour, he leaned across the table and kissed her on the lips, first gently and then passionately.

“Don’t mind that thing,” he said softly when they separated. He held his mouth close to her ear. “That’s something we can fix in good time, believe me.”

“I’ll try, Senán. I’ll really try. I really want to give you what you deserve, and so you and I can be together properly.”

He smiled. “That was the idea of you coming over to my place tonight. Practice makes perfect and all that!”

“We can still go, if you want.”

“C’mon so. What you waiting for. Drink up. Your chariot awaits.”

 

“You changed the sheets, right?”

“Yes Trish, for the millionth time. I changed the sheets.”

“It’s just — I don’t want to catch anything from her. She’d have whatever those men she sleeps with have. And what Gollum has, Jesus Christ.”

“Mechanised dandruff, as Vincent says!”

Trish laughed. They were lying on his bed, he on his back and she on her side, head on his chest and arms and legs wrapped around him. Progress had been made in their lovemaking. After he had stimulated her with vibrator and tongue, Trish had relaxed enough to allow him explore her with his fingers. He had felt her grow ever wetter and her contractions and moans demand faster and harder fingering. She climaxed, her body rigid, hands gripping his hair, and voicing her pleasure — a breathy whimper — long and loud. When she had relaxed, she and Senán shook the bed with the laughter of relief and joy. Then it was his turn to orgasm.

“You know,” said Senán. “We have to stop Gollum. He’s not just paying Farrah for sex. When she was high last night she told me a whole lot of stuff. I’m sure Gollum would kill her if he knew. Not only does he pay her for sex, but he gets her to dress up like Scary Mary and Connie and then fucks her in character.”

“What?”

“Yeah. He’s bought her a Scary Mary power suit, right down to the underwear. Makes her wear a wig. And she has to wear Scary Mary’s nail polish and perfume. The same with Connie. The sickest thing is that he wants Farrah to shave her fanny. Guess why? Coz he knows that Scary Mary has a shaved fanny. And how does he know that?”

“The fucker’s been looking in her bedroom window! Jesus Christ.”

“Exactly. Peeping Gollum. Scary Mary lives somewhere out in Monaleen, on an old country road. In this cottage, as far as I know. I can just see Gollum creeping around the garden in the dark, pulling his wire while he’s looking in at her undressing.”

“Oh, fuck.”

“Oh, fuck is right. We have to stop him.”

They talked into the night about how best to put a halt to Luke’s stalking, and his exploitation of Farrah. Trish was in favour of the simplest approach — going to the gardaí.

“I don’t think that would achieve anything,” said Senán. “There’s no proof, number one. And I’m sure the cops would just wade in with their big size twelves. Go directly and question Gollum. He’d deny everything, of course. He’s stop for a while, while they were poking around, but that’s it. It’d just teach him to be more careful. And besides that, if social services got wind of Farrah’s activities they’d probably split up the family. Put each kid into a different foster home maybe.”

“And?”

“Farrah wouldn’t like that. She’s kind of the younger kids’ mother. Looks after them. She told me she’d die if they split up the family. Or at least if they took her away from the rest.”

“Pity about her.”

“I kinda promised I wouldn’t tell the cops about her underage prostitution, and she kinda promised to stay away from Gollum.”

“That’s not going to happen. It’s easy money for her. And he’s got some sort of hold over her, the fucking creep.”

“So what’s to be done, then?” asked Senán.

Neither spoke for a spell, each pondering the puzzle they had set themselves. Music played low on Senán’s stereo, the tuner still on the classical station Farrah had set it to the night before. What sounded like hailstone rattled against the window. A truck whooshed by on the Dublin Road.

“We could set a trap for the fucker,” said Trish at last. “Use his own tactics against him.”

“Go on.”

Trish turned around to look into Senán’s eyes. Her hair fell onto his chest, tickled him so that he brushed it gently aside with a flick of his finger.

“OK. He obviously believes in the power of blackmail. Right? He reckoned those aul’ photos of that slapper walking round here in her knickers would break us up. So: if we have a photo like that, and I take the fucker aside in Francie’s like he did to me today, we might get somewhere with him.”

“OK. But what kind of photo. One of him and Farrah? A dose of his own medicine?”

“No!”

She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him on the forehead.

“Well,” he said. “The tension is killing me.”

“What you said earlier on has given me an idea.”

She hugged him tighter and kissed him again.

“You said,” she continued, “that he was probably out in Scary Mary’s garden pulling his wire looking in at her undressing.”

“I did. And I sincerely believe that’s what he’s at.”

“That’s our photo. If we can get it. Threaten the fucker that that photo’s going up on Facebook and Instagram, and we own him.”

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