The real trouble started as soon as I opened the front door. There, under my porch, stood the six-six monster who had been stalking my girlfriend for over a year. The individual hairs of his buzz cut stood on end while fat droplets of rain oozed along the blade of his nose. His jacket collar was turned up and I knew by the expression on his face that opening the door had been my mistake.
I tried to formulate some sort of defence, something I could say to warn him off, but nothing came to mind. He was the first to speak.
‘Nice weather this evening, Cormac, hah?’
I looked over his shoulder at the heavy storm clouds clinging to the obsidian roof tiles of the houses opposite.
‘Eh . . .’
He put his frying pan of a hand on my chest and pushed me back into my own hallway.
‘Becks here, Cormac?’
I shook my head as he forced me against the wall, shut the door behind him and turned the key in the lock.
‘Just me and you, huh? You know, that’s not such a bad thing.’
‘Look Tom, I think, I don’t think . . .’
‘Be careful with thinking,’ he said. ‘I’ve told you that before.’
A moment of silence passed. He took his hand from my chest and strolled into my living room. He flopped down on the couch and stuck his muddied boots up on the coffee table.
‘Not going to offer your old friend something?’
I looked at him for what felt like an eternity before I registered what he had said.
‘Oh, eh . . . tea, Tom?’
‘Two sugars and don’t add any milk like last time.’
I nodded, turned on my heels and made a cup of tea for the man who had made my life hell ever since things had gotten serious between Rebecca and I. When I came back into the living room, he was clutching the longest knife I have ever seen between his knees. I wondered how he had brought it into my home without me noticing and then I wondered how I was going to get myself out of this.
Before I fully understood what I was doing, I threw the tea in his face, grabbed the table lamp beside me and bashed him over the head with it, causing its plug to explode from the wall and wrap around my waist. Tom’s collapsed skull lolled to one side and blood pooled onto the shoulder of his black jacket. Just like that, Tom was no longer a problem, but this was no time for celebrations.
I unwrapped the cord from my body and slung the lamp away from me.
‘Oh fuck, oh shit, oh holy shit.’
I sat on the armrest of the chair opposite and stared at the bloody mess of a man I had feared for so long. The one thing which crossed my mind was how small he now looked. I knew I needed to dispose of the body. This was not something I planned on bringing to the attention of the police. They wouldn’t understand and the drama might induce another miscarriage for Rebecca. No, this was not something the cops needed to know about.
But I knew I couldn’t dig a grave all alone, it would take too long. I needed to call someone, someone who would understand, someone I could trust. I took my phone from my trousers pocket and scrolled through the contacts. Paul. The man whose wife was away with Rebecca for a girl’s weekend in Barcelona.
I had enough presence of mind not to call him directly from my phone. That would show up on the records. Lucky for me, I had bought an old-fashioned Motorola flip-phone for a planned cycling trip to Kerry. I had never used it.
I raced up the stairs of our small dormer bungalow and opened the bottom drawer of my bedside locker. I dumped my underwear onto the floor and snatched the white cardboard box. I tore it open, stuck the phone and the charger in my back pocket and slunk back downstairs.
By the foot of the stairs, there was a long, dirty streak of blood. I peered into the living room on my right. No Tom. I swivelled my head around and followed the streak to the phone stand Rebecca had insisted we keep. We had never gotten around to scrapping the landline either. By the foot of the stand, Tom reached with one hand for the phone.
I jumped from the stairs and pressed my foot on the middle of his back. He moaned. I almost felt sorry for him. Next, I pushed the landline from the wooden stand, raised it over my head and cracked him over his already deformed head one, two, three times. By the time I was finished, my black and white tiles looked like the floor of the world’s most luxurious abattoir.
I turned his body over and searched his pockets. A wallet, some loose change, an iPhone. I flung them all into the fire I had stoked moments before he bashed on my door. I felt tempted to crumple Tom into the grate too but knew no one could mistake the smell of burning flesh. A dead giveaway.
I went into the living room and sat in the armchair. I put my own phone on the coffee table, plugged the Motorola in and flipped it open. As soon as it came to life, which took longer than I remembered, I copied Paul’s number into it and pressed dial.
After four rings, he picked up. ‘Hello?’
‘Paul. It’s Cormac.’
‘Cormac, what’s going on? Everything all right?’
‘Well . . .’
‘How come you’re not ringing from your own number? You’re lucky I answered.’
‘You need to come over. I’ll explain then.’
‘Come over,’ he said and laughed. ‘It’s almost eleven. You woke me up.’
More time had passed than I thought.
‘Listen, it’s important. You need to come over.’
‘Jesus mate, you’re starting to scare me.’
‘If you’re a real friend, you’ll help me out this one time.’
‘Jesus,’ he whispered. ‘What’ll I do about Sarah?’
‘You have an au pair, yeah? If Sarah wakes up, she can look after her, feed her, change her diaper, whatever.’
A silence followed, then I heard him sigh.
‘Okay, I’ll come over but only because you’re Sarah’s godfather.’
‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘See you in a bit.’
‘Yeah,’ he said and hung up.
I stared at the four single bars in the top right-hand corner of the pixelated screen, turned the phone over and dashed it on the coffee table, then threw the remnants in the fire. It snapped and crackled like my favourite cereal.
I managed to mop out the hall and the living room with a bucket of bleach before Paul arrived. After I spent fifteen minutes staring at the blood-soaked couch in my living room, I decided it would have to wait until later. I knew I had more important things to do like cover up the body so Paul wouldn’t be totally disgusted by the mess I’d made. Lucky for me, I happened to have tarpaulin just the right size to cover a body with. It was in our hardware cupboard, below where we kept the hammer and the saw. Who knew?
Forty-five minutes after I called him, Paul arrived at my front door. I was stapling the tarpaulin together when I heard a knock.
‘Cormac,’ he whispered loudly through the letterbox. ‘Let me in.’
I stood up, brushed my already clean hands on my pants and eased the door open.
‘Come on, get in quick,’ I said, pulling him in. I closed and locked the door behind him.
‘Fuck. It smells like raw meat and bleach in here.’
I looked at him. ‘You’re not too far wrong there, Paul.’
‘So,’ he said, leaning against the bannister, ‘what’s going on?’
‘Wait a sec,’ I said and brushed past him into the kitchen. I dragged the body across the tiles and flopped the legs down across the doorway of the kitchen.
‘That’s what’s going on,’ I said and stepped over it, back into the hall.
He looked at the body, then turned back to look at me, his eyebrows low, casting shadow. ‘Fuck. Is that . . . is that a body?’
‘Don’t lose your shit, alright? He’s dead for a good reason.’
‘For a good reason? Somebody’s dead!’
‘You’re telling me.’
Again, he swivelled his head around to look at the body, as though to confirm its existence.
‘Who . . . who is it?’
I sat on the phone stand, the one I had used to finish Tom off with and which was in surprisingly good shape.
‘Yeah, remember I told you about Rebecca’s ex who was stalking her and intimidating me?’
He nodded as he collapsed on the bottom stair.
‘Well,’ I said, ‘he came calling tonight with a knife the length of my arm and held it to my throat. Said he was going to kill me and then Rebecca when she came home.’
‘Yeah, I know. Anyway, this bastard, name was Tom-’
‘Well, the bastard left me no choice, you know? Self-defence, really.’
‘I assume you’ve called the police?’ he asked, running a hand through his hair.
‘Can’t,’ I said. ‘The stress of it might cause another miscarriage for Becks.’
‘Jesus, man. You know what you’re saying, right?’
I sighed and looked at my nicely scrubbed hands. Almost too clean, is how they might be described.
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘I know what I’m saying. I called you here to help with the ah . . . burial, so to speak.’
‘Listen,’ Paul said, standing up. ‘You’ve been a great friend over the years. Great during Jen’s cancer treatment last year but I’m not doing this. An accessory to a murder? No way. I’m out of here. And I’ll be going to the cops.’
As he went for the door, I stuck my foot out and tripped him up.
‘You’re in on this now,’ I said. ‘And you’re going nowhere. Besides, it might be a laugh to have a bit of a misadventure.’
He pushed himself up as I stood over him. He turned to face me and cocked his fist. I drew Tom’s knife from my belt. I stared him down.
‘Not a nice way to treat your best friend, is it Paul? Not very nice at all.’
‘What’s wrong with-’
‘Stop flapping those big lips and let’s get on with this. We don’t have all night.’
‘You think you can intimidate me?’
‘You don’t help dig that grave,’ I said, jerking my head backwards. ‘And I will end you. My godchild won’t have a father.’
‘I don’t know what’s happened to you. You haven’t been the same since-’
‘Don’t you dare. Don’t you fucking dare,’ I said, raising the knife.
‘Alright, alright,’ he said, sticking his hands up to cover his face. ‘I’ll help.’
I lowered the knife again. ‘That’s better.’
‘But I only help dig, that’s my only role in this mess, and then I’m out of here.’
I nodded, sticking the knife back from whence it came.
‘And listen, I won’t go to the cops. After all,’ he said, standing up, ‘what are friends for?’
I grabbed a spade which I happened to purchase for the new shed slash office I was building in my back garden. Funny how things work out sometimes, isn’t it? I balanced the tool on top of the corpse and then Paul and I heaved the body outside.
‘What the hell,’ he whispered as we approached the bottom of my garden. ‘You have the grave dug already?’
‘No, no,’ I whispered back. ‘These are the foundations for the new shed. The concrete is going in tomorrow.’
‘Hmm,’ he said, glancing at the bags of concrete lining the outskirts of the pit.
We tilted the body so the spade fell onto the grass and then dropped the body as gently as we could into the open hole. We crouched there together, looking into the face of death for a long time.
‘Now,’ Paul said, righting himself. ‘I best be off.’
‘Okay,’ I whispered as I fumbled for the spade in the dark. ‘Thanks a mill for the help.’
I stood up, Paul remained rooted to the spot. He slowly wrung his hands on his jacket as the white of his eyes traced the outline of the garden spade in my hands.
‘By the way,’ he whispered. ‘What’s the spade for?’
In that instant, the spade slipped out of my hands and struck Paul right under the chin, snapping his head back and causing him to fall into the pit with a wet thud. I looked over the edge, he wasn’t moving. Next, I bent down, cut open three bags of concrete with my knife and covered the two men who I knew to be the real fathers of my unborn baby. I just wasn’t sure which one of them had done the deed with Becks. This way, I didn’t have to worry myself to death.
I topped off the concrete with the spade’s flat edge. It wasn’t a perfect job, but it would do till morning. I was completely spent after the night’s activities, so I went back inside, locked the door, and slept until nine the following morning. I ended up gutting the couch Tom died on, legally dumping it, and buying a new one before Rebecca came back from her trip two days later. When she did come back, she was glowing.
Of course, Jen was in her company when Rebecca arrived home. She asked after Paul and I said it was funny she should ask because I hadn’t heard from him in a couple days either. She didn’t stay long and wouldn’t take a tea. Becks told me the baby had kicked during the flight home and was simply delighted I had managed to fill in the foundations for the new shed.
We both stood out in the garden that day, cups of tea in hand and marvelling at our future happiness. We both understood a milestone had been passed and we welcomed the future with open arms. As I slurped my tea, my eyes traced the outline of the pit where I had buried my only friend. Dumping the dregs of the brown liquid on the newly laid cement, I almost felt sorry for the loss of our friendship. But you know what they say, one door closes, another opens.
Days, weeks, and months passed without anything unusual happening in our lives. Jen filed a missing persons report with the police and each of us were questioned about his disappearance. No one seemed to think I was extraordinary in any way and the police soon moved on to other friends and associates.
It was the first birthday of my baby girl – and she is my girl because I reared her - when my door was practically torn off its hinges.
‘Mr Reilly, open up. This is An Garda Síochána.’
I looked up from the video I was taking of our daughter who was staring in rapture at her first birthday cake. I patted her head and winked at Rebecca, whose stunned face will be forever etched in my mind.
‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘Probably just asking more questions about poor Paul.’
I flung the door open. ‘Yes?’
A brute of a police officer stood forward and told me to put my hands out in front of me. I asked what it was about.
‘I am arresting you in connection with the disappearance and suspected murder of Paul Morris . . .’
It later transpired that the building of my garden shed over a year previously and its intersection with my best friend’s disappearance was a dead giveaway for my elderly neighbour - Mrs Bourke – when she considered my ‘rash and often distrustful behaviour of late’. Who would have guessed?
As much as I would love to see this fairy-tale of companionship and true love to its rightful conclusion and give you all the details of my lengthy trial, my new cellmate is making too much noise right at this moment. I think he needs to be asked politely to shut the fuck up, so that’s what I’m going to do. Pleasure speaking with you.