Content warning: explicit language, violence.
“You tell your brother to stop selling in Archway. You tell him to get all his men and move.”
Wexley Tones, the man subject to a five-minute harangue was bound by ropes from arm to ankle, covered in bruises from Christmas to Easter.
“You listen to what I say, Wexley, any funny business and I find that Connor is still selling in Arch – I promise you won’t be walking straight no more.”
The words left the man who was losing whatever marginal appetite for professionalism he once had. Working as a hired-gun for years beyond recollection left Lehane with a trained eye for danger and judgement of character unmatched by most detectives; along with the ability to kill a man before he has time to shit his pants.
“I bet you think you’re the smartest man around, don’t you Walter?”
A lapse in judgement led to Lehane forgetting to bound Wexley’s mouth that wouldn’t keep quiet.
“You’re getting old, Walt. Since when did you stop gagging your victims? And since when did you not wear a mask before your hit? You’re losing it.”
“Shut up,” grunted Lehane from the corner of his mouth. He started to tie a thick rope – double knot, triple knot – pulling the thing tight with his iron-manacle like grip.
There was a minute of silence on Braddon Bridge. No wind blew and no cars passed as the barriers were closed this late at night.
“You won’t kill me,” muttered Wexley, his eyes wincing as if he doubted his own words. Then he paused, smiled with thin lips like an open scar. “Connor won’t be happy if his dearest brother is found dead in a ditch. They’ll all know who it was - Walter Lehane – who else would meddle in our work if it wasn’t for the assholes that have your back, huh?” he spat.
“I’m unbiased. I work for every side as long as I’m paid.”
“Oh God, I’m sorry, I forgot you had morals! Where were they the past fucking hour when you were beating me to an inch of my life!”
“An inch of your life and we wouldn’t be talking.”
They glared at each other, both sensing the wounds life inflicted on one another.
Lehane broke eye contact first.
Wexley looked into the clear, dark sky where the formation of grey clouds seeped in from the North.
“If you kill me,” said Wexley, “Don’t think that you’ll survive long after. I know you think you’re invincible, but we all know that’s not true.” He ended with a leer.
Lehane straightened himself and reached for a lighter inside his jacket pocket.
He pulled out a packet of cigarettes and lit one.
The soft orange glow illuminated his weary eyes; one drooped under the net of scars seamed into the right side of his face.
“I’m surprised that it doesn’t frighten you,” said Wexley who nodded toward the flame.
With a swift flick, the flame went out with a click.
They were swallowed in silence. The clouds above them drew nearer.
Lehane picked up the rope, puffed out a cloud of smoke and tied it Wexley’s ankles.
“The hell you doing?”
“You’re gonna hang.”
“What? By my feet?”
“Yeah, off the bridge.”
“Are you nuts? If I fall, you’re dead Lehane, you hear me! I don’t know what you’re planning, but you won’t get far if you kill me, you son-of-a- “
Lehane flicked the cigarette butt at Wexley.
“You’re in no position to make threats.” He looked towards the sky and let out a sigh. “My life here is over. Tonight’s my final payoff. Tomorrow I’m going someplace else where I can live out the rest of my life in peace.”
“Peace? How many people have you killed, Lehane? How many people have you let die?”
“You think what you say means anything to me?” His words wavered.
Wexley spat at Lehane’s feet. “I forgot that you’re a tough guy. Everyone knows Walter's a tough guy, but I know different! You think I don’t know?”
“My job here tonight was to make sure you get your brother to stop selling in Arch-“
“YOU THINK I CARE WHAT YOUR JOB WAS HERE TONIGHT?”
His anger came unexpectedly, though Lehane remained unphased.
“You think I forgot what happened? You think I don’t remember what you did when we were young?” He spoke through gritted teeth, spit seething from the corners of his mouth.
Lehane stood motionless, eyes fixed on the ground.
“You let her burn, Lehane. After all these years without talking to me, you thought you’d worm out of it? You let my sister BURN!”
Then, from the back of Lehane’s mind came a painful reminiscence that felt as if it all happened a day ago.
The year ’72 was a tragedy for the small town. Ash filled the black night; a violent orange glow set itself apart in the centre of Waywood Street. Walter was rooted in fear on the upstairs landing as he stared into the flaming room in which Venessa laid, her legs crumpled by the burning wooden beam that rested its weight on her, melting away her skin.
Head beneath the thick smoke, she still breathed and cried – she screamed for help, watery eyes locking with Lehane’s. Dizziness passed him in fits and starts, yet he remained vigilant.
He pulled himself away from whatever remote safety he had and indulged himself into her presence that slowly slipped away with every breath.
“Please, Walt, don’t leave me.” A certain weight hung off each word, despite her raspy voice.
He didn’t dare look her in the eye; the pain in her voice pulled at his heart and knotted his stomach.
Why was she here? How didn’t she get out?
Her legs were trapped and it was the undeniable truth that, if she survived, she would no longer walk on them.
Lehane avoided the lashes of flames that licked at his arm and dropped down beside her, rolling up his sleeves that clung to his skin with sweat before preparing himself to lift the burning wooden beam.
“It hurts,” she murmured.
He tried his best for a grip that gave him leverage, but the wood was too hot to touch.
His mind raced and he whipped off his jumper and put it around his hands like an oven mitt.
He pulled as hard as he could, straining himself until a fat vein bulged out of his forehead.
The wood budged, ash scattered, Venessa screamed and he looked down.
As the beam left her leg it pulled the remnants of her skin off with it, tearing it away from the bone like wax.
He couldn’t leave her, but the weight of the wood was too much, and it – it hurt.
Venessa didn’t scream when he dropped the beam. He turned to look at her, making out the outline of her body through the gust of ash, wondering if she was still alive.
It couldn’t end like this.
Perhaps the smoke was making him dizzy, yet as he got down on all fours and crawled to her like a dog, she looked up at him one last time with lifeless eyes.
It had been years since Lehane cried, the last time being when he was young and his father had just passed.
Tonight, he couldn’t hold it back. He cried like the poor boy did when his old man was lowered into the earth, the tears leaving clear trails over his soot-covered face.
How did she not get out?
His body urged him away from the inside of the falling building, yet his heart wanted to stay here beside Venessa. Surely the burn of the flames couldn’t hurt as bad as losing someone as dear as her. No, it couldn’t.
He awoke outside to a dampening glow. People surrounded him. His face was burning and his vision blurred. A fireman told Lehane he was hit by a falling piece of burning rubble on the way out of the building, taking half the skin off his face as it did so. More voices buzzed around him; none broke into his conscience.
Something caught his eye, someone in the distance. Through wet, swollen eyes, he saw that it was Wexley. He slowly made his way towards Lehane. He leant forwards and they were face to face. He felt his breath as he spoke, “where’s my sister?” His voice trembled.
Lehane never answered. In his mind he knew the truth; he was met with the cool night air while she was met with a fate that left her eyes to melt out of her skull.
Lehane couldn’t meet Wexley’s glare. Guilt weighed down his words as he went to speak.
I’m a bad person, he thought. His head spun and at that moment he passed out.
But that was how it was, only the good die young.
Decades passed and the same accusation still left him speechless, bringing back that guilty weight which he tried so very hard to suppress after all these years.
Hearing the words leave Wexley’s mouth had taken an unexpected toll on Lehane.
“I – I tried to save her.”
“Well clearly you never tried hard enough if you’re standing here and she’s not!”
He looked down at Wexley who was bound in ropes. Lehane made his entrance playing Judge Jury and Executioner, but with every minute that passed, he felt more like the culprit.
She was trapped. Her legs burnt. Even if he held onto that beam a second longer, she would never have been able to pull herself out, or would she?
“What’re you thinking Lehane, another way to weasel your way out?” spat Wexley, “How long were you two together? Three years, almost? Yet you still let her die.”
Lehane stood silent. The clouds ahead formed a thick black lining above the bridge.
A storm brewed.
“That’s what I thought. Silence.”
“I did love her, Wexley.”
“Yeah, sure. That’s why you let her die. This is the same conversation we had all that time ago. You haven’t changed a bit.”
“We loved each other.” The words felt unnatural to speak, false certainty tinged his voice.
Wexley scoffed and a wide grin stretched across his face. “She loved you, yes, at first.”
A light wave of rain broke from the clouds.
Lehane swayed on the spot and straightened himself, fists tightening.
“She loved someone else.”
“She complained about you. She grew sick of you. Sick of looking at you. Sick of talking to you. She told me she’d be happier with someone else, but Venessa didn’t want to hurt you. She knew what you were like. A poor boy who was damaged when he was young. She felt sorry for you.”
Lehane’s face was stone cold, his body motionless.
“The night you let her die in the house, she was with him, her true lover. They were upstairs while you disappeared outside into the garden. I wonder what she was doing with him?”
“Stop,” said Lehane, his voice firm once again.
“You got left behind in the dirt!”
“Why are you doing this?”
“I want to hurt you, Lehane! I want to hurt you like you hurt my family. She loved someone else and that was the truth of it -”
Walter faltered and spoke, “I know she did.”
Wexley paused, eyes darting to Lehane’s face, examining him.
“At the time, I knew,” said Lehane quietly.
The rain fell harder. In the distance, lightning illuminated itself through the clouds.
“What,” said Wexley, his voice tempered and slow, “do you mean?”
“I knew for a while, but I thought it couldn’t be. She told me she loved me, so why would she hurt me? It was that night in the house when I caught a glimpse of them together. I went upstairs looking for her and there they were, the two of them.” Lehane hung his head
“Wait – “said Wexley.
“So, then I went outside – “
“No” murmured Wexley as he shook his head, “no.” Realisation gripped him.
“I needed somewhere to breath, to think. Then I felt the lighter in my pocket. It was the only way I knew to stop it without anyone knowing – “
“NO, YOU DIDN’T” cried Wexley. His face reddened and screwed up in hatred.
“It was the only way I thought to get rid of him, I never meant to hurt – “
“You’re lying, Lehane! The fire was – the fire was – “
“The fire was me, Wexley. I started it.”
Thunder cracked through the clouds and the waves of rain turned into torrents.
He looked up and they met each other’s stares. Wexley trembled in an unspeakable rage as his mouth gawped in an attempt to cough up some words.
Lehane inhaled several deep breaths and closed his eyes. It had never meant to be this way.
“Now,” he spoke softly, “I must do what I came here for.”
Wexley snapped out of his trance-like state and looked up at the looming shadow of Lehane, snatcher of life and son of Satan.
“I’LL KILL YOU, LEHANE! KILL YOU WITH MY OWN HANDS!”
His words were ignored. Lehane picked him up, avoiding Wexley’s weak attempts of biting at his face. His body writhed like an animal’s knowing it was next in line for slaughter.
“I’m gonna kill you. I will kill you.” Wexley’s cries turned into tired gasps of breath and dry sobs.
Lehane tied the end of the rope around one of the thick iron bars at the edge of the bridge.
“This should hold ‘til morning until someone finds you. I don’t want to kill you, Wexley. This is a warning. Just keep your brother out of Arch-“
“YOU KILLED MY SISTER AND NOW YOU WANNA TALK ABOUT MY BROTHER?” He barked. “You either kill me now, or I’ll kill you when I’m out of this.”
Lehane studied him. He meant it. “I’ll be gone before you have the chance.”
The rain fell in heaps, soaking them both to the skin.
“Now I’m gonna throw you over. Don’t rock too much, or you might fall.”
“Screw you, Lehane. I’ll get you even if it’s the last thing I do. I wanna hear your last breath leave your mouth and I’ll enjoy it!”
Walter pulled him onto the wall. He stopped struggling.
The wind grew louder and his words were barely heard, but before Wexley was pushed backwards off the bridge, Lehane spoke.
His words would never do justice for what he did, he knew that. Yet as Wexley continued to shout at him, whether in fear of falling, or anger, Lehane walked away.
He parked beyond the bridge on a hill that overlooked the town. The nights events clouded his mind. He got into his car and made a puddle where he sat. The thought of money that once mulled around on the surface of his mind was gone. Now Lehane wanted to be some place far. He started the engine and let his mind drift; once off the hill, he’d drive straight under the bridge and onto the intersection which led to the highway.
Tears and rain had blurred Wexley’s vision. Hatred fuelled him; determined to get off the bridge, he rocked back and forwards, unaware of the danger he put himself in. A copse of Maples was a fair distance below him. Perhaps if he could slip loose and aim for that – it was pointless. The main road was below him, one wrong move and he’d paint the concrete red.
“I’ll get you, Lehane!” his voice echoed into the night for no one to hear.
Now he had to wait in the rain, spluttering as the water trickled into his mouth.
Blood rushed into his head after the initial fall and made him queasy.
A gust of wind caught him from behind and he span like a pinwheel.
Another came, and another, and – the rope gave in by a couple of centimetres.
Wexley gasped aloud. It was slipping. The damn thing was slipping.
“NO,” he screamed not like this. He felt himself inch downwards.
“Please,” he begged “please God, not like this, I’ll do any- “
The words never left his mouth before a strong sweep of wind took the rope out of the air.
He fell in silence, unknowing of when he’d hit the ground.
Lehane was going sixty along the empty road. His knuckles were white from the harsh grip, his foot gradually pushing down on the accelerator.
The airport. That was where he needed to go. How far was it? Three or four hours?
That was too long alone with his thoughts. Right now, he needed to be as far away from them as possi – Lehane shouted and swerved, braking hard. Something large fell from above him and landed on the windshield, sending glass in all directions. The car went off course and span violently before crashing into a large metal rail.
There was no movement. Smoke left the hood of the car. Something was burning.
Minutes passed, nothing moved. Flames seeped inside of the car, even the weather couldn’t put it out. It spread fast, consuming the seats and whatever was on them.
An orange glow separated itself from the rest of the road. No one was there for the rescue.
Instead, the fire intensified and everything fell apart like paper dolls in the rain.