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Excerpt from and Blues Skies from Pain by Stina Leicht (Giveaway)

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Excerpt from and Blues Skies from Pain by Stina Leicht (Giveaway)

AND BLUE SKIES FROM PAIN

By Stina Leicht

“Keep your hands where I can see them,” Ned McCoy said, pulling a pistol from his pocket. Something in his voice said he almost regretted the request.

Liam left his hands on the steering wheel of the idling RS, and attempted to hide his nerves behind his balaclava. He wasn’t sure how successful he was. However, he supposed a certain amount of anxiety would be expected in anyone facing the business end of a gun. “Am thinking of having a cig. Is that all right with you?”

“Go ahead.”

Liam didn’t move to fish the cigarettes Frankie had given him from the jacket’s inside pocket, not yet. “Will you have one?”

Ned paused. “I will at that.”

Reaching inside Conor’s jacket, Liam grabbed the cigarettes and offered one to Ned. Afterward, Liam glanced at the watch he wore turned so he could see the face on the inside of his wrist. Eight o’clock. Although the moon was nearly full, it was dark in the alley. He pulled his lighter out of his blue jeans pocket in order to offer Ned a light.

The gates wouldn’t be locked until nine, but Belfast’s lively city center had died with the setting sun. The frequency of maimings, killings and bombings had been growing steadily worse as the war ran headlong into a twisted, hateful deadlock of tit for tat. The city council had reacted by enclosing Belfast’s center with a “ring of steel”—a circle of chain link fences. Regardless, most people in the area kept to their homes after dark. There hadn’t been a soul on the street in front of the bank when Liam had driven past. Belfast’s night life was as dead as a rotting corpse. For the most part.

As he waited for Ned to finish with the lighter, Liam’s mind drifted to Conor and the others. Liam wondered what they might be doing? They were Uni students on holiday. They were probably at another party somewhere or with their parents, having tea. Once again the differences between their lives and his yawned wider than a canyon. I should return Conor’s jacket before it acquires more bullet holes.

“Liam?” Ned asked. “Are you awake over there?”

“Oh, aye,” Liam said. What the fuck is the matter with you? There are more important things at hand. Like how to get out of this without being exiled, or killing anyone, or being assassinated or visited by a punishment squad.

Exhaling a great lungful of smoke at the two inches of space created by the lowered car window, he shivered as icy air seeped into the car via the opening. It was that or listen to Séamus complain of the smoke when he returned. The low rumble of the engine was soothing. The balaclava pulled down over his face was warm, but he hadn’t been able to shave for a week or so, and the pressure of the mask on his skin made his beard itch. He resisted an urge to yank the thing off his head and stared out the windscreen. The pavement was slick, the snow having melted a bit during the day. He didn’t see it as a good sign.

At least it isn’t snowing, he thought.

He squeezed the steering wheel with his left hand. Time was running out. His blood pounded in his ears loud enough for Ned to hear it, and he was sweating under Conor’s jacket. Liam had considered his options all afternoon and hadn’t come up with a single choice he liked. The first was to banjax the job. Get rid of Ned. Lock all the doors. Allow Frankie in and no one else and then drive away off. The problem with that was that it would endanger Eugene and Ned—not only Séamus, leaving them for the Peelers to lift. And what about the teller’s family? Would Henry and the others hear of what happened, top them and run? Liam couldn’t have that on his conscience. Then there was the likelihood of such an action ending in exile or execution at the hands of the ‘Ra, execution being the most likely of the two. Of course, now that it came down to acting on his words he wasn’t absolutely certain that Séamus would turn on them—not certain enough to risk killing anyone and anger the Provos. The second option was to wait until they returned to the warehouse. 

Liam couldn’t help worrying for Father Murray. Would they kill him while he, Liam, was away on the job? Or had Mickey been told to wait until they returned? Liam had to admit that it made more sense for Mickey to top Father Murray while there was no chance of Liam stoping it. It’d be smarter. If doing for Father Murray is on the agenda at all.

Liam hated that thought. Wiping his hands on his jeans, he returned them to the steering wheel. In the corner of his eye, he caught the tension in Ned’s body. He seemed poised to strike. “Relax, mate. I’m not for doing anything wrong.” And at that moment Liam knew it was the truth. He couldn’t leave the others behind to face prison, no matter what. Nor could he risk the teller’s family. He released a shuddering breath. So, it’s the warehouse, then. Wait for Séamus to hit first. Liam didn’t like it. There were a million things that could go wrong, but there was fuck all he could do about it. His mind was made up.

“See that you don’t,” Ned said. Something in his voice said that he didn’t care for the situation much himself.

Maybe Da will come through.

Right. Sure he will. And Mother Mary will come down from the sky and pluck us all safe and whole from danger at just the right moment.

Fuck. It’s a fool, I am. “What’s with the gun? Have I done something wrong?” Liam asked.

Ned shrugged and blew smoke out the passenger side window. “Séamus said to watch you. So, I’m watching you.”

Liam remembered something he’d forgotten. “Don’t get worried, mate,” he said to Ned before lifting his left hand from the steering wheel. “Only getting my music.” He slowly reached inside Conor’s jacket and produced the tape. After showing it to Ned, he slotted it into the stereo. With that, all was ready. Liam had but to turn on the stereo.

“What the fuck is that for?” Ned asked.

“Helps me focus on the drive.”

Liam heard muffled gun shots. He scanned the area for the source. A siren went off. The bank’s back door slammed open. Séamus and Frankie bolted outside. Blood stained Frankie’s anorak.

Liam asked, “Who’s blood is that?”

At the same time Ned said, “What are you—”

Frankie wrenched at the rear passenger side handle. Séamus scrabbled at the door workings on the opposite side. The RS’s doors swung wide and the cold rushed in to do combat with the heater’s efforts.

Séamus screamed. “Drive! Go!”

“What happened?” Ned asked.

“The Peelers were there! We’re fucked! Eugene turned on me! He was a fucking tout! Peelers did for him. Happened too fast. I couldn’t do shite! Fucking go!”

“Where’s Eugene, Séamus?” Liam asked. 

“Oh, Christ! He’s dead! Do you hear me? Dead!”

Liam shifted from neutral to first gear. Ned stretched out a hand for Liam’s left arm and gripped it.

“What are you doing?” Ned asked.

“Saving our necks,” Liam said. 

The bank’s rear door flew open. Several Peelers rushed out, aiming guns.

Liam said, “Or would you rather do time?”

“Don’t you move, you fucking Fenians!” One of them yelled. “Don’t you fucking run!”

Ned let go. A bullet shattered the rear passenger window. Frankie drew his pistol, shoved at the broken glass and fired back. The sound of it was too big for the inside of the RS. Liam turned up the volume on the stereo. Ned gave him a look as if he’d lost his mind. Liam couldn’t have explained why, but this was how it was done. Every time. He tossed his cigarette end out the window and then the opening drum beats of Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz blasted through the speakers.

“What the fuck is that sh—”

Roaring guitars obliterated the rest of Séamus’ protests. Liam gripped the steering wheel and urged the RS up the alley with a heavy boot. Behind them, gunfire lit up the alley like strobe lights. He reached the corner, paused long enough to shed the itching balaclava—he needed his peripheral vision—and then turned, speeding west toward the warehouse. Nothing to see here, he thought at the world outside the car. His hands tingled with the force of it.

A hand slammed down on his shoulder, shattering his concentration.

“Turn that shite down now!” Séamus’s face was red.

Ned reached over and lowered the volume.

“I’ll not put up with much more of this, Kelly,” Séamus said. “You’ll do something about that attitude. And your appearance, too. Or I’ll take steps, you understand?”

Sirens and flashing lights burst onto the street in the rearview mirror. Liam bit back a retort with a tight jaw. He needed to focus on the driving, not Séamus. Why did it matter? Should Séamus not be more concerned about the Peelers?

“I said, do you understand?”

“Séamus! Let him do what he has to. The Peelers are behind us!”

Fuck you, Séamus. Who is it you think you are? “I do.”

“All right then,” Séamus said and settled back into the seat.

Liam attempted to focus on the road and not how much he’d like to punch the smug look off of Séamus’ face. He was letting Séamus get to him. It was a bad idea.

Frankie and Ned checked their pistols.

Most of the jobs with Oran and the boys went as planned, that is with the exception of the first, they went quiet and with little to no fuss. It’d been why they’d been so successful as a unit. Liam had hoped that this job would be the same, given all the planning that Séamus had put into things. Unless he’s a tout and this is just another set up.

Don’t even think it.

He said Eugene grassed us. How much do the Peelers know? Liam was suddenly very glad he’d thought to change out the plates before the job.

The RS’s rear tires slid on the wet pavement and then grabbed. The modified RS2000 launched itself down the street with an easy eagerness. She’s twitchy. Remember that. Pavement is slick. Remember that too, he thought, feeling the tingling in his hands return as whatever it was that took over when he drove kicked in. Barricade is a block ahead. Short, white-painted concrete pillars were set on either side—dragon’s teeth—spaced to allow the flow of foot traffic while blocking cars from driving up the walks. The Peelers and BAs at the checkpoint were readying their guns. Liam spied the school playground to his left and then steered off the street.

Someone screamed as the Peelers fired. The remains of the back windscreen cracked again. Liam felt a hard thump in the back of the car and checked the rearview mirror. The prowl car was close—too close. Liam assumed they’d been rammed. He felt no real change to the handling as he stomped harder on the accelerator. Séamus shouted. Cold air rushed in through the back windows. Ned and Frankie returned fire. Liam ignored it all, and focused on dodging a big iron swing set and a row of worn but happy animals impaled on springs. The Peelers in the four door dropped back but continued to follow. Liam gritted his teeth as the chain link fence which signalled the end of the playground loomed ahead.

This is going to hurt, he thought at the RS. Sorry, love. The tingling in his hands spread up to his arms as he prayed they’d make it through.

The RS slammed into the fence with the force of an explosion. The steel links ripped like fabric but clawed and tore at the RS’s paint. Liam felt the tires leave the ground as the RS ran out of slightly elevated playground turf. The car landed hard on the street, bouncing on its shocks. Liam tugged the steering wheel into a violent right as soon as he could. Again the tires squealed in the race to grab the slick pavement before they were sent into a spin. He grinned, making adjustments with the accelerator and steering without conscious thought. The joy that came to him when he drove blossomed in his chest and filled most of his awareness. A laugh bubbled up out of the euphoria. Christ, he’d missed it—the racing, but this, this was even better. The chase. It’s been so long. The prickling had spread from his hands to his whole body. He heard but didn’t hear the others. Ned muttered a prayer. A frantic voice crackled in Séamus’s hand-held radio. Séamus screamed threats into it in reply. 

“Leave it, Séamus. They’re done for.” Frankie rolled down the window and leaned half out it, aiming for the unmarked prowl car. 

“Get the fuck inside, Frankie!” Liam warned. “It’s going to be a tight fit!”

Frankie squeezed off two more shots before slipping back inside. Liam took a quick left and then shot up a walk for a couple hundred feet. He took out a few street signs along the way. Each new dent in the RS made him flinch, but the unmarked prowl car was nowhere in sight. Not yet.

He was gratified to see the midnight blue RS pull into the street just as he took a sharp right. Up until that point, he hadn’t been certain that Séamus had acted upon his advice. Liam proceeded another block and then crossed back to the main road leading to the warehouse. He couldn’t waste time making certain the Peelers and the British Army had taken the bait. Father Murray was in danger, and Liam couldn’t know if Séamus was going to play fair. Somewhere above, a helicopter beat at the night sky.

“Henry turned. Fucking Eugene got to him,” Séamus said, throwing the radio at the back of the front seat in disgust. Liam felt it bounce off.

“What of the teller’s family?” Frankie asked.

“How the fuck is it you know of that?” Séamus asked.

“Tell us, Séamus,” Ned said. “Are they out of it? Safe?”

“What does it fucking matter?” Séamus asked.

One more go. One more chase. Just one. It was the same urge for a fix, and Liam knew it. The hunger was deep and overwhelming. Still, he fought it. Fuck off. I can’t play with the Army and the Peelers any longer. Have to get back.

A second siren whooped into life, and a prowl car pulled onto the street in front of him. He was going seventy miles an hour. There wasn’t time to stop. Heart in his throat, he yanked the steering wheel to the left. Clipping a phone box, glass shattered. He cheered as the prowl car pulled in behind them.

In the seat next to him, Ned cursed in a long string of Irish and reloaded his gun.

And then a second prowl car appeared to his left, speeding at them from a cross street. Liam jerked the steering wheel to avoid the full impact. The prowl car caught the rear passenger door. Both men in the back seat were thrown against one another as the RS was flung into a spin. Tires skidded. Steel screeched. Men screamed. Liam fought against the car’s momentum, but the RS hit a patch of ice. It seemed to take forever, but he finally got the RS under control and stopped.

The Peelers in the first prowl car got out, guns aimed at the RS and everyone inside. “Out of the car! Now!”
The second prowl car pulled up in front of them with its crumpled front end, blocking the road.

“Fuck! We’re lifted!” It sounded like Séamus.

Not quite. Laughing, Liam smashed the accelerator. Séamus screamed. Liam steered for the prowl car and turned at the last instant, whipping around it and once again heading up the walk. To his left was a small churchyard, denuded of trees by last summer’s 12th of July bonfire. Liam turned off the road and onto the slush-covered grass, hitting the church’s sign in the process. A shower of splintered wood peppered the ground behind them. Tires ripped through the soggy dirt and up the wee hill. There was room to pass between the Protestant chapel and the graveyard, but not much. On the other side of a short stone wall, grave markers whipped past. They cleared the building, and he slalomed around a stone marker and a statue and was out the other side before the prowl car was able to make the turn.

The car slammed down onto the pavement again with a jarring crunch.

He had to be careful. They were in a Protestant area now. Getting stranded wasn’t an option. He listened to the car. It was making a few noises that didn’t sound good, but in spite of the hit she’d taken, all seemed well enough. However, something was rubbing against the wheels, and there was no telling how long they’d hold up. The back end felt a wee bit unstable. It was clear she wouldn’t last another go. He ejected the tape from the stereo and pocketed it.

“What are you doing?” Séamus roared. “Why are you slowing?”

“Car won’t make it,” Liam said, searching the street. The tingling on his skin hadn’t receded—in fact, it’d grown more intense. He hoped that was a good sign. Then he caught a glimpse of a car parked behind a row of businesses. He stopped the RS, backed up and found exactly what he was looking for.

A Ford Cortina. Not his type, but she’d do.

“What do you mean the car won’t make it?” Séamus asked.

“Do you not hear the state she’s in?” Liam said, parking the RS next to the Cortina. It’s a two door, but we’ll make it work. “Change of plan.”

Séamus moved up to the front seat. “We don’t change plans unless I say so.”

“Look,” Liam said. “The RS is done. Can go on, but the next time a prowl car makes us I can’t promise she’ll have enough for another go. Even so, that big fucking dent in the side will give us away.” He got out of the RS and opened the trunk using the key. He found the tools he’d left there and selected a rag, screwdriver, hammer and wire-cutters. Leaving the trunk open, he headed over to the Cortina.

The passenger doors thumped.

“Get back in the car, Kelly,” Séamus said. “Do it now.”

Liam turned to face Séamus and found the man was pointing a pistol at him. I’m doing everything I can to save his fucking arse, and he’s threatening to shoot me? “This won’t take long.”

“You’re right. It won’t. Get back inside the car, Kelly,” Séamus said. “Or I’ll shoot.”

“You fucking prick! Fuck you! I’m fucking sick of this shite! You going to shoot me? Fine. Shoot! Fucking get it the fuck over with!” Then Liam shoved Séamus.

Frankie and Ned ran over and grabbed his arms, dragging him off Séamus. Liam fought it. “I fucking told you! We can’t go on in the RS. Do you want to fucking kill us all? Is that it?”

Ned asked, “Are you sure?”

Liam jerked his arm free and pointed. “Rear wheel is done for. See for yourself. It’ll blow, we put anymore strain on it. I’m for getting us a new car. It’s what I have to do. Now, will you lot let me do my job, or are you going to argue about it until the Peelers lift us?”

Séamus gave the rear of the RS a sideways glance, looked to Ned who nodded. Séamus sighed. “Go on.”
Liam headed for the Ford Cortina and found it locked. Using the hammer, he smashed the driver’s side window. Then he reached inside and unlocked the door. He used the rag to sweep most of the broken glass from the seat and climbed in. He took the screwdriver, rammed it into the ignition slot, and gave it a few taps with the hammer. He was prepared to break into the steering column if he had to, but often this was enough. He thought hard at the car. Turn over, you bitch. His hands tingled as he turned the screwdriver.

The car started.

Waving the boys over, he released the breath he was holding. He hated abandoning the RS, but there wasn’t anything for it. 

“Bring the tools, aye?” Liam asked. 

Frankie nodded and brought them as well.

Ned wiped down the inside of the RS. Then everyone scrambled into the Cortina. Liam shut his door and headed toward the car park’s exit. He glanced into the rearview mirror. That’s when he noticed Frankie was bleeding from a wound to the side of his head.

“You good, Frankie?” Liam asked. “Were you shot?”

“Bleeding bad, but it’s only a graze. I’ll do.”

“Glad to hear it,” Liam said. He got reoriented and then pulled onto the street. By his calculations they were three blocks from the warehouse. He proceeded as if it were the most natural thing in the world to be driving down the street with a broken window and three men—one of them bleeding. He slotted his music into the stereo, and focused on pretending they were headed home from a late party.

Séamus cleared his throat. “That was a good bit of thinking.”

“Oh, aye?” Liam said. “Too bad you almost fucking topped me for it.”

***

Giveaway



The giveaway is open worldwide. Two winners will receive one signed trade paperback of Of Blood and Honey. You must be 18 years of age or older to participate. Void where prohibited by law. Giveaway rules are subject to change.

How to participate:
  • To enter the giveaway, e-mail me at staffersmusings@gmail.com, with the subject IRA and declare intention to participate.
    • You must include a valid mailing address in the e-mail. Failure to do so will result in disqualification.
    • One entry per person, or face disqualification.
    • Entries accepted until 11:59pm ET on August 12, 2012
    • Winners will be chosen by random sorting entries, and then using a random number generator.
    • There will be 2 winners who will receive 1 books each.
    Although not required, it sure would be nice if you:
    Good luck!


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    3 Comments:

    At July 20, 2012 at 10:26 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

    Liam is often at his best when he has wheels underneath him. :)

     
    At July 20, 2012 at 10:59 AM , Anonymous Stina Leicht said...

    Thanks, Paul. I like to think so. :)

     
    At July 22, 2012 at 6:47 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    .thanks for sharing

     

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