In the end, Jeremiah Byrne can think of no other way but to pay in fags for one of the young Sheriffer lads—an eight-year-old with enough bottle to climb those stairs—to lay the bait. To make it so the auld bastard cannot but drag his plastered carcass down into the street, into the night-dark laneway.
While he waits for the lad to return, Jeremiah peeks out from the cover of Hambone Lane and lets his eyes wander the nightscape of Sheriff Street. Lantern light burns in sporadic windows and the wind hums among the mesh of laundry lines that stretch from one side of the street to the other. A barrel fire burns and his old mates surround it, mock-scrapping, throwing digs at arms and shoulders, youngfellas jostling in the way of youngfellas. Ragging. Having a laugh. Able for it and all. Taking time on the cobbles to avoid the bustle of tiny tenement rooms and not because they have no homes to go to or no one to love them in those rooms. These lads are nothing like the lane boys who want Jeremiah’s skin to piss on. Nothing like them. Those boys have nothing but meths and petrol fumes for to warm them; no cramped room, no Ma—not even a whore of a Ma—no sisters or brothers to bundle up with on the pallet of a winter’s night. No.
Jeremiah’s eyes catch movement from the doorway of his own building as the boy he has employed skips down crumbling steps and jogs to the entrance of Hambone Lane.
‘Well, wha’? Where’s me smokes?’
Jeremiah thinks to Welsh the youngfella, but then realises he will need his silence.
‘Here,’ he says, ‘take all ten.’ They had settled on four for the task.
‘Go on, yeh slow cunt,’ he places the Player’s box in the boy’s hand. ‘Is he coming?’
‘He fuckin’ is, he said he’d be down shortly. He’s a brace of crutches so he’ll be ages I’d say.’
‘I’ve the time, I do,’ Jeremiah says. ‘Now you’re to say nothing to no one, righ’? Yis don’t want end up in Artane or the ’Frack, do yeh?’
‘Head down, mouth shut, wha’?’ the boy says.
‘Proper order, youngfella. Now fuck off away from here and don’t be minding any business but yer own.’
‘All righ’, I will. And if y’ever need any more jobs done, Jerry, I’m yer man, you know it, righ’?’
Jeremiah smiles. ‘I’ll keep yeh in mind, youngfella. Now shift it.’
The boy tips his cap and is gone.
Jeremiah waits, and after some minutes he smiles and backs deeper into the darkness of the laneway.
‘Froggy Maughn, I should’ve known you’d pay me, one day, mate.’
Uncle John Keegan propels himself from the half-light of Sheriff Street and into the darkness of the lane. ‘I fuckin knew it, me aul’ pal, I always did be telling any manjack who’d listen, Froggy Maughn’d be back with me cabbage, the day he raised head out of Cork Prison, I did say.’
‘Froggy Maughn’s dead these past two year, yeh soft prick, yeh,’ Jeremiah says, stepping forward, faint light from the laneway’s entrance revealing his face to his uncle.
‘You? What’re yeh at, yeh little bollix yeh. I’ll fuckin tan you, yeh little …’
‘You’ll tan nobody, yeh cripple bastard,’ Jeremiah says, and takes the surgical knife from his sleeve.
‘Ah now, Jeremiah,’ his uncle says, and it is the first time he has called Jeremiah by his given name in as long as the boy can remember.
‘“Ah now” nothing, yeh cunt,’ Jeremiah says, stepping closer and bringing the glinting blade to his uncle’s throat, his uncle helpless with his hands bucked under the crutches, one leg bound in plaster and hanging inches off the cobbles. ‘You’ve this coming a long time, y’auld whore’s pox. Y’auld dirty fucker.’
‘Please, Jerry, I’m sorry, I never meant hurt any of yis …’
Jeremiah drags the razor-sharp blade across his uncle’s throat. His uncle’s last words emerge as bloody spray, and Jeremiah jumps back to avoid the deluge.
Uncle John Keegan’s mouth gapes and he slumps against the brickwork. As his crutches go from under him, he falls and his hands flail at the arterial plume of blood. It takes two minutes before he is still, and Jeremiah watches as he dies.
Before he turns away, Jeremiah spits on the warm corpse of his uncle. ‘Save your sorrys for the devil,’ he says, and walks down Hambone Lane and out into Saville Place. He stops only to clean his uncle’s blood from his hand in a muddy puddle, where he feels for the first time in many years sated, and somehow hopeful for the future.