The Manchester Review
Trevor Byrne
Nothing at the Top
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It’s half eleven. Three hours ago Tommy killed a copper by the name of Stephen Burke. He’s holding the gun in his hand, and it’s still warm. It makes no sense that the gun should still be warm.
          Aidan is sitting across from Tommy at the kitchen table, drumming his fingers on a folded newspaper. Aidan’s face is thin and drawn, the high cheekbones somewhere between handsome and cadaverous. It’s late and there’s no sound from the estate outside. A Liverpool FC calendar on the door shows the wrong month. The rings are glowing on the cooker behind Aidan and the blinds are drawn against the winter night but the kitchen’s still damp, still cold.
          —You OK? says Aidan. He places his hands flat on the newspaper and looks at the gun in Tommy’s hands. —Yer makin me fuckin nervous.
          —I’m grand, says Tommy, although he isn’t sure he is. He feels like he’s coming down, like he’s been popping pills and now he’s paying for it, that otherworldly melancholy that settles on you as you trek back to the world. It seems like days ago, not hours, that he’d been in line at the dole office, worrying about his sister Sinead’s labour in the Rotunda Hospital. He was thinking of picking something up for her new baby with his dole money, though he wasn’t sure what. A bear or something, something cheap. Then his phone buzzed. It was Marlo. Tonight, Marlo said, be there at half eight, and a bad acid feeling pulsed through him. He’d hoped that Marlo and his crew had been winding them up, that all this stuff about killing the copper was a trick, part of a punishment for losing Marlo’s cocaine. But a few minutes later Tommy was on a bus home, mulling over the impossible knowledge that later that night Aidan would be a killer, a murderer, and Tommy would be an accomplice. It had never occurred to him on that bus journey that it would be him and not Aidan who would be the one.
          —How’s yer sister? says Aidan. —She had the baby yet?
          Tommy knows Aidan’s trying to keep himself calm.
          —Don’t think so, says Tommy. —Could of I suppose.
          Even after weeks of discussing it, of planning it, of meetings with Marlo’s cronies in pub corners, Aidan seems unable to comprehend the fact that they’d done it. Or that he’d panicked and fucked up and Tommy had done it for him. Aidan had calmed down in the past hour but now he was getting twitchy again, and it was the last thing Tommy needed. It was easy to understand, though. It should have been straightforward enough, or as straightforward as a hit could be, but it had been a shambles: they’d walked in on Stephen Burke’s surprise birthday party, the place was packed with armed coppers and off-duty detectives.
          Aidan unfolds the newspaper, opens it, flips quickly through the pages, shakes his head, and closes it again.
          —What are the chances, Tommy? he says. —I mean, seriously, what are the fuckin chances?
          —Three hundred and sixty five to one, I suppose, says Tommy.