“Top me up,” I say to the barman, sliding my empty glass towards him. As he turns to pour my drink, I run my hand down the front of my jacket just to check it’s still there. It is. Its heaviness feels strange in my pocket. I’m not used to guns.
I drain my glass and the barman’s eyebrow asks if I want another. I don’t.For what I gotta do, I’ve had enough.
I leave the bar. I spend a couple of minutes looking for my car. Then I remember, I walked here. My memory’s not what it was. But I know where I’m going. I remember what I gotta do.
I knew she had a lover, of course. Known for a while. I don’t blame her. I think maybe I got angry with her about it before. It’s hazy. No, not angry. Just irritated that she wouldn’t admit it. I would have understood. I don’t blame her. Living with me can’t have been easy, not since the accident. But she’s always taken good care of me. Always helped me with my little confusions. If I didn’t have her, God knows what would have become of me. So no, I don’t blame her. Not really.
I just wish she’d chosen better. Wish I hadn’t come home to find what I found a couple of hours ago.
I’d been out somewhere, the pub maybe or possibly to my pal’s place. First thing I noticed was her car wasn’t there. That was strange. She hated driving at night. She could have called me if she’d wanted something.
When I saw the open front door, I knew something was wrong. The living room was trashed. Completely trashed. The TV lay on the floor, its screen shattered. The sofa had a gash, running its entire length, as if someone had slashed it with a knife. Broken glass and crockery covered the floor. She must have put up a struggle. Next to the wall, just above the light switch was a circular dent. It looked like it had been hit with a sledge hammer. Splatters of blood surrounded the dent and two crimson streams trickled down towards the floor. An image burned itself into my mind. The sledgehammer had been her head as that bastard rammed it against the wall. I ran my fingers against the trickles of blood. Dry. I traced them down the wall. The taste of whiskey rose in my throat – I must have been to the pub then. Two cracked teeth sat nestled in the carpet. My wife’s teeth.
He’d taken her. The bastard had hurt her and taken her. But who was he? I racked my brains, searching for any details, any clues to who she was seeing. Christ,who was I kidding? I was the last person you wanted trying to remember evidence.
I picked up her phone and began to call the cops but something stopped me. No police. That was a bad idea. Sometimes the memories were like this. Not memories of people or things that happened but just a certainty that something should or shouldn’t be done. Over the last six months, I’d learned to trust these instincts.
Was he police?
My thought process was interrupted by the electrical beep of a mobile phone. I checked my jacket pocket. It wasn’t there. That was unusual. I always kept it with me. She insisted on it, what with my condition.
The beep wasn’t from my phone. It was from hers. The screen was cracked and unresponsive to touch but the message on the screen was perfectly legible, even with my eyes.
Shaun crazy. V.bad this time. HEL
That was all. An unfinished message. But who was she sending it too? Presumably not me. A confidante. Someone from work perhaps.
“Shaun!” I said the name out loud and instantly hated it. The man who smashed my wife’s head against a wall, who broke her teeth, who had taken her from her home.
Shaun. I will kill you, Shaun.I will put a bullet in your brain, Shaun.
I left the living room and my gaze was drawn to the pile of letters placed neatly on a table by the front door. They were mostly junk but on the top of the pile, stood up, as if it had been put aside someone, was a letter addressed to Shaun French. The bastard was getting mail sent here. For some reason that made it worse.
Why get something sent here? He must have known there was a risk I’d find it. But of course, I am no risk. A man with a brain like mine is hardly a threat. I wouldn’t understand. Or I’d forget about it in minutes.
But I understand, Shaun. And this, I will not forget.
I picked up the envelope and opened it. It was a letter from a storage company. It confirmed his rental of a storage lockup on the site of the old Polish hospital. A storage facility he’d just rented. A storage facility he didn’t want anyone at home to know about. This was the place, I was sure of it. This was where he’d taken her.
Getting the gun was easy if somewhat peculiar. I had a vague memory of a guy who dealt in these things. God knows where I knew him from. I didn’t think he sounded like my kind. An old school friend who went off the rails?
I didn’t know if I could remember where he lived but I found it straight away. It’s weird – names, facts, events just won’t stay in my brain but I always seem to find where I’m going. It’s like some sort of homing instinct. I found his place and knew it was right before I knocked on the door.
He opened the door but kept the chain on as he peered out at me.
“Oh, shit!” he said and ran.
I waited politely for a minute and then, deciding that he wasn’t coming back, kicked the door in.
The kitchen window was wide open. The house was empty.
A quick search uncovered industrial quantities of cocaine and a whole cupboard full of handguns. My knowledge of guns is limited to which end to hold and which end to point at the bad guy. I had no idea which was the best suited for my task. One was engraved with the word Beretta and, as I’d at least heard of Beretta guns, I chose that one. It took me about ten minutes to work out how to load the thing. I slipped it into my jacket’s inside pocket. My hand was shaking like a recovering alcoholic. This was real. I was going to kill a man.I needed a drink.
It’s about a two mile walk to the old Polish hospital where Shaun French has imprisoned my wife. The night is cool but not cold. It’s actually quite a pleasant walk. The whiskey has done its job. I am calm. I know what I’ve gotta do. There will be consequences but I am ready to face them. There are extenuating circumstances. They will be lenient on me. But Shaun French must die.
He has chosen his location well. The hospital, set up to care for ex-Polish servicemen who fought alongside the allies in the Second World War, had been pretty much abandoned since the late 50s. There have been a couple of attempts to make use of the crumbling buildings but none successful. The latest attempt, to turn them into storage lockers won’t last long. Virtually all the units are empty. Most are in need of serious repair.
Unit 17b is not empty. It’s small but more solid than most. Its shutter is pulled down but there’s a dim light glowing from inside. Her car’s parked in front, a crack down the passenger side window. 17b – Shaun French’s unit.
The shutter is bolted into the ground but a quick search of the nearby shrubbery uncovers the key. I slam the shutter upwards. The room is lit only by a tiny lamp but it is enough. There is not much to reveal. The walls are bare and there is nothing on the floor but a few cardboard boxes. Against the far wall, tied to a chair, is my wife. I run to her.
She is barely conscious. Dried blood stains the right side of her face, she has two black eyes and her hair’s matted a thick crimson red. I remove a gag from her mouth and try to make eye contact with her but she is terrified. In time, she looks at me. Tears fall from her eyes.
“Where’s Shaun?” I ask her.
No answer. I don’t think she can talk. That bastard. Her eyes radiate fear. More than fear. Dread.
“Oh, my sweet….” Shit! I can’t remember her name.
“My sweet darling. It’s OK. You’re safe now.” I untie her bonds and put my arms around her. She does not hug me back. She is stiff with fright.
“Where’s Shaun?” I ask again.
This time she tries to answer. Her lips tremble as she opens her mouth revealing two broken teeth.
“Police,” is all she can get out. There is the hint of a smile on her bruised lips.
“I know honey,” I say. “I know he is. But he can’t hurt you now. I will make sure of that.”
The sound of a car door closing make me jump. And I know it’s him.
“Drop the weapon” a voice shouts.
I don’t drop it but I keep it by my side. I turn around slowly. A police officer, arms out in a pacifying gesture, approaches me slowly. It is Shaun. Another sits in the car.
“Drop the weapon, Shaun,” he says again. “Come on, buddy.”
For a moment, I’m confused.
He isn’t Shaun. He thinks I am.
“Drop the gun, Shaun.” He’s not far away from me now. “We can make this better, Shaun. Just drop the weapon, OK?”
“I’m not Shaun,” I explain. “This is my wife. I came to rescue her.” I turn to her, wanting her to confirm my story. She’s still in shock. Eyes flicking from me to the officer with that dreadful look in her eye.
“Shaun. Please drop the gun, buddy. We can’t help you or Sarah until you drop the gun.”
Sarah! Of course. It’s Sarah. How could I forget that?
“I’m not Shaun,” I shout, frustrated now. “Shaun did this. I only brought the gun for protection against him.”
I must have waved the gun a little as I spoke because the officer has stopped. He’s a couple of paces away. The other officer is approaching me from the right.
“Shaun,” says the first officer. “Get rid of the gun and then we can sort this out. Sarah needs medical attention but we can’t let the ambulance get to her while you’re still holding that. OK?”
He’s right, I know it. But I still don’t let go of the gun.
“I’m not Shaun.” I almost scream it. “I’m her husband.”
“Buddy. You are her husband. Her husband, Shaun.”
I feel like an ice-pick has just slammed into my chest. What’s he talking about? I don’t understand. I’m her husband. Not Shaun.
“Don’t you remember me? Buddy?” he says.
And I do recognise him.
“No,” I shout. “You’re wrong. You’re fucking wrong.”
I wave the gun again in my anger. The officer to my right stops dead. The first one takes a step back.
“I’m not fucking Shaun and Shaun’s not her husband,” I yell. “He did this. You should be out looking for him.”
A voice croaks behind me. A thin, barely audible voice, full of terror and pain.
“Wallet,” she croaks.
I don’t understand.
“Look in your wallet.”
I still don’t understand but I do as she says. It has taken effort for her to say this. I reach into my pocket and take out my wallet. I flip it open and I see it.
My ID card. My photo. My name. Police. Constable. Shaun. French.
I look back at my wife. She is a terrible mess.
I tap the gun against my chest and she nods sadly.
“I did this?”
She nods again.
A third nod and that is enough. I feel the officer grab my arm. He tries to take gun off me but I am strong. Strong enough to break my wife’s front teeth, anyway. I feel sick.
“Shaun, buddy. Drop the gun, pal.”
Shaun French must die. I will put a bullet in your brain Shaun French. With an elbow I push the officer aside. I raise the gun to my head.
I look at my wife’s face. Her expression has changed.
“I’m sorry. I don’t remember.” It’s not an excuse.
If she says anything, I do not hear it. All I hear is a click.