A thin trail of blue smoke lifted from last night’s burnt out wreck, a stray horse grazed over a garden wall, there were more boarded up windows, more abandoned houses. Could be Beirut, Fitz.thought as he drove around his old estate. He sensed hostility, felt their eyes burning into the back of his head. A bonfire blocked half the road; he knew not to stop and drove around it. He needed to talk to his old pal, the last of his pals still living in Beirut.
It hadn’t always been like this. No, a greedy and needy Celtic Tiger had transformed the town, and now it was the price of everything and people had forgotten the value on stuff. Now there were tiger ghettos, places where life had become cheap. He couldn’t put a date on when things changed, when people stopped confronting bullies, stopped going back home to visit. He’d grown up on the Island and moved away, but that was an organic movement, a generational thing, he’d had to find his own way. But his parents, relatives and their friends had been squeezed out by the gangs. The green where kids used to play was now a burial ground for guns and drugs, the perimeter houses guarding against anyone foolish enough to go looking, shooters and foot soldiers were everywhere.
Not one for nostalgia, sometimes a melancholy bottle got the better of him and sent him drifting back to the days when the surrounding river was a playground, the never ending barefoot sunny days fishing and jumping from the black foot bridge, cold tea and a child’s jam sandwich. It was a kid’s paradise, but what went unnoticed was the silent patriarchy watching over them.
He stopped outside Jimmy’s house and they talked about Joe.
Joe Courage saw this community fall apart but he knew the back allies and short cuts, he’d never stopped going back. He preached to his kids that we were all just four bones, no matter what. He thought respect, the giving and getting, about life being too short for a lie, and that fighting ultimately, was for losers, but the big retreat to the suburbs caught him cold, left him exposed.
Joe never let an older child hit his kid, and his kid in turn never laid a hand on anyone younger, but they sorted out problems among their peers. That didn’t happen too often, kids figure things out fast. But not everyone shared this philosophy; the teachers preferred whistleblowers and wouldn’t let thing take their course. So that day, when Joe’s kid forgot the whistleblower rule and got mad at the other boy, the Island boy, well that’s when the trouble started. The other kid expected Joe’s kid to roll over and take his hiding, but he was the same age, the same height and weight and he’d been bullying Joe junior, so he lashed out and got a bloody nose and black eye for his trouble.
Joe got involved when the boy came back with his cousins and his kid ended up in A&E. His wife wished he’d said nothing.