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“Go on Rennie, tell the story,” said Carl. He’d heard it a thousand times, but it was one of his favourites. “Tell it!”
Rennie told Carl to give him a minute by holding up his index finger. The three other people in the room waited patiently, and things became uncomfortable as Rennie took a while to respond. Thick smoke drifted slowly around the upper third of the room.
With his other hand Rennie lit another joint. He must have taken three long drags before he leaned forward in the armchair and mumbled his first words in about an hour.
“I think it was a Tuesday night… right?” said Rennie eventually. His voice was croaky and unconvincing, his eyes half-closed. Carl thought about telling the story himself.
“Come on dude, tell it quick, everyone’s wanting to go out,” said Carl.
“I wouldn’t mind heading out soon man,” said a guy who neither Carl nor Rennie recognised. He’d come over the night before last, when there was a bit of a party, and slept there the next day. No one had asked him any questions. The guy fiddled with the sofa’s torn canvas arms. “I said I’d be out by 10,” he said.
“Rennie…? Rennie!” said Carl. “Come on.”
Rennie blinked a couple of times before he remembered where he was in the story. Right at the start.
“This is seriously worth hearing, guys,” said Carl.
“So yeah, it was a Tuesday night,” said Rennie. “I think.”
Then he went quiet again.
“Me and Carl were, what, about 14?” he continued. “And we wanted to get drunk for the first time,” he said, looking across at Carl. “Right? 14?”
Carl nodded. The guy on the sofa shared a joke with the girl next to him. He peeled the sticker off his beer bottle, and Rennie let his falsetto laughter ring out before continuing the story.
“We didn’t have any money,” said Rennie. “Because, well, because we were 14,” he said.
He took another long drag from the joint and passed it to the guy on the sofa.
“Cheers,” the guy said. He knocked his beer over the coffee table as he went to reach for it, but no one made a fuss. Rennie kept talking.
“So we knew we were going to have to steal some booze, and the best place to do that was O’Reillys at the bottom of the street,” he said.
“You remember O’Reillys?” Carl asked the other three. The guy on the sofa nodded and inhaled. The two girls had only just zoned into the conversation so didn’t really respond.
“We went down to O’Reilly’s at about seven, when we thought it’d be busy and we’d get away with it,” said Rennie. “But when we got there it was totally dead. O’Reilly saw us come in and just stood there watching us.”
“Like he’d been warned about us or something,” Carl said.
“There might have been someone else there, round the corner. I can’t remember, it was a weird layout for a shop,” said Rennie. “Anyway, we knew that all the spirits were close to the counter, where O’Reilly was.”
“He was sort of hunched over the counter, wasn’t he dude? I remember he was wearing that dirty white polo shirt,” Carl said.
“Yeah he looked like a darts player,” said Rennie. “Actually, I think he was a darts player.”
Carl sniggered and took the joint from the guy on the sofa. The guy didn’t look like he was ready to pass it on but he did anyway.
“So yeah, we were gathered over by the milk fridge, where O’Reilly couldn’t see us, but he knew there was something going on,” said Rennie. “And then I remember thinking that it was probably a good thing it was quiet in the shop, because there’d be less chance someone would chase us.”
“We were like, here, by the fridge, and O’Reilly was stood, like, right there,” said Carl. He demonstrated with his hands, and bits of burnt cigarette paper floated down from the end of the joint he was holding, onto the carpet among the different coloured crumbs and the hairy clumps of dust.
“It was so quiet in there. We were whispering about how we were going to do it, but O’Reilly could totally hear us,” said Rennie. “In the end we decided that I was going to talk to O’Reilly and then Carl was going to take a couple of bottles of whisky and leg it out of the shop, and then I’d follow him and we’d both just run away as fast as we could.”
“We’d never touched a drop of whisky in our lives, we had no idea how strong it was. We just wanted to get a little drunk so to me it just felt logical to get two of something,” said Carl.
He offered the joint to the girls on the sofa, but they didn’t want any, so he passed it back to Rennie. The guy on the sofa watched as it changed hands.
“So we went over to the counter, and O’Reilly was watching us every step of the way,” said Rennie. “He knew what we were up to, and to make it even worse I then forgot what I’d planned to talk to him about. I just completely froze up and couldn’t think of anything to say.”
“How things have changed, eh,” said Carl with a smile.
“Well I was scared, really scared. I’d never stood that close to him before. He was just this grumpy old fat guy before, but at that point he looked really big and mean,” said Rennie.
“The next thing I knew the door was open and Carl was gone. And O’Reilly was coming to get me.”
“I was helping you out dude, I could see you weren’t going to say anything to him so I brought everything forward,” said Carl.
“So I turned to run like hell and O’Reilly put his hand on my shoulder and grabbed my jumper really tight. He pulled me towards him so I could see his face up close. I’d never seen anyone so angry, and hairy, and mean-looking. So I panicked. I poked him in the eye and ran out. And when I got outside there was Carl, with two huge bottles of whisky, and he was like ‘come on, run!’”
“Hey dude, you got any more beer?” said the guy on the sofa.
Carl rolled his eyes and said: “Yeah, sure, in the fridge downstairs. Get me one. Rennie, you want one?”
Rennie shook his head.
The girls didn’t respond.
“You know where you’re going, don’t you?” Carl asked the guy, annoyed that this whole thing had interrupted his favourite part of the story.
The guy nodded as he left the room. Carl heard him turn the wrong way immediately but didn’t do anything because he figured the guy was getting another free beer out of it.
“Carry on man,” Carl said to Rennie.
“So we started running away, thinking we’d got away with it,” said Rennie. “But then O’Reilly’s door flings open and he just starts sprinting towards us. He was so fast!”
“It was terrifying,” said Carl.
“He was running like the wind after us, and he wasn’t slow, he was actually gaining on us. This 50-odd-year-old guy who coughed, like, all the time, was gaining on us, a couple of 14-year-olds.”
“And I had both bottles to carry,” said Carl. “You had both hands free to run better. Those bottles were so heavy, man.”
“I think I was running ahead of you, wasn’t I, when he followed us round the corner and towards the park,” said Rennie.
“I remember being surprised that he’d actually followed us that far,” said Rennie. “He must have known that place like the back of his hand. It was so dark but he knew exactly where he was going.”
“Well, he lived down there, didn’t he,” said Carl.
“I guess that explains it. I remember trying to run towards the darker bits so he’d lose us, but he just kept gaining on us,” said Rennie.
“And I’d never heard swearing like it. My dad used to swear and shout a lot, but that nothing compared to what O’Reilly was coming out with that night. Do you remember?”
“Not really,” said Carl. “I just remember being really fucking terrified.”
“It was all about what he was going to do to us when he caught us,” said Rennie, frowning as he recalled. “And what he was going to do to our mothers, as well... it was really weird.”
“I think that was the most scared I’ve ever been,” said Carl.
“So O’Reilly started off about a street away from us, but then suddenly he was so close to us I could feel his breath on the back of my neck,” said Rennie. “And we’re getting cut to bits by the hedges, you know, near the park by the factory.”
The girls on the sofa didn’t respond. One of them looked like she was sleeping.
“O’Reilly was getting cut up too, I guess, but he was probably too angry to notice. He just wanted to get his hands on us. I realised I couldn’t keep running so I turned to Carl and said: ‘dude, just drop the bottles’ so he did, straight away,” said Rennie.
He took the last few sharp drags from the joint and dropped it into an empty beer can. The guy came back into the room with couple of beers. “And then we got away,” said Rennie.
“Ah, you got away in the end?” said the guy. “Did he chase you?”
Rennie said: “Yeah, dude, he did.”
“I was buzzing after that night, man,” said Carl. “I don’t think I slept for about a week afterwards. I was worried about O’Reilly coming to my door. Then, when I could sleep, I started having nightmares about him.”
“Me too,” said Rennie.
“Hey,” said the guy, taking his seat on the sofa. “Who fancies some poker?”
They all got more drunk and stoned, and talked about other things for a while.
“OK I’m ready to go out somewhere,” said Carl. “It’s 11.”
Everyone was quick to get their coats and make tracks towards the door. Carl rolled a cigarette and looked up at Rennie, who was deep in thought.
“Rennie come on, let’s go. Just tonight, man, come on. Come out just for tonight,” said Carl.
He started smiling. “Dude,” he said, scratching his head. “Do you think those whisky bottles are still there?”
“Whisky bottles? What whisky bottles?” said Carl. “What, from all those years ago? I don’t know man,” he said, zipping up his jacket.
“Shall we go see?” said Rennie. “It’s not too far away.”
Carl smiled and said: “No, it’s not like we’ve come that far in 15 years… sure, let’s go.”
Carl turned to the others. “Don’t suppose any of you guys fancy heading off the beaten track, do you?” he said. “Nah, didn’t think so.”
Pretty soon after they’d arranging which bar they’d meet the others in, Carl and Rennie were near the park, climbing through row after row of spiky hedges and thorn bushes. The pale moonlight sprinkled through the trees onto the ground, which was reasonably dry.
Carl could still picture exactly where O’Reilly’s bloated figure had stood, with the spotlights of the factory car park shining off his body, pulsating with anger, with fists clenched and arms hanging off his body like he was carrying invisible rolls of carpet.
“There could be all sorts of shit down here, dude,” I said. “I don’t know if this is a good idea.”
“They’ll be around here somewhere. Who else would even come out here?” said Rennie.
“I suppose so,” said Carl. “Dogs, maybe?”
“Dude!” said Rennie. He kicked at something in the dirt.
Carl heard clinking. “I don’t believe it.”
Rennie pulled his phone from his pocket and pointed its screen at the ground.
“No way!” said Carl. “No way.”
The labels had rotted off, and the whisky looked a little darker than it should. Sediment floated towards the necks of the bottles and the glass was covered in soil and bugs.
“Is this shit still safe to drink?” said Rennie.
He looked at Carl and started laughing. Pretty soon they were both hysterical because they knew they were going to sit there and get absolutely wasted in the most ridiculous way they ever had.
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