Not the Usual Suspect (Part 3)

Chapter 14 – The Return 

It was another day that I will never forget; my return to Dublin to continue my studies.  As my father drove me up, I strangely felt like a traitor for leaving them behind.  But I had to continue on and do something rather than watching the same mind-numbing television.  It was a bright day with only an occasional shower.   

We reached the apartment shortly after two o`clock.  This was more about putting my toe in the water than getting back into my lectures straight away.  The place seemed deserted.  Patrick was on as my PA and he gave us a big hello as we entered; my father carrying my battery charger and bag.  It was a typically banal everyday conversation until Patrick apologised for not being at the funeral.  My father told him not to worry about it and then told me that if there was any problem, I was to ring him which I quietly acknowledged before saying goodbye.    

It felt surreal to be back in college and I struggled for something to talk to Patrick about until I stumbled upon soccer and who was going to win the title in the coming months.  The flat looked exactly the same as when I left.  Patrick asked me if I was going to the Student Bar later to which I replied no.  It was too soon.  I knew that mixing alcohol with the raw emotions I was feeling would be a bad idea; also, I wasn`t ready to talk to drunks making inane comments about what had happened to Karen. 

After a while I asked Patrick to turn on the television.  Then I remembered one of the reasons I used to go to the pub so often, it could only pick up the Irish channels of which there was only three and they usually had nothing even remotely interesting on.  But they would do for today.   

A few hours later and just before dinner; Lucy returned from her lectures.  Once she heard my voice, she walked straight over to me and gave me a warm hug.  Then she said that she was so sorry about what had happened to my sister and to let her know if there was anything she could do.  I thanked her and said I would be fine.  If I said it often enough it might turn out to be true. 

After dinner I went in to my room to “study” but in reality, I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts.  Instead of furiously studying and trying to make up for lost time I had missed, I simply looked out the window and pondered everything that had happened.  I went to bed early but found it hard to sleep; repeatedly waking up as if something unexpected was about to happen but nothing did.   

Far too soon it was morning and time for me to attend my first lecture.  I felt nervous about how my classmates would react to me.  They would have seen news reports about what had happened on the television and I figured that I had probably been the main topic of conversation for a time.  But there was no point in delaying the inevitable; there was no point in hiding away.   

It was a Business Organisation lecture so nothing too taxing at least academically.  I could see a crowd outside the lecture theatre I was going to but much to my dismay I didn`t recognise any of the class because they were not my classmates.  It was an Arts class.  A girl I asked told me the times for the lectures had been swapped and my lecture wouldn`t be for another hour.  I could tell by her smile that she was amused that I could miss such a big thing and it made me a bit better that she had no idea who I was or what I`d been through. 

Now I got to do one of the things I enjoyed most about college, driving aimlessly through the corridors with only my thoughts to occupy me.  Soon I began to relax and it was like old times at least for a while.  Gradually I started to bump into classmates and other people who knew me.  They all seemed happy to see that I was back which made me feel more and more at ease and that they were sorry to hear about what had happened to my sister.   

Before I knew it I was part of the mass of students waiting outside the theatre for the lecture to start.  That was another little hurdle over.  Every little victory had its importance.    

Students now started entering the theatre and I made my way to the wheelchair spot.  It took a few minutes for all the students to filter through and sit down.  The lecturer, a woman in her fifties with short grey hair entered a few minutes late.  The background noise of chatter dissipated and the theatre fell silent. 

The lecture appeared to be the continuation of a previous one about leadership.  No problem, all I had to do was read the core textbook at some stage and I`d be back on track. 

Unfortunate that did not prove to be the case for all the subjects.  In particular Statistic had moved onto probability and I was totally lost. 

Gradually I began to feel more settled.  The searing loss of Karen remained in the back of my mind though and I guessed that it would remain so until I had my revenge.  Never before had I felt such pure hatred.  It was like a burning fire inside me that would never die out. 

However outwardly I tried to make out that I was coping fine even mentioning to Patrick that there was evil in everyone and that God loves us all.  He was too peaceful and innocent to ever be the object of my revenge. 

The week slowly passed and it was now Thursday night, as usual I would be going back to Mullingar the following day.  It was Leanne`s shift as my P.A.  She was apprehensive around me, probably afraid that I would burst into tears at any moment.  I found it irritating though and decided for the first time that I would go down to the Student Bar. 

Leanne was stunned when I told her where I was going asking me if it was a good idea but I told her that I would be fine and asked her to put my coat on me and open the doors. 

It was eight o`clock when I entered the bar and it was quiet even for that time.  I ordered myself a vodka and listened to the background music.  After a while some of the regulars came in and they welcomed me back.  Some of them hadn`t even heard what had happened and were shocked when I told them, unsure what to say. 

I was disappointed though that neither Casey or John were there that night.  Seemingly they had been earlier in the week.  After a while I began to feel anxious so I decided to go home early to bed. 

The next morning was damp and showery but it didn’t dampen my spirits.  I felt strangely good maybe I was delirious or happy to see my parents later I wasn`t sure. 

First up was a double Mathematics lecture.   I was always good at Maths and this subject was never going to give me any problem.  In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed these lectures even though I knew a lot of the stuff already. 

As I was driving back to the flat afterwards, I saw Casey walking in the opposite direction and shouted “Casey” at him. 

Fortunately, he heard me and we stopped in the middle of the corridor for a quick chat while letting the other students whizz by. 

He had a large smile on his face and welcomed me back to college.  In rapid fire questions he asked how I was keeping; was I glad to be back and did I have any news? 

I told him I was fine and relatively happy to be back.  Then he said that he really wanted to have a good long chat with me but that he was in a mad rush.    

“Will you be round next week?”  He said hopefully. 

“Yeah definitely,” I replied with an air of certainty which surprised myself, “maybe we can meet one of the nights in the Bar?  I`m free every night I think.” 

 Casey mentioned Monday and we agreed to meet around nine. 

Chapter 15 – Deeper Understanding  

The mood back in Mullingar was still sombre.  The house felt empty and desolate.  My mother would make an effort to make small-talk about how my father’s job and my studies were going but we were only able to muster simple one-word responses. 

I knew she was trying her best and deserved better but I couldn’t bring myself to engage fully.  It always felt like someone was missing. 

Then on Saturday something strange happened.  Around midday there was a large knock on the door.  Nobody was expected.  A large shudder went through my body with the thought of more bad news. 

My father quickly answered the door.  Then I heard the sound of chatter for a few minutes before he yelled for my mother.  I heard someone entering the house and then the group of them entered the sitting room where I was. 

He introduced himself as Jason.  His face was bruised and he had a black eye.  The fact that he seemed to look past me made me realise he had a visual impairment almost instantaneously and then I remembered the Jason Karen had spoken of.  He was tall and probably handsome if unscratched. 

He was very upset and my father told him to sit.  He was trying to say something but couldn’t get it out.   

Then my father interjected – Jason was with Karen the night she was murdered.  For a second nobody knew what to say but then Jason controlled himself and began to speak barely holding back his raw emotion.   

“I had to come and speak to you.  I feel so bad about what happened to Karen and I really miss her.  You see we were going out.  That`s why I was with her.  The hospital wouldn`t let me out to go to the funeral. 

We decided to go for a walk down by the canal; such a stupid idea.  I should have known better.  But the day had been so perfect, I wasn`t thinking. 

She never stopped talking about yee, she loved you all so much.   

After a few minutes Karen said there was someone on the path in front of us.  The thought of trouble never even entered my head. He caught me totally off-guard, hitting me from behind.  Then he kept on hitting me.  It was too dark, I couldn`t hit him back.   

Then he turned his attention to Karen; I wasn`t able to do anything to protect her.  I heard her screams but could do nothing.” 

He slowly sobbed to himself once more. 

“Why won`t you give evidence against him if you know who he was and I know you do.” my mother said hysterically. 

My father tried to say to her that there was nothing more he could do but Jason interrupted him. 

“He threatened my family, he came to my house and told us my sister would be next.  I`m a coward” he said in a dejected tone with tears flowing down his face.   

My mother grew weak and was grasped by my father in the nick of time before falling to the ground.  It was all too much for her; the anguish too recent.   

My father helped her out of the room.  For a few seconds there was silence.  Then I told Jason that it wasn`t his fault, that he had done his best.  Really, I was sickened by the fact that he was too scared to give evidence but I saw an opportunity to mine him for information. 

“Do you know who did it?” 

I knew I only had a minute or two at most before my father returned and then the opportunity would be gone so I got straight to the point.   

Jason managed to control himself and said, “It was Hugh Stoke.” 

Now I knew the name of my target and I burned it into my mind.  I had heard that name before, he was from McKeever Park and had regularly been in trouble with the law.  The kind of guy I would normally try to avoid but fate was drawing us ever closer together.  The only problem was how I`d enact revenge and I had no clear idea how to do so yet.    

“I`d love to kill the bastard!” Jason said emphatically as if reading my mind. 

I didn`t reply; not sure how much I could trust him just yet.  Then raising his head, he asked if would be okay if we kept in touch, that it would mean a lot to him. 

This caught me off guard but I called out my phone number for him to put in his phone.   I wondered why it would be important to him to keep in touch but decided it couldn’t do me any harm in any event.   

My father then came back into the room.  His eyes were red and full of despair.  He thanked Jason for coming and asked him if he would like a cup of tea or anything? 

But Jason responded that he had to go now as his mother was waiting in the car outside for him.  With that he shook my father’s hand and left. 

My father sat down on the couch beside me.  Never before had I seen him in such an emotional state.   

“What can I do?  That bastard is still free after what he did,” he said silently. 

“He`ll get what`s coming.  They always do eventually, it`s only a matter of time,” I responded defiantly. 

With that he left to comfort my mother while I plotted how I would find out where this Hugh Stoke resided and I knew who could help me – Darren. 

The next day was overcast but it was to stay dry.  After lunch I asked my mother to put on my coat and open the door.  She asked where I was going and would I be long.  Ever since Karen`s death she was more fearful about what might happen to me. 

I lied.  She would have flipped if she knew where I was going.  So, I told her that I just needed to go outside for a while and that I would be back in a few minutes. 

But I immediately made my way to McKeever Park.  The wheelchair accessible route consisted of going down a narrow laneway between two houses, then crossing a relatively busy road and then five minutes by wheelchair. 

As I approached, I grew nervous but I told myself that this was only a reconnaissance mission and there was little danger involved.  But I couldn`t quite manage to convince myself.  Instead I focussed on what happened to Karen and the need for retribution. 

The plan was simple.  The first step was to call to Darren’s house and get him.  He lived on the outskirts of McKeever Park which was a large Council estate of over three hundred houses.  I had called for Darren on one or two occasions previously but had always left the estate quickly.  This time would be different. 

Soon I was going down the street to his house.  There was a large field opposite where kids were playing soccer in the distance.  They stopped and stared for a couple of seconds undoubtedly wondering if this guy in the wheelchair knew where he was. 

This didn`t bother me so long as they didn’t start throwing stones and I quickly veered into Darren’s house through the larger gate as the main one was too narrow which immediately made me feel a bit safer.   It had a small front garden with only a smidgeon of grass similar to all the other houses on the street.  I had to drive parallel to the front door so that I could knock on it with my left hand.  There was a step but fortunately the door was right on it.  It took me a few seconds to manoeuvre into the correct position and feeling self-conscious, hoped the kids were still not staring at me. 

I gave it three hard knocks and after a few seconds I heard a woman shouting unintelligibly inside.  Thirty seconds later the door opened.  It was Darren.  He was surprised to see me.   I pretended that I was just out for a spin and decided to call in.  He seemed to believe that and said that he was happy to see me.  I suggested that we go for a stroll.   

Taking the initiative, I made sure to go slightly ahead of him and turned to go deeper into the neighbourhood so that he would follow me.  I made small-talk for a few minutes asking how he was and had he made any plans for the week ahead but only half listening to his responses.  I was anxious to get to the crux of the matter and didn`t want to lose my focus… 

“Where does Hugh Stoke live?” I asked as if I was just being generally curious. 

“Why?” he replied; immediately irritating me. 

“Heard a story that he was really rough, just wondering.  Will you show me?” 

“Sure, but make it look like we`re just walking past.  What story did you hear anyway?” 

Now I had to try to think of a story.  I wanted to keep my plans for revenge to myself for now.  Then something at least slightly plausible entered my mind. 

I told Darren that I heard he had assaulted a Garda (name of Irish policeman) the previous week and I wanted to make sure I stayed away from his area in future. 

“That funny,” Darren said with curiously, “I never heard anything about that.  Where did you hear this from?” 

I should have realised that Darren would prove to be so inquisitive. 

“It`s probably just bullshit.  Just show me where it is, pamper me; we`re going for a stroll in any event.” I replied now trying to downplay the whole thing but still hoping that he would show me. 

Then I switched the conversation and asked how his search for employment was going.  It had the desired effect.  He began to tell me that he had an interview coming up for a shelf stacker in a supermarket.  It wasn’t his idea of a dream job but he wanted to get it. 

I wished him luck and told him that it was all about getting that first step on the ladder and working from there.   

During this time, we had entered deep into McKeever Park.  It appeared to be becoming more and more rundown.  Some of the windows were boarded up and most of the houses looked like they hadn’t been painted in years. 

There were also very few ramps to go on and off footpaths so I took to driving the wheelchair on the road.  Fortunately, there was very little traffic at the time and I would go right up against the path if I heard a car coming. 

The place was quiet.  Every inch of my body was telling me to turn the wheelchair around and get out as fast as possible.  I knew that I was outside my natural habitat and had an uneasy feeling that trouble could break out at any moment. 

As we reached the Gaelic football field that marked the end of the estate, Darren told me to turn left.  Once again there was row after row of houses.  There were a few young kids not more than seven or eight years of age playing football who stopped and stared at me driving past in the wheelchair. 

Darren seemed to know them and gave them a hello telling them that this is Alan but the stunned silence continued.  One we were a good distance away the sound of the ball being kicked around restarted. 

Then Darren told me that we were approaching the Stoke house and I immediately asked for its location.  He replied that we were going to take another left turn and it it was the house immediately preceding it.  Easy to locate I thought to myself.  

The house was dilapidated and looked fit for demolition rather than habitation.  There was a time when I would have felt pity for those living inside and even had sympathy for their criminal behaviour but now there were only cold calculations.  I would happily see the house burn and all inside it, even though I knew none of them.  I wondered what Karen would think of my now tortured and twisted mind.   

Daren scolded me for stopping in front of the house and told me to move on before someone noticed me looking at it which I did immediately.  It was not part of the plan to have a direct confrontation which would invariably be lost.   

Soon we had left McKeever Park and I began to feel more secure again.  Our whole journey now became in circular in nature as we made our way back to Darren`s house via different streets.   

After a few minutes I was alone once more and on the way home.  Suddenly I began to feel like I was being followed.  I took to turning around and looking behind me and waiting at corners.  Eventually I had to admit to myself that I had shook myself up, that I was just afraid. So much for being the big man that was going to enact revenge.  Suddenly I felt pitiful and continued my journey home. 

The back door had been left slightly open so I was able to drive straight into the house.  It was quiet except for the sound of my mother crying to herself in an adjacent room, a now usual occurrence.   

Chapter 16 – The absence of hope 

That feeling of pithiness and impotence grew and grew over the next few days until it overwhelmed me.  Nights were now quickly passing in drunken fervour trying to forget everybody and everything.  No longer did I go to the Student Bar trying to chat up beautiful women and converse about the world, it was now about getting ossified and blocking everything out.  

I`d go to my little corner and order vodka after vodka trying to ignore those around me, avoiding eye contact or replying to greetings.  Even when Casey or John came in I would make no effort to talk to them and when they did, I kept my responses short so that they`d talk to someone else  All too quickly it would become time to go back to the flat where I would try to say as little as possible to Patrick while he put me to bed where once the lights were switched off, I`d cry myself silently to sleep so he wouldn`t hear. 

The morning lie ins became later and later.  The last thing on my mind was the thought of going to a lecture or opening a book.  It all seemed so unimportant now.  The good thing about UCD is because it is so large you can be as invisible as you want.  There are no roll calls so it`s really up to you whether you bother to attend or not.   

Of course, even in the midst of a personal crisis there were still issues with the Personal Assistants that had to be dealt with.  Leanne was having difficulty with her husband and started to insist on bringing a bad mood to her workplace getting snappy with Lucy in particular.  

Eventually I told her that she didn`t seem to be herself and what was wrong; she told me her troubles, then I told her mine.  The message got through.  

Then there were the weekends which haunted and tormented me.  To me, the place emanated death from every crevice.  There were memories in every room and sadness etched on my parent`s faces.  I felt torn between wanting to stay and wanting to leave.   

They seemed to know that I was faltering but perhaps not quite the severity and started to stress the importance of getting on with my life and that I couldn`t let this incident destroy my life too.  Not wanting to burden them further I told them that I`d be fine and there was nothing to worry about, although in reality I wasn`t so sure.   

I took to rarely going outside over the weekends instead watching mind numbing television for hour after hour; probably not the best idea for someone who has sworn revenge.   

It came as a surprise when I heard in the Student Bar that in just two weeks the Second Semester was coming to an end.  Immediately I thought that I`d spend the four-week break in Dublin.  I couldn’t face spending that long in Mullingar in the prevailing atmosphere; the thought that my end of year exams were now only a few months away didn`t even register. 

The next morning started badly with Patrick and Lucy lecturing me on the importance of going to lectures while I had my breakfast.  I knew where I wanted to tell them to go to but I refrained knowing that they were just concerned about me.   

To placate them I pretended to go to a lecture but I merely drove up beside a table in the Arts Building and watched the Students passing by.  I wondered if any of their relatives had been murdered, had God not punished me enough by crippling me.  Maybe I would just have to accept that the murderer of my sister would never be punished, not by me or anybody else and just concentrate on my studies.  I was still confident I could pass my exams if I put the effort in. 

However, these thoughts sickened me.  My mind could not find reconciliation.  It was either too early to give up my plans for revenge or I was just a delusional eighteen-year-old in a wheelchair.   

The rest of the day passed uneventfully and it was soon eight o`clock, the time I usually headed to the bar and today was to be no exception.  It was quiet at this hour with only a few punters in.  I knew I could set myself up in a good location and concentrate on the serious business of drinking.   

Today though the drink wasn`t helping me forget but only amplifying the frustration I felt throughout the day.   After an hour I saw that Casey & John had entered the pub but I didn`t bother going to them and hoped that they didn`t see me.  

I told one of the barmen that was collecting glasses that I`d have another drink.  He knew what I wanted.  It was always the same, vodka with orange as the mixer.   

There were still only a few people in the bar.  It was getting quieter and quieter with each week which was presumably either down to students running out of money or getting worried about their exams. 

As I was half way through my next drink Casey walked over to chat to me.  It sent a shiver down my spine, I wasn`t in the mood for conversation. 

“Hey Alan, how’s things going?  You`re not looking so good.   Been here a while already?” he said in a critical tone. 

“Yeah,” I replied matter of fact hoping he would lose interest and disappear.   

“Do you mind if we go outside for a second?  There`s something I want to talk to you about.” 

Oh great, I thought to myself.  It sounded like he wanted a heart to heat and that was the last thing I was in the mood; but I acquiesced to get it over and done with.   

We headed out of the bar, Casey opening the doors for me and then strolled a short distance away so that nobody could hear what was being said.  He threw the coat resting behind me over me to keep me warm and got straight to the point. 

“People are getting concerned about you.  You don`t talk to anyone and you`re getting drunk sitting on your own,” he said quietly. 

“What people?” I replied loudly disgusted that people were talking behind my back.   

“Me, John, Ruth and a lot more.  Even some of the barmen have said it to me.  It`s not that we want you to stop coming to the bar, we`re just worried about you.  They wanted someone to have a quiet word with you.” 

“My sister was murdered!  How the hell do you think I am?” I shouted back finally losing the self-control which would normally be my strongest attribute. 

“I know, I know…” He replied trying to calm me down. 

“No, you don’t, you have no idea.  She was raped and murdered, nobody is going to pay.  I`d do anything to have my revenge, if that makes me evil, I don`t fucking care!  Fuck you, this and everybody else!” I roared shaking with anger, tears rolling down my face. 

Casey was stunned and said nothing. 

The thought that it was time to leave entered into my mind and I drove the wheelchair past Casey to make my way back to my apartment. 

“Wait,” Casey said but I replied “Fuck off.” 

I drove onwards but decided to drive around the campus for a few minutes to calm myself down.  It was pitch black except for the campus light with a light cold breeze blowing.  There were very few other students around and it gave me a pleasant, solitary feeling.  There was nobody that I had to explain things to or wonder what they were thinking; just a beautiful silence. 

All I now had to worry about was making sure I didn’t go down the ramps too fast or didn’t go so far that the wheelchair ran out of power. 

I drove past the main buildings to the surrounding fields where sports were sometimes played during the day and kept going until I reached the exit gates of the college. 

Now it was time to turn around and go back.  The nice footpaths and ramps ended beyond this point and it was foolhardy to go any further. 

When I returned to the apartment Patrick could tell that something was bothering me but I told him that I was fine and didn’t want to talk about it. 

However, as I lay on my bed prior to falling asleep the ramifications of what I’d said began to sink in.  The last thing I needed was to turn people against me.  The bar might not even let me in if it becomes known that I have shouting matches at the end of the night. 

Casey and John won’t want to chat to me in future.  Guess I better get used to drinking alone. 

Then I simply decided to no longer think about it as I was only working myself into a frenzy again.  Within a few minutes I was sound asleep. 

Chapter 17 – The Choice 

The next week was a truly dark period.  I interacted with those around me as little as possible.  My mind was in an abyss from which there was apparently no return; there was no point in maintaining pleasantries or friendship. 

I now had no interest in communicating with other people.  Nobody else seemed to matter.  Instead I escaped into my own world which seemed far more beautiful; a world without pain.  I simply studied and studied and when that was finished, I escaped into a fantasy world.  No worries or tribulations just serenity and possibilities. 

But unbeknownst to me never had those around me worried so much about me.  A tower of strength was slowly being consumed into oblivion, intellect replaced by idiocrasy and selfishness.   

They longed for a return to the hard-drinking jolly person they once knew and never realised they`d miss so much.   For the last two weeks there had only been study, no talk of the Student Bar or idle conversation.   

My parents were sure that that they were now losing me as they had only recently lost Karen.  No more laughter or reminiscence, only one task after another.  A human gradually turning more machine-like than the wheelchair which he depended on to bring him from place to place.   

But humanity never truly left me, rather I was feeling too much emotion and my body decided it was too much.  The hours of study helped me a lot in catching up on the lectures I had missed and I did want to make it into the second year of my course.  Maybe I could still make something of my life.   

It was now the first week of a four-week holiday break.  My parents were not sure it was a good idea giving me the lift to Dublin but I convinced them that I needed to study and be close to the library.  In a strange twist my mother felt compelled to tell me not to study too hard and there was no harm occasionally socialising.   

The campus was largely empty of students.  They had gone home for the holidays.  Whereas once the place felt vibrant and that anything could happen, it now felt eerie and isolated.  Lucy was there however stating she also needed to study but spent most of her time languishing in front of the television.  For the first few days I was studying from getting up to going to bed.   

Wednesday was going exactly like the previous two days.  It was getting dark when the buzzer to the flat went off.  It was a shock to the order I had immersed myself in; my heart beating slightly faster as I wondered who it was.  Leanne went to open the doors and it was a familiar voice. 

It was Casey.  As I heard him walking into the flat, I wondered what he wanted.  He sounded chirpy and gave Lucy who was sitting in the main room a good hello.  In just a few seconds Leanne gave two knocks on my bedroom door and entered. 

“It`s a fella called Casey, Alan.  He`s waiting for you,” Leanne said in a soft voice.   

Immediately I turned around the wheelchair and drove out of the room.  This was unexpected; I had never expected Casey to call to the flat.  He was waiting for me in the main room.  As I entered Lucy was engaging him in lengthy conversation about student politics. 

However, on entering he immediately asked if I wanted to head to the bar for a jar.  I had promised myself that I`d spend the night studying but part of me was undoubtedly happy to see him and I responded in the affirmative.  

He took my coat which had been resting on a chair and threw it over me.  I told Leanne that I wouldn`t be out too late and then we both left. 

Once we got outside Casey asked me nervously how I was and that he had called on the off chance that I`d be there.  He thought I might have stayed in Mullingar.   

In response I said that I was surprised that he was still talking to me and I was sorry for shouting at him the last night, he didn’t deserve it.  It was not in my nature to admit to mistakes.  Being in a wheelchair I was anxious to keep an image of independence and strength but on this occasion, I knew I had to apologise.   

He told me not to worry about it and jokingly told me that it probably did me good to let some steam off at somebody.  Then turning more serious he told me there was something he wanted to chat to me about when we reached the bar. 

That sounded strange I thought to myself but it was overridden by happiness that I still had a friend to chat to. 

It only took the usual two minutes to reach our destination just avoiding the rain.  The bar was very quiet with only a handful of students and the music was turned way down.   

“There should be no problem getting served anyway!” I said jokingly. 

“No,” he replied with a smile, “Go to that free table over there.  John should be here in a minute.  Guess you’ll be having the usual.” 

I nodded in affirmation and went to the round table.  It was barely a minute before Casey came back with the drinks.  Much quicker than what it usually took. 

The conversation began with Casey telling me what he had been up to.  He was now taking his studies more serious and was trying to make it in to the library for an hour or two, three or four times a week. 

Soon we had drank the first round of drinks and it was time to get more.  I left the   table and went to the bar telling Matt, a barman I was used to dealing with my order – another bottle of Bulmers and vodka with a small dash of orange.  He replied that he would drop them over to the table. 

When I turned round the wheelchair, I could see that John had now arrived and was sitting next to Casey.  He was wearing his usual cap with his grey hair flowing down to his shoulder.  He was informally dressed with green jumper and denim trousers.  But even then, he looked more serious than usual. 

“Hello John,” I said loudly as I drove back to the table to which he nodded in reply. 

I immediately sensed that the atmosphere had changed.  Casey began to speak in a hushed tone. 

“Alan, there is something me and John want to discuss with you.  The last night outside the pub you said that you would do anything for revenge against your sister’s killer.  Is that correct?” 

“Yes,” I replied in a similarly hushed tone so that he would not be deterred from continuing the conversation. 

“Me and John, we know people who would be prepared to help you with your problem.  But they`ll want you to do something pretty major in return.” 

I didn’t even think about it. 

“Yes, I’ll do whatever they want.” 

“Wait now Alan,” Casey said, “This is very, very serious – me & John here have gone out on a limb for you.  These are not people to fuck around with.  I want you to think about it for at least a day and then get back to me.  I`ll be here tomorrow.  Once the wheels have been set in motion there is no turning back.  And not doing what they want in return is not an option.” 

I realised that he expected me to be afraid or at least be indecisive to some degree.  It was something I was familiar with, people underestimating me because of the pre-conceived notions they had because of the wheelchair.  Rather than fight it I normally took advantage of it and when that wasn`t appropriate I just simply played along.  It was like playing chess on an invisible board. 

“Yes I`ll let you know tomorrow,” I said stoically as if playing poker. 

Then John said we should switch the topic of conversation.  Looking me straight in the eyes he said the message had now been passed; I`d get back to them tomorrow.   

Then he started talking about football and how Liverpool would never win anything.  I supported Liverpool in the English League and I knew he was trying to to rise me so that we could leave what had been said behind us for now.  I played along stating loudly that a Liverpool league victory was imminent.   

When my drink was finished, I decided to go home.  I needed time to think things through and unusually for me had no desire to get intoxicated.   

It was raining when I got outside but it didn`t dampen my mood.  It even got worse as I went along but I didn`t care.  I had an opportunity for justice and revenge; that was all that mattered.   

But I had to make sure my vengeance was anonymous.  My crippled body would not withstand a counterattack.  I had to strike and then fade into darkness. 

Leanne who was initially appalled by how wet I was when I got back to the flat was bemused by how cheery I was.  Unfortunately, I could not tell her the reason even though I felt like shouting it from a rooftop.   

As I lay in my bed, I spent hours just looking at the ceiling thinking.  There was no doubt I was going to proceed with the plan but I wondered what I`d have to do in return and exactly who was I dealing with.   

Who were these people that Casey knew or did they even exist?   

Maybe it was Casey and John themselves by a fictional proxy.  I was bemused by what they could possibly want me for.  It’s not like I could kill someone in return.  I spent hours thinking about the different possibilities without making any progress.  Eventually despite my determination I fell asleep. 

Karen visited me in my dreams as we played hide and seek in the family home in Mullingar.  Alas, she kept disappearing every time I thought I had found her. 

When Leanne woke me the next morning, I had to pause for a second to make sure the previous night had really happened.  But on cue Leanne mentioned my wet clothes and crystallised my new reality.   

It was a cold and damp day but it did not deter me from going to the library to study.  Leanne came down with me and put the books on one of the desks for me to study.  Fortunately, I am able to turn pages when a book or paper is on a desk so I simply told her to come get me in two & a half hours. 

The library in UCD is massive.  It has five floors with well over a million books containing information on everything you could think of.  As you entered you had to use your Student ID as a swipe card to gain entry giving one a sense of privilege that you could enter.  There were desks on every floor for students who wanted to study and some in my class said it was a great place to go to look at pretty girls. 

The spot I liked but rarely went to was on the ground floor.  I tried to rely on lifts as little as possible in case they broke down leaving me stranded.  

I tried to concentrate but was easily distracted by the simplest thing; feeling compelled to count the number of students going upstairs or if I could see a fly somewhere.  Just as well the place was so empty during the holidays.   

After an hour or so I spotted some of my classmates a few tables away.  I could tell that they were surprised when I approached them for a quick chat. It was something I had stopped doing but things seemed different now.   I now had a feeling of confidence and was much happier.   

The evening was spent chatting to Lucy.  She was having trouble getting the books she needed in Braille or audio.  The thing I liked most about her was her idealism, something I never had instead looking at everything pragmatically and as a series of problems to be solved.  She complained that the Access Officer should have these things sorted for her.  Instead when she mentioned it to her, she just told her to speak to her lecturers. 

The both of us wondered aloud what exactly the role of the Access Officer was if all she did was tell us to talk to someone else.  It was then that Lucy asked me if I had spoken to her about the concessions that I needed for my exams. 

This startled me.  For my Leaving Certificate exam that got me into college I had been given an extra ten minutes per hour of the exam and the use of a scribe, someone I could tell what to write to for when I’d be too slow or simply get too tired. 

Lucy told me that she already had everything organised and that I`d want to talk to the Access Officer straight away when the holidays were over in case there were any problems.  Lucy had heard horror stories of what had happened to other students.  She was right and I thanked her for bringing it up telling her I would do so. 

This was one of the important ways’ college life was so different to previous experiences.  I was much more responsible for my own welfare.  There was no Mammy, Daddy or teacher making sure everything was organised for me.  It was forcing me to grow up and take charge of my future. 

I wasn`t sure what time Casey would meet me in the bar but I decided to go down at the usual time.  It was already in the back of my mind that the night should be uneventful so as not to arouse suspicion.  There was only a handful of students there and it seemed so miserable and boring compared to normal.   

Fortunately, after about a “Methadone Joe” walked in and he kept me amused for a few minutes.  I got a bit of a shock when I saw him.  Not only was he sober, he was wearing a suit and actually looked respectable. 

When I said that I barely recognised him, he laughed and said that neither did he.  He had come on campus to speak to one of his lecturers and then tried to do some study for a while.   He had come over to the pub just to see what the pub would be like when there were no lectures.   

I asked him if he’d like a drink, immediately thinking to myself that perhaps it wasn’t the best of ideas but he declined.   

After a few minutes he was gone and I was back to the waiting game.  At least I knew I wasn`t an alcoholic.  Going to an empty bar just drinking didn`t seem to be me.  I must be a social animal at heart.  Any other night I would have gone back to the apartment but this wasn`t any other night. 

It was close to quarter to eleven before Casey showed up saying that he hoped he hadn`t kept me.  He went straight to the bar to get a pint before the bar closed. 

When he came to the table it didn’t take him long to get straight to the point – were they to take revenge and would I do what they requested in return? 

I kept it simple and replied – “Proceed, kill the bastard.” 

He replied that he thought I`d say that.  Then he quietly asked me for details about the target. 

“His name is Hugh Stoke.  He has family in McKeever Park but I`m not sure if he lives there with them.  Once he`s dead I`ll do whatever they want.” 

It was strange to hear myself speak with such callousness; my hatred laid bare.   

Once again, I quizzed Casey about what I`d have to do in return, telling him that I was committed now and couldn`t pull out but he replied that he didn`t know himself and I`d only find out coming up to the event.   

The night was now drawing to a close.  Casey told me not to expect anything to happen immediately and it could take a few weeks before gulping down the last of his drink.  I already was finished mine and we decided to go just as the loudspeaker came on asking people to leave…   

It was a mild night.  On leaving the pub we parted ways as we were going in opposite directions.  It was strange to look at the night sky and know that this is a night I`d remember for the rest of my life.