When Mac emerged from the bathroom, it was to find himself staring at an empty landing. Shit. Had Joe gone back up to the attic…or downstairs?
“Joe!” No answer came the reply. The former seemed most likely, so Mac took the rickety steps three at a time and found…fuck all. Gone for a smoke in the study? Off Mac set, skidding down two staircases to the detritus strewn hallway. Joe wasnae in the study, kitchen, or anybloodywhere else on the ground floor. “Joe! Where the hell are you?”
Mac might not know where Joe was, but knew damn well what the miscreant was up to. The rooms leading off the landing seemed the most likely prospects; the ones he’d claimed were just ‘full of stuff’. If Joe wasnae to be located there—then where had he shot off to—in the sliver of time it took Mac to empty his bloody bladder?
“JOE!” His former bedroom seemed Mac’s best bet, so he stuck his head around the next two doors, slightly ajar, which were, indeed, full of fucknowswhat, but no Joe. The third housed a bed, buried beneath a mountain of clothes and yet more crap, but no occupant.
There was, however, a second door in the corner, which was the only one he’d come across so far that was shut. It was probably a closet—the least natural habitat of the lesser-spotted Joe, on irony grounds alone—but Mac was short on options. “Joe!” he hollered for about the fifth time, yanking on the handle. Nada. Locked. “JOE! F’FUCKSAKES! Joe, are yer in there?” Stupid question. Of course he was…it was bolted on the inside. Mac slammed his palm on it in frustration, “Let me in!”
“Come in…” Joe’s sing-song voice sighed.
At least he’s alive, but strewth, give me strength… “‘Come in’, f’chrissakes,” Mac muttered to himself, blowing out a looong breath. “Joe! What yer doin’ in there?” Cretinous question; the sequel. “Open this bloody door! NOW!” Mac snarled, hammering the wood with the side of his fist.
“I’m on the looo.” A likely story. “Macass?” ‘Macass’? For the love of all things unholy. Who the hell else would it be?
Mac wondered whether his shoulder would suffice—there being no keyhole—which tended to indicate a perfunctory ‘I’m in the loo’ catch. Or, whether he’d be forced to kick the damn thing down. At least he was wearing boots, kickboxing proficiency or no…
The door juddered, but held against the slam of Mac’s sole. The splintering that accompanied the second side kick sounded promising…one more and the lock surrendered, allowing the door to swing wide with a crash. Revealing the slumped-on-the-bog body Mac was supposed to be guarding. He wasn’t sure whether he was more pissed with Joe, or himself. Aye, he damn well was. Only one of them had failed to live up to their billing.
When the hell had Mac become so lame-brained? Or allowed himself to be lulled into a false sense of security? Ever. Not least by the breeze off a pair of bloody eyelashes. Albeit, aided and abetted by Joe’s apparently right-as-rain frame of mind and its focus on… Mac’s arse, or the appetite of his own. Of course, Joe would have been beset by cravings—he was awake—but he hadnae seemed wracked by withdrawal. Had he simply seized the first opportunity, or had something specific triggered Joe’s flight? Later.
“C’mon, get up,” he sighed, clasping a wiry bicep. Joe just aimed a smudgy smile Mac’s way as pinprick pupils made an effort to target his face. Dragging on a rag-doll arm proved as pointless as Joe was impervious to instruction. So, Mac grasped gangly wrists and hauled hard, before ducking beneath an armpit. Bracing himself, Mac straightened up with his semi-conscious cargo draped over one shoulder.
The staircase was too narrow to cart the miscreant to his sanctuary…and the bed beyond the bathroom was covered in crap. The study armchair was about Mac’s best bet. Joe would be upright, in case he threw up after being carried...if he made it that far without barfing down Mac’s back. Splendid. There was so much Joe, his fingers would probably trickle down each step on their way. It was like trying to wrangle a deckchair. Joe weighed much the same; there was nothing of him, he was all skin and bone and sharp joints. Fragile.
After advising Joe on the perils of puking, Mac was informed that it wouldnae be ‘a fitting tribute’ to his own backside. Or words to that effect. F’chrissakes. Semi-comatose, and Joe’s mental hard-on was still indefatigable. Good grief, it would be like shafting a stuffed toy giraffe.
“Here. Sit there,” Mac grunted, bending to let Joe slither off into the chair. “Do not move. I’m gonnae fetch you a glass of water. God, I need a smoke,” a litre of Glenfiddich and the aforementioned bucket of coke.
He should have confiscated Joe’s stash for safekeeping, if only to prove Mac meant business. There’d still be caches secreted in the obvious to most preposterous places, of course: pockets, cisterns, sock drawer, tobacco tins, taped under tables, ad infinitum. Sweeping the house wouldn’t suffice without sniffer dog assistance, in which case the dust in the attic would likely set it off.
The kitchen wasnae desecrated with quite the carnage Mac had expected to assault his sensibilities. There were a distinct lack of pizza boxes, mouldering saucepans piled in the sink and used teabags squatting in rusty puddles. Nor were any black bags disgorging their contents onto the floor, which indicated that Adam had either tidied up a bit, or Joe hadn’t stepped foot in it for six months. After finding a clean-ish mug, Mac filled it with water and returned to the study where Joe had (thank fuck) stayed put. He was still draped over the armchair, all languid limbs and fluid lines, gazing in the general direction of the door through half-mast lids. He did make an effort to focus as Mac approached, cherub lips curving in a dopamine smile. “Sorry…”
“Liar…” Mac’s lips twitched in a smirk, despite himself.
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t…?” Joe offered, with a hint of sheepishness so unexpected, it belied belief.
“I meant the ‘sorry,’” Mac clarified.
“I’m sorry I…made you cross?” Joe amended, blinking up at Mac with pools of liquid midnight. Lethal.
“I am ‘cross’ with me, not you….but sure as shit wish you hadnae scurried off the second you saw your chance. You’ve proved your point, happy?”
“I-that wasn’t…I didn’t—”
“Joe, that’s how it felt.” Mac cut in, before Joe tied his tongue in a knot trying to excuse the inexcusable. “I am not your enemy, I stated that from the off. I’m pissed because my word meant fuck all, was worthless. I asked you to be straight with me…and I wouldnae have stopped you. So, why?”
“I was….scared you might. Wasn’t worthless…’twas…improbable. Mac…?” Bottomless eyes, as imploring as they were implausible. ‘Beguiling’ didn’t begin to cut it. Bewitching.
“What?” Mac slammed his own shut and…willed some blood to his brain.
“I am sorry…”
“Aye…and you will be next time…” Mac sighed, shaking his head. “Smoke?” He turned to reach for his cigarettes, avoiding the visual amplification of that plaintive tone. It had, at least, sounded…contrite.
Mac tugged a couple out, lit one and held it to pincushion lips that parted, wonderment writ large…where else? Bloody things would be the death of one of ’em. At least.
“Like I said, I’m not your enemy,” Mac grunted, sinking into the other seat and lighting his own before dragging in a deep lungful. Ahhh...
It hit Mac that he didn’t have a clue how long ago he’d arrived in the Cotswolds. At fifteen hundred hours. Precisely. Now? It could be five-ish or half-eight, or thereabouts… Mad Hatter’s Tea Party time, for all it felt as if he’d fallen down the rabbit hole.
In fact, it was probably still fifteen-o-five in London. He’d drive Joe back there on ‘Monday’ and it would still be 15:25 on Saturday afternoon—the same day he’d left—Today. Mac had patently lost the plot. How entirely unsurprising.
‘Who the fuck is Joe Fitzgerald…?’ Mac spluttered the most indecorous snort when his own shit-for-brains snark made a most unwelcome reappearance. Oh f’chrissakes…