“You vill be lying on a beach. Zere vill be … a breeze zat vill—how you say—tinkle? And a … bird, I sink … I can see a bird. Viz a green head, shiny, and a … beak? Is zat ze vord?”
“I do not know vot zat is. A bird, or somesink like a bird, is vot I see.”
O’Rourke left the tent a little unsteadily. He’d had a few pints of Guinness beforehand and it was going to his legs. But he was also shaken by the fortune he’d been told. He was a superstitious person at the best of times—he kept a shamrock on him always—and the cryptic image that the old lady had described was already getting under his skin.
He met up again with Kelly and Shrimp and they made their way to one of the mobile bars at the edge of the fair. His colleagues had pushed him into seeing the old lady; they knew he was superstitious and thought it would be a lark.
O’Rourke was not taking it so well at all, though; his face was as white as a sheet.
“You feelin’ all right, Rourkey? You wanna lay off the beer, you know,” laughed Shrimp.
O’Rourke looked at him blankly and went whiter still.
“Was it something she said, mate?” Kelly put a hand on O’Rourke’s shoulder; he was beginning to worry a little.
But Shrimp was like a bull in a china shop. “Yeah, go on, Rourkey. What did the old tart say?”
“Leave him alone, Shrimper. Let’s get another beer in.”
Kelly and Shrimp stared at O’Rourke.
“What about a mallard?” Kelly could see that O’Rourke was looking very scared.
“She saw a mallard.”
“A duck?!” Shrimp was not the most sensitive of friends.
“A mallard, yeah.”
“What does it mean, Rourkey?” Kelly was treating O’Rourke gingerly, keen now to atone for the prank that he and Shrimp had pulled on him.
“She said I’d see it the moment I die. I tell you, I don’t like it.”
Shrimp didn’t share Kelly’s sensitivity. “Get out of here! You, Raw-Meat O’Rourke, afraid of a duck?! You’ve gotta be—”
He was interrupted by the shrill tone of Kelly’s mobile phone. Kelly took a step away from the others to answer it.
“Yeah. […] With Shrimp and Rourkey […] Nah, the three of us will be plenty, I reckon. […] So, it’s tonight, is it? […] Okay. And is it the flat or the house? […] All right. Are you sure he’ll be there? […] Yeah? And he won’t have anyone with him? […] Okay, we’ll get round there straight away. […] Don’t worry, he won’t know what’s hit him. […] Yeah. I’ll phone you when it’s done.”
Kelly finished the call and turned to Shrimp and O’Rourke, whose face had regained a little colour.
“We’re on. You okay for this, Rourkey?”
“Yeah, I think so. I’ll be all right.”
“Let’s get to the car, then.“
It began to rain heavily.
“Rourkey, you’re the biggest and the quickest—you go round the back. If he tries to get past you, let him have it. Shrimp and me’ll go in through the front.”
Shrimp narrowed his eyes. “You really sure you’re up for this Rourkey?”
“Look, Shrimp. If you like, you go round the back and I’ll go through the front with Kelly.”
Shrimp considered the suggestion briefly. “Nah, you’re all right, mate. Back to Plan A. Let’s do this bloke!”
O’Rourke made his way down a side alley and emerged in a narrow, dimly-lit lane at the back of the house. There was a wall with the tops of tall bushes above it, and a gate that wasn’t as high. O’Rourke put one boot on the handle of the gate and pulled himself over, slipping once or twice because of the vestiges of alcohol in his system and the rain, which was falling harder by the minute.
Once inside the back garden, he crouched down and moved towards the back wall of the house, but something stopped him dead in his tracks. He paused for a moment trying to figure out what it was, then it dawned on him; on the back porch someone had set up a wind chime, tinkling now in the first gusts from the storm that was brewing. It was a pleasant sound and O’Rourke felt himself smiling.
He approached the porch and put a hand up to the chime, but he never got to touch it: a figure materialised from the darkness and punched him in the gut … only O’Rourke knew immediately that it wasn’t a punch. His hand went to his stomach in a reflex motion; he could feel the warmth of the liquid of life oozing out of him. He staggered backwards. His heel tripped on a board embedded in the ground and he fell like a sack of potatoes onto something soft.
He lay there for the briefest of moments, the rain pounding down on his face. Then it wasn’t; the man from the darkness was crouching over him, so close that O’Rourke could smell the whiskey on his breath.
“You amateurs. You think I was born yesterday? Well that’s funny, ’cos today…”
O’Rourke was feeling light-headed, but he was still conscious enough to take in the looming figure. By the feeble light from the street-lamp in the lane he could see that the man was wearing a cagoule, slick with rain, the hood pulled tightly over a baseball cap. O’Rourke couldn’t tell what colour it was, but he knew that it was green.
The knife entered again and O’Rourke’s head lolled to one side. The last thing he saw, before the eternal darkness fell, was a child’s plastic bucket and spade, half buried in the sand pit where he lay.