He was fifty eight years old and his narrow face looked grey and ill. For once he looked his age. His bald head and the blonde hair at the sides of his head were damp with sweat. He had strong, grey eyes and if it had not been for the broken nose would have looked intelligent. His body was large, wide and muscular. McGrath wore grey slacks and a formal white shirt. He smoked a cigarette.
‘I was going to pack in before this.’ McGrath waved his cigarette for Kate to see.
She didn’t know what to say. Carl edged away from the wall to have a better look. Mary sucked her teeth again and Bob was worse than sombre.
McGrath drew deeply on his cigarette. ‘I bet this has made your day, Kate.’
‘I prefer more blood,’ said Kate.
The blood was confined to a small area around McGrath’s two feet. If it had not been for his feet and the sweat on his head McGrath could have been settling down to read a book. He wore no shoes and his white socks had a hole on the top of each foot. Each hole accommodated a huge nail. The heads of the two nails were as large as giant mushrooms. The stems of the nails were as thick as broom handles. Around the nails Bob and Mary had padded his damaged feet with cotton wool and bandage.
The blood had seeped into the thick pile of his grey carpet. The effect matched the red and grey colour scheme. The blood in the carpet looked as if it had seeped down between his toes. McGrath dropped ash around the bloodstains on his carpet. Even that complimented the colours.
‘I couldn’t answer the door,’ he said.
‘We got in through the back,’ said Bob. ‘We try all the doors when we have to.’
‘I bet it’s painful,’ said Kate.
‘Like all my toes have got toothache,’ said McGrath. ‘The pain was worse half an hour ago.’
Kate walked around the back of the room to the bay window. She pointed at the marble table with the strange legs. ‘Where did you get this from? It’s awful.’
‘He’s had a painkilling injection.’ Bob spoke out of the side of his mouth.
‘I’m not convinced about the pain,’ said McGrath.
Mary and Bob looked affronted.
‘It’s better,’ said McGrath, ‘but I’m losing confidence.’
‘Won’t your guilty conscience help?’ said Kate.
Bob straightened his shoulders. The back of his head nearly touched the mantelpiece. ‘He’ll be all right when we’re in hospital. We’re quite good with pain.’
‘Giving it?’ said Kate.
Alex McGrath smiled before taking a deep drag on his cigarette. He removed the cigarette from his mouth very slowly. He let tobacco smoke slide out of the corners of his mouth. ‘They can’t get the nails out,’ he said.
‘Not without taking his feet off.’ Mary sucked her teeth.
Kate thought her black hair was impressive. She imagined it just washed, clean and with extra sheen.
‘Alex, don’t think about it.’ Bob avoided looking at the damaged feet.
‘Couldn’t we lift him up by the shoulders?’ said Kate.
McGrath pulled his cigarette away from his face, left his mouth open.
‘Only trying to lighten the situation,’ said Kate.
‘We won’t get those nails out, will we Bob?’ said Mary.
‘He’s nailed to concrete,’ said Bob.
‘I’ve not been lucky,’ said McGrath.
Carl noticed how the serrated flesh had opened around the nails. ‘Oh, dear. How do you stand the pain, Alex?’
The telephone on the marble table rang. As he was the nearest Carl answered. He held the phone out for Bob. McGrath smoked his cigarette and waited, sighed rather than breathed.
‘We found it dead easy.’ Bob spoke into the phone. ‘Mary is sitting here.’
Mary lifted her head to listen, looked along the back of the sofa.
‘Yes, the police have just arrived. The fire service have been and gone. I asked him straight away. It’s solid concrete.’ Bob smiled at Mary while he listened. ‘That’s what I said. We’d have had a chance with a wooden floor.’
Kate winked at McGrath who closed his eyes. Mary looked as if she was trying to be economical with her breathing.
Bob adjusted the phone next to his ear. ‘I’ll say so. It’s been an experience.’
McGrath opened his eyes. He spoke quietly to Carl who he knew more than the others. ‘I was forced to drill the holes myself. The creep had a shotgun.’
Bob adjusted the phone so he could hear properly. ‘It’ll certainly be a challenge for someone.’
Mary spoke to Bob, ordered him with her finger. ‘Ask him how long he’ll be.’
Kate smiled at McGrath. ‘We’ll soon be up to our ears in blood.’
Bob was too busy talking on the telephone. ‘He’ll certainly need more pain relief. Of course Mary is all right.’
‘Don’t have a lot of choice, do we?’ said Mary.
Kate decided that this was Mary expressing an opinion.
McGrath threw his cigarette into the giant fireplace. Bob neatly swivelled his hip out of the way and the cigarette sailed past him and into the hearth.
‘I’ve endured the worst.’ McGrath took a deep breath before speaking to Carl. ‘As long as I can believe it won’t last forever.’
‘I’ve already given him diamorphine,’ said Bob. ‘No, it hasn’t put him to sleep.’
Bob stopped talking and studied McGrath instead. McGrath didn’t move because he thought it might be important.
‘He looks a little tired,’ said Bob. ‘Yes. Of course I’ve warned him about the effects.’
McGrath shook his head and spoke to Carl again. ‘He hasn’t warned me about anything.’
‘First things first,’ said Mary.
‘What does that mean?’
‘It means you’ll have to keep your legs crossed and trust us.’ Mary risked talking to Carl. ‘The concrete floor meant it would have taken longer to drill. With wood we might have sawn him out.’
‘You wouldn’t want to walk out of here with a couple of planks on your feet,’ said Kate.
Bob sighed into the telephone a couple of times. Loud enough for the others to turn and notice. McGrath watched Bob sigh and sighed himself.
‘Bob’ll do his best,’ said Mary.
‘I refuse to sit here for ever,’ said McGrath.
‘It’s sod’s law, isn’t it?’ Bob spoke into the phone again. ‘We’ll wait for you.’ He put the telephone back into its cradle, spoke to Mary. ‘Beryl has gone sick again.’
‘There’s a surprise,’ said Mary.
Bob didn’t answer but sat down on the sofa next to Mary who straightened her uniform. Kate walked over to the giant fireplace. Carl thought the fireplace suited her.
‘A cup of tea, perhaps,’ said Kate.
‘I don’t think it’s suitable for Alex to talk to the police.’ Bob sat on the sofa with his knees pressed together.
‘He isn’t going anywhere,’ said Kate. ‘Why not talk?’
‘I want to rest not talk,’ said McGrath.
‘More diamorphine would send him to sleep,’ said Bob.
‘He’ll wake up with a stiff neck,’ said Kate. ‘I’m right.’
Bob pointed at the damaged feet on the floor. ‘They’re my main concern.’
To emphasise the importance of the point being made McGrath wriggled his toes.
‘He’s not going to get anything else to walk on,’ said Bob. ‘I wouldn’t have wanted to saw through floorboards. I haven’t had the training.’
‘There will have to be a doctor,’ said Kate.
‘Eventually, no doubt. I presume we can trust a surgeon to take out a couple of nails.’
Everybody apart from McGrath looked at the nails.
‘Are we having a cup of tea, Carl?’ said Kate.
‘I’m happy enough without tea,’ said Carl.
‘Make the tea, Carl.’
Only Alex McGrath watched Carl leave the room. Everyone else stayed worried
‘I’ve learnt my lesson I can tell you.’ McGrath broke the silence.
‘These aren’t half lovely sofas,’ said Mary.
‘The best that money can buy,’ said Kate. ‘I’ll get you, McGrath, if it’s the last thing I’ll do. I’ll make sure.’
‘I’ve just had my feet drilled,’ said McGrath.
‘They worry me, those feet,’ said Bob.