Mackey calls the hidey hole he’s kitted out The Garage, and the bit with the sleeping in a men’s toilet at a petrol station with a stranger and four of your mates with me dressed as the bloke behind the counter to keep an eye on the door The Job. So does Kennedy, if he says anything to me at all. Conway calls it Dream Time. Cassie Maddox, she calls it the Share and she misses it like someone snapped off a rib and left a new soft spot in her, empty and tender and aching like a pulled tooth.
“It’s the Share, Richie,” she tells me the first day I show up to go under. “You have to give something to get something. But you won’t always know what it will be.” She leaned close, huge dark eyes serious, and promised. “And it’s usually a secret. So it’s better for you if you already know what secrets you have.”
What she meant was, a secret from yourself will give you a nasty turn, bollix the job and leave you with a Shade if you’re not careful. And Cassie is sharp and steady as they come, but she’s never been careful. Not like me.
I know a fair bit about secrets. I’ve been keeping them since I was five and I told my mam that my da was kissing other ladies and she slapped me silly for my trouble, calling me a liar the whole time. But the real secret wasn’t that my old man was catting around, no, the true secret was how I’d found him out.
Sometimes I just know things. It’s nothing I can control, and it’s not usually anything I like to learn. But now and again, if I touch something, I get a whattayacallit, it’s when you taste what you look at, I looked it up: a synesthesia. A perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. It’s just that my synesthesia can give me the involuntary experience of a flash of insight. A taste like vinegar at the back of my throat, and then a full-shot memory, or a rush of emotion, or just a hint of something, just there. It’s how I knew to look where I did for the fingernail, french tip, torn from a woman’s hand, with a shred of a babby’s sweater caught in it. Now. If it been the wee girl’s sweater I’d touched first, maybe this would have all gone down different. I was very careful not to touch a blessed thing, not the walls or the doorknob, in the rooms I found the children, well after the site was cleared. I’ve had a flash and more of a final struggle in three men already, and have no wish to feel a child’s scrabble at the last. But so it was that I touched the nail of it, not when I slipped the evidence bag in my pocket at Brennan’s place, but back at mine. Before Dina knocked on my door, I’d been in the wrenching middle of it, Jenny Spain holding her own child down, teeth bared, silent and desperate for the darkness to end, but never willing to leave the children behind to drown in it, as she had. I was well rattled before she walked in, soaked to the bone and half-raving, pretty and mad and just as desperate as Jenny Spain in her way. She was trembling so hard, all that came to mind was to wrap her up, and so I hugged her, and when I did, I got my second kick to the head in a night: Jenny Spain killed her family, and Dina here was Mick Kennedy’s sister.
So I knew she was his sister, and you didn’t need to be psychic to ken that he wouldn’t like it, but I did take her to my bed, even so.
There’s the secret I didn’t know until the first job we worked for Mackey and he had Kennedy give me the needle stick for the Somnacin I’d mixed my own self.
Kennedy had already loved me, just a corner boy, a weedy little skint, but I’d been in his torn-up heart before I sided with Jenny’s tragedy against his justice, before ever I kissed his sister, before I’d broken his trust by scotching the evidence and maybe making Dina madder still.
If she wasn't in such a totter, Dina would be crack at the Share. She can see all the places where the real world frays, and of all of us, she'd be the least likely to mix up the share and the real world. That I know from just a touch.
So I have my own shade, if she’s not so vivid as Cassie’s phantom Lexie. She’s standing here on this side, in the corner of my eye and hating me with every bone, for hurting her brother; though she knows, too, that I never meant to.
There's another secret, too. There's always just one more, after all. And this one was a secret from myself, like Cassie'd warned for. I didn't know it until we shared a dream for training, just the two of us, me and Mick, and he only stood there staring at me, looking hollowed out and raw. He'd needed everything I'd tried to give his sister, and more besides, and until that moment, I hadn't known I could have been that to him, or that I'd even wanted to.
So in the day to day, I keep my head down, grateful to Mackey for the work and to Cassie for the advice, and even to Dina, side-eyeing me and all disapproval, if it gives me a shadow's chance of earning her brother's trust again.
There is a resemblance, when you know to look for it. His hair is dark, wavy, but the shape of the eyes and a soft mouth, soft for a fella with a hard job, leaning on people, willing them his way, scouring for leads in blood-soaked corners.
Soft as hers.