The Mercy of Men (Book 2 of the Saint Flaherty series) by S. Hunter Nisbet by S. Hunter Nisbet - Read Online

Book Preview

The Mercy of Men (Book 2 of the Saint Flaherty series) - S. Hunter Nisbet

You've reached the end of this preview. Sign up to read more!
Page 1 of 1

Nisbet

To the readers, and

For the bridges that never fell...

1

––––––––

The darkness eats my eyes, little teeth tearing into my flesh. Sleep, I wish I could sleep. Just lay my head down and pray the Lord my soul to keep.

Not gonna happen.

The breathing on the pillow next to mine stutters and stops. I close my eyes and send up my own little prayer.

A snore erupts as the empty syringe tumbles out of his hand. Well. Not quite empty. How much left, exactly?

Time to go.

I don’t bother trying to dress in the dark, the hallway is good enough. Management doesn’t like us doing that, but the fuck do they know? Two minutes later, I’m down the stairs and onto the street. The night is cold enough that I’ve got my coat on, but spring is coming, of that I’m certain. I take a deep breath, draw the smells of the city into my lungs, wet pavement and garbage-can rot and the remainders of rain. This is the life I chose. Or the place, at any rate.

My eyes itch with tiredness, but I’m a long ways from home. Seventeen city blocks, to be precise. I knew that when I got my place, did it on purpose. When I’m done for the night, this walk gives me time to settle my thoughts and order them.

I need that time. This time.

A car slows down as it passes, then speeds up again. I flip it off as it goes.

Scioto City is where I live, where I belong, this hive of humans in their concrete boxes. I walk these streets and I own them.

Or do they own me?

Some days, it all feels the same.

2

––––––––

My stuff’s piled on the curb, bedside lamp on kitchen table, clothing heaped under saucepans. The bathroom rug tops the heap, flopped over all my possessions like a drunk on a Sunday morning.

It ain’t my fucking day.

I punch the intercom button next to the apartment building’s door. The manager’s voice sounds tinny and far away, though he’s just on the other side of the wall from me. Rakavi here. Can I help you?

Yeah, you bet you can, I retort, leaning on the button now. You can tell me why the fuck my shit’s all over the sidewalk.

A short pause, a crackle. Then, Is this Simon Flaherty?

Of course it fucking well is! Who the fuck else did you throw out last night? Calm down, he won’t talk if you make a scene, even if I wanna wring Rakavi’s scrawny little neck right now. My rent’s paid up until the end of the month, so what the hell?

Another pause, this one longer as my landlord considers his words. Is it just me, or is his voice getting quieter? Your deposit will be refunded. Please take your things and leave.

This is a fucking joke. Why? I demand. "I didn’t break my rent agreement, I didn’t do anything!"

Everything is out there. Everything.

I survey the pile of stuff. It’d better be.

I’m very sorry about this, Simon, but please understand. The calls weren’t going through; we sort of thought you were dead. Perhaps you could try my cousin Sanjay’s building on the corner of Fourth Street and—

Fuck your cousin Sanjay, and fuck his building! I hope Rakavi’s cringing in his cushy office chair. I didn’t do anything wrong, and you know it! Nothing says I gotta tell you when I go out of town!

You’ve been gone a month and we couldn’t get ahold of you. Rakavi speaks so fast the words almost run together. And anyway, my mother doesn’t feel safe with you living here.

His mother? Why the...? I mean, I tried to say hello a couple of times, but nothing more than that. And I sure as hell never touched her, so why’s she afraid of me?

’Cause I’m big, duh. Big, tall, broad, and the scars down my arms don’t help, I’m sure. Christ. She was scared to have me living in her building, so he threw me out first chance he got, when I weren’t home and didn’t look to be coming back.

Well, what would I have done if I was him and Erin had said the same thing to me about someone?

Dammit.

I push the button again. All of my deposit, you said?

An envelope slides under the front door, full of cash. Yep, it’s the whole thing. I shouldn’t have yelled. Life ain’t fair, so what’s new?

I take the cash and leave my room key on the front step in its place. Some bum’s already going through my boxes. Hey!

He runs for it, but now I got a problem.

Two problems. Three problems. Christ. Why today?

I press the intercom one more time, take my voice down a notch. Look, I’m going, and I ain’t gonna make trouble. But you gotta send someone out here to guard my stuff while I’m off finding a room, or someone’s gonna steal it.

Yes. Yes, of course, right away. He sounds relieved, and a minute later Rakavi himself unlocks the door to stand guard in the cold morning air.

I set off down the street, hands in my pockets. Try to look on the bright side, though it ain’t all that shining. At least I got my deposit back, and cash from the shipment I just brought up from Buchell. I didn’t get delayed on the way, either, which is lucky, ’cause if that’d happened, I wouldn’t have had any furniture left to come back to. That’s something, I guess.

Course, it might’ve been nicer not being evicted at all.

Fourth Street is only a few blocks away, a row of crumbling red brick with tall windows rising three stories up, the way they built houses a couple hundred years ago. It don’t matter that Rakavi didn’t give me an address, ’cause there ain’t no mistaking which building belongs to his cousin; it’s the one with the big sign above the door reading SANJAY’S PLACE.

There’s trash on the sidewalk and syndicate signs below the house numbers marking this building as being under the direct protection of Bernard Jones. This ain’t exactly what you’d call the nicer part of town, but what the hell. I ain’t the nicer kind of person.

I lean on the intercom button, a heavy-duty one meant to withstand tampering. Some guy with a heavy city accent answers. Sanjay here. Can I help you?

Yeah. I’m looking for a room, and your cousin Rakavi says you got a unit empty.

Absolutely! He just called to say you’d be by. One moment, I’ll show you up.

I rest my forehead on the cool brick. All I wanted this morning was to come home and sleep after getting up way too early to ride shotgun through the backroads from Buchell. Instead, I get to move house. Really, really ain’t my day, Christ.

The door pulls open to reveal a smiling man in a neat shirt, brown-skinned like Rakavi, but taller and better-looking despite the stupid moustache. You’re Simon, then?

Time to start the dog and pony show. I push myself off the wall and hold out my hand. That’d be me. And you’re Sanjay?

Sanjay Dey. It’s nice to meet you, Simon. Come on in. I think you’ll fit right in here.

3

––––––––

Modern Political Theory starts at ten AM sharp, and I’m the first one in the room, as usual. The other students trickle to their desks in fits and starts, dragging their pampered asses through the door like attending class is a punishment

Ungrateful little rich kids.

The professor is the last to enter. She too looks irritated at having to show up and do her job. Well, bully for her. The projector starts up with a whir of fans.

Can anyone, the professor begins, tell me what we ended with last week? Anyone?

I’m the only one to raise my hand, not so much called on as defaulted to. The signing of the Columbus Treaty.

Correct. If you’ve done your reading, you’ll know that the lead figures in attendance were...

The rest of the class is spent on names and dates. I jot them down, marking each in my brain like ticking off a list, because unlike these spoiled brats, I actually read the textbook. I read every damn page.

Because that’s what you do when the damn thing costs a week’s wages new.

Class ends at ten fifty-five on the dot, and that means I’m free until noon. The other students slouch off, muttering to each other. I ignore them. I have no friends here, because unlike them, I’m going to get my money’s worth, every class.

I catch the professor before she can slip out the door. Excuse me, I have a question.

She looks up from her bag. Her hair’s long and dyed blonde, falling into her eyes. Lecture or reading?

Lecture. You said they signed the treaty on March twenty-third, but in my town we only learned about the cease-fire in April. The Pro-Washingtons sent their tanks down the streets with loudspeakers mounted on top, blaring the news as their treads ground crab apple petals into the shattered asphalt.

The professor purses her lips. "It was the twenty-third, I think I should know? Announcements went out the next day, nine AM exactly. The only regions left fighting were the Anti-DCs in the mountains. Don’t tell me you’re one of them?"

Not when she says it like that, I won’t. Ditched that accent for a reason.

I shrug and smile. I must’ve got it wrong, then. Thanks for clearing that up.

I sink into the nearest chair as soon as she’s out the door, covering my head with my arms. God, I hate this place. From the linoleum floors to the beige walls, fuck it, just fuck it. I was meant for more than this, better than this, yet here I am, twenty-three years old and still in hundred-level classes. Isn’t life funny sometimes.

I’m not fucking laughing.

I launch my pen across the room. It buries itself in the wall to stick out at a crazy angle. If only it would have embedded itself in that stuck-up professor’s face, whatever the hell her name is. One of them, like I had a choice at that age.

A kid with a backward baseball cap sticks his head around the doorway. His eyes travel from me to the pen and back again. Go on, mention it. I dare you.

Where is everybody?

Not here.

Yeah, I can see that. Do we, like, have class today?

I’ve never seen him before in my life. No.

Thanks, bro. The guy’s still studying the pen like it’s the coolest thing since 3-D printing. Did you do that on purpose?

Yes.

He considers this information, the sort of trash who needs a pause to think. Alright. Cool, man. Later.

He plods away to miss whatever class he was supposed to attend. Good.

I yank my pen out of the wall, because I’m sure as hell not paying for another one. I hate this university and everyone in it.

No, not just that. I hate my fucking life.

4

––––––––

Of the eight apartments Sanjay and I own, five tenants pay for extra laundry services. Four pay for me to make them dinner, while three rent furniture, as well as their room. Two pay for cleaning, which Sanjay does in the afternoons because, whatever my father says about men and women, my husband does a better job than I can be bothered with. I do the books, Sanjay does maintenance for us, as well as a few places along the street, and we both take care of our four-year-olds when they’re not in preschool. All in all, we pay the mortgage. Just.

Sanjay, I need more information on the new guy than just his first name. We can’t rent to someone who only has one name.

I asked him. I just can’t remember. F-something. Fulsome? No, it sounded Irish.

Sanjay’s useless. Never mind, I’ll call Rakavi. He’ll know.

I got his rent and deposit up front; it’s right here. He hands over a wad of creased bills. No problem there, at least.

We still need rent this month from 102, 201, and everyone on the third floor except 303. Can you get them by lunch Thursday?

Yeah, sure. Write them down for me.

Already done it. I hand him the note and close my ledger. I’ll do the money run right after. Do you think your mother can watch the kids for me?

Mm. She won’t like it, but I’m sure she’ll do it. Sanjay leans over and kisses my cheek before I can duck. Anyway, I’m off collecting. Or nagging, at any rate.

I stash the books, gather the laundry, and herd our two little monsters into the yard while I begin hanging things out. Just another Tuesday morning.

Doing laundry for the tenants started when I had the twins. I was washing diapers every day anyway, so I figured I may as well earn a little extra, and haven’t I been glad of it these past four years.

Mom, Mom, look! Wendy points across the yard at her brother. Edwin’s in the mud again!

Edwin, get out of there right now!

Fiona’s home!

Wendy dashes across the yard to tackle the woman from apartment 203. I’ve given up trying to stop my daughter, because Fiona only encourages her. Some people never do grow up.

Still, there’s no one more reliable of all my tenants. Morning, Fiona. How was work?

Long. Too many complaints up front; I’d rather be stocking shelves again. No, I’m not picking you up, Wendy, you’re too big anymore. I’ll hurt my back again. Wendy starts to pout, but Edwin grabs her attention a moment later, and the tantrum passes without ever really having happened. Am I still coming over for lunch on Thursday?

Sorry, I need to go pay the mortgage. Why don’t you ask your new neighbor over instead?

Fiona’s mouth drops open. You mean you rented out 202?

May wonders never cease. Apparently this guy was too much of a handful for my cousin, but Sanjay thinks he’ll be fine.

He. Fiona seizes the most interesting word in the sentence. Young? Old? Handsome? Single?

I swat her with a damp washcloth and she dodges, laughing. Funny enough, Sanjay didn’t comment on his date-ability. He’s white with an Irish-sounding name, that’s all I’ve got.

A look passes over Fiona’s face. And does he...did Sanjay tell him? About the room?

The room. Yes, Caroline’s old room. I don’t think so, I say carefully. It’s not really something one tells a potential paying tenant. I mean, we’ve discounted the rent, but... I shrug. It’s just a room.

The lie sits between us, and I don’t think I’m the only one who struggles to believe it. Edwin and Wendy have stopped their play to watch the grown-ups, curious at our grave faces, wondering what we’re speaking about in hushed tones.

I don’t want them involved in this. Come on, you two, go wash your hands. We’re having lunch in ten minutes. Go on, go on, no complaints. I’ll be right along. Only when the door closes behind them do Fiona and I resume our conversation. Did you hear the trial’s starting soon?

Fiona crosses her arms. I heard Broy’s pleading not guilty.

It leaves a bad taste on my tongue even to talk about it. They’re trying to get a plea bargain, I heard. The criminal system in this city really is a joke. Anyway, some hotshot lawyer’s gunning for a conviction, so Broy’d be smart to take the deal.

Mom! Hurry up!

Fiona nods in the direction of the building and shakes her head as if to clear it. Tell me the rest later. I’m off to bother the new guy. You know, be friendly, help him move in, let him know I’m available. Wish me luck.

I hold up crossed fingers and follow her up the back stairs. Perhaps it’s a good thing to have a new person around. Perhaps it will scare away the cloud Caroline left hanging over all of our lives.

Well, I say Caroline. But we all know whose fault her death was.

5

––––––––

Time to check out the new tenant, this person who’s crazy enough to take on Caroline’s ghost. Nobody else sure as hell wanted to. I mean, Nisha discounted my rent just for living next door, that’s how bad things were for a while, what with police going in and out, not to mention the cleanup crews.

I jiggle 202’s knob, but the door’s locked. Guess I’ll have to knock after all.

Half a second later, the door’s yanked open and a shirtless guy looms over me, filling the doorway with his shoulders, shoulders, shoulders. Apparently I’ve interrupted his shaving, because foam covers half his face while the other side is scraped clean. A cutthroat razor dangles from one hand.

Yeah? What do you want? the man snaps. His voice is deep, with an accent that if you could spread it on toast, would taste like campfire smoke and moonshine. His hair’s coppery red, shaved into a mohawk that isn’t spiked.

Hello, hello.

Hey, neighbor. I’m Fiona Kowalski from next door. I just dropped by to introduce myself. Sorry to interrupt you.

The scowl is replaced by a look of good-natured surprise. He glances at my outstretched hand and awkwardly extends his left. Nah, you’re fine. I was, uh, just cleaning up. Been a busy day. Even though it’s still morning. You know. He pauses, eyes searching from side to side, then seems to remember something. I’m Simon Flaherty.

Fiona.

You said.

Yeah, I know, but it seemed the right thing to say. I push past him into the room. Oh, they painted in here. That’s nice.

Is it? I’d guess he’s twenty-five, twenty-eight years old? Better light reveals clear blue eyes and a muscled chest and—

Wow, that’s a lot of scars. I point to his arms. Where’d you get those?

You’re forward, he remarks, but doesn’t seem bothered by it. He returns to the bathroom, presumably to continue shaving. Gimme two minutes, and then tell me about the rest of the building.

Which means I have two minutes to give myself a tour of his things. Excellent. He has a twin bed covered by a cheap comforter, clothes piled on top. The rest of his furnishings consist of a beat-up table, a couple of folding chairs, and a dresser that’s seen better days. He’s so totally single. Did he move because of a breakup?

I pull open a box and begin stacking dishes on the table. A touch of domesticity never went astray.

Don’t ask permission or nothing, he calls.

Why, you got someone coming to help? Girlfriend? Parents? Which of course he doesn’t, because he’s in bad enough straits to take this room.

Tell me if you find my silverware, at least. At long last, my new neighbor emerges from the bathroom fully shaved. He glances at my progress with his boxes and grunts. Think someone maybe stole it.

So, what do you do, then? You been in the city long?

Six years. He ignores the other question. You?

I’m a city kid. We evacuated north for a couple years during the war when that thing with the school bombings happened, but I’ve been here since then. I prop my elbows on the table. You’re from the mountains, I take it?

No.

Hills?

Maybe.

Hell of an accent.

You too.

I laugh. I like this Simon guy already. Only to you. To the people of this fair city, I sound like a songbird at dawn.

Whether he agrees or not, he keeps it to himself. I open another box to keep from getting bored. It’s full of—

Simon snatches it away. For a big guy, he sure moves fast. That’s private.

Should’ve written that on the side, then, I snip back. Does Sanjay know?

Probably not.

Why do you need so many guns?

Simon shoots me a look. You ask too many questions.

Was that a comment or a threat?

We have a mini staring contest, standing on opposite sides of his tiny kitchen table, him tall and broad, me a head shorter and not nearly in such good of shape.

A cold breeze blows down my back. Was it only a month ago that I knocked on Caroline’s door to find that whatever lights were on, nobody was home inside? After all this time, am I finally getting women’s intuition?

He laughs, and it’s like there was never a storm cloud at all. You this nosy about everyone, or just me?

I find myself returning his grin without meaning to. Everyone. You had lunch?

Ain’t found my food yet. Think it got took when my last landlord tossed my stuff on the curb.

Well, lucky for you, I’ve got a slow cooker. I glance over my shoulder on my way out the door. Knock on my door in ten minutes and I’ll have lunch on the table, got that? I’m in 203.

I push open my own door. My place is clean enough that I doubt the new guy will think less of me. His layout and mine are identical, but my bed’s hidden behind a screen, and I’ve got pictures up and stuff like that. And, of course, my walls are beige, not green.

Yes, it’ll do just fine.

Ten minutes to the dot, there’s a knock on my door. It’s my new neighbor, of course, now wearing a T-shirt and holding his own cup and plate like he naturally assumed I wouldn’t have extra. He’s so adorable I want to pinch his cheeks, and his confusion at my laughter only makes it better.

Oh heavens, I think I might like Simon. Here’s to hoping he likes me too.

6

––––––––

I swear to God, this new place has got the most loudmouthed neighbor on the planet. Gonna miss my old neighbor. Never saw him, never talked to him, never heard so much as a peep. Best kind a guy can have.

That’s rude of me. Fiona...she seems nice. She wears her hair pulled back too tight, but she cooks good bigos and helped me get my stuff in order, and she didn’t have to do that.

Ain’t like there’s nothing wrong with this room, it seems okay. Has fresh paint, which is nice, even if they did pick a butt-ugly color for it. Too dark. They painted the ceiling too, which is just plain weird. Who the hell does that? It feels like a cave in here. But I guess it’s okay. When I was a teenager, my room weren’t much more than a tiny closet off the kitchen, just enough for a bed and a chest of drawers. After that, for a long time, every place seemed too big, too airy. Here I can stretch out without touching all four walls, and I ain’t sure I care for that.

I turn over on my lumpy bed. I was thinking about getting a nicer one, but that was before I had my front teeth knocked out in my last fight and spent all my money getting a bridge put in. And anyway, ain’t like I spend more than half my nights lying in it, so why spend what I don’t have?

The box of handguns seems to radiate heat through my mattress and into my back. I don’t doubt that box is what Rakavi’s mom found that made her so scared, neither. She was always kind of nosy when she cleaned. Christ. Not that they even work, stupid things. Defective, all of them. From Casey Hoatson, too, of all the bosses. Seeing what he can get away with, I don’t doubt; he’s been pushing lately. I should’ve noticed the problem at pickup, but I was in a hurry to get going that night, and now I’m eating the profits. Ain’t like I’m gonna tell Mick about them. He wouldn’t get pissed or fire me or nothing, no, but he’d think less of me for it. And even with our last argument fresh in my mind, I don’t want that.

Should’ve checked. Simple Simon.

My phone buzzes, screen flashing Erin. I press talk. Hey.

Hey, you. You back from the hills yet, or am I catching you on the road?

Nah, I got in this morning. I had to move places, though. Got evicted from the last one.

Not surprised. Told you not to be gone so— She cuts herself off, voice suddenly muffled. Ellie, what’ve I told you about talking when I’m on the phone? Then she’s back. Anyway, does that mean you can’t babysit Saturday? And how’d you get a new place so quick? That’s a first. You’re usually on my couch at least a week.

I roll onto my stomach and stick a pillow over my head. How is it, after all these years, Erin can make me feel like I’m still the kid who kept getting into fights at school? She’s gonna be telling me to go mop the floor next and I’m gonna go do it. Long story, I’ll tell you when I see you next. I can babysit, it’s fine.

Good. And how’s your injuries? All healed?

It was just few bruises. I was only gone for so long ’cause of business, I lie. Look, I promised Ajmal I’d meet him at the gym tonight, and I’m just about to head out. So I’ll see you at the bus stop Saturday, okay? New place is two stops sooner than the last one.

Simon—

See you. I hang up and let the phone drop to the sheets. I love my stepsister more than anything, but she has a knack for seeing through me, and I got too many things I don’t wanna talk about right now. My day, my teeth, Mick—eviction’s just the cherry on top of way too much shit. Need to go to the gym and get rid of this twitchy feeling.

A door slams above me, someone stomping into their room. Fiona said the guy up there’s a bit younger than you, however old she thinks I am, and he’s supposed to keep funny hours. There’s also a married couple on my other side what work swing shifts, which probably means noises at all times of night. Suppose it don’t matter much, since I’m only in town half the time, but I sure hope upstairs ain’t a dick, considering how thick the walls seem to be.

The mumbling from above turns into a bellow of, Sanjay, get up here!

Christ, shut up before I come up there and make you shut up.

Yep, time to hit the gym.

I pull on my boots and jacket and head to the stairs. Sanjay passes me on his way up, looking panicked. And, what the hell, I turn and follow him. May as well.

There’s two guys in the dim third-floor hall, arguing at the top of their lungs as Sanjay tugs at their sleeves. Outside, outside now! You’re disturbing everyone!

The shorter of the two shoves Sanjay. Fuck off. I got business here, and I’m gonna take care of it.

The taller one leans away from his opponent, muscles on his neck standing out. We agreed I’d pay you next Monday. Today is Tuesday. Need me to spell it, or do you just not know the days of the week?

You’re the one trying to weasel out of it. We don’t take late payments.

You’ll get your money! Now get the fuck out. And if you ever dare darken my doorstep again, you’ll wish you’d never been born.

It’s a big threat, and the taller guy looks like he means it, but the other one just laughs. Monday, then, sweetheart.

Sanjay steps forward, making shooing motions at the shorter guy. Out, now. This is a private residence, not a public street. I could report you to your boss.

Shut up. The tough gives Sanjay one last shove and starts toward the stairs.

I step aside, but he pauses to give me a once-over. We ain’t built too differently, broad and strong, even if he only reaches my chin. He’s got spiky black hair and a mean scar under one eye that pulls the lower lid down. A memorable face, one I’m sure I’ve seen before.

His eyes narrow as he takes me in, and I don’t doubt he knows exactly who I am. The fuck you looking at?

Just watching the show.

He spits on the clean floor. See that it stays that way, or you’ll hear from us.

Us? This is Jones’s territory, but this guy’s white, and most of Jones’s men ain’t. So who does he work for? Hoatson? Constantia?

Sanjay’s still lecturing the guy who’s probably my neighbor. Don’t go telling pros like that they can come to my building! My wife doesn’t like it.

"I didn’t tell him, I just—never mind. Never mind! I’m going out, unless that’s not allowed now, either."

You still owe rent for the month. You’ve been late the past three months. My patience is wearing thin.

Sanjay stomps past me down the stairs, but I stay put under the flickering fluorescent light. I wanna get a good look at my neighbor, if only so I can steer clear of him.

He stares straight ahead as he passes, long brown hair tied back like a girl, but with a face way too sharp to look like a woman in any light. He’s carrying a flashy leather jacket slung over his shoulder like all the guys back home used to, showing an arm full of tattoos in black and...

No, it can’t be. I can’t be right after all these years.

But that’s Connor’s tattoo. The black garden, he used to call it, opposite of Eden, ’cause Earth is hell, that’s what he said when he got it. Earth is hell, and there ain’t no God here, so he got a dead garden done in black from shoulder to wrist to match it.

Before I know what I’m doing, my hand is on that same arm, touching that tattoo what I ain’t seen these past six years. Watched for it and searched for it but not seen so much as a glimpse of, and to find it here, now—

"Get