A number of days had passed since Leonard had finished his first draft of the manslaughter commission, and had submitted it to Alby for an appraisal. However, since he had made the decision to re-examine the case for his own personal reasons, he was yet to have any significant findings. The most Leonard had achieved was to put together a, not entirely helpful or productive, table on his computer which listed the reasons that implicated him in Paulie’s crime and those which absolved him. The list was as follows:
Leonard’s problem was very simple: he didn’t know how to gauge his level of responsibility in a situation like this. After all this was the most unfortunate and disturbing event that he could tie himself to, and so he was woefully inexperienced when it came to dissecting a tragedy. It suddenly occurred to him that there was an entire world of misdemeanours, pain and suffering which he had had, as of this moment, only a cursory exposure to. He was accustomed to, and had never thought to question, the idea that there were only two parties involved in a crime: the perpetrator and the victim. Nevertheless, that binary definition of criminality had failed to stymie the gnawing guilt he had experienced since receiving the commission. It was at this juncture that Leonard realised that he had to either abandon the pseudo-investigation, and simply burry his discomfort, or properly commit to the case. He ultimately decided that due to the boredom he had felt in recent weeks, as well as the ever growing need for emotional closure, he had to take this investigation to the next level. Leonard knew that he had to speak to Marta and Paulie in order to find out if they held him responsible for what happened.
This in itself presented further problems for the young father, as he wasn’t sure how to reconnect with these friends of yesteryear without offending them or pushing them away. A quite timely and coincidental encounter with another past acquaintance, however, showed Leonard one approach that might work. As Leonard was shopping in the city centre, sliding behind a trolley as he purchased their weekly foodstuffs, his phone vibrated in his pocket and made that increasingly annoying buzzer sound. He pulled it out as he sidled down the aisle and dropped a carton of green lidded milk into the trolley, however his well-rehearsed movements slowed to a stop as the notification drew him in.
Long-time no speak! It has been a few years hasn’t it? Anyway I’m just sending you a message because I wondered if you were free for a catch-up, it can be whenever works best for you.
I just want to get a few things off of my chest, and it doesn’t feel right to do it through Facebook.
Hope to hear from you soon,
Leonard dipped his head in thought, as he couldn’t imagine what Tyrone Cousins could possibly have to say to him after all these years. They had lived together during their first year of university, and hadn’t always seen eye to eye with one another, but had been friends for the most part during their shared scholarship. He looked at the message again and saw from the little phone icon in the corner of the page that Ty had sent it from his phone, as opposed to from a computer, and that he was surprisingly close.
This was a surprise! I hope you’ve been well? Anyway I’m free right now if you want to chat?
We can meet at the Wetherspoon’s on Broadway Road at 5?
Let me know if that’s too soon.
However, before Leonard could even return the phone to his pocket, it vibrated again and he could see that Ty was happy to meet him at the aforementioned time and place. Leonard scratched his jaw before shortly forgetting the interruption and carrying on with his business.
He was early for his meeting with Tyrone, and so he ordered himself a glass of orange juice at the bar before grabbing a table. Leonard made sure to watch the liquid as he walked in order to keep it steady, and as he sat down he noticed that the entire room was steady in a number of different ways; the background chatter was a regular static gurgle, the waiters seemed occupied without being overworked and his drink was cool but not cold. In other words; all of the pieces of the pub were steady and generally mundane. He noticed that the table was a bit sticky on his side, however as he was about to switch sides he saw his old friend enter. Instead of moving he placed the thick, card menu on top of the gunk and waved at Tyrone and once Tyrone noticed him he offered a bashful, crunched grin. They shook hands before Tyrone sat down, and Leonard noticed him eyeing his glass of juice.
“Oh sorry Ty, didn’t know when you’d get here. Did you fancy a drink?”
“Yes could you get me a glass of coke mate?” He replied and Leonard nodded before heading to the bar, grimacing a little as he ordered the drink. The bartender casually poured out a glass of coke and plopped in two ice cubes before heading on to the next customer; the glass was now damp and wet his fingers.
“So how’ve you been?” Tyrone asked sheepishly as he took a swig of his glass and smacked his lips afterwards. They spent a minute or two catching up on each other’s affairs which was mildly amusing, albeit largely unnecessary, due to their mutual friends already filling the one in about the other. Shortly afterwards they reminisced about the fun times they had shared during their university days, with both men glossing over the many snarky comments and puerile disputes that weren’t worth revisiting. Fifteen minutes passed in this meandering fashion with little to no revelation to speak of, leaving Leonard to fear that this meeting would be a waste of his time. However, as an awkward silence threatened to loom, Tyrone took the impending pause as his cue to get to the point.
“I really appreciate you coming down here mate, especially at such short notice. Didn’t expect you to get back to me today to be honest,” he abruptly paused and rubbed his hands across his eyes, sniffing and exhaling quite dramatically.
“What’s the problem?”
“Oh there’s no problem, it’s all good. It’s all good because recently I’ve given myself up to the two G’s,” he said to a mildly confused look on Leonard’s face.
“The two G’s?”
“God and the gym,” he clarified.
“Oh well now that you mention it you do look a lot bigger than I remember, looks like it’s going well?” Leonard noted as he could now see that Tyrone’s body was far more angular and developed. As if in acknowledgement of Leonard’s probing eyes, he stretched out his arms and grinned a short, smug grin.
“It is, and it’s sorted me out in a number of ways. You know I was a bit wild back in the day, I mean I wasn’t the biggest party animal but I, I wasn’t always sensible and I did embarrass myself a lot. I’ve been thinking about myself a lot recently, and it’s all thanks to going back to church and taking my workouts more seriously. It’s all about being regular and positive, however, I’ve been told that in order to fully move on I need to seek forgiveness from those I had wronged in the past.”
“That’s a bit dramatic isn’t it? My priest normally tells me to say five Hail Mary’s,”
“Priest? What? No that was from my trainer, he told me, he said: guilt kills gains. How can I give the gym my all if I have distractions bubbling around in the back of my head right? So here I am to confess my sins and to seek forgiveness,”
“I don’t remember you doing anything to wrong me Tyrone?”
“Well, well, well not that you know of. Ok so do you remember in our first year of uni when there was that fire scare in the common room?”
“How could I forget! For some reason both the groundskeeper and the house rep thought…that…it…was…me…” Leonard trailed as he suddenly realised what Tyrone was apologising for; it had been Tyrone all along! When Leonard was in his first year of university, he had been the primary suspect of causing a fire by leaving a lit cigarette in a bin. At the time he had been a heavy smoker and was often seen smoking in and around that particular area, and whilst he wasn’t the only prolific smoker on campus the blame had been levied at him. Ultimately there was no real damage and the threats of expulsion had proved to be empty, however he had been forced to pay for a replacement bin.
“I told them it was you, when in fact it was me. I didn’t stub my cigarette properly, and I just threw you under the bus.”
“I panicked, you were the first person I thought of and I didn’t want to get into trouble. I’d already been fired for stealing drinks from the bar, and I’d just had that argument with those girls next door; you remember them?”
“Yeah, yeah I remember Suzie and Karen.”
“A lot had happened and I thought that if I screwed up again I’d be out, and I knew you’d be alright in the long run; I hoped so anyway. Forget all that though because I’m not trying to make excuses, I just want to say that I’m sorry mate,” he sighed as he spoke and twiddled his thumbs contemplatively; Leonard eyed his now empty glass. He twirled the cup and watched as the last drop of juice snaked around the bottom and its mouth ate its tail.
“I appreciate the honesty I guess,”
“Are we cool?”
“I mean nothing really came of it, and that moment actually convinced me to quit smoking so there’s nothing to cry about. We’re cool Tyrone,” Leonard muttered and Tyrone’s body language visibly loosened, they continued chatting idly for a few more minutes before Tyrone checked the time.
“It’s probably time I headed off but thank you so much for today Leo, I mean it!”
“No problem, honestly I feel better knowing. Don’t be a stranger,”
“Same to you man, oh and a word of advice avoid drinking juice unless you’ve made it yourself. You never know what sort of “E” chemicals and crap they’ve put into it. Get yourself a juicer and make it at home,”
“Are you really trying to tell me that juice is unhealthy? I’m guessing this is more advice from your trainer?”
“What? No, that advice was from my priest.”
“Of course, why on earth would your trainer offer you nutritional advice?” Leonard joked to a look of confusion on Tyrone’s face, and this caused him to chuckle again, “I’ll be seeing you Tyrone.”
“Likewise,” he replied as they clasped hands once more and departed the bar together, only to wander off in opposite directions. Leonard felt quite satisfied with the outcome of their meeting, and as he nestled his key in his car’s ignition he realised that it’d make sense to approach Marta and Paulie in the same direct way. After all, what other option did he have?
Once Leonard had returned home, and left again to pick up Marley from his afterschool football club, he settled in front of the television with the laptop on his lap. It hummed and whirred obnoxiously as it booted up, and as he browsed a variety of websites it grew quite hot and started to bother his thighs. He thought absentmindedly about a rumour he had heard many years ago, that claimed that laptops and mobile phones could deplete your sperm count if in close proximity for too great a period of time. He, nevertheless, kept it planted on his lap because he didn’t have anywhere else to put his laptop, and he also figured that, at the worst, one child was enough for now anyway. The night descended quite suddenly and Leonard become starkly aware that the living room was far too dark, his eyes were straining to read the screen and the television somehow sounded too loud despite the volume remaining unchanged. It seemed to him as good a time as any to hunt down Marta and Paulie, and so he opened a new tab on his browser and traversed to his Facebook page. Fortunately, he was already “friends” with Marta and so he decided it was best to get in touch with her first, and besides if Paulie was in fact in prison he wouldn’t have access to the internet anyway. He opened up his messages and glanced over Tyrone’s impromptu message again, in a bid to find the right sort of phrasing that wouldn’t deter Marta from replying to him. In a manner that had become increasingly common for the young father, Leonard typed out a few drafts before erasing them and typing them out again from scratch. This recent indecisiveness irked him quite considerably as he was a confident and easy-going conversationalist for the most part, and he didn’t understand this sudden sense of doubt and apprehension, nevertheless he soon found the right words and re-read them before clicking ‘send’. The message was as follows:
Long-time no speak! I hope you’ve been well? It has been a long time hasn’t it, probably too long, and maybe if we had kept in touch this message would feel so awkward.
But I have something important to talk to you about, and it’s not entirely pleasant. Marta I was wondering if you had the time to talk about what happened with Paulie, way back when.
I’ll completely understand if you don’t want to respond to this or if I have offended you and I’m truly sorry if I have. However, Paulie’s case has recently be brought to my attention because of my line or work and it’s led to a few questions I can’t answer without your help.
All the best,
He re-read it a few times after sending, before slapping the laptop screen down and heading to his bedroom to begin his nightly ritual. It wasn’t long before he was undressed and had fallen into a serviceable slumber.