For Better Or Worse

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Tina O'Farrell knew her husband was dodgy, but that was part of the attraction. As gang warfare swept across the city she wondered just who she was married to.

Tina O’Farrell was having a bad day. Everything was going wrong today. She’d had a flat tyre on the way to the office that morning. That seemed to have been some kind of omen, a hint of the kind of day that lay ahead. Instead of changing the tyre and continuing on the way to work, she should have sorted the car, and then done a U turn and headed back home. She had reached the office to find problem after problem.

After an awful morning, when lunchtime finally came, she text her husband, Tom.

Having a bad day. Proper fed up.

Tom would cheer her up. He would respond with either a funny comment to make her laugh, or a gushing, lovely response that would bring a tear to her eye. He might even arrive home with a bunch of flowers that evening. Despite his apparently dodgy business dealings, and the murky world he moved in, when it came to Tina, Tom was the sweetest, most generous man. The Manchester underworld may have seen a different side to him, but for her, he was a good husband.

Fancy going out for tea tonight? That will cheer you up, hun. came the reply.

She responded that a meal out sounded wonderful.

The Apothecary?

Tina’s favourite city-centre restaurant was usually booked up three months in advance. You didn’t just decide at lunchtime to dine there that evening. The Apothecary was the kind of place you booked in February for your birthday in August. She replied saying that they’ll never get a table at such short notice. Tom’s reply was short. Let me make a call.

Five minutes later Tina’s mobile phone pinged again.

Table booked for seven-thirty.

Tina smiled. She may have been having an awful day, but she had a meal in her favourite restaurant to look forward to. That would keep her going. Her husband had done it again. He had pulled a few strings, had a word in the right ear, and greased the right palm, to get what he wanted. No wonder he was the successful businessman. He had such a ferocious drive and focus, that he would be a success in whatever field he chose. Not that Tina knew much about what he did for a living. She had actually asked him once, back before they were married, what exactly it that he did for a living was. Tom had given her a stern, deadly serious, look.

‘I can’t tell you about my business. It’s just safer that way. The circles I move in. you really don’t want to get involved with these people.’

‘Isn’t it dangerous for you?’

‘I can take care of myself.’ Tom had laughed.

 

Just after six o’clock that evening, Tom’s BMW pulled onto their large drive. He pushed the front door shut behind him and placed his briefcase on the floor. Tina called from upstairs that she was getting ready, her voice a squeal of excitement. Tom poured himself a large measure of Irish single malt whiskey in a cut-glass tumbler, and went to find his wife.

Having showered, Tom dressed in a designer shirt and swapped his daytime Rolex watch for his evening Rolex.

‘Are you looking forward to the meal?’ he asked.

‘I so am. I only had half my sandwich at lunchtime. I wanted to be famished so I can make the most of the wonderful food.’

 

The bar area that served as the waiting area was packed with people. The air was thick with chatter and laughter. Tina soaked it all in as they went to the maître d’. The restaurant just had a buzz about it, an ambiance. When you were here you felt like somebody special. With the other finely-dressed diners, the gentle jazz music in the background, and the amazing food and wine, the grit and dirt of the rest of the world seemed like a long way away. It was as though the restaurant was in a bubble that the real world couldn’t burst.

The guy in front of them at the maître d’ counter was huffing and puffing, gesticulating wildly, arms flailing in frustration.

‘I have been waiting almost two hours and you still can’t tell me when our table will be ready. We’ve had the table booked for weeks. This is ridiculous.’

‘I’m sorry, sir. We will be with you as soon as we can. If you would like to have another drink in the bar, a member of our team will be with you as quickly as possible.’

The guy shook his head in disgust and trudged off to give his friends the bad news that there was no sign of their table being ready any time soon.

The maître d’ smiled warmly when he spotted Tom and Tina.

‘Mr O’Farrell, thank you so much for joining us this evening. Your table is ready now.’

‘Thank you, Charles. Appreciated.’ Tom said warmly.

As they were being shown to their table, Tina glanced over at the disgruntled diners still waiting to be seated. In the bustling restaurant, the diners were chatting, many enthusing over the food. The place was packed. They were shown to a large booth on the far side of the room. Tina was taken aback. On such a busy evening, with so many customers waiting to be seated, Tina and her husband should have been given a poky table for two, not a luxurious booth which could have seated a party of six or seven people.

Tom nodded, thank you, to the maître d’, and slid into the booth. Tina shrugged to herself, and slid in beside her husband. Moments later, with Tina still reeling from the special treatment they were being given, the waitress appeared. She placed a bottle of champagne in a silver ice bucket at the end of their table.

‘Sorry, love.’ Tina said. ‘We haven’t ordered that.’

‘It’s on the house, madam.’

Not for the first time, Tina wondered quite what her husband was involved in to warrant such respect, such special treatment. Should she be worried about their safety? Should she be afraid of her husband? How well did she really know him? Could she honestly say what he was capable of? Was he a bad man, a gangster, a villain? It certainly seemed that way. If she tried to push him on the matter, he would refuse to discuss his business. It’s my business, he would say and nothing more.

Tina took a sip of the expensive champagne and looked at her husband. He seemed such a powerful, serious presence. He was treated with the utmost respect wherever they went. She had lived in the city for long enough. She knew the type of person he was. Words like gangster and villain came to her again. The words rolled around her head. That was the type of person she was married to. If there had been a checklist to see if you were married to a mobster, then Tom would have ticked a lot of boxes. Unexplained wealth from mysterious sources? Tick. Keeping odd hours, leaving in the middle of the night. Tick. Treated with respect bordering of fear. Tick. It all added up.

But she knew something else. She liked it. There was something about a villain, something attractive, alluring. In her younger days she’d been attracted to bad lads, and had dated a string of dubious characters. Then she’d met Tom. He had seemed in a different league to the lads she’d previously dated. He was a man, not a boy. He made a very good living from secret, dodgy dealings. This wasn’t stealing a car or selling a bit of wee. Tom could have been Manchester’s answer to Pablo Escobar for all she knew. And she was actually very proud of that fact.

A few nights later, while she was sleeping beside her husband, Tina was woken by her husband’s mobile phone ringing. While she rolled over, eyes shut tight, Tom sat up in bed and answered the phone.

‘Yeah?’

Tom listened to the person on the other end of the line.

‘Keep him there.’ he snapped. ‘And don’t touch anything. I’m on my way.’

Tom tossed back the duvet and dressed quickly in his suit. He threw on his long, dark overcoat and grabbed his briefcase.

‘Be careful.’ Tina called out.

‘Don’t worry about me. Go back to sleep.’

Tina felt the thrill of excitement and danger. Where was Tom going at three o’clock in the morning? Tom regularly left in the middle of the night to take care of whatever business he was involved in. What possible business could he have in the middle of the night? Still, Tom knew what he was doing. It was his business and he was doing very well at it.

And so the life Tina was used to, the fine dining, the expensive gifts, the surprises, went on. But so did the business calls that started with him saying to her, I need to get this. Tom’s business was not the 9-5. It was a dangerous world he moved in, she knew that. But it afforded them the luxury, the jewellery, the clothing, the detached house, the top of the range cars with personalised plates, the long haul holidays and the villa in Majorca.

One morning Tina was having breakfast of tea and toast, before leaving for the office. Tom had taken another call during the night and had left. Still not home, he would probably return after Tina had left for work and catch up on his interrupted sleep. The headlines came over the radio. The top story was the murder of a man in Manchester. The victim was in his forties and the incident had all the hallmarks of a gangland execution. While the victim didn’t sound like her husband, it all seemed to real, too close for comfort. The idea of Tom being a gangster was one thing. The reality seemed suddenly very frightening and very near their five bedroom home.

With cold, trembling fingers, Tina switched the radio off. She took a sip of tea and told herself she had nothing to worry about. She was worrying over nothing, jumping to conclusions. It might not be anything to do with her husband’s activities. With the headline still on her mind, she grabbed her coat and left for work.

Every time the murder popped in her head, Tina told herself she was being ridiculous. She knew that if she was to ask her husband if he was connected to the murder, if he knew anything about it at all, Tom would laugh and assure her she was stressing over nothing.

A week later, just as the murder was playing less and less on her mind, and as she was almost back to enjoying the fine lifestyle once again, there was another killing. In Manchester city centre, outside Sparks restaurant, Terry Paulson was gunned down. The news bulletins used language like in cold blood and mentioned how Paulson was one of the kingpins of the Manchester underworld. Again, at the time mentioned, on the night in question, Tom had been called out with work. Could it be that he was tied up  in all this? Stop it, she told herself. All of this could be coincidence. She knew that her husband was linked to gangland Manchester, but she had no proof whatsoever that he was involved in the killings in any way.

For the next two months, the killings continued with sickening regularity. All of the victims were adult males with suspected links to the criminal underworld. The police released statements regularly, assuring the general public that they had no need to be afraid, that while they were working on stopping the attacks, the killings seemed to be targeted and the victims were all well known to the police. Rumours of went around the city of a gang war raging across Manchester.

When the latest victim was slayed in a kebab shop less than half a mile away from their home, Tina decided enough was enough. She had to do something. She had been turning a blind eye for too long. Admittedly, until recently, she had found the idea of Tom being the villain attractive. But, right now, she found it nothing but terrifying.

Should she phone the police? If she told them everything, then, even if they arrested Tom, at least he’d be safe. She couldn’t just wait for his name to make the headlines. She couldn’t do nothing and wait for him to be the latest gangster to be gunned down. And if he was the one doing the killing, then Tina had every right to go to the police. If he was the killer, then he deserved whatever happened to him. It was one thing earning a living outside of the law, it was another to go on a killing-spree across the city.

On a rainy Tuesday evening, Tina sipped her tea at the kitchen table. She held the china cup in her fingers, enjoying the warmth, lost in thought. There was the jangle of keys in the front door.

‘Hiya, love.’ Tom called.

Tina sighed, unable to bring herself to respond. How could she act like everything was fine with all this going on? This charade, this façade, had to stop.

Tom found her in the kitchen, sitting in the twilight gloom. He flicked on the light.

‘You okay, love?’ he asked.

‘Not really, no.’

Tom paced across the kitchen and poured himself a large measure of whiskey. He took the chair facing Tina and gave her a hard stare.

‘What?’ he growled.

‘You know what! It’s all over the news. They’re calling it gang warfare.’

‘Tina, you have nothing to worry about.’

‘You keep saying that, but how can you be sure? How do I know it won’t be your name making the headlines next?’

‘I’ll be fine. We will be fine.’

‘You don’t know that. I’m not sleeping, not eating.’ she shook her head.

Tom sighed and took a hit of liquor. Tina watched him as he contemplated his next move like a chess player. Finally, he threw his hands up in resignation.

‘You want to know the truth?’

‘Yes.’

‘Once I tell you, there’s no going back. You will never think of me in the same way.’

‘I have to know.’

Tom gave a curt nod. He placed his briefcase on the table. He slid it over to face Tina.

‘Once you open the case, that’s it. Some things you cannot un-see.’

Tom slumped back in the chair, like a criminal folding under police questioning. Tina wondered what horror she would be uncovering. Maybe ignorance was bliss. Maybe she was better off not knowing.

No, the not-knowing, the being kept in the dark, was utter torture. At least once she knew exactly what she was dealing with, exactly who she was married to, then she would know what danger they were in and see what they could do about it.

She took a deep breath and clicked the locks on the case open. She lifted the lid slowly.

She stared in confusion for a long moment, before reaching in and rummaging in the contents. She went through wires, motherboards, computer parts and tools.

‘Computer parts?’

‘Now you know.’ Tom shrugged. ‘I work in IT.’

‘Don’t lie to me. I deserve the truth.’

‘I am telling you the truth for once.’

‘I don’t understand.’

Tom took a long hit of whiskey.

‘When we first met you said you were attracted to bad lads and that all your previous boyfriends had been a bit dodgy. So, I kind of played the part.’

‘What about the money, the lifestyle, the night time calls?’

‘I run my own IT firm. I am on twenty-four hour call-out. These days it’s big business to make sure company computers keep running.’

‘What about all the perks? The last minute tables in the Apothecary?’

‘I designed their website and the app for them. I’ve brought them a lot of customers. The App-othecary that was my idea.’

Tom’s phone rang. He gave an apologetic look, grabbed his briefcase and left the room. As Tina tried to figure out how she felt about the man she had been married to all these years, she heard Tom on the phone in the hallway.

‘Have you tried turning it off and on again?’


Submitted: October 21, 2021

© Copyright 2021 CTPlatt. All rights reserved.

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AdamCarlton

This is such a great shaggy dog story!

Thu, October 21st, 2021 3:55pm

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