Kierans fists didn't slip from the table but I could tell that his palms were ridiculously sweaty and heavy with the weight he was about to share with me.
'During the day, I go out and I gamble, okay? When I say I'm in the garden: I'm gambling. If I go out to town: I'm gambling. Those times I say I need some air and disappear for a couple hours in the night: I'm gambling.'
'Are you saying that you gamble?' I tried to make the situation lighter, but it was clear that my joke went unappreciated.
'This isn't the time.' He hung his head down and if you didn't blink you could almost see his halo slide off and vanish in the dirt. A mouse-like scratch sounded as he pulled up a chair and rested on it, finally allowing his liquefied weak eyes to lay on mine. 'At first it was just a fun way to get some money, make friends and connections- to help us.' He drew in a breath and held it in his throat for a while. 'But... then I started to get good...I started to learn how the others played and so I made higher stakes, I used all my wage and doubled it in a week.' Kieran worked on a market stall a couple times a week, right in the main town, he also tended to other's plots for a small fee or some more food, but I never thought he would do this. I guess I don't really know my brother. I guess I never took the time to. 'People started to notice me and send me to more places and then one day... a couple days ago... I came face to face with one of Caesair's gang members. We never give our identities so I wasn't to know at the time, but I ended up betting my whole tripled wage in a poker game and Caesair's man won.' I tried so hard not to look away from him, but I felt betrayed that he'd been spending our food money, the money we need to live, on pointless and tactless games. It was luck, there was no skill involved, no way he could ever be sure. How could he? 'I couldn't pay him back, I had bet it all, so I had to make myself scarce. I promised him the money soon, but he found me working overtime on the market stall. He was there in the flesh to demand it and that's where I saw you and... well'
'I know' that's all I could say. I was angry, furious even and yet for the second time today and probably ever, I was speechless.
'I know how it sounds, but it wasn't meant to be like that. At first I did it for us, for you! But then I just got caught up in the thrill or something, I don't know. And then it was about me and building a reputation and... I'm just sorry Mary.' I knew he was, but it didn't feel like it.
'What else have you done? Why was Bu- that man so afraid of you?'
'Oh, he owes me a bit of money.'
'Why don't you get it back?'
'I told you! It became about the sport, the game, money wasn't my primary motive anymore. I'd rather him live in fear of me without reason.'
'Couldn't you pay Caesair with what he owes?' Kieran stifled a hysterical nervous laugh at my question.
'It wouldn't cover the half of it.'
'It's a start.' I tried to persuade him, but it was impossible.
Kieran stared at the door for a while, clearly still anxious that Buckley was hearing every word. Why was he so distracted? Knowing what I knew about Caesair, there would be some catch, something would have to happen at the end of those three days to set Kieran on edge and force him to be scared and do whatever dirty deed it took to pay him back. The thing about Caesair was that he knew things. Unlike Kieran, he already had connections across the whole city and there was no escaping him. What Caesair wanted, Caesair could get- even if you lived on the furthest sides of the pit he could find you and you really really didn't want that.
'Kieran...' His head jerked back to me. 'There's one thing I still don't understand though.'
His eyes darted from point to point, joining up the dots of my facial expression.
'Well, what happens if you don't give him the money in two days time?' I asked, fearing for the answer. As much of a complete dick he'd been in this situation, he was still my brother and I didn't want him to die. Kieran's fragile face faced mine and his lip trembled in a slash of light that rose from under the door.
'Then Caesair will come and get you.' he breathed
'K-kill me?' the words made my tongue numb, like it had been cut out already.
'No' Kierans voice shook with fear and guilt 'not kill you'.
Our eyes met directly and he glared at me with concern etched across his skin; "I'm sorry" was tattooed across his pulsating forehead. No more words left our lips because they didn't need to. We both knew that if Caesair caught me he would do worse than just kill or torture me.