Cover of Deadlock Deadlock

Chapter 1

The hairs on the back of Michael Cahill's neck rose at the sound of the doorbell. He raked a hand through his sandy blonde hair and dismissed the uncertainty. It was Sunday night. It wouldn't be a patient. His patients knew their boundaries.

Michael had bought the house and modified the back door to work as an entrance for his practise. Sometimes it unnerved him to know that all his patients knew where he lived, but he liked the convenience of working from home. Besides which, of the other properties he had looked at in his quest for a respectable office, no other potential landlord particularly wanted his clients using their property either. His patients were rarely violent but people had strange ideas about the world of psychology.

As Michael pulled the door open, the first person he saw was his brother, Philip, with a swollen right cheek and a bulging left eye. Michael instinctively reached out to him but was held back by a large hand with short stubby fingers belonging to one of the two bulky men Phil was wedged between. One was slightly taller than Michael, had to be about six-two and with a footballer's body - broad shoulders and narrow hips. The other was slightly shorter, perhaps five-ten, but wider and with no neck. Everyone was taller than Phil at that moment who was standing, or rather slouching, about a head shorter than he normally did.

Michael glanced down at the hand on his chest and noticed that the knuckles were red and swollen. The other man's hands looked the same. The skin wasn't broken or bleeding so they might have worn gloves, but they had both beaten Michael's little brother. They'd taken turns.

Michael felt suitably intimidated. He was in reasonable shape. He jogged every other day and ate healthily, but he didn't exactly have a well-defined six-pack.

"Can we come in?" the footballer asked politely.

Neither of them looked like people Michael would want to have in his home.

"We can talk out here," Michael replied, his eyes on his brother. Beyond the swelling on his face, Michael couldn't see what injuries Phil had. There was a lot of dried blood obscuring his features.

Michael pulled the door closed behind him. The movement brought him closer to the men than he would have ever wanted to be, but whatever happened next, this was a respectable neighbourhood where people looked out for each other. He was pretty sure he didn't want privacy.

Phil was partly handed over, partly pushed, and partly fell into Michael's hands. It was then that he noticed Phil was barely conscious. After any silver lining he could find, he was willing to admit that 'barely' was better than not at all.

"Your brother needs to discuss some issues with you, Michael."

Already on a first name basis then. How nice.

"Who are you?"

Michael was losing his grip on Phil, so he gently lowered him to the floor so that he could lean against the front door. He didn't want to turn his back on the two men while doing it though and the movement was awkward.

"My name is Smith and this is Jones," the footballer said.

It had to be a joke.

"We work for Mr Trent and Phil here owes us some money. We've been quite reasonable with him about this, but he doesn't seem to want to give us what we're due. Now, are you sure you don't want to invite us in and discuss this somewhere more private, or are you comfortable with the neighbours watching?"

Let the neighbours see. Michael might end up needing the witnesses.

"Here's just fine."

The footballer, Smith, took a deep breath showing his disapproval, and then continued. "Phil assures us that you will be able to help him out with his shortfall."

Oddly enough, Michael wasn't surprised. This wasn't the first time he'd needed to help his brother out. It was the first time violence had ever been involved though. The first time he knew of at least.

"How much does he owe?"

Smith nodded, apparently appreciating Michael's desire to get to the heart of the matter.

"Thirty thousand."

Michael's eyes widened. It was more than he'd been anticipating. What the hell had Phil been thinking?

"How much is due?" Michael asked, aware that his voice sounded a little shaky. What if he couldn't pay the money back? What would these men do? He'd closed the door behind him but he hadn't locked it. It wouldn't be hard for them to force him and his brother into the house, particularly when Phil was more or less falling in that direction anyway.

"All of it," Smith said, in a matter of fact way that invited no argument.

All of it. Naturally.

"And what are you expecting from me, exactly? Even if I had that amount of money to my name, you must know I wouldn't have it here with me right now."

"Of course. Unlike young Phil here, we are reasonable men." Strange that he referred to him as 'young'. At 25, Philip was six years younger than Michael and also the youngest in their family, but Smith looked to be about the same age.

"So, what do you want?"

"How much can you pay?"

"I don't know. I'd need to look at my account," he replied cautiously. However much he was worth, was no business of theirs.

Smith smiled.

"I understand. When I was younger, I always knew exactly how much money I had in my account. Want to know why?"

"I guess you kept your eye on it better than me."

"I doubt that. I always knew because it wasn't much. Now, either you don't know because you don't need to watch for the time of the month when your account hits zero. Or you just don't want me to know how much money you have. Either way, it's clear Phil's brought us to the right person," he said, sharing a smile with his partner.

Jones didn't smile back. The man only seemed to have one expression and it wasn't a pleasant one.

Michael didn't share Smith's confidence. He had a respectable job and his own practise, but the practise was new. Impressive earnings couldn't yet be proven. Money was tight. He'd acted as a guarantor on a loan for Phil in the past, which Phil had defaulted on, and Michael was now paying off. Coupled with his mortgage and considering the current financial crisis, a loan application did not look promising. And he knew for a fact that he didn't have anywhere near thirty thousand in the bank.

"That's fine, Michael. You can take the time to check your accounts tomorrow. In the meantime though, your brother stays with us."

"No. You don't have to take him," Michael said quickly, stepping in front of his brother, his arms raised as if to hold both men back. "I'll check the accounts first thing."

"I know you will," Smith said. With minimal effort, he pushed Michael to the side pinning him against the wall of the house, wedging his forearm under Michael's chin to keep him in place. Michael gripped the arm that was pushing against his windpipe, as Jones grabbed Phil in a fireman's lift. Phil started moaning and struggling weakly in protest.

"And because I know you will, Phil won't come to any further harm," Smith continued. "Of course, the banks open at nine o'clock, so we'll call you tomorrow around ten. And we'll be expecting you to have some money with you by then. Now, do you see how reasonable we're being?"

Michael watched helplessly while Phil was carried back to the van waiting at the curb. He seemed to fully come to as the van door opened and Jones threw him in. Phil yelped in pain as he landed awkwardly, rolling into the other side of the van before coming to a stop.

"Well, no more harm than is necessary, anyway," Smith said.

Was that meant to be a smile?

"Please, just leave him here," Michael said, struggling to get the words out with his jaw practically jammed shut, and sweating with the effort. He could barely breathe. He couldn't swallow at all. "He's my little brother."

"Then I'm sure you'll be motivated to do the right thing in order to protect him. Get to the bank first thing, Michael. Check your statements tonight and we'll call you tomorrow."

"What if..." He stopped to try and take in a breath. Smith patiently waited for him to spit the words out, but he didn't reduce the pressure on Michael's neck to aid the conversation along. "I might not have it all. I'll check, but..."

"Then you can pay off what you can and the rest of the debt will belong to you. We'll work out a way to let you pay it off. Of course, the interest might run high..."

Of course.

"But as long as you're able to pay off some of it, you should be able to buy your brother back. Perhaps even in one piece." He said it as if it was meant to be a joke. Michael's gut twisted painfully as darkness began to cloud his vision.

Smith released him suddenly and Michael dropped to his knees, his hand massaging his neck. He desperately wanted to say something else, something that might convince them to leave Phil behind. He looked up at Smith. The bastard looked so calm, like he did this all the time. He probably did. The thought was worrying.

"I need my brother to stay here," was all he could say, but his words lacked both the force and conviction required to make the 'demand' stand for anything. It didn't help that he was on his hands and knees either.

"You keep that in mind tomorrow while you're counting your pennies, Michael. It's a nice house you've got here and, from what Phil has told us, the two of you have a nice family. Now, like I've said, we're reasonable men and we haven't bothered your mum with this. Doesn't mean we won't."

Michael's stomach twisted some more.

"We'll talk to each other tomorrow."

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© Jacqueline Chandler 2014
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