The old man put his hands on me, pushed up out of his seat and leaned over towards the two younger men. They were sitting on chairs about a metre away. The room looked bare but for the three men, the three chairs, a cabinet and me. But there were other things in the room.
The old man spoke to the younger man, the one on his right: “Punishment shooting… The clue is in the name, James: ‘punishment’ shooting. How does one punish a dead man? There is no point in attempting to punish a dead man.”
The old man sat back down and rubbed his eyes. They were red and he looked tired. His glasses were on top of me, next to the newspaper which he had read from cover to cover. He put his glasses back on and looked at again at James.
“You shot a dead man in his two knees. A dead man. What were you thinking?”
James didn’t say anything.
The old man went on: “The corpse wasn’t going to get up run to the police as soon as your back was turned. He had a heart attack, or an overdose – or both – and left the bag on the setee. It was a gift, James. A gift! Get in, take the bag and vacate the premises – that’s what you should’ve done.”
James looked cowed. He was hesitant:
“But Doc, you said don’t come back here until…”
The older man raised a hand in the air to quieten the boy. He sucked his teeth and sat down: “Yes, no, you’re right. It is my fault. I told you not to come back until he had holes in his knees.
“I’m sorry James, you’re right. I suppose this is a learning curve for both of us. If you’re going to survive you must learn to adapt. We must share responsibility. My directions were too explicit and left no room for interpretation; your actions now mean that the police will be on the lookout for a gunman and will attempt to comprehend why in God’s name somebody would shoot a dead man in both knees. We must hope that conundrum will perplex them for some time.”
The old man turned to the youngest man; the one who hadn’t spoken: “He is definitely deceased?”
“Yes Doc. Cold to the touch, eyes open, no breathing, no pulse. As dead a thing as ever I’ve seen.”
He nodded at the old man and something unspoken passed between them. Then the youngest got up from his chair and tapped James on the shoulder. They both got up quietly and left. Neither of them spoke.
The old man was alone again in the room. He sighed and opened the cabinet and took out a bottle of Jameson and two tumblers. He filled them both to the brim and placed one on the other side of the table. He took his own glass in hand and clinked the ghost’s in a sombre toast. Then he took out a pocket handkerchief and dabbed at his red eyes, which by now were moist.