As she did the night before, she waited until he was just about to unlock his door.
It made him jump and spin, and lurch to the right. There was a splash of metal, his keys falling from his grasp and smashing onto the tiles.
“Christ, Jane. You scared me.”
She was lounging in the swing seat, perched like a sentinel, watching the comings and goings of Toantown; not that there was much to watch. She had spied Jim Hallaron’s listing silhouette from way down the street… had heard his off key brogue Irish singing from even farther afield. It was a remarkable thing, Hallaron’s Irish tongue—you’d only ever guess that he was from Irish stock when he was drunk.
“Had a good night?” Jane goaded.
“A hard day’s night,” Hallaron conceded. He proceeded a couple of steps towards Jane, a hand cupped over his eyes to ward off the worst of the burning light bulbs he had installed after Tuesday’s attack. “Shouldn’t you be in bed for school tomorrow? If I was teaching…” he glanced at his watch, “…I’d be abed by now.”
“I was waiting for you, actually.”
“For me? I can’t say I’m flattered. Does your mother know you’re up?”
“Don’t be silly! My mother went to bed hours ago.”
She saw Jim nod his head sagely, as if the answer should have been more than obvious.
“We’ve been told the news Mr. Hallaron.”
“Oh, aye. The news.” The accent rang crystalline through the cold air. Jane found it hard to believe Jim had lived in Australia for twenty-four years. He seemed deep in thought for a few seconds, his eyes distant. Then, he looked up at Jane. “What nonsense did they tell you lot?”
“Not much. Lachlan and Benny were suspended. You’ve been… how did he put it… given respite until the situation is sorted out.”
“Were those Mr. Baker’s words?”
A thin whistle escaped from Jim’s lips. He looked again as if he were contemplating something of earth moving proportions, an un-gloved hand, unusual for Jim Hallaron, speculatively stroking the bottom of his jaw. It was a pose Jane had seen countless times in class: the thinking pose, the reflective pose. On most other occasions, this process would move Jane. Only tonight, given the ugly flaws on Jim’s face—flaws that Jane noticed were healing quite well, thank you very much—that very process seemed to be a parody of itself.
“That man,” Jim stated, appearing to choose his words carefully. “Is a twat.”
The word completed the parody. That ugly, four letter word, uttered from a man whose English, though sometimes tainted with that Celtic lilt, was better than most. That four letter word was a fair representation of the inner turmoil that was no doubt swirling about Jim’s poor head. But for Jane, it was the sound of the wind dying in her sails.
For some time, there passed between them a deathly silence, borne on the frozen wind and that last callous statement. Jane was watching Jim, just as Jim watched the ground. Whatever hope Jane had for her mentor was dissolving at a rate she could hardly bear to stomach.
“What are you going to do?” she asked, her voice piercing the envelope of silence.
Jim’s shrug was barely noticeable beneath his bulky jacket. “I haven’t given anything much thought of late.” He glanced up at her for the briefest of seconds, before lowering his gaze once more, finding his boots more interesting.
“You’re going to fight this aren’t you?”
“To the best of my ability, Jane,” he told her, though the flat cadence of his voice suggested otherwise.
She regarded him closely then, trying to compare the messages his body language sent with those of his words. That they didn’t coincide was really no big surprise to her. It hurt, sure, but wasn’t unexpected.
“You can’t let them win,” she said.
“Let who win? Lachlan and Benny?”
“Well... them... and Mr. Baker...”
“They won’t win,” Jim said.
“How can you be so sure?”
There was another short pause, broken by a long drawn out sigh. “I can’t,” Jim admitted. “I just can’t.”