Pierce watched shards of colour spread across the café tabletop as he pushed and prodded his glass through small puddles of spilt beer. The prismatic colour was weirdly at odds with the cracked varnish and swollen beer-stained wood of the table. Light and dark. Two sides of a coin. A chance meeting. Fate.
Condensation was pooling into rivulets on the cracked café windowpane by his elbow and flowing down like tears. Perhaps, he thought, it was weeping for the crime of allowing light to spill out into the darkness.
“Hi, Pierce, thought I’d find you here. How’re you doing?”
Pierce looked up at the young woman pulling a chair from his table and making herself comfortable. She threw her coat over the chair and sat down, hitting him full in the face with ‘that’ look.
“Hi Connie. Take a seat why don’t you. You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Hey, I’ve missed you too, sweetheart.”
“You want a drink?”
“Sure, Pierce - why not?”
“Jesus. A glass of wine, I think.”
Pierce shrugged and brought the drinks over, placing them carefully in the dry spots between the puddles on the table.
“You never called me, Pierce.”
“Was I supposed to?”
Connie shrugged and sipped her wine before answering.
“Hey, you weren’t under no orders, but I would’ve appreciated it.”
“Hell, I was going to, and I would’ve,” Pierce hesitated, waving a hand towards the darkness outside and the bridge spanning the Thames, “after tonight.”
Connie sighed. “Listen, you dick, you’ve been inside for four years and the first thing you do is come back here.”
“How could I not?”
Connie stared at him without much sympathy. Pierce closed his eyes; the memory of a young face smiling up at him, innocently taking his hand. Just thirteen. She had trusted him. That trust was severed. Killed within the shadows beneath that bridge. Her last glimpse of her once carefree life the mad glow in the eyes of her rapist, bathed in the light of a crummy café. This café.
Connie’s voice snapped him back from his thoughts.
“You have to break this obsession, Pierce.”
“I don’t think I can.”
“Stop this, Pierce. Right now. You do anything again and they’ll throw away the key.”
“I can’t help myself, Connie. You know that. I have to look for them. I can recognise them.”
Pierce stared at Connie, desperate for some understanding. Her expression was hard, but at least she hadn’t walked out on him. Yet.
Connie was special. They had some shared kinship. She was one of the many girls who earned their living from this very bridge. Not many things shocked Connie. At first she had tried to entice him, considering him a potential punter as he wandered the area where she worked. Then she had ignored him. But gradually she discovered what drove him. Then she began to help him. They became friends. Then lovers.
Pierce buried his face in his hands as images again flared into his mind. A terrified girl pleading as brutal hands beat her into submission, using her cruelly.
Connie drew his hands away from his face.
“Come home with me, now. Leave this place. Let me help you.”
Pierce snorted. “They tried to help in stir, but what can they do? What do they really know? Nothing.”
“You did what you had to, Pierce. I know that. We all do what we have to.”
Pierce slumped back in his chair and stared out towards the bridge and nodded.
A silence built between them. He wondered if Connie would wait, or lose patience and walk out. He wouldn’t blame her. Part of him even wanted her to walk. But Connie reached over and touched him and Pierce felt her warmth infuse him. Watching slender fingers entwined with his, Pierce found he could appreciate the beauty of what he saw. He looked up at her.
“What’s going on beneath that bridge right now, Connie?”
“You can’t stop it happening again, Pierce. You can’t be everywhere.”
“She was so young, Connie. Nobody deserves that. She trusted me. Where was I when he took her? Why wasn’t I there to stop it happening?”
“But you caught the bastard. Those months you spent watching for him eventually paid off. Yes, they sent you down, but it was all they could do in the circumstances. Do it again, and you’ll go down big time. And you might be wrong the next time. Come on, come home with me. The world can do with one less vigilante on the streets tonight.”
Pierce downed his beer and put the empty glass down in the middle of the largest puddle. He nodded almost imperceptibly. They left the café, the darkness and the bridge behind.