The long ginger braids danced as the girl shook her head furiously, making Joe finally risk a smile.
"No, nor do I," Joe leaned forward so that his face was very close to Ophelia's. "Are you scared of me?" He watched her forcing herself not to flinch away.
"A... little bit."
Joe sat back again. So different from the other girl. Twice this one's age but who had burst out crying if he had so much as looked at her. This one had balls.
"Don't be. I'm not going to hurt you." There it was again, Joe wrinkled his nose. "You stink, though. Have you shit yourself?"
Ophelia blushed bright red and clasped her hands together in her lap. Her braids fell forward as she looked down.
"They wun't let me go to the lavvy."
Joe had to dig deep like he had often had to with Arne.
After everything else, the kidnappers had put the little girl through, not to let her use the toilet was evidence that they just didn't care. She wasn't a person to them, just a commodity.
When Ophelia scooted backwards away from him with 'that' look on her face, Joe found what he needed to push his anger further back into its box.
His muscles relaxed, and he was Joe again, even so, he couldn't look at her.
"I'm sorry. I wasn't mad at you... Sorry if I, you know, scared you... It's a..." Joe shrugged. "It's just something we do."
Incredibly, Ophelia crawled forward again, and Joe saw the fear lift from her features. He swallowed the lump that had suddenly appeared in his throat.
"Listen, kid." Joe made sure he had her attention before continuing. "I will never hurt you. Never... I promise."
It only took a second, then the four-year-old just nodded.
"Okay," she said simply. Then, as if to herself, she added; "I'm hungry."
The child's simple acceptance of what had just happened and her faith in his promise that he wouldn't hurt her gave Joe hope that, this time,
there wouldn't be a tragic end to what he was trying to do.
when Joe had been trying everything he could think of to stop the dangerous explosions of temper; when all the drugs had failed; when the ropes and eventually chains couldn't even hold him,
Joe had met a fellow berserker, a man called Max, who seemed to have conquered the problem.
Max had invited Joe to his house and when Joe found the address, it was in one of the wealthier parts of town.
Max had opened the door and beckoned Joe into a comfortable home, typical of the type Joe might visit in the small hours of the morning.
After pleasantries, max had taken Joe into a room and shown him a glass-fronted cabinet of the kind old ladies kept their pretty knick-knacks on display.
Max's 'knick-knacks' were little horses, only two or three inches long, delicately spun from thin glass. The horses had manes and tails of gold and jewels for eyes.
Joe had recognised the craftsmanship that must have gone into making these delicate little objects. Worth a pretty penny, he had thought. Then he noticed.
Every horse in the cabinet, maybe fifty in all, was broken. Most had at least one leg missing, a few just the tail. Two or three were smashed entirely. Joe had looked at Max.
"Lost yer rag?"
Max had nodded.
"Yes, over the years." Max reached inside his jacket and carefully pulled on a silver chain around his neck.
Joe's amazement showed on his face. On the end of the chain had been another little glass horse, but intact. Max stood it on the palm of his hand, admiring it with a half-smile on his face.
"Almost all of the horses in the cabinet were broken within the first few weeks. As the months passed, I broke less and less. This one I have worn for two years now."
Joe had looked at him. How could anyone, never mind a berserker, wear one of those incredibly delicate little things around their neck, and not break it?
The question must have been written all over Joe's face because Max smiled at him as he carefully replaced the little horse within the folds of his shirt.
"This is my precious thing. My very breakable, precious thing. Each of these horses cost a small fortune so I am highly motivated not to turn berserk."
Joe hadn't been sure that max was getting at.
"So, you want me to buy a glass horse?"
"It doesn't have to be a glass horse, my friend. But it does have to be precious to you. Maybe not just because whatever it is is very expensive," He grinned.
"Although that is certainly a good motivator. But it has to be precious to you in some way. So that you would really hate to lose it," he indicated the display case with its ruined contents.
"Or break it."
Joe had nodded, understanding seeping through his thick skull.
"Something that would overcome the rage you mean? Pull me back from the brink?"
Max's face had broken into a huge, beaming smile.
"Exactly that. For me, it is these beautiful and expensive horses. For you...?" He shrugged, letting the question hang in the air.
Joe had left max's home deep in thought. Over the next few weeks, he had tried many things. Expensive things, delicate things, even some of the few remaining mementoes of his childhood.
Nothing, however, had worked. In fact, losing each 'precious thing' had just made him more angry. Eventually, Joe had given up.
Then, last year, he had taken a job a job as a bodyguard to a wealthy nobleman's young son.
The idea being, to use the position to become familiar with the nobleman's country estate before robbing the place.
It was an old and trusted technique, it just meant that you could never show your face in that particular province again.
But Joe had begun to enjoy the job. The lad wasn't one of the stuck-up little shits typical of the gentry. He was a good kid, thoughtful, kind and not at all up his own arse.
Then the day came when they had been crossing a bridge in a buggy, Joe doing the driving, and the bridge had collapsed under them.
The fall of twenty feet had broken Joe's wrist, and the little lord was unconscious and bleeding profusely from where a broken piece of the buggy had pierced his thigh.
The pain in Joe's wrist was enough to bring out the berserk response, and it was already happening when, beyond the red mist, Joe had spotted the unconscious boy.
Joe had realised that if he went berserk, then the kid would die. The berserk Joe would run away from the scene, and keep running until the pain and anger stopped.
At that moment, Joe's fondness for the boy had fought with the anger... and won.
With a massive effort of will that Joe hadn't known he was capable of, he forced the anger away by concentrating on saving the youngster's life above all else.
Joe had been amply rewarded for tending to the boy's wound, saving his life and bringing him home. The robbery was postponed.
Joe had left the noble's employment a couple of weeks later and returned to the city.
He had found something that had been so precious to him, that it had come before the anger and beaten it down.
Joe had found the 'precious thing' that worked for him, now the berserker needed to find another. That autumn, Joe had come across the eight-year-old survivor of a bandit attack.
Now he was looking down at the fourth precious thing... Who was apparently hungry. Joe looked at her.
"You know what, carrot top, so am I." He leaned forward again. "But not for little girls."
The enormous half-giant climbed to his feet.
"Come on then, if it's not you, let's see what is gonna be dinner... I quite fancy fish."