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Rite of Passage

Rite of Passage

A while back I set myself the challenge of writing a 6 word story every day. So, for 6 months, that’s what I’ve been doing. I’d like to thank everyone that liked, commented, shared and hopefully enjoyed them; it was an immense pleasure.

It has been very busy writing and performing-wise recently, with lots of poems and stories of varying length to get down on paper. This seems as apposite a time as any to post one I shared recently at the aptly-named Read Your Words.

Yesterday I began a new, much longer writing project. It is likely to have me chained to my desk for a few months, which I must say I am masochistically quite looking forward to. And I hope to share some of this new story with you soon. But until then…

This was it. All he had to do was hold his nerve and he’d be in. Just one small step and he’d be a fully- fledged member of the Carlton Street Crew. Not that he lived on Carlton Street. Close enough, though. And Danny was more interested in where his boys were going than where they came from. What they could bring to the table. Which was why Jake was doing this here; this now.

There were about a thousand places he’d rather be, but if he wanted to prove he had the stones, this was what it would take. His initiation. His chance to show Danny he was more than just a playground bully. That he had the brains and the bottle to be part of the big league.

The warehouse was on one of the quieter streets just behind the old railway tracks. He couldn’t remember trains ever running on them, and he’d lived round here all his life. Rusty rails, brittle, orange and flaking. Weeds stood tall and proud between the disused tracks. Prickling thistles, soft downy rosebay willow herb. Desolate beauty.

But the wonders of nature were pretty far from Jake’s mind right now. He had to get in, get the job done, and get out. The warehouse was just one of many that Danny used to store things in. Those odd little items that he needed keeping safe, but at the same time wanted no ties to if the boys in blue came to call. Plausible deniability. But there was something he needed now.

Despite the light early evening breeze Jake could feel sweat pouring off him, plastering his T-shirt to his bony back. He wore only a thin jacket, not thick enough to make any difference to his body temperature. It might have seemed a little out of place if this June had been much warmer, but pockets were essential. And gloves. He pulled his dark, unbranded cap low over his forehead and picked up the pace. Scuffed trainers, also unlabelled. No flash, no identifying marks. That was Danny, right there. Always thinking. Always using his smarts to keep his boys out of trouble. Jake kicked a couple of times at the dust, but he kept moving. He knew if he stopped now he might not start again. And then it really would be all over.

He’d expected security to be a bit better but as Danny had remarked, it was an empty warehouse. Anything of value had been pinched long ago. The dilapidated old building was sure to be condemned pretty soon. All it housed was the temporary home of whoever happened to be currently squatting there. Kids would come sometimes to drink, sniff canisters of hippy crack, or worse. Or for a dare. But there weren’t many kudos to be gained from breaking in as the lock was laughable and the door on its last hinges.

Jake took a quick look round to check he hadn’t attracted any attention, then pushed the door open. The screech as the hinges protested seemed deafening to him, but he had to assume it wasn’t. That his nerves were simply making him hyperaware. He tried to embrace it. This was a good thing, helped to keep you sharp.

Inside the warehouse was cool and smelled of damp. He wished he’d brought a thicker jacket. And certainly wished he’d thought to bring a torch. The darkness hung heavy round him, stifling all of his senses.

Calm. Steady. Easy. He tried to will his heart to slow down, his breath to cease gasping, his nerves to stop jangling. This was a simple job. He just had to hold on. Gradually his eyes adjusted a little to the gloom. Virtually all of the high windows had been smashed long ago but even they were few and far between, letting in only fragments of light. Still, if he were patient, he knew his eyes would settle. The room began to drift into focus. Jake could make out the shapes of the giant shelving units, huge metal racks that had long since been emptied. A few more seconds to orient himself, then it was time to crack on. He knew what he needed lay in the farthest corner. Typical.

Carefully he began to navigate his way through the maze of discarded pallets, mounds of rubbish and drifts of old newspaper. Once he had started, he found it easier than he had expected and when he looked back was surprised how far he had come. In just a few minutes he found the corner, found the rack, found the box. The lid was stiff, but not locked. Jake eased it open, nervous at the contents.

The package lay there, quiet, unassuming, just as Danny had said. Carefully he unfolded the dark cloth to check all was as it should be. It was. He picked it up, unable to resist the temptation. The weight in his hand was unfamiliar, unsettling, yet he could already sense how it would soon become so comfortable. Second nature. He gazed at it for just a few seconds more before wrapping the package back up. Fumbling slightly, he shoved it as deep into his jacket pocket as he dared, then closed the lid of the box.

It seemed to take just seconds to reach the exit, and within a moment he was back outside into the pleasant daylight of a summer evening. Welcome fresh air.

His instructions had been to head straight to the underpass. Here he would hand over the package and, he hoped, receive a hero’s praise. It was a good twenty minute walk, which usually he would welcome. But now with every step he was conscious of the weight he carried. Of what would happen if he were caught. Thankfully he made it to the underpass without incident, and waited for his contact to show.

The minutes ticked by. Danny’s man was late. Jake began to hop from foot to foot to keep warm, the evening definitely cooling now. Still no sign. Should he go? What if Danny thought he’d done a runner? Or, worse, what if this was a set-up? Jake reached deep into his pocket and felt the reassuring weight. Probing fingers unwrapped the fabric and he could feel the cool metal against his skin. Safe. Secure. He couldn’t resist pulling it out once more, feeling how easily it moulded itself to his hand. He posed, imagining how it would feel to use. How quick. How easy.

Just then a noise startled him. Someone was coming! But he could already see it wasn’t Danny’s man. Instead, a woman walking slowly but unstoppably towards him. A yellow sundress, shades and a pale cardigan warding off the summer evening chill. Her heels tapped on the concrete path, echoing loudly in the tunnel. Too late, he realised he was facing her, directly in her line of sight. Even in the gathering dusk, she would be able to see him, to see what he was doing. To identify him.

He was barely conscious of his arm rising, the gun aiming, his finger squeezing. A sudden flash, a thunderclap and she was down. Bitter scent filled his nostrils, smoke hanging heady in the air in front of him.

The pool of blood spread quickly, gleaming stickily in the gloom. It was too late to do anything for her. But he could do something for himself. He had to run. He had to go now. Danny would understand. He couldn’t have let her see. No witnesses, Danny had said.

Minutes passed and still he stood, frozen in shock as the siren song began to fill the air. Looking anywhere but at her face, at her ruined torso. As if she had tossed them aside, almost as an afterthought, he saw them. Her dark glasses. Not tapping heels echoing. But instead her white, metal-tipped cane.