Jimmy unlocks the canopy door and snickers at the difficulties we have clambering up the short ladder. The tray is empty of trained attack animals, but the canvas covering the steel mesh is torn in places. It will be a blast freezer in here once we start moving.
I look for the best place to shield myself from the wind before mother claims it. Several bulky hessian bags lie against the headboard and I’m in two minds whether to touch them. They’re probably stuffed with body parts.
Mother wouldn’t care if they were full of broken glass. She plops down on a rotted sack which breaks opens, spilling old rags. I draw up a sack of my own to sit on as the truck takes off, fast. We’re bounced and thumbed over broken concrete and other obstacles before the truck swings south at the gate. Memorising our route seems pointless so I sit glumly in the gloom instead.
The stupid old woman has stripped off her coat. It’s double figures below freezing in here.
“Take your coat off!”
“What? No way, Fu...!”
My head is rocked hard to one side and a warm stinging sensation creeps through a numb cheek. Mum hits harder than Dennings.
“Don’t give me lip, boy. I seen ya. Tried ta blow us up, ya fat lunk. Now, do as I say or I’ll stomp ya gonads, see if I don’t.”
She would. One way or another she’d have my coat, the selfish bitch.
I sigh deeply. The cloud of outrushing vapour takes the few cares I have left with it. Maybe I’ll freeze to death before we get there.
With that lovely thought I raise my arms, otherwise I don’t help her exertions at all. A few herculean tugs has the heavy garment off me in seconds. I immediately hug myself miserably in the chilling wind while mother industriously scratches at the coat’s inner lining with her broken nails. A section of it tears and my brain catches up with her intention. I take more interest. Within minutes she has the mess of explosives detached from the coat.
“I know a thing or two as well, boy. That arse-hole thinks he can use me. I’ll kill him dead!”
We have more trouble with her coat, which is not so rotted. A burst of confidence from mother’s threats inspires me to fall upon it like an animal, biting the lining material until it rips. Mother wrenches it from my mouth and fastidiously tears the plastique out in a neat bundle.
I’m checking to see if she’s loosened my teeth when she points to a toolbox bolted in one corner.
She places the bulky bundles of cloth inside but the lid won’t close. Exhilarated to be free of the bomb I'm eager to help. I push her aside and slam my butt onto the lid several times to get the latch to close, and then look to mum for approval. She has her ears plugged with two fingers and her eyes shut tight. One eye opens a slit before her hands drop. I’m treated to the usual scowl of disapproval.
“Jesus. Ye’ll be the death of me yet. Put ya coat back on, ya big lug. Not that ya’ll get frostbite with all that whale-blubber on ya. Pack ya shirt with rags. Fast!”
I’m shaking violently with cold by the time I get the coat rebuttoned. Mother slips into hers without fuss and begins shoving rags down her front like a kleptomaniac at a Charity store sale. She finishes first and seems annoyed at the way I’m examining each rag, discarding the greasy ones. She launches at me, picking up handfuls of the discards and jamming them down the neck of my shirt.
I object to the grease and metal swarf and try to fight her off.
“We’re almost there, ya idiot! Get padded up or we’re dead meat.”
The truck screeches to a halt and the back door crashes open.
We are a tangle of limbs. Ernest assumes we’re huddling to stay warm. He should know better.
“Isn’t that cute. Bit chilly was it! Get out!”
Mother digs sharp knees into my chest hard before rising primly and adjusting her bulging coat. I rise sloppily, groaning.
We’re parked a block down from the depot gates. It is a well protected facility. Five metres high stone walls, spotted with armed guards who wander the cat-walks above us. It’s right on shift change. The roar of an enormous truck racketing through a hundred gears pass by every minute. Buses disgorge and take on hundreds of workers. The pavement crawls with men and women heading for or leaving the personnel gate.
Jimmy and Dennings are overly attentive now. They help us down and brush off our clothes, like mother’s tidying children before they start school. Dennings gently repositions a bulge of rags at my waist. My heart misses a beat but his repellent grin does not change.
“All good then, lad? They aint shifted around too much? Make us proud wontcha?”
Turning the tables on them is an intoxicant. I struggle to contain myself, giving him a single nod of agreement. I want to laugh in their faces. Only a life time’s practise of maintaining a poker face lending me restraint.
Ernest grips my mother and me by the elbows and hurries us towards the gate, muttering fast instructions. His obvious desire to ditch us is mirrored by our fast walk that puts distance between us and the explosives in the back of the truck.
“Go straight to Dispatch, givum ya cards. Don’t mess about. Take this ere a radio. Soon as you find the rig tell us the serial number. Got it?”
Ernest slips a slim radio into my pocket.
“An then we can take these coats off, yeah?”
“Yes! Absolutely! Not before then! Don’t go fiddling with nothing.”
“I absolutely, totally promise we won’t be fiddling with nothing... or something.”
That didn’t come out quite right. Sometimes the idiot I’m expected to be takes over. Ernest’s scowl matches my mother’s. She reaches around Ernest to give me a punch in the kidney. I grunt and fold over.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Dennings and Jimmy. Busted me ribs.”
The spur of the moment cover story doesn’t elicit sympathy, or make trouble for his thugs. Ernest delivers a last threat instead.
“Too bad. Remember the deal. Do this job and it’ll be the last time we’ll need to touch you up. Screw it up and ya ribs will be the least of ya problems.”
He leaves on this note, backing away before turning. He almost jogs back to his ride. A half-smile of satisfaction settles across my fattened lips and puffy, red cheeks. It widens as I imagine the progression of their conversation.
They are deciding how far away is safe.
They are arming the bombs.
Dennings and Jimmy will be laughing, joking at our expense.
Preparing to kill us.
“Let’s get outa here, Ma. we're free!”
“Don’t be a dick-head. Where we gonna go? Whevva we get blowed up or they do, we’s now homeless. People’s gunna be lookin for us. An that prick aint gunna set them bombs off if we toddle outa here, is he? They aint gone far. Sides, I wanna see wass so important bout dis truck. Get in line.”
My mother’s argument is sound even if her mind isn’t.
To sum up, I’m still screwed.