Mother’s brutish reality check deprives me of a dream. Freedom, justice and the ability to slob around with no cares in the world were mine for several brief seconds. All I’m left with is the anticipation of a large bang that will send Ernest and his men sky-high.
I stand beside mother in a line that moves swiftly. We arrive at the dispatch clerk’s high-set window with no cover story concocted, and no time to read the sign marker ‘Important – read before proceeding’.
The clerk behind the bullet-proofed glass has a gold embossed name tag affixed to her blouse. Glenda. I smile innocently at the sour visage of glowering, scrunched brows and thin lips that pull back from dry, yellow teeth in a permanent snarl.
The woman’s arms fold and she deliberately sinks back in her chair. Surrounded by the trappings of clerkdom she is the master of her self-importance, and quite obviously I’ve done something wrong. Finally a nicotine stained finger stabs at a button and the shielded speaker on my side crackles into life.
“New, are ya?”
“Can’t read either?”
I shake my head and then nod, confusing both of us.
“Your card, retard. Gimme it.”
My polite smile slips. I eye the small, silver snap-lock case beside her and the white powder dusted around her nose. I rub at my own nose before I can stop myself and hand over the Prox-card. She takes it between two finger tips, in case I’m in the habit of carrying it between my butt cheeks.
“Lucker. S. Where’s ya offsider?”
Too short to see over the counter, Mum reaches up and slaps her card down. Glenda leans forward and does well not to recoil from mother’s confrontational, sullen face. She leans back again and clickity-clacks the keys of her terminal. My heart rate tries to keep up with the fast, jittery drumming of her stylus against the desk. A few bings later the monitor flashes red.
I see the word ‘PRIORITY’ flashing in red, reflected in her glasses, and my nerves sing with the escalating tension.
Glenda straightens up, changing her bored superiority to something approaching interest.
“Oh. It’s that load of ‘pomegranates’. Be glad to get it outa here. Hope your background checks are up to date; and enjoy your body-cavity searches. Your escort is on his way.”
She thrusts the Prox-cards at me.
Dismissed, I absently hand mother’s card over and cast about for an exit. Having already established the suspicion that Ernest doesn’t intend us to survive this job, I strongly doubt these Prox-cards will stand up to high-level government scrutiny.
We have to get the hell out...
“Lucker... and Lucker. A family affair is it?”
The man who speaks looks perfect in every way. Clean clothes, shiny shoes, clean shaven, handsome and austere. Mother and I examine him far too blatantly, although he does not appear to be embarrassed by our open-mouthed lack of response.
“Right then. Come with me. See these yellow lines? Please don’t step over them or the guards will shoot you.”
This restriction puts a crimp in my plan to skedaddle.
The perfect man shepherd’s us towards a set of plastic door flaps. They are protected by two alert guards who run a professional eye over both of us. I’m sweating, only partly due to the warm air inside the building. The smells of oil, rubber grow stronger. Underneath it all is the sharp smell of ammonia.
“The cloak room. Please leave all weapons, drugs and explosive devices here.”
It’s like having my own personal butler. One that smirks at our stunned faces. Paranoia screams ‘he knows!’
We are placated with a small laugh.
“I don’t care what you’re carrying; just don’t bring it any further. The repercussions are necessarily harsh for those who do.”
Our escort leaves us to divest ourselves of contraband in the locker filled room. Mother is rightfully worried and makes a run for it, leaving me to fend for myself. I shrug under a heavy load of doom. Moving along the nearest row of lockers I claim the first one showing a green ‘vacant’ light. For the last time I remove my coat and stare inside the open locker door.
Pity I can’t fit in there. My coat barely does.
There’s a large mirror above a row of sinks. It shows me up as a bit of mess. These are my second best trousers; the ones with a mouldy patch and an almost unnoticeable hole in the crotch. I take no responsibility for the shirt I’d picked from the floor in haste and under duress. Only now do I realise it’s the pink one with the large flower motif. Also I’ve got it on inside out and back to front. Performing the world’s fastest weight-loss program ever I remove the shirt to spill its load of filthy rags. Feigning indifference to the shirt’s message, I redress correctly, this time avoiding the mirror’s self-assessment.
Mother has completed a full circuit of the cloak room. She’s puffing and worked up.
“There’s no way out. No way! Jesus, Lordy, we’re dead meat, boy. Whadda we do?”
She must be desperate to be asking for my help.
“Nothing we can do, Ma. End of the line.”
Profundity escapes me. Maybe prison isn’t so bad. Years of starvation and torture with a purported seventy four per cent chance of survival. It’s probably not much worse than living out here.
“Let’s get this over with.”
Ma is a shaking wreck. Feeling a tiny spark of pity for her, I reach over to help remove her coat. She elbows me in the gut.
“Don’t touch me. If I’m going down I’m taking some of these fuckers with me.”
She lifts her blouse, showing me the head of a hammer she’s stolen from Ernest’s truck, jammed into her waist band. I shy away from a view of her saggy breasts as she shakes out the rags stuffed in there.
The insane bitch doesn’t need any encouragement to kill someone. Maybe I can plead ‘accessory under duress’ after she gets shot for braining someone.
Our butler re-enters, raising an eyebrow at my appearance. We must be on a tight schedule as he refrains from mocking me.
“All done in here? Good. Shall we?”
The order is obscured by fake courtesy.
Mother’s scowl and my downcast face are of no interest to him. We are tools to fill a purpose, and he cares nothing for our personal problems.
We enter the warehouse and I’m awed by its size. It is well over a kilometre long, filled with giant rigs and trailers. Forklifts and men are in constant movement, loading and unloading machinery and crates.
The threat of walking its entire length before we’re found out almost makes me surrender. However we are directed through another set of guarded doors where several other pairs of drivers are already lined up waiting to be processed. Each have their own minder. They turn to scrutinise us and lose interest when we prove unrecognisable.
Their escort has more interest in our handler, pointing a handheld scanner at him which he reciprocates with his own scanner. A non-contact handshake is exchanged and they nod at each other approvingly then return to a constant, roving gaze of the surrounding area.
Obviously we are in the highest zone of security. The above the doorway we’d come through designates it as ‘AAA’.
As the moment of discovery draws closer I stem my panic by gripping mother’s arm. I’m not lending her support; she’s breathing loudly and fast, readying herself to attack everyone and everything around her. I’m concerned her break-down will be premature as I haven’t found somewhere safe to huddle before the shooting starts. Preferably somewhere soft that I can lie down with my hands behind my neck.
My fear is manifesting itself to our minder.
“Would you mind not grinding your teeth?”
Well excuse me for being terrified. I check my pockets for a spare protein bar or something to chew on.
What’s this? Oh. The radio. My hate swells at this reminder of Uncle Ernest and his thugs. The chances of them discovering the bomb, being arrested, or any number of scenarios where they don’t get blown up plays on my mind. I have a burning need to spring the payback trap we’d set for them. It may be the only thing that’ll keep me warm and amused while in prison.
I devise a rough and ready plan that falls into place when one of the drivers wanders over to a bank of auto-dispenser. Turning as casually as possible to my minder I nod towards the bank of vending machines.
“S’ok if I score a drink?”
“One at a time, don’t talk to the other drivers, stay in sight at all times.”
He rattles this off with disinterest.
“Ya want something too, Ma? I need ya Pox-card. Mine’s empty.”
I shake her arm which raises her from the psychotic state she is spiralling into. Asking her for money has always been a sure fire way to a beating, lengthy abusive lecture and then, if the amount was low enough, a repayment rate the local loan shark would be embarrassed to demand.
Her expression barely changes when I hold out my hand to show her the radio concealed in my palm. Without a word she lifts several layers of skirts, causing the butler and I to look elsewhere, while she slips the card from a pocket tied to her inner thigh.
“Get me an Orange Stim.”
I receive an approving nod and sly grin. The shared moment of conspiracy to murder is touching.
The first machine supplies me with something to snack on while purchasing several drinks. Then I take my time checking out the selection of soy-burger meals, spending mother’s dwindling wealth without restraint. If we’re going down it’ll be broke and full. Slurping a drink while the food is being irradiated I make sure I am unobserved.
There’s no 3D screen, paintings or pot-plant to look at in here so just about everyone in the room is watching my spending spree. Improvising, I turn the volume down low and press the transmit button several times, and then lift it to my ear in the pretence of scratching an itch. A low, eager voice answers immediately.
“Ya at the rig?
I key the mike several more times hoping he’s smart enough to get the message
“If ya can’t talk, key the mike once for yes, twice for no.”
I key the mike once.
“OK. Great, ya doing great. Now, gimme the rig serial number...
I key the mike twice.
“What...? Shit...yeah, ya can’t talk, right? Shit...”
Right now he’ll be staring at the actuator button in his hand. But Ernest is a careful, cagey critter. He didn’t get to his position on violence alone.
“Are ya at rig 905477AA?”
I key once before remembering the signs all around me are marked. ‘AAA clearance required for all personnel.’
I key the mike once more by reflex.
“Ah, musta read it wrong. As it got triple A hash at the end.”
Second guessing him from this point is pointless. I take the chance and press transmit once. Ernest voice deepens into a deeply satisfied growl.
“That be fine then. Say goodbye to your slut mother, ya fat fuck."