I pull a thin sheet over my nakedness and huddle in the centre of the sagging bed. Next door mother whines to herself between heart-breaking sobs. Fatigue crowds me into exhausted sleep and the baggage of a lifetime is let loose into my dreams...
...I relive the low-lights of a nightmarish childhood. Having gained some respect for killing the Taiwanese trigger-man, mother chooses to play up her notoriety to its fullest extent. She’s attractive back then, but not especially bright. The men who sleep with her soon tire of the public drunken displays, and an increasingly embellished story of what was essentially a stupid fuck-up.
As she loses her looks and embarrasses the family on one too many occasions, she finds herself ostracised and becomes paranoid. For all her tough talk; and the legendary status she’s applied to herself; a deathly paranoia has developed that a squad of contract killers have been sent to kill us.
Our less than sympathetic family abandon us as her sanity deteriorates. All except dad’s brother, Uncle Ernest. He is a ruthless man with a knack for finding a use for anything and anyone. He plays on mother’s fears and relocates us here, for his own uses.
We live our wasted lives in this industrial mega-city to pay back an unquantifiable debt. At first she’s asked for small favours to assist his myriad of illegal enterprises that spring up as the country falls apart. Take a package here, set a bomb there. But I know the favours will never end while we are of some use to him.
Perhaps whatever I have screwed up will end our bond to him.
Maybe I have set us free...
...I wake badly to an irritating tone. It is issuing from next door though not from mother this time, but from the button she presses to accept visitors to our floor. It is dark outside the uncurtained slit I call my window.
She hears me stir.
“Yar in big trouble, boy. Ernest is coming. Keep ya mouth shut. I’ll... ahh... think a sumtink. They wanna know about the bike. Whatcha doin on a bike anyway?”
She sounds very tired and worn. The manic pace she normally speaks at is deadened by hopelessness. Half asleep and aching all over I have no idea what she’s on about. The CCTV function tones softly on my 3D, and an ‘active’ light flashes. The lift’s arrival alerts all residents who have their security turned to ‘high’.
Mine always is.
I tap the screen to enhance a video thumbnail. It jumps to a full screen, high-definition picture. Three large, mean-looking characters, wearing long, dark coats are revealed. They aren’t block drifters out to grab whatever they can. They walk with confidence; eyes moving casually, taking everything in.
These are men with a purpose.
I recognise Uncle Ernest. Never the deliverer of shiny toys and hugs, he only turns up to deal out punishment when things go wrong. The past dictates my best course of action. Stay extremely still and quiet while mother takes care of business.
Earnest and his bully-boys stop two units down and knock politely at its door. A short muffled conversation takes place and something is pushed into the security hatch. The occupant exits, blinking rapidly and pulling on a jacket. He barely glances at his benefactor; trotting off, clutching the bulge in his pants pocket.
The visiting trio move a few paces to mother’s door. The third man is waved curtly down to watch mine. My head performs an entire tennis match worth of exercise in a few seconds, turning repeatedly from the screen to the door, waiting for it to be kicked in.
Ernest is speaking. I mouth-breathe shallowly and sneak over to press an ear to the wall.
“Open up, Enid. We got a big problem. Like how you didn’t make the call you was sposed ta, which means I gotta come all the way down here to this shit-hole to find out what’s goin on.”
His voice is unusually deep, measured and calm. But I know the control he exerts covers something primal and terrifying beneath it. Mother’s door clicks open.
“Oh, ello Ernest. I see ya Pox-card opens me door. Won’t ya come in? We ad some terrible trouble ere, we did. Some bloody dickheads on the roof of A Block was trying ta shoot down the Ob-Drone. Wiv a slingshot wouldja believe it? Sure ta bring the SPUD’s by tomorra, they will. So I was laying low, like.”
Her tone is apologetic; wheedling almost. Something I’ve never heard from her before. She fears this man greatly.
“An that’s why I’m here, an all. SPUD’s are gearing up for a full search, so we gotta move the stuff today. Right now in fact. Speakin of which, where is the stuff then, Enid? If you tell me ya lost it I think I’ll gut you and stab out your eyes.”
I can hear the lies she’s invented being retracted. Her hope that the truth shall set her free drops me right in it.
“Me boy has it. Aint ya Sammy. ‘Is lost ‘is job too. I eard it on the 3D. Fell off that bike ya give im, knocked what few brains he ad around. He’s gone all peculiar. What ya givin im presents for anyway? Ya hate his guts.”
She calls the last a little louder for my benefit. The bitch has dobbed me in! Whatever happened to a mother protecting her offspring to the death?
“Shut up woman! Ya left the stuff with the moron? Ya in there, Sammy?”
Ernest smacks the wall with his hand, shaking it a little. I recoil guiltily and shake a lot; remaining silent in the hope he’ll lose interest and I’ll regain anonymity. He does hate me and he’s never spoken a word to me before. A bad sign if ever there was another one needed.
“We eard you had some trouble wiv the bike I got ya, Sammy. Got knocked down; by a SPUD truck, yeah? We was right sorry ta hear about that. But if it’s gunna happen, it’ll happen to you, won’t it? You’re a fucking liability, shit-head. Dennings, go an see to little Sammy, would ya? I’ll take care of me darlin Enid.”
Dennings is a giant. I watch him moves into the corridor on the CCTV camera. He looks down it at me. I assume it’s a cryptic warning not to do anything stupid.
But I don’t like the sound of being ‘seen to’. I scramble to pull on a pair of pants before snatching up the power lead for a last-ditch heroic defence. I’ll electrocute the bastard before the other one shoots me. I really should have plugged it in before dressing as, inconceivably, the handle turns before I get there.
Dennings’ head peeks around the door when the door hits my bed. He grins at me playfully and waves a hacked Prox-card. Our eyes lock. We stare at each other with fear levels so far apart they need different post-codes. Dennings drops his gaze first to the plug in my hand. His eyes tighten very slightly, and then slide along the cord to the power switch. Ensuring it is off he gently plucks it from my hand, tosses it carelessly to one side and enters my room by gracefully, high-stepping onto the mattress, then lithely to the floor. His overbearing presence takes up all the remaining space in here.
“Now then, Laddy. Thank ya for pulling that plug out so I weren’t cooked, an all.”
His intimidating stare is calculating and highly alert. We both know the outcome of any further resistance on my part.
In any case, I'm a dead man.