Two years ago, if you had asked me where I thought I would spend my eighteenth birthday, I would have told you that I would be at the cottage in Geata Dearg, where my mother and I used to live.
I would have told you I’d be visiting her on holiday from university, and I would spend this cold wintery, day sitting across from her at our kitchen table, helping her grind down tough roots to powder for medicines that I’d never learn about in lectures.
The house would smell of cinnamon and vanilla rock cakes, and my mother would be telling me off for smoking in the house.
I would definitely not have told you that I’d be standing alone in a neglected warehouse basement, ankle-deep in fucking saltwater and rotting seaweed.
I flicked my cigarette into the water and watched the butt float there with the ten others that drifted in a lazy cloud at my feet, one for every six minutes that the supplier was late. I immediately lit another one.
This is why I never dealt with new guys. Nothing was reliable here in Optilocus.
“I swear, Roland,” I muttered to myself, “if you gave me the wrong bloody address…”
But there was a sudden thud on the main floor above me followed by the sound of heavy footsteps. My cigarette was only half-finished as I dropped it into the water.
There was a draft of hot air as the door opened, and someone peered down. I pressed myself into the shadows, making sure not to disturb the still water in the light of the stairs.
“Classy joint,” a man muttered, he followed it up with a disgusted scoff and slammed the door shut again. There was a scraping noise above me, as though something heavy was being dragged across the cement floor.
I took advantage of the noise and moved quickly up the rotting wooden steps to the door, careful to not put too much weight in one spot, lest the stairs give out beneath me. One step close to the top groaned loudly and I froze, straining to hear if those above had noticed.
“Got this off a freight ship docked in Kwazulite. Medical shipments. Meant for Argenstrath, I reckon. High-risk, an’ I expect a high reward,” explains a gruff voice. His accent was thick and unfamiliar to me. I inched up another step, pressing my ear close to the door.
“Don’t worry, my Boss is willing to pay,” said another voice.
This one I recognized as belonging to Howard Sully, a man in the inner circle of Niall McPherson - the kingpin of Argenstrath’s drug manufacturing operation.
McPherson was not a man to mess with, but I could handle Sully, and I needed what was in those crates.
“How do I know you and this boss o’ yours is good for it? Can’t take nobody’s word these days.”
Sully said something that was unintelligible over the rumble of something heavy being dragged across the floor.
“Let’s speak outside,” Sully said louder, “This place looks like it’ll cave in any second.” And I heard their footsteps fade away as they left the building.
After a few beats of silence, I cracked open the door, and peered into the warehouse. Two wooden pallets, each carrying two smaller, unmarked wooden crates stood at the center of the otherwise empty room, guarded by a single man, one of the ship’s crew by the looks of his dingy shirt and sun-bleached suspenders.
Why hadn’t Sully left his own security? The son-of-a-bitch was probably too arrogant to think anyone would tamper with a supply meant for McPherson. It’s a stupid assumption to make when you don’t know your supplier.
Or when you haven’t properly cased a joint.
I let the door open just an inch more and slipped out silently and unnoticed. There was a small collection of rusting scrap metal piled in the corner a few feet away, and I grabbed a long, heavy piece of metal tubing from it before ducking behind the crates.
The poor guy didn’t even turn around when I was a foot from him, and had no chance to shout before the pipe collided with a muffled crack! On the back of his head.
I caught the dead weight of the unconscious body as it fell back, feeling the heat spread over my chest as the blood spilled from the wound. I laid him out, along with the pipe, both without so much as a noise or suspicious glance from outside. Somewhere a few yards away, Sully was yelling something unintelligible. The other man shouted back.
Wiping the blood from my hand, I checked my watch: twenty-past four. Not much time left.
As quick as I could, I heaved one of the boxes onto my shoulder and carried it carefully back toward the back of the warehouse. The back door, often ignored because it did not have a wide enough door for shipping vehicles, had remained unguarded by Sully. Had the arrogant fuck brought any men with him?
The small dirt road behind the warehouse was a narrow one, meant for workers rather than shipments, and directly adjacent to a sharp, rocky drop-off into the river below. This was no problem, though, for the wagon these crates were to be loaded on.
The problem was that there wasn’t any wagon. The lot was completely deserted when I brought out the first crate.
Roland was always fucking late. I left the crate just outside the door, unwilling to waste more time, and followed with the second, third, and final crate.
Still no Roland…
Starting to sweat a bit, I close the door and lean against it, trying to listen through my heartbeat for any sign of trouble.
Finally, I hear the sound of a motor, and a carriage appears around the corner. I recognize Roland’s white-blond hair, and I see my brother’s stupid grin as he pokes his head out the window.
“Where the fuck’ve you been?”
A gunshot fired inside the building.
“Let’s just get outta here,” said Roland, throwing the boxes with a frustrating level of ease. He’d just climbed back onto the back of the wagon when the door slammed open and Howard Sully pointed the barrel of his revolver at the back of my head. I don’t need to see it, I can hear the click, too close for my liking.
“Oh, just wait until the boss hears it was you," Sully said, his voice rough with twisted, dangerous glee, his eyes locked on Roland, who just grins his arrogant grin at Sully. Then he locks eyes with me, and for a single, fleeting moment I’m certain they’re going to leave me there.
Unbidden, the image of my dead body strewn across the rocks below, a bullet hole between the eyes flashes through my mind.
But when the gunshot goes off, the bullet hole is in Sully’s shoulder instead, and Roland pockets his own gun as quickly as he had drawn it.
I feel Roland’s fist clench my shirt and drag me up into the already-moving wagon as Sully’s men open fire.
One of the bullets grazes my leg as the wagon door closes behind me, then there is only the irregular rhythm of bullets colliding with metal.
Roland sat down across from me in the small space next to the crates, his arm leaking blood. The wound had not managed to take away the smirk.
As we rounded the corner, the shouting of Sully’s men faded. We were free.
Roland’s laughter filled the car, and as my heart began to calm down, I couldn’t help but join in.