TICKET TO RIDE - NICK QUANTRILL
‘Piece of piss,’ said Kevo. He threw the beer mat on the table, lent back and smiled at me. ‘Absolute piece of piss.’
‘You reckon?’ I said.
He sat back up and beckoned me forward. The pub’s Kevo’s territory, but it wasn’t the kind of thing you wanted others to hear. The old woman sat next us to was trying to listen in to our conversation. Nosey cow. I tried to angle my body so that Kevo wouldn’t see her. It was easier that way.
‘Nothing to it. We go out tomorrow night on the ferry, meet my associate and then sail back the following night. That’s all there is to it. All expenses paid. Your very own ticket to ride.’
I wasn’t sure.
‘Don’t you need the money?’ Kevo said. ‘I’m only offering to cut you in on this because we’re mates.’
He knew the buttons to press. I’d argued with our lass before heading out to the pub. I hadn’t worked for three months and the redundancy money was long gone. She needed money to put in the electric meter and buy our lad some new shoes. She hadn’t shut up about it all day, carrying on like it was my fault I wasn’t working, like there were hundreds of jobs out there for people like me. ‘Yeah, I need the money.’
‘You’re in, then?’
‘How many times have you been over?’ I asked.
He shrugged. ‘A few. Fuck’s sake, are you in or what? It’s a bit of work and we’ll have a laugh.’
I nodded. ‘I’m in.’ Kevo winked at me. ‘Told you. Piece of piss.’
A quick flash of our passports at the Customs Desk, and we were through and walking up the gangway towards the ferry. Another fourteen hours and we’d be in Belgium. A bored looking worker pointed us in the direction of our cabin.
Kevo unlocked and walked in. ‘Like fucking prison cells, aren’t they?’ he said. The tiny room had bunk-beds against one wall, a stool in the corner and a bathroom that smelt like it hadn’t been cleaned for months in the other corner. ‘I wouldn’t know,’ I said.
Kevo laughed. ‘Don’t look so worried. We’ll be on our way home this time tomorrow.’ He threw the two rucksacks we were carrying on the bottom bunk. ‘Bargain or what? Got them cheap; buy one, get one free. Love a bargain, me.’
I picked up the one I thought was mine. I got the wrong one. They were that similar. Digging into the correct bag, I found my mobile. The signal was down to one bar. No missed calls or new messages from our lass.
‘Fuck it, let’s go get a pint,’ he said. Kevo downed his pint in one and said he was hungry. I was pleased to go. He was heckling the entertainment; a lone man, apologetically strumming his guitar along to some Beatles backing tapes. Our lass hates his swearing, especially around our lad. I was used to it. He’d been that way since our school days. The only place serving food was the small coffee bar. Kevo ordered a pizza, so we sat and waited. ‘How’s that kid of yours?’ he asked me.
‘Starts school soon,’ I said. ‘He’s doing great.’
‘Expensive business that. No way I’d pay for any of that shit.’
‘It’s not cheap,’ I agreed. I wouldn’t miss it for the world, though. I knew Kevo had at least two kids, but he had nothing to do with them. ‘Sounds like this could be a decent earner for you, then, seeing as you need the cash. What else are you going to do, anyway? When was the last time you worked?’
His pizza arrived before I could answer. It could have fit on a saucer.
‘Fucking starving,’ he said, tearing into it anyway.
The boat lurched. I turned away so I didn’t have to look. I couldn’t have eaten, even if I’d wanted to. I found the sea-sickness pills in my pocket and swallowed one.
It took him less than five minutes to finish his food. He burped and swept the paper plate onto the floor. ‘Right. Here’s what we’re going to do tomorrow.’
I threw up twice before we went back to our cabin. The crossing was getting rougher as the night went on. Kevo had insisted we had a couple more pints. I could only walk back to the cabin if I held onto the railings on the wall. Kevo told me I was on the top bunk, so I’d climbed up and shut my eyes, hoping the swaying would ease. Whether it was the sea-sickness or the thought of what I was about to do, I didn’t know, but sleep wasn’t coming. I fumbled around and found my mobile. I had no signal. Throwing it back down, I shut my eyes and tried to zone out Kevo’s snoring. I was doing this for my lad; no other reason. With the money, he could have the clothes he needed. We could pay off some debts and maybe put some aside. I pulled the duvet further up and tried to sleep. I told our lass I was doing a spot of labouring work for a friend of a friend. She hadn’t questioned it. She wanted me to be earning some money as much as I did. Hopefully this was the start of better times for us.
A couple of hours later and Kevo was up and showered like it was a normal day.
‘You set?’ he asked me.
I was dressed and ready to go. I nodded. ‘As I’ll ever be,’ I said. I still felt ill from the crossing.
We waited to disembark. Most of the people on the ferry were probably heading to a pretty market town for the day before returning back for the night crossing. They’d see the sights, eat a nice meal and soak up some culture. I told myself to calm down. For all his faults, Kevo wasn’t stupid. I’d do as I was told and everything would be alright. We were staying in the port and meeting Kevo’s associate, Robin. Kevo flagged us a taxi down and gave the driver the address. The drive took about ten minutes. The town looked like a home from home. The port dominated the city. Freight containers lined the side of the road, all neatly stacked in uniform piles. The drizzle in the air seemed fitting for the greyness of the place. Lorries trundled slowly down the dual carriageway. I’d hate to be a long-distance lorry driver. I couldn’t bear to be away from home all the time like that. Kevo looked carefully at his Euros before handing over the correct note. The driver wasn’t impressed not to receive a tip, but he eventually got the message and drove away. I could quite fancy being a taxi driver, but that required a car, and I couldn’t stretch to that. We were stood outside an anonymous bar, just off the main drag of shops.
I said that the place looked closed. ‘Robin’s sorted it. They’re opening for us.’
Kevo winked at me and started walking towards the door. ‘Remember. We are Hull. Nobody fucks with us.’
I nodded and followed him. Inside, the bar was dark and smelt of last night’s stale beer. ‘You are late,’ someone said from the back of the room.
Kevo guided us over. ‘Now then, Robin. The ferry was late docking.’
‘I do not appreciate your lateness.’
‘Not much I can do about that.’
Robin pointed to me. ‘Who the fuck is this?’
Kevo made the introductions. I said nothing. I wasn’t expected to.
Robin asked what I was doing here.
‘He’s going to help us out,’ Kevo said.
Robin stood up and walked over to us. I got my first proper look at him. He was tall, at least 6’ 5” and muscular with it. ‘You are his friend?’ he said to me.
I nodded and cleared my throat. ‘That’s right.’ I looked him in the eye whilst I spoke. I thought about my lad and focused on the money.
He stared back before breaking into a smile. He turned to Kevo. ‘I like this friend of yours.’
‘He’s a mate,’ said Kevo. ‘We go way back.’
Robin sat back down and turned to me. ‘I assume it was explained to you how we transact our business here?’
I said nothing.
‘The same rules apply to you both,’ he said, pointing at us. ‘It really is quite simple. If you fuck up, I kill you both.’
I smiled. I couldn’t help it.
Robin looked at Kevo, like he was surprised. I was out of line.
‘Did you not explain this to your friend?’ he said. ‘Does he think I am joking?’ He stared at me. ‘And once I’ve finished killing you, I kill your family.’
Kevo put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed. ‘We understand, Robin. We won’t fuck up. You can count on us.’
I got the feeling Kevo was genuinely scared.
Robin nodded and smiled. ‘Good. I’m glad we understand each other. You have the money?’
Kevo nodded. He took the envelope out of his pocket and threw it down on the table. Robin smiled and counted the money. ‘Good. It is all there.’
‘Of course it is.’
Robin nodded to a sidekick. He passed Kevo a bag.
We hadn’t hung around in the bar after the meeting. Instead, we’d trudged around the town for a few hours before heading back to the ferry. A quick flash of our passports and we were back on board. Kevo locked the door of our cabin and emptied the rucksack we’d filled at the bar. We had ten boxes of chocolates in front of us.
Kevo inspected the boxes one by one. I sat there quietly and watched.
‘Fucking clever, or what?’ he eventually said. He passed me a box to look at. ‘Robin’s people hollow them out and then fill them up with the good stuff.’
I didn’t want to look. I passed the box back to him. ‘Clever.’
‘It’s perfect, he says. You can’t move at airports for scanners and security checks, but on the ferries, no one gives a shit. You’ve got to be pretty stupid to get caught.’
I was surprised how lax it was. It didn’t make it any easier, though. I knew how high the stakes were. It was all about holding your nerve.
‘It’s perfect. It only takes Robin a couple of hours to drive over from Holland to meet me,’ Kevo said. ‘He gives me the stuff, I jump on the ferry, go back home and give it to the boss. Piece of piss. Less than two days away, a few beers, and I’m done working for the week.’
I stood up and stretched. The cabin felt more like a prison cell than ever. Looking out of the window, we were slowly pulling out of the dock. The captain announced the crossing would be calm. We would be docking on time tomorrow morning in Hull. I wasn’t taking the chance, though, and popped another sea-sickness pill. My mobile now had a full signal but the battery was nearly flat. There were no new messages, no missed calls. I slept soundly, which was surprising. I wasn’t so calm as we stood in the queue, waiting to disembark.
‘Alright?’ Kevo asked me.
I nodded. I didn’t feel alright, though. In my hand was a rucksack full of Robin’s special chocolates. I was starting to sweat. Kevo was all smiles. He had plenty to smile about. All of the gain and none of the risk.
He held out his rucksack to me. ‘Hold that for us. I need a piss.’
I took it from him and placed both of them down in front of me. One was full with chocolates, one had dirty clothes in it. The one with the chocolates in had clothes packed around them to offer protection. Effectively, they looked and weighed the same. I looked down at them and remembered why I was there. I needed the money; my family needed the money. I needed my family; my family needed me. I had no other irons in the fire. Kevo had been the only person to offer me some work. They said the economy was recovering but it wasn’t recovering fast enough for me. It certainly wasn’t recovering as quickly as my lad’s feet were growing. I looked from one rucksack to the other and knew I had a decision to make. I was scared. Whichever way I jumped, I was opening myself up to a potential shitstorm. I knew things would never be the same again.
‘Alright?’ Kevo was back, standing at my side.
I knew what I had to do. The Customs Desk was manned by the same bored looking officer as yesterday. He was stopping the occasional passenger and having a perfunctory rummage in their bags. I reached down and selected a rucksack. I nodded to Kevo and took a deep breath. ‘Never better,’ I said.
BIO: Nick Quantrill lives and works in Hull, East Yorkshire. His debut novel, 'Broken Dreams', will be published by Caffeine Nights, early 2010. Nick can be found at www.hullcrimefiction.
Review: SINCE WE FELL by Dennis Lehane
2 hours ago