This story is by Mary McKeone and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The metal door bangs shut behind him. The key clicks in the lock. Slap, slap, slap of the screw’s rubber soles along the landing. Chats walks to the window. In the half light of dusk, he watches a screw move two prisoners across the yard to a different wing. He is trying to block out what his brief said but the thoughts keep rushing him. ‘Twenty years.’ The words burst into his head. Too big to hold, they threaten to shatter his skull. ‘Twenty years.’ He whispers the words wiping sweat from his forehead. His heart is pounding. Boom. Boom. Boom. In twenty years, he will be over forty. He closes his eyes, tries to slow breathe like they showed him. Why the fuck didn’t Mikey and him leave Stones to his badass madness. This thinking is a mistake, but he can’t help it …
He’s out of the Golf, right behind Stones and Mikey. And suddenly they are at the door. Stones banging it with his fist, kicking it, shouting, ‘open di fuckin’ door.’ In Stone’s other hand is a Mac 10. A light flickers in the hallway. Footsteps, light steps not heavy like a man’s. He pulls his hood down further. The rattle of a chain. A key turning. The door opens a fraction. Eyes peer from behind the safety catch.
‘Open di fuckin’ door.’
The door swings back and a small woman stands there, holding a baby.
The woman begins to stutter.
Fuck. They’ve fucked the timing. He was supposed to be at the house. For a few heartbeats, he thinks leave it. But Stones is on one. He wants to deal with this shit and they shove their way into the hallway. Following Mikey into the lounge, the sour stink of vinegar stings his throat. A small side lamp burns in the corner. On the table, a box of matches, burnt foil, an empty packet of horse. He hears Stones, in the other room, kiss his teeth when the girl tells him he’s doing deliveries.
‘Search di place,’ Stones orders when they come back into the hallway.
He takes the stairs two at a time. He’s rushing mad from the rocks, but Stones he’s on another planet. In the bathroom there is a small lecky heater on the wall. The room smells of damp. He rips the shower curtain off, throws it in a corner. In the back bedroom he steps over kids’ toys. He lifts the mattress up then pulls open a drawer. Kid’s clothing. A blue and white stripy t-shirt catches his eye. It’s like one he had when he was a kid. In another drawer, a woman’s clothing and the smell of cheap perfume. Where’s the food? He flings a shoe across the room. Man, they’ve been canned. That pimp, Snoop…
‘There’s nothing here. I’m telling you -’
He swings round. The woman, still holding the baby, stands in the doorway. He pushes past her, but she screams after him:
‘For God’s sake he doesn’t live here.’
‘Shut da fuck up, Lady.’ And he moves towards her. ‘Or I’ll break your neck.’
She cowers back, hand wrapped round the baby’s head.
‘Find nuhting?’ Stones asks when he goes downstairs.
‘Nah Man. Nuhting.’
‘Mi wi screw Snoop, propa.’
He imagines Stones strangling Snoop and Snoop’s face turning slowly purple. And then he’s looking at him running up the stairs and shouting at the woman who’s crying and stuttering and the baby is crying again and Stones pins her against the wall swinging the Mac10 casually in his right hand, as if at any moment he might lift it up and point it in her face and just maybe, if he felt like it, pull the trigger.
‘Tek it easy,’ Mikey says as he comes downstairs. ‘Cum man.’ He points towards the door.
‘Nah man. Mi a guh nowhere. Mi wanna find Red 4.’
‘You get that?’ Mikey says to the girl. ‘He says he’s going nowhere. So, you better ring him.’
The girl hesitates.
‘If you don’t want trouble,’ Mikey adds.
With one hand holding the baby she scrolls down her phone. ‘What do I say to him?’ she whispers.
‘Tell him you need him home. The baby’s sick.’
He grips the bars of the window. Solid, cool, metal, they have the feel of a strap. Almost dark, now. Days without light. Nights without sleep. Flashes of circling light from the security watch tower make patterns through the barred windows on the cement floor. On the wall, someone has drawn a piece and written underneath, Thug Love.
They wait in the Golf, in the cul-de-sac. Stones, outside, paces up and down, swinging the Mac 10.
‘That’s him,’ Mikey says. He pulls on a bally and starting the ignition drives towards the Datsun minicab parked further up the street.
The taxi driver is on his mobile. Stones slows to a walk and waves to Chats who walks slowly towards him. When he draws level, Stones lifts his right hand. The taxi-driver’s face freezes. His mouth slants with fear. Stones’ finger is on the trigger. He points the gun at the car window. The driver’s eyes glued to Stones is trying to open the window. Trying to say something. Stones is rattling him loose. Pretending he’s going to shoot. ‘Shaking di information outta dem, ‘til dem shitting demselves an ready tuh tell yuh everyt’ing,’ he likes to say. Under the flow of neon, Stones’ bald head glistens.
Chats shakes his head, rolls his neck. As if to shake the memory from him. He studies his hands clutching the bars. His nails bitten raw; the corners bloodied. He tries to ignore the stink of the toilet, in the corner. Out on the landing, there’s banging. Doors banging as screws open up to allow brers out. Keys rattling. Bro’s shouting at each other. He focuses on the noise, tries to distract himself, to stop himself remembering…
How Stones, head shining in the orange light, is stood in front of him at the driver’s window. No-one moves. No-one speaks. Chats hears himself breathing. Quick, short, breaths. He looks up. A slither of moon slices the sky. As he looks back at the driver, a crack rips the edge of silence. Three; Four; Five shots explode.
Cracking of glass splitting. Bullet holes splinter the driver’s window, his head slumped on the steering wheel. The horn sounds through the empty street like it is the last sound on earth. He sees a streak of blood down the right side of the driver’s face. Blood, too, on the windscreen, the dashboard. And bits of something dripped on to the seat. Stones is jigging on the spot. His mouth twisted, he is muttering, ‘teach di fucka!’ The smell of gunshot all around. Sharp like piss.
‘Get di fuck outta here. Quick,’ Stones barks, running towards the Golf.
Mikey rams the car in gear. He swings it of the cul-de-sac, accelerating down the street. A fed car comes screaming up the road on the other side, blue lights flashing. For a beat, Chats thinks it is all over. But the feds drive on.
Bent over, clutching himself, he sits on his bunk. He keeps seeing the girl’s face. The girl on her own. The girl with her baby. The girl pinned up against the wall, Stones towering over her. He thinks of Lily when the Feds arrived. Fed cars. Everywhere. Men’s footsteps on the stairs. The bedroom door bursting open. Men with guns. Armed men pointing guns at them. Lily screeching. A fed pointing his gun straight at Chats naked on the floor, hands behind his back. Lily, too, on the floor, face down. She, too, naked. He wanted to protest, to argue but a foot in his back stopped him moving. And then later, when they took him downstairs and shoved him into the sitting room and on to the settee. Lily huddled in a chair, handcuffed, crying, shaking. He could not look at her. Her house ransacked. Drawers turned out: letters, string, pens, tinfoil, everything, emptied on the floor. Saucepans, cutlery dumped in the scullery. Her China dogs smashed in pieces.
And the girl. Did she go out when she heard the gunshots? Or the sound of the horn bleeding into the night? Did the Feds keep her away? He wipes the corner of his eye and shakes his head. Somewhere in the distance he thinks he hears a baby crying. Hears Stones laughing. Like an echo in his head. A sick sound of madness. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. No-one was supposed to be duppied.