45 - Wet Fish and Sunshine
As the noise levels increased and the tension mounted a small gasp penetrated the darkness, a sharp intake of breath drawn through pursed lips, the sort that momentarily makes your front teeth cold, higher pitched, a bit like the sudden, short blast as the fly spray can releases a fraction of its pressure with such deadly effect. She was frightened, that much was obvious so he put his left arm around her and pulled her close and turned his head and whispered in her ear, “don’t be scared.” A soothing voice or so he thought. He hoped. She snuggled in close, so he kissed her cheek. A light kiss, his lips just fractionally brushing her skin. A fleeting but tender moment. Reassuring.
She was warm against him and he held her tightly not wanting her to be scared. The darkness could be disconcerting. He knew that. Exaggerating the senses. He understood all about the darkness, how scary it could make things appear. He lived on an unlit road with tall, dark trees and high hedges lining the fields and compressing the space, making the road seem narrow before he reached his house. An impenetrable canopy and dense, when his mind would create all kinds of creatures and demons, lurking, waiting to pounce. Boogeymen in their dark overcoats made of black serge, with long curly grey beards and bad breath that made you faint and covered in mud and greenish grime from lurking in the undergrowth. The unmetalled road full of water filled potholes, a nightmare to negotiate and in the winter iced over and slippery. He would run straight, ignoring the splashing and uneven ground and hoping not to slip. Run flat out for over a quarter of a mile as soon as he emerged from the bright lights of the housing estate and entered the long dark tunnel of fear. Run until he reached the safety of his flood lit front door where he would stand, doubled over, panting until he had recovered and only then go inside so his mum would not see his fear. It was where he learned to sprint and build his stamina and made him learn to respect that fear and master it. That was eight years ago when he was ten and growing up. So he held her tightly and knew he could deal with her anxiety and protect her.
A sudden loud cracking made her jump. Made him jump for that matter. The door had split. If he was scared he did not show it. His right hand reached over and took her right hand, small, soft and with the clamminess of stress. A gentle squeeze to reassure her as if to say, “I’m here. Don’t worry.”
He had met her only a few weeks ago at around six o’clock outside the wet fish shop. Tearing out through the open door, not looking where she was going she crashed headlong into him. Bounced back and he half caught her, breaking her fall as she slumped to the ground to sit indelicately on her backside facing him, her short skirt raising up to reveal a bit too much. She sat dazed a moment then realising her situation, blushed and let him pull her to her feet. She brushed her creamy yellow skirt and quickly adjusted herself. Wiped some strands of her long blond hair away from her eyes. There was nothing she could do about the mucky consequence of what had happened. The damp, dirty smudge from the cold, wet pavement. Her blue eyes blinked as she looked at him with a kind of worried stare, slightly shaking her head.
He was smiling a laughing smile as he thought, “ wow, she’s lovely.”
She frowned at him with one of those tight lipped glares. He was making fun of her. Then she blurted out, “sorry, I’m in a rush,” turned and, like an escaping rabbit, rushed away down the pavement heading towards the bus station.
He watched her until she disappeared around the corner, then took a mental note of the time and shop name and continued on his way with his normal casual saunter. He could smell fish. Sniffed his hands where he had held her. Fish.
Two evenings later, he was standing outside the shop at six o’clock leaning against the brick pillar under the sign that said, “Johnson’s Fish,” in bold red letters. Waiting in his made an effort best outfit. She came out, slowly this time though, stepping onto the pavement where the wind suddenly whisked up her hair, loosely flying it around her face. Holding it back with her right hand she tilted her head slightly with an inquisitive look.
“Hello,” he said in his normal casual, laid back way, “remember me? I remember you. You smelt of fish. You know if you are going to come out with me you might have to change your job.”
“Now there’s a chat up line I’ve not heard before, “she said with a smile, “and what makes you think I want to go out with you then?”
“We’ve been intimate. You were intent on showing me your knickers. A fair introduction don’t you think? And besides you owe me an apology and that I’ll only take in beer.”
“It’s my Dad’s shop and for now he needs me to help so you’ll have to get used to fish. Can you do that? You will if you want to go out with me.”
“Fair enough Miss Johnson. Saturday night OK? Pick you up at seven. Names Danny. Where’d you live and who’d I ask for?”
And Sue told him.
The violence of the noise was deafeningly loud. Echoing off the walls. The crashing and banging and clanging of a heavy hammer striking the bolted, wooden, iron framed door. The couple were crouched and panting against the wall. Her left hand was over her mouth stifling a scream. There were tears in her eyes. Would they break in? Could they break in? Unanswered questions that he hoped he would not have to answer. But it was obvious he was ready nonetheless. Then the crack. Then silence.
A loud shouting argument started outside the door. Even though it had split it was proving hard to break down. The old bonded store, the sanctuary where the running pair had gone to ground. Hiding from their pursuers. In the pitch black they had just enough time to secure the door at the top, middle and bottom with long, thick bolts slid into steel loops that were welded to the heavy steel frame. Why had they taken the short cut, nipping through the gap in the fence? The same gap that he had used for years. He knew the docks were no place to linger but….. It was much quicker. Really he thought it was just so stupid especially so late at night, especially with her.
The group of suited men standing in the darkness around the open container had not looked right. He knew that immediately he saw them and had pulled her behind a wall. As he watched, the security man with his peaked cap pushed back a bit, drove a forklift truck out of the bonded store on the other side of the yard and began unloading a pallet stacked high with small, white sacks from a large, blue container. This and two others went into the back of the waiting lorry. One of the men, a tall, swarthy man with grey hair, gave the security guard a large brown envelope who then started to walk away. Another man, shorter and stocky, raised a silenced pistol and shot the guard in the back of the head. As he fell he shot him twice in the chest, stooped, picked up the envelope saying, “no loose ends. We agreed. No loose ends. Correct?” Turning to look at the others. Waving the gun.
The girl was momentarily in shock. Then she screamed. The four men looked up. He grabbed her hand and started running across the yard heading for the far exit which was now closer than the gap in the fence, with the men in pursuit. She slipped and fell. He pulled her up. Realised they would not now outrun their pursuers, he pulled her into the store. Slammed the door shut just as the first man caught up. They were trapped and he knew it.
The argument stopped and he heard the sound of a diesel engine. The forklift truck slammed into the door buckling the frame and backed away about ten metres then came forward at top speed to crash again, slitting the door this time. One more hit and the door would collapse.
He looked through the cracks and saw three men waiting with guns raised. Suddenly blue flashing lights appeared in the background. With sirens blasting. The men turned and started shooting at the convoy of vehicles streaming into the yard. They returned fire with bullets whizzing through the gaps in the door. He pulled her down and they both lay on the floor behind the solid wall. The firing stopped. Two of the men were down. He unbolted the door and swung it open, took her hand and walked out into the safety of the approaching policemen.
Danny was still holding her hand. She had been squeezing his tightly with the pressure increasing as the drama unfolded. She was shaking and breathing heavily but starting to calm down. She wiped her face with her left hand. Slightly ruffled her hair then let go of his hand and rubbed her hands together. A kind of nervous gesture.
“I hate violent movies,” Sue said with her hands clasped in front of her. The credits had begun to roll. “I always get so scared. It’s worse being so dark in here. And noisy. Wow, all that banging and screaming. It’s exhausting.”
“All you have to remember is it’s not real,” he replied, “usually there’s a happy ending.”
“I did think that they would be killed. That couple. Getting mixed up in all that.”
“Well there’s a thing,” said Danny, “they were always going to survive. They were the ones that were going to head off into the sunset and live happily ever after. So they had to survive. It’s the age-old plot conclusion. That’s all you have to believe in these films. There are those that will live happily ever after.”
“OK but let’s not see anymore for a while. I would prefer something a bit more sedate next time please.”
Leaving the cinema and walking down the hill heading towards the last of the sunshine that was rapidly disappearing behind the far buildings lengthening the shadows.
“It’s nice this time of day if there’s a sunset,” Sue said as she took hold of his hand, “such a romantic setting. And I forgot to tell you. I’m sure you will be pleased to know that I’m not needed in the fish shop anymore so I’m looking for a better job.”
He let go of her hand and put his arm around her shoulder giving her a gentle hug then walking towards the red sky he had to shield his eyes as the last rays suddenly appeared through a gap in the tall buildings.