by Andrew Foote
Beings as it was gone twelve, we ambled through the streets as we made our way to Moor Street Station. Callum had warned me about looking nervous or holding the eyes of any cop we might see and just to make casual contact then carry on as if it was perfectly normal for us to be out doing whatever we were doing.
It worked, and we were never challenged.
We collected my bag, got a refund then made tracks for our hideaway before questions could be asked of us.
We managed to get back safely and sitting out by the canal, I emptied the contents of my backpack onto the concrete.
There wasn't much. Three decent shirts, two pairs of jeans, socks and underwear, three tee shirts and two thick jumpers.
I'd also packed into a separate carrier bag a pile of books, some were school books but mostly I'd loaded it down with my favourite fiction, and in between the pages I had hidden what cash I'd managed to find.
"So, how much do you have there?"
"I'm not sure. Fifty quid maybe?"
"Okay, so enough to keep you going for a few weeks then, so long as you stick with the essentials that is.
Do you read a lot?"
"Yeah I do. It used to spirit me away into fantasy land, you know, stop me thinking about my home life.
Sad aren't I."
"No. Actually I envy you."
"I can't read. I'm seriously dyslexic. Fuck it? I can't even understand numbers which is why Ronny takes care of my money.
I told you he was my business manager didn't I."
"That's bad Callum? Don't you bank your money?"
"Yeah, but when I get statements, they mean bugger-all to me. Ronny might even be ripping me off, I dunno because I don't get what those statements mean."
"Would you like me to take a look at them?"
"Might be good. Ronny is always carping on about how it is that he sorts out everything for me.
Would you mind?"
"No, I'd be happy to. After my father left, I used to manage our household finances, my mother was too pissed most of the time but then 'he' came on the scene and he would hit me if I went so much as close to them."
"Good. Thanks. We'll get to his place for a meal tonight and I'll get them off him."
Callum fell silent for a moment then touched my arm.
"Could you do me one other favour Edward?"
"Sure I will if I can. Ask away."
"Could you like, read to me sometime? I know it sounds childish, but no one has read a story to me since my folks were deported."
"I can do that. It'd be nice actually.
What sort of stuff do you like?"
"Anything. Like you said, it would be nice to escape from reality.
What do you like?"
"Adventure mysteries mostly. I'm a massive Clive Cussler fan!"
Could we start like right now?"
"Why not? You pick a book from the pile."
Callum spread the books around, then looking at the pictures on the flysheets, made his selection.
"This one. I like stories about the sea, ships and what have you.
Is that okay?"
"Yes. Nice choice. It's a fave of mine too!"
Callum, rather than sporting his disinterested posture, actually looked excited.
"I can't believe I'm so looking forward to something for once! Normally sleep is the only event in any given day that I actively look forward to."
"I just hope I'm up to the task then.
Shall I begin?"
'To a casual onlooker, the 'Oregon' appeared to be a disaster waiting to happen. Her rusted hull and superstructure, unloved and uncared for, her decks littered with the debris of long unfinished repairs, her windows, most of which were either severely damaged or completely missing paid tribute to a vessel that should have been consigned to the breakers yard long since, but behind this façade, this theatre set put together in order to deter other ships from getting too close, lay a beast waiting to be set loose.
Beyond this, she was perhaps one of the finest and most technologically advanced ships afloat, bristling with weaponry and communications equipment, her propulsion systems, comprising of highly secret turbines that extracted water from the sea, then separating the oxygen, used the hydrogen to fuel the burners thus giving her an unlimited source of fuel that powered her to a frightening sixty-five knots, but for the time being were hardly having to break sweat as she knifed through the water at a mere twenty.
Captain Ed Anderson stood on the bridge and took stock.
"When do we hit landfall Ben?"
"04.00 hrs then we should be in Lebanese territorial waters."
"Get Mac to list her to starboard by 15 degrees and send out a distress call. Given our manifest shows we're supposed to be carrying liquid Ammonium Peroxide, they'll never in a million years allow us a berth, so lots of smoke from the stacks please.
I'm going below to take a shower and get changed into my scruffs. Give me a shout when the pilot is on the way."'
You still awake?"
"Yeah but it's getting a bit chilly out here.
Let's go inside and see if we can get the fire to light."
"I didn't notice a fireplace?"
"Come on, I'll show you."
Once inside, Callum pointed to a sheet of hardboard propped up against the wall.
"It's behind there. I keep it blocked off unless I light it 'cos it draws like hell sucking cold air in through the hole in the wall. I keep meaning to knock out more of the brickwork and fit some sort of door but I'm useless when it comes to that sort of thing."
"Between us we should be able to do it? My father owned a building firm and sometimes I would help out, or should that read hindered!"
"No harm in trying.
Let's see if it'll light then we can leave it to warm the place up a bit while we grab a bite to eat."
"Well that came as a surprise! I honestly thought Ronny might bitch about handing over all my banking stuff. Maybe he hasn't been creaming some off the top!"
"Do you want me to take a look at it now?"
"Nah. Do it in the morning, I'd much prefer you to carry on reading to me. That book's brilliant!
The Captain. Is his name really Ed whatever?"
"Nope! That's my name. I sort of borrowed him so I could be part of the story I suppose, be a part of the fantasy."
"I like that!
Could you do the same with me? That would be so cool!"
"No probs but you never told me what your family name is."
"Lee. Callum Lee."
"Okay then. There's a character coming up in the next chapter. He's like the head of operations, sort of like a Commando, tough and fearless but fair and kind of caring.
"No, should it?"
"Yeah 'cos he's just like you. You're tough and fearless but also you're kind, maybe even gentle."
"Why? You've got to be tough if you've managed to survive up 'till now. You don't seem afraid of much and you took me in instead of kicking me out into the street, which means you're kind."
"Or crazy. The jury's still out on that one.
What about this gentle bit then?"
"I dunno. I just get the impression that if you were ever to fall in love, it'd be all consuming, tender and passionate. You'd treat your girlfriend like she was the most important person in the world and then some. In short? You'd be gentle and loving."
"Phff. There's one major flaw in that argument. I'm gay or maybe you've forgotten."
"You never said you were gay, just that you were on the rent.
Does that mean you enjoy what you do?"
" Enjoy it?? I fucking hate it!!
Look Ed…… can I call you Ed?"
"No. Call me Captain!"
Look, I do what I do in order to survive. Get real Ed? Imagine what it's like to have some pervy old bloke pawing you, expecting you to blow him until he cums in your mouth? Some of them wanna fuck you for Christ's sake!
Enjoy it? In your dreams!"
Some of them are sort of sad now I come to think about it, like there's this one guy who just wants me to do a striptease while he wanks himself. He's never so much as laid a finger on me, but he pays me fifty quid for the privilege.
Some of them cream themselves before they get around to doing anything. Hey I've got a cute bod, I know I have, so if they wanna pay me just for getting them off, then I'll do it."
"I don't get it. In one breath you tell me you're gay, but in the next you say you don't like what you do?"
"I'm not into men you idiot!
Now if I was to have a boyfriend? Yeah, that would be nice."
"I'll keep an eye open for one shall I?"
"Oh yeah! Who the hell is going to hitch up with a dosser like me? If I went to school, maybe mixed with kids my age then…… well it might be different, but as things stand, the only kids I know are like me and none of them interest me.
Can we please change the subject? I've said too much already."
'Callum Lee stealthily inched his way towards the silo's that housed the nuclear warheads then waited for his planned diversion to kick in.
He had rigged a small explosive device to a drum of kerosene, the idea being that the ensuing blaze would ensure that all the guards and the personnel in the accommodation block would be too preoccupied fighting the fire to notice him.
Callum, a veteran SAS Major, was well versed in the use of explosives, but to remove the detonators from a nuclear bomb was something even he couldn't manage leaving him just one option, break into the silo and blow it up.
That was the easy bit, it got more complicated when he thought about how he'd get back to the 'Oregon', but that could wait.
'There goes five hundred gallons of Kerosene' he muttered. 'Just hope the body of that guard is enough to fool them into thinking my little surprise was just an unfortunate accident.'
"I like my character Ed! He's really cool!"
He's gay too by the way."
"No shit! Really?"
"Well not in the book he isn't, but I'll make him that way if you want?"
Callum looked at me intently.
"Yeah, I reckon you could at that."
"Turn a straight SAS Major gay. You've got the looks right enough."
"Should I take that as a compliment?"
"Maybe a back-handed one.
I'm beat. Let's get some shut-eye."
"Okay, so what do you want to do first, Bank statements or breakfast?"
"Em…… breakfast I reckon.
What money's on my account isn't going to alter but I must look after my sweet body or sure as shit, there won't be any money going in anytime soon."
"Look Callum? I know how you make your money, but really, do you have to keep reminding me?"
"What's up Ed? Don't tell me you've got religion already?"
"No, nothing remotely like that. I just don't like thinking of you doing stuff with men."
"Well I do, so live with it."
Just don't keep reminding me like you're proud of yourself or something." I yelled.
With that, I burst into tears and ran outside and sat by the canal.
It wasn't long before Callum came out and sitting beside me, put his arm around my shoulder.
"What triggered that Edward? I mean we've talked about it before, and yes, I know how you feel about it, for fuck's sake, I feel much the same way but you never went off on one before?"
"I don't know. Maybe it's because I'm still in a bit of a mess about my Mum. I don't even know if she's alive. Last time I saw her, she was unconscious."
"Can't you find out?"
"How! March into the hospital and say, 'Hi. I'm Edward Anderson. I called the ambulance to my Mum two days ago and I wondered, is she still breathing?'
"No. Well, perhaps not!
Tell you what? Why not phone the hospital."
"Could do, but what if they ask who I am? They don't just go giving out that sort of information to anybody?"
"You lie to them, tell them you're her nephew."
"But what if the cops have put a trace on my phone. It's on contract."
"Use mine. It's pay-as-you-go. Problem sorted."
"Thanks. I might just do that."
"No, not 'might just' Ed. Bloody-well do it and now while I rustle up some food."
"Hello. I'm enquiring about a Mrs Anderson. Do you know of her? She was admitted the night before last."
"Yes we do. She's on ward twenty. Would you like me to connect you?"
"Yes. Thank you."
I was put on hold for what seemed like an eternity then finally……
"Ward Twenty, Sister Anne speaking?"
"Oh, good morning Sister. My name is Donald Turner, I'm Mrs Anderson's nephew. Could you tell me how she is please?"
"Well, you must understand that as you're not her immediate family, I'm not permitted to say that much. All I can tell you that her condition is critical but stable."
"But she'll be okay?"
"She's out of intensive care. Does that help?"
"Yes, lots. Thanks Sister."
Why not call again in a day of two. We might be able to update you."
"I'll do that! Thanks."
"Out of intensive care, critical but stable. More than that she wouldn't say."
"Well, if nothing else, you know she's alive at least.
Eat up before it gets cold then once you've finished, brew some coffee while I give the fire a kick. I've got a feeling the weather's on the turn."
"How do you know?"
"Easy. The wind is coming from the North East and with it clear skies. That can only mean it's going to get seriously cold, especially overnight. If we get cloud then it'll most likely snow and that, Edward, we really don't need!"
"I don't understand?
I rather like snow?"
"Yeah, well I like looking at it, it even makes this shithouse look passably clean but think about it for a moment.
How do we get in and out of here?"
"Through the hole in the wall."
So if it snows, then what?
Footprints leading every Tom, Dick and Harry to our hidey-hole, that's what!"
What happens then?"
"We try and get out through the yard next door. There's a gap in the fence just behind the fridge but during the day, the yards in use so we have to be like ultra-careful we're not spotted."
"What about at night time. Isn't it locked?"
"Yes but I managed to figure out the combination! No worries on that score."
Three nights on and Callum's weather forecast was proved correct.
I've no idea just how cold it was but the fire made little or no difference to our room so as his bank account was showing deposits to the tune of a tad over two grand, we went into town and bought a couple of sleeping bags, stole five bags of coal from next doors yard and settled into a long hibernation only stepping outside for essentials and to cook breakfast.
"I wonder how the other kids are doing. Some of them little bastards live in worse places than this."
"How many others are there?"
"Last count? I dunno, twenty maybe? Some of them might've been sussed out so it's hard to tell precise numbers."
"Maybe they're the lucky ones!"
"Yeah, maybe you're right.
How would you feel if I went out on a sortie and got them to come here until the weather changes?"
"It's your place so……"
" Our place! What do you reckon?"
"Invite them. Yes, definitely invite them!"
"I was hoping you'd say that.
Want to come along for the ride?"
"What, and leave a nice warm fire? Okay, I'm in."
"Good. Maybe you'll see just how lucky we are having this place."
Callum wasn't wrong. How some of these poor kids managed to survive was a complete mystery to me, I'm pretty sure I'd be dead by now had I been one of them.
Most wanted to come with us but not all so I asked about this.
"Surely all of them would rather have a roof over their heads, so why are there a few who want to tough it out?"
"Pride Ed. All of these kids are used to sorting stuff for themselves. They don't much like being beholding to other people, sort of goes against the grain.
Stupid but there you have it."
Some of the kids brought along their own boxes but a few didn't which begged another question from me.
"Those four over there didn't bring anything to sleep in.
Given that boxes are in short supply, what do we do with them?"
"I'd thought about that as well so what I thought we might do is lend them ours. We can line the floor with newspapers then sleep in front of the fire. We've got sleeping bags, remember?"
"Yes but that only takes care of two of them."
"Nah. We get them to double up. They'll probably be warmer than us!"
That evening it was time to start on another book but this time I had an audience of seventeen, eighteen if I included Callum.
Callum picked another 'Oregon' adventure as he liked his character!
It was a blast and I read for over two hours but then noticing some of the younger kids yawning, I knocked it on the head.
We lined the floor with as many old newspapers as we could lay our hands on then stripping out of our outer layers of clothing, dived into our respective sleeping bags.
Bloody-hell it was cold!
I tried to sleep but the newspaper idea wasn't having the desired effect, the cold was seeping through chilling me to the bones.
I obviously wasn't alone.
"Are you awake Ed?"
"Yes. I'm too fucking cold to sleep! I can't feel my feet and the cold coming up from the floor is a killer."
"I've got the same problem.
I hesitate to ask but what if we were to share? We could use one bag to help insulate the floor, double up on the newspapers as will only need space for the one bag and anyway, our combined body heat should do the trick.
What do you think?"
"Works for me. Those kids seem to be alright so yeah, let's do it."
We busied ourselves rearranging the newspapers and placing the spare sleeping bag on top of them, crawled into the second.
It was strange being so damned close to another human being, a nice strange though.
It had the desired effect as we both began to stop shivering.
Callum let out a moan.
"Not now? Please not now?"
"What's the matter?"
"I've gone and popped one."
"Like as in………"
"Yeah. I've got a hard-on."
"What do you mean, why! Cuddling up with a cute boy is why.
I'm gay, you're cute to the point of…… cute and you ask why?
May God preserve us Edward. Sometimes I worry about you!"
"Ignore it and try to get some sleep."
"If you pop one, can you ignore it? It's fucking impossible at our age!"
"No, you're right.
Have a wank if you must."
A few minutes later and it was my turn.
"Fuck you Callum! Bits of me are waking up!"
"Okay, just the one bit if you must know damn it!"
"Ignore it and try to get some sleep or have a wank if you must!!"
Eventually sleep did take centre stage and I didn't wake until gone ten the next morning.
Callum was still out of it although he had managed to turn over in his sleep so now we were facing each other, our arms around each other's waists.
Actually, it was rather nice! It wasn't as if I could feel anything, we were still pretty much fully dressed but being in such close contact with someone was new to me.
Before my mother got into drink and drugs, we used to share hugs and I missed those times but this? This was altogether better!
One of the young lads padded over towards us, a large overcoat draped around his shoulders.
"It's fucking cold in here. Can you do something with the fire?"
"What, and wake the sleeping beauty here? It'd be more than my life's worth!"
He studied Callum for a moment before turning to me.
"You really like him, don't you?"
"Yeah, I do. He's like, well special."
"I thought as much. I was awake when you turned over and cuddled up to him. Fuck, your faces were only inches apart and I was waiting for you to kiss him!"
"What? No, not like that like him? He's just a really good friend!"
"If you say so.
He really likes you like that though!!"
"Piss off Pip. Do the sodding fire if you must but lay off me please?"
"Yeah, alright but there's no shame if you do really like him you know?
We all know he's gay and it's about time he found a boyfriend.
He's really lonely, did you know that Ed?"
"Em…… no actually, I didn't. I see him as being confident and streetwise but never lonely?"
"We have to put that across or people would walk all over us but deep-down? We all have our problems and short of giving ourselves up to the social services, the only people we can confide in is each other.
We need each other just to get through the day. We might move around a lot so as not to get our collar's felt but there's like a…… a bush telegraph what works well enough so all of us know where we all are, that's how Callum managed to find us yesterday.
Anyway, trust me. He's very lonely so be good to him, okay?"
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