(From the Pulp Crime stories)
"About an hour," said the doctor’s voice.
"Thomas I said…"
"I’ll have an hour? Yes? An hour?"
"Thomas please, it depends on blood pressure, blood type. Some people don’t clot easily. Tourniquets don’t always stop the bleeding. You should go to a hospital."
"One hour. Perhaps more, if you are lucky. But the blood loss could make you too weak to move long before then."
"Be waiting doctor."
Thomas dropped the phone and picked up the knife. His legs were cramping from the crouch he was forced into. He lined the knife level with the edge of the battered steel box and rested it on the bloody wrist of his right arm.
The box was closed. His right hand was still inside the box. The alarms had been sounding for ten minutes. He raised his left arm as high as he could. He clenched the fingers of his right hand one last time then brought the knife down.
He had to do it three times to get free.
Thomas rolled around on the floor.
The phone showed the time was 03:34.
The phone showed the time was 03:15.
When a storm swells the river, emergency run off drains have to be opened to prevent flooding, giving easy access to the building to those willing to get themselves wet.
"I’m freezing," muttered Mick, climbing the ladder out of the sewer and wiping the drips from his face.
"Mick, a bit of cold is nothing," said Thomas, smiling as he climbed the ladder a few rungs above him. "This game is all about the winning. Get in, get out, get it all. Ha!" He called up to the large figure dripping on them both. "Huh, Pinter? Get it all, right?"
Pinter climbed out into the basement. "Yeah, sure Thom. Pass the bag up."
Mick spat dirty water out. "You know what they dump in that river, don’t you?"
"All about the long game, Mick. Take the rough with the smooth. If one job fails, just walk away, the next will earn you double. Long game, Mick. Winner’s win. You’ll learn that after you’ve done a few more."
"Shut up the pair of you," Pinter said, walking over to the cage at the back of the long, low room. The three stood outside it, peering into the shadows.
"Mick, break the circuit. Thom, get the cutter."
Thomas started humming a tune.
"And Thomas," said Pinter. "Don’t do that."
"Done," said Mick and a set of LED’s flicked from green to red. Pinter turned the lights on and Thom cut through the cage.
There, at the centre of the cage, was a steel box, two feet by one, bolted to a low table.
The three stood over the box.
"Here goes our investment," said Pinter and tapped an eight digit number into the pad on the top.
The box snicked and opened smoothly.
There was nothing inside.
"No," said Pinter.
"You are joking," said Mick.
Thomas reached into the box, feeling the walls and the floor. The box snicked again and the lid slammed almost all the way shut.
Thomas started screaming. He fell to his knees.
"What does this mean?" said Mick.
"I don’t know," Pinter answered.
"They must have known," said Mick.
"That’s it. That must be it. The information was planted."
"Please! Smash the box! Come on! Help me!"
"We should get out of here."
Mick and Pinter ran from the basement.
"Guys! Guys! Pinter! Come on! GUYS!"
Blood ran down his arm and the box. His bag was near the back of the cage. He reached out to get it and was pulled back to the box, sobbing and trying to clutch at his right hand.
He looked around, kicked over a few of the stacked crates. China smashed. He kicked away the packing and found a crowbar.
He fumbled for purchase on the lid of the box. He leant on the crowbar, the crowbar slipped, dropping his body to the ground and wrenching his wrist. He sobbed.
He placed the teeth of the crowbar as close to his wrist as possible and tried to find purchase again. The crowbar slipped on the blood. He blacked out for a few seconds.
He beat the crowbar off the box as hard as he could until his strength gave out. The lid did not move. He started giggling.
So he stood up as much as he could and emptied his pockets onto the box. He had a packet of cigarettes, a knife and a mobile phone. He sniffed and wiped the tears from his eyes, covering his face with blood.
He phoned his friend the doctor.
The phone showed the time was 03:40.
Thomas got up from the floor and wrapped his shirt around his stump as much as he could. The bandage bulged regularly. He made his way to the hole in the cage. He would have to swim as Pinter would have taken the boat. He could still do that and get to the doctor in time. He could just walk away.
"Still winning," he said.
Then he stopped outside the cage.
When the police arrived at the building they would call the owners, have them open the empty box, and they would find his hand in it. Five whole prints. Waiting.
Thomas started laughing, and beat the box with the crowbar some more. It was barely dented. His blood was so common they could never identify him with it but his hand waved at him from behind the steel.
In the silence that followed he could hear the rain beating off the walls of the building, the tiny ticking of the alarm and sirens in the distance.
So Thomas went over to his bag, took out the cutters and set about stealing the empty box. It took ten minutes to cut the box from its table with only one hand and when he tried to lift it he stumbled and it landed on his toe with a crack.
His mouth, by now, was fixed in a smeared red grin. He started singing a song.
He dragged the box out of the cage and towards the loading entrance, as opening the doors of the building now could not set off any more alarms. The sirens sounded loud outside the doors and tyres skidded to a halt. He turned around and headed up the stairs.
He smashed the box off the walls and banisters as he went, limping and trailing blood.
He sang: "Be my, be my baby!"
The doors were opened with a ram and many police trampled around the ground floor.
"My one and only baby!"
He reached the door to the roof. He swung the box at it.
"Be my baby now!"
The door smashed open and he went outside. The rain washed all of the blood off him.
Thomas looked around the flat roof. To one side the river bolted into the harbour, to the other the road was filled with police cars seven floors below. A car park spread out to the north and a squat warehouse nestled to the south.
Thomas heard the police climbing the stairs.
Thomas dragged the box over and looked at the warehouse roof. It was two floors below and ten feet away. He swung the box around and threw it onto the top of the warehouse. It landed solidly and did not break.
Thomas limped back to the stairwell, listened to the radios, then ran to the side of the building. He misjudged the run, and took off from his broken foot. He stumbled over the side of the building and landed two floors below, on the gravelled roof of the warehouse, on his side and on his face. He skidded to a halt.
Then Thomas coughed up some blood. He sat up and found he couldn’t open one eye and couldn’t take a whole breath without choking. He crawled over to the box, dragged it behind the air conditioning and sat on it. He was hidden from the police coming out onto the roof of the building above him. He felt good. He had the box, he wasn’t at the scene of the crime and he had his hand. And if he had his hand then maybe everything was all right.
He phoned the doctor.
"Thomas? Thomas are you OK? Where are you?"
"Could you sew it back on?"
"What? Technically, yes."
"How long does it stay alive?"
"It depends on the damage, on the temperature. Thomas…"
"Get your needle ready. I’m…oh."
Thomas was looking at the roof of the building. The police weren’t on it. They were moving down on the street towards the warehouse. He looked at the box and found, on the bottom, flashing LED making a ‘tick-tick’ sound. It was installed with a GPS. A GPS that would lead them to the box with his hand in it, anywhere he took it.
So he stood up and threw the box into the swollen river. He watched it bobbing as it was rushed out into the harbour and into the sea, disappearing in the darkness.
He dropped off the warehouse roof into a dumpster filled with food, climbed out and walked away from the building as the police began to surround it and captains called for frogmen.
He limped away down the alley towards the back-up car. His hand would be rotted to the bone by the time they recovered the box. He tried to keep the dripping stump out of the rain and tried to keep his lungs from pressing too hard on his ribs.
"Ha!" he yelled. Then he coughed.
He felt pretty good. He was walking quite slowly. He couldn’t feel the pain in his arm anymore. He leant on walls. He walked through cardboard boxes. He barely noticed the rain beating down on him. He tried his cigarettes but they were wet right through.
So he started singing a song.
"Be my, be my baby…"
Andrew Clarke spends his days working as a video editor and his nights playing songs with his band, 76 (www.76music.com). His editing blows but his band is quite good.
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