Harry boarded the train at Hamilton Square and sat in the nearest empty seat he could find, which happened to be opposite a woman around retirement age. The older woman glanced at him, nervously looking down her nose. Her appearance was rather stylish and affluent; she most probably got on the train at Bromborough or Port Sunlight. He placed the rucksack between his legs.
The train, a British Rail class 507, disappeared into the darkness of the Mersey Tunnel and the automated female announcer informed passengers that the next station was James Street. Images of the River Mersey flooding and crashing through the tunnel played over in Harry’s head. As if he needed anything else to worry about this morning.
The train pulled into James Street. Harry got up and exited the carriage onto the platform. Nervously sweating buckets in his waxed Barbour jacket and flat cap, he embraced the cool air of the underground station, rested the rucksack on one of the platform’s benches, and tied the laces of his Timberland boots.
He walked onto the escalators to street level and exited through the unstaffed ticket turnstile, passing the newsagents, tourist information and ticket office into the city centre of Liverpool with the rucksack he was given to by Conlin only an hour before, by the pavilion in Birkenhead Park. Under no circumstances was he to look in the bag, Conlin instructed him. Harry had taken on a massive debt and burden: he had to pay back Conlin because of his stepfather’s out-of-control addiction to FOBT machines, and this errand was the one and only option he had to do so. There was no other choice: it was either this or his mother’s life.
He had no idea what the rucksack contained and he didn’t really want to know. All he knew is that it stank to high heaven, like rotting pork. Paranoia ran through him like a gale-force wind. Visions of himself being pulled over for a stop and search by Merseyside Police and the officers finding bags of powder or unlaundered banknotes in the bag plagued and tortured his soul. He thought of his mother being brutally murdered by Conlin and his thugs. The thought of having himself made into a prison bitch made him shiver and perspire icicles.
Conlin was one of the most feared men in Birkenhead. A once-professional boxer who had his license revoked by the British Boxing Board of Control for being too violent, repeatedly punching below the belt and after the bell; now a notorious drug supplier, loan shark, and debt collector who had previously done hard time for attempted murder. A sadistic individual who liked to use a nail gun to pin down his victims or a pair of bolt cutters to remove their toes. This was the treatment you got from Conlin and his crew if your debts were too outstanding. He was also rumoured to be a talented armed robber who had always evaded custody for this particular venture.
Harry was told to courier the rucksack to Cafe Pierre on Castle Street to a man called Gartland. Conlin had told Harry that Gartland was going to be wearing a silver Stone Island bubble jacket.
Despite having being brought up on a tough council estate in Woodchurch and attending one of the lowest performing schools on the Wirral, Harry was a bright young man who had an IQ of 128. He was also very athletic and had made it into Tranmere Rovers’ youth academy as a promising young midfield prospect, occasionally compared to his idol Steven Gerrard, mainly because of his ability to strike the ball accurately from range. He was suddenly tempted to look in the bag, and if it was money, make a run for it and never look back. But he knew eventually Conlin would find him, and despite the fact that she never once cared for his welfare, he couldn’t let his mother die.
He despised Wayne, his stepfather ever since his mother brought him home drunk from the pub when Harry was seven. For a couple of years now, Harry fantasised about brutally murdering him as vengeance for all the times he beat Harry and locked him in the cupboard under the stairs as a young boy. On some days, he would daydream about suffocating him with a plastic bag or repeatedly taking a hammer or mallet to his temple. On others, it was drowning him in the bath, then throwing his corpse into the Mersey or the Dee. Out of desperation approximately an hour ago in Birkenhead Park, Harry offered to do the latter to settle the debt with Conlin, only to have him decline and demand he wanted his five grand plus interest off Wayne.
Harry continued to stroll cautiously down James Street, trying not to draw any attention to himself. He looked up at the city’s buildings and store fronts scanning for CCTV cameras; he knew they were everywhere. After all, he was living in the surveillance state. Liverpool was very quiet this morning, as it was only a Monday. The sky was a heavy battleship grey, threatening rain with an early November frosty bite in the air. An obese, unshaven American man on the corner was asking a young Liverpudlian woman with curlers still in her hair directions to The Beatles museum. Harry made a turn onto Castle Street and noticed a giant poster on the wall advertising Tony Bellew’s next fight. He could now see Cafe Pierre in the distance.
Harry walked through the door of the cafe and noticed it was an old fashioned English greasy spoon. With a name like Cafe Pierre, he was expecting more of a French-styled restaurant, like Cafe Rouge. He saw Gartland sitting in one of the secluded booths to the right, sipping a coffee and reading the front page of the racing post. Gartland was a big guy in his forties with a scar on his right cheek and a mean-looking crew cut. The cafe was completely empty, with not even one staff member in sight. Harry placed the rucksack in front of him and said, “Conlin told me to drop this off with you.”
“Who the fuck might you be?” said Gartland in possibly the strongest Scouse accent ever heard.
“Whatever. Is everything in the bag?”
“Conlin told me to not look in the bag.”
“Good lad,” said Gartland. “What the fuck?”
Gartland pulled a bloody plastic bag out of the rucksack containing a severed hand with all the fingers down except the middle one and a note saying:
HAHA, go fuck yourself, Gartland, you soppy rhino-headed soft cunt. I’LL keep your five grand, it’s the least you owe me, you’ll never get a penny out of me again, and you can keep your brother’s hand as a token of remembrance. I put the rest of him through Dave the Butcher’s meat grinder. You can purchase the rest of his remains this Saturday morning in discount sausages at Tuebrook Market.
P.S. Tell the boy I’LL take him up on his offer.
Joe Murray has been a merchant mariner for many years and has been lucky enough to travel the world with his job. He took up writing short stories as a hobby to distance himself from the drinking culture that is heavily ingrained in his occupation. Murray was inspired by his father, who used to enter short story competitions for Ireland’s Own. His stories are often like an enjoyable mix of Dennis Lehane and Irvine Welsh. Murray divides his time between Somerset, England and Ibiza, Spain.