Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Watchman

Niall’s mind focused on two tasks, the first important, the second vital. He scans the docks for security, the remainder of his mind devoting itself to the acquisition of heroin.

The darkness hides him in a bag of cold sweat and paranoia. They could do me for trespass, he tries to reassure himself, but they probably wouldn’t call the cops.

The other three check for older style locks on nearby shipping containers. A specially cut and folded beer can will slide easily alongside their fastener, opening the lock. Niall listens for the squeak of doors opening. Nothing. If they were caught they’d be done for trespass, going equipped, possibly robbery. That’s why they got paid more.

The part of Niall’s brain that demands opiates does not understand the concept of debt. It does not understand why Niall spends four hours working for a ten quid bag when he could be begging. He tries to silence it.

A squeak. An open door. Still, no need to panic yet, it could be stuffed with scrap metal. Niall catches his breath, listening. He might get a little extra for a good job. Too professional to talk, he hears the others start to work. What was it? A good haul would almost definitely mean more heroin. This is important he told himself – how many footsteps can you hear?

Two sets means TVs, furniture, storage heaters, even printers once. Big items, harder to sell, harder to move. Hardly worth the effort. Three sets means gold dust. Small electronics. Laptops. iPods. Computer parts. Mobile phones. A hot shower tomorrow morning and a walk around town in a suit, seeing who’d buy them. More gear. He listens carefully, his junkie brain excited.

Could he really hear the difference? He always guessed, and was right more often than not. The others, professionals, did not stomp. He hears a grunt. Something heavy? He scans the dockyard once more, and finding nothing, sneaks back to look.

His ten Euro bag and continued health depends on not leaving his post; paranoia keeps him to the shadows. In the distance the three stand around an open container and use a mobile’s light to check the contents. One cuts open the packaging. Lots of small boxes. They could easily carry ten each. Don’t get excited yet he tells himself. It could be dog bowls again. People ship all sorts of rubbish.

Too far away to see clearly, he finds comfort seeing the others still working. Surely it must be worth something? Paranoia draws him back to his post. Too late he sees the security guard, neon jacket, torch, walking past. Time slows down as the heroin seeking part of his brain, jolted by adrenaline, examines the situation. Arrest means no drugs. Failing to keep watch means no drugs. The others getting caught means... he rubs his arm. Healed now. Broken for something minor.

Time moves with unexpected clarity. He could run, now, and warn them. He’d have to run past the guard, shouting. Would they make it? Probably. Still, if he’d been at his post he could have warned them silently. They’d close the container, hide nearby, and get back to work in a half hour. If they missed out on iPods for this he’d take a beating. He probably wouldn’t get his bag.

Time slows. Why did they give the guards neon jackets? Much easier to spot. He watched the torch flick through the shadows. More neon, a bright orange life buoy. Of course. Niall runs with a focus only addicts possess.

“Help! Help!” he roars, not looking back “I’m fallin’ in!”

Still strong, he leaps over the safety barrier, making sure there are no boats below. “HELP!” he shouts as he falls, making certain his landing is a loud belly flop.

The cold water shocks him. He takes a moment to congratulate himself. Sure, he’ll be in trouble. Play dumb he thinks, just say you were looking for somewhere safe to sleep. They mightn’t even call the cops. There could be a warm blanket, a cup of tea.

He should ask for a cup of tea. And to use the bathroom. How long would it take the guard to fish him out? The port wall is two stories high with no ladder; you can only get out if you are pulled up by rope. The other three will have plenty of time to load the van. They’ll even lock the container afterwards; it could be weeks before anyone spots the robbery. He wonders if they could do this stunt again at another dock.

His body starts to shiver. Must be some problem opening the life buoy he thinks. He's not worried. Withdrawal has prepared him for worse, and if he fakes hypothermia he'll buy a half hour waiting on the ambulance, going through the motions. He could even come back tomorrow night, give the guard a few beers for his efforts, keep him talking while the guys did another run.

Niall kicks off his shoes. Their weight was dragging him down. “Help!” he cries again.

On the dock, a security guard walks his beat. He’s had one official warning for falling asleep on the job. There would not be a second. Three cups of coffee run through his system and his headphones blast loud music, keeping him awake.

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