The Abyss Stares Back

Hollow. Rage. Torn. This is what he felt. Every hour of every day. They were his friends and his curse. Even now as he sat motionless at his desk in the Birmingham city police station, Detective Constable Salvatore Nizam El-Sayed felt all three.

He was a short and stocky man, with mighty bear like arms and thick shoulders that made him seem as if he was constantly hunched over. His forty-five years showed, with bags under his stoic green eyes and faint wrinkles on his broad forehead. He had dark olive skin and a powerful square jaw with a large meaty nose. He shaved his head regularly and had a grizzly black and white beard that stretched down to the top of his chest. He did not care for his appearance, so he donned a bland smart casual outfit to work.

Salvatore was trying to muster up the will to type up his report. On his way to work this morning, there was a group of teens in the park on Colmore Row littering and smoking weed. A common sight in Birmingham. He barely even noticed, until an old man went up to the group of youths to complain and they started hassling him. Salvatore only intervened because he saw one of the teens pull out a small kitchen knife. A flash of his badge proved useless, so he ended up spraining the boy’s wrist when he disarmed him. The rest of the group, including the old man, began threatening him that it was against the law and that they would make sure he got sacked.

The country was full of ungrateful idiots like them.

The rest of his morning was spent taking shit from the Chief Inspector of the station. How pointless, he thought as he began typing. Three years in the intelligence corps, seven years in the security service. For what? Society was still full of human waste, blaming others for their own issues. Did he really serve for them, or was it for the thrill? Ever since that day…the day he failed. No, I left. I couldn’t be what they wanted me to be. He was stuck behind a desk, solving petty crap, and rotting away. Would the alternative have been so bad?  

‘’Sal! You bloody idiot. I wanted that report ten minutes ago!’’ Her shrieking voice snapped him back to reality.

He looked up and saw her standing in front of him, ‘’You’re always giving me shit about details, Lauren. Just following orders,’’ said Salvatore to his superior officer.

Lauren was a short and pudgy woman, with a broad and prominent forehead that almost hid her hairline. She had a small nose, fat cheeks that wobbled whenever she talked and a loose second chin that dangled underneath her ever angry face. The rest of her resembled a loose pudding, stretching her smart uniform to its limits.

His words infuriated the shrieking battle axe, ‘’That’s Chief Inspector to you,’’ she spat, ‘’If you were half as smart as you think you are, you would’ve sent me the report by now.’’

And if you were half as fat as you are, you wouldn’t be so angry at everyone. He thought but said, ‘’Details or speed. You can’t have both…Chief Inspector. Can I finish my report now?’’

In a fit of rage, Lauren kicked his desk and bellowed, ‘’Think you’re hard, do you?’’ Her piercing voice grabbed the entire office’s attention, ‘’I don’t know how they did things in your posh security job but here you respect your superiors. Email me that report in the next five minutes or I will suspend you for a month with no pay,’’ and then she left.

Salvatore wasn’t angry. Or annoyed. Or surprised. He had worked here for twelve years and knew Lauren had daily outbursts at everyone, she thought that the whole world had a problem with her and she was always trying to prove herself. He looked around and noticed that his colleagues were still staring, ‘’Show’s over people. Mind your own business,’’ he said and resumed typing his report, pondering on his time in the station.

It was a grim office, with brown brick walls and dark green pillars encasing the workers. A series of large windows allowed dim rays of sunlight to enter, giving everything a brooding appearance. Three long columns of desks were lined across the center of the room, with several filing cabinets to the right of them, while the kitchen and printer room where on the left. Salvatore’s own desk was at the far end of the right-hand column, engulfed by the shadows. A steel staircase led to the second floor, where the senior officer was situated. Salvatore had started the job back in 2005, and he was the only one from the original team that survived. He had seen people come and go, some moving up the ladder and most falling off it. His current colleagues were either bland, shit at their jobs or both.

Hassan Shariff was a boy in a man’s body. Tall, handsome and well groomed, he cared more about getting his dick wet than his actual job. A detective in title only, but he made sure to remind everyone of his position. Dave Taylor was on old waste of a man, always staring at the clock and waiting for the day to finish. He did what he had to, and nothing more. To him it was just a job, one he was okay at but did not care about. Hannah Tillson was young and stupid, constantly asking for help with The Abyss Stares Back

everything she did. A detective constable who got the job because her sex organs don’t dangle, and the senior officers want some diversity instead of more talent. The three of them just about made up a brain cell. The rest of Salvatore’s colleagues were not important enough for him to remember their names.

He sighed as he finished the last sentence of his report and finally emailed it to Lauren. She would no doubt find something she didn’t like about it. Salvatore rubbed his forehead in frustration and sat back into his chair. Is this how I am going to spend my final years? Stuck in misery. Is my existence really so void of meaning? He thought. The same thoughts that plagued him every day. Ever since…

‘’Sal! How’s my favourite Italian doing?’’ Hannah’s voice snapped Salvatore back to reality.

‘’What do you want?’’ He responded knowing what the answer will be.

Hannah smiled, her perfect pearly white teeth shinning in the light, ‘’Don’t be like that. You never know, I might start to grow on you if you give me the chance,’’ she said and sat on Salvatore’s desk.

Hannah only ever spoke to him for one reason and no matter how blunt Salvatore was, she would always pester him, ‘’Like a tumor. Do you want me to do your job for you again?’’ He asked bluntly.

Her smile faded, ‘’Just wanted some help on my case. I’m really stuck,’’ she then handed Salvatore the folder, ‘’A woman woke up to find her entire jewelry collection gone. A couple of grand’s worth of gold and silver. There were no signs of forced entry, no prints anywhere. Nothing.’’ Salvatore knew that she would end up crying in the toilets if he didn’t help. That, and he’d die of boredom.

He opened the folder and looked through the pictures of the house and the woman’s bedroom, where she had kept her jewelry, ‘’The guy must have had keys to get in. Either that or the woman didn’t lock her front door. Look at this, the whole house looks untouched. He obviously knew where to look. Did the woman say anything of note when you interviewed her?’’ Asked Salvatore.

‘’Nothing really. Watched Hollyoaks before bed, showered had some weird dream and woke up to find her jewelry gone,’’ she said earning a sigh from Salvatore.

“What did she dream about?’’, he asked.

Hannah shrugged her shoulders, ‘’Something about her brother I think. What does it matter?’’

Salvatore closed the folder and threw it back at Hannah, ‘’In this case, it’s a clue worth following up on,’’ he said as Hannah struggled to catch the folder without spilling its contents, ‘’There is a difference between a dream and being half awake. She may have left her bedroom door open and saw the thief, but just brushed it off as a dream the next day’’

Hannah couldn’t hide her amazement. It made Salvatore cringe, ‘’I never would have thought of that! Thanks, Sal. I owe you a drink,’’ the same line as the last few hundred times.

‘’No. You’re just incapable of understanding I didn’t do it because I wanted to help you and think saying you owe me a drink makes you less rude when you don’t buy me a drink.’’ If there is one thing Salvatore missed from his country, it was the integrity in people. The English cared more about keeping up appearances than keeping their promises and even after 35 years of living here, it still pissed him off.

Hannah just smiled awkwardly, that same retarded grin she gave whenever she felt that she couldn’t speak her mind, ‘’Thanks for the help,” she said and finally left.

The rest of the day was uneventful, the clock eventually struck 16:30 and Salvatore could finally go home. Until the phone on his desk rang. Could this day get any more miserable? ‘’DC El-Sayed’’, he said as he answered.

‘’Hey, Sal. There’s a man down here in main reception who is demanding to see the officer who broke his son’s wrist’’, said the receptionist.

Salvatore sighed in frustration, ‘’Well tell him to take it up with Lauren. I’m finished for the day’’

He was about to hang up but the receptionist continued, ‘’I told him that but he’s not having any of it. I phoned Lauren and she just patched me through to you’’

Salvatore had really had enough for one day, ‘’Then tell him to go fuck himself,’’ and he hung up.

As he left the office and walked down the stairs, Salvatore wondered if he was purposely being surrounded by degenerates, Is 12 years of punishment not enough? At least he had his evening ritual to look forward to. A few hours at the pub and several whiskeys stopped his mind from racing, or at least slowed it down enough for him to sleep afterwards. He got downstairs and saw a man shouting at the receptionist, with his son behind him.

‘’I’m not leaving until I see the man who did this to my son!’’ His voice cracked as he shouted.

He was a tall and slender man, wearing a black vest top, blue jeans and high-top vans. He had stick thin arms but a toned body and a grizzled windblown face with dark blue eyes.

The boy noticed Salvatore, ‘’That’s him, dad.’’ He said meekly, his voice all but a whisper.

The youth was the spitting image of his father, almost as tall but fatter, he was wearing a pair of converse, grey joggers and a black and blue t-shirt. His wrist was in a splint and Salvatore noticed a deep purple colour creeping around the base of his thumb.

Salvatore ignored them, hoping that he could leave before they forced his hand. He was wrong.

‘’Oi, pig. Did you do this to my son?!’’ He shouted and grabbed Salvatore by the arm, stopping him in his tracks.

Salvatore took a deep breath, ‘’Sir, please let go of my arm.’’

‘’Answer me! Did you do this to my son?!’’ He spat and pointed at his son’s hand, the boy stood there motionless.

‘’Yes, I did. He had a knife. Now let go of my arm, or I will have to restrain you, sir,’’ the man didn’t listen.

‘’How can you put your hand on a child?! He’s only 15,’’ he shouted and tightened his grip.

Salvatore noticed the receptionist moving her hand towards the panic button underneath her desk, their eyes met and he shook his head, stopping her from pressing it. If this turd tries anything we’ll need an ambulance, not security, he thought.

‘’Sir, he had a knife. I did what I had to. Your son is lucky I didn’t lock him up for the day. Now, for the last time, let go and I’ll forget this little meltdown of yours,’’ he said with a threatening tone, hoping that the idiot will listen this time.

He did not, ‘’It doesn’t matter! You put your hands on my son, I served this country so that our children wouldn’t have to deal with your kind!’’

Salvatore couldn’t hold his tongue anymore, ‘’Well considering children like your son still exist, you fought for nothing’’

The man wound up a punch but Salvatore was quicker. A swift palm to the nose stunned him and broke the bone. Salvatore grabbed his head, threw him to the ground and put his weigh on the man, ‘’Sir, calm down’’, he said as he twisted his arm behind his back.

The rest was by the book. Lauren came down shouting at everyone and everything. Salvatore saw no need to complicate things further and so they let the man and his son go. An ambulance was offered, but they denied it and the man continued shouting and swearing as he stumbled out of the police station, leaving drops of blood behind him.

This is the community I must serve and protect. Salvatore mused as he left the station.

A short while later, he arrived at The Crossroads. His local pub was small and only saw a handful of customers each day, tonight it seemed that Salvatore would be the only customer. As he walked in, the familiar heavy scent of stale beer, smoke and varnish greeted him. The carpet was a thick red, dotted with a white diamond pattern. The furniture was old but sturdy and the walls were a deep green, with cracks and stains all along them.

‘’Salvatore, how you doin’ mate?’’ The owner greeted him with a firm handshake.

‘’Hey, Steve’’, said Salvatore as he sat at the bar, ‘’Could be worse.’’ Not by much, he thought.

Steve was tall and round man of 50, what little of his jet-black hair remained formed something of a crown around his head. His beady blue eyes and plump red cheeks emitted a friendly aura in what was a dark and unwelcoming pub.

Salvatore ordered his usual bottle of whiskey. The owner and bartender was very relaxed with how he ran things, customers could smoke inside and bring their own food. Salvatore had been a regular here ever since he started working as a detective, the owner had come to trust him enough to even let him lock up whenever Salvatore wanted to stay past closing. His two sons and wife helped with the business, but tonight it was Steve on his own.

Salvatore filled his glass to the top. The alcohol burned sweetly on the way down. Where has my life gone? He though as he refilled his glass. I used to make a difference, my work used to have some meaning. They did so much wrong. But he was a good servant, he didn’t question anything. He got on with his job until…All I had to do was pull the trigger and I could have become so much more. Free of restrictions and red tape.

He refilled his glass again, and as Salvatore’s mind continued to wonder he heard footsteps behind him. A look over his shoulder revealed a man walking towards him. A mixture of shock and disbelief surged through his body. Why now? Why here? He thought, as a ghost from his past sat next to him.

‘’Don’t look so happy to see me, Sally,’’ he said and proceeded to light a cigarette.

Peter Sandwell. He had aged since they last met 12 years ago. He wore a black suit with a blood red shirt and a dark tie. His pale skin and slender build gave him a phantom like appearance. But most intimidating were his eyes, a blue so faint they were almost white. His smile was as wide as ever, but was empty and cold, just like his heart.

Salvatore knew that they were watching him daily, but he was not expecting this, ‘’Why are you here?’’

‘’Grim as always,’’ he took a drag from his cigarette, ‘’I’ve moved up in the world, Sally. Mostly behind a desk unfortunately, but I still get my fun,’’ Salvatore’s stomach twisted in a knot, knowing all too well what this man’s sick idea of fun was.

‘You mean your sadism,’’ said Salvatore, remembering his assignments with Sandwell.

‘’I just try to make things more fun at the workplace, everyone suddenly got serious after the yanks lost their shiny buildings,’’ he mused and blew out a cloud of smoke, ‘’You still smoke? Or are you strictly an alcoholic now?’’ He then offered a cigarette to Salvatore.

It was never simple with him. This was a creature that enjoyed playing with his prey before devouring it, ‘’If you’re just here to take the piss, Sandwell, I’ll leave.’’ The detective stood up, taking his bottle with him, and made for the exit.

‘’Oh, lighten up will you, Sally!’’ He said, stopping the detective in his tracks, ‘’Truth is, the security service hasn’t been the same without you. If you just killed those two boys way back when, you could have been given the highest rank an agent can get…and the most power,’’ he smiled devilishly and blew smoke out from his nose.

Salvatore shuddered at the memory, ‘’They were children!’’ His voice was louder than he intended, the whiskey had stirred up old emotions in him.

‘’They were rapists and old enough to know right from wrong,’’ Sandwell walked up towards the detective, towering a whole head above him, ‘’We must be animals beyond morality’’

Salvatore replayed the memories of that assignment in his head daily, they asked him to be a monster, ‘’I couldn’t become that.’’

Sandwell took another drag from his cigarette, ‘’But you wanted to’’

The detective didn’t say anything. How could he deny the truth? Sandwell just smiled, his ghostly eyes glistening in the light, ‘’If you want back in, you must show us that you have the stomach for what we do’’

He is giving, but what does he want to take? The detective thought to himself as he sized up Sandwell.

The man walked past Salvatore and stood at the exit, ‘’Britain’s biggest cocaine dealer is a bit too big for our liking, that and he’s smart. We prefer our drug lords to be stupid and predictable,’’ he then flicked the cigarette butt to the floor, ‘’Start with Dawn Green and Sam McAndrew. I’ll be in touch, Sally.’’ And then he disappeared into the night.

Salvatore stood there motionless, not knowing what to do or what to think. He was being offered his life back, he was being offered purpose and meaning…But at what cost? The alcohol was making it hard to think, and yet he found himself willing to act.

The next day Salvatore wasted no time in getting to work. He started with some digging at his office. The detective knew that in recent years there was a major increase in the amount of cocaine that was coming into the country, but nobody seemed to know how this was happening. The few files that they had on the matter were dead ends.

He pulled out Sam McAndrew’s file, thankfully the former gang leader was still locked up in their station. The fall of their group had made for a big story in the Birmingham papers. So, you got your hands on the purest and most expensive, but how? Salvatore pondered and then left the office to go and ask McAndrew directly.

A while later and Salvatore arrived at the custody suite, a long white corridor with ten prison cells, each one guarded by large hulking metal doors. Most were filled with petty thieves or violent idiots, but one among them was the detective’s chance to get his life back. The sergeant owed Salvatore a favour, so he switched off the camera systems and left for a lunch break.

The detective made his way towards McAndrew’s cell, wondering just how difficult the prisoner will be. He unlocked the giant door and entered the cell, ‘’McAndrew. I’m DC El-Sayed, I’ve got some questions for you,’’ he said with his typical bluntness.

McAndrew towered above the detective, he had broad shoulders, a thick beard and long chestnut hair. He eyes were a soft blue but his face was chiselled by the streets. The man’s navy-blue shirt and black trousers reeked of sweat, he had been down here longer than he should have.

‘’Mate, I’ve been here for weeks. I’m sick to death of you fed. Unless you’re here to tell me when I’m going to court, you can fuck off,’’ he said and turned away from the detective.

Salvatore had no time or patience to spare, but he had to be smart, ‘’Listen. I admit, they should have processed you ages ago. But if you tell me what I need to know, I can pull some strings and get you out of here tomorrow if you like.’’

McAndrew turned around reluctantly, ‘’You promise?’’

That got his attention, thought Salvatore, ‘’I promise. You may be a prisoner, but you still have rights’’

A brief silence filled the air, as McAndrew contemplated on his decision. He extended his hand, ‘’Alright. I just want to get out of here, you know? Fair enough I still need to go to court, but I just want to see my family and friends’’

Salvatore shook his hand, ‘’I understand. You have my word, you’ll be processed tomorrow’’, he lied.

 

‘’What do you want?’’

‘’Information,’’ said the detective, ‘’The cocaine you were selling was the good stuff. I want to know who sold it to you’’

McAndrew started pacing up and down his cell, ‘’They’ll kill me if I give any names. It’s all smoke and mirrors anyway, I got it from a dealer who got it from some big-time players,’’

The detective knew that there was more he was not telling him, ‘’So they’re smart. That doesn’t help me.’’

McAndrew became visibly nervous, ‘’Maybe one of my guys did a few jobs for one of their guys, the big ones I mean. Look man, all I know is Wales, Longboat Movings and Norwegians.’’

Satisfied, Salvatore decided not to press him further. Without saying anything, he turned to leave.

‘’Remember. I get processed tomorrow!’’ McAndrew shouted but did not receive a reply.

Salvatore walked out of the station and was greeted by typical grim English weather, ominous clouds filled the sky and blotted out the sun. A steady wind rammed through the air, dragging along a sharp chill. The detective noticed the man following him despite the thick congestion of people.

He stopped on the corner, ‘’You don’t have to hold my hand, Sandwell.’’

The pale and slender man walked up to him with a wide smile, ‘’I’d hold a lot more if you let me, Sally. Sure you don’t want a fag? You look like you need it’’ He asked with a chuckle and sparked a cigarette for himself.

‘’Wales, Longboat Movings and Norwegians’’, replied Salvatore, ignoring the temptation of a cigarette.

‘’Sounds like a kinky weekend,’’ mused Sandwell.

Salvatore rolled his eyes, ‘’No, you idiot. That’s what I got from McAndrew. See what comes up in the databases. Where can I find Dawn Green?’’

He blew a long cloud of smoke into the air, ‘’She’s become a bit of a recluse recently. Lives in Halesowen. Here’s the address,’’ Sandwell then handed a scrunched-up piece of paper to the detective, ‘’I know about Longboat Movings. Small Home moving company based in Wales, they have been growing quite a lot.’’

Why do you know that? The detective wondered but replied, ‘’You can wait for me outside her place, no need to creep around the streets,’’ said the detective and left before Sandwell could reply. No matter what happens, I can’t become like him.

As the sun set and darkness engulfed the sky, Salvatore arrived at Green’s flat. How is she of all people messed up in this? The detective wondered as he remembered Green’s story in the papers, the former reporter was viciously attacked on her way home one night and was labelled as unstable by the press. A short walk up the stairs and he arrived at her door.

The detective knocked and the door partially opened, to his surprise it was an unknown man that answered, ‘’Who are you?” The tall and broad-shouldered man asked.

Salvatore flashed his badge, ‘’DC El-Sayed. Sorry to bother you so late, but I need to speak to Dawn Green. Is she in?’’

The man carefully inspected Salvatore’s identification, ‘’I’m Daniel, her brother. We’ve already spoken to the police, we have nothing more to say,’’ He tried to close the door but Salvatore blocked it with his foot.

‘’Sir, I’m afraid I must insist. It is important that I speak to her, please,’’ One way or another, I’m getting the information I need. The detective thought.

Daniel was about to reply, but a feeble and hoarse voice drew his attention away from Salvatore, ‘’Who is it, Daniel?’’

‘’No one, Dawn. Don’t worry,’’ he replied.

Salvatore peeked in and saw a small husk of a woman standing in the middle of the living room, her honey coloured eyes were wet from tears and her hair dangled in a loose mess. I need to get her attention first, ‘’Miss Green, please. I’m here to help. I know about the cartel you were looking into!’’

Dawn’s eyes lit up with hope, ‘’Let him in,’’ the two siblings argued briefly but in the end, Salvatore was let in. Now to get her to talk, the detective plotted.

‘’I tried to tell them. But he told me that they wouldn’t believe me. They didn’t, b-but I have proof. I…’’ The woman scrambled around the living room, ‘’In these boxes. Images, numbers, dates. All dots. No lines to connect them,’’ she rummaged through several boxes, stacking together what Salvatore hoped was evidence.

She’s broken. The detective thought. He looked at Daniel and saw the pain on his face as he watched his sister struggled in what he thought was a paranoid hysteria. Salvatore’s attention was pulled back to Dawn as she placed a stack of folders in his arms.

‘’Marcus Lanarksen. I tried to tell the police but they thought I was crazy…’’ she said as she visibly struggled to hold back more tears, Salvatore only just noticed part of a fresh scar just behind her jaw and underneath her ear.

Dawn’s mouth trembled, ‘’He’s a monster. Him and his whole family. They…they killed Matthew. Please, sir. Please bring them to justice. This has to be enough’’

Salvatore quickly skimmed through some of the paperwork she gave him. There was nothing concrete, but enough to warrant an investigation into Lanarksen. This is all too easy, he thought but replied, ‘’It will be a big help, Miss Green. Thank you. I’ll be on my way,’’ he turned to leave but Dawn stopped him by placing her hands on his shoulders. He was taken back by the softness in her touch, it was warm and yet full of fear.

‘’Sorry. I just…I-d-do you think maybe I can fix my life after this? If I give a statement to the press after you arrest him and t-that, I don’t know…’’

The detective tried to make himself care, but he felt all but nothing for her, ‘’All I can say is that I will do my best to bring him in, Miss Green,’’ What he cared about was tearing this organization apart, but not for justice or for retribution. Salvatore then left, leaving Daniel trying to calm a now frantic Dawn.

The detective was greeted by the cold night air and Sandwell, who was leaning against a broken lamppost. His blood red shirt and ghostly eyes seemed to glow in the dark, ‘’She’s a cute one isn’t she, Sally. If you like that a sort of thing I guess’’

‘’How are you not freezing?’’ asked the detective. Sandwell was wearing nothing but a suit, while Salvatore felt like an icicle even under the several layers he was wearing.

‘’I don’t feel anything,’’ he replied and lit up another cigarette, ‘’Care to share?’’ He asked in reference to the large stack of papers Salvatore was carrying.  

‘’Marcus Lanarksen. She didn’t have a lot, but its enough’’ said the detective as he gave everything to Sandwell, ‘’What did you find?’’

‘’Lanarksen huh? He owns a mental health charity called Peaceful Minds, even has a submarine that he uses to arrange special trips for parents with retarded kids,’’ he said with the cigarette still in his mouth, taking a drag and puffing out smoke every so often, ‘’I did some digging, it’s been spotted in Peru, Columbia and a few small islands along the Caribbean. Way past its scheduled route,’’ Sandwell smiled deviously at the end.

He already knows, ‘’I didn’t really need to go to McAndrew and Green…did I?’’ He asked bluntly.

Sandwell blew out smoke through his nose, ‘’No, but come on, Sally. I can’t do everything’’

The detective was being tested, that much he knew. But the test clearly wasn’t for his skills or determination, ‘’What next?’’ Salvatore asked.

Sandwell smiled, ‘’We’ve got a target. We’ve got evidence,’’ he took a long drag from his cigarette, ‘’Time to go in for the kill’’

A few days later Salvatore was waiting in the main reception of Peaceful Minds, he had an appointment with Marcus Lanarksen. Sandwell had arranged everything; the plan was to get a confession from Lanarksen and then arrest him if possible, while Sandwell would handle his family. The man always did have a taste for the theatrical, Salvatore mused and fumbled with the microphone he had attached underneath his clothes. The office was spacious and yet humble, shining with its green and red decorum. The receptionist had even offered him a cup of tea, but Salvatore denied.

His mind was racing. I can’t become like Sandwell, but will I have a choice?

His musings were stopped by a tall and handsome man entering the main reception, ‘’Mr El-Sayed?’’

Salvatore stood up and shook his hand, ‘’Yes. Are you Mr Lanarksen?’’ Despite being nothing but a target, the detective found himself enthralled by his blue and brown eyes.

The man’s grip was strong, ‘’Please, Marcus will do. Sorry about the wait. Follow me if you would’’

They walked through the large and busy office, Salvatore was surprised and somewhat impressed that Marcus actually managed to maintain such a complex and intricate façade. Everyone was working and smiling, all under this creature’s spell. How many of them are in on it? The detective wondered as he and his target finally reached their private room.

He walked in and was followed by Marcus, the room itself was small but welcoming. The walls were a gentle blue and the carpet a bright grey colour. The windows let in a faint light but they could not muffle the sound of the rain hammering against the building. Salvatore sat on one of the two chairs that were in the room, ‘’I would have thought the manager would be too busy to see clients?’’

Marcus sat on the chair opposite him, ‘’I like to see clients every now and again, the bureaucracy usually makes it difficult but the people are why I started this business in the first place,’’ He smiled warmly.

Slavatore felt a rage bubble inside him, this man was true scum if he genuinely believed that he did what he did for the people, ‘’Well, I appreciate you seeing me’’

‘’My pleasure. How can I help you?’’ Marcus asked and placed Salvatore’s fake file on the table between them.

‘’I have had a lot of problems in my life, Marcus. I’ve seen a lot of bad things. Done some even worse things. I am at a point where I have a choice,’’ May as well play a long and try to enjoy it, the detective thought.

‘’It sounds like you are feeling conflicted about something?’’

Salvatore shook his head in disagreement, ‘’Not conflicted, no. I know what to do and how to do it, I think I just need a bit of a push’’

‘’A push to do what?’’ Asked Marcus.

This should be good, ‘’To arrest you and dismantle your cartel’’

Marcus’ warm smile disappeared, ‘’Excuse me?’’

‘’You’ve had a nice run, Marcus. The Ministry of Defence is even impressed. In another world, perhaps we could have even worked together. But it’s all over now’’

The blonde Norwegian started laughing, ‘’I had no idea you government types did things so dramatically,’’ He leaned back in his chair, Salvatore could almost smell the arrogance, ‘’So what? Am I supposed to beg for mercy? Tell you it wasn’t me and play dumb? Yes, I am a drug dealer and I use my submarine to smuggle tons of Autenticó into the country.’’

Salvatore couldn’t believe this man’s arrogance, it infuriated him, ‘’So not only do you sell poison to people, but you enjoy what you do?’’

‘’Of course,’’ He said nonchalantly, ‘’Why shouldn’t I enjoy my work? I am good at it, probably one of the best. But while I may sell poison, I don’t force anyone to buy it’’

The detective wanted to throttle Marcus to death, but he had to keep his composure, ‘’You’re calm considering your situation’’

Marcus smiled and waved his hand dismissively, ‘’Please. You’ll throw me in prison but my operation will still run. My men are loyal, I have known them for years. That and my family will support me’’

Salvatore couldn’t resist, ‘’I can assure you that you will not spend a second behind bars, Marcus’’

His smile faded slightly, ‘’That supposed to scare me? I know how you guys work’’

‘’That’s your problem, Marcus. You overestimate yourself. Want to know how we found you? You have shares in your drug mule’s home movings company,’’ Sandwell had made sure to arm Salvatore with all the dirt they found in Dawn’s files, ‘’You didn’t bother to hide because you were convinced no one would look that far,’’ Salvatore said and enjoyed watching Marcus begin to buckle.

‘’As for you family,’’ the detective continued, ‘’My friends are taking care of them as we speak,’’ the information Dawn gave him also contained the Lanarksens’ address.

Marcus’ eyes suddenly filled with rage, ‘’How dare you?’’

Salvatore smiled, ‘’I only gave them your address, they decided to go and meet your wife and children’’

In a fit of anger, Marcus shot up and threw the table towards Salvatore. The force sent the detective and the chair tumbling backwards. He got up and saw that Marcus had gone. The end was now near.

Sandwell had been waiting for Salvatore outside. The detective wanted to pursue Marcus straight away but Sandwell made them wait half an hour. He’s having his men prepare, Salvatore thought as a piercing cold hit him.

They eventually made their way for the Lanarksen household. Neither uttered a word throughout the journey, only Sandwell’s smoking interrupted the dead silence. The night sky was still and lifeless, not a single cloud was present and the trees were being battered by a fierce wind. Eventually they arrived, Salvatore was not at all surprised at the size of Marcus’ home. As the two men got out, Salvatore noticed it had gotten colder. The detective still shuddered even under his overcoat but Sandwell, who was only wearing a suit, seemed completely unfazed.

Two armed men were guarding the main entrance, the mansion was eerily quiet. As they walked in, Salvatore was shocked to see Marcus, his wife and their two children tied up and gagged at the bottom of the stairs.

An icy wind blew in, ‘’You must have known that it would end this way, Sally,’’ said Sandwell and then blew out a cloud of smoke.

‘’You knew about him all along,’’ Salvatore only just noticed the bruises and dried blood on each of their faces, ‘’But why do we have to kill all of them?’’ Marcus tried to protest, but his words were muffled by the gag.

‘’We can’t risk them looking for revenge. That and I hate loose ends,’’ Sandwell replied, the faint moonlight illuminating his blood red shirt.

If I want my life back, I need to sell my soul, ‘’Is this evil necessary?’’ Salvatore asked, in the faint hope that somehow, he wouldn’t have to do it.

Sandwell seemed disgusted at the question, ‘’If it wasn’t for men like us, the world will be an even bigger pile of shit. Come one, Sally. Aren’t you tired of carrying around that conscience of yours?’’

The detective stared into Marcus’ eyes, they were no longer full of rage or arrogance. They were full of desperation and tears. He may be a killer, but he loves his family. And yet, there was no other way, ‘’Give me your gun then’’

Sandwell chuckled, he signalled his men to leave and held out his still burning cigarette, ‘’You know we can’t leave evidence’’

The detective suddenly noticed the smell of petrol, he took one more look at their faces. He would likely remember them for the rest of his life, but oddly he felt very little.

He took the cigarette from Sandwell and threw it on the floor just in front of the family. The house was quickly engulfed but the two men left to watch from a safer distance. They walked to the end of the driveway and leaned against Marcus’ car, watching the flames intensify.

‘’Welcome back to the security service, Sally,’’ Sandwell commented and lit another cigarette, ‘’Want a smoke?’’

Salvatore couldn’t resist, he lit the thing from Sandwell’s already burning cigarette, ‘’Think we can pin the blame for this on Dawn Green?’’ The detective asked

Sandwell smiled, ‘’Took the words right out of my mouth.’’

The two men stood in silence for a moment, basking in the warm sensation and watching as the flames grew and grew, slowly eating away at the house and its occupants.

‘’Don’t I have to do an interview or something?’’ Salvatore asked and blew out a cloud of smoke from his nose.

‘’This was your interview,’’ Sandwell replied, his lifeless eyes dancing in the flames

Salvatore said nothing and tried to enjoy the moment. He finally had his life back. He finally got meaning and purpose back. And as he stared into the fiery abyss, he could feel that it was staring back at him.

By Sebastian Zuhury

A Road Paved with Good Intentions.

The gentle music from his alarm woke him up, he opened his eyes and stretched the sleep out from his body. He looked to his right and saw that his wife was still fast asleep, Marcus Lanarksen smiled to himself and pondered on how rich a man he was. His wife was the love of his life and had given him twenty years of happiness. Their two children were his daily pride and joy. His work as a Manager at his own mental health charity gave him a sense of fulfilment and his night business was booming too.

He got out of bed and went to the bathroom to get himself ready for the day. Their master bedroom was still dark and dim and it took time for his eyes to adjust to the light in the bathroom. Marcus looked in the mirror. Pretty good for an old man, he thought.

He was a tall and broad shouldered man with an impressive physique given his forty years. He kept his long curly blonde hair parted down the middle while his slightly ginger beard was kept short and groomed. Though Marcus noticed some new streaks of grey in both. He possessed a strong jawline, prominent cheekbones, and bright blue eyes with an explosion of brown.

Marcus brushed his teeth, washed his face with cold water and sprayed some deodorant on himself. He went back into the bedroom, switched on his bedside lamp, and put on a pair of cream coloured trousers and a dark blue shirt, ready for work. His wife was still asleep so Marcus woke her by placing a few gentle kisses along her collar bone.

She stirred under his touch, ‘’Don’t tell me it’s morning already’’, she said and tried to bury her head in the soft pillow.

Marcus smiled and rested his chin on the shoulder he had just kissed, ‘’I’m afraid it is, Anya’’, he was fortunate to be able to call his wife his equal. Marcus was always amazed at how Anya managed to tackle being a mother as well as a Psychiatrist for the NHS. She was fortunate her managers were willing to let her work part – time at almost the same pay grade.

Anya yawned, still struggling to fully wake up. She sat up and rubbed the sleep out from her eyes, ‘’Fridays technically count as part of the weekend’’

Marcus took the time to appreciate Anya’s beauty. His wife had an elegant and slim figure. Her soft and creamy skin had aged but was as alluring as the day they met. Her raven black hair now had streaks of grey at the front and sides, falling in thick curls down to her shoulders. Her face was as enamouring as it was twenty years ago, and Marcus lost himself in her wondrous grey eyes.

Anya noticed that he was starring, ‘’Don’t look at me like that, we don’t have time to do what you’re thinking’’, she smiled and planted a quick kiss on his lips before getting out of bed, ‘’Could you go wake up Asora and Erik for me?’’

‘’Of course’’, said Marcus and then left their bedroom.

The Lanarksen family designed their home themselves, building it on a piece of land on the outskirts of Birmingham, towards Worcester. Marcus stepped out from the master bedroom and into the upstairs hallway, to his left was a bathroom and to the right a small closet. He reached the top of the central stairs that led down to the ground floor. Ahead of him were two large windows, stretching downwards along the wall, covering both floors of their home. Marcus saw that it was getting lighter outside, though a wall of grey clouds were blocking the sun’s rays. He turned left towards his children’s rooms.

First, he entered Erik’s room; his eight-year-old son was an avid rugby fan. Two posters of the 2016 championships were on his walls and several rugby trophies were proudly displayed along his shelves, mixed with his comic collection and toys. The room itself was large and brightly coloured, hosting a double bed, a built-in wardrobe, a desk and a large TV with a small collection of DVD’s underneath it.

Marcus sat on the bed besides his sleeping son and kissed his forehead, ‘’Wake up, my boy. It’s time for school’’, he said and proceeded to gently ruffle his son’s bright blonde hair.

The young boy yawned and slowly sat up while rubbing his eyes, ‘’I wish it was the weekend’’, he said with a voice groggy from sleep. Erik was tall for his age, with a small nose and gentle features. He was still fluent in Norwegian and showed a keen interest in maintaining his first language, but Marcus noticed that he was beginning to struggle with his pronunciations.

Marcus smiled, ‘’You’re as lazy as your mother’’

Erik got out of his bed, ‘’Not that lazy, she has more days off than any of us’’, he said, earning a laugh from his father. They shared a quick hug and Marcus sent him to the bathroom to get ready. He was proud of how mature Erik was for his age, though both Marcus and Anya were happy to see that their son was still a child at heart.

He stepped into the hallway once more. The morning was gloomy and grey. The sun was still firmly blocked by several clouds, with more gathering on the horizon. He took a few steps and reached his daughter’s room.

Marcus knocked and called out her name, ‘’Asora? It’s time to get up, my dear’’, no reply.

Marcus entered her room and saw that her clothes from yesterday were all over the floor and that the TV was still on. The dim hue in her room made the purple walls look almost alive, as if the various patterns were consuming one another. His daughter was sleeping on the sofa as opposed to her double bed, Another late night watching films, Asora? Marcus thought. Fourteen was supposed to be a tough age, but his daughter was adjusting well. Other than the occasional mood swings, Asora was smart, beautiful, dedicated and driven.

He planted a gentle kiss on her forehead, ‘’A few more late nights and you just might turn into an owl’’, said Marcus as his daughter was waking up.

She stirred slightly before opening her eyes, ‘’I set an alarm, I swear’’, she said as she sat up. From her wincing Marcus figured her back was in pain from sleeping in an uncomfortable position all night.

‘’More like you switched your phone off’’, he said and the two shared a laugh. Marcus was grateful that his daughter was still fluent in Norwegian and had even began learning Spanish.

Asora got up and stretched, cracking her back in the process. She had her mother’s curly raven black hair, high cheekbones, and full lips. But her eyes were more like her fathers, yet different. Bright blue and full of life, as if they were smiling. Her tall and elegant figure seemed to grow more womanly with each passing day.

‘’Can I still come to the office with you tonight, dad?’’, asked Asora.

‘’Of course, my dear. If you’re going to take over one day, it’s better to star learning early’’, though Anya showed some concern, Marcus was confident that Asora would have what it takes to run the night business when the day came. The two shared a hug and then Marcus left the room.

He walked down the stairs to the spacious ground floor of their home. There was a long rug leading to the main doors, on one side was a quaint parlour and on the other a dining room which was connected to the kitchen. Further in the back of the first floor was a large living room, leading out to a conservatory.

Marcus walked into the kitchen, the ominous morning had become even greyer as the sky opened and a heavy rain began hammering down. Erik was setting the plates and Anya had just finished frying some eggs. Asora came down shortly afterwards and the Lanerksen family had breakfast together. They smiled and laughed as they ate their food, Erik complained that he wanted to go to the office with Marcus and his sister but his mother reminded him that he was too young.  Erik responded by standing on his chair and flexing his arms, announcing to his family that he was a man. Marcus, Asora and Anya laughed and when Erik sat back down, his sister pinched him on the nose and told him that they need a strong man at home while they are away.

Soon they finished their food and it was time for Marcus to head out, ‘’I think it’s time for work. Asora, my dear, remember: be at the day office at three. We have quite a bit of work to do at the night office and can’t afford to be late’’, his daughter promised to be on time.

Marcus kissed his wife goodbye, hugged his children and then left for work. He walked out of the kitchen and reached the main doors of their home.  At either side were two coat hangers, one for Asora and Erik and one for Anya and Marcus. He put on a long leather coat and lifted its colour up, to protect his neck from the fierce wind. He picked up his briefcase and stepped out into the gradually increasing storm. The rain was sharp and fell with rage, yet Marcus was all but oblivious to it. He walked down their long drive way and entered his Jaguar XF, he switched on the engine and listened to the purr for a few moments before driving away.

Marcus quickly found himself on the motorway towards Birmingham City Centre, where his mental health charity Peaceful Minds was located. It originally started off as a small private Counselling practice back in Norway. Relocating proved tedious but after settling in Birmingham, it became the fastest growing mental health charity in the entire country, With some personal investment of course, he reminded himself. They helped the local community with everything from talking therapies to direct social support. However, what made them stand apart from the rest, was their work with autistic children. Marcus had rubbed shoulders with and cajoled Birmingham’s elite and managed to buy a submarine, which they used to take clients and their families on deep sea tours. And stock up on product for the community.

Marcus enjoyed the diversity of people and cultures in Birmingham, how close it was to London and the affordability of property in the surrounding area. The United Kingdom was full of rich history and Marcus was grateful that he and his family had been accepted in such a welcoming manner. But he sometimes found himself longing for his hometown of Stavanger. He missed being able to walk to the port and eat fenelar at his favourite restaurant, the fresh and salty scent of the North Sea and the majesty of the Preikestolen mountains often appeared in his nostalgic daydreams as well. But his life was here now, the Lanarksens could not have stayed in Norway and still ran their night business.

At around 07:30 a.m. Marcus entered Birmingham City Centre. The tall buildings stood proudly amidst the ongoing storm and the city was bustling with life even in the early hours of the morning. Marcus had managed to avoid part of the traffic and eventually reached the Tricorn House, where Peaceful Minds was based. Marcus then began the tedious task of looking for a place to park on one of the side roads, eventually settling for one not too far from the office, I really need to have an executive parking space or something. I am a Manager after all. He thought as he parked.

After a short walk, he entered the office building and warmly greeted the security guard as he walked past him. The open space of the main reception was welcoming but lacked colour, reminding Marcus of an old hospital. Whenever he saw the building’s owner, he always suggested that they do some painting. Perhaps when I take it for myself one day I can have it painted purple, or maybe orange, he thought to himself. Marcus took the elevator to his office; Peaceful Mind was on the fifth floor of the building. He stepped out from the elevator and into the small hallway, leading down to his day office and their solicitor neighbours. Marcus entered the reception area, shining with its green and red decorum, the colours of his charity logo. In addition to the front desk, there were two large leather sofas, four chairs and two knee high glass tables. His recently graduated receptionist Rachael greeted him with a cheery smile.

’’Morning, Marcus’’, she said warmly.

‘’Morning, Rachael’’, he replied and opened the folder to sign himself in.

‘’I like your coat, it brings out your eyes’’, she said as Marcus closed the folder. He noticed that Rachael was leaning forward and that her neckline was slightly too modest for the office.

Marcus enjoyed the attention from her, but made sure to never lead her on. He was a married man after all, ‘’Thank you, Rachael’’, he said and smiled back, ‘’Is Aaron in?’’

‘’He’s been looking for you in fact. He’s got his usual mountain of paperwork as well’’, said the young receptionist.

Marcus then entered the office and was pleased to see his employees working hard. What was once a team of eight was now an office of thirty, providing high quality care and support for their community. Marcus had experienced mental health issues from a young age, knowing all too well what it was like to feel alone and hopeless. Inspired by this, he chose to dedicate his life to helping others. The office itself was large and spacious, several filling cabinets were lined along the middle, on the either side of which were the Counselling and Support teams. Marcus greeted them as he walked past, sharing a quick chat along the way.

He stepped into the hallway leading towards his own office, and was met by Aaron, ‘’Morning, Marcus. Sorry to drop this on you so early, but we have some issues that need your attention’’, he said as he struggled to balance the large stack of folders and paperwork he was carrying.

Aaron was a short and chubby man, with a large nose and a small chin. He stood a foot shorter than Marcus and had a very noticeable lisp. His ginger hair was long and greasy but his bright blue eyes were full of life and seemed to sparkle. Aaron was Marcus’ assistant in both the day and night offices, ensuring everything was running smoothly as well as being Marcus’ eyes and ears whenever he was away. Though there were people below Aaron who could help him with his work load, lately Marcus was playing with the idea of a second assistant to give Aaron some more free time.

‘’Hit me’’, said Marcus as they both walked into his office, ‘’Close the door behind you as well’’

Aaron closed the door with his foot and placed the towering stack of paperwork and folders on Marcus’ desk, ‘’You have a meeting with a potential donor at midday’’

‘’Oh lord. I was hoping they’d cancel or something. I know we have to keep up appearances, but I hate sitting through their bullshit’’, said Marcus as he sat behind his desk. He detested meeting with the elite of Birmingham. None of the arrogant bastards knew what it was like to earn their living.

‘’Also, Bjorn called and said that he can’t come in today. Usual bullshit about a family emergency, so we need someone else to go and meet with the NHS’’, said Aaron as he ran his hand through his hair.

Bjorn was one of Marcus’ original partners back in Norway, ‘’That’s the third week he’s used that excuse. Honestly, I’d rather he just tell me that he can’t be bothered to come in on Fridays’’, Bjorn was Marcus’ best worker and a trusted advisor, so he rarely punished him for skipping work at the day office.

‘’We’re going to have to do some auditing. Somehow, we’ve lost over a grand in the space of two weeks’’, Aaron continued, rummaging through the folders as he spoke.

Marcus sighed in frustration, ‘’I know where it’s gone. Our delivery boys have gotten greedy. I had Bjorn send someone to follow them a while ago and he saw them keeping more than their fair share’’, his blood began to boil at the thought, ‘’Ungrateful cowards. We’ll deal with them later’’. He said and saw a smile creep along Aaron’s face. Marcus wondered if he should just scare the thieves or make an example of them.

Aaron looked behind to make sure that no one was at the door to hear them, ‘’The other issue we have is Phillip and Matthew’’, he said as he turned back to face Marcus.

‘’What has that fat bastard done this time? If it’s more money he wants then I swear to God…’’, Marcus detested Phillip, he only kept him on because of his position as senior editor in the Morning Mail, as well as his connections in the other main newspapers in Birmingham. Having influence on the local media was an invaluable tool.

‘’Surprisingly no. Apparently, Matthew and some other reporter quit a month ago and have become a problem’’, said Aaron, with a concerned tone.

Another coward. These English seem to take but never give, thought Marcus as he tried to remember who Matthew was, ‘’Was he new?’’

‘’No, he’s been with us for about two years. Bjorn recruited him when he caught him trying to steal some of our stock in Wales. Tall handsome guy, blue eyes. He’s a local. The one who came up with the idea of using ambulances for distribution’’, said Aaron as he was stacking the folders back on top of each other.

Marcus remembered him, ‘’How have they become a problem?’’, he said with anger. Matthew did have a weak stomach for what they did.

‘’Matthew suddenly grew a conscience’’, said Aaron with a sickened tone, ‘’Though I’m surprised what pushed him over the edge. He seems to have taken a liking towards the reporter who quit alongside him. Phillip told us she came to his apartment and quit her job, the dumb bastard made a mess of things afterwards. He got his guard to shoot at them, apparently, Matthew was in her car and shot back. Would have killed the guard if not for the bullet proof vest, he got away with bruised rib. Matthew and his girlfriend managed to escape’’

Marcus dragged his hand down his face in anger, ‘’I told that fat moron to be cautious. We give him too much’’

Before taking him on, Marcus made sure to have enough insurance on Phillip in case he ever grew too big for his shoes. As if it was possible for him to get bigger. Phillip spent most of his money on prostitutes, all of which can easily be paid to testify against him for whatever Marcus could think up.

‘’We’ll stop by and remind our friend to know his place’’, he knew that he would have to go to his apartment before the night office but was weary of bringing Asora with him.

‘’Can we get a hold of Matthew and his little girlfriend?”, he added.

Aaron sniggered and a grease filled lock of hair fell on his forehead, ‘’Of course. Matthew isn’t as clever as he thinks he is. Would you like us to warm them up for you?’’

‘’Matthew only. Leave his friend to me’’, said Marcus while thinking of Asora. She must learn how to handle the hard things as well, he thought to himself.

Aaron left and the rest of Marcus’ day was spent in general admin, working with his IT team on redesigning the Peaceful Mind website, going through the CV’s of new job candidates, and catching up with his workers. Although he enjoyed his superior position, Marcus did miss working directly with clients. He enjoyed providing a friendly ear for those who needed, and seeing how they improved with each session thanks to his help.

At around 14:30, Marcus packed up and prepared to leave. Before heading downstairs however, he stopped by the Counselling team and asked the team leader if he could send him a client or two at some point. Though his managerial duties kept him busy, Marcus was keen to make some time for more direct client work. He stood outside the main entrance to the Tricorn House to wait for his daughter. The rain was unrelenting in its onslaught, each drop boomed and filled the air with chaos. Grey and gloomy clouds were still blocking the sun and an icy chill began to creep up as the day was retreating. Marcus took in a deep breath and spent a few seconds to admire his accomplishments as he did every day. He reached into his inside pocket and pulled out a fresh cigar, but just as he was about to light it, a familiar voice reached his ears.

‘’You promised mom that you’d quit. Do I have to go and tell on you?’’, said Asora as she walked up and hugged Marcus.

He smiled and put the cigar back in his pocket, ‘’That’s two people I’m going to have to hide from now’’, he laughed and embraced his daughter in a hug.

The two began walking to the car, luckily Asora had an umbrella to protect them from the rain, ‘’How was school?’’

Asora shrugged her shoulders, ‘’Same old. We learnt a bit about the slave trade. This guy Gavin, the idiot, decided to point out that it was unfair to blame white people because it was the black tribe leaders in Africa who actually sold the slaves to the Europeans. You know, as if that makes buying and treating them like objects for a few centuries okay. Why can’t people just accept some responsibility for the evil things as well?’’, Asora was always a high achiever so Marcus didn’t have to worry about her progress, but he still enjoyed hearing about her experiences.

They reached the car and finally escaped the storm. Marcus shook some of the water off the umbrella before closing the door and placing it on the back seats, ‘’Those kind of people are too weak to just accept responsibility. Good. Evil. These things are a part of life. If you can’t do any good, then do not do any evil. But if you do evil, accept responsibility for it’’.

Asora smiled, ‘’If only all men were like you, dad’’, she said as they drove off.

Marcus was flattered, ‘’Men like me come once in a lifetime, dear’’, though he often thought that it can be as much of a curse as it is a blessing to be such a man, ‘’Speaking of which…do you have any…uhh…Anyone who has caught your eye?’’, Marcus always felt uncomfortable talking to Asora about relationships, he found it hard to take a step back and not smother her with his protectiveness.

Thankfully Asora felt comfortable talking to him about it, ‘’Well…James is really nice but, I don’t know. He’s a bit dumb. His sister Lauren is really clever but a bit of a bitch. I wish I could have both’’

Marcus smiled, ‘’Sounds like it would make a good cheesy teen drama’’

‘’God tell me about it. But to answer your question, no not really. Don’t worry, I’ll warn you before I bring anyone home’’, she said. Marcus was worried that his daughter might get hurt, but he trusted her to be able to make the right decisions for herself.  

The rest of their drive was spent talking about the night office, Asora had accompanied her father before and knew everyone who worked there. But most of the time she would deal with admin or go to meetings with Marcus. He told his daughter that today will be a tougher test.

They arrived at Phillip’s apartment in Edgbaston, the man could only afford his expensive home thanks to Marcus. He wished he could replace Phillip, but he was too valuable an asset. When he doesn’t get what he wants, he throws a tantrum.

Two cars of Marcus’ men were already there, one parked in front of the apartments and one further down the same street. He saw Agnar stood by the entrance to the apartments, waiting for them.

‘’Why are we at Phillip’s?’’, asked Asora as Marcus parked the car.

‘’When a man under your command makes a mistake, you talk to him and show him that you are reasonable. But when he doesn’t learn from his mistakes, you act and remind him he is replaceable’’, said Marcus as he and Asora left the car and walked across the street to the apartments.

Agnar greeted them with a cheery smile, ‘’My favourite Lanarksens!’’, his voice boomed as he hugged Marcus and then Asora.

Agnar was a giant of a man. He stood a head taller than Marcus and was heavily muscled, with a bull’s broad chest, thick neck and arms like tree trunks. His face was covered by a thick brown beard and his dark grey eyes added to his intimidating appearance. Boisterous, always smiling and fierce. Agnar was another of Marcus’ original partners from Norway. His thirteen-year long career in the Royal Norwegian Navy had made him pragmatic and tactfully efficient in his work. As well as the perfect man to captain Marcus’ submarine.

‘’Agnar, good to see you again’’, said Marcus. It had been several months since they last saw each other, Agnar spent most of his time in Wales with the submarine and monitored their distribution network.

‘’You as well, my friend. How are Anya and Erik? We all need to organise something, it’s been too long since all the Vikings got together again! You know, my Home Moving company has been doing well. Might be able to buy more vans soon’’, his loud laugh that followed echoed in the streets.

It really had been too long since all of his friends and family got together, ‘’I know. We’ll arrange something when the Asora and Erik have time off school. But first we have some business to attend to’’, said Marcus.

The three of them walked into the building and up the stairs towards Phillip’s apartment, ‘’He doesn’t know we’re here. I assume Aaron told you about the shooting? That idiot. He could have jeopardized our entire operation’’, said Agnar as they reached their destination.

‘’And our lives’’, added Marcus. He knew that if the police got to him, Phillip would sing like a canary. He shuddered to think what could happen to his family if the worst came, No, that would never happen to me, ‘’Asora. Just watch for now, we shouldn’t be here long’’

He knocked and Phillip quickly answered, ‘’Marcus! You alright, mate? What a pleasant surprise’’, thankfully he was fully clothed. But his fat face was as greasy as ever and his portly figure took up the entire doorframe and more.

Marcus didn’t reply. He pushed past Phillip and walked into his living room that was connected to a kitchen. The whole place was a mess. Stacks of pizza boxes covered the coffee table and dirty old clothes were piled on the leather sofa, forming something of an enormous chair as Marcus could make out Phillip’s gigantic outline in the middle of the pile. The kitchen itself was covered in everything from cakes to oily pots, remnants of Phillip’s attempts at cooking. The entire apartment was filled with a horrendous odour, a mixture of sweat, food and farts.

‘’You are really testing my patience, Phillip’’, said Marcus with a firm tone. Agnar closed the door behind them and ushered Asora to one side.

Phillip’s face filled with confusion, infuriating Marcus even more, ‘’What do you mean?’’, he looked behind and saw that Agnar was standing inches away from him, ‘’I’m not in trouble, am I?’’, he began sweating, ‘’I-I know what this is about. That little incident with Matthew and his whore. C-can you blame me? He knows everything about us, I thought I’d save you the trouble of dealing with him yourself…s-so I’’

‘’Decided to get your guard dog to shoot them in broad daylight?’’, Marcus interrupted him, ‘’This isn’t the first time you have pulled shit like this. Did it not cross your mind that it looks a bit suspicious? What if the police decided to dig and traced the link back to me? You never think how your stupidity can affect the rest of us’’, Marcus towered over the pig and was close enough to smell his greasy skin and his fear, pleasing Marcus to no end.

‘’I-I’m sorry, Marcus. You know how I am…’’, he half smiled, ‘’B-but, you know. I know people. Your cartel profits a lot because I make sure the papers in Birmingham don’t talk about how much cocaine you bring in. They only talk about the good stuff you do with the Counselling and…’’, Marcus simply had to glance at Agnar for the rest to happen.

The giant behind Phillip wrapped his thick bicep around the fat man’s neck and used his free hand to muffle his mouth. Marcus grabbed the pig by the balls and started to squeeze.

‘’You have a fat mouth, Phillip’’, his muffled screams intensified as Marcus tightened his grip, ‘’Let me make one thing clear, you need me more than I need you. I can do whatever I want with you. But you’re right, you do know people and you do a good job, so I keep you on for now’’, he said as he watched the pig’s beady hazel eyes fill with tears, ‘’But unless you get your shit together, next time I come down I’ll cut off these fat balls of yours and make you eat them’’, Marcus held on for a few more seconds until Phillip nodded.

He finally let go and stepped to the side, allowing Agnar to push Phillip into the sofa. The fat man fell to his knees, still weeping from the pain. Marcus and Agnar then washed their hands, though they’d need to do so for a day for them to be really clean. The trio then left.

Marcus, Agnar and Asora got in the Jaguar and drove off, with Marcus’ men in tail, towards the night office. In the car, Marcus explained to his daughter that so long as it is for the right reason, any action is justified. Asora seemed to understand. The rest of their journey was spent catching up with Agnar.

When they finally arrived, it was 19:00. The night office was in the more industrial area of Dudley, deep in the heart of the black country. They drove down a road of warehouses and factories, some abandoned and some still in use, until they got to a small two story building that stood isolated in the middle of a rundown car park. Marcus was lucky that his neighbours didn’t care what he did so long as he kept to himself. They parked their cars and his men took point at the entrance to the car park. Marcus, Asora and Agnar entered the small building, took the elevator down and were greeted by the busy bustling of the night office.

The office itself was a series of underground corridors, stretching for several feet, and huge spacious rooms that were likely once used for storage. Marcus had refurbished everything and used this as a base of operations for his cocaine trafficking. His workers were rushing around with crates of product and crates of money. He chatted for a bit with some of his men and Agnar was pulled away by his own duties.

‘’Come on, Asora. We have some guests waiting for us’’, he said in reference to Matthew and his girlfriend.

Marcus and his daughter walked down a long and dimly lit corridor, which seemed to grow darker the further they went. Eventually, they got to the room where their guests where being kept, ‘’Asora, remember what I told you today?’’

His daughter was probably nervous but she did not show it, ‘’Anything is justified so long as it is for the right reasons’’, she said with confidence.

‘’The people in there have threatened us and everything we have. Instead of coming to me and voicing their complaints, one of my men betrayed me’’, he placed a hand on her shoulder, ‘’If you don’t like anything that happens in there, just know that you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to’’, he said with a warm and caring tone.

They entered the small room, furnished by nothing but a table, two chairs and dried up patches of blood on the white walls. A small and feeble woman was sat at the table, shaking and weeping with a face covered in ruined make up and bruises. Behind her stood two guards, armed with machetes and pistols. And in the corner of the room was a curled up bloody mess that Marcus recognized as Matthew.

He sat down at the table in front of the woman, ‘’Hello’’, she whimpered in response, ‘’I’m sorry that my men were so rough with you’’, he said looking at her swollen and purple cheekbones, ‘’It’s no way to treat a lady. What is your name?’’

She slowly looked up at him, her honey eyes were full of dismay and more tears, ‘’D-Dawn…’’, her voice was barely a whisper.

‘’My name is Marcus, this is my daughter Asora’’, he said as he motioned to his girl, ‘’How much has Matthew told you?’’

Dawn struggled to make eye contact, ‘’Y-you have been in the UK for eight years. B-b-but you have had your cartel for longer. Y-y-you…you only bring in cocaine every five years b-b-but you bring in tones. A hundred tons of the purest. I….’’, she looked at Matthew and began crying once again.

‘’Please finish’’, said Marcus.

She planted her gaze firmly on her lap, ‘’You go to Wales by submarine, then you have vans bring it here. T-t-then you use fake ambulances’’, she said between whimpers.

Marcus sighed internally, he was hoping that he could somehow let Dawn go unpunished, ‘’I am in a very difficult position, Dawn. You and Matthew know too much. I have a family to protect and take care of, friends who rely on me and men who depend on me’’

Dawn reached over the table and held Marcus’ left hand in her own, ‘’Please. Please. I beg you. Matthew and I are just journalists, we just wanted to get the truth out to people. He told me that you were after him and…and…’’

Marcus couldn’t believe what he was hearing, first Matthew betrays him and then he tries to lie his way out of his own involvement, ‘’You’re a conniving little shit, Matthew’’, he looked at the broken and bloody pile that the man in question had been reduced to, ‘’Dawn. I’m sorry to say, but your friend here did not tell you the whole truth’’, he explained everything to Dawn. How Matthew had actually been part of their cartel all along. How he was the one who came up with the idea of using fake ambulances. How he had used her.

Shock and disbelief replaced Dawn’s tears, she shook her head and looked at Matthew, ‘’No. No. T-tell me that he’s lying Matthew. Please’’

Matthew couldn’t lift up his head, Marcus’ men had all but crippled him, ‘’I-I’m sorry, Dawn’’, was all he said and the woman was lost for words.

‘’I’m sorry too, Dawn’’, said Marcus, ‘’Sorry that Matthew dragged you in his own mess’’, he turned to face the man one last time, ‘’Tell me, Matt. Why did you do what you did?’’, he asked with a disappointed tone and held out his right hand for a pistol. The guard obliged.

‘’I couldn’t be a part of your evil anymore, Marcus. I just couldn’t’’, said the broken man as he struggled to lift his head and look his death in the face.

‘’It’s not evil if your intentions are good’’, said Marcus as he squeezed Dawn’s hand to reassure her.

Matthew let out a horrid crackling noise. Is he laughing? Thought Marcus, ‘’The road to hell is paved with good intentions’’, said Matthew as he finally looked up.

Marcus huffed, ‘’Poetic’’, he said as he shot Matthew in the head and added another stain to the wall.

Dawn screamed in horror and ran towards the corpse, cradling it in her arms and crying. Marcus looked to his daughter to make sure she was okay.

‘’NO! Matthew…I’m…I’’, Dawn’s whimpers were beginning to get annoying.

‘’I’m not a cruel man, Dawn’’, said Marcus as he exchanged the pistol with the guard’s machete, ‘’I’ll let you live. You can go and tell your story if you want. No one will believe you. I have too many rich friends and I control the papers. But I can’t let you leave unpunished’’, he stood up, machete in hand, ‘’You have some lovely ears, I think I’ll take one for myself’’, he said and Dawn continued begging for mercy.

Asora’s voice stopped Marcus in his tracks, ‘’No!’’, she shouted, ‘’Let me do it, dad’’

Marcus, the guards and Dawn stared at the young girl in disbelief, ‘’Are you sure, Asora? You don’t have to if you don’t want to’’

‘’If I am going to take over one day, its best I start learning early’’, she said and Marcus smiled.

He handed Asora the machete and ordered the guards to restrain Dawn. She screamed as they bent her over and buried her head into the table. Despite everything that has happened today, Marcus was overwhelmed with pride as he watched Asora slice through Dawn’s flesh.

By Sebastian Zuhury.

St Patrick’s Day

St Patrick’s Day is fast approaching.

And along with it comes the staple of a evening of entertainment at your SU Pear Tree bar.

We spoke to the Pear Tree Bar Manager Chris Greaves about what you can expect to be going on there.

Though Friday night will not just be a night to celebrate the Irish culture but also to see in our newly elected Sebatical Officers, as the election results will be announced them.

But to make it an extra special night, vote in the coming days for the SU Elections.

Comedy Night.

Tonight is the third comedy night being hosted at Firefly which starts at 1930.

The last two have been hits and this one will be no different featuring a great line up that will make you laugh the night away.

Line-up includes:
Redmond & South, Sham Zaman, Dorian Wainwright, Sal Drummond, Lorcan Mullan, Rod Pember, Jack Topher, Alex Black, Dean Smith, Matt Trimble,  Dean Smith, Matt Hoss and Mo Haroon!

So if you have just handed in your last assignment, sat your last exam for semester one or just need a break from revision for the evening, head down to Firefly.

Don’t forget every Wednesday at Firefly it’s 2 burgers for £12 from 5pm-9pm on Weds, so grab some grub and have some laughs.

When the last event took place our editor took to the stage and while he admits it was nerve wracking, he loved every moment of it.

This is a video of Duncan taking to the stage, no guarantee of comedy content

 

News, Sport & Education Enhancement.

In this week podcast we round up the weeks news & sport as well as talking with the Education Enhancement Society.

Interview: 20:22

Sport: 42:42

With 165 members, a TeamWorc Society of the Month award and a long line of activities on offer, the Education Enhancement Society is at the cutting edge of societies.

We spoke to their Chair Taylor Cornes and their Members Representative Sophie-Ann Burke about where they came from and what they will be up to.

If you want to find out more about them their facebook can be found here and their SU page here.

Comedy Night at Firefly

Wednesday 23th November will be seeing the return of a free comedy night at Firefly.

This is organised by Alex Redmond as he wants to bring an open mic comedy night to Worcester, as while there is a lot of comedy there is not so much in the way of opportunities for people to try it themselves.

Acts have been booked for the night though the line up is yet to be revealed and it is welcoming for anyone who wants to give it a try.

He is urging everyone to come along, as it is free, but there is no pressure to perform and it could be the perfect forum to test out material; to see if the material is solid.

It will be running on the Wednesday from 1930 to 2200 and it is worth noting that Firefly will have 2 for 1 burgers until 2100 that night.

If you were interested in performing you can contact Alex at comedyjam@hotmail.com

The details of the event can be found here on: facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/events/1321742987857963/

When the last event took place our editor took to the stage and while he admits it was nerve wracking, he loved every moment of it.

This is a video of Duncan taking to the stage, no guarantee of comedy content.

Into Darkness

Into darkness by Sebastian Zuhury

Music and cheer danced throughout the large room, the sound bouncing off the lavishly decorated walls and luxurious furniture. It was still so surreal to her. Four years at University, a few months of job searching…a lifetime of anxiety. Not tonight, she told herself. But Dawn Green had made it. Not only that but she had made it big. Yet her mind still wandered, straying into dark locked away corners. Not tonight, she told herself again. She tried to focus on the here and now, to be proud of what she had accomplished.

”Dawn! Hey, how are you?”, her colleague snapped her back to reality.

”Oh hey, Matthew. I’m good, you?”, everybody had dressed extravagantly for the evening but she noticed Matthew the most.

He was a tall and handsome man, with symmetrical features and deep blue eyes. Dawn was impressed with his attire; a simple black tuxedo was highly underrated nowadays and it was nice to see some simplicity in a sea of complex colour.

”Not too bad, you look beautiful by the way”, she couldn’t hide her blush. Matthew always tried to be a gentleman but he was never too forward either, another quality of his that she found charming. It helped with her generally low self-esteem.

Dawn was just about average height for a woman and had gentle vixen like features and a gleeful smile, she had dyed her naturally curly blonde hair a light brown to compliment her sweet honey coloured eyes.   

”I certainly hope so, the dress was pricey!”, it wasn’t really, but they both shared a laugh. She had gone for a simple white, backless dress that sparkled in the vibrant light.

Matthew then ordered drinks for them both, vodka and coke for her and a pint for himself. They then started chatting, in the six months that they’ve know each other Dawn had come to trust Matthew and felt comfortable talking to him about anything.

“So, how does it feel to have your story on the front page?”, asked Matthew.

“It hasn’t been printed just yet, that’s’ tomorrow. But yeah, I can’t describe it! I became a journalist because I wanted to get the truth out to people and do some good. Now that I’ve done that…”, she took a moment to lose herself in the blissful feeling, “I feel fulfilled, like not only I have done something good but that people will benefit from it”.

Dawn’s first big story for their paper was reporting on a recent bust of a gang that had been peddling cocaine in that suburbs of Birmingham, up until then she was just stuck reporting on the lives of celebrities.

“Well, you are a talented journalist and a treasure to The Morning Mail“, she smiled at his flattery. Matthew was a senior editor for their paper, he himself also focused on organised crime and drug trafficking. He was very welcoming and supportive to Dawn when she first joined.

‘’I kept asking the boss for a chance to report on something real, something that affects people’s lives. I guess if you shout loudly enough then somebody will turn and see what all the fuss is about’’, she said to Matthew as they finished their drinks. Truth be told she was very nervous when she first started her job, she was lucky that she even got it considering a couple of the other candidates had several years of experience behind them. But her boss told her that he saw something special in her.

‘’The boss really went all out didn’t he?’’, Dawn changed the topic and gestured to their surroundings. She knew that chief editors earn a lot, but theirs must earn double that to afford hiring out the most expensive pub in Birmingham!

Matthew nodded in agreement, “I know, but I think that…oh look here he comes now”, suddenly his smile died when he saw their boss walk in.

“Hey, Phillip!”, Dawn wasn’t sure if he’d hear her over the music.

“Hello Dawn!”, he said and then shook her hand but she noticed that he brushed his fingers along her palm at the end of it, “Matt”, he added quickly and turned back to Dawn, “Are you enjoying the party?”, his booming voice almost blocked out the music.

Dawn liked Phillip, she was very grateful that he took her on, but she did wish that he showered more often. He was a loud and portly man who stood a foot above Dawn. He could get out of breath just from walking and was always sweating, giving his skin a very greasy complexion. His face was so big that it looked like he always had a mouth full of food. But Dawn always noticed his eyes first, a warm and deep hazel.

“Yes, thank you. I can’t imagine how much it must have cost!”, she did feel slightly bad that he had spent so much money on them all, but it was nice to have a boss who cared about his workers.

“Anything for you! But don’t worry your pretty little head about the money”, he leaned in and whispered, “Not to brag but my pockets run deep…and my friends’ pockets too”, he laughed and his whole body jiggled along, “Anyway, I need to go and see everyone else. Be sure to find me later and I’ll buy you a drink”, he said and made for the crowded pool table.

“He got pretty close didn’t he”, Matthew commented when their boss Phillip was out of earshot. Dawn wasn’t sure why they never got along. A few weeks ago, Matthew was even telling her that he was planning on leaving and that he had been for a while. But he apparently had some loose ends to tie up before he could, she wasn’t really sure what he meant.

Dawn tried to lighten the moment with a quick joke, “That’s because his belly is always ten minutes ahead of him”, she laughed but Matthew’s expression suggested he was sceptical.

“Come on, let’s just enjoy our night”, she grabbed his hand and dragged him to the neighbouring room which was cleared for dancing.

Dawn danced, drank and smiled the night away. She wondered if she was just lucky or if there really was something special about her. But that didn’t matter, tonight she could just enjoy herself and tomorrow she can finally see how her story helped better people’s lives. And they that say newspapers don’t care about the truth anymore.

In the morning Dawn was woken up by the sound of strong gales smashing against her window and the pulsations of her headache, mostly it was the headache. After a short struggle, she opened her eyes and the rays of sunlight beaming into her bedroom blinded her. Dawn never liked early Autumn, the weather was so confusing. One day it was warm and sunny, another it was cold and windy and sometimes it was all four at the same time! She sat on the edge of her bed and tried to rub the sleep out from her eyes.

What a night, she thought, I hardly remember anything but that means it was a good night. Her headache seemed to intensify and she made her way to the kitchen for some paracetamol, I should tidy this place, she mused as she walked through her home.

Her flat was always a mess, but it was her mess. Dawn had her eyes on it while she was finishing University, Halesowen was her home and she was glad that she managed to find an affordable place where she grew up. It was a quaint little one bedroom flat. The living room was spacious and was connected to the kitchen. She was happy here, but it could get lonely very quickly. Sometimes it felt like the walls were closing in on her, trapping her with herself. Her mind began racing. Will I always be alone? She took the paracetamol and rubbed her temples, hoping her headache would go away soon.

Dawn noticed her reflection in the nearby mirror, I hope drunk me didn’t do anything too embarrassing in front of Matthew last night. Then she noticed the reflection of the clock as well. It was 12:30 p.m. Oh no.

How could she forget? She was barely dressed and still needed to shower, but she had no time. She couldn’t be late. Not with her. Dawn ran back to her room and began frantically searching for a top and a pair of jeans. She can’t be late.

She flung open the doors to her wardrobe and began throwing clothes out. Finally, she found a pair of jeans and dragged them on. She looked at the clock again. 12:32 p.m. She can’t be late.

Dawn scrambled and found an old top on the floor by her bed. She put the top on and bolted across her living room and to the kitchen. The shopping was still there. At least she remembered that. She looked at the clock. 12:36 p.m. Time was against her.

She frantically put on a pair of shoes, grabbed the shopping and ran out of her apartment. Keys, she thought. Idiot. Dawn ran back into her apartment. The keys were by the TV, she grabbed them and looked at the clock again. 12:40 p.m. She just can’t be late. Not with her. Not with that woman.

Dawn bolted down the stairs, clumsily opened the main doors of the building and ran to her car. After loading the shopping in the boot, she got in the driver seat. No time for a seat belt of mirror checks. She drove away only to stop at nearby traffic lights. Dawn slammed her hands on the steering wheel in frustration, one was trembling. She was going to be late.

The remainder of the journey was easier, there were no red lights or obstructions. Dawn looked at the clock. 12:55 p.m. She estimated that she would be about ten minutes late. Not too much, but that woman wouldn’t care. It’s not my fault, she thought. I was out celebrating, I even told her I would be. Dawn finally got to her destination. But maybe I shouldn’t have drunk so much. I should have set an alarm. I should have left earlier. Idiot. Maybe it is my fault.

She got the shopping out the boot and took a deep breath, exhaling slowly to try and stop her hand from trembling and steady her mind. Dawn locked her car and calmly walked towards the house, the steady breeze cooled her as it rolled across her skin. She lifted her fist and gently knocked three times. To her surprise, it wasn’t the woman who opened the door.

‘’Daniel?’’, she said with surprise in her voice as she saw her brother.

‘’Dawn! Hey, how are you?’’, he said as he hugged her, ‘’Come on in’’, he picked up a few of the shopping bags while she got the rest.

‘’I…I’m okay. I wasn’t expecting to see you here’’, while it was a surprise, Dawn was beyond relieved to see her brother. It would make being here so much easier.

Daniel Green was tall, broad-shouldered and slender. He had short light brown hair and stubble and possessed calming dark brown eyes. He was wearing a simple blue shirt with a pair of light brown trousers. Dawn always thought that he was born in the wrong era, as he was so old-fashioned for his age.

‘’Yeah, mom called me the other day and asked if I could come over today. Seeing as its only teacher training today I thought that I might as well’’, Daniel valued routine and hard work, but also knew when it was appropriate to break rules.

Dawn smiled, ‘’Tut. What would your pupils think?’’, before they could continue their conversation, the woman’s voice echoed through the house.

‘’Dawn! Is that you?’’, her voice stabbed at Dawn like a thousand knives, ‘’You’re late! Always late! How can you be so useless at your age?! Why can’t you be more like your brother, he made something out of himself”, Dawn looked at the clock. 13:15 p.m. She had made it for around 13:10 p.m. The other five minutes were just her talking with Daniel.

‘’Dawn!’’, she shouted again. Her mother’s voice always pierced Dawn…through her heart and through her mind. She froze up, scared to say anything. It was pointless anyway, no matter what she said her mother would just retort with abuse. Her brother saw the dismay in her face and answered instead.

‘’Calm down mom, she’s here now and that’s all that matters. We’ll be in after we put away the food she brought for you’’, Daniel answered in a firm and yet gentle tone. He put a reassuring hand on Dawn’s shoulder, ‘’Don’t worry, I’m here okay? We’ll just stay for a couple of hours and we can go to the pub for a drink afterwards’’.

Dawn felt the anxiety that was building up in her settle, Daniel was always good to her. Even when they were little, when their mom would shout at or belittle her, Daniel would always defend her. He was the reason Dawn’s childhood was bearable.

‘’Okay’’, she answered with a wobbly smile.

As they were putting the shopping away, Dawn couldn’t help but notice how little the house which she grew up in had changed. The downstairs carpet was the same beautiful light blue, though the years had given it a stale smell. The decorative wallpaper with bright red roses had withered slightly but it was impossible to tell that it was thirty years old. The kitchen was refurbished due to mould but the design bore tiles and a green floor, maintaining the vintage look of the house.

Home, she pondered on the meaning of the word. It was supposed to be a place where a person could feel safe, where they could be themselves and not feel like a burden, where they could feel comfortable and free of judgment. Dawn felt none of those things whenever she was in this house.

‘’Thank you for coming. I know mom has never been easy on you’’, Daniel snapped her back to reality.

She finished putting away the shopping and neatly tucked away the bag so that it could be reused, ‘’She’s my mom, I owe her this at the very least’’, her voice was monotone, almost lifeless. Their mother never lay a finger on Dawn, she always made sure there was food on the table and she always gave her money if it was needed and yet… ‘’She only loves you, you know? Not me though. Ever since I could remember, she has always blamed for everything bad that has happened in her life. Even for dad leaving us’’.

Her brother frowned, ‘’That’s true’’, he said with a sad sigh, ‘’But no matter how difficult she is Dawn, you still have a duty to her. We both do’’, Dawn didn’t reply. She knew Daniel was right, but she hated it. She felt an obligation to visit her mother, but every time she came over she wished that she could make the feeling go away. A short tremor surged through her hand.

‘’Hey, your story is out today, is it not?’’, asked Daniel.

One positive of today at least, ‘’Yeah. Yeah it is.’’, he spirits were lifted slightly. At least she could share the joy with her brother.

‘’Well, mom does collect the newspapers. Shall we?’’, Daniel gestured towards the living room, where today’s issue of The Morning Mail was…and their mother.

They walked in and were immediately hit by a dry and lung constricting smell, Dawn saw that Daniel had managed to convince their mom to open at least one of the windows but the smell was still lingering. Their mother was sat in the arm chair, wrapped in a thick blanket and focused on her knitting.

She was a small and lithe woman with a droopy face that was in a constant grimace, wrinkled beyond her fifty-five years. Her hair was short and grey, bearing the odd snowy white strand. Her eyes were a stern dark brown and her bushy eyebrows gave her a fierce look.

‘’What did you think of my story, mom?’’, asked Dawn, in a meek tone. Every time she called her mom, a bitter taste was left in Dawn’s mouth. It just did not feel right.

The woman huffed, her gaze still fixed on her knitting, ‘’Pointless. I don’t know why you wasted your time in this journalism rubbish. Why can’t you be more like Daniel, he’s got a proper job. He’s teacher…’’. Spiteful as always, Dawn wasn’t surprised. But the pain cut as deep as it always did.

‘’Mom come on, Dawn worked hard on this’’, said Daniel as he picked up the newspaper and began to skim read his sister’s story.

‘’Sitting and typing all day is not hard work. The news isn’t exactly new anyway; those Muslims not only take our jobs but they’re polluting our streets with poison’’, she said in a bitter and angry tone.

Dawn cocked her head in confusion, ‘’What do you mean?’’, her mother may be racist but her mind was healthy. Yet she must have made a mistake, ‘’That’s not what I wrote?’’.

‘’That’s what it says in the paper, Dawn’’, said Daniel as he finished skim reading the story. He then passed the paper to his sister.

She took the newspaper and read out loud, ‘’Migrant crime wave’’. A gradual rage began building up in Dawn, each word she read adding to it, ‘’Two young Muslim men were leading a ruthless cocaine business in and around Birmingham. Abdul-Kadir and Bashir Fawaiz were apprehended by police in their shared house in Oldbury early on Wednesday morning. The duo and their gang had been flooding the inner West Midlands for years with the infamous ‘Auténtico’ cocaine, the rarest and most expensive in the whole of Europe. Further inquiry revealed that the Home Office practically held the door open for Abdul-Kadir and Bashir Fawaiz when they first entered the country in 2001…’’

Dawn couldn’t believe her eyes; her entire body was flooded with emotions. Rage, Fear, Anxiety and trembling…

‘’This is not what I wrote!’’, she said, far louder than she intended, ‘’Abdul and Bashir were five when they entered the country! I interviewed them myself! Sam McAndrew was the leader and he’s English! They changed everything!’’, her words became hysterical screams near the end.

Her brother grabbed her by the shoulders, ‘’Dawn! Calm down, you’re shaking’’.

Their mother huffed once more, ‘’They probably changed it because they realised everything you wrote was stupid nonsense’’, she said without even looking up at them.

Her mother’s words only fuelled her rage, but Dawn tried her best to ignore her, ‘’They completely shifted the story to immigration! How could they?! People need to know the truth!’’

Their mother spoke up once more, ‘’We already do. You’re just naive to what the truth actually is’’.

Dawn was livid, she felt tears building up in her eyes. She didn’t want to do something that she would regret, so she stormed out of the room, through the kitchen and out into the garden.

She felt like screaming. Why? How? Both questions kept circling around in her mind. Dawn felt a hand on her shoulder and jolted away from it, ‘’Daniel!’’, her brother’s face was full of concern. She knew that she should try and calm down but she just couldn’t.

‘’I feel so worthless. How could they do this? They lied to everyone. Journalists are supposed to tell the truth. Apart from those two, the rest of the gang are all English. What does it matter anyway? They were trafficking cocaine and the police got them, they may even give up information on their distributor. That’s what my story was!’’, she stopped and gasped for air.

‘’Dawn, I love you but I’m surprised that you weren’t expecting this’’, his words were gentle but they stunned her beyond expression. Daniel saw that she was left speechless and continued, ‘’People don’t like the truth, it’s too scary for them. Britain is by no means the only country that does this, but people would much rather blame the alien foreigners than admit that they have faults as well. The papers know this and take full advantage of it’’

His words cut deep. The rage inside Dawn was overwhelmed by a fear, fear and trembling. No, that can’t be true. People are decent, ‘’Even if I believed that, it doesn’t matter. My story was about cocaine trafficking and they completely humiliated me…’’

‘’It was wrong that they didn’t inform you that they’d change it, but you still should have seen it coming’’, this time Dawn struggled to note the gentleness in her brother’s tone. He continued, ‘’The thing about the war on drugs is that it’s unwinnable, Dawn. Sure, it’s nice that the police caught this gang, but they’ll just be replaced by another. People need drugs, even cocaine. It’s a form of escapism. That and there’s a lot of money in it’’, he said calmly. As if it was some natural fact.

Dawn couldn’t react, she didn’t want to hear any of this. The sheer horror was overwhelming. How could anyone live a normal and happy life thinking that their neighbour, their teacher, their shopkeeper…just anyone that you meet is that way. It was too much.

‘’Look, just talk to your editor on Monday and tell them that you understand but you want to be consulted on changed in the future. Come on, we’ll say bye to mom and head over to the pub’’, said Daniel. He then reached for her hand but she pulled away from him.

‘’Daniel…’’, she paused and steadied her breath, still battling with the turmoil inside her, ‘’Please tell me that you have never, and I mean never, done coke. Tell me that you have never given money for that poison, each gram of which costs three lives’’. He was her brother and she loved him, they grew up together and ever since they were little they had promised each other to always say the truth and always be there for one another. Dawn knew she could trust him, but she just needed to hear it. She just needed to know…

Daniel exhaled, his face softening in defeat, “I have done coke, Dawn’’.

Suddenly, her whole world collapsed in on itself. Her desire to share truth had been perverted into the sharing of lies, and in the process, she herself had uncovered something…grotesque. She didn’t want to believe it, but how could she ignore it?

Dawn stormed off, pushing past her brother and ignoring her mother on the way out. She got in her car and drove away. She wished she could drive away from it all. Phillip has to tell me why. I’ll go to his flat and he has to look me in the eyes and tell me why.

Ever since she started working for him, Phillip would regularly e-mail Dawn invites to his home for dinner. Whenever her saw her around in the office, he would boast about his big and expensive apartment on outskirts of Edgbaston. Dawn needed to get to his flat, she chose the side roads just so she could get there quicker. She swerved wildly around corners, ignored give way signs, didn’t bother with mirror checks and narrowly escaped crashing several times all the way to Edgbaston. She didn’t notice just how quickly she got there, her mind was too busy fighting everything Daniel had told her. But most of all, she was still asking herself why.

Dawn got out of the car and stormed towards the apartment block, thankfully someone was leaving so she wouldn’t have to wait at the gate for security to let her in. She pushed passed them and bolted up the stairs, taking two steps at a time. She finally got to his door and violently slammed her fist on it, Open. Open. I need to hear it from you, she kept thinking.

After what felt like hours, Phillip opened the door. He was wearing nothing but a bathrobe and slippers, and the bath robe barely covered anything, ‘’Dawn!’’, his eyes lit up and his face jiggled into a smile, ‘’What a pleasant surprise. Come in…’’, he reached for a hug but Dawn pushed him away, or tried to anyway.

‘’How could you humiliate me like that?! You made me out to be some ignorant racist’’, she shouted hysterically.

The confusion on his face only angered Dawn more, ‘’What are you talking about?’’, asked Phillip.

‘’The story you idiot! My story! You changed it all to immigration! How can you call yourself a journalist when you feed the people lies instead of honesty?!’’, she stopped and tried to get her breath back.

Phillip’s smiled faded slightly, ‘’Here I was thinking that you came just to see me’’, he chuckled, likely in the hope to get her to ease up on the issue, but Dawn’s expression remained cold and furious, ‘’Well I am an editor, Dawn. It is my job to edit before approving a story for publishing’’

He was going to say something else but Dawn cut him off, ‘’You didn’t edit. You changed the entire story!’’

‘’I don’t like being shouted at by my employees, Dawn’’, his voice was stern and the light from his bright hazel eyes seemed to dim, ‘’Look, let’s just say that the owner of the paper doesn’t like it when he isn’t paid back and leave it there. Why do you care so much anyway? You’re well off, have a nice flat in Halesowen…’’

How the hell does he know where I live? While that was her first thought, Dawn interrupted Phillip with, ‘’Because it’s not right!’’

‘’I’ve been working in this business for thirty years and I can tell you that what’s right never sells papers’’, Dawn felt physically sick when she processed his words.

He clearly didn’t care for honesty, nor for decency or for the people. All he cares about is money. His gluttony disgusted her but what disgusted her more was the fact that up until now she was blind to it. What kind of world do we live in if people would rather listen to lies than the truth, even if it’s harsh? She shuddered at what the answer could be.

Phillip placed his hands on her shoulders, ‘’How about you come in and I’ll make you a cup of tea, or you can have something stronger if you like’’

Dawn shoved his hands off and shouted, ‘’Keep your tea and you can have your job back. I quit!’’, and she left with tears in her eyes from the raw emotions she was experiencing.

The sun had all but set when she left the building. She found herself back in her car but unable to function. Dawn felt as if she was lost in a deep and never ending horror, her hand couldn’t stop trembling and she just wanted to cry. She had failed, not only as a journalist but as a human being, she had allowed filth to be published and worst of all people will think it was her that wrote all of it. All hope seemed lost.

A knock on her car window startled her back to reality, she struggled to see him clearly though the tears but the image was unmistakable, ‘’Matthew!’’

He walked around to the passenger seat and got in the car with her, ‘’Dawn, is everything okay? What’s happened?’’

She threw herself at him and embraced him in a hug, ‘’You have no idea how happy I am to see you’’

Matthew returned the hug, letting her cry a bit before continuing, ‘’Why are you here?’’

She pulled back and wiped the tears from her face, ‘’Phillip has completely butchered my story into crap on immigration. I’m so humiliated, Matthew. He just cares about money and selling papers, I’m so stupid. I came here in a fit of rage and ended up telling him I quit’’

‘’Look, you’re in no state to drive so let me take you back home. I’ll just get the bus back or something’’, his tone was kind and reassuring. Dawn wiped the tears away and simply nodded in agreement.

Suddenly a loud bang pierced their ears and the rear window shattered, ‘’Get down!’’, shouted Matthew and they both ducked their heads.

Another bang followed, Dawn looked in the rear-view mirror and saw a man approaching the car with a gun in his hand pointed straight at them, ‘’What’s happening?’’, she screamed in terror.

Matthew didn’t respond, instead he pulled out a pistol from his coat pocket and shot back. Dawn looked in the rear-view mirror again and saw the man jolt from the impact of the bullet and fall to the ground.

‘’Drive!’’, he shouted. Dawn was too scared to think and simply did what he said.

‘’What the hell just happened? Why do you have a gun?’’, she said as the terror continued surging through her.

‘’Dawn, do you trust me?’’, asked Matthew while looking back through the whole than now stood in place of the rear window.

‘’Right now, I don’t know’’, she replied and was debating in her mind if she should stop the car and call the police right now. Matthew looked back at her, visibly hurt from her response.

‘’I can’t say I blame you. Look, I promise that I’ll explain. But first we need to get somewhere safe. Please’’, Dawn was still terrified but still felt that Matthew was being honest, she decided to take a chance on him and continued driving.

After everything that happened today, Dawn wasn’t sure exactly where safe was. Yet, she drove back to her apartment out of instinct and a feeling that somehow everything would just go away if she hid in there with Matthew, Do I trust him? I don’t know what else to do. She was going to park in her usual spot but Matthew insisted that they leave the car somewhere else, after some searching they managed to find a side road tucked away from cameras and prying eyes. They walked back in silence, Matthew was constantly looking around for who knows what and everyone person and had his hand on his gun. After what seemed like an eternity, they finally walked through the main doors, up the stairs and into her flat. Matthew locked the door behind them and then closed the curtains in the living room.

Dawn wasted no time, ‘’Matthew. What just happened?’’

He looked at her but was clearly unsure what to say, ‘’Do you remember when I said that I had some loose ends to tie up before I could leave?’’, Dawn nodded in response, ‘’Well, one of those loose ends tried to shoot us. You see Dawn…I…I haven’t been honest with you…That gang that you wrote about, I…well they’re after me. They have been for a while and they are much bigger than you can imagine’’

It was happening again, more things that she didn’t want to know about; that she didn’t want to believe, ‘’Why?’’’, she asked, fearful of what the answer would be.

Matthew paused and took a deep breath, ‘’I’ve been looking into them for a while now. They’re like nothing this country has seen. The people who were arrested were just the goons; the tip of a monstrous iceberg. What’s worse is that their leader, whoever he is, is smart. They only smuggle in cocaine every five years but when they do, in a year they bring in over one-hundred tonnes of Auténtico’’

Dawn was beyond shocked, ‘’But only about forty tonnes of cocaine gets imported to the UK’’

‘’That’s only the amount that the government knows about. This gang sells most of it to other gangs in Europe, the rest they sell themselves and at a higher price because of its purity. I’ve been working on exposing them, or at least what I have on them so far, but they must have somehow caught on to me’’, his voice was steady and yet Dawn could sense something else.

‘’Matthew…I’m scared’’, was her only response. That was the most potent emotion she was experiencing amidst an anarchy of feelings.

‘’I’m scared too, Dawn’’, he took a step closer to her, ‘’But I can’t do this on my own. Look, I…I know that I have no right to ask you this. But please, I need your help. You’re the only person I have ever trusted…I know that together we can bring enough evidence to the police and maybe they can put is in witness protection or something’’

There was still so much Dawn didn’t understand. Why was Matthew even in Edgbaston and why has he not told her about this before? He usually tells her everything, surely if he was investigating this gang then he would have announced so at the office. But he saved her today. That and Dawn could just tell, from the moment that she met him, that Matthew was a good and decent man who’d never lie to her, she was scared and confused but at least she had him…he’s all that she had.

‘’Okay…okay, I’ll help you, Matthew’’, she finally managed to say, causing him to sigh in joy and relief.

The fear and trembling in her subsided and finally, after a day sheer horror, Dawn finally felt as if some goodness had been restored to her own corner of the world. Perhaps this could be a second chance, an opportunity to not only help Matthew but to make sure that people get the truth.

She embraced Matthew in a hug, happy that she had him with her but still fearful of the darkness that they were both now delving into.