A knife tucked in his boot

Andie awoke to the sound of Hugh’s voice in the stationary van, the blue glow of his phone screen against the side of his face.

“Aye, I think we’re about half an hour away…yeah, all of it, everything that was on the list…uh huh, the dark red chair…nah, we’re sorted, I booked us a bed and breakfast just up from the harbour…so just straight round the back…I’ll give you a shout when we’re five minutes out…alright, pal. See you soon.”

Hugh set his phone face-down on the dashboard. It was dark again and everything seemed unnaturally quiet after he stopped speaking. Jamie was wearing headphones, leaning back with his eyes closed, his hands occasionally tapping the air as if there were very small drums in front of him. Jamie had never played actual drums of any size. Andie stretched the stiffness from her neck, bones crunching a little after sleeping with a rolled up sweater between her head and the window. She looked round Jamie at Hugh.

“Half an hour away?”

“Aye. That was John, at the drop-off. He sounds alright.”

“Did you think he wouldn’t?”

“I don’t know. He’s Kev’s pal and Kev’s…well, Kev. He’s always been good to me cause of Dad but he’s shifty as fuck. Most of the ones I’ve met through him would probably give you a cup of tea and a biscuit after they broke your legs, but they’d still break your legs, you know? It’s alright when it’s a quick drop but this guy John has to go through the list and make sure everything’s there. I don’t want him to be a dick. To you, either. Or that wee shite,” Hugh motioned towards Jamie, who was still oblivious to the conversation going on around him.

“Aww, Hugh. You worry about us.”

“You know I worry about you. And not cause I think you need worried about. I know you’re tougher than me and I’ve seen you kick the fuck out of people twice your size. I worry cause…cause I do. I don’t want to be doing this forever, and I’m not being greedy and just wanting more money for me. It’s for all of us, and the business, and my mum so she can retire. I just want to make things a bit easier. Give us all options. And that’s all good if it’s what happens but we have to deal with some shifty fuckers on the way and that’s the bit I’m not into.”

“The big brother I never asked for,” Andie smiled, “Do you want to get driving and get this over with?”

“Aye, let’s go.”

Hugh started the engine, Jamie opened his eyes for a moment to appraise the situation before going back to air-drums, and Andie stared straight ahead as she said, “And thanks. All that stuff. I know. And all the other stuff before. I don’t know if I’ve said it as much as I should but shit got really dark for a while there and you didn’t have to make sure I was OK all the time, but you did. It was good of you.”

Hugh stared straight ahead as he replied, “Aye, well, don’t go telling everyone I’m not a total arsehole or they’ll all start expecting me to give a shit.” He smiled warmly when he said it though, and Andie, just like everyone else who had known Hugh for more than five minutes, knew that he more than gave a shit, quietly and often without acknowledgment.

They arrived at the drop-off forty-two minutes later, after resorting to online maps when John’s directions—the third house after the harbour road gate—didn’t quite get them to where they needed to be. The van trundled and bounced its way along the rock-strewn gravel path that led around to the back of the house. Just as they pulled up, the garage door opened from the inside and a very solid man in overalls emerged. John was taller than Hugh—maybe six foot four—with a demeanour somewhere between pleasantly cheerful and calmly threatening. He was smiling broadly and had a knife tucked in his boot. Andie and Hugh exchanged a look-it was the kind of detail they’d both learned to notice-but Jamie was oblivious, which was probably for the best.

As soon as they started to unload, John asked about the red chair. Andie carried it from the back of the van into the garage where John immediately pulled the knife from his boot and dragged a long cut into the back of the chair. Andie was standing close enough to see brown-wrapped packages stuffed between the upholstery. John removed one and stabbed it with the tip of his knife. He licked the tip of his little finger, touched it to the small wound in the package, then tasted the white powder the way rich people taste whisky.

“Well, that’s the important bit accounted for,” he said, with a wink in Andie’s direction, like he truly believed she was in on whatever was going on.

Andie looked back at Hugh. “The important bit?”

John’s face ruptured into laughter. “Ah, fuck, that Kev’s a fucking bastard, eh? Did he not let on about what was in the chair? And you three driving up here thinking you just had furniture and a bunch of other shite. I mean, that’s all good and costly wares there, but this is the serious business here.”

Hugh’s jaw tensed the way it did when he was taking deep breaths and counting to ten in his head. He pushed his hair back from his face and smiled tightly.

“Aye, Kev’s a fucking bastard alright.” Hugh took another deep breath, having started at one again. “Still, it’s all here if you want to go through the rest of the list, then we’ll get out of your way.”

Andie kept trying to catch Hugh’s eye while they unpacked the rest, but he was focused on holding his temper and being as professional as a person can be while unloading stolen goods under cover of darkness into the garage of a man-mountain who carries weapons in his footwear.

Once they were finished, John handed Hugh an envelope of cash and announced, “You did it all right and you got here when you were supposed to. There’s a lot more where that came from for people with the appropriate attitude and aptitude. Kev said you were sound so if all this went as planned, to offer you the regular gig.”

Hugh had now counted to ten in his head at least six times. He replied, “Can we get back to you on that, pal?”

“Aye, but don’t wait too long. I’m one link in a long chain and I’m not going to be the one that breaks, so give me a yes or no within the week. And make it a yes.” He laughed. It sounded wrong. Andie, Jamie and Hugh got in the van and headed back around John’s gravel path to the road.

“Did you fucking know about that?” Andie shouted at Hugh.

“No, I fucking didn’t! Fucking Kev! Fuck!”

“That’s not messing around, Hugh. That shit’s fucking poison and you go to fucking jail for it. It’s not even possession, driving around with that much in the van. It’s dealing or supplying or something. It’s fucking stupid. We’re not doing it.”

“I don’t know that we can not do it. I mean, John was pretty adamant that he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Plus, this envelope is twice as thick as we were expecting it to be, so maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world.”

“Hugh, it is the fucking worst thing in the world and if you do this, you’re doing it on your fucking own.”

“What the fuck, Andie? When did you get a conscience?”

“It’s not a fucking conscience! It’s self-fucking-preservation!”

Jamie sat forward in his seat between Andie and Hugh. “Will you both stop fucking cursing at each other and shut the fuck up. Fuck!”

Hugh ran a hand through his hair. “I just think we should consider it.”

“Aye,” said Jamie, suddenly full of opinions. “It’s really good money.”

Andie clenched her fists. “I seriously cannot even be around you two right now. Stop the van and let me out.”

“No,” said Hugh, “I’m not stopping. Where the fuck are you going? We’re in the arsehole of nowhere and there’s a room booked for you at a bed and breakfast we’re hopefully going to find at some point tonight. You can’t just go.”

“I looked on my phone before we came up here, to see what the place is like. There’s a hotel about a mile away. Give me my share of the cash, stop the van and I’ll see you tomorrow. I’m not running away or anything but I swear to god, I’m so pissed off with the both of you right now for even entertaining the notion of driving chairs full of fucking white drugs around the place and I need to not be here, OK?”

“I’ll drive you to the hotel. Andie, please.”

“You fucking won’t, Hugh. You’ll stop the van, give me my money and let me walk up the road on my own.”

“Andie—”

“Jamie, don’t even. Hugh, stop. Money. Bugger off. I’ll text when I get there. Don’t make this worse.”

Jamie sat awkwardly between them, imagining that this is what it must feel like when your parents fight, except he didn’t know because his dad lived in France and his parents got on really well despite not being in any sort of relationship and living in different countries. But he’d heard things from his friends, sitting around small fires lit in places they shouldn’t have been lit, sharing secrets that would be quietly accepted but never mentioned again. Hugh stopped the van, took what looked like a third of the cash out of the envelope and, without even counting it, handed it to Andie.

“Please don’t,” he said.

Andie opened the door and slid from her seat until her feet hit the ground.

“Shut up.”

She closed the door much less forcefully than Hugh or Jamie were expecting and set off down the road, walking like she would quietly and without a second thought kill anyone who so much as looked at her.