Closer To Home

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

Stew is a young butcher working in the center of his hometown of Cromley. Yet on this particular day something is wrong within the streets, something which Stew must come to realize before it traps him forever.

Closer to Home

 

Part 1

 

It was 5:30 a.m when Stewart Rushton awoke to the sound of his alarm clock. Early morning awakenings had been a routine part of Stew’s life for nearly six years, yet the blistering sound of the alarm would still make him startle and cringe. The dark atmosphere of his bedroom hypnotised him only briefly as he sat up, swatting his alarm like a troublesome fly and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes with a grubby finger. The late night film he watched had cost him dearly, limiting him to only 4 hours sleep throughout the night.

Stew arose to a zombie like stagger as he made his way into the bathroom. The day would only be bearable if a warm shower was met before having to leave the flat. Stew had known for a while that this particular day would be demanding from the very start. The shop would have to be open, customers would have to be seen and a final delivery of lamb would be made at the end of the day. They took turns in taking charge at the butchers and this week it was Stew to take the helm. The water tricked down his back as he adjusted to the temperature. His head rested against the wall letting the water run off his hair which allowed his face to keep dry. Stew had perfected the art of smoking a cigarette whilst in the shower from a young age and the technique had never failed to work in his favour. His showers would run for seven minutes on average allowing him time to wake up properly and prepare for whatever the day had in store. Stew couldn’t help allowing his mind to wonder as he basked in one of the only comforts of the day. He would think of memories past that would usually involve old flames. The ones he loved, the ones he loathed but always boiling it down to how well they performed in bed. It had been almost eight months since Stew had indulged in the pleasure of sex. He often joked with his colleagues that one day he’ll have to do it purely for the sake of his sight. Occasionally falling back to sleep; he would only jolt awake when the water would run cold and snap him back into reality. The impending coldness from not having enough hot water was a constant reminder that the day must go on.

Stew emerged from the bathroom donning a more life-like image than before. His towel fell to the floor allowing his natural form to blossom. He had no reason to cover up; no eyes were going to be offended. Socks, boxers and shirts littered his floor like mounds of dirt. It was normal for stew to pick up whatever was closest no matter how long it had been sitting there. However, after the layers and layers of warm clothing were plastered on, Stew had to crown the ensemble with a shirt and tie. It had always seemed peculiar to him from the very start. Did people really care about their butcher’s dress sense? After all, Stew was only there to sell them meat, not manage their accounts or appear in court.

The bitterness of the morning air gnawed into his skin as he opened the front door. The mile walk into town was again another small luxury for Stew. He figured that if he owned a car, it would make him almost 10 minutes earlier for work than if he walked. The slight delay was just as important as the seven minute shower. He certainly didn’t do it for company. The streets were deserted. Occasionally Stew would see the milkman or an occasional bunch of drunkards coming home from a party but it was rare that Stew would have any confrontation.

 Cromley was just outside Birmingham. It wasn’t within the confines of the pulsating central but in a small working class district, fenced off from the outside where family businesses owned most of the town’s personality. Later on in the morning he would see numerous faces opening their shop windows and market stands in the hope of attracting some profit for the day. The rare few would call in to say hello, bring news of the family or invite him for a drink at the local pub. It was pleasant that everyone knew each other and in many ways looked after each other, especially as Stew was far from a stranger to the Cromley eye.

His parents had owned a pub for sixteen years, buried deep within the backstreets, accommodating those who had nothing better to do than sit for hours on end drinking endlessly. Stew had often enjoyed bounding around the main room as a young boy, talking to the ‘regulars’ and eating all the free nuts and crisps he could stomach. Of course nowadays he looked back on it as a depressing time. Those old men sat for hours on end, talking nonsense and necking pint after pint of ‘Old Speckled Hen’ through their toothless gaping hole had become a haunting memory for Stew. After a while, his parents had become distraught that their lives were slipping away. Stew had already been taken on at the butchers so it only seemed logical that they would sell the pub and move out to the countryside. The new owners suffered with the same problem. Stew would often walk past the window and witness the same regular faces plastered on a lifeless body, holding the only means of comfort in their grey routine. He would forever ponder what had happened to them in a past life.

As he crossed the main road over the village border, Stew lit up his first cigarette of the day. It would be his starter for ten. Smoking had been a significant part of Stew’s life from as early as thirteen. The days when he would hide behind sheds puffing an endless trail with his friends were fond memories for him. Back then the only worry was whether a parent would spot them. Stew would hide a deodorant can in his rucksack to cover up the musty smell from the sweet tobacco. He relished the idea of hiding a secret from his parents. He lied constantly that it was only secondary smoke on him and when caught with a pack would protest that someone had stitched him up. After a while, the parents had gathered that the rumour of ‘the smoking kids’ was closer to home than they thought. Stew was disciplined severely but it wasn’t long before his mother asked him to join her for a morning fag. Nowadays, smoking was more of a necessity as opposed to a want. Stew would have several throughout the day, breaking up his shift and allowing him to have some time alone. If he didn’t smoke he would only be allowed an hour for lunch. Stew was a fond believer that a cigarette warmed the body better than any ski jacket or thermal underwear ever could. He figured that when working in a refrigerated shop, he needed all the help he could get. His favourite one however would be at the end of the day, usually when he would be walking home. To him . . . it was a trophy, a prize for getting through the day. The first exhale would express solid relief and from there it would just keep getting better and better.

He approached the shop door stubbing out his butt on the pavement. The roller shutters were first to come up with the aid of a key. Stew had been in keep of a key within his first year of working there. Michael Stant, a personal friend had conjured the idea of robbing the place when Stew had just started out, pleading that he could use the key to get past the shutters. Stew would be none the wiser to the crime and Michael even offered to give him 40 per cent of the takings if he was successful. Stew was curious, if not a little excited yet he knew deep down that the plan would fail. His boss Lee would know. CCTV operates 24/7 and it would be impossible to get past the shutters without a key. There would be no questions, Lee would confront Stew and get all the answers he wanted. The police would never know about the robbery and Stew and Michael would spend the rest of their lives regretting what they did. It wasn’t worth the consequences, Stew would continue as a loyal employee.

 

Part 2

The shop was a silent picture of unease. As Lee and Craig wouldn’t arrive for another hour or so it allowed time for Stew to gather himself.  Meat had to be prepared for what the day had in store. However, a cup of tea was his first priority. The everyday morning habits were mainly done at work. Stew would have a cup of tea, his breakfast and even brush his teeth in the staff toilet. He once laughed at the everyday habits of Lee and Craig but after several years learnt that each was a necessity. The kettle alone took several minutes to boil; in Stew’s head it was worthy of an actual break. Nowadays it was rare if anyone asked Stew to make the tea. It had been described on countless occasions as being a worthy replica of ‘sheep’s piss.’ When Stew first started, Lee would send him back to correct a tea related mistake until their hot comfort was perfect. At the time, Stew relished winding up his colleagues. He would pretend to not understand what was meant by ‘strong tea’. To further the joke he would put several tea bags in one cup and innocently remark ‘Is that strong enough?’ to anyone who drank it. Even with the public he was a lone prankster. On a slow day, Stew would amuse himself by confusing a customer with technical meat related terms that didn’t exist. His most favourite being the ‘moo-nob’ found at the bottom of any cow. As Stew wore the uniform, they were none the wiser to his lies. Lee would forever be critical of Stew’s sense of humour yet admired the drive to amuse himself.

The shop was divided into an upstairs and a downstairs. Upstairs was used as a staff room whereas downstairs consisted of everything else necessary. Stew bounded up the stairs like a hungry dog at dinner time, clicked the kettle on and made his way to the cloakroom. His white coat and apron hung like a dressing gown on the back door. Stew would sometimes pretend he was a medical surgeon. On a particularly slow day he once made a badge sporting the title ‘Dr. Sausage’ and wore it proudly on his white coat for the remainder of the shift. Be that as it may, it was clear to anyone with a brain cell that Stew was not a medical surgeon.

He made his way downstairs, holding a steaming cup of weak tea. The shop was forever a place where your hands would freeze from the constant coldness of the ventilation system.  It seemed moronic to have a walk-in fridge at all. It was here where the shop kept all of its stock. If a burglary was ever carried out it would be an amateur’s mistake to attack the cash register before raiding the walk-in fridge. In total it would amount to over ten thousand pounds in quality meat. At Christmas they would be looking at over fifty thousand pounds. For a small business, they were packing more money than any other shop on the high street.

As he slid the heavy door aside another degree of coldness hit him like a bullet. The meat hung in complete silence while some rotated slowly on the rusty hooks. Swine were positioned towards the back; their faces forever emitting the same lifeless expression when they were studded through the head a few weeks ago. To some it was a picture of horror. A young employee over a year ago had nearly fainted in hysteria when Lee locked him in the fridge to ‘welcome him to the family’. Once he had stopped crying, they came to the decision that maybe a career in meat wouldn’t be a wise move for him. Nevertheless, Stew had always found the motionless presence of dead carcass to be the same as seeing a pork chop on a dinner plate. After all, it was the same animal.  

Stew took a hefty sized half of pig and eased it off the hook. This particular one had already been stripped of its organs apart from the kidneys which were firmly attached to a prime part of cut and needed to be ripped off. They were notoriously heavy animals and needed serious technique and strength if one was to be picked up successfully. Luckily Stew had built up years of core strength from being a butcher, so the ordeal was easily carried out in his favour. He made his way over to the cutting block carrying the swine in a fireman’s lift position. After dumping the body and taking a swig of warm tea, Stew prepared himself to become the worker’s alternative surgeon. A meat cleaver hung above the block as if to beckon him to take it. The trotters looked sturdy and strong yet with a clean sweep, a meat clever would be able to take them off in one swift motion. If not, Stew would have to resort to a bone saw which was just as useful yet used more muscle and produced more mess. A firm grip ensured maximum effect from the blade and allowed Stew to feel confident about the tool not falling from his hand. Sure enough in one swift motion, he landed a firm blow, taking the trotters clean off. Blood splattered in several directions, most landing straight onto his white coat and face.  

A chuckle and a sigh followed as he wiped the slimy juice out of his mouth. Later on when he would retire for his shower, pig blood would usually emerge from his hair and neck dripping endlessly into the bottomless plug hole. It was surprising in just how many places it would appear. Stew picked up the limp trotters and threw them in a stained bucket after briefly enjoying a moment of high fiving his companion’s foot.

A noise rustled from outside. Positioned by the door, Stew knew the courtyard round the back was known for accommodating drug addicts and hoodlums. Lee had chased them away several times during occasional night shifts yet Stew was slightly more reserved in his approach. He wasn’t afraid of confrontation; he simply didn’t feel it was necessary. This noise however sounded more like a break in. His initial thought was a car. The fast paced noise of struggle and clang emitted louder as the seconds passed. Stew cared a lot about his town and whether it affected him or not, he always tried his best to protect it. His grip around the meat cleaver became tighter as he prepared for the confrontation he so hoped to never have. He twitched slightly in his blood soaked white coat as he imagined the thief to be a hulking specimen of fear. Nevertheless the latch came off as Stew made his way into the dead of morning air. His trembling grip was now weakening as he searched for moving shadows or rustling in the distance. To his relief nothing could be seen within the black mosaic. A cat had probably fallen in a skip was his initial thought. However, within the murky depths of the courtyard, Stew could hear the stabbing sounds of footsteps approaching fast. He gripped the cleaver tighter than ever before, waiting for his enemy to appear in the dim glow of the shops light. An outline appeared. A hulk of a man was approaching fast, holding something long. A knife? Stew raised his arm in fear. Then a voice spoke.

‘What the fuck are you doing Stewart?’

 

 

 

Part 3

 

‘Jesus Christ Lee!’

‘What are you doing out here with the meat cleaver?’

‘I thought there was a robbery, you scared the hell out of me!’

‘I scared the hell out of you? Have you seen yourself? You look like Leatherface with piles!’

Lee barged his way past his shaken colleague as he dumped his bags on the counter top. His bald head gleamed in the dim shine of the shop’s light as he placed ‘The Daily Mail’ on the side and searched for a knife. Lee lived moments away from the shop yet still felt the need to drive his BMW every morning. Stew gathered it was more of an image worry than a health problem but his boss was hardly the Godfather.

‘I’ve got a new poster for the shop window.’

What Stew originally thought to be a knife was in a fact a poster tube tucked neatly under his arm. Lee had lately become weary that business wasn’t going well and advertisement was apparently the way forward. For months they had taken out ads in local newspapers in the hope of attracting new customers. Sadly, the penetrable force of recession had meant that people set the bar low for their meat prices, alienating Lee and his business. After finding a knife he made a slight slit in the plastic wrapper and unearthed the rolled up poster. Stew bit his tongue as the message was unveiled against a blinding Union Jack flag.

 

BUY BRITISH

EAT BRITISH

BE BRITISH

 

Lee was a patriot. He was born in Cromley and through years of managing a business had never felt the need to escape. From a young age he had worked for local market stands, learning the trade and embracing the lifestyle. He would skip school to sell fruit and vegetables to local housewives in the hope or attracting some money. They adored his spirit and pluck. What he lacked in education was made up in charm. As the years passed, Lee became a household name to almost everyone in the area. Truancy officers eventually gave up their battle to tame the ‘market boy’ and allowed him to go by without an education. Parents admired his independence and drive yet felt he was missing out on something important.

As he entered his twenties, Lee began to wish for bigger things. He was on a moderate salary and had already met his wife Tracy. Being a butcher had never really crossed his mind until the fateful Christmas when he showed his mother how to de-bone a chicken breast. A market stand provider had showed him the procedure on one particularly cold winter morning. He admired the craft of the knife as well as the technique needed. It was an art he could relate to and he loved it. After extensive courses and training, his shop was set up in the heart of Cromley. For years he strived to be the best and for the most part, he succeeded. After all, it was one of the only surviving businesses to live through countless recessions. It even made Lee to be regarded as quite the businessman. There was however a problem.

Whether it be from upbringing or simply never experiencing the wider world, Lee was a passionate racist. He had been an avid supporter of the national front party ever since their peak in the 1970s making him a true believer in keeping the country British. He used to attend rallies in London when the spirit was high and the public took a stand. Lee would craft slogans and banners for local members as they travelled together in minibuses and vans spreading the word of pride and respect for one’s country. As time went on, their antics became inappropriate for the modern culture and needed to end. Political correctness took a drastic stand and prevented Lee from continuing his journey of promotion and awareness. Despite this, it didn’t stop him from continuing his life under the order of what he believed in. His politics affected everything from hiring employees to welcoming local residents. Cromley was predominantly white, but it didn’t stop Lee from getting his message out.

‘You can’t put that poster up.’ Stew protested.

‘My window, my rules.’

Lee was a watchful eye to almost everyone in the area. His pride for Cromley had taken a drastic stand in 1995 when he threw a brick through an elderly Indian man’s window whilst threatening his life if he didn’t move away. The police were never called and Lee was never charged. The incident became a regular antidote for years as Lee basked in his own dedication towards maintaining Cromley’s identity. 

 ‘How was last night anyway?’ Stew asked in order to change the subject.

‘Ah it was fantastic mate. My little niece came down to visit from Lincoln. She’s so sweet she is. Only 16 and starting college soon. Her mum and dad have got high hopes!’

‘Wow that’s really good! What’s she going to study?’

‘Business management? Some sort of management, I can’t really remember to be honest.’

‘Still, that’s great! Wish I was organised enough to go to college.’

‘Oh leave it out Stew, you couldn’t organise a shit in a public toilet! And anyway, college is overrun with fucking gooks and wogs nowadays, you don’t want that!’

Lee was incredibly open about what he stood for. Occasionally he would indulge in the pleasure of telling racially obscene jokes in the presence of his colleagues to which Stew would have to look amused or entertained in order to keep the peace. It was system that he had mistakably fallen into after so many years of working in such an enclosed space. As far as Stew was concerned, it didn’t affect him on a personal level as such. As the days ploughed on he was content to humour his boss whenever the situation arose.

‘Yeah I suppose you’re right mate.’

Lee looked confused at the hulk of meat Stew had careful dis-membered moments ago.

‘What the hell have you done here?’

‘I took the trotters off and was going to strip it down until you came along and nearly gave me a heart attack.’

‘Well you’ve done it all wrong, come here!’

Lee snatched the meat cleaver out of Stew’s shaky palm. Stew always followed the procedure accurately yet Lee would forever be critical of his work. He eyed up the swine like a canvas.

‘You see; if you cut too low your left with too much bone. Always cut two inches above the foot ok!’

Lee struck down on the motionless body as an extra inch was taken off the leg. The firm blow had caused the bones to snap under the heavy weight while blood splattered across the block. Lee’s coat became heavily stained from the lack of an apron. He smeared the dampness into his hands as the blood trickled to the floor. A jagged edge was left protruding from the carcass. Abandoning the knife he grabbed the bone and ripped it clean off with high ferocity.

‘By the way, I need you to work late tonight.’

He snatched a tea towel from the side board and wiped his palms.

‘I’m already working late!’ Stew protested.

‘I know but you need to stay later. Craig and his Mrs have fallen out so I told him not to come in. They need to spend time together.’

‘Craig and his Mrs always fall out though!’

‘I know, its annoying isn’t it! Hopefully this time alone will bring them closer together and maybe make Craig stop talking about his marital problems at work!’

‘We can’t run the shop by ourselves Lee, it’ll be too busy.’

‘Look I don’t like this anymore than you do but we’re both capable enough to run a bloody shop for one day. It’ll be busy so no cigarette breaks and only ten minutes for lunch ok!’

‘What?’

‘I’m sorry but there won’t be time. And cheer the fuck up for Christ sake, this is a family butchers not a useless sad twat convention!’

Lee turned his back and moved towards the stairs. Stew inhaled deep as he calmed himself. No nicotine was going to be a major problem if the day brought stress. He knew he could sneak one at lunch but would need to eat at the same time. He glanced at the hanging clock on the back wall showing the time of 6:50 a:m.

As he turned to wipe the red from the knife he spotted a blood trail that ran towards the stairs. He knew straight away that this particular shade did not come from any pig. It had not occurred to him fully that Lee had actually ripped a jagged bone from a sturdy carcass with his bare hands. The sheer thought of how much pain it would bring made Stew almost cringe in unease. He was clearly cut deep yet gave no clue as to what happened. Stew looked in amazement at Lee’s blood as it stained the ceramic floor. The pools crept closer to him as he picked up the mop and wiped away the mess. It was astounding just how much had been spilled.

 

Part 4

As the morning progressed, Stew maintained his post on the counter. He had served numerous customers while Lee remained in the back. Although the shop was quiet, he would have liked some help. He had been without a cup of tea or a cigarette for almost two hours and his focus was starting to slip. A customer would eventually wish to start up a conversation and Stew would be nothing more than useless. He enjoyed meeting the public but found them a chore on occasions. The vast difference in all of them made it astounding as to who may walk through the door at any time.

By 11 o’clock, Stew had seen a couple of familiar faces and a variety of people who rarely stopped by. One individual carried a briefcase and wore a pinstriped black suit. Stew recognised him from school but couldn’t remember his name. Their classes were notorious for being crammed with over 30 students, leaving it difficult for teachers and pupils to remember everyone. He did however remember the sheer hatred he once had for this person. His parents were wealthy and gave him everything from new bikes to the latest gadgets. He excelled in academics as well as sport and music, allowing him to partake in the luxury of college and University. Jealousy overran the entire class as he lived the life, everyone desired.

 He brought an eight ounce steak and commented on Stew’s supposed tiredness until finally leaving with a smug grin. Stew turned and began to cut meat with agitation and rage. He was extremely tired and probably did need more sleep but it was not his place to say. Stew worked long hours and got very little pay. He could not afford a suit or even a measly steak for that matter but at least he made a living. He had often dreamed of leaving Cromley in the hope of finding a different venture. He used to write stories in class which were hailed as being creative and sound. In a world where everything shone, Stew imagined himself at a desk with a laptop, writing crime novels with a fine whisky on the side. His assistant would be tall, beautiful and occasionally complement his talent and wealth. Parties would be held in his honour where he would do readings and sign copies of his latest book. Girls would smile as he walked by in the hope of attracting his attention. They would want to go home with him, swim in his swimming pool and sit by his grand old piano as he played Mozart with a glass of Bourbon on top. They would make love until early hours of the morning and refuse to leave when it was time to write again. Why? Because they would want it all. His wealth, his looks, his talent, his drive, his house, his sex and everything else that mattered.

‘Three chicken breasts please?’

Stew turned to see an elderly customer holding a ten pound note.

‘Sorry?’

‘Three chicken breasts please! I’ve asked you four times already!!’

‘Oh right. Sorry, I’m not really myself today.’

Stew plunged back into reality as he served the old man. His standard was atrocious for how quiet the morning was. Nevertheless, he was determined to see the shift out with a positive mind from now on. He believed it would make the time go quicker and allow his cravings to settle at least for a few more hours.

 As Lee was working in the back, the sound of the meat cleaver offered Stew some aspect of time. The bludgeoning strikes echoed through the shop every twenty seconds or so, acting as a droning metronome. Stew landed on these opportunities to relax and check his mobile in the hope that someone would text him. With each sound of the knife came reassurance that Lee would not catch him slacking off. Despite the optimism, his phone stood blank with disappointment. It was rare for him to receive texts at work yet each day brought hope that things would change. Whilst trying to shuffle his phone away, a customer entered baring a familiar wide smile.

‘Rack of lamb please mate.’

Stew obeyed diligently as he brought the lamb out and began to bag it. As the meat was carefully handled, Stew took a more precise glance at his willing customer. His face conjured so many memories of the past that it made Stew almost freeze in bewilderment. Years had passed and age had taken its place yet he knew for sure that it was Danny.

 The friend he once had at school; his smoking buddy, his peer, the guy who would do anything for a friend had returned. Memories of the past were ringing harder than ever before. His family had moved to Cromley when Stew was a mere fourteen year old. Danny was a confident, cheeky and charismatic kid who settled in quicker than any new boy who joined the school. He sat next to Stew in most classes and offered him entertainment beyond belief. His jokes and banter kept Stew laughing right through to 16, at which point they had become best friends. They used to smoke behind the bike sheds at every lunch and break time, embracing their rebellion and mocking those who didn’t partake. He would offer Stew advice on everything from women to homework and never hesitate to speak the truth.

His family were a vibrant bunch who would cook the most exotic and enticing food Cromley had to offer. They would serenade the dining table with stories of the past which were rich in description and entrancing to anyone who heard them. Stew would forever ask questions in the hope that they would continue their tales. By 16, they both had finished school. Danny’s family had fallen into a situation where they couldn’t continue their residence in Cromley and decided that they needed to move. Stew was unsure of the reason at the time yet saw them off in the hope that one day they would return. Since then, Stew had not heard from Danny in 8 years. He had often wondered what venture Danny had found and whether he was happy in his life. He knew he would succeed in whatever he chose to work towards and it obviously seemed like he was happy and well.

‘How much is that mate?’

Stew had a moment of excitement as he waited to reveal his identity. Danny was clearly unaware of who was serving him and Stew knew in his heart that he would be thrilled. He handed over the bag of lamb, emitting a smile that was one of his first of the day. He met his gaze and opened his mouth, only to be interrupted by the sound of the meat cleaver in the back room.

Stew’s face dropped as he stood motionless in the presence of Danny Chandazaar. He withdrew his hand as he suddenly became aware of his surroundings. The metronome went on for several more seconds as time had slowed down for Stew to contemplate his next move.

‘How much?’

Stew bit his lip as he wished Danny would leave without hesitation. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, not like this, not with him in the back room. Danny was innocent and didn’t deserve Stew’s reserved manner or the situation he had mistakenly fallen into. Lee was a man of passion and Stew knew deep down that he would be unforgiving to anyone who didn’t fit the requirements. He had no choice but to hope that Danny wouldn’t recognise him.

‘£6.50 please.’

Danny buried deep in his pockets looking for loose pound coins until he fixed his gaze on Stew’s worried exterior.

‘Stew?’ Stew Rushton!’

Stew sighed a breath of nerves as he gave a shaky, uncertain smile to his companion.

‘Hi, Danny.’ 

‘Jesus, I didn’t know you worked here! I’ve just moved back into Cromley on Glenn Avenue. Got a little baby now mate, only 8 months! How are you man?’

Stew frantically wiped his forehead as he stood in a state of frustration and shame. He wanted to embrace the moment like any decent human being, yet he knew the outcome would be far from pleasant. He would ring him later and apologise but for now he had to become someone else.

‘Look I’m very busy mate so if you wouldn’t mind?’

Danny’s smile dropped as he was met with blistering reality. He handed over the money in a timid, shy manner; something which Stew rarely remembered from his character.

‘Ok mate, I didn’t mean to impose. Here’s my card if you ever want to go for a drink or anything, my numbers on there.’

Danny handed a business card to Stew before leaving in a defeated stride. The market stand owners watched diligently as he made his way out into the town. Stew clenched the card in anger as he scrunched his face in guilt. He needed a cigarette desperately. The card bore a logo for some computer designing business in the centre of Birmingham. Stew knew he would do well and couldn’t bear to forgive the spiteful behaviour he just presented.

Placing the card in his pocket he turned to continue cutting meat whilst clenching his teeth in guilt. The silence made him uneasy as he noticed the sound of the meat cleaver had come to a shuddering halt. Stew turned to see his boss leaning against the wall holding his knife like a trophy. He stared him down like a judge emitting a prisoner to a life of turmoil and misery, unflinching and silent. Lee returned to the back after several seconds, where the stabs began to echo as before. Stew took a deep breath as he gathered himself. He took refuge in the fact that the shift would be over in a matter of hours.

 

Part 5

 

As the day progressed, Stew was losing his focus. His lunch consisted of a cigarette and a cup of tea which he knew would not be enough. He was starving to say the least yet couldn’t settle himself to stomach any food. The incident played over his mind like a bad video loop. It was a grainy memory that was unable to shift, causing Stew to smoke like an agitated drug addict. The disappointment in Danny’s face would conjure guilt while the look of Lee would haunt him till the day he died. He had not spoken to his boss for almost two hours and the on-going silence was making him uncomfortable. Eventually they would be forced to interact and Stew would have no option but to try and act natural. He did however wonder why Lee looked at him with such dominance and rage.

The customers became a string of repetitive faces. They had lost their personalities and became the same body, flooding in and out as Stew was lost in paranoia and stress. He barely cracked a smile as the market stand owners waved in the hope of a warm response. Lee refused to help as he remained in the back. Stew could have done with the support yet found the separation between them to be necessary. It was almost time to begin cleaning up. The process was arduous and long, causing them to begin cleaning two hours before the shop even closed. Stew would need help with the mincing machine as well as the bacon slicer, making their interaction imminent. He wiped down surfaces, calming his twitchy body while the last few customers made their way outside. Lee entered, fixing his gaze on his colleague.

‘Go round back and strip the pig on the block.’

Stew nodded like an obedient dog and scurried off to the back. The pig was laid out to be dissected as before, only Stew was far from confident this time round. The meat cleaver was twirling on its hook amongst the light breeze from outside.  The flesh from the swine brought a chill as Stew ran his hand over the trotters and rump. As he reached to take his tool he heard the roller shutters begin to close. The slow sound of the mechanism made him worry as the shop began to block off from the outside world. It was almost two hours until closing time yet Lee had chosen to stop business for the day. This had never happened in the past.

Stew grabbed the meat cleaver and focussed his mind towards the pig. There was no need to question Lee’s motive for closing so early. As long as Stew could leave on time then he was content to carry on like nothing had happened. Lee entered the back, tossing his keys in the air like a tennis ball. Stew remained silent as he walked around the room turning machines off and closing windows. It was his hope that Lee would continue this silence until it was time to go home. However, with the last window closed, Stew heard the blistering sounds of footsteps approach him slowly from behind. Lee laid a grubby hand on Stew’s shoulder. It was the same hand that had been cut deep a few hours ago.

He took a deep sigh as he came into eye contact.

‘I don’t know mate. You think you run a successful business and then the fucking numbers show you’re earning less every year.’

Stew relaxed slightly as he nodded in agreement while measuring the cut- off point with his knife.

‘I mean every day the same basterds flood in and buy the same crap day in and day out. It’s rare we get anyone new coming into Cromley bringing us some good business.’

Stew remained silent as he focussed on the pig while Lee maintained his stare.

‘Well actually there was someone today who I don’t remember seeing before.’

He bit his lip.

‘He seemed to know you quite well didn’t he? Danny was it?’

Stew stood up straight and met Lee with eye contact; their faces only moments away from each other.

‘Yeah, I knew him from school.’ He replied.

‘I see.’ Lee looked at the pig on the block before returning to Stew. ‘Carry on stripping it down.’

He returned to the swine but couldn’t relax under the watchful eye of his boss. He felt like he was on trial or sitting his driving test. It was a tension he couldn’t bear and he knew it would continue until Lee got all the answers he wanted.

‘He said he was living on Glenn Avenue didn’t he? You know my cousin lives there; she says it’s a nice area.’

Stew had made his mark on the pig as he wondered where this conversation was leading. He raised the knife above his shoulder as he prepared to bring it down on the carcass.

‘But now I don’t think she’ll like it anymore . . . now a paki is living there.’

Stew slammed the blade down in anger as the trotter flew off the block causing blood to spit over the two of them.

‘Jesus Christ Stew! Two inches above the fucking foot! Two inches ok!’

Lee grabbed the knife while Stew gritted his teeth and moved out the way.

‘What’s the point in me fucking telling you to do things when you never fucking do them!’

Lee slammed the blade down on the extra inch as he hacked away at the flesh. Blood splattered on his face as he repeated the ferocious blow over and over again, emitting agitated groans until he breathed deep and pointed the knife at Stew.

‘Now you’re going to ring up that fucking Muslim cunt and find out what house he’s living in!’

Stew backed away towards the wall, not taking his eyes off the meat cleaver. The dull shade of red reflected in the light as Lee looked at his prey; his eyes wide with passion. Stew looked in awe at his boss as the knife taunted him with every move. He was fed up of having to live his life under such an ignorant force. Why did Danny deserve it, why did Stew even deserve it? What made Lee the decider of who was tolerable and who wasn’t? Why was this a rule to live under in Cromley and how had Stew become such a part of it? No cigarette could calm him now, Stew was prepared for the confrontation that had been building throughout the day and nothing could stop him. 

He lashed out at Lee causing him to retract the knife. Stew was red with anger as he advanced towards his boss.

‘What are you going to do Lee huh? Throw a brick through his window? Chuck paint on his car? Act like you’re a fucking bully on a children’s playground? He’s got a kid you know. A baby! A little fucking baby!’ His voice became louder as he backed Lee into a corner.

‘You think that just because you’ve been here for so long that you can somehow decide who belongs and who doesn’t? I went to school with him! He was my friend and because of your fucking nature I had to pretend I didn’t want to know him! So what the hell am I now huh? What is Danny going to think of me? That I’m nothing better than you, a racist!’

Lee maintained eye contact as Stew continued.

‘Times have moved on. This isn’t right what you’re doing and if you lived in anywhere else then it wouldn’t be tolerated. You need to stop thinking about whatever prejudices you have and just take people for who they are! Cromleys going to change eventually you know; you won’t be able to maintain this national front bullshit forever and when that time comes I’m going to dance a fucking jig!’

Lee landed a firm blow across Stew’s face causing him to crumble to the floor. Blood seeped out of his nose as he cowered in fear at the hulk who stood over him, knuckles bloodied and raw.

‘Have you quite finished Stewart?’

Lee took a step forward as his gaze was fixed on the bloody mess. Stew winched as he desperately tried to stop the gushing. His apron was soaked to the bottom and his hands were heavily stained. Lee let him fester for several seconds until he finally chucked him a tea towel.

‘You know, your parents were the same. They used to think that Cromley was open to anyone who wanted to just come in. They would accommodate all sorts in that shitty pub of theirs. You were only a kid so you don’t remember but let me tell you now; they pissed off a lot of people. You see, we have a way of life round here Stew. We respect one another and we care about those who deserve it. Your parents thought that anyone could just walk right in and take whatever they wanted; our houses, our jobs, anything they fucking felt was theirs. A lot of us lost out on opportunities that were rightfully ours!’

Stew struggled to calm himself as he frantically tried to sort out his nose.

‘Your Dad and I used to be close until we fell upon this topic. He was stubborn just like you and couldn’t understand about how we deal with things round here. Why do you think they left Stew? They didn’t belong! Cromley was not theirs to have and we made sure of it!’

Stew looked up in confusion.

‘Who’s we?’

 Lee cracked a patronising smile as he gazed down on his prey.

‘Oh come on Stew. You don’t honestly think that I’m the only one? They’re all out there on the high street, watching our precious town as we thrive to maintain everything we’ve built. I honestly don’t know what they’re going to think of you now after seeing that display with your little friend. Looks like it’s going to be a repeat of what happened to mummy and daddy.’

Lee crouched down to his eye level.

‘Your Dad made me promise that I would never do the same to you. That I would treat you with the same respect that he would. I only did it because I thought you were different Stew. Better than them, one of us! But now I don’t know anymore. That fucking paki comes in and suddenly everything turns around!’

Stew coughed bloody phlegm on the floor as he tried to muster a response.

‘What are you saying Lee?’

He took a moment to ponder and gaze upon his broken colleague as he lay defeated in a pool of blood. He knew he was still a young man who was weak and unaware of what his boss was capable of. It reminded Lee of an innocence that he once had as a young boy. He remembered the day that Stew applied for the job. He was only eighteen and had his whole life ahead of him. He was a bright boy who could have had it all and Lee always knew that Stew would succeed at some point, no matter how old he was. Cromley couldn’t offer him any opportunities. It was a place that was so bogged down in tradition that it was beyond saving. It had survived through countless movements while the community strived to maintain its identity. No-one could change what they had built and Stew was merely unaware of how drastic things had become. Lee was a patriot and Cromley was his, but he knew deep down that Stew couldn’t be punished, not this time. He put his hand on his shoulder and offered him the only salvation he could think of.

‘I’m saying you need to decide what you think is best. If you don’t like it then you need to leave Cromley. You shouldn’t be in a place that you don’t agree with. This is no way to live your life. You may think we’re nothing but a bunch of racists but sadly this is life Stew, this is how we were raised, this is Cromley! I can’t change who I am and neither can you.’

Stew looked up at his boss as his face had softened and his stare had dropped.

‘Go home and clean yourself up. I’ll finish up here and don’t worry about coming back in today. And hell, if you don’t want to come in tomorrow or the day after, then I’ll understand to. Just go have a shower, you look like crap!’

Lee stood up and walked towards the front. Stew lay for a moment. He was too worn out to respond to Lee and just wanted to sleep. Everything was swimming around his head like a whirlpool. He wanted to cry an endless river of tears to flush everything out and start fresh again. He was bloodied and broken, with his nose hurting in agony. The pain was beyond belief but even Stew in his fragile state couldn’t muster a cry. He picked himself up and moved towards the back door dragging his feet like a toddler. The sunlight hit him, piercing into his eyes as he adjusted to the change in temperature. The door slammed behind him as he basked in the warmth and inhaled the fresh air. Work had finished three hours early and Stew could only smile at the thought of having a shower and going to bed.

 

 

Part 6

He took out a cigarette as he made his way to the main road. The crusty redness from his lips made the butt stain as he breathed in his valuable comfort. He was too preoccupied to notice he had left his white coat and apron on as he exhaled solid relief. The town was still moderately busy as market stand owners shouted slogans and bargains in order to entice the willing public. Stew strolled through them like they didn’t exist. He occasionally heard someone shout his name but even the familiar sounds couldn’t stop him from getting home. For once he felt isolated. The people he thought he knew were now different. They were no longer his neighbours. They were an authority; an army waiting to strike. Years had rolled on as they watched their town through shop windows and market stands, witnessing every step that landed on the pavement. Stew had grown up in a place he thought he could understand yet nothing could be further from the truth.

As he entered his flat, he stripped off his apron and coat before making his way into the bathroom. He clicked the mirror light on as he witnessed his bruised and bloodied face for the first time. The shades of red were deep and strong, flowing over his cheeks and parts of his neck. He doubted his nose was broken yet still handled it delicately as he checked for cuts and bruises. Lee had inflicted so much damage that he almost didn’t recognise the face that stared back at him.

After washing off the excess blood, he made his way into the bedroom. His duvet was messily thrown back as he sat down on the lumpy mattress and ran a hand through his greasy hair. Everything was ringing harder than ever before. In a time where everything seemed so simple, lay a hidden truth. The past he thought he knew was false. His life had been moulded around lies while the town had been watching from day one. His parents were no longer welcome, Danny was in danger and Stew had unwillingly been given a choice. Could he become the person that Cromley desired? Sacrificing everything he believed in, casting away his friend and becoming part of the family? Could he amount to what was expected? Was he a patriot? Was Cromley his?

He took off his shirt and trousers before emptying his pockets. His phone stood blank as he contemplated his next move. He needed to talk to someone, just to hear a voice or some reassurance that everything was going to be ok. He was scared and alone; unable to settle or come to believe what lay ahead of him. It was out of his depth and all he could hope for was someone to reach out and help. Within the darkest corners of Stew’s conscience came the desire to phone the one person he knew could offer him safety. His life didn’t need to be ruined. Whether he liked it or not, Cromley was his home and he wasn’t prepared to let it go. A slight tear shed as he began to punch in the numbers of Lee’s mobile. He would merely inform his boss that he would return to work tomorrow.  

As the stabbing sound of the dial tone pulsated, he looked out towards his bedside table. Danny’s business card lay motionless under the dim glow of the side lamp. He remembered the warmth of his smile, the happiness in his face and the disappointment when Stew let him down. The dial tone slowed as he thought long and hard. He knew he wasn’t the person Cromley wanted and although he was scared, it wasn’t enough to admit defeat. Not now, not ever! With a jolt of adrenaline he hung up the phone. Nothing could stop him standing up for what he believed in and he was dammed if Cromley thought they could rule over Stewart Rushton. The numbers were dialled carefully; Stew relaxed his nervous body and waited to hear his friend’s voice again.

 

 

 

As Stew left the newsagents he sparked up a cigarette. The ash fell neatly onto his nametag as he inhaled deep and looked around in wonder. New shops had opened along the high street, new road signs had emerged and new faces smiled as they walked past. Stew took out his mobile and replied to Danny about the buyers meeting he organized. He only found it fitting to stop off on the way and gaze upon familiar ground after all these years. With one last drag he stubbed out his butt on the pavement and made his way towards the car park after landing a final glance at a boarded up shop which had a familiar poster being lightly bashed in the wind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: April 04, 2014

© Copyright 2020 ajrobinson1. All rights reserved.

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