Matt was trying to sound polite, but the steady drumming of rain on the small hut’s tin roof meant he was having to shout down the phone to be heard. He rolled his eyes at Kevin, who smirked.
‘YES SIR, WE UNDERSTAND OF COURSE BUT… NO, YOU’RE RIGHT, BUT…’
He had been talking for at least a quarter of an hour and it was clear that managment weren’t going to change their minds. Outside the hut some lads down for work experience were huddled under the awning, smoking roll-ups and murmuring darkly about their lot in life.
‘BUT IT’S STILL THE CASE THAT WE’RE NOT TRAINED TO… WELL I’M NOT SAYING INCAPABLE, I’M SAYING UNTRAINED…’
Kevin filled their small electric kettle and stuck his head out the door.
‘Who’s for tea?’
The young lads nodded and handed back their polysteyrene cups for refills.
‘Won’t be long now.’
He put bags in their cups, and in the mugs he and Matt brought from home, ‘Worlds Best Step-Dad’ and ‘Windermere Half-Marathon 2004’. The kettle started it slow chug towards boiling.
‘WELL, IF IT’S DECIDED… NO, THERE’S NOT REALLY ANYTHING ELSE TO SAY ABOUT IT SIR. THANK YOU FOR HEARING ME OUT ANYWAY SIR. WILL DO. GOODBYE.’
Matt pocketed his phone. ‘You’ll never guess what.’
‘We’re going ahead?’
‘We’re bloody going ahead. We’re only bloody doing some other buggers work for the day to save the firm, what, four hundred quid?’ He hissed through his teeth and touched the side of the kettle. ‘Gets slower every bloody day,’ he muttered.
‘Will the lads help out? Are they allowed?’ asked Kevin, heaping sugars into the mugs.
‘Well, I didn’t ask,’ said Matt, ‘because if you don’t ask…’
‘They can’t say no,’ finished Kevin.
‘Right. We’ll take them with us and if management don’t like it, it’s knickers to them cos they didn’t say not to.’
‘Not to mention,’ continued Matt, ‘that the five us can get it done a damn sight quicker than just you and me could.’
‘Alright,’ said Kevin, as the kettle began to rumble and shake, ‘but do we have enough guns?’
The van bumped along the track, rain pelleting the roof.
‘Are they up for this do you reckon?’ Kevin asked.
Matt looked in the rearview mirror at the three teenagers piled into the back.
‘Molsey’s got a decent head on his shoulders. He can shoot first. Weller’s alright, even if his old man’s a management ponce. McKullicker…’
They glanced surreptitiously at McKullicker, who was rolling another cigarette.
Matt pulled a face. ‘Do you want to be the one who hands that little psycho a rifle- even an air rifle?’
Twisting round in his seat, Kevin faced the young men.
‘Here’s the set-up. First, McKullicker, you can’t smoke in the van. Management have spies everywhere.’ They all looked at Weller, who blushed and picked at his thumbnail. ‘Second, it’s a bastard days work we’ve got ahead of us and there are only three rifles. That means three shooters and two baggers, gathering and bagging the bodies to be disposed of… elsewhere.’
The lads looked at one another, Molsey raising a hand.
‘Aren’t there professional’s who do this sort of thing?’
Kevin and Matt shared a dark look.
‘Course there are. Happens to be on this occasion that top brass don’t want to spend the money when they’ve got bright young things like yourselves at their disposal. Now, a word on safety…’
McKullicker hawked loudly. ‘Not another effing lecture. We’re in an effing nuclear power station; you really think we’re in any danger firing pellet guns?’
Kevin closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose. ‘I think we might all be in danger if you’re the one firing McKullicker. Luckily, you’ll be bagging first, so we’ll have a while before we find out.’ The others snickered and McKullicker slumped, sticking his cigarette behind his ear.
They pulled up at a small concrete building near the perimeter fence. Pulling their collars high, Kevin and Matt sprinted through the downpour to the door and fumbled the key, swinging the groaning door inwards. A short cord lit a single naked bulb.
‘Not going to let up today is it?’ said Matt, wringing out his fringe.
Kevin was hunting through the shelves of cleaning chemicals and traffic cones. The gun rack was improvised from an old trestle table, and they found it at the back of the room with a few tubs of roach poison and some rusted rat traps.
‘Looks like we have enough pellets,’ said Kevin, rattling a tin. ‘Old Dil left a couple of thousand here when he retired.’
‘How are the guns looking?’ asked Matt, squinting in the dark.
Kevin slung a rifle over his shoulder and turned quarter profile, half illuminated in the dusky shade.
‘Well need some plastic bags and a broom,’ he said.
There was a vague tarry smell in the van and Kevin eyed McKullicker suspiciously as he clambered out. Matt led them into the warehouse through the small service entrance, stepping deliberately through the gloom.
‘What do you reckon Kev? Three hundred?’
Kevin rubbed his neck, and waited for his eyes to adjust.
‘Five hundred easily.’ Both frowned and the younger men stared into the rafters where the pigeons shuffled and rucked for space in one seething avian body.
‘Blimey,’ whispered Weller reverentially. ‘And we’re supposed to…’
Matt nodded ‘The whole lot.’
‘Sometimes we get a dozen or so roosting in the eaves of the offices,’ said Kevin, ‘and we have to take care of them, hence the rifles. Never had to do this many though.’
They stared at the dozily cooing birds.
‘Thing is,’ continued Kevin, ‘some of them have also been roosting in the reprocessing plant, and now they’re about as radioactive as three mile island.’
The younger men looked to one another and shrugged.
‘They’re very radioactive is the point. It’s a danger to the community and such and such.’
Matt, who had been sighting down the rifle’s barrels now loaded the first and passed it to Kevin. ‘Who’s up first? Molsey?’
Molsey blanched. ‘I don’t think I’m the man for the job here. I’ve never killed anything before.’
Matt snorted and turned to Weller. ‘You game?’
Weller held his hands up. ‘Bloody hell, I mean… I’m a vegetarian. I’ve been on fox hunting protests. I don’t even wear leather.’
McKullicker reached out. ‘I’ll do it.’
When Matt hesitated, McKullicker snatched the rifle. ‘I’m not going to shoot anyone in the arse y’know.’ He cocked the weapon and felt the stock into his shoulder. ‘Quicker we start the quicker we’re done.’
He held out his hand and Kevin passed him a tin of shells. ‘You know what you’re doing with that I suppose?’
McKullicker cocked and loaded his weapon. ‘I think I’m saving the town from radioactive pigeons with an air-rifle. That about right?’
(Feedback is always very welcome. Today I’d especially like to know if this ending felt like it tailed off, and how well the dialogue was handled. Cheers, J Patrick Barton)