The alleyway was dark, littered by the sour relics of numerous take-away meals. No place for a ten year old. Antonio peered around the corner, eyes straining against the impenetrable gloom that seemed to descend over the passage in an attenuated veil. He turned, gazing out over the ocean of lights that shimmered in the distance, enraptured by their phosphorescent glow. Antonio didn’t have to do this. The supreme drug cartels that ruled over Rio could survive without another gram of their precious powder, sparing the lives of any number of addicts that resided in slums such as this. The dense wad of bills shifted in his pocket, rustling under the pressure of his tensed body. He felt the heat of his brother’s breath down his neck, threatening violence if he chose not to move.
The first step was always the most difficult, surrendering yourself to the unknown that lay beyond. The scrunch of his shuffled motion on the tired, worn concrete that paved the alleyway lifted the head of the spectral figure that stood at the end, revealing a slight smirk underneath the dim shadow created by his hood.
“Antonio,” the man’s voice echoed across the desolate plain, “Took your time”.
It had become common to see these youthful children approaching surreptitious men within passages such as these, members of malicious gangs that wished to hide their identities behind paperwork. After all, it wasn’t like a child could be arrested for possession. Antonio had been instructed by his parents from a young age, dispatching him and his brother onto the streets of Rio in return for their protection. The towering rooftops of the buildings that surrounded him seemed to reach out like unearthly claws into the night sky, as Antonio rushed towards his adult associate, his iridescent blue eyes glinting in the moonlight.
His voice seemed feeble in comparison, only further emphasising his age and misplacement on the streets of Rio. At only 10 years old, Antonio had been exposed to peril than most adults had at thirty five.
“You got the package?”, the man grunted roughly, extending a filthy, stained hand before him.
Antonio thought very quickly, felt the synapses crackling. The option his parents had given him felt like the only one available, leading to numerous sleepless nights with the horrific thought of the damage that his drug deliveries may be enforcing on vulnerable vagrants within the city. Each situation he faced seemed to be bleeker and more complicated than the last.
“Antonio,” his brother’s voice resounded across the walls of the passageway, “Hurry up in there.”
Antonio was interrupted from the self absorption of chaos that had brought him here, and returned to reality, deftly shoving the dense brick of Euros into the man’s reaching palm whilst breathing heavily, receiving only a low growl in response. The actions that followed were habitual, with Christian extending into a gaping hole within the fragmented wall behind him, and extracting several minute bags of unpigmented white powder. Antonio could feel the sweat dripping off his skin as he outstretched his arm, the packages falling in slow motion through the frigid, winter air, and falling onto the centre of his palm with a dull thump, permitting him a slight sigh of relief as he was alleviated from the mounting pressure of carrying such precious cargo. Stones cracked against the wall as he shifted his weight onto the back of heels, powering out of the alleyway, barely grasping the packages in his perspiring paws as he did so. Finally he could breathe easily, free from the troubles of what dilemmas he may find in another delivery.
The meeting was over.
You sit on the terrace of Cafe Jean-Pierre on the morning of the 13th May. The fitful breeze tousles your dark hair onto your gleaming suit, which dazzles in the intermittent spring sunshine. You wrap your Armani overcoat more tightly around you as the wind picks up. You shiver. Dust shimmers in the air and, with another bracing gust of wind, it bombards your face. As you rub your eyes, someone arrives.
You jump, startled. He sits down and you sneak a look at him, a confused mixture of fear and awe clear in your face. You order a double espresso, and gulp it down your long neck in one fell swoop. You look nervous. The man is holding a briefcase under the table and you keep glancing down, with an avaricious glint to your beady eye. He is talking. You shift uncomfortably in your seat. Finally, he stops.
After an altogether too conspicuous look around, your silk gloves produce a packet from the murky depths of your overcoat, and you slide it over the table. The wind threatens to rip out your secret but the other man snatches it to him, hawk-like - he is also wearing gloves. He opens the packet, and examines something inside. They look like codes. You are utterly still. A small twitch at the edge of his mouth awakens you, and he slides the briefcase towards you. Greedily, you grab it. You look inside, obviously delighted. When you look up, the man is gone.
Regarding your email, I must say I am utterly bewildered. Though your writing merits some acknowledgement, I am confused as to why I am the recipient of such exquisite prose. I wonder perhaps whether you mis-typed the email? It is something I myself am prone to do, it is quite easy with a name as common as Mark Smith.
Director of Armaments
Ministry of Defense
Dear Mr Smith,
You know very well why I was ‘writing’ to you. Before I reach my point, I must first discuss two things. Number one, I am flattered that you said my description was exquisite, you are 100% right: my work does deserve greater recognition (I have already witnessed your startling naivety, do not think your obsequiousness will deter me from my mission). But, alas, that door slammed shut for me long ago. Number two, and this is on a more personal note, I would have imagined that a man as well-educated as you could have held your seedy engagements somewhere more private. Daddy’s villa, perhaps? But really, did you miss the espionage lessons at Sandhurst?
Anyway, I digress. As I’m sure you’re aware by now, I was privy to your little rendezvous on the 13th May from my perch across the street. Why describe the events in such startling detail, I hear you ask. Well, I wanted to prove to you that I saw everything that happened that morning. Everything. Like a bird of prey I watched, my instincts telling me something momentous was about to happen. And it did.
You know, Mark - I will take the liberty of calling you Mark - you would make a most interesting character in one of my books. First I would describe your looks, your bearing, your mien. Then, like a strike from above, I would expose your shady dealings with God-only-knows what foreign powers. The reader would be left reeling, left to wonder what led you to betray your country, your ministry, your family.
There I go again, off on another tangent. To the point: bring one million pounds sterling to Cafe Jean-Pierre at 10 AM on the 16th May, or the photos I took hit the internet.
See you Saturday,
Your secret admirer
A grey squirrel squinted down at the dark mass, beady eyes intense in their absent gaze. Black pupils, lightly surrounded by fine, crisscrossing veins, smeared with a reflection of the sky; fixed on the moving object below the treeline.
The cry of a buzzard. Danger. Vague curiosity was forgotten. The ancient, inescapable recognition shivered through the rodent in bursts of tingling electricity; driving the small, muscular limbs into rapid motion. It sprinted down the tree and disappeared.
Dominick loved this place. The Forest of Dean was sprawled over Gloucestershire. It was one of the few surviving areas of primordial English forest, capturing the true and pure spirit of those times long gone. It had a beautiful atmosphere- the mingled sadness and quiet resolution of the trees contrasted starkly with the jovial energy of the animals. As an artist, the place was too alluring to leave alone. Besides, he had been raised in the area. He could still summon the days of youth before his eyes, in crystallised perfection in his mind.
The moss soaked up sound greedily, glutting itself in the hushed calm; as dreamy sunlight spilled through cracks in the canopy. Looking closely, you could see the miniature emerald fronds twisted in a tangled symphony. They glowed, scattered with tiny diamond droplets, each one a glassy, perfect star. Living silence of growth permeated through Dom’s body in a noiseless rush of peace. It brought him back to the days of childhood.
It wasn’t actually silent. There were sounds. Tiny ones, yes. But they were there. Small insects, like drops of Mum’s dark maple syrup, glossy as newly-shined shoes. Ants. They scampered up and down the dewed undergrowth, looking for food. They were Formica fusca, an iconic species, forming polygynous colonies many thousands strong... that was what Dad said, at least. Dom didn’t really get it. He loved them anyway.
There were others too. More tiny animals among the thousands of trees or buried in the dense undergrowth. Wolf spiders that settled in patches of sun. Colonies of aphids on Mum’s wildflowers. The peppery-scented beetles that bit at his pink fingers when he grabbed them. Tiny jumping spiders, with wide, dark eyes like beads of tar. Those huge, exaggerated eyes like those on a cartoon character. He could remember the kites and buzzards that swooped and screeched outside the window as he rushed through homework; desperate to get outside.
Dom’s favourite times were the walks at night. He would wait in skittish excitement as the deep purple twilight faded to dusky red then black. Past his bedtime, when Mum thought he was asleep, Dad would find him and they would sneak out together. Dad would see if he had remembered to bring his torch. He always did, but Dad checked anyway. They would go out into the forest- it was different at night, dark and full of adventure. The walk lasted for hours or more. Their bright lights carved out sharp shadows behind every trunk. No talking. If they talked, the boar would run. When they got close, the lights would be turned off. Sometimes, it was scary to hear the grunting and squealing in the dark, the squelch of rotten leaves and the sound of ripping roots. Dom was soon used to it, though.
When they were close enough, they would flick the lights on with nervous, sweaty hands, illuminating the group. The boar would jump up, alert; tusks glistening with mud. The rippling muscular flanks were ridden with thick bristles, countless strands of sharpened wire. Then they would sprint off, away from the pair, dissolving into the inky blackness.