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Saturday, 15 March 2014

Saturday Story - 'Sewer Rats Rout'

Nik Morton
sewer - Wikipedia commons

A fat bristling grey rat brushed past, its scampering diseased claws echoing.

            ‘You – you sure this leads to the bank, Davey?’ Baker asked for the umpteenth time.

            ‘Of course, boss,’ Davey snapped, shrugging his narrow leather-jacketed shoulders. He launched the torch beam ahead again, its light discovering once more the damp sewer walls on either side of the warm scummy sewage.

            ‘I keep telling you, I pinched these plans last week. They’ll lead us there all right.’ He smiled. Sure, the plans would take them – straight up to the police station! He’d stolen the borough engineer’s plans, sure, but he’d neglected to explain how they’d been altered ever so slightly. He grinned. Just swapped over the bank and the cop shop.

In the funnel of light Davey spotted steam fronds and gaseous Will o’ the Wisps snaking eerily to the arched tunnel roof. Nauseous fumes continually wafted up his nose. Gasping for air, he grimly reflected that these four rats with him had finally found their own level.

            Serves them right. They shouldn’t have killed his brother over that bullion deal. Sending them behind bars would be sweet revenge.

            ‘The walkways here look freshly scrubbed,’ Baker announced suspiciously.

            Davey sighed. ‘They’re washed down by the Corporation’s flushers – sewer-men to you and me – to curb the bubonic Weil’s disease.’

            ‘B-bubonic disease?’

            He smiled at Baker’s evident discomfort. ‘Yes. Swells your head right out – caused by rats’ urine. Rare these days…’

            ‘Oh…’ Baker swore then added, ‘Well, get a move on!’

            Further up the narrow benching beside the canal he stopped a moment and glanced back warily. It better work, he told himself, or my life won’t be worth anything. Swallowing thickly, he moved on as the others approached.

            Soon, Davey signalled to the four of them. ‘Over here!’ Rubber boots wading through the bubbling sludge, he pointed up to a metal ladder. ‘That’s it, lads! Blast that and we’ll be rich men in no time!’

            Baker shoved Davey out of the way. Repeatedly wiping his greed-ridden palms on his sports jacket, he bellowed, ‘Right, get up the ladder, Blowie. Blast us out of this stink-hole!’

            Burly and be-whiskered, Blowie hefted his tool-bag up before him, the rungs clanging, tools clattering inside, echoing.

‘Okay,’ Baker told the others, ‘skip back there a yard or so till he blows.’

Davey knew the team well. He was the only outsider, relegated to a spectating position now, which suited him fine. Gems was thin and angular, the jewel expert who’d been brought in to vet the precious stones in the vault. Ruggles, all nerves and bone, was the safe-maestro: there wasn’t a make he couldn’t crack. Blowie was an ex-boxer, the heavy of the gang and one-time explosives king.

‘You stay with me, Davey,’ Baker snapped.

‘Still don’t trust me, eh, boss?’

‘Too right.’ Peering up at Blowie fixing the explosives, he sneered. ‘Didn’t trust your brother, don’t trust you.’

That pricked him hard. He promised himself he’d relish putting the boot in Baker’s face before running out on them.

Trouble was, being so closely watched would hamper his getaway at the crucial moment. He wanted them caught, not himself.

But the stuff went off prematurely.

Davey was suddenly sickened as bits of Blowie and slabs of crumbling brick poured down in a deafening roaring wave.

Abruptly, a wall of dark water about three feet high engulfed him. He lost his footing and was carried along, instinctively holding his breath and nose under the reeking murky liquid.

It was warm under there and the noises sounded muffled, far-off. As he grabbed at a guard-chain strung across the sewer, the rumbling and echoing died. The turgid water lapped round him like smelly treacle.

Panic surged in his entrails as he felt small hurried movements brushing against his face and hands. He clamped shut his eyes even tighter. Then he felt a bite on his thigh, and another on his cheek.

With a foul taste on screaming lips, he surfaced and disgorged his breakfast. Though his torch was intact, smoke and dust clouds thickened the air, knocking visibility down to zero.

Some distance away the others were coughing, suffocating in the clogging dust.

Seconds later, alarms blared, clamouring for police attention.

They got the hell out of there fast, clambering through the smoky maze of sewers, splashing frantically into the steaming water. Rats and effluent ran by at a staggering rate.

Thoroughly soaked, retching repeatedly, bruised with bashing into walls and huge drain-ducts, Davey stumbled on and on, deaf to everything.

Eventually, breathless, he stopped.

He’d lost the others. They must have taken another turning back there.

Completely exhausted, his ears ringing, his stomach gyrating, Davey leaned against the curving wall. Catching his breath in gulps, he reckoned that contacting the others after this shambles was suicidal. They’d probably accuse him of deserting them and mete out their own form of chastisement – just like they’d done to his brother.

At a loss where to turn next, he shone the torch.

A fork lay ahead. Beyond, miles of sewer – some without footpaths, and only five feet high.

Sweating, his sodden clothes weighing him down, he remove his leather jacket. Then, as the sheet of paper crinkled in his inside pocket, he remembered the map. It was a bit tatty and some of the ink had run, but it was readable.

He checked the wall-markings. Yes, he was well in the clear.

As he climbed the nearby shaft, the aches and bruises he’d sustained intensified. Maybe revenge isn’t so sweet, after all, he thought wearily.

Again and again during the laborious climb, his wet soles slipped on the metal rungs. He was sure that his scent buds would never recover. He dreamed of soaking in a hot scented bath – sheer luxury!

For an instant, his heart seemed to miss a beat or two as he paused beneath the manhole cover. Then, with a final surge of adrenalin, he thrust the metal disc up and to one side. It rattled deafeningly on the tarmac.

He sucked in deeply, but this time his lungs didn’t burn with welcome fresh air. They burned all right, with a sulphurous smell that caught at the back of his throat. He stood unsteadily on the rungs, hands rigidly gripping the manhole rim. All around him was absolute blackness. No stars tonight. But he couldn’t even see the deserted street.

He peered to the left and detected images shimmering: a crowd clustered round a traffic intersection box-junction. Three bedraggled figures had emerged right in the middle, immediately at the traffic-policeman’s feet.

He stemmed a loud belly laugh. Must get away, lie low for a few weeks, keep out of circulation till the heat eases off.

Abruptly, alarmingly, a booming voice startled him: ‘You stayed out of circulation till it was too late, Davey.’

He jerked round, his neck cricked.

‘Here,’ the voice said, echoing in his head, ‘have another look at yourself.’

An obsidian mirror materialized in front of him, glistening black.

Deep within him, some hideous fear tried averting his eyes, as though he had foreknowledge. But to no avail; he felt compelled: he looked.

Skin pimpled and stomach writhing emptily, he looked upon the bloated pink image. The reflection of his head was hairless, almost twice normal size, covered in enormous buboes and weeping jaundice-coloured puss. Eyes that were merely pinpricks squinted. He watched himself dying before his own eyes.

‘The others died of the plague in prison, Davey. But you elected to die alone, in hiding. Now, you can start all over again…’

Nodding the flesh-torn skull, Davey – for the seven-hundredth time – did as the Devil bid.

A rat brushed past, its scampering diseased claws echoing.

‘You – you sure this leads to the bank, Davey?’ Baker asked for – all eternity.


Previously published in The New Coastal Press, 2010. Copyright Nik Morton, 2014.

Spanish Eye by Nik Morton - published by Crooked Cat
22 stories about Leon Cazador, private eye – Spanish Eye – review excerpts

E. B. Sullivan (California)
While reading these stories I experienced myriad emotions. I laughed, cried, and became incensed. I cheered and clapped, but most of all I felt a confirmation of universal values.

D. Thorne (Bartlett, TN United States)
… His voice is so unique, and his stories are as thought provoking as they are entertaining. There are beautiful moments in the prose that never get purple or fluffy.

Kay Lesley Reeves (Spain)
As an ex-pat living on the Costa Blanca, I found much that was familiar combined with an insight into a very different and darker side of Spanish life. The colourful characters and intriguing twists made these stories a really enjoyable read and one I would recommend.
Laura Graham (Sinalunga, Italy)
These stories are humorous, insightful and sometimes tragic. Leon Cazador is not afraid to bring the bad men to justice, and so help to restore the balance in this world. Beautifully written, with a simple and uncluttered style, which draws you in to the heart of the story. Highly recommended!

Charles D. Ameringer (USA)
… each story is unique in setting and plot, drawing on the author's remarkable breadth of knowledge and extraordinarily full life, spiced by a genuine loathing for evil and wrong-doing. We learn a great deal about the history, culture, lore, and landscape of Spain and meet a diverse cast of characters, as Cazador sees to it that a variety of miscreants, petty and grand, are appropriately done in…



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