Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Michael P. Ford reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three years. He toyed and ripped the meat from the bone as he looked around the dusty surroundings and remembered the life that once thrived. The ice cream truck that would stop on the corner and invite the kids out with its loud, obnoxious speaker. The old women that would meet outside the café opposite his balcony every afternoon. The laughing, the screaming and then the gunshots. A silence fell over Bromsgrove that day and all that was heard was the echoing of commands followed by the emptying of a barrel.
“Three years ago,” a voice trailed from behind Michael, “we wouldn’t be eating dog. We would have bread. Butter –“
“And you wouldn’t look like shit,” Michael snapped before reluctantly turning to look at what he could only describe was his alive but decomposing wife. Her bones stuck out at every point of her jaundiced and sagging skin. He always shivered at her sluggish and robotic movements and he feared her leather-like skin would finally expose the insides of her failing anatomy. He turned back to gaze from the balcony. His eyes slowly drifting down to stare at the dog meat in front of him and sighed. He had told her to stay away from him while he ate. But she never. She knew just how to put him off his food.
“I’ll go out today,” Michael started. “I’ll go down to the tunnels and see if Lloyds around. I’ll get food.”
“And you’ll happily leave me here? What if they come back?” His wife once adventurous and fearless now feared the silence that drowned her life.
“They won’t. If there were any plans to raid we would know by now,” Michael retreated carelessly. The love and care he once felt for her unconditionally was now a chore that he had no motivation to attend to.
“Lloyd would sell you out if it meant the old boys off his back.”
“Well, let’s just hope I’m not here when they do come back,” he stood from his chair and edged his way past her, being overly careful not to touch or even look at her. Grabbing his jacket from the dining room chair and the keys from the table, he unlocked the door and left her behind. The overwhelming stench of the damp walls surrounded him and so he quickly called the elevator and stepped inside to descend to the empty streets.
Outside of the apartment building, the air was bitter. Michael pulled his collar up over his neck and buried his hands deep into his coat pockets. He walked quickly towards the café opposite the apartment building and made his way inside. On further inspection, he realised the curtain above the door was drawn – something he insisted on keeping open so it wouldn’t look like anything was being hidden. Blaming the third floor family with their two annoying teenagers, Michael pulled the curtain away from the door and continued through. As he manoeuvred himself behind the counter, he saw what seemed to be a blanket. Who would want to hide here? He thought to himself. With only a maximum of five residents, the apartment building he had just came from had hundreds – maybe near a thousand of unused apartments. There was no one to accompanying the blanket which made it up for grabs. Finders keepers, Michael thought to himself. Making a mental note to pick it up on the way back, Michael grew excited at the thought of being able to sleep alone and not next to his horrifically fragile wife, Cass. He kicked the blanket further under the counter so that it was out of sight and descended down the flight of stairs.
The café had always had an underground tunnel since, according to history, the early 19th century. Benjamin Herring, the man who created this now helpful gateway, was a wanted man from countries all over the world. He went by many names and his crimes usually revolved around fraud and scam. He apparently bought a purebred fresian horse from France under the alias Ralph Waldo Emerson, a leading poet transcendentalist and influential philosopher. By the time the fresian owner had figured it out, Benjamin was on a ship with this beautiful, majestic and untraceable beast back to Britain and somewhere a leading poet was going to have to pay the rest of the £123,000 owed.
It was said that this Benjamin Herring actually had a secret family and a daughter of his had begged for a fresian stallion for her 13th birthday. He was a man that kept to his promises, or so the tales went. There was also a rumour that these underground tunnels did – at one point – lead to a home of his apparent secret family and when they finally figured out who Mr. Herring was, he blew the off leading tunnel passage so it would never be revealed. Michael didn’t believe that though. Herring was a bastard, so he probably stole the fresian in an attempt to sleep with a curvy, beautiful woman that was far too expensive for his taste.
But this tunnel did give Michael a case of sickness and sadness. The café owner let everyone in just before the invasion of the government led execution had fully entered the Bromsgrove area in full swing. Every child that played in the park or by the ice cream truck gushed inside the guaranteed safety of the cramped tunnel. As the gunshots got louder and the screaming slowly faded, it didn’t take long for the soldiers to investigate the once unknown but now popular secret passageway. Michael shivered at the thought of the surrounding child bones under his feet.
As the tunnel bended and Michael followed in almost complete darkness, the red light of the fireflies flickered from the other end. Michael whistled and put three fingers into the air to show he was friend and not foe.
“Ford,” Michael stated as he neared. The face that greeted him was familiar, “Is Lloyd around?”
The man shrugged. His face was muddy and scarred.
“Any idea where I could find him?”
Again, the man just simply shrugged.
“God damnit, Slate, tell me where to go,” Michaels patience started wearing thin.
“’is girls gone missin’. Ain’t seen him for ‘bout a week,” Slate shrugged, “won’ be able to help your sorry arse today, Ford.”
Michael rummaged around in his pocket and picked out a gold ring. He showed Slate briefly then closed his palm around it. “Probably worth a decent amount,” Michael started, “maybe a few hundred if you took it to the dealers.” He paused, opened up his hand and stared at his wife’s treasured wedding ring, “maybe even a few thousand to the old boys.”