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On the Water Edit

By Ben Maunder Edit

A small fishing boat cut a path through the murky waters of the Thames, unmarked and mostly unmanned. Only the flickering embers of a cigarette signalled that anyone was alive on-board The Reel Determined, though it's helmsman would have preferred otherwise. Junior Calhon was leaning on the wheel, idly tapping the but of his smoke on his thumb as he passed yet another trade skiff. On the table beside him an empty bottle of scotch hinted at the Dutch courage he had earlier acquired and long since lost, every sign of a regretful evening of courting the women of London.

The headache he now nursed dulled him to the other ships about him, his mind solely focused on simply finishing the job at hand and collapsing into blissful unconsciousness. Rubbing his temples for comfort Junior drained the last embers of his cigarette, relishing its final embrace as he steered the ship from the Thames.

Carefully manoeuvring past a set of trade skiffs Junior piloted towards a shadowed tunnel at the rivers edge, one of the many canals that had been built following the Petroleum Wars. He smiled as the encroaching darkness enveloped his ship, shielding his pained eyes from the dozens of fog-lights that prevalent on the Thames, welcoming the shadows of the waterways. Setting a course and locking the wheel in place with a soft thud Junior sniffed at the air absently, checking the clock that rested next to the woefully empty bottle and smiling when he saw he was early. The man he had picked up about a half hour earlier had been very... insistent that he arrive on time, in truth Junior was just as eager, though his motivator was sleep over duty.

With a pained sigh, Junior detached from the wheel and stretched his exhausted limbs before slinking from the Wheelhouse and onto the deck of the vessel. stumbling over his own feet as the boat tapped the walkways that ran parallel to the canal.

“Bugger.” He grimaced as he held himself steady, shooting a worried glance over the edge of the ship. “Hope that didn't scratch the paint...” Shaking his head he readjusted himself, quickly moving across the ship to the cargo doors nearby and rapping on them three times. From beyond the door the sounds of movement could be faintly heard over the creaking of the hull, followed swiftly by a voice.

“Yeah?” Though muffled the door Junior could hear the bite of irritation on the man's voice.

“Just hit the tunnels, five minutes and I'll get you where you're going.” Junior slapped the door and moved away, not waiting for a response he doubted would ever come. Gregories weren't overly known for their gratitude, so it was rarely worth the time fishing for compliments from any of them.

Massaging his shoulder, he turned from the cargo doors and began strolling back to the wheelhouse, dimly curious on the purpose of his job. Bad choices and copious gambling debts had locked him into service with the Gregories for the past four years, though he had been lucky to rarely pull work more important that simple transit, moving nondescript packages throughout London's waterways. This was the first time his cargo had ever included live passengers, or so he hoped, so curiosity had gotten the better of him when he was given his orders, though he was quickly reminded it was none of his concern. For the sake of his own health, he didn't pursue the matter further.

Mere seconds after taking his place at the helm once more, lights burst into life further along the tunnel. A couple of wall mounted strobe lights illuminated a large alcove in the right wall roughly 200 feet from his position, with a makeshift dry dock cobbled together on the walkway. Assuming it as his destination Junior made a minor course correction and prepared to dock.

Only as the ship pulled up to the dock did Junior notice the three men lurking in the shadows of the nearby alcove watching him with intense interest. A chill ran up his spine as he considered the possibility of what could happen if was actually in the wrong place, though the lack of gunfire was enough to calm his mind, if only momentarily. Stepping outside of the wheelhouse Junior cautiously made his way to the edge of the vessel, trying not to stare at the three men detaching from the shadows and slinking towards him.

It was as he prepared the mooring line one called out, a youth with bleached blonde hair and a siut slightly too large for him. “Evening m'lad!” he shouted, his voice echoing about the enclosed walls of the canal. Junior flinched at the sound of it, his heart beating viciously against his ribcage as he slowly turned to greet the men, a toothy smile bared.

“Evening Sir's, how are you all?” The men boarded, the lead youth returning the smile as he strutted over, passing a cursory glance about the vessel as he went.

“Very good Mr... Junior is it?” Junior fidgeted, his feeling of unease increasing as he was addressed. The Youth moved closer, his aides branching out from his side and wandering the deck, their eyes never truly leaving Junior, even as he nodded in response.

“Yes Sir, that's me.” He smiled as he spoke, the nervousness manifesting in full.

“Not Sir, god no.” He offered a hand to Junior, “Name's Simon, Sim to my friends.” The two briefly shook, before Simon pulled back and wiped his palm clean on his trousers. “I understand you have a delivery for me Junior, not wrong am I?” Junior was shaking his head before he started talking, jabbing a finger towards the cargo hold as he replied.

“Not at all Si... Simon,” He offered a weak smile, behind him he could hear the tell-tale creak of the wheelhouse door. Simon's eyes moved passed him, inclining his head towards the man Junior knew lurked no less than ten feet from his back before returning his attention.

“Excellent, that's what I like to hear.” He slapped a hand down onto Juniors shoulder, The cargo doors started to edge open, small warning lights flicked into life, bathing both Simon and Junior in a sickly red glow as the cargo bay was laid bare. A lone man decked in a suit of fine black lurked within, a featureless white mask obscured his face, though his temperament was clear from the speed with which he exited onto the deck, rubbing the creases from his jacket as he moved.

Junior watched with curiosity, he had not remembered the mask when the man embarked, only a tired scowl and the stench that accompanied anyone who stood on the dry docks. He definitely didn't recognise the mask and that small detail lone terrified him. Even more so when Simons grip tightened on his shoulder and began steering him towards the masked man.

“Mr. Stag.” Simon bowed slightly, his grip causing Junior to mirror him.

“Mr. Grimmer.” Stag pushed his hands into his pockets as he spoke, glancing around himself. “Am I on time?”

“Of course Sir. My employer apologises for the travel arrangements.” Junior felt several pairs of eyes drilling into him as the two spoke, he shifted in place with clear discomfort. “As you well know, this was all very last minute.”

“I get it.” He shrugged, seemingly stretching his muscles.“It could've been worse I 'spose”

“Well we did what we could with the time, Junior here was very accommodating with our schedule.” Junior forced a smile, all too aware of the hand on his shoulder and the gun on Stag's hip.

“Good man.” Stag stepped forward, standing a breath away from the nervous ships captain who, despite being a good foot taller, appeared infinitely smaller. “Sorry for the hassle mate.” Junior's smile remained, though his gaze was directed on Stags shoe, locked onto the drying blood that flaked its toe.

“It's no problem...” his voice was barely audible, grim reality had stolen it from him. If this man was one of the Beetles and Junior had seen his face, there was really only one way things were going to end. “...I'm happy to help the Gregories, I know I can be helpful to you.” He turned his head up, eyes wide and erratic. “I won't tell anyone what you look like I swear!”

“There we are.” Stag sighed, nodding to Simon and drawing the pistol from his hip. Junior tried to struggle, but Simon was stronger than he looked, applying pressure to the back of his knees and forcing Junior to the ground.

“Sorry mate, it's just poor timing.” Stag pulled the slide back on the handgun, checking the chamber as Simon locked Junior in place, tears and bile streaming from the captains face. “Any other day we would have avoided this, but y'know the world, like us, ain't perfect right?”

“Please! I can help! I can..” A sharp blow to the skull broke him off, his vision blurred and flowed into itself, a torrent of blood filled his ears blocking out all sound as the pistol lowered to his forehead. An instant later grey matter spilled across the deck as Juniors skull exploded outwards, a mix of blood and bone coating the freshly varnished wood.

“At least it was quick.” Simon mused, sliding the retractable baton back into his jacket pocket. Stag shrugged, allowing his gun arm to hang loosely at his side and looking over Juniors body, the final expression of terror on the mans face now eternally etched into his mind.

“I 'spose.” Holstering the weapon he shook his head, refocusing on the task at hand. “Kid didn't need to die though, things are getting real messy real quick Sim.” Simon nodded in agreement, gesturing to the nearby men to clean up as both he and Stag moved towards the gangplank.

“They are indeed. But progress is never easy Sir.” The two disembarked, the narrow gangplank straining under their combined weight, groaning with the strain. “You know what they say about breaking eggs though.” An agreeable grunt emanated from Stags mask, the two stopping on the dry dock and standing in silence for a few stretching moments.

“The boys'll clean up here.” Simon declared, uncomfortable with the quiet. “You best hurry to the meeting, the others are waiting.”

“Good idea.” Stag glanced at the nearby door, “I assume?”

“Yeah, straight on once you're in.” Under the mask Stag wrinkled his lips into a mock smile, his whole body feeling heavy from the nights work. With significant effort he took his first step towards the entranceway, quickly ascending the nearby stairs and smoothing his suit down. A few droplets of blood had made their way onto his leg, staining the fine silk with a murky red. The man's name had already faded from memory, even if the image of his eyes had not. He wouldn't be the last person Stag had to kill tonight, he certainly wasn't the first.

Stag knew all too well, if one was to climb the ladder of progress, they would be doing so on a pile of corpses.