Clinton was standing by his brother's bed in the dark. Only the gap in the floor length curtains allowed a faint amber glow to filter into the room from the streetlight outside. He looked around at the other beds, listening to the sounds of rhythmic breathing.
"They're all asleep. Get dressed."
Morgan sat up and for a moment stared at the shape leaning over him. He didn't speak, but pulled back the covers and swung his legs over the side. Standing up next to Clint he turned to look at the empty bed above his. He knew why they were doing this. There was no choice. Sometimes it's like that. Life deals you a hand and you have to play it, win some, lose some.
Clinton waited whilst Morgan pulled on his clothes and grabbed the bag from underneath the bed. Together they slipped out of that dark place. Morgan glanced back an instant at the sleeping shadows. Just for a moment he thought about their fate, but only a moment. Everyone has their path to take, but the empty bed cut a deep emotion within him. Sometimes you get attached, you can't help it, it's happened before, it will happen again.
"You remember those kids? Years ago," Morgan was talking as they walked hurriedly down the deserted street.
"What kids?" Clinton glanced sideways.
"Back in Foxton."
"Yeah, you know. That one horse town with one main street."
Clinton looked in both directions as they reached the intersection.
"This way," he said, stepping out into the road.
"There was that little girl. Melissa. Got us into trouble."
"I remember. Old man MacPherson whipped our asses."
Morgan smiled to himself, picturing those kids playing.
"So what?" Clinton hurried on towards the docks.
"Nothing. Just that stuff with Bennie made me think of her. That little girl."
"Yeah? Well, you were little too, then. Ben ought to know how to take care of himself."
They were at the gates. It had started to drizzle. A thin rain was wetting the ground and merging with the early morning mist. Beyond the entrance there was activity, work never really ceased at the docks. A crane turned, swinging a container out over the wharf.
"What you want?"
The man slid open the window to the little cabin and looked at the two brothers. Clinton looked up.
"Oh, it's you."
He opened the cabin door and let them in.
"So this is him?"
The man appraised Morgan just as if he were choosing a new car.
"Guess he'll do."
He reached out and cupped Morgan's chin in one hand, lifting his head up.
"You do drugs boy?" He asked gruffly.
Morgan shook his head.
Turning to Clinton he gave him a long hard stare.
"You got the cash?"
Clinton dug his hand in his pocket and pulled out a bunch of notes. He handed them over and the security guard counted them. Then he looked back at Morgan.
"You any good with that baby mouth of yours, kid?"
Clinton's arm reached down to his brother's side and he pulled him back behind him.
"Fifty. That's what we agreed," Clint said nervously.
At that moment a truck pulled up at the gates and the man pushed them both away towards the door.
"Wharf Eight, the Bomdomo. You ask for Gregoire. Now get outta here."
He turned his attention to the truck as the boys stepped outside and headed off towards the wharf. The rain was getting heavier, glistening drops of water fell through the light from the pylons and accumulated in large puddles on the tarmac. Odd reflections glinted up at them, distorted by the wet half-light, as they moved quickly towards their goal.
"I thought for a moment..." Morgan said as they dodged the truck.
"Don't think. Don't think about it."
He heard himself say that and it seemed to him it was harsh. But life was like that. He couldn't leave his brother behind, he could never do that. Yet there was a price to pay. There was always a price, for everything.
A long metal staircase clung to the side of the ship which towered over them like a mammoth wall of steel painted in dark and light colours separated by a band of red. Clinton went first. They climbed up and stepped on board.
The man standing there had a definite foreign appearance about him, a tanned face and black hair, beneath a large hooded coat.
He nodded, reached out and took hold of Clinton's arm. "This way."
His accent confirmed he was not American. Even if the city was half made up of people from all over the world and there were accents, they somehow all adopted the same way of speaking that said they lived here. Gregoire definitely did not live here.
They followed him through a heavy metal door, along a corridor, and down into the depths of the ship. Another corridor, at the end of which Gregoire opened a door. Looking around there were only two beds in the tiny cabin and a small round window. The bare steel wall on the outside was cut into large rectangles with lines of rivets from floor to ceiling. Metallic noises, bangs and thuds, created a strange sense of being buried, which was only enhanced by the blackness beyond the porthole.
"You know the deal?" Gregoire grinned and his eyes took in Morgan.
They knew their passage did not come free. Escape was an illusion, this was only one more step along a long road that nobody saw the end of. Not until you got there, if you ever did.
"Stow your stuff in there," Gregoire pointed to a metal locker. "I'll get you some working clothes and come back. You both stay here."
The door closed behind him and they were left alone in a cabin that almost resembled a cell. A loud rumbling sound overtook the metallic thuds and bangs, as they felt the huge steel beast jolt. It was hot and noisy, the air stale with a smell of diesel. And it was home for the next... He didn't know how long.
"The deal?" Morgan regarded his brother.
Clinton gave him that look, the one that said, 'No questions.'
"Did you see how he looked at me?"
"You don't need to worry about Gregoire. He won't touch you."
"Okay kid, time to meet the Captain." Gregoire said.
"And I thought I'd be stuck down here forever," Morgan replied, sarcastically.
Gregoire looked at the kid. "How old are you?" He asked.
"It's a question I get asked a lot."
Morgan stood up, pleased to be getting out of the cabin.
"Your brother explained the deal?" Gregoire stood in his way, in front of the door.
"The deal. No he never got round to it."
The boy was anxious to leave the confines of the cabin. Gregoire looked intensely at him, as if he was about to say something, but changed his mind.
"You make sure you please the Captain." Was all he said in his strong eastern European accent.
Morgan followed him out of the cabin, along the corridor and up two flights of stairs. They stopped outside a door with the single word "Captain" written on it in white lettering. Gregoire knocked and opened the door. Once inside Morgan couldn't help looking at everything, he turned his head, taking in the elegant luxury. It was certainly much bigger than their own accommodation; much, much, nicer.
The large bear of a man sitting at the desk turned around and looked at them. He had on a white shirt with gold braids on the lapels, open wide at the neck, showing a hint of hair. Morgan couldn't decide on his age, but thought he must be nearly forty.
"Captain, this is the lad," Gregoire announced.
"Alright, you can go." The Captain's voice was deep, there was the hint of an accent, different to Gregoire's.
The door shut and the Captain stood up. A tiny smile touched the corners of his mouth. He moved over to stand next to Morgan. It was at that moment he realised the true size of the man who stood taller and much broader than his own slight frame.
"There's a bathroom through there," the Captain indicated. "Take a shower. I want you clean."
Morgan slipped past the large man and pushed open the door to the bathroom.
The water cascaded over him. It was the first real wash he'd had since they left and it felt good as he soaped his body. The steam obscured his reflection in the mirror as he turned over those words in his head, the deal. He knew he had his part to play and now he thought he knew what that was. He was not naive.
Wrapping a towel around his waist he stepped out into the cabin. The Captain had poured himself a glass of whisky and was standing holding the solid cut glass tumbler. He looked at the boy and took a sip from his glass.
"Get rid of the towel!" He snapped. "I don't need the gift wrapping."
The Captain chuckled at his own joke and watched as Morgan pulled off the towel, letting it drop to the floor. He stood there naked as the big bear paced around him, looking him up and down. Standing in front of him, he savoured his whisky once more, before setting the glass down on the desk. Moving around Morgan he suddenly brought the palm of his broad hand smartly down, smacking the boy on the buttocks.
Morgan jumped forward.
"On the bed," he ordered.
Morgan did as he was told.
Clinton was sitting on the bed in their cabin, juggling the dice between his fingers. Morgan closed the door and stood looking at his brother. It had either become less noisy or they'd grown accustomed to the rumble of the engines, rather like you get used to the ticking of a clock. In any event, he hardly paid it any attention, it had faded into the background, dulled just like the monotony of the voyage. The only sound that he was aware of was the knocking of the dice.
"I know all about the deal." Morgan was focused intently on his brother's hands.
Clinton stopped juggling the dice and looked up.
"What can I tell you? Everything comes at a price."
Morgan looked him straight in the eyes, but Clinton turned away, preferring to stare out the porthole at the sea.
"What do you want me to say? How was it? Are you okay? You look okay, but pissed. You angry with me?"
"I always do what you tell me, Clint. But you never said. You just became my pimp and sold my ass!"
Clinton turned back to look at his brother.
"Sorry kid, but there wasn't any other way to get us out of there."
Morgan crossed the cabin and sat down on the bed opposite. He swung his legs up, and lay back, his arms folded behind his head.
"You know," he said, staring up at the steel rivets in the truss that crossed the ceiling. "It wasn't so bad. The Captain's a big bear, but not a big bad bear. Although, he might like you to think that."
"If I could have taken your place I would have. You know that? You remember old man MacPherson. That first time, he took his belt to me, not you."
"Yeah, that was unlucky." Morgan turned his head to look across at Clinton.
"Well, it was your idea. The whole thing."
"That was after. It wasn't me who pushed little Melissa out of the way, but I still got whacked for it."
"That old man was a mean bastard. I'm glad we got out of there."
"And we'll get out of here too," Clinton added, but he wasn't sure how.