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The Smuggler's Tunnel

By Sarah Way

It was dank and smelly and I couldn't see a thing, I could only feel the icy wall behind me and the sodden mush of my wet socks and trouser legs sticking insistently against my ankles. It was freezing down here, away from the heat of the city people; I was shivering uncontrollably. I lifted my feet out of the mouldy river flowing around me on the bottom of the sewers. I knew there were thousands of rats down here but I was used to it and that was the last of my concerns, Timothy Butchers was after me and he wouldn't stop until I was caught.

I had to think what to do next, there wasn't any way out of this mess. If only I hadn't stolen his whiskey I'd have made it home to Nelly, my only love. Nelly was the one thing that kept me going, sure I was a bit of a dodger, but nothing worse than the ordinary lad about town, ducking and diving to stay on the right side of the law. I never meant for any of this to happen, but Timmy was always hard to deal with once he'd had a few drinks. And he never shared a damn thing!

Jack and I had been working hard for him all day, checking out the times of the tides, making sure plans were in order for low and hide tide, and generally arranging ourselves and preparing for the next shipment. All the tunnels were clear and there were minimal traces or rubbish, less chance of anything being traced that way. We smugglers have to cover our own backs around here. Number one, that's who you are. You don't listen to nobody except yourself. There's always someone waiting just round the corner to get one over on you.

Anyway, Jack suggested we call it a day and go and get cleaned up ready for the evening's events. Get a good drink in us to warm the blood. It was always bloody cold on the shore and you never really get used to it, more just learn to live with it as best as you can without losing your fingers. So we packed up and headed down to the free house where we were to meet Timmy. That's where we smuggled all the booze to. The sewers spread quite a bit beneath the Brighton streets and right up to the cellars of a few well known taverns.

The Druids Head was a warm old place, small but with a nice lively atmosphere and always drew a lot of attention for it being in the South Lanes, the place where everyone wanted to be. On a typical night you'd hear the cackling of women who'd had one too many and the lads that tried to escort them home, all harmless and young fun like. My Nelly wasn't much of a drinker so we never went out much. After my nights on the beach and under the city shops, feeling close to death's harbour, a night in front of the fire was my idea of bliss.

Nelly was a good woman, I was a lucky man to have her, decent, not the sort to go behind your back or any, lie, I loved her more than anything. Only time she ever hurt me was my own fault too, I'd been encouraging her to put her tempting busk on and come out with me, she did it because I wanted her to and pushed her into it, it made me happy to see her all seductive, but when we were out I left her and went chatting to Jack and the others. I should never have done that, maybe for a little while but she felt ignored, and had men leering at her and trying to get a grope.

I went crazy and we nearly parted, but we were young and worked it out. We had a lot of passion Nelly and me, always the same fire inside, and I can't tell you how glad I am we've stayed together, but nobody came before Jack. Jack and I went back a long way, our fathers were pals and we grew up in the same area, our parents leaving us to play out back most days. There'd been times we'd had our major blows, part of life I suppose, but we always came back for each other in the end.

I remember one night, we'd had a silly falling out, something stupid, and we spent the whole night on the beach drinking and arguing, we watched the summer sun rise up over the buildings and as sickly as it sounds, that was the depth of our friendship. We knew every side to each other. As the saying goes, we were like brothers.

Jack was a solid guy, he didn't say boo to anyone but when the rest of the world was blazing with rage, I always knew he was there for me. I wasn't that sort though, you know, the type to go to others for help, even to him. I'd had it hard working most my time in the sewers and I just kind of got on with it. No point making a fuss. Ain't nothing going to change what you're dealt.

We'd worked our socks off for Timmy though, and all we ever got was a bit of silk to take home to the missus and a few bob which didn't amount to much. It was better than a lot of other things though because we worked our own hours (unless Timmy had unexpected stock) and we'd get the odd beer here and there. But Timmy was a foul mouthed man and drank too much. Selfish and bad mannered, he never did anyone any favours. All we wanted tonight was a little sip of his whiskey to ease the bones, but we were told to get lost and stop bothering him, he shouted and spat at us, mumbling under his breath as he stumbled off to the privy.

As I sat down with a long, hard sigh, I noticed Timmy's bottle still on the side. I glanced at Jack and we nicked it and ran. Legged it as fast as we could, swigging it on our way and jeering back towards the pub, laughing and jostling . The evening air no longer felt cold, and for the first time in forever I finally felt alive again, smiling with the adrenalin and for that short time, not having a care in the world, not about money, Nelly, my ma, this was about me. We gulped it down and hugged each other hard, joking about how we wished we could see Timmy's face.

Now I'm hiding in the filthy passages under the Pavilion, Timmy had been more fretting than normal and sent his boys out after us, one of Jack's mates said we had the knife out for us. I couldn't understand how quickly things had changed, from a bit of late night smuggling and the odd bit of gambling to being on the run from a gang of men sent to hunt me down and stab me to death. I didn't want to die yet, nor have my blood pouring out into the flea infested waters of the tunnels.

Jack and I had split our own ways after we decided to head down there, I'm not sure why we did that but it was every man for himself, he patted me on the back and we parted heartedly. Still buzzing from downing the whiskey. If there was any place we knew off the back of our hands, it was down here. We knew the paths better than any, we'd made Timmy quite a rich man, if it wasn't for our hard labour he'd be a beggar like the rest of us. Never knowing where the next meal was coming from. Instead, he drank all day and smoked all night, leaving his gang to sort out the details.

I could hear footsteps in the distance and the echo of voices resounded off the walls. I pulled my coat up over my face and breathed into it, using the warmth to heat my nose, then I started off towards The Bath Arms, another place we sometimes smuggled drink to. If I could get there before the boys did, then Ned would let me in for certain, he was a nice old boy. It was a quarter past ten so still early. Ned didn't particularly like Timmy either, nobody did, but he was polite as ever just as he was to everyone.

As I moved faster, the dirty water splashed up at me as my feet waded through, kicking any obstacles from my track. I was oblivious to the cold once again. Just as I had been when up on the road above, drinking the whiskey free and carelessly. Only this time I wasn't smiling and my heart was racing with fear and not excitement. Though still, somewhere in the back of my mind, the adrenalin urged me on and incensed me.

I knew I was heading in the direction of the voices but the only other option was to go back towards the sea, where the sewers led. I started thinking frantically, I had no weapon other than the empty glass whiskey bottle I'd wedged into my coat pocket, pretty thick glass, could still do some damage if I hit hard enough. I stopped as I heard the voices approach, about three or four of them. I quietly crept along the side, still kicking the debris out of the way, but something wouldn't budge, it was hard and heavy. I kicked again and that's when I heard Jack murmur "They got me, Dick, they got me!"

"Christ Jack, are you bad, are you bleeding?" I whispered.

"I'll be OK, go back to the shore, there's a boat going back, quickly, they're coming."

"I'm not leaving you here like this, can you walk, come on, come on, get up, get up." I shook him in a panic as tears rolled down and stung my frozen cheeks.

"Go now, Dick, it's your last chance." Jack pleaded, and I saw the men coming at me, swinging their lanterns and pointing.

I threw the whiskey bottle with full force and raced towards the sea, not thinking anything, not thinking how far they were behind, just sprinting like a mad man through the dingy, waterlogged maze. I was possessed. Possessed by something, I don't know what. But I took a few sharp turns that lead around under the back of the main city bakery and down by the mystic's tarot cart, out onto the seafront. It was a set of tunnels rarely used because they were so off the beaten track, but I knew they weren't far from the loading bay by the pier.

I couldn't hear them anymore and as I exited the sewers and breathed a breath of relief upon stepping into the fresh night air, I saw the boat at the dock. I hopped, skipped and jumped my way across to the sea and dived in, the waves thrusting me back with each attempt. The light on board the top deck was flashing, they were about to leave. I swam for my life; I could hear the boys on the beach now, yelling to stop me.

The ship started to roll away just feet before me and the captain flung me a line. I grabbed it and was pulled on board. I lay half unconscious on the wooden boards, barely breathing. I don't know how long I was there but I woke one morning retching my guts up, salty liquid and bile pumping out of me. I don't know what happened to Jack, or if he survived, but my dear friend, I hope you did. When word spreads that it's safe I'll take my chances and head back to my beloved Nelly.

 


This page was amended on 09/04/2014

Comments

Nice work. I have my crits, but this isn't that sort of a site. Do you have any other work?

From Norman
29.02.2012 23:52:48
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