Giz another card, lad.”
“Here you go, Stan.”
“Fuck. I’m knocking too.”
“I’m not. What about that lot?”
The slap of dog-eared playing cards and the slurp of tea. The soft hiss of a Calor gas heater. The mutter of a discrete radio.
In a dark corner of the vast warehouse the lads had made a den, shifted and stacked big dusty pallets of paper to make a small room, a place to get warm. The cavernous warehouse rattled and shivered as the wind slammed into it from the East. They’d been unloading wagons from the continent all day and the roller shutter doors had been open, allowing the arctic blast to howl through the towering aisles of print paper, bringing the internal temperature down to -3. Huge heating elements set in the roof were supposed to keep the paper at a constant temperature to avoid warping, but they only got turned on when customers were coming round, to demonstrate The Company’s dedication to quality control.
When the customers fucked off in their Mercs and Beemers, the heaters were switched off and the lads froze.
The snow that had blown in during the day was still scattered on the cracked concrete floor unthawed, but inside their little room it was comparatively cosy.
The far wall of the den was made from reels the size of hay bales, stacked up ten meters high. The other walls were paper pallets a meter cubed, plastic wrapped, mounted on pallets under which shivering rats scuttled, trying to keep out of the way of humans and their stampy boots.
The Calor heater was a spitting, spluttering death trap, but fuck it. They preferred to risk dying warm than dying cold.
Machine inspection lamps illuminated the card game. The kettle clicked for the tenth time. Stan was watching the young lad, Smiffy with a gentle eye.
He took a slurp of diabetically sweet tea and lit his pipe. “Here, lad. Yer playing a shit game of rummy, yer all over the shop! What’s on y’mind?”
Smiffy shrugged, grinned. “Nowt.”
“Fuck off, lad. There’s a packet of Mr Kiplings’s been opened for ten minutes and you’ve not touched one! Y’d’ve usually wolfed half the pack b’now!”
Jock and Dogsbody lowered their cards, earwigging.
Smiffy smiled, blushing. “Sorry Stan. Got other stuff on mi mind, thasall.”
Stan smiled. “It’s a lass, yeah?”
Smiffy looked confused.
Stan shook his head. “Steppin’ out wi’ a lass! Y’know, courtin’! Christ only knows what you young ‘uns do wi’ lasses these days, but back in my day we courted ‘em. Took ‘em out dancin’ or to the seaside or somesuch – you know, old fashioned, like. So, are you courtin’ , young Smiffy?”
Smiffy blushed in the warm light. “Aye, I suppose I am.”
Stan smiled, blew a smoke ring. “Why don’t you tell your old Uncle Stan all about it, lad.”
“There’s this lass I’ve always been keen on. Sally, works at the sarnie shop. She always gives us extra ham in mine, y’know? Well, other day I got my nerve up to ask ‘er out. She only said yes, didn’t she!”
Jock and Dogsbody smiled, thinking back on first dates of their own, long ago.
Stan puffed thoughtfully on his pipe. “So, when are you takin’ the lucky lady out, lad?”
“Tonight! She’s comin’ ovver here after the shop shuts at five. I told ‘er to meet us out back here, by the shutter doors. I borrowed me brother’s Escort, so I’ll take her to town. We’re off t’pictures, then we’re off for a bite at that Italian place on The Headrow. I’ve got a change of clobber in mi locker an’ I’ll be havin’ a wash up at the sink at quarter to. Don’t want to be stinkin’ like this for Sally!”
Jock spoke up, studying his cards. “So, you reckon this is it, Smiff? You really sweet on this Sally lass?”
Smiffy nodded. “Aye. I suppose I am. I’ve not ‘ad many girlfriends, yer know that, you’ve tekken piss out of us for it for long enough! Well, I think Sally might be the lass I’ve been waitin’ for.”
Stan checked his watch. “Look, lad, it’s twenty past. Why don’t you get yer sen sorted early, so yer smellin’ nice for the lass? You’ll not be rushin’ that way.”
Smiffy’s eyes shone in the light of the grimy lamps. “Aww, cheers, Stan! Yer a top gaffer. I tell everyone that, y’know. A top gaffer!”
Smiffy squeezed through a gap between the stacked palettes and hurried off into the cold and dark of the warehouse to get ready for his date.
The three older men sat by the fire, smoking in silence.
After a while Dogsbody spoke. “Beautiful, young love, innit?”
The others nodded.”
Jock said, “We should do summat. That yard is a dark, cold hole for a young lass to turn up to for a date.”
Stan nodded. “Aye, we should make it nice. Where’s that pot of Fiery Jack you got for your shoulder, Dogsbody?”
Sally finished work at five on the dot and walked in the cold dark up to The Factory. She could hear it before she could see it, the muffled clatter of the machines and the rumble of heavy motors. She didn’t like to think of her sweet Philip working there. It looked like a nasty place.
She followed the signs that led to the warehouse, stepping over frozen puddles and shredded paper blowing in the biting wind. No, over dinner she’d talk to Philip about going back to college, maybe re-sitting his ‘O’ levels and getting a job somewhere else, somewhere nice. She’d always thought he was a nice boy, not like the other men who came into the shop. He was… sensitive. Not at all like the others. That’s why she said yes when he asked her out. He was different. He shouldn’t be working in a dirty factory. She imagined him going to work in an ironed shirt, a shirt that she might have ironed herself.
The yard was dark and deserted. Things scuttled in the shadows.
“Philip? Hello?” she called, her voice sounding small.
She saw a button by the roller shutter door. The sign above it read, ‘Press Once For Service’.
She pressed the button.
A huge sodium light suddenly flared above the door. She stepped backwards, temporarily blinded.
The roller shutter doors began to open, a new light spilling from beneath. She could hear a roaring of engines and diesel exhaust spilled out, thick and choking.
A deafening noise howled over the Tannoy and Sally clapped her hands over her ears.
“PHILIP!!” she screamed.
The sound was Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, played at full belt on a cheap cassette machine pressed against a loudspeaker.
The roller shutter door screeched and clattered, labouring open, slowly revealing what lay beyond.
Sally staggered backwards, her hysterical screaming drowned out by the music and the roar of the forklift engine as it rolled forward, lights blazing.
Smiffy, her sweet Philip, was spread eagled, gaffer-taped to a palette held aloft on the forks of the truck, fifteen feet above the ground.
He was bollock naked, and a liberal daubing of Fiery Jack to his cock and balls and up his arsehole had given him a gigantic and angry erection, terrifying to behold.
Like a Gimp Jesus he dangled there, gibbering and screaming in pain.
“OOOHHH!!!! MI FUCKIN’ KNACKERS!!!”
The forklift gave chase with Smiffy bouncing around high above, his terrifying penis wagging like an awful figurehead to a rapey Viking longship. Sally sprinted away into the night, howling like a banshee.
She was gone.
The music abruptly stopped, and laughter echoed across the yard.
The forks lowered Smiffy to the ground and Stan climbed down from the forklift cab, puffing thoughtfully on his pipe.
“Looks like she wasn’t the one, lad,” he said.
Smiffy looked at him in disbelief, steam billowing from his wilting cock.
“How the fuck would you know, you rotten cunt??!!” he screamed.
Stan shrugged. “When my gaffer did that to me, the future missus just told us to stop fuckin’ about. That’s how I knew she were the one.”
Stan patted Smiffy’s shivering thigh.
“Don’t worry, lad. We’ll find you the right lass some day.”
“Suit yourself, lad.”
He left Smiffy there, shivering in the cold, sobbing in the dark.
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