Earlier this week a writing friend on Twitter posted a challenge – to write a scene based on a photograph of a woman at a station she put up. The only requirement was to use the name of the city (whatever city you chose). It was hard and fun so I thought I’d give myself a similar challenge with one of my own photos. I chose this one because as I was scrolling through I liked the city and the fence which gives me a more modern setting than the last Tuesday Trying. I wanted to avoid a heartbreak scene that I initially thought of when I saw the locks because I feel I’ve done that a lot. My requirement – a phone must be mentioned.
so, here we go.
Late afternoon sunlight reflected off the padlocks, scattered on the fence in a local attempt to recreate the famous lovers locks of Paris. The harbour was busy, as it always was, and the daytime families and sightseers were making way for the evening dates and out of town businessmen in the restaurants that lined the viaduct. Ella watched the water rather than the people. As the sun dropped further behind the buildings of the city behind her, the ripples on the ocean reflected the stark lights of the industrial boats. It was a far cry from the marina further along the waterfront, with its multimillion dollar yachts and sleek technology.
She arched her back a little, trying to stretch out her neck, then had to tuck her scarf back into her coat. Her other hand was in her pocket, resting on her phone, waiting for a telltale vibration. As she waited, she walked slowly past the fence. It was natural that she should look at the padlocks but although she scanned each one carefully with needle focus, she was confident any onlooker would see only a lone woman killing time.
A bronze padlock no different from the others except for the inscription, Logan ❤ Leilani, and a tiny series of cuts in the base sat nestled next to two other locks. She saw it at the same time as her phone vibrated and the coincidence nearly made her jump. Her fingers found the accept call button and she pushed it but left the phone in her pocket. Everything would be transmitted from this point. She strolled a few more paces on and turned to lean on the railing, face out to the water but eyes sliding to her left and along to where a blue van had just pulled up in the five minute loading zone.
Irritation was a bitter taste in her mouth. Max never let her do things her own way. It soured into anger as he got out of the van, long legs in shabby jeans with a checked fleece like some kind of hipster pretend lumberjack. He turned and ducked back into the van and emerged holding a rucksack. Oh good. Nice and subtle. Idiot. She flicked her eyes back over the water. He leaned on the railings just the right distance away – not so far that they couldn’t talk, but not so close to cause suspicion. She didn’t know why that irritated her more.
“I found it. Just where he said it would be.” Her voice was quiet but carried.
Max had taken out a muffin and was alternating between chewing and flicking bits of muffin into the water for the seagulls below.
“You shouldn’t do that, you know. Cake isn’t good for birds.”
“It isn’t a cake, it’s a muffin”. His voice was muffled by the food in his mouth but the deep growl flicked her heartbeat into a skip that she ignored the way she always did.
“It’s the same thing. It’s just smaller.” She shook herself. “Anyway. That’s not important. It’s here.”
He finished the last of the muffin and wiped the crumbs off his fingers, licking chocolate from one lean finger as he grinned at her.
“You’re not being very subtle, Max.”
“On the contrary, Ella, I’m establishing a very good cover.”
She rolled her eyes at him and pushed off the railing. “Whatever. I’m going to retrieve it. You do whatever it is you thought was so important you had to get out of the van.”
“I told you, Ella. Cover.”
The tone of his voice was different, or maybe that was just the lack of muffin. She flicked her gaze past him as she turned away and noted the tension in the broad shoulders beneath that ridiculous fleece and the way his jaw clenched. Her own shoulders tightened and she tried to consciously relax them as she walked. Tracing her fingers over the railing and the stiff wire fence she stopped next to Logan’s padlock. She pulled out her phone as if she had just received a text and shifted slightly so that the camera at the back of the phone was centred right over the markings on the base of the lock.
She’d practiced in the mirror, trying to get the right level of stillness. People reading and answering texts didn’t actually move a lot, but they weren’t completely motionless. Her hand lightly brushed non existent hair off her face and she itched her nose as her hand came down. It was unlikely than anyone in this bustling viaduct was here for the lock and what it held inside it, but better safe than sorry.
“Ella”, Max’s voice was closer than it should have been, and more urgent. She looked up with a startled frown as he appeared at her shoulder, dark hair flopping incongruously in front of eyes that now showed the man beneath the flippancy. These were the eyes of a killer. A protector. “They’re here. We got to go.”
She kept her phone over the lock. “It isn’t finished. I need another minute for the upload to complete, maybe less if we’re lucky.”
His eyes bored into hers and his hand gripped her arm for a moment. “The keys are in the central panel in the van. If you have to, you get to it and you go. You don’t wait for me. Understood?”
She bit her lip on her protestations and simply nodded. The data was the important thing. They were expendable.
She watched Max walk towards the men in black who were stalking towards them like panthers watching their prey. He palmed his knife and his other hand went to his hip, under his fleece. Willing the upload to finish she stared at the screen, counting the numbers, 89%…91%…82% fuck! Screams erupted from behind her as something went crashing into a table. Hopefully they stayed away from guns as much as possible. She thought fleetingly of the little children who had galloped gleefully along the wharf not so long ago and knew a fierce kind of satisfaction that she’d held out for doing this later in the day. The casualties would be minimal. She damped down the desperation that flooded her. That was what she would tell herself anyway.
Gunfire erupted and she hunched her shoulders but kept her hand steady over the lock. 99%…. come on, come on. Yes! Upload complete. She debated for a second whether to turn off the transmission and then decided to leave it on. They should know, the men sitting in the tall towers behind closed doors, just what it took to get them their prize.
Her head up she looked to where the empty seats and closed doors of the restaurants meant that most of the patrons had taken shelter inside. Max was locked in hand to hand combat with two men, three others lay on the ground. He was probably all right. Her fingers played over the phone. There was more in the device that they would want but they had what they needed, her job was done. Max took a blow to the face and staggered back, the man in front of him pulled out a knife, tossing it lightly from hand to hand. She began to run. Not to the van. But to him.
They both knew they were expendable. But he wasn’t expendable to her.