“Why can’t we go?” said Bumper.
“We’ve told you. It’s too dangerous.” Elvis had returned after his accident. His mother had been reluctant to let him play with us, but I think she relented when she got sick of him being under her feet all day. He had a chalk on his leg that we had all signed and a pair of crutches.
“I don’t get it. How can going to a printers be dangerous?”
We had to have regular breaks from the football now that Elvis was back. Whilst he was on crutches, he still insisted on playing in goal. He couldn’t stand for too long, so we got to enjoy the rest. I sucked the moisture from a piece of grass.
“I bet a dog’s peed on that,” said Elvis. “The way they shit all over the place I wouldn’t be surprised.”
I tried to act like I wasn’t bothered when I threw it away.
“Come on, why is it dangerous?”
“What do they print there, Bumper?” I said.
“Football programmes, you’ve already told me that part.”
“And what is on the back of the programme?”
“I don’t understand.”
“On every football programme you’ve ever seen, what is written on the back page?”
“Exactly,” said Elvis and I in unison.
“You’ve lost me.” Bumper was confused.
“What day is today?”
“And what day is the next match?”
“Saturday,” said Bumper.
“That’s our point.”
“Your point is that it’s Wednesday?”
“How do they know what the team is going to be on a Wednesday when the match isn’t until Saturday?” I said.
The penny finally dropped with Bumper. “You mean that Ken Knighton works in the printers?”
“Not exactly, but he must tell them the team early in the week. That’s why the security is so tight.”
“Imagine knowing the team before Saturday. We’ll be celebrities. We have to go.”
I stared at Bumper. He hadn’t listened to a word I had said.
“He’s right though, isn’t he?” said Elvis. I couldn’t believe what was coming from his lips. “It’s got to be worth a look.”
“It will be suicide.”
“Not if we have a plan,” said Bumper.
“What do you mean we go and ask for a look around?” I asked with amazement.
“They’ll not be expecting it. Who has ever heard of spies knocking on the front door and asking to have a bit of a nose about? It’s fool proof, we’ll tell them it’s for a school project.”
Bumper had a point, but I still wasn’t sure. “What if they do realise what we are up to? We’ll be dead men.”
“It’s a chance we’ve got to take. It’s our only way in.”
I considered this for a while. “Okay. I agree. Is everybody else in? Let’s see a show of hands.” Three hands rose. One didn’t. “How about you, Gilbert?”
“I’m not sure.” Gilbert had sat silently through the whole conversation.
“Come on, what are you scared of?”
“I’m not scared. It’s just…”
“It just what?” I was raring to go now and couldn’t understand why Gilbert was holding us back.
“The skip. What about the skip?”
“What’s the skip?” said Bumper.
I shuffled closer to him as I explained, trying to show no fear. “I’ve seen it, when we drove past one day with my mam and dad, but I knew about it long before I saw it.”
We had all heard about it.
“It’s a large, red, metal container about eight-foot-high by ten feet long and about three feet across the middle,” said Elvis. “There’s a door on one side with a bolt and large padlock on it.”
“That’s where they put the Missing Boys,” said Gilbert.
“The what?” said Bumper.
“The Missing Boys. Boys who have attempted to break into the printers in the past to get their hands on the programmes. They were locked in there and never came out.”
“You’re joking. They can’t get away with that. What about the police?”
“They are in on it as well. You can never escape the skip.” Gilbert was terrified.
“What’s inside the skip?” said Bumper.
“Nobody’s sure as nobody has ever got out of it alive, but I’ve heard that there are two over grown Alsatian dogs that they leave hungry until they feed them children,” said Elvis.
Bumper was shocked but persistent. “I still want to go. We’ll be heroes.”
We all nodded.
Gilbert took a felt pen from Elvis and drew a map on his chalk.
“If we are going to do it, we might as well do it right.”
We waited until it got dark and headed to the car park. We wanted to show Bumper the area before we went to the printers the next day. There was only one car in the car park. It had a light on inside, so we decided to take a look. Elvis had stayed at home due to the effort of walking on his crutches. Bumper, Gilbert and I edged towards the car. We weren’t entirely sure what the couple were doing in there, but we were confident that they should have had some clothes on.
Whatever they were doing they didn’t take kindly to three, eleven-year old boys having their faces pushed up to the glass. The man went for the door handle. We didn’t need to hang about to see that he was unhappy, so we legged it. When we got to the bank we looked back. He was standing there stark naked with his thingy hanging down. He was screaming and shouting and jumping up and down making it swing even more. It was hilarious.
“I wish I’d seen it,” said Elvis as we relived the tale of the previous night.
“What? You wanted to see the man’s willy?” said Bumper.
“No, do you think I’m a woofter or something?” Elvis looked hurt.
“I don’t think that it was us that made him angry,” said Gilbert after we stopped laughing.
“How do you mean?”
“I once walked in on my mam and the bloke from next door. They were doing the same thing on the settee. They didn’t see me, but my mam was screaming her head off.”
We were all confused about this, but Gilbert agreed to ask his mam what she was upset about when we got back from the printers.
We were glad that Gilbert had been persuaded to come with us and we headed down the bank alongside Tate’s. With Elvis on crutches, we all had to take turns in offering a shoulder to support him. He slowed us down, but he had to be there.
Sapling trees grew on the steep grassy bank leading down to the car park. At the far side, another bank led down to the main road.
“Right, has anybody got any questions before we get there?” I said.
“I’ve got one,” said Bumper.
“Why do they call orange jam, marmalade?”
We all pushed him down the bank and he took out a couple of trees as he rolled down the hill.
Discussing the man and woman in the car had kept our minds from what we were about to do, and we shortly arrived at Inkerman Print. We crossed the short strip of grass and moved out of the sun and into the cold of the shadow behind the large red skip.
Nobody spoke. I noticed that although there was a large bolt on the skip there was no padlock. This could mean anything. Had they just put somebody in there? I couldn’t hear any screams, but this didn’t comfort me. I kept my thoughts to myself.
As we reached the roller shutters of the printers and were about to knock, they clattered open. A large tattooed man with a moustache was stood behind it. Suddenly this didn’t seem like such a good idea.
“Alright lads. What are you after?”
“Sounds quite friendly for a mass murderer,” whispered Elvis.
“Perhaps after you’ve killed a few young lads it becomes second nature to you,” said Bumper.
Everybody stared at the moustached man without speaking.
“Cat got your tongue?” he said.
“We’d like to have a look around if you don’t mind?” Elvis spoke calmly and clearly.
“Look around? At what?” The man looked puzzled. I hoped we hadn’t upset him.
“At how you make err…programmes?” Elvis’ stumbled over his words.
“Err…programmes eh?” This man was pure-bred evil.
“It’s for a school project.”
“Why not? I’m going for lunch now, but one of the other lads will show you what’s what.”
“Stan,” he said, “there’s some young lads here want to have a look around. Can you show them what they want to see? It’s for a school project or something. I’m off to get the sarnies.”
“Stan will take care of you. See you soon lads.”
We all grinned back stupidly.
Stan took us through the whole process and appeared to be quite friendly. The whole printing thing should have been quite interesting, but I didn’t take any of it in. The machines clanked as we walked past them. Stan’s lips were moving but I couldn’t make out what he was saying, and my hands were clammy with sweat. The anticipation was too much. When would he get to the end of the tour, so we could see the finished product?
“I suppose you’ll want to see a completed programme then?” he said as we had finished looking at the guillotine. We nodded enthusiastically. Stan ambled over to a box in the corner and fished a programme from the hundreds that were lying there.
“Here you go son,” he said as he passed it to me.
I wiped my hands on my pants before I took it from him. The other three crowded around me as I turned to the back page. And there they were, Saturday’s teams in black and white, in my hands. I shook with excitement.
“Come on, that’ll have to go back in the box with the others,” said Stan as he snatched it cruelly from my hand. “They’re all counted. I’d love to give you one lads but I’ll be for the high jump.”
I tried to hide my disappointment, but Elvis noticed.
“We’ve seen the teams. That’s what we came for,” he said.
“Did you have any questions?” Stan said after he showed us around.
“Do you know what I don’t understand?” said Bumper.
“What’s that, son?”
I slapped him on the back of the head.
“Very funny, son. Has anybody got any serious questions?” We exchanged glances seeing if anybody would ask the question that had been bothering us all day.
Except for Bumper.
“What’s in the skip?”
“Idiot.” Elvis kicked him, which was quite an achievement as he was wearing a cast on his left leg.
“Off cuts,” said Stan as he examined a random piece of printing. We looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders.
“What, like at the butchers, feet and things?”
Stan seemed to find Bumper’s question amusing. My heart was racing in time with the printing machine now. I began to realise how warm it was in there as the sweat gushed out of every pore.
“Not quite,” he said with a smirk. “Any programmes that aren’t printed straight or when the colours aren’t right. They all go in there.”
“You must make plenty of mistakes, the bloody thing’s huge,” said Bumper.
Luckily, Stan chose to ignore, or did not hear his glib comment. Elvis kicked him again.
“What about dogs?” Gilbert spoke for the first time. I glared at him.
“No, we don’t print dogs son,” he said, “or chop them up. The only dog here is the guard dog.”
We breathed a collective sigh of relief. I had been holding my breath for what seemed like hours. There were no dead kids in the skip. No giant Alsatians, just a few old bits of paper and old programmes. We waved at Stan as we left. The moustache man had returned with a box full of sandwiches.
“See what you wanted, lads?”
“Yes thanks,” we said.
The shutter clattered down behind us as we left and we all burst into laughter. It couldn’t have gone any better.
“I can’t wait to tell everyone about the skip,” said Elvis.
“Me too. I can’t believe I was so scared,” said Gilbert.
“Anyone remember the team?” I asked.
“Are you kidding?” We reeled them off in unison. “Turner, Hinnigan, Munro, Buckley….”
“There is one little problem though,” said Bumper. “We don’t have proof. We’ve seen the teams and we can recite them without thinking, but who is going believe us? Everyone will think we have guessed,” he was right, “we need a programme.”
“Where will we get one?” said Gilbert.
Bumper raised his eyebrows. We all knew the answer but didn’t want to say.
“We could always go back and ask for one,” I said.
“They’ll never let us have one. We’re lucky they even let us see one. Stan told us they were all counted.”
Bumper was right. I was delaying the inevitable. There was only one place we were going to get a programme from.
“What could be simpler? There’s no padlock on the door of the skip. I checked on the way in.” I put the plan to everyone.
“We know that the skip doesn’t contain any Alsatians or dead children,” chipped in Bumper, “all it contains is programmes and hundreds of them as far as we know.”
“What if they were lying? What if there are Alsatians?” Gilbert wasn’t convinced.
“If they planned on killing us we wouldn’t have got this far. Come on we’re going back.” I led us back along the pavement and across the strip of grass towards the skip. “Now’s the best time to do it, they’ve just started dinner. We’ll have about half an hour.”
We lined up at the back of the skip and checked that nobody had decided to have their lunch in the sun.
“The shutter’s down. We should be safe.” I could tell that Gilbert still wasn’t happy. “Look, you can stand outside and keep watch if you don’t want to come inside. Shout if anybody comes and we’ll leg it.”
I edged around to the front of the skip pulled back the large red bolt. The door was huge, and it needed both Bumper and me to edge it open. It creaked, but not enough to alert those inside the factory.
“Who’s going to be first?” Suddenly I wasn’t so brave.
The heat in the skip contrasted sharply with the shadows outside. It was stifling. The sun had been belting down on it all morning and with no air, it had built up like a pressure cooker.
“I’ll go,” said Elvis. “If there are dogs in there I’ll kick them with my cast.”
We all laughed nervously. I pulled the door open a little further and Elvis edged inside.
“What is it?” Images of gnawed bones and big dogs raced through my head.
“Programmes, millions of them.”
I didn’t need a second invitation. I opened the door fully and pushed Elvis inside. He fell into the mounds of paper that lined the floor of the skip. The light from the door wasn’t great, but there was enough to show that the skip was about three-foot-deep in programmes.
“Whey Hay!” shouted Elvis whilst he lay on his back, throwing programmes in the air. “They’re perfect.”
What Stan had described as off cuts turned out to be near perfect programmes with only slightly tatty edges or smudged colours to differentiate them from the real thing.
“We could make a fortune,” said Elvis.
“What do you mean?”
“If we take these and them sell them at the match we’ll make a mint. Who will notice that they’ve gone?” He was right. I called for Bumper and he climbed into the skip.
“The plan has changed. Grab as many programmes as you can carry. There’s millions of them and they’re near perfect.”
“What did I tell you?” he said, slapping me on the back.
Using the half-light from the door we selected the best programmes and discarded the ones that didn’t meet our meticulous standards. Gilbert stayed outside and stood guard. We stuffed them everywhere we could, down our pants, up our jumpers.
“Look at you,” said Bumper. “You look like the Michelin man.”
Then it went dark.
“Why’s the door closed?” I heard someone start to whimper at the back of the skip. I didn’t know whether it was Bumper or Elvis.
“Where’s Gilbert? Why didn’t he shout?”
“I’m here.” Gilbert spoke up from the front of the skip.
“What are you doing in here? You’re supposed to be keeping guard.”
“There’s something outside.” His voice was wavering, I could tell he was fighting back tears.
“What’s outside?” I was frantic.
“A dog? What do you mean a dog? What type of dog?”
Gilbert sniffed loudly before answering.
Nobody spoke. Only breathing and whimpering could be heard.
“This is serious.” I broke the silence. “We’re trapped. We’re going to die.”
“Have you not got a plan?” said Elvis with a little too much sarcasm for my liking.
“I’m scared, Elvis.” Not only was there an angry dog baying for our blood outside but it was also pitch black and like a furnace inside the skip.
“You said there weren’t any dogs,” said Gilbert. “You promised. It’s all your fault.”
I was choked by the accusation but the stories about dead kids became more feasible now. I thought of the children’s bones I might now be standing on.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” I felt the air being drained from the skip. My throat was getting drier. Every breath we took was one breath closer to our deaths. “I’ll think of something.”
“Make it quick, I can’t breathe,” said Bumper.
“Okay give me a chance. I’m thinking.” I slumped against the wall of the skip and tried to collect my thoughts. I racked my brains for ideas but could only come up with one.
“We have to make a run for it,” I said.
“It’s the only way. What else can we do? If we don’t do something, we are all going to die. Can’t you feel the air disappearing?” Somebody coughed. My chest tightened. “Everybody get as many programmes as you can and stick them down the front of your pants. That way we will be protected if the dog goes for us.” I was desperate for a response but didn’t get one. “If one person gets attacked the rest of us might able to fight it off.”
“And if we can’t?” Gilbert said.
“I don’t want to think about that.” I was struggling to get the words out now.
“Jesus Christ, Pete,” said Bumper.
“It’s our only option. If we don’t go now, we’ll all suffocate within the next ten minutes. It’s your choice. Are you with me or not?” I knew I was going regardless of the reply. As it happened nobody spoke. I took this as a sign of agreement. “Is everyone ready to run?” I said as I edged towards the door. “This is it.”
One voice spoke up. It was Elvis.
“What do you mean you can’t?”
“My leg. It’s broken. I can’t run.”
“Shit.” I never thought. “You have to come, Elvis, you’re my best mate.”
“We can’t go without you. It’s everyone or no one. You’re coming with us,” said Bumper.
“You go. I’ll distract the dog while the rest of you get away.”
“You’re not serious. You’ll be killed.”
“Like you said, we’re all going to die anyway. It’s the only way.”
I fought back the tears as I shook his hand. “Good luck, Elvis.”
“We can’t leave him here. We have to go together.” Bumper was now screaming hysterically.
“No, Bumper. I’ll go out first to drag his fire. You run as fast as you can. Don’t look back. You might not like what you see.”
We were all sobbing now. Elvis shuffled towards the door.
“Let’s do it!” Elvis slung open the door and jumped outside.
A mass of fur and fangs leapt towards him and he screamed. I ran past him as fast as I could with the others following me. My legs were turning to jelly; I had to keep on running. I had my eyes shut, but the tears still streamed down my face. I couldn’t imagine what was happening to Elvis.
“What am I doing?” I said. “Elvis is my best mate.” I stopped running but couldn’t look back. Gilbert and Bumper passed me without a second glance. I shouted after them. “What’s the dog going to do after it’s finished with Elvis? It’s coming after us. We can’t leave him.”
I looked back and saw the Alsatian on its hind legs with its front paws pinning Elvis to the skip. The dog was licking his face, he wasn’t dead.
“Elvis is alive,” I shouted. “The dog’s harmless.”
Neither Bumper nor Gilbert stopped running, but they slowed and glanced back. I walked back towards Elvis laughing. He saw me coming and managed to push the dog away. It ran off into the car park and chased its tail.
“Some guard dog eh?” He was laughing as well. He used his sleeve to wipe away the snot and tears that the dog hadn’t already licked off.
“I’m sorry we left you like that.”
“So you should be, I was nearly licked to death.”
We walked back along the bank of the car park towards where the other two had stopped running and were lying on the grass waiting for us.
“We all need to agree,” I said, “what happened today stays between us, nobody has to know about the tears.”
Everyone nodded in agreement.
“That was some day wasn’t it?” said Bumper.
We were all now lying on the grass slope leading onto the car park. We stared into the cloudless sky.
“All for some bloody football programmes,” said Elvis.
“The programmes,” I said. “Come on let’s see if it was worthwhile. Get your programmes out.” I pulled the programmes from up my jumper and down my pants. I laid them out on the grass. Bumper and Elvis did the same.
“We’ve got hundreds of them.” It had been some trip, but it had been worth it.
“Come on Gilbert how many have you got?” He pulled them from under his jumper; I think he was going to have the most. Then he pulled them from his pants.
“Gilbert, they’re soaking. How did you get them so wet?” He didn’t need to answer. The poor lad had peed himself.
The next chapter will be released soon. If you can’t wait, Leg It is available on Kindle, Paperback and Hardback.