The flickering sunlight danced shadows around the old barn. Like a spotlight, it threw little details of the shed into clear focus, and quickly moved to cast light on another pocket. This was now his workshop. The greasy, single-glazed windows let in just enough light to work with, but were rendered opaque by the spotty green mildew that refused to wash off. This suited him.
Today he had come as usual just after midday. Five days in a row without a break. He examined the contents of the bottles that lined the shelves. Opening one, he tested the texture gently with a long skewer. Good. It was coagulating nicely, holding itself together against the gentle force of the skewer, springing back in a way that satisfied him. He replaced it on the shelf along with the others.
He pulled back a long length of curtain beneath the counter that hid his shelved trolleys of plants. Rows of them, all in different stages of growth. Each tray had its own heated mat, and the tiny seedlings were insulated by a layer of thin fleece. His babies! He cut off some leaves from a mature plant, and carefully crumpling them, he rolled two joints. He would allow himself two today.
He noisily shook open the makeshift metal table and chair that lay folded against the far wall. He opened his tablet to his webcam screen. He had set up this system so he could keep tabs on trespassers. Multiple screens showed the activity of different points of access to his barn, with the central one focusing on this very room, two alternating angles. Yes, here it comes now! He waved to the camera. Almost like the Stasi, he thought! Knowledge really is power.
He tested the moisture level on each of the trays before settling himself down to real work. He lit up one of his smokes, and inhaled deeply. He pulled out his ledger, and scanned the figures for the last month. He had to work hard to make them balance. His next trip overseas was the end of the month. He would need to gather hard cash by next week. He knew his greatest debtors, and running a pencil down the takings for the last three months confirmed this. 'Fucking Rooney!' he thought, shaking his head. The guy was an imbecile! Nearly got him shopped just by talking. Worse than any bloody woman! He was already on his last warning.
Feeling an angry adrenaline rush like the hit of a double espresso, he drummed his fingers urgently on the page, and then knocked his knuckles decisively. He had enough! Time for action! He knewjust the guy to sort him out.
Withdrawing his phone, he found the name he was looking for. He paced around impatiently waiting for him to pick up, his heavy footsteps echoing around the barn. He stretched it out to arms length, squinting for reception.
'Pick up, for fuck's sake,' he muttered to himself. What good was an idle hit man?
He texted a message instead. Brief. Always brief: PHONE BACK. NEED TO TALK. JS.
He worked in silence, but found it hard to focus. 'This stuff hits hard' he thought, and decided not to fight it. Plodding heavily towards the door, he fell out into the sunlight, and nestling down against the trunk of a tree, cowboy style, he lit up his second joint.
Facing the old door of the barn, hearing the rotting fragments of wood on the bottom scrape along the concrete ground as it swung open and shut he got a sudden moment of deja-vu. Suddenly his mother was there, pudgy, flour-covered hands on hips:
'Johnny, get over there and help your father!'
There was her voice, raspy from smoking. The voice that gave a rousing rendition of many a ballad. The voice that scolded and comforted. The voice that told filthy jokes and limericks but that had a prayer or bible story for every occasion. The voice that laughed like no other he knew since. The voice that he struggled to remember as a kid, that trickled further and further from memory, like water going down a black drain, unnoticeable at first until it gurgled urgently to its end. The voice that no amount of women since could equal. The voice.
Rubbing his eyes, all he saw now was the old wooden door, and all he heard were the alternate scrapes and bangs as it swayed or swung with the breeze.
'Jesus, where did that come from?' he thought.
His phone started to ring...