Grafting by Steven Bruce


Steven Bruce

Old Arthur scowled from the snow–covered steps of the Lichtman building as Baxter and Ward pulled up in the company van.

"Ah, shit," Baxter said, "I knew he'd be waiting."

They got out, rushed to the building, which was a red–bricked dinosaur with steel shutters barring the windows.

"And what time do you call this?" said old Arthur, tapping his watch.

"Traffic was a nightmare, boss," Ward said to him.

Old Arthur stared at his balloon–like face.

"So you didn't stop off anywhere, like, oh, I don't know, to stuff your face?" he said, pointing at the ketchup stain on the side of his mouth. "I'm docking your pay a half–hour."

"But we're only five minutes late, boss," Ward said, rubbing the stain with his palm.

"If you wanna argue with me, boy, you can go home instead."

Ward considered it but said nothing.

"Well, then, get the gear," old Arthur said, pointing at the van.

Baxter observed Ward scuttling through the dense snow.

What a way to spend a Saturday, he thought.

Old Arthur unlocked the door and pushed it open with his tattooed hand. The reek of damp drifted out through the doorway. Baxter made his way inside, kicking through a heap of old letters that littered the floor.

"Don't make them like this nowadays," old Arthur said, running a hand over the red and gold, faded, floral wallpaper.

"Thank the Lord," said Baxter.

Ward staggered in with a large bag strapped over his shoulder. He gave a wheeze as he tossed it to the floor.

"Be careful with that, dipshit."

"Sorry, boss."

Ward flicked the light switch up and down.

"No lights. Won't it be too dark in here?" He asked, noticing the dark hallway.

Old Arthur pulled a headlight out of the bag and shoved it at him.

"What do you think these are for, numbnuts. Did you bring the floor plan?"

"I forgot," Ward said.

Baxter puffed a cigarette behind the van.

"You coming with the floor plan or what?" Old Arthur shouted from the doorway.

He flicked the cigarette onto the snow, grabbed the papers, rushed back to the building.

"What the hell were you doing out there?"

"I was—"

"Forget it," old Arthur said, whipping the papers from his hand.

He held the plan out in the sliver of light that poured in through the main entrance.

"Okay," he said, "Ward, take the first floor, Baxter, you take second, and I'll go up top. If you spot anything hazardous or dangerous, log down the location and the details. You understand, Ward?"

"Got it, boss," he said, putting on his headlight.

"And don't dawdle, I'm taking the wife to see Macbeth tonight.""Who's he?" Ward asked.

Old Arthur grumbled and rushed off down the hallway. Baxter and Ward followed behind. The three men climbed the eclipsing darkness of the twisting staircase.

Baxter's headlight made a moon–like apparition on a half–opened door. He dipped his head around the jamb, and a smoke fume stung his nostrils.

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About the Author

Steven Bruce is the author of Thrown Up and co-author of Dark Matter 8. His work has featured in Picaroon Poetry, Building Bridges, No Tribal Dance, Forword, Lonesome October Lit, and the Black Light Engine Room Literary Magazine. Some of his poems have been translated into Polish. In 2018, he graduated from Teesside University with a Master's Degree in Creative Writing.

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