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Davey instinctively covered his head with his arms, though, of course, it would have been no help against a hail of bullets.

He noticed Luna was also tensed, ready to run.

A quick glance around the space behind them revealed that their chances of escape were slim.

The corridor was dark and it was a long way to the first corner. They’d likely be gunned down long before they got to it, if the medicine man’s fearsome reputation was to be believed.

To their surprise, the lift was empty.

‘Do we go in?’ Davey said.

Luna put an arm across his chest and held him back, shaking her head fervently. ‘No fucking way, man. You’d not even last seconds. There’s a ceremony to be observed here. A ritual.’

Davey stared hard at her, his brow furrowed.

Her face was intent, bathed in blood red light from the bulbs inside the lift.

He hoped it was not an omen.

His stomach lurched again.

‘I’ve got a very bad feeling about this,’ he said, gulping hard.

She ignored him, her face still set in the story-teller’s expression.

‘Anyway, as I was saying,’ she said, mildly annoyed at the interruption. ‘There’s a ritual we must observe, like. The medicine man demands anyone coming t’ see him obey this ceremony or they’ll not survive much longer. You disrespect him and you die, simple as.’

Davey nodded. ‘So what’s the ritual?’

‘First, you bring him a book. Doesn’t matter what it is, not really, as long as it’s not crap. He’s an avid reader. You bring him something bad, he’ll put a bullet in you for every page in that shower of shit. Now you bring him something he’s never read before, you really got his interest, like. He may even let you live long enough t’ actually hear his voice.

‘You could bring him something he’s read before. As long as he likes it, you’re ok. Rare books, first editions, shit like that, all go down well and increase your chances of getting out ont’ the street again.’

‘Ok,’ Davey said. ‘Let’s give it a go.’

Luna opened her bag, pulled out the books she’d taken from the other book store.

She looked them over, read the blurbs, even sniffed the insides of them.

This decision could mean the difference between living and dying, so she took it seriously.

Davey watched her, fascinated.

‘OK, I think this one,’ Luna said, holding up a book with a hand holding a bloody scythe on the front.

‘Flesh Harvest,’ Davey read aloud. ‘Jacob Rayne. Who the fuck is he?’

‘No idea,’ Luna laughed. ‘But it’s a first edition. Signed too. Hand-numbered inside.’

Her trembling hand pointed to a crudely scrawled signature on the title page. A number seven was circled.

‘Trust me, this is the one,’ she said, closing her eyes for a second.

She raised the book above her head, showing it to the camera, so the hidden watcher knew it wasn’t a weapon.

Then she stepped to the open lift door, taking great care not to actually step into the lift – she knew such an act would be seen as hostile – and set the book down in the centre of the doorway.

She stepped back, just as the lift door slammed shut.

The sensor hadn’t seemed to have picked up her movement.

‘Shit, that would have had my arm off,’ she hissed.

The lift beeped again.

Then it slowly began to ascend.


‘I hope you’ve got this right,’ Davey said.

‘That was the best bet out of the three. I’m certain, like.’

The lift clanged as it reached the floor above.

‘Which floor do you reckon that went to?’ Davey asked.

‘No idea. It won’t do us any good t’ wonder anyway. We ain’t going up there, like.’

They heard the lift doors open somewhere above them.

Heard very low footsteps clunk as the medicine man entered the lift.

He turned and went back out.

‘He’s got the book,’ Luna said. ‘Now it’s just a case of hoping like hell that he likes it.’

Davey found himself crossing his fingers as he had done as a kid.

Fat lot of good it had done then.

Fat lot it would do now.

But it made him feel better, gave him some meagre bit of control over a situation that was entirely out of his hands.

The wait was torturous.

‘What’s he doing up there?’ Davey said.

‘Relax, man. You’re stressing me out. He’ll be looking it over, much like I did, only with a connoisseur’s eye. He takes his time with this shit, cos it means the world t’ him. Killing and books. That’s just about all he does with his days, like. And he’s an expert on both.’

Davey gulped again.

His heart had begun to pound.

His right foot tapped a nervous beat on the floor.

Luna eyed him warily, shaking her head and cursing under her breath.

‘Why didn’t I fuckin come on my own?’ he was sure he heard her say.

He ignored her.

Tried to hear what was going on upstairs.


After what felt like days, footsteps again entered the lift.

There was the mechanical thump and scrape, and the lift was slowly on its way down to them.


The lift beeped and the doors slowly slid open again.

Davey again was convinced that some cloaked assassin was going to be in there, guns spitting bullets into their helpless bodies, but again the lift was empty.

Luna smiled.

‘That’s a good sign, like. Most people don’t even make it this far.’

Davey tried on a grin that didn’t quite fit.

Tension gnawed at his belly.

Luna moved in close, to the spot where she’d placed the book.

A handwritten note sat on the floor, on ring binder paper.

The edge was ragged, torn off to leave one small spiral of paper attached at the bottom.

A pen sat next to it.

‘Thanks for the book. It’s a favourite of mine. Rare too. What do you want?’ the note said.

Luna quickly scrawled, ‘You have our friend. We have come to take her home.’

She put it in the lift and sent it back up.

Again the wait for a reply was agonising.


Every time the lift came down, Davey was still convinced that they were about to be ended, but the end was yet to come for them.

Instead, the conversation went back and forth on the sheet of paper.

The medicine man seemed to be testing them, asking them why they had come to save Tia when they knew she was in good hands.

The question had them stumped for a while, but they replied with, ‘We’d miss her.’

‘Not good enough for me to let her go.’

The paper whizzed up and down in the lift.

‘I love her,’ Davey wrote on after wrestling the sheet from Luna and almost ripping it in half.

The lift went up again and this time the wait seemed to take even longer.


He imagined Tia reading the note.

If she wasn’t already dead of course.

He blushed a little.

But if it got her back, it was worth doing, in spite of the shame he now felt in every fibre of his being.

Luna looked at him and smiled.

‘I knew it, you dark horse,’ she whispered, playfully punching him on the arm.

He blushed even more, feeling as red as the lights in the lift.

She smiled at him.

The lift slowly came back down, adding to Davey’s torment.

‘Prove it,’ the note simply said.


Davey stared at it for a second.

Luna stared back at him, flicking between him and the note.

‘What the hell?’ she said.

Davey thought about it for a second.

A crazy idea lurched into his head. He tried to think of another way but failed.

‘What you gonna do?’ Luna asked.

He smiled sadly at her, then raised his hands and stepped into the lift.


As the doors closed behind him, he heard Luna shouting, ‘Davey, what the fuck are you doing? He’ll kill you.’ Then her rushing the doors and beating on them with her fists.

It was too late.

He’d deliberately left it so late that she couldn’t stop him.

This had to be done alone.

He couldn’t allow Luna to die too.

The lift rose faster than he’d thought.

The speed of the ascent made the contents of his stomach rise up to nipple height.

He felt like he was going to be sick.

Then, with a jolt so sudden it made his head spin, the lift stopped.

The lift beeped then the doors in front of him slowly opened.


Davey was greeted by a figure clad in black, its features obscured.

He gulped as he stared into the barrel of the huge assault rifle in its gloved hands.

‘You know you’re not supposed to come up in the lift, right?’ the medicine man said.

Davey nodded, his throat too dry to speak.

‘You know what I do to people who try and come up here, don’t you?’

Davey nodded again. ‘Y-you kill them,’ he managed, his throat as dry as tinder.

The medicine man nodded.

The gun was still pointed in his face.

‘But I don’t care,’ Davey said. ‘I would die to set her free.’

The medicine man nodded. ‘I see.’

The time between his last words and the next seemed like aeons.

Life and death were being decided in those elastic seconds.


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