Authors: Christopher Heffernan
The Chop Shop
Text copyright ©
All Rights Reserved
up, leaning over the side of the bath to grab the pistol on the floor. He
checked the safety and climbed out. A patch of mould growth spread over the
plastic blinds, which he tweaked open and peered down onto the street below.
A platform of
dark concrete blocked his view of the sky, lit by the flashes of searchlights
as they swept back and forth across the ruins of Lower London. Hazardous waste
dripped past the window from a leaking sewage pipe hundreds of meters above.
His car still sat in its parking space, newly adorned with the remains of
broken bottles and surrounded by chain fence and barbed wire.
the plank of wood propped up against the door handle. He walked into the
lounge, still clutching the gun in his clammy hands and switched off the alarm
clock. His heart rate quickened as he removed the second plank from the front
door. A draft crept under the door and turned his toes cold.
Memories of the
previous night resurfaced in his consciousness. Michael raised the gun, gritted
his teeth and opened the front door. The hallway was empty, complete with the
scent of the same decomposing body from one of the empty flats. Fresh gang tags
marked the wall opposite him, sprayed on with pink paint.
He sighed to
himself and shut the door. It was seven-twenty in the morning, and it was going
to be a very bad day. He moved to the shadows to dress in his suit, and then
used the hand-pump to force water through the purifier and into the waiting
glass. He popped three tablets from their blister packs, each one shaped
differently, and dropped them into the water. He shook the glass gently and
watched as they dissolved into a white haze.
Michael drank it
down to the last drop. He had decided it tasted like rat poison left to melt on
the tongue, only instead of killing him, it kept him alive.
He slipped on
his belt holster and let the .45 lodge within the depths of the leather. Three
pockets carried spare magazines. It was seven-forty when he finally stepped out
of the flat with a plastic carrier bag of foil wrapped sandwiches, still cold
from the night they'd spent in the fridge.
swept past the shattered window at the end of the hall, and he felt a gust of
chill wind blow against his face and ruffle his tie. The stench of death was
stronger in the air now, so strong that he gagged. One converted warehouse,
forty flats, thirty-eight of them deserted, and one home to the corpse of an
old man. He wondered which ailment had killed him, and then decided that he
didn't really want to know.
Now he was the
only living thing for nearly two hundred meters in every direction. He lingered
in the hall for a moment, wondering if there was anything worth salvaging from
the flat. Probably not.
through puddles of water formed by leaking pipes, reflecting the crimson glow
of LEDs, and took the stairs down. The sight of ruined cars greeted him. They
had turned to rust, those parts which had not be scorched black by fire,
untouched for a decade since the war ended.
skeletons sat slumped in the remains of their seats, as tattered newspapers
drifted down the road, riding on the wind. Michael went around to the back
where his car sat in its security pen.
He fumbled with
the orange and brown padlock and opened the gate. Broken glass bottles crunched
beneath his shoes as he slid into the driver's seat of the navy blue car. A
mangy fox strolled past the fence, pausing to look up at him before it
continued on with its head bowed low.
the ignition. The radio came on after the engine, playing him the last five
seconds of an old song he'd heard a dozen times before. It changed to the news.
A female reporter launched into a monologue about the Basingstoke Butcher and a
rise in cases of uncontrolled cannibalism amongst the surviving population.
Then she started
on a story about an airliner crashing under mysterious circumstances. He
sighed, turned the radio off and drove onto the road.
His hands were
clammy with sweat as he remembered the war and those memories of Berlin; long
nights of burning ruins and smoke that blocked out radioactive green skies,
moving through sewers that shook under the weight of tanks above ground, and
all those people convulsing and vomiting as they died from nerve gas.
lying still under corpses, pretending to be dead, with only a gas mask between
him and the nerve agents. Russian gunships loitered in the air, hunting for
survivors with their thermal sights. He'd feel the vibrations of approaching
tanks in the rubble, waiting for the helicopters to move on, and then he'd see
the soldiers approaching, dressed from head to toe in CRBN equipment. They'd
move slow, marching alongside the tanks, sometimes stopping to kick over debris
and corpses as they checked for survivors.
He'd wait, trembling
from fear, and they'd always come closer. He'd reach for the detonator, flick
the switch and watch as they vanished in a flash of fire and smoke. Then he'd
have to run, and it was the part he always hated the most, praying he'd get
back to the manhole cover before the survivors found him.
It was late
enough in the morning now for people to walk the streets in small groups.
People with jobs, sometimes drug dealers or car clamping gangs. Sometimes he
saw other cars or a bus. An aerial drone flew past at low altitude.
emerged from the darkness, towering over nearby buildings; a mass of concrete,
steel and advanced composite materials, with navigation lights that flashed
from top to bottom.
the corner. Croydon police station occupied the compound to the south, where a
security checkpoint stopped him a hundred meters away. Concrete blocks walled
off the approach, guarded by a machine gun nest and an infantry fighting
stepped forward as Michael lowered the door window. He raised the visor on his
helmet, face hidden by balaclava and dressed in a black combat uniform sporting
the Assurer corporate logo on its sleeve.
Detective. You know the drill.”
inside his coat's interior pocket and fished for the identity card. He listened
to another policeman complaining about security for a construction team. His
accomplice laughed with a cocaine snort and suggested that they should have
shot them all and dumped the bodies in the ditch. Law enforcement through
He couldn't find
his card. The policeman leaned closer, and his eye twitched, out of focus for a
moment before it returned to normal. He blinked it away. One of the others was
selling drugs to a trio of addicts inside a doorway.
“Give me a
minute. It's here somewhere,” Michael said.
sniffed to clear his nose and shifted his rifle to the other hand. “It's okay,
take your time. I've been here all night; I'm not going anywhere soon.”
his other pockets. He found the card in his trouser pocket. The policeman took
the card, held it up so the hologram caught the light, and then swiped it
through the card reader he held. A red light flashed. The reader gave a buzzing
policeman muttered. He turned to the others. “John, it's broken again. Come and
and slumped in his seat. He could see some of Croydon station's array of
armoured vehicles just beyond the checkpoint. A trio of policemen patrolled the
parking area. Somebody was screaming, and one by one the policemen turned to
look. People burst through the station's main entrance. A woman fell, and the
people behind trampled her to death.
exploded in a flash of flame. The fire consumed it, lashing out at those
fleeing before it was snuffed out by an advancing wave of black smoke that sent
the checkpoint guards stumbling to the ground. Bits of metal, concrete, bone,
and flesh rained down on them.
A severed arm
landed on his windscreen. It still moved back and forth, given life by the
rumble of the car engine. The dust cloud swallowed him alive.
his car at the checkpoint. The policeman tapped his knuckles on the window
until he lowered it. “ID.”
Half a dozen
others watched him. Two sat behind sandbag emplacements, gripping the handles
of machine guns. Michael handed over his identity card. The policeman ran it
through his scanner, and the light flashed green.
He glanced up at
Michael. “The replacement? We've been expecting you, Mr Ward. Go on through.
Park in section A. The desk officer will get you to where you need to be.”
One of the
others slid back the chain fencing and raised the barrier. The sign once said,
“Richmond Station,” but had since been changed with thick, red paint, so that
it now read, “The Chop Shop.”
The paint had
trickled before it had dried, and it seemed as though the sign had been
bleeding. He drove forward, finding the surrounding houses boarded up with wood
and metal. One had collapsed inwards on itself, now a mess of whitewashed
brick, broken glass and shattered roof tiles, taking part of the adjoining
buildings with it.
The winds sucked
pieces of rubbish across the street like tumble weed, and distant tower blocks
loomed over urban decay. Past the checkpoint was the old high street, formerly
a bastion of economic prosperity with four takeaways, a café and a launderette.
chairs were still set out. The umbrella shades had rotted, leaving rusted metal
spokes exposed to the open air like spider legs, and beneath them skeletons
slumped in their seats, still garbed in the remains of their clothes. Their
bone smiles suggested they were still laughing from a joke shared a decade ago.
One of the
takeaways was called
The Chop Shop
, and Richmond station piggy-backed onto
it like an architectural tumour of metal and glass, induced by a toxic case of
lax planning laws. The rest of the area had been bulldozed, concreted over, and
walled off to make room for police facilities.
He parked his
car where the policeman had told him to. A perimeter wall topped with razor
wire and patrolled by lone policemen separated the compound from the rest of
the world. Concrete bunkers shaped like angular aircraft hangers housed the
armouries. One policeman stood beside a doorway, oblivious to the no smoking
sign bolted to the wall as he puffed away on a cigarette.
Two more stood
guard by the main entrance, cradling rifles as their postures sagged with the
weight of boredom. Michael left his car and entered the building, setting off
weapon scanners as he passed through. One of the policemen leaned around the
corner to stare at him. A finger inched over the trigger guard of his rifle.
He handed his
identity card and .45 over to the policeman hidden behind a screen of armoured
glass in the security booth and passed through again. Silent. The policeman
slid them back over the counter, nodding towards the reception area.
“Go on through.”
decorated the corners of the reception area. A television screen hung from the
wall, displaying footage of the nine o'clock news. The chairs were losing their
covers to wear, and clumps of yellowed foam spilled out of the gaps like human
A man stood in
the middle of it all, a little over six feet tall, holding a roll-up between
two fingers as he exhaled smoke through the nose. He had grey hair and a
moustache, dressed in black police fatigues, with the trousers bloused at the
exchanged a stare with him. The man's lips curled upwards at the corners. He
stubbed the cigarette out in a glass ashtray that hadn't been emptied for
months and approached. Up close, Michael could see a weariness in the man's
expression. They shook hands.
“I'm pretty sure
I know who you are,” the man said in a Scottish accent. He glanced at his
watch. “You're also one minute and thirty-five seconds late, but seeing as it's
your first day here, I'll cut you some slack. Come with me. We'll get you
briefed and set up.”
The man swiped
his security card through the reader and led Michael through a corridor once
pristine white, but now yellowing and beginning to turn brown. “I'm Major
Harris, commander of Richmond station, but we like to call it the Chop Shop.”
“I saw the sign
out front, sir.”
They stopped at
a pair of lifts. Harris slapped the button. “These things take a while.
Everything breaks here sooner or later.”
stood guard a little further on, backs turned.
understand it, Corporal. The corpses never fit the body bags. It's like trying
to lift a sack that keeps sagging.”
The corporal nodded
knowingly. “It's what I like to call the bacon effect. You go to your local
supermarket, and sometimes on those rare and precious occasions, they have a
supply of bacon. Long and streaky bacon rashers, and you think to yourself,
'yum, that bacon sure looks tasty. There's enough of it to fulfil my dietary
requirements for today, and I really want to buy it,' right?"
“I suppose so.”
the last food riot and decide that starving for four days on the trot is
unpleasant, so you buy it at the rigged price, get home and put it in your
frying pan. The smell makes you salivate; your stomach rumbles. Disaster
strikes. Suddenly those huge rashers of bacon that looked so tasty start to
shrink and shrivel up. Now they look tiny, and you feel like you've been ripped
off. You're angry. Do you know why that happens? It's because the supermarkets
pump it full of water.”
“I never really
gave it much thought.”
shrugged. “Well, Private, the exact same principle applies to people. Like
bacon rashers, we are mostly made of water, and when we are incinerated by fire
the moisture is removed from our bodies. We shrink and shrivel up until we look
like an anorexic on a sun bed. Body bags are made for stabbings and shootings,
not cases where Jimmy accidentally blows up the entire estate because he smells
gas and forgets to turn the pilot light off. So you see, it's the bacon