Mage: The Gun Quarter
One - Blue's Mission
Eric Mason figured there was nothing quite as satisfying as the sound of ripping open a can of Carlsberg, sliding your finger through the ring, dare to spill a few precious sips with a boisterous tug on the tab, that familiar hiss of bubbles fizzling out the top – it was a ritual, something Eric and his friends all shared together.
Eric stood in the middle of his friend Mark’s living room. He walked a few steps away from the case of Carlsberg, toward the couch, which was located opposite of the beer. He turned on his heel and flicked the beer tab from his finger into the case. The tab tinkled as it bounced off a couple empty cans and came to a rest on the bottom of the cardboard box.
“Nice shot, Blue,” Mark said. A cigarette bounced between Mark’s lips as he spoke. He tossed his beer tab at the box and missed. It skittered across the hardwood and came to a rest in front of the telly. “Damn.”
Mark Lydon was a true friend to Eric ‘Little Boy Blue’ Mason. Whether it was soccer fights, dust ups with other guys in the neighbourhood or just sitting around having a beer, he loved Eric like a brother.
Eric sat down on the arm of the couch. It was ratty and stained and sagged perilously in the middle. The cheap, wooden arms creaked and groaned every time someone shifted their weight, threatening to fall apart entirely. His friends Woody and Samson were already taking up two thirds of the seat and Mark sat in the final third. It was there they squished together and watched television.
Woody was the one who’d given Eric the nickname ‘Blue’ after years of trumpet lessons in primary school. Now, more people knew him by the name Blue than they knew him as Eric, but that suited him just fine. He was proud of his nickname. If he wasn’t, it wouldn’t matter, he was stuck with it for life.
Eric regarded Woody as a scoundrel and a smooth talker; he could talk circles around anyone, words came from his mouth as fast as bullets.
Then there was Samson. Loud, boisterous, party-animal Samson. He was the kind of guy who’d jump off a second story roof with an umbrella, belting a tune from Merry Poppins, just to get a laugh. Throughout their childhood, Samson had been incorrigible, and Eric loved him for it, but lately, he noticed Samson started to withdraw a little, smile with difficulty, drink a little more than everyone else at parties… he’d lost a bit of that spark [See Session 50 for details]. Eric didn’t know why, but the thought crossed his mind that maybe, just maybe, oul’ Samson was growing up.
Woody took a long drag from his cigarette. The cherry tip flared bright red and dulled again. Then he exhaled, contributing to the smoke cloud in the room.
“Aye, this is the life lads. A little beer, a little footy, and some snuggles with me best mates,” Woody put an arm around Samson.
They clinked their beer cans together and took long, greedy gulps.
They were a motley bunch. Each wore a pair of big, maroon Doc Martins, white t-shirts and blue jeans. Eric, like his friends, sported a few rough-looking tattoos, including; a trumpet, a fist giving a middle finger and a Christian crucifix. Unlike his friends, Eric still chose to shave his head, in the manner of the other skins in the neighbourhood, keeping a brush cut. Woody, Mark and Samson recently took to growing their hair long, like ancient Vikings.
Keeping up appearances was a lot of work.
Eric noted that if any other skinheads in Birmingham had a problem with long hair, an imperious scowl from Mark, or worse, from Rory Cooper, was enough to make them think twice about saying different.
Woody let out a beer-fueled belch capable of blowing the boys’ hair back.
They broke into laughter.
“My turn,” Samson grinned. He took long, loud sips of his beer. Then, he opened his mouth wide, pumped his elbows up and down, sucked air in gulps and poked Mark and Woody in the ribs repeatedly. He pushed out a rippling, roiling burp, lasting a ponderous moment, stretching it into a long, filthy stream of foam-soaked belching.
Mark looked at Samson with incredulity, shook his head and took another drag on his cigarette. Woody and Eric burst into peals of laughter.
“Bloody ‘ell, I think I smell your breakfast,” Eric pinched his nose with his index finger and thumb as he spoke.
Samson wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and smacked his lips. “It tasted better the first time down.”
They all burst into another round of laughter. Even Mark cracked a smile.
“Okayokayokay, my turn,” Eric said. He took a long, slurpy, air-filled gulp from his beer and wiggled his lips to capture every last bit of foam from the edge of the can. He felt the aching pressure of all the gas in his stomach and prepared to let out a giant burp.
Suddenly, the front door of the flat swung open, smashing into some discarded malt-liquor bottles and garbage, creating a small garbage-free, semi-circle on the floor. Eric choked on his burp, failing to produce a righteous, window-rattling belch – instead, it was a mix of gurgles and coughing.
A giant, slab of a man stood imperiously inside the doorframe. His long, wavy hair was pulled back into a ponytail and hand held the doorknob tentatively. His fingers seemed to be the size of bananas. He was so large, his shoulders brushed the edges of the doorframe. He glared at them with his one, good eye, the other eye was covered by a black, eye-patch. He wore a look of worry on his face. It was Rory Cooper.
Eric could see dread in Rory’s … eye.
He tried not to stare, averting his gaze to Rory’s boots.
“What’s the matter Rory?” Woody said. He mashed his cigarette into a battered ashtray. The ashtray sat on a makeshift end-table constructed out of apple boxes.
“It’s the big one, Woody, I need you to assemble all our meanest, toughest lads,” Rory said.
Woody pushed himself up from the couch and steadied himself by putting his hand on Mark’s shoulder.
“The big one?” Woody said.
“This could be the biggest fight we’ve faced yet and I’m not sure it will end with much more than Birmingham reduced to ashes,” Rory said.
Woody looked around the soiled, messy flat and kicked aside an empty beer can. The drapes hanging in front of the window had cigarette burns, allowing little beams of light to cast irregularly across the floor. Smoke wafted through the open doorway to the outside.
“To be fair Rory, ash’d be a bit of an improvement,” Woody snickered.
Mark and Samson got up off the couch. The couch creaked in protest.
“How can we help Rory?” Samson said.
“We’re assembling the whole gang,” Rory said. “Once everyone has arrived, we’ll begin the planning session and execute it.”
Eric jumped up to his feet. He’d not been on one of Rory’s adventures before but today it looked like all hands on deck.
“The ‘big one’? Sounds like we’ll ‘ave to give em the ole’ razzle dazzle,” Eric growled in an affected, Yorkshire accent. He balled his hands into fists and raised them up like a boxer and wiped the side of his nose with his thumb. He sniffed and aped a menacing pose.
Rory put his hand on Eric’s shoulder.
“Blue, I’m afraid this one would get you hurt, or killed … or worse,” Rory’s voice was deep and filled with a measure of regret.
Eric felt a twinge of betrayal and rejection stab at his heart.
“Rory, I’m one of the boys, through thick and thin, yeah? We’ve been mates our whole lives-” Eric said.
“Blue, I-” Rory started.
“No, hear me out Rory,” Eric mustered a bit of courage to face his giant, weary friend, “I know you got your secrets. I know you lost your eye and now you’re extra careful with all of us, asking us to do things for the neighbourhood and the boys. You think I ‘avent seen the guns? Coming and going at all hours?”
“Blue,” Rory started again.
“No, I’m not finished, you do me this small respect,” Eric poked Rory in the chest with his finger.
“You want me to swing a pipe, throw a rock, anything, I’ll do anything, but you’re not leaving me out, not this time!”
Mark, Samson, Woody and Rory all exchanged knowing glances.
“That’s what I’m trying to say. I have a special assignment for you,” Rory said.
Rory pulled a small, soft, brown, leather pouch from his coat pocket. He handed it to Eric.
“What’s this?” Eric tugged at the leather string tied around the top to undo the knot and peer inside. It was filled with an indigo-hued paste that smelled like lilac and honey.
“I need you to take this and make marks on the doors of our spots in the gun quarter, in the shape of this symbol,” Rory said. He presented Eric with a folded square of paper and encouraged him to open it. A runic symbol was written on the sheet. It looked similar to one of Rory’s tattoos,
“Think of the wildest soccer brawl you ever saw, times ten. Fire, looting, shooting and worse.
We have some … visitors …. coming in from out of town, the blue marks will tell them to leave our spots alone or face my wrath,” Rory said.
Rory dipped his fingers into the pouch and painted the symbol onto the front door of the flat. “Just like this.”
Eric’s heart swelled with pride. Finally, he thought.
“This is a big responsibility,” Rory said, “I can’t stress how important this is, and how you cannot fuck this up.”
“Can I take some for my Nan’s flat?” Blue peered into the bag once more.
“Definitely,” Rory said. He squeezed Eric’s shoulder affectionately, “But you need to get on this immediately.”
“I won’t mess this up, I promise,” Eric said.
He gripped the bag tight in his hand and took a few steps to the neighbouring flat next door. He lifted the piece of paper in front of his face for a few seconds, studied the symbol and then carefully dipped his fingers into the pouch and painted the symbol onto the door.
“See? Looks pretty good!” Eric called to Rory.
He began going door-to-door, wiping bits of blue paste into the symbol.
Woody leaned in to whisper into Rory’s ear.
“It’s nice what you done, mate,” Woody said. “That blue paint won’t do shit … will it?”
Rory shook his head with a measure of guilt in his eyes. “It’ll keep him out of trouble.”