The gate burst inwards as it was struck by the speeding van, almost flying off its hinges with the force of the impact.
Once through the van raced across the yard before coming to a stop near the roller door that provided access to Hartwell Electrical’s warehouse. A second van skidded to a halt alongside a moment later.
The vehicles were a matched pair of white Ford Transit vans, both so dirty an observer might believe they had come from a rally race. Except for the locations of the individual mud splatters they were identical, down to the licence plates, a tactic intended to make it harder for the vehicles to be identified or traced should anyone see them and report them to the police.
Four people, three men and a woman, all of them dressed in dark clothes and wearing gloves and balaclavas, got out of the vans and assembled by the roller door.
A pair of bolt cutters was produced and the padlock securing the door quickly cut away. A siren blared the moment the door was raised, making two of the four jump in surprise, even though they had been warned to expect it. The other two showed no such alarm at the sudden noise, they simply ducked under the rising door and disappeared into the darkness of the warehouse.
Less than a minute later the noise died away and the two reappeared.
“Get the doors open,” the leader of the quartet ordered brusquely.
He was obeyed swiftly, and once the rear doors of the van he had driven onto the property were open he reached in to grab a pair of high-powered torches. He kept one for himself and handed the other to his number two, who immediately turned it on, chasing away the shadows with its narrow beam.
“Three, you’re with Two, Four, you’re with me,” One said. Referring to his colleagues by a number was a security measure he had insisted on during the planning stages of the heist, not that any of them expected to be overheard or witnessed during the raid.
The industrial estate on which Hartwell Electrical had their warehouse was patrolled by guards from a security firm. They had no cause to be concerned that the guards on duty that night were going to trouble them, though, because before going to the warehouse they had paid a visit to the portacabin the guards operated from – the guards were tied up, and would be unconscious for some hours to come.
With the guards not an issue, and the alarm silenced, the quartet got on with their business. One and Four made their way through the warehouse to the stairs that led up to the office, while Two and Three kept an eye out from the yard in case someone were to pass and take note of them.
“Get the computer,” One instructed his companion once he was in the office, having resorted to the simple expedient of booting open the door to gain access. “Take all of it and chuck it in the back of the van.” They only needed the hard drive to deny the police any surveillance footage that might help them but it was quicker, and easier, to take the whole computer than it was to dismantle it and remove the hard drive. “And take anything else that looks like it might be connected to the security cameras.” He was sure it was just the computer, but he didn’t want to take any chances, even if their faces were hidden and their vans had fake licence plates on.
While Four got on with that, it was a task he could manage without difficulty since it didn’t require him to know anything about computers, only how to remove cables, One searched for the delivery paperwork. He located it soon enough, and quickly found the licence number of the lorry that held the load he was after; there were three lorries in the yard, all of them filled with cargoes he could make money off, but the one he was interested in held a mix of goods that would be easiest for him to sell.
Above the hook that held the delivery paperwork was a locked cabinet. One had it open in moments and he quickly searched through the keys it held for those belonging to the lorry he was interested in. He took them down once he found them and hurried from the office, trusting Four to finish up the job of removing the computer, not that he liked to trust the younger man any more than was necessary.
“All clear?” he asked when he reached the loading bay.
“Not a peep,” Two answered, her eyes on the wrecked gates, which would have been a clear sign to anyone passing that something was going on. “You got them?”
J answered by holding up the keys. “We’re after FR67 OST,” he told her. “Second lorry in by the looks of it. Come on, let’s get going.” Climbing behind the wheel of the van he had driven into the yard he drove quickly over to the trio of lorries, loaded and waiting for their drivers to arrive in the morning and take them to their destinations.
It took just a few seconds to pull the van up by the lorry he was interested in, and he was out again before the second van could reach him. While Two brought the second van over, One unlocked the doors at the rear of the lorry and swung them open to reveal the pallets of electrical items he was there to steal.
Climbing up he took a knife from his pocket and, with a quick slice, dealt with the plastic that had been wrapped around the first pallet. The first thing he picked up was a Playstation 4 which he quickly dropped down to Three, who had hurried round to catch it and load it into the back of the nearest van.
A second Playstation followed, then an Xbox One, a Blu-Ray player, another Playstation and a television. By then Four arrived with the computer from the office, which he tossed casually into the back of the nearest van, and One was able to organise a chain to keep the goods moving from the lorry to the vans. Each item was stacked neatly to ensure they could fit as much as possible in, even so they ran out of space in the vans before they could unload everything from the lorry.
It annoyed One to be leaving behind so much valuable merchandise; if he could have managed it he would have driven away all three lorries, and made enough to set himself up comfortably for the rest of his life. That simply wasn’t possible, though; he had nowhere safe to store three stolen lorries, and though he had the connections to get rid of stolen goods, he didn’t have enough connections to deal with three lorry-loads of it. Criminal and corrupt he might be, incautious he wasn’t, which was why he was only taking as much as he was sure he could handle.
Working by hand it took almost an hour to fill the two vans, and the moment they were done One jumped down from the back of the lorry, which he left open – there was no point in making an effort to conceal what they had done, not when the mess they had made of the gate would tell anyone the place had been broken into. Climbing into the van he shifted into gear while Four slammed closed the rear doors, and the moment the younger man joined him he reversed away from the lorry and raced away across the yard.
A smile, hidden by his balaclava, was on One’s lips as he drove out of the yard. He estimated that he would be able to make thirty thousand pounds from his haul, and that was being conservative. It was a good night’s work.
The rock disappeared from sight as it arced through the darkness, becoming visible again as it struck the window. The glass shattered with a sharp, cracking sound, which was immediately drowned by the burglar alarm, whose wailing split the silence of the night.
The noise would normally have been enough to send a vandal running. The dark-clad figure who had launched the rock was a vandal with a cause, however, and wasn’t about to let himself be driven away by a bit of noise and the possibility of being arrested.
Even if he hadn’t considered arrest a small price to pay for exposing what was happening there, he wouldn’t have run from the siren. There was no-one nearby to hear the alarm, he knew that for a certainty, and it would take some time for the police, or anyone else, to respond to it.
Since he had time, and he didn’t care about being arrested – as far as he was concerned being arrested would only bring more attention to what he had done and what he was trying to do, and that was all to the good – he stayed there, throwing stone after stone at the building.
There were few windows on the ground floor but plenty on the first floor, and soon enough the ground around the building was covered in shards of glass as each stone that left his hand found a pane of glass.
Once all the windows had been broken he turned his attention to the rest of the building. The main doors were protected by steel shutters, and nothing he did shifted them, nor was he able to get the fire door open, even using the crowbar he took from the boot of his car. After a couple of minutes of trying he gave up.
As much as he wanted to get into the building and do as much damage as he could – smashing the windows just wasn’t satisfying enough for him – the effort wasn’t worth it, not when the alarm continued to disturb the night.
Frustrated he threw the crowbar into the boot and grabbed up a can of spray paint. It was bright red, a colour he considered highly appropriate under the circumstances, and it showed up well on the wall of the building as he began spraying. How graffiti artists created the images they did he couldn’t imagine; he had enough difficulty just making what he was writing legible, even though each letter was a foot tall.
It took him ten minutes to finish, by which time he had decorated the building with a dozen words which couldn’t be missed by anyone who came within a hundred feet of it.
It was time to go he decided once he was done with his graffiti. He had done all he could just then, or almost all; taking out his phone he took photos of everything he had done. He wanted a record of the action he had taken, for his own pleasure, but also for the furtherance of his goals.
Satisfied with his night’s work, if not the reason behind it, he took a last look at the fruit of his labours and then got into his car.
He had gone no more than a quarter of a mile from the trading estate when he saw, on the road that ran parallel to the one he was on, the flashing lights of the police car responding to the alarm set off by the damage he had caused. They had taken even longer to answer the alarm than he had expected.
He was tempted to turn around and head back the way he had come, so he could see the reactions of the police officers when they saw what he had done. The graffiti especially, he was sure, would get a response of some kind. He resisted the urge, however, and kept going.
Maybe it’s the black-and-white photos that are always in the back of their books, with a faraway look in the author’s eyes as he contemplates the tumultuous ocean.
Female authors are often in color photos, looking savvy and sharp, with big Texas hair that would make any country-western star envious.
Well, I’ve met my share of authors. Some have great professional cover shots, while others peer toward you with the obvious angle of a selfie.
Independent authors, or indies, have a different look in their eye. Maybe it’s because they don’t have a crew of people adjusting the lighting or someone who knows the best angle for their nose. They certainly don’t look thoughtful, savvy, or sharp. Mostly they seem worried, and sometimes just a little mad.
Writing swarms your life. You are never safe, whether you are in a deep sleep or driving the car. Thoughts jump out at you; your characters fight to be heard, poking with their sharp imaginary fingers, saying, “Don’t do that to me. This is what I want.”
Sometimes indies have to hide what they’re doing. It’s considered nothing more than a pastime, or even a compulsion, and it interferes with life, leaving family members and friends resentful.
It’s hard to turn off creativity. Yet many indies have day jobs, kids, and other responsibilities. They don’t have hideaways to cut themselves off from the rest of the world so they can concentrate on their plots or create dazzling characters.
Indies don’t have the luxury of saying, “Go away. Leave me alone. I’m feeling creative right now.”
Indies write in the corner of the living room or that damp spot in the basement. They steal time from their chores, leaving the laundry wrinkled and the meat overcooked. They don’t have a choice; indie authors have to squeeze 10 pounds of crap into a two-pound bag. They are not considered “real” authors by many people. They have yet to prove they can deliver the goods.
It isn’t enough that the book takes over your existence while you’re writing it. This is a big commitment that infringes on everybody who’s connected to a writer.
Only when the last word is typed and your computer closes with a satisfying snap does the shock come that the real work is beginning.
Editing, formatting, picking a cover—the list can feel endless. It’s like building a house and having to decorate 10 different bathrooms at once. It’s overwhelming.
After it’s been put through labor and delivery, your baby needs the same amount of nurturing as sextuplets. If you Google your name and don’t see 10 pages of references to both you and your novel, you ain’t doing enough.
Pre-launch, post-launch: I’m not talking about rocket ships here. If you want your book to sell, you have to find out where to promote it.
You can’t hawk fantasy to a crime thriller crowd. This is the time when an indie has to look up bloggers and showcase the book. Talk about the characters, show off the cover, do interviews, reveal the first chapter; the book might still be in production, but selling it starts before the proof is in your hands.
I think that’s why every author I meet looks hollow-eyed and exhausted. They have to split themselves into the three-ring circus of promotion and publicity to do death-defying leaps and bounds in uncharted territory. There are multiple jobs, and unless you have an assistant, all the things required for a successful book launch will make you feel like you’re stuck on the beach during high tide. You can’t run away from the workload fast enough. There is always one thing more to do.
Follow-up is a bitch. Everybody who is blogging about you is probably in the same boat, squeezing your blog tour between carpools and soccer. One has to live and die by their to-do list.
It’s scary, and it’s hard. You may not like to do interviews, and you may hate being in the spotlight. For me, the computer and all its tasks of attaching and downloading are loathsome. I never learned how to use the television remote: “How will I master this?”
Somehow, we trudge on. “Why?” We are at a watershed moment in time, a pivotal kink in history where ordinary people can take a chance. The internet has opened the floodgates, allowing indies to swarm and produce what they want to write, not what some guy at a corporation in Manhattan dictates.
We don’t have to read what traditional publishers are shoving down our throats, and every independent author is spearheading this movement. It’s exciting, adventurous, and electrifying.
Strange things are happening to genres; they are morphing, bending, expanding to include subjects that might never have seen the light of day.
This is a revolutionary time to be an author.
Writing as an indie is a lot like going on the famous Cyclone roller coaster in Coney Island. It is a thrilling ride with unexpected twists and turns. The climb to the top is fun and full of anticipation. The highs are delightfully frightening, filled with tingling chills.
Then come the lows, plummeting so deeply it pulls your backbone through your belly, dragging you with a relentless pull, making you feel like you’re going into a dive that you will never recover.
You think I’m being melodramatic? I swear, I’m not. Writing is the most soul-baring activity. It’s a multifaceted, all-encompassing endeavor that will change your life. You don’t even realize it while you’re working like a horse to make your book be seen; you have exposed your psyche to the world. If you think heartbreak comes from just lack of sales, you have no idea. There is more, so much more.
When you write, you reveal pieces of your inner self you didn’t know existed.
Sometimes, you’re not even aware that you’re letting it all hang out.
It’s like spending an entire presentation with toilet paper attached to the sole of your shoe. You stand before a crowd, thinking you are doing one thing, but your audience’s perceptions are based on something you never knew was there.
Criticism stings. Being misunderstood or hurting someone with your words are even worse. It can feel so right when you’re in the thick of it, and in the cold light of reality, you wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?”
Still, we bounce back, even when we say we are done. Sometimes you’re sick and tired of the whole thing; it borders on torture. You feel hurt, confused, even embarrassed. Don’t despair—it doesn’t last, and within a week or so you will be starting on book two.
There is something special about sharing our ideas, our inner thoughts with people we’ve never met. Maybe it makes the world a smaller place, and we don’t feel so much like strangers anymore.