The wooden bike shed had once been painted green but the sun had slowly faded it to grey and crazed the surface of the paint, giving a random snakeskin effect that might be thought attractive in other places. Only the rusty iron dividing rails showed traces of the original green, though scuffed and dirty. The front was open to the elements. It didn’t matter; there were no bikes; there hadn’t been for years.
When the tower blocks were built it must have seemed a good idea for the Utopian dwellers-in-the-sky to have somewhere to leave their bikes. That idea faded faster than the paint. It was quickly learned that the bike sheds were an early version of Halford’s for the light-fingered. Usable parts were taken and attached to other people’s machines, leaving only a padlock, a chain and a frame. People walked or used the bus.
Now the old shed stood poised and seemed defiant in the sunshine before the digger, bucket raised like some heraldic beast. Charlie flicked the stub of his John Player Special out of the cab, put his ear protectors in place and drove forward. The roof and walls collapsed as one but stayed resiliently whole. Using his bucket as a giant hammer, Charlie splintered the sections and set about transferring the bits to a waiting skip.
The rails would not give-in so easily. Charlie used the digger attachment to break up the concrete surrounding each one. Now his machine pulled each rail out like an infected tooth. Soon, only the undamaged part of the base remained. The teeth at the bottom of the digger’s bucket dug-in at the edge of the slab. It lifted; broke as expected into pieces small enough to fit into the skip. That was when he saw the hole.
Castus slipped down the steps into the mithraeum. Since the Emperor’s decree he had to be careful. He was only a ‘corax’, the first level of initiation, but the small temple gave him great solace. Well, it had, but the news that the troops were returning to Rome had emboldened the Siluri. There had been damage and fighting. He struck a flint to light a stub of torch that had been left in a sconce near the door. The place had been looted. There were no seniors, no pater in charge of rites; just an empty vaulted room with an altar and a niche from which the holy statue of Mithras, rising from the rock, had been taken.
He knelt before the altar and recited the few secret responses he knew, followed by a prayer to keep him safe on the journey back to Rome.
“Hey Castus! Are you down there? Come now. We’re going.”
Charlie climbed from his digger and peered into the hole. It looked deep. He went back to the cab and got his torch to get a better look. He picked up his phone.
“Hey boss. There’s an old cellar under that bike shed. I think we’ll need about ten tonnes of hardcore.”