On the Run
Night was slowly creeping over the deserted, icy streets of London, as Alan and his friends made their way down to the alleyway behind Derek’s house, where the latter’s Fiat was parked. Alan’s jeep was still parked on the other side of the block, but it would have to be left behind, otherwise the police would be back on their trail in no time. Unfortunately, their troubles would be going from bad to worse sooner than they thought.
What the hell's wrong with this thing? thought Alan, trying to start up Derek’s car but the engine wouldn’t go. Getting out of the car and popping the hood, to check the engine, he discovered that the battery cable had been disconnected, deliberately tampered with it seemed.
"What the hell…?"
"Don’t move, Johnson," called a threatening voice from behind him. Alan turned, coming face to face with the masked terrorist who had been watching Derek’s house, aiming a gun with a silencer at him. And his own guns were in his jacket pockets in the car, well out of reach. Damn it! Uttering a battle roar, Bigwig was about to spring at the man, but the terrorist fired a warning shot that blew a hole in the pavement, freezing Bigwig in his tracks. Alan could see the man's evil eyes gleaming triumphantly through a slit in his hood, "Keep your hands where I can see them and start walking, professor. The boss will be ever so pleased to see you. You’ve caused him so much trouble…"
“Hold it right there, Dr Johnson!"
Suddenly, another voice caught both Alan and his would-be killer off-guard. Turning, he saw a policeman on the edge of the pavement, gun drawn and fixed on him - like the terrorist, he had come to inspect Derek’s house and spotted him. Only he failed to notice the gun clutched in the terrorist’s hand, missing the real threat, “Sir, please move away from that man…”
Before Alan could react, the terrorist had wheeled his gun on the interrupting policeman, firing several shots at point-blank range, which found the man straight in the torso. The policeman fell to the ground, bleeding out. Before Alan could make a dash and tackle the murderous terrorist, the man had turned his weapon back on him, ready to finish him off too, "Looks like you won’t be worming your way out this time, Johnson…!"
BANG! BANG! BANG!
Suddenly, another round of gunfire was heard and the terrorist crumpled to the ground dead, sporting several bullet holes in his back. The policeman, mortally wounded but not killed instantly, had recovered enough to retrieve his weapon and gun the terrorist down. Kicking the gun out of the assassin’s limp hand, Alan rushed over to the downed policeman; the man was in critical condition, bleeding out at the mouth from severe internal injuries. He wasn’t going to make it. Grabbing the man's hand-radio, he sent out an alert.
"Officer down! Send an ambulance! 232 Churchill Street, hurry!"
With the police and paramedics on their way, Alan dared not doddle there a moment longer. The last thing he needed now was to be found at the scene of the crime and become a suspect in a second murder case. Leaving the soon-to-be dead policeman and the already-dead terrorist on the road, he ushered his companions into Derek’s car and they departed, heading for the motorway that would get them the hell out of London…
Inspector Santon strode impatiently through the Johnson apartment, while forensics swept the house for evidence. After Johnson had given them the slip at the hospital, the Yard had put out a city-wide alert for the fugitive, faxing his picture to all airports, train stations and hotels, confident that they’d bring him in before the night was out. But Santon wasn’t about to sit around on his backside until they did. This was his case and there was still something big missing from the puzzle. Deciding to renew the investigation from scratch, he and Coyle had assembled their forensics team and returned to ground zero – Alan’s apartment, the scene of the crime.
Charles Santon had been a police detective for over fifteen years. A native of Bradford, his family had moved to Birmingham when he was a child. After graduating from Glasgow University with a degree in criminal law, rather than pursuing a dull career as a lawyer, he had instead joined the police forces. Starting off as a private investigator, he had eventually risen to the rank of Inspector, working for Scotland Yard. During the war, he had also worked briefly for MI6, on counter-enemy espionage, which gave him great experience in handling the most perplexing of cases. And Johnson’s was proving to be the most perplexing one of all.
Santon had read the case files a hundred times over, front and back. Originally, there had been another Inspector in charge of the case, who had concluded it as a suicide crash, the work of a depressed madman driven to destruction, with no evidence of foul play – and as far as Santon was concerned, a dumb amateur’s job. After Dr Johnson's housekeeper had turned up butchered, the Yard had reopened the case and put Santon in charge of apprehending the culprit.
With Johnson identified as the primary suspect in the old biddy’s murder, Santon’s team had searched restlessly for days to bring him in, without success. It was as if that man had simply vanished off the face of the Earth. Then, he had suddenly shown up out of the blue, right back at the scene of the crime! Where had he been all this time? And now there was this new mystery surrounding his strange statement... Was he really being targeted by a terrorist faction, in possession of a secret nuclear weapon – the same ones who had, supposedly, murdered his family and the others missing? Although most of his colleagues insisted that those were just the words of a deluded madman, Santon wanted to check out Johnson's story for himself.
Under the supervision of Neil Coyle, the forensics expert on Santon’s team, crime lab experts carefully examining the doors, walls and furniture for fresh fingerprints, hair samples, or any other clues that might explain what Johnson had been doing here. A photographer walked around the house like an enthusiastic tourist, snapping pictures of every room. Santon, always preferring to work alone, was busy conducting his own thorough search of the apartment.
Entering Lucy’s bedroom, wondering what was the reason behind all this ransacking, he noticed Alan's most beloved book lying on the bed. As if possessing a sixth sense for clues, like Fiver’s, he picked it up, flipping through the pages. As he did, he noticed something peculiar; a strange scribble above the chapter 'Nuthanger Farm'. The chapter heading was circled in, what appeared to be, red ink. Scribbled beside it was a message in miniature writing, also in red, saying:
if something happens to me, seek out C.S.D. here. He will explain all.
I love you, Mary.'
Santon frowned in confusion at the words; was this Johnson’s late wife leaving her husband a secret message that something bad might happen to her? This sure didn’t fit the pattern of his investigation so far. Before he could unravel the rest of this cryptic message however, Coyle entered the room, "Excuse me, sir, but we’ve found something. You better come and see."
Hastily shoving the book into his pocket, Santon followed his deputy to the bathroom next door. Two techs with protective clothing were examining a pile of filthy, shredded clothes they had fished out of a plastic bag with a UV lamp. Upon closer inspection, Santon realised what they had found.
"Those are the clothes Johnson was wearing on the day he disappeared, aren't they?" At last, they had found some useful evidence that might tell them something!
"Clear indication of multiple blood residues,” muttered Coyle, cringing at the sight of all the bloodstains, “Wherever he has been, he seems to have had one hell of a rough time." Santon felt his deputy had a fair point. Suddenly, as one of the techs went through the trouser pockets, something fell out; it was Derek's cell phone, containing the recording of Drake's visual log of the future taken from the HAB’s database, which Alan had pocketed and forgotten all about. Santon picked it up and tried turning it on. It was dead. Nonetheless, he pocketed it, along with the book.
"Have these rags shipped over to the lab for a thorough analysis," he ordered Coyle, "I’m going to have the contents of this examined by our tech guys personally. Once you’re done here, I want you to browse through all our databases for a name with the initials C.S.D. - I want to know who it is and how this person is connected to Dr Johnson. Report to me in my office back at HQ when you have the results."
Leaving Coyle to finish with the clearing up, Santon turned and left to return to the Yard’s Headquarters in Westminster, taking Derek's phone and Alan's copy of Watership Down bearing that mysterious cryptic message left behind by Johnson’s wife, with him. He needed some quiet time to examine this new evidence and work out the pattern anew. This was going to be a long night. As he climbed back into his car, he kept wondering, Is it possible that Dr Johnson was actually telling the truth? Perhaps there was something more to this business...
Newtown Common Churchyard was an eerie, haunting place at night. Snowflakes fell silently over the lawn, dotted with scattered headstones, all around the dark churchyard. Pulling over outside the locked gate, Alan and his party stared at the dark, deserted graveyard and its deathly silence, feeling satisfied; there was nobody around to disturb them.
Alan had gotten them out of London relatively easily. As they had heard over the radio, the motorways had been barricaded by police check points, with constables inspecting all drivers’ faces, identities and their vehicle’s licence plates as they came through. It had seemed unlikely that they could slip through unnoticed, until Alan had hit upon the idea of his car hitching a ride in the back of a car-carrier trailer, with them stowing away inside. After jumping the trailer at the first stop, they had continued on through the countryside, free and clear, and returned to Newtown.
Snapping the lock on the gate with bolt-cutters, they strode through the churchyard, making their way by torchlight towards the three false graves where Sergey had buried his precious shipment. Alan felt a strong sense of déjà vu as he laid eyes on the place where Robbins had confessed to being the killer of his wife and daughter seven hundred years hence. It was almost as if he could reach forward through time and touch that man who had stood there, boasting of his crimes... But this wasn’t the time to dwell on memories. He turned to his friends.
"All right, lads, it’s digging time! The sooner we’re done here, the better." Hawkbit groaned at the prospect of having to do does’ work again, but Bigwig's warning glare instantly brought him down on his forepaws, slaving away, sulking. While the rabbits worked on the first two graves, Alan took the third one - his own -, using a shovel he had taken from Derek’s shed. Although still freshly dug, the winter permafrost had turned the soil rock-hard, making digging up the cores a hard, slow job. Finally, an hour later, all three coffins had been exhumed.
Prying them open with a crowbar, sure enough, the three lime-green armoured cases, each containing a nuclear core for Black Inferno, were there. In Robbins' coffin, Alan also found a small leather box containing the cylindrical key that activated the cores and satellite probe. Everything was exactly as they had found them in the future. He smirked with satisfaction; they had beaten Red Hand to their precious shipment. Although the satellite still remained in their possession, without the arming key and cores it was just a pile of junk.
Not wasting any time, they removed the cores from their cases and loaded them into the back of the Fiat, covering them with a tarp, to keep them out of sight from any prying eyes. The last thing they needed was for some curious passerby to glance through the car window and see three nuclear weapons, in addition to five giant anthropomorphic rabbits from the future, stashed in the boot!
As part of his plan, Alan made sure to cover up all traces of their visit before departing. Filling up the now empty cases with some gravel from the sidewalk, intent on tricking anyone who might dig them up again in the future that there was a 100-lbs nuclear core still stashed inside, they sealed them tight. Placing them back into the coffins and nailing them shut, they lowered them back into the graves and filled up the holes, leaving everything seemingly undisturbed. Their primary objective complete, they piled back into Derek’s cramped Fiat and hit the road.
Not too far away, at Sutch and Martin's Flight Club, Tom Shelton sat sulking at his desk, helping himself to a half-empty bottle of Scotch to drown his sorrows. He had heard the news of Sergey’s death a little while ago. The money of his dreams, which he had risked liberty and life for, had all gone down the drain.
For many years, Shelton had suffered many financial struggles due to his failing business, as well as his own mistakes, leaving him heavily in debt and hardly able to support himself. Then, he had been approached and offered a job by Sergey: to utilise his scarcely used flight club for Red Hand’s activities, with a promise of a generous reward once the job was done. Although hesitant at first at taking part in a terrorist plot, the prospect of earning a fortune beyond his wildest dreams and paying off his debts once and for all had won out.
At first it seemed his decision would pay off; Sergey had only been minutes away of paying him the money of his dreams… But now, everything had suddenly fallen apart. Sergey was dead, without having paid him a single quid; Johnson was still alive and at large; and Black Inferno had been cast on the junk pile because of the missing cores, leaving Red Hand on the verge of aborting. Now it was only a matter of time before Johnson found a way to prove his innocence and, consequently, expose the entire faction, including him, to the authorities.
Cursing in frustration at his unfair predicament, he picked up the empty whisky bottle and flung it across the room, smashing it in rage. Grabbing a newspaper from his desk, he began tearing it up, cursing his rotten luck. Suddenly, he happened to glance at a strip of the back page: the list of last week’s funerals, including Johnson, Shaw and Robbins’- and Sergey’s last words to him when he had questioned about those graves flashed back in his mind: “I have my reasons, which don’t concern you.” Then, it suddenly all clicked together: the cores were buried in the three false graves in Newtown Churchyard!
The bitterness of failure and the prospect of prison instantly evaporating from Tom Shelton’s mind. Leaping from his chair, he seized the phone from its cradle and dialled Sven's private line, "Boss, I think I’ve found the cores. Over at Newtown Churchyard…"
"Well, no kidding, Shelton!" came Sven's voice, "I’ve just got word of Derek Shaw’s car being spotted leaving the graveyard a few minutes ago. Johnson’s got the damn cores! I’m sending men to intercept him on the road now…"
On the country road to Kingsclere, with the cores safely stashed in the back of their car, Alan and his friends were rejoicing at their success, “Phase one of our mission accomplished,” announced Bigwig smugly, “Frith’s smiling on us again…”
Although retrieving the cores had been an enormous success, Alan knew they still had a long way to go. In order to alter the events of the future yet to come, the cores, the satellite and Red Hand as a whole would have to vanish from history completely.
“Red Hand is not just going to sit idly with their prized weapon stolen,” he told them, “Once they realise we have the cores, it will make them even more desperate. We shall have to be real careful…"
Not too far away, where the road crossed through a patch of forest, snipers with night goggles had taken up positions on either side, preparing an ambush. The instant he had realised where the cores were and that Johnson had already beaten them to the prize, Sven had sent out an alert, ordering his men to intercept the approaching car, which was expected to pass this way any minute now.
"All right gentlemen, you know the plan," said Sven over his radio, on a secure frequency, so that nobody other than his shooters could hear him, "Johnson will be coming this way any moment now with our precious shipment. Once you have him in sight, I want to see his blood splattered all over the road. But I want the shipment retrieved intact." The mercenaries all took up positions, their sniper rifles, all fitted with silencers, locked and loaded.
Speeding along the road, Alan was pondering on the next logical course of action. What should they do with the cores? Although the only logical solution would be to turn them in to the authorities immediately, he couldn’t help but feel that this just wasn't the right way. After nearly being murdered whilst in police custody, then how could he possibly expect the cores to be in any safer hands if he turned them in? Shertok was undoubtedly one of many faction members stationed undercover in all the right places. The possibility of them finding their way back into the hands of the terrorists was a risk not worth taking.
Although he realised he would have to go to the authorities soon or later, whether he liked it or not, for now the cores had to be hidden someplace safe. Since leaving Newtown Churchyard, Alan had been grilling his mind for a good hiding place for their dangerous cargo. His and Derek’s homes back in London were obviously out of the question; and he daren’t entrust them to Josie, which would spell out her death sentence if she was discovered. Then it hit him - Nuthanger Farm! The place where he had lost his family was the last place anyone would think of looking for the cores, or for him. Although not exactly fool-proof, it was their best bet.
Suddenly, a loud hissing noise was heard from the right side of the car and then Alan felt the steering wheel grow heavy in his grip, Oh, drat, perfect time to get a flat… Sure enough, staring out his window, he saw they had a flat tyre; the rim of the forward wheel was riding on the flattened tyre thread, which had been ripped wide open by some sharp debris lying on the road. Pulling over onto the side, they got out and gathered around, staring at the flat tyre.
"So how do you heal a hrududu?" asked Pipkin, causing Alan to burst out laughing at his friend’s misbelief that motor vehicles were actually living beings.
"You don't heal a car, Pipkin; you repair it. We just have to replace the tyre. Piece of cake.” Popping the boot, he unpacked the car's tyre servicing kit, "All right, you guys get this stuff up front and I’ll fetch the spare." He passed the jack to Bigwig and the wheel-brace to Hawkbit. Both rabbits groaned from the weight and foul taste of the steel tools in their mouths as they carried them to the front of the jeep, while Alan unpacked the spare wheel from its housing and rolled it up front too. Placing the jack in position, he wound it up, lifting the tilted edge of the vehicle off the ground and then started undoing the nut-bolts on the damaged wheel, while the rabbits watched on with interest.
He had just finished changing the wheel, when the sound of approaching traffic was heard in the distance. Turning, they saw a heavy truck with its headlights dimmed approaching them at full speed, as if about to ram them. Alan cursed, "Damn, they’ve found us!" Doubling his efforts, he finished tightened the bolts back into place, "All right, everybody in!"
Discarding the flat tyre and the tools, they pilled back into the car and Alan barely managed to speed away before the approaching truck could catch up. Staring in the overhead mirror, he saw the driver suddenly brake to avoid the discarded wheel they had left behind on the road, causing the four-ton truck to sway sideways. Not missing the opportunity, Alan turned into a nearby side road and into a forest, taking a shortcut to Kingsclere. For the moment, they had given their pursuers the slip. But not for long…
As they drove through the woods, suddenly, looking in the overhead mirror, Alan noticed Pipkin start acting funny. The little buck seemed to be chasing something in the back, excitedly jumping here and there on the seat, like a cat after a fly. "What are you up to back there, laddie?"
"There is a strange red dot bouncing around. I can't catch it…!" No sooner had Pipkin uttered the words ‘moving red dot’, than Alan realised, with a chill of fear, that someone had the laser sighting of a gun trained on the car!
"Everybody down!" Not a second too soon, a silent sniper bullet penetrated the back window, narrowly missing his head. Glancing outside, he saw the flashes of more silent bullets being fired from the trees, telling him they had driven straight into a sniper’s delight, no doubt an ambush by Red Hand.
Stepping down hard on the accelerator, he tried doing violent manoeuvres, making it difficult for the snipers to get a fix on their target. More stray bullets penetrated the car, chewing away at the metal like cardboard. Speeding on through this hail of gunfire, Alan expected a bullet to strike the fuel tank any second now and send them all up in flames… But the car didn’t explode.
Just as he thought they were in the clear, he saw the truck that had been pursuing them earlier suddenly reappear, heading straight towards them. The battered car vibrated dangerously, as the truck struck them from behind, trying to force them off the road. Struggling to keep the vehicle under control, he turned to his rabbit friends in the back, "My bag! Hurry!" Fiver held it out to Alan with his teeth, who, holding the wheel steady with one hand, reached inside and took out a box of sharp carpet tacks, which he had brought along for just such an emergency.
Holding the box out the broken window and using his side mirror to get a clear shot, he dumped the nails in the path of the incoming truck. The heavy six-wheeler drove straight through the carpet of nails, causing its tyres to blow out, and sending it flipping over onto its side. For the moment they were free and clear again…
Sven and Tom stared after Johnson’s car retreating car, speeding off into the distance. Shelton shook his head, muttering a curse, "That son-of-a-bitch is a damn collage professor?" he snapped incredulously, “More like the Professor of Escape and Evasion in the flesh!”
"Yes, that’s why we’re going to stop playing this game his way," said Shertok, ignoring Shelton’s bitching, managing to contain his own anger and think, "We’re dealing with no amateur here; this guy can only be caught with cunning, not with force." From his experience as a Police Commissioner, he knew Johnson couldn’t remain on the run for long; the bastard must have a plan, someone to turn to, a safe place of refuge somewhere. For the moment, they’d pull back and wait; once they’d pinpointed Johnson’s destination, they’d corner him and strike him down for good, along with whoever was aiding him...
Alan and his companions drove on along the main street of the deserted village of Kingsclere, its inhabitants all fast asleep and oblivious to their presence, heading towards Nuthanger Farm. Suddenly, Fiver called out, "Look, I see Watership Down!"
Sure enough, as the car cleared the obscuring houses, their short-lived home from the future loomed into view across the plains ahead of them, its outline visible against the starry night sky. Leaving the road, Alan took a turn onto the dirt path leading to the derelict farm on the other side of a stretch of elm trees.
He felt goose-bumps run down his spine as they approached the farm; he hadn't dared approach this place since the deaths of his family. Now that he was finally retracing his steps, he was, ironically, once again accompanied by those he had come to regard as his new family, almost as if tempting fate again. No, he thought in self-reassurance, You’re in control now; nothing is going to happen to your friends. Soon, the familiar old brick farmhouse and its decaying wooden outbuildings, overrun by snow from last night’s blizzard, loomed into view in the car’s headlights up ahead. Like it had been on the day Mary and Lucy had died, the farm was dark and seemingly abandoned...or so Alan hoped.
The car crashed straight through the padlocked wooden gate, coming to a dead stop in front of the old barns. Steam and smoke rose up from the battered bonnet and the engine of the bullet-riddled car finally ground to a halt. The old Fiat had reached the end of the road. Outside, the snow continued to fall, covering up the tyre tracks the car had left behind on the footpath.
Forcing open his battered door, Alan and his companions disembarked. He turned to help his rabbit friends out of the wrecked vehicle, "Anybody hurt?"
"All still in one piece I think," Bigwig said gruffly, as he tried to stand up, only to painfully bang his head against the doorframe. He cursed, “Frith of Inle, do you humans always travel like that…?!"
Reaching inside to retrieve his backpack from the back seat, he suddenly noticed Hazel was trying to revive Hawkbit, who seemed to be unconscious. Alan froze; had the buck taken a bullet passing through the snipers and they hadn’t noticed?
"Hawkbit? Wake up, you duffer! What in Frith's name’s the matter with you?" Hazel continued to nudge Hawkbit, who didn’t respond, his eyes wide open and staring vacantly, as if in one of Silverweed’s trances. Bending over him, expecting an injury, Alan realised Hawkbit was simply in a state of shock from the thrilling ride. With no other solution handy, he did the first thing that came to mind.
Bending over Hawkbit, he whispered in his ear, "Hawkbit, Bigwig is about to beat you black and blue, old chap! How about that?" He had just said the magic words, Hawkbit's greatest fear being an angry Bigwig, instantly snapping the grey buck out of his shock-endured trance.
"WHAT? BIGWIG WHAT IN FRITH'S NAME ARE YOU DOING…?" he screeched, jumping bolt upright, and drawing away from Bigwig, who was merely standing there, smirking in amusement at his fear, but definitely not about to strike him. The others doubled over with laughter, seeing the look on Hawkbit's face. In an instant Hawkbit's shocked expression gave way to irritation, "Well, ha-ha, very funny! Your little prank scared the hraka out of me! Frith above, I’m not riding another hrududu again, even if you made me Chief Rabbit…"
"Well, at least we made it and we’re all safe," said Hazel, cutting off Hawkbit’s ranting about travelling in hrududil, “What now, Alan?”
“First let’s get this four-wheeled hulk of scrap-metal out of sight, before it attracts unwanted attention,” said Alan. Heaving together, they pushed the broken-down Fiat into the nearby barn – coincidentally, the same place where Hazel and his band had found and liberated Clover and the other hutch rabbits in the story of Watership Down. The decoy poachers’ taxidermy lab he and Derek had found on that fateful day was, of course, gone, the police having cleared out everything after the shooting. Alan briefly wondered how Red Hand had gained access to a poacher’s hideout and equipment; perhaps they had killed the real poachers and taken their place for the ambush, to cover their tracks?
After covering the car, the cores still inside it, with some bundles of mouldy old haystacks, hiding it from view, they left the barn, making for the old farmhouse, eager to find some shelter. As they crossed the long-derelict garden, Alan froze. He was standing on the very spot where he and Derek had fought Robbins and his two goons over a year ago - the spot where he had witnessed his own family being murdered. Staring in the direction of the gate, the memory of his wife and daughter being bomb-vaporized in front of his eyes resurfaced and he lowered his head in grief. Fiver, sensing his friend's sadness, gently nudged him in the side.
"Alan, what's wrong?"
"That’s where it happened, Fiver; they were standing right over there," Alan said, pointing to the edge of the footpath, where they had found the remains of Mary and Lucy, "Robbins set his two henchmen upon me and Derek, and killed them in the distraction. It’s because I told them to wait outside that they are dead. If I had only let them come with me, where I could have kept an eye on them, they would still be alive. Oh God, how could I ever have been so bloody careless…?"
Seeing his friend was about to succumb to his old demons, Hazel faced Alan, "Alan, listen to me. No matter how much it hurts, nothing will bring them back now. It was Frith’s will. Let go of the past, Alan. You have us now; and, currently, we need you to get us through this. Can you do that for us?" Finally, Alan slowly raised his head to stare back at his Chief, forcing a smile, "Thanks, Hazel. You really are a true leader."
Forcing open the boarded-up front door, they entered the deserted, pitch-black farmhouse. The room beyond, which Alan recognised as the kitchen, was dark and silent, all the windows boarded up long ago after the last member of the Cane family had passed away and the farm had gone to the town Council. Dust and cobwebs covered every surface, giving the impression of a ghost house. Not exactly a five-star hotel, but at least they’d be safe here for the night...assuming of course nobody else knew of this place. Suddenly, Bigwig called out.
"Buckos, get over here, quick!"
Hurrying over to him, they saw, in a place where none of them had stepped yet, a set of human footprints in the dust, indicating the presence of a previous visitor, quite recently too. Alan felt his blood curdle; did Red Hand have lookouts stationed here too? Were they about to be ambushed again? The rabbits seemed to be thinking somewhere along those lines too as they tensed up, glancing nervously around the dark, cobweb-infested room.
"Is it a trap?" asked Pipkin with a shudder, burying his face into Alan’s trouser leg, as if expecting someone to suddenly spring at them from the shadows for the kill. Alan however, who had made a habit of always glancing at Fiver's sixth sense for signs of imminent danger, knew from the buck's calm demeanour that they weren’t in harm’s way, not for the moment anyway. Staring at the mysterious footprints again, he realised there was something about them that looked oddly familiar to him…
Oxford shoes, size nine with pointed tips, he muttered to himself, carefully examining the footprints, but couldn’t quite make the connection… Suddenly, Hawkbit's voice caught his attention, "Alan, come look at this!"
They all rushed over and saw Hawkbit had found a crumpled cigarette stub lying on the floor in another corner. Alan picked it up and read the familiar crest on the ribbon: "'Bradley & Co, Oxford St, London'…” Then it suddenly clicked in his mind; the only person he knew wore size nine shoes with pointed tips and who smocked Bradley cigarettes…
“No, it can't be him!” he muttered aloud, “But then who else could it be? If the shoe fits, then we’ve found…" But his muttering was cut short by Bigwig, who suddenly hushed them up.
"Quiet!" he hissed in a low voice, "I think I hear someone." They all instantly fell silent. Alan put out his flashlight and drew his guns. They all held their breaths, listening, until they heard it: faint snoring, coming from the room next door. Motioning to the others to stay close, they noiselessly approached the door that led to what was once the lounge of the farmhouse.
Peeping through a crack in the rickety door which stood ajar, they saw a sleeping bag on the floor in front of the extinguished fireplace, with a man lying fast asleep inside it. Beside him lay the same rusted pitchfork Alan had used against Robbins’ henchman a year prior, the sleeping man’s hand clutching it in a firm grip, like a weapon.
In a corner of the room stood an old crate that had been fashioned into a makeshift desk with an overturned bucket serving as a chair. Atop the desk lay a stack of newspapers, a laptop, an open briefcase with some scattered documents, an empty fish-and-chips-takeaway dinner box, a half-full bottle of water and, to his utmost surprise, some of his own research papers and journals, that had gone missing from his apartment.
Shining his flashlight on the sleeping figure, the light fell across the face, revealing a pale, unshaven man with a familiar face that Alan hadn’t seen in over a year. Oh, my God, it is him! Not yet a long-dead, mutilated mummy, but a living and breathing man, if not a bit dishevelled, the would-be creator of the future world, Dr Cole Drake himself lay fast asleep before them.