“I could have sworn I saw someone,” King opened his door and stepped onto the road, his heavy boots creaked against the tarmac.
I aimed the gun at his feet and tried to project my thoughts into his mind.
You don'’t want to look under the car. You don'’t need to look under the car.
The Chief Inspector got out of the passenger side of the car and moved beside King.
“This is where we picked them up,” she stepped closer to the Ford, her well-polished shoe within grabbing distance of my hand. “They'’re probably holed up somewhere in the area.”
“Like rats,” King spat the words down at the road. “Nasty little rats.”
I held my breath, worried that it might betray my hiding place.
“Any joy?” P.C. Berry asked from inside the car.
“Is he going to hide in the car every time we stop?”
“He'’s been through a lot, Harry,” The Chief Inspector spoke calmly, trying to soothe her disgruntled colleague. “He'’s scared, we all are.”
“I'’m not scared, Ma'’am,” he moved back to the Police car and sat in the driver’s seat. “They should be scared, not us. I'’m going to kill every rat-bastard one of them.”
“Damn it, Harry,” the Chief Inspector whispered to herself. “I didn'’t want a war.”
They pulled away slowly, and drove down the road. I gasped for air and rolled out from under the Ford. As I sat up, the Police car turned a corner and was out of sight. Mason, Kate and Dexy left their hiding places and crouched down next to me.
“You should have shot him, Bruv.”
Dexy was getting paler, the makeshift bandage sodden with blood. It didn’t look like he was going to last much longer.
He was right, though, I had missed a perfect opportunity to solve our Police problem.
“I'’m sorry,” I hung my head in shame.
Mason reached over and gently tugged the gun from my fingers. “It'’s okay, William,” he tucked the gun into the back of his belt. “Just ignore Rambo over there.”
Kate put her hand on my shoulder, her fingers stroking at the fabric of my sweater and then a quick pat before letting go. I felt like a puppy dog that everyone pitied.
“What'’s in the bag?” Mason tapped a finger against my courier bag.
I clutched it closer to me, like an over protective parent shielding a new-born baby from the wind.
“A diary. I'’m keeping a record of everything that'’s been happening.”
“Now that is a good idea.” I couldn'’t tell if he was being sarcastic or sincere. I opted for sincere.
“Thanks,” I said. “It keeps me sane.”
“Maybe we should all do that. Could be useful,” Mason rubbed his eyes with thumb and forefinger.
“Useful how?” Kate asked.
“Same as taking notes in our line of work,” he patted his pocket, perhaps signifying that he kept a notebook in there. “Separates the bullshit from the facts. It could help us work out what'’s going on here.”
“What'’s going on here,” Dexy'’s voice was raspy, almost breathless. His skin looked like it had been thrown into a bucket of ash; his eyes rolled up into his head. “Is… we'’re fucked,” he wobbled from side to side and then moved from crouching on his haunches to sitting on his backside. “We'’re in Hell, Bruv. For real.”
With that, he lost consciousness and slumped forward, his head flopped between his legs and almost banged into the pavement.
“Dexy!” Kate lifted his head and slapped his cheek, not a full on slap, but hard enough to shock someone from a deep slumber.
It didn'’t work.
“We'’re close to the shop,” Mason said. “We’ll just have to carry him.”
“Are there medical supplies in that shop?” Kate asked.
“I don'’t know, it'’s a shop, so there should be something.”
“He'’s going to need something better than antiseptic wipes and a Peppa Pig plaster,” she said.
How about I pull an ambulance out of my backside and whisk us all off to hospital?
“William, take that side,” Mason leaned down and pulled Dexy to his feet.
I wrapped Dexy'’s good arm across my shoulder and we dragged him down the street.
Kate took the gun from Mason'’s belt and walked a few steps ahead of us.
“Slowly and quietly,” she said.
We reached the shop without incident. No infected, no murderous Police.
My stomach churned with excitement when I saw the welcoming glow of the Singh'’s shop.
“There it is,” I couldn'’t stop myself from smiling. I felt so relieved. I had finally made it back to Gemma.
We shuffled up to the door, exhausted from carrying Dexy. I rattled the metal security shutter.
“Gemma,” no reply.
I rattled it a little louder the second time.
“Jim,” I looked nervously up and down the road. “It'’s me, William.”
Still no reply. I saw shadows moving around inside.
“Oi!” Kate kicked the shutter, the metal clanging and echoing all around us. “We'’ve got your friends here, open the pissing door!”
She kicked the shutter a second time.
“That should do it,” Mason cleared his throat and looked up and down the road nervously.
“Fuck off, lady,” Jim said from behind the door. “Nothing here for you.”
“Jim, it'’s me, William,” my voice cracked with excitement and exhaustion. “Dexy'’s hurt.”
“It'’s Dad!” Gemma shouted.
“Let them in,” Dodge said.
After a loud sigh, Jim'’s silhouette grew through the smoked glass as he moved closer. The lock clicked and the door opened a crack. Jim poked his head around and stared at us with eyes full of suspicion.
“Someone made a right fucking mess of you, Billy boy,” he shifted his attention from my wounds to Mason and then Kate. “Who are they?”
“Phil Mason and Kate Palmer,” I told him. “They helped us.”
“Your friend is hurt,” Mason said.
“Jim!” Gemma shouted in the background. “Let them in!”
Jim pulled the door fully open and unlocked the main shutter. Mason and I cringed as the metal squealed on its way up. The light inside the shop spilled out into the street, bathing us in its sickly yellow glow.
We were a sorry sight, covered in blood and filth. My face must have resembled Frankenstein'’s monster, and Dexy looked like a corpse.
“Fucking hell, mate,” Travis stepped out from the toiletries aisle. His jaw almost hit the floor as he stared at us with disbelief.
Jim stepped to one side, flourishing his arm and bowing slightly as an invitation for us to enter. We trudged through the doorway, dragging Dexy with us. Once we were all in, Jim pulled the shutter down, locked it and then closed the door.
“I see you got something nice for me,” Jim nodded his head towards Kate and grinned.
Kate didn'’t skip a beat. She jammed the barrel of the gun up against the soft flesh of Jim'’s throat. “I am so pissed off right now and I'’ve got a gun,” an atmosphere thicker than treacle glooped its way around them. “Maybe you want to reword that?”
Jim held his hands up and backed away.
“I didn'’t mean any harm, by it love,” he said. “Just having a laugh.”
Mason and I laid Dexy carefully on the floor. Dodge ran up and knelt beside his unconscious brother.
“What happened?” He looked up at us, eyes swimming with tears.
Barney the spaniel sat beside Dodge and nudged his arm.
“He'’s going to be fine,” I hoped that I was telling him the truth.
“Kate,” Mason said. “Come help this little boy'’s brother.”
Kate gave Jim one final glare full of daggers before rushing over and kneeling beside Dodge.
“Find me anything that looks medical,” she unwrapped the makeshift bandage from Dexy'’s arm. “Bandages, creams, scissors, anything.”
“You two,” Jim pointed at Kate first, and then at Mason. “You were with the Police that fucking stopped us.”
“And now we'’re not,” Mason moved quickly across to Jim. “Is that going to be a problem?”
The two of them stood face to face. Mason was a little shorter than Jim and although he wasn'’t as thickset, he looked a lot faster and leaner. I wouldn'’t want to bet against either of them in a fight.
“Or can we save your friend'’s life?” He pointed at Dexy, but his gaze remained locked onto Jim'.
“I swear to God, I will shoot both of you right now,” Kate aimed the gun at Mason and Jim. “Enough of this shit. We'’re here to help, so you can accept that or get out of our way.”
Mason smiled at Jim and backed away, watching for any sudden moves. Jim did the same, except he had an ‘I was just fucking with you,’ look written across his face.
“Medical supplies!” Kate shouted.
Everyone snapped to attention and rushed around the shop, checking the shelves for anything that looked useful. Within minutes, Kate was surrounded with vodka, bandages and sterile pads, hair brushes, needle and thread kits, scissors, bottles of bleach, cough medicine, a dozen boxes of aspirin, and most confusing of all, a loaf of bread and a box of corn flakes.
Kate set to work, cleaning the wound with vodka and sterile pads.
I looked across at Gemma. Travis stood beside her, his arm draped across her shoulder. I walked over to them, my heart thumping against my ribs so loudly that the sound filled my head.
I needed her to forgive me, even though I didn'’t deserve it. I wanted her to understand why I did that to her Mother, to my beautiful Holly, my grotesque Holly monster.
“I'’m sorry,” the words sounded empty, hollow. I hated myself for using them.
You write for a living and this is the best you can do?
She looked down at her feet.
“He'’s your Dad, Gem,” Travis whispered in her ear. “You only get one.”
She looked up at me, tears streaming from her eyes. I moved closer, my heart was breaking with each tear that rolled down her cheeks. Travis stepped back and I reached out my arms. Her body heaved with sobs, but she moved closer to me. I pulled her towards me and held her in my arms.
“You killed her, Dad,” her words muffled against my chest.
“She was already gone,” I shook my head and my own tears began to fall. “It wasn'’t Mum.”
“I know,” she wrapped her arms around me and her sobbing slowed. “It'’s just not fair.”
“No,” I said. “It'’s not.”
“I hate to break up this touching reunion,” Kate' said. “But we need to get to a hospital. He needs stitches and if I do them with this,” she threw the needle and thread kit onto the floor. “He' might catch something nasty.”
“Closest one is at least five miles away,” Jim said. “Do you have a car?”
“We crashed it,” Mason said.
“Maybe we can catch a fucking bus,” Jim pointed to the clock above the shop door. “Should be one here any minute now.”
“That'’s not helping!” Mason yelled.
“I know where there'’s a van,” Travis said. “It'’s my mates, he'’s a decorator. Never locks it and hides the keys under the seat.”
“Sounds perfect,” Mason eyed Travis. “Where is it?”
“He keeps it in a garage down the back of Market Street, mate.”
“That'’s a five-minute walk from here,” Mason said. “Should be easy enough.”
Every one of us looked as though we hadn'’t slept in days. Our shoulders were slumped, our eyes bloodshot and tired. My face was full of lumps and bruises. Dexy was out of action. Jim and Mason were acting like school bullies arguing over who gets which side of the playground. Three vengeful Police officers were driving around searching for us, and an infected Hoodie was raising an army of sick savages.
Yeah. Should be easy enough.