“Before we get the van, we need to tell you a few things,” I said.
Mason helped me to explain everything that had happened to us.
Jim sighed, whistled and growled while we talked about the Chief Inspector and her psychotic entourage. Sounds of exasperation and disappointment filled the shop as we recounted the events leading up to losing the bag of guns, ammo and other equipment.
They asked simple questions, the main one being ‘Why? Why didn'’t you grab the guns?’
I had an answer that was just as simple. “Maniac. Big rifle.”
When we told them what had happened in the park, the absence of sound was deafening. They stared at us with disbelief, mouths open like old people in a nursing home.
“It was talking to them?” Jim'’s gruff, booming voice was the first to break through the quiet.
“Yes,” I nodded my head and thrust my hands into the pockets of my jeans. “Like he was their leader.”
“It'’s true,” Mason scratched his head as though he couldn'’t believe it either. “We all saw it.”
Is he trying to convince himself or Jim?
“I just thought that you should all know what'’s out there, before someone volunteers to come and get this van with me and Travis,” I said.
“With you?” Gemma tugged at my arm and glared at me angrily. “Why do you have to go?”
“I'’ll go,” as if there was ever any doubt that Jim would volunteer. “You stay here, get some rest. You'’re a fucking mess.”
“No,” I stamped my foot like a petulant teenager that just got grounded for a month. “You can come if you want, but I am going.”
“Dad, why you?” Gemma tugged at my arm more insistently this time. “You'’ve been through enough.”
Images of summers gone by flitted through my mind'’s eye like a moth bouncing itself against a hot light bulb. When Gemma was a little girl, she always pulled at my arm when the merry tune of the ice-cream van blared through the streets.
“Ninety-nine cone, Daddy,” her face was full of delight, hypnotised by the pied piper of frozen desserts. “Pulleeeeeeeeze.”
She would then give me a big smile that showed off the gaps left by two missing teeth.
Holly claimed that Gemma had me right where she wanted me. She was probably right; Gemma always did get an ice cream.
This wasn'’t about ice cream, this was about my friend.
“I have to,” I put my hands on her shoulders and looked into her eyes. “Dexy would do it for me.”
She didn'’t like it, but I could tell that she understood. She closed her eyes for a moment and nodded her head.
“Be careful, Dad,” after a quick hug, she stepped away from me and I swear she had admiration in her eyes. That, or dirt. “You too,” she gave Travis a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“Have it your way, Billy-boy,” Jim said. “We all ready?”
“Here, take this,” Kate held the gun up, grip first.
Jim moved quickly, lithely stepping closer and took the pistol from her hand, “I'’ll hold onto that.”
“Jim,” I said.
Jim eyed me, eyebrows raised. “What?”
“My name is William.”
“Not this again,” he shook his head. “Fine, William.”
“William,” Dodge got to his feet. “Thanks.”
“We'’ll be back soon,” I said.
I was speaking more to Dodge than anyone else. Seeing his brother like that was clearly tearing him apart.
Jim unlocked the door and pulled the shutter up. He threw the keys to Mason, who caught them expertly.
“Lock up behind us.”
We half walked, half jogged down the streets. The dawn Sun crept over the buildings, camouflaged against a blood-red sky. Long shadows cast ahead of us, and warming rays of sunlight burrowed into my back, soothing my aches and pains. For a little while, at least.
“When we get Dexy fixed up, we should try to get that bag of guns back,” Jim said.
“Yeah,” I knew we would have to go back for them eventually. The sooner we had those weapons, the better. “I think we need to leave the city too. Find somewhere quiet, away from that infected army. Somewhere out in the country.”
“I'’m with you there, Bill-” he stopped himself from saying it. “William, I'’m with you there.”
I smiled. Finally, he used my name without all the bullshit. I was relieved that he wanted to leave London too, the last thing I needed was to butt heads with Jim, he might have been a bastard but I felt safer with him as my bastard.
“Just around here, lads.”
Travis was more out of breath than Jim and I were, he wasn'’t looking too good either. Tiny bursts of colour swam in the beads of sweat that had gathered on his brow. Dark shadows circled his eyes, but that was true of the whole group, we were all exhausted and sleep-deprived. His fingers twitched to a silent beat, drumming across his thighs as he stood and avoided eye contact.
“Behind these houses,” he wiped the back of his hand across his nose and sniffed loudly.
“You alright, Travis?” I was concerned but also cautious.
Questions blasted through my head like a volley of rifles.
Had he caught the virus? Was he about to attack us and rip our throats out?
“What? Oh yeah, yeah, I'’m fine, mate,” he rubbed the tip of his nose with the heel of his hand, a long strand of snot stuck to his hand and stretched out from his nostrils. “Just feeling a bit shit, you know?” The snot glistened in the morning sun before it popped out of his nostril and snapped to his hand like elasticized goo. He wiped it on his sweater, leaving a thick glossy trail across it.
Jim eyed him for long moments before shaking his head.
“The van, then,” Jim said.
Travis led us around the back of a street and down a row of garages. The garages formed a row down our left side and on the right was a long redbrick wall. Graffiti slogans such as '‘Fuk da Feds,'’ and '‘Mickey sucks cock'’ adorned the garage doors. A mural had been painted on the wall that faced the garages. It depicted an army of surveillance cameras, all marching past the houses of parliament on long, spindly legs with the ominous warning, '‘they'’re watching,'’ emblazoned above them.
“Number eight,” Travis rushed ahead of us and started to shout out the garage numbers as he passed them. “Six... Seven... Here we go,” he looked back at Jim and grinned. “Number eight.”
Jim returned the grin with an impatient growl, and Travis quickly turned his attention to the garage. He leaned down and pulled at the handle, the garage door squealed and groaned its way up into its holding area, revealing its innards like a gutted fish.
“Fucking hell,” Jim looked into the garage with wide eyes.