Inside was a white van, the tall kind with a high back that a man could stand in. There were no business signs on the side, no phone numbers; it didn’t even have registration plates.
A dozen or so safes were stacked against the back wall in a pyramid shape. The doors of the safes were piled on the floor in front of the pyramid. To the right of the safes, there was a long wooden workbench with a chest of drawers nestled underneath each end. Screwdrivers, wrenches, drills and other, larger power tools were scattered across the workbench surface.
“I thought your friend was a decorator.”
Jim pulled the back doors of the van open. Empty, nothing to suggest that a decorator worked from it.
“Looks more like he'’s a fucking safe-cracker.”
“I didn'’t want to say anything in front of those Feds, Mason and that bird,” Travis said. “I ain'’t no grass, mate.”
Jim looked at me and flashed a toothy grin. “He ain'’t no grass, mate,” he mouthed the words silently.
I covered my face with the palm of my hand to disguise my mirth, and shook my head.
Travis rifled through the drawers on the left side of the workbench. When he reached the bottom drawer, he was snorting and muttering to himself.
“Where the fuck is it. Where. It should be here. Shit,” he seemed unhappy with the contents on that side of the bench, and moved across to search the drawers at the other end.
Two drawers down, he pulled out a small travel bag and clutched it to his chest. The kind of bag that my Aunt Elsie always bought me for Christmas; usually full of razors, shaving cream, and a small face towel that never got used.
“What'’s in there?” Jim pointed an accusatory finger at the bag.
Travis stuffed the bag down the front of his jeans.
“Nothing,” he wiped his nose with his sleeve and sniffled.
“It'’s not fucking nothing,” Jim'’s voice grew louder with each word. “It'’s fucking something.”
“Just tell us,” I tried to be the voice of reason. “What is it?”
“No. It'’s nothing. Just leave it,” Travis walked to the side of the van and pulled open the driver'’s side door. He leaned in and dug around under the seat. “Here'’s the keys.”
He held up a bunch of keys attached to a metal disc with a bright yellow smiley face printed on it. Travis threw the smiley face keys to Jim who made no effort to catch them. I watched as the keys arc through the air and land on the floor by his left boot.
“The fucking bag,” Jim aimed the pistol at Travis. “Now, you pikey fuck.”
“What?” Travis shuffled his feet and glanced everywhere except at Jim. “No, come on. Leave me alone, it'’s nothing mate.”
“William,” Jim looked over at me. “Take the bag from him, will you?”
I was curious to see what he was hiding too, so had no problem with invading his personal space. I motioned for him to raise his hands, which he did reluctantly, his eyes closed tight and his face scrunched up like a man who had just agreed to a punch in the face from a heavyweight boxer. I reached in and pulled the leather bag from his jeans.
I placed the bag on the workbench. Jim picked up the bunch of keys and walked over to me.
“Open it, then,” he said.
“It'’s not mine,” Travis said in a high-pitched voice full of nerves and guilt.
I unzipped the small bag and tipped it upside down, shaking the contents out. Two syringes, a blackened spoon, a bright yellow plastic lighter, some buds of cotton wool and a small baggy of brown powder fell from the bag onto the workbench.
“Fucking Junkie,” disgust etched itself into Jim'’s features.
I stared Travis down, the wrath of the gods in my eyes and a volcano burning in my belly. “Does Gemma take this shit?” I held the baggy of brown powder inches from his face.
“No,” he recoiled from the baggy and held his hands up in a prayerful position. “No, I swear. She doesn'’t even know.”
“Fuck it. You'’re not coming back with us,” Jim prodded Travis roughly in the shoulder. “Let'’s go, William.”
“We can'’t just leave him,” I said.
“No, please, please, Jim. I'’ll give it up, I swear down, mate,” Travis dropped to his knees, staring up and hoping to receive Jim'’s mercy. Bubbles of snot exploded from his nose and trailed across his lips.
“He'’s a junkie,” Jim pointed at the pleading, mucus covered Travis with the gun while fixing his gaze on me. “Can'’t be trusted. End of fucking discussion.”
He placed the sole of his boot on Travis'’s chest and pushed. Travis fell back and his head clattered against the wooden bench.
“You really want him around your little girl?”
A big part of me agreed with Jim. I didn'’t want a junkie anywhere near Gemma. He wasn'’t becoming infected, which had been my original concern, he was in the early stages of withdrawal.
“All he cares about is a fucking fix,” Jim kicked Travis in the ribs. I winced as the young man screamed and writhed around in pain. “What have you been using till now?”
Travis spluttered and sniffed, but gave no answer.
“What have you been using?” Jim kicked him again.
“Pills,” Travis said, curling himself up into a ball. “I had some pills. I grabbed them from my kitchen.”
I remembered seeing him stuff two bottles into his pocket, but hadn'’t thought anything of it, assuming it was aspirin or something equally innocent.
“Pathetic junkie,” Jim hawked dramatically and spat on Travis. The glob of phlegm spattered across the snivelling addict'’s red beanie.
I couldn'’t believe that I hadn'’t spotted it sooner. Normally, I’m observant, aware. I understand that people have layers, nobody is exactly as they portray themselves, but this one threw me for a six.
My daughter’s boyfriend was an addict.
“We can'’t just leave him,” I said. “He'’ll only turn up back at the shop. What if we throw the stuff away? He'’ll have to get clean then.”
I was furious. I had almost started to like him.
Jim breathed in deeply and exhaled a long sigh.
“What if he doesn'’t? What if we go to this hospital and he starts looking for drugs? What if he opens the wrong fucking door and kills us all?”
It was a compelling argument.
Travis struggled to his knees and stared up through bloodshot eyes. His face was stained red with tear tracks. He pulled his beanie off and clutched it tightly in his hands.
“I won'’t. Please, I’’ll do anything, I’’ll give it up, please,” his long fingers reached out and tugged at my jeans. “I can'’t make it on my own. I'’ll die.”
I knew that was true. Leaving him to survive alone would be the same as killing him ourselves. Was I really considering this? What gave me the right to become judge, jury and executioner?
“Not our problem,” Jim’’s gruff voice interrupted my thoughts. “Let'’s put him out of his fucking misery.”
He aimed the gun at Travis’’s head.
“No!” I shouted.
Travis scrambled up, using the bench as a support. He then rushed behind me and ducked his head down to the level of my shoulder blades. Jim closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, his jaw muscles bounced and popped along to the beat of his anger.
“Fucks sake, William,” he opened his eyes glared at me. “This pikey sticks his diseased little todger in your under-age daughter, and then sticks himself with drugs and who knows what other nasty shit he gets up to.”
He waved the pistol in a silent gesture that I took to mean, ‘‘step the fuck aside’’.
I couldn'’t let him do it. I wanted to, I really did. I agreed with him one hundred percent.
“Why not, then?” He asked, as though he’d read my thoughts
“I can’’t do it to her. To Gemma. She lost her Mother and her best friend. If she loses him too, she might never come back from that.”
“She’’s young and strong, William,” Jim assured me. “You see ‘Daddy'’s little girl’, I see a survivor.”
“We can’’t kill him just because he’’s an addict.”
We stared at each other for an uncomfortable amount of time. Travis peeked over my right shoulder and then quickly ducked back down.
“Please, please, please,” he whispered into my sweater.
Jim raised his eyebrows and broke eye contact with me to look up at the garage ceiling.
“Fine,” he stuffed the gun into the side pocket of his black overcoat. “But we tell everyone back at the shop exactly what he is.” He shook his fist at me and grimaced. “Everyone.”
“Okay,” with any luck, everyone else would be levelheaded about it. “Thank-you.”
“This isn'’t the end of it, William,” he walked up and grabbed my hand. “That fucker will get his court-martial.”
He slammed the van keys into my palm and growled with frustration. The term '‘court martial'’ had caught me by surprise. Jim must have seen us as a military unit under his command. It definitely felt like we were at war. Was anyone else in our group more qualified to lead us than an ex-special forces hard-as-nails bastard like Jim?
Of course not.
I told Travis to get in the back of the van, which he did with a tear soaked flood of gratitude-laden murmurings.
Most of the main roads had been jammed up with deserted or burned out cars so we had to take detours down side streets.
“Can we at least wait until Dexy is back on his feet?” I swerved to avoid hitting a dead body in the road. “Before we tell everyone about him?”
I looked in the rear view mirror and saw Travis sat with his legs pulled up to his chest and his chin rested on his knees.
“We can wait,” Jim stared straight ahead, eyes narrowed and nostrils flaring. “But I’’ll be watching him like a fucking hawk. One wrong move and-”
“And I’’ll do it myself,” I said.
Jim looked over at me and gave a wry smile. “Do what?”
“I’’ll kill him,” I meant it. As shocked as I was by my own words, I meant it. I' had seen enough of this shitty new world to know that when you spit in the face of a second chance, a third won’t be waiting just around the next corner.
“As you say, William,” Jim relaxed in his seat. “As you say.”
“Anyone got a smoke?” Travis asked. His voice sounded like a wet fart squeezing through a trouser press.
Jim and I both looked behind and shouted “No!” in unison.
When we both faced front, Jim rubbed a hand across his bald head and snickered. The snicker grew in volume until it was a fully-fledged laugh. I joined in with the mirth while the van slogged through streets of blood and death, accompanied by the crippling stench of rot.
We hadn'’t seen any infected, there was no sign of The Chief Inspector either. But I couldn'’t shake a feeling of unease, that feeling of being watched from the shadows that I had as a kid when the lights had been turned off. I kept looking in the rear view mirror waiting for something nightmarish to appear, snatching at us with tentacles and teeth in an ‘‘AHA!’’ moment of dreadful revelation.
It never came. That, or it just hadn'’t decided to show itself yet.
I backed the van up to the shop and Jim glared at Travis.
“Get the fucking doors, then.”
Travis slowly got to his feet and pushed open the double doors at the back of the van. He then returned to hugging his legs and rocking.
Mason lifted the shutters, gave a thumbs-up and vanished back inside. Dodge, Barney and Gemma rushed out and jumped into the back of the van.
“Hi,” Gemma said.
Travis tightened his arms around his legs and burrowed his face between his knees.
“Hey,” I looked back and smiled.
She offered a half-smile back. Better than no smile at all.
“Hi sweetheart,” Jim said.
Mason, Kate and Dexy appeared at the doorway. Kate held Dexy’’s legs and Mason gripped him under the arms. Dodge helped Kate and Mason to hoist Dexy into the van. With the patient safely on board, Kate climbed inside while Mason closed and locked the shutters.
“Ready when you are,” Mason said, slamming the back doors of the van behind him and sitting down on the cold metal floor. “What’’s his problem?” He pointed at Travis.
“No problem,” I said. “He’’s just tired. Right Travis?” I eyed him through the rear view mirror.
Travis shrugged and said something, but it was so muffled by his legs and sleeves that it didn'’t sound like real words.
“Did you have any trouble?” Kate wanted to know.
Jim looked back at her and grinned. “Only that your pretty face wasn'’t with us.”
“Smooth,” she said with a disapproving sigh.
“Always.” Jim said, unfazed.
Dodge clucked his tongue. “That’’s well moist, that is.”
Gemma laughed and Travis rocked like a demented Weeble.
“They’’re always moist for me, Dodgey-boy,” Jim tapped the tip of his nose and then faced front with a smug smile painted across his face.
I wasn'’t too sure what Dodge meant by ‘‘moist’’ but I was absolutely certain that it wasn'’t what Jim thought.
“I need directions,” I actually knew my way to the hospital; I just wanted to dispel the awkwardness that everyone except Jim felt.