“Does anyone have any objections?” Jim looked at the crowd that had formed a circle around us in the main hall. “Or questions?”
A man stepped forward; he looked to be in his early thirties.
“Yeah, I'’ve got a question,” he scratched his thick black stubble and eyed Jim with the kind of look a man gives another man just before he punches him in the face.
A slim, blonde haired woman wearing black leggings and a tight grey sweater grabbed his elbow and tried to pull him back.
“Leave it, Hun. Just leave it,” the man shot her an angry look and pulled his arm free of her grip.
“It'’s fine, sweetheart, let him ask his question,” Jim stepped forward and puffed his massive chest out. He towered above the man; he towered above most of us. “What'’s your name?”
“None of your fucking business, mate,” the man inclined his head in the direction of the woman who had grabbed his arm. “And she'’s not your fucking sweetheart, got it?”
Jim held his hands up and smiled. “As you say, Mister none-of-my-fucking-business.”
I glanced at Mason and then at Kate. They both looked as worried as I was. Jim was about to explode; he didn'’t like being confronted.
Dexy had his bad arm in a clean sling and his other arm was draped around Gemma'’s shoulder, helping him to keep steady. Travis stared at the floor and furiously chewed on his fingernails until they were bloody. Dodge was sitting on the floor with Barney, both looking bored.
“Just ask the question, Bruv,” Dexy shouted. “Stop trying to look like a big man.”
“You can'’t talk to me like that!” The man'’s face twisted angrily and he tried to get closer to Dexy but Jim’s huge frame blocked him.
“I'’m about to lose my gentle, caring side,” Jim used his middle finger to prod the man in the chest. “Either ask your question, or fuck off.”
“Fine. I will,” the man sized Jim up and seemed to think better of starting a fight. He took a couple of steps back until he was safely out of reach. “You lot have only just got here and you think you can take over. Telling us we have to do this, that, and the other, like you'’re the boss,” some of the people behind him made noises of agreement.
This man had a chip the size of Buckingham Palace on his shoulder.
“Finished?” Jim asked.
The man grunted and scratched at his stubble.
“All we want to do is make this a safer place for everyone,” Jim paced the small space that the hospital survivors had left around us. “I know how to do that. It doesn'’t make me the boss, it just means that if you listen to me, we'’ll get the job done quickly and properly.”
“Do it your bloody self then,” a voice shouted from the anonymous safety of the mob.
Jim stopped and rubbed a hand across his bald head. Mason moved away from Kate to stand beside him.
“Look, if you don'’t want to help, then go and sit down,” Mason said. “If you do want to help, come and see Jim for a job to do. Either way, this needs to be done.”
“Thank-you,” Jim said in an exasperated tone.
The man with the chip on his shoulder piped up again. “We haven'’t had any trouble since that car came with one of those crazies in it. We'’re fine, thanks.”
Doctor Webb and Gavin pushed their way through the crowd. Gavin wheeled a large toolbox behind him.
“They'’re trying to help us, Sean,” Doctor Webb said to Mister none-of-your-fucking-business. “We should be thanking them.”
That caused a massive divide. Some of the survivors started shouting obscenities, while others seemed to be in agreement with the Doctor.
“Fuck this,” Jim pointed at Gavin. “Come with me.”
We all bustled past the arguing crowd and out of the hospital entrance. I grabbed Travis by the hand and pulled him along behind me.
Jim took a huge breath of air and slowly exhaled. “You must be the caretaker?”
“Gavin,” he looked back into the hospital. “Don will be coming to help, and a few others.”
“What the fuck is wrong with them?” Jim stood beside Gavin and the two of them stared in at the angry mob.
“Been like this for a few days now,” Gavin sniffed and wiped his sweaty hands across his shirt. “They just want to do their own thing. You'’re the first one that'’s asked them to work together.”
“Welcome to Britain, where nobody knows, or gives a shit about the people living on the same street.” Mason said.
“Pretty much,” Gavin pointed into the hospital. “Here comes Don.”
Don walked out with Walter following close behind.
“Hello again,” Don waved at us and gave an apologetic smile.
“Hi, Don. Good to see you again,” Gemma said with a smile. “Is this all of us, then?”
“Oh no, no,” he said. “They'’ll be here soon.”
“Does the hospital have that fencing all the way around?” Jim pointed across at the cast iron fence on the other side of the car park. Each fence pole curved at the top to make a spike that faced outwards.
“Oh yes. All the way.”
“Five of them,” Gavin pulled a bunch of keys from his pocket and dangled them in front of his face. “Got the keys right here.”
Jim crouched down and opened up the toolbox. “Very nice,” he moved his fingers across the wide selection of tools until finally pulling out a long screwdriver. “Take this. In case you see any of those things,” he handed the screwdriver to Mason. “Go with Gavin and get all the gates closed and locked.”
“Aye, aye, skipper,” Mason took the screwdriver and walked off with Gavin.
More people started filtering out of the hospital, including the teenagers I'’d seen when we first arrived, one of which had given me the finger. It wasn'’t long until more than fifteen people had turned out to help, and more were still coming.
I walked over to Dodge and smiled at him. “Hey,” I said, ignoring the suspicious look he was giving me. “You got a second?”
“What’s up, Bruv?” Dexy asked.
“Nothing, I just wanted a quick word with Dodge.”
Dodge shrugged. “You better not be up to any funny business,” he said with a grin.
We both walked around the corner and I rifled through my courier bag. “I’ve got something I thought you might like,” I pulled the book I had found earlier. “Here,” I held it out to him.
“What’s that?” He eyed the book as though he had never seen one before.
“Oh, well I don’t know if anyone told you, but I write books. Well, I used to write books before all this started.”
“Yeah, so?” He was determined to keep up the tough exterior, although I swear I saw the flicker of a smile behind those impassive eyes.
“So I found this earlier, it’s the first book I wrote,” I waved the book at him a little more insistently. “I thought you might like to give it a try. I signed it.”
He reached out and took the book from me. “If it makes you feel better. It’s probably boring though.”
“It probably is,” I started back towards the others. “Let me know what you think.”
Just before I walked around the corner I took a quick look back at Dodge. He had the cover open and was reading what I’d written inside.
“For Dodge, a real Knight Pleasant. William Daniels”
He was grinning from ear to ear.
I got back to the main group just as Jim had finished giving out his orders.
“Right then,” Jim clapped his hands together with glee. “Let'’s get to fucking work.”
Everyone that came to help were soon busy. Dodge, Kate and Travis were checking all the vehicles in the car park for anything useful. A large group consisting of the teenagers and some adults were dragging bed frames out of the hospital and fixing them together with wire, bolts, screws or anything else that they could find. Jim told us that the bed frames were to be placed in front of the entrance windows with the legs facing outwards.
“You three,” Jim motioned a hand towards Gemma, Dexy and myself. “Come with me.” He grabbed a variety of tools and handed them to us. I got some wire cutters and a claw hammer, Dexy was given a flat head screwdriver and Gemma wielded a massive spanner.
We walked around the corner, Gemma and Dexy kept slightly behind Jim and myself. I put the claw hammer in my back pocket. The trousers that I now wore were a little tight around the waist but they were the best fit I could find. It was nice not to stink like a sauna stacked with sweat marinated rotting meat.
Dexy had found himself a grey hoodie and dark jeans from the donated clothes.
“I can'’t do no heavy lifting, Bruv,” he winced for effect as he touched his injured arm.
“You won'’t have to, Dexy,” Jim looked back at Dexy and smiled. “We'’re going to take a walk around the grounds to make sure the fences are secure.”
“What if they'’re not?” Dexy asked.
“Then we ask Gavin for materials and we get it fixed.”
“Someone else will be doing the fixing though, yeah?”
“Yes, Dexy,” Jim shook his head and sighed. “Someone else will do it.”
“Safe, Bruv,” Dexy nodded enthusiastically. “I aint scared of working, but my arm got proper boyed by that fed.”
“Sure it did,” Gemma playfully punched Dexy in the back and smiled.
Dexy stepped away from her and laughed. “What?” He asked, feigning shock. “It'’s true, it really hurts.”
Gemma hadn'’t been happy with the charity clothes. She was used to wearing trendy fashion, not second hand clothes. After much deliberation, she dressed in a pair of tight denim jeans and a plain white tee-shirt over which she wore a thin green cardigan. Her blonde hair wasn'’t in its usual beehive style, but was tied back in a simple ponytail.
“Aww, poor you,” another playful tap and a giggle.
“Ow!” Dexy used his good arm to put Gemma in a headlock. “Say sorry!”
She struggled free and they both laughed hysterically.
“Children!” Jim whirled around and glared at Dexy and Gemma. “This isn'’t a fucking school trip, our lives are on the line here, so grow the fuck up.”
“We was just messing about, Jim,” Dexy said.
“Well, don'’t,” Jim turned and carried on walking.
I glanced over my shoulder to see Gemma pulling a face and wagging a finger behind Jim'’s back. Dexy was fighting the urge to laugh.
Jim might have had a point, but it was good to hear laughter, especially after the atrocities that Doctor Webb had shown me. I had decided not to tell anyone about that, we had enough on our plates, and I didn'’t want to complicate matters by showing them a sight that could have come straight from World War Two. That wouldn'’t have helped anyone. It felt better to just to keep it secret.
I stared at the wire cutters in my hand and had a flash of inspiration. Everyone had walked a few paces past me before they noticed that I’d stopped in my tracks.
“William?” Jim said.
“I know what we can use to secure any gaps,” so much for keeping secrets.