Everyone was there to watch the '‘bad people'’ being cast out of the hospital sanctuary. A sea of faces looked up at us while we slowly made our way down the steps. The mob of survivors had lined up on one side of the hall.
The elderly group that had been sat at the café when we first arrived made up most of the front row, eager to get a good view of the drama. Milling around behind them were the teenagers and the remaining adults, most of whom seemed uncomfortable with the whole situation. The younger children were sat in front of the television on the back wall and some even stared up at it, silently willing it to magically turn on.
There were mutterings and grumbles but nobody said anything legible, preferring instead to give their opinions in hushed voices, safe in the anonymity of a crowd. I forced myself to look into the eyes of everyone that I passed. Some stared back at me with smug grins on their faces but most couldn'’t return my gaze, and quickly looked away.
Jim had given us strict instructions not to speak to anyone. He didn'’t want the already volatile situation to turn into something worse. He didn'’t want to see any of us get hurt.
We were halfway to the main door when a voice rang out behind us.
“Yeah, go on,” It was Travis. “Get out, dick heads!”
Gemma reacted before any of us had even turned around. She pushed her way past several people until she was face to face with her ex-boyfriend.
“What did you say?” She asked, barely able to keep herself from screaming at him. “Say it to my face!” She pushed at his chest with both hands, driving him back into the throng of people gathered behind him. “Muppet.”
“Gemma, he'’s not worth it,” I headed towards my daughter, hoping to pacify the situation. “Let'’s just leave.”
Gemma placed her hand on his shoulder and spat in his face. “Liar.”
I held my hand out to her and as she walked away, he wiped the glob of spit from his face and foolishly decided that he was going to have the last word.
“You better walk away,” he paused to grin. “Stupid little schoolgirl.”
The last words were unwise, to say the least.
Without any hesitation, Gemma whirled around and used all her weight and momentum to punch him square in the face. Blood exploded from his nose and spattered across the people beside him as he fell to the floor like a freshly swatted fly. She kicked her now-unconscious ex-boyfriend in the groin. I grabbed her shoulders and frogmarched her back towards our friends.
“You'’ve proved your point,” I wasn'’t sure if I should feel proud of her or angry at her. I went with pride.
The people standing around Travis were too stunned to take any action, they looked as surprised as I was to see a young girl throw such a hard hitting punch. Kate and Jim looked just as shocked as the hospital mob, but Dexy and Dodge were laughing and snapping their fingers in celebration.
“Nice,” Dexy patted Gemma on the back as we walked by.
Jim ushered us in behind him and we all carried on towards the exit. “That was fucking stupid, Gemma.”
Gemma hung her head and stared at her feet as she walked. “Sorry, Mister Croft. He did deserve it though.”
“He did,” Jim agreed with a crafty smile. “Nice fucking punch.”
Gemma raised her head and smiled. “Thanks.”
“You see?” Sean yelled, his arms raised above his head. “They'’re animals!”
A few shouted out in agreement but most kept quiet. Maybe they were thinking that if the young girl can do that to someone, what could the rest of us do?
“Don'’t bite,” Kate said quietly. “Ignore him.”
“Nah, fuck that,” Dexy said. “You calling us animals but none of you were there when we buried Gavin. At least we gave a fuck.”
“Shut it, Dexy,” Jim said through clenched teeth, his moustache twitched angrily.
“He was their boy, Jim,” Dexy eyed the crowd with disdain. “You’re the animals, all we done was try to help, and you didn’t do nothing. If I was Don I’d be well fucked off with the lot of you. Come on then you jokers, who’s got something to say now?”
Jim was worried; he constantly scanned the crowd for any sudden movements. His fingers were firmly wrapped around the grip of the pistol that nestled in his belt.
We reached Sean without further incident. I seethed at the thought of what these people were doing to us. We had worked hard to turn the hospital into a safer place and Mason had lost his life protecting those ungrateful bastards. I just didn'’t understand why we were being kicked out, if nobody had been there to lock the gates when the infected attacked, a lot more people would have died.
Jim walked past Sean without as much as a sideways glance. I expected him to make a scene, to fight against the injustice of their decision, but he did exactly what he’d told us to do- he kept quiet.
“Key,” Kate held her hand out and glared at Sean. She then cocked her head to one side and offered a fake smile. “Please.”
Sean held Kate'’s gaze for a few seconds before digging into his back pocket and pulling out the minibus key.
“Take it,” he dropped the key into her upturned palm. “We'’re not going anywhere.”
“You hope,” Dexy said as we filed past.
Jim pulled the glass door open and looked at us. “All set?”
We nodded and headed out, I was the first to exit. Jim grabbed my arm as soon as I had set foot outside, yanked me back into the hospital and slammed the door closed.
“You agreed to leave!” Sean wasted no time getting in Jim'’s face. “Get out!”
Jim put his huge hand behind Sean'’s head and slammed him into the glass door.
“You see that?” He ignored Sean'’s yelp, held him firm to the glass and pointed at the car park.
“Someone'’s coming,” Don stood behind us and peered through the bedframe barrier that we had stacked outside the windows.
A man weaved his way through the cars and headed straight for the hospital. He wore a black jacket and trousers with a white shirt. In one hand he held what looked like a sniper rifle, and a long brown leather bag in the other.
“Is that...?” Kate craned her neck, trying to get a better look at the man.
“Sergeant Harry King,” I recognised the bag first. That was our bag.
“The fed that beat you up?” Dodge asked. “You sure it'’s him?”
Dexy stood beside me. “Yeah, that’s deffo him.”
“What'’s he running from?” Gemma asked.
The question caused a ripple of panic through the hospital survivors. They moved back slowly, suddenly forgetful of the anger and mob bravery that they had shown us.
“I don'’t want to know,” Kate looked across to Jim. “What do you want to do?”
King was past the last of the cars and we could see his features clearly, leaving no doubt that it was him. He kept looking over his shoulder and then, when he noticed all the people inside the hospital, he stopped and waved the rifle above his head.
Jim released his grip on Sean. “Is that the fucking bag you left behind, William?”
“Yes,” I said.
Jim waved back with both arms.
Satisfied that the hospital wasn'’t full of infected, King started running again.
“Don'’t forget what we agreed,” Jim looked at me.
“What are you going to do?”
“I'’m going to let him in, and you'’re going to be okay with that.”
I rested my forehead on the glass and my reflection stared back at me. The bruises weren'’t as bad now, but they still caused me some pain. I wasn'’t ready to forgive Harry King but I was ready to trust Jim. When he had made us promise to stick together, I knew that also meant standing by any tough decisions he made, even when we didn'’t like them.
“Okay,” I said.
“Dad?” Gemma put her arm around me. “You alright?”
“You should just shoot him,” Dexy said through gritted teeth. “After what he' did.”
“The enemy of my enemy,” Jim pulled the door open and stepped outside. He pulled his gun out and aimed at the new arrival.
“You think we'’re bad people?” I tapped my index finger on the glass and stared at Sean. “Wait till you meet Harry King.”
King stopped a few feet away from the door. “Don'’t shoot,” he placed the bag on the ground and held the rifle by its barrel, “I don'’t want trouble, just a safe place. I'’m a Police officer.”
There he was. Harry King with his flat nose and scarred face.
I hoped that he would do or say something so stupid that Jim was forced to shoot him.
“Have you been bitten or scratched?” Jim paid no attention to King'’s reassurances.
“What?” King looked over his shoulder and then back at Jim. “No. Just let me in, will you?”
“What are you running from?”
The hospital survivors moved forward to get a better view.
“Those psychos,” he pointed back in the direction he had come from. Thankfully, there were no infected to be seen. “They got the people I was with, but I think I lost them.”
“The only psycho I can see is him,” I said quietly. “At least we don'’t have to worry about the other two.”
“Truth,” Dexy nodded his head emphatically.
“Why did you come here?” Jim continued his interrogation.
“Saw the lights last night,” King scratched his head and gave Jim a questioning look. “Do I know you, Sunshine?”
“Don'’t fucking '‘sunshine'’ me, answer my questions or fuck off.”
“Not a problem,” King raised his free hand. “Fire away,” he paused for a moment and grinned at his own poor choice of words. “Questions, not bullets.”
“What'’s in the bag?”
“Weapons,” he gave a sly smile. “I can share.”
“Put the rifle on the bag.”
“So you can shoot me and take them all for yourself?”
“If I was going to shoot you, you'’d be dead,” Jim tipped his pistol toward the ground. “Now put the rifle on the fucking bag.”
“Okay,” he held his free hand up in a '‘halt'’ gesture. “You'’re the boss.”
King slowly laid the rifle down on the top of the bag.
“Strip to your underwear.”
I stifled a laugh. King'’s view of us was obstructed by the bed frames, so he hadn'’t been able to see who was watching him from inside the hospital, and I didn'’t want to get his attention by laughing out loud.
“You know there'’s a chance that those psychos are on their way, right?” King looked back nervously. “Can'’t we do this inside?”
“Just fucking strip and show me your lovely uninfected body,” Jim tightened his grip on the pistol.
King sighed and took off his jacket, folded and laid it carefully on top of the bag before unbuttoning his shirt. “Whatever floats your boat.”
Each item of clothing was folded and placed on the bag until he stood there in his paisley pattern boxer shorts.
He turned around to show that he had been telling the truth, there were no bite marks or scratches to be seen.
“You’re clear, put your clothes back on before I get jealous,” Jim stepped aside and waited.
King didn'’t waste time getting dressed, he hadn'’t buttoned his shirt before he was shrugging into his leather jacket.
“What about-” He looked down at the bag.
“Leave it.” Jim told him.
King walked past Jim and through the door opening, buttoning his shirt as he went. Jim rushed over to the bag. He picked up the rifle, checked the chamber and slung the strap over his shoulder. Then he looked down at the bag, smiled and picked it up. I remembered how heavy that bag was, but he carried it effortlessly.
Kate was the first person that King noticed when he came into the hospital.
“Detective Constable Palmer,” he tipped a non-existent hat. “Fancy seeing you here.”
Kate'’s nose wrinkled as though she had just been exposed to a terrible stench, “piss off, Harry.”
King looked over at Dexy, then at me. He wagged his index finger in my direction and smiled. “I misjudged you, Sunshine.”
“That'’s right,” I gritted my teeth so hard that they were close to becoming cracked and splintered. “You did.”
We were too busy concentrating on King to see the first of them scramble over the fence. It wasn'’t until there were ten of them racing across the car park that someone noticed.
“Oh God! They'’re back!” Sean cried.
My mouth gaped and my eyes widened with shock and fear when I saw them. A swarm of infected effortlessly scaled the fence and hit the ground running, growling and snapping, eager to rend flesh from bone.
“Jim!” I pounded my fists on the glass. “Jim, get inside!”