I wanted to tell him to mind his own business.
My car, my rules. Don'’t like it? Then get out and walk.
I opened my mouth to say something, but Jim beat me to it.
“Where'’d you get the gun from, son?” He asked, looking back at Dexy.
“That'’d be telling, Bruv,” Dexy said.
It was the wrong answer; anyone who had met Jim for more than three seconds could have told Dexy that it was the wrong answer.
“Well then,” Jim sighed and aimed the gun, levelling it with Dexy'’s face. “How about you start telling?”
From a personal perspective, I was grateful that attention had shifted from Holly to guns. I hadn'’t wanted to explain it all to them, and frankly, I shouldn'’t have to.
“You gonna shoot me, Granddad?”
“Listen to me, you fucking hooligan,” Jim spoke in a slow, deliberate tone. “You might not have noticed, but it'’s absolutely fucked out there”
“Yeah, so what?”
Jim puffed out an exaggerated groan and looked across at me. “William,” he said. “Please tell me that you know where I'’m going with this?”
Of course I knew. I can'’t imagine that any of us didn'’t know, even Barney knew.
“We need guns and ammo?” I said.
Jim nodded. “As you say, we need more guns and ammo,” he shook the gun with each word. “And you, Dexy,” he looked back at the hoodie. “You know where to get them from.”
“Well… yeah, but I can'’t just take strangers round there,” Dexy said. “He'’s gonna want cash for them, too.”
“I'’m thinking that under this very fucking special set of circumstances,” blood rushed into Jim’’s face as he got more exasperated. “Your gun dealer might let the stranger thing slide. As for cash, you let the grown-ups worry about that.”
I stopped the car.
“We'’re here,” I said.
“Yeah, mate, yeah,” Travis sat up and looked out at the shop. “This is Becky'’s dad'’s shop.”
It was a normal looking mini-mart, but all the metal shutters were down. I could see lights through the smoked glass windows behind the shutters.
“Looks like someone’’s home,” I said, looking at Jim.
“Yeah, Bruv,” Dexy agreed. “Her dad never leaves the place. I swear he works twenty four seven.”
“Deffo,” Travis nodded. “He'’s Indian. Works like fuck, he does.”
“Her mum'’s English though, and she'’s a right lazy cow!” Dexy told us.
The three boys started laughing. The rest of the street seemed quiet. I couldn'’t see any infected roaming around.
“Right, children,” Jim said. “Let'’s go,” he opened his door and looked back at Dexy. “I'’m going to want that address later.”
“Yeah, Bruv. I know.”
Everyone got out of the Ford and moved towards the shop. Dodge carried Barney in his arms.
“Oh yes,” Jim said. “That'’s William'’s wife in the back of the fucking car.”
“What?” Travis’’s mouth gaped with disbelief.
“She'’s infected and he’’s hoping they find a cure,” Jim said. “If you don'’t like it then don'’t get back in the fucking car,” he looked at me and smiled, teeth briefly flashing behind his thick moustache.
It felt like he was starting to take my side. Or was I starting to take his?
I rattled the shutter that covered the shop door.
“Mister Singh,” Travis tapped quietly against the shutters.
We waited for what seemed like an eternity, and nervously looked up and down the road, checking for signs of movement.
“We'’re closed,” a voice inside, said.
“Mister Singh, it’’s me, Travis,” he turned and smiled at us with a glint in his tired eyes that said, ‘‘I’’ve got this.’’
“Travis?” Another voice asked. A girl'’s voice. Gemma'’s voice.
The door opened behind the shutter and Gemma stood there. Finally, I had found my little girl. “Oh my God!” She shrieked with joy. “Dad!” She looked over at Jim, “Jim!”
“That'’s Mister Croft, to you.”
“Can we come in?” I asked, barely able to contain my relief and happiness.
“Oh, yeah, yeah,” she looked at Mister Singh who stood quietly behind her. “Can they?” She asked with a pleading smile.
Mister Singh unbolted the shutter and lifted it up; we flinched at the loud squeal of metal and checked up and down the road. It seemed safe enough though.
After we filed into the shop, he pulled the shutter back down, and then closed and locked the door.
Gemma’’s bright blue eyes widened with joy and she threw herself into my arms. The strawberry scent of her beehive-styled blonde hair filled my senses and I pulled her closer, not wanting to let go ever again.
“I tried calling,” I told her.
“My battery ran out,” she said, “phone'’s on charge in the kitchen.”
She pulled free of the hug and looked around.
That was another question that I didn'’t want to answer.
Jim and Travis helped me to explain what had happened. She was upset, but my keeping Holly close, rather than abandoning her, was at least some consolation to Gemma. Mister Singh and his wife brought us some blankets and pillows when it started to get dark outside.
“You can sleep on the shop floor,” Mister Singh said. “But don'’t help yourself to my stock.”
“Of course not,” I said. “Thank-you.”
“You need to be leaving in the morning,” he handed Gemma her phone.
“Cheers, Mister S,” Gemma said, visibly happy to get it back.
“Why do we have to leave tomorrow?” Jim asked.
“Because we don'’t want you here,” Mister Singh entered the house part of his shop and locked the door behind him. The shop lights turned off, leaving us illuminated by the streetlight just outside the massive front window.
“Well he'’s full of social fucking pleasantries, isn'’t he?”
“At least he'’s letting us stay the night,” I said, hoping that Jim wouldn'’t get too wound up about our host.
He grumbled in response and took a blanket from the pile. We decided that we would all stay in the central aisle - biscuits and cereals. Gemma and Travis snuggled up under a blanket and whispered into each other’s ears. Dodge sat up, cuddling Barney.
“Looks like you made a friend,” I said.
“Yeah,” Dodge smiled. “What'’s his name?”
“Barney,” I told him. “We found him on our way to your flats.”
“Nice,” Dodge said, nodding with approval.
“Gemma, where'’s Becky?” Dexy asked.
“Why, do you fancy her?” Gemma laughed.
“She wasn'’t feeling too good so went up to bed,” Gemma then looked over at me. “Dad? You should check this out,” she passed me her phone.
A video was loaded up. I jabbed my finger at the touch screen.
It was Jo, the newsreader.
“This is Jo Pearce for the BBC,” she was sitting in a brown leather armchair situated in a bare, white room. “I have with me Mister Timothy Mills, who is the...”
The camera panned out to reveal a well-dressed, grey haired man sitting across from Jo in a matching armchair. “I'’m the spokesman for the National Health Service,” he said.
“Right,” Jo said. “Well I'’m sure that our viewers have got lots of questions, but the main one has to be,” she looked across to Timothy and her smile dropped a shade. “What is going on?”
“We really don'’t know,” Timothy said. “What we do know, is that this disease has spread through the capital faster than anything we’’ve ever seen.”
“Disease?” Jo repeated. “Can you tell us how to avoid infection?”
“We think that it'’s passed on by an infected bite, but we'’re not really certain,” he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “It is highly contagious, though.”
“We heard rumours that this disease is bringing the dead back to life,” Jo leaned forward like a jackal sensing that its prey was weakened. “Is there any truth to that?”
“No,” a nervous wipe of the brow. “The infected are not the living dead.”
Everyone was crowded around me, keenly watching the interview unfold on the small screen.
Jo was obviously unsatisfied with the answers that Timothy was giving her and did little to hide her disappointment. “Perhaps you should just tell us what you know for certain?” She asked, her tone full of caustic bite.
“Well,” Timothy straightened his tie. I felt bad for him. “People should avoid all contact with the infected. If you are attacked, the army have advised that the quickest way to defend against an infected person is to destroy the brain. They don’’t feel pain in the same way as us. Enough physical trauma will stop them, but destroying the brain is immediate.”
Jo'’s eyes widened with shock, “what?”
“You want us to smash in the brains of our loved ones?”
“Fuck,” Dexy pulled down his hood and ran a hand across his buzz-cut hair.
“No, no!” Timothy held his hands up, palms facing Jo. “We want people to avoid contact until we know exactly what is causing the infection.”
“Failing that, take a shovel to their heads?” Jo asked.
“Look,” Timothy was angry. “The infected are like wild animals. They attack with the intention of eating their victims. Do not treat them as people, family or anything other than a threat to your general well-being,” he wagged his index finger in Jo'’s direction. “They hunt alone and in packs and are extremely dangerous.”
“Yes but,” Jo tried to interrupt, no doubt with more sarcastic bait.
“There is no ‘‘but’’, Jo,” Timothy lowered his tone. “The armed forces are fighting them in central London and the armed forces are losing, Jo. Do you understand that?”
Before Jo had a chance to answer, Timothy had pulled the microphone out of his suit jacket and was storming across the studio. “Stupid bitch,” was the last thing he said before the feed went dead.
“Well then,” Jim said. “Let'’s go see your man about some guns in the morning, Dexy.”
“Fucking right, Bruv,” Dexy agreed. He grabbed a pack of bourbon creams from the shelf behind him, opened it and munched on the biscuits.
“Not family,” my words were barely audible.
“What, Dad?” Gemma asked.
“He said they'’re not family anymore,” I spoke a little louder. Jim put his massive hand on my shoulder.
“Yeah but they don'’t know anything for sure,” Gemma tried to sound hopeful.
I shook my head, “they'’re not even people.”