‘Do you have a car?’
Giles’ voice was hurried but her mind was still carefully sorting through her options. It was a loaded question; she knew that already – Barker had already been thoroughly searched earlier on in the day. When Giles had asked the same question to Harris, he took great delight in going through Barker’s possessions – picking apart each item as though it provided some window into the politician’s soul:
’Let me see,’ Harris had said, reaching across the forensics table and picking up a blue, plastic crate that contained Barker’s possessions. ‘He have his wallet – all the usual stuff here: credit cards, driver’s licence, notes, a few receipts…’
‘Can I have a look?’
Harris shrugged as he passed it over. Giles quickly examined the contents, her eyes skimming over the receipts before searching in the card section.
‘No sign of his Britain’s Own membership card,’ she mused. ‘Don’t you think that’s a little curious?’
‘Are you kidding? Barker probably ripped it up the day he lost that election…’
Harris took the wallet back off Giles and placed it in the crate.
‘Then we have some car keys,’ he continued. ‘A Nissan by the look of it. Quite an old key fob though – I imagine it’s a car he uses to bomb it around the country. And last but not least, we have his phone – Blackberry, key code protected.’ He placed the crate back on the forensics table. ’He also had some cigarettes and a lighter, but we let him keep those – figure he’s had a stressful day…’
Harris turned to see if the lead SOCO was ready for him yet. From the side of the pillbox, the SOCO gestured for Harris to approach.
‘Right,’ Harris muttered. ‘Let’s see if we can get you on our crime scene…’
‘A car,’ Giles muttered urgently. ‘Do you have one?’
Barker stared blankly for a moment and then nodded his head.
It was one of those times when the mouth reacted faster than the mind. In the next instant, Barker’s mouth dropped open as he understood the question but quickly closed as another alien thought entered. He shook his head.
‘What the hell is going on?’
‘You want me to get you out of here?’ Giles looked up towards the clubhouse as they drew closer and closer. Most of the officers had driven away now, but Harris and the detective she had seen earlier, were still loitering by their car, waiting to pounce on Barker. ‘My car is by the clubhouse. Harris will have you in cuffs before we even get close. Do you have yours with you?’
Barker followed her eye line until he spotted the two detectives in the car park. With a regrettable shake of the head he said:
‘Same place as yours.’
Giles sighed heavily. Time was running out.
Two cars. We won’t get to either before Harris is on to us.
‘Is there any other way?’
Not without running cross-country. Think.
Barker nodded to a small footpath, slowly creeping up on their right hand side. ‘That path leads down along the river. If we follow it to the bypass and cut up the High Street…’ He checked his watch. ‘The 12.15 to London arrives in eight minutes. If we run, we might catch it.’
Giles glanced up towards the car park ahead. A group of footballers were making their way across the field towards the clubhouse, jumping and cheering in their revelry as they moved closer to the two detectives. Giles’ eyes darted across the path. It was thin and surrounded by bushes, barely ten metres away and not easily visible from Harris’ position.
We might just be able to make it.
She turned to Barker.
‘Right, wait for my word.’
From Harris’ position, Giles and Barker seemed to have almost slowed to a stop. Parsons had noticed it too and, with his keen ex-soldier instincts guiding him, he took a couple of steps forwards and raised his face to the sky, almost as though he was picking up a faint scent in the air.
‘What are the hell is she playing at?’
The troupe of footballers had reached them now. As they paraded past the waiting detectives, they sang out ‘We Are the Champions’ at full volume and jumped around with such energy and excitement that you might have thought they had just won the World Cup. One or two even gave great grinning thumbs up to the two detectives and thanked them for their support, much to the amusement of the rest of the squad. When the last of them had passed by, Harris stared back out to the playing field, searching for the next update on Giles’ progress.
It was Parsons who sounded the alarm, bursting forward and sprinting at full pelt out on to the field.
‘Bugger me,’ he cried. ‘They’ve legged it.’
Harris took a few moments longer to scan the field, but he already knew that Parsons was right. For all intents and purposes, Giles and Barker had vanished.
Giles hadn’t stopped to look back. The bushes surrounded them now, but she knew it was only a matter of time.
She imagined the commotion on the field behind them. The surge of footballers passing by. The glimpses of two figures sprinting for the bushes. A moment of sheer panic as Harris and his colleague stare, dumbstruck, at the empty expanse of field.
Ten seconds – that’s how much head start Giles and Barker would have had.
Another thirty – the time Giles estimated it would take them to reach the escape route.
Giles and Barker were safely on the path, the undergrowth disappearing behind them. They pushed against the hard ground, sprinting as fast as they could in the direction of the road bridge over the river. Behind them, the first cries of Harris’ confusion were all but lost in the air whipping past their ears.
Jumping outstretched branches, ducking unkempt strands of bush and hopping the awkward patches of hardened mud, Giles pressed hard against her legs to keep pace with the man ahead. Weaving in and out of the criss-cross of various footpaths, Barker headed straight towards the river with the confidence of a man who had travelled this path before. When they arrived at the riverside once more, he wasted no time in turning along the river bank and sprinted hard towards the bridge up ahead.
They were at the bridge in a minute.
A welcome gap in the traffic allowed them to pass without pause.
On the riverbank behind them, Harris’ colleague pounded the ground like a speeding bull – a single figure in the distance.
He’ll never catch us…
Another thirty seconds – Barker emerged on the High Street first, speeding around to the left and bursting up the hill. Despite the aching pain in her stomach, Giles forced herself to keep running. The muscles around her diaphragm were cramping up, restricting her ability to run. Her legs began to sting with the effort of smashing the tarmac ground.
Just keep breathing.
Hesitating for a moment to look back at Giles, Barker proceeded to climb the long, yet slight, incline of the hill, barely looking at the Tudor façades of the pubs, cafes and charity shops that lined the street. All about them, shoppers scattered as Barker and Giles ploughed past them growing ever tired as they ascended.
Giles risked a glance back.
Harris’ colleague had closed the gap. His face was calm – barely showing any sign of the exertion. His legs pounded the pavement with unwavering rhythm, inching him closer and closer to his quarry.
Some way behind him, Harris turned on to the High Street - his face purple and his legs buckling under the strain.
Good. At least that’s one problem I don’t have to deal with.
Giles turned her head back and pushed hard to build up an extra burst of speed. Taking control of herself, she breathed hard and slowly as the tight sensation crept across her mid-section. Her legs were hard and aching and a strange metallic taste now lingered on her tongue. Deep inside, her lungs struggled against the pollution of nicotine and tar that she had inflicted upon it and, not for the first time in her life, Giles made a private promise to quit smoking when this was all over.
Up ahead, Barker gave a quick glance left and right before darting across the road and down a small side street. With a quick glance of her own, Giles crossed the road after him.
The road ahead was long, but the station was in view at the end of it. Gathering as much extra energy as she could muster, Giles forced herself faster as she passed the rows upon rows of parked cars on either side. With every stride, Harris’s colleague gained ground on her whilst Barker inched away.
She was half way down along the street now. With each stride, the station got closer. With each couple of beats on the ground, a second ticked away.
Then she saw it.
A flash of green slid between the buildings. A dull, electrical hum wavered in the air as a higher pitched whine slowly lost its tone.
The long, sleek train pulled into the station platform.
As it came to a stop, the doors slid gracefully open, inviting them to come inside.
Barker was already there. He slipped around the side entrance, avoiding the ticket office, and careered on to the platform, bounding on to the train.
The rasping breath of Harris’ colleague was closer now. Giles glanced behind her, almost thundering into a parked car as she did. His arms swayed back and forth with masterful control, pushing through the air like a steam train. His body barely bobbed higher than an inch with each step. His nostrils flared with his heavy breath and his eyes were set, unblinking, on Giles.
No pain. No hint of fear or failure.
Once a soldier…
Giles turned back to the train and pressed on…
She was ten metres away.
A familiar, high pitched beeping, cut through the air.
Inside the train, Barker beckoned at her, willing her faster as she rounded the side of the station building and out on to the platform.
The doors began to close.
With her last strength, Giles dived forward, her hands landing hard on the train floor and her legs scooting inside the carriage as the door sealed shut behind her.
There were no thoughts to begin with – nothing but the deliriousness of an empty mind. Giles lay, for a moment, on the floor – breathing hard and willing the fuzziness out of her brain.
Next to her, a figure bent down and offer her his hand. Giles took it without question and allowed him to help her up to her feet. Smiling gratefully at him, it took Giles a good second or two to realise it was Barker.
He breathed hard as well, but he still managed his own smile as Giles’ feet finally found the ground again and she was able to hold her own weight. Two quivering wrecks, they stood staring at each other – her hands resting gently on his shoulders why his hands supported her waist.
His eyes were not so cold after all…
Giles jumped backwards as a hand banged viciously against the glass of the door.
Harris’ colleague leant up against the train, his calm face now contorted with anger and disappointment as he pounded at the train door. Giles and Barker stared silently through the glass as the detective snarled at her until the train finally began to move. Leaving him alone on the platform, the last Giles saw of the detective was his screaming in frustration as the train picked up speed and left the station well behind.
Through the pounding of her own heartbeat, Giles could feel the steady beating of another. In her shock she had jumped right into Barker’s arms, pressing her back up against his chest. His hands had stayed rigidly on her shoulders but, after a few moments, his arms curled protectively around her.
Giles pushed herself away from him, stepping across to the other side of the carriage. Staring back at Barker, she thought she saw a completely different man to before. He seemed somehow strong and commanding, yet weak and vulnerable. The sensation was odd for Giles and it took a while to subside.
When the train finally passed out of Edenbridge and began speeding its way through the Kent countryside, Giles finally allowed herself to relax. Placing her sweaty hands against the side of the carriage, she took a step closer to the fugitive.
Giles and Barker stared at each other long and hard before bursting out in to an unsettling bout of nervous laughter. Glancing down the carriage, Giles saw that from every occupied seat, faces peered at them from behind newspapers, phone and books, all staring with fearful curiosity at the two panting travellers.
‘I think we made a noticeable entrance,’ grunted Barker, his eyes sparkling cheekily.
Giles managed little more than a nod of agreement before she turned away to slide into the nearest available seat. Her mind flitted to Harris who was doubtlessly just arriving on the empty platform, worrying incessantly that his lack of judgement might just well spell the end of his career.
Giles placed her head back against the headrest and tried her best to gather her breath. As she did so, she closed her eyes and allowed herself to think of the dead body lying propped up against the pillbox.
The dog leash…
The creature in Giles’ stomach stirred once again.
We are in so much trouble, it said spitefully. This had better be worth it.