Winter woke quickly to the sound of voices in the other room, he quietly grabbed the gun from under his pillow and moved silently into the hallway. Crouching down next to the doorway and tried to force his drowsy mind to make out what was being said. It took a few moments but he soon realised that what he was listening too was a radio broadcast discussing the weather forecast. He put the safety on, tucked the gun into his belt and wandered into the room to find Princess dozing on the bed staring at the radio. She shifted her gaze up to him and yawned,
“Morning sleepy, you’ve been out for almost 10 hours.”
Winter frowned at the radio,
“Where did you find that thing?”
“In one of the rooms down the hall, I wasn’t exactly tired at the same time you were, what with just having woken up.”
“Alright, I have the means to make instant black coffee, would you like some.”
“Do we have sugar?”
Princess laughed tiredly,
Winter went into the other room to collect a bottle of water, the coffee and a couple of mugs then pulled a gas bottle out of a box and attached it to a single hob. He filled a pot with water and got the flames going. While he waited for the water to boil he yawned and thought about taking one of the last three pills, then something on the radio draw his attention. He bolted back into the other room and turned the volume up,
“…And in other news it’s beginning to look like the up town fire might not have been an accident after all. Two bodies were found inside the charred building, the victims are presumed to be Dr. XX Gates and his secretary Johanna XX. Police have said that although there isn’t a direct ties to the brutal assault of junior office Victoria XX, they are all potentially linked through a man named Mike Wheeler, also known as Winter. This man is wanted by the police for questioning and is also a possible suspect in the Emily Keys kidnapping. The police have advised that this man has a known mental health problem and is to be considered extremely dangerous, if you have any information on his whereabouts please contact the police directly and do not attempt to apprehend him on your own. Unfortunately there aren’t any recent photos of him available but he’s said to be over 6 foot tall with pale blue eyes. Office XX is currently still in a critical condition at Syn General.”
The sound of Princess’s name made Winter tense up and wince as though in pain. Princess looked up at Winter in a panic,
“What are we going to do?”
Her voice took his mind away from his Beloved and back into the moment.
“First thing is I need to get rid of that car.”
He quickly rummaged through one of the many creates and found some rope and good sized book. Princess nervously followed him as he went back up the stairs onto the docks where the car was parked. He quickly drove it into position tied the steering wheel in place and dropped the book onto the accelerator. The car drove for almost a kilometre along the dock before it had listed enough to the left to go off into the water. By which time Winter and Princess were back inside, he went back to making coffee and thinking while she sat on his bed trying not to panic.
“So what are we going to do?”
Winter considered offering her the second half of the pill she’d taken, but didn’t.
“These tunnels lead all the way back to the city centre, it’s not a short walk though.”
“But why did you get rid of the car?”
Winter handed her a mug of strong disgusting coffee.
“Because if I’m being blamed for Gates’ death, then I will also be blamed for the stealing of his car when someone thinks to realise its missing, cars like this one, have trackers in them.”
Winter put a hand up to stop her and sat down next to her,
“We’re going to gather things we need and start heading back towards town though the underground tunnels. We’re not going to walk the full distance we’re going to walk until the next main entrance, at which point we will acquire a different car.”
Princess’s mind spun with confusion,
“But who, and why.”
“The kidnappers and to set up the frame for your murder so that you’re uncle can keep the company.”
She pales notably and rubbed her face,
“This is insane, so my uncle had three innocent people killed so that he could kill me and frame you?”
“I think he’s done a lot more then that so that he could kill you and frame me, and only two of them are dead.”
“Is walking really the only option? I mean how much time do you have?”
“No, you could call the police, tell them you managed to get hold of a phone while I was sleep and that we’re in cell block EM1 on the southern outskirts. They would lock me up and you could tell them I forced you to ingest drugs and make the right noises so they put you under surveillance for at least a week, by which point I’ll be dead and your uncle’s plan would fail. It’s actually probably the safer idea.”
It took Princess a few moments to realise the look on Winter’s face meant that he was actually suggesting it as an option, and was waiting for her response. He still wanted to kill Keys Jr. but he couldn’t help but feel he should give her the option. He also decided that if her choice to not give him up, the first available opportunity he’d have to take at least one of the pills. Princess stared at him in disbelief and her eyes filled with tears,
“Do you think I could do that?”
As Winter looked at her, his vision once again started flashing between Princess and his Beloved and a sudden swell of emotion started rise inside of him, he blinked hard and when he opened them all he saw looking back at him was Princess, but it brought with it a strange feeling of regret.
“No, but I wanted you to know all your options because I have to make sure you’re safe.”
She took a long deep breath in to stop herself from really crying then said firmly,
“Well, good, if you want to keep me safe then you need to stay with me. Because right now, I don’t trust the police as far as you can throw them.”
Winter felt a rush of pins and needles run over his body like his skin was doing a Mexican wave, then he seemed to return to normal. He downed his coffee and stood up,
“In that case we need to get ready and start walking, it’s far. There are bathrooms ever few kilometres, and one just down the hallway. It doesn’t have water so be aware it’s not going to be pleasant, but it’s better than nothing. I think the one of the left is cleaner.”
Princess raised a nervous and confused eyebrow then quietly got up and headed down the hall. Winter waited a minute then quickly pulled the pills out of his pocket and forced himself to take only one. He then pulled a large backpack out from under the bed and started packing for the walk. Princess returned looking slightly disgusted and then slightly put out by being handed a small rucksack.
“Here are your supply of water and food for the walk. There is also a gun in the bag in case something happens.”
“What could happen?”
“You’re aware of the old stories of tunnel gangs?”
Winter half forced a smile then switched on a touch and started walking. Princess quickly ran to grab her radio and started following him. They walked in relative silence for the first hour until Princess couldn’t stand it anymore,
“So how did you actually find me?”
Her voice woke Winter from his almost blinding focus on the pills rattling in his pocket,
“You’re missing persons file said you were last seen at a university rally; from there I discovered you were a founding member of Tree, along with a man named Joshua, who I, interviewed.”
“Josh gave me up? He promised he wouldn’t tell anyone.”
“He, might have been speaking under some duress.”
Winter felt a thud on the back of his shoulder as Princess punched him, he turned without stopping to see her frowning at him,
“What did you do to my friend?”
Winter smiled which made her look suddenly very worried,
“Oh my god what did you do to him?”
Winter turned back to look where he was going,
“Nothing, I just scared him.”
“So then what happened?”
“I arrived at Charcoal waiting for someone to look scared to see me, but instead I saw you. Thomas freak out, so I took him down and got you out of there.”
“Oh my God Thomas, I’d totally forgotten about him, he was the one that was getting me on a ship off the .”
“I’m sorry I didn’t let him.”
It occurred to Winter that Thomas might also be dead.
“But if you found me so easily, why didn’t the police?”
“You’re a smart girl, why do you think?”
Princess pulled a face and stuck her tongue out at him,
“Because my uncle paid the police not to find me so that he could frame you for everything and take control of my money.”
“It’s amazing what people will do for money.”
“Says the contract killer.”
She wasn’t wrong but he wasn’t going to say that, instead he just tried to not think about the pills in his pocket. They continued on in silence a bit longer until Winter spoke up,
“I still don’t understand why you opted to become a whore instead of just sending someone to draw out money.”
Princess thought for a bit and couldn’t really find an answer,
“Well because at that point I was already so out of my comfort zone and felt so at the mercy of the people looking after me that I just kinda did as I was told a bit, I guess. I mean it made sense at the time that to hide in plain sight as a whore would not only get me the money I needed without giving away my whereabouts by using an atm, plus no one would ever expect little miss ‘Princess’ to be caught dead in Charcoal let alone as a whore, I’m not saying it was a good choice, but it’s also not the worse experience I ever had. I did turn the grosser guys away.’
It made sense to a degree but Winter still didn’t like it, he couldn’t help but think that she was either being looked after by idiots or hustlers, but he dropped it.
’So how do you know Thomas?”
Winter took a deep breath,
“I used to know someone else who worked at Charcoal.”
His voice had become very cold and flat, but Princess decided to ignore it,
Winter thought about ignoring the question, but at the same time couldn’t find a reason to justify not answering. The image of his Beloved dancing in the rain flashed in his mind and another cold wave of pins and needles crawled over his body.
Princess suddenly remember knowing that she’d died just before he killed the photographer.
“Oh… do you want to talk about it.”
“Talk about what?”
“Well her? You’ve not mentioned her this whole time, and I kinda remember what happened, I don’t know, never mind.”
Again Winter thought about it, he’d not actually spoken about her since she died except very briefly to Keys Sr. Maybe with his pending death it was time to remember her.
“If you’d like.”
His response took Princess so by surprise that she wasn’t sure what to say,
“Ok, umm so was she also a whore?”
Another cold shiver ran over Winter’s body followed by a hot flash of anger which he forced under control,
“Oh second thought, no I don’t want to talk about it.”
Princess couldn’t ignore his tone of voice this time and it sounded as if fire might literally be dripping from his lips. For the next two hours they walked on in a severe silence until Princess reached near breaking point.
“Ok no, we have to stop, I can’t walk any further.”
Winter turned quickly to see a very sweaty, slightly pale girl leaning against a wall looking back at him. She didn’t look angry, just exhausted.
“Ok. Stay here I’ll look for the nearest habitable room.”
Winter was still caught between the cold distance that came with thinking about his Beloved and the intense focus it took to not take the pills he was carrying. Princess slumped onto the floor and sat against the wall and started drinking large gulps of water. It become very clear to Winter that the part of the prison they were in had been abandoned for some time as most of the rooms were simply empty. Eventually he found one with a bed. He stepped into the room and did a quick sweep to see if there was anything else useful, then unable to restrain himself any longer, reached into his pocket and took another pill. A few moments later he reappeared from the darkness scooped Princess up and carried her to the room, with her giggling all the way at his sudden appearance and what she interpreted as playful mannerisms. She could have walked to the room but wasn’t going to complain about being carried, and he did seem to have a smile on his face.
“You didn’t have to carry me you know.”
“I know, but I wanted to, you looked tired. We’re only a couple more hours away from where we should exit the tunnels, so we can rest here for awhile before heading on.”
Princess smiled graciously then looked around the room,
“Uummm there’s only the one bed.”
“Yes, I’ll be fine on the floor.”
She thought for a moment.
“We could share?”
“No, we couldn’t.”
“It’s not like anything going to happen,”
“We won’t fit.”
She put on a fake shocked looked,
“Are you saying I’m fat?”
Without a moment’s hesitation and in the same flat frank tone Winter replied,
Princess’s face lost all humour,
For the first time since he’d liberated her from Charcoal she saw a genuine smile spread across Winter’s face and he laughed. Princess scowled and stuck her tongue out at him.
“Anyway, lie down and close your eyes now. I’m going to close the door, if you wake up before me again, don’t wander off. I wasn’t kidding about tunnel gangs.”
Princess smiled at him through a yawn,
She then obediently lay down and closed her eyes. She wasn’t going to admit it but she was incredibly tired and quite happy for the opportunity to sleep. Winter shut the door and the whole room went black. Unlike in the rooms near the entrance where he’d set up lamps, the further down the tunnels you went the less likely there was to be any kind of light source.
“Would you mind if I put the radio on?”
“No I don’t mind, but we’re a two hour walk from the nearest passage leading back up above ground so you won’t be able to pick up any signal.”
“Oh shit, ok. In that case, can I hold the torch?”
Winter felt his way down the wall and lay down on the floor against the opposite wall to Princess.
“Princess, what’s the matter?”
“I just didn’t realise how dark it was going to be and I don’t know if I can sleep like this.”
Her voice trembled a little, which surprised Winter. He thought for a moment,
“Ok hold on.”
He switched on his torch, got back to his feet and walked over to the corner above Princess’s head then sat down. He then laid his arm along the bed and took Princess’s hand and switched the light off and rested it against her shoulder.
“Is that better?”
She slipper her fingers between his, took the torch, then lay her head against his arm and closed her eyes.
Drifted out of her through another big yawn and she fell almost immediately asleep. Winter waited until her breathing sounded regular then slowly and carefully pulled the pills out of his pocket and took the half, before letting his mind drift off and fall asleep.