Retribution: Better The Devil You Know
Novel by David Smith
Available through Amazon and his official website.
“The strength of two connected neural pathways is thought to result in the storage of information, resulting in memory. This process of synaptic strengthening is known as long term potentiation.”
“Who can say where inside a man’s body his soul is kept? Who can pinpoint a part of his brain, or even a single synapse, and say this is or is not the essence of that person? Can one body be possessed by two souls, and if so is one equally as guilty of the crimes committed by the other?”
‘Put the fire out,’ I say to Jane. She takes a gallon carboy of water and pours it over the burning embers in the fire grate. The fire belches steam for a few seconds then fizzles out. Jane comes back over to the door and stands beside me. The drone is circling at about a thousand feet. Through the canopy of trees I can occasionally glimpse the glint of moonlight off its wings as it banks round. I watch it for a few minutes. There is no doubt, it’s circling the cabin. It’s too high to make out details of the craft but by the size of it and engine noise I suspect it’s an MQ9 Reaper, armed and dangerous, flying lower than normal. It’ll be looking for infra red traces, and probably loaded with air to ground missiles. It will have spotted the plume from the fire, that’s why it’s circling the cabin. Some bastard’s sitting in a cozy office somewhere looking through the on board cameras checking us out. If we make a break for it in the pick up we’ll be a sitting target. If we stay put the drone pilot could either drop a missile onto the cabin for the hell of it, or call up a Chinook or two of troops to check us out. I pray it’s the latter.
‘What do we do?’ asks Jane.
‘How much water have we got?’
‘About four carboys,’ she says.
‘Wet the blankets.’
We turn away from the door and take two blankets from the pile by the fire. We each lay one in front of us on the floor then empty two carboys of the cold water over each blanket, soaking them completely.
‘There’s a lake just the other side of the woods at the bottom of the hill,’ I say, ‘I saw the outline as we drove up the track. We need to make it there and take our chances crossing it. Wrap the blanket round you, and when we’re outside move at a walking pace, don’t run.’
I wrap my soaked blanket round my body, covering my head, leaving only a slit for my eyes. It’s freezing cold but I pull it tight around me. Jane does likewise with hers. I check her to make sure as much of her body is covered with the cold wet blanket as possible. When I’m sure we’re wrapped up good and tight I open the door and step onto the verandah. It’s an unpleasant feeling not knowing whether or not some drone technician is scrutinizing you through the lens of a camera mounted on a killing machine circling above your head. We walk slowly away from the cabin and into the woods, trying to keep the canopy of the trees above us as much as possible. We walk for about ten minutes through the woods away from the cabin. Eventually the tree cover becomes thinner and we’re at the edge of the woods. In the clear moonlight we can see the hill below us sloping down towards a huge lake, nothing but long grass and scrub between us and the edge of the lake.
‘Follow me,’ I say to Jane as I crouch onto all fours and start working my way down the hill towards the lake. Jane tucks in behind me. It’s slow going trying to stay under the cold wet blanket as we crawl along the damp scrub ground.
‘Listen,’ I say and we both stop dead.
Helicopters, at least two Chinooks, and they’re heading towards the cabin. We’ve been lucky. The drone pilot must have called for the cabin to be checked out to play safe rather than taking the easy option and dropping a couple of missiles onto it. The chances are that the drone pilot’s entirely focused on the cabin. Now’s our chance.
‘Run,’ I say to Jane, and we ditch the wet blankets and sprint for the edge of the lake. It’s the longest thirty seconds of my life but we reach the lake without any change in the circling pattern of the drone. We haven’t been spotted. The edge of the lake is a tangled mass of reeds on soft, muddy wetland. It doesn’t take long before we’re fighting through the scrub around the lake trying to find a spot deep enough to swim. Meanwhile the helicopters are getting closer.
‘Roll in the mud,’ I say, and lead by example, flopping face first onto the ground and spinning over and over to cover my body with the cold, wet mud. Jane follows my example and for a moment we lie beside each other in the wet catching our breath. The choppers are heading straight towards us now, the same combination I saw back at the bar, three choppers, two army Chinooks tailing a police Eurocopter Dauphin 2.
‘D’you think they can see us?’ she asks as they thunder directly over our heads.
‘No. They’d have circled around. They’re heading for the cabin. Once they find we’ve moved on they’ll come looking for us. They’ll spot the pick up and know we’re on foot. We need to get as far away from here as possible.’
We make it to deeper water. It’s so cold my hands and feet go numb and I start to shiver uncontrollably. I spot a large old tree uprooted and floating about a hundred yards off shore.
‘Can you make it that far?’ I ask Jane through shivering lips, pointing at the tree.
‘Sure,’ she says, ‘If I don’t die of hypothermia first.’
We kick out towards the tree, trying to make as little noise as possible as we swim through the icy water. It takes an age to reach the tree, and when we get there it’s not easy to pick our way through the brash to get to the trunk, but we succeed. I climb onto one of the thicker limbs just above the water, then reach out my arm to Jane. She takes a grip of my hand and I pull her towards the branch, then haul her out of the water up beside me. We’re both exhausted from the exertion and the cold. Not long ago we were tucked up tight in the cabin in front of a glowing log fire, sipping JD. Now we’re in an ice cold lake clinging to the branch of a floating tree trunk. How quickly our circumstances change. I count our blessings, though. We could easily have been blown to smithereens back there in the cabin had the drone pilot decided that was his safest option. All we have to worry about now is hypothermia, and being discovered by the two platoons of troops that are now scouring the woods for any trace of us. It’s sensible to assume whoever those soldiers are taking instructions from will have been given the shoot on sight orders, not the ‘give them a drink and a hot meal’ option. We need to keep well away from these guys, and sitting it out on this floating freezer is our best bet for now.
I wrap Jane in my arms so we can share what little warmth we have between us. We lean back against the trunk of the tree holding each other tightly. It’s a beautiful night. The reflected light from the half moon sinking slowly towards the horizon is amazing, almost mesmerizing. There isn’t a breath of wind on the lake and it reflects the silvery light like a mirror. As we sit there a Barred Owl skims the surface of the lake as it heads across open water looking for a meal, it’s wing tips cutting the surface of the lake as it turns. Could God have created a more beautiful place?
If danger is approaching us there’s little we can do to defend ourselves. The guns we had are back at the cabin or in the pick up. We have nothing, only our wits. We are extremely vulnerable, freezing cold and soaked to the skin.
‘Let’s try to sleep,’ I say to Jane.
‘Some chance,’ she says, and we sit there huddled together, both shivering, both not knowing what the hell we can do to get out of this situation without being caught and probably killed. I don’t know how but we both fall asleep in each other’s arms.
When we wake it’s just before sunrise. A mist has risen on the lake, thick and providing very useful protective cover. I’m the first to gather my wits and I listen hard into the morning for any sounds that might spell danger. I listen for a minute or so but hear nothing that says troops are searching the area around the lake. It takes a few moments before I realize we’re not in the same place. I can’t hear the faint, gentle lapping of the ripples from the lake breaking on the shoreline. The lake must have a current running through it, a river joining and a river leaving. The uprooted tree we’ve spent the night in has drifted. With the mist being as thick as it is I have no idea where we are in relation to where we were last night. All I know is that it’s deathly still, no air or water movement I can sense, no sounds to give us a bearing. I gently nudge Jane and she stirs into consciousness.
‘We’ve drifted,’ I say, ‘I don’t know how big this lake is or have any idea how far we’ve moved, but we’re well away from the shore.’
‘I’m so cold,’ she says.
‘Come on, stand up. Let’s try to get our circulation going.’
It isn’t easy to move at first, my bones and muscles seem to be locked in the position I’d spent the night asleep in. It hurts when I stand and stretch and I have to be careful to keep my balance. The tree is heavy but it does have a little movement, enough to catch me off balance if I’m not careful, and the last thing I want right now is an ice cold morning swim. I help Jane to her feet, and I can see she’s uncomfortable, cold, aching joints, but looking real beautiful in the morning mist.
‘When I was in the army they taught me to continuously appraise the situation you’re in when in the field of combat,’ I say.
‘Go on,’ she says, smiling up at me, ‘Cheer me up.’
‘It’s not good. We have no weapons, no communication devices, no money or food, no idea where we are and know that the army, police, and an alien abduction squad are hunting for us, both sides happy to see us dead. We have no transport and no allies to call on to help us.’
‘You’re a barrel of fun,’ she says.
‘I’m trying to put things in perspective.’
‘Does it help at all?’
‘Yes, it does actually.’
‘How exactly?’ she says.
‘Let’s look at all the pieces separately and see what we can do about each of them. A plan should then drop out.’
‘Go for it,’ she says.
‘Okay, first, we don’t know where we are. We know we’re on a lake on Mary’s farm. We know we followed a trail to the cabin that, had we continued along it a couple more miles, would have brought us out back on the highway. The cabin was half way up a hill, and the lake was round that hill at the bottom. I figure there must be at least one river feeding the lake and one draining it, otherwise we wouldn’t have moved.’
‘How do you figure that out?’
‘There’s been hardly a breath of wind, so that hasn’t driven us. It must be water flow, currents.’
‘…and how does that help us find out where we are?’
‘It doesn’t but it tells us we only have to sit tight and we’ll wind up at the mouth of the river that drains the lake. It’s just a matter of time. When we reach it we can swim for the shore.’
‘Then we’ll only be a few miles hike to the highway, right?’
‘…where we can probably pick up a vehicle, fine, but what about all the other seemingly insurmountable problems you just laid out for us?’
‘Some are relatively small, like getting food and dry clothes, they should be easy. Some seem massive, like avoiding getting killed when everyone and his dog is hunting for us. I don’t know what we can do about that yet, but what seems obvious to me is we need a powerful ally. I can only think of one.’
‘So, we need to get to Melville.’
‘Absolutely right! If we can evade capture and get to Long Island, and somehow get a message to Noone through the portal. I know it’s well guarded but if we can find a way to…’
‘We don’t need to use the portal,’ she says cutting across me, ‘I have a transceiver in my office in the UN building. That’s how I’ve been able to keep in regular communications with Noone. The UN building has tight security and it won’t be easy, but it’ll be a hell of a lot easier than breaking into the portal site.’
‘So, we have a plan,’ I say, ‘We boost a vehicle of some kind, rob a store and get some clothes and food, and if possible some kind of weaponry, then head off to the UN building in Manhattan, break in, send a message to Noone then sit back and wait for the cavalry to arrive.’
‘When you put it like that it sounds hopeless,’ she says, and she’s right, but at least it’s a plan, a direction to move in with goals to achieve. It’s better to have something to work towards than to sit and wait for the inevitable, discovery by one side or the other and an early death.
‘We’ve got time to flesh it out,’ I say, ‘I don’t know how long this lake is but we’re stuck on a floating tree at the mercy of the current. We could be here days yet.’
‘I hope we’re not,’ she says, ‘I’m starving. I may have to eat you before we reach land.’
She stretches her head towards me and kisses me on my cheek, her first show of affection towards me since we met again a couple of days ago. I like it, and I smile down at her.
‘Hey, you okay?’
The sudden shock of hearing a human voice calling to us out here in the middle of the lake sends a bolt of fear through both of us. We look at each other then in every direction across the lake. The morning mist is still thick and we can’t see the source of the voice. We stand upright, quiet, balanced and still, waiting for whoever it is to speak again.
‘I heard you talking but I can’t see you. Are you okay?’
It’s a man’s voice, croaky and old. I hear the lapping of the ripples on the surface of the lake against something. Then I hear the creak of oars in rowlocks and the quiet splash as the oars enter and leave the surface of the lake. I strain my eyes into the mist and see the faint outline of a small wooden dinghy in the distance about fifty yards away. I can see one occupant in the boat, a man, pulling slowly on the two oars, nudging the dinghy along with each stroke.
‘Hey!’ I call out towards the boat, ‘Over here to your right.’
The man in the boat turns his head back towards us and I can see him straining to see through the mist.
‘Okay, I gotcha,’ he hollers across to us, and pulls on one oar to turn the bow of the dinghy towards us. He pulls on the oars alternately to straighten up the boat and gently nudges it through the water in our direction. As he pulls on the oars and draws closer he talks to us.
‘Truth to tell, I near on crapped myself when I heard voices out here. Last thing you expect to hear is people. Thought it was some kind of ghostly visitation or I was going as crazy as my wife used to say I was.’
He looks over his shoulder at us as the boat approaches the tree.
‘What in the hell happened here?’ You sink your boat or something?’
‘It’s a long story,’ I call back at him, ‘Could you get us off this thing and back to dry land?’
‘No problem, son,’ he says, ‘Did you guys swim all the way out here?’
‘Like I said, it’s a long story.’
He pulls the boat alongside the tree and starts to pull away the brash to get the bow as close to the trunk as possible. It’s hard to get near his boat because the branches thin the further from the trunk they go, and the more pressure my weight puts on them the more they sink and start to roll the trunk. But the guy in the boat pulls a thick branch across the bow of the dinghy to stop the tree rolling in the water. I help Jane scramble across the branches and climb into the dinghy, then follow behind. Our combined weight pushes the dinghy low in the water but there’s still enough buoyancy and enough room for us all to move away from the tree without shipping any water.
The old guy is dressed in thick, warm, weatherproof clothes, and wearing waders. The stern of the dinghy is packed with fishing gear, nets, rods, tackle box, extra weatherproofs and a large rucksack.
‘I’m out here for the day, so there’s food and a flask in that rucksack, son. Reckon you two look frozen to the bone. Help yourself.’
‘Thanks,’ I say and lean down the dinghy towards the stern. I pick up the rucksack and undo the straps. The first thing I see inside is a huge flask. I pull it out and spin the lid, and the heavenly aroma of warm tomato soup hits my nostrils.
‘Go on,’ says the old man, ‘Help yourselves, there’s plenty for all of us.’
I pour some of the soup into the lid cup and offer it to Jane.
‘Are you sure?’ she says to the old man and he nods.
‘Be my guest,’ he says.
Jane blows gently on the surface to take the heat out a little before she takes a sip.
‘God, this has to be the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my whole life. Thank you.’
‘You’re welcome,’ says the old guy.
A few sips later and Jane’s drained the cup. She hands it back to me and I refill it with the hot liquid, and take my turn. Whatever Jane said about the soup didn’t do it justice, and I gulp down every last delicious drop.
‘Want some?’ I say to the old guy.
‘Nope,’ he says, ‘Not hungry yet. I stopped at the diner just by the turn off to the lake last night and had a real gut buster. Betty’s been running that place for nigh on thirty years. Does the best pancakes and bacon in the county. D’you want me to take you straight to the shore?’
‘That’d be great,’ says Jane.
‘I’ll row if you like,’ I say.
‘If you don’t mind,’ says the old guy, ‘Save my back from aching later on.’
It’s tricky but we manage to keep the boat level as I change places with the old man, take up the oars and start pulling the boat through the still, flat water. The sun is getting higher and the mist is gradually starting to break up. The old man points to show me the direction towards the shoreline.
‘It’s a bit of a haul,’ he says, ‘Took me near half an hour to get over this far. You get the best fish out here in the middle of the lake just at dawn. You gotta get up real early if you want to catch the biggest and the best. I once caught me a monster out here, a Channel Catfish. Weighed up at thirty six pounds, I tell you no lie. I caught it on a crayfish bait and chum. Took me near on an hour to land it…sorry, I’m boring you with my old fisherman’s tales.’
‘It’s okay,’ says Jane, ‘Tell us more. If we hadn’t run into trouble with our little inflatable we’d be chasing the big fish too.’
‘No you wouldn’t,’ he says, ‘Nobody goes fishing with a bandage like that round their head. You both look as if you’ve just been beat up and dragged through a hedge. Truth is you’re hiding from all those soldiers that’ve been searching through the woods all night. Don’t lie, I don’t like that. No need to. I ain’t gonna do you no harm. I came up here last night in my RV. It’s parked by the old jetty on the access road to the lake. The bastards banged on my door about five in the morning, got me out of bed. They said they were looking for a man and a woman. Showed me some pictures. Told me you two were the most wanted people in the country right now, armed and dangerous, not to be approached under any circumstances. Wouldn’t tell me why they were looking for you though, what you’d supposed to have done. Thought that was odd. They ransacked my RV…left it in a real mess, not a word of apology, just moved on. Bastards…sorry, excuse my language Miss.’
We all go quiet and the silence is painful.
‘If you’re still hungry there are plenty of sandwiches in the bag there,’ he eventually says, breaking the awkwardness.
‘Are you sure?’ says Jane.
‘I’d only eat ‘em, and my kids keep telling me I need to lose a few pounds. So, help yourself.’
‘Thanks,’ says Jane.
She rummages through the rucksack till she finds the pack of sandwiches, opens it, takes one out and hands it to me. Then she takes one for herself and devours it in four bites.
‘Why are they looking for you, anyway?’ he asks, ‘Not my business, just curious.’
‘Do you want the truth or something you’ll believe?’ I say.
‘Let’s start with the truth and see where we go from there,’ he says, leaning back in the bow of the dinghy as it gently bobs and nudges through the water with each of my strokes.
‘Okay,’ says Jane, ‘We’re both aliens. There are other aliens trying to capture us and take us to their planet to stand trial because we saved the human species on Earth and that didn’t fit with their plans. Our government wants us both dead in the hope that this will make the aliens go away.’
He sits quietly for a while then says to me, ‘Your turn.’
‘I’m from an orphanage,’ I say, ‘and she’s kidnapping me to use me as her sex slave before she adopts me.’
‘I prefer that version,’ he says with a big grin forming across his face, ‘Now, let’s drop the matter. So you know, the soldiers have all gone. They upped and left in their helicopters about an hour before dawn.’
He cocks his head to one side as if he’s suddenly noticed something. Then he says, ‘I reckon we’re near the shore. Do you two need a lift back to the highway? I can drop you at Betty’s and you can get a proper feed.’
‘Won’t that spoil your fishing?’ says Jane.
‘It’ll only be ten minutes. They’ll still be biting by the time I get back.’
‘That’d be real nice of you,’ I say.
We row into the shore far enough for the old guy to get his bearings through the mist. He points in the direction he wants us to go and I row along the shoreline for about another fifteen minutes.
‘There!’ he says, and I turn my head in the direction he’s pointing. I spot an old wooden jetty coming out into the lake about fifty yards further up the shoreline.
We reach the jetty and I pull in the oars and drag the boat against the side of a set of wooden steps. I climb out first, then Jane, and then finally the old guy clambers out.
‘That stuff’ll be okay left in the boat,’ he says as I reach down to lift out the rucksack, ‘There’s no one around here for miles. It’s plenty safe.’
We clump off the jetty and pick up a short trail that leads through the woods to a small clearing where his RV, a Thor Majestic 23A, is parked. There’s an overgrown and heavily rutted trail that leads away from the lake that I assume is the track up to the highway.
‘How far is it to the highway from here?’ I ask.
‘Five minutes in the RV, about twenty if you walk,’ he says.
‘We’ve taken enough of your time and good will,’ I say, ‘If you don’t mind we’d best walk.’
‘That’s fine by me,’ he says, ‘You got any money?’
‘Not that we can spend,’ says Jane.
He pulls out his wallet and takes out a $50 note and hands it to Jane.
‘Don’t say no,’ he says, ‘Get yourself each one of Betty’s specials on me.’
‘We can’t thank you enough…er?’
‘Thomas,’ he says, ‘Thomas Green.’
‘Jake Redwood, Red. Glad to know you Thomas Green,’ I say as I reach out and shake his hands, ‘we owe you $50, and our lives.’
‘You both be careful now,’ he says after Jane gives him a huge hug, and we turn to walk up the trail to the highway.
‘…Hey Red,’ he calls after me, ‘Enjoy your new life as a sex slave with your new Mum!’
I can hear him laughing to himself as we round the first bend along the track.
The sun is well over the horizon by the time we start out on the trail, and the morning mist has virtually burned away. It’s another crystal clear blue sky at the start of what’s going to be a hot day.
The trail has all the signs of being very rarely used with rough grass growing in tufts in the deep ruts cut by the wheels of vehicles driving up and down during wet weather. We’ve walked for about ten minutes before Jane speaks.
As she gently tugs the damp bandage away from her head she says, ‘What next?’
She folds the bandage up neatly and slips it into her pocket. I check her head.
‘There’s a bump and a few bruises where the Sheriff’s gun butt hit you but they hardly show.’
‘Any bald patches?’
I stop her and turn her shoulders towards me, then check her scalp where the Zyg had bound its hands round clumps of her hair and pulled her head back.
‘Nothing that shows. You have very thick and very beautiful hair,’ I say.
‘Thanks. It needs a good wash, and so do I.’
‘Maybe we can clean up in the restrooms at the diner, what’s her name’s, Betty’s?’
‘I hope so, but I think we need to separate for a while to play safe. You go in first, freshen up and get something to eat. When you’re done I’ll go in and do the same.’
I didn’t want to lose sight of Jane. My past experience tells me that bad things can happen to me when we separate, like getting shot in the back by her with a Hi-V, but it’s a sensible suggestion and I go along with it.
The trail rounds the corner on a small hillock and suddenly the vista opens up. It’s rolling countryside for miles to the horizon. We’re nowhere near anything that looks like a town. The highway dissects the view in a straight diagonal line, three lanes in either direction, busy traffic. I reckon it’s about half a mile to the slip roads that join the highway. I spot the diner, an old fashioned square brick building near the slip road going east. The restaurant is in the middle of a graveled parking lot and there are plenty of cars parked up on all sides of the diner. If there’s anyone in the restaurant looking for us they’ll spot us as we walk over to the entrance, that’s for sure. I cross my fingers as we get nearer, hoping like hell there are no lawmen, or even worse, Torps and Dreeks sitting in a booth eyes peeled for a man and a woman looking like they’ve had a rough night.
We have a piece of luck. As we get to the edge of the parking lot I spot that the restrooms are on the outside of the diner at the rear. That means we can clean up before we go inside. That should make us a fraction less conspicuous. It also means we can both clean up at the same time, and I can keep an eye on Jane that little bit longer.
We approach the restaurant from the woods at the rear, giving us cover right up to about ten yards of the restrooms. We walk over to them separately, Jane first, me a couple of minutes later. I make out I’m locking a car door first, a stupid charade but it might just fool a casual observer into thinking I’ve arrived by car. Nobody walks up the highway to a roadside diner.
The restroom is surprisingly clean and well equipped. There’s even a shower for the truckers to use, with a body wash dispenser on the wall. I don’t have a towel but I shower anyway. The hot water feels wonderful as it hammers against my skin, and I feel invigorated for the first time since before I started my last shift as a detective. I use toilet paper to get the worst of the wetness off my body. I’m lucky that no customers come in to use the restroom while I’m cleaning up.
When I’m nearly dry I dress, then swill my mouth with ice cold water from the faucet. The last thing I do is brush my wet hair to a respectable neatness, then leave the restroom and head off for the diner. It’s busy. That’s good. I weave through the hubbub towards a window seat and slide across the banquette right up to the window with my back to the wall watching the door for Jane, and anything that might be a threat to us both.
I pick up the menu and pretend to read it while I check out the clientele. It’s mostly families, local blue collars and a few businessmen, all harmless. A young guy in a uniform with the logo ‘Betty’s Diner’ across the chest comes over, pad in hand.
‘Give me a minute,’ I say.
He disappears off and is back in moments with a jug and a mug. He fills it to the brim then hurries away to tend to someone else. I take a sip. It’s good Joe, and I’m more than ready for it. I’m watching the car park, customers leaving and driving away, new ones arriving. I watch their journey from their vehicles into the restaurant. They all seem harmless and I start to relax a little.
The kid’s back with his pad at the ready. I pick the first thing on the menu I see.
‘Betty’s brunch, eggs over easy, and extra bacon.’
‘No, that’s all.’
The aromas in a roadside diner can be overwhelming when all you’ve had to eat after a night spent freezing and wet is a cup of soup and a sandwich. I’m suddenly ravenously hungry and ready for the food. After a couple of minutes I look up to see if there’s any sign of the kid with my brunch. I don’t see him. Instead I see Jane through the glass panels in the restaurant entrance doors. She’s in the small lobby talking to a man, just an ordinary looking guy, oldish, smartly dressed. She seems animated, and she keeps glancing into the restaurant as she talks. I think she’s trying to spot me. My radar is up. Something is very wrong.
I slide back out of the banquette and move through the tables slowly towards where Jane and the man are. They are now in a heated argument, voices raised. When I get to within a couple of feet from the entrance door I can see why Jane is looking so concerned. The guy she’s talking to is not on his own. There’s another man standing behind her that I couldn’t see from where I was in the restaurant. He’s a big guy, dumb looking. He’s wearing a Tee shirt and jeans. I don’t think he’s a Dreek but he could be. He has all the basic features, low forehead, a broad flat nose and a stupid expression on his face. He looks like a Neanderthal thug. The last thing I notice about the man is the Glock 17 he’s holding in his right hand. The reason I didn’t spot it straight away is because it’s pressed hard against the back of Jane’s head, and I only see it when she turns her head towards me. It’s a quick, nervous glance through the glass and our eyes meet for a fraction of a second. It’s enough for her to convey the message to me loud and clear. Stay away! Don’t come through these doors. I can handle this.
I back away so I’m out of the line of vision of the guy Jane is arguing with. I look around me for some kind of weapon. The only thing of any use is a steak knife on the table next to the door. I pick it up and slide it into my pocket and move towards the door again. I can see the anxiety in Jane’s eyes when I do this. She gives a barely perceptible shake of her head, enough to say, ‘no, stay there.’
Then I see why she’s so anxious for me to keep my distance. If I went out into the lobby there’d be some sort of engagement with these two bozos, but they’re not professional heavies. I would probably be able to disarm the lug holding the gun to Jane’s head, and Jane could easily manage the weed she’s arguing with.
But they wouldn’t be the problem. As I look out into the car park I can see what Jane could see all along that I couldn’t, Dreeks, three of them. They’re standing by a white Isuzu Reach van the far side of the parking lot, big grins on their stupid faces.
Maybe I was wrong about the puppy holding the gun. I sure was wrong about the weedy guy arguing with Jane. I couldn’t figure out why she hadn’t just planted a vision in his head and walked right past him. Now I think I know why. He’s probably a Torp, and judging by the way Jane’s talking to him, one she already knows. He’s probably the guy sent here by Grow to threaten Earth with the eradication of mankind if I’m not handed over. He’s probably a very powerful and dangerous man. He’s probably Abel.
End of Part Five