State of Emergency – Chapter 3

December 10, 2010


Red-lit silhouette of Westminster seen from across the ThamesLondon was a lot less wet and windy than Derek had thought it would be. He’d abandoned his umbrella a few days ago and now found himself sweating in the close confines of a carriage on the wryly-named “Tube,” buried deep underground waiting for some unseen signal to change so he could resume his journey. He sighed. They’d been down here for 15 minutes already and there was little to do except look at his own reflection.

He glanced over at the strange face reflected twice-over in the thick glass of the window opposite, shuddered and looked away.

It wasn’t an ugly face – far from it. But no matter how many years he lived now, it would never feel like his, never sit so comfortably against his bones as the one stolen from him in that dismissive spray of bullets from the carbine in Ian Carlyle’s hand and the doubled, overlapping features painted in the train window only made visible the eeriness he felt.

It wouldn’t matter soon. He clenched and unclenched his fist at his side, digging his nails into his moist palm.

It wouldn’t matter soon.

A long, slender pair of legs stepped into his field of view, jerking him from one reverie into another. Black knee-high boots contrasted sharply with the smooth, pale skin, seeming to go on for ever before they vanished behind the hem of a short, grey wool skirt. He kept his eyes moving upwards – the girl’s flapping, open coat and thick, knitted jumper occluded her waist but if anything emphasised the curves of a more than ample bust. He stood up, smiling at the girl as he squeezed into the aisle.

“Please, take my seat.” He held the smile and made eye contact as she murmured her thanks and sat down, slipping into a grin as her cheeks flushed.

Perhaps England wouldn’t be entirely grim after all.

***

Forty minutes later, Derek was sitting in a bus shelter in the rain, cradling his cigarette inside curled fingers to keep it dry while he eyed the pub across the street. “The Queen’s Head” had nicotine-stained, bottle-glass windows and long subsidence had cracked the stone step up to the door and skewed the building’s roof into a precarious V-shape. It was grotty. The whole street had that sullen, run-down look of little care and high unemployment. The houses were narrow, tightly-packed three-story terraces that no doubt still housed more people than they did rooms – student shares and large families, he didn’t need to look, he could smell it, San Paro instincts picking up easily on lives too hard to be honest and easy enough to be guilt-free.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket for the fifth time since he’d sat down and contemplated Megan’s number. There were better places he could be if he hadn’t locked himself into this crusade.

He sighed, put his phone away again and returned to watching the pub, flipping up his collar against the incessant rain.

Last orders came and went with cold, wet indifference, but the lights in the pub stayed on and bus after scarlet bus swept past Derek’s huddled form with no more than a curious glance and a shrug from the driver. It was a quarter to two in the morning when the door opened again, spewing drunkards on the pavement in a clutter of staggering, song and professions of endearment. A brief scuffle broke out under a flickering orange street lamp, but differences were swiftly put aside when a tall, broad figure blocked the light from the pub doorway before stepping down into the street.

“S’alright, Jacob,” and “G’night Jacob” answered the big man’s unspoken question before the scrappers wove off into the night. The tall man shook his head and gave an amused snort, then started to pick his own way home. Jacob Carlyle. He had the same high cheekbones, the same square, clean-shaven jaw as his brother, but was a few inches taller, a little broader across the shoulders.

“Good-looking fucking family,” Derek muttered through clenched, chattering teeth as he rose from the slick plastic bench and followed him, keeping his collar high and his steps soft.

Jacob’s route home took a short-cut across a muddy, pitted lawn and between two plainly derelict houses. Derek quickened his pace, hoping to catch him before he reached the other side, but he’d left too much space between them to easily close the gap. Instead, he stepped into the illuminated pool beneath a street light and yelled “Oi!”

Looking over his shoulder, the elder Carlyle’s face lit up, a huge grin plastering over his face. “Wotcha! Didn’t expect to see you ‘ere!” Derek strode across the grass to meet him, smiling back, right hand reaching beneath his jacket. The tall man’s brow creased into a drunken frown, something puzzling him, nagging at his befuddled brain. “What’s up with you, then?”

Derek pulled his left hand from his pocket, taking off the dark glasses that were nearly blinding him here, out of range of the glaring orange sodium lamps. A grin, a brief, reassuring snatch of eye-contact and the fizzing sound of the stun gun as the twin bolts hooked into Jacob’s stomach. He kept the juice on a bit longer than he probably needed. The guy was big, Derek told himself, and he had to be sure.

That, and the warm glow of satisfaction chased the cold and the damp from his bones. “C’mon, big fella.” He bent down, hauling one of Jacob’s arms up and over his shoulder. “You and I are going to have a nice… long… chat. Somewhere a bit more private. About that brother of yours.” He started to drag the senseless man along the path. “Sorry you had to be involved, but don’t worry. At least you won’t mind the hangover tomorrow.”

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