In an instant my perspective flipped from how to pacify them to how I was going to fight my way out. I wasn’t trying to work out the team dynamic anymore, I’d got it all wrong anyway. I was trying to work out the order I’d take them down.
Largest factor when it came to prioritising targets? Distance. I had two guys in front of me, one who scared the hell out of me, but the first strike had surprise behind it. The other? He was young. He looked on the scene with fear. He hadn’t taken a step forward when the threats started like the others. New. Weak link. I could probably scare him off pretty easily. That left the other three.
At least two had a knife, I was betting they all did – but likely hidden. The girl, I wasn’t sure how to categorise. She could be pretty easy, I wasn’t going to rule her out though. Drugs can make people do crazy things. Leader and short guy would be the true threats, one had the feel of a boxer and the other was just… cold.
I tried to keep track of the conversation along with going through a number of scenarios in my head.
“…how about we take a look lads?” I couldn’t get a very good view of what he was doing. I could guess though. Mz Gregory was looking at me. I couldn’t read her expression but I could see tears… what did she want from me?
A more pressing matter brought itself to my attention. Skinny had moved within the boundary I considered dangerous…
“Hey!” The leader called over. “I know you like them young Baz, but don’t mess that up too much. We could farm her off.”
“You sure?” The drugged girl slurred, “She looks like a fucking boy to me.”
“Hey, there’s a market for that. Some real sickos in this world.” He turned back to Mz, “You. You’re a little too old for the whoring trade… To get a good price anyway.”
“Can you hear something?” The woman said, everyone froze. I should have made a noise, any noise. I should have started screaming or anything. I knew what they could hear as soon as she mentioned it.
“What the fuck?” Leader moved quickly, smashing the back window of the car with the handle of his knife. I could hear Beth screaming as he pulled her by her jacket kicking and shouting straight through the car window. Beth you idiot, you should have just shut up and laydown.
“Whoa! This is a feisty one. Look at those tits too.” He threw her onto the snow, between me and Mz Gregory.
My hands were shaking. Her screams tore at my insides. I wouldn’t be able to just stand here… but it might be the best thing to do. If I started fighting and lost? I could get her killed…
Whatever happened, it was better than dying. Better than her being killed.
I was having to concentrate on breathing. I couldn’t afford to hyperventilate now, I needed to be alert. Skinny, Baz, watched me like a cat would watch its prey. I think he miss-read my anger for fear.
I wasn’t shaking with fear.
I wanted to kill them… Tear at them until they bleed out into the snow. My sense of right and wrong had melted away under the heat of my rage. If I’d had any space left in my head to think, I’d have gotten a better understanding of the term ‘seeing red’. I was twitching to leap forward I wasn’t even checking thinking about their knives… I just wanted to hurt them.
But I held back.
I shouldn’t move. I’d drilled it into myself for years. Just give them what they want.
Had it ever worked? Did it work with Haley?
What happened when it was something I wasn’t prepared to give, whatever the cost?
Baz pressed himself against me. I kept myself limp even though my muscles buzzed, ready to explode into action. I felt his hands go places I didn’t even want to think about, pressing against my clothes. His face bumped into my own. I could smell his rancid breath, his tongue sliding up my cheek leaving a trail that felt cold in the night-time air. I had more important things to worry about. I was listening, twisting to try see what was happening to Beth.
Today had hammered home that I really didn’t have any reason to care about myself, the only thing I had of any value was her.
She was shouting for them to stop. The leader was kneeling over her, touching her. Pulling at her clothes…
I felt a growl rise at the back of my throat.
Beth tried to fight back, she scrambled away – pulling herself to her feet. They threw her against the car. I heard her head hit the door-pillar with a crack.
I snapped. Like an elastic band wound around too tight, I just exploded forwards. I barely thought about my first action. My best available form of offence on the most vulnerable and closest target. Not often that they are in such close proximity.
I went for the neck, tearing at it with my teeth. He let out a shrill scream. I couldn’t reach the knife at my ankle, but I didn’t even consider getting it. Nothing went through my mind but getting to Beth. I clawed at him, punching and biting and snarling with rage. As soon as his grasp had loosened enough I lashed out with a kick.
The young kid moved towards me nervously. He was inexperienced, not confident. I didn’t go any easier on him. The punch he threw was pathetic left him totally open.
He was in the way. Within seconds I’d stepped in and kneed him in the nuts, grabbed his arm and wrenched it out of the socket. I threw myself at the others who’d surrounded Beth’s prone figure.
I had no plan going in, I just ran at them. It was probably one of the stupidest things I’d ever done, but it didn’t cross my mind.
The figure hunched over Beth. He was the first one. I kicked out at his head like a football. No finesse. It connected with a solid thud and threw him back.
The woman staggered backwards in surprise, but the short guy… he must have been in a few fights before. I didn’t surprise him and his punch hit me within seconds. I felt my head snap around but there was no pain. Just anger that he was trying to stop me protecting her.
I caught the next punch clumsily and pulled – in the moment he lost his balance I smashed his face with the point of my elbow. I felt a scratch at my shoulder and spun around to come face to face with the knife.
It pushed towards me and I skipped backwards but lost my footing, either from the loose snow or tripping up over Beth’s leg.
He jumped on top of me and pressed the knife against my throat, all of his weight crushing me. Within a split second I knew he was going to do it, that it wasn’t a threat. Somehow I managed to get my hands around his as he started to push downwards. I didn’t feel part of my body when the tip of the knife split my skin… He was too strong for me to hold him back. However strong of a freak I was I had no leverage and he had all his weight pressing down.
I don’t want to fail her…
How much pressure does it take to cut a jugular?
We were almost locked in position, but he was slowly working towards me. His blackened teeth grinning at me, spraying me with a fine droplets of spittle as we strained against each other.
Then, without warning he jerked and convulsed. He stopped pushing down on me and I managed to use my knees to throw him off. I reached down to my ankle and ripped the knife out of its sheath. In one fluid movement I rammed it into the twitching figures eye, it caught on something – bone? I had to leave it.
Mz Gregory was standing over us, with a glinting black box in her hand. Taser?
Move you stupid woman, run!
Almost immediately she was grabbed by the short guy. He’d recovered enough to start wrestling for her weapon.
I scrambled up and jumped onto his back, clawing at his eyes and face. He shouted and flailed around but soon collapsed, convulsing. Mz had got her chance.
There was no one else standing, but he was still moving, hands twitching.
I jumped on him, punching at his face. He could still hurt her.
He was going to pay for what he did.
He was going to die.
Someone touched my shoulder. I twisted, grabbing the hand and pulling. I was just about to try breaking the elbow when, for whatever reason, some meaning to what I was hearing filtered down into the part of my mind that made decisions.
“Shhh… Alex, calm down . Stop screaming.” She hugged me, I don’t think she realised how close I was to breaking her arm. I pushed her back. I didn’t want anyone touching me.
“Beth!” My voice hurt. The snow was splattered with scarlet, soaking into the newly fallen snow-flakes as they touched it.
She was where she’d been the whole fight, lying on the sidewalk surrounded by glittering crystals of broken glass. I crawled towards her.
She was still, silent. The snowflakes settling, one landed on her eyelashes – suspended in the air above her face.
The still air.
I couldn’t see her breath.