“Hold still…” There was a buzz and my wrists felt the heat. Then the heat got uncomfortable.
It didn’t stop at uncomfortable. I let out a hiss with pain, drowned out by the machine’s laboured drone. There was a snap, and I felt the cuffs give-way. I pulled them away from the monstrosity and rubbed my scalded wrists, still encased in a far too hot whatever-the-hell plastic these things were made from. But free to move independently at least.
“Didn’t say it wouldn’t hurt, girl,” the man said. He brushed his thinning grey hair away from his eyes and addressed the leader of our his group, which had now dwindled down to just himself, and me. “Where’d you find this one, Jack?”
“On Ten West Street nicking food,” he said.
“Well, these things are the real deal. What kind of trouble you in?” he addressed me this time.
“I’d rather not say.” Also, I didn’t have a clue.
I swung my arms, taking joy in their full movement. “What do I owe you?” I said. Not that I had much to give, it made me uneasy agreeing to something without bargaining a price before-hand. I had no leverage, but he’d started up the machine as soon as Jack told him what was needed.
“I’ll do anything to piss of the MCPS. I’ll add this to my list. Just come back if there’s a next time, pay me then.” He flashed a row of broken teeth. “I get the impression you might need this service again.”
“Thanks.” I replied. It was heartfelt, you don’t get much for free in life.
“Thanks dad.” Jack said and slid down off the back of the machine, before whispering to me, “MCPS? I thought you said those were from the Kolmek.”
“I said no such thing. Implied maybe. These don’t have anything to do with that.” I whispered back.
“You are so full of bullshit,” he said, but he was smiling.
“Believe me, or don’t. I really don’t give a shit.” We walked out of his dad’s workshop side by side. The cramped room that Jack’s dad rented was two floors up, god knows how he got the machinery he earned a living repairing up here. Perhaps he dismantled them and only repaired parts. There was obviously some demand though, he could pay the rent.
Jack grabbed the ladder by the sides and slid all the way down to street level. Far too energetic. I took it slowly, favouring my good ankle and being careful with my broken hands. Just being able to use one on each rung felt good. How long had I been cuffed? Whatever it was, it was too long.
He was waiting, leaning against the crumbling brick tapping his foot. “Where are you going now?” he asked when I ignored him and started walking.
“There’s something I need to do.” I said.
He pushed off the wall and fell into step beside me. “What is it?”
“I’m not going to tell you.”
“Why not? I helped you out didn’t I?” We turned down an shortcut where a building had fallen in, skipping over the legs of the homeless and junkies that had claimed it as their own.
“Because I don’t want to. Besides, it’s dangerous.” I said.
“I can do dangerous,” he said and stuck out a grubby hand towards me. “What’s your name anyway? I’m Jack.”
What was with this kid? I ignored the hand. “Alexis. And I already know your name.”
“That’s a nice name.” Déjà vu. Beth had said that to me when I first met her. Fuck. Was she any better? I wondered. She could have woken up… I needed to give her dad a call – but the last time I’d seen him… not good.
“You ok? What did I say?” I didn’t answer. “Hey, sorry. Fuck. You’re touchy.”
I glared at him and he shut up. “I need some information. Some people are… interested in my whereabouts. I want to know why, and it occurred to me where they might look to find me.”
“So some people want to find you?” He said.
“Yes.” That’s what I said.
“And you don’t want to be found.” He sounded like he was working out a particularly confusing logic puzzle.
“Obviously” I said.
“So you’re going to the place where they will be looking for you?”
“I… yeah, but… Look, do you want to help me or not?”
He didn’t reply, his answer didn’t need to be voiced.
“Can I borrow that knife?” I added.
* * *
“Someone like that?” Jack said, nudging me in the ribs just where the bullet fragment gouged out a chunk of flesh. I was glad my armour was on, even if it was my ‘light’ version. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to get into fight here, and my normal armour was noticeable.
“Yep.” And at fucking last. I’d already been following his movement down the road of course. He stuck out like a sore thumb. Alien to the Island.
I hoped one of these fuckers would come back. It had taken me far too long to sleep off my injuries, a little at least. By the time I realised they’d come after where they thought I lived I’d guessed it was probably too late.
I’d waited anyway, just in case they returned for some reason. My legs cramping up and my fingers aching as I fiddled with the knife. I put up with Jack’s moaning, but he was curious enough not to leave.
It paid off.
“Watch the door. Try give me a warning if anyone else comes in.” I got up from our vantage point and stretched my disused limbs.
“Aww, can’t I come with?” He thrust out his bottom lip in protest, before cheering up at a thought, “You gonna kill him?”
“I’ll see what he has to say first.” I said. The guy, Adam? Arthur? He was one of those who’d chased me. Tried to save me, save Beth, and then tried to kill me. I saw no reason to rule out a sensible retaliation. I felt around my waist for the gun I’d shoved into the elasticated straps of my belt. I’d come prepared in one respect.
I descended to the ground as fast as I could and followed him up to my flat, catching up with him as he approached my old landing. I didn’t get a chance to register that I was returning to where I’d lived all my life; the adrenaline of following someone was coursing through my veins. It didn’t leave much room for nostalgia.
He looked long and hard at the door, bending close to look at the broken jam. What for I had no idea. It was clear they must done that when they kicked it in on their first visit, I had come to check and the place was empty. He mustn’t have been here when they first came?
Finally he went in the room. I could either follow him, or wait for him to come out. Knowing that the change for light to dark would be better for the person going through the transition I thought it best to wait for him to come to me. I pressed myself to the side of the door, and waited for him to emerge.
How was I going to do this? My first idea was to hold a knife to his throat, but damn he was tall. It would be a struggle to reach up that high.
I could use a gun, but I needed to be close to him to control his movements. Plus this was an enclosed space – he could get out of my line of sight easily enough unless I held on to him and that gave him ready access to the gun. They were long range, not close.
No, I just needed to get his throat down to my level. I needed to be able to control him.
How about… yeah that might work. I felt around my waist and took out the gun, shoving the stub nosed pistol into my jacket pocket. Trying to keep the noise of my movement to a minimum, I slipped off my belt. All it had left was my phone and a few odds and ends – nothing too important for a fight.
Belt in one hand, knife in the other I waited.
* * *
I didn’t get much warning. I was getting distracted by daydreams and my throbbing hands – I really should just stop using them for a week and let them heal – when the figure came back out of the door.
I burst into action, throwing the loop of the belt over his head and in a fluid movement I pulled with all my weight, backwards, back into the flat. I was greeted by a satisfying choking. It was relatively easy, pulling him back. People are usually very accommodating if the alternative was having their wind-pipe crushed.
I kicked the door closed with my heel throwing us into darkness and touched the tip of my knife against the soft flesh of his throat.
“So…” Right, I should have been thinking about what the fuck I was going to say while I was waiting. Spent too much time daydreaming about Beth. My stomach panged, was she any better? Well, now I had someone to ask…