“Alex,” I missed her touch as soon as her fingertips left my skin. “Who were those men?”
Nothing better to jolt you back to the here and now that the ‘how did you end up getting my father killed?’ question.
It took me a moment to gather my thoughts. Beth had been out of the picture for so long. So much had changed.
“I’m not sure,” I really didn’t want to be in a situation to find out, “They’re with the police, well, maybe not. Some kind of authorities. They have resources to put pressure on them at least. They sent my picture to the news, wanted for something or other.”
“Why? What do they want?”
“I don’t know. They just turned up, they chased me out of the hospital when I visited you. It was the guy who was investigating what happened to us. He asked me some questions on that, then a few days later… just tried to arrest me. No reason.”
“You think it had something to do with… what happened when I got…”
“Hurt? No, at least not directly.” I couldn’t draw a connection, however stretched. A scuffle with a group of low-life scum from the Island? No one cared, or no one would have if Beth’s dad hadn’t kicked up a fuss. “He was a nice guy in the end though.”
“The cop. I had a chat with him. He got really done over for letting me escape. Lost his job or something. He said he’d look into things, see what he could find.”
“Nothing, at least nothing I know of. Hasn’t been in touch.” I’d honestly forgotten about it. Now that I considered it, I hadn’t really put much thought into how he’d tell me anything.
“So, these people just want to kill you or something? That’s just stupid Alex.”
“Hey. I didn’t ask for any of this shit. I don’t understand it either.”
“You must have done something, pissed someone off, with you’re-”
I was on my feet. “Why does everyone think I’ve done this? I didn’t fucking do anything to these guys, whoever the fuck they are.”
Of course, if I’d never met Beth my problems wouldn’t have fallen on her shoulders.
I paced, unable to stay still. I had an uncontrollable urge to throw something, to hit something. There was nothing to hand, nothing to vent my stupid fucking anger on, which made me feel all the more rage. I couldn’t control the world. Everything just fell apart around me. I try, I meet someone I care about and it all turns to shit. They get hurt because of me. How could she look me in the eye after this?
And it wasn’t just Beth.
I’d fucked Emma over just as much.
Nice happy life? Let me just step in an burn it all to the ground because I just wanted to have a friend.
Nice family life? Nope. Dead. It wasn’t even a fucking one off, however little it seemed to bother him, my actions had directly caused Mike’s father’s death. That went well, he was locked up by his own brother and is now an outcast in his own city.
I couldn’t even just hide in this hole. Somewhere to live? Nope, not allowed that.
I lashed out a kick at the corner of the steel shelves, my one piece of furniture. The sharp edge cut into the soft trainers and the stab of pain shot up my leg.
It pissed me off all the more, but the pain was something of a relief, an outlet. I ground my toes into the floor to feel the last throbbing stabs before it dwindled into a low ache. Nothing serious. But a focus, something to draw my thoughts away from how shit everything was.
I took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.
Beth hadn’t said any more.
It appeared we weren’t discussing it. I was fine with that.
“We’ve got to get out of here.” I said, moving onto a new, more pressing topic. “I’m not sure it’s safe to stay.”
“Where is?” I mustered the courage to turn and face her to find she’d closed her eyes. It took me a moment to wonder if it was an actual question, or just a throwaway observation about the world.
“Mike’s. It’s probably the best.” Read: There’s nowhere else.
“Mike…” She said it like she was trying to picture his face, like she’d forgotten who he was. Worry struck me. Maybe she wasn’t as well as appeared. A head injury like that, there was no telling what damage could have been done. If she couldn’t remember Mike…
“Yeah, Mike. You’ve known him for years.” Was it since they were kids? I couldn’t remember, but I’d always got the impression they had always known each other.
“Turns out I don’t know him so well, though, do I?” she said, pressing her finger and thumb on the bridge of her nose, between her eyes. “You knew him, know him, better than I ever did and it’s been, what, a few months? Everything’s so jumbled up.”
I didn’t reply. I could understand her anger, having things kept from her. It reminded me of what I’d kept from her.
“We still can’t stay here though, Beth,” I said. I played back through the events before she’d got hurt, so much had happened it was difficult to try place it in the before, or the after. “You remember I got Mike away from his family?”
“He’s not with them anymore. For what it’s worth,” I said. How long had we spent talking? I was imagining Emma turning up on her doorstep, worried parents and a helpful police officer peering through twitching curtains for her return. How fast would it all go down, worst case?
“I’m not sure I care. You say it’s the best place to be…” She opened her eyes and met my own, making my stomach flutter in the stupid way it does. “It is.”
I shoved everything I wanted or needed into my backpack and the bag Beth had brought along.
It wasn’t much.
A few spare t-shirts, the best of them. I wanted to leave some behind. The couple of guns I’d collected and their associated clip-things and bullets, bits of armour. I made Beth put on the spare vest I had, difficult to carry, easy to wear. Also: Bullet proof.
I nudged the sewing machine with my foot.
“Too heavy.” I said. Besides, I couldn’t clear the place out too much.
“You can get another one I guess.”
I could. But I’d made my first thing on this one.
Fuck it. I wasn’t going to place nostalga over survival. I repeated my nudge, but this time with considerably more power. Okay, a kick, knocking it over, as if I could leave it if it was broken, crappy, and knocked over.
Never thought I’d be playing mind games over for a sewing machine.
I grabbed the shelves and threw them sideways. The collection of junk I’d gathered, proudly not hidden away from prying mothers, crashed to the floor.
Loud. Stupid. But I felt it necessary.
If Beth was giving up her home, her future, her father as a result of me – this was the least I could do. I shouldn’t feel anything. I shouldn’t hesitate to drop all I have.
The top roads would have been easier on my nerves, but the lower path was easier on Beth’s health. Ice, inexperience and head injuries didn’t mix well.
It was dawn. People were about. The city was grinding into action. Movement, vans of cheaply manufactured goods and whatever else filled the streets with the smell of metal, frying food and fire, starting to flow down the arteries of the city.
I stuck to the wider roads that could carry cars and enough people to put me a little more at-ease. Even so, gangs like the Kolmek operated their game in any location. It was part nessesary for them to make a show in busier streets. They didn’t stick to the backstreets.
I pulled the hooded top I’d retrieved low over my face. Now was not the time for a confrontation. Beth had her pistol, I had my own plus a knife firmly grasped in my pocketed fist. I scanned people for gang tattoos, odd behaviour and guarded hands.
We got lucky, for once. Before I realised how far my semi-conscious mind had gotten us, all my attention was on the people around me not the places, we were at the alley where Mike’s suspiciously thick door was located.
“Here,” I said. The first word since we’d left what was left of my garage.
I reached out and rapped my knuckles on the wood façade.
In the silent reponse, I felt Beth’s fingers enclose my fore-arm, pushing up my sleeve to touch bare-flesh. I hoped she didn’t notice the shiver as all the hairs on my arm stood on end.
Scraping of metal indicated the removal of bolts.
The door swung outwards, silent on its oiled hinges.
“Hello Alex,” Danni. A friendly face. Friendly, except for the sudden frown and narrowed eyes “Who’s your friend?”