Monday, 9 July 2012

Chapter Nineteen

Mark dropped to his knees with a grunt and plunged his hands into the undergrowth, feeling around frantically for the keys. It was dark beyond seeing, and weeds and creepers tangled his arms, their thorns leaving shallow scratches on his hands.

"Come on," he muttered. "Come on, come on."

He was sure he could hear Garmondy now, the old man wheezing as he picked and fought his way through the vegetation. How good was his eyesight? Was he even now taking aim at Mark's unprotected back?

Mark's hand brushed metal, and he snatched at it. A second later he was holding the keys, his ankle protesting painfully as he levered himself to his feet. There was a sharp clack as he mashed the button and the locks sprang open, and the sidelight of the car in front of him flashed brightly, throwing long orange shadows through the trees.

He dived towards it, found the door handle, clumsy in haste, yanked the door open and twisted, tumbling inside. With a slam the door was shut and he stabbed once, twice, three times at the ignition before he found it and the engine roared to life. The lights flared on, and the heater started blowing air, warm and car-scented. At once Mark felt calmer, safer, more in control, as if in the presence of an old and loyal and capable friend.

Looking up, he saw something move in the rear view mirror. It was Garmondy, illuminated with a pale wash of red by the brake lights. There he stood, feet planted, shoulders squared, the gun raised and pointed. Mark saw his mouth move.

"You just step on out of there, boy."

"No," said Mark. "I don't think I will."

With practiced ease he slammed the little Peugeot into reverse and stamped the accelerator to the floor. The wheels spun, screeching. Mud spattered the sides of the vehicle, and Mark was jolted violently as it kicked into motion, shuddering over roots and rocks. He heard Garmondy scream, and ducked down as far as he could, keeping a one-handed grip on the wheel. There was the booming explosion of the gun once more, and cubes of glass rained down on the back of Mark's neck.

Then the car hit Garmondy, and his scream was cut short. Mark didn't see him as he was thrown up and rolled limply all the way over the roof. He felt him though.

And then the Peugeot was lurching back onto the road, rumbling heavily on its two flat tyres. Mark only just managed to straighten it in time, having to fight the pull of the wheel. He slid it into drive, and, grim-faced, set off for the old hotel.

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