“You have got to be kidding me,” I muttered, as the people around me began to shout and stamp their feet in a drum roll. He gunned the engine and the bike swooped down the slope, curving and shooting up the next. And then it shot off at the top and continued, upside down, as if the rider was drawing an invisible circle, until it slammed back down where it had started. The bike accelerated again, streaking up the ramp again and this time, the rider used his weight to lean and twist the bike until it spun in midair, jerking round sickeningly fast. I couldn’t imagine what was going through the rider’s head. Then the bike crashed back down halfway up the other side, and with a screech of brakes and a stylish curving sweep, came to a stop. The crowd cheered wildly, some booing as their companions took money on bets that had been made. The guy kicked the brake down, inviting the owner of the motorbike to come back up and get it, as the skateboarders all around clambered back on and continued their skating around it as though nothing had happened. The rider’s head suddenly turned, and even through the dark visor I could tell he was looking right at me. He walked towards me, dropping off the ramp with the help of only one hand, and strode through the crowd. When he stopped in front of me and Charlotte, he pulled the helmet off. Even under that, he had somehow managed to keep on wearing his glasses.
“Phoenix?” I gasped. “What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing, sugar,” he grinned, but his head was turned towards Charlotte. “Making new friends? Meena and Willow aren’t being very responsible, are they? Taking you out on the town when they should be protecting you at home, and Willow was so sure she was doing a better job than anyone else could.”
I could feel Charlotte looking at me, but I didn’t turn my head.
“Whatever, Phoenix. I can go wherever I want. They are doing a good job - because they know I don’t want them to nanny me. Whatever you think they’re there for, they are my friends and they wanted me to have fun.”
Phoenix’s shades rose a little so I could tell he had raised his eyebrows.
“So. Having fun yet? Doesn’t look like it, but now I’m here I’m sure we can make this a proper party.”
Charlotte’s fiery head bobbed enthusiastically in my line of sight and I sighed. I wished I hadn’t stopped for that look around after all it had led to.
She turned and followed Charlotte and Phoenix reluctantly as they went back onto the dance floor and cut across to the right, where I could see another door in the wall, unmarked. Phoenix went through this without hesitation and Charlotte followed. I stopped with a sigh and then moved again to walk forward, when Charlotte came smashing back out of the doorway. She landed in a crumpled heap at my feet, obviously having been thrown. Her head tilted back and I saw the bullet hole above her right eye.
I gagged reflexively and stumbled away from her. I had known her for all of fifteen minutes and she was…
Phoenix, my head reminded me. He was in that room with whoever had just flung Charlotte out of it. I stepped around Charlotte and used the door to shield my body as I peered around. Nobody had noticed us in the shadowy edge of the warehouse. The music still went on, drowning out any scream I could have made.
The room beyond was dark - then I realised that it wasn’t a room at all, this door opened out of the warehouse and into the night. I couldn’t hear a sound.
I stepped out, one footstep. Two. Away from the door. A third.
Slowly, I turned my head to the left. There was nothing to see but the wall of another building. To the right and -
“GET BACK INSIDE, RUBY!”