Racing the clouds home

Red 5's expletive has intensity and venom in it; I reflexively pull the phone away from my ear, shocked.  I put it back again tentatively and listen to the rest of the message.

"Guys, anyone, I need some help out here.  I need a diversion.  I'm at the bus station.  Find me fast."

The message ends, and another starts after it from Lucy complaining that the fax is out of paper.  I hang up on that.

Red called in less than five minutes ago, my phone should have rung.  Oh no, my Rebel mobile's upstairs in the bedroom, that's why I didn't hear it.  And damn, I've called the Rebel Voice from the wrong phone now, I'll have to change it.  After I've helped Red out.  I've let him down already by not getting his call, and hell, all he needs is a diversion at the bus station.  Probably the security guard's woken up early and let his dog out or something, this'll be easy.  I'm awake anyway.  Now where's the bus station?  Where's my laptop? Google maps will do the trick....

Ten minutes later and I'm running down Lyon Street in my black mac belted tight at my waist, black gym trousers and a grey t-shirt, hoping that I'll blend into the shadows.  The bus station is at the end of the street where it does a dog-leg.  I've still got no plan on what I'm doing here, maybe I'll just hammer on the front gate until the security guard comes out.  Does that count as a diversion?  Or maybe I can just distract the dog by making a noise or throwing something at it?  I think I'm bad at making diversions.

Ok, there's the fence that runs around the bus station.  It's higher than I thought, and spiked too.  Huh, I suppose if people got in then they could steal buses though, it makes sense I suppose.  And... there, a way along is the gate, but it's closed too.  Oh!  No, it's not closed, is it?

I slow, puzzled by the gate not being closed, and struggle to control my breathing too, trying not to pant or be too loud.  It's tough, and my lungs are burning, but I can do it.  Why is the gate open, if Red needs a diversion?  Did he get one already?  I'm wary now, if the police have been called I've not got any diplomatic card with me to get away.  I edge closer to the gate, listening hard and trying to see what's going on inside.

About fifty metres beyond the gate is a small aluminium trailer, probably the security shed.  Or possibly a sandwich van, but I can't see any other structures other than buses.  So shall I just walk up to it and knock on the door?  I can claim I'm lost I guess... better, I'll say I'm being followed and act scared.  Will that be enough?  I don't know, but it'll be a start.

I take a step forward and freeze.  Someone's moved out from behind a bus and is walking over to another.  They bend down and peer underneath the bus.  It can't be Red, but it can be why he needs a diversion.  Oh well, it's now or never.

I break into a run again, heading straight for him, and as he straightens up and turns towards me I let out a little sob.  "Oh God, help me!" I say, proud of managing to sound choked.

The click sounds so loud, and I stop running and stare.  He's pointing something at me, and it's not a torch.

He walks forward, slowly, his hand steady.  I know that click.  I've heard it before.  Joel owns a gun.

"Who are you?" he says, his voice thickly accented.  If I hadn't been expecting the question I'd have had trouble understanding it.

"I - I - I'm being followed," I squeak, and the stammer is for real.  The man in front of me is pointing a gun at me.

"That is unfortunate," he says, rolling his R's.  "We are carrying out sekh-urity here.  You will have to go."  His words have a throaty harshness to them that I've heard from East Europeans.

"I - I -" I stammer, hating myself for not being able to get the words out.

"Go." He never gestures with the weapon, he's too professional for that.  It never wavers from me, and I've no doubt he's aiming at my heart.

I don't want to turn, but I can't walk backwards, he'd know something was wrong.  I force myself to turn and run.  Each step takes forever.  I'm waiting for the BANG as the gun fires.  I can't believe he'll let me go.

I turn the corner and fall over, shaking and crying.  I've not wet myself, and weirdly I'm proud of that, but I can't get a grip on myself, it's just too much.  What the hell have I walked into here?

There's a hand on my shoulder and I whimper and flinch, pulling away and trying to hide my face.  I don't want to see him again, I don't want to see the gun.  If I can't see it, he can't shoot me.  That has to be true.  It has to be.

The touch is insistent, shaking my shoulder until I uncurl and stare up.  My tongue is tied, though I want to scream at him to leave me alone, just shoot me and be done with it all.

It isn't him.

It's a face I recognise, it's someone I see from time to time.  It takes seconds to place the face, but finally I have it.  It's the girl I see on the streets from time to time.  I give her copies of the Rebel Voice, and usually whatever change I've got in my purse.  What is she doing here?

She looks into my eyes, as though checking that I'm still in there, and then gives a satisfied little nod.  She points at the bus station behind me, and I shake my head instantly.

"Men with guns," I say.  Is that right?  Yes, he said that they were carrying out security.  "We should get away."

She shakes her head, and I know it as well.  I came here to help Red, and I can't just abandon him.  Not to men with guns.  "We need to create a diversion," I say.  "I don't know how many there are, but we need to get them out here so that Red can do whatever it is he's going to do."  I hope it's good Red, I really do.

She nods -- what is her name?  Has she ever told me?  She takes my hand, and pulls, gently, insistently.  I come to my feet and my knee hurts instantly.  I've torn my gym pants, it's too dark still to see if I've cut myself too.  She leads me away from the bus station.

"No," I say, pulling her to a halt.  "We have to help Red."  Silly, she won't know who Red is.  But she keeps pulling me anyway and I let her.  The further away from the bus station I am, the happier I am.

Lyon Street is residential, and there are cars parked at the kerb here and there along it.  She pulls me over to the first one, and delves into her pockets.  Whatever she gets out, she leans against the car door, and thirty seconds later it's open.  She leans into the car now, doing something beneath the steering column, and brings the car to life.  I stare, and she withdraws from the car and gestures to the steering wheel.

"You can't drive?  You can hotwire a car, but you can't drive?"

A shrug, a half-smile.  She holds up three fingers and then takes off back towards the bus station.  Three minutes.  I'm to wait three minutes and then drive in there.

Oh my sainted aunts and mother.  I don't think I can do this.

Three minutes have passed and I'm clutching the steering wheel.  My knuckles are white with the strength of my grip and my shoulders are shaking.  The car is erratic, I have to keep correcting for my shakes.  I'm sweating like a -- Joel hated that phrase, I learned it from my dad.  I'm sweating a lot and I'm hot and cold all over at the same time.  I think I'm breathing funny too.

The gate stands open, wide enough for a car now.  Puppy -- that's her name! -- has opened the gate for me, and has disappeared again.  Oh dear sweet me, I'm going to do this.  I really am.

I press down on the accelerator, slide as far down in the seat as I dare, peering just over the top of the steering wheel, and turn all the lights on, headlights, fog lamps, indicators.  The car roars into the bus station, and I take the first corner.  My hands are sliding on the wheel they're so sweaty now.  My heart is pounding in my chest.

The first shot rings out.

Missed.  It missed.  I'm a moving target, it can't be easy to hit me.  Please let it not be easy to hit me.

I take another corner, and I see a man with a gun stepping away from the bus.  I aim the car at him, but I can't do it, and I chicken out, pulling away again.  He saw it though, and he dives out of the way regardless.

Another shot rings out.  And another.

Another corner up ahead, and this time I feel the car slide as I turn.  I'm going too fast, but I don't dare slow down.  And I don't know how long Red needs his diversion to last.  Oh crap.

It's probably only five minutes, but it feels like two and a half years.  I turn a corner again, and there are five of them, running across the bus station towards me and I realise I have no choice.  I can't stop, and I can't go round them.  I slide fully down in the seat now, and press down harder on the accelerator.

A shot.

The windscreen shatters and sprays me with chunks of glass.

I hear someone swearing, and a thump, but I don't feel anything on the car.  Or under the wheels.

I sit up, and I'm heading for the silver trailer.  I haul on the wheel, pulling hard to the left, and I miss the trailer by just a couple of feet.

The back windscreen shatters and I scream.

I drive out of the bus station, only just getting the next corner, and off up Lyon Street.  I hope to God that that was enough of a diversion for Red.  I need to get away.  I need to dump the car.  I need to find out what that last bullet struck.


The End

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