A fist flies out of nowhere and blurs past my eyes. I jerk my head backwards reflexively and turn, my leg coming up and snapping out a kick that connects with ribs. My other leg, the one that took the bullet, wobbles and feels weak, so I drop back to recover. As I do, a short person in a black polo-neck and a balaclava throws two more punches, both falling short. My leg wobbles again and I drop to reduce my dependence on it, and a right hook sails through the air where my head was. My hands strike the floor and I lash out with my good leg again, sweeping their feet away. They fall, hands going out to break it and I spring up, landing heavily on their closest fingers. There's a muffled yelp, tension in the body, but I drop again, rabbit-punching the exposed back of their neck.
Pulling back the balaclava reveals a man I don't recognise, but he's short and swarthy, badly stubbled and dressed the way an amateur thinks an assassin dresses. I check his pockets and find his wallet and a small pry-bar.
He's come at me out of the nurse's station and I can see an unconcious nurse inside. The pry-bar gives me an idea: I step in and pry open the drug cabinet. The morphine ampoules go in my pocket for Jim, the antibiotics go as well for Jeremy. The rest I stuff into the assassin's pockets and scatter around him, stamping on his other fingers to give him something to worry about when he wakes up. I don't like being attacked; I do like knowing that those self-defense classes that we diplomats are made to keep up-to-date with are worth their weight in morphine.
Time to go, we need to get out of here faster than I thought. Damn.
I arrive at Jim's room to hear his laboured typing and an irritated grunt. Poking my head round the door, I see him on a gurney with a hospital porter starting to push it.
"Jim, Q, it's cool," I say, keeping my voice deliberately calm. "We're leaving, I told you."
The look on his face, wired jaw or not, says it all. I think he wanted to be left behind. I stay in front of the gurney as we travel through the corridors to the ambulance station. My heart's still racing in my chest, and I find myself darting little glances out of the corners of my eyes every time we come to a cross-corridor. Dare I believe that the man was alone?
Red is there, waiting, looking nervous. He looks better when he sees Jim come in though, and I look straight past him to the doors. There's an ambulance waiting, the engine idling, so I point to it, and we load the patients on board, not fast enough for my liking. The porter takes the gurneys away, closes and locks the back doors, and I slide into the front next to Laika, taking the driver's seat. She points ahead, an impish, elvish grin on her face and wiggles her fingers again. I press down the accelerator and we leave the hospital behind. A weight seems to lift from my chest, though my heart's beating no slower.
We arrive at the old aquarium some forty-five minutes later, having taken a pretty roundabout route. I figured out about twenty minutes in that Laika was trying to hide our trail when she made me drive through the cemetery. God alone knows what people would think if they'd seen that. I look at her, my eyebrow raising.
She nods enthusiastically and points to a road round to the back of it, and I sigh inwardly, wondering who on earth lives here and how safe this really is.