Red is talking to Wilkerson and they're both ignoring me, acting as though I'm not there. I'm pretending I don't care, but I'm annoyed. I've been a part of this as long as Red has, maybe even longer. He came on board to the Rebel Voice three months after I started publishing it (well, handing it out and leaving it in sympathetic pubs). Now he's the Warlord, discussing terms with the vermiform Wilkerson and I'm just standing in the background like a forgotten chess-piece. Hah. Well, some chess-pieces don't always do what you expect them to. I shall be a Knight, I think.
There's another man lurking in the shadows by the bandstand who I think was waiting with Wilkerson. I can't make out any details, it's too dark, but he's holding something. It might be a bag, or, knowing the Mayor, a small child. I shudder and try to pretend it was a shiver, but no-one's watching me. I'm playing to an empty gallery.
The snow continues to fall while Red and Wilkerson talk. They're keeping their voices low now after Wilkerson's initial offer. I can't believe that he'd just fade away, and I'm damn certain he's never thought of himself as being a symptom of the disease of the city. Even so, his analogy interests me, because I can easily equate Wilkerson to herpes; everytime you think you're rid of it it flares up again and makes your life hell for a few weeks. What would that make Grozny then? Syphilis, perhaps? It doesn't seem that bad after an initial panic, but three years on and your brain is rotting in your head and it's only a matter of time before your dead?
These are not happy thoughts. I'd like to wander around a little, move so that the cold that's seeping up from my feet doesn't freeze me to the spot, but I'm wary that Wilkerson probably has more men, and they may not see the innocence in my actions.
Oh! Red is walking away from Wilkerson, who is looking after him with a smirk on his face. I guess Red must have given in after all and Wilkerson will get to hide away like a virus, waiting for the city to weaken and give him back control.
"Just walk," says Red quietly to me, and I fall into step beside him. We walk away from the bandstand, following the arc of the path until it's hidden from us by the trees before I open my mouth, ready to ask Red what was said and where we go from here. I close it again though, my eyes widening in surprise.
"Emma--" Red starts speaking, and I place a hand over his mouth, firmer than I'd meant to. He pulls my hand away but he stays silent, and I point.
Three hundred yards away, leaning casually against a powerful car that once drove me around the city, is Jazz. And if Jazz is here, then Joel can't be far away.
She hasn't seen us, we're too far away and there's no lights. Red pulls my arm, pulls me off the path and through the trees until we can't see Jazz either. His mouth presses warmly against the side of my head and his breath tickles my ear as he says,
"How did Joel know to be here?"
I shudder, suddenly afraid that Red thinks I've sold him out.
"I... I don't know. He might have..."
He might what?"
"He might have been watching places he knows I go."
There's a pause that goes on for too long, and then,
"Yeah. That would make sense for him."
"If Jazz was in plain view, then there'll be others who--"
"Who aren't. Yeah. So now we have to try and get out of here without getting caught."
I let him lead the way. Maybe there was a reason Wilkerson chose to deal with Red alone.