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       The Enemy, p.24

           Charlie Higson
 

  “I can’t stand it,” wept Rhiannon.

  Sam knelt by her and gently put an arm around her.

  “It’s all right, Rhiannon,” he said. “You’ll be all right. We’ll soon be out of here. Maybe we can get help and come back to rescue the others.”

  “Yes.” Rhiannon sniffed and wiped her nose. “Okay. Yes. I’ll be all right.”

  Sam helped her up. In the center of the car was a huge block of wood, a chopping block, scarred from much use, stained black. A meat cleaver was embedded in it. Sam wrenched it free.

  “Leave it, shrimp,” said the Kid. “I already thought of that. Too heavy. No use to you.”

  “I’ll use it if I have to,” said Sam. “I’ll kill the both of them.”

  “Not with that, you won’t. It’s for a grown man, not a pipsqueak like you. You need a skinky like mine. I looked, there ain’t nothing else here of use to a desperado. That great chopper will only slow you down.”

  Sam tried to lift it, but the Kid was right. He’d barely be able to swing it in a fight. He dropped it to the floor with a clatter.

  And then he saw something else. Lying in a box of skewers.

  His butterfly pin.

  He snatched it up. He felt strong again.

  “I’ve got my own skinky now,” he said. “Let’s go.”

  “Please,” said Rhiannon. “I need to rest. I can’t go on.”

  “In here?” said the Kid. “You gotta be pulling my plonker. Up and at ’em, Tiger Lil.”

  The Kid took them to the door, opened it, and dropped down to the tracks. Rhiannon sighed and grumbled, but she followed him while Sam brought up the rear, his heart racing.

  “Why do we need to go back to the platform?” he said.

  “We can’t go no farther this way,” said the Kid. “Tunnel’s blocked. All we got to do is go back under-the-neath of the train, to the join between the cars. There’s space to get out there.”

  “I know,” said Sam. “I’ve done it before.”

  “Then let’s do it.” The Kid gripped Rhiannon by the shoulders. “Do you feel up to some Olympic sneaking, my girl?”

  Rhiannon swallowed. She was breathing heavily and could barely nod her head.

  They scrambled along in the gulley underneath the train. The Kid didn’t dare use the lighter anymore, so they had to feel their way, just as Sam had done when he’d first escaped from the grown-ups in Camden Town.

  How long ago was that?

  He had no idea.

  It didn’t take them long to get to the gap, and Sam peered out.

  The nightlights still bathed the area with a yellow glow.

  He looked along the platform to the right. It wasn’t far to the way out at the end. The length of one car. But they would be exposed all the way and would have to climb over the bed frame that was blocking the exit.

  “This is the hard part,” whispered the Kid, poking his head out next to Sam’s. “Open ground. There’s no way around it.”

  The boys ducked back under the train.

  “We got to dash across there like froggers,” the Kid told Rhiannon. “If we make it unseen, we’re home free. We’ll slimper up topside and be gone. If they spot us, it’s a different story, morning glory. Curtains I reckon, and blinds and shutters as well, maybe, probably carpets too. What do you say, girl?”

  “Her name’s Rhiannon,” said Sam. “I’m called Sam.”

  “Nice name. Nice girl. Pleased to meet you. I shoulda brought flowers or chocolates or a dead mouse.”

  Rhiannon giggled, and it lifted Sam’s spirits. There was always hope.

  Rhiannon put her hand on Sam’s shoulder. “You go first,” she said. “If I see you can make it, it’ll make me braver.”

  “You sure?”

  “Go on. Good luck.”

  Sam looked out. As far as he could tell it was all clear. He squeezed through the narrow opening and shuffled on his belly onto the platform. A quick glance to left and right, then he sprinted to the end in a low crouch and gave the bed frame a quick once-over. It was secured in place with a chain and padlock. He would need the Kid’s help.

  His heart was hammering, the blood pulsed tight in his head, and he felt sick again. He looked back. The train was still. There was no movement in Nick and Rachel’s livingcar. The doors were shut.

  Rhiannon was slowly groping her way onto the platform; the Kid was obviously pushing her from below. Helping her up. Sam knew how hard that was. Once up she lay there on her stomach, catching her breath. The Kid quickly whispered something in her ear, and Sam waved him over.

  Somehow the Kid seemed to blend in with the surroundings and almost disappear, moving like a rat and sliding into the shadows next to Sam.

  “Nothing to it,” he whispered, his teeth very white in the darkness. “Piece of Coca-Cola.”

  Sam showed the padlock to the Kid, who made short work of it, wriggling his tool in the lock until it clicked open.

  It was a nightmare trying to unthread the chain without making a sound, but between them they managed it and were able to slide the bed frame back just far enough to squeeze past.

  “Let’s get the babe, chicken legs.” The Kid signaled to Rhiannon.

  “Don’t call me that,” said Sam crossly. “I don’t have chicken legs.”

  “They sure are skinny.”

  “You’re not exactly fat.”

  “Not exactly, no—”

  “Shhh.” Sam clamped a hand over the Kid’s mouth.

  Rhiannon had gotten to her feet and started to come across. She was limping and fighting for oxygen. Moving painfully slowly.

  “Come on,” said Sam. “Come on, you can make it.”

  He could just see the expression on her face. Desperate, scared, yet determined. Nothing was going to stop her.

  “She’s gonna make it,” said the Kid. “Come on, girl. Come on, my Rhiannon.”

  Then Rhiannon staggered and fell to her knees. She couldn’t stop herself from grunting, and Sam held his breath.

  “Get up, girl,” said the Kid, but Rhiannon couldn’t.

  “Come on,” said Sam, and the two of them left their cover and went over to her. They hooked an arm under each shoulder and wrenched her up.

  They hadn’t gone three steps when there was a movement. Something darted out of the shadows and skidded to an alarmed halt in front of them. It was Orion, Nick and Rachel’s ginger cat. It put its back up, fur on end, and gave a hideous squalling shriek.

  Sam jumped back in shock and then swallowed hard as the door to Nick and Rachel’s car slid open with a harsh scrape of metal, and there was Nick with a face like fury.

  “Hey!” he called out. “Where do you think you’re going?”

  Does that hurt?”

  “Yes!”

  “Does that?”

  “Yes—everything hurts!”

  Maeve sat back in her chair and tried to give Maxie a reassuring smile.

  “Well, I don’t think your arm’s broken,” she said. “It could have a small fracture, but I don’t think so. It’s very badly bruised.”

  “I don’t need you to tell me that.”

  “You’re a terrible patient, you know.”

  “I don’t want to be a patient. What about my ribs?”

  “They could well be broken. But there’s no bones sticking out or anything. You can’t do much for cracked ribs. You just have to be careful. And try not to laugh.”

  “That’ll be easy.”

  Maxie stared up at the ornate ceiling of the ballroom. All wedding-cake plasterwork with gold leaf and fancy bits and pieces. Dusty chandeliers dangling down all over the place. Funny how quickly you got used to all this.

  “Maybe you should go up to the sick bay with Blue,” said Maeve. “Let Rose and her nurses look after you. They’re pretty organized up there.”

  “No,” said Maxie. “I’m not putting myself in their hands. I’ll be all right.”

  She didn’t feel all right. Her side was one big bruise, and sh
e could barely move her arm.

  And she couldn’t stop thinking about Freak.

  They’d buried him in the palace gardens that morning, as soon as they’d got back from the fight. Standing in the rain, everyone silent and miserable. Maxie had wanted to say a few words, like Freak had done when they’d burned Arran’s body, but she had nothing to say.

  “I’ll get you some more painkillers,” said Maeve.

  “Thanks.”

  “And try to think positive thoughts. You’ll get better much quicker.”

  “Positive thoughts . . . ? Right.”

  “I know it’s hard.”

  “The idea was, Maeve, that when we got here everything was going to be all right. But it isn’t. Everything’s crap.”

  “Come on,” said Maeve. “Don’t forget so soon what it was really like back at Waitrose. It was hell. There was one less of us nearly every week.”

  “At least before, we knew where we were. We were friends. We stuck together. Now there are too many of us. We’re falling apart. Losing touch with each other. It’s too complicated.”

  Before Maeve could say anything, the doors opened and Ollie came in.

  “I’ve just been up to see Blue,” he said. “He’s in the sick bay with that girl we rescued near Green Park.”

  “I’d forgotten about her,” said Maxie. “How is she?”

  “Pretty bad, I think.”

  “And Blue?”

  “He’s conscious, at least, but being sick everywhere. Puked up this stuff that looked like egg yolk.”

  “Bile,” said Maeve. “Often happens if you get concussed.”

  “Is anyone with him?” asked Maxie.

  “Whitney was up there, but Rose got rid of us. Says he needs to rest. How are you doing?”

  “I’m fine.”

  Ollie sat down. “David wants to talk to you about what happened this morning.”

  “I’ve got nothing to say to him.”

  “We owe it to him to—”

  “We don’t owe him anything!” Maxie exploded, then winced and clutched her aching ribs.

  “We do, actually,” said Ollie. “They’ve given us their food. They’ve let us stay here. David may be a dick, but he’s smart and he’s organized. We don’t want to screw things up.”

  “I’m not going to spend the rest of my life fighting his fights for him,” said Maxie. “What kind of a life is that?”

  “Right now it’s the only life we’ve got,” said Ollie. “Wherever we go in London it’s going to be the same. We’re going to have to fight. That’s how the world is now. Better that we fight for something that’s worth it. Better that we stick with the strongest bunch around. With whoever looks like they’re coming out on top.”

  “Okay, so what if those bastards we fought today look like they’re coming out on top? Would you join them?”

  Ollie sighed and ran the fingers of both hands through his red hair.

  He thought for a while, but said nothing.

  Sam and the Kid were holding Rhiannon’s hands and dragging her through the station as fast as they dared. It was dark and they couldn’t risk using the lighter. None of them was sure of the way out; they only knew that they had to keep going up. That was easier said than done. The station was a maze of tunnels and hallways with openings going off in all directions to other platforms and other tube lines. It would have been confusing enough with the lights on—Sam had never really got the hang of the underground system— but in the dark it was a nightmare.

  After spotting them, Nick had ducked back inside the car to get something, and the children had bolted. It would only be a matter of time before he caught up with them, though. He knew his way around and he was faster.

  “We need to hide,” said the Kid.

  “Where?” said Rhiannon.

  “Search me,” said the Kid.

  They heard pounding footsteps behind them and looked back to see a flashlight beam scouring the darkness, bouncing off the walls. The Kid whipped his lighter out and lit it one-handed. They saw an exit sign and followed it. They ran down a short tunnel, turned to the right, and spotted some escalators. Two of them, going up, with stairs between them.

  “That way,” the Kid hissed, and they darted up the middle. It was easier taking the stairs than the stationary escalators, which had taller steps.

  When they got to the top, Rhiannon was wheezing and panting, doubled over in pain. It was obvious they’d need to stop soon. But when the Kid flicked on the lighter, they saw that they were faced with more stairs and an exit sign pointing to the right.

  “We’ve got to keep going,” Sam said to Rhiannon, who couldn’t speak.

  “We must,” said Sam, and he shook her.

  Rhiannon gulped. Nodded. The boys took her arms and dragged her along again.

  Another tunnel. Another escalator. Dim light filtering down from above.

  “We must be nearly there,” said Sam. “Once we’re outside it’ll be easier.”

  “I-won’t-make-it-up-there. . . .” said Rhiannon, every word hurting her.

  Sam looked around. There would have been two escalators here, but one of them had evidently been under repair. It was boarded off. There was only the one way up and down. There was a pile of trash dumped at the foot of the out-of-order escalator. Bits of plywood and wire and sheets of cardboard.

  The footsteps were getting nearer. The flashlight beam was shining along the tunnel they had just come through.

  Sam nodded to the pile of trash, not daring to speak.

  The three of them climbed behind some cardboard and ducked down, huddled together, trying to make themselves small. Rhiannon was still fighting for breath.

  “I can’t go on,” she wheezed. “I feel like I’m going to explode. I’m so dizzy. Don’t make me. Please . . .”

  “Shhh,” said the Kid. “Be quiet now.”

  Sam made sure he could see what was going on, peeking from behind a flap of cardboard. He watched Nick come charging down the tunnel, his flashlight in one hand, his sawed-off shotgun in the other. Behind him came Rachel, also carrying a flashlight. They both shone their beams quickly up the escalator.

  Rachel swore. “Did they go up?”

  “Dunno. Couldn’t hear anything,” said Nick.

  “Have they gotten away?”

  “They can’t have,” said Nick. “They was only just ahead of us.”

  “Did they go the other way, then?”

  “Could have. Could be anywhere.”

  Rachel looked back up the escalator. Something was making her nervous.

  “Maybe we should let them go, lover?”

  “Let them go?” said Nick. “After all the food we’ve wasted on them?”

  “I don’t want to go up top.”

  “Maybe they’re not up there,” said Nick. “Maybe they never made it this far.”

  “You think maybe they’re still down in the tunnels?” said Rachel.

  “Must be. I’ll go back down and look.”

  “I’ll keep going up to the ticket hall,” said Rachel. “I’ll holler if I hear anything.”

  “All right,” said Nick. “But be careful.”

  “Ah, they’re only kids,” said Rachel, and she started up the escalator.

  Nick ran off back the way he had come.

  Rhiannon had been trying to hold her breath, to stop from making a sound, but it was too hard for her—she took a long rasping gasp of air that rattled in her throat, and Rachel’s flashlight beam swiveled around.

  She came back down the stairs.

  “Who’s that I hear?” she said softly. “Is that you, kids? Are you there? Don’t be scared, it’s only me. It’s Rachel. I know you must be terrified as anything, all alone up here in the dark. Don’t worry, I’ll look after you.”

  As she spoke she reappeared at the bottom of the stairs and edged closer to the pile of trash, her voice soft and reassuring, like someone talking to a kitten or a frightened bird that had gotten into the house.
r />   Now her flashlight beam fell on the three of them, and she smiled, tilting her head to one side.

  “There you are, my lambs,” she cooed. “Don’t be frightened, now. Just look at you. You shouldn’t be out, should you?”

  Sam could feel Rhiannon next to him trembling, and he could hear her breath scraping at her lungs. He gripped his butterfly pin tight.

  “Come on. Come to Mommy. I’ll look after you. Haven’t we kept you warm and well fed? Hmm? Haven’t we kept you safe from harm, kept the bad ones away? Hmm? You don’t want to go out there into the big world, now, do you? Whatever would you do? All those crazies out there. You’re much safer with Rachel and Nick, now, aren’t you?”

  She got herself into a position that blocked their escape, then straightened up and bellowed at the top of her voice.

  “Ni-ick! I found ’em! They’re up here, love!”

  “Get her!” shouted Sam, and he charged at her, butting her in the stomach with his head. She grunted and staggered back, but she was strong and Sam was small. It reminded him of play fights with his dad. His dad had pretended to be beaten, to be hurt, when Sam knew all along he could have picked him up and tossed him across the room.

  “Now, now,” said Rachel, holding her temper in. “That’s enough of that.” She cuffed Sam to the floor, and he went down hard. But now the Kid was up and out, beating Rachel with his fists. Even Rhiannon joined in. They had all seen the meat wagon. They knew what Rachel was capable of. Between the three of them they tripped her and sent her tumbling to the ground. Sam lunged at her with the pin, but only managed to scratch her neck.

  “Where did you get that?” Rachel roared, finally letting her anger show as she struggled back onto her feet. “Give that back!”

  “It’s mine,” said Sam. “You should never have taken it.”

  “Give it to me!” Rachel snapped, and as she made a snatch for it, Sam stabbed it into the palm of her hand. She shrieked and jerked her hand back. Almost immediately she batted him to the ground again, using the flashlight that she was holding in her other hand, smashing the bulb. She tried to stamp on Sam, but he rolled out of the way and jabbed the pin into her leg. Her shriek this time was terrible. Loud and piercing, it echoed off the tiles. Sam scrambled up, grabbed Rhiannon and the Kid, and they started up the escalator.

 
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