“No,” said Verity, “It’s ridiculous.”
“You can’t drive me to Leeds with a temperature of, what was it, nearly forty? You’d be a bloody menace on the roads and then you’d be Typhoid Mary on the ward_”
“I wouldn’t go to the ward.”
Sacha hadn’t got the point, as usual.
“It wouldn’t do you any good. And it’d make me more likely to catch it too. Imagine sneezing when your ribcage’s held together with bits of wire: no. Stop it. I’m going to get you some elderberry drink and bring you some lunch here and then I’m off.”
“Can’t you go tomorrow instead?”
“No. Tomorrow’s four weeks. Monday. Remember we noticed Rembrandt’s always there on a Sunday evening, talking with her Monday patients? I want to catch her. And I don’t want to catch bloody ‘flu.”
She kissed him, and went to fetch her combat knife and a lighter.
Verity, deep in thought, looked out over the grey, rain-swept fields.
They must be tracking me, I suppose...must be able to tell I’m on the move. Must probably have guessed where I’m heading. Sod it: should’ve let Sacha drive us. But then they might’ve tried to run us off the road, like that bloke did with Kate Adie...Sacha might’ve got injured. And my ribs hurt. You can’t win...
The train pulled up at Leeds station and she headed for the ticket barrier. It swallowed her ticket, unmoved.
Bugger. They’re here! Perfect place to catch me.
She headed for a ticket inspector who looked promisingly British: a black lad with a toothy grin.
“Sorry, I...it wouldn’t let me through. I’ve still got the receipt for the ticket if you need proof_”
“Oh they often do that when it’s rainin’: wet tickets get stuck.”
He let her through the wide gate, along with the prams and wheeled suitcases.
The incident put her on-edge. That bunch of people...is it them? That bloke? No: wonky teeth. She wished she’d had the presence of mind to put on more lip moisturiser before leaving the train. She thought about taking the shuttle bus rather than walking to the Jubilee Building: perhaps less likely to get ambushed. It meant turning right rather than left out of the station, and crossing the_
Looked right: there’s a sodding great S.U.V.! It’s them!
She crossed the road, walking away from it.
A shot rang out.
Someone else took it: not me. Get in that concrete stairwell...
Down the curved stars, out of sight.
It led to Neville Street and the four-lane underpass with its strange sighing wall: an art installation. And to the Dark Arches.
They won’t be able to pick up the signal from there. I can disappear and come out the other side: I bet they don’t even know it exists...
She pushed through the bedraggled metal fence and walked along the deserted former car-park. The arches with their four channels for the river Aire. Designed by her ancestor, Engineer Bennett. She smiled in the dark. The dark that hid her.
Breaths came sharply: her heartbeat was pegged and unable to rise to the occasion. Had the brakes on.
Brake my heart...
She got to the steps which led down to the fourth of the river culverts, with its concrete walkway. The darkest place, where she’d first encountered the Cocktail Party. The three operatives, who’d now switched sides and deserted her. Difficult to climb over the fence to reach the steps: pains shot up and down her chest where the wires held it together.
I’m not supposed to be doing this...
Suddenly the car-park flooded with cold white light. She heard the S.U.V. crash through the fence, drive towards where she’d been just a second ago, and park up directly above her. Doors slammed. Footsteps.
Other footsteps were coming towards her along the walkway. She ducked round behind the steel steps just as two sets of sparks shot off them. No gunshot, only a whistling sound.
She hoped they couldn’t hear her breathing. Trying to calm her breath, she hoped she wouldn’t pass out.
Boots on the stairs, heading down over her. Another gunshot: away from her. More tasers, coming back towards the steps. The drive spark lit up a face: a face wearing those N.V.G.s. The optics, invented by Sacha, now in Enemy hands: on Enemy eyes.
Somebody grabbed her from behind.
Three twists: pull the knife, twist to stab, twist then pull back.
Thanks, Black Mountain.
A dark figure collapsed near her feet.
A pain shot up her sternum.
More gunshots: more taser sparks. But they didn’t seem to be getting any nearer. If anything they were receding. And concentrating more on each other than on her.
She clung to the steps. It became difficult to stand. She could tell: whoever had the Remote was at it again. Denying her the heartbeats that she needed.
Footsteps, walking, coming slowly towards her.
This isn’t a good enough place to hide: What if he’s got N.V.G.s on? Or some kind of infra-red camera?
She spotted an iron ladder leading down into the water: into the black Aire, swollen with the rain.
Yes, if I take three steps down that, I’m completely out of sight of whoever this is, and then when they give up looking, and I think all the other ones have gone now, I can just get back up and be on my way...
The chilling water tugged at her legs as she stepped down: she could tell it would drag her away if she lost hold of the ladder’s uprights. She wrapped her arms around them and listened for the footsteps. Nothing.
Embracing the ladder, she closed her eyes and waited. Time became strange.
Perhaps it’s safe now. Safe to climb up.
She opened her eyes and looked up.
Golden uprights. Golden rungs: thirteen of them, and they belong to someone called Jacob. Thirteen beats to the bar. Clouds at my feet. Just a perfectly normal day. I’d better get a move on, towards that hand at the top there, help me up. A left hand: and all those twazzocks saying their god’s right-handed...
She started to climb.