Previous: Chapter Eight
Jack fought his way up the steps to the police station, pushing against the tide of bodies cramming the entrance. Nobody was moving. He couldn’t tell if they were entering or leaving and found himself caught in a Gordian knot of frantic and enraged people.
Ana watched from the pavement. Stone griffins glared at her from each corner of the towering grey edifice. Everything about the building was designed to intimidate, but the flagpole above the entrance stood empty and the blue lamps on either side of the door were smashed. Abusive graffiti had been washed off and reapplied so many times that the stone cladding had taken on a garish mottled appearance, as if the police had commissioned a new work from an especially edgy artist.
Jack craned his neck and encouraged Ana to follow. The plan had seemed simple. Before breaking free of ARK they would visit the police and find out what they could about the homeless deaths. Jack had a source at the station and they had helped each other out on numerous occasions, but on this story his friend was yet to share. The plan was that Ana would read his mind and extract the details they needed. But first they had to find him.
Ana watched the scrum for an opening. It was impossible. She shook her head at Jack, but he nodded urgently and mouthed: use your powers.
She glanced up the street. The black Lexus was parked beyond the Magistrate’s Court where another scrum of people filled the pavement. The police were processing misdemeanours as fast as they could, but the system was on the brink of collapse. Most crimes now went unacknowledged and unpunished, unless the victim was willing to pay ARK for the privilege of justice.
Ana felt her hands become warm. There was a simple way to clear a path to the door, but she would have to be careful not to hurt anyone. With one eye on the Lexus, she approached the knot of people on the steps. She raised her hands and sent ripples of electromagnetism into the air around her. The people closest began to move, turning in search of the source of their discomfort.
Ana’s cheeks burnt in embarrassment. She apologised as she walked through the crowd and up the steps to the heavy wooden doors. She reached Jack and took his hand. He recoiled as the static charge grounded itself through his body, and he clutched at his arm. ‘Careful, babes.’
‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘Let’s find him and get out of here.’
Once inside they were greeted with more of the same. The foyer was crammed with bodies. People clawed their way to the reception desk between two giant pillars. Police officers shouted from behind the glass, trying to impose order.
Ana drove a path through the mayhem to the desk and dragged Jack with her. He slammed his press pass against the glass.
‘Lucas. I need to speak to him.’
The officer behind the glass looked at him impassively. Exhaustion exuded from every pore of his being, as if the only thing holding him up were strings attached to an unseen controller who drove him mercilessly onwards. He shook his head slowly and repeated what he was saying to everyone who made it to the desk.
‘If it’s not an emergency, we can’t help, sir.’
‘I have information,’ said Jack, ‘about a body found last night. Ana-’
‘If it’s not an emergency, we can’t-’
Jack hit the glass with his fist. The officer didn’t even flinch. He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could repeat himself again, Ana leaned across and smiled. She poured out as much empathy and compassion as she could muster, soothing the man’s battered soul with understanding. He relaxed a fraction and Ana felt a sob catch in his throat. If it weren’t for the glass, she would climb over the desk and hug him.
‘You’re doing a great job,’ she said, ‘under the circumstances. We’ll get out of your way.’
She pushed Jack back into the scrum and another irate citizen took her place at the window. Behind her, the officer repeated his mantra.
Lines of tension were running along Jack’s jaw. She had to calm him down before he started a fight. She touched his cheek. ‘This isn’t going to work.’
He turned his head, searching for an escape route. Across the foyer a door opened and a man’s head poked out.
‘Dexter?’ he shouted. ‘Jack Dexter?’
Jack started towards him, pulling Ana behind him.
‘Lucas,’ said Jack, taking his hand. ‘It’s like a zombie feeding frenzy in here.’
‘Tell me about it,’ said Lucas. ‘Saw you on the monitors. Where’s the fire?’
‘Can we go somewhere quieter?’
Lucas shook his head. ‘Sorry mate. We’re using interview rooms as cells now. This is as good as it gets.’
Detective Chief Inspector Lucas was a gaunt man with greying hair in need of a trim. It looked like he had slept in his clothes for several days. He took Jack by the arm and steered him to the corner behind a pillar. Ana stayed close and did her best to focus as Jack began probing for information. As they had feared, DCI Lucas was unforthcoming with new facts.
‘Case is closed,’ he said.
‘Five bodies are found, all with the same injuries-’
‘Eight bodies? You don’t know what happened to them, and you close the case?’
Lucas shrugged. ‘Out of my hands, Jack.’
‘So you didn’t close it?’
‘Edict from on high,’ said Lucas, his eyes clouding.
‘ARK,’ said Jack.
‘Careful, Jacky boy. If they don’t want you looking, you don’t look.’
‘Take my advice,’ said Lucas, leaning close. ‘Let it go.’
Jack turned to Ana and gave her a meaningful look. She nodded, thanked Lucas with one of her smiles and led Jack from the station. Once they were back on the pavement, he turned to her. ‘And?’
‘Good thinking, Wonder Woman. Let’s go shopping.’
‘Exactly,’ said Jack. ‘No suspicious activity, remember? We’re in town, so we go shopping.’
‘And then what?’
‘Then we run.’
* * *
Ana browsed the sale racks of jumpers and tops and slung a selection over her arm. She had already stocked up on toiletries and was now buying enough clothes to last a couple of weeks. She put them on her card, rather than using cash. They had each taken as much from the bank as they were allowed. It wouldn’t last long, but it was a start.
Jack was waiting for her on the pavement. She emerged from the shop and handed over some of her bags.
‘Three o’clock,’ he said.
Ana glanced at her mobile. ‘It’s only two thirty, what are you talking about?’
‘Black Lexus, to your right. It’s been around the block once.’
She checked the road. The car was sitting at the traffic lights, indicator blinking to turn right. ‘What do we do?’
‘Keep shopping,’ said Jack. He strolled casually down the street. ‘We’ll do it next time round.’
‘Make the switch.’
The Lexus took the turn and disappeared. Ana breathed out in relief. They still hadn’t tried to grab her. Perhaps she had misunderstood what she had overheard yesterday, after all, how long did it take to arrange backup?
Jack stopped to look in the window of a bakery. On the pavement beside him was a fractious baby in a pushchair surrounded by a group of people arguing. The buggy was laden with shopping bags. Ana watched the child crying fitfully and wanted to scoop it up and comfort it, but Jack grabbed her arm.
‘Give me your phone.’
Ana glanced down the street. The Lexus had turned back into the street and was coming their way. She moved behind the bickering throng so it shielded her from the road and slipped her phone into Jack’s hand. He checked it was switched on then sidled up to the pushchair.
He checked the road. A bus was heading towards his location and would block ARK’s view of the pavement when it passed. He waited.
The Lexus threaded through the slow moving traffic. Jack watched it approach reflected in the bakery window. The bus drew parallel with him.
With a flick of his wrist, he dropped Ana’s phone into one of the shopping bags on the pushchair.
The bus moved on. The Lexus slid past.
Jack put his arm around Ana’s shoulders and planted a kiss in her hair. ‘As soon as they turn, we run. Ready?’
Ana turned to smile at him. ‘Ready.’
The Lexus turned to make another circuit. Jack took Ana’s hand, spun her around and began to run. They ducked down a side street and raced to the next turning. Once clear of the high street, they slowed to a fast walk.
‘What about your phone?’ said Ana.
‘It’s a stealth phone.’
She pressed for more, but he didn’t want to discuss it in the street. They took the indirect route back to his house, cutting down lanes and alleyways to be sure they weren’t followed on foot.
When they arrived, Jack moved his car from the street and parked it in the yard behind his house, while Ana closed all the curtains. It wouldn’t take ARK long to realise they were tailing the wrong person and return to this house to stake it out. But Jack didn’t plan to hang around. He and Ana would be long gone before then. While they prepared to leave, he explained.
As Ana had suspected, he did have secrets hidden in his wardrobe. She sat on the bed and watched him empty the contents of a locked tin onto the duvet between them: loops of wire and circuit boards, old mobile phones, and several biometric IDs.
‘Do you trust me?’ he said in a small voice.
Ana nodded, her stomach clenched in anxiety. He handed over an ID card, used as a passport and driving licence. She opened it and looked at the picture. It was Jack, but the name read: Joshua King.
‘Why do you have a fake ID?’
‘Emergencies,’ he said. ‘I have others. Different names.’
‘Jack?’ She shook her head in disbelief. ‘Why? How did you get them?’
‘Friend of a friend,’ he said, taking it back and slipping it into his jacket. ‘I know how it looks, but they’re useful, especially for dealing with organisations like ARK. If I need to disappear, this is how I do it. This is how I stay ahead of them.’
‘And the phone?’
He pulled his phone from a pocket. ‘It’s untraceable. Changes the IMEI code automatically every time you use it. Makes it practically invisible. Plus it spoofs your GPS so they don’t know where you are.’
‘So where are we going?’
‘My dad’s old place up the coast,’ said Jack. He stood and returned the tin to the wardrobe. ‘It’s mine now, of course. Haven’t been since…’ He trailed off and stood with his back to Ana and pretended to tidy his clothes.
A stab of grief penetrated her heart from his, and then he turned with a mangled smile on his face. He brandished two car number plates he had pulled from the wardrobe. ‘I’ll change these, then we’ll get going.’
Ana sat on the steps at the back door and watched him work. He had only mentioned his father once before. It was the day their friendship had blossomed into love, sitting in his car at Wallsend watching the rain and sharing stories. When Jack had told her about his father’s betrayal, she had seen how it had broken his heart and knew she could trust him. Long after the rain had stopped, they emerged from the car and he had taken his photos of the swollen river and revealed the final twist in the tale.
His father had died shortly after the storm. As an officer in the Territorial Army, Jack senior had been called upon to keep the peace and rebuild the infrastructure of the country. He had survived fire-fights and snipers on the streets of London, raging wild fires across the south-east, and treacherous floodwaters in Wales. But when 21 SAS had been called to rebuild a collapsed bridge in Cumbria, his luck had run out.
Jack was proud of his dad, despite failing to win his approval. He knew there was no way to redeem himself now, and to add further salt to the wound, Jack senior had been awarded the George Cross after his death.
Jack was quiet on the drive north. Careful to avoid being spotted by the CCTV network, he took the B roads and byways, threading through villages and remote farms as the sun set.
The cottage was on the coast overlooking the North Sea near Howick, in the shadow of the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle. It had been his father’s bolt-hole and safe house, bought for cash and hidden from everyone except his family. Every Christmas and school holiday had been spent at the cottage. It was here Jack had learned to shoot. His dad had balanced tins and bottles on the rocks, and Jack would clamber over the boulders and scree with an old Enfield revolver, firing lead slugs into the sea. He had earned a pound for every direct hit and soon had enough to buy his own computer.
Not long after that, his father had caught him writing. The shock and dismay on his face couldn’t have been worse if he had caught Jack watching porn. There had been no more shooting lessons, and the Browning semi-automatic his father had promised to bequeath him had been locked away and forgotten.
Jack began to relax when the distant waves drew close and the scent of the sea filled the car. Ana leaned across and placed her hand on his thigh. ‘Okay?’
He smiled, but kept his eyes on the darkening road. ‘There’s something I meant to ask.’
‘Linnunrata,’ he said. ‘What is that? A town?’
Ana withdrew her hand and stared out of the window. Clouds were gathering on the horizon, the line between sky and sea blurring to an ominous smudge. A storm was coming.
Next: Chapter Ten
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