Somewhere else in that ominous corridor between dark and dawn, another car kicked into life.
Joel Podrall had made it back to his home and had stolen the keys that belonged to his mother’s new boyfriend. They had been sleeping, probably drunk when he had entered and he smiled as he left. He knew what awaited them and did not care to warn the pair.
The car was a Ford that had been messed about a little. Concealed beneath the fading paintwork of the bonnet was an engine that was never really supposed to be there. It was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The meaty roar that greeted his foot, as he tapped the accelerator, brought an overdue smile back to his face. He knew that he would be out of the city in no time and hoped that he would be able to reach some sort of safety not too long after that. One thing that he did know was that when Flowers decided to come for him, he would have to be as far away as he could. Flowers would show no mercy.
He had told nobody, not even Flowers, of the stash that he had managed to build up. His pockets bulged with notes gained through drug transactions, theft and deception. Flowers would not have understood. He no longer understood Flowers.
With his limited reasoning, Joel tried to work out whether he had ever liked the other boy, whether anything that they shared could be called friendship. He realised that he was thinking too much and that was never a good sign. Nevertheless, the boy that he had come to know as his gang’s leader was not the same one who now walked the world: he was different, so very, very different.
Podrall pushed in the clutch and eased the gear lever. The handbrake was off and he was away manoeuvring carefully through the night. Tomorrow was the big day and it was a shame that he would miss it. There were some kids and teachers at that school whom he really wouldn’t have minded setting fire to, himself.
Hopefully, he would see the ‘tragedy’ on the news or something.
Liam Flowers sat facing his leather friend.
He had grown to like the smell of his companion and had started seeing beauty in the contours of the creased leather face.
They had been sitting for a long time awaiting The Piper’s return and had both taken the opportunity to study each other in detail. Of course, the Leatherman was dead and could not be relied upon to share the ruminations that the boy had, but Flowers was just satisfied with the overall aesthetics of the matter.
There was, indeed, beauty in death and today would be the day that would light up the world to these new possibilities.
Half an hour later, two figures found themselves crouching in what should have been a long-unvisited passageway beneath St Agnes.
“You see,” said Mr Hunter pointing at the row of cables, “someone has been messing about with this.”
Michael looked above him and saw the way the cables had been pulled out of their protective cladding. Many were hanging loosely from the ceiling and some appeared to have been partially cut.
“What do you think they are trying to do?”
“Well, it’s not just minor vandalism that’s going on. If I were insane, I would say that somebody is trying to cause a fire or even an explosion.”
The teacher indeed knew his way around. He said that he knew the school better than he knew his own face and Michael doubted him not one little bit.
They had arrived in the basement through a series of passages that had started beneath an old army reporting post dating back to the Second World War. Mr Hunter had said that he thought that it could have been older than that. He said that it was not uncommon for these places to have thousands of yards of hidden passages beneath them that would usually lay undiscovered until some essential construction work needed to be done. As this was on school grounds, a school that was already being marked for closure, that time may not have been far off. Other events would make that academic.
“How did you find them?” Michael asked.
“I did a bit of digging around in books and then for real. I dropped a cup of tea once, when this was still being used as an extra classroom and watched how the liquid just disappeared through the ground. If you’ve seen The Great Escape you’ll understand what I’m talking about.”
Michael had seen the film and had always enjoyed it. His dad had said that it was a classic and had lamented the fact that it was not always shown on Christmas Day. He missed his father enormously and wished that he were here to protect them. Now, however, Mr Hunter was pushing ahead into the basement area. He opened a door and pointed to a barely visible alcove that was acting as a storeroom. Inside were lots of boxes covered in dust.
“That’s probably where your brother was sleeping.”
Again Michael wondered what power had possessed him to do such a thing. If the Piper had succeeded, his brother would have been his. That would have driven a rift between the family bonds (broken the connection) and that would have sealed their fate. They would have perished along with everything else. He was thinking about how close it had come when, from overhead, they heard the unmistakeable sound of footsteps.
Michael looked at the older man and whispered, “Is there anywhere to hide?”
His teacher looked back and replied, “Back the way we came, quickly.”
They moved at speed, yet in near silence, across the basement floor and managed to slip into the partially hidden alcove before the footsteps turned into a real presence. At the back of the alcove was a false wall. The teacher pushed the wall on its left and it swung open. They were inside before anyone noticed. On the other side of the partition two sets of footsteps came to a halt.
“I thought I heard something, did you?”
Michael recognised a voice as one of Podrall’s lads.
“Probably rats. This place will be crawling with them.”
“Yeah, rats. I’ve seen loads of them around lately. The other night about a hundred just came pouring out of the sewers in the middle of the city centre. I was on the bus and I watched ’em racing down the high street like they owned it. It scared the hell out of the shoppers. About ten of ’em, massive they were, broke off and chased this woman with her dog. It was a poodle and they ripped it to shreds. You should have seen the look on her face as they tore into it, she was petrified. Then they ran off as if nothing had happened.”
The one whose voice Michael had recognised listened intently before adding, “Yes, there are lots of stories like that. It’s as if we’re in competition with them. Who is the baddest?”
“Do you think it’s anything to do with Flowers?”
“I think everything’s got something to do with Flowers these days don’t you?”
The other nodded.
“Is it true that Podrall has left?”
“Where did you hear that?”
“Just heard it.”
“That’s just dangerous talk. If I were you I’d stop thinking it right now before somebody else hears. Anyway,” he said looking around, “it might be rats down here but I’m not hanging around to find out. Have we got the stuff that he promised us?”
“I think that it’s upstairs behind the stage. Hope mine’s an automatic. I can’t wait to see the look on their faces.”
With their added confidence, the two shared a smirk before heading back up the stairs.
Michael looked towards his teacher in confirmation.
“Yes, Michael it looks like the worst case scenario. Let’s see what we can do to stop it.”
Time was running out.