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Authors: Barbara Spencer

Turning Point (12 page)

BOOK: Turning Point
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Spotting Hilary exiting from the side entrance of the school theatre behind a group of her class-mates, Scott waved madly to attract her attention. Flashing a smile, she broke into a jog, pushing her books into her bag as she ran, carefully side-stepping a couple of boys jostling about throwing mock punches.

A little way down the road, the same scenario was being repeated at the primary school where kids were still wildly chasing round and round the playground uttering loud screams of pleasure, until dragged away by an already-fraught parent; others noisily thumping a football against a wall and notching up the decibel level to blast-off proportions.

From behind the queue of cars came the sound of a base drum, the echoing sound momentarily drowning the noisy chattering and roar of car engines, and a knot of garishly garmented figures inched into view. Outlandish amongst a sea of navy blue blazers, their costumes appeared creased and dirty, slung together haphazardly as if, at the last moment, the wearers had decided to enter a competition for the worst-dressed pantomime character. On one side of the road, a barrel-shaped clown was handing out leaflets, passing them through windows to bemused-looking motorists. The colossal shape belonged exclusively to his trousers, the man underneath tall and skinny. Scuttling about like a crab, the skirt-like trousers were attached by a wide hoop held up by scarlet braces. It swayed alarmingly, banging noisily against the side panels of cars and making their occupants jump.

Idly, Scott wondered what they were advertising. Mostly, events like this were for a new fast-food outlet. The figure on the right, in a badly fitting red wig and garish white face-paint, was thrashing a drum in a monotonous repetition of two beats – dumm – dumm – more likely to repel customers than attract them. A third member, also a clown, was parading about on stilts. He lurched along the road, trailing one hand along the roof of parked cars for balance, using them as leaning posts while he passed over a leaflet to its driver. Dangling from his waist was a trumpet. Whenever he went to play it he teetered helplessly, rocking dangerously backwards and forwards, until the drummer reached up a hand to steady him. But it was the fourth member of the quartet that everyone was staring. Dressed as a storm trooper from an ancient
Star Wars
movie, all the rage when Scott was a kid, they had vanished off the scene years ago replaced by demons, vampires, and mutants. The suit was obviously old, the white pre-formed plastic cracked and ill-fitting. Designed for someone shorter, a pair of blue jeans peeked through its plastic knee joints. The man was prancing along the street, scrutinising every person as he passed, aiming his black E11 blaster at an audience of watching children. They jumped back in mock-surprise, squealing and with excitement.

Hilary arrived at his side and slid her arm through his. ‘Are they for real?'

Scott smiled down at her. ‘I expect it's advertising a new restaurant. And they've timed it brilliantly.' He pointed to the line of cars stuck behind the procession. ‘No one's going to forget them.'

Hilary screwed up her nose. ‘But they look gross. No one with any sense would eat there, including me. So…?
You missed me

Scott's heart skipped a beat. Hilary was joking he knew that, turning his own words back on him. Somehow, she seemed so different like another person, light-hearted and fun, the same as that morning at the loch when, for a split second, she forgot her ambition to become the best agent in the world. It was great. And he was to going to ruin it.

‘Of course!' He exaggerated his tone to show he'd got the joke. ‘But that's not it.' He pointed to the gate. ‘We have an escort. I left my bike at Travers' house and he's in the sports hall – trampolining.' Scott's mouth twisted in a grin. ‘It'll be ballet next.'

‘I got Wesley's address.' Hilary smiled triumphantly. ‘Don't ask how. I'd have to kill you if I told you. Do you think Tulsa will take us there first?'

Scott hesitated. The dreaded confrontation with his dad would happen whatever time he got back. ‘Let's ask Tulsa to drop us at the Randal house. We can pick up the bike, check out Wesley, and then go somewhere quiet to talk. I'll tell Tulsa I'll be back later.'

‘Not going to happen,' Hilary bellowed the words as the drumming and shouting of the children grew nearer. She pointed towards the agent. ‘He wants you to go with him now.'

‘How do you know that?'

‘His arms are folded,' Hilary yelled into his ear.

‘That's it? His arms are folded?'

Hilary screwed up her face, grinning triumphantly. ‘You forget I've worked with him. Right arm on top of left means he'll use his gun if you don't go quietly.' She grabbed his hand. ‘Let's go see what he wants.'


Tulsa grinned at the two laughing teenagers. ‘That makes a change. So, you coming home?' He nodded at Hilary.

‘If I have to, but – '

‘You have to.' He moved away from the heavy vehicle, its side-panel covered in mud from the deep puddles in the lane.

‘I need to pick up the bike first.'

‘And we have to go via a school mate,' Hilary shouted. ‘It won't take a moment but it's…'

‘What?' Tulsa cupped his hand behind his ear. ‘Can't hear,' he bellowed. ‘Get in, it'll be quieter. You can't hear yourself think with that racket.' He pointed to the procession now only twenty metres away.

Holding the rear door open, Tulsa glanced casually towards the quartet of gaily caparisoned figures that had brought the entire street to a standstill. His amused expression froze into disbelief. Scott, about to open the front passenger door, felt a blow like a sledgehammer. It toppled him head first onto the pavement, the air around suddenly peppered with strident blasts of sound, splinters of concrete viciously striking his arms and head. For a split second, the air became densely silent. Scott raised his head feeling Tulsa's body, heavy and unyielding, pinning him to the ground. Then, a flood of high-pitched screams severed the air saturating Scott's eardrums and blocking out every other sound. He twisted round struggling to see, the scene frozen in time – stalled. Hilary was looking down at him, her mouth moving silently – her words drowned out by the strident shrieking. Behind her, like statues, their arms suspended in the air, were a crowd of people.

Bewildered, Scott stared at the figures, now pooled into a blurred mass of vague shapes, unable to comprehend what had happened. Then he saw what the figures were staring at. He grabbed his bodyguard's arm. ‘My God, Tulsa! What have you done?' He gasped the words into life. ‘It was some kid dressed up. Not real and
you've shot him

He pushed himself free of the heavy weight and dragged himself onto his knees, staring bewildered at the scene. In the centre of the narrow street, bodies lay strewn across the ground like ninepins. Spread-eagled amongst them, the figure on stilts, one leg spiralling skywards like a beacon. Gradually, the blurred figures began to move, to become focussed, pulling themselves upright, every eye fixed on the spaceman his white suit pooled with scarlet.

Scott swung round, angry words ready to blast into life. Struck dumb, he watched blood trickle slowly from a corner of Tulsa's mouth, his body slumped against Scott's.

‘Ah…' the word flickered and died. Scott swallowed noisily. ‘But how could you possibly know?' he whispered.

‘Finger on trigger… taut.' The words were scratchy, whispered on an outgoing breath. Scott felt a searing pain flash across his own chest as if he too had been shot, instinct sensing the monumental effort it had taken to get out those four words.

Biting his lip, he gazed hopelessly round – his eyes begging for help, for it not to be happening.

Oh my God, oh my God!
' Wringing her hands, Hilary slid down onto the pavement beside him. She stared down at the agent's jacket, the impact of the bullets tearing it to shreds. ‘This is all my fault. I let down my guard. I'm so sorry.'

Tulsa's mouth twitched and his eyes flicked open. ‘Not your problem. You quit…' Scott caught the sound of air being dragged in. ‘Get Scott to safety, take my gun. Hurry!'

‘I can't,' Hilary gasped wildly. ‘You just said it. I don't work for the service any more… '

‘Take… it… and… get out of here.' Tulsa's voice faded and his eyes began to glaze. Scott watched him drag in another breath, the silence deafening. In the distance a police siren sounded. ‘Shooters hunt in twos,' Tulsa gasped out, the words faint under the strident sound.

Hilary stared briefly into Scott's eyes, her gaze haunted. Then she was on her feet, dragging him up with her. ‘Let's go!'

‘We can't just leave him… ' Scott hesitated, wanting to lift his friend up – take him, save him.

‘We have to.' Ducking back down, she fished in Tulsa's pocket searching for the car keys. ‘Hang on, I beg you, help's on the way,' she whispered. She yanked at the passenger door. ‘
Can you drive this thing?'

He nodded. ‘But…'

‘Quit arguing!' Scott saw her hand on the passenger door shaking wildly. ‘If you want to live, you drive. Now!'

Scarcely aware of what he was doing, Scott crawled across into the driving seat. Leaping into the seat next to him, Hilary threw him the keys, slamming the heavy door. Immediately, sound from outside faded cocooning them in an eerie silence, the heavy glass muffing the screams and shouts of the terrified schoolchildren.

‘Tulsa's right,' Hilary muttered checking the weapon in her hand and sliding the safety on. She pulled out her mobile, hurriedly scrolling down the numbers on the speed dial, constantly twisting round to check over her shoulder.

The ignition fired. Scott pulled out, his foot heavy on the accelerator making the engine roar. He'd rarely driven the four-by-four – not much interested when there was a powerful bike on display in the garage. He looked down, fumbling with the heavy gears and momentarily taking his eye off the road.

A spray of bullets like angry hornets ruptured the windscreen, flashing through the space his head had occupied a second before. Out of the corner of his eye, Scott saw Hilary's mobile disintegrate into a meteor shower of dark matter exploding through the air. She screamed out and automatically he ducked. Shards of sharp plastic struck his head, cutting a pattern into his cheek. He put up his hand and felt a trickle of blood.

‘I can't see,' he gasped. He peered through the star-shaped cracks in the windscreen rubbing his hand against the blurred glass, momentarily forgetting it wasn't like the vapour you encountered on a frosty morning, that you could simply wipe away. Another round of bullets twanged against the rear bumper and he snatched his hand back as if burned.

Hilary stretched across striking the butt of the heavy pistol against the shattered windscreen, a trail of blood smearing the dashboard. Wind roared through the hole she'd made, sweeping tiny pieces of glass into the air.

‘You're hurt.' Scott said, seeing blood trickle down her arm.

‘I'm okay,' she shouted back. ‘It's only my hand. A flesh wound. Just go.
Oh my God, what are we going to do
? That was my mobile… and I never memorised the number. Terry said I should and I did, but there's a new one and I didn't ever think I'd need it again.'

Scott caught the sound of rising hysteria, painfully reined back. He wanted to comfort her, but didn't dare ease his foot off the accelerator, the heavy vehicle pounding along the narrow stretch of road. Flashing amber lights ahead warned him of a school crossing. He flew past, momentarily shutting his eyes, uttering a prayer for there to be no kids waiting to cross because he wasn't stopping. ‘There's a duster in the dashboard.' Easing back slightly, he flew a cautionary glance left and right, checking the main road ahead. ‘Which way?'

‘Doesn't matter – just lose them.'

Scott floored the accelerator and cut across the dual-carriageway, the tyres on the heavy vehicle screaming in protest. Behind them, a horn blasted out angrily and brakes screamed, the oncoming motorist swerving to avoid a collision. ‘They still there?' he shouted above the hissing of the wind through the windscreen. He steadied the vehicle, changing up into fourth gear.

Hilary twisted round in her seat. Scott saw the duster wrapped around her left hand already spattered with blood. ‘You need a hospital.'

‘We need a lot of things, Scott,' Hilary's voice was cold almost angry sounding, as if her earlier lapse into near hysteria had been something alien and unacceptable. ‘Most of all, to stay alive. Can you shake them?'

Through the rear-view mirror, Scott spotted the car that he'd cut up, a red Peugeot Estate. Behind that was a black saloon – low-slung and reminiscent of Sean Terry's souped-up Citroen. ‘Honda,' he said, ‘old model but fast – faster than us.'

‘You know these roads, Scott.'

‘Yeah, but that doesn't help much on a dual-carriageway.'

‘Then get off it.'

‘Can't! I need five minutes.' Scott noticed the speedometer, the needle nudging ninety. Sixty miles an hour was a mile a minute; he needed to stay ahead for another seven miles – two miles past the turning to the cottage.

‘Then you'd better pray the driver behind is so angry, he'll not let them through.'

Scott peered anxiously through the side mirror watching the black saloon swerve out, trying to pass and not succeeding. ‘I'm praying!' His hands on the wheel were shaking out of control, flashbacks from the scene outside the school breaking into his concentration. He couldn't think about that. Not yet. He had to get them to safety.

A stretch of trees flew towards them round a steep bend. Scott spotted a break in the concrete strip that formed the intersection of the dual-carriageway, allowing vehicles to turn right into the lane on the far side. Praying in earnest that his pursuers were strangers to the area, he swerved the vehicle through the gap on two wheels, feeling Hilary's body lurch against his own. Then he was across the intersection, ramming the vehicle into a lower gear as he hit the muddy track.

‘Thank God,' Hilary said in a relieved tone. ‘What is this place?'

‘It's a dirt track. I learned to ride a bike down here. No way off for miles now. They'll backtrack and follow but it won't get them very far. You need a four-wheel drive to cope with this little lot.' Scott slowed before engaging the mechanism, the tyres both front and back biting into the muddy surface. ‘Dozens of paths. With luck if they do follow, they'll head downhill and get stuck.' He spun the wheel into a sharp right-hand bend, slowing even more as they pitched and stumbled over the bumps, ridges of dry mud keeping their speed down to twenty miles an hour.

Ahead of them, the wooded path split into two. The left-hand track slanting downwards was wider and drier, and beckoned enticingly. Ignoring it, Scott set the heavy vehicle to climb the hill, keeping the revs low so as not to spin the wheels. Ahead of them the path narrowed even further, winding between outcrops of spruce and yew which swallowed up the light and left it dark and gloomy.

Hilary leant forward reaching for the light switch on the steering column. Scott pushed her hand away. ‘No, they'll see them,' he murmured craning forward to see through the hole in the windscreen. The light deteriorated as the trees grouped together, their spindly branches scraping across the bonnet and hampering his vision still further, the heavy vehicle inching its way upwards. Abruptly, they crested the hill, the pathway dropping away steeply into the gloom. Hilary squealed and clutched Scott's arm. Banging the gears into first, Scott edged cautiously down, his foot clamped firmly on the brake, the four- by-four listing and slipping almost out of control. Then, with equal suddenness they were down. The heart-wrenching drop levelled into a steady gradient.

Scott heard Hilary's sigh of relief but didn't speak, concentrating on keeping a steady course in the worsening light. An accident now – that would be unimaginable. They had to reach the cottage.

He felt the path smooth out and changed up, steering round the worst of the muddy patches, knowing them to be deep enough to spin even the wheels of a four-by-four. Abruptly, the trees jumped back and it was possible to see the stretch of meadow in front of them, a five-barred gate blocking their entrance into the gravelled lane beyond. Hilary was out in a flash and, leaving Tulsa's gun on the seat, ran over to the gate and pulled it open. Scott eased the vehicle back into first, jolting over the deep ruts left by the huge wheels of a tractor.

‘We safe?' Hilary swung the gate shut and climbed back into the passenger seat.

Scott nodded. He switched off the engine and let his head drop onto the steering wheel, the silence of the open countryside seeping through the shattered windscreen.

‘What time is it?' he said.

‘Just after four.'

‘No way! God, I'm so exhausted, it could easily have been midnight.'

He sat up and, like the engine of the four-by-four, forced his shattered senses back into gear. ‘Thank you.'

For a moment she didn't reply, her face guarded. She sighed. ‘If only.'

He stretched out his hand, taking her hand gently in his. She flinched back but didn't pull away. She didn't need to, her gesture was sufficient. Scott bit the inside of his cheek, wishing he didn't feel so helpless.

‘Hilary, this is nothing to do with you, no one's to blame.'

‘You're wrong. This is all my fault.' She kept her gaze lowered refusing to make eye contact. ‘If I hadn't been so happy to see you, to tell you about my plans…' She picked up the gun and gazed at it for a moment, as if memorising its shape, then dropped it back down. ‘I would have spotted the danger!' She raised her head, glaring at Scott as if she hated him.

Shocked, Scott flinched back. ‘But you'd already left the service,' he protested. ‘You said you couldn't stand the violence.'

‘I know what I said… it's still no excuse. Sean will tell you, once an agent always an agent. I forgot that.'

Scott closed his eyes on the guilt, hurt and anger circling round the interior of the vehicle. Hilary was no more to blame than he was for storming out. Neither of them were. But it was too soon for her to come to terms with what had happened, not with every one of the body's emotions skewed, like the spokes in a wheel that needed the firm hand of a mechanic to straighten them out. Only time would put things back in their proper perspective. And time they didn't have.

‘How's your hand?' he said, changing the subject.

BOOK: Turning Point
12.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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