Authors: David Leadbeater
His partner looked bored. Dahl pushed past and tried to merge with the crowd, finally reaching Dario, but the cop continued to shout.
“Get out of there!”
Dahl saw the cop’s car up ahead, parked at an angle across a side-road to ensure the parade didn’t go astray. This particular cop had gotten a bee in his bonnet, and Dahl didn’t think it was malicious, but it was drawing unwanted attention their way. He’d gotten a little turned around but thought the next side street that angled off should lead toward the beach. Trouble was, they couldn’t let their pursuers know their intentions. And time was wasting away. Dahl knew waiting for the cavalry was in itself a good strategy, but he didn’t want Vega to make his own terrible plans and then disappear; he didn’t want Sealy to get through all this unchallenged; and he especially didn’t want Nick Grant to vanish into the wilderness, only to reappear at a later date.
Dahl regretted it even before he executed it, but quashed the guilt and put his family first. A cloth animal bounded ahead of him, fabric draped over two men to make them look vaguely like a giant bat, complete with makeshift wings. Dahl pushed alongside and steered them toward the cop car, grabbing hold of the framework beneath the material and using brute strength to amend their course. The men, part of the structure, moved easily, quite possibly as unsighted as everyone else seemed to be. They collided with the front of the vehicle, giving both cops something more important to worry about. Dahl surveyed the dipping bodies all around, saw his three pursuers – now united again – through the throng.
“Keep moving,” he told Dario. “I’ll try to draw them away.”
“Don’t lose us.” Johanna shouted, pointing at a sign up ahead.
To the Beach.
Great minds . . .
He wouldn’t lead the locals that way and might not find his family for the very best of reasons – if they found good shelter, they wouldn’t want it compromised. The dancers flowed around a wide, easy corner, another tall float appearing ahead. Dahl sensed rather than saw their attackers closing and leaped instinctively for his kids. A fist connected with his temple, smashing his head sideways, neck creaking. Spots danced before his eyes but he shrugged the pain away. He caught the man’s next punch with an open palm, then closed his fist over his opponent’s knuckles, crushing hard. The other two figures approached his family, only a few strides away from Johanna now. Dahl could no longer keep this low-key. The three men would end here.
He plowed into his opponent, caught a good bunch of shirt and jacket in each hand, bent his knees and heaved. Feet kicked as they left the asphalt. Eyes blinked rapidly in disbelief. A low vocal note signified horror as the owner became a 200-pound bowling ball, hurled at his friends. The trio went down hard, leaving them open to rapid assault.
Dahl smashed one across the face but got tangled with the third. As he fell to his knees, he saw the fourth man now returned, coming at Johanna from behind.
“Look—” A fist stopped his warning cold, drawing blood, rattling teeth.
Johanna turned, saw the man who threatened her and the girls and threw a swift punch that connected directly with the already-injured man’s nose, stopping him dead. Dahl was so shocked he took another punch from the rising second man of the trio. He swiveled and delivered a martial-arts combination to throat, eyes and ears that rendered his opponent comatose. The bowling ball was still struggling, now being kicked and pushed around by marchers. Dahl finished him with a rabbit punch to the back of the neck.
Now the third man was rising to his feet. Dahl kicked him point-blank in the temple, and screams erupted all around as the man dropped, unconscious or worse. It might be seen as a spirited skirmish, or it might be seen for what it was. Dahl couldn’t concern himself with style.
Only one opponent now remained standing, glaring at Johanna, bloody-nosed, with something like wounded wonder.
.” She stood in front of her children, the primordial protector.
The man didn’t comply so Johanna struck again. This time he deflected the blow, but by then Dahl was alongside. He targeted where he knew the guy was already weak – where the truck earlier made contact with his skull – made devastating contact and gathered his family.
They angled in the direction of the next side road, again cutting through the lines of marchers to angry protests. Ahead, a mammoth, vividly-decked float attracted most of the attention, in particular the half-naked dancing men and women on top. Dahl apologized as he barged people aside, pulling Isabella and Julia along behind. Refuge for his family, if not complete freedom, waited just a few dozen strides away.
And then a shot rang out.
It was the stuff of nightmares; the unmistakable sound of a rifle shot resounding across the parade, with Dahl knowing it was wholly his problem and at any moment the next bullet might take his children, or his wife. He thought he saw the first bullet glance off the road ahead, carve out a ragged furrow, and then ricochet into the night. Although he couldn’t tell for sure, it seemed as though the shot had come from above.
The tables had turned. Earlier he had thought a sniper might be about to take the Prime Minister out – now it was entirely possible the PM had arranged this hit.
“Duck and run!” he shouted, voice betraying his fear. “Just go.
They sprinted like Olympic runners freed from a mantrap and chased by cheetahs. They broke through the remaining marchers and left the newly forming chaos behind. Dahl tried to see their assailant as he ran, tried to look around and up. The attempt was beyond useless; it slowed him and almost tripped him up. Johanna shouted at him to focus ahead and, again, he was stunned. Essentially, safety was his job – but his family was in too much peril to strip emotion away, even though that was the requirement.
Behind, the music continued and many of the party animals, both real and pretend, paraded on. Some broke ranks, looking for cops; others backed away with terrified glances to the rooftops. Seconds passed, long seconds, turning into double figures.
“Head to the beach,” Dahl said. “Quickly now.”
Dahl felt immensely inept when the second shot rang out, unable to process until it happened and then was gone, the bullet traveling at thousands of miles per hour, taking Dario up high and spinning him around. The lad’s gun threatened to fall out of his waistband and skid away, not that he’d shown any penchant to use it, but snagged its sights on a belt-hoop and stayed in place. A spray of red misted the air. Dario collapsed face first, hitting the ground with a cry of agony. Dahl didn’t break stride for a moment, bending as he ran and hoping to every God of strength and agility and power that he had the potency to succeed. Even as Johanna screamed, he bent low and scooped up the still-falling figure, taking him around the waist and heaving with every muscle, every sinew, every stretched tendon. Dario came up off the beachside walkway with a heave but immediately unbalanced Dahl as his head sagged low. Dahl shuffled the bulk along, trying to regain stability. The entrance to the side-street that led to the beach beckoned ahead. Unrest escalated among the paraders left behind. Dahl pushed hard beyond his limits, unable to prevent a roar escaping his mouth.
Had Dario become the main target?
What did that mean?
Vega’s hit, perhaps? Grant’s?
It didn’t escape his attention that whoever was firing would be able to see their route, at least some part of it.
They arrived at the sand at a rapid pace, Johanna herding the girls along and Dahl carrying Dario. The Swede had no issues in dealing with the bullet wound. It had entered the lad’s shoulder, but was nothing more than a flesh wound. He’d handled many before, most in the field, but knew they had to reach safety first. You could dress a wound under fire, yes, but not viably with a wife and kids in danger alongside.
Dahl shifted Dario as they ran, not losing a jot of pace, simply seeking to make the young man more comfortable. Johanna looked over, eyes as round as saucers. Dahl nodded.
“He’ll be okay.”
The beach was quiet, the small structures of refreshment huts and watersport stands either dimly illuminated or cast into pitch blackness. Dahl thought he could see the silent, black swell of the ocean ahead and the soft glow of an errant lamp, painting a subtle swathe across the beach. They didn’t let up until the ocean landscape grew large, the sand almost at their toes. Then Dahl cast around fast, sending questing glances back the way they’d come.
No signs of pursuit.
“What do you think that was?” Johanna asked.
“Not a clue.”
“How is he?”
“We’ll find out.”
Dahl pounded across the sand now, unable to give his family the reassurances they needed, trusting they would follow closely. The edges of the beach were bordered by high fences and overhanging trees, thick with dense shadow. He aimed toward the darkest, most viscous area and knelt, letting Dario slide gently to the sand.
“I . . . I’m okay . . .” the kid gasped, a good sign.
Dahl fought away frustration. Not only was he running blind with his family without money, knowledge and ID, but he was now also being called upon to patch a bullet wound on the beach with no equipment. He checked the wound in Dario’s shoulder first, probed the ragged hole while clamping a hand over Dario’s mouth. Johanna removed the children by several feet. Dahl turned Dario slightly, saw the exit hole in the top of the muscle.
“Got lucky,” he said. “Went right through. No bones broken.” He smiled. “My usual team would say it doesn’t really count as being shot. Just a scratch.”
“Feels . . . like fire and ice and . . . knives.”
“Stop whining.” Dahl ripped a strip from Johanna’s shawl, cleaned the wound as best he could with the larger part and then used the clean strip to bandage the wound. He wrapped it tight. It would do for now, and Dario would need painkillers and antibiotics, but Dahl found it highly unlikely they’d find a pharmacy at the beach. Saying that, the number of times he’d already been asked if he wanted to buy Charlie, even with the kids along, was astounding. He’d known from before that “Charlie” was a Barbados staple and on most locals’ lips. Nobody had to score drugs in Barbados to know what the resident painkiller was called. It would take Dario’s pain away for a short while, but it would also dull every other sense he possessed.
Dahl needed him whip-sensitive, hyper-alert, ultra-vigilant.
He leaned over the boy. “You all right?”
“I don’t know. Never been shot before.”
“I have. And you won’t get any sympathy from me. Now, can you help keep my family alive? At least your belt buckle saved your bloody gun.”
“Yes. Hand me that gun and I’ll fight an army.”
“Good. Very good.” Dahl sat back and beckoned the others closer. “Because we need to think. And plan. And end this.”
Dahl took a breather but didn’t waste more than two minutes. A sense of incredulity fell over the others, and Dahl saw it as something along the lines of battle trauma – never good and especially when they remained in harm’s way. The silence helped, though.
Helped him think.
Darkness was their ally, pooling all around and permeating a beautiful silence. The one time they heard noises he picked it up 100 feet away, saw the figures and knew it was a pair of alcohol-toting romancers before they’d gotten ten feet. They found their own darkness, far enough away, unaware of the Dahls, and got straight down to business.
Ironically, this new safety had returned them to where they started this afternoon – the beach. That brought him around to Grant, then Vega and finally Prime Minister Sealy. A semblance of justice had to be meted out. More than that. The first two in particular were men who used the world as a deadly playground, stomping over civilians and governments wherever they chose to go, dealing misery without care or concern. Vega may have his so-called ‘family’ loyalties, but Grant certainly did not.
And both had a score to settle with Dahl.
As it seemed now, so did Sealy. Dahl accepted that Dario was now with them, and that meant protecting the kid with almost the same fervor he’d protect his own flesh and blood.
He saw Johanna watching him. “They have to be stopped.”
“I’m not sure how we can do that.”
He felt a swell of emotion inside. The sudden use of
the neutral question rather than the immediate
“You’re a constant surprise, love.”
She beckoned the girls closer, now that Dario seemed stable. “Isn’t that what marriage is supposed to be?”
Dahl hesitated. Interesting use of words, encompassing past and future possibilities and even an opening for Dahl, but they had to stay on point.
“Grant. Vega. Sealy. They’re together for a reason, something huge. They wouldn’t need the Facilitator here if it wasn’t big.”
“Well, remembering the conversation I overheard,” Johanna said. “And taking it in different context, you’re right: they are here together. Some kind of meeting.”
“We have to stop them finishing up and leaving,” Dahl said again.
“I won’t leave my children. Not for anything.”
Dahl had already felt a certain weight winched up and away from him. This happened when they found a relative safe haven. Now, another burden fell away. He was convinced he could rely upon Johanna and Dario to keep Isabella and Julia safe no matter the cost, even if it meant losing their own lives.
Dahl said: “I have to go. I can’t let . . . this happen around me.”
“This meeting – or whatever it is – could be over well before our help arrives. I’ve seen deals made in a tent, over in fifteen minutes, that changed the course of the world. I’ve seen handshakes in the street that greenlit terrorist strikes. If those three men are here, now, the outcome of whatever they’re discussing could be devastating.”