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‘Do you have a car?’
‘A car,’ Giles muttered urgently. ‘Do you have one?’
Barker stared blankly for a moment and then nodded his head.
It was one of those times when the mouth reacted faster than the mind. Barker opened his mouth to answer but a late thought entered his mind causing him to shut it abruptly. His eyes flickered over to the car park and he said:
‘I don’t think I understand…’
‘You want me to get you out of here?’ Giles looked up towards the clubhouse as they drew closer and closer. Most of the officers had driven away now, but Harris and his sergeant were still loitering by their car. ‘My car is by the clubhouse. Harris will have you in cuffs before we even get close. Do you have yours with you?’
Barker followed her eye line until he spotted the two detectives in the car park. With a regrettable shake of the head he said:
‘Same place as yours,’ he muttered, his voice laced with uncertainty. ‘There’s only two of them. Couldn’t we overpower them…?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous.’
Giles sighed heavily. Time was running out.
Two cars. We won’t get to either before Harris is on to us.
‘Is there any other way?’
Not without running cross-country. Think.
Barker nodded to a small footpath, slowly creeping up on their right hand side. ‘That path leads down along the river. If we follow it to the bypass and cut up the High Street…’ He checked his watch. ‘The 12.15 to London arrives in eight minutes. If we run, we might catch it.’
Giles glanced up towards the car park ahead. A group of footballers were making their way across the field towards the clubhouse, jumping and cheering in their revelry as they moved closer to the two detectives. Giles’ eyes darted across the path. It was thin and surrounded by bushes, barely ten metres away and not easily visible from Harris’ position.
We might just be able to make it.
She turned to Barker.
‘Right, wait for my word.’
From Harris’ position, Giles and Barker seemed to have almost slowed to a stop. Parsons had noticed it too and, with his keen ex-soldier instincts guiding him, he took a couple of steps forwards and raised his face to the sky, as though he was picking up a faint scent in the air.
‘What are the hell is she playing at?’
The troupe of footballers had reached them now. As they paraded past the waiting detectives, they sang out ‘We Are the Champions’ at full volume and jumped around with such energy and excitement that you might have thought they had just won the World Cup. One or two even gave great grinning thumbs up to the two detectives and thanked them for their support, much to the amusement of the rest of the squad.
It was Parsons who sounded the alarm. As the last of the footballers passed them by, he burst forward and began to sprint at full pelt out on to the field.
‘Bugger me,’ he cried. ‘They’ve legged it.’
Harris took a few moments longer to scan the field, but he already knew that Parsons was right. For all intents and purposes, Giles and Barker had vanished.
Giles hadn’t stopped to look back. The bushes surrounded them now, but she knew it was only a matter of time.
She imagined the commotion on the field behind them. The surge of footballers passing by. The glimpses of two figures sprinting for the bushes. A moment of sheer panic as Harris and his colleague stare, dumbstruck, at the empty field…
Ten seconds – that’s how much head start Giles and Barker would have had.
And another thirty – the time Giles estimated it would take them to reach the escape route.
Giles and Barker were safely on the path, the undergrowth disappearing behind them. They pushed against the hard ground, sprinting as fast as they could in the direction of the road bridge over the river. Behind them, the first cries of Harris’ confusion were all but lost in the air whipping past their ears.
Jumping outstretched branches, ducking unkempt strands of bush and hopping the awkward patches of hardened mud, Giles pressed hard against her legs to keep pace with the man ahead.
As he rounded the corner, there was a scream of shock as Barker almost ploughed straight into a lady walking a black cocker spaniel. Jumping the lead, Barker surged on leaving Giles to make the hurried apologies as she scooted past the confused woman.
‘Sorry,’ she said breathlessly. ‘Excuse us…’
But the lady paid her no attention. Her eyes were fixed firmly on the retreating back of Barker.
Giles didn’t hang around to hear the rest of the question.
Weaving in and out of the criss-cross of various footpaths, Barker headed straight towards the river with the confidence of a man who had travelled this path before. When they arrived at the riverside once more, he wasted no time in turning along the riverbank. Digging his heels hard into the ground, he bounded up the embankment and sprinted hard towards the bridge up ahead with Giles panting with exhaustion behind him.
They were at the bridge in a matter of seconds.
A welcome gap in the traffic allowed them to pass without pause, leaving Giles little time to glance over her shoulder.
On the riverbank behind them, Harris’ colleague pounded the ground like a speeding bull – a single figure in the distance.
He’ll never catch us…
A horn blared out.
The gap was not as large as Giles had thought. Flinging her hands up in apology, Giles darted out of the way of the speeding car, ignoring the torrent of abuse the driver hurled in her direction. Safely back on the pavement, Giles kicked her heels in to catch up, but Barker was already well ahead.
Another thirty seconds – Barker emerged on the High Street first, speeding around to the left and bursting up the hill. Despite the aching pain in her stomach, Giles forced herself to keep running. The muscles around her diaphragm were cramping up, restricting her breathing and sending a shooting pain up the side of her chest. Her legs began to sting with the effort of smashing the tarmac ground and her breath began to rasp with the strain of it all.
Just keep breathing.
Hesitating for a moment to look back at Giles, Barker proceeded to climb the long, yet slight, incline of the hill, barely looking at the Tudor façades of the pubs, cafes and charity shops that lined the street. All about them, shoppers scattered as Barker and Giles ploughed past them; some watching with disgust, others frozen with excited curiosity.
Giles risked a glance back.
Harris’ colleague had closed the gap. His face was calm – barely showing any sign of the exertion. His legs pounded the pavement with unwavering rhythm, inching him closer and closer to his quarry.
Some way behind him, Harris turned on to the High Street – his face purple and his legs buckling under the strain.
Good. At least that’s one problem I don’t have to deal with.
Giles turned her head back and pushed hard to build up an extra burst of speed. Taking control of herself, she breathed deep and slowly as the tight sensation crept across her mid-section. Her legs were throbbing and aching, and a strange metallic taste now lingered on her tongue.
With each passing second, she could feel her pace slowing. Her body was starting to give up…
Just keep going.
Up ahead, Barker gave a quick glance left and right before darting across the road and down a small side street. With a quick glance of her own, Giles crossed the road after him.
The road ahead was long, but the station was in view at the end of it. Gathering as much extra energy as she could muster, Giles forced herself faster as she passed the rows upon rows of parked cars on either side. With every stride, Harris’s colleague gained ground on her whilst Barker inched away.
She was half way down the street now. With each stride, the station got closer. With each couple of beats on the ground, a second ticked away.
Then she saw it.
A flash of green slid between the buildings. A dull, electrical hum wavered in the air as a higher pitched whine slowly lost its tone.
The long, sleek train pulled into the station platform.
As it came to a stop, the doors slid gracefully open, inviting them to come inside.
Barker was already there. He slipped around the side entrance, avoiding the ticket office, and careered on to the platform, bounding effortlessly on to the train.
The deep snarl of Harris’ colleague was closer now. Giles glanced behind her, almost thundering into a parked car as she did.
His arms swayed back and forth with masterful control, pushing through the air like a steam train. His body barely bobbed higher than an inch with each step. His nostrils flared with his heavy breath and his eyes were set, unblinking, on Giles.
No pain. No hint of fear or failure.
Once a soldier…
Giles turned back to the train and pressed on…
She was ten metres away.
A familiar, high pitched beeping, cut through the air.
Inside the train, Barker beckoned at her, willing her faster as she rounded the side of the station building and out on to the platform.
The doors began to close.
With her last strength, Giles dived forward, her hands landing hard on the train floor and her legs scooting inside the carriage as the door sealed shut behind her.
There were no thoughts to begin with – nothing but the deliriousness of an empty mind. Giles lay, for a moment, on the floor – breathing hard and willing the fuzziness out of her brain.
Next to her, a figure bent down and offered her his hand. Giles took it without question and allowed him to help her up to her feet. Smiling gratefully at her helper, it took Giles a good second or two to realise it was Barker.
His breathing was strained as well, but he still managed his own smile as Giles’ feet finally found the ground again and began to hold her own weight. Two quivering wrecks, they stood staring at each other – her hands resting gently on his shoulders why his hands supported her waist.
His hands were warm – almost inviting…
Giles jumped backwards as a hand banged viciously against the glass of the door.
Harris’ colleague leant up against the train, his calm face now contorted with anger and disappointment as he pounded at the train door. Giles and Barker stared in silence at the snarling detective as the train finally began to move. He jogged alongside, keeping pace as the train picked up speed – yelling something inaudible through the glass as he began to run out of platform.
Giles could see it in his eyes. He knew it was as pointless as she did – but he wasn’t going to give up. He would chase them to the end of the world if he had to…
The last Giles saw of him was his scream of frustration as the end of the platform finally forced him to stutter to a halt. In a moment, the station had vanished from sight and Giles was treated to one last glance at Edenbridge before the train emerged out into the countryside.
Through the pounding of her own heartbeat, Giles could feel the steady beating of another. In her shock she had jumped right into Barker’s arms, pressing her back up against his chest. His hands had stayed rigidly on her shoulders but, after a few moments, his arms curled protectively around her.
Giles pushed herself away from him, stepping across to the other side of the carriage. Maybe it was her exhausted delusion, but as she stared back at him, he seemed like a different man than before. He seemed somehow strong and commanding, yet weak and vulnerable. And, despite the sweat that dribbled down his cheek, his face seemed almost inviting…
It was an odd sensation – one that took a long while to subside.
With a glance out at the passing countryside, Giles finally allowed herself to relax. She didn’t know why she was laughing – all she really knew was that it felt like the right thing to do. Adrenalin was coursing through her body and the triumph of escaping Harris’ men filled her with a strange sense of satisfaction. She could understand why crime appealed to some people – the feeling of victory was so addictive…
Barker could feel it too. His voice rumbled with a low chuckle and, as the two made eye contact, they both felt the urge to break out into a wave of infectious laughter. Even one or two of their fellow passengers joined in – although none of them knew why.
Giles glanced down the carriage at them, noting a couple of disgruntled faces peering out from behind newspapers and books or up from their mobile phones.
‘I think we made a noticeable entrance,’ grunted Barker, his eyes sparkling cheekily.
Giles managed little more than a nod of agreement before she turned away and wandered down the carriage in search of a seat. Her mind flitted to Harris who was doubtlessly just arriving on the empty platform. He had struck her as a worrier from the first time she’d heard his voice – she had little doubt that he would be panicking now as he paced the station platform. Through one act of kindness, he had potentially spelt the end of his career…
Giles slid into a seat, placed her head back against the headrest and tried her best to gather her breath. As she did so, she closed her eyes and allowed herself to think of the dead body lying propped up against the pillbox.
The dog leash…
The missing bullet casing…
The creature in Giles’ stomach stirred once again.
We are in so much trouble, it said spitefully. This had better be worth it.
Nick R B Tingley is a crime writer from the UK. After several years working as a ghostwriter, Nick released his debut novel The Bluebell Informant– the first in his DS Evelyn Giles series. He is currently working on the second in the series – The Court of Obsessions – as well as a Victorian-era mystery novella called The Butcher of Barclay’s Hollow.
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