Chapter Eight Part Five - Bodies

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It was early afternoon when Annalise took a right turn into the hotel drive. Immediately she noticed that something was amiss.

“There ought to be two guards on duty,” said Corporal Simon Daniel from the rear seat. “Pull up, 'Lise. Give me a second to radio down, see what's going on.”

Annalise did not need telling twice and she drew the vehicle to an abrupt halt.

“There had better be a damn good reason why this gate is unguarded,” Simon barked into his two-way radio. “Someone had better start talking.”

No one did start talking though. There was no reply at all.

“Private Smith, come in.” He released the button and waited for a few seconds, then, “Jen, can you hear me?”

“Something really isn't right,” said Annalise. She realised that she was stating the obvious but she still felt it needed saying. Dropping the vehicle into gear she accelerated down the drive. Upon turning the corner at the bottom, they were greeted by a gut-wrenching sight.

The articulated lorry that had been carrying the injured members of Simon's group when they first arrived at the hotel was tipped at an angle beyond forty-five degrees, half of it inside the hotel foyer. To their right, several cars were embedded in piles of rubble where they had apparently been driven into the west wings of the building.

Towards the east wings the livestock transporter was fully on its side and appeared to have crushed several other, smaller vehicles.

“What the fuck happened here?” Annalise muttered, quietly.

“Your guess is as good as mine, 'Lise,” Simon replied. “Looks like there's bullet holes in the building and the vehicles, too”

“Are those bodies?”

“Aye, Joan, they're bodies.”

More angry than anything else, Annalise leapt from the now-stationary vehicle and quickly popped the boot, whereupon she retrieved her sword.

She ran towards the pile of bodies and was quickly joined by Simon and Joan.

“I recognise these men,” said Simon.

“Aye, they're not ours. They're from the first hotel we tried when we arrived in the New Forest.”

“It looks like they tried to take the place.”

“I guess they failed, destroyed the damn building in the process though.”

“We ought to look around some,” said Joan, “and hope that we don't find a pile of bodies like this of our own people.”

“Aye, but back in the car,” said Annalise. “If we have to make a quick escape, I'd rather not have to do so on foot.”

“How are we for fuel?” Simon asked as they clambered back into the vehicle.

“Not good at all,” Annalise replied. “I mean we're OK here but if we have to drive much more than twenty miles then we're probably shit out of luck.”

“Take it easy, 'Lise. Nice and slow.”

Picking her way through rubble and overturned vehicles, several of which had been burnt out, Annalise did indeed take it slow and steady.

To their left, it appeared as though more than a few cars had been driven through the fences and into the animal paddocks. The creatures that had been kept within were nowhere to be seen.

“All Jack's hard work...” said Joan, quietly.

“Pretty sure he won't care too much, as long as he's alive.”

Every paddock was in a similarly empty state. In some cases the fences had been completely ripped out of the ground if a particularly large vehicle had crashed through it.

Then all at once they saw it, another pile of bodies. Annalise slammed her fists to the steering wheel and yelled an incoherent phrase. Joan was out of the car first though, and she ran over to the pile. It was taller than she was, and there was no way she could have counted the bodies there without physically doing so by moving them, and that was something she did not relish in the slightest.

She was joined very soon by Annalise and Simon and the three of them stood there, looking at the pile in disbelief.

“They came outta' nowhere, 'Lise.” She spun around on the spot upon hearing Jack's voice. She had not heard his approach, so engrossed was she, but he was not alone; Jen Smith was with him, too. Even from a distance of ten or twelve feet she could clearly see that the man had tears in his eyes. “Saved who we could, but couldn't save everyone.”

Annalise and Joan ran to him together, and wrapped their arms around him whilst Simon and Jen shared a similarly unprofessional embrace.

“I was about to set light to our people,” Jack said. “Jen said she'd do those bastards who attacked us.”

Annalise nodded and in silence, all watched as Jack doused the pile of bodies in fuel, then stepped back as he dropped a match. It was a similar scene with the pile of bodies closer to the front of the hotel, only with a more vocal accompaniment.

“Bastards,” said Annalise.

“Aye. Absolute bastards.”

After twenty minutes or so, during which time the pile of enemy bodies burned furiously, Annalise turned to Jack.

“How many did you save?”

“Twenty-three, including Jen and I,” he replied, shaking his head slowly.

“Sarah and the boys?”

Jack shook his head and his shoulders shook slightly as he fought the urge to burst into tears yet again.

“Hope?”

“She and Sarah died together.” He could hold back the tears no longer, and Jen put a comforting hand upon his arm.

“You did what you could, Jack,” she said in tones much calmer than she really felt. “It was the middle of the night. It's not your fault these bastards gunned her down and besides, you know they're in a far better place than this.”

“True enough,” he replied, managing a weak, slight chuckle. He ran his hand over his face and shook his head in an attempt to clear it. “Right. I guess there's time for mourning later. Everyone left alive is waiting down on the boats. We didn't want to leave without you, but...”

“You had no idea whether we were alive or dead,” Annalise interuppted. “If you'd hung around much longer, I'd have kicked your bloody arse.”

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