Chapter Nine Part Four - From Bad to Worse

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Gunshots echoed dully off the surrounding trees. Despite the fact that Annalise and Simon were fighting for their lives against what was still more than a handful of Zeds they hit the deck, lest they get struck by a wayward – or not so wayward, they had no idea who was shooting – bullet.

Automatic weapons' fire was not a sound either man nor woman was used to hearing any more. That alone took them by surprise.

Once the dust had settled and bullets had stopped zipping through the air they heard quick, heavy footfalls upon wood. From their positions flat to the ground, Annalise and Simon shared a look that said, 'this is either our lucky day or things are about to go from bad to worse very quickly indeed.' Neither needed to say it but both would have wagered the latter.

Cautiously they got to their feet and turned to see their apparent saviours. The sight that greeted them was one of several men, varying in age and physical appearance. Two things about them were uniform; all wore similarly torn and dirty camouflage trousers, and all carried an MP5 sub-machine gun.

“Military,” Simon whispered whilst they were still out of earshot. “Ex-military, at any rate.”

Annalise nodded, but did not say anything until the men were close enough to hear what she had to say.

“Thanks for the help there,” she said, eyeing the newcomers warily. “We'd have got there in the end but I have to admit, those machine guns really made short work of those things.”

“No worries,” one replied, a scraggly moustache jiggling upon his top lip as he spoke. “You's seen a girl 'round here? 'Bout fourteen years old, dirty blonde hair an' a broken arm?”

“Can't say that we have,” Simon replied. “She a friend of yours? Part of your group?”

“Something like that,” the man replied, chuckling lightly as he spoke. “You's sure you ain't seen her? Only we know she was here 'bout fifteen minutes ago.”

“We've not been here that long ourselves, I'm afraid,” replied Annalise, thinking on her feet. “We were chased through the woods, tried to kill enough of them to buy us time to get a boat started and get out of here.”

“Right.”

“How'd the girl break her arm, anyway?” Simon asked, though judging by the look in the man's eyes he really did not want to know the answer.

“Walked into a door, so she did.”

“Right...” Simon glanced at Annalise. Both knew there was no way they would be able to fight their way out, the men were far too well armed. They were simply going to have to accept what the man said as red and leave it at that.

“Sounds like bullshit to me,” Annalise said through gritted teeth. Clearly, she had read Simon's glance completely and totally incorrectly. “You don't break your arm by walking into a door.”

“Is that right?” the man leered, his trigger finger twitching. “It's my train of thought you'd best be dropping that lovely sword – and it is a lovely sword, by the way – 'fore I'm forced to do somethin' you's gonna' regret.”

“Easy, 'Lise,” Simon muttered as quietly as he could, but not quite quietly enough.

“Lisa? That your name?” the man asked, cocking his head. “Don't really matter to me what your name is. You's a feisty one though. Gonna' have fun breakin' you in.”

“Like f...”

Annalise never managed to finish that sentence, for a knock-out blow with the butt of an automatic weapon tends to cut one off mid-flow.

“I'm going to kill you for that,” said Simon, menacingly, looking the man straight in the eyes.

“No, mate. You're not.”

He crouched down until his face was level with the Corporal’s and grinned a grin the likes of which Simon had not seen on anyone but a hardened veteran turned psychopath, and he had known a few of those.

Staring at the machine gun in his hands he chuckled lightly before he returned Simon's stare and fired a short burst straight into the man's face.

“Find me that little whore!” he yelled, the shout quite clearly directed at his companions as he kicked Simon's faceless corpse in a show of complete and total disrespect. “Bag this bitch. Best tie her hands, too. Somethin' tells me she's a fighter.”

***

“That ought to do it,” said Verity, glancing towards the twenty-eight five litre bottles of mineral water they had managed to find. They had apparently been 'bottled at source,' though she suspected the source in question was a cold tap somewhere in the Midlands, rather than a Highland spring as the label claimed. It did not matter though. It was fresh water, drinking water, and that was what mattered.

“She's sitting pretty low in the water now,” said Harry, noticing that the deck was slightly less level than it had been before. “Saying that, should be good for skipping over the odd wave or two.”

“I hear engines again!” Johnny hissed. “Everyone get down. Don't let them see us.”

“Do as he says,” said Verity. “It's not worth the risk, especially as we need to get back for Annalise and Simon.”

Even though she was crouched low to the deck, Verity was still able to see the three inflatable dinghies as they bounced and bobbed easily along the river. They most definitely appeared to be in a hurry, cutting as close to the bank as they could as they made their way around the bend in the river.

The Beaulieu River was much narrower this far from the coast, in fact there was not much of it left before it could no longer be technically called a river.

“There's something odd,” Helen whispered to Verity as she too peered over the side as much as she dared. “Look do you see? There's two people in the middle dinghy with sacks over their heads.”

“Simon and 'Lise,” said Verity, much more loudly than she intended be she need not have worried for the noise of the little craft's two-stroke engines meant that there was no way at all those on board could have heard.

“We can't leave them,” said an anxious Johnny. “We have to go after them.”

“He's right,” said Harry.

“I know but we're going to have to be smart,” replied Verity. “We have three guns between us, and they have a whole lot more than that!"

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