~ 23 ~

238 26 5
                                                  

Jack looked down at his shirt. Flames were licking through the fabric and burning a circular hole straight through. Mercy could smell wood smoke, thick and choking in the cab of the van, but there was no smell of burning flesh, only woodsmoke and - now - melting plastic. 

Mercy clapped a hand to her mouth and fumbled with the door of the van. "Jack-!"

Mr Oir folded himself around Mercy as her door opened, pushing her out under his sepia protection. "You must return, Sir John! We will take care of Miss Rickard. Go! Go!"

Mercy gasped in the sea air, staggering backwards as Mr Oir unwrapped himself from her nose. The van stank like the aftermath of a bonfire, but Jack had wasted no time, and had already disappeared. "What - ah - what's happening to him?" Mercy was enfolded in Mr Oir's sepia world, her phone useless, but the seafront was an artistic flickering orange-brown filled with shadows and crackles of white. She shook herself. "Mr Oir - I need to use my phone. Sorry. We need to split up."

The dame had smarts. The voiceover was back. We were in serious danger, but she had kept her head. You had to admire that in a dame. 

"We need to split up," Mercy repeated, with added vehemence. 

"I think that someone has set The Crows on fire," Mr Oir said, in answer to her question about Jack. "And yes. Given the circumstances, I think splitting up is the best idea. We don't know how long we've stalled the Colonel for, after all."

"Can you get the Hunters?" Mercy looked up and down the street, but the sepia resolution made it hard to see. 

"Of course. I will get help." There was a sound like a clapper board, and the world blinked back into technicolour with full surround sound. She could hear the waves behind her, the rush of traffic and the background noise of people, emerging from the sepia bubble with the scratchy smell of celluloid up her nose, as if her ears had popped. Mercy took a breath, then forced her legs into a run, heading for the main street. 

#

Carrie found her way to Sea Hag's Gullet, the little narrow alleyway that led to the Snake and Feather. Nerves fluttered in her chest like birds, and a feeling of dread had slid into her stomach. It nestled there, heavy and cold, gripping her insides with its powerful fist. She tried to tell herself it was worry for Guy about his father - he must be dead, or dying, she thought - but it was something else. She kept thinking about The Crows. Did I turn the oven off? Of course I did. I don't think I even turned it on. Did I leave something plugged in? My straighteners? The iron? She shook these thoughts away, or tried to, telling herself there was more to worry about than some imaginary fretting, but she couldn't shake the feeling that something was dreadfully wrong. Guy had shaken her off so abruptly, it had unsettled her. Family is everything, he had said. And, despite the dangers of the night, he had shrugged her off and followed Miss Charlotte, leaving her in an alley with no way of getting home. She had been eclipsed in his thoughts in an instant. 

               Carrie pushed open the door to an almost empty pub, it not being a Monday, and a few drinkers looked up curiously. She kept her head down, frowning, and trying not to feel selfish. What had Guy thought she was going to do? Stranded in Pagham, with the Quatre Faces crowd looking for loners... She made her way to the bar, fighting the urge to be angry with him. Still that knot was in her stomach, tightly clenched. 

"Gin and tonic," she said, at the barman's questioning glance. 

"You, er, sure you're in the right place, love?" The barman reached for a glass slowly, green eyes darting around at the customers. "Not lost, are you?"

The Crows (Complete First Draft)Where stories live. Discover now