Chapter 17: Thrill of the Chase
We burst through the door and stumbled into a gloomy alleyway behind the building just in time to see Andy scrambling over a fence and dropping down into the street beyond. "Hurry up!" Shrinker shouted as he led the way forward. He reached the fence and clambered over it, and I was hot on his heels.
I leapt up and wrapped my fingers around the wire-mesh fence, the metal digging into my fingers as I pulled up my weight and threw my legs over it, dropping down and landing heavily on the broken concrete. I overbalanced and fell backwards, crashing to the floor as I saw Shrinker chasing Rusher down the street. I dragged myself back onto my feet, groaning in self-annoyance as I sprinted after them, desperate to catch up.
I reached Shrinker just as Andy suddenly turned off the road and legged-it down another alleyway. I nearly overshot the turn, but Shrinker grabbed me by my jacket and pulled me in behind him. Andy passed some old oil drums serving as bins set against the wall of a building and grabbed them as he ran, tossing them behind him in attempt to slow us down. They crashed noisily against the floor and bounced towards us, but we just leapt over them and continued the chase. Andy reached the entrance to another alley that crossed paths with this one and tore down it, breathing heavily as he kicked up dust with every step. We were close behind, we turned to follow him and I forced my legs to run harder. I was getting closer with every passing second, I saw Andy turn round, his pale, frightened features barely visible through the shadows.
There was an old ladder leaning against the wall of the alley, he pulled it over in passing, sending it toppling to form a low barrier that stretched the length of the path. I tried to jump it, but I had been too close behind him and my foot caught in one of the rungs, the ladder was dragged a few inches before it caught and I was sent tumbling to the floor. I skidded painfully across the dirt, the air knocked from my lungs. I looked up as I saw Andy glance back and smile, satisfied. I punched at the ground with my fist, expecting a sarcastic comment form Shrink, but none came. I looked around me and realised he was gone. Where was he?
I turned to follow Andy, he had just reached the end of the alley and stepped out onto the street when the familiar figure of Shrink appeared from nowhere, flying through the air as he tackled Andy to the ground with a satisfying thump. Despite the pain in my hands and knees where I fell, I laughed. I kicked my foot free of the ladder and jogged the rest of the way.
I turned onto the street to see Shrinker standing over Andy, pointing the same bulky-looking pistol at him that he had aimed at Fictus when he took me hostage.
"Take these." He said, tossing me a pair of old handcuffs. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." I said, "He tripped me up with a ladder, but I just got a little graze on my chin." I touched the sore spot that I had noticed earlier, my finger coming away with a tiny speckle of blood. Shrinker nodded with a smile.
"On your back." He instructed Andy, "Open your legs and spread your arms wide."
"Fuck you." Andy grumbled, receiving a kick to the side from Shrinker as a result.
"Now!" Shrinker ordered. Andy coughed painfully and complied. "Longshot," he smiled, "Would you be so kind as to give him a search and cuff his hands behind his back?" I nodded and stepped over him, gingerly patting his clothes in what I assumed was a half-decent search. My hand met something solid against his hip, I reached under his leather jacket and pulled out a pistol that had been stuffed in the waistband of his jeans. I handed it to Shrinker, who stuffed it into one of his seemingly bottomless pockets as I clicked the handcuffs into place around Andy's wrists.
Shrinker slid his pistol back into the shoulder holster that had been hidden behind his jacket and reached down, dragging Andy to his feet and grabbing him by the collar.
"Andy Fola," he said in a flat voice, "I am placing you under arrest for the murder of Cindy Morrow, and for making my friend here graze his chin."
"What?" Andy demanded.
"You have the right to shut up. Actually, not a right - more of an obligation. In fact, you know what? I'm going to go ahead and say it's more of a command. Shut up Andy. Apart from that, you don't really have any rights. Consider yourself all left."
"Are you actually allowed to arrest people?" I asked. "I thought that was more of a guard thing."
"Actually, I have no legal standing whatsoever." He admitted, "But I was trying to not let him know that."
"You're not a guard?" Andy demanded.
"Andy!" Shrinker cut in before he could continue, "I can't help but notice you're not exercising your 'not-so-much-a-right-so-much-as-an-obligation-well-more-like-an-command' to shut up!"
"Gahh!" Shrinker interrupted.
"Yeah, real matu-"
"Are you seri-"
"Bahh!" he pointed a stern finger in Andy's face, challenging him. But this time he stayed quiet. "Good boy! Shall we crack on to the Guard station? Let's go Longshot." He held Andy firmly by his arm and lead the way forward.
"One thing I don't understand." I complained to Shrinker, "Why did you shout 'contact left' in the opium den?"
"To tell which one of the people was our friend here." He said, nodding towards our captive. We were still walking, the adrenaline from the chase was starting to ebb and the cold of the morning was beginning to seep through my clothes and into my bones.
"But I thought you had already spoken to him? You questioned him at his house. And more importantly, why the hell would shouting 'contact left' show you what he looked like?"
"He's is ex-NWA," He started.
"You guys are talking about me like I'm not even here!" Andy cut in.
"Remember the whole 'shut up' thing Andy?" We were quiet for a few seconds while Andy resumed his silence, "Good. As I was saying, he's ex-NWA. He served for several years and saw a lot of contacts. Now when you're out on patrol or whatever and you come under enemy fire, you shout 'contact' to indicate to the others that you are being shot at, and then state which direction the enemy is. Back in the opium den, almost all of the patrons were facing a direction that put us on their right. So, when i shouted 'contact left', almost all of them looked at me because they were surprised by the noise.
Andy however looked away from us, to the left, because he has been condition that when someone shouts that, it means that there are people trying to kill them from his left. If you're out in the Wasteland and you shout that people are shooting, you look at them and not the person that shouted to you. He looked left just a split second before he remembered that there wouldn't be an enemy, then he looked at the source of the noise."
"Well that makes a kind of sense. But why didn't you remember what he looked like anyway? You know, after you spoke to him?"
"I spoke to a dozen people that day, not to mention guards and officials and complete strangers. I didn't have any reason to suspect him originally so why would he make a lasting impression? Certainly not for his sparkling personality and rugged good looks." Andy cast him an angry glance, but didn't say anything. "Now, you should get back to the hospital. I'll be taking Andy to the guard station, a lot of paperwork and boring conversations, nothing of any interest."
I continued walking with him for a few more blocks, then he gave me simple directions to the hospital and fifteen minutes later I was walking through the entrance. Everyone turned to see who had arrived, Wraith, Gaz, F-Kay and Charlie offered me friendly smiles that I returned with a nod.
"Hi." I greeted, "Any news?" Wraith shook his head. It was then that I noticed someone was missing. "Where's Curtis?"
"He had to leave to get home." F-Kay answered as Wraith and Gaz resumed the conversation they had been having before I arrived, "He just left fifteen minutes ago to get ready."
"Get ready for what?" I asked. Charlie was about to answer, but Wraith spoke first.
"He's taking Andy to the guard station or something."
"What happened to your chin?" Gaz pointed at the small cut on my face.
"Oh," I touched the sore spot on my face that I had forgotten about, "He threw a ladder at me."
"Shrinker threw a ladder at you?" Wraith looked at me sideways.
"No, Andy threw the ladder. Shrinker tackled Andy."
"Is this how you two make friends?" F-Kay asked, "Throwing ladders and tacking each other?"
"No, it... I..." I sighed and sat down as I began to tell them what Shrinker and I had been up to in the past couple of hours.
"And then I made my way here." I finished speaking with a smile on my face, looking back, it had been quite a strange series of events, although I had left out the part about Madame Dupuske's prediction.
"What kind of pistol did you say he had?" Gaz asked.
"I don't know." I admitted, "I didn't ask. But it was bulky and unusual."
"It's a... Mauser C96 or something." F-Kay told us, "He's quite proud of it. It's a really old gun, I've never seen them anywhere else. He refused to tell me where he got it."
"I heard rumours that he got it pre-apocalypse, "Charlie commented, "That he's actually over a hundred years old and doesn't age. They said that he was an old soldier and was issued it when he was in the army." Everyone was silent for a moment.
"I-... Is that true?" I stuttered. Everyone laughed.
"No. No, it's not true." F-Kay managed between chortles. My face turned bright red.
"He was in the NWA." Wraith told me, his laughing ebbed and became giggling as he wiped his eye. "He was in the military police, indispensable to the higher-ups I was told."
"What's the military police?" I asked, still feeling stupid and eager to change the conversation.
"They police the army." Gaz smiled, "Make sure that the soldiers keep in line."
"Although Shrinker spent most of his time hunting down deserters." Wraith clarified, "Soldiers that went AWOL. Occasionally there would be a violent dispute between soldiers and Shrinker would track them down. It was a hard job, none of the other soldiers wanted anything to do with him, but Shrinker didn't even seem to care."
"Why didn't the others like him?" I asked.
"Because the military police are the guys that give you into trouble when you do something wrong." Gaz explained, "No one likes the man that puts you and your friends in gaol." I nodded.
"How do you know all this?" I asked Wraith.
"Because I was in the NWA myself." My eyes widened in surprise, and I was about to ask more questions when a man in a doctor's coat appeared descending the stairs and walked over to us. We all stood up to great him as Wraith stepped forward.
"Are you the group waiting on to gunshot victim upstairs?" The doctor asked.
"His name's Jackal, yes." Wraith answered. The doctor nodded politely, his face unreadable.
"Well, he's going to be fine." I released a breath that I hadn't realized I was holding. "The bullet went straight through and didn't hit anything that we couldn't fix. There shouldn't be any permanent damage done, but we want to keep him in for a few days to make sure."
"Thank you doctor." Wraith shook the man's hand, "Can we go up to see him?"
"He's supposed to be sleeping." The doctor said warily.
"Oh, I see." Wraith looked disappointed, "Well, thank you for-"
"-He's supposed to be sleeping." The doctor interrupted, a slight smile appearing on his lips, "Actually, he was supposed to be sleeping since you brought him in, we gave him a sedative as soon as he was upstairs, but somehow he's still awake and asking to see you guys." We were all smiling now. "Go up whenever you like, but keep it brief, I think you all need a bit of sleep." The doctor clasped his hands behind his back and sauntered off before anyone could add anything.
Wraith was the first to react, hustling forward towards the stairs as the rest of us followed. A nurse was just leaving Jackal's room as we ascended to the second storey and stepped into the hallway. She recognised us and smiled warmly, leaving the door open for us to barge inside. The room hadn't really changed since I last saw it. They had transferred Jackal from the metal table to a kind of foldable camp bed that lay with its head against the wall. The floor had been wiped clean of blood and the instruments they had used to help Jackal had been taken away. Jackal himself was lying half naked, stretched out in the bed. He smiled when he saw us, sitting himself up to reveal the clean bandages that wound their way around his abdomen, a thin blanket covering his lower half with the heart-shaped brand on his chest standing out proudly like it was watching over his wound.
"Hey guys." He waved, a satisfied smirk on his face, "What's up?"
"Jackal!" Charlie cried, stepping forward before anyone could respond and hugging the wounded Jackal much more delicately than she had done with the rest of us. "Are you okay?"
"Oh, I'm absolutely great. Never felt better in my life!" Jackal answered, sarcasm dripping from his words as he hugged her back.
"Do you... Umm..." I wasn't sure what to say, I had never spoken to someone in a hospital before.
"Do you want anything?" Gaz rescued my question.
"No, I'm good thanks." He grinned.
"So you don't want clothes?" Wraith asked, waving the bag we had brought from the house in front of his face.
"What? Am I putting you to shame by being naked? Do you feel less like a man?" Jackal jeered, taking the bag and making faces at Wraith. He took out the loose fitting trousers and managed to work his legs into them from under the blanket and gingerly pulled on the green shirt we had brought to go with it, mindful not to let it catch on the bandages.
"So where are the chocolates and the bunch of grapes?" Jackal continued teasing us, making us all laugh awkwardly. "... Jeeze, who died? You guys look uncomfortable."
"Well, maybe we wouldn't if you hadn't gotten yourself shot." Gaz countered.
"Oh yeah, how are all the people we found at the pirate camp?" Jackal asked no one in particular.
"Including Fictus?" I asked.
"Oh, I had forgotten about him."
"They're fine." Wraith answered, "We took them to Eddie at the Lucky Streak, he set them up with some accommodation and much needed food, they should be coming to the hospital for a check up tomorrow morning, after they've had a decent night sleep." He hesitated before continuing, "Collin... Didn't make it." He admitted. I hadn't been told that until now, but I had already assumed. "The man that you jumped in front of wants to visit you tomorrow to say thank you."
"Please don't let him." Jackal interrupted.
"I already told him that you don't like thankyous. Anyway, we subdued Fictus and he's currently residing in the Guard Station here."
"Which reminds me, where's Shrinker?" Jackal turned to Gaz and I, "Oh, that's what we call Daryl."
"We know." I smiled, "And he's at the Guard Station too. He took me along to catch a murderer called Andy, he's dropping him off with the guards and coming over."
"You caught a murderer?" Jackal laughed, "Did I pass out? What day is it?"
"You didn't pass out." Charlie assured him, "Despite the best efforts of the doctors."
"Yeah, they weren't happy when that sedative didn't work." Jackal nodded, "And I think I annoyed them."
"You were accusing them of doing their job wrong." F-Kay pointed out.
"But they were! Anyway, tell me about this murderer chase." Jackal smiled.
"Well, we were waiting downstairs when Curtis made a passing comment to Shrinker," I started, telling my story for the second time that morning.
"I can't believed I missed it!" Jackal moaned after hearing about what Shrinker and I had been up to, again I had left out Madame Dupuske's prediction. "Was it as fun as it sounds?"
"It was... Something." I smiled.
"We should probably leave you to get some sleep." F-Kay suggested, "God know I need some."
"But I'm not tired." Jackal whined in a shrill voice.
"Hello?" someone called from the hall outside. The door opened and Shrinker's smiling face appeared. "I brought your book back!" He held up his hand to reveal that he was holding a red hardback book.
"Shrinker!" Jackal grinned, beckoning him over.
"I just got back from the guard station," He handed Jackal the book and turned to me, "We got Andy to confess and he will be convicted by tomorrow. Probably be sentenced to imprisonment for a while."
"Where did you get this book?" Jackal asked, inspecting the cover. "This isn't one of the ones you borrowed."
"I read all of them." Shrinker answered dismissively, "I borrowed that one a couple of days ago."
"We weren't in Foxbridge a couple of days ago."
"But you said I could let myself in and borrow any more if I needed them."
"No I didn't."
"Oh..." Shrinker looked up as he searched his memory, "Well that explains why the doors were locked."
"Exactly! How did you open them?"
"I didn't use the door. Doors are for boring people with no creativity. I mean, they're literally holes in the walls to get through them, where's the fun in that?"
"So how did you get inside?" Jackal raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, who remembers? The important thing is that you have your book back."
"Well... Thanks?" Jackal looked over the book again, "I suppose it gives me something to do. Hey said they want me to stay here for a few days."
"That's right." Wraith nodded, "Remind me to get them to move you to a more comfortable bed in the morning. But for tonight, you better get some sleep. We all should."
We said our goodbyes to Jackal before heading back downstairs and letting ourselves out. We talked for a few more minutes in the street before we broke up, Charlie, F-Kay and Shrinker heading to their own homes while Gaz, Wraith and I headed to ours. Within twenty minutes we were home, Wraith pored us a round of scotch and we all headed to bed. As soon as I was under the blanket, it was like all the day's activity finally caught up with me, the energy drained out of me and within minutes I was sound asleep.
I was woken grudgingly by Wraith and Gaz who had clearly not been awake for very long themselves. I was still tired, and a bit bitter about being woken up. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and sat up, waiting expectantly for them to talk, but instead, they presented me with an old radio.
"What's this?" I asked, my voice croaky from sleep.
"It's a radio." Gaz answered helpfully.
"Well I can see that. Why am I being woken up to show me a radio?"
"It's nine o'clock." Wraith smiled, not helping my confusion.
"And..." I encouraged their explanation.
"Listen." Gaz smiled wryly and pressed the button, the radio turned on and suddenly the room was full of music, a song played on guitar that I didn't recognise.
"What's the relevance of-" Gaz silenced me by pressing a finger to his lips and gesturing to the radio. The song ended and was followed by a familiar voice.
"Good morning Foxbridge!"
"It's Curtis!" I exclaimed in surprise, Gaz continued pressing his finger to his lips and nooded at the device now speaking with Curtis' voice.
"This is DJ Yours Truly, live on 'Open Air Radio' bringing you the best music in the Wasteland. To anyone that was out on the town last night, you might have seen a bit of chaos when a couple of men were seen carrying a wounded friend through the streets to the Foxbrige Hospital early this morning. In fact, one unlucky resident made the mistake of getting gin their way and was apparently thrown to the ground when he tried to stop them. It has since been found that the injured man was none other than one Torry 'Jackal' Jackson who was shot last night after jumping in front of a bullet meant for a recently freed slave just a mile from our town. The shooter in question has been turned-over to the guards who are now holding him for questioning.
It seems that Jackal is now in a stable condition after being treated by the good doctors and nurses of the hospital, however it seems that this 'Fictus' character was also responsible for the death of a Mister Collin, last name unknown, who was another survivor or pirate enslavement. I've spoken to the friend of Jackal, and have been told that this all happened as a result of their attack on a notorious pirate camp to the south. They told me all about what happened, I even got the inside-scoop from none other than the infamous F-Kay!"
Curtis spent the next several minutes detailing our attack on the pirate camp and what had happened outside of Foxbridge. I hadn't spent much time thinking about it, but hearing Curtis re-telling the story of what we had been up to in the past few days made me realise exactly why I was so tired.
"The recently rescued slaves are now receiving free accommodation at the Lucky Streak hotel compliments of Mister Williams - the owner. That's very kind of you Eddie, I'm sure they're very grateful! Another shout-out to F-Kay for continuing the good fight against the pirates, as well as Wraith, Gaz and Longshot for their involvement. I think I speak for all the residents of Foxbridge when I say that the Wasteland needs more men like you guys. And of course, we all here at Open Air radio wish Jackal a full and speedy recovery, and offer our condolences to the friends and family of Mister Collin, who's funeral will take place here in Foxbridge in the next few days.
In other news, Andy Fola was arrested late last night by Foxbridge's famous crime-fighting detective - Shrinker, for the suspected involvement in the murder of Cindy Morrow two days ago behind the club 'Gattor' in town."
Gaz turned off the radio before Curtis, or, 'DJ Your Truly, continued the story. My mouth open in a wide grin as I stared at Wraith and Gaz, who smiled back at me. I had so many questions tumbling around in my head that I didn't know exactly which one to start with.
"Foxbridge has its own radio station?" I decided to start with the obvious one first.
"Well duhh." Wraith rolled his eyes.
"And Curtis, I mean, DJ Yours Truly, hosts it?"
"Clearly." Gaz nodded.
"When did you guys tell him about all this stuff?" I demanded.
"When you were out fighting crime with Shrinker, Curtis explained how he had heard about the commotion we cause with our parade through Foxbridge last night and asked a bunch of question. We told him what had happened, and he said that he had to tell the story. That's why he wasn't there when you got back, he had rushed off to his radio station to plan out the music and write a script."
"A story..." I began, "About us... Was just on the radio?" I almost screamed.
"No shit." Gaz smiled.
"Curtis is a radio presenter and he didn't tell me?"
"Why would he?"
"Because he-... He's... Our story was on the radio!" I shouted again.
"We know!" Wraith shouted equally loud, "We just heard it!"
"Why didn't we listen to it before?" I demanded.
"Why would we?" Wraith answered with a question.
"Because I haven't heard a radio since I was, like, three years old!"
"That was Curtis."
"There only really is one radio station, and that's Curtis' Free Air radio. It used to play all over the Wasteland, but something happened with his radio tower and now it can't reach farther than Foxbridge."
"Can we go to it?" I asked, "I used to love listening to the radio!"
"I suppose so..."
"Yes!" I screamed, leaping out of bed and hurrying to pull on my boots, suddenly bursting with energy.
"But you have to eat first." Gaz warned.
"Aww... Okay." I pouted, a little disappointed that we weren't going straight away.
"Oh my god!" Wraith smirked, "Be more childish."
"Oh my god! I retorted, "Be more shut up!"