Ahead of them a refrigerated van minus its tires sat on an angle. It was surrounded by rubble from destroyed houses. She could just make out the crushed forms of cars embedded further along. The people of Blackstone had used everything at their disposal to build the wall. Had she been in a better frame of mind she’d have respected them for their ingenuity.
“Come on,” Sean said, calling them closer.
One of the other men fiddled with a chunk of metal and Frosty joined in, slowly pushing it aside. The thing had to weigh a ton. A lot of grunting and heaving was involved in the sloth-paced process. The interior of the van must act as a tunnel through the wall. This was how they’d get out.
“Guess you don’t trust these people as much as you’d like them to think,” said Nick.
“Always have an exit strategy,” said Sean. “You know that. Directly across the train tracks there’s a warehouse. Inside are some vehicles kitted out and ready to go. Take one and do not come back here, ever.”
“Aye, aye, Cap’n,” said Nick. “Don’t worry, we won’t be back. I don’t think Blackstone suits us after all.”
Her and Nick against the world. Fine. If this was what remained of humanity then they were better off alone. Sure as hell they were safer.
The chunk of metal seemed to be taking forever to move. No one spoke.
The sound of footsteps drew close and Nick suddenly shoved Roslyn behind him, between him and the wreckage. She clung onto the back of his shirt to keep upright.
“Lila. Damn it, I could have shot you.” Sean swore profusely beneath his breath. “What are you doing here?”
“Take these for Roslyn,” Lila said, pushing a backpack at Nick, her pretty face tight with concern. “There’s some food and medicine in there. Keep the wound as clean as you can. Good luck.”
Frosty growled. “You told her about moving them?”
“No,” said Sean, sounding not the least bit apologetic. “But she knows about the exit. I trust her.”
“Yeah?” said Frosty, stomping from foot to foot, looking all kinds of hostile. “Well, clearly they don’t.”
The surly prick was right. A shadowy group moved fast through the playground toward them. One of them turned on a flashlight and shone it in their faces. The light blinded her. Gray and white blobs danced across her vision. Fear had a throttle-hold on her chest. She wouldn’t let them take him.
Frosty faced the pack with his rifle but Friendly kept working at pushing the metal aside. She couldn’t see Sean, but she heard him just fine.
“Tom,” he said.
“I warned them you were planning something,” the other man answered. “All of you will go down for this.”
“We’re not going to let you lynch him, Tom,” said Sean. “That’s fucking insane and you know it. We haven’t fallen that far. We’re not savages.”
Roslyn had her doubts, but it was nice to know some people retained a shred of decency. Meanwhile, her head reeled from the meds. She leant her face against the back of Nick’s shirt and kept a tight grip on her gun. They were escaping, whatever she had to do. The scent of him soothed her, but she still flicked off the safety on her gun. Nick’s hand reached around at the noise, pulling her closer against him. The thought of losing him was untenable. She’d only just found him; she wasn’t giving him up. Not yet, not ever. These people were no better than Justin and she’d mowed him down.
“The town will decide what happens to all of you,” the man Sean had identified as Tom said. He had a sneery know-it-all voice. She hated him and she hadn’t even seen him yet. “Did you really think we’d let you take our only medic away?” Tom laughed. It was a distinctly brittle sound. “She’s ours.”
“You’re out of order, Tom. What I do is none of your business,” Lila answered in a tight voice. “I don’t belong to anyone but myself.”
“Get over here!” Tom ordered.
“Do not talk to me that way,” Lila said, her voice climbing higher and higher.
“Lila—” Nick started.
Ros could hear guns being cocked. Angry murmurs. The men with Tom were backing up his sentiments. But how many men had he brought with him? Frosty faced the party opposite with absolute calm. Friendly slowly turned to face their foe. The way had been cleared. A dark hole almost the size of a man sat opened at ground level, leading into the back of the fridge compartment. They could get of here, now. Escape sat right there, waiting, a bare few footsteps away.
She heard voices, yelling, and a multitude of feet stomping this way. Many more flashlights shone in their direction. Oh, no. The cold slid beneath her skin and took up residence next to her heart.
The mob was coming.
Nick drew a deep breath and let it out slow. Fear and anger stank up the air. Mobs like this one had gathered outside the hospitals and police stations soon after the plague first broke out. Volatile, pissed off people without a clue. Just like the people at the airport. The situation was about to go five ways to hell. Ros could not be here when that happened.
“Go through the hole,” he said. “I’ll be right behind you.”
“Liar.” Her voice was slurred and he could feel her leaning against his back. “We stay together.”
“Sweetheart, the hole can only fit one at a time and you know I won’t go first.”
“No. These people will kill you.”
In all likelihood, yes, they would. The mob were well riled up and many were armed. One helpful soul at the front even held a noose, all ready for him. Hard to keep calm in the face of such open hatred.
Lila stood close by, facing down Tom, the muscle-headed dick with authority issues. Fuck, if she’d just appease the idiot a little. Captain Sean, meanwhile, looked about ready to lose it. A tic had started up in his jaw and his eyes were everywhere, taking in everything. Nick had never seen the man so wired. It didn’t give him a good feeling. But then, nothing about this did.
Moaning started up on the other side of the fence and Nick’s blood dropped about a million degrees. He couldn’t send her through on her own. Not now. The situation was fucked.
“Everyone calm down. Please.” A young woman with dark hair stood to the side. Two of Nick’s old company were either side of her with weapons at the ready. Sheriff Finn stood nearby and appeared every bit as pissed as Nick felt.
“Shut up, Erin. Lila! You will get over here now,” Tom yelled, waving his gun in the medic’s direction.
At which point Sean snapped. “Do not point that at her.”
“I am not going anywhere, Tom.” The woman crossed her arms. “All of you should be ashamed of yourselves. This is disgusting.”
The mob gathered around and the moaning picked up in volume. They were making plenty of noise to attract the zombies’ attention. Either side of the fence was fast turning into a massacre waiting to happen. Time to get out before more infected gathered. Inside this town their deaths seemed more certain by the moment.
Nick grabbed Matty’s arm, pulling him closer and pushing Roslyn behind the big man. He’d covered himself in every weapon, as usual. Matty nodded and held onto her elbow, keeping her in place. Ros stumbled against the man’s back.
The yelling continued.
Tom’s face turned beetroot in color and the gun trembled in his meaty hand. “Lila!”
Nick was getting Ros out of there right now. Getting her into a car, and getting gone.
Sean moved to cover Lila.
And bang! The first shot was fired.
Lila crumpled to the ground, blood pouring from her neck.
“No!” Sean’s cry carried clear through the night.
Tom turned the gun toward them but a bullet hit his hand, his gun fell and the man cried out in pain. Behind him the crowd roared as panic took over. The bulk of people took flight, but not all. In front of them, Cooper dropped, his blood misting the air. It all happened so fast. The surly prick was dead before he hit the ground, his face and chest torn apart by a man holding a shotgun. Matty aimed his semi-automatic and took out two of the men that had stood beside the still crying Tom. A woman behind them, caught in the chaos, clutched at her arm as blood slipped from between her fingers. An unarmed elderly man slumped to the ground, the victim of friendly fire.
Nick grabbed Ros, taking her down and keeping her covered. Sean cradled the dead Lila not three meters away. He said her name over and over as if he thought he could wake her up. More shots and Matty’s bulk crashed down on top of Nick, nearly flattening him before falling to the side. Nick pushed Ros toward the hole.
“Stop! Stop this!” the brunette yelled while her two guards did likewise. “No more shooting! Cease fire!”
Finn joined her, his face set. Fools. They were just as likely to be shot down where they stood. Blackstone was out of control.
“Leave,” a man said, a rifle in his hands pointing at the ground at Finn’s feet. “You take your people, and you leave. Now.”
“You stood with them, Finn. You too, Erin. Go. None of you are welcome here any longer.”
“This is my home,” the brunette, Erin, bit out.
“No,” said the man, his tone of voice absolute. “Not anymore. You made your choice.”
“You can’t be serious,” said Erin.
The man with the rifle looked beyond reason. “Enough! If you’d let them do what they wanted then only one person would have died. Just one, instead of all this. He isn’t even one of us. You’re traitors, all of you. Leave now or you will die.”
A dark-haired man as tall as the captain came forward, leading by the hand the pregnant woman who’d been at the cop shop earlier. “Let’s go, Finn.”
“Are you fucking insane?” the recently ex-sheriff said. “We can’t take her out there.”
“You can and you will. Right now.” The man with the rifle took a menacing step forward and five men backed him up. If people started firing again they would all die.