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Part 4: A Deadly burden
Davey felt a little overwhelmed by the information King Solomon was spitting at him.
The King’s white eye seemed to stare balefully into him, seeing the real him beneath all this skin and bone.
‘You know why Reverend Cross has to die, don’t you, Davey lad?’ Solomon said, a grim smile on his lips.
‘Yes. He sounds like a very bad man.’
‘To put it lightly,’ Solomon said. ‘He is an absolute fiend. And it was he who did this to me.’ His gnarled finger tapped the X branded into his forehead.
‘So is all this just for your revenge?’
Solomon shook his head. ‘I’m not going to lie, that’s one motivating factor. But more importantly I am concerned that he is going to make a move on us. His men have been spotted lurking around the outskirts of the Freelands more often than I would like. And they are creeping ever closer. But, if we take him out first, his followers will be like sheep without a shepherd.’
‘Why don’t you just go steaming in, guns blazing, and take them all down?’
‘I am going to show you something now which may change your impression of me. But please understand that I have done this for the good of my people.’
‘What is it?’ Davey said.
‘And you mustn’t tell a soul of this. Or else we can no longer be friends.’
Solomon led him to the armoury, took a sneaky look around him.
Max was there but no one else was around.
‘All these guns,’ Solomon said, shaking his head, a sad smile on his lips.
He pulled one of the assault rifles down.
He picked another one at random, did the same.
Again an empty clicking sound.
He invited Davey to try one too.
Again nothing happened.
‘The illusion of safety,’ Solomon said, smiling sadly. ‘All these fucking guns and only a couple of hundred bullets.’
Davey’s mouth fell open. His face dropped as he looked back to Solomon.
‘Anyone coming in here would – barring our strength in numbers and the bladed weapons we possess – have a good chance of taking over.’
‘Shit,’ Davey said.
‘So now I’m sure you can see why it is of the utmost importance that Reverend Cross dies before he decides to make an attack on our proud community.’
Davey nodded, marvelling at how well Solomon and his closest guards had bluffed their way into a position of power.
It was terrifying how easily it could come crashing down if anyone called them on it.
‘So why does it have to be me?’ Davey said.
‘You have already killed. From the stories of your journey to meet me I know you have brains, guts and can think on your feet. All of which are necessary if you are to get close to Cross. Will you do it, Davey lad?’
‘Yes. Just tell me what I need to do.’
‘To be completely upfront with you I have sent men in to take Cross out before and they have never returned. Whether they have been killed or have chosen to remain under his protection is unclear at this stage. For all I know they may still be undercover, waiting for their opportunity, but I doubt it somehow.’
‘This is a bit of a headfuck.’
‘I know. And I understand you may need to think about it, but time is of the essence here. Really it would be best if you went over there in the next few days.’
‘I’ll go tonight.’
Solomon nodded, smiled, cupped the back of Davey’s head in his huge palm. He pressed their foreheads together so they were eye to eye. ‘I cannot thank you enough.’
‘I just hope I make it back in one piece.’
‘You will. I have the utmost faith in you.’
Solomon moved over to the armoury and stomped his foot on the floor to the right of the wall of guns.
A hollow thump sounded. Solomon nodded to himself and slid back a section of wooden flooring.
He pulled out a gun.
Solomon handed it to Davey, noting his furrowed brow, and said, ‘He has metal detectors everywhere as he is paranoid of being executed. This is your best chance of getting in.’
‘Won’t the guards search me?’
‘Yes. And then you give them this without argument, gaining a little of their trust.’
Davey was stumped. ‘Then how the hell am I supposed to kill him?’
‘Ah I’m sure you’ll figure that part out on your own, Davey lad. But this should get you started.’
He pulled out a metal box, slid the lid back and pulled out a crucifix on a chain.
‘And what use is this going to be?’ Davey said, slowly growing more angry at the shambles of a mission on which he was about to embark.
‘It is of no practical use, but it will at least make it seem you are of the same faith as Cross.’
Davey shook his head. ‘I don’t fancy my chances.’
‘You escaped the Cullsmen. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people I have met who can say the same thing. Believe in yourself, Davey lad, and I’m sure you’ll be surprised what you can achieve.’
‘Can’t someone come with me?’
‘No. If they see any of us escorting you the game is up. You need to make the journey on your own.’
‘Can I take food with me?’
‘Yes, but make sure you have consumed it before you get to their camp. If he senses you’ve come from here you are in real trouble. Now you need to think of a credible cover story. Escaping the Cullsmen will work, but maybe say you’ve wandered around a while, trying to keep yourself to yourself. He loves a loner, since he is one himself.’
‘If I were you I’d loop round the outskirts of the city and approach that way, rather than heading straight out from here. His guards will spy you a mile off and you’ll be in deep shit before you even get to the perimeter.’
Davey didn’t know what to say.
He felt totally overwhelmed by the thought of what he was about to do.
True, he had outwitted and outrun the Cullsmen but this seemed an altogether different kettle of fish.
He felt safe under King Solomon’s protection and the idea of being alone again terrified him.
‘I will give you as much ammunition as I can spare, to get you to their camp in one piece. But as I said earlier, you will need to surrender your gun when you get there.’
Max greeted a visitor, taking something from him before thanking him loudly.
Max handed Davey a rucksack. ‘There’s two days’ worth of food in there. That should be more than enough to get you there. If I were you I’d eat it before you get within shouting distance of their walls.’
It was all about denying that he was from the Freelands.
‘Won’t they smell the steam on me?’ Davey said, noting the sickly sweet smell that clung to his clothes and hair and skin.
‘Possibly, but your best route to their village is through the garbage mountains. The smell from there should easily overpower that of the steam.’
‘I see. That sounds great, by the way.’
Davey’s sarcasm was not lost on King Solomon.
‘When you return here having killed Cross, you will be given a hero’s welcome and you will be treated like royalty,’ Solomon promised. ‘A few days of discomfort for a lifetime of luxury. Personally I think it’s worth it.’
‘Then why don’t you go and kill him then?’ Davey said.
Solomon laughed. ‘The reasons are manifold, young warrior. Firstly, his men would recognise me a mile off and would gun me down from their watch towers before I even got to the village. Second, even if I did manage to do the impossible and get to Cross, it would start a gang war that I don’t think we’d have much chance of winning. All the people here would be in danger. You are still new to our ways, so it isn’t obvious you are one of us yet. You could still pull off the exiled youth routine.’
Davey nodded. ‘If I die mind I’m going to come back and haunt the shit out of you.’
‘I wouldn’t expect anything less, Davey lad,’ Solomon grinned, then pulled him into a bear hug that threatened to crush his ribs into his lungs. He kissed his forehead and patted him hard on the back. ‘Be safe, my friend. And do us proud.’
A shiver slid down Davey’s spine as he passed through the outer boundary of the Freelands.
He wasn’t sure if it was because he was moving away from the many bonfires or because the reality that he was once more out here on his own had sunk in, but he reckoned it was more likely the latter.
The darkness seemed absolute out here away from the fires and the steam and the hooting and celebrations.
He felt like he was headed out of heaven into purgatory, on his way to hell, and he wondered what he had done to deserve such a fate.
The gun felt heavy against his right leg.
It was a reassuring weight, but it was tiring the limb a little.
Still, he was loathe to take it off, in case he needed it.
Thirst overcame him.
He had plenty of water but he didn’t know how much the journey was going to take out of him, so he sipped it carefully.
The asphalt under his feet was scorched and cracked. Greyed out strands of weeds poked through the cracks.
He heard a low moaning in the distance as he moved into the darkness, towards the floodlights which shone far ahead of him.
He couldn’t shake the feeling that he was headed out towards his death.
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