5.4

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5.4

The next few days were pretty much carbon copies of the first; making slow but steady progress returning Serenity to its former glory.

Deborah and her people slowly warmed to Solomon and his men, although their rifles were never far from their hands.

The villagers had started to help them and this speeded things up immensely.

‘Would you like to come to the funeral?’ Deborah said. ‘It’s tomorrow at noon.’

‘I would be honoured to,’ Solomon smiled. ‘But how would that go down with your people?’

‘We voted on it last night and the majority of them are willing to call a truce. A few old-schoolers opposed it, but it’s a tiny minority. Most of us would be pleased to see you there.’

‘Then in that case it would be rude not to,’ Solomon beamed. ‘We’ll see you at noon.’

 

The next morning, Davey was amused to see Solomon in the clothes that he deemed to be his best – a tatty three-piece suit that seemed to have been fished out of one of the many piles of clothing in the warehouse.

Solomon had sure taken it seriously; washing himself under the hose by the central square in his compound and trimming his beard studiously with a pair of rusted old barber’s scissors.

‘Fit for a king, Davey lad,’ he beamed as he swaggered over in his suit.

Davey couldn’t help but laugh.

It seemed odd seeing the king of the waifs and strays in a suit, even one so scruffy and ill-fitting.

‘That it is, it suits you perfectly,’ he grinned.

‘Thank you. You’d better get ready.’

‘Oh, I can’t go.’

‘Course you can. Get your arse in that suit, I picked it out ’specially for you.’

‘I’m honoured, but look at the state of it.’

Davey wrinkled his nose at the stained, crumpled suit which had a few flies buzzing round it merrily. The bloodstains on its indigo lining made his stomach churn.

‘A quick scrub and it’ll be looking Jim Dandy,’ Solomon beamed. ‘C’mon, give it a go.’

‘Go on then.’

Davey struggled into it – it wasn’t quite the right size, but if he left the buttons unfastened he could just about squeeze the jacket and trousers on.

‘Looking sharp, Davey lad.’

Solomon got him in a headlock that felt tight enough to pop his head clean off his shoulders. A gnarled fist scrubbed the top of his head.

‘Come on then, let’s bury our good friend Mr Cross,’ Solomon beamed.

 

Davey immediately felt even more like an outsider when he noticed that the mourners of Serenity were decked out in suits that were neither crumpled nor stained.

Solomon didn’t seem to mind, swaggering around with his hands gripping his lapels.

He greeted everyone he came across, fast and furious:

‘Nice t’see ya.’

‘Hi there.’

‘Looking sharp, man.’

‘Whoa, you really made the effort, lady.’

Davey’s head span from the speed at which Solomon both moved and spoke.

He was clearly in his element mingling like this, although Davey guessed that most of his glee was due to the fact that his biggest enemy would be in the dirt within the hour.

Solomon made a beeline for Deborah and bowed deeply at the waist when he saw her. He nodded emphatically and waved his arms around as they conversed.

He saw him move in to hug Deborah, a little awkward, a little tentative, but much more gentle than he had been when he’d headlocked Davey earlier.

He let go, muttered a few more words of condolence, then continued his way round the mourners.

Davey was in his own little world watching all of this and didn’t notice anybody approaching him.

‘Where does he get his energy?’ a female voice said.

He turned to see Deborah standing by his right shoulder.

She looked stunning, in spite of her swollen, tear-rimmed eyes and ran mascara.

‘H-hi, Mrs Cross. I’m so sorry for your loss.’

‘Thank you. And thank you for coming today,’ she said. ‘We’d best go in, the ceremony is about to start.’

Davey nodded.

As they lined up outside the church, he felt eyes crawling across his skin.

He looked around but could see no one obviously watching him.

The feeling continued.

He looked up into the church spire and was certain he saw someone duck back out of view.

He stared up at it in bemusement until Solomon whacked him on the arm and jolted him from his thoughts.

‘You ready to go in?’ he asked.

Davey nodded, still staring up towards the top of the spire.

‘What’s up?’

‘Nothing. Nothing, I’m fine.’

His gaze lingered over it for a second then he looked away and followed Solomon into the church.

 

‘Shit all the seats are taken,’ Solomon muttered so quietly that only Davey could hear.

Davey stifled a smile, but his mind was on the mysterious watcher from the spire.

He knew that his mind could have been playing tricks on him – he thought specifically of the escape from the underground tunnels when he’d been certain he’d seen Reverend Cross skulking around despite the fact that he’d been lying twenty feet away with a slit throat – but this didn’t feel like that.

He decided to keep his eyes open.

The ceremony started with Preacher Kelly giving a heartfelt speech.

He wore some of the reverend’s clothes – ill-fitting due to Cross’s lanky frame – and was genial but seemingly perpetually red-cheeked.

He greeted the congregation then asked that they stand to welcome in the coffin.

Everyone stood.

Already handkerchiefs dabbed leaking eyes.

Mournful sniffs began to pass around the room like a Mexican wave of sorrow.

Necks craned to see the deceased’s entrance.

Solomon dutifully made the sign of the cross.

Davey followed suit after Solomon glared at him for a few seconds.

Keeping up appearances, Davey thought.

The coffin was as Solomon had delivered it; polished to a high sheen.

The many candles that blazed in the church were reflected in the mahogany.

As the coffin passed, its reflection gave Davey a glimpse of a figure up on the balcony.

He turned but saw no one.

I’m losing the plot, he thought with a scowl.

‘There is someone up there,’ Solomon said, without looking at him. ‘I clocked him a while back. I’m pretty sure it’s the same person you saw up on the spire when we were outside.’

Davey failed to hide his surprise that Solomon had noticed this.

‘Not just a hat rack,’ he said, tapping his forehead and smiling for the merest hint of a second.

‘What if it’s a sniper?’ Davey said, the idea just registering with him.

‘I’m pretty sure he didn’t have a gun on him. But if he does I guess we’d be shot in the head.’

Davey darted a sideways glance at him.

‘But rest assured if we die, they will all die too,’ Solomon whispered.

He cautiously glanced around, seeing who was listening.

When he saw that everyone else seemed to be listening to Preacher Kelly’s lengthy sermon, he winked at Davey and whispered, ‘There’s a bomb built into the bottom of that coffin. My thumb is on the detonator in my pocket. If I release my grip the whole fucking church – and everyone in it – will be levelled.’

Davey looked at him, saw the sly smile.

‘We may die here, that is yet to be seen. But if we do, they will all die too,’ Solomon grinned.

Davey smiled too and berated himself for ever doubting the King.

‘And if they turn out to be genuine, I will disarm it with one flick of my little finger.’

Davey took a quick glance up at the balcony.

All he saw up there was a huge church organ, the polished brass pipes stretching all the way up to the ceiling.

‘He knows we spotted him,’ Solomon said. ‘Trust me, he’ll not be back now.’

But Davey noticed that Solomon’s hand was still hidden in his pocket.

 

Solomon had indeed been right – the man had not come back.

No one had tried to put a bullet in their skulls and the ceremony had gone without anyone giving them so much as a harsh look.

They went outside with the villagers to commit Cross’s coffin to the earth.

Davey noticed Solomon still had his hand in his pocket.

He feigned interest in the trees by the graveside, instead scouring the top of the church for hidden voyeurs.

He couldn’t see any but was still on edge.

Solomon seemed relaxed, but now that Davey knew that he was just as aware – if not more aware – of the dangers they could potentially be facing, he noticed the King’s eyes giving subtle glances around them all the time.

Deborah was strangely emotionless as her husband’s gleaming coffin was lowered into the earth.

Solomon caught her eye across the graveside and gave her a nod and a smile.

Davey followed his lead.

She nodded back.

After the ceremony, she came over to invite them to the wake.

‘I couldn’t possibly intrude any further,’ Solomon said.

‘I insist,’ Deborah said. ‘You must be hungry.’

The thought of what had been happening in Solomon’s abattoirs had killed Davey’s appetite stone dead, but at the thought of some food that might not have come from a slaughtered human being his stomach suddenly rediscovered its purpose.

‘Ok, but I warn you; me and Davey can eat.’

‘There is always more than enough. Fill your bellies.’

‘Thank you,’ Solomon said, bowing deeply. ‘And, once more, I am truly sorry for your loss.’

A waiter clad in an immaculate black tuxedo brought round frothing glasses of champagne on a tray that occasionally caught a wink of sunlight.

Deborah clinked glasses with Solomon and said, ‘To a bright future living together in harmony.’

 

The rest of the night a blur behind them, Davey and Solomon made their way back to the dozer.

Solomon was stumbling all over the place.

The Grim-made alcohol in the Freelands was no match for a few bottles of proper champagne that had been produced before the world went tits up.

He was giggling like a school girl as he bounced incessantly off Davey’s shoulder.

Davey muttered to him to sort himself out.

Solomon wrapped an arm tight around Davey’s shoulders.

The jacket of his suit had ran up his back a good few inches.

‘You stink of drink. Get off,’ Davey said, trying to push him away. But Solomon was too strong.

‘I love you like a son, you know,’ Solomon slurred. ‘Like a goddamned son.’ He pulled him in tight and kissed him on the forehead.

‘I bet you don’t feel so strongly in the morning.’

‘I will. I don’t need to be drunk to tell you how I feel about you. I swear to the gods.’

Solomon’s breath stunk of champagne and beer all mingled together with the food he’d eaten. It was a heady, nausea-inducing cocktail.

‘Whatever. Can we just get back? I’m knackered.’

‘We could sleep here. Deborah offered us a bed.’

‘Na, I don’t think so. I’m still not convinced we can trust them.’

‘If they were going to kill us they would have done so by now,’ Solomon said, hiccupping and winking theatrically. ‘Trust me, I’m a doctor.’

Davey shook his head.

The journey back to the dozer seemed to be taking forever.

The guards were watching them from afar.

Some of them were as drunk as Solomon, but most of them were still on the ball.

‘Aw no, gotta take a leak,’ Solomon grimaced. ‘Or else I’m gonna be sitting in a puddle on the way home.’

‘You can’t be serious. They’ll not be happy at you doing that.’

Solomon glanced around to see if the guards were watching him.

They weren’t, so he moved into the shadows behind one of the buildings.

He undid his fly and crept further into the darkness.

He seemed to think he was being quiet, but Davey could hear his every move.

It would be a miracle if the guards didn’t hear him.

‘Quiet,’ Davey hissed.

The sound of the King’s piss splashing the ground by his feet came loud and fast.

Davey cursed under his breath.

‘They’re coming, hurry up,’ he lied, sick of waiting.

Solomon eventually stumbled out of the bushes, his hands frantically struggling to fasten up his fly.

Davey groaned as he noticed dark patches on the front of his trousers.

‘You’ve pissed all down your front,’ Davey said, head in hands.

Solomon laughed when he saw it. ‘Worse things have happened at sea, Davey lad,’ he chuckled. He went to tap his nose slyly, but missed, nearly poking himself in the eye.

‘Some king,’ Davey said, shaking his head in bemusement. ‘Can we just get back to the dozer now?’

‘Yes, of course. Not far now.’

‘It wasn’t far when we set off either, but we’ve been half an hour already.’

‘Touchy. I’ll try not to enjoy myself in future.’ He slyly smiled at Davey.

‘Come on. I want to get back to bed.’

‘You young uns have no stamina.’ Solomon tripped over something and launched forward a few steps.

He roared laughter as he caught himself just before landing in a heap on the floor.

Davey shook his head again.

It was going to be a long night.

 

‘You might have to drive, Davey lad,’ Solomon slurred as they climbed into the dozer. ‘I’m seeing two steering wheels here.’

Davey laughed in spite of his annoyance. ‘Oh do you think?’

Solomon nodded emphatically, a look of satisfaction on his face. ‘I do indeed. Onward!’

Davey turned the key and fired up the dozer.

He felt something under his feet but it didn’t register with him as he was exhausted and concentrating on getting home.

He pulled the dozer up to the main gates.

Orders over the megaphone instructed them to get out of the dozer for a search.

Davey helped Solomon out of the dozer.

He almost tripped and wiped them both out, but caught himself.

Again he giggled.

They were both patted down.

‘Best sit back down before you fall down,’ one of the guards grinned.

‘No, keep them out for a minute. We need to do a check of the vehicle,’ the other said.

The guard searched Davey and found nothing, then he went into the dozer and started tossing it.

‘Hello? What’s this?’ he said, a smug grin on his face as he pulled out the black bin bag.

Solomon was drunkenly swaying from side to side, an idiotic grin on his face.

He didn’t seem to realise what was going on.

‘There’s meds in here,’ the guard said. ‘And a lot of ’em.’

The other guard’s head snapped round.

Instantly the guns came up in their faces.

‘I think we might be in a smidge of trouble, Davey lad,’ Solomon said, the smile now wiped from his face.

 

Next chapter is here

 

 

 

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