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The guards wrestled Davey and Solomon to the ground – in Solomon’s case this wasn’t very hard as he was already halfway to falling over – and cuffed them.
They were shoved into another dozer which took them to see Deborah.
She was drunk, but still much more coherent than Solomon had been.
In the cold darkness of the village green, they were pushed onto their knees with guns pointed in their faces.
‘We didn’t take those meds,’ Davey said. ‘I swear to you.’
Deborah stared at him hard. ‘Why should I believe you?’
‘Why would we go to all this trouble just to steal some fucking tablets?’ Solomon said. ‘If we wanted to get them we’d have just come in here and taken them. Why go through all this truce shit?’
‘Maybe you thought it would be a better play. I don’t know.’
‘I saw them out there by the med stores,’ one of the guards said.
‘Where even are the med stores?’ Davey said.
The guard gestured with his gun.
‘Oh, I just went over to splash my boots,’ Solomon said. ‘That’s why we were over there.’
It didn’t even seem Deborah believed them.
A crowd of villagers had gathered to watch what was going on.
‘I told you they was no good,’ one drunkard shouted.
‘They ain’t done shit,’ another bellowed.
The two drunken parties squared up to each other and were on the verge of throwing punches when a gunshot tore through the night air.
‘Enough,’ Preacher Kelly said. ‘I will make the decisions here. And I say we string ’em up now, before they have chance to escape.’
Deborah twisted the gun from his hand and threw it to the ground.
She stared him in the eye, unflinching.
‘No! I am not convinced they have done anything wrong here. We will keep them overnight and find out what happened in the morning when we’re all sober enough to make a decision.’
‘It’s obvious they did it,’ one man said.
‘Yeah. Why else would they be round here, brown-nosing you?’
‘Trying to gain your trust then screw you over, that’s why.’
A huge roar went up.
‘I could end this right now,’ one of the guards said, shoving the barrel of his shotgun hard into the back of Solomon’s head.
‘There is no need for all of this,’ Solomon bellowed. ‘We are not thieves.’
‘Put that gun down now or I’ll have you on the gallows within the hour,’ Deborah snapped.
‘You ain’t gonna do shit, Missy,’ the man sneered, flicking her a glance before returning his gaze to the back of Solomon’s head.
The guard suddenly went down, hands cupped to a ragged wound on the top of his head.
‘You show me some fucking respect,’ Deborah said, wiping the blood from the butt of the handgun she’d used to pistol-whip him.
A shocked murmur spread through the crowd.
‘And that goes for all of you,’ she said. ‘You all idolised my husband. So did I. But he is gone now. And his dying wish was for me to continue his good work in Serenity. So if any of you have a problem with that, I suggest you get the fuck outta my village.’
The murmur continued.
She eyeballed each and every one of the crowd.
Only Preacher Kelly returned her gaze.
‘Preacher Kelly, take these prisoners to the holding cell.’
He stared at her, doing nothing other than turn his face up into a sneer.
‘That’s an order, Preacher Kelly.’
He moved closer, his eyes still fixed on hers.
Then he lurched forward as if to head-butt her.
She didn’t budge an inch.
‘When you’re finished with your childish bullshit,’ she said.
Still sneering, he moved away from her and grudgingly did as he was told.
He took his frustration out on the prisoners, shoving them around a little.
‘We are people of God, Preacher Kelly. These people are innocent until proven guilty. Please treat them as such.’
He glanced round at her.
‘Do you have something you want to say to me?’ she spat.
Preacher Kelly thought about it for a second then shook his head.
‘Does anybody have anything they want to say to me?’
No one said anything directly to her, but ripples of dissent spread through the crowd.
‘In fact, Preacher Kelly, get off the dozer. I’ll take them myself as it seems I can’t trust you.’
Deborah piloted the dozer in silence.
The armed guards with her were ones she could trust; Lomino, Stone, Sheil, and Itkin.
They all had her back.
They pulled into the jail and the prisoners were led out at gunpoint.
Solomon’s buzz had faded in a hurry.
Davey was exhausted and terrified once more.
‘Lomino, Stone, Itkin, guard them day and night,’ she said. ‘I don’t want anyone trying any shit. Sheil, you come up to the roof with me.’
Deborah and Sheil hunched in the cold darkness with sniper rifles clamped to their eyes.
She knew Preacher Kelly was a loose cannon and had the gift of the gab so she could potentially have a revolt on her hands.
She’d taken one of the megaphones to communicate in case anything happened.
As she’d figured, the mob of unruly villagers came, torches carving through the night, weapons aimed at the jail.
‘Death to the heathens,’ Preacher Kelly’s distorted voice came over the megaphone.
Deborah rolled her eyes.
It seemed he now had the balls to say something about her decision, but only when backed up by dozens of drunken, riled up friends.
‘Preacher Kelly, if you don’t get the fuck away from this jailhouse, I will have you hung for blasphemy.’
‘The hell you will. I’m what’s good for this town. When you lost your husband you lost your backbone, lady. You’re a fucking coward.’
‘Says the man who daren’t say this shit to my face without a few hundred people backing him up. Listen, we’re all drunk. Emotions are running high from the funeral and the fire. We need to sleep off today’s excesses and come at this tomorrow with a clear head.’
‘Let us in that jail or we’ll bust our way in.’
‘Listen, I am ready to stay up here all night,’ Deborah said, her voice hard and firm. ‘And I will gun down every last one of you if I have to. But no one is going in that jail until the morning.’
‘You’re full of shit, Missy,’ one of the other villagers piped up.
Deborah sighed. ‘Fuck this shit,’ she said aloud.
She aimed carefully and her bullet took the top half of the torch from the villager’s hand.
He stood, mouth hanging open, trying to make sense of the blood that ran between his fingers.
‘Next time it’ll be your head,’ she grinned.
The crowd watched her dumbly.
‘Are you really gonna risk dying for those fuckin heathens?’ Preacher Kelly mocked.
‘Yes I am,’ Deborah said. ‘And I’ll take as many of you as I can down before I do.’
Preacher Kelly nodded, then turned to his assembled crowd, arms raised.
He put the megaphone to his lips.
The moment stretched out like elastic.
‘Well then, Mrs Cross, you have passed the test,’ Preacher Kelly bellowed through the megaphone.
The air filled with cheers and applause.
Preacher Kelly put his megaphone down and applauded hard, his gaze fixed up at the roof.
‘What the fuck are you talking about?’ Deborah shouted down.
‘Well, you see me and Reverend Cross had a talk one night after a few too many altar wines. After the usual topics of conversation I enjoyed with your husband, the talk turned to what would happen in the event of his death.
‘I, of course, told him I’d be honoured to take over as leader of Serenity. But he insisted flat-out that it had to be you. He said he knew you had the guts and the drive to do it. And he reckoned you’d make a better leader than he did, in fact.’
Deborah’s brow furrowed.
She found it hard to believe that this had all been part of some elaborate hoax.
‘So… I have to admit, I didn’t think you were up to the job. I guess my desire to lead myself had clouded my judgement. I told Wayne as much.
‘And we came to a little arrangement.
‘He said I was to test you. He said to wait till he was in the ground then give you a hard time over something, see how you coped.
‘He said if you showed the slightest sign of weakness then I was to put a bullet in the back of your head while you slept then take over myself.
‘Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. I was wrong. He was right. You have balls like melons, lady. And I couldn’t be more impressed with you.
‘I mean most of the village is here baying for your blood and you looked every motherfucker in the eye and refused to back down. I apologise for ever doubting you, Mrs Cross. And you have just proved that Serenity is in the best possible hands.’
Deborah just stared, unblinking, down at him.
This was surreal.
She wasn’t sure if it was a trick, but it sure didn’t seem it.
‘You mean you don’t want to kill them?’ she said.
‘Oh I sure do. And I’m sure I’m not the only one,’ Preacher Kelly said. ‘But you are in charge and your word is gospel. None of us would contradict you, ma’am.’
She found it hard to believe that this was all some elaborate hazing prank.
But then she remembered the ultimate initiation ritual that had marked her first visit to Serenity and realised that anything was possible in Wayne’s twisted mind.
‘So did you plant the drugs in the dozer?’ she asked, still struggling to understand what was going on.
‘No, ma’am,’ Preacher Kelly said. ‘It seems likely that they did steal them but we will, as you have instructed, wait until morning to clear it up.’
‘Don’t take this the wrong way,’ Deborah said. ‘But I’m not sure if I believe you.’
‘You can trust us, Mrs Cross,’ another of the villagers shouted up.
‘Yeah, we got your fucking back, lady,’ another shouted.
Cheers went up.
Hands were thrust skyward.
‘Go back to your homes,’ Deborah said. ‘Get some sleep. Then we will investigate further.’
‘Ain’t you coming?’ Preacher Kelly said.
‘No, I’m going to make sure you fuckers are telling the truth,’ she grinned.
‘What’s going on out there?’ Solomon said, staring up at the ceiling. ‘Don’t they understand people are trying to sleep in here?’
Davey glared at him. ‘You were asleep. Your snoring was practically shaking the plaster from the walls.’
‘Don’t feel like I been asleep.’
Solomon sat up, cupped his head in his hands and exhaled hard.
‘Bit of a shitter this one, Davey lad.’
‘I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these scumbags tried to set us up.’
Davey looked around.
The room was a purpose-built cell complete with steel bars and solid metal doors.
It looked impossible to break out of.
‘Na, me neither. One thing’s for damned sure, we ain’t getting outta here unless they let us out,’ Solomon said.
‘No. It looks secure.’
‘Like Fort fucking Knox. Well, since we ain’t got anything better to do, may as well try and get some more sleep.’
Solomon curled up on the bench and was sound asleep again within minutes.
He was snoring loud enough to make the bench rattle beneath him.
Davey groaned and did his best to get to sleep but he had a feeling he was in for a rough night.
In the morning, Davey woke with a stiff neck and back.
He’d ended up spending the night on the cold stone floor.
He groaned as the light stabbed into his eyes.
Solomon was still asleep, curled up on the bench in the foetal position, his suit jacket laid over him as a blanket.
He snored gently, looking peaceful as a babe – albeit a heavily-bearded brick shithouse one.
There was a gentle knock at the door.
Deborah came in looking a little worse for wear but still a picture of class and grace.
‘I’ve seen the footage of what happened and, like I figured, it was someone else who took the meds. It seemed he was trying to frame you. He seems to have gone to ground, but rest assured, once we catch him he will be dealt with in a manner befitting such an act. I’m sorry for not trusting you with this.’
‘I understand,’ Davey said. ‘I don’t think I would have in your position.’
‘I have arranged for you to be brought breakfast by way of an apology. What would you like?’
Davey’s belly seemed to stand and cheer at the thought of food. He was suddenly craving blueberry pancakes with vanilla ice cream.
‘We can do that,’ she smiled. ‘What about you, King Solomon?’
‘He wants a clip round the head for the way he was behaving last night,’ Davey laughed.
Deborah laughed too. ‘Yeah, he was a little worse for wear. I imagine he’ll have a sore head when he wakes up.’
‘Yeah me too.’
‘I’ll get your breakfast sent in.’
‘Won’t be long. You might want to wake him up before it gets here.’
Davey took great pleasure in waking Solomon.
After the crap night’s sleep he’d had, it was nice to get his own back.
Solomon cursed as he was roused rudely from his slumber.
‘Where the fuck are we?’ he said, looking round with a comically bemused expression.
‘The holding cell. Don’t you remember what happened last night?’
Solomon sat up, clutching his head. He winced as he reached all the way up.
‘Bloody hell, lad, my head is pounding.’
‘I’m not surprised.’
‘What happened then?’
‘You really don’t remember?’
‘Not a fucking bit of it.’
‘I swear I’m never drinking if it turns you into an idiot like this.’
Solomon winced again. ‘Not so loud, Davey lad. So you gonna fill me in?’
Solomon nodded as Davey finished the story.
‘Actually, I think I do remember some of that,’ he said.
His big hands were clamped to his temples, massaging them to try and remove the pain from his pounding head.
‘Wouldn’t want to be the real thief when they get a hold of him,’ Davey smiled.
Solomon chuckled a deep laugh. ‘Me neither, Davey lad. They’re gonna rip him in two.’
Preacher Kelly appeared at the cell door with a tray.
‘Apologies for doubting you, gentlemen,’ he said, nodding his head solemnly.
‘I did try to tell ya,’ Solomon said, still rubbing his temples. ‘Say, something smells good,’ said, sniffing the air like a curious dog.
‘Our way of saying sorry,’ Deborah said with a smile. ‘Welcome back to the land of the living, King Solomon.’
He grinned and shook his head. ‘Been a long while since I was that drunk. Might be a while again, the way I’m feeling now.’
Deborah laughed. ‘Enjoy your breakfast then, boys. You are free to leave whenever you like.’
‘You know, she’s not half as bad as her husband was mind, Davey lad,’ Solomon said, shovelling forkfuls of sausage and egg into his mouth.
Davey was already halfway through his first pancake. It was every bit as sweet as he had hoped.
‘This all seems too good to be true,’ Davey said, a shiver running down his spine.
Next chapter is here