” “pretty.” Use it any way you please. “
The Accumulator, part twelve.
Scene: A wide angle shot of open countryside at night; darkened fields are separated by low stone walls and strips of dense woodland and the full moon casts impenetrable shadows against the stark contours of the landscape. Two figures can just be seen in the middle distance, moving slowly towards the camera, their progress evidently hampered by the smaller of the pair, who seems to be having considerable difficulty negotiating the uneven terrain. It is eleven years ago.
The occasional sound of a female voice, swearing furiously, drifts up the slope on the gentle breeze and, as our heroes get closer, Patrick’s sardonic narration resumes:
“We left the quarry and headed east, for no other reason than it was away from both there and The Department’s facility. We didn’t know where we were going, but we knew we didn’t want to go anywhere near either of those, so we kept off the roads and went cross-country, an exercise that was easier said than done in Cathy’s case.”
We briefly see Cathy, silhouetted against the moonlit landscape as she clambers over the final wall, until she suddenly vanishes with a further burst of expletives.
“It took us twice as long as it should have, what with her falling over every ten minutes in those pretty little shoes of hers and me having to carry her for the last two hundred yards, when the bloody heels gave up and snapped off altogether. But when we finally got to the other side of the valley we had our next stroke of luck.”
The camera follows Patrick as he staggers the last few steps to the top of the scrub-covered slope, Cathy riding piggyback with her arms wrapped tightly round his neck, one hand still clinging grimly to her ruined shoes. Patrick lowers his passenger none too gently to the ground before collapsing to his knees on the rough grass, breathing heavily and coughing.
“You really shouldn’t smoke,” says Cathy, inspecting one unheeled stiletto with displeasure, “it’s very bad for your health, you know.”
He turns and gives her his most scathing look.
“True, but it is very good for calming the nerves, and I haven’t had a smoke for a while now, so I wouldn’t push my luck, if I were you.”
Cathy shrugs and points to something behind him.
“Maybe you can find some in there, if you’re that desperate.”
Patrick turns in the direction she’s looking and about fifty yards away sees a single storey building with a tall sign outside, next to a road that wasn’t visible on their trek up the hill. A petrol station, deserted at this hour and isolated enough to warrant further investigation, thinks Patrick, studying the garage carefully for signs of habitation.
When he is satisfied the building is unoccupied, he hoists Cathy onto his back for the short journey across the road and the cracked tarmac of the car park, depositing her on the doormat of the small concession store which overlooks the silent forecourt.
“Wait here,” he says, “keep an eye out, look lost and innocent and whistle if you see anyone coming.”
Cathy gives him a look of her own, but peers into the darkness as he disappears round the corner of the building. She is still watching the empty road thirty seconds later, when the sound of breaking glass makes her jump. A few seconds after that and she sees movement in the shadows of the store and a dark shape resolves itself into Patrick’s grotesquely distorted grinning face, pressed up against the inside of the glass door.
Cathy rolls her eyes and waits for him to locate the lock and let her in, which he eventually does, opening the door and ushering her in with a deep bow. She smiles despite herself and steps inside, moving cautiously down the narrow aisle between two display racks, feeling her way in the gloom until she reaches the counter.
He joins her after relocking the door and grimaces as she points out the shuttered and padlocked cigarette cabinet.
“Yeah, well I’m trying to give up, apparently it’s bad for me.” He takes a small flashlight from a box on the counter and gestures to the rear of the shop with it, where it illuminates shelves of holiday accessories; beach toys, baseball caps, sunglasses and cheap deck shoes.
“Oh, thank god for that.” Cathy checks the sizes of a few pairs, then slips on a pair of blue canvas pumps with exaggerated relief, “Aaahhh, that’s so much better, thank you.”
“Take a spare pair, just in case, they don’t look the sturdiest things for hiking in and you never know when you might get another chance.”
“More hiking? You have to be kidding, I thought…well, I just thought we’d be able to take something from out the front…”
“Out the front? What d’you mean, what’s out there?”
“There’s a line of second hand cars for sale out there, didn’t you notice?”
Cathy leads him to the window and points across the forecourt to where a Land Rover and a few other vehicles are just visible in the moonlight, prices scrawled on the windscreens in whitewash.
“Perfect. We just have to hope there’s petrol, too.”
Patrick steps behind the counter and searches underneath until he comes up with a small lockbox. The lock gives way after a minute of levering with a screwdriver, revealing a selection of car keys, all helpfully labelled with registration numbers.
“I can’t see the number plates from here, but I reckon this is the Land Rover key.” He holds up a flat metal key, with no locking fob or logo, “I recognize it from Endicott’s place, they had an old one there, he took me on a tour of the grounds in it once.”
“Right, let’s get going then.”
He turns to see Cathy, arms full of snacks and drinks, trying unsuccessfully to open a bag of crisps and shakes his head.
“What, you want me to starve? I’d leave the money if I had it; shall I write them an IOU?”
“You just wait there while I go and check the car out, ok?”
“Yessir! Certainly sir!” She threw a salute and stamped to attention, spoiling the effect somewhat by sticking her tongue out at him and crossing her eyes.
Still shaking his head and smiling to himself, Patrick heads for the door to check they remain unobserved, then unlocks it and walks quickly across the dark forecourt to the line of vehicles.
He has just reached the door of the Land Rover when Cathy sees the sudden glow of headlights, followed by the car they are attached to, swing round an unseen bend in the road and, sickeningly, head straight for the petrol station entrance.
The lights sweep across the window and Cathy ducks down behind the counter as the car pulls up and stops outside. There is a brief silence, then she hears doors open and close and the sound of approaching footsteps. Someone outside rattles the door and she hears muffled voices.
There’s another moment of silence and she begins to think they are going to leave, then a noise from the rear of the shop makes her jump and she hears a voice, shockingly clear and seemingly only a few feet away;
“Hey, there’s a broken window back here, I’m going to take a look.”
Cathy desperately looks around her, searching for a place to hide, but she’s trapped behind the counter and there’s nowhere to go. She senses a presence on the other side of the thin wooden partition and suddenly a shape looms above her as someone leans over the counter.
“Well, what do we have here then? What’s a pretty girl like you doing in a place like this..?”
To be continued (using next week’s prompt)…