The Meadows, Nottingham
Commander Robert Winchester stood with his hands above his head. Two Very Large Men stood either side of him, one with a gun, the other with a knife. A third Very Large Man manhandled a woman out of her own front door, throwing her onto the garden to join her terrified husband and five year old son.
A fourth Very Large Man set fire to the rag that was poking out of the end of the bottle of petrol he was holding.
“This’ll teach you to associate with known criminals,” he said, raising the bottle above his head. He heaved the bottle at the house – everyone watched it sail through the air.
Suddenly, there was a hissing ‘thwip’ sound and the bottle smashed into a thousand pieces – the flaming rag flew into some bushes while the petrol splattered harmlessly to the ground.
Everyone turned to see an old man holding a bow and pulling another arrow from a backpack.
“And that will teach you,” Albert smiled, “to wield irony with such reckless abandon.”
The two Very Large Men that had been keeping an eye on the family’s initial would-be rescuer were now looking at this new arrival; an old man with an even older weapon. This would be their last mistake for some time – within a couple of seconds, they had both acquired shattered collarbones and broken noses.
Commander Robert Winchester looked down on his handiwork. His erstwhile guards writhed on the floor in pain while Robert himself had barely broken sweat. One of the goons admirably fought against the incredible pain to try and reach his dropped gun. Robert applauded the man’s spirit – and then stamped on his forearm, cleanly snapping the man’s radius bone. Almost screaming in agony, the goon quickly retracted his arm, cradling it to his chest as he lay on his back. Setting fire to a family’s house or shooting anyone had suddenly become pretty much the last thing on his mind.
The last Very Large Man suddenly looked very scared. Albert raised a new arrow at the man, Robert retrieved his baseball bat from the ground and both strode toward him, a violent purpose etched on their faces.
“Go back to your boss,” said Robert, “and tell him he’ll never become Sheriff.”
The man fell over himself to get the hell out of there.
Albert watched as Robert knelt down to help the mother and child to their feet. The father, full of unrestrained relief and gratitude, shook Robert’s hand. Then Albert himself got a hand shake, a hug from the mother, a wave from the child.
As Albert watched the family gratefully return to their house, the streets around them suddenly melted away. The roads became tilled farmland, the houses became hand-built huts and shacks. The family became a family from hundreds of years ago – he’d just helped them by driving the Sheriff’s soldiers from their land and then left them some loaves of bread and some meat. And at his side stood a Knight; a prayer to God on his lips, draped in heavy chain mail with the King’s crest emblazoned proudly across his chest and his father’s sword by his side. Albert knew he was doing the right thing. Protect those who can’t protect themselves. Stand shoulder to shoulder with those who’d take up arms to do the same. And no matter what, regardless of the reasons or what was at stake, never allow a single hair on an innocent’s head to come to harm.
Albert’s eyes snapped onto the ex-serviceman. The houses were back.
“I said,” Robert smirked as he nodded to the smouldering shrubbery where the lit rag had landed, “perhaps you’d better put that bush out.”
* * *
Aliana handed Grey another picture.
“Is this your brother?” Grey asked. The young woman next to him nodded.
“Manish. He was a big football fan,” she said, slowly, “He actually had season tickets for both Forest and County, went to all the home games for both clubs. Played on Sunday mornings for a local team, Axiel Athletico. One of the people in the team was dealing in drugs – cocaine, I think. Maybe a few people in the team bought from him, I don’t know. I’m sure Manish didn’t. But now, as we sit here, every single person in that team has been hospitalised or killed. And the families of every single person in that team have been terrorised by the men that burned my house down.”
Grey put a hand softly on Aliana’s arm as she fought to hold back tears.
“Why, Grey?” she whispered, not trusting her composure enough to speak out loud, “Why is my brother dead? Why am I being victimised? Why have my parents had to move out of their own home to go and stay with relatives in another city? None of us had anything to do with the drugs yet we’re all being punished.”
Grey shook his head, slowly, “Because that’s how the Sheriff thinks. In absolutes. He sees people like…like a machine that needs to be maintained. He sees a spot of trouble, he swaps out an entire section. He thinks he’s fighting crime, but he’s worse than any of them. And Albert says he wants to become a politician, get more power. If he does, he’ll be basically unstoppable. That’s why we have to stop him now. And now we’re teaming up with people like Robert who really know how to kick ass, it’s only going to get better.”
Grey put his arm around the young woman as she rested her head on his shoulder, “Don’t worry. Albert knows what he’s doing. He’d rather take one in the head than let anything bad happen to you or anyone else here,” Grey nodded and smiled, “In films, you’ve got the goodies and the baddies – well, Albert’s definitely one of the goodies.”
* * *
Grey’s door burst open with a deafening crack and shards and splinters of wood went everywhere as Albert came barrelling into the house. The young man lunged at Albert but before he knew it, his wrist was in the old man’s vice-like grip.
Knowing what was coming next, Grey dropped to the floor before Albert had a chance to twist the wrist and do some serious damage. Grey had maybe half a second of grace with the slightly loosened grip on his arm and used it to heave Albert over his shoulder and onto the floor.
The old man landed on his back with a heavy thud, knocking the wind from his lungs. Grey thought that maybe he could hear that Scott dude in the background shouting something.
Grey lifted his arm, now free, and brought a sharp punch down on the old man’s face – but was a fraction too slow. Grey’s fist was caught in a bear-like paw. He tried to pull it away but was suddenly seeing stars due to the size ten boot that Albert had somehow managed to get all the way up to Grey’s face.
Albert scrambled to his feet, Grey just as groggy but half a second behind. He looked up, ready to lunge at Albert again. But Albert had already picked up the telephone answering machine and brought it smashing down onto Grey’s nose.
Stunned and eyes quickly filled with blood, Grey staggered backwards and collapsed against what was left of the front door. Albert wasn’t done. Still holding the answering machine, he leapt onto the younger man, wrapped the cable around Grey’s neck and began to pull.
Grey fought in vain to get his fingers underneath the cabling – instead, it just bit deeper into his neck. His vision, already filled with red, now started to cloud over with black.
And suddenly, the pressure was gone. Albert wasn’t on him anymore. Coughing and spluttering, Grey pulled the cable from around his neck. He thought he could hear more shouting. The adrenaline began to recede – he wiped the blood from his eyes.
The Scott guy was pushing Albert against the wall, shouting, calling him crazy. Good. See him for what he is. Grey wiped his forehead again, mixing sweat with blood. Suddenly Scott was kneeling in front of him. Albert was nowhere to be seen.
“You alright? Shit, man…”
Grey nodded, “I’ve had worse. And given worse. I’m fine.”
“I’m really sorry, mate…” said Scott.
Grey shook his head, “Not your fault. You haven’t got a -”
Scott was ahead of him and pulled out a couple of tissues from his pocket.
“Sorry, they’re a bit manky,” he held his hands up, “Not used, though!”
Grey took the tissues and dabbed them painfully on his nose. There was an uncomfortable silence. Scott seemed to be trying to find the words for something. Grey just kept on dabbing his nose and face, folding over the tissue and dabbing again.
“Alright, spit it out,” Grey said eventually.
“We need Aliana’s pendant.”
Grey looked up at Scott – who, for his part was trying to look as apologetic as possible. He wasn’t sure if he was succeeding but Grey hadn’t mashed his face in with the answering machine – result.
“I know you don’t trust Albert,” Scott said, “and I don’t want to know the details. But, maybe… I don’t know…maybe you could trust me?”
Grey looked at this crazy guy who he’d known for precisely ten seconds and who wanted not only Grey’s trust but also for him to hand over one of his most prized possessions in the world. There was something about this guy, though, something Grey couldn’t put his finger on. Like he was lost. Like he was trying really hard to un-lose himself.
Grey shook his head in disbelief.
“Wait here,” he began to get painfully to his feet, “I’ll go and get it.”
TO BE CONTINUED