[Media prompt] UK ‘reaching tipping point’ on abuse of politicians.
After securing the gates, the London representatives returning later than scheduled, Talbot retraced his path along the perimeter to the eastern tower. He stopped to watch the last shades of pink wrung from the sky, but otherwise kept his head down until he smelled cigarette smoke near the armoury.
“Has he gone up yet?” Talbot asked, nodding towards the command centre at the top.
“Not yet,” said Smyth. “The word is he’s running late.”
Talbot nodded. “The Mayor of London just got back.”
“Ah, well,” said Smyth, handing a butt end to Ericson, who leant against the door jamb, “that explains it.”
They stood, the three of them, in a rough triangle, Ericson picking stray tobacco and ash off the filter before putting into his pants pocket.
Talbot said, “Yeah, there was an ambush. A complete balls up.”
One of the dogs outside loped past, its nose in the air, ears pricked. It was one of the bullmastiffs, a breed everyone feared.
“More’s the pity,” said Ericson, counting his day’s takings into the palm of his hand. Talbot counted at least fifteen. When he was asked, Ericson said he was sewing them together, for a purpose nobody could fathom.
Talbot told them he’d heard one of the Green brothers had been injured, shrapnel, a bullet, he didn’t know the precise details. The other two nodded. You didn’t serve in the Fortress without the chance of something bad happening.
Just then they heard the Colonel’s boots coming through the tunnel, the nails in his worn soles echoing softly off the cement. Following behind his elongated shadow, he emerged into the light, ramrod straight, his skin as sallow as the bleached blouson he wore.
“Green’s dead,” he said before any of them had a chance to salute. “Jeremy, the younger one. All for the sake of a pack of–”
Talbot cursed under his breath. He felt the sting of the cold evening on his cheeks. Through the fence, across no mans land, were the woods, hardly distinguishable now from the dark sky. The only way of telling was the flickering lights of fires the wanderers set at night.
“Why don’t we just herd them out the gate?” said Ericson. “Let them hear what their constituents really think?”
The Colonel stopped short, wheeling on his heel and toe. Above his collar, you could see the vein throb like a blinking gecko.
“That’s the sort of thing we all might think in here,” said the Colonel, “but it’s not something useful to say out loud.”
The colonel removed his cap, roughing up his hair with the palm of his hand. Then he walked past Ericson through the doorway, the sound of his boots scraping on the steps as he climbed the only evidence he’d been there a moment before. Talbot winked at Ericson, patting him on the shoulder as he followed.
“We all think it,” he said. “Even the old man. And one day someone’ll do it. Let them out like chickens to face the wolves.”
He mounted the first step, turning before going any farther.
“None of say it because that’s who they’ll come looking for afterwards. The ones who say what we all think.”
Ericson put his butt ends back into his pocket as Smyth lit another one.