Rain teemed down, needle sharp stalactites that glittered, silver threads in the beams of headlights, transforming the tarmac of the suburban street into a sheet of gleaming jet. The anonymous dark blue saloon car slowed to a halt at the kerb, the occupants waited and watched. A shadowy figure vaulted a low gate set at the entrance to a playing field. The car window slid down and the muzzle of a gun emerged from the shrouded interior. The soft plop of a silencer-muted shot echoed through the quiet street. The figure fell headlong on to the sodden, spongy grass.
Heart thundering violently against his ribcage, the hunted man explored his reflexes, tensing the muscles in his legs and arms. He felt no pain; he wasn’t injured. Somewhere close by he could hear the roar of traffic. He had to move, keep going until he reached people. His only salvation lay in a public place.
The car door opened. He continued to lie still. Footsteps resounded above the splash of rain, squelching when the gunman moved from the hard surface of the road on to the grass. He opened one eye and saw a shoe; a highly polished black shoe laced with raindrops that sparkled in the reflected light of a street lamp.
Digging his toes into the ground he launched into a rugby tackle. Locking his fingers around the gunman’s ankles he floored him. The hunter’s skull crunched ominously against a fencepost, but the prey lingered only as long as it took him to kick the gun from his assailant’s hand.
Zigzagging, he ignored the pain in his heaving chest and pounded towards the traffic. Ribbons of street lights shone down, bathing a roundabout in a soft, golden glow. The whine of engines closed in on him as drivers hit accelerators to give their vehicles the boost needed to negotiate the sharp incline of a slip road. Amber numerals flashed “50”, but the drivers that shot past him either didn’t see, or chose to disregard the directive. Misty, water-filled darkness obscured the road ahead, yet the traffic sped on in unremitting torrents raising a filthy, oily spray that soaked him and clouded windscreens, increasing the risk of accident.
Another shot whistled past his ear. He leapt in front of a car. The squeal of brakes and the crash of metal fracturing against metal resounded behind him but he didn’t slow his pace. Driven by an instinct for survival that had chosen the motorway above the bullet, he dodged between vehicles that hurtled blindly onwards. He breathed easier when he reached the central reservation. Drawing cold, exhaust-laden fumes into his lungs he clambered over the barrier and changed course, running backwards to face the oncoming traffic.
To his right he caught a glimpse of smoking wreckage, heard the raucous strain of sirens, but he kept his head down and pounded ever onwards, his head jerking, his bare feet slapping the freezing skim of rainwater that iced the road. Surrounded by noise, dazzled by tides of headlights, he had no idea where he was going, only that he had to keep going. Wheels turned, spray spurted. The cacophony of horns escalated.
It would have been easy to succumb to the inevitable, to curl into a ball and wait for nothingness. But just when he thought he could stand no more, the gleaming headlights and blasting sound passed by, only to be replaced by another pair of threatening yellow eyes… and another… and another…
He continued to dodge between lanes, avoiding vans, trucks, cars, all the while keeping to the centre; fearful lest his assailants had gained the motorway. Running – running – his heart hammering so fiercely he wondered why it hadn’t burst. His lungs burned, hot, searing, as he fought to siphon air into his beleaguered body. Blood surged through his veins, the drumbeat of pulses beating time with his footfalls as he swerved from lane to lane in an effort to escape the blasts of noise and blinding lights, but still they kept coming.
Weaving – roaring – blasting – until a single soft sound alerted every fibre of his being. His eyes strained. He searched wildly for safety. There was none. He ducked as another crack echoed towards him…
‘If the reports are right, he should be here.’
‘I can’t see a bloody thing in this.’ The police driver wiped the condensation from the inside of the windscreen with his sleeve.
‘There he is!’ the constable cried.
‘The silly bugger’s running towards us.’ The driver switched on his siren.
‘Just our luck, another bloody nutter. Ambulance?’ the constable asked.
‘Make it two. At least one car has crashed into the barrier ahead.’
The constable picked up the radio telephone. ‘Car crashed – location?’ He checked for landmarks as his colleague steered at hair-raising speed towards the inside lane, aiming for where the hard shoulder would have been, if there had been one. ‘Ambulances… ’
‘Ask for one with special restraints for that bloody clown,’ the driver interrupted.
The constable turned his head. ‘Back-up’s in place behind us.’
‘Here we go.’ Brakes smoking, siren blaring the driver swung the car sharply sideways in an attempt to corner the running man who was sandwiched between the inside and middle lane. Blue lights flashing, two police cars charged down the outside lane towards them but a car and a lorry blocked their path.
‘You think the silly sods would slow down and pull back when they see police cars, damn them.’
While his partner concentrated on driving, the constable, who knew better than to analyze the risks his colleague was taking with their lives, took a closer look at their target. He was bare-foot, dressed only in jeans, his dark hair slicked close to his head by the downpour.
‘Got the bastard!’
Their seat belts pinged, pinning them to their seats as the car screeched to a halt, bumper touching the barrier, cutting off the runner’s exit from the inside lane.
Cornered between the parapet and the police cars, the man stood bowed, his chest heaving, his palms gripping his knees.
‘Will you look at him!’ The driver’s cry echoed above the roar of the traffic.
‘Is that what I think it is?’ the constable looked to his companion.
The driver’s voice dropped to a whisper. ‘Fucking hell.’
The man climbed the parapet. Before the officers had time to move, he’d disappeared over the side.
‘Alert all cars in the vicinity, make sure those ambulances are on their way.’ The driver wrenched open his door, and joined the crew of the second police car.
‘It’s all right, sir.’ A rookie constable looked over the edge. ‘One of our cars was heading for the next slip road, they’ve got him.’
The driver looked down. The drop was over thirty feet but the man was on his feet, handcuffed to the door of a police car. He saw the officers pulling on rubber gloves.
‘Blood?’ he mouthed above the sound of the traffic, wind and rain.
‘Looks like he took a bath in it,’ came the answering cry.