He staggers back with a grunt of pain but in seconds he’s back up and the axe flies past my nose with millimetres to spare. I duck, draw back, grab his cloak and nut him with all my might, feeling his nose shatter beneath my forehead. He swings for me, and I aim a sharp kick directly at his hip bone which throws him off balance, then drive my shoulder into his guts, sending him staggering back across the cobblestones.
He’s down but far from out and I grab his axe, so much adrenaline coursing through me I can barely see straight. I have no idea what I’ll do with an axe when the next one comes for me, but its weight and the smooth, worn wood of the handle feel ever so slightly comforting in my hand. I whirl around in a kind of half squat, waving the axe above my head like a demented sumo wrestler. The advice to make yourself as big as possible is probably more for bears than Wednesday Morning Murder clubs, but I have a vague recollection of advice from some women’s self-defence class that acting bonkers makes you seem more trouble than you’re worth, so I do a few goblin type leaps and screech like a monkey.
Sure enough, they are backing away. Terror etched on their faces, a couple have fallen to their knees and they’re staring at me with unadulterated horror. I do an evil plan laugh, a seagull impression and a bit of the Macarena and one of them retreats so far he topples into the water. The splash is more satisfying than it should be.
Naked Man has managed to roll off the fire, is on his hands and knees, his face twisted with pain as he clearly tries to gather the strength to get to his feet. The wall and the fence and the hole are half a football pitch away, how exactly are we supposed to escape? Naked Man is as broad shouldered and steroided-up as the rest of them, so a coal carry is out the question.
But there’s no way he’s going to make it on his own and the seagull impression will only keep his murdery pals at bay for so long, so I shimmy under his armpit and hug his giant forearm to my chest like a kind of lever, and stagger to my feet. I can’t really wrap my other arm around his waist on account of the painful looking welts and blisters so I kind of hoik him over my shoulders like a huge human cloak and we manage forward a few steps. There’s a pressure building in my chest, presumably the after affects of adrenaline, but it’s making it hard to breathe, and a fierce wind whips up around us which really doesn’t bloody help.
We manage a few more steps and somehow we get in to a kind of rhythm. That weird lift-stopping-too-fast feeling hits again and my knees nearly give way, but with a howl through gritted teeth I manage to stay upright and miraculously, the wall seems to be coming closer. Naked Man has managed to find his feet a bit, and though he’s still leaning heavily on me he’s giving me a bit of momentum and we make it to the hole in the fence and collapse in a sweating, shivering heap on the pavement beyond.
For a few seconds I can’t do anything. My lungs are burning, every muscle trembles and as adrenaline drains for a couple of seconds I think I’m going to puke. A few deep, slow breaths on my hands and knees help to pull me together and then I realise that I have absolutely no idea what to do now. It’s not often I have no idea what to do. I’ve been mugged in a snowstorm in Toronto, run out of petrol in the outback of Central Queensland, been arrested in Athens, and I’ve always managed to figure it out, step by step. But I’ve never been collapsed on Govan Road with a naked, half barbecued man before.
‘What’s your name?’ My throat is raw and my voice croaky from the monkey screeches.
He stares at me, terror swimming in his deep blue eyes. Oh yeah, the monkey screeches.
‘I was just doing that to freak them out,’ I grin. ‘It was the first thing I thought of. I’ve never taken on a football team of murdery headcases before.’
He looks at me blankly, his eyes following my lips in a way that makes me wonder if he speaks English. He attempts a smile, the effort is clear though his pain, which reassures me a bit. The poor guy is sitting on a Govan pavement in his birthday suit, which is almost never a good idea. I yank off my long sleeved T shirt — I’ve got a vest top on underneath so I’ll be chilly but decent — and hand it to him for use as a loin cloth.
A bus rumbles by and the poor guy jumps a mile. His nerves must be shot to shit. He needs a hospital.
It’s then that I notice it’s night time. That doesn’t make sense. I look up, blinking in confusion at the pitch dark sky. It was morning. I was going to get breakfast. That wee guy in the bunnet at the Science Museum shouted about it being a lovely day. It can’t be night time again. I can’t have been doing seagull impressions for ten hours straight and never noticed. Maybe there’s an eclipse or something?
I spy a taxi pulling out of the BBC car park down the road and stagger to my feet, waving for it. It draws to a stop next to us and I turn to help Naked Man to his feet. Then the driver takes one look at my well-done companion and pulls away again. ‘Selfish bastard!’ I roar at its brake lights. ‘Where’s your human compassion?’
Naked Man has shrunk back, clutching my T shirt to his chest as though it’ll protect him from the taxi. His eyes are round with fear and for a big guy he’s awfully skittish. To be fair, so would I be if my pals had just tried to roast me alive. He’s probably in shock, can’t even think straight. He really needs to get to a hospital.
I wrack my brains for the nearest hospital. That big new super duper one, where the Southern General used to be. It’s the other end of Govan, but I think I could walk there. Whether I can walk it wearing a giant naked dude as a cloak is another matter, but it seems I don’t have a choice. We can’t sit here on the pavement all night, or all day, or whatever it is. He needs medical attention and I need to inhale a toastie or seventeen. And a wee nap wouldn’t go amiss. The hospital suddenly seems very, very far away.
I manage to mime that we need to make tracks and eventually he seems to get the message. He nods and hauls himself to his feet. I notice that he’s still grasping my T shirt to his chest, but I don’t have it in me to care. If he’s okay with his willy to be waving to the world then so am I. It is, to be fair, the least of his problems right now.
Our standing coal carry cloak dance seems strangely well practiced and we shuffle a decent few steps forward, then I spy one of my least favourite sights out of the corner of my eye and my heart sinks. The blue light gives a wee flash as the car pulls up next to us. The fucking polis is all I need.
Every instinct, inbred in me for generations, is screaming at me to scarper. I may not be a professional McIvar, as it were, but hatred of these truncheon-wielding arseholes is in my DNA. However, for a myriad of reasons, not least the giant man draped about my person, running is not an option.
The two officers, a man and a woman, get out the car and they’re doing that weird thing where they put their hats on before they talk to you. I’ve always wondered if they think we won’t believe they’re actually polis if they don’t have their hats on, and if it’s that important, why don’t they just wear their hats in the car? I can hear their radio buzzing static and polis chat and my every cell is weighed down with loathing as I plaster a smile on my face.
Naked Man is rigid with fear. I can hear his breath taut in my ear and I flash him a wee grin of companionship. If he’s as averse to the authorities as I am, then we can be pals. Assuming the whole me rescuing him from becoming a human hot dog didn’t already bond us sufficiently.
‘Kirsty?’ says a voice and I freeze, utter confusion curdling in me at a friendly face rising from a luminous waist jacket. It’s familiar, horribly familiar, but for an instant my brain freezes and I can’t place it.
The male polis grins and shakes his head. ‘Where the hell have you been?’
Harry Finnegan. As if my night couldn’t get any better.