Friday, 6 February 2009 - 6:53 pm

Playing for time

So off went Thorpe and Sax with a couple of Stripers as escorts, up the street and around the corner. Out of sight. I felt naked suddenly; it was hard to summon up a smile and look casual as I asked these dangerous strangers which car they wanted me to start for them. The scorched arm leered at me and asked if I really wanted to do that for him, but he backed off when I told him yes, that really was all. My heart started beating all out of proportion again.

It doesn’t take all that long to ‘fix’ a car so that it’ll start, but I didn’t want to be finished before the boys got back. There was no telling what they would do ‘while we wait’ and I didn’t want to find out. So I took my merry time, lingered under the bonnet (where I didn’t actually need to be), climbed in under the dashboard. I almost checked the oil, but changed my mind as that might have been a little bit obvious.

Through all of it, the guy with the scorched arm kept asking me about what I was doing. And about how I was doing. And eyeing me in a way I didn’t like. I hadn’t seen many girls in their group; perhaps that was why.

I got them to push the car all the way up to the end of the street, because we needed a big run-up. Not strictly true, but it kept them busy and wore them out at the same time. There was still no sign of the boys, so I fiddled for a little while longer, but the Stripers were getting impatient.

So I finally got them to push the car down the street and started it. Thank goodness, it coughed to life fairly easily. They had chosen a sleek red sports car, of course, and it roared impressively in the post-world quiet. They cheered and carried on, and then panicked because I was behind the wheel and might take off in it at any second.

I was hauled out of the driver’s seat so that they could take it for a spin. They looked like little boys then, all of them, faces lit up at the sound of a growling engine, all oil and moving metal parts. A couple of them even forgot themselves enough to slap me on the back in thanks.

Then there it was, that moment when they realised that I was still there and had done what I had agreed to do. The question arose: what now? I didn’t want to know the answer to that; I didn’t want to find out if theirs was one I would like or not.

I grabbed the scorched arm – figuratively – and asked him if he wanted me to show him how to start it. Anything to fill in the time until Thorpe and Sax got back. I was starting to think they’d been too long, but it hadn’t been long enough for me to give up hope that they’d come back for me.

The scorched arm agreed to my proposal and I sat in the car with him while his boys pushed us down the street. They all cheered when it started obediently and I was so relieved that I smiled.

Then the Striper turned to me and asked if I wanted to stay with them. He said that they’d look after me, make sure that I had what I needed. I could be useful to them, and this time he wasn’t just thinking about sex. He was sincere – I believed that as I sat there looking at him, stunned.

It might have been a good choice. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t consider it. These people didn’t look like they were starving or struggling, and there was temptation in that. But I could also imagine how they managed to stay that way, and I couldn’t forget what we saw last night. There were other reasons for me to say no, too, and at that moment, two of them walked around the corner.

I was so pleased to see them that I almost grinned. I declined the scorched arm’s offer, as kindly as I could. They might have scared the crap out of me, but they hadn’t hurt us.

My two boys were moving slowly; Sax’s knee seemed worse. There was darkness in Thorpe’s expression when I joined them, and Sax’s face was so bleak that I didn’t dare ask what they found. I shot the fireman a querying look and got a shake of his head in response, so at least there wasn’t a dead body there.

We turned to go then, and I said goodbye to the Stripers. For a moment, I thought that they would change their mind about just letting us go. That they might make us stay and start more cars for them, or worse. So much worse. I couldn’t forget how dangerous they were, not for long.

“Offer’s still open, Faith,” the scorched arm told me, and I knew then that they wouldn’t stop us going. There was a farewell in his voice. “If you change your mind.”

I thanked him and headed off with the boys. Thorpe asked me what it was all about, but I told him it was nothing. There’s no need for them to know about that.

Now, I’m back with the others. Everyone’s all right, except Sax, who didn’t find his baby girl today.