Saturday, 2 October 2010

Chapter Thirty-Three

Peter Vesson lived in the large ground-floor flat of a renovated Victorian house. Jobe and Serima had only been there twice since their mother had been sectioned. Those times, both of them had sat in awkward silences peppered with anodyne conversation. Jobe parked further down the road and killed the engine. He stared hard at his sister.
“Wait here, I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Serima glanced through the partition window, at Prayer locked in the darkness. The girl was rummaging through opened boxes.
“Are you gonna tell him about all this?”
“No. I just want to make sure he and Charlotte are okay.”
Serima nodded. “Hurry back.”
Jobe left the van, slamming the door behind him and hurrying down the road. It had stopped raining but he could see the suggestion of brooding clouds in the night sky. He buzzed the door and waited. A woman’s voice answered. “Hello?”
“Charlotte, it’s Jobe.” There was a few moments of silence before the door buzzed and unlocked. He hurried inside and saw her standing in the doorway at the end of the hall.
Charlotte was pretty, slightly plump, with plaits tied back from her face, and she looked anxious as Jobe approached. His father stepped into the doorway behind her, drawing an arm around her waist. They’d both been crying.
Peter Vesson was a tall handsome black man with short greying hair. He was now sporting a goatee beard that Jobe had never seen him wear before. It took away from some of his gentleness, making him appear harder-edged, but Jobe could still see the softness in his father’s eyes. He stepped past them both and into the flat. Charlotte closed the door behind him, glancing nervously at her boyfriend.
“Jobe…we left messages on your machine. We tried calling your mobile.”
He turned to face them but then glanced at the television. BBC News 24 was still running the Ensler massacre. He had to look away. His father approached him tentatively and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Son…I finally got through to the authorities. About Maya. Jobe…I’m so sorry. They said…they said that she’s dead. And a girl named Rebecca Cole. We’ve been trying to contact you for hours. I even drove to the flat but you weren’t there. Oh God, Jobe, I’m sorry…”
Dead. Jobe felt as if the word was sinking into his flesh. Dead. A shaking convulsion went through him. His dad tried to put his arms around him but Jobe pulled away, staring at the wall beyond his dad’s shoulder. Dead. No, his mother couldn’t be dead.
As if his worst fear had come to pass. No…I refuse to believe it. It’s a lie.
“It’s a lie,” he murmured.
“Son-” his father began but Jobe raised a hand, cutting him off. He couldn’t listen to this. He couldn’t bring himself to hear any of this. How many times had he secretly wished it? More than he could count or remember. The thought that his wish had finally come true filled him with horror.
“She’s not dead,” he said with a modicum of finality in his voice. Charlotte glanced, anguished, at Jobe’s father.
“Jobe-”
“No!” he barked, “It’s a cover-up. You said that Charlotte saw soldiers at St Francis…”
“I did,” she murmured.
His father grimaced and nodded, tears spilling down his cheeks. “But I spoke with police…I confirmed it three times. This man, Terry Gaines, he killed her. It’s real, Jobe. I’m so sorry, but it’s real. It’s on the news right now.”
“No,” said Jobe, “I can’t listen to this.” He took a deep breath and glanced at Charlotte, and then at his father. “I wouldn’t stay here if I were you. I’m in the middle of something. I can’t explain it but I needed to know you were okay. Get out of here for a while.” He brushed past them towards the door. His dad grabbed his arm and Jobe turned, glaring at him. “Let go of me…”
His dad had a pleading in his eyes that Jobe had never seen before.
“Son…don’t walk away from this, please. Don’t walk away from me. Not again. We won’t be able to get through this without each other. You know it’s the truth. I know how smart you are.”
Jobe pulled his arm away. “She’s not dead. I’m not like you. I’m not going to give up on her.”
It was like Jobe had punched the man in his gut. He visibly sagged, tears rolling down his face.
“I love you, dad. Serima loves you. Hope to see you soon.”
Jobe hurried from the flat, into the cold night air, but his dad hurried out after him, grabbing his shoulders and spinning him round. “I’m not letting you walk away!” he barked desperately.
With youth and superior strength Jobe shoved him back, but his dad lunged forward and grabbed him again, relentless. Jobe spun and with a balled fist struck him firmly across the face. His father stumbled backwards, staring at him with wild, pained eyes. The blow wasn’t intended to cause much physical pain and Jobe had held back his strength. “I don’t get to live like you do, Peter.”
He turned and walked away. Peter Vesson called out to him, “I loved her just as much as you did. For fuck sakes, Jobe – she was my damn wife. You know it, son.”
Jobe knew it was the truth, but he would rather believe it was a lie.
When he finally rounded the corner he stopped, pressing his back up against the tall metal pole of a streetlight. He took what seemed like a futile breath and glanced at the white Transit. None of this was what he’d imagined it would be. Dead.
How in the hell am I gonna tell her…? I refuse to believe it.
Serima wasn’t in the passenger seat of the van and Jobe’s heart nearly skipped a beat.
He raced round to the back and pulled open the doors. His sister was sitting with Prayer, amongst the boxes, cradling something in her hand. He climbed up, shut the doors behind him and crouched down. He glanced at them both and then realised what Serima was holding.
A gun, with a cruel silencer attached. She gave him a crooked smile. “Silver lining,” she said.
Prayer held up another silenced pistol. “They were in the boxes.”
She hefted something from between her legs and Jobe realised he was staring at some sort of military assault-rifle; black, heavy and imposing. “There’s other stuff too.” She grinned. “Night-vision goggles, how cool is that? We’ve got a rolling arsenal here…”
“Jesus,” he murmured, staring at the assault-rifle.
“We have to get to Wells Gate Public Library,” Prayer said, “So we can do some real damage to these fools, show them that some of us won’t just lie down and play dead. I have to finish what I’ve begun.”
But as Jobe stared at the piece of military hardware in the girl’s hands, the only things he could think about were images of death. There was too much violent, unnatural death in the world. Too much theft of peace. So much fear. He was party to it now. Dead. No. I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it for a moment. I’ll find her. A wave of sickening guilt overcame him.

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