REVENGE ON ROMNEY MARSH
Pitt ran desperately. It was not the first time he had run for his life and he had been no mean athlete in his prime, or so he had liked to boast: four minutes, 28 for the mile in the Borstal Open Trophy and only three seconds slower a good ten years later in HM Prisons Closed Championships, and both on grass in plimsoles, spikes being unavailable for obvious reasons. But this was hard road running that jolted his stiff ankles and stretched his tightening calves, and the endless potholes made it more of a steeplechase course complete with water jump, he thought indignantly as water from a particularly deep crater filled his right shoe and more splashed him violently, black mud streaking his face.
He looked back. The bastard was gaining, no doubt about it. Not fifty yards in it now. He sidestepped more pedestrians in the town centre concourse, spun off others, some gaping in astonishment at his apparently mad flight, others scowling, shouting in annoyance. The station approach offered a series of side-streets and narrow alley-ways, but he kept running straight on. The presence of others was comforting. A bus was disgorging passengers in the station yard. The bastard couldn't shoot in public, or could he? Would he? He looked back again. The man in the black leather coat looked back at him, his mouth moving wordlessly. Shouting at him? He ran on wildly, chose a narrow footbridge over the railway and gasped as the steep gradient snatched at his lungs and held him tight. He fought for breath. He hauled himself up, two steps at a time, by the metal hand rail. He couldn't go on. He had to stop. No air at all. He grasped the brick balustrade on top of the bridge. It was all up with him now. He staggered on to the far side of the bridge as a train bucketed past below him with a wild hoot. He reached for the hand rail leading back down again, missed his footing, staggered, looked back one last time. His pursuer had reached the brick balustrade now and was grabbing it as gratefully as Pitt had done only seconds before.
Pitt clung to the hand rail, his knees giving way. The figure in black did shout now, audibly, but in a wheezing hiss that barely reached him. Then he saw the gun in his hand, saw him raising his arm slowly, taking aim. He flung himself down the first few steps as the man cried out again, and as he looked back at his pursuer, suddenly saw him crumple and fall, limbs jerking outwards. Pitt paused on hands and knees. The big man was flat on his face on the black wetness of the bridge. The gun had fallen before him, was still sliding across the wet tarmac.
He looked back incredulously at the fallen figure, turned and staggered back crazily towards him, no particular plan in mind save to get hold of the bloody gun. The prone figure still lay face down as he reached the gun, picked it up by the cold wet metal of the barrel and looked wildly out over the side of the bridge. A London-bound goods train was passing under now, open trucks of ballast rumbling through the station. The wet gun was slippery in his hand. On a wild impulse, he threw it anyway and watched it spin slowly down into the rumbling rattle of the speeding trucks. He turned back to the man, who was on his knees now, looking up at him, mouth moving but still soundlessly although he was only a stride away.
‘Blimey, tosh, we’re getting too old for this game,’ the man gasped as he finally found his voice again. He fumbled in his coat pocket. Pitt kicked hard at his wrist. The man winced, gasped, but pulled his hand from his pocket. It was clutching a mobile phone. ‘Chest pains. Had 'em before,’ he wheezed, ‘but never like this. Get me ambulance. Pronto! Please!’
Pitt stared at him. ‘Well, I don’t know about that,’ he said doubtfully. Then indignation flooded back and drowned the doubt. ‘I should bloody coco!’ he shouted. ‘You were trying to put a bullet in my back a minute ago.’
The man shook his head. ‘Just a frightener. No ammo, see. I never carry a loaded gun. You don’t need to. Just the sight of it does the trick.’
Pitt looked back over the far side of the bridge at the red tail lamp of the ballast train, rapidly receding in the gloom of the early evening. The gun had not felt light. ‘No,’ he said. ‘No, I’m not buying that. Why the mad chase then? You were pointing the bloody gun at me! What were you going to fire? A little flag saying bang? If I’d been the one to go down with the chest pain, would you be making a call for me?’
‘Please!’ the man begged. ‘I swear I'll see you right if I pull through.’
Pitt frowned down at him.
‘I say! I say! Is he all right?’ A woman of about 50 came puffing up the incline of the bridge. Her raincoat flared open as she ran, showing some sort of white uniform underneath. ‘I’m a nurse. He has chest pain?’ She pushed Pitt aside and glared briefly at the phone in his hand. ‘Ring for an ambulance, man! Don’t stand there gaping! This dear old man is in crisis!‘
Pitt wanted to tell her that he had been in crisis a minute or so earlier when the dear old dodderer had been pointing a gun at him. But he rang the number reluctantly as she crouched over his pursuer who was blessing her heart unctuously again and again. ‘Shut up. Just lie back. Here. Use my mac as a pillow, prop your head up. That’s it. Try and keep calm. No need to panic.’ Her soothing voice changed in pitch to impatient irritation as she looked up at Pitt. ‘Tell them it's the footbridge to the west of the central station. Here, give me the blasted phone.’
He handed it over obediently and looked at the old man who, he now saw, was certainly in his late sixties. Silly old bugger. After a brief, clear conversation woman handed the phone back and settled the man more comfortably. ‘Here, I have some aspirin in my bag. You’re not allergic? It might help. You both should have known better, running for a train like that at your ages. You nearly sent me flying back there as I got off the bus. Lucky you both didn't drop dead on the spot. You know each other?’
‘In a manner of speaking,’ said Pitt drily.
The man in the leather coat groaned. They looked at him in alarm and then he raised his head and with a mighty effort belched, a gargantuan belch, an expulsion of air so deep and loud that it echoed over the railway bridge and actually drowned the drone of a local diesel unit running under the bridge and pulling slowly into the up platform twenty yards away. He belched again, astonishingly even louder, jerking with the effort and shouting with triumph as the deep roar died away. ‘Indigestion!’ he wheezed. ‘It was indifuckingestion! I had four pickled eggs and a couple of pints in the pub on top of a Ginster’s Cornish pasty in the car. I never could take pastry!’
He cautiously rose to his knees, then jumped up. ‘I feel fine now! Thank you, miss. You've been most kind. Most like would have saved my life if it really had been a dicky ticker. And now, I think you've got something belonging to me, squire.’
‘No, I haven’t,’ jabbered Pitt. ‘I threw it over the bridge. On to a goods train.’
‘My dog and bone. My phone,’ said the man patiently. The woman was retrieving her raincoat from the pavement and walking away, muttering. ’Oh do allow me to pay for the cleaning of that, dear lady,’ he begged in the unctuous voice again. ‘It's the least I can do.’ He fumbled for his wallet, but she was gone, and Pitt, too, was off and away, across the bridge and back down the other side again.
He looked back up the stairs. The man was already there, leaping the steps with astonishing agility for someone who had been lying flat on his back with apparent heart trouble not five minutes earlier. He was waving an ominously familiar shape, this time, in his left hand. ‘I carry a spare!’ he shouted in triumph. ‘You bastard! You would have left me there to die if she hadn't turned up. Now this is personal.’
Pitt flung himself over the low wooden fence at the back of the platform rather in the manner of the old Western Roll style of high jumping which had been superseded by the famous Fosbury Flop back in the early sixties. He had been quite useful at it himself. Not as good as he had been at the mile, but with enough technique now to get him clear of the fence and racing to catch the two-coach diesel unit as it pulled out again. He grasped at the moving door handle as the travelling ticket collector shouted in reproof from the front coach. He had to make it.