The Pure Bloods didn’t know Alice had killed one of them in the woods – but Grinder and Slick soon worked out something was wrong when they could not contact him on their radios.
“Go find Mick,” Grinder said. “I’ll guard them until you come back.”
Slick hurried off, leaving just one man guarding us. Grinder paced up and down his line of captives, keeping his weapon trained on us. With our hands tied, lying on our bellies, we could not attack him. But I hoped I could reason with him before Slick found their dead companion.
“You don’t have to do this,” I said. “We’re not your enemy. You could untie us and let us go.”
“Let you go?” Grinder said. “What possible reason would I have to do that?”
“Do you know what’s happened to the Pure Blood base in Oxford?”
“Yeah,” he said. “It was destroyed last night.”
“That’s right,” I said. “It was burned down and your leader is dead. That means you don’t have to follow his orders. You don’t have to be a Pure Blood now. You could be free.”
“Free? I know who you people are. You’re with The Family. You are a bunch of terrorists.”
“No – we’re not terrorists. Everything you’ve been told about us is untrue. We want peace. Listen to me. We have ex-Pure Bloods on our side. They joined us voluntarily because they realised they were on the wrong side. You must know it’s wrong to inject innocent people with the zombie virus. You’re the one killing innocent people. Not us.”
Grinder’s mouth twitched. “No. Using the virus is the only way to purify the human race. We are of pure blood.”
“You don’t believe that. I see it in your eyes. You have doubts. You’re clearly an intelligent man. You could join us and be free – but only if you untie us and let us go now.”
Grinder looked like he was struggling with his conscience – but then Slick ran out of the woods and shouted. “MICK’S DEAD! THEY KILLED HIM WITH AN AXE!”
Grinder’s face twisted with rage. He stepped over to me and booted me in the ribs. The pain sucked the air out of my lungs and darkened my vision. I nearly blacked out as Slick ran up to Grinder. He stopped, breathless.
“We should shoot them all,” Slick said. “For Mick.”
“I’d love to,” Grinder said. “But we can’t.”
“Why the hell not?”
“You know why.”
“You’re afraid of Keller?”
“Of course I’m afraid of him. He gave us orders to capture them alive.”
Slick swore. “We could tell him they tried to escape and we had no choice but to shoot them, like we did with that other guy.”
“It’s too late for that,” Grinder said. “Keller already knows we’ve caught five of them because I informed him about that on the radio. He’s ordered us to bring them to him unharmed. If we killed these people, Keller will kill us for disobeying his orders.”
“But they chopped Mick’s head in two! I want revenge.”
“Doesn’t matter. We’ve got to keep them alive, mate.”
“All of them?”
“Yeah,” Grinder said. “All of them.”
“I’m not happy about that,” Slick said.
“Neither am I,” Grinder said. “But I’m not suicidal. I’m not disobeying Keller. He’s our CO.”
I was grateful they were frightened of disobeying their commanding officer – but Grinder’s next words alarmed me.
“I know you want to shoot these terrorists as much as I do – but we’d better just wait for Keller to make the decision. You know he won’t be happy when he finds out Mick is dead. They were good friends. Keller will probably want to skin them alive or something even nastier – so we’d have to keep them healthy until he decided how to punish them, right?”
Slick’s sudden grin was worrying. “Right. You’re right. Keller will do something good. I almost feel sorry for them.”
The Pure Bloods made everyone stand up and walk to the bus, where they had us sit two seats apart so we could not talk to each other. Slick sat at the front, watching us, while Grinder drove into the town. He parked outside a leisure centre that looked deserted – until another soldier came out to board the bus.
“The captain wants you to bring the prisoners inside. He’s waiting for them at the pool.”
“The pool?” Grinder said, looking at Slick. “I told you he’d think of something good.”
I didn’t like their sadistic grins.
Grinder and Slick escorted us into the leisure centre. Before the zombie apocalypse, the lobby would have looked bright and cheery – but it had been wrecked by looters and vandals. For absolutely no sensible reason, every wall had been sprayed with graffiti and the computers on the reception desk had been smashed. There were several long-dried bloodstains on the carpet. We continued down a corridor and through some doors into a large room filled with an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The roof was made of glass panels letting sunlight shine down on the pool. After months without cleaning, the water had turned greenish black, with a thick scum of algae on the surface. The air smelled like rotten seaweed. I thought I could see something dark and moving in the depths – but nothing could survive in that filthy water. At least I hoped nothing could. I didn’t want to know what was down there under the scum layer.
Two Pure Bloods stood at the far end of the room at the deep end. One soldier was standing behind Leroy, who was on his knees facing the scummy water. Leroy’s mouth was taped shut and his hands were also taped together. His face was covered with bruises. His eyes widened when he saw us.
The second Pure Blood had short black hair with white streaks at his temples. He was older than the others by a decade or two – aged between forty and fifty, I guessed – but he looked strong and dangerous. Grinder and Slick stood to attention and saluted him.
“Sir!” they both said.
“At ease,” the man said.
“Yes, sir!” Grinder said. “What do you want us to do with them, sir?”
“Put them on their knees next to the edge,” the man said.
Grinder and Slick enjoyed bringing everyone to their knees.
We were in a line next to the pool. The smell of rotten seaweed was stronger now. A poolside marked stated the depth was three metres.
Their leader sighed. “Samson, keep hold of this man.”
He was talking about me.
Samson didn’t have long hair like his legendary namesake. His hair was shaved off, revealing the contours of his skull. Samson moved behind me, breathing on my neck, digging his thumbs into the muscles of my shoulders until they caused pain. I winced. The leader walked over to the edge and looked down thoughtfully.
“Some jokers thought it would be funny to fill this pool with zombies,” he said. “Probably the same degenerates who vandalised this building. The zombies can’t get out – so they’ve been slowly decomposing. There are about sixty of them in the deep end – but it is hard to count them. Samson, let our guest see what’s down there.”
Samson tipped me forward so my head was over the pool. I could not see through the algae layer – until he plunged my face under the cold water. The impact disturbed the scum, making a hole in the layer, allowing light to penetrate down into the depths. I held my breath and saw what was at the bottom. Zombies. Dozens of them. They were standing on the bottom, looking up. Their flesh had gone soft and pale from being submerged in the water. They saw me and reached out to grab me – but they were held down by weights tied to their ankles. I was too high for them to touch – but the sight of them thrashing to get me made me panic, especially when recognised one of them. It was Owen. He was down there, staring up with dead eyes. There were bites all over his face and shoulders. The other zombies had chewed on him before he died and turned into one of them. And now he had joined them, hungry for the flesh of the living.
I couldn’t breathe. I started to struggle. Samson held onto me. I held my breath as long as possible until my lungs ached. The zombies thrashed below me. Owen reached for me. My lungs burned. I didn’t want to breath in that disgusting water – but I could not hold my breath any longer. I breathed in dirty water that tasted like cold soup. It slipped down my throat and into my lungs. I was drowning and there was nothing I could do. Nothing. I started to thrash. I desperately needed air – but Samson was holding me under. More water choked me. I felt like I was dying.
“Enough,” their leader said.
Samson pulled me back out coughing and spluttering.
Their leader strode over to me and looked into my eyes. “You’re probably wondering why did I do that to you. It was to show you what will happen to you if you don’t cooperate with me. Let me introduce myself. My name is Keller. I used to be a policeman before the apocalypse. I was a Detective Chief Inspector working for the Met. It was my job to interview suspects of the most serious crimes, like murder and terrorism. Over the years I became an expert in knowing the difference between the truth and lies. Nobody could lie to me. I’m going to ask you some questions. If you don’t answer or try to lie to me, I won’t punish you. I will have one of your friends pushed into the pool. They’ll stay there until you tell me the truth. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I said.
“What’s your name?”
“What are their names?”
“That’s Natasha, Alice, Ravinder and Pipa.”
“Who sent you here?”
“Kevin Dexter, the leader of The Family?”
“I used to know him when he was a Pure Blood – before he betrayed us. Where is he now?”
I didn’t want to tell him that – but I didn’t want him to hurt anyone else. “We have a camp. He’s in a farmhouse there.”
“That’s a vague answer, Kris. Where exactly?”
I told him.
“How many people are with him?”
“Hundreds,” I said.
“Be more specific. How many?”
“I don’t know the exact number. About 260, I think. Maybe more.”
“What weapons do they have?”
I answered the question.
Keller nodded. “What’s today’s password?”
I hesitated. Keller nodded to Grinder. “He doesn’t want to answer. Push the other man in, the Asian guy.”
Grinder walked over to Ravinder.
“Don’t!” I cried. “It’s ‘Morning Star’. That’s the password. I swear it.”
Grinder looked annoyed. “Should I push him, sir?”
“No,” Keller said. “Kris answered the question truthfully. Next question. You had a radio with you for communicating over long distances. How long will it be before someone from The Family comes to look for you if you don’t contact them?”
“They expect me to radio them every few hours. Eight hours max.”
“And if you don’t do that, what happens?”
“They’ll sent out people to look for us.”
“Another question, Kris. Remember to answer truthfully. Which one of you used an axe to kill one of my people?”
I wasn’t going to let Alice take the blame. “I did. It was me.”
“Kris, I thought you’d say that,” he said. “A leader takes responsibility. That’s good. That’s admirable. But you’re lying, Kris. You know what that means. Grinder, dunk the guy.”
Grinder grabbed Ravinder and pushed him into the pool. There was a loud splash and then my friend disappeared under the green scum. Keller picked up a long pole with a hook on the end. “He’ll probably survive a minute if I don’t pull him out. The zombies might bite him before that – but that’s up to you, Kris. Tell me the truth and I’ll save him. Who killed my man?”
I lied again. “It was me. He attacked us – so I killed him.”
He had to believe me.
I could see bubbles in the water. Ravinder’s dark hair burst out of the surface, then his face. He sucked in deep breaths, gasping. With his hands tied, he was struggling to keep his head up, while his legs kicked under the surface, where the zombies were in a frenzy, trying to grab his legs.
“Help me! They’re grabbing me! Help! I’m drowning!”
Keller looked impassive. “Time’s running out for Ravinder, Kris. Who really killed my man?”
“It was me,” I said, again. “Me.”
“You’re lying, Kris. You’re protecting one of them.”
“No,” I said. “I did it.”
Ravinder’s head disappeared as the zombies yanked him down. I wanted to save him – but I couldn’t betray Alice. Keller would kill her if I named her. I couldn’t do that either.
“Uh-oh,” Keller said, peering down into the water. “Looks like they’ve got him. I think they’ll tear him apart. They are very hungry.”
“STOP IT!” Alice screamed. “I did it. I killed him. Kill me if you like. I don’t care. He deserved it. You all do, you bunch of monsters. You Pure Bloods are evil!”
“Ah, the truth!” Keller said. “Fish that man out before he’s bitten, Samson.”
“What?” Samson said. “You want to save him, sir?”
“That’s my order,” Keller said. “Here. Use this.”
Keller tossed the pole. Samson released his hold on me to catch it. Thirty seconds later, Ravinder was dragged from the pool, coughing up water. I could not see any bite marks on his legs, luckily for him.
Keller walked behind me and spoke softly, like a father talking to a son. “All that unpleasantness could have been avoided if you had told the truth. For the record, I already knew Alice had done it because your buddy Leroy already told me that when I questioned him. Leroy didn’t want to answer my questions – but he didn’t want to drown in the pool like the other one. He told me what weapons each of you were carrying when you arrived here. I knew Alice had the axe. You failed to answer my question truthfully, Kris – but I am impressed that you’d risk your own life for her. That’s good to know because it means we can work together, Kris, despite the awkward circumstances.”
“Yes, Chris. Yesterday I was on orders to patrol this area – but now my orders are no longer relevant. The Colonel’s dead and our base is … gone. I am now in territory under the control of The Family, surrounded by hostile forces. I’m outnumbered. That is a major problem. I need to get my men out of Oxfordshire without us getting caught – so I’ll make a deal with you, Kris. If you help me escape north, I will not harm you and your friends. In fact, I will let you all completely unharmed go once you get us 100 miles beyond The Family’s reach. I personally guaranteed that nobody will be hurt if you play ball with me, Kris. That even includes Alice and the other people I caught yesterday. I will let you all go if you help us – but only if you help me. What do you say, Kris?”
“I’m just supposed to believe you – after you killed one of my friends?”
“You killed one of mine too,” Keller said. “War is war. I consider us even right now, understood? I’m not seeking retribution for the death of my man, though I have every right to do that. I could toss all of your friends into the pool and happily watch them die – but I’m not going to do that. There’s no point in wasting lives, Kris. I’m a man of my word, Kris. I promise you that I will let you all go if you get all of my men out to a safe place. Do we have a deal, Kris? Will you help me in exchange for their freedom?”
I hated him using my name over and over like we were friends – but I could see no way out of the situation if I said no.
“Yes,” I said.