The entourage clears us through two more immobile bouncers on consecutive street corners. Shadowy recesses hold numerous forewarned, silent and watchful figures.
My eyes flick side to side and scour the mirrors. Tranked brain cells have packed it in, stalling when asked for assistance.
Creeps never disregard movement. It’s hard-wired in them to attack moving objects. Perhaps they are unused to having meals home delivered.
This reticent behaviour reminds me of a sneaky Doberman I lived next door to. Anyone can get in, but nobody leaves with their skin and clothes intact.
The middle ear rings with alarmed bells. Stodgy nerves and stubbornness don’t listen.
A group of three hosts, closely followed by a group of four, stamp along in strict formation. Their necks swivel in military precision to fix our vehicle with attentive disapproval.
They are not amused.
Creeps appear and leave my field of view in growing numbers, intent on various unknowable tasks. Some stand like statues, other move purposefully.
We’re deeply and foolishly amongst them now.
Their density has reached a proportion where a right-of-way is disputed. Kristine almost falls off the seat when I brake sharply, clipping an aging crone who wanders in front of the truck. This host is past its use-by date. Thin white hair, skin like crumpled parchment and a long frilly nightgown with terry towelling slippers on its feet. She might cut a sweet Grandmotherly figure to some. My sentiments are less flattering.
My Grandmother burned me with a cigarette if I misbehaved.
The Creep picks herself up and we stare at each other through the windscreen. I let the truck roll forward. The nudge bar pushes her back. She shuffles around and leads us up the road.
“C’mon, you’re in the way you stupid old cow.”
An unexpected, very welcome, idea is in the making. Pieces of it collate with maddening slowness.
Number one. Our card-carrying cripple is clear of the crowd who are attracted to us alone.
Number two. The street’s reasonably clear of clutter and is flat and straight.
Number three. Hitting the old bag has attracted a large audience. Ten, maybe twenty, have come out of the woodwork to slowly close in from every side.
Finally the idea congeals.
The revs build and I knock Grandma flat and drive over her. The call for aid is broadcast more urgently. Many more Creeps appear at every compass point. I stop again, waiting for them to thicken.
Kristine’s comes to. Her eyes brighten with fear. She doesn’t understand why we are stationary in the middle of a hostile crowd.
“Are you stirring them up on purpose?”
“Yep. Look up there, that's our man. How many Creeps? Four. How many around us? Bloody Hell, about fifty! Where’d they come from? More the merrier, I guess.”
“And why is more good?”
“Cos we’re faster than they are. We concentrate their numbers here and they won’t annoy us over there. I need your help. Sit in the middle and get ready to take the wheel. I’ve got a brilliant plan.”
I know she rolls her eyes but I don't bother checking.
The motor winds up to a powerful growl. Swerving to miss as many Creeps as possible is partially successful. They tumble like nine pins, taking a few mates down with them.
I lower the window and estimate braking distance perfectly for a smooth arrival, breezing up beside the four carriers.
“Hey Ratface, you need a lift?”
I get a doubtful glare.
“Up to you mate. I’ll run these fuckers down; you grab my arm, OK?”
He doesn’t need to think about the offer, nodding harder than a head-banger at a Motorhead concert.
Brake, steer right, accelerate.
Two Creeps go under the tyres. The steering twitches at soft, yet lumpy, terrain. The other two are pulled off balance and hit the deck. A small pile of lashing arms and legs disgorge a body belonging to Ratface. Letting him hobble alongside is fun for a few seconds. He reaches imploringly for a hand to hold. Fingers dig into my wrist with maniacal strength when I extend an arm. His weight tugs me half-way out the window.
I keep the throttle down and lean further out the cab. My armpit is being cut in two. The skinny bugger is heavier than he appears. His grip clamps me like a preschooler refusing to relinquish a parent. Instead of crying he’s merrily hooting abuse at the sprawling, crushed hosts who’d lugged him so far.
“Up ya arse, Gloomers.”
“Shut up. Get on the step, you’re breaking my arm. Hold on to something else.”
He scrambles up on the step and gives me with a wide grin, full of rotten teeth.
“No ard feelin’s, but yer gitten out here an I’m takin the truck.”
I’d expected treachery and let him lunge at my face. It’s the perfect opportunity to snatch the card flapping around his neck.
Broken fingernails scratch at my eyes and he bites like a Creep groupie. Impacts from a fist to his head are ineffectual. I draw back to deliver another when Kristine screams in my ear.
Her boot shoots past my face. The heel connecting with a mouth about to bite my cheek. Lips smash and teeth are dislodged.
Damn, those kick-boxing exercise videos have come in handy. Either she’s been practising or I’m exceptionally lucky not to have a broken nose.
Ratface isn’t able to shake off this blow so easily. He slips from his precarious perch, and realises the importance of what is around his neck when the lanyard pulls tight. I’m forced to go out the window again, grimly holding the card that goes with him. The cord catches under wing-nut ears and the plastic slices my hand.
Instead of ducking to release the pressure he arches his neck, preventing the cord sliding off. It cuts into his ears but he bears this pain with a bloody grimace and boggling red eyes.
The top of his head is too low to be gripped; his feet drag on the road. A gun is slapped into a hand that gropes for it.
Kristine picks up on my need with her own brand of telepathy.
I bash at fingers clinging to a mirror mount. They dent and split under the guns butt’s assault.
“Let. Go. You. Prick.”
He yucks it up at my exasperation and hangs tough. Knowing what waits for the one left behind lends him strength.
It occurs to me I’m using the weapon incorrectly. The pistol is pointed at me in an accident prone way. I juggle the gun to realign the dangerous end with the snarling face below.
It’ll be like shooting fish in a barrel.
The bullet ricochets off the road.
I shoot three more times. A bullet creases his shoulder. The card is mine and he’s history.
No, he’s not. The wily son-of-a-bitch is hanging off the fuel tank.
“Don shoot. Take me outa here. We kin call it quits ifya do.”
I swing my door open and twist uncomfortably, emptying the gun in a hit or miss affair. We’re travelling at speed, crashing over gutters for some reason and raising clouds of dust I can’t see through. Whether by bullet or all this jarring activity he is shaken loose. The rear wheels thump over something solid.
“Howdya like that, weirdo!”
I slam the door and poke my head out to make sure he’s really gone. Kristine continues battling the wheel. The dust billowing behind clears as we’re steered back onto bitumen. Don't know where she got her license.
Ratface is finishing a barrel roll and lies in the dirt, holding his leg. The wheel has run over the same one Kristine belted with her wok.
My smile slips as eyes follow a trail of liquid back to the truck.
Gee, look at that, I’ve grouped four neat bullet holes down there. An impressive display of accuracy normally involving self-congratulations.
Except all four holes have punctured the fuel tank.