There were many reasons not to run.
Where was I running to?
How would that help me get away from a billionaire who had limitless ways to recapture me?
Was I really going to outrun an athletic black man?
Of courses, not all black men are supreme sprinters, and not all white guys are slow as fuck — there’s always that one French guy in the finals of the 100 metres at the Olympics — but I knew my own capabilities only too well.
It would have been fine if there was someone else alongside me, someone I could use to buy me time, as I had so many times before. For all my complaints about the people I usually ended up stuck with, you can’t make sacrifices without someone to sacrifice.
But I was acting purely on instinct. My time in the savage lands (no, not Birmingham) had taught me to act first and think last. You might still be fucked but might be is better than definitely will be.
Archibald Larwood had caused the same reaction in me as many of the people I’d met in Flatland. Not the dimwits or the tryhards. Not even the monsters. I’m talking about the guys in charge who greet you with a smile and tell you they’ll take care of you.
What they mean is, they’ll take what they want from you. And then they’ll toss you in the garbage.
Was I being too judgemental? Possibly. It’s one of my greatest failings. How often have I thought someone’s a massive prick and been proven wrong?
Let me just count… Hold on, I’m sure there was that time… No, no, wait, I’m sure I’ll think of one in a moment.
Archie might have been a great philanthropist and the benefactor of millions. I don’t doubt it.
You know these billionaires, they provide jobs and are very concerned about the environment and other important stuff that helps make them seem relatable and not filled with contempt for all human life.
They don’t like unions but they have a special foundation focused on eradicating the potato weevil.
Sure, they don’t pay taxes but that’s because they only pay what the law says they have to, and what kind of idiot would pay more than they have to? And in any case, they use their money far better than the government would.
Would the government launch a two-seater convertible into space? No, they just don’t have that sort of vision.
Whatever his public persona, he didn’t get to be a rich git by playing fair or respecting other people’s personal space. If he wanted something from me, he would extract it with a scalpel. Or a spanner.
It was obvious that Archie knew more about this situation than he was letting on. Far more than me, certainly.
He already believed in the possibility of another world and even more so in the opportunities it presented. He probably had a fleet of space-copters ready to go in his search for unobtanium, the miracle mineral that could fix all ills and make your hair soft and manageable at the same time.
Whether Archie was a manipulative, evil oligarch with treacherous intentions, or I was just being paranoid, the die had already been cast. I was running pell-mell along Pall Mall with a large black man chasing me, and not in a good way.
I did not have a specific goal in mind, but I had been in this sort of situation before. Experience counts for a lot when it comes to panic and desperate tactics. You might think all panic is the same, but no.
A terror-stricken mind is frozen and unable to form coherent thoughts. However, a mind that has repeatedly seen death come swinging into the room on a chandelier (which I’ve literally seen at least twice) is able to compartmentalise.
Yes, I was still simultaneously shitting my pants and pissing myself, but up top, I was evaluating my options.
London streets have the advantage of pedestrians who will neither get out of your way nor try to get in your way. All the work I’d done to improve my movement skills was really paying off.
I was able to keep ahead of my pursuer by using the crowded pavements like a maze, quickly moving in-between fat American tourists and old ladies pulling small trolleys.
Groups of teenage girls parted for me, only too happy to avoid a loathsome boy of my ilk, and then gladly stood their ground to be chatted up by my handsome pursuant.
Some people feel bad about being unpopular, I use rejection like a magic shield.
The chase couldn’t go on for much longer, though. What I needed was an officer of the law.
They say there’s never a cop around when you need one, and that’s mostly true. But Central London is full of homeless people, and if there’s one thing a British copper loves to do, it’s harass someone lying down in a puddle of their own piss and/or vomit. They adore the sense of superiority, just adore it.
It only took me thirty seconds of running to spot the Day-Glo yellow of a police tabard in front of a fancy patisserie. Two of the useless fuckers were standing over a crouching drunk Scotsman, shouting obscenities while taking a dump on the street.
I say Scotsman not out of some bigoted assumption that all the homeless drunks in London are Scottish (some are Irish), but because he was wearing a kilt. Probably made shitting on the street a lot easier.
“Hey, hey. Help.” I was shouting to be heard over the Scottish guy’s protestations as the cops tried to move him on while he was trying to have a movement of his own, as well as the racket of the building works going on in what appeared to be a brand new coffee shop that wasn’t a Starbucks (of all the unbelievable things I’ve reported this is probably the least believable, but I swear it’s true). “Help. I’m being chased by a black guy. Someone save me.”
Now, I understand that my choice of words was somewhat politically incorrect. I don’t believe that black people are any more aggressive or prone to criminal behaviour than anyone else. I don’t believe that, but years of incontrovertible evidence has proved that the police do.
That might seem a bit rich coming from someone who regularly generalises about people based on their ethnicity or nationality, but when I make disparaging comments about the Scots or the Irish, it’s intended to get a rise out of people, not incarcerate them unjustly or excuse a wrongful death. Except when I make fun of the French, then it should be taken literally.
My own experiences have shown me that anyone of any race or creed can be a piece of shit. It’s just that some people have a better chance of getting away with it, which screws up the statistics.
The policemen looked up as I came racing towards them, and then they clocked the guy bearing down on me. I could tell from the change in their expressions, and also by the movement of their hands towards their belts — presumably to reach for a truncheon or a taser or whatever form of reasonable restraint they used to behave unreasonably with these days — that they were going to take my side of whatever story I was about to make up.
Unfortunately, I was wrong.
“Whoa there, son,” said the chubby one with the moustache.
“Hey, hey, slow down,” said the chubby one without a moustache.
I came to a halt in front of them and the homeless guy (whose disease-ravaged face looked up with a straining squint I wasn’t very pleased to receive) and started blabbering half out of breath and making very little sense.
“Please… you gotta… tried to take my phone.” I held up my phone as evidence of the purported crime. Which was a mistake. My phone was more than four years old. Not even the most ardent racist would believe a black man would mug someone for an ancient piece of crap like the one I was waving about.
The driver, who had also come to a sudden stop, wasn’t out of breath at all, and didn’t seem particularly concerned about the cops.
“Sorry about this, guys,” said the driver. “Just a misunderstanding. If I could have a private word…”
He very expertly took one of the cops aside and said something to him in a low voice I couldn’t hear. The cop was very attentive and nodded his head several times.
The other cop, the one next to me, smiled and held up a finger when I tried to get a word in.
Giving the black man a chance to explain himself without handcuffs or even a pompous glare?
Had the world really changed that much while I’d been gone?
Were the police of the city of London, who were famous for mistaking an innocent, unarmed Brazilian commuter on the tube for an Islamic terrorist because he had a bit of a tan, shooting him seven times in the face and then falsely accusing him of being a violent fare dodger, could it be those paragons of competence and restraint were now the pillars of fairness and equality that American TV and movies told us all men in blue were?
Didn’t seem very likely.
The more logical explanation was that working for a billionaire provided benefits not even the rampant prejudices of the Metropolitan Police Service could ignore. The driver was immune to police corruption because he was backed by corruption on a far grander scale.
This is how the world has always worked. It takes a thief to catch a thief. It takes a monster to kill a monster. It takes a priest to protect a paedophile.
There are no good guys, just a sliding scale of baddies keeping each other in check.
I could see this wasn’t going to go in my favour. Mind you, I could see that no matter what. Nothing ever went in my favour unless I grabbed it by the throat and sent it in the right direction myself.
“Arrest me,” I said.
“Sorry, sir?” said the cop trying to keep me quiet so my enemy could spread more lies about me. “Arrest you for what?”
He had a point. Being carted off in a police car would at least get me out of here, but even the police needed something to put on the arrest sheet.
I grabbed half-a-brick from the skip sitting in a disabled parking space and threw it at the shop window of the patisserie.
Property damage was a serious crime. I was going to be caught red-handed. No way I’d be able to escape the long arm of the law when the arseholes were standing right next to me.
The brick bounced off the window. Reinforced glass on the front of a bakery… why?
As soon as the brick came back, I knew where it was going. I could easily read its trajectory. Not only that, I knew it was going to hit the tramp — who had just stood up after evacuating his bowels — in the face.
There was nothing supernatural about how I knew, it was just obvious. And it was also natural for me to move towards him to prevent it. These were just instincts that I had developed through having weapons and claws and teeth and arrows aimed at or around me.
It was actually kind of cool that I had retained some of what I had learned in fantasy land, and found a use for them in the decidedly unfantastic world I was now in.
Would have been even cooler if I’d managed to get to him before he got hit in the head by the brick, in the eye to be exact.
There was a spurt of blood and other fluids as his eyeball burst like a water balloon, making an ugly popping sound.
Without thinking (which by this point I probably don’t need to add), I grabbed the back of the tramp’s head so he didn’t fall on the concrete and smash it open, and slapped my other hand over the gaping wound that had once been an eye, and poured my energy into healing him.
Of course, I no longer had that particular ability, so I stopped trying so hard and just lowered him gently to the ground and removed my hand.
The police were staring at me. Looked like I’d achieved my goal of committing a crime. The driver was also staring at me, as were the passers-by, some of who had their phones out.
There was something strange about the expressions on their faces. And the way there weren’t looking at me but at the tramp. Londoners would usually do anything rather than look a homeless guy in the face.
I looked down to see the man still had both his eyes and no wounds. No blood, no cuts, not even a bruise. His unblemished alabaster skin also made him look about ten years younger than he had a moment ago.
I looked down at my hands. I had just healed him.