Peg was surprised to see the number of people out and about in the early hours of the morning until it struck her that most of them were dead like Hughie and herself. She wondered if she would bump into anyone else she knew.
“I shouldn’t think so,” said Hughie. “It’s not been my experience anyways. It's no coincidence I was at yer home tonight. It’s not like I’ve been hanging around there these past few weeks. I knew you were going to bite the bullet.” He couldn’t resist a gentle snigger at his own pun. “I was doing someone a favour by being there when it happened.”
Peg stopped in her tracks, half her attention taken by Hughie, the other half by a figure partly submerged in the shadowy entrance of the fire station.
“What?” Hughie’s concentration had also been distracted by the figure.
“Who asked you to be there? Was it my mum?” Peg asked eagerly.
“Nay, it was Lady Mabel.”
“Yeah.” Hughie took hold of Peg’s elbow and steered her past the fire station. “She's helped me a few times since I delayed. Let’s go to the cemetery. It’s always very pleasant there in the wee small hours.”
He steered their way to a wooden bench under a cherry blossom tree and they sat down together. “I’ve always thought blossom smells best in the dark,” said Hughie, taking hold of a bough above his head and pulling it down to savour. “Champion, eh?”
Peg smiled in return. “It’s lovely, Hughie. Now, tell me more about Lady Mabel.”
Stanley Thomas Birch shuffled the papers on his desk and took a deep breath before running his fingers through his coarse hair and lighting a cigarette. There was a light knock on the door and his associate, Wilfred, entered the room with a cheery smile and a tray of hot tea and biscuits.
“Thought you might be in need of these," he said, putting the tray down and making his way back towards the open door.
“Perfect timing,” Stanley declared as the door handle clicked back into place.
Although he had never been able to read Wilfred's mind fully, Wilfred always had a good idea what was on his. If only he could see deeper into the mind of Billy Lawrence. There was only one thing he knew for certain at this point, the soul of Lawrence had been a fatality even before the unfortunate shot had been fired.
Stanley’s fingers repeated his earlier actions, shuffling papers and combing through his hair, pondering the situation. It might be possible to save Lawrence from the hangman. Thankfully, there were a couple of witnesses whose evidence would help to support a defence and he was certain that he would be able to provoke an unsavoury response from at least one of the prosecution witnesses.
His train of thought was suddenly derailed by a firm knock followed closely by Wilfred carrying his overcoat and a black umbrella.
“Time to leave for your meeting, sir. It’s getting late.”
“Thank you, Wilfred. What would I do without you?” Stanley asked with a grateful smile as he buttoned up his coat. His thoughts once again turned to the case at hand and he wondered idly if any of the Living were concerned about the welfare of Billy Lawrence. Somehow he doubted it.
Billy gasped for air. The roaring planes had returned, their machine guns blazing and cracking. He wanted to cover his ears and block it all out but he needed to keep one hand on the piece of debris that was keeping him afloat and the other free to ward off the desperate hands reaching out and clutching at him.
Incendiaries fell like bats diving from the sky and he realised the enemy was trying to set fire to the thick oil blanket covering the surface of the sea as far as the eye could see. Mesmerised, Billy stared ahead to where a crest of bodies had gathered and were performing a macabre dance in the waves. He clung desperately to the debris and then recoiled in horror as he realised he was clutching Charlie’s corpse.
Demons screamed at him from all directions.
You’re going to hell, Lawrence!
“I’m already bloody there!” he screamed back.
Suddenly everything went dark. Something was crawling on top of him, smothering him with its weight, pushing him under the surface of the freezing water. A silent scream erupted as he clawed frantically to free himself.
Sitting up with a start, Billy scanned the shadows of his cell and realised he had been dreaming.
Labels: 1940s, Billy, Peg, Refuge of Delayed Souls, Stanley, Web Fiction