CHAPTER TWO

Sean MacKillick was Bates’ golden boy, and the highest ranking boy in the army section of the CCF. He was Deputy Head Boy and captain of the rugby team – three successive county trophies. He was also a Grade A, platinum-plated bastard.

Because of his sporting achievements the school authorities thought the sun shone out of Mac’s jock-strapped arse, but when the teachers weren’t around he was the worst kind of bully – sadistic, vicious and totally random. Jon always said it was because he was so short. Even now, at nineteen, he was shorter than everyone in the room, even Rowles, but he was built like a brick shitter and his head was so square it had corners. His thighs were meaty and his legs so stumpy that he kind of waddled – some of the juniors had christened him Donald Duck – but there was no mistaking the raw, squat power of the man.

His eyes were piercing blue under close-cropped blonde hair, and his face was heavily freckled, but there was cruelty in the curl of his mouth, and his eyes were all cold calculation.

Mac was a posh kid. His father was in the House of Lords until they did away with hereditary peers, but he had adopted the persona of an East end gangster. Born into the aristocracy but he acted like Ray Winstone. Pathetic, really.

Most of his classmates worshipped him, but beyond that he’d been almost universally hated, especially in the CCF. He saw the uniform as a licence to do whatever he pleased, and although he was a bully on school grounds, that was nothing to how he behaved when the army section was away on camp or manoeuvres. Army summer camp last year had reportedly turned into an endless round of forced marches, press ups and endurance tests, all overseen by Mac and ignored by Bates, who seemed to think it was just good, clean fun.

At the last camp, an outward bound week in Wales doing orienteering and stuff, he actually threw a boy into a river and then held his head under the water until he lost consciousness. When they fished him out and revived him Mac made him finish the exercise with them, sodden and disorientated. This was winter, halfway up a mountain, so by the time they made it back to the rendezvous he was literally blue; ended up in hospital with hypothermia. Too scared to tell, he pretended he’d slipped and fallen in. The other boys in the squad kept quiet too – Mac had a little gang of hangers-on and if you didn’t want to end up black and blue, you didn’t mess.

He and his lackeys would strut (well, they’d strut, he’d waddle) around the school laying down the law, but whenever a teacher appeared Mac would smile and fawn. The head loved him. He was only relegated to Deputy Head Boy because the Head Boy’s dad had just donated a new chemistry lab. Matron loathed him. She was always cleaning up the wounds he inflicted, but the head waved away her complaints muttering platitudes about youthful high spirits. Wanker.

There were dark rumours of a death too, a long time ago, back when Mac was a junior. But as far as I knew that’s all they were – rumours.

Mac had left school the term before The Cull started, won some big prize on speech day for being king of the brown-nosers, and Jon had keyed his car during the ceremony. Jon who was now dead. We were so relieved to see the back of Mac, so sure he was gone forever.

Basically, Sean MacKillick was the last person on the earth you wanted looking after a group of vulnerable kids in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Bates gave an exclamation of joy and – God help us – hugged the bastard.

“Welcome back, Mac,” he said. “Now we can really get started.”

Over the next few weeks we had a steady influx of people taking up residence. There had been over a thousand boys in the school and at 7% survival rate that left about seventy alive. Of these about forty turned up in the weeks following my return. Some brought brothers or sisters, mothers, grandparents, uncles, aunts and friends. Only one boy arrived with his father, but the man died the next day of pneumonia. Bates was especially good with the boy – Thackeray, his name was – and I saw a whole other side to him. He was caring, kind and thoughtful; surprising. All in all we were forty-six by the end of the month and it felt like life was returning to the old buildings.

Everybody who returned brought their stories with them. Wolf-Barry, a skinny sixth-former who was a bit of a computer geek told of bodies littering the streets of London, rats emerging from the sewers to feast in broad daylight. Rowles had seen mass graves and power stations converted into huge furnaces to burn the dead. ‘Horsey’ Haycox, imaginatively nicknamed because he was obsessed with horses, had encountered a group of born again fundamentalist Christians who had declared holy war on anyone not of their faith, by which they basically meant anyone non-white. Speight, another sixth former, told a very similar story, but his local God-bothering nutters were Muslims. There were many other tales of shell-shocked survivors turning to extreme perversions of religion to try and make sense of what had happened, and charismatic leaders building power bases while beheading, hanging or even burning anyone they deemed impure or unclean.

A generator was set up and fuel was collected from a nearby petrol station. We emptied a Blockbuster and most evenings we ran the power for a couple of hours and watched a movie. Television and radio were pretty much dead by this point, although we kept scanning the airwaves for signals. Some satellite stations were still broadcasting as far-off generators slowly ran down, but mostly they all just broadcast muzak and test cards apologising for the interruption in service. An Italian channel played an old dubbed episode of Fawlty Towers on a continuous loop for three weeks. One by one all the stations faded away to dead air. The last live station broadcasting came out of Japan, where one guy ran a daily news show. He showed footage of distant explosions and gun battles, empty streets and haunted, echoing city canyons. We watched him every day for a month until one day he just wasn’t there any more.

Bates and Mac took charge and organised everyone into work groups, and we started to feather our nest. A spotty little Brummie called Petts prepared a section of land to be a market garden come spring; after all, our supplies of tinned and dehydrated food were running low and soon we’d need to start growing our own.

The main kitchen was a useless modern gas range, but in one of the outbuildings we found a turn of the century kitchen with a long-forgotten wood burning stove. We cleaned it up and had hot food once a day, prepared by one of the boy’s aunts, who we started to call the ‘Dinner Lady’, although her name was Mrs Atkins. Lots of the dorms had old, bricked-up fireplaces, so we took a sledgehammer to those, opened up the chimneys again, harvested some grates from an abandoned hardware store in Sevenoaks, and slept snug every night. The woods in the school grounds provided all the fuel we needed.

We even set up a paddock and rounded up a cow for milking, two pigs and three sheep. Being a posh private school, St Mark’s had no shortage of wannabe gentleman farmers and two had survived and returned – Heathcote and Williams took to their tasks like pigs to swill.

The school came to seem like a haven. We organised football and rugby tournaments, started having assembly after breakfast; hell, we even had campfires and sing-alongs. The big stone wall that enclosed the grounds on three sides, and the River Medway which marked the school’s southern border, kept the outside world distant and held it at bay. We felt safe and insulated, and Bates and Mac were fine as long as that lasted. Sure the scavenging parties were a little too soldiery to take seriously, but without his cronies Mac seemed almost normal, and Bates gradually settled down. He relied heavily on Mac to organise things, but sorting out the rota for planting spuds and milking the cow doesn’t really provide much opportunity for megalomania.

It was surreal. The world had died and here was this tiny, insular community of grieving children carrying on as if everything was fine. And for a while, just for a while, I allowed myself to be lulled by it, allowed myself to think maybe things would be all right, maybe the world hadn’t descended into anarchy and chaos and cults and blood and horror, maybe the rest of the world was like we were – hopeful and coping. Maybe this little society we were setting up would work.

What an idiot I was. A community is only as healthy as the people who lead it. And we had Bates and Mac. I should have realised we were fucked before we even began.

We could only keep the madness at bay for so long. We were living in denial, and Mr Hammond’s arrival changed everything.

Norton and I were in the south quad working on a madcap contraption designed by some fifth-form chemistry ‘A’ student called Dudley, designed to harvest methane gas from animal shit, when we heard the first gunshots. They echoed off the walls and we couldn’t tell where they were coming from. There were sharp repetitive sounds too, which we quickly realised were hooves on tarmac, and distant shouts. The front drive!

We ran through the buildings to the front door and looked out at the long driveway that led from the front gate up to the school. An old man was running as fast as he could up the drive towards us, holding hands with two boys. All three were shouting for help. Behind them, just inside the gate but gaining fast, were a man and a woman on horseback. Both carried shotguns. The woman took aim at the fleeing trio. She fired and one of the boys stumbled and fell forwards onto the gravel. The old man hesitated, unsure what to do.

“Run, you idiot, run,” whispered Norton.

The old man ushered the other boy towards the school and as the child continued running the man turned back to get the wounded boy. He crouched there protectively shielding him from the approaching riders as they reigned in their steeds and loomed over them. The woman took careful aim at the running boy.

While all this was happening boys had come running up to the door one by one, drawn by the noise. Bates arrived last, carrying his rifle. He pushed to the front and went to open the door just as the woman fired and the running boy threw up his arms and tumbled head over heels onto the cold drive. He lay there for a moment and then started crawling towards us. We all gasped, horrified. The woman started her mount trotting towards him.

I glanced up at Bates but the look on his face said it all; he was frozen, unable to make a decision. We weren’t going to get anything useful from him.

“Where’s Mac?” he asked.

“Scavenging party, sir,” I replied.

“Oh. Right. Ummm…”

Shit. I had to do something.

“Sir, give me the gun sir,” I said.

“What?”

“Give me the gun, sir.” I didn’t shout, that wouldn’t have worked. I was just quietly insistent, assuming authority I didn’t really feel. He handed me the rifle just as Matron came running. She too was armed.

“Matron,” I said. “Get out there and talk to them. Just give me two minutes.”

Startled, she looked to Bates for confirmation, but he was just staring out the window, biting his lip. She looked back to me and nodded, then stepped out onto the front steps, rifle ready but not presented for firing.

The horsewoman had dismounted and was standing over the injured child, who continued to crawl away from her, whimpering and crying, leaving a thick red snail trail behind him. Her colleague was still mounted, covering the other two, about twenty metres behind her.

I turned away from the door, pushed through the crowd of boys, and ran up the main stairs. I needed to get to a good vantage point.

I heard a shot behind me and my stomach lurched. Jesus, she’d executed the boy.

I reached the first floor landing and ran into the classroom that looked down over the driveway. Dammit, the bloody windows were closed. I laid the rifle on the window seat and tried to pull up the sash. No use, it was painted shut and wouldn’t budge. I looked down, saw Matron, and realised with relief that it was she who had fired, a warning shot. The wounded boy was still crawling. The horsewoman’s shotgun was now aimed square at Matron.

I could have shattered one of the small panes of glass, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, and I needed to be able to hear what was being said. I cursed, grabbed the gun, and ran back to the staircase. I was losing seconds I couldn’t afford. I sprinted up the stairs to the second floor. The front room here was a dormitory with beds lying underneath the windows, one of which was already open. I muttered silent thanks and lay down on the bed, brought the rifle up and rested the barrel on the window frame. I nestled the stock deep into the soft tissue of my right shoulder. The. 303 kicks like a bastard, and if you don’t seat it properly you can give yourself a livid purple bruise to the collarbone that’ll leave you hurting for weeks. Believe me, I know.

I lifted the bolt, drew it back and a round popped up from the magazine to fill the void. I then pushed the bolt forward again, smoothly slotting the round into the breach, snapped the bolt back down and slipped off the safety catch. I took careful aim and calmed my breathing, steadied my hands, focused on the woman with the shotgun.

“…looters, plain and simple,” she was saying. She stood about five metres in front of Matron. The boy was still crawling, still whimpering, halfway between the two women.

“Looters?” replied Matron, incredulous.

“They were seen taking food from a newsagent’s in Hildenborough. An old man with two boys. No doubt. We’ve been tracking them for the past hour.”

“And who the hell says they shouldn’t take food where they find it? You may not have noticed, dear, but our debit cards don’t work any more.”

The boy kept crawling.

“We control Hildenborough now,” the woman said. “Our territory, our rules.”

“And who’s we?”

“The local magistrate, George Baker, took charge. He’s the law there, and if he says you’re a looter, you’re a looter.”

“And you shoot looters?”

“The ones who run, yeah.”

“And the ones you catch?”

“We hang them.”

Matron leant down to the boy, who had now reached her and was clawing at her shoes.

“I know this boy. He’s thirteen!” she shouted.

The horsewoman shrugged.

“Looter is a looter. And people who shelter looters are no better.”

Matron stood up again, raised her rifle and walked right up to the horsewoman. I thought the rider would fire but she kept her cool, confident that her colleague would deter Matron from firing the first shot.

The two women stood face to face, one raised gun barrel length between them.

“Well this,” said Matron, “is my territory. And here I am the law. You leave. Now.”

The horsewoman held Matron’s gaze for a long minute. I had to shift my aim; Matron’s head was blocking my shot. I sighted on the horseman instead.

The horsewoman called Matron’s bluff.

“Oh yeah,” she sneered. “And who’s going to make me? You and whose army?”

She pushed the barrel of Matron’s rifle aside, raised her shotgun and, before I could react, clubbed Matron hard on the head with the stock. Matron slumped to the ground, stunned.

This was it, the moment of truth. I’d fired this rifle countless times on the range, blasting away at paper people, but I’d never fired at a real, breathing, living human being. If I could list my unspoken ambitions in life one of them, which I think most people probably share, was to never actually kill someone. I didn’t want anybody’s blood on my conscience, didn’t want to stay awake at night playing and replaying my actions, seeing someone die again and again at my hands.

I’d heard my dad wake up screaming.

I knew what becoming a killer meant.

But there and then hesitation meant that other people, people I cared about, would die. I didn’t have time to consider, philosophise or second guess. As the horsewoman lowered her gun to point at Matron’s head, I took careful aim at her chest and gently squeezed the trigger.

But before I could shoot, before I could take my first life, someone else opened fire at the man who sat covering the other two ‘looters’. The man spun in the air, tumbled off the horse and lay still. The woman turned to see what was happening. Matron, injured but mobile, gathered the wounded boy into her arms and began staggering towards the school. The man’s horse took fright and ran left onto the grass, whinnying and rearing, revealing Mac, stood at the school gate with a smoking rifle held firm at his shoulder.

The horsewoman gave a cry of anguish and ran towards Mac. She fired her shotgun once, causing the old man to duck, but the shot went wide, and then she too was felled by a single shot from Mac. Her momentum carried her on a few steps and then she fell in a heap alongside the two looters she’d been pursuing.

Her horse now took fright and bolted, racing, head down, towards Matron, threatening to trample her and the boy she was carrying.

Without a second’s thought I re-sighted and fired.

The rifle kicked hard into my shoulder and the explosion deafened me. But the horse went down, clean shot, straight to the head. It was the first time I had ever shot a moving target. The first time I’d ever shot anything alive.

I lay there for a moment, shocked by what I’d done. I could see Mac looking up at my window in surprise.

My hands were shaking.

I wasn’t really a killer.

Not yet.

I walked back down the stairs, unsteady on my feet, wobbly with adrenaline comedown. The entrance hall was in commotion. Matron had already gone; run straight through the crowd on the way to the San, and Norton had taken control of the situation.

“Heathcote, take some boys and get these fucking horses out of sight,” he was saying. “Williams you take care of the bodies. The last thing we need is their friends finding their corpses on our front door.”

The two farmboys gathered groups of older boys and hurried outside to begin cleaning up.

I stood there, letting the noise and confusion wash over me. It took me a moment before I realised that Norton was talking to me.

“Lee. Lee!”

I shook my head to clear away the fog. “Yeah?”

He put his hand on my arm, concerned. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” I nodded. “Yeah, I think so, yeah.”

“Good. Come on, let’s get the other wounded boy inside.”

“Yeah, sure.”

Outside the sky was clear blue, the air crisp and fresh. The gravel crunched underneath my feet as we ran to the fallen boy and the old man who was tending him. All my senses seemed heightened. I could hear my heart pounding, see far off details with crystal clarity. I could smell the blood.

We ran past the dead horse, next to which stood three boys debating the best way to move the great beast. I slowed and stopped. I stepped around the animal and knelt down beside it, reaching out to touch its still warm neck. Its eyes stared, mad and sightless, and its mouth lay open, tongue lolling out, teeth bared in fright. There was a neat hole above its left eye, from which black and grey matter oozed onto the drive.

I felt its fading body heat and tears welled up in my eyes. My stomach felt hollow, my head felt tight, and all I wanted to do was curl up in a dark hole and cry. It was the first real emotion I had felt since my mother died.

I forced the feelings down. Time for that later; things to do now. I muttered “sorry,” and then rose and ran after Norton, wiping my eyes as I did so.

As I approached the looters I was shocked to recognise the man. It was Mr Hammond, our art master. I knew the boy too, by sight. He was a third-former, I think, but his name escaped me. Hammond was an old man, seventy-five and long overdue for retirement, but he looked about ninety now. His face was pale and unshaven, his cheeks hollow and shadowed. His clothes, so familiar from countless art classes, were ragged and torn. He had a deep gash across his forehead that streamed blood down one side of his face.

He didn’t look like he’d endured the easiest apocalypse.

Williams lifted the dead woman and pushed past me as I approached. Norton was helping Hammond to his feet, Mac was lifting the wounded boy. Bates was standing there too, staring at the pool of blood on the ground, eyes glazed, expression blank. When I reached him he didn’t look up.

“Sir,” I said. No response. “Sir.”

Bates snapped out of his reverie and looked up at me.

“Hmmm?”

“Your rifle, sir,” I said, and handed it to him. He looked down at it in horror, as if I’d just offered him a severed human head. Then he reached out and took it.

“Thank you,” he murmured.

Norton and Hammond moved off back towards the school, and Mac handed the boy, bleeding but breathing, to a couple of fifth-formers who carried him away.

So there we were; me, Bates and Mac, stood around two pools of blood, all unsure exactly what to say to each other. It was only now that I noticed that Mac had dried blood smeared across his combat jacket. I studied him closely. I had just killed a horse and I was a wreck; he’d just gunned down two people and he didn’t seem in the least bit concerned. I may not have been a killer, but he was. And something about his reaction, or lack of it, told me this was not the first time he’d taken a life.

“What happened to you?” I asked. “Where are the others?”

Bates looked at Mac and seemed to regain his senses. Mac was watching him carefully, and his cool appraising stare made me feel deeply uneasy.

“Yes, Mac,” said Bates. “You left with McCulloch and Fleming. Where are they?”

He would have answered but he was suddenly surrounded by a crowd of sixth form boys, eager to congratulate him. Wolf-Barry slapped his back and punched the air, Patel kept saying that it was “so cool”, Zayn just looked awed.

Great, he’d got a new fan club.

We gathered that evening in the main common room after a subdued dinner of curried horse. I didn’t eat.

Bates was first to speak.

“You’re all aware of the incident that occurred this afternoon. Matron is even now working to save the lives of the two boys who were shot. These boys are Grant of 2B and Preston of 4C.”

One boy in the second row gave an audible gasp at this news. A classmate, probably.

Bates seemed more sure of himself in this safe, controlled environment. All trace of his earlier loss of composure was gone. He stood erect, in full uniform, with his arms behind his back, like a regimental Sergeant-Major.

“I’m going to hand over to Mr Hammond at this stage, who will tell you what happened. Dennis…”

He gestured to his colleague to take over, and resumed his seat. Hammond stood and surveyed the room, scanning our faces, mentally noting which of us he knew, seeing who had survived and who, by omission, had not.

“Boys, it’s good to be back. It’s good to see so many of you again. It gives me hope that…” He trailed off, momentarily overcome.

“Preston and Grant lived near me in Sevenoaks, and they both arrived at my house together a few days ago. It was my suggestion that we return here. If we’d stayed where we were, maybe… Anyway, we ran out of petrol just as we entered Hildenborough. But it’s only an hour’s walk to the school so we weren’t worried. Grant was hungry so we stopped at a newsagent’s and rummaged around for something to eat. The place had been pretty thoroughly cleaned out, but we found chocolate bars underneath an overturned cupboard. We considered ourselves lucky, and set off again. But within minutes there was a hue and cry. The shout ‘looter’ went up and we saw a man running towards us, so we just ran for our lives.

“Preston knows the area very well and thanks to him we were able to elude our pursuers, although we never seemed able to completely shake them off. They finally caught up with us at the gate and you know the rest.

“If it hadn’t been for Matron and MacKillick here…” Again he trailed off into silence.

You would have expected Hammond to have been grateful to the man who had saved his life, but the look he flashed Mac was one of distaste and suspicion.

Bates stood again, thanked Hammond, and handed the floor to Mac with an alarming degree of deference. Norton and I exchange worried glances. Mac had cleaned up and changed his uniform, but he still sported combats and camouflage.

“Thank you, sir” he said, with perhaps the tiniest hint of sarcasm. “I’ll be brief. Fleming, McCulloch and me left this morning to scavenge in Hildenborough. As you know the shops have all been cleaned out, so we had to go house to house. Not the prettiest work. Those houses that haven’t already been got at have normally still got occupants. You need a strong stomach.”

What a smug, self-satisfied, aren’t-I-hard sod he was.

“We found one house full of stuff we could use and we started carrying it out to the minibus. I was inside when I heard shouting. I went to the window and saw three men, all carrying guns, coming at McCulloch and Fleming. Our boys weren’t armed, they’d been surprised, they didn’t stand a chance. I watched as they were led away and then I followed, dodging house to house and keeping out of sight. They took the lads to a big house down a side road, an old manor house I think. I didn’t even have time to sneak up and look through a window before they were brought out again. The three men and a new guy, some posh lord of the manor type in tweeds and stuff. They led our boys round the side of the house and I followed, hiding behind the hedges. And there, like it was the most normal thing in the world to have in your garden, was a gallows.

“McCulloch started screaming, so they did him first. It was all over in an instant. Then they did Fleming. He’d wet himself before they even put the noose around his neck.”

Bloody hell, Mac. No need for the fucking details. I clenched my fists angrily. He was enjoying this.

“I didn’t stick around after that. But as I was leaving town I saw some guys putting up a new fence across the road and a sign saying ‘Hildenborough Protectorate. Governor: George Baker. Traders welcomed. Looters hanged.’

“I had to try another way out of town and found guards posted at all the exit points around the perimeter. So I dealt with one of them and came back here. Just in time too, I reckon.”

‘Dealt with one of them’. That explained the blood on his jacket. So he’d killed three people today and he looked for all the world like he was having the time of his life. I felt sick.

He sat back down and Bates took the floor again.

“Boys, I know this is hard, but we have to accept the reality that we may be, um, at war.”

There were murmurs of disbelief.

“I know it sounds ridiculous, but consider the facts. A hostile force has established a base of operations practically on our doorstep. They’ve killed two of us and wounded two more; we’ve killed three of them. We know they’re armed, entrenched, and determined. We must assume they will attack, and we must be ready.”

I raised my hand to ask why he thought they’d attack.

“Put your hand down, Keegan,” he barked. “I didn’t throw the floor open to questions. And that goes for everyone. If we’re to survive this we need to be focused, united, organised. There needs to be a clear chain of command and all orders will need to be followed promptly and without question. Is that clear?”

“Well, really,” said the Dinner Lady. “I don’t expect to be talked to like that.”

“Ma’am,” snapped Bates. “You are welcome to remain at St Mark’s but I am in charge here and if you accept my protection I’m afraid you accept my rules.”

And just like that Bates declared martial law.

I looked over at Mac. His face was solemn but his eyes told a different story. They shone with glee.

Hammond spoke up.

“I say Bates, are you quite sure you need to…”

Bates leaned forward and hissed something peremptory at Hammond, who fell silent.

He went on: “We need to secure our perimeter, post guards, organise patrols and so forth. To this end we are re-establishing the CCF and every boy will be expected to do their bit.”

Broadbent raised his hand and began bleating before Bates could stop him.

“But sir, I was excused CCF because of my asthma. My dad wrote a note and everything.”

“I said no questions, boy!” Bates yelled. “And no excuses either. If you’re old enough to dress yourself you’re old enough to carry a gun.”

You could feel the shock in the room as everybody’s eyes widened and their shoulders stiffened. Bates breathed deeply and visibly calmed himself.

“I know it’s not how we want things to be, but it’s the way things are,” he reasoned. “It’s my job, and Mac’s, to keep you safe. I failed in that today. Not again.

“As of now you will all refer to me as Colonel and Mac as Major. Is that clear?”

I wanted to laugh in his face. I wanted to stand up and shout “Are you fucking joking? You’re a history teacher, you deluded tinpot tosser”. But I didn’t. It was all too tragic for that. Tragic and – I glanced at Mac – sinister.

“I said is that clear?”

Some boys muttered “yes, Colonel” unenthusiastically. I thought Bates was going to push it, but he must have realised the time wasn’t yet right.

“Good,” he said. “Now, I want Speight, Pugh, Wylie, Wolf-Barry, Patel, Green, Zayn and Keegan to stay behind. The rest of you are dismissed for the evening.”

Norton whispered “Good luck” as he got up to leave. Everybody else shuffled out leaving myself, Bates, Mac and the six other boys whose names had been called. They were all the remaining sixth-formers; I was the only non sixth-former there.

When everyone else had left, Bates gestured for us all to come and sit together at the front, and sat to address us.

“You’re the senior boys here, and a lot of the responsibility of this is going to rest with you. We’ll be assigning ranks in the coming days but for now you’ll all be acting corporals. Major Mac will be managing you directly and I want you to follow his orders promptly and without question at all times. Is that clear?”

“Yes Colonel.”

“Good lads,” said Bates. He smiled what he probably thought was a reassuring smile, but he actually looked more like a scared man presenting his teeth to a sadistic dentist. He patted Mac on the shoulder.

“All yours, Major,” he said, and left the room.

Mac glared at us and grinned a sly, feral grin. He didn’t look impressed by us, but he did look pleased with himself. He pulled his chair around so that he was facing us.

“Right, I’ve killed three fuckers today and if none of you want to be number four you’ll keep your ears open and your mouths shut. Clear?”

Oh yeah. Here he was. This was the Mac I remembered. All these weeks of playing nice and sucking up to Bates, he was just biding his time, waiting for the right moment. Now Bates had shown weakness, there was blood in the water, and Mac was the shark.

Things were going to get ugly.

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