Victor stood there half an hour, refusing to take his eyes from the door. Eventually though, after hearing not a peep from outside the room, he lowered his weapon and went and sat on the bed. The adrenaline had left his system, and now his body ached. He checked his shins, his shoulder, his ribs—bruises were already appearing where he had fallen hardest on the stairs. He checked the inner pocket of his jacket and breathed a relieved sigh. Bed springs squeaked as he leaned forward. He massaged his temples.
“How am I going to face that?” he sighed. “Hmm. Score the next point. That could work.” He sat up and nodded. “Yeah. Just score the next point.”
“Just score the next point” was a piece of advice Victor’s old karate instructor, Sensei Doug, had often given him during competitions. The idea was to free the fighter’s mind of distractions—fear, previous mistakes, a karate tournament trophy—and get him focused on the present task. It had been successful for Victor.
He got up from the bed, tucked his shirt in and straightened his tie. He went to the bookshelf, crouched and dragged it back from the door; it was much harder to move now than when he had practically thrown it there earlier. He stepped into the hall and looked both ways. Feeling thirsty, he went up the corridor and entered the bathroom. After a refreshing drink from the basin tap, he went back into the hall and took the end door—the pool room. How pleasant it was now with no magpies to terrorise him. He crossed the deserted room, toward the door on the left, opposite.
“Just score the next point,” he told himself, “and soon you’ll be out of here.”
He opened the door and walked through, into a large camping tent. Almost everything in the tent—sleeping bags, pillows, backpacks, a tin kettle and a torch—was slightly oversized. Only a sandy pair of shoes looked like they would suit him. The zipper at the end of the tent raced upward with a purr; the tent door flap drew aside and a man stooped and entered. He pulled back the hood of his thick jacket and glared at Victor with disapproval. It was the Cavalry Officer from the painting. Once in the tent, he stood to full height, a foot taller than Victor. Victor started, then rushed at him and unleashed a rapid combination of punches to the chest, stomach and groin. Every time his fists connected, it felt like they were hitting play dough. The man barely noticed he was under attack: he just took off his jacket and tossed it in the corner, and then threw Victor back with a wave of his hand.
“Stop being stupid, Gary,” said the man.
Victor stood back and watched closely. It was definitely the man from the painting, only he was bigger and not in uniform, and it didn’t seem like he was going to turn into a vampire. He unlaced his boots and set them in perfect order by the tent door, then looked about the tent. His face grew red and his furious eyes drilled Victor.
“How many times do I have to tell you,” he said, “to leave your shoes by the door? Look—now you’ve got sand all through the bloody tent!”
Victor stood still. His mouth opened but he didn’t speak.
“Well don’t just stand there,” barked the man, pointing to the sandy shoes near Victor. “Pick them up and bring them over here.”
“I’m sure this boy’s brain-dead,” muttered the man.
Victor placed the shoes by the tent entrance.
“It’s half-past nine,” continued the man. “Time for bed. Now, I don’t want a repeat of last night, do I make myself clear? You wet the bed again in this tent and you’ll be sleeping outside with the snakes—I mean that. So go to the toilet now, and then straight to sleep. Your mother and I are going to have a cup of tea, and I don’t want to hear a peep from you. Hurry up—use the toilet and then come straight back.”
He peeled back the tent flap; outside was near pitch black. Far in the distance a tiny yellow light flickered, casting just enough light to reveal the small, brick public toilet block to which it was attached.
“Well, go on,” said the man.
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