Ivy pushed the heavy door with her foot. It was unlocked and swung open easily on its hinges. She remained outside with her hands buried deep in the pockets of her overcoat. She gave it another push and leaned in to take a closer look. There was nobody inside. Her eye was drawn to the pattern of black dots that ran up one cream-coloured wall.
She crossed the threshold to get a closer look and froze when she realised that the pattern was not a bizarre design choice, but instead that the wall was strewn with bullet holes.
Ivy crept back through the door and was unsure what to do next. She heard a splash. Someone was coming. She shrank back into the hedgerow as far as she could to avoid being seen.
Harry tromped down the track and began to see the rocky mountainside among the greenery ahead. A large puddle lay in his way. He looked down at his shoes and sighed. He could have planned this better. He tried to find the narrowest part of the puddle to make his crossing, but had to resort to stepping right in the middle of it. His foot disappeared beneath the surface of the water. He could feel his sock getting wet and pictured a pristine pair of walking boots that purported to be waterproof in the cupboard under the stairs at home. He stepped on dry land with his left foot and pulled his right out, soaking wet trainer and all. As he walked the next few steps he grew accustomed to a wet flopping noise that his right shoe had acquired. He sighed again.
He rounded the corner and took in the sight of a security checkpoint, now apparently unmanned, with a large heavy security door behind it and a woman in a long coat trying to appear nonchalant. She turned around and Harry saw her face for the first time.
‘Yes. Hello.’ Ivy replied.
‘What are you doing here?’
She gave him a withering look. There was apparently no answer forthcoming.
Harry gave up waiting and continued asking questions ‘What have you found? Is there anyone here? Oh, sorry, how are you by the way?’
Ivy stepped behind Harry and looked down the track to check that he hadn’t been followed.
‘Bullet holes, no and fine, I suppose.’ she answered attempting to betray nothing of her earlier alarm.
‘Bullet holes? Where?’ said Harry, presumably not interested in the answers to his other questions.
Ivy showed her eager brother the pock-marked wall. He marvelled at it and prodded and poked at the holes.
‘This is a crime scene.’ said Ivy.
‘So are you sure you want your fingerprints all over it?’
Harry pulled his hand back quickly as if burned by something in the hole.
‘Shall we go in?’ he asked.
‘That’s why we’re here.’
They stood silently for a moment.
‘Ladies first?’ said Harry gesturing to his sister.
‘No, thank you.’
He stepped inside, flicked the nearest light switch and looked up expectantly. Nothing happened.
‘I wish I’d brought a torch. I used to have one in the car, but-’
There was a click. Ivy was stood next to him holding a lit torch. Its beam cut through the gloom.
‘Onward.’ she said, and they headed into the facility.
After a couple of wrong turns, the driver of the black van had successfully navigated country roads and housing estate alike. He parked the van opposite a house. The captain had barked a series of orders and then added the caveat that nobody was permitted to leave the van until after dark. When no-one moved she offered to repeat her orders. The rear compartment of the van was suddenly thrown into chaos as five people attempted to ready apparatus, put away maps and load firearms. This would be difficult enough in a confined space, but was made all more impossible in the half-light provided by the tinted windows and while dressed all in black.
The captain turned to the driver and he sat to attention. She commended him on his driving and how he handled the shortcomings of his fellow officers. He was extraordinarily embarrassed. She went on to instruct him, in no uncertain terms, to relax and let the others get on with their tasks. His eyes darted up to the rear-view mirror and even in the dimness he could see the bitter expressions on their faces. He was in agony.
Annabelle’s attention alternated between Gloria and Emma as her sisters attempted to explain their family’s convoluted family tree. They had different opinions of which parts were important and kept getting bogged down in what Annabelle thought was gossip. Emma said something that made Gloria laugh uncontrollably.
‘I asked about our father.’ said Annabelle.
Gloria and Emma stopped talking and looked her at her. They looked at each other and both attempted an explanation. Upon hearing the other speak they both stopped and politely offered to let the other one do the talking.
Annabelle exhaled noisily.
Gloria shuffled in her seat and said ‘I’m sorry, Annabelle. It’s too easy to get side tracked by what we do know and forget about what we don’t know.’
‘We don’t know who our father is?’ said Annabelle slowly.
‘We don’t. We don’t know who any of our mothers were. Aside from little things we don’t know very much at all.’
Annabelle reached into the fruit bowl and turned the banana around to transform the happy face into a sad one.
‘What little things?’ Annabelle asked.
‘Well because we all have the same father, we can work some things out about our mothers.’ Emma said as she stood up and walked over to the patio door and looked out into the distance.
‘What things?’ Annabelle repeated forcefully.
‘Well, my mother must have been black’ said Gloria pinching the skin on her arm. She reached out to Annabelle’s arm and stroked it. ‘And your mother must have been white.’
Emma turned around and added ‘Some of us have different blood groups, which means if we knew what our father was, we’d be able to work out what our mothers were.’
Annabelle didn’t know what a blood group was, but it didn’t sound like something she would want to join. She realised that both Emma and Gloria were using the past tense.
‘Are they still alive?’ she asked them.
Thanks again for reading. I'm going to make a concerted effort to make up some lost ground over the next couple of days.