Art Pact 87

There are several ways in which I like to spend my free weekends - I am a keen gardener, I paint miniature figurines (although don't get me wrong and assume that I'm some kind of table-top gaming nerd, nothing could be further from the truth), I enjoy watching old war films on TV and making fancy dinners for two which I then eat on my own over two days, dressed up nicely the first day so that I can feel like I'm in a swanky restaurant. Those are the ways that I enjoy my weekends, my respites from the daily toil.

What I do not like, I could previously have safely said and now can put a definitive stamp on due to the sad fact that I now have first-hand experience, is to spend my weekend running down back alleys and cutting through gardens with two of my business acquaintances while merely fifty feet behind us thugs from the Syndicate crash crazily along in our wake, firing guns and shouting promises about which of our bodily orifices are soon to be graced with which of our severed limbs. You, dear reader, as no doubt a man or woman of great taste and refinement, will of course see instantly, with a mere description, that I am far from espousing an unreasonable prejudice against this experience. You would, were we through some magic able to converse over the unthinkable gulf of years which I assume separates my exposition of this unfortunate story from your reading of it, agree that you yourselves would be dismayed if a friend or acquaintance of your own was to invite you for a weekend retreat in which you were expected to run for your life down a succession of alleyways, each smaller and more unsavoury than the next, while beset on all sides by angry dogs and unpleasant homeowners, and on one particular side by the unruly thugs of a faceless (but surprisingly well-staffed) organisation. You would immediately be able to ascertain, I believe, that such a weekend would not be quite your cup of tea, no matter whether the friend or acquaintance should attempt to sway you with arguments along the motherly line that one is not qualified to judge an experience (or foodstuff) until one is in the midst of it (or it is in the midst of you). You would demur, and quite rightly, putting off this terrible experience hopefully forever, or at least until it was thrust upon you against your will - the position, sadly, in which I found myself.

"They're gaining on u-!" Scabs yelled, his sentence cut short as he bounced off a trellis, having veered wildly to the left while he looked over his shoulder. I'd had to leap right to avoid his erratic weaving, but it was a lucky stroke, since I realised that directly ahead of me was an upturned wheelbarrow immediately before a compost frame that was twice the height and was in its turn immediately before the fence between this garden and the next. I ran up them like a set of steps and leapt over the fence, landing neatly in the next garden alone.

I briefly considered breaking off from my little group. Surely the Syndicate goons would chase after the much bigger and louder target provided by Scabs, Mucker, and Rantzen? But then again, I thought, what if they didn't? Face to face we might be in with an infinitesimal chance against them as a group, but one my own? The three goons had guns, and I wasn't entirely sure how many rounds they'd already fired at us. If I was with the others I could count on them to absorb perhaps just enough lead to ensure that the enemy was out when they came to me. If I was on my own it wouldn't matter how many bullets the goons had left - any one of them could have pounded me into my component atoms with a hand tied behind his back. No, sad though the realisation was, my best chances were to stay with my partners in crime.

This garden - neatly tended, I noted, with a beautiful range of varicoloured crocuses arrayed in a half-moon around a raised area of decking (well, nobody's perfect I suppose) with a cast-iron-framed park bench in the centre - also had the pleasing property of an unlocked rear gate onto the alley I rushed that way, thinking that it would be the easiest way to escape, only to be brought up short by the sight of a dog in my path.

Now, I may have given the impression by my use of the word dog that it was a normal animal. Not so. I can only assume that hell pays badly, and that this vicious hound, snarling and slathering, poised before me in a posture of mortal aggression, had been forced to take a second job to afford the surgery to remove his two extraneous heads. Should I take one step forward, his stance implied, I should say my goodbyes to my organs lest I never see them again. My only hope was to reason with him, lulling him into acceptance of my continued stay on Earth.

"Good dog," I tried. My greeting was punctuated by the sound of a gunshot.

The hound, sadly, was unimpressed.


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