19: What Evil Lurks
Sunday 15th November, 1998
The First Church of Arklay was a gloomy stone building of Victorian Gothic construction, the same dark grey colour as the sky above it. Pigeons perched in its crevices like sea birds on a cliff's edge; several more were lined up in a row along the edge of a gutter, making foolish noises and fluffing up their feathers. All the same, Lisa was glad to be here, in spite of the church's forbidding appearance. She'd promised, after all. Church attendance, in return for their deliverance from the evils contained within Umbrella's laboratory complex. It seemed only fair.
Perhaps things have been going wrong because I haven't gone to church like I promised I would, she pondered. All this... maybe it's punishment for not keeping up my end of the bargain. Or maybe it's just a reminder of all the things God's still protecting us from, and a hint that I should appreciate divine intervention a bit more than I do. Never mind. I'm here now, and I'm going to set things straight.
The church was surprisingly warm inside; more modern in design than the exterior, with faux-wood panelling and new carpet. Lisa stared at her surroundings, quietly dismayed. She'd expected flagstones, candles and carved saints, and all the familiar trappings of a traditional church. Instead, there were electric lights, sad-looking plastic flower arrangements and few other signs of decoration; only the original stained glass windows seemed to have remained intact after the old building's recent, unsympathetic restoration.
It took her a few seconds before she reminded herself that she ought to be ashamed of her judgemental reaction, and she scolded herself silently for it as they made their way towards one of the cheap pine pews. It was of no consequence what the place looked like. When had appearances ever mattered to her, anyway? The first time she'd seen Jack, he'd been the scruffiest person she'd ever met, but it hadn't been a barrier to their friendship, nor had it prevented them from eventually falling in love. If it had, they would both have perished in Raccoon City; instead, they'd survived everything together, from poor first impressions to countless manifestations of horror in the dark.
Horror in the darkness...
She cringed at the memory of their attempted escape from Arklay. They'd vowed never, ever to go near the woods, and they'd even warned Ellie to stay away. And yet, somehow, they'd found themselves running for their lives through the trees, escaping only by some miracle or stroke of luck. Jack had apologised over and over for his temporary lapse in common sense. Although she'd accepted his apology repeatedly, it still seemed to be troubling his conscience, and he'd lamented his stupidity again over breakfast this morning:
"Dunt know what I be thinkin', Lise. I coulda got us both killed 'cause I dint think straight that day. I guess I just... I dunt know, I just kinda lost it. Couldn't take no more, y'know? I wanted out, even if I have to take the road through the forest, an' I dint listen to you like I should've. Sorry, Lise. For all the things I say an' do that day. An' for thinkin' I could ever leave you behind."
She glanced across at Jack. He was staring at the floor, rather sulkily – it had taken all her powers of persuasion to convince him that this had been worth leaving the house for – but despite this, she thought he still looked handsome. His hair was neatly combed, and a clean white shirt, dark pants and a jacket replaced his usual jeans and t-shirt. Likewise, Lisa had braided her hair and put on a new dress in an effort to look suitably respectable. It was important to keep trying to make a good impression, she'd told herself, even if previous attempts had met with no success.
As her thoughts turned to socialising, Lisa found herself looking around at the other churchgoers. She yearned to see a friendly face, but simultaneously found herself hoping that she and Jack found themselves entirely amongst strangers, because there were faces she didn't want to be able to pick out from the crowd. Cognitive dissonance, her parents had called that once – the confusion and discomfort which resulted when an individual was met with contradictory feelings or beliefs which they struggled to reconcile.
Describing the problem is all very well, thought her consciousness, with a silent sigh. But they never actually told me what to do about it. What good is a diagnosis without a cure?
"Mr Goldberg!" someone called out.
Lisa's head whipped around. Connor was here? Where was he? Perhaps she could get him to sit with her and Jack, and his reassuring presence would rub off on them both. He seemed to have a gift for bringing calm to stressful situations, and being the kind-hearted boy that he was, he would surely do his best to make them feel welcome. Maybe he could even encourage others to do the same.
"Good morning, Dr Brady!" replied a middle-aged man with light hair and thick-rimmed glasses, waving to the person who'd called out. By his side was a solidly-built woman with permed hair and a cornflower-blue suit. They must have been Connor's parents – Lisa could see the resemblance – but there was no sign of their son.
"How are you?" someone else greeted the couple. "No Connor today?"
"No, he wasn't feeling well this morning," answered Mr Goldberg. "Bit of a temperature and a headache. He decided to stay at home in bed."
"Probably the best place for him," agreed his friend. "You wouldn't want him spreading something nasty around, would you?"
"No, indeed," said Connor's father pleasantly. "Good to see you, Norman."
They drifted away and went to find another pew, halfway across the church, where they were greeted by another couple and welcomed to their seats. Lisa tried not to let her disappointment show. There seemed to be nobody here that she recognised – not even Mrs Winfield, who'd always given her the impression of being a regular churchgoer. The pews were almost full now, although nobody had attempted to sit next to them. If Lisa hadn't known any better, she might have thought that the rest of the congregation were giving her and Jack a wide berth.
Don't go where you're not wanted, that's my advice...
A door at the side of the room opened; out came Pastor Malden, in a plain black cassock. He donned a pair of reading glasses, then perked up as he spotted Jack and Lisa.
"Oh, there you are!" he chirped, hurrying over to greet them. "Glad you could make it! Welcome to the First Church of Arklay. Have you met my wife and daughter yet? They're in the front pew. Daphne? Melissa? Come and meet the newest members of our flock!"
A woman and a small girl got up and came over to the pew. The woman was a smiling blonde with curly hair that reminded Lisa a little of Amber, but only a little; Mrs Malden had to be at least a decade older, and had a fuller, curvier build. The little girl was about six years old, with bright eyes, her mother's curls, and her father's fiery red hair. She looked uncomfortable in a frilly pink dress, and kept tugging at the hem of her skirt.
"Don't do that, dear," Mrs Malden chided her. "You'll rip your dress."
"Mommy, I hate dresses," said the small girl, pouting. "Why can't I wear my jeans?"
"So," said Pastor Malden warmly, "this is my wife, Melissa, and our little girl, Daphne. Darlings, these are..."
He stopped, perplexed.
"Oh dear," he said, and started to frown. "I never did get your names, did I?"
"Lisa Hartley," said Lisa. She made a gesture to Jack, who looked up and tried to smile. "And this is Jack Carpenter. We're new in town and we're, uh... staying here for a while. Nice to meet you."
"You too," said the pastor's wife, beaming. "Glad you could come along!"
"Mommy!" insisted Daphne, now pulling at her mother's sleeve. "Mommy, I don't want to wear stupid dresses! I want to go home and change! I'm uncomfortable!"
"Sorry," said Mrs Malden, with an apologetic look at them. "Yesterday she told me that she had to wear dresses because she was a princess. This morning she said she's tired of princesses and wants to be an astronaut. You know how they are at this age."
Lisa didn't, but she smiled politely.
"Well, I guess it's about time we got started," announced Pastor Malden. "All right, girls, you can head on back now. Go make yourselves comfortable. Jack, Lisa, thanks again for coming. Hope you enjoy the service!"
He darted off before Lisa could think of anything else to say, and hastened up to the podium in front of the altar, ready to address his congregation.
"Dear friends and neighbours," he began, in a loud voice that resonated around the room. "Today we welcome two new members of our flock – Jack and Lisa. Please make them feel at home, and remember the words of Leviticus, chapter 19, verses 33-34. When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God."
There were muffled "Amens" and nodded heads, but Lisa couldn't help noticing that several other people had turned around to look at them. Their expressions were neutral, guarded, and careful not to show any emotion. She swallowed hard and looked down at the floor, uncomfortable under their scrutiny.
"They all be lookin' at us," Jack whispered. He didn't look happy. "Think maybe we should go?"
Lisa reached for his hand and grasped his fingers in hers.
"It's all right," she whispered back. "Everything's going to be fine."
"Our sermon today is about doing God's work by loving others, and resisting the evil in our midst even as it seeks to lead us astray," intoned the pastor. "But first, we will begin with a hymn – "The Lord Is My Shepherd", on page 104."
Organ music began playing from somewhere in the church. Lisa craned to look for the source, as Jack picked up a hymn book and began ruffling through the pages. A small electronic organ was set off to one side of the church, almost hidden from her view by the row of pews on the left. The instrument looked, and sounded, almost as creaky and arthritic as the person perched on the piano stool – a short and very elderly woman who seemed to have skipped death entirely and headed straight on to mummification. She thumped furiously away at the keys as if she bore them a lifelong grudge.
The people assembled in the pews began to pick up the words of the hymn, slowly at first, then with more volume and vigour. Pastor Malden led the singing enthusiastically, with a loud, clear voice. It was a familiar hymn to Lisa, but Jack stumbled several times over the notes and looked around, uncertainly, to see if anybody was about to yell at him for it.
"Please be seated," said Pastor Malden, when the hymn ended and the organ's notes died away.
The congregation took their seats, and the priest began his sermon.
"The Bible warns us in the First Epistle of Peter that we should be sober-minded, and watchful, for our adversary the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. And truly, there is evil all around us in this world. Everywhere we look about, there is vice, depravity and sin; some sins we already know about, and yet there are many more laid out to ensnare us, traps for our souls which we frequently fail to spot. Too often, we seek revenge and call it justice; we inflict cruelty on others, and call it punishment. In such ways are we deceived into thinking that our actions are fair and just, and thus led away from the path of righteousness."
Lisa found herself nodding.
"Spite, callousness and the desire for revenge run contrary to the will of Our Lord. We all know that we must love our neighbour, but the Lord Jesus Christ commanded us also to love our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us. Instead of seeking vengeance when we feel we have been wronged, we must learn to forgive, and love them as we love our friends, family and neighbours."
Lisa's thoughts flew to Jake, Karen, and their followers. It was good advice, in theory, but she was struggling with the thought of turning the other cheek and making herself more vulnerable to those whose aim seemed to be to humiliate and hurt her. It sounded like such a simple concept in theory, but putting it into practice would be a whole different ball game.
"Many of you will struggle with this idea," Pastor Malden said solemnly. "At times, we all have doubts as to whether or not we can truly forgive those who have hurt us. But do not shun your fellow man – instead, seek to love him and embrace him as your brother."
Jack coughed a little, but covered his mouth with his hand to muffle the noise.
"Persevere in loving your brothers and sisters, and in showing compassion and care to others," Pastor Malden continued. "Minister to the sick, seek out the lonely and unloved, give aid to the poor and needy, and comfort those who are fearful. Be steadfast and resolute in doing God's work, and do not succumb to apathy and cruelty. Remember, God is love!"
Jack coughed again, somewhat awkwardly, but Lisa found herself nodding along with the sermon. Oh, how she wished people would listen to those words and show kindness to her and Jack. Few people in town welcomed their presence, and they felt alone and afraid more often than not. Would people heed Pastor Malden's words and begin to accept them and show compassion? Or would they ignore the sermon's message and carry on much as before?
She looked over at Jack. He was still coughing. She reached over to tap him on the back, but it only seemed to make matters worse; the rasping, choking sound at the back of his throat grew even louder. A couple of people were looking over their shoulders at him and glaring; Lisa did her best to smile helplessly back.
"Sorry!" she mouthed, and tried again to tend to her boyfriend. He was bent almost double now, coughing painfully into his hands.
"But as for those who do the Devil's work and shun the Word of God, who creep in amongst us like snakes and seek to spread misery, hatred and discord, we must resist them with all our might and shun their evil ways," declared Pastor Malden, who seemed to be really hitting his stride. "Resist them! Remember the words of the Book of James: Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you!"
Jack's breath stopped suddenly in his throat and he took away his hands from his face. Lisa was about to ask him if he was feeling better when she saw the huge spots of crimson in his palms. Blood was streaming from both nostrils and dripping onto his hands, coursing down his fingers and the front of his shirt in a macabre waterfall of unstoppable red.
Lisa gasped in dismay and looked around her for something to help staunch the bleeding, while Jack looked down in terror at his blood-covered hands. He was trying to say something, and his lips moved a little, but no words came out.
"Jack, it's all right, it's just a nosebleed," she told him, trying to keep the fear out of her voice. "Stay calm. Just sit really still, lean forward, and pinch your nose shut. The pressure should stop the bleeding."
Jack did as she said, but the advice seemed to make little difference. Lisa tried desperately to remember what else you were supposed to do for people with uncontrollable nosebleeds, but the rest of her First Aid knowledge seemed to have deserted her. She attempted to help Jack pinch his nose shut, in the hope of stemming the flow of lukewarm blood, but it was like trying to hold back a river with open arms. Now her hands were stained crimson too, and it still wouldn't stop. The colour in Jack's face seemed to be draining straight out of his nose, and the smell of damp iron was becoming overpowering.
"Uh... someone? Please, is there a doctor here? We need some help," she called out, in the hope of attracting attention.
A few people turned and saw her and Jack, both covered in blood. Lisa felt the familiar feelings of panic and shame grip her by the chest as gasps and frightened yells rose up from the pews, but she tried to stay calm.
It's going to be okay. If they're anything like the pastor, they won't pass by on the other side. Even if they're angry about the mess on the carpet or something, they won't let anything bad happen to two kids in their church. They'll help us, right?
But instead of seeing concern and compassion in the faces around her, Lisa saw only looks of revulsion.
"Ugh, he's bleeding all over the church!" she heard a woman shriek in disgust. "Get him out of here! Have you no shame?"
"How dare you defile this holy place, you... you blasphemers!" shouted someone else, from the front of the church. "Take your perverted devil-worship somewhere else!"
"What are you talking about? He's not blaspheming, he's having a nosebleed!" said Lisa, shocked. "Look, I'm really sorry about the mess, but he isn't doing it on purpose, okay? I think he needs medical attention! Someone get him a doctor!"
Pastor Malden's sermon had been continuing in the background, but as the priest looked up from his prayer book and realised that something was amiss, his words trailed off into thin air, and he took on an expression of quiet concern.
"Oh dear! He seems to have fallen ill – is there someone here who can help him?"
"Please," Lisa begged, looking around again. Her hands were slick with blood and Jack's face was a sickly white. "Someone?"
Their entreaties were met with ringing silence. Nobody stepped forward; the other people in the church were all glancing at each other, waiting for someone else to assist, or simply casting foul looks in Jack's direction.
"Now, really, this is quite unseemly!" protested Pastor Malden, raising his voice as his congregation began to murmur. "This poor child is unwell and needs assistance! Aren't we supposed to help each other in times of need? As good Christians, we - "
The little old lady stood up abruptly from her seat at the organ. Lisa had never seen a look of such hatred etched into the wrinkles and crevices of someone's face.
"That thing is not a good Christian!" she shrilled, narrowing her eyes and stabbing a long, withered index finger at Jack. "He's a demon! What good Christian starts bleeding like that when the Word of God is invoked? Don't you see? He's possessed! Depart from this place, spawn of Lucifer! Begone! In the name of Jesus, begone!"
Nobody challenged her thundering denunciation. In fact, to Lisa's incredulity, a couple of people began to join in, chanting "Begone, in the name of the Lord!", as they formed a half-circle around the pew and pointed accusing fingers. She looked desperately at Pastor Malden, hoping for backup; the priest was starting to make indignant noises and attempting to push through the crowd, but he was being blocked by his parishioners at every turn.
"Have you all lost your minds?" he spluttered. "Stop this nonsense! I – what are you doing? Stop that! Let me go!"
Two burly members of his flock had grabbed him by the shoulders, and dragged him backwards, towards the altar. He looked badly shaken, and his face was taking on an unhealthily pale tinge, but he was still protesting feebly:
"Have you no respect for a man of the cloth? I won't have violence here in my church! Stop this at once!"
Mrs Malden stood up sharply from her pew and ran over to assist her husband, grabbing the arm of one man and trying to tug him away from the struggling pastor.
"Stop it! Leave my husband alone!" she exclaimed. "Didn't you hear a word of what he said? About love, and showing strangers kindness and welcome?"
"What kind of priest welcomes evil in our midst?" snarled the man, pushing her away, so hard that she tripped backwards and fell against a pew. "You really want that thing in our church, desecrating this holy place with blood and spreading his evil to the rest of us!"
Mrs Malden looked up at him, open-mouthed and appalled, but apparently lost for words.
"No! He's not evil! He's just a child – he's ill! Someone help him!" Pastor Malden was still shouting over the noise.
Somewhere in the crowd, Daphne Malden started to shriek for her parents, but she was silenced by a woman in a lavender dress, who clapped her hands over the child's mouth. The little girl's screams were muffled behind the woman's fingers, but Lisa could still hear her:
"No! Don't hurt my daddy! Mommy! Don't let them hurt Daddy!"
Lisa looked around, terrified and confused, at the crowd pressing in around them. What should she do first? Defend Jack and hang onto him with all her might; rush to the aid of the pastor and his family; or simply grab Jack's hand and make a run for it, even if she had to fight her way out?
She tried to help Jack up from the pew, but before she could figure out what to do next, the townspeople were upon them both; hands reached out towards them, clutching at their arms and clothes. Lisa thought in a split-second of the pale, grasping hands of the undead, mindlessly reaching out for flesh. She slapped them away angrily, and managed to push one man back before he could take hold of her, but suddenly there were even more people around her. Too strong to fight off, too numerous to push away, they surrounded her and Jack utterly – and then they fell upon them both.
For a moment, she wondered if this was the end, and her death would come at the hands of a furious mob. Instead, she found herself being pulled away from Jack by half a dozen people, all of them chanting:
Lisa struggled, kicked and yelled, but the people of Arklay were relentless; she grabbed Jack's hand again and tried to hang onto him, but his fingers slipped through hers; with a helpless look on his face, he disappeared into the crowd, pulled backwards by stronger hands.
She reached out once more for his hand, frantically trying to part the crowd and get to him, but a multitude of unseen hands lifted her up off her feet, and she found herself being unceremoniously picked up and carried towards the doors.
"What are you doing? Where's Jack? Jack!" she yelled.
Still wriggling and squirming, she looked desperately over her shoulder to see where Jack was, and spotted him at last. Unlike Lisa, he seemed to have no strength left to resist his captors, but he was being given much rougher treatment; a couple of men were dragging him out of the church by his feet. His eyes were closed, and a thin line of blood was still trickling from his nose onto the carpet, dyeing it a darker shade of maroon.
"Are you people insane?" Lisa screamed at the top of her lungs, and she tried to wrest a foot free, in the hope of kicking one of her captors in the head. "All we wanted was your help! Let go of me! If you hurt Jack, I swear I'll - "
The doors opened in front of her, and suddenly she felt every hand let go of her at once; she felt her whole body tense as the world came up to meet her, but it did nothing to soften the impact. She hit the asphalt face-first, and for a few seconds, all she could think of was the pain. Then Jack was dropped next to her, in an untidy, bloody heap, and her grazed hands and face were forgotten in an instant.
She scrambled on all fours to his side and felt for his pulse. He was unconscious, and breathing in a ragged fashion. The bleeding seemed to have slowed, for now at least. Still alive, but not okay.
Dizzy from her fall, but furious enough to take on an army, Lisa picked herself up from the road and turned around to face the mob with wild, angry eyes. But as she was about to launch into a tirade of abuse, the doors slammed shut, so hard that the iron knockers rattled briefly against the wood. She heard a click as the lock turned on the other side, and then there was silence.
The air outside tasted like rain in Lisa's mouth as she stood outside the church, breathing hard, and staring at the locked doors with an expression that could have burned holes in the wood. Thunder rumbled, somewhere in the distance.
"You assholes," she said, with a tightness in the back of her throat. Her eyes were burning, but she wasn't going to cry. Not because of the raw, grazed flesh on her palms, or because of these people. No matter how alone she was in trying to help Jack and herself, or how hopeless everything now seemed.
She wiped a tear away harshly, then stooped down and tried to pick Jack up from the ground where he lay. After a few false starts, she managed to lift him up under the arms and get him into something approaching a standing position.
"Come on, Jack," she said, grunting softly as she tried to straighten up again. "Let's go."
She shifted a little more of his weight onto her shoulder, put one arm around his waist to support him, and started to stumble forward. If she could just get them to Ellie's house... Ellie would know what to do.
The road ahead seemed impossibly long, and Jack was much heavier than his slender build suggested, but Lisa forced herself to stagger on, step by step. There seemed to be no other option than to carry on walking.
After a few minutes, Jack stirred, like someone waking from a long, deep sleep. She heard a low groan, and then a dry, hoarse cough, a few inches from her ear. She winced a little at the sound, but turned to look at him.
"Hey," she said softly. "Are you still with me?"
"Yeah... no... yeah. I guess. What happen back there?"
He was still leaning on her, unwilling or unable to straighten up completely. His voice was quiet and weak. It brought Lisa's mind back in an instant to the way he'd sounded when he was dying, in the accursed laboratory hidden beneath her hometown. Even then, she hadn't felt as utterly bereft of hope as she did now. The idea that she and Jack might find refuge from their troubles in Arklay's only place of worship had been crushed; instead they'd been cast out and left to fend for themselves, despite the priest's plaintive calls for sanity. He'd tried to stand up for them. She couldn't fault him for that. But his flock...
"Lise?" repeated Jack, from her shoulder.
"They threw us out," said Lisa, tight-lipped with anger. She put both arms around him and held him close, as much for her own reassurance as to comfort Jack. "You had the worst nosebleed I've ever seen, and apparently that means you're possessed by the Devil. What the hell do they do with doctors in these parts? Burn them at the stake? What kind of church casts out someone in need?"
"I dunno, but I think we just get excommunicated," said Jack.
Lisa looked back at the church over her other shoulder. The building was blurry and indistinct through a mist of tears.
"Some help they were," she said, with as much scorn as she could dredge up. She rubbed the moisture from her eyes again, with the back of one hand. "Well – the hell with them. Who cares what they think? They're the monsters, not us. That poor priest has his work cut out for him."
Lisa tried to take Jack's hand, but he lost his footing and lurched giddily forward - only a quick move from her kept him from falling face-first into the sidewalk. She helped him back onto his feet, and allowed him to lean on her shoulder for support again.
"Come on, Jack," she said. "We need to get you to a doctor. You don't look too good."
Jack wiped his nose and straightened up a little as they continued their slow, ungainly progress down the street.
"Ain't a bad idea. How we gonna pay for that?"
Lisa faltered, and stopped.
"I... I don't know. But I'll think of something. We have to - "
Tyres screeched in the distance as a car slammed on its brakes; a sleek, dark sedan with tinted windows. The vehicle drew sharply to a halt alongside them, and the front passenger window rolled down in a purr of electrics. The man sitting inside was bland and anonymous-looking; the kind of person you'd pass in the street without a glance. He wore a dark suit and tie, and mirrored sunglasses – an odd choice, Lisa thought, on a day without sunshine.
"Excuse me," he said gruffly.
"I'm sorry, sir, but if you're asking for directions, I don't think we can't help you," said Lisa, summoning up her last remaining measure of courtesy. It didn't quite hide the strain in her voice. "As everyone in town keeps reminding us, we're not from around here. Now if you'll excuse us, we have some stuff we need to take care of."
But the man wasn't paying attention. He'd glanced over to the driver of the car – another man in a suit and sunglasses, almost hidden in the gloom.
"That them?" he asked his companion.
"Yeah, that's them all right," the driver muttered back.
The man stuck his head out of the window again.
"You two," he said, beckoning them closer. "The Mayor wants to see you."
Lisa let out a sharp breath.
"Then he's the only person in town who does," she said, more irritably. "Tell him we'll call and make an appointment."
The man's expression changed. It was hard to tell behind the sunglasses, but he appeared to be frowning.
"It wasn't a request, kid. The Mayor wants to see you now."
"Good for him. Tell him he can't always have what he wants," Lisa retorted, and walked straight past the car. Her heart started to pound in her chest; she could hear the thudding in her eardrums as she tried to keep her pace and breathing steady. Jack followed her, still hanging onto her for support, and eyeing the car uneasily as he looked behind him.
The car pulled forward a few feet and drew level with them again.
"Kid, this isn't a joke," said the man. Now he was scowling rather more visibly. "Get in the car. Both of you."
"No way!" said Lisa, much louder. "We're not going anywhere with you! What do you think we are, stupid?"
"Yeah, we ain't that dumb! You really think we gonna buy some lousy excuse 'bout the Mayor an' let you kidnap us right off the street?" said Jack, giving them an odd look. "The Mayor ain't gonna be at City Hall on a Sunday. Even if he be there, what'd he wanna see us for anyway? We dunt know the guy, an' he dunt know us neither."
"Exactly! He's not going to send for a couple of high-school kids he's never even met," said Lisa. "Sorry, but we're not buying that excuse. You're obviously just some pervert trying to pick up teenagers. Now get out of here, or we'll call the police!"
"Yeah, the police. Whatever. Real funny, kid," said the man. His expression could not have been more utterly devoid of mirth. "Look, the Mayor told us to come fetch you. He already heard about what happened in the church and he is pissed. Now you can come with us, or you can have us call the cops and get them to drag you there kicking and screaming, but either way, you're going to the Mayor's office. Now."
"Like hell we are," said Jack defiantly, but he looked over at Lisa with a little trace of worry in his eyes. It was a trace that they both had in common, thought Lisa. Her insides were starting to churn. How did they know about the church incident?
She drew herself up and tried to adopt the haughty expression her mother had always used on obstinate public officials.
"We are not going anywhere with you, and that's that," she said. Her voice was cold and stiff. "My mother warned me about weirdos like you! We're not going to let you abduct us! Now get lost!"
The man sighed, rather impatiently, and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"All right. It's not like I didn't warn you. You want to do this the hard way? We'll do it the hard way..."
The passenger door opened. So did the driver's side door. The men in suits both got out, almost in perfect unison, and strode towards them.
Something in Lisa wanted to panic, and a few muscles tensed themselves into a frozen position, but after all that she'd been through, the rest of her knew better than to stand still and scream. The instinct to turn and flee took over, and she hurled herself in the opposite direction, launching into a dead run and dragging Jack after her.
Jack ran with rather less grace than Lisa, and he was still trying to hang onto her arm for support, but he was easily matching her pace. Of the two, he'd always been the better runner, he thought, rather giddily. After all, he was used to running away from things. Whatever the peril was - zombies, gang members, high-school rivals, the cops, even his own past - he usually found a way to outrun it, and he wasn't about to let danger catch up with him today.
"Hey, come back here!" yelled the first man, immediately giving chase, as the car's driver ran back to the vehicle and began rummaging around in the footwell. "I already told you kids, you're going to see the Mayor one way or the other! You can ride in the back, the trunk or on the damn roof in the rain, it doesn't make a lick of difference to me! But this is your last chance to come along peaceably! Do not make us catch up with you!"
"Get away from us!" Lisa yelled over her shoulder.
"Lisa, dunt waste you breath!" Jack shouted across to her. "Just run, 'kay?"
"Where?" she gasped.
"Ain't there a police station near the school?" he panted in response.
There was, Lisa recalled. A small and shabby one, which didn't seem to have seen much use in recent times, but police officers occasionally went in and out of the building, so it still saw at least a modicum of activity. Arklay's boys in blue wouldn't be pleased about the havoc which she and Jack had unwittingly wrought at the church, but they were bound to take a much dimmer view of attempted child abduction. If it came to that, she could always drop Amber's name. The cops here were bound to have had some contact with the Raccoon City police in the past, so they'd know her, or at least have heard of her and her friends from STARS. Even if STARS and the RPD were both technically defunct, the names still had to count for something...
Her legs were starting to feel heavy beneath her, and it was getting harder for her breathing to keep up with her pace. Why hadn't she tried harder to get fit after discovering in Raccoon City that she needed to be able to outrun whole hosts of dangers? Why hadn't she paid more attention in Phys Ed, again, and learned from the last time she'd realised that she wasn't fit enough to run like this for more than a minute or two? Scolding herself for her athletic shortcomings, Lisa tried to keep running, but she had the horrible feeling that she wasn't going to make it across town to the police station. The moment she had to stop for breath, which would be soon, those men would catch up with them and -
She tried to dismiss the thought of what might happen if they did catch up with her, and forced herself to keep going. Her lungs seemed constricted by her own ribs and her breath felt thin and weak in her throat, but she couldn't stop. She couldn't.
She risked a look back, to see if their would-be kidnappers had abandoned their pursuit. She was surprised, at first, to see that the man was running back to the car. Had he and the driver given up?
Her hopes were dashed when the car engine erupted back into life and the vehicle came speeding after them. It veered suddenly towards the pavement, then cut in front of them; Lisa closed her eyes and covered her face with her free arm, anticipating the horrible crash that would pin her and Jack against the nearest wall. She saw their lives ending in that moment; crushed bones, blood gushing from severed arteries, unspeakable pain and the sensation of falling, as their blood pressure slowed to nothing and then -
When the pain never came, Lisa opened her eyes again and saw that the car had stopped just ahead of where she'd been standing. It had missed her, and Jack, by about three inches. Still gasping from the shock of the near-miss, but with no more time to think about what might have happened, she tried to climb over the hood of the car and escape.
"No you don't!"
Arms grabbed her around the waist and pulled her backwards. She screamed and flailed as her captor brought her to the ground. The arms which surrounded her had suit-jacket sleeves, dark with a faint pinstripe, and crisp linen cuffs which smelled like fresh detergent. A gold watch, the second hand ticking away as if all of this was completely normal. She caught a faint whiff of cologne from the man's neck.
"Let go of me, you creep!" she raged, kicking uselessly at nothing and clawing, with increasingly frenzied motions, at the arms which held her. "You're not taking us anywhere!"
That was when she realised that Jack was no longer holding onto her. Both her arms were free. They shouldn't have been free.
Panic gripped her heart with ice-cold hands.
Jack! When did we get separated? Where is he?
She heard Jack cursing in full-volume Spanish, and turned her head as far as she could to one side. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the car's driver bundling Jack roughly into the back seat.
She screamed a hoarse, lung-rending scream and wrenched her body right around to try and escape the stranger's grip. She heard swearing behind her, and she lunged forward, not enough to break free, although just far enough to catch a glimpse of Jack. He was trying desperately to fight his way back out onto the street, although the driver was hanging onto his legs to prevent his escape.
"Lemme go!" he was yelling, trying to kick the man's arms away so he could crawl back out through the open rear passenger door. His fingers were scrabbling against the leather seats. "Lise! Help!"
"Jack!" she yelled back, and lashed out against her attacker's kneecaps. It worked, after a fashion, and she managed to wrestle one arm free, but her fingers found only empty air before she was hauled straight back into an iron-clad embrace.
"Let me go, you bastard!" she screamed again. Her teeth snapped shut just shy of the man's sleeve. "You're not taking us! I won't let you!"
"It's the Mayor's office, kid, not Alcatraz! Jeez!" complained the car's driver, inside the shadows of the vehicle. "The hell's wrong with you?"
"You heard about the church?" grunted a voice from somewhere behind Lisa's head. "The mayhem these two caused? That old lady from the church warned us they were trouble!"
"She wasn't kidding! This one just kicked me in the head!" shouted back the man from the car. "For crying out loud, get that brat under control and get her in here so we can go!"
"We're not going anywhere!" Lisa snarled at the man behind her. He'd released one of his arms, perhaps unable to hold onto her any longer, and now she was struggling against the other arm. She was almost free. Almost! "If you don't let me go, then I – agh!"
Her protestations ended in a squeal of pain as something sharp was jabbed into the back of her neck.
"Sorry, kid," said the man behind her, very flatly. "But enough is enough. You two are coming with us. We told us not to make us come after you."
"You..." Lisa rasped, but the rest of her insult was cut off by a cold stinging in her veins. It seemed to be creeping through her blood as fast as it could flow, and she could feel the icy sensation reaching down into her lungs. Her hands darted up to her throat as it started to tighten. Her breathing felt much too thin, and came in little gasps.
Whatever had been stuck into her neck was abruptly withdrawn. The force of it jerked her head back almost as far as it would go.
A syringe. He just injected me with something. That son of a bitch!
"What did you do to me?" she tried to scream, but the words got stuck in her mouth and came out as a terrified choking sound. When she attempted again to force her arms and legs into motion, she realised that she couldn't move. Her limbs felt leaden and useless. Whatever she'd been drugged with, it was shutting her body down, muscle by muscle.
She moved her mouth helplessly, and tried to open her eyelids wider, even as she felt them begin to droop. She couldn't let consciousness elude her. Not now! She had to find some way to escape, or at least stay awake. If she fell asleep...
No, no, I can't -
But her efforts were in vain. Her legs were giving way beneath her. Weak, terrified, but suddenly, hopelessly tired, she couldn't keep her eyes open any longer.
"Lise!" she could hear Jack shouting, but his voice was growing ever more distant and dim. "Lise!"
It was the last sound she heard before black uncertainty enveloped her, and unseen hands cast her into a pit of endless darkness.
She'd been asleep for hundreds of years. They'd passed in seconds. She remembered hints of her parents and her home. Faces, names. Suggestions of things she'd once known, buried deeply in her mind. There had been a flutter of wings, and someone urgently trying to tell her something, but whatever the message had been, it was already lost.
The blackness of sleep blurred, and became light. Grey light, the kind she was now growing accustomed to seeing. She could hear the dull thrumming of a car engine beneath her head.
She tried to sit up from her prone position, and felt her face peel gently away from the leather seat. She managed to lift up her head, just enough, to work out where she was.
"Muh," she mumbled, through dry lips. "Mwah? Wha'?"
"Lise," Jack whispered in her ear. He was propped up in the seat next to her, his hands and feet bound tightly with duct tape. "Oh, man. Thank God. I dint think you were gonna wake up."
"What's going on?" she whispered back. "Where are they taking us?"
"Look like City Hall," Jack answered, in as low a voice as he could manage. "Guess they ain't lyin' 'bout the Mayor's office after all."
The two men were sitting in the front of the car, staring ahead at the road. If they'd noticed the conversation going on behind them, they were showing no reaction to it.
"If this is how the Mayor treats his guests of honour, then I think we'd better get out of here," Lisa muttered. "He sounds like even more of a jerk than his son. If that's even possible."
Jack grinned suddenly. It was an unnerving expression on a face still stained with blood.
"Hey, dunt worry, chica. I think I got a plan to get us outta this. See if you can get this tape off me without 'em noticin'..."
"How?" she mouthed back.
Jack leaned over and kissed her. With a small gasp, she pulled her lips just far away enough from his to speak.
"What on earth are you doing?" she breathed.
"Play along," he hissed, and drew her back into another passionate kiss.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the man in the passenger seat purse his lips and turn his head away towards the window. He'd been paying attention to what they were doing... at least until now.
Then it struck her, and she understood. Public make-outs were a guaranteed way to get adults to look away in disgust from their teenage charges. What better way to ensure that nobody would pay close attention to their activities?
Jack, you're a genius, she wanted to tell him. Public displays of affection are definitely only of interest to the participants. Why didn't I think of that?
Instead, she played her part and put her arms around him.
"Mmm, Jack," she said loudly and deliberately. At the edge of her vision, she saw the driver wince very visibly and avert his gaze from the rear view mirror. "You're, like, the best kisser."
She slid one hand down Jack's arm, letting her fingertips brush against his shirt and skin until she could feel the edges of the duct tape that bound his wrists together. Still kissing him in the most cringe-inducing way she could feign, she started to pick away with her fingernail at the duct tape's edge.
"Ugh, I hate teenagers," she heard the driver groan. "The sooner we drop these two off with the Mayor, the better. This was supposed to be our day off."
"Yeah, yeah," the passenger replied. He sounded bored. "Shut up already. We'll be there in a few minutes and then you won't have to deal with these stupid kids again. Just ignore them."
Yes, thought Lisa, still picking away at the duct tape and pressing her face against Jack's, please ignore us. I think I've finally got the edge of this thing. Just a little more...
She'd pried away a corner of the tape. Only a small amount, but it was loose enough to lift up and peel back. She picked it up slowly, and with care, began to draw it back. Jack pressed his body a little closer to hers, careful to shield her hands from view as she worked to untie his wrists.
His hands remained bound in front of him – but not for long, Lisa thought, starting to smile beneath the relentless kisses. She kept unwinding the thick grey tape, little bit by little bit, until the last sticky layer peeled away from Jack's skin. She felt him flinch a little as the adhesive ripped some of the fine blond hairs from his forearms, but he didn't cry out.
With her mouth still stuck to his, Lisa glanced down at Jack's ankles, even as he surreptitiously shook some life back into his hands. Removing the tape from around his legs was going to be a more difficult affair – she would either be noticed immediately, or have to up her distraction technique to unseemly levels. Neither option held much appeal.
Okay, now what? I – wait, Jack! What are you doing?
In a single, swift movement, he broke away from her and grabbed the tape on his ankles, wriggling his feet to loosen it and then ripping it away with a flourish.
"What the - ?"
Jack lunged forward, grabbed the driver and wrapped his forearms tightly around the man's neck from behind. The man in the passenger seat cried out – part anger, part alarm – and leaned over to intervene, but Jack swiftly elbowed him in the face and continued his efforts to subdue the driver.
Stunned, Lisa sat there and tried to work out what to do. Whatever sedative she'd been injected with was starting to wear off, but her head was still swimming and she couldn't quite shake the feeling of confusion that she'd woken up with. What Jack was doing was clearly reckless and foolish, but then again, being kidnapped, drugged and taken to the Mayor's office for purposes unknown was hardly without its hazards. Was risking an escape really more dangerous than sticking around to see what happened next?
If we survive the car crash, that is, because a car with an unconscious driver is almost certainly going to hit something, her anxiety babbled away behind everything. But if we survive that, all we have to do then is find a way to hide out from the Mayor in his own town. They must already know where we live. Sure, we could get out of town, but that thing in the woods must still be out there, and I don't want to bet on being able to escape a second time. But if we do let them take us to the Mayor's office – if that's really where they're taking us – what happens then? What if they've got an Umbrella representative waiting to take us away to God knows where? They'll kill us, or experiment on us, or – or -
"Lise! Gimme a hand!"
Jack's yell snapped her back to reality. She blinked, and looked across at him to see him still grappling with the driver. The man was struggling against Jack's choke-hold, but seemed to be losing. His breath was becoming ragged, his flailing arms less wild, and the colour in his face was changing.
"What the hell are you doing, kid?" the man in the passenger seat cried out. He was trying to pull Jack's arms away from the driver's throat. "Are you trying to get us all killed? Let go before you – hey!"
Lisa reacted at last, and grabbed the man's arms, clamping her fingers around them and holding on as tightly as she could. With an immense effort, she pulled him back off Jack and tried to pin him back against his seat so that he couldn't move. He was much, much stronger than her, and struggling hard; it was all that she could do to hold him in place, and then only barely.
"Jack, whatever you're going to do, hurry up!" she called out. "I don't think I can hold him for long!"
The driver gave a little sigh, and his eyes rolled back into his head. He slumped to one side as Jack released him. As he did so, his arm caught on the car's steering wheel and pulled it hard to the left.
"Whoa!" Jack cried, and tried to clamber into the front of the car to correct the steering. The man in the front passenger seat started to scream and shake his head.
"No! Let me go, or we're going to crash!"
"We ain't gonna crash!" Jack retorted, with one arm and his upper body stretched across the driver's seat.
Lisa leaned over to see which assessment was correct. Her breath jumped up in her throat when she saw the answer approaching at full speed. They were entering Central Square, and veering off the road towards the fountain.
"Jack, straighten it up!" she yelled at him. "He's right, we're going to crash!"
Jack leaned across further and, finally, grabbed the steering wheel.
"No we ain't! If I can just - "
The fountain was beginning to fill the view through the front windshield. Lisa opened her mouth to scream.
With a horrible crunch of metal, the car ploughed into the fountain. The front windshield broke into a pattern of spiderwebs and then imploded, showering the interior with glass. The man in the passenger seat landed face-first in the airbag as it deployed and ballooned outwards, but the driver's airbag caught Jack full in the chest and propelled him backwards into the rear passenger seats. He hit the back of the seats hard and fell face-down into the leather, groaning.
"Oh God," he moaned. "Madre de Dios. Ow."
Lisa lifted her arms away from her head. She'd ducked down and crouched into a brace position in the footwell without even thinking; instinct seemed to have overridden everything, including any thought she might have had to try and grab Jack. She uncurled herself slowly and got up.
"Jack?" she said nervously, touching his shoulder.
"'m fine, Lise," he mumbled, and shook her off. "Dunt worry. C'mon. We gotta get outta here b'fore those guys wake up an' try to kill us."
Lisa fumbled at the rear door and managed to get it open. She half-climbed, half-fell out of the opening and heard Jack clamber out after her.
"They aren't dead, are they?" she said, looking back at the car. The front was a crumpled mess of metal, smashed against the fountain wall. Bits of bodywork and broken headlight glass littered the paving slabs. The two men in the front seats were still slumped against their respective airbags, and covered in glass.
"Nah, dunt think so. Think they just get knocked the hell out. Forget 'em. Time to go, Lise."
She grasped his hand and they started to run back in the direction that they'd driven from.
The voice echoed across the square. Jack and Lisa both froze in place, and turned around. There were two more men standing on the steps of City Hall, both wearing the same dark suits and sunglasses as the men from the car. One started to run towards the car to assist the people still inside; the other was brandishing a small but lethal-looking pistol in Lisa and Jack's general direction.
"Don't even think about running," warned the one still standing on the steps. He broke off from the pose and approached them, weapon still drawn. He adjusted his aim, pointing the gun directly at them. "After everything that's happened today, you two have a hell of a lot of explaining to do. You're coming with us, to the Mayor's office! No arguments!"
The man who'd rushed to help his colleagues looked younger than the others, with closely-cropped hair and a shorter, slighter build. He'd managed to force open one of the car's dented front doors, and was leading the dazed-looking man from the front passenger seat to safety.
"They're okay, Marino," he reported back to his colleague. "Hunt here is kinda shell-shocked. Donnelly got knocked out, but I think he's starting to come around. I'll take them into one of the meeting rooms and get them checked out."
The man from the front passenger seat, newly identified as Hunt, gave Jack and Lisa a long, venomous stare as he removed his broken sunglasses.
"Those two are more trouble than they're worth, Kidd," he said to his younger colleague, pointing at them. "We had to sedate the girl, and the damn boy almost got us killed! Do me a favour and tell the Mayor that the next time he wants to talk to these two, he can send someone else to pick them up! This is the last time I go on babysitting detail!"
"You mean kidnapping," said Lisa pointedly, as he passed her.
"Anyone dumb enough to ignore the Mayor when he asks them to pay him a visit deserves everything they get," Hunt shot back. "I don't know what he wants with you two, but personally I hope he has you both thrown over a cliff! Good riddance!"
He stormed off, shoving aside Kidd when the younger man attempted to speak to him. Kidd shrugged, and went back to the car to help the driver, who was now conscious and trying to stagger out of the wreckage.
That left Lisa, Jack, and the man holding them at gunpoint. Marino nodded towards the open front doors of City Hall.
"All right. I'm not going to stand here all day and repeat myself. Inside, now. The Mayor's waiting, and you don't keep the Mayor waiting."
Jack and Lisa exchanged looks.
"And we don't get a say in this?" Lisa spoke up. Her voice was starting to shake. Perhaps it was just adrenaline from the aftermath of the crash, but she could feel herself trembling from head to toe. Her breath shuddered in her chest. She felt sick.
"After the stunt you just pulled with our guys, you're lucky I haven't already shot you!" said Marino, raising his voice and lifting the gun a little higher. "Go inside. Now. Do not make me use this!"
There seemed to be no other option but to comply. Reluctantly, looking over their shoulders, Jack and Lisa went up the steps and into City Hall, both wondering if this would be the last time they ever saw daylight.
If the outside of Arklay City Hall was a Victorian classicist's fever-dream, the inside was even more ostentatious; everything around them seemed to be marble, or mosaic tile, or lavishly-carved alabaster and wood. When Lisa and Jack looked up at the chandelier in the entrance hall, they could see gold leaf glimmering on the ceiling.
A golden ceiling. Like anyone looks up at the stupid ceiling. What's the point? I guess it was just another way to show people how much money they could afford to waste, back when they still could, Lisa thought, then realised how ridiculous it was to be angry at long-dead residents for gilding the ceiling. They must have taken a great deal of pride in their town if they'd worked so hard to make a ceiling beautiful. She couldn't really see what there was to be proud of in Arklay, but there must have been a reason, once.
Jack, meanwhile, looked up in awe.
Wow. Wish I could afford a golden ceiling. Maybe if I ever get rich one day...
"This way," Marino ordered, ushering them down the hall.
The hallway itself was lined with glass cases full of fine china, porcelain vases and other antiques. The whole building was a monument to excess; a memorial of kinder, wealthier times, and a town which had once been a destination instead of a mere place. Lisa was beginning to understand the mindset.
People with no future cling so hard to their past. It's all they have left. I can relate. But Arklay's so proud of its history that it can't really accept the good old days are over. A whole town in total denial... no wonder everybody wants us out of here. I think the truth frightens them just as much as the T-Virus. They're trying to pretend everything is all right, but it isn't. It isn't.
Another hallway led off to the right. This one was lined with oil paintings of all sizes, and faded sepia photographs depicting the town in its glory days. Their escort indicated that they should turn that way, with a nod of his head in that direction, and a corresponding movement with his pistol.
Jack and Lisa were led to a door, almost invisible in the panelling that surrounded it. Only the handle and a small brass plaque which read "Waiting Room" differentiated it from the rest of the wall.
"Through here. The Mayor's office is on the other side," said Marino brusquely. "Go straight in. You've kept him waiting long enough already."
He opened the door and practically pushed them through. Lisa looked over her shoulder, hoping to give him one final glower, but the door was slammed in her face before she could react. She sighed instead, and let her shoulders sink.
"This is insanity," she said out loud.
Her words echoed back at her. They were standing in a Baroque-fashioned nightmare of a room, with a ceiling that seemed almost about to collapse under the weight of its own gilt. Marble cherubs stared down with blank, expressionless eyes at the contents of the room – a highly-polished wooden reception desk, an oversized marble fireplace with a gold-framed mirror mounted above it, and a row of empty chairs lined up along one wall.
There was nobody sitting and waiting behind the reception desk. They were alone in the room. Cold, grey light flowed in through the room's windows. A faint rushing sound and some beads of water on the glass indicated that it was beginning to rain outside.
"We could climb out the window," Jack suggested. There was a hint of hope in his face as he looked up at one of the tall apertures.
Lisa shook her head regretfully. She'd been thinking the same thing, but...
"No," she said. She corrected herself. "I mean, we could. I know I don't want to go in there. But you know those goons will be waiting for us outside. I don't want to think about what they might do if we try to escape again."
Jack lowered his eyes.
"Yeah. You prob'ly right, Lise. C'mon. We go see what this pendejo want from us so bad. Then we can get outta here."
The only other door was set in the wall to the right of the reception desk. It needed no introduction, but there was a little brass plaque anyway, neatly engraved with the words "Mayor's Office". Jack and Lisa approached it as though they were being marched towards the smoking caldera of a volcano; hand in hand, nervousness mounting with each step, but no other choice but to gaze into the fiery abyss and wonder if there was any coming back from the edge.
Lisa felt her throat tighten. She didn't want to do this, not at all. The worst part was knowing that whatever happened next wasn't going to go well for them, and having to face it head-on anyway.
Well, we caused chaos at a church and almost killed two of the Mayor's bodyguards after they tried to kidnap us. Of course there isn't going to be a reward. There's going to be yelling, and it's going to be awful. I just hope we get to walk away from it afterwards.
They reached for the doorknob at the same time. They looked at each other as their hands touched, and smiled, just a little bit. But then the door was wrenched open beneath them, and the smile was wiped from their faces.
Mayor Maddigan was standing in the doorway. Lisa caught her gasp before it could escape. She'd heard of strong familial resemblances, but this was uncanny; someone might as well have stuffed Jake in a three-piece suit and fast-forwarded thirty years, for all the difference she could see between the school bully and his father. The Mayor was older, and a little stockier, and a few paler strands were starting to show through the darkness of his hair, but all she could see was the same jawline, the same nose, the same slate-grey eyes and same arrogant, cocksure expression.
"Mr Carpenter," he said. His eyes narrowed a little. "And Miss Hartley. Your reputation precedes you both. I ought to call the police right now and have you thrown into the deepest, darkest cell they have."
"I could say the same about you, Mr Mayor," Lisa blurted out, to her own horror. The words had forced their way out through her mouth without having first sought consent from her brain. "Having your bodyguards assault, drug and abduct a pair of kids because one of them suffered an inconvenient medical emergency isn't exactly going to look good at election time."
A thunderous expression clouded the man's features, and he started to turn pink. Lisa sucked in her breath and took an involuntary step back – the volcano was rumbling, and clearly about to erupt. But to her astonishment, the colour in Mayor Maddigan's face subsided again, and his angry grimace twisted into a strange little smile.
"Well, well. My son was right about you. The meek little mouse who tries her best to roar. I think we're going to have a very interesting conversation. Into my office, please."
"If you insist," said Lisa, more coldly, but she knew it was a weak attempt to summon up Elizabeth Hartley's ghost. Her mother had excelled at that kind of terse, icy politeness – the tone she'd always adopted before she really lost her temper – but being abrupt with people had never come naturally to Lisa, who had inherited her father's milder temperament and willingness to please.
Irritatingly, Mayor Maddigan seemed to have sensed it too; he seemed to be trying hard not to smirk, as if her displeasure amused him. She was already beginning to despise the man.
"As a matter of fact, I do insist," he said. "The bodyguards assigned to protect me are under strict instructions not to let you leave until we've had a little chat. I'm sure you wouldn't want there to be some kind of misunderstanding."
"You mean the kind of misunderstanding where we try to leave and they accidentally shoot us dead?" Lisa retorted.
One of the Mayor's eyebrows flickered upwards, very slightly and very, very briefly.
"Something like that, yes," he said, settling down again. "Now, once again I really must insist that you come in. I'd prefer to chat with you privately about your... situation, so we can have everything properly resolved."
Lisa and Jack filed into the room, and looked around. The Mayor's office was more like a private study; a low-ceilinged room with damask-patterned wallpaper and heavy curtains hanging from the windows. A dark, clunky wooden desk was positioned prominently in the room, with a wing-backed armchair tucked behind it. Glass-fronted bookcases lined the room's far wall, and the remaining walls were decorated with small pictures and photographs. The largest picture of all was an oversized oil painting above the fireplace; it depicted Mayor Maddigan himself, smiling benevolently and holding a pocketwatch in his right hand. Beneath the mantelpiece, a wood fire burned merrily in the grate, as if nothing was amiss and this was a normal winter's day.
The real-life incarnation of the Mayor closed the door softly behind them.
"Sit," he ordered.
There were two chairs, conveniently placed on their side of the desk. They each took a seat, exchanged uncomfortable glances, and then turned to the Mayor as he navigated his way around the desk and sat down in the armchair.
"So," he began, picking up a few papers from the desktop and shuffling them. "Let's discuss your present situation, shall we?"
"Situation?" Jack blurted out. "You mean the psycho church people who tell me I be possessed an' throw us out on our asses 'cause I had a nosebleed?"
"Ah, Mr Carpenter, you finally joined the conversation," said the Mayor, raising his eyebrows. "I was beginning to wonder if you even spoke English. My son tells me you have a poor command of the language. From Mexico, I understand?"
"United States," said Jack shortly. "A citizen too, muchas gracias. I live in Mexico for a long time but I come from this country. An' I speak English okay, so tell Jake he can shove it."
Lisa shifted in her seat, in the uneasy way of a sumo wrestler perched precariously on a Louis Quinze sofa, as the Mayor looked over his papers at Jack.
"Jake also tells me that you and Miss Hartley do not enjoy friendly relationships with him," he said, apparently unmoved by Jack's comment. "Quite the opposite. I'm told that you have very few friends in this town, and the company you do keep is undesirable."
"I don't think the company we keep is any of your business, Mr Mayor," said Lisa, folding her arms across her chest. She'd meant it as a defiant gesture, but now that she looked down at herself, she realised to her horror that she and her dress were covered in blood. She pulled her coat tighter around her in an attempt to hide some of the mess, although she suspected that it was already too late for that.
The Mayor's expression furrowed and darkened.
"I disagree, Miss Hartley. Fighting in school, trespassing at the old hotel site, being thrown out of at least one dining establishment for rude and disrespectful behaviour to the owners - and now this little incident at the church. Tell me, is there a reason why you're trying to antagonize people and stir up chaos wherever you go? Is that little rabble-rouser Eleanor Johnson involved in some way? I note she never seems to be far away whenever you two land yourselves in trouble. Are you doing this at her instigation?"
Lisa and Jack both shook their heads.
"No, sir. This is nothing to do with Ellie."
"Yeah, she dint do nothin'."
The Mayor shot up to his feet and brought both hands down on the desk, slamming them hard against the wood; Jack and Lisa almost jumped out of their seats, and looked up in alarm at the look of fury on his face.
"Then I demand an explanation!" he exploded. "What the hell do you two think you're doing? This town was a quiet, peaceful community until you showed up here! And don't give me any crap about not meaning any harm! I know who you are, and where you came from! Is this some kind of perverse attempt to ruin my town? It is, isn't it? They sent you here to sabotage everything!"
Puzzlement made its way out from beneath Lisa's alarm.
"Sabotage? They? What are you talking about? We don't - "
"Don't play dumb with me, girl!" the Mayor snarled. "I know all about you and your little boyfriend here! Your families died in Raccoon City, and you were brought here by a band of terrorists who blame Umbrella for their deaths! Now you're banding together with Miss Johnson, whose father has been attempting to undermine a crucial redevelopment plan for this town ever since he arrived here, and trying to ruin everything! Well, I won't have it, you understand? I'm not about to allow you to derail my efforts to revitalise the Arklay Mountain region by terrorising the people who live here! I've had it up to here with rumours about zombies and disease! The locals are already saying you've brought some sort of infection up here with you, and that pets are going missing!"
Lisa stood up too, cheeks already flushing with rage. Jack raised a hand to her arm to try and guide her back down into her seat, but she shook him off.
"We were brought here by family friends who wanted to keep us safe after we lost everything we ever knew and loved in Raccoon City! They most certainly aren't terrorists! One of them is a cop, for crying out loud!" she hollered back, leaning across the desk. "Ellie has nothing to do with anything, and actually she's one of the few people in this godforsaken hellhole who's shown us any real kindness!"
She knew she was flying by the seat of her pants and that screaming at the Mayor would make matters worse, but she didn't care any more. Whatever she and Jack did, it always seemed to go horribly wrong, so it wasn't likely to make any real difference. She took a deep breath, and continued.
"And zombies? Disease? Are you kidding me? The only things we brought here with us are the clothes on our backs and enough grief and trauma to last a lifetime! And as for what you said about Ellie's father, that's just ridiculous! If anything, I'm told he's looking into the suspicious amount of real estate paperwork you've been generating! You already own most of the town and you kick people out of their houses when they don't toe the line – is that what they're calling "regeneration" these days? Well, you can't kick us out, Mr Mayor! It's not our apartment and it's not yours, either! Our friend owns it and there's nothing you can do about that!"
She threw herself back down in her seat, breathing hard, but triumphant. What would he have to say to that?
"Well, it's interesting that you should say that," the Mayor said slowly. "For a start, I think you've gravely misunderstood the point of our town's real estate acquisition programme. It may be ambitious, and controversial, but I'm not undertaking the project for selfish personal gain. Tell me, Miss Hartley, have you ever heard of the term eminent domain? In case you haven't, let me summarize it briefly for you. It allows members of federal, state and local government to compulsorily - and legally - purchase properties and areas of land in order to install improvements for the common good. Highways, railway lines, nature reserves, and other things of that nature. The owners of the real property in question are, of course, awarded the appropriate financial compensation. As the Mayor of Arklay and the face of its government, it falls to me to take charge of the eminent domain issues connected to our ongoing regeneration project. Many of the eviction notices served in recent years have been a result of tenants refusing to vacate properties after their landlords agreed to sell up. Regrettable, of course, but necessary. The land is being bought up because the town has been in decline for some years now, and regeneration is needed in order to carry Arklay successfully into the future."
"Nice," Jack piped up. "You can build some new houses and parks to make Arklay look like it ain't 'bout to fall off the mountain. Shame there ain't nothin' you can do 'bout the people who live here, 'cause we've been tryin' to live peacefully since we arrive, but you assholes dunt let us! We get yelled at, told we ain't welcome, beat up in school, attacked in church, kidnapped, tied up, an' those goons of yours even drug my girlfriend! The hell you people tryin' to do to us? Why dunt you just leave us alone? It ain't bad enough that we already lose everythin' an' have to move to this dump, you gotta get the jerks who live here to make our lives hell too?"
"You're welcome to leave at any time, of course," said the Mayor, spreading his hands. "Oh, wait, you don't have anywhere else to go, do you? Your lousy little town's been wiped off the map, and good riddance. Michael Warren was a fool who squandered public money and the generous donations of Umbrella on vainglorious monuments to himself, and didn't take care of fundamental infrastructure and safety issues. The town was one big disaster waiting to happen, and eventually its luck ran out. But I'm not going to make that mistake here in Arklay. In fact, thanks to Umbrella, I think this project will not only put Arklay back on the map, but make it better and more prosperous than Raccoon City ever could have been."
Lisa's mouth dropped open. She looked, aghast, at Jack, and saw that his mouth was similarly agape.
"You gotta be kiddin' me," said Jack, in horrified disbelief. "You want Umbrella to help make Arklay a nice place to live? Seriously?After what they do to Raccoon City?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Mayor Maddigan flatly. "Umbrella did nothing to Raccoon City but try to prevent its demise."
"Prevent its demise? Are you crazy?" Lisa almost shrieked. "Do you know how many people died because of Umbrella?"
"What happened in Raccoon City was a terrible tragedy, to be sure, but I hardly see how Umbrella can be held responsible," said the Mayor, with a sniff. "The outbreak of illness in Raccoon City was a freak occurrence and Mayor Warren's lack of proper investment and preparedness for emergencies only served to make matters worse. Sadly, Umbrella's efforts to develop a cure came too late to save the town. But that's not going to happen here."
"Says who? Who says that can't happen here?" Lisa demanded to know.
"Why on earth would it happen here?" said the Mayor impatiently. "Umbrella make medicines, not diseases, and their sole involvement in the Arklay redevelopment project is to construct a company retreat on the outskirts of town. Nothing more. A spa resort for Umbrella employees poses no risk whatsoever to the public, and the extra money it will bring into the town's economy will play a key part in funding the remainder of our regeneration programme. If all goes well, we may be able to persuade Umbrella to move its new regional headquarters into our town. That means more jobs, more money, and a better, brighter future for Arklay. I won't have you undermining a potentially lucrative and extremely beneficial project by scaring people with ridiculous stories about Umbrella and zombies. Is that understood?"
"No!" said Lisa hotly. "It is not understood! The only thing I understand is that you're blindingly insane! Umbrella are responsible for a hundred thousand people's deaths and now you're going to welcome them into your town, so they can kill everyone here too? You call that a regeneration programme? How are you going to regenerate Arklay if everyone winds up dead?"
"Enough!" said the Mayor. He pointed an index finger at her. It, and he, were both trembling with suppressed rage. "Young lady, this is your last warning. If I hear one more word about you and your little boyfriend here frightening or harassing the people of this town, or spreading rumours about Umbrella, zombies or anything of that nature, I will be adding the property you live in to the eminent domain acquisition list, due to its dilapidated condition and its potential as a fire hazard. Moreover, I'll report your so-called family friends to the authorities for... let's see, child abandonment, neglect, and at least two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. And then you will have to explain to your friends why their property is being compulsorily purchased by the town of Arklay, and why they're facing criminal charges for child neglect. Is that clear?"
The colour withdrew sharply from Lisa's face.
"You bastard," she said quietly. "You wouldn't dare."
"Am I making myself clear?" the Mayor repeated. "You will not interfere with, or otherwise jeopardise, this project! I forbid any mention of zombies, in or out of Arklay's city limits, and you will either behave yourself impeccably or be evicted! I will not see my town ruined by two brats who seem bent on causing mayhem everywhere they go!"
"The hell with you!" Jack spat out. "You dunt have the right to just take someone's house if you dunt like what they say an' do! We never even start any of this in the first place! You all be just a bunch of lousy bullies who kick us 'round an' then - "
He started to gasp for breath, then doubled over in his seat, coughing. Her fury forgotten in an instant, Lisa looked at him.
No, not again, please...!
The Mayor watched as she tried to sit Jack upright and calm him down, in spite of her own panic. After a few minutes, when Jack's racking coughs had subsided, he spoke.
"I note that you seem to be having some health difficulties, Mr Carpenter," he said. "A very nasty cough, for one. And a severe nosebleed of some kind at the church. You ought to get that looked at. Of course, I think you ought to get some health insurance, first of all. It's my understanding your friends made some provisions for emergency treatment, but not enough to cover chronic conditions. I doubt you could afford to see a specialist as the situation currently stands."
"An' how would you know 'bout our health insurance anyway?" muttered Jack. "Doctors ain't allowed to tell people stuff like that without permission."
"Let's just say I have my sources," said the Mayor, with a small smirk that could have been stolen right off his son's face. "Now, I'm willing to sweeten our little deal somewhat. So far the carrot and stick approach has led to rather more stick than carrot. I'm a reasonable man and happy to redress the balance. Let's say... I make some funds available to help a less fortunate resident of my town pay for his medical bills, whatever those may be. In return, you accept whatever treatment is offered to you, without complaint, and behave in a manner befitting a resident of our wonderful town. This offer is, of course, strictly conditional and relies upon your promise of good behaviour. If it gets back to me that you've continued to spread rumours and strife among the populace, then the offer will be revoked and you will not only become immediately responsible for the costs of your medical treatment, but you will also have to reimburse City Hall for any funds already expended."
"No way," said Jack, scowling. "You can go an' - "
He was cut off by another coughing fit, and had to cover his mouth with both hands. Lisa looked at him in despair.
"A bitter pill to swallow, perhaps," said the Mayor, more mildly. "But in your case, Mr Carpenter, pride is the surer poison. This is a generous offer and you'd be well-advised to accept. It seems at this stage in proceedings that you don't have much of a counter-argument. You certainly don't have anything to offer me in return."
"I don't know about that," said Lisa sarcastically. "You seem to think you can buy our silence."
"Miss Hartley, if I needed to ensure your silence that badly, I could have you thrown over a cliff," Mayor Maddigan replied, glowering at her. "Fortunately for you, I'm a civilised man and I'm prepared to offer you assistance in exchange for your continued good behaviour. I'm sure you'll agree that that's a much better arrangement."
"And if we choose not to agree to your terms?"
"Well, of course you have a choice. There's always a choice. You can choose to accept my offer, or you can choose the alternative and be thrown out of town, see your supposed "guardians" jailed for neglect, and then be forced to watch as young Mr Carpenter's health continues to deteriorate. At that point, there will be nothing and nobody left to help you. So to reiterate, you can either stop derailing all that I'm trying to accomplish and behave yourself, in exchange for assistance with medical treatment and costs, and the privilege of residing in this town... or you can turn down my offer, let your friends lose their home, and watch your boyfriend die."
"Screw you, I ain't dyin'," Jack shot back at him. "I – oh, shit..."
He started to cough again; painful, dry, heaving coughs which seemed to shake him from head to toe. Lisa looked across at him as he doubled up in pain and clutched his own ribs, then back at the Mayor, who was waiting impassively across the desk. She bit her lip.
"Like I said, Miss Hartley, it's your choice," said Mayor Maddigan, whose expression was now the very definition of calm. "But while I'm sure you'll argue tiresomely and at length about the importance of moral integrity, I'm equally sure you're smart enough to realise that there are more important things at stake here. If you're really stuck for a decision, ask yourself this: are you willing to put someone else's life on the line for the sake of your principles?"
"You monster," said Lisa. Her voice had dropped to a faint whisper of what it had been; her body seemed to be pinned in place to her seat, frozen by fear and indecision. Jack would think less of her if she agreed to the Mayor's proposal, and she'd hate herself for capitulating. She didn't know if Maddigan was complicit in Umbrella's crimes, or oblivious to them, and wasn't sure which was the more offensive. Worse, accepting his barbed offer might put the lives of everyone in Arklay in danger if Umbrella had more in mind than a company retreat. But her refusal would cost her friends their liberty – they couldn't stop Umbrella if they were extradited and imprisoned - and if the Mayor was right about Jack's condition, as she feared deep down that he might be, then his life was on the line. Those risks weren't hers to take.
Mom, Dad... Charlotte... what would you do? If you were here, if you were me...
But they were dead. And now that she thought about it, her mother and father had risked their own lives and principles in their attempt to shield her from Umbrella's wrath. Ultimately, they'd considered her welfare to be more important than their own lives. As for Charlotte, there was no knowing now what she might have done in Lisa's shoes. Perhaps she would have stuck to her guns. Perhaps she would have given in with the exertion of enough pressure. How far would she have gone to save Lisa's life, if things had panned out that way?
"Tick tock," said the Mayor, in a singsong voice. "What's your decision, Miss Hartley? Or should I make it for you?"
She looked at Jack. He was still coughing violently, but he looked up at her and met her gaze for just long enough to shake his head.
No. Dunt do it.
It wasn't what he wanted. She didn't want it either. But in the end, there seemed to be no other option. Some prices were too high to pay.
Lisa met the Mayor's unflinching gaze, then bowed her head.
"Fine," she said, defeated. "You win. No more talk of Umbrella or zombies. You can have your stupid regeneration project and do whatever the hell you want with the money. It's not like anything we say is going to make a difference, because I know you're still going to ignore us and go ahead with your plan anyway, right? Look, I'm done trying to fight about this. Just give Jack whatever treatment he needs to make him well again, and leave us alone. That's all I ask."
Another smirk crossed the Mayor's face.
"Smart girl. You've made the right decision. Very well, then we're agreed. No more talk of illness or zombies. I'll make arrangements for Mr Carpenter to have a medical exam as soon as possible, and we can take things from there. See? There was no need for all this animosity after all. Now that we've reached an amicable arrangement, I'm sure everything will settle down and life will go back to normal."
"There's nothing amicable about this arrangement, Mr Mayor," said Lisa. She could feel her eyes glimmering with rage and shame. "You know I don't have any other option but to agree under protest. And this is under protest. I hope you know that. What you're doing is abhorrent."
"But we have a deal?" said the Mayor, leaning forward. His smile was charming, benevolent and absolutely evil.
Jack managed to stop coughing and heave in a huge, deep breath.
"Lise, no - " he gasped. "Not for me. Dunt - "
A tear spilled out from beneath one eyelid and dripped slowly down Lisa's cheek. She despised herself for every word that was coming out of her mouth, and for being so weak, but there seemed to be no other way out of this hateful, awful, impossible situation.
For Jack, she reminded herself. I have to do this. For Jack's sake. His life isn't mine to give up. After all we've been through together, I won't let him die. Not now. Not for anything, not even the sake of my conscience. His life is worth more than my morals. And he's all I have left.
"Yes," she whispered. "We have a deal."