Sparrow unconsciously brought his arms in by his side as he stood behind Jude. Hands bunched up into fists, he tried to suppress a quiet squeak of worry. Clearing his throat, he made to speak, but somewhere between voice and brain, the words turned into a long, soft, “Oh noooo.”
Jude turned slightly, putting one arm back so he could brush against Sparrow’s side. Big calming hand came down over Sparrow’s shoulder. “’Scuse me, gentlemen,”
“Scuse you. Out of the way.” Said the lead man, who really didn’t merit the title ‘gentleman.’ Between the tattoos, the scrubby beard and the short hair, the man reminded Sparrow of someone who had once stood in the machine shop asking in a painfully nonchalant way, just how many bodies the trunk of this car could hide.
Fists were clenching. These men didn’t have the air of people who were going to wait for anything.
Sparrow knew enough of these moments to look for somewhere to hide. Unfortunately, the only places he could spot were the undersides of cars and on the other side of the tall fence. Heart in his throat, Sparrow started to back up against the brickwork of the repair shed, out of Jude’s hand. “Jude…?” he asked, swallowing, trying to keep his cool.
“You’re upsetting my friend. I’d appreciate it if you left.”
“Don’t really care.” Said the one who seemed to be doing the job of spokesperson. “You two gunna clear out, or we gunna have to make y’all?”
Jude looked thoughtfully down at the smaller man who was nonetheless probably twice Sparrow’s weight. Slowly surveying the area around him, Jude brought his hands to the lapels of his coat with a certain arch dignity. “Well, if we’re going to have that kind of conversation,” he said, pulling off his coat. The men laughed, nasty barking tones, “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Rather you just get out of our way, if we’re gunna have that kinda conversation,” the man shot back.
Jude shook his head, folding his coat over, and then turned to put the huge pile of fabric into Sparrow’s arms. “Now then, excuse me,” he murmured – resting a hand on Sparrow’s shoulder, other hand on his hip. Leaning down to look him in the eyes, Jude gave Sparrow a reassuring smile. “You okay?”
Sparrow squeaked, “I really – I mean, those guys could eat me, I—”
Jude nodded. And then he stood up and threw Sparrow over the fence.
The ground sort of just wasn’t there any more, and Sparrow took a moment to realise all his weight was in the palm of Jude’s hand. The fence wasn’t much taller than the bigger man, but he did have to reach up to sling Sparrow to clear the barbed wire atop it. For a moment, Sparrow’s longer hair whipped around his ears and he landed with a heavy thud – but he landed on his feet, at least.
“JUDE!” he yelled, whirling around, ignoring the sting in his feet, fingers hooking into the chain-link fence, “What are you d—” and then he stopped talking, because Jude was busy.
The second Sparrow was out of harm’s ways Jude whirled around on the ball of one foot, fists loose, and swung his arm around in a haymaker arc. Not at the spokesperson, no – Jude stepped past him, shouldering him aside for long enough, and lunged for the biggest of the four men. Despite the looseness of his fist when he swung it, it hit with a loud, ugly crack, and the man’s head snapped back, two plumes of red spraying into the sky and staining the snow around them.
“What the f—” came the shout. The bloodied man staggered backwards, the snow under his feet throwing up flurries while he fell backwards against a car. Bzz. But Jude was moving, lunging downwards towards the middle of the one unarmed man. Bzz. There were two steps of distance between them, and he bunched his leg, tensed his whole body and launched into him. Bzz. One hand grabbed his shoulder, and then Jude’s body blocked the result. But the man gasped, his eyes went wide and he shuddered with his whole body curling around that fist.
Jude whirled around again, holding the man’s body up like a shield as the other three lurched into action. Bzz.Literally shoving assailaints away while he walked backwards, Jude seemed occupied with something, keeping his opponents from reaching him with Bzz.
Sparrow realised what the buzzing in his hands was. The phone in Jude’s coat that he was holding was ringing. “Um, Jude!” he called. “You got a phone call!”
“Answer it!” shouted the bigger man, as he yanked something free. “It’s Ms Mycroft!” A clatter on the ground, then a chnk as Jude kicked it across the carpark, between the men approaching him.
Sparrow fumbled through the coat for a moment, thumbing the phone open. No security? Odd. “H-hello? Uhm, Ms Mycroft?”
“Why Sparrow,” came the woman’s voice, a tinge of delight about the edges. “This is quite a pleasant surprise. Is Jude busy?”
“Um, he’s kind of fighting some people?”
“Speakerphone!” Jude yelled.
Sparrow fumbled with the phone for a moment more, then turned it on and around. Then, Ms Mycroft’s harsh tone rang out across the carpark. “Jude, what are you doing?”
“Four men,” Jude grunted, as he brought his knee up into the midsection of another man – before throwing him away and hopping backwards, away from a swinging chunk of wood. Now he was positioned between the men and the object he’d kicked away, keeping his movement steady, a sort of low, steady lope. “Want to get to the car.”
“Possibly retrieving the bullet.” Jude called over to the phone, while a chunk of chain whizzed past his head.
“No, definitely not that,” Ms Mycroft murmured. “… Jude, make one of them speak.”
“Fuck y’all,” called the man with the length of wood, sweeping the wood around in a high arc.
“Jude? I need an ‘oo’ sound. Like Goose or Roof.” Mycroft went on. On the other side of the phone call, Sparrow could hear a teacup being set down.
Jude spun around backwards, body-slamming his back against the chain-wielder, grabbing the length over his shoulder and hoisting it – swinging the man over his shoulder. He could let go of the chain, or he could try to hang on and wrestle Jude for it, and he clearly made the wrong decision, arching onto the hard concrete and snow with a crack that filled the space around them –
“No, Jude, I said an ‘oo’ sound.” Ms Mycroft repeated over the phone.
– and Jude stamped his foot onto the man’s chest. Swinging the chain in his hand, he held it at arm’s length, jamming the toe of his shoe under his chin. “You heard the woman.”
“What?” gurgled the man, gasping for breath, as Jude swept the chain around, keeping the other three at distance.
“R-roof?” the grunted, wincing.
“Louder, please.” Mycroft called.
“You heard her. Louder.” Jude grunted, shifting his weight to give the man some air.
“Good boy,” Jude added, kicking him in the jaw, sending a spurt of red across the snow. Jude grunted and stepped off the man’s face and threw the chain over the fence, past Sparrow.
“Hm,” Ms Mycroft murmured. “Jude, make one of them scream, will you?”
The three standing men looked between themselves momentarily, as Jude closed on them, visibly quite nervous. “Listen,” one began – which seemed to get Jude’s attention. Gloved hand grabbed bare wrist and Jude had his feet off the ground before he could even twist away. With a heft of hair, Jude swept him around and swept his face first into the hood of a parked car. Crack went an elbow into his ear, and then Jude grabbed one of his ears, and yanked.
Sparrow leant back from the fence, as the other two men, feet uncertain in the snow, ran forward to try and grab Jude, and ‘rescue’ their friend.
“Oh, that’s definitely an Oklahoman scream.” Mycroft said.
“Need one of them brought in?” Jude yelled, as he shoved back against the two men.
“Goodness no, wherever would I keep one.”
One man was on the floor nursing his jaw, rolling side to side; another clutching at the side of his head. Actually knocking someone out was tricky. It was much, much easier to make someone hurt so badly they didn’t want to fight any more. A chunk of wood hit Jude’s shoulder, but the angle was bad – he lunged into it, and suddenly the man had no room to swing, brickwork at his back.
Sparrow swallowed nervously, watching. “So uh, sh-should I be getting into the shed and like… looking at the car while Jude’s busy?”
“No need to bother.” Ms Mycroft said. “Sparrow, go bring the car around. Jude is just making his point now.”
Jude had blood on his shirt, and a few rips on his vest when they had the car around. “Consider for a moment,” Ms Mycroft said on the phone, “the idea that the police are basically competent.”
Sparrow tried to not look at the weapons on the passenger seat next to him, particularly not the knife still in a sheathe. It was a huge thing, looked like what a good alligator was reincarnated as.
“They’re not.” Both Jude and Sparrow said in unison.
“Of course they’re not, but they are heavily militarised and terrorism-averse.”
“So they’d react to a sniper claims with serious concern.”
“Absolutely. If there was any sign of an actual high-powered rifle, such as a slug or a large ballistics mark, these robberies would flare up all sorts of attention. But of course, these criminals don’t have any sort of high-powered rifle.”
“Why not?” Sparrow asked, looking again at the weapons. “It’s not too hard to get a gun ‘round here.”
“This is New England, we have gun regulations.” Jude mumbled. “Can be hard to get a proper high-power rifle,” Two fingers poked through a hole in his vest and he sighed. “This is going to be irritating to fix.”
“They have gun regulations in Jersey, too, doesn’t stop people getting guns.” Sparrow added.
“It at least hinders the distribution and availability of any significant sort of sniping device – certainly one who could blow a hole in an engine block, which they clearly want people to think they can do. And therein lies the core of it. If they had a rifle, they would just do that. Instead they… what? Blew out a window and made some smoke.” Ms Mycroft’s teacup shifted a little on the other end of the phone line. “And those Oklahoman gentlemen confirm my idea.”
“You’ll see. For now, Jude, you need to send an email from an internet cafe to one of your old crook friends about a funds transfer.”
Jude drew a breath, then nodded, as he settled his vest back in place. “Alright.”
“Alright, Ms Mycroft.”
“Good boy. You can go.”
Jude sat back in the car and ran his fingers up through his hair, smoothing it out as best he could. “You alright, Sparrow?”
“Me? I’m… well, I mean, I’m pretty sure I’m okay. Nobody got near me or anything.”
Jude gave a long sigh. “Good. Good.” He shook his head, and reached over the back of the car to rub a hand against Sparrow’s shoulder. “Pull over when we pass the bay, I’ll get rid of the weapons.”