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remembered that he had never been confirmed.
As more people arrived in the street, those who had taken communion left to
make room for them. Coyle rose unsteadily to his feet, but Jane and Sarah had
moved on ahead. They were lost to his view.
Soon he found himself out in the street again, where an even larger queue had
formed awaiting their turn. A sudden shout, and bowed heads lifted in unison.
A man rose up amidst the praying throng - a ragged vagrant, his tattered
garments exposing glimpses of grimy skin, an almost skeletal hand held aloft.
His face was hidden amidst a mangy beard, so that it was virtually impossible
to determine his age. His high-pitched voice was rising to a frenzied
crescendo, eyes blazing insanely, his mouth was a toothless cavity.
'Fools!' he yelled. 'Do you not realise that this is the Day of Judgement -
the long awaited day that Balzur prophesied, when Pluto shall come to claim
his own . . . to take us down into his fiery underworld, where there is
nothing but eternal agony!'
A gasp of horror rippled through the congregation. A woman began screaming, a
child crying. Then, with unbelievable agility, the speaker leaped away,
hurdling the cringing people in his path until he was lost to sight, his
shrill warning still echoing in their minds.
Silence. Except for the monotonous, apparently unmoved tones of the Reverend
Mortimer as he shuffled between the rows. Take eat ... this is My blood . . .
'
The opposite pavement was deserted. Coyle's eyes scanned it for Kent, but
there was no sign of the Londoner. Out of this teeming mass only Kent had not
turned back to God. He would see it through on his own, right up until the
end, whichever way it went - an atheist and a fatalist.
Coyle debated with himself for some minutes. His wife and daughter had
doubtless gone home. He could follow them, but he knew he would not be
welcome. Alternatively, he could roam the streets in search of Kent. In the
end he decided to go back to his office. He could prepare some copy for an
edition which would probably never reach the printing presses. At least it was
something to do until Anne returned.
As he moved slowly away, an armoured truck rounded the corner and drew up some
fifty yards away from the packed churchyard.
The military were taking no chances. For firmly held between two soldiers was
the miserable tramp-like figure, now silent and subdued.
Canverdale spent the rest of Sunday attempting to list his new duties in order
of priority. Everything, of course, was a priority nowadays - especially with
the unexpected three degrees rise in the radioactivity pressure gauge earlier
that day - but, nevertheless, certain things had to take precedence.
The public would be informed on television at the end of the evening's
programmes that the Prime Minister (they had no knowledge yet of the change of
leadership) had another broadcast to make. That meant that at midday on the
Monday the coalition would be officially announced. Canverdale would then be
fully in charge.
The banks would remain closed tomorrow, also building societies and post
offices. That, too, would be announced on tonight's late-night news, but only
as a temporary measure, and not in any way to provoke sensationalism. He
decided against closing the stock market. Shares would crash, obviously, but
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there might remain some spark of hope if he allowed trading to continue.
Likewise the foreign exchange market; countries abroad must not presume that
Britain had capitulated to the disaster. Bluff and stall - and keep in
constant touch with Dyne. He sighed with relief at having made these
decisions, and fitted a cigarette into his long ivory holder. Flicking his
lighter, he considered some other factors.
The safety of the public. The map in front of him showed the sitings of
special shelters for use in the event of nuclear attack. He approved the
efforts of the Authorities in constructing them, but there were two main
drawbacks. Firstly, they could only accommodate a small percentage of the
populations within easy reach of them; and secondly this was no ordinary
nuclear attack. It was not a case of one or two atomic bombs, but the effect
of thousands of them exploding simultaneously, with fall-out coming like a
raging blizzard!
The London Undergrounds would be packed with people. Perhaps there was some
way of filtering the ventilation shafts against fall-out. He made a note to
investigate this possibility further, then added another concerning the length
of time it would be necessary for people, to remain below ground. He envisaged
a new rat-like population, human savages existing in tunnels of squalor. There
would be neither lighting nor sewage, nor any of the other amenities which had
been taken for granted for years.
Finally, the main decision would have to be made by himself: release the
build-up or chance an explosion? Die above or below ground?
He drank yet another cold cup of tea, and put through a call to Dyne. A slight
sigh of relief. The needle had risen only one more degree since the morning -
the expected rate. That still made Saturday D-Day, and the needle might decide
to jump madly at any moment.
Hardly had he replaced the receiver when another call came through. The
Sabbath was over. One day of respite, and now Saturday's madness had returned.
He jotted down the names of the places as he listened. Notting Hill.
Birmingham. Wolverhampton. Leicester. Coventry. Nottingham. Bradford.
'Alert all troops!' Canverdale's voice was weary. The order was superfluous,
but he could not think of anything better.
The riots had begun again! It was the desperate rebellion of frightened people
trapped on an island of death.
Canverdale knew that he would not have the chance of any sleep. Anarchy had
forestalled his predictions by some twenty-four hours. How long before it
spread to other countries, whole continents. A worldwide holocaust was
imminent!
Chapter 13
Monday. Again Coyle and Anne had spent the night in the office, but they were
up and dressed before Kent arrived.
'What's the programme for today?' Anne enquired as she adjusted her skirt.
'Same as for any normal Monday.' Coyle smiled wanly. 'I'm just wondering how
many will turn up. Doesn't matter really, but we've got to make a pretence of
some kind of normality. The copy I worked on yesterday can go to the
type-setters. The printers will be kept fully occupied for the next couple of
days with the parish magazine. I see there's a lot of forthcoming weddings in
the next fortnight.'
'Poor sods.'
'Maybe a few will be brought forward. Anyway, it's only a technicality. A few
words, a bit of paper. Stupid really, but that's the society in which we
live.'
'Bob' - she hesitated, met his gaze, dropped her eyes -'Bob ... we are ... you
and I, I mean . . . we're married to each other, aren't we? I mean . . . well,
you know what I mean. I'd just like to think that . . .'
'Yes.' He slipped an arm around her slender waist, and drew her close to him.
'We're married. I guess bits of paper, legal documents, have lost all their
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meaning now to just about everybody. Morally, Jane has already divorced me. Of
course, I shall have to help her through tomorrow. It will be a difficult day [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]