“Hey, I said you could take the dogs. I did not agree to sit in the back with the dogs.” Olivia clambered into the front of the van, wrinkling her nose. “God, it smells like one of my mum’s cars.” She looked over her shoulder at Shen. “That was not a compliment, by the way.”
“I’d gathered that.” Shen replied, scratching Pepper behind the ears. “Don’t worry boy, she doesn’t mean it.”
“I totally mean it,” said Olivia. “I absolutely do.”
The two Ravnos, Tony and Clive, climbed in the back behind Shen, as wary of Salt and Pepper as the puppies were of them, followed by a couple of ghouls from Goodwin’s security corps, carrying the reinforced box with the gift inside. John observed their van as it pulled away, his eyes devoid of expression. He had worked in the Syndicate base in Thornwood, before Olivia had destroyed it and captured him. She wondered if he missed his old life, missed the free reign the Syndicate had given him over his work. She met his eyes and he stared back, impassive.
The lights of Grimouth receded as they drove up onto Darkmoor, industrial gloom giving way to fields and hedgerows and finally woodland. Olivia watched the shadows in the undergrowth pensively as her ghoul drove. The road up to Thornwood was little more than a dirt track, brambles creeping in from the sides. She caught a gleam up ahead; two figures sitting on a bench at the roadside, their eyes reflecting the van’s headlights, and the van juddered to a halt. The driver swore and fiddled with the ignition, to no avail.
She heard Pepper yelp, and Shen poked his head around Olivia’s seat. “What’s going on?”
Olivia fought her impending panic as the two figures rose to their feet and approached. “Uh, some guys.”
Shen harrumphed. “Well, I can see that.”
Swallowing her fear, Olivia wound down her window. “Can I help you?”
The taller of the two, a massively muscled bald man who was taller than he seemed, looked them over, nostrils flaring. “You’re Shen and Olivia, right?”
Shen nodded. “Yeah, that’s right. Samuel said we were ok to come.”
The bald man peered over Shen’s head. “And your friends. What’s in the box?”
Olivia followed his gaze. “That? That’s just a gift.”
“Who for?” The man’s look was quizzical.
“Uh, for a beautiful blonde, as I understand it.” Olivia gave a bemused grin as she shrugged. “You guys don’t happen to know any of those, do you?”
The bald man sniffed. “I think I know who you want. She’ll turn up if she wants to.” He took a step backwards, and the van’s engine stuttered into life. “You’re good to go.”
“Much obliged,” said Olivia, as the driver fiddled with the gearstick.
The men inclined their heads before retreating into the undergrowth, seeming to grow larger even as the slipped out of sight. Their exit was punctuated by an ear-splitting alien howl.