When the criminals capture Matt and one of children badly hurts an ankle, is there any hope of escape?
We slunk back round the corner. Slick was quietly shaking – he was on the edge of hysteria, poised between laughter and tears. We were all experiencing a kind of shock. Matt put his mouth close to Slick’s ear and began whispering urgently to him. He had his arm round Slick’s shoulders, and kept darting anxious looks at me even as he talked to Slick. I gave them both my brightest smile, and patted Matt’s back encouragingly. Slick’s eyes rolled a bit, but slowly he stopped his shivering. Matt bent close to me.
“They certainly don’t know we’re here,” he whispered. “We can stay here until he goes away – he’s not waiting for us. If we have to we can go back down into the Canyon. We know it better than them, I bet.”
I nodded. Going back was the last thing I wanted to do. I’d had it with the dark and rocks. But I was quite happy to wait for the Paunch to finish whatever he was doing. I whispered back to Matt.
“I’ll go and keep an eye on him. You stay here and look after Slick. If there’s any movement, I’ll let you know.”
Matt tapped my shoulder in agreement and I crept forward.
Just to be in sight of the sun was a tonic. Even if the fat man’s presence spoilt things, there was a feeling of freedom being in the light. I tried to look beyond the cave to work out where we might be, but I couldn’t see enough: the background of tree trunks and some sparse undergrowth could have been anywhere in the bush.
The Paunch lifted his head to listen to something outside. I could hear some calling, but I couldn’t make out what was being said. It didn’t seem to interest the Paunch much. He shifted on his seat and turned a little more to the cave’s wide entrance, but didn’t get up. The disturbance died down, and the Paunch scratched his neck and began to investigate one of his ears with a matchstick he got out of a box lying on the bench.
He put the match back in the box and looked up as another man loafed in through the cave mouth. This must be the third one of them: I had not seen him in detail before. He was younger – somewhere in his twenties, I’d say. He had long hair that fell over his eyes, and as he talked he kept jerking his head to flick the hair back. If he’d been talking like that to me I’d want to cut his fringe off. He began talking even before he got into the cave properly, and I missed the first part of what he said.
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