'Danke,' said the strangely familiar German, as N'buli lit his cigarette.
He couldn’t tell where he was. Was he still running down those Paris streets? Was he still sitting with Dad in the garden shed? Was he on the African plain, where he always belonged? Was he in the back of a car? Was he still with Mr Goodson? Was he dead?
No. Not dead yet.
N'buli clawed his way back into the waking world and slowly opened an eye.
'Ah,' he whispered. 'I’m in the back of a car.'
Valentina was pushing her backside up against him as she leaned out the side window, firing tranquiliser darts with alarming glee. Max was driving at high speed, and it looked like they were still in Paris, even though he didn’t recognise the area. There was somebody else in the passenger’s seat shouting out directions, but N'buli couldn’t tell who it was.
He slowly raised his head and saw ancient buildings zip by, they were going much faster than he first thought. Looking ahead, he saw a massive and competent road block ahead, but Max spun the wheel and the car spun around into an alleyway. Max almost stalled, but somehow found the right gear and floored it.
N'buli fell back in his seat, which came up around him and swallowed him whole.
He was still in the back seat of the car, and then he was being carried somewhere, and then he was in a bed. He liked this result.
He didn’t dream. Not once.
After a little dose of forever, N'buli felt hungry and opened an eye.
He was in a room, in some kind of old cottage. He couldn’t see out the window, but saw that his wounds had been cleaned and set. Through the open door, he could see a kitchen, where Val and Max sat at a table, muttering quietly.
The door behind them opened, and the stranger from the front seat walked in with a bag full of food. 'All I could find was KFC and I know it makes Val sick, but she could always eat the potato. Or go hungry….'
N'buli’s lips were dry and his throat was aching, but he still managed to speak. 'I’ll have some gravy.'
Val was in the room in an instant and N'buli thought he had a good grip on the world, so he tried to sit up to say hello, but lost it again.
It was darker now, and cooler. N'buli still didn’t know where he was, but he recognised an autumn chill.
He woke up slowly and it took him even longer to realise he wasn’t alone in the room, and the door was closed. The stranger with the food was checking out an IV drip that N'buli finally noticed that it was hooked up to his arm.
He shook his head and spoke it a surprisingly clear voice.
'I’m sorry, who are you?'
The stranger jumped back and grinned. 'Jesus Christ, man. You scared the piss out of me. How are you doing?'
N'buli tried his best intense look, but couldn’t tell if his face was doing what it was told. 'Who are you?'
'Trevor. I’m Dave and Max’s friend in research and development. We play Risk together.'
N'buli eyed him suspiciously, and said nothing, so Trevor kept babbling. 'I helped you guys out on the Luxor job – that false heel that releases some of our happy gas? That one was mine. I’m kinda at the low end of things.'
'What are you doing here, Trevor?'
'I dunno! I was just hanging out with Max in London, and then Val showed up and we suddenly had to come here to Paris to help you out. I have no idea what is going on. We’re somewhere east of Paris, but I don’t know where. I think we’re still in France. Could be Belgium. It all looks the fucking same to me.'
'Let’s find that out first,' said N'buli. He tried to sit up, but it hurt a lot more than it should have, and he slumped back down.
'Look, you need to rest,' said Trevor. 'In the last two days you’ve been hit by a bus, thrown off a car, ran half a goddamn marathon, been hit in the head a couple of times, jumped out a 13-story window, got stabbed in the side and God knows what else. You need to take it easy for another day. Get some more sleep, we’ll pump more of these groovy medicines into you, and you should be okay by tomorrow.'
'I don’t need to sleep. I’m not tired.'
'Sure you’re not,' said Trevor, leaving the room and closing the door behind him.
'I’m not tired,' mumbled N'buli to himself. He was out in two minutes.
He was in and out of it for the next few days. Val was sitting with him for a while, and told him how she was coming back from Stevie’s funeral when she heard the alert saying he had gone rogue.
'I didn’t believe it, not for one second. And if you have gone rogue, you must have good reasons and if it helps us find the bastards who killed my son, I’m with you until the end. I trust you more than anybody else in the world, N'buli. I’ve always got your back.'
She told him about hooking up with Max in Belgium and how they had come straight to him. There was a transport at a small airfield just outside Ghent that could take them anywhere. N'buli forgot to ask about Trevor.
He didn’t see much of Max, who was busy tuning and re-tuning any cars he could get his hands on. He still came in now and again, to say hello, but they were always short visits.
N'buli saw a lot of Trevor, and still didn’t trust him. After three or four days he was almost fully healed, and fully awake for most of the day. He was reading a shitty fantasy book and really getting into it, when Trevor came in with some thick chicken broth and hot bread.
The shitty fantasy got put aside as N'buli sat up and took the food. It was the best broth he had ever eaten.
'It’s my Mum’s recipe,' said Trevor. 'She raised me on that stuff and it was always the best thing about getting sick.'
N'buli’s eyes were no less suspicious as he mopped up the last of the broth with his bread.
'Oh c’mon, man,' said Trevor. 'You can’t keep looking at me like that.'
N'buli put his empty plate on the table beside the bed. 'I don’t know you, Trevor. And I’m right at that point in the story where someone new shows up, and he seems like a good man, but then he turns out to be a traitorous scumbag. No offence.'
'But you know me, we’ve met before. At the Mandela party. Me and Dave got drunk on that really sweet South African wine and ended up falling into the fishpond.'
N'buli remembered something about that, but he’d been pretty drunk himself that night, and really only remembered Nelson’s ridiculously charming grin. 'I don’t know you, Trevor.'
Trevor sighed and picked up the empty plate. 'Okay, well, like my Dad says: I can’t do anything about the man I was, but I can do something about the man I am.'
'Sound advice. What does it mean?'
'It means I’m here, now. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t hanging out with Max right at that moment, but I was, and here I am. I’m part of your team now, and I know what you do. I read Colin’s blog. And I want to help you, whatever it takes. I’ll follow this through with you till the end.'
N'buli was almost convinced. 'Wherever it takes us?'
'Wherever it takes us. I just think that we’ve got to go there sooner or later, so it’s no use putting it off. We should get on with it.'
'All right,' said N'buli, throwing off his bed sheets and getting to his feet. He stretched slowly before turning back to Trevor. 'First thing you should know about being on my team: you never leave a friend behind.'