The strobe of blue light grew as we slowed, the tone ringing in my ear only twice before the flat voice answered.
“How’s your Christmas going Mrs Commissioner?” I replied and the call went dead.
With the empty echo still in my ear, the car behind veered right as it neared, its lights still winking as if still not sure it would not cut across at the last minute and bring us to a stop. As it sped into the distance, Mike continued to brake.
“What the fuck?” he replied as we slowed to the curb.
“Let me out,” I said, motioning for Dan to shuffle out of the way. He looked back with wide eyes, but not moving to let me by.
“What are you on to?” he said, shaking his head with none of the usual cheer in his voice. I turned to Mike, his face hanging with the same fixed expression.
“I need to do this alone,” I replied. Mike and Dan swapped looks across me and the van pulled away from the curb.
“Where are we going boss?” he said with his cheer returning.
“Cornwall and take the back roads,” I replied, my head already filling with ideas.
“You owe us more pizza,” Mike said flicking his eyes to the empty box at my feet as he turned us down a side street, leaving behind the only other car on the road.
I wanted to throw away my phone, was about to pull the Sim Card and snap it in two, but paused, Toni’s wide smile flashing before my eyes. It was the only way she could get in touch. Breathing back the welling pressure, I unlocked the screen and slid my finger to turn off data. It would have to do for now.
The journey was slow, the van not meant for a high speed getaway along the ‘A’ Roads, but at least the tarmac was clear in the most part. The journey was pleasant enough, watching families as they travelled, their exhausts white in the cold, Christmas jumpers on show as they wound their way between friends and family. Joining the M5 Mike asked for directions, a postcode for the Sat Nav, but I had none to give. Bodmin was all I could say, was all I’d gleamed from the one sided conversation over four hours ago.
Turning off the motorway, we stuck to the main road heading in the general direction of Bodmin, crossing into Cornwall after forty five minutes. No signs highlighted our approach to the Moor, but as the red and white warnings appeared at the roadside, I questioned the words that had stared this all off. Repeating for the hundredth time, I replayed her voice in my head, my stomach sinking further every time I read the evenly spaced signs declaring the ‘Foot and Mouth Infected Area.’
“Slow down,” I said squinting through the cold clear air. The van slowed, halving the speed as sign after sign went past the window. I’d seen this before. I’d reported for Bare Facts as Student Features Editor in Surrey. Back in 2007 I’d stood at the roadblocks cleaning my boots so many times. I’d chatted with the police manning the road closures, watched as trucks brimming with carcasses, hoofed feet jutting over the top, moved the culled to their resting place. I’d watched the smoke rise into the sky and seen the fear for the future in the farmer’s weary eyes.
Each side road we passed on the A30 had a sign declaring ‘Road Closed’ accompanied with a static line of cones. The turn off for Bolventor was the only open junction, so we took it, slowing to take in the line of army trucks on the grass verge as we turned the first corner. Moving closer to the hamlet, the line peppered with Police cars, but the crests were different. Military, not Devon and Cornwall Constabulary. Eyes peered back, mouths pulling on cigarettes. We didn’t stop, kept up the momentum. At the centre of the small collection of buildings was a pub, The Jamaica Inn. The car park to its side was full of heavy canvas olive drab tents. We didn’t stop, no one made the suggestion.
Driving on back towards the dual carriageway, we saw the same line of trucks repeated as we built up the distance. Mike was the first to spot the tail, the low sun reflecting off the Freelander’s white, blue and yellow paintwork, the dark figures inside not hiding their austere expressions as they kept two car lengths behind us. Still we drove on, rejoining the slow lane, getting up to speed before we hit our first traffic jam.
Still, it was reminiscent. I remembered the archive footage. Tony Blair with rolled up shirt sleeves in the command centre over-viewing the massive operation back when the major outbreak happened as the century turned. I remembered the headlines, the cancelled sporting events, the restrictions on country pursuits and the mass graves with carcass after carcass piled in with a JCB. The government had taken it seriously.
I took a second look at the road ahead and saw the few cars at my front, watched as each was slowly released to crawl around a pair of green trucks stood in the inside lane at obscure angles. Without a word, Dan jumped in the back already unpacking the camera to film what looked to be a traffic accident, while a solider in a yellow hi-vis vest stood by the Armco central reservation motioning the cars forward to squeeze passed a third truck blocking the second lane. Soon we were next in line, the hand motioning for us to slow as Mike negotiated the tight turn, micro-correcting the wheel to the soldier’s instructions so we could get through the gap. We were finally through and he turned hard left to avoid the truck in our way, but slammed on the brakes. I looked up and saw I’d been right all along. We were in the right place, the three pointed rifles clearing away my doubt.
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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.
Not read Season One? Here it is.