Owen kicked his feet up onto the seat opposite him. He knew it was against the rules but his trainers were clean, so it didn’t really matter. The businesswoman at the table across the aisle made a guttural sound of disapproval.
He was on the high-speed rail link out of London, hurtling towards his new boarding school, his new life.
Near the end of the summer holiday, his parents had stopped arguing as much. At first, he thought it was a good sign. Clearly the fact that they shouted less meant that they were happier.
Owen was partly right. They were happier because they had finally found something to agree on. Their divorce would go through during his first term. That was a blessing for them and a curse for him. They had tried persuading Owen that it meant he would have twice as many visits on weekends, but he doubted that very much.
Something a few rows down the train distracted him from his thoughts before they grew any darker. A man in a brown corduroy suit had taken out an expensive-looking pocket watch, the kind people wore in old pictures, and was checking it’s bright face.
The man made an impatient noise and looked up at his travelling companions. One was in a black suit with white pinstripes and a matching waistcoat, sitting in the seat opposite. The other looked like a homeless person. His hair was long and matted, he had a scraggly grey beard and his clothes were all old and stained.
They could not have appeared more different. Owen thought they looked like a professor, a businessman and a tramp. But it was obvious that they were travelling together from the glances the executive and homeless man kept shooting at each other and the third man. The care they took not to seem associated with each other was a dead giveaway.
With a deft movement, the businessman reached out a long arm for the pocket watch, shaking his head as he did so. The academic carefully slid it onto the table and set his face in a pleasant, entreating expression.
“Come on now, it’s only a watch. There’s nothing dangerous about it.”
The homeless man shifted his gaze to the engraved surface of the watch’s lid and pursed his lips. Owen began to wonder whether they were undercover police officers. They might have just arrested the man in brown corduroy and be taking him to the local police station. He might even be an escaped prisoner.
Hands shaking with excitement, Owen stood and walked towards the toilets at the other end of the carriage. He hoped to get a better look at the three men on the way, although his bladder was full as well.
He had only walked a few paces before the professor raised his head and looked directly into Owen’s eyes. They were bright, piercing amber eyes which seemed to be reading Owen’s face, looking into his mind with fierce curiosity. Then there was a flash of something darker, a warning.
Owen stepped backwards instinctively and the businessman twisted around in his seat. His eyebrows arched and his mouth fell open when he saw Owen’s face, his gaze still locked with the professor’s.
“Time’s up.” The man in brown corduroy said.
He snapped the pocket watch closed. In an instant his two companions had leaped to their feet, the businessman still turning back from looking at Owen. Something moved outside the windows of the carriage, swirling jets of cloud tearing through the air towards them.
They hit the train with the force of a wrecking ball, tearing a strip of the roof away directly above the row of seats on which the three men had sat. The walls peeled away to either side of them and the glass in the windows shattered.
Owen thought he saw two more men standing on the roof of the train through the torn roof. Jets of smoke shot out of their hands like trails behind a bullet and cracked into the chests of the homeless man and pinstriped man. Both men crumpled back into their seats.
When he looked back up, the two men on the roof had disappeared along with the man in brown corduroy. A silver pocket watch spun on the table as the wind caught its side. Owen snatched it up before it fell out through the open wall.
The train slowly shuddered to a stop and the businesswoman stopped screaming. He had not even heard her begin.
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