For some reason, Simon found himself beginning a silent prayer of thanks that he was not overweight. He didn’t like to think that it mattered. But looking down past Mr Coats’s shoulder, at the wreckage of property and human bodies, all of the moral lessons of media seemed to have even less impact.
Nevertheless, he wasn’t light by any means. He could hear Mr Coats wheezing. It was especially apparent when the man stopped chatting. They slowed.
Simon tapped him on the shoulder. “I can climb by myself.”
Why this had not previously occurred to either of them, he couldn’t say.
“I’m twelve,” he added, in case that might help.
It was cold, and he shivered as he realised that the shared body heat had given Mr Coats’s name an overly appropriate significance. Mr Coats appeared to notice this immediately, but said nothing as he stepped aside to let Simon go up the penultimate ladder.
“Higher ground,” the man said.
Simon paused, halfway up the ladder already. “What?”
“Sorry, I was just thinking aloud. You always want the higher ground in a battle.”
A battle. Simon shivered again. If only this was a battle. His grades weren’t terribly high, and he was not a big reader, but he did know a couple of big words. One of them was ‘massacre’.
They travelled the rest of the way up the fire escape in heavy silence. The air was thick with it, but even the awkwardness of quickly familiar strangers was soon overwhelmed by the cloying scent of coming rain.