Tobin and Blake
“I am often asked about the incident cited as the seed from which the roots of The Resurgence erupted. Whether it was, I neither know nor care. I have no time for such frivolous retrospection; that is for losers and fools. What I will say in response to the impudent question of whether I feel any regret or guilt, is this: of course not! What happened was justice; plain, simple, brutal and absolute.”
Excerpts from ‘The Northern Crusader: Collected Speeches, Volume 1’
The Birth of the Resurgence
15 July 2022
As Omer spotted the crowd, he knew they were waiting for him. Their faces, contorted with rage and hate, confirmed his fears.
All day at college, he had felt uneasy. The previous fortnight’s events had kept him in a constant state of apprehension: the lurid exposes in the paper, the whispered comments and shoving in corridors, the door slammed in his face. Looking around, desperately seeking a friendly face, he had met only disgust. He had contemplated speaking to the counsellor, but withered under the steely glare her receptionist had cast in his direction. Maybe it was an article she had read in the newspaper on her desk, or something on her monitor…but he detected the accusation in her gaze and knew he was unwelcome. Steering away from the office, he had retreated into an empty classroom, spending the rest of his lunch break slumped over a desk, wrapped in a cloak of shame whose provenance he could not fathom.
What had he done wrong? It was a question he had turned over countless times in his mind as he tossed in his sleep, trying to shake off the nagging feeling that an avalanche had been launched, whose full force he was yet to encounter. The narrow bedroom he shared with his cousin had never felt more claustrophobic; the snoring that had previously been an irritant, transforming into a target of envy, as Igor’s nasal drone boasted of an unfettered conscience. The sounds of traffic outside caused him to shrink further under the yellowing duvet, convinced that every driver out there was looking for him.
In despair, he had considered sharing his burden with Igor, but what could he have said? He would not have been able to explain the situation in a simple enough way, so as to ensure no misunderstanding. No, it would have been a disaster if he had tried, he was certain of it.
As the days passed and increasingly damning headlines were emblazoned across the press, he had made the mistake of reading the comments on his Facebook feed, serving only to compound his angst. Rolling down several pages of abuse, he had spotted the picture of him and Nabil, causing his hands to tremble, before he dived into a toilet cubicle to ease the sudden pressure on his bowels, knees knocking against each other in agitation.
He was certain it had been taken just two days previously as they were walking home. They did not look friendly; unsurprising, as it was just shortly after the story had broken.
“What the hell are you trying to say?” Nabil had spat viciously, hands bunched into fists as he bounced in agitation. His eyes screwed up, as if to mask his fear in the face of Omer’s questions about events that took place in the tiny flat above the chicken shop; the flat he had seen him enter on numerous occasions. Watching him bob and weave, Omer, perturbed by the coverage of Nabil’s cousins on the web, had started to experience the trepidation that would grow to engulf him. Despite Nabil’s photograph not being among the mug shots, Omer knew that he must have had some inkling of what had taken place.
“It’s a witch hunt, you hear me?” Nabil had barked aggressively, refusing to look Omer in the eye, and swinging his arms defensively as he spoke. “You’d better remember who your friends are if you want to stay safe! You’re either with us or against us!”
That had set off alarm bells in Omer’s skittish brain – what did he need to be safe from? He had never set foot in that apartment. He just wanted to know who he had been associating with all this time – who were these guys and what were they up to?
The conversation had rapidly descended into a series of recriminations, with Nabil emerging as the more vociferous of the two. Finally, Omer had made a retreat, walking away on shaky legs, whilst Nabil hurled insults in his direction. He had hoped that it would be the last they would see of each other. The spiteful twitch in Nabil’s eyes had confirmed an altogether different person from the friend Omer thought he had made over the last year. Yet, as he departed, he was already beginning to feel an ache of loneliness accompanied with fear.
The fact that someone had been watching them that day shook him, but not as much as the caption on the photograph marking them as accomplices. The comments that followed made for unsettling reading: a stream of opinions and calls for retribution that stretched out across the following forty-eight hours, with new additions arriving at a relentless pace. Each ping on his ’phone heralded another diatribe that sent his thoughts into a tailspin of anxiety. The photograph was one of several that had been grouped together with a running commentary aiming to connect the dots. One was of Nabil with his cousins: what about this one – who is he and why was he not arrested? A further set of photos showing Nabil and company entering and leaving that accursed flat. And then the worst of all: him and Nabil walking side by side, in a moment that he knew to be one of discord, only to be overridden by the caption: conferring with another of his accomplices as to how they’re going to get away with all they’ve done!
As he looked up at the collective glare of the crowd in front of him, Omer was certain that they had all seen this photograph, and suspected that several of them were responsible for the comments that had followed. A disparate and unruly bunch, their shabby clothes and bitter demeanours betrayed that they were just one loose rung above him on society’s ladder. Their anger was a respite from the simmering burn of night shifts and fractious families with no light at the end of the tunnel – just a relentless series of dismal days that blurred into one. He knew from looking at their faces that his innocence was irrelevant; they wanted a reckoning.
He stopped outside the mouth of the underpass, observing their reaction upon seeing him. A few inches away, water dripped from an overflowing drain, flecking his trainers with muddy splashes. His backpack, containing fewer books than normal, felt inordinately heavy. As he shifted his feet, the mob in front of him began to inch forward, a few men at the front of the group setting the pace, accelerating from a shuffle to a menacing march.
Walking backwards, Omer swivelled to see if anyone was behind him. He had been set up, but by whom and how, he still wasn’t sure. The sensation of being a stranger in a strange land clung to him, devoid of any comforting anonymity. Did they all know him, his name …did they know where he lived?
Seeing a clear path through to light at the other end of the underpass, he skipped forward and broke into a run. Behind him, a volley of angry shouts and clatter of rapidly approaching feet confirmed that he was their prey. He lifted his knees higher, wincing as an agonising cramp gripped his left thigh, his backpack beating mercilessly against his spine. Emerging from the underpass, he shook it off his shoulders, hurling it into the bushes, before darting up the short flight of cracked steps that led back up to the cobbled high street. Already out of breath, he risked a brief look down to see the first heads emerge from the tunnel, and then spurred himself on to evade them.
The street was lightly populated, those few pedestrians still around giving him the briefest of looks before pointedly turning away. As he continued his flight up the steep hill, he could hear the bay of the mob raging and cursing at him to stop. His English, much improved on the faltering comprehension of a year ago, now served to terrify rather than ease his confusion, as the threats stung his ears.
He needed help. Pulling his ‘phone out, he stubbed his fingers painfully on the shaking screen, hoping desperately that Igor had remembered to top up his credit. The responding beeps confirmed his worst fears: he would have to try Hakan or Darius. Opting for the former, he held the ‘phone in front of him as he ran, feeling a rare wave of relief upon hearing the gruff tones reply.
“Hakan, it’s me! Where are you? I need…”
“Slow down, slow down. Why are you shouting? I can’t hear you.”
“I need help, Hakan! They’re after me!”
“Who are you talking about? Stop messing about and make some sense!”
Chest heaving, Omer considered stopping in order to catch his breath, but the uproar behind him dispelled that notion. As he propelled himself forward, Hakan’s voice continued to bark indignantly down the line; venting displeasure at being disturbed.
At the top of the hill, as he frantically debated whether to run back to college or catch a passing bus at the depot, he felt a foot tug on the stray shoelace of the other. Tumbling forward, he landed sharply on the ground, chin colliding with stone, hands flailing clumsily as he sought to break his fall. A crack was heard and bolts of agony shot through his jaw and left wrist.
Lying on the ground, struggling with pain at every ragged breath, he slowly looked up, blinking through tears to spot his cracked ‘phone lying several yards ahead of him, Hakan’s voice still faintly discernible.
A pair of feet stepped into view as his eyes rolled up. They took in scuffed boots, housing spindly legs draped in a dirty, beige coat, before settling on a face whose sunken cheeks sucked in shadow, fixing him with a stygian glare. It was a face that tugged at his memory…not someone he knew well, but someone who had been on the periphery…
All along, his mind never questioned why the figure did not step forward to help him. It just did not seem …likely. After a few seconds, an arm was raised, the hand clasping a phone, pointed directly at him…and then it waited silently.
As he struggled to rise and get to his feet, Omer felt a rush of air, sensing the gap between him and his pursuers rapidly closing. Too weak to stand or turn, he swayed on his knees, watching the gloomy watchman ahead of him, waiting as the rear-guard cacophony got louder.
Then came the first blow. He found himself hurtling forward again, one free hand scrabbling to protect his head from the collision, whilst his body erupted with pain as a barrage of strikes commenced, and Omer realised that despite his smashed chin, he would still be able to scream.
“To all those that persist in pursuing this failed experiment, this travesty of social policy that has plagued our society and curtailed the hopes, prosperity and future of millions; this endless calibration of an engine that has never worked; to you I announce that our patience has come to an end. We intend to seize back all that is rightfully ours and has been stolen from us.”
Excerpts from ‘The Northern Crusader: Collected Speeches, Volume 1’
North London Borders, Fifteen Years after the Resurgence
The last time Reggie had left her parent’s home, she had been worried that she’d return to find she’d left the lights on. On this occasion, she feared getting there and back alive.
The journey from Cambridge to Edgware had been with a convoy delivering food to a community in Hatfield. Noakes, the lieutenant in charge, was reluctant to deviate from their route, but pressure from Andy had led him to acquiesce in taking her as far as Potters Bar. All the way, he had reminded her of the inconvenience and risk being taken, whilst she gazed wistfully in the wing mirror of his worn jeep, wishing she had opted to sit in one of the tailing vehicles. She had never been able to comfortably engage with Noakes; his bitter, suspicious glare, repelling the most genial amongst them. But she could not deny that of all the community’s lieutenants, she felt safest with him. As much as he intimidated and alienated those within the community, he was feared even more outside of it. The rumour was that he was responsible for the deaths of at least sixty members of the Foundation during his time with them. As for what he had been responsible for before arriving in the country…that was anyone’s guess. Andy trusted him though; for that reason alone, she chose to acknowledge his concession and stay seated next to him.
They reached Potters Bar shortly after midnight, and she alighted at a roundabout near the Canada Life office. The building loomed over her; its logo only visible because of illumination from the crescent moon. Only one of the streetlamps in the immediate vicinity was still working. As she looked further down the road she would follow, she saw intermittent stretches of darkness. It suited her purpose.
“We can’t hang around here,” Noakes’s rasp interrupted her thoughts. Stray eyebrows brushed against his lashes as he spoke, mottled jowls quivering with each utterance. His American accent tugged at her senses … she had never been able to place the exact region. He continued to look in her direction, breathing heavily, until she felt obliged to face him. “We’ll be here tomorrow for fifteen minutes from midnight. If you’re not back by then, you’ll have to make your own way.”
Reggie nodded, muttering a brief thanks. That gave her under twenty-four hours. Without wasting any time watching the convoy circle back, she yanked up her hood and commenced a rapid march.
Warming up, she allowed herself to enjoy the feeling of movement engaging her muscles after the restriction of the jeep. This was the first opportunity she’d had in a long time to hike long distance. Aerial footage of the route had indicated that she was unlikely to encounter any patrols until reaching the end of the A roads, and entering the Edgware and Mill Hill border. It was a mild night, and she began to wish she had brought a cap so that she could relinquish her hoodie. The thought stayed with her as she continued her journey, but she resisted. If they spotted her out here, there was nowhere she could hide.
Nearing the Apex Corner roundabout, she began to minimise her distance from the motorway in order to avoid the caravan settlements scattered along the route. Various groups had made the most of the nature reserves and golf courses on either side of the road. The frequent skirmishes between them, meant that a lone traveller was likely to get waylaid by encroaching upon disputed territory. Patting her side pockets, she felt the comforting rigidity of the knife on her left and the mace spray on the right. She’d spent half an hour with Andy the previous day, practising how to deploy them; circling each other in the college’s dusty fencing hall. Her irritation at the repetitiveness of the exercise had eased, as her reactions improved. She had resisted the impulse to punch him as he kept feinting in her direction. The memory brought a smile to her face. He had been concerned; he was always concerned about something.
“You don’t have to do this,” was his constant reminder. “There may not even be anything there.”
But they had both known that perspective would just result in the community remaining cooped up, and becoming steadily more afraid as the days passed. The futility of such a life was agreed long ago, over the course of many late - night discussions sipping wine from the Fitzwilliam cellar. All she was doing was following the philosophy they had laid out for themselves.
Now, as the Apex Corner roundabout came into view, she felt elation; an emotion not usually attributed to this landmark. The four connecting roads snaking into the junction were empty, in contrast to the frenetic activity she recalled when jogging past on weekend mornings. To her right, she could make out the benign visage of Colonel Sanders in profile, beaming out across the rotary, the absence of custom failing to diminish his mood.
She had a choice now. She could either proceed down the residential streets that would get her to her destination in half an hour … or she could take a detour through the town centre.
The latter would have driven Andy mad with frustration and a warped sense of betrayal. It’s too risky, he would have said. What’s the point of taking all these precautions only to then wave a red flag to the very people you’re trying to avoid? Just focus please, will you? Remember why you’re here and don’t clutter your mind up with sentiment. Just go, get what you came for and come back as fast as possible.