For Disclaimer, please see Chapter 1.

Misplaced People by Devize © 2004 (

* * * * *

Chapter 11: In the shadow of Crow [i]

Morien drifted into consciousness.

It was very bright in the room. The curtains were open. She was still dressed in the blue-green dress that was now streaked with dirt from the Boom’s alley, lying on top of the bedclothes on her still-made bed. Her head was pounding, and she wondered for a moment if she was going to be sick.

Little crystalline moments from the night before sparkled in her mind. Striker talking, Striker’s eyes, the roar of the music and the lights that made her head whirl even now, the gentle touch of a giant hand helping her into a taxi. And at some point she must have made it to bed. Kind of.

There were dancing rainbows on the wall from where the prism in her window caught the sunlight. It must have rained last night, there were still drops on the glass. She couldn’t remember.

Had she paid the taxi fare?

Had Thomas paid?

Had he told Striker what had happened?

Oh God, Striker. She didn’t want to remember that bit.

She finally made it to her feet, suddenly incredibly grateful that Striker had ‘bought’ her a few sickness days. Gastro-enteritis. It didn’t feel too far from the truth. She faltered to the bathroom, and considered the porcelain for a while, before assuring herself that she wasn’t going to throw up after all.

So she moved into the kitchen, took her pills, risked taking some aspirin as well and then drank down a glass of water. Then another, for no other reason than to swallow the nagging thought that she ought to make an appointment with the doctor. Normally, it was at nagging times like these that she would reach for the radio. But her radio was in pieces. She picked a CD from her selection — which Striker had carefully alphabetised, she saw with a smile — and made use of her still-functioning stereo.

She stripped off her clothes, wandering naked into the bathroom, and revelled in the feel of the water as she showered. The smell of lavender soap seemed to wake her a little from her lethargy — it removed the reek of the evening before, the stink of the alley, the smell of sweat, and of cigarettes that seemed to have permeated even her skin. But at the last she hesitated. The smell of cigarettes had brought back the vivid memory of the two of them lost in the calm centre of their own vortex, while the world around them had danced themselves to a blur.

It had brought back the slow-changing shades of Striker’s eyes that mesmerised her even in memory.

It had brought back the joy of simply talking without reference to her health or wellbeing, without advice or reminders or pity. Just talk about subjects that didn’t really matter to anybody — but had suddenly meant the world to her.

And then the revelation.

Striker was gay.

No, she wasn’t gay. She didn’t like being labelled.

But she certainly wasn’t straight.


The water beat down on her. She didn’t attempt to wash away the smell of smoke. She knew now this was the closest she’d ever get to the scent of Striker on her skin.

Striker didn’t find her attractive.

Can I blame her? I’m a ruin.

She turned the water off.

Maybe it was for the best. She wanted Striker in her life. That knowledge had been like a fire inside of her from the time she’d first seen Striker on the platform. From the time she’d first heard Striker’s voice caressing her. She was in deep, and she didn’t want to get out.

She needed Striker in her life. She needed to know that she could pick up the phone and hear that warm, sweet voice. If only that.

The phone rang. She paused for a moment, remembering too clearly the recent implications of that noise. But then wondered… could it be Striker?

She wrapped a towel round herself and went to pick up.


"Where the hell have you been? I’ve been worried sick."

"Drake, don’t you ever work?"

"I’ve got a free period. Where the hell have you been? Are you okay?"

"I’m fine." A big fat white lie. "It’s all been a bit of a shock, but I’m okay, really."

"Where were you last night. I phoned."

"Sorry, Drake. I should have called you. I was out."

"Obviously. Where did you go?"

"Are you asking because you’re simply interested or are you checking up on me?" she snapped.

There was a pause. "Because you’re my sister and I care about you."

Okay, now I really feel horrible. "Drake, I’m sorry, it’s been a weird few days, you know?"

"I know."

There was a peaceable silence for a moment. And then the tumult of Morien’s earlier thoughts rushed to the fore. She ventured: "Drake, can I ask you something."


"How… how did you know that Kerensa was… you know… ‘the one’."

There was quiet at the other end of the line. "I suppose I realised I didn’t want to be without her. I can’t imagine not seeing her every day, sharing things with her, hearing her voice… you know?"

"Yes, I think I know."

"Why, Mo? Are you missing Sophie?"

Morien sighed. "No, I’m not. I ought to be, but I’m not."

"What’s up?" His voice was reassuring and kind.

"I’ve met someone… someone else."

"Is this the friend who’s been helping you?"


"And you think she might be ‘the one’."

"I don’t know. She’s beautiful… in so many ways."


"She doesn’t seem to feel the same way."


"It’s just… I don’t know if my feelings for her are a result of the last few days… hell, the last few months — she’s been so kind to me — or if this is really… it."

"What are your feelings for her?"

Morien smiled. "I can’t imagine not seeing her every day, sharing things with her… hearing her voice…." She could hear Drake chuckle. It was a good-natured sound.

"Time, Mo," he said. "I guess you give it time. Figure out what you feel about her. Figure out what you feel about Sophie. This woman can figure out what she feels about you. In the meantime, be friends."

"Since when have you been so wise, brawd bach?" [ii]

"Since I met Kerensa."

"I always suspected she was the brains of the outfit."

Drake laughed. "Yeah, I love you too, Mo. So… were you out with your mystery woman last night?"

"Well, I was out with her for a while."

"Where’d you go?"

"A club she knew down south."

"A club? You?!"

"It was okay for a while, but I left early."

"Didn’t set the night on fire, then?" She could hear the amusement in his voice. "Count your blessings, though, at least it wasn’t the club that burnt down last night."

"What club?"

"Haven’t you heard? It’s all over the local news. Something to do with drug gangs, they reckon. I remembered the name, cos it’s kind of ironic: the Boom Shack."

Time stopped.

"What did you say?"

Drake’s voice came distantly from a lifetime away. "The Boom Shack. You know… fire… boom…."

"Drake...," she swallowed the bile that was rising in her throat. Her voice seemed swallowed too. "That’s where I was."

"Mo… Morien…?"

She put the phone down.

Striker. She had to be all right. She had to be all right. I’ve only just found her. Immediately, she dialled Striker’s number. It rang ceaselessly. No reply. 10.05 a.m. But of course, she was supposed to be working today.

She looked up the number of St Vincent’s A&E in the phone book and dialled.

Eventually, a harassed-sounding woman answered: "St Vincent’s Accident and Emergency Department."

"Oh, good morning," Morien responded. "Is Striker West available please?"

There was a pause. "Um, she’s not in today."

Morien’s heart sank. "Oh… I’m sorry, she said she was working the day shift today, isn’t that right?"

Again a pause. "She isn’t working today."

Morien was aware of the hysteria begin to build. "You wouldn’t happen to know where she is, would you?"

The woman’s tone became frustrated. "I can’t give you that information. Now, is this a personal call, or can someone else help?"

"I’m sorry, I’m just…."

Morien winced as she heard the receiver slammed down at the other end. She dialled Striker’s home number again. Again, no answer.

Striker, where are you?

* * * * *

Striker had finally been released with the sun high and the morning already up and about and causing traffic jams. She was left with a preliminary court date, her own copy of her interview tape, a splitting headache and the kind of mood that made a raging minotaur look like a docile household pet.

Kishen had met her in the lobby with the words, "My wife is going to kill me. And then she’s going come after you."

"She can join the fucking queue," Striker glowered as she stalked past him.

They walked out of the police station and Striker walked straight into the nearest newsagent. A pile of local newspapers lay on the counter, emblazoned with a photo that vividly captured her memories of the previous night: the bewildered clubbers, the police cars, the fire engines, the ambulances, the smoke. No, the photo didn’t show smoke — but she could still smell it.

She went in search of foreign newspapers, and found the previous day’s New York Times, then found herself back at the counter, the photo staring up at her. Her hand hovered over the top copy, before she picked it up, paying for the papers and two packets of cigarettes, and left.

Kishen was waiting for her outside. She ignored him, instead flicking through the New York Times for the sports pages, then unpeeling the plastic from a cigarette packet. "You shouldn’t smoke," he said, watching her.

"You been talking to Morien?" Striker said, quietly, not expecting a reply.

"Sorry? Isn’t she…?"

"Never mind. Want one?"


"Hypocrite," she said as she pulled out two cigarettes. She lit them both and handed one to Kishen. Then returned to the paper.

"What are you doing?" Kishen asked, blowing out smoke.

"The Phillies had a game day before yesterday. I never got the score."

"Glad to see you’ve got your priorities straight. Well, if you don’t need me anymore, I’ll just go to work, shall I?"

"Yeah, you’re late. I’m late. Sorry." She wasn’t even looking at him.

"Lucky I didn’t have surgery this morning."

"Next time I’ll try and get arrested on your day off, okay?" Striker bit back, folded the newspapers under her arm and started walking.

Kishen stood on the pavement, staring after her for a moment. And then he opened his mouth. "Well, fuck you," he said loudly, causing consternation to a little old lady who was scrutinizing apples at a greengrocer’s stall. "I’m woken up in the middle of the night…."

"It was morning." Striker stopped and turned round.

"Bloody early in the morning… to find that some fucking psycho I have the misfortune of knowing has got herself arrested for drug dealing and wants someone to come and hold her hand…."

"I never asked you to come down here."

"Oh, yeah, right. I was going to say ‘thank you very much, Mrs Police Officer’ put the phone down and go back to sleep?"

"I needed to tell someone…."

"I stood as fucking surety for you, Striker. They’ve got my bank details. You could cost me God knows how much, and now I have to apologise for the fact that I have to go to work?"

Striker breathed, a long, slow breath, and let go of enough anger to walk back to Kishen. She looked down at the pavement as she spoke. "Kish…. I’m sorry. I’m being a bitch. I’m not thinking straight. I haven’t slept in over twenty four hours. I’ve had the night from hell…."

"I know."

"And I don’t know what I’m going to do." She shrugged hopelessly. "But you didn’t have to come down. And… I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that you did."

"Blimey, is that gratitude coming from Striker West?"

"Not bad, huh?" Striker smiled, wanly, letting the smoke escape. "Look, I’m gonna head home, change clothes and follow you to Vinnie’s, okay? You said you’d called in, right?"

"Yes, I did." There was a catch in his voice that made Striker pause.

"And what aren’t you telling me?"

Kishen sighed. There was no easy way of telling her this… but he was going to give it damn good try. "They’re not expecting you at work today."

There was a pause. A long pause.

"Excuse me?"

"You really ought to speak to the sonofabitch."

Striker towered over him. "What the hell did that bastard say to you?"

* * * * *

Morien had worked herself into a frenzy by the time she emerged from the Tube station and headed towards Striker’s home.

She had spent the last hour picturing Striker burning to death.

She had pictured her unrecognisable in a hospital.

Then she had pictured Striker dead in a ditch.

She had pictured her falling under a bus.

She had pictured Striker drinking herself into a stupor because of Morien’s dramatic exit. She had pictured her drunk in a ditch.

She had pictured her in the bed of some one-night-stand….

And that picture was almost as unbearable as the first….

She had pulled some clothes on, almost forgetting to cover her head, grabbing a little corduroy cap as she ran out of the door.

Now, Morien made her way through the concrete housing estate in which stood Striker’s apartment block, grey, stained and miserable. The lift seemed to be working, but smelt unpleasant, and she opted for the stairs, taking them two at a time; then a walkway, and she found herself at Striker’s front door.

It was painted blue. The paint was peeling. The front door bell didn’t seem to be working. She knocked hard.

No answer.

For a long time.

And then the door opened.

In the space of twenty four hours Danny had changed. He looked overcast, tired. His eyes weren’t sparkling as they had done yesterday. His clothes looked rumpled and dirty and smelt strongly of smoke. He cleared his throat uncomfortably before he spoke. "Hi… um…," he said, blinking in the light.

"Hi, Danny, I’m sorry to disturb you. Is Striker here?"

"No," he said, "I guess she’s at work. I’ve only just got back myself."

Morien’s heart sank. "She’s not at work. I called there."

Danny was beginning to look upset. "I thought Striker left with you last night. She was looking for you."

"No, I was… ill. I went home."

Danny blinked. Twice. Then closed his eyes. "Oh Jesus, no."

When he opened his eyes again there were tears.

"Danny, please tell me she got out…."

"I don’t know."

And they were both silent — their voices crushed by the weight of supposition and grief.

Danny pushed the door back. "You’d better come in."

Their living room looked dark and neglected. Danny landed heavily in the armchair. His fingers moved to his throat, rubbing as if it was sore. Morien sat on the edge of the couch, clutching at the seat.

The upholstery material was rough and worn beneath her fingers. There was an abandoned spider’s web catching nothing but dust in the corner. The daisies sitting on the coffee table were drooping. There were circles on the table’s surface, showing generation after generation of mugs, glasses…. Imprints, where once was life.

The smoke from Danny’s clothes seemed to hang in the air between them.

Neither of them spoke. There was nothing to say.

There was a creak and the rattle of keys. The front door opened. Both Danny and Morien looked up, startled by the sounds, to see Striker enter in a cloak of grey anger and exhaustion.

Striker had assumed that she would be coming home to an empty apartment. She had planned to rage within its walls, kick the furniture, call the sonofabitch and tell him exactly what she thought of him and his fucking hospital, and then drown her sorrows in a bottle of whisky and a cloud of cigarette smoke.

Instead, in a rush, she found her arms full of trembling Morien.

She could get used to this kind of welcome.

Morien’s arms had found their way under her jacket, her fingers now clutching at the t-shirt beneath. Her head tucked itself neatly just at Striker’s shoulder, her face buried, so all Striker could see was corduroy. She was saying something, mumbling something like a charm that vibrated against Striker’s body and when the taller woman pulled back a little so she could look at her face, she saw the tears that were streaming down Morien’s cheeks.

And, for just a moment, the anger and exhaustion and the sheer hell of the night stepped back, and let loving concern take control. She tossed the newspapers onto the table, so her arms were free for Morien. "Hey," she said, running a gentle finger down the Welsh woman’s cheek. "What’s all this? Are you okay? I was worried about you last night."

Morien almost choked. "You were worried about me? Striker… we thought you were dead. I was so scared…." She buried her head back in Striker’s shoulder.

Striker closed her arms around Morien, feeling, rather than hearing, the sobs against her chest. She looked at Danny, shocked at the sight of him. He was breathing hard, his hands were shaking. He sat back heavily, and rubbed his face.

"Where the fuck have you been all night, sis?" His voice was shaking too.

"Where the fuck have you been? I’ve been trying to call." The anger welled up in Striker again and she loosened her grip on Morien. "At least, the police have been trying to call."

"The police?"

"I’m your friendly, local drug pusher." She thrust Morien away and collapsed onto the couch. "Jesus Christ, I don’t know what I’m going to do."

"What happened?" Morien sat beside her, a small hand resting on her knee.

"I’ve been charged with possession of crack cocaine with intent to supply…. I didn’t…." she said at Morien’s appalled face "…it was planted on me. By Bruce and fucking Nigel."


"Bruce and Nigel. The guys who torched the Boom last night. The guys who ripped up your apartment. The same guys who in all probability attacked you back in February. And now, thanks to them, I’ve lost my job and I’m going to get locked up for a crime I didn’t fucking commit." She looked at Morien. "And it seems I’m prime suspect for trashing your place too."

There was a silence in the room. A stunning, breathtaking silence, until it was broken by Striker’s yell: "THE FUCKING BASTARDS!!" She dived forward picking up the first breakable item that came to hand, and hurled the jug of wilting daisies at the wall. The jug erupted in noise and fragments, as both Danny and Morien ducked for cover.

Stagnant water dribbled down the paintwork, leaving a miserable green stain. The daisies lay broken on the carpet. Striker’s legs seemed to give way and she fell back onto the couch. Her face fell into her hands. "Sorry," she mumbled.

"Striker…." Morien didn’t know what to say. Then: "This is my fault, all of it. It’s my fault that the club…. I’m so…."

Striker’s voice was muted in her palms. "This is not your fault. None of it is your fault. They would have gone after the Boom even if they’d never heard of you."

"So what did the police say?"

"About what?" Striker looked up.

"About this Bruce and Nigel. Surely they’ve got to follow up your allegation that the drugs were planted on you."

"I didn’t tell them."

Striker’s statement betrayed a tone of embarrassment, but her voice was ultimately calm and strong. Again, there was a silence.

"You didn’t…. Why? You could clear yourself…."

Striker looked her in the eyes. Morien’s gaze was deep green, multi-faceted and sparkling with anxiety. She couldn’t bear to see the light go out in those eyes. "Because they threatened you." Striker reached out, took Morien’s hand in hers, and simply held it.

That was all.

"Striker, what the hell is going on?"

Danny had almost been forgotten. Striker didn’t break from Morien’s gaze. "The less you know the better, bro." Finally she tore herself away and looked at him. "Dan… I’m sorry. Maybe you ought to get out of here for a few days, huh? Maybe stay with your mom and dad, or could your girlfriend put you up?"


"I don’t want you to get hurt too, Danny… please."

Danny looked at her for a long time. He didn’t understand any of this. But he understood the look in Striker’s eyes. Trust me, please.

Then he licked his lips. "Well, I could do with some of mum’s cooking…." He didn’t seem to be looking so pale now.

"Get her to save some jerk chicken for me, ‘kay?"

Danny got up and started for his room. "Save some of my mum’s jerk chicken? No way, sis. Come round and fight for it, like the rest of us!" He gave her a wink and a grin and shut his bedroom door.

Then the music started. Striker yelled, "Turn it down, bro, I’m fucking blitzed." The volume went up… for a full five seconds, then turned right down. Striker smiled, a little, tired smile, and turned back to Morien. Giving her hand a squeeze, she said, "And you get out too."

"Get out? I’m not getting out."

"But Morien…."

"Striker, this is my mess, not yours." Morien’s eyes were almost cold with determination. Her voice was low and serious.

But so was Striker’s. "No, this is our mess. I couldn’t get in any deeper if I was wearing concrete shoes."

"That’s not funny."

"Nor is the thought of you getting hurt. Please, go to Wales, go stay with your dad or something."

"And what are you going to do?"

Striker pulled away, leant back on the sofa. "I don’t know. Got a spindle I can prick myself on? Sleeping for a hundred years sounds pretty good."


"Seriously? I’m going to find out who the fuck Gilbert Lamprey is, and why he wants to ruin my life."

"Gilbert Lamprey? What’s he got to do with all of this?"

Striker’s eyes widened. "You know who he is?"

"Yes. He’s listed as caretaker of a few council-owned properties, including the buildings on Tumblety Street. At least he was. I tried to get hold of him, but he was…."

Striker sat bolt upright. "And this was included in your proposal?"

"Well, he was mentioned...."

"No wonder they wanted it."

"So, who is he?"



i) A reference to Ted Hughes's anti-hero Crow. If I had the time and space to begin to describe Crow then I would. Unfortunately, I don't, but lots of other people on the Internet have.
ii)Brawd bach = little brother

Continued in Chapter 12...

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