For Disclaimer, please see Chapter 1.
Misplaced People by Devize © 2004 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
* * * * *
Chapter 13: The invisible starfall [i]
To Morien, the flashing lights were like a half-forgotten bad dream. Police cars, an ambulance, voices everywhere: there were people being questioned by officers, onlookers hanging over the balustrades of the upper balconies of the apartment blocks, talking amongst themselves, shouting down comments.
To Striker, it had become her worst nightmare. The moment she had seen the ambulance, the paramedics, the stretcher, the moment she had seen the body laid out on it, she had known it was Danny.
She tore across the estate, knocking past bystanders, pushing past policemen, screaming at them, "Hes my friend, for fucks sake, let me by, let me get by." An officer who was interviewing a distraught young Asian woman was almost pushed to the ground.
In the lightning dash, there was one detail that had registered. That body wasnt covered. That body was alive. She crashed almost to her knees at the side of the stretcher, ignoring the paramedics, whose faces she recognised, whose names she knew. Shed worked with them all at Vinnies. But now all she could think of was, "Danny."
He was unconscious, an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose. He had a neckbrace, medical pads on his head. His skin was reddened, bleeding in places; there were purple marks under his eyes. "Bro, youre going to be all right, okay. Youre going to be all right. I promise."
Morien watched her friends distress as if it was her own. She started after her, pushing past, her heart pounding for Striker. She was desperate to comfort her, desperate to reassure her, desperate to heal her wounds as Striker was beginning to heal hers.
She bumped into the Asian woman, but turned to put out a supporting hand on the strangers arm. Only for her rushed apologies to die on her lips. "Asha? Asha, what are you doing here?"
Her work-mates red-rimmed eyes looked at her blindly for a moment.
"Morien ." There was an uncertain, half-smile of recognition. "I came to pick Danny up. We were supposed to be going to his mums." A little sob bubbled up. "I found him ."
"Asha Im so sorry." Morien put her arms round her friend and Asha willingly leant into her support, but Moriens eyes never left Striker.
She was leaning over Danny, talking to him, the paramedics were trying to move the stretcher into the ambulance but Strikers presence was preventing them.
"Why didnt you get out, huh? I told you to get out of here." She stroked his dreadlocks. They were stiff with dried blood.
"Striker ." She looked up. A paramedic was standing over her. "Weve got to take him now."
"Youre taking him to Vinnies?"
Striker got up, allowing the paramedics to manoeuvre Danny into the back of the ambulance. "Fine," she said, "Ill come with you."
Asha started forward, but it was Morien who put a hand on Strikers shoulder. "Striker, you cant help him when youre panicking. Let Asha go with him."
Striker turned, looking at Morien as if seeing her for the first time. Then she looked past her, to Asha. She saw her distress, her red-rimmed eyes, the need to be with Danny a need that she recognised in herself, empathised with, but now associated with someone very different from her flat-mate.
She let go and nodded, and Asha climbed into the ambulance.
Morien was already rummaging for her mobile phone. "Ill call a taxi. Well be right behind them. I promise." But she wasnt sure if Striker heard her, as the tall woman watched the ambulance move off, its lights flashing, and charge, screaming into the evening. She seemed to be withdrawing: allowing the growing shadows to swallow her.
A police officer advanced on them. "Are you Ms West?" he asked Morien, then turned to Striker as Morien shook her head.
"Ms West, I understand youre Mr Giboyeauxs flat-mate. Do you know of anybody who might have done this?"
Striker looked at him, watching his mouth move, but it was Morien who answered. Her voice was not commanding in the least, it was soft, charming, friendly, but it did command. "Im sorry, but I dont think now is the time. As you can imagine, Strikers had an awful shock and she needs to be with her friend. Perhaps it would be best if she came to the station to make a statement when she knows more about Dannys condition." She took Striker by the arm and led her away, off the estate, away from the onlookers and the police and the apartment. Striker followed like a child.
The taxi arrived just a few moments later and they sat in tense silence all the way to St Vincents.
* * * * *
The evening rush hour had been at full swing: cars following a faulty choreography to encircle London in a slow dance. Somehow Dannys ambulance had been able to get through. The taxi hadnt been so lucky.
By the time Striker and Morien made it to St Vincents A&E department, there was no sign of Danny or Asha.
The moment she was on familiar ground, Striker seemed to stumble on a reserve of energy. With complaints in her ears, she pushed past the queue at reception and shouted. "Ria, Danny Giboyeaux. Where is he?"
The woman at the other side of the desk looked momentarily stunned. "Striker, you arent supposed to be here. You know what hell do if ."
"He can go screw himself, now where have they taken him?"
"Excuse me," a loud voice interrupted. "I was here first. I have a nasty ringing in my ears and I want to ."
"You want me to do something about the ringing in your ears?" Morien could see the look in Strikers eyes from where she was standing, and she knew that if it was possible, the would-be patient would be a smoking hole in the floor.
"Well, how rude ," came drifting over from the reception desk, but the patient stepped back.
"Whos got him?" Striker asked again. Please tell me Kish hasnt gone home yet. Please tell me Dannys in his hands.
"Mr Mistry," Ria replied and Striker was gone, leaving a crescendo of comments in her wake and a beleaguered receptionist. Feeling unsure of what to do, Morien waited to one side, watching.
From the alley to here. This is where she had been brought in. This is where shed been pushed ahead of the broken fingers and the ringing ears and had her life saved. And her soul saved. She closed her eyes for a moment, taking in the sound of A&E: hushed voices, raised voices, phones ringing, a child crying, someone swearing at an unpredictable drinks machine, complaints, pleas, laughing . All of life was here and death was just round the corner. And somehow, Striker seemed to straddle both. This was her place this was where she worked, where she thrived, where she helped people, where she had helped Morien. For the first time.
"Are you okay?"
Morien opened her eyes into a pair of two perfectly blue eyes that reminded her, as they always had, of the sky over the bay. "Yes, Im fine. Whats the news on Danny?"
"I dont know, theyre still running tests, but Ive found Asha." She held out a hand which Morien took willingly, and Striker led her into the labyrinth.
* * * * *
They waited in a small, open seating area just off a main corridor: Striker and Morien on a narrow, battered settee; Asha on a deep, lumpy armchair. There was a coffee table in the middle, covered in out-of-date magazines.
They waited in a vacuum of silence. Around them the nurses chatted, laughed, gossiped and tapped down the corridor in their sensible shoes. From time to time a newcomer would hail Striker with a greeting and puzzlement. Striker would acknowledge them with a quiet nod. The only noise she made was from the juddering of her left leg: a nervous twitch that made the heel of her boot tap against the floor. Morien rested her hand on the arm of the settee, covering the material in invisible doodles as a finger traced pattern after unconscious pattern. Asha sat still, her feet together neatly, her hands together on her lap, her eyes closed. Morien wondered if she was praying.
A small, white door off the corridor opened and Kishen appeared in neat scrubs, stopping in surprise as he saw who had come to join Asha. "God, Striker, I had no idea this was your Danny," he said.
"In a manner of speaking," Striker replied, glancing at Asha.
"And Miss Llewelyn, nice to see you again."
"And you, Mr Mistry. Im sorry its ."
"Hows Danny?" Asha interrupted.
Kishen now focused his attention on her. "Hes still unconscious. Hes had a CT scan and it seems he has an intercranial haemorrhage. So, as soon as hes stabilised hell be going in for surgery ."
"An intercranial haemorrhage?"
"Hes bleeding into his brain," Striker said in a quiet voice.
"Hes going to be all right, isnt he?" Asha looked at Kishen.
"Its very hard to say at this point. Well have to see how he comes through the surgery."
"You mean he could die?"
Kishens mouth opened and closed; and then: "Im not going to make you any guarantees. Please understand that hes in a very serious condition. Its hard to say what even a potential outcome could be at this stage, until we get in there and have a good look. He might have every chance of a full recovery ."
Asha backed away, sitting heavily on the armchair, her face in her hands. Morien followed her, crouching down in front of her, her hand comforting on her knee.
"Kish, do you know what happened to him?" Striker asked.
Kishen shrugged. "Beaten around the head with something blunt . Striker, does this have anything to do with your arrest?"
Striker swallowed, wondering what to admit, feeling defensive. She said in a low voice, "With Danny it could just as easily be an irate husband, you know? But ."
"But ? Striker, we cant be sure, neither of us is in forensics, but Eric Haywood thinks hes seen this kind of thing before. He thinks Dannys been pistol-whipped. Now, Ive got to go back in, but at some point youre going to have to tell me what the hells going on, all right?"
Striker nodded, her head low.
Kishen turned away. "And youre obviously determined to deprive me of sleep today, arent you?"
Striker smiled a wry smile that didnt reach her eyes as Kishen disappeared through the door. She stood for a moment, sending a silent prayer after him, before she felt a warm presence at her side. It gave her momentary burst of joy to know that she didnt have to turn round to know exactly who it was.
"What did he say?" Morien asked, quietly.
"That if this isnt linked with Nigel and Bruce then its one hell of a coincidence."
"Because we broke into the chapel?"
Striker turned, her head bowed so close that Morien was breathing in her whispered words. "It cant be. Danny was attacked while we were there. They must have been after something else, and Danny got in their way. Stupid bastard I told him ."
And then a loud, slightly nasal voice intoned, "Ms West, what are you doing here? Your employment has been terminated."
He was short, middle-aged and balding and his expensive suit was filled to bursting with plump flesh. He wore a yellow polka dot bow tie.
It was this that Striker focused on as she swayed on her feet, because she knew that if she looked at this sonofabitchs face, looked him in the eye, then she would follow it up with a fist.
Her voice was tight with a surge of barely-controlled anger, and she had to shove her hands into her pockets to stop taking him by the impeccably tailored lapels. "I know Im fired. Though it seems I was the last to know."
"I believe a message was left for you to telephone me. You didnt. In the meantime there is a formal letter being sent to your home address."
"Why have I lost my job?" Her voice had become quiet.
"I believe youve been charged with possession and dealing of a class-A drug. Thats a serious offence, Ms West."
"You believe? You believe!?" Striker took another step towards him. Morien put a hand out, catching her sleeve to still her progress. Striker didnt seem to notice, even though she stopped. "You wont even wait for confirmation solid evidence of my crime?! Do you really hate me or something?" Striker asked the rotund man. "Am I that bad at my job that this hospital cant bring itself to support me in any way? Give me the benefit of the doubt.... Believe me when I say Im innocent?"
"Youre not bad at your job, Ms West, but you have an unfortunate attitude ."
Striker was on the move again, and again a gentle hand stilled her. "Attitude?! In whose opinion? Have you asked the staff here? Is my attitude so unfortunate that they cant work with me? And what about the patients who have been in my care? Do they think Ive got such a bad attitude that I shouldnt be working here?" She stopped for a moment, apparently considering . "You know, youre right. Its a serious offence. Suspension, under the circumstances, maybe that I could understand. But you, you asshole, you see it as an opportunity to get rid of someone who questions your authority, dont you?"
There was a silence. The whole waiting area was silent. There was silence at the nurses station down the hall. There was silence along the whole corridor. Morien wondered if she could hear bated breath on the floor above.
And then the round man spoke. "You havent answered my question. What are you doing here?"
Striker shook her head, ripping her arm away from Moriens grasp. "For your information, you stupid, inconsiderate bastard, I am here because my best friend is badly injured and might might die. Now if I cant come here as a normal member of the public to support my friend then I will forcibly remove the rod that is apparently wedged up your fat, clenched ass ."
"Is that a threat, Ms West? Surely you realise that a threat such as that, in front of witnesses, vindicates my actions?"
Striker smiled. "Yeah, you little sack of shit, its a threat, because I will get you where it hurts you the most. You take away my right as a member of the public to be here, and I will sue not just this hospital but your sorry ass for every penny youve got. Do you understand?"
And it was this that seemed to get to him. He swallowed, noticeably, and his skin paled. He ran a stubby finger along his collar and took a step back.
"Of course that doesnt include that tribunal Ill see you in when Im cleared of the drugs charges."
"Ms West," he said, feeling the need to clear his throat. "Of course I accept your reasons for being on hospital premises. I simply felt it necessary ."
"Fuck off," Striker said. And he did.
Striker looked as if every last vestige of energy had drained from her in the outburst. She backed up to the seat, almost staggering, and crashed down. Morien followed, waiting for her reaction, not even aware of the withdrawal of prying eyes and whispered comments.
Slowly, Striker looked up, looked her in the face, and then all Morien felt was the warm weight of the tall womans body as it came down on her, arms holding her, a head resting on her shoulder, and a shudder as if tears were on their way. Morien responded, enveloping Striker in an embrace, stroking the hair so loose now it could barely be described as braided stroking the broad plain of her back through the leather jacket, dislodging chapel dust. "Hey," she said, "you were great. And you do do a great job here."
There was a sound from her shoulder that could have been a wry chuckle, but could have been a sob.
Morien continued, caressing, holding as if she had Macsen in her arms, not a thirty-two-year-old, six foot woman. "Everythings going to be okay, Striker. I promise."
Again, the chuckle, the sob. Morien felt Striker shift slightly, and moist words breathed against her neck. "Youre a magical person, Morien, but not even you can promise that."
"Maybe," Morien replied, "but I have to believe it. And I know that you dont deserve this, Striker. Youve been through hell this last couple of days, and its not fair."
Striker lifted her head, and Morien was surprised that her cheeks were dry; there were no tears in her eyes. "No, you dont deserve this. Asha doesnt deserve this. Danny doesnt deserve any of this. Me ."
"You dont deserve this."
Moriens gaze was so determined it almost scared Striker, but she argued anyway, putting a hand to Moriens cheek. "Yes, I do. Dont you see? Ive fucked up. Again. This is what I do, Morien. Wherever I go, however hard I try, it goes wrong. If you know whats good for you, get out now."
"Striker, youre tired, you dont know what youre saying ."
"I know exactly what Im saying. You dont have to stay here anyway. Theres no reason for you to stay. Dannys my friend, hes Ashas boyfriend. Go home, honey. Live your life, huh?"
"No way, Striker. Im staying. I might not know Danny so well, but hes a good person, and I need to know that hes going to be okay. And Im Ashas friend, and Im your friend. And I need to know that youre going to be okay, too."
"Oh, Ill be fine," Striker said, showing her teeth. "Ill carry on with my life, leaving misery and destruction in my wake, as I always do. Ive done pretty well here maybe its time to move on ."
Morien was getting angry. She glanced at Asha who was self-consciously immersed in a magazine, patently and politely ignoring them. They were conversing in whispers, but Moriens whispers were getting harsh. She wanted to spit a thousand words at Striker, but she left it at four. "You dont mean that." It was a statement not a question.
"Why not? Ive got nothing to keep me here. No job. Danny if he pulls through hes got Asha now. And theres no sign of mom. Do you know how many Wests and Baileys there are in London?" Striker reached inside her jacket and pulled out a cigarette packet, tapping it with fidgeting fingers.
"Striker " Morien pulled Strikers face towards her, holding it to ensure she would hear and understand what she was about to say. "Striker you have me."
Strikers eyes were a cold blue, as beautiful as the sky over a snow plain. She smiled, a warm, loving smile, and the cold seemed to thaw. "I have you, and you are a good, sweet person. You are the best, Morien. And I have been honoured to know you. But, you have Sophie." She got up. "And I need a cigarette."
* * * * *
Morien watched as the swinging of the double doors emphasised Strikers departure. A small worm of doubt ate at her, asking the question: would she come back?
She had to grip the seat to stop herself from making a dash after her.
But what Striker had said was true. She had Sophie, and three was most definitely going to be a crowd.
So what was stopping her from putting pen to paper right now, tonight, and telling Sophie that they were finished?
She knew that at some point Striker was going to leave when she realised that Morien wanted commitment, when she realised how difficult a commitment to her was going to be - and hadnt Striker just said that herself? And then she would be alone, with no one. But Sophie. Even though Sophie was on another continent, in another world.
She knew that it would only be a matter of time before Sophie left too. She knew her girlfriend well enough to know that when reality struck she would be unable to take care of her needs now. Unable or unwilling.
She loved Sophie, she knew that. But she was in love with Striker.
Sophie was kind, loving, safe. Striker was dangerous, volatile exciting. And that was just friendship. Morien knew as a lover she would be so much more. She had seen glimpses of the passion on which Striker kept a not so tight rein. She had been witness to the simmering emotions just over the last few days. What would happen if she let that passion go free? Striker was a fantasy. A beautiful, miraculous fantasy that was only staving off the inevitable.
And what was the likelihood of Striker ever lavishing that passion on her?
But she also knew that her relationship with Sophie would never survive just a simple friendship with Striker. It would be too encompassing. Two would be a friendship, three would be Too much too much .
So should she let Striker go? Should she let Sophie go? Or should she just live the fantasy a little longer just a little longer? Except this fantasy seemed to go hand-in-hand with guns and violence and people getting hurt.
And drugs. Lots and lots of drugs.
When they had heard the news about Danny, she and Striker would go to the police. There was even a police presence somewhere in the hospital, she knew. Waiting for news, as they were. Waiting to see if it was assault or murder that theyd be investigating.
But everything seemed dependent on whether Striker would ever come back.
The door had stopped swinging a long time ago.
"Shes something else, isnt she?"
In all that time, Morien had forgotten Asha, although the other woman had dropped the magazine some time ago to watch her colleague.
"In all sorts of ways," Morien replied, still staring at the door.
"Danny talks about her a lot. I thought they were a couple when I first met him. He kept asking me out and I kept saying no because I thought he was already in a relationship. It took me ages to work out that they were just flat-mates."
"And good friends."
"Best friends." Morien closed her eyes, still seeing the closed door on her eyelids. She needed to get her mind off Striker or she was going to go insane. She finally focused on Asha. "I didnt even know you knew Danny. When did you meet him?"
Asha smiled. A wistful smile, that turned her lovely face into a work of art. "A while ago. I go to clubs. My parents think Im round at my aunties, but I go out with my cousin instead. Danny just kept showing up at the same clubs. We have the same taste in music. I went to a couple of his sets at the Boom Shack and we got talking. I always thought he was really gorgeous." Another shy smile.
Morien nodded her agreement, and responded to Ashas puzzled look with, "Im gay, not blind."
"Funny, isnt it? You and Striker, me and Danny, and there we were, sitting next to each other every day, talking about the intricacies of the Woodhall Estate project." There was a pause. "Morien, can I ask you something?"
"Have you and Sophie split up?"
"No no. Striker and I, were friends. We havent dont you know?"
"Oh right," Asha responded in a tone dripping with good-natured disbelief. But her smile waned. "No, I shouldnt have asked. Im in no position to judge you, Morien," she continued. "I lied at work today. I told them I had a dentists appointment so I could leave early and meet Danny. And right now, my parents think Im round at my aunties helping with the new baby. Tonight, theyre going to find out that Ive been lying to them all this time, that Ive been doing everything that a good, Hindu girl shouldnt be doing, and that the man Im in love with is not even Indian, let alone Hindu. But it doesnt matter because the only thing that matters is that Danny ." Her voice, calm and strong until that point, suddenly broke. "This is so unbelievable. This shouldnt be happening ."
"Hell be all right," Morien said, reaching for her hand. He has to be all right. For Ashas sake, for Strikers sake.
She jumped as the door swung open.
And the relief almost made her light-headed.
"I thought you guys might be hungry so I brought some sandwiches." Striker placed the plastic containers on the table. "If you can call them sandwiches. Vinnies isnt known for its cuisine."
* * * * *
"I called Dannys parents," Striker said as she watched Morien and Asha pick their way through the sandwiches.
Asha looked up from an unenthusiastic lettuce leaf. "Thank you. I wouldnt have known what to say."
Striker shrugged. "We thought it best that they dont come down right now, as theres nothing to do but wait. Although well probably get the whole Giboyeaux clan arriving at some point. I said wed keep them updated."
"Dont you want anything to eat?" Morien asked her, offering up a drooping egg sandwich.
Striker shook her head. "Not hungry," she said, and looked away. She wasnt going to admit that panic had driven her out into the early evening, and that not even the expectation of a newly-lit cigarette could mellow the images in her mind. Shed abandoned her smoke and found instead the nearest toilet and herself on her knees on the tiled floor, vomiting all the images, all the shock and the horror of the last few hours, into the bowl.
I cant take any more of this. It was almost a prayer as she leant her hot forehead on the dingy paint of the toilet wall. I dont know how Im going to go on.
She had no job.
She was scared to go back home.
Dannys life was on a knife-edge.
Paully was dead. She swallowed, convulsively.
And she and Morien were in so deep she could see the sharks circling above them.
Welcome to reality.
She and Morien.
Me and Morien.
This might be hell, but at least they were in it together. And despite everything, the thought made her feel better.
This time Im not alone. And Im sure as fuck not leaving Morien to handle this on her own.
She had got up, flushed the remains of her appetite, and had gone to give reality a dose of its own medicine.
But that didnt mean she could face the hospitals idea of food yet.
"Are you all right, Striker?" Morien asked, abandoning the sandwich.
Striker shrugged again. "Tired, I guess."
"You could go home."
"Yeah right, and get my head kicked in. Besides I want to be here for Danny."
"Then stretch out here. Theres room." Striker eyed the narrow settee uncertainly. "Just shut up and get your head down, stalker."
"You really are a nag," Striker said, but carefully folded herself onto the seat. "Um this isnt going to work."
"Well, put your head down here then," Morien said, patting her lap.
Striker stared at her for a moment, panic and exhaustion warring in her head. Exhaustion won. She collapsed onto Moriens lap, her eyes closing almost immediately, just at the bliss of being horizontal, let alone the soft, warmth of her pillow.
"You comfortable?" Morien asked, looking down at Strikers relaxing face.
"Heaven," Striker mumbled.
Morien smiled, and glanced at Asha, suddenly aware of the first blush of embarrassment? Arousal? Feeling awkward, and wondering why she had suggested this in the first place, she tried to find a place for her hands and settled for a compromise: one on the arm of the settee, the other resting gently platonically on Strikers right shoulder.
Maybe she could do this.
* * * * *
Again they sat in silence. Occasionally Morien and Asha would swap a comment, but mostly they left each other to their own thoughts, their own fears.
Morien looked down at Strikers sleeping face, mentally tracing the gentle incline of a cheek, the strong, determined jaw, her eyelashes lying dark against her pale skin, still a little dirty from the chapel. She looked like a sleeping cat a big cat a panther, wild and dangerous and beautiful.
Trying not to disturb Striker, she reached down to her bag, pulling out the pad and pen she carried with her grateful that shed remembered them today. Striker shifted on her lap but then settled again almost in the same position. Gently, Morien started to sketch. Despite the restrictive circumstances, this was so different than before. Her former portrayal had been from memory, and had been coloured by wonder and fear before shed destroyed it. Now she had her model on her lap, her warm breath against her thighs, even through the material of her trousers. It was intimate and arousing and as personal as a kiss.
Asha glanced over at her, but Morien was too absorbed to care about what Asha might think now. Maybe later shed sketch Asha. It would be something for Danny to have when he woke up.
A drowsy voice drifted up from her lap. "Hey, are you drawing me?"
Morien smiled. "Yes. Do you mind?"
There was a pause. "No, I guess not. Though youd have to be one hell of an artist to make me look good right now."
"You always look good."
"You should see me first thing in the morning."
"Ive seen you first thing in the morning, remember? Im sorry if I woke you."
"I wasnt asleep," Striker replied. And she hadnt been. She didnt think shed ever sleep again. But shed allowed Moriens warmth to lull her into an almost meditative state, although still sensitive of the sounds around her, the familiar bustle of a hospital settling in for the night. Had Kishen appeared she would have been on her feet before the others.
She hadnt allowed herself to think, merely to be, her mind thankfully blank. She had only allowed herself to be aware of Morien beneath her: the scent of her, the soft touch of her fingers on her shoulder the delicious closeness of her centre. Morien smelt of lavender and the sun-warmed scent of kindness and, hazily, distantly maybe she just imagined it the mouth-watering scent of arousal. Striker had allowed herself to sink into a reverie of Morien and herself. Not sexual she was too tired for that excitement even in fantasy form but a beautiful memory of the last time shed slept, with Morien in her arms.
Until the object of her desire had moved under her.
"Am I really going to have to do something drastic to get you to sleep?" Morien asked, bringing a hand up to brush the overlong, errant bangs from her forehead. She noticed how Strikers eyes flickered shut at the action, so she did it again.
"What you got in mind?" Striker asked with a crooked grin.
"Im sure theyve got some spare ether or something round here," Morien replied, stroking Strikers hair again.
"Ether? Youre no fun," Striker said, her eyes drifting shut despite herself.
Just like Macsen, Morien thought, and again ran her fingers over Strikers dark mane. Strikers eyes stayed closed, and she made a noise that sounded to Morien like a purr. A big cats growling, contented purr.
Morien smiled and left a hand to rest in Strikers escaping tresses, while the other continued to sketch.
* * * * *
It was quieter now. The hospital had given one final, echoing yawn of noise and settled down for the night. It had been dark for some time, or at least Morien imagined it to be without the aid of a window. Her watch told her it was past dark and into pitch, had the lights of London allowed it.
Asha had curled herself into a ball on the big armchair, lost in her own thoughts and dreams. Halfway between sleep and waking.
Morien sat, her head back on the settee, one hand still in Strikers hair, the other resting back on her shoulder. She wasnt sure if she was asleep when she felt the tall woman stir, and she let go of her hold begrudgingly.
Striker got to her feet, stretching the kinks out of her back, and smiled. "Do you want something from the drinks machine?"
"Tea, if they have it."
"They call it tea if you want to risk it."
"Is the coffee any better?"
"No. Just disgusting in a different way."
"Ill risk the tea, then. Or anything hot and wet."
Striker lifted an eyebrow and disappeared through the double doors.
Time passed before the double doors swung again, and Striker backed through them, carefully carrying three steaming plastic cups. She gratefully placed her cargo on the table. "Is coffee okay, Asha? I wasnt sure what youd like."
Asha roused herself and reached for the cup eagerly. "Coffees fine, thank you."
"I hope its okay, but I called Dannys mom again. I thought wed better keep her in touch, you know?" Striker glanced up, almost shamefacedly. Would Asha feel she was interfering, or taking charge when she had no place to? She was finding it hard to let go of Danny. To let Asha have him have responsibility over him.
But Asha looked grateful. "Thank you, Striker. Really ," she said, her voice insistent. "Im not sure how I could cope with this without you."
Striker looked embarrassed, but Morien placed a hand on hers and squeezed.
Asha continued, "And you, Morien. Thank you."
"Thats what friends are for," Morien replied. She took a sip of tea and made a face. "You werent joking, were you?" she said, watching the smile appear on Strikers face, but she hazarded another mouthful, enjoying the warmth if not the taste.
"Striker," Asha ventured, "how long does an operation like this take?"
Striker shrugged, staring into her coffee. "Its hard to say. Depends on what they find and how long it takes to find it, depends on how much needs repairing, depends on ," a deep sigh, " complications."
"Are there likely to be complications?"
Striker shrugged again. "Im no brain surgeon ." Then she continued, "Hell probably be asleep for a long while afterwards. But if all goes well, it should only be a few hours. Knowing Dan, hell wake up wondering where his music system is."
They all smiled.
"And if all doesnt go well?" Asha felt she had to ask.
"If he makes it through the surgery, the trauma of that, let alone the attack, might cause the brain to swell excessively. In that case, its possible they might have to ."
" induce coma." It was Morien who finished the sentence. And this time it was Striker who clasped Moriens hand.
They sat in silence.
* * * * *
Tired beyond reason, Striker was having difficulty focusing on anything. She found her eyes and her mind settling on trivial thoughts and sights, and then taking off like a disturbed fly. It fired words at her that seemed to come from nowhere. Or some dim and distant past. Or maybe some distant future.
Only your eyes are unclosed to see the black and folded town fast, and slow, asleep.
A wayward lock of Moriens hair peeped out from under her cap. In the miserable light of the corridor it gleamed a strange gold.
Striker wanted to touch it, run the soft curl through her fingers, but her attention was called by the open pad on the coffee table.
Morien had drawn Asha: pensive, distant and beautiful. Strange how a few ink marks on a bit of paper could inspire such feeling.
And you alone can hear the invisible starfall.
Striker hadnt seen Moriens sketch of her. It was only on the page before. She could just lean forward and turn the page .
But the shoes of a passing nurse distracted her. They squeaked irritatingly on the polished floor. The floor was very polished. From here she could see the lights reflected in its surface.
It was very quiet. She could hear the cries of someone scared and in pain in a distant ward. She could hear the squeak of the nurses shoes echoing for what seemed like miles until it was smothered by the swish of the double doors. She could hear starfall.
Another door opened and Striker found herself wondering how Kishen could still look like hed stepped from the pages of GQ after hed been in surgery for almost six hours.
And then a sudden realisation of adrenaline launched her off the settee and across the corridor. Her actions roused the dozing Morien and Asha and both followed on her heels.
"Kish?" Striker asked breathlessly, the only word spoken in an anthem of silent questions.
"Weve taken him up to the ICU. Hes stable. Hes more than stable. Hes positively okay with it. The bleed was tough to get to, but once we got there it was routine. And Danny didnt give us any problems at all."
"No complications?" Asha asked.
"No complications. Obviously, hes not out of the woods yet. Well have to see how the next twenty four hours affect him. Well be monitoring him very closely and, of course, at this early stage we cant judge if his brain has sustained any permanent damage or may be adversely affected in some other way ." Kishens eyes flicked over Morien for a moment. "But, as far as the operation goes, it was a success."
Asha started to cry, big sobbing tears of relief and Morien immediately put her arms round her friend to comfort her.
Striker was left, her mouth open, allowing the warmth of relief to seep through a body that was stiff with emotional torpor. She was vaguely aware that Kishen was still talking. "Now Im off home to see if my wife remembers me, and to get some sleep. Unless theres anything else I can do for you?"
Striker just smiled, and held her hand out to her friend, which he took. His voice softened. "Eric will be on hand, in case anything happens, or if anybody has any other questions, okay?" Striker nodded, suddenly incapable of words, and watched as Kishen disappeared again.
"You okay?" Morien asked at her shoulder.
"I think so," Striker replied.
From where you are you can hear their dreams.
She struggled to form a coherent thought and then, "Im gonna go call his parents, okay?"
And she went back through the double doors.
* * * * *
They had stayed on, waiting for consciousness, although whether it was Dannys or their own had become uncertain in the small hours.
Striker and Morien couldnt go home: afraid now for their lives and their sanity.
Asha couldnt go home: afraid of her parents and of leaving Danny.
And then time seemed to move again and the shift changed. Not the disordered changing of the hospital guard, but the sudden arrival of the Giboyeaux family having spent their own sleepless night in more comfortable surroundings, they were desperate to see their son for themselves. To give their support, to take their positions on the narrow settee and the deep armchair.
Striker made the introductions, summoned Eric Haywood to offer his reassurances, and slipped quietly outside to be greeted by the unexpected appearance of morning.
She found the bench outside A&E where just a week ago shed sat with Kishen and watched the personnel come and go and wondered what she was doing with her life. Now she sat alone, watching the same view, with the same pigeons picking at the same rubbish. Just like then, she was terrified of setting foot into the outside world, terrified of what she could do.
But now everything had changed. Now she was terrified of what could be done to her, and terrified of what might be done to Morien. Attacked? Pistol-whipped? Murdered?
Her head was full of death and drunk, Welsh poet.
She lit a cigarette.
And a little while later, Morien found her cigarette hanging from numb fingertips, her head down almost in her hands.
Morien sat, quietly, on the bench next to Striker, thinking her own thoughts, feeling her own fears, but with a quiet determination infusing her from the decision she had made.
Eventually, she spoke, a quiet voice in the wakefulness of a London morning.
"Striker," she said. "Im going home."
Slowly, Striker sat up, straightening her back, stretching her arms, looking as if her actions were not helping in the least. "Kay," she said, "lets get you a cab."
"No, Striker, Im going home. To Wales. To Lleuadraeth." Striker looked round at her, her eyes wide. "I cant stay here. Im scared."
Strikers mouth opened. Then closed again. A deep sense of loss was already creeping like ivy at Moriens words. What was it going to feel like when she was gone? "Oh. Well, I think thats a good idea. You get out of here. Be safe."
So that was the decision made. With Morien gone, there wouldnt be any point. She wouldnt fight the drugs charges. Shed be found guilty of dealing. Shed end up in prison. Maybe there shed be safe, at least for a little while.
Morien regarded her for a moment. A faint puzzlement creased her brow under the caps peak. "No, Striker. You dont understand. Youre a target too more so. Come with me."
Striker blinked, consciousness rippling like a waking haze. "Come with you...? To Wales?"
Striker didnt quite know what to think, and expressions warred on her tired face. Go with Morien the thought of simply going away with Morien was so blissful she suddenly became glad she was sitting down.
But there were practicalities to think of.
"Im on police bail. Im due in court in a couple of days. I cant leave London."
Morien slipped off the bench, dropping to her knees in front of Striker. "Look, well play it by the book. Well go to the police, as we said: tell them everything, and I mean everything. About my burglary, about the attack on you, about Danny, about these Bruce and Nigel blokes, about Tumblety Street. And well tell them where youll be, well give them dads address, and well let them sort out this mess."
Striker paused again, her mouth open. Going away with Morien . "But Danny ."
Morien put her hands on Strikers knees, leaning into them. "Danny is in the best possible place. Hes got Mr Mistry looking after him hes got his entire family in there, and hes got Asha. Striker, I need you." The breath caught in Strikers throat. "Please," Morien continued, taking the tall womans hand in hers.
Suddenly, Striker got up, forcing Morien to get up too.
Morien momentarily wondered if she had been too forward if Striker would think this was simply more nagging but she neednt have worried. Striker looked at her, a fire revived in the tired blue of her eyes. "We could go back to my place, pack a few things. Cant stay too long there, though. We still dont know why they attacked Danny. But, maybe the police are still there. We could talk to them. I guess we should keep it with the guys from Clarke Street, huh? How bout you? We need to get you back to your flat so you can pack ."
"I dont need to pack, I have stuff at dads already." Morien started to smile, her humour driven by Strikers renewed energy, and then moved as the tall woman started striding towards the street.
"Thats good. Thats great. Itll take less time." Striker was babbling and she knew it and she sure as fuck didnt care. "Hey, maybe we can hire a car. How long would it take to drive? I should have asked, can you drive?"
Morien slowed, and it was a moment before Striker realised she wasnt by her side. "Whats wrong?"
"I can drive but I had to surrender my license."
"Surrender your . Why?"
"Striker ." Now it was Moriens turn to stand there, her mouth open, with no sound apparent. She had thought Striker knew. She had hoped Striker knew. Why was this admission as difficult as the first day shed been diagnosed? Nothing was coming. If she thought about this then she would never say it.
So, she just said the words. "Striker, I have epilepsy. I thought you knew."
And here it was, the change: the dismay, the polite excuses, and she would be left watching Striker Wests flowing dark hair disappearing into the grey, misty dawn of the metropolis.
So she was shocked when she heard the humour humour? in Strikers tone. "Some stalker I am, huh? I must have missed that." Morien looked up and the understanding in those blue eyes made her want to cry. "So, you cant drive right now. Thats okay. No problem. My U.S. license is still valid... just."
No painful horror? No gushing pity? She just carries on the conversation? I love this woman. Morien smiled. "Im not driving anywhere with you."
"Im a good driver!"
"Youre a good driver who hasnt slept for how long now?"
"Just show me the nearest coffee pot."
"Were going by train. It takes ages and we have to change three times, but we can get as far as Pwllheli, then we get the bus."
Striker grew serious for a moment. "Morien, wont we be easier to follow on the train? Theyre still going to be after us."
"We are going by train." Moriens green eyes brooked now argument.
"Nag," said Striker. "Hang on back up. We have to change three times?! Where is this place? Llareggub?"
"Heavens no, thats easier to get to."
Continued in Chapter 14...
Return to the Academy
[i] The title and all italicized references later in the chapter are from the beginning of Dylan Thomas’s "Under Milk Wood" – a play for voices set in the fictional town of Llareggub. I’d recommend that you try and get hold of an audiobook of this, rather than simply reading it – firstly because that’s how it was intended to be enjoyed, and secondly, because it’s a wonderful example of how beautiful the Welsh accent can be.