For Disclaimer, please see Chapter 1.
Misplaced People by Devize © 2004 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
* * * * *
Chapter 14: The Lobster Quadrille [i]
But first they had to get to the police station.
The Underground trains seemed to be stretching and warming up for the day and the two women found the carriages almost deserted to begin with.
They found themselves talking, despite themselves. Striker asked about Lleuadraeth, Morien answered with anecdotes and information. It was something to plan for, something to look forward to. It was surface-level chatter to side-step a weight of reality that was beginning to crush them.
They got off at Striker's local station, with the High Street waking up. Ten minutes down the road was the remains of the Boom Shack. They couldn't see it, but it was if they could still smell the devastation. Neither of them acknowledged it, but skirted round the knowledge as they skirted round the emergent traffic.
A brief walk and the dingy estate was quiet. Although still echoing with the memories of flashing lights and danger, the police were gone, the bystanders had stolen back to their homes, and there was no sign of life. No sign of possible death.
Carefully, they made their way back to the apartment, up the stairs, along the deserted walkway. Here and there were signs of life among the neighbours - the sound of a radio, the flick of a curtain, but no humanity.
"They could have cleaned," Striker murmured as she set foot through the door.
Morien said nothing. She couldn't tell the difference.
Until she saw the spots of blood on the wall, where yesterday she'd been mopping up stagnant water and dead flowers.
"Do you want me to tidy up?" she asked Striker.
Striker was grateful for the offer, but answered truthfully. "I guess this is a crime scene. They might have finished for now, but I guess it ought to stay for a little longer, especially in view of what we're about to do." She disappeared into her bedroom calling behind her, "If you need anything… use the bathroom… anything like that… help yourself."
Morien stood for a moment, listening to Striker moving around in the bedroom. She could hear the creak of the wardrobe door, the scrape of battered drawers opening. She stared at the blood on the paintwork, unwillingly imagining what had happened in this apartment barely twelve hours before: Danny confronted by strangers. Had it been the quick, heavy, unexpected blow to the head that had changed her life, or had he struggled? And what more had these men - Nigel and Bruce - what more had they wanted, if it hadn't been to warn the two witnesses who had stumbled into the little chapel?
"How far is it to the police station from here?" she called, staring at the closed front door, and wondering how long it would take for somebody to kick it in.
"Clarke Street's off the High Street; bit further up from the Tube."
"Not far then?"
"No, not far."
Morien almost jumped out of her skin when the letter box clacked and mail bumped onto the carpet by the door. Without thinking she picked it up, glancing through it. A couple of bills; junk mail; a music magazine for Danny; a letter, something official, addressed to Striker.
No, not addressed to Striker, addressed to R. S. B. West.
Maybe she was Striker after all.
Intrigued though she was, the sound of footsteps on the walkway outside drew Morien's attention away from the letters. They were only passing, not stopping. Maybe just the postman again, she reasoned, but wondered whether it would be overly dramatic to push the couch in front of the door for the duration of their stay. Instead, she merely slipped the chain across, ensured the latches were down, and, throwing the mail onto the table, moved to the bathroom. She wanted to wash the grime of the chapel and a hospital night from her face. She needed to take her pills.
She caught herself smiling at herself in the mirror as a sudden thought struck her. Funny, considering she'd just locked the two of them away from the outside world, and funny, considering the bathroom door was firmly shut… but, suddenly, here with Striker, she felt as if she didn't need to hide anymore.
She took her cap off and, for the first time, watched herself as she swallowed the hated medication in a mouthful of water.
But she still doesn't fancy you, anghenfil [ii] .
Besides, why should she be surprised that Striker wasn't fazed by her epilepsy. She was a doctor, wasn't she?
She bent over the basin. The cold water felt good on her skin. She ran a wet hand through her hair, unconsciously lingering over the scar, as always.
"Hey, Morien, you okay?" she heard through the door.
"Yes, fine. Just waking myself up a bit." She towelled her face dry, the friction itself reviving her, and opened the door.
Striker was right outside as Morien emerged. She was about to go into the bathroom, but stopped as she saw her shorter friend and her eyes crinkled. To Morien's surprise, she reached out and ruffled her fingers through her damp hair. Morien wasn't sure what to make of the gesture, but glimpsed only fondness on Striker's face as she dived into the bathroom. She was gone for a few moments, and Morien heard splashing water. Then she re-emerged, her face clean and her hands full of toiletries.
"Hey, Striker," Morien called.
"Your post's arrived." She nodded at the letters.
Striker scowled. "Probably just crap I can't pay." Juggling bottles, she picked up the official-looking letter and managed to tear it open without dropping anything. She smirked as she read it. "Well, whaddya know," she muttered. "I've been fired from my job." She threw the paper down and headed out of the sitting room, mumbling expletives under her breath.
As she entered the bedroom, Striker stopped, trying to remember what she was doing. Her mind didn't seem to be working any more. She looked longingly at her bed. Her lovely, big bed. It would be so easy just to curl up and sleep. Curl up and hide from the world. Curl up and hide under the duvet with Morien. Yeah…. But the world wouldn't let them hide. The world would come knocking on the door… or simply break it down - probably advising them by formal letter after the event… so they had to go and confront it.
She sighed, and swayed slightly on her aching feet. That was it. She had to pack. She arranged her armful of bottles and washing sundries in the suitcase - idly hoping the shampoo wouldn't leak - and added another pair of jeans, following them with another couple of t-shirts. Then cleaned out her underwear drawer.
She heard Morien's voice from the living room, drifting to and fro like a sound wave. Striker was unsure whether Morien was speaking another language or she was losing the power of understanding spoken English. "Hi, dad, it's me. Um… I know it's a little short notice, but could me and a friend come and stay for a few days?…. Are you sure that's okay?…. Dw i'n iawn, tad. I ddweud y gwir [iii]… we're in a little bit of trouble. Um… we'll probably have to have a chat with Idomeneo…."
And Morien must have moved because the rest of the sentence was muffled by space.
Striker stared at the suitcase, already occupied by books. It was going to be heavy to carry but she sure as hell wasn't going to leave it here. She checked in the back pocket - filled with carefully folded, carefully bound bundles of paper - and pulled out the old copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and within, the tattered photograph. She stared at the image as if committing it to memory.
Her tired mind registered a word, a feeling, a touch.
Maybe it was the tiny creak of the door, or the almost silent beep of her mobile phone as Morien switched it off, but Striker looked up to see Morien framed in the doorway.
Morien felt as if she'd interrupted a private conversation. She was going to make her excuses, apologise, turn and leave, but instead she found Striker handing her the photograph.
The colour was so faded it was almost sepia. It had been folded and re-folded and was criss-crossed with lines and time. But the image was clear.
It was as if she was looking at Striker: a face whose shapes and planes she'd sketched in the hospital just the night before. A clear, intelligent, blue gaze. A gentle, almost solemn smile played on the faded lips. But her hair was light - it must have been a dark blonde.
A different woman, from a different place and a different age. It was almost frightening how like her mother Striker was.
Morien looked up, into the same gaze, but this one was desperate for approval. The breath caught in her throat at the trust Striker had placed in her. She would not let her down. She smiled at Striker, a reassuring, honest smile, and said, "She's beautiful."
"She is, isn't she?" Striker's face was almost childlike with the pleasure of Morien's words. She reached out to take the photograph back from Morien, and smiled as she felt Morien's fingers linger against her hand. "I'll find her one day," she said. Then tucked the photograph safely back in its book, into the suitcase and closed the lid. And then her voice changed, lowered, and her eyes became shrouded. "I guess we better get this over with, huh?"
* * * * *
Striker slammed the front door behind them, pushing on it to make sure it was well and truly closed. Then, checking around the waking neighbourhood, they made their way down the stairs, Striker bumping the suitcase in front of her.
Now there were signs of movement here and there: a mother shouting at her petulant children as she herded them across the estate; a dog sniffing round a gathering of dustbins; a drunk trying to negotiate a kerb.
"How far?" Morien asked, her heart in her throat.
"Five minutes if we're fast." Her voice was sharp, urgent.
"I know, I see them…."
They had reached the main entrance to the estate where it greeted the High Street, and to their left, standing nonchalantly on a corner further up the road, was a small group of skinheads. They seemed indifferent to the time of the morning, or that their quarry had just shown themselves, only seeming concerned about an empty drinks can which they were kicking about the pavement with shouts of invective-laden merriment. But both Striker and Morien felt razor-sharp eyes on them, and as they moved to cross the road they were aware of a shift in the group… a casual tap of the can in their direction.
The traffic was building, and the two women ran the gauntlet of buses, cars and angry horns as they dodged their way to the other side of the street. They were now parallel to the ghouls, as the impromptu game of kick-the-can was abandoned and the women found themselves shadowed across the road. Morien and Striker sped up, close to running, Morien's bag bouncing against her side, the suitcase banging painfully against Striker's leg. She shifted it up, wondering if she could swing the heavy burden fast enough and high enough for it to be an effective weapon if needed.
"Striker…." Morien's voice was high with fear.
Striker looked up, ahead of them. She could see, in the distance, the turning to Clarke Street, their way to the police station and safety, and on that corner a second cluster of skinheads had suddenly appeared as if spat out by the morning.
They stopped dead.
"What are we going to do?"
"I don't know."
"They wouldn't try anything, would they? I mean, it's broad daylight… there are too many people about."
"I don't know… but we're fucked. We can't get to Clarke Street."
"Then what do we do?"
Striker was getting angry. Angry with the skinheads, angry with Morien for expecting her to have all the answers, and especially angry at life. But she was too tired to be angry. She was too tired to feel any kind of emotion save a savage amusement, tinged with complete disbelief. For a moment, she was still clinging on to the dilapidated roof of the Salem Chapel, dizzy and disoriented, and then the High Street had turned into Wonderland and she and Morien were waltzing down it.
They had overtaken the first group of ghouls who were now idling a little further back, watching them, waiting for their next move. The second group were laughing and joking among themselves - Striker could swear that one of them was looking at them, beckoning, grinning. And as she watched a car pulled up to the kerb a little further up. A smart sports car, royal blue, expensive and shining. It embodied masculinity, it embodied power, and in the front seat sat two large, suited men.
Striker vividly remembered the feeling of the gun barrel pressed to her forehead, and the mess a single bullet could make of a face …. She looked around, looking for anything… anything… that could get them out of there.
Shops were opening - she recognised the newsagent a little way ahead. Some shopkeepers were setting up stalls on the pavement to display their cheaper wares: a hardware store, a greengrocer, a florist….
"Striker…." She felt Morien grab her arm and nod down the road.
"And they say they're never around when you need them," Striker murmured. Turning out of a side road was a police car. It turned onto the High Street, heading in their direction, and pulled up almost opposite to them. Two policemen got out. Both were rapt in conversation and neither seemed to notice the groups of skinheads, the besieged women, or the elegant car that was causing a potential obstruction, all of whom were watching their arrival avidly.
Morien yelled, trying to catch their attention, but her shout was swallowed by the roar of a passing bus.
Traffic was moving fast now. Striker pulled Morien out of the way of a taxi as she tried to cross the road. Still the police officers were oblivious.
Besides, Striker thought, it wouldn't be enough just to talk to them. They were going to have to get out of this situation with an escort. Striker looked round her again, at the shops, the stalls. She looked at the ghouls, she looked at the sports car, she looked at the policemen…. "Morien, I've just had a really bad idea."
"It'd better be a really good bad idea."
She was moving now, down the street, calling after her. "Remember I told you how I got my name…"
"Yes, baseball, but…."
Striker reached the greengrocers; fruit and vegetables were neatly laid out on the stall. Striker dropped her suitcase. "Well, it's been a while, but…." And a large tomato whizzed across the cars on the busy street and landed with a ripe, juicy splat on the helmet of the unsuspecting police officer.
Striker grinned. "Hey not bad. I still got it…." And she took another tomato and lobbed it across the road. Morien's mouth opened, not sure whether to laugh or scream at Striker, instead she found herself confronted by a furious greengrocer.
"What the hell's she doing?"
"Um… it's a little complicated, but she's saving our backsides." Another tomato whizzed across the road, and Morien reached for her purse.
The astonished police office followed his colleague's finger and raced across the street, dodging traffic, shouting, "Stop! Police!"
Well, duh…! "Don't worry," Striker yelled back. "We're not moving." She thrust a tomato into Morien's hand, immediately implicating her in the crime. Up and down the pavement, the two groups of ghouls were staring, their mouths open.
"What the hell are you doing?" The policeman arrived, sputtering and damp with tomato seeds creating a new and interesting design on his uniform white shirt.
"Sorry about that, it was kinda necessary."
"Necessary? Are you drunk?"
"No, just extremely tired. Are you going to arrest us?"
The policeman goldfished. It was his colleague that replied. "Hell, yes."
They were marched across the road, accompanied by their newly acquired crossing guard and a building and slightly hysterical glee, and helped into the back seat of the police car, the suitcase being carefully stowed in the boot.
"I can't believe you did that," Morien said in an undertone, reaching for Striker's hand as the police car moved into traffic.
"Got us out of there, didn't it?" Striker couldn't help but wave at the astonished faces of Nigel and Bruce as they passed the sports car, and they swept around the corner of Clarke Street in style.
"You're a genius," Morien whispered.
"Nah, just a damn good pitcher," Striker said, disappointed that the journey was already over as the car was parked in the yard. "You ready for this?"
Morien nodded, squeezing her hand.
Striker bent close to Morien. "They know now. The moment we step out of this police station they're going to be after us."
"Come on. Out." The damp and red-tinged constable opened the door on Striker's side and jerked his thumb in the direction of the building.
"They're after us anyway. What have we got to lose?" Morien replied. She brought Striker's hand up and brought it to her lips. Then with a smile, she slid out of the car.
The custody area was empty, only occupied by the imposing figure of the sergeant behind his desk. A man this time: solemn and humourless, and when told of the charges, his scowl seemed to deepen. Plainly, he was unimpressed and annoyed that these two women were here at all.
Then, Striker spoke. "Sir, we have information."
"Information?" He drawled the word, and raised an eyebrow, cynicism written in every line of his face.
"My name is Striker West. I was arrested late Thursday night for drug offences. We have information on the arson attack on the Boom Shack night club, the assault of Danny Giboyeaux on the Bronte Estate yesterday afternoon, the murder of one of the Boom Shack employees…" she could sense Morien's head flick round in surprise, "…and a very big stash of cocaine."
The sergeant lifted his other eyebrow.
* * * * *
They were separated.
Striker had to wait for the arrival of the sallow-faced solicitor and was shown into a cell. The same cell. "Home from home," she murmured as she lay down on the hard bed and allowed her self to drift off.
Her waking dreams were full of blood and flight, and bullets red and soft and exploding with seeds, as she was chased through the snaking corridors of St Vincent's. And around every corner she found Bruce or Nigel, gun in hand, trying to push her down and pull the trigger - the shot would ring in her ears, and around the walls and she would wonder if she was dead; but then another corner and Danny would be there, soundlessly calling for her as blood dripping down his head from a gaping head wound; only to back up and find Paully, his face a destruction of flesh and brain, his gold tooth jiggling, his arms outstretched as he begged her for help.
And nowhere could she find Morien, but she kept hearing her voice. A quiet, Welsh lyric that would whisper in her ear, "Please don't leave me. I need you."
And the cell door creaked open and there were other voices.
"Miss West," the plain-clothed detective asked, "are you trying to make some deal so we drop the drugs charges for this so-called information?"
Striker blinked, her mind crawling back from sleep. It was the same detective that had interviewed her on Thursday night. "No," she said, swinging her legs onto the floor. "If you want to go ahead with the drugs charges then go ahead. I'm giving you this information because it's the right thing to do. And because my friend and I need your help. Now if you can forget about the tomatoes…."
The detective chuckled. "Come on," he said.
* * * * *
"I suppose I have to go back to February."
Five hours of exposition.
The detective flicked through some paperwork in front of him. "It says here you were attacked in February but no one has been caught. Is that right?"
"Yes, that's right. I had no idea at the time who would have done that to me. I do now, and I know why as well."
"I believe their names are Bruce and Nigel, or else it was one of their… friends. I'm afraid I don't know their surnames."
"And why would these men want to attack you?"
"Because I was interested in the Salem Chapel on Tumblety Street."
"This is about a chapel?"
"It's about what they're using the chapel for."
"And what are they using the chapel for?"
"To store drugs."
"And how do you know this?"
"Because I've seen them."
* * * * *
"These two brothers planted the crack on you because…."
"Payback? What did you do?"
Striker paused. "I… I kinda kicked Bruce in the face."
There was a pause. "You kicked… Bruce… in the face?"
Striker nodded, and watched as the detective glanced at his companion. There was a strange respect in his eyes.
Five hours of two-way knowledge.
Striker fixed him in her gaze. "You know them."
* * * * *
"You've only heard of this Bruce and Nigel through Miss West?"
"I believe what Striker's told me, yes."
"But what do you know, Miss Llewelyn?"
"I know the name Gilbert Lamprey." Morien liked the silence that the name instilled.
"How do you know the name Gilbert Lamprey?"
"He's employed by the council."
"You've seen him at the council building?"
"No, I've never seen him and his telephone number is unobtainable. But he's listed... was listed... as an employee, as caretaker for various council buildings: a couple of warehouses, the chapel on Tumblety Street. I did have documentary evidence of this, but the file was stolen when Striker was attacked."
"So, you're saying the council is involved in this?"
"I think someone at the council must be involved, yes."
Five hours of going round in circles.
"And you think this is why you were attacked back in February, and why your flat was burgled a few days ago?"
* * * * *
Five hours of teas and coffees and police officers' Excuse me's and detectives leaving and arriving and whispered discussions behind half-closed doors and questions and answers, while exhaustion tap-danced on their eyelids.
Morien sat in the custody area. Her eyes closed now, but not asleep. She waited and listened, enjoying the fact that it was over. Enjoying the quiet. She didn't have to see her to know that Striker had been brought in.
Five hours without her.
She smiled and rose to meet her friend. "I've given them dad's address."
"You okay? You look tired."
Morien smiled. "You look tireder," she said, and gave Striker a hug. "We've done it," she whispered. Striker felt heavy in her arms, the exhaustion of two days without sleep weighed them both down.
"We've done it," Striker whispered. "They've joined the dance."
"Excuse me," said the freshly-shirted constable. "I've been told to give you a lift to Paddington station...."
i The Lobster Quadrille by Lewis Carroll,
from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
ii Anghenfil = freak
iii Dw i’n iawn, tad. I ddweud y gwir… = I’m fine, dad. To tell the truth….
Continued in Chapter 15...
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