For Disclaimer, please see Chapter 1.

Misplaced People by Devize © 2004 (devize@supalife.com)

* * * * *

Chapter 17: A heart well worth winning [i]

It was a soft, warm light that woke her. And she basked in it.

She was an angel bathed in celestial glow.

She was a lioness on the African plain, stretched out in warm shade.

At the very least, she was a lizard sunning itself on a rock.

That made a change, she usually felt like a lizard lurking under a rock.

But then she returned to the celestial light, because gently, quietly, she could hear music. So unlike the pulsating beat of Danny’s music, which could wake her up like an aural cattle prod. This came to her, undulating — washing over her in rolling, string-tipped sound. A sound like angel wings.

Slowly, she opened her eyes.

The room was still dim, but sunlight was bursting through every tiny uncovered gap at the window. A breeze, not much more than a stirring of air, played with the curtains, causing the sunbeams to dance in harmony.

Striker felt rested.

She felt relaxed.

She felt as if she had slept for the first time in several years.

She jumped as she felt something move on the bed. Looking down, she saw Easey stretching luxuriously against her thigh. Striker decided to emulate her and stretched too, from her finger joints down to the tips of her toes.

The door was ajar, by just an inch. Below the music, she could hear the faint sounds of life downstairs. She wondered what time it was. She wondered where she’d dropped her watch in the rush to get into bed last night. She wondered if Morien was awake. She wondered what they ate for breakfast in Wales.

Feeling more energised than she had done in months, she jumped out of bed and threw back the curtains, plunging the room into glorious light. Outside, the birds were singing their heads off. Striker debated whether to join them then and there, but opted for the muted studio of the shower instead.

By the time she headed downstairs, braided, washed, dressed and ready for life, the music had stopped; replace by the drone of the television. She stopped in the doorway of the sitting room. Sullivan and Morien were silent, engrossed by the news.

"The Metropolitan police have seized cocaine with an estimated street value of 300 million in one of the biggest drugs seizures on record. The drugs were discovered at an abandoned chapel in east London. Also found was the body of a man, who is yet to be formally identified…."

The bubble of joy burst. Striker opened her mouth. "His name was Paul Maloney, twenty nine years old, of no fixed abode and the Boom Shack, south London," Striker said, quietly.

"Striker?!" Morien looked round, shocked.

"I saw him." Striker smiled weakly. Morien got up to meet her, the report still ringing in her ears.

"Twelve men who were caught attempting to remove the haul have been arrested for drugs and firearms offences. Further arrests are expected to follow."

A police spokesman appeared on screen, talking about drug gangs and murder.

"You saw the body at Tumblety Street?"

Striker nodded. "Doesn’t matter now. Police have found him, and looks like they’ve got the bastards. Lil’ Paully can rest in peace."

"Police are also investigating the possible involvement of members of staff from the East Metropolitan Borough Council. Council members are yet to comment on the operation, but a statement is expected…."

Still halfway through the report, Sullivan switched the television off. "Well, I think the two of you have been remarkably brave. I’m proud of you. Both of you." He smiled at Striker. He was feeling better… and worse… after the talk he had had with his daughter that morning. Now he knew the nature of the trouble. Now he knew just how much danger they had been in. "Striker, I thought that you and Morien might like a pub lunch today. My treat. What do you say?"

"That would be lovely, Mr Llewelyn, thank you."

"And please call me Sullivan. If you keep calling me Mr Llewelyn, I’ll have to start giving you homework. Now, we ought to go in a minute if we’re going to get a table. Are you two ready?"

"Do you want to go on ahead, dad? We’ll be right behind you."

Sullivan looked from Morien to Striker and smiled. "I’ll get the drinks in." They heard the front door close behind him.

"Don’t you have breakfast in Wales?" Striker asked.

Morien’s eyes twinkled with amusement. "Striker, it’s past midday. You were asleep for over fourteen hours."

Striker’s mouth opened and closed. "Oh."

"I stuck my head round your door a couple of hours ago and you were dead to the world." Morien didn’t mention that she’d stood there for a good few minutes, watching Striker sleep; loving the sweet serenity that smoothed her face. She hadn’t even noticed when Easey slid past her legs only realising the little tabby was there when she’d leapt onto the bed. Striker hadn’t even stirred at that little disturbance, and deciding it would be more disrupting to try and move Easey, Morien had left her there, leaving the door ajar and wishing it was her settling herself down against Striker’s long body.

"So that’s how I got a bedmate," Striker said.

Morien smiled, and blushed slightly, as if her thoughts had been caught naked, unashamed and with a box of tissues. "I phoned Asha again, earlier," she said.

"How’s Danny?"

Morien felt again that little tickle of jealousy at the way Striker’s face lit up, at her eagerness to hear about her friend.

"Sleeping most of the time, but holding his own."

Striker giggled: an amazing sound from this normally dry American, welled up from relief. "Makes a change, Danny usually gets someone else to hold…." She looked at Morien and buttoned her lip, and then the sparkle diminished. "I feel bad for not being there with him."

"And where would you be if you were still down there?" Morien’s voice sounded sharp, despite herself. "You wouldn’t be safe. They might still be after you, after us. Would Danny want that?"

Striker answered with a question. "Do you think they’ve caught them?"

Morien shrugged. "It said they’ve arrested twelve people. Hopefully, Bruce and Nigel are among them. But, just in case they aren’t, I’m glad you’re up here… with me."

Striker smiled, softly. "So am I." She reached a hand out, thinking to cup Morien’s cheek, but lost the burst of courage and simply brushed an auburn strand away from her skin. "I don’t know what I’d do without you."

"You wouldn’t have been charged with drug dealing. You’d have your best friend safe at home instead of in intensive care. You’d still have a job…."

"And I would be miserable."

Striker’s eyes fell to Morien’s lips as the Welsh woman smiled shyly. They were neat and faintly heart shaped, and full and soft and Striker suddenly got the most stubborn urge to touch them… kiss them… lick them. Anything rather than just stand here like a jerk looking at them. She remembered the dream she had had on the train the day before, and felt an answering tickle of memory between her thighs.

There was a silence, heavy laden with the humidity of anticipation, and it was Morien who broke it, a voice like cool valley rain. "We ought to go," she said. Her tongue came out, just to dampen that plump bottom lip, and Striker wondered if her knees would give way. Instead, she forced her mind back to the trivial.

"Do I look respectable enough?" she asked. "I mean, you look…." Morien was wearing a plain cotton dress, rich green and sleeveless, which, while managing to hide all those curves that Striker was craving, somehow accentuated them by their concealment.

Morien’s eyes moved slowly down Striker’s body, taking in the loose t-shirt that allowed a glimpse of the strong contours of her upper arms, the peaked swell of full breasts, the knee-length shorts, the silky accentuation of her calf muscles, the truly ancient sneakers, those calf muscles… and her eyes wandered up again. "You look fine," she said.

* * * * *

The sky was a deep, cloudless blue, the sun almost blinding off the sea and the whitewashed buildings, with the slightest touch of breeze from the water ahead. They made their slow way down the incline of Lleuadraeth’s main street towards the little harbour. Morien pointed out shops, some open, some closed in deference to Sunday. Striker trailed smoke.

Morien had given her a look of disgust as she’d pulled the cigarettes out of her pocket.

"I haven’t had one for almost a day!"

"Your lungs must be throwing a party."

"So I’ll bring refreshment," Striker growled and snapped her cigarette lighter, although she was careful, as always, not to get the glowing stick anywhere near Morien.

Halfway down the hill, Morien asked a question. "Striker, why didn’t you tell me about Paully at the chapel?"

"Because he wasn’t pretty." She took a drag from the cigarette to still the slight queasiness that suddenly materialised.

"But you could have told me."

"I wanted to forget…." Striker stopped for a moment, mid-pavement. "Paully’s my friend. I don’t want to remember him like that. I want to remember him for what he was." She half-smiled. "Fun-loving... easy-going... a stoned, oversexed, little buttmunch... but he was my friend. I don’t want to remember him as... what was in that chapel. You get it?"

Morien nodded.

"And there was no way then, and there is no way now, I’m going to share what I saw with you, ‘kay?" Her voice was determined, strong and kindly. It made Morien smile with understanding and warmth, and filled her with sadness at her friend’s grief. And she still wanted to know.

"Tell me about Paully," she asked. "I mean, what he was like."

Striker looked her in the eyes — they seemed to be shimmering with tears that she herself couldn’t shed — and gave her a sad smile. Then with the cigarette dangling from her lips, she started talking about Lil’ Paully: the first time she met him, his friendship with Thomas, the time he tackled a guy double his size because he’d swiped his spliff....

They continued their walk down the hill at the bottom of which was a pedestrianised square, open to the harbour. On one side, large and cheerful, was a pub. There were bright, flower-laden boxes at the windows, and tables with happy drinkers spilled out onto the square. ‘The Ship Inn’, a sign declared in proud letters.

Striker started towards it, still talking, but felt a hand on her arm. "You don’t want to go in there." Striker turned to look at her. "At least, I don’t want to go in there."

Morien tugged on her arm, and the two of them crossed to the opposite side of the square, where a much smaller pub seemed to be hiding in a corner. A sign hung motionless over the door. ‘The Half Moon’, it murmured.

An elderly couple were leaving as they approached its front porch. Striker held the outer door open for them, a gesture rewarded by a smiling, "Diolch." Behind her, she could the couple greeting her friend politely. "P’nawn da, Morien, sut dach chi?"

"Da iawn, diolch, Mrs Lloyd. S’dach chi?"

The door slipped from her fingers, cutting off the conversation. Now, from inside the pub, she could hear a rumble of voices: jokes, laughs, ‘hellos’, ‘goodbyes’, questions on health, wealth and wellbeing. A man, obviously sitting close to the other side of the door, called out, "So, where’s your Dylan today?"

"Oh," a distant voice said, "he’s…."

Striker opened the inner door.

And every single person in the room turned to look at her.

She wondered, momentarily, if she’d grown an extra head.

The same, distant voice piped up again, continuing the sentence: "…mae o adra. Mae o’n sâl."

And the rumble started again, as each conversation was taken up… but in a foreign language. Fucking rude bastards!

"Don’t take it personally," a soft voice said in her ear. "They do it to everybody they don’t recognise. It’s a defence mechanism against the invading English."

And as if to prove a point someone close by said, "Hello, Morien, love, how’s it going?" Morien couldn’t help chuckling as she replied.

Striker heard someone call her name and she turned to see a welcoming pint glass, and beneath it, a smiling Sullivan.

He was sitting with someone. The man seemed a mass of unyielding granite. He was broad in every direction, and gave the impression of weighty, immovable, grey solidity. He seemed timeless. Striker couldn’t guess his age — somewhere between thirty five and sixty five. Maybe. She felt his eyes on her as she approached the table.

At one hand was an almost-empty glass of beer. Under the other was a dog-eared copy of Our Mutual Friend.

Sullivan pushed a chair out for Striker, as Morien greeted the mountain man affectionately. "I thought you might like to try the local brew," he said, pushing the pint glass towards her. She smiled her thanks and, tipping the glass in a communal toast, took a sip, praying to any passing deity that her enjoyment looked convincing. What was the appropriate etiquette for telling the father of the love of your life that you thought bitter tasted like creosote?

Then she took another sip, just to make sure it was as revolting as she thought.

For creosote, it sure went down smooth.

Sullivan was speaking again. "Striker, this is a good friend of mine, Idomeneo Jones. Idomeneo, this is Striker West."

Striker smiled and nodded: "Good to meet you."

Slowly, like watching a glacial shift, the man’s faced moved. "So," he said in a rumbling bass voice, "you’re the drug dealer."

Striker’s jaw dropped. She looked in horror from Sullivan to Idomeneo and back again. Idomeneo stared back. Sullivan looked suitably uncomfortable. "Sorry, Striker, I should explain…."

"Idomeneo is Detective Inspector Jones of the North Wales Police," Morien finished, a wry smile playing on her face.

A flash of understanding crossed Striker’s face, but she still confronted the policeman. "I’m no drug dealer."

There was a pause. Idomeneo took a leisurely mouthful of beer, while he regarded her. "No, you aren’t," he said, finally.

Nothing more seemed forthcoming.

"I know I’m not, but how can you be so sure?" Striker asked.

Again. The pause. Striker was beginning to realise that holding a conversation with Idomeneo Jones was a Sisyphean task.

"Were you wearing gloves that night?" he asked, suddenly.

Okay, a question from leftfield. She could hit back. "Hell no, it was a warm night."

He nodded over his beer.

"Did you have gloves in your pockets?"

"No."

It was as if they could hear the chugging of a great, ancient machine inside him.

"Did you have a handkerchief or tissues?"

"No." Striker felt as if she was back in the interview room at Clarke Street police station. She took another sip of bitter and found its disgusting taste surprisingly refreshing.

Idomeneo sat back in his chair. It creaked beneath him. "Very clever of you."

"What?"

"Dealing drugs without touching them."

His audience inched forward with hopeful expectation, as if he was a magician waving a wand over a top hat.

"What do you mean, Idomeneo?" Morien asked.

He looked Striker in the eye. "Your fingerprints were found on the cigarette packet, but not on the bag the drugs were in. Either you disposed of some gloves before you were arrested, or you never touched the drugs in the first place."

And the metaphorical white rabbit appeared from the hat, and sat on the table, nibbling a carrot.

"But that proves her story. That clears her!" Morien said. "That’s fantastic!"

"No it doesn’t," Idomeneo replied. "Any decent prosecution lawyer could wiggle out of that one. But it might raise enough questions." He drained his glass.

"How do you know all this?" Striker asked.

"Your paperwork landed on my desk yesterday afternoon. And I’d left Our Mutual Friend at home. Made interesting reading." In the depths of Idomeneo’s coal-dark eyes, Striker saw a twinkle like diamonds, and she was suddenly incredibly grateful he was on the case.

Hell, she thought, if you’re gonna damage a couple of human humvees you might as well use a walking rock face.

"Have they caught them?" Striker asked.

Idomeneo’s dark grey eyebrows came together like mountain peaks. "Who?"

Striker glanced at Morien. "Bruce and Nigel."

The policeman frowned in thought, faultlines appearing on his brow. "Bruce and Nigel? No surname?"

"We’re not sure." Striker took a guess. "Maybe Lamprey?"

"I don’t know of any Lampreys who have been arrested."

Idomeneo got up.

"Give my love to Mary and the kids," Sullivan said.

Idomeneo nodded.

"Thank you for your help," Morien said.

Idomeneo nodded again, gathered up the empty glass and Our Mutual Friend and turned to Striker, "See you tomorrow."

And then he was gone.

"What was that about?" Sullivan asked.

"I’m on bail. I have to register with the local police." She looked at Morien. "You’ll come with me, won’t you?"

Her face was mixture of childlike yearning and nonchalant disorientation, and it was a look that Morien couldn’t resist. "Of course I will," she said, momentarily laying a finger on the back of Striker’s hand. But her father’s presence, and the tingle of skin on skin, made her remove it. "Maybe we can make a day of it. We could have a look round Caernarfon, see the castle…."

Striker smiled. "I’d love to."

She really, really would love to. A day with Morien that was free from drug dealers, burglaries, shootings, dead bodies…. Just the two of them. She looked at Morien. The headscarf she was wearing, tie-dyed green with streaks of blue and purple, made her eyes as deep as a forest. She wanted to lose herself in their secret paths.

They would be alone, wouldn’t they?

She turned to Sullivan, her mind phrasing and re-phrasing…. "Will you be able to join us, Mr Llewelyn?"

Sullivan smiled, his gentle, Welsh tenor mock sad. "Unfortunately, my plight tomorrow is to light the spark of Shakespearean wonder in the minds of bored teenagers. Think of me while you’re having fun, won’t you? And please call me Sullivan. Now, what do you two want to eat?"

i The full quote is "A heart well worth winning, and well won. A heart that, once won, goes through fire and water for the winner, and never changes, and is never daunted" from Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend.

Continued in Chapter 18...

Return to the Academy